Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS1 Chapter5

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Chapter 5[edit]

It was seven in the morning.

As they had a rare break from school (the trip was technically a type of extracurricular activity, but it was a bit like a half-golden week for the students because of all the free time), some people decided to just sleep in, but some people ended up waking up early because they were on vacation. To put it simply, they wanted to go have fun as soon as possible and for as long as possible. Misaka Mikoto and Shirai Kuroko were in a rest area on the third floor of the hotel.

The third floor was still connected to the atrium of the lobby. At the four corners of the passageways surrounding that atrium were small rest areas with sofas, tables, and magazine racks.

Mikoto was sitting on a sofa and flipping through Liberal Arts City pamphlets while still wearing her killer whale-like racing swimsuit.

“…Y’know, after three days, I’m really starting to miss tofu and grilled fish. Where should we get breakfast? I wonder if they have a Japanese restaurant…”

As she muttered about food, she looked at a page that introduced the restaurants inside or near the hotel.

Meanwhile, Shirai Kuroko was lying down and rolling around on the same sofa. (She had been begging to rest her head on her beloved onee-sama’s lap, but she had been beaten back.)

“…Y’know, after three days of wearing this sexy swimsuit, it’s kind of lost its freshness. It’s like how curry tastes even better on the second day, but it gives you a face like you’re about to vomit on the third or fourth day.”

The pigtailed girl was looking for something new and she looked through some pamphlets while lying down in order to kill some time.

Suddenly, beams of light shot from Shirai Kuroko’s eyes.

“Th-that’s it!!”

“Nn!?”

Mikoto’s shoulders jumped.

Shirai jumped up from the sofa and stuck a spread out pamphlet before Mikoto’s face.

“This is it! This is it! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, onee-sama!!”

“Wai—wha—you id—a nudist beach!? Why does something like that exist on the edge of Liberal Arts City!?”

Mikoto pulled her head back in order to get as far away from that obscene pamphlet as she could.

A nudist beach was the kind of beach where people swam around without swimsuits on. Simply put, it was the kingdom of nudity.

For some reason, Shirai’s eyes were sparkling and she had her hands clasped in front of her face in full maiden mode.

The flowers of Shirai’s heart that were made of pink and white were in full bloom and she was getting rather troublesome.

“Really, there is nothing wrong with my swimsuit, but humans occasionally want stimulation from a different vector!! So instead of changing things with cheap tricks like making one’s swimsuit showier or plainer, we can go there and be completely nude! That bold idea will open up the future, onee-sama!!”

“Don’t look to me to agree with you!! Oh, th-that’s right! Don’t nudist beaches have age restrictions?”

“Nudists who wish to be nude hold no lust in their hearts!! They cast off their clothing with more serious hearts.”

“That idea may be respectable, but I find it hard to believe coming from you, so just stop this, you pervert.”

After saying that, Mikoto suddenly realized something.

Shirai Kuroko had gotten tired of her sexy swimsuit. Mikoto wanted to tell her to put on some normal clothes instead, but it seemed Shirai’s tastes would only bring more skin into the picture.

That was where the nudist beach came into play, but if she let Shirai go with it, the girl would eventually get used to the nudist beach, too. Since there was no more skin you could show than when you were nude, even Shirai and her love of showing off skin would have no other option but to head in the direction of adding more cloth.

In other words…

(This is the start of a U-turn!! If I can withstand this idiot’s madness, she’ll start putting on clothes like a reversal of the North Wind and the Sun!!)

That problem did not just apply to the beaches of Liberal Arts City.

If she could influence Shirai Kuroko’s progression, it was her big chance to turn the girl into a proper human.

After coming to that conclusion, Misaka Mikoto grinned.

She gave some incredibly forced applause in praise of Shirai Kuroko.

“W-well, if you say that, I guess I have no choice. W-we need to just cast off our shame on a trip. If you’re that determined to go to a nudist beach, then I won’t stop you.”

“…Wh-what? Onee-sama, I should have gotten an offensive reaction out of you, but you’ve just had that smile fixed on your face. It looks like you are plotting something.”

“Wh-what are you talking about? You just said something wonderful for a change and the scales have fallen from my eyes…”

“Hah!? Is this a plan to attack me from behind while my defenses are lowered on the nudist beach!? I-I will go prepare more sun oil than is necessary and wait for you!!”

“Hell no, you pervert!”

As soon as Mikoto unintentionally gave her honest response, Uiharu Kazari entered from the elevator hall. She must have been in a bit of a hurry because she was running a bit.

Mikoto turned her gaze from the exhibitionist and looked toward Uiharu.

“Hey, where should we get breakfast? I’m in the mood for some Japanese food.”

“G-good morning. U-um…Uh, do you know where Saten-san has gone?”

“?”

Mikoto and Shirai looked puzzled and Uiharu continued.

“I thought she might have overslept again, so I tried calling her room, but she didn’t answer. If she isn’t in her room, I thought she might have come here already.”

“I haven’t seen her.”

“…Are you sure she didn’t just go off somewhere on her own?”

“But if she went to get some food on her own, wouldn’t she have contacted us? She was acting odd yesterday too… What if she’s been sick for a while now and she collapsed in her room…?”

Uiharu was oddly overcome by unease because she had noticed the change in her friend the day before.

She wanted to go check on Saten’s room, but she did not feel right about asking the hotel for a spare key if she had no proof.

That was why Uiharu timidly looked over at Shirai Kuroko.

Shirai was a Level 4 that could teleport.

With her power, it did not matter if the door was locked.

Mikoto’s power could unlock the electronic lock, but it was clear which was more discreet between Mikoto forcibly opening the door and Shirai bypassing it altogether.

Shirai turned aside.

“What a pain.”

“Kuroko.”

“I know, I know,” Shirai said in response to Mikoto’s short comment. “I’ll do it if you go to the nudist beach with me, onee-sama.”

“I’ll take you to your own personal paradise with my fist. ☆”


Shirai Kuroko arrived in front of Saten’s room with tears in her eyes and while rubbing the top of her head. Just to be sure, she knocked on the door a few times. It seemed even she did not want to intrude on another’s privacy for no reason.

But no response came.

Shirai sighed and then her body silently disappeared. She had teleported to the other side of the door.

After 2 or 3 minutes, the door to Saten’s room opened from the inside. Shirai had unlocked it and she shook her head toward Mikoto and Uiharu.

“She is not in her room. It seems she has gone somewhere.”

“…? So did she go get some breakfast on her own?”

“About that…” Shirai paused for a second as if she were conflicted about whether she should say something. “The air conditioner has been off for a long period of time making the room quite humid. And there is no sign that the shower room has been used. I doubt a girl would leave after waking up without at least washing her face first.”

“So…?”

Uiharu looked puzzled. She must not have been able to conceive what the situation was.

Mikoto took a step toward Shirai and asked her some questions.

“What the furniture and the interior? Are there signs of a struggle?”

“Onee-sama?”

“Just answer me.”

Mikoto was reminded of the official she had met two nights before. Saten had seen something she shouldn’t have along with Mikoto.

However, Shirai shook her head.

“From my experience in Judgment, I would say no. And even if the rooms are divided by walls, the guests in the next room would have noticed if there had been a commotion.”

“I guess it’s too much to suspect they may have covered up all the traces… And if they had, they would have kept the air conditioner and the shower room in a more natural state.”

“???”

Shirai and Uiharu did not know what to make of what Mikoto was muttering.

Mikoto looked over at Shirai.

“There are around 20 students here on this large-scale field trip, right? Find a Psycho-type esper and bring them here. Use your authority from Judgment or whatever, just hurry.”

“Eh? Wait a second, Misaka-san,” said Uiharu finally speaking up. “What do you mean? Is this really a situation where Judgment has any authority?”

She sounded worried, but that wasn’t too surprising. Judgment helped keep the peace in Academy City. They were something like the police. Anyone would be worried if someone like that was called out to search for a friend you had lost track of.

“It’s just to be on the safe side.”

As such, Mikoto had no choice but to be rather vague in her wording.

She had no proof, but in that situation, no proof was a good thing.


Mikoto and Uiharu waited in Saten’s room and after about 10 minutes, Shirai teleported back. She was holding an unfamiliar girl’s hand. The girl was likely older than Mikoto and the others. She seemed to be a high school student and she wore a bikini held together by ring-like parts in places.

“I heard a friend of yours has gotten lost in this ridiculously huge facility,” said the Psychometry girl.

Shirai must have explained it that way and it wasn’t exactly wrong.

“Let me warn you now: if I read any unnecessary personal information, that isn’t my responsibility. Don’t forget that you will be the ones that have to bow down in apology to her.”

“…I take it your power has its issues.”

“Some, yes.”

The girl laughed and pulled a few hairclips from somewhere. She must have had some reason for it, but she had hairclips clipped onto her swimsuit in various places.

“Hmm. So that’s how you keep your mental focus.”

“I usually keep them on my underwear, but I’m glad I have the swimsuit at times like this. I have to carefully aim so that I only read the necessary information. After all, there’s no point in reading information on a hotel worker that entered the same room.”

As she spoke, she slowly walked around the room.

Suddenly, she stopped moving. As if she had grasped the general location of a landmine, she slowly approached the bed.

“What…?” she finally muttered.

She looked over toward Mikoto.

“What are you all doing here? That’s going too far for a field trip.”

“What do you mean?” Mikoto responded.

The girl pointed toward the bed.

“The girl from this room was thinking about discovering the secrets hidden in Liberal Arts City and then left the room.”


Saten Ruiko was trembling.

Her hands were handcuffed behind her back. Near where Saten was sitting in the hangar, an adult woman was standing and leaning against the wall.

She was the Liberal Arts City official named Olive Holiday that Saten and Mikoto had met the day before as well.

However, she was wearing a different outfit from before. Her entire body including her head was covered in a yellow protective suit. It may have been fireproof as well because it was made of a shiny material similar to what firefighters wore. Her voice was quite soft rather than muffled. Most likely, her voice was picked up by a microphone within the suit and speakers on the outside outputted it.

Something like a plastic bag was placed at Olive’s feet. It was similar to the kind of case one would put fishing gear in. She had pulled the handcuffs from it. Most likely, she had other tools to confine people or to cause pain within it.

Olive spoke into a small radio.

“Dawn has come.”

“Yes.”

“Is management still discussing it? Whether we’re going to let her go, give her a warning, or use some other method, I would have thought they would have come to a decision much sooner.”

“You know they’re always like this. And I’m sure you can understand why they need to be so cautious given the situation.”

Saten’s shoulder’s trembled.

She did not know any English beyond the first year middle school level, so she could not understand the details of what they were saying. However, the danger she was in was still conveyed to her. When she had come there before, she had been released more quickly. She had not been restrained for a long period of time like that.

Something was different.

It felt to her like she was heading in a train along the same track to the same destination, but someone had suddenly pulled a switching lever sending her toward some unknown destination.

“But leader, even if you are wearing that protective suit, it would be better if you did not stay there for long periods of time. You should hand her over to us and return to your post.”

“Hmph. The contamination? We don’t actually know anything about that. There are no abnormalities in the readings, but we still dress like this in fear because we don’t understand it. We don’t even know if there is any contamination or if these suits will protect us if there is.”

“…”

“This may be the reward we get for researching something we don’t understand at all, but that’s the duty of the world police.”

Olive sounded bored.

Suddenly, she started speaking of something unrelated to the job at hand.

“Where did you work before here?”

“…On a mission to destroy Russian pipelines. The reasoning was that oil dealings that do not benefit us had no reason to exist,” said Olive’s subordinate in a sinking voice.

High prices on crude oil made the entire world suffer and having that business go bankrupt would cause a hell of starvation to spread throughout the world, so seeing that black liquid pouring from a tear in a giant pipeline like it was hot water was unlikely to be an enjoyable experience.

“I took part in ‘drawing the lines’ for the stations in Antarctica. We were working to create a new map. Due to global warming, the ice melted. Some countries’ research stations were swallowed up by crevasses because the ground beneath them weakened and gave out.” Olive was speaking dryly. “There were foreign researchers walking through Antarctica surrendering in the hopes of being rescued after having lost their stations. We shot them one by one from the distance. After all, if we gave them shelter in our station, they could take our technology back to their own countries.”

“…”

“In the end, it’s the same anywhere. And I had thought you only found bodies in certain special places.”

“It’s only until we can carry out our duties as the world police.”

“Yes. Peace is surprisingly cheap. You can accomplish it just by killing all those who disagree with you.”

The official smiled a bit self derisively and some kind of action could be heard on the other side of the radio.

It sounded like her subordinate was flipping through numerous sheets of paper. The subordinate understood quite well how to follow the decisions that Liberal Arts City came to.

Finally, the subordinate spoke.

“Management has come to its decision.”

“Is it as expected?”

“Yes.”

“I see,” said Olive quietly before turning toward Saten Ruiko.

The girl trembling by the wall heard two words in English.

“I’m sorry.”


Mikoto stepped closer to the Psychometry high school girl who was still confused.

“Do you know where Saten-san went? Can you trace her path!? Can you use your power to follow the route Saten-san took!?”

“No.” The girl shook her head. “My power is not suited for that kind of thing. Even if I tried, the first floor lobby would probably be my limit. Do you know how many people go through there in a day? The residual information from all those people mixes together and turns everything into useless noise.”

Mikoto just barely held back from calling the girl useless and then gave Shirai a signal with her finger. The Psychometry girl looked like she wanted to say something more, but Shirai gently took her away.

Mikoto and Uiharu remained in the room.

Mikoto doubted something that would conveniently lead them to Saten would be in the room, but it was also unlikely that they could find her by randomly running around the large city.

“U-um, Misaka-san…” Uiharu started to say, but she stopped.

It looked to Mikoto like she wanted to ask something, but was afraid of what the answer would be.

And that was why Mikoto took the initiative.

“I can’t give you any specifics, but it’s possible Saten-san has come across some of Liberal Arts City’s classified information. She most likely left the room voluntarily, but it’s unknown where she went after that. It’s possible the officials of this city have gotten involved.”

“You don’t mean…”

“But they will not harm us so easily. Or rather, they seem to have created some strange rule to that effect. As long as they continue following that rule, Saten-san is not in an immediately dangerous situation.”

As she spoke, Mikoto sorted through the information in her head.

Teachers belonging to Anti-Skill were leading that large-scale field trip. Mikoto wondered whether she should get help from them, but she shook her head. The power of the adults was the power of groups, but they were not in Academy City. Anti-Skill would be of no use. Also, the adults would bring out the rules and regulations preventing Mikoto and the others from doing anything. In that situation where every second counted, the adults would just get in their way.

But how were they supposed to find where Saten Ruiko was?

Given what had happened with Olive Holiday, the official Mikoto and Saten had met before, even if Saten had been captured by the officials, she may not be in danger immediately. However, Mikoto could not be sure of that and if Saten had been captured by a different official, she may be treated in a completely different way.

Mikoto thought for a bit, and…

(That’s it…)

Mikoto glanced around the room and headed to the corner. The ATM-like device that let one put money on the IC card that acted as a wallet was there.

Previously, Mikoto had used that device to hack into Liberal Arts City’s network. If the officials were involved with Saten’s disappearance, they may have made some kind of communication over the network.

Mikoto used the charging device in the same way as before to try to hack in.

As before, the security seemed outdated compared to Academy City’s, so she made it right in and then checked on a few pieces of information. In the security system’s alert information, she found a report file with an image of someone who appeared to be Saten Ruiko.

“Found her!!”

However, the location Saten had been photographed in was encrypted.

“Dammit, what a pain… This is the kind of encryption that will take some time to analyze.”

The theory itself was simple, but it would take time to decrypt. However, they did not have that time. Mikoto was conflicted about whether she should continue on that path or try to locate the girl from a different angle.

“…Please move aside,” came a sudden voice from the side.

Before Mikoto could turn around, Uiharu Kazari pushed past Mikoto. Mikoto didn’t know where she it had been hidden, but Uiharu now held a rod slightly longer than a ballpoint pen. Uiharu pressed a button on it and a clear sheet shot out like it was a scroll. It was an ultra-thin waterproof computer made from a highly flexible printed circuit board.

With a slight electronic hum, an image of a keyboard appeared on the transparent sheet. The two devices were not connected by any cables, but the old(-looking) charger and the ultra-thin computer immediately linked together.

Uiharu’s fingers races along the keys.

The encryption was cracked in 7 seconds.

After that, multiple windows opened up one after another and various parts of the network were analyzed in multiple ways. It had gone beyond something as simple as hacking into the network. An invisible king had appeared within that system that could work faster than its supervisor or its creator. She was not simply leaving things to the specs of the Academy City machine and investigating what she came across. She analyzed the composition of the network in an instant, took the fastest but safest shortcuts, and passed through backdoors in order to reach the information she wanted faster than anyone and doing the least amount of work.

Mikoto saw the instant that the speed of the brute force random access exceeded what human intelligence could comprehend. Television shows occasionally showed a genius technician’s intuition and fingers getting greater readings than a major company’s precision machines, but Mikoto felt that she was truly seeing it before her very eyes.

“Found it,” Uiharu Kazari said paying no heed to Mikoto’s surprise. “Because of a computer being intentionally cut off from the network, I cannot say anything with certainty, but from the information I can access, Saten-san must be here.”


Saten had a feeling that, after leaving the hangar, she had been taken along a long road or tunnel in a car or a train before getting out and walking down some kind of long passageway.

Saten Ruiko’s explanation was so vague because she had been stuffed in some kind of bag while in the vehicle and she was walking blindfolded. The human senses must have relied a lot on sight because she felt like her senses of distance and balance were distorted. It was even harder to walk because her hands were still handcuffed behind her back. When humans walked, they held out their hands to keep their balance and Saten was made aware of that simple fact more than she ever wished to be.

She wanted to run away.

She wanted to let out a shout and run as quickly as she could.

However, Saten could feel something hard pressed against her back which kept that desire in check. It was not sharp like a blade. The odd feeling felt like some kind of rod, but she could not tell if it was made of metal or plastic. Because she could not tell for sure what it was, her imagination went all out keeping Saten from doing anything bold. She had no choice but to walk along as the official told her.

When had the change occurred?

She first noticed it with her sense of smell. She started to smell salt water. Next, she heard the sound of waves. Then, the flat feeling of the floor beneath her sandals changed to something like stepping on stone. Finally, the light got bright enough to be noticeable through the blindfold.

They had left the facility and were now somewhere outside.

Suddenly, Saten felt the official’s fingers near her ear. She jumped out of shock, but the official ignored her and removed her blindfold. A brilliant light burned into her eyes like when facing the spotlight on stage.

Because it was early morning, the light felt like it was coming from straight ahead rather than from above.

“…Kh…”

She held up a hand to obstruct the sunlight and after a while her vision returned to normal. They were indeed outside of the facility.

But…

“A rocky area…?”

They were not on one of the beaches covered in white sand that were all over Liberal Arts City. The area they were in was likely manmade as well, but it was an area made of black rock. The hard feeling of the rocks mixed with seawater and a bit of sand brought only unease and discomfort.

The rock was not just at their feet. A wall of rock rose up in the direction of the land and a portion stretched out above them like a ceiling. Saten was standing in a コ-shaped area.

When she turned back toward the direction they had come from, she saw a few constructions made of silver pipes and concrete embedded in the rock. They looked a lot like the something from the fish farms one would see on TV, but they were likely fakes. They were nothing more than decorations hiding the entrance to the facility.

“It seems the contamination really was an error in judgment on management’s part. I can understand being overly nervous, but I would rather it did not get in the way of our work.”

Saten turned in the direction of that voice and found Olive. At some point, she had removed the yellow protective suit. She was now wearing only a sporty racing swimsuit and a lifejacket.

“It was made to look quite natural, wasn’t it?” Olive said proudly.

She was staring at the surrounding rocky area.

“This was not in Liberal Arts City when it was first created for the filming of that SF movie. We had it hurriedly made because it was necessary.”

“…?”

Olive continued speaking with a smile like she was telling a child how to enjoy the attractions at an amusement park for the first time.

“Accidental drownings occur here again and again. We officials are worried for the safety of the guests, so we have put up a sign saying it is off limits, but couples in love continue to come here to escape the eyes of the public. People could just enjoy swimming in the designated areas, but they end up coming to somewhere like this and then they have unfortunate accidents.”

Saten Ruiko could feel the muscles in her face moving unnaturally. No, it was not just her face. She knew she was in danger, but she could not come up with anything she could do about it, so she felt her body trembling like her muscles were not sure what to do, like bubbles were coming to the surface, or like a change in the earth’s crust was making the ground swell up.

“Do you know why we purposefully constructed such a dangerous place?” Olive said as she reached inside her lifejacket and put on the plastic gloves she pulled out.

“…Ah…”

“Even if someone drowns here and even if the body of some traveler from a distant country is found floating here, no one will find it unnatural. Having a foreign corpse can be a bit of a problem, so we needed to come up with a creative way of dealing with that problem.”

“Wahh!?”

Saten Ruiko stepped back upon learning that it was no joke and it was something that had been naturally done again and again. However, her feet got tangled up and she fell onto her back. The hard and sharp rock injured her hands that she put out behind her and her back. However, Saten did not feel the pain at all. All she felt was fear wrapped around every part of her body.

A smile slowly spread across Olive’s face and she spoke to Saten.

“You mustn’t do that. If you bleed too much, it will stain the sea water.”

“No…”

Saten ignored her and slid back along the rock to distance herself from Olive. Doing so scraped her back like the rocky surface was a giant file.

With a single step forward, Olive filled the gap Saten had made.

The approaching official grabbed Saten’s hair and forcibly lifted her up.

“Agh!? S-stop. Stop!!”

Saten tried to move her arms, but her efforts only caused the handcuffs to rattle. She tried to kick Olive, but she could not muster any strength into her legs. With a battered-looking face, Saten tried to somehow think up a way to survive.

“I’m a student of Japan’s Academy City! It would be a problem for you if an esper went missing here, right!? You said something about them fearing that military secrets had been leaked to America!!”

“Yes, that’s true in the case of a Level 5. It seems opinions among management were split as to how to deal with you, but it was eventually agreed that it was within the acceptable range. Well, you are just a Level 0. You have almost no value. They said the disorder caused by your disappearance would be on a rather small scale.”

“!?”

Those words were like a rusted blade carving out her heart, but Saten did not have time to be in shock.

“There are marks showing I have handcuffs on! If I rattle them around, I can make wounds, too!! Even if you remove them now, a careful examination will show I had them on!!”

“When someone drowns in a rocky area like this, their body is not necessarily found intact.”

Olive’s expression did not change.

Her smiling face looked like a precipice.

RAILGUN SS1 05 017.jpg

“Until the body is found, it is struck by the waves again and again and again and it scrapes against the rock…And the body is sometimes eaten by fish and crabs. As such, sometimes the hands have different numbers of fingers or the face is damaged beyond recognition. It is not too difficult to hide a wound or two.”

Saten could not get out any more words.

It was not going to end with nothing more than having her head plunged into the water. When she thought about the “process” that she was going to undergo afterwards, her vision went dark. She felt a more malicious chill run down her back than one simply from the fear of death.

Still grabbing Saten’s hair, the official pulled Saten toward her from the right as if she were bringing her in to kiss her.

“Now then, are you quite ready?”

“!!”

A transparent liquid spilled from Saten’s tear glands. That had been the last straw. She roared like a beast and tried to bite Olive’s nose with everything she had. She completely seriously tried to bite off the center of the woman’s face, but Olive easily swung her head back and used her other hand to give an upward blow to Saten’s jaw.

A dull sound split through Saten’s head and something leaked into her mouth that tasted of iron. Saten lost her momentum and limply hung down, but Olive pulled her up by her hair and walked over to the ocean dragging Saten along with her. With her consciousness dim, Saten looked up at the official holding her hair.

“…What was…?”

“?”

“What was in there…?”

Saten was asking about the new area beyond the giant door in the hangar. She was speaking of the double doors wrapped in a reddish light and with the huge amount of warning labels urging no one to enter. In the end, Saten Ruiko had not managed to reach the center of the secrets.

“Oh, that,” Olive replied bluntly.

She may have decided there was no reason to hide it after Saten had come that far or she may have admired the fact that Saten had not begged for her life.

“That is where those who are treated as having gone missing are put. I suppose you could call it a kind of laboratory. You are being treated as having died, so you will not go in there.”

“…”

“Liberal Arts City has the ability to naturally deal with any incident, accident, or other irregular situation as a type of show, but there is one thing we cannot erase no matter what. That is the people who are behind the incidents in the first place.”

The sea water was up to Olive’s thighs.

As Saten was being dragged along, it was up to her chest.

“We resolve the incidents without relying on any law enforcement agencies, but that is not because we are covering for the criminals. If we resolve things with our own hands, we can punish them in our own way.”

An especially large wave came in and the water reached Saten’s head.

The salt caused a burning pain to run down her nose and throat, but Olive did not seem to care.

Saten coughed and then tried to ask a question.

“But what are you…?”

“I see no need to tell you every little thing about what we are researching, but you saw a portion of it in that hangar.”

She must have been referring to the flying fish lined up like body bags.

Those special crafts had been made of wood, cloth, and obsidian and they had seemed to head in a different direction than what one thought of as cutting edge technology. However, those oddly-shaped crafts held the ability to more than match the Liberal Arts City Laveze Squadron.

“Strange, aren’t they? They look as if they contain hydrogen engines, but what they actually use is unknown. Multiple crashed ones were disassembled and their construction was analyzed, but even when the exact same parts were brought together, they did not function at all.”

Olive shook her head.

She sounded like she was speaking of something that did not involve her, so that was likely not the field she worked in.

“The mechanism behind those crafts is not complete. Or rather, they seem to be put together based on a set of laws completely different from the ones we know…They truly are exceedingly irregular devices.”

Olive may have said “they seem to be” because she did not understand what those laws were herself.

Saten’s footing started to get unsteady. Her feet still reached the bottom, but her sandals could not find secure footing either because the rocky bottom was slippery or because of the current in the water.

“However, those are nothing more than one type of equipment. What we want is the power they possess. We want the power possessed by the people piloting those crafts. They seem to have a rather powerful organization because we have not been able to capture one of their people. Recovering the crashed ships is the most we have been able to do.”

Olive laughed lightly.

“Of course, the longer the fight drags out, the more captured ships we get, so management has been innocently rejoicing. …I would rather they understood the hardships of those wearing their lives away on the battlefield, though. They may just be the object of our research, but they are quite tough.”

Was she referring to Xochitl and the others?

Was that the reason they were targeting Liberal Arts City?

Liberal Arts City was trying to find the secret behind some power, and Xochitl and the others were fighting to protect that secret. Was that the true identity of the conflict occurring in that city?

But…

What was that power Olive had mentioned…?

“In order to find new filming techniques, Liberal Arts City has called in painters, sculptors, potters, ukiyoe artists, doll makers, and other artists from every part of the world. In doing so, we also ended up gathering ancient knowledge that has nothing to do with the arts.”

The official spoke of the identity of that power.

“Special powers and phenomena that are removed from the normal physical laws appear here and there in that ancient knowledge. At first we thought it was nothing more than exaggerated legends, but when we looked into it, it almost seemed like a consistent set of laws could be seen in those stories. That was when we seriously started to research it. After all, ancient Chinese herbal medicines sometimes possess effects exceeding those of modern antibiotics.”

It was something that even an Academy City esper did not know of.

It was something that Saten Ruiko did not know the identity of.

“That’s right,” Olive said with a smile to Saten who was sinking below the surface of the water. “We are developing espers with a different approach from you in Academy City.”

Saten’s eyes opened wide.

Olive Holiday continued talking.

“To do that, we had to investigate those crafts, those special weapons that should not move under the normal laws.”


Misaka Mikoto and Uiharu Kazari left Saten’s room, rushed out of the hotel, and ran to the railroad that ran across Liberal Arts City. Using Shirai Kuroko’s teleportation would have been a faster means of transportation, but taking away the Psychometry girl must have taken some time because they could not contact her.

“I think Saten-san is probably on the easternmost side of Liberal Arts City. The general information on the facility was not on the network, so we would probably have to check the computer cut off from the network for that, but I have the data on just the location,” Uiharu said while running alongside Mikoto.

The hotel they were staying in was also on the eastern side, but given the scale of the city, it was not a distance that could easily be travelled on foot. They did not know Saten’s current situation, but they were headed into a Liberal Arts City facility. They had no time to be optimistic. Raiding the facility and forcibly resolving the problem using Mikoto’s Railgun had to be the best course of action.

They found the station quickly.

Heading back and forth through the air was a special kind of train that was something like a combination of a monorail and a roller coaster. The station was not an unrefined rectangular building. The platforms were lined up next to each other and surrounded by a glass building.

However, Mikoto and Uiharu were not able to enter the station.

With a tremendous noise, the wall of the building suddenly exploded.

The wall made of multiple pieces of glass shattered. The roller coaster-like curving rails were torn apart and they fell down to the ground destroying more rails on the way down. When the mass of constructions struck the white sand, a great sandstorm explosively spread out in all directions.

“Kyaahh!?” shouted Uiharu as she was swallowed up by the sandstorm.

Mikoto manipulated magnetism to bring the iron sand flying through the air under her control and swung it around to blow away the sandstorm.

A white line like the remnants of a contrail seemed to cut through the blue sky from a point in the air leading to the destroyed wall of the building. Something whooshed by in Mikoto’s vision. It was about 20 meters up in the sky. A black form jumped from the beach to an inland waterway.

“A flying fish…!?” Mikoto yelled out upon seeing that oddly shaped craft that looked like two canoes, one on top of the other, with two wings on either side.

Even then, many more Mixcoatls were jumping from the beach to the inland waterways and heading further inland at high speed.

No screams came from the tourists around Mikoto. However, they were not exactly relieved. They seemed to be standing there staring blankly because they were not able to determine if they were seeing a show or a real attack.

“…”

Mikoto gritted her teeth and looked off at the horizon beyond the beach. She could see the multiple curving contrails of the Laveze Squadron fighting the Mixcoatls over the ocean, but the attackers seemed to have the advantage that time. The Laveze Squadron had allowed a real invasion of Liberal Arts City and repeated explosions could be heard.

(What terrible timing…)

“At any rate, we can’t use the train now. Not all the rails have been taken out, but they’re sure to stop all of them just to be safe!!”

“B-but then what about Saten-san…!?”

“Don’t worry. The trains aren’t the only means of transportation. If we can get a taxi…”

Mikoto trailed off as the multiple explosions and rumblings finally broke down the illusion the city had set up. Things had exceeded what one could accept as a show and true fear had set in on the people causing a panic.

As Mikoto and Uiharu stared in surprise, they heard a female voice.

“Hey, what are you doing just standing there!?”

They turned around to find the film director named Beverly.

“It’s dangerous there, so come with me! Hurry!! This is not a show!!” Beverly shouted as she grabbed Mikoto and Uiharu’s hands and tugged.

Mikoto and Uiharu were more flustered than Beverly.

“Wait! We have somewhere we need to go…!!”

“So you’re going to wait for a taxi? You’ll just be crushed to death if you stay here!!” Beverly yelled in response.

Due to the Mixcoatl missile destroying the rails, a large number of people were rushing from the station. People that could not tell the rails had been destroyed wanted to get away as quickly as possible, so they were rushing for the station. The two opposite flows of people collided which stopped the waves of people all at once. This only spread the chaos further. The river-like flow of people spread like its banks had collapsed.

As the commotion spread to where Mikoto and Uiharu were, Beverly forcibly pulled on their arms. The three of them hid in some nearby shelter at about the same time as the main pathway became utterly filled with people.

Beverly wiped away some sweat and sighed.

“The people trying to flee inside the buildings and the people who believe that being inside the buildings is more dangerous are colliding. The roads are no longer functioning. It’s like trying to walk through a packed train. The mass of people has become a wall.”

“No way…”

“If people can’t walk through, how is a large vehicle supposed to get through? I don’t know if this is a terrorist attack on the city or what, but at the very least, the city’s transportation has been completely cut off.”

Their last hope of a car could no longer be used. The mass of vehicles attempting to flee did nothing more than congest things further.

Mikoto was reminded again of what an odd place that was. The grand movie set the Liberal Arts City officials had created was noisily crumbling away.

(So a car won’t work either…)

They could not wait for a taxi with the way things were.

Mikoto and Uiharu felt like they were in a scene from a disaster movie.

The mass of panicked people was spreading in their direction. It was like a giant tsunami made of people.

“Dammit,” Beverly spat out. “I had thought those strange ships were odd. Unlike the other attractions or shows, it felt like they had no gimmick with which to purposefully guide the mentality of the guests. But if they aren’t part of a show, then what is going on in this city!?”

She seemed confused, but they didn’t have time to deal with her confusion.

Mikoto bluntly asked a question.

“Beverly-san, can you drive a motorcycle? There’s somewhere we need to go.”

“No, I don’t have a license and just look out there. The roads aren’t functioning as roads at all. I’m not joking when I saw you could end up getting crushed to death out there. Getting inside a large building and waiting for the disturbance to die down could save your life.”

“Damn,” Mikoto spat out.

They could not use the trains or a car. Even walking would be difficult.

Danger could be closing in on Saten while they were stuck there, but forcing their way forward held the risk of getting swallowed up by the waves of people and being injured or worse.

Mikoto pictured the map of the area in her mind, thought for a bit, and then turned toward Uiharu.

“Uiharu-san, let’s head back to the hotel.”

“No!!”

“Don’t be mistaken. We’re doing it to save Saten-san.”

Mikoto grabbed Uiharu’s shoulders and stared her in the eye. She spoke in a slow voice so that Uiharu’s mind would not be swallowed up by the surrounding commotion.

“Kuroko should be somewhere in the hotel. We need to find her and use her teleportation to head to where Saten-san is. Understand?”

After seeing Uiharu nod twice, Mikoto looked over toward Beverly.

“What are you going to do, Beverly-san?”

“…I’m worried about the rest of your crew as well, but I think it would be better to wait for things to die down a little before heading for the hotel. Things are just too harsh right now. I really want to stop you from going, but…” Beverly trailed off for a bit. “Did something happen to that Saten girl?”

“…Yes.”

Hearing that, Beverly gave a large sigh.

“Then I have no choice.”

“?”

Mikoto frowned and Beverly spoke in a voice sounding like she found what she was doing to be a bother.

“I don’t know the situation, but it seems you have a plan as long as you manage to get back to the hotel. Are you going to call in a helicopter somehow? Well, I won’t ask for the details. …All I can do is use my filming techniques that read the hearts of the guests in order to lead you to the hotel without getting swallowed up by the waves of people.”

“Beverly-san…”

Mikoto gave a bow of thanks.

Beverly turned it aside with a smile and then grabbed Mikoto and Uiharu’s hands.

The area out in the open had turned into a flood of people.

Beverly spoke while looking out on that hellish scene.

“…This might truly be bad.”


Saten Ruiko did not understand what Olive had said.

What was it she had said?

“Those flying fish are the products of psychic powers…?” muttered Saten, but then she shook her head.

That wasn’t it.

It was true those flying fish were removed from modern aviation and sailing technologies and that they may have been developed under completely different laws, but Saten Ruiko felt that was different from the scientific psychic powers she knew. Saten was not a genius scientist. She had only gone through school in Academy City, so she did not know every little thing about the processes or chemical formulas that were used to develop psychic powers.

However, because Saten Ruiko had gone through school in Academy City, she could detect a vague “scent” in the theories behind those things. On that intuitive level, she did not detect that same “scent” from those flying fish or from Xochitl. She felt like those things functioned due to some theory independent from the ones in Academy City.

“Japan’s Academy City has monopolized cutting edge technology and has almost completely kept the field of developing psychic powers to itself. Also, they are quick to defend the data on their technology with everything they have. Even if we were to dissect the body of an esper such as you that was developed there and we did manage to get some detailed information, we would be pulling various triggers. …Management does not want that to happen.”

Olive Holiday did not notice it.

She was an outsider, so she did not notice that difference in the “scents”.

“But we do not need to use that cutting edge technology. If we use a more roundabout method that does not involve information on Academy City’s techniques, we can acquire that information in our own way. That is why we needed to reanalyze everything in such an analog way. If all we do is bring together ancient traditional knowledge and build up a new technical field, no one will stop us.”

Technology that was known as “new” was usually something that Academy City had been involved in researching or developing.

Liberal Arts City…no, America was trying to escape that limitation.

They were trying to create a new standard to act as a foundation that was different from what Academy City had created.

For example, electricity had become a foundation of life and technology was needed to generate that power. Improving power generation technology could have two different meanings.

The first was to raise the efficiency of thermal power generation or nuclear power generation in order to create electricity while using fewer resources and having fewer adverse effects.

The second was to find a new form of energy that had not been focused on up to that point.

In the latter case, it was not too rare for hints to have existed since ancient times. For example, power generation using the excess energy used when people walked on their own two feet was being seriously considered.

Liberal Arts City may have been attempting to develop psychic powers based on a different foundation in a similar way to that.

But that official was wrong about something fundamental at the very beginning.

Saten Ruiko knew because she was part of the science side.

Olive Holiday and Liberal Arts City as a whole had come in contact with something different from psychic powers.

“Xochitl is…” Saten opened her mouth.

However, before she could say what she wanted to say, the official casually moved her hand that was holding her hair and shoved Saten’s face into the seawater. The sudden action made a large amount of seawater enter Saten’s mouth and when she started to choke, the seawater started to enter her nose.

Because of her handcuffed hands, she could not struggle properly.

Her sandal-covered feet slipped on the rocky ground under the water making it difficult to stand, much less kick.

“Let’s…end…this…now…”

She could hear a distorted voice from above the surface. She somehow managed to move her head as she tried to get her head above the surface even if her grasped hair or even scalp was ripped off in the process. In reality, she did not have that much strength and her limit was causing a slight creaking pain in her neck.

For a while, she felt no pain from not being able to breathe.

The surprise caused by the pain of the salt water stinging at her nose and throat may have been winning out.

But at a certain point, the true pain came.

Instead of increasing at an even rate, it quickly shot up like the curve from a quadratic function. Saten’s body thrashed about. Tremendous strength entered her head that was being forced under the seawater. Olive had been holding her with only one hand, but she had to grab Saten’s hair with her other hand to deal with it.

Her arms bound behind her back expanded a surprising amount due to her muscles.

A creaking noise came from what must have been the handcuffs.

But…

(…)

The instant some clear bubbles leaked from her lips, all strength suddenly left Saten’s arms and legs. Her extremities ceased functioning because her body lacked the oxygen needed to move.

Her lips opened.

She could not force out the seawater that came rushing in to fill the gap.

She had been suffering due to the carbon dioxide her own body had produced and once the seawater filled her body, she was wrapped in a feeling different from before.

(…isn’t…)

Saten blankly thought while her eyelids lay half open because she could not even move them freely.

She was merely left with the doubts that had been left at the surface of her consciousness.

(It isn’t psychic powers… It’s something…else…)

Her limbs floated around her.

Saten Ruiko’s life was disappearing.

And then a large amount of the seawater that was causing her suffering was blown away along with an explosive noise.

Something like a bomb had been dropped on the ocean’s surface nearby.

It took quite some time for Saten Ruiko to realize that. The shockwave did not spread only through the air. The shockwave spread through the water and harshly struck Saten’s cheek forcibly calling back her disappearing consciousness. Her body was removed from Olive’s hands and thrown out onto the ocean’s surface.

With her dim consciousness, Saten saw a white line that looked like a contrail.

However, it was much thinner than one from an airplane as if it belonged to a missile.

“Gwaaaahhh!?”

That shout must have come from Olive.

Before Saten could turn her head in that direction, more explosions occurred. They mercilessly destroyed the stone outcropping above their heads and caused a large amount of rock to rain down from above. A missile contrail tore through to the back of the コ-shaped rocky area and blew up the disguised entrance.

Some falling rocks approached from above Saten as she floated face up, but for some reason a few missiles flew from the side and accurately destroyed the falling objects.

“…”

After lying there blankly for a bit, Saten finally managed to muster up enough strength to stand up on the rocky footing with her sandals. The seawater was at about waist height. She felt a bit sick and put a hand up to her mouth. The seawater must have injured her on the inside because there was a bit of red mixed in.

Olive was nowhere to be seen.

Saten doubted she had run away.

She may have been behind some of the fallen rocks or she may have been crushed and had sunk down to the bottom.

Saten ignored her.

The natural desire to try and rescue the woman did come to her mind.

Her senses seemed numbed as she forced her body to move. She looked around with unnaturally jerky movements and saw one of the flying fish on the edge of the ocean. It was the mysterious craft with a body made of what looked like two wooden canoes and four wings. It went around destroying everything in the area before lowering its speed and slowly approaching Saten.

The top canoe slid backwards like a bivalve. Peering from within was a brown girl wearing a distinctive traditional outfit.

“Xochitl…?” Saten muttered, but the other girl did not respond.

Xochitl left the flying fish and stepped down into the seawater. She then grabbed Saten’s neck with tremendous speed, made a 180 degree turn, and slammed Saten’s back into the side of the flying fish she had been within. Saten’s breathing was stopped once more and Xochitl pulled a blade from her pocket and stuck its tip against Saten’s temple.

“…I thought I told you not to get involved in this. If you were brought here, you must have learned something you shouldn’t have. You did, didn’t you?”

Xochitl seemed to be mad.

Saten did not know why she was mad.

“Xochitl…”

That was why Saten naturally said what she did.

She responded to the question honestly.

“You’re from a different world than us…aren’t you? But they are invading that world… That’s why you’re fighting…isn’t it?”

Saten moved her lips that had gone pale from being exposed to the seawater for such a long time. Her red, bloodshot eyes faced directly forward. Possibly due to slight cyanosis due to her difficulty breathing, all of her skin had turned white-ish.

“They have probably been silencing people like me this whole time… You’re fighting to stop that…aren’t you, Xochitl?”

“Dammit,” Xochitl spat out.

She removed her brown hand from Saten’s neck. Having lost her support, Saten sank back down into the seawater and Xochitl frantically grabbed her arm.

“Liberal Arts City is done for,” said Xochitl. “Xiuhcoatl will soon be on the move. Once it hits here, 87% of the city will be burned away. Everyone, regardless of whether they are the bad ones or not, will sink into the ocean along with the city.”

“Xochitl…?”

“The tunnel for the linear motor train connecting this city to the American mainland has been destroyed. The heliports across the city have been taken out as well. However, Liberal Arts City has plenty of huge lifeboats. There are enough of them to carry out the one million tourists here with room to spare. If you do not want all those people to die, you need to find a way to get those lifeboats running.”

“What do you mean? …What is Xiuhcoatl…?”

“…”

Xochitl did not answer Saten’s question.

Xochitl could tell strength had come back to Saten’s legs, so she let go of the girl’s arm. She then lightly pushed on Saten’s chest moving the girl away from her.

Xochitl spoke as she got back inside the Mixcoatl.

“I can’t tell you everything, but I gave you the hint you need to make the right choice.”

Before Saten could say anything, Xochitl closed the body of the Mixcoatl. The craft made subtle movements to turn away from Saten and then it shot off toward the ocean at high speed away from Saten. Xochitl had said nothing more even as it disappeared from Saten’s sight.


Using the tips of its four wings, the Mixcoatl raced along while floating just above the ocean’s surface.

A different Mixcoatl approached from the side moving almost parallel to Xochitl’s craft. Her comrade named Tochtli was aboard it.

“Did you get your message across?”

“Shut up. I haven’t gone against our mission. Our goal is to completely destroy the information on our techniques that is being analyzed in secret in this city. We weren’t ordered to kill the tourists.”

“Ha ha. That girl is waving at you.”

“…”

Xochitl fell silent.

Suddenly, a number of stealth fighters from the Laveze Squadron assaulted them from the sky. Xochitl and Tochtli’s Mixcoatls moved to the left and right like they had been repelled by each other and they counter attacked in unison while the Laveze Squadron’s judgment was dulled.

“Well, let’s get to our real job,” Tochtli said.

“Sure. If just having them analyze the information on our techniques is enough to bring misfortune to so many people, then we have to stop it.”

Missiles fired from above the sea and from up in the sky mixed together and exploded.

The two Mixcoatls cut through the black smoke and headed once more toward Liberal Arts City.



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