Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS2 Chapter2
“So she got away…”
Enirya G. Algonskaya, a security guard, sighed while looking at the monitor.
She was in a small room.
It was the room beyond the interrogation room’s one-way mirror.
After cornering her a bit, they had given her a certain level of freedom. That was why they had allowed her to access the Semipublic AR and had not deleted her account. They had been hoping Mikoto would end up revealing something to them in how she used the network once she had lost her cool.
One of Enirya’s fellow security guards spoke while bringing up some files on the wall.
“She escaped through the window and along the wall. The AR monitors on the wall had some trouble due to magnetism. Perhaps we should not have treated her like a usual minor.”
“It’s not like we actually know how to restrain an esper. Not much data on them has been disclosed to us,” Enirya said in a very different tone from when she had spoken with Mikoto. “Or are you saying we should have put guillotine-like wooden shackles on her?”
“She rotated those bolts with magnetism. She might be able to vibrate something made of iron at high speed and use it like a saw.”
“So we have no way of resolving that. And now this dangerous person who can use anything made of steel like a saw or a bullet is fleeing through the city.” Enirya put her elbows up on the table and asked her fellow security guard a question with her head hanging down. “How is the tracking going? Do we have any idea where she’s fleeing to?”
“No. She is not showing up on the surveillance equipment.”
“Hm, and it isn’t supposed to have any blind spots. …What about her Semipublic AR account? Has she used it?”
That city’s AR checked on the user’s location and made sure others could not see the images the user was seeing. That also meant that the person’s location could be checked on.
“She has not used it at all since she escaped. We are continuing to monitor her account, but…”
“So she’s realized what we can do with it.” Enirya smiled a bit despite having lost a possible hint. “We can target that.”
“Everyone in this city uses the Semipublic AR. It is not forced on them, but it is simply inconvenient not to. …A lone person not using it will stand out. Search for someone who is slow to react. Don’t just use the surveillance equipment. Have the security guards on patrol be on the lookout, too. Anyone can see the importance of human eye surveillance with things like checks for suspicious objects in airports.”
While looking over at her fellow security guard using the AR to arrange that, Enirya added more in her thoughts.
(What was that esper yelling in the interrogation room?)
She frowned while performing some operations on a monitor that had been isolated from the AR.
(She said this was not over and that there were 19 oranges left.)
She typed on the table performing a search over the AR.
(The details are unknown on the contents of the bucket the suspect said she stopped. The contents were almost completely turned to ash making it hard to tell if they were actually crimson long-legged army ants.)
If they had the lab check the DNA, some new information might be found, but that would simply take too long.
Of course, she could not deny the possibility that the remains did not belong to crimson long-legged army ants. It could all be the prank of a middle school girl.
(If so, would she have had a good enough reason to escape the interrogation room? She caused some trouble, but if she had only used normal harmless ants, it was at a level where she could have just apologized.)
That meant the situation may have gotten to a point where that would not cut it.
(But now that she’s run off, it seems the best option where it was just a prank has disappeared. The incident was real. However, what exactly is going on? Were there really crimson long-legged army ants there or was she merely claiming there were and now she’s about to cause some more trouble?)
After thinking for a bit, Enirya tapped her index finger on the table getting rid of the AR search.
(In any case, we will capture her.)
She once more confirmed what her own objective was.
(Getting information from the one who knows what is going on is the fastest method.)
The date had changed.
Misaka Mikoto ran through the shopping mall late at night.
There was a major difference between day and night. Things were completely sectioned off. The night leisure areas that functioned into the night continually emitted light while the areas that closed at sundown were wrapped in darkness.
The vacant darkness may have been reminiscent of a school at night.
The emergency paths, the paths leading to security guard stations, and the locations of fire extinguishers and AEDs were color coded on the floor with arrows. The blue dots at even intervals on the ceiling likely denoted the locations of the sprinklers.
Those things were being shown on the Semipublic AR.
Because Mikoto was not allowing their sensors to see her, they were not able to personally focus them for her. Most likely, those displays were set at an isolation level where everyone could see them. In other words, it was the same as a normal television.
As Mikoto hid behind a display shelf with household appliances lined up on it, a few footsteps passed by.
It seemed to be a group of three. They seemed to be using the Semipublic AR to follow the “footprints” left on the floor.
If Mikoto had not tampered with the sensors, they would have caught up to her very quickly.
(But that also means I can throw them off my trail as often as I want as long as I can interfere with their electronic equipment.)
She watched the security guards head off in the wrong direction following dummy “footprints”. However, they would likely realize the “footprints” were unnatural before long. Once they stopped relying on the sensors, things would truly begin.
She could not allow herself to be captured.
Oranges filled with crimson long-legged army ant eggs could be set up around the shopping mall to act as living time bombs at that very moment. She had no idea when the eggs would hatch and the ants would become active. She had no idea how tenacious the ants were, but they might attack people no matter where they hid once they were spread around. It was horrible to imagine.
There were a lot of things she needed to investigate.
She had heard oranges mentioned a few times since she had entered the city. She had to go back and investigate those instances.
(It would be so easy if I could use the AR.)
Mikoto looked down at the ground while still hiding behind the display.
She was an esper that could control electricity. That did not just mean she could create powerful high voltage currents. She could also carry out precise hacking. In a city that managed the flow of people and things at such a high level, she could easily search for someone using the surveillance cameras, the electronic money, and other things. For Mikoto, an analog rural city would be harder to work in.
But the systems in that city used the Semipublic AR. That interface required Mikoto to use the actions of her body. In other words, if she used the ultrasonic wave sensors like usual, the security guards would find her.
She needed a different account to use.
She was already using her hacking to fool the cameras and sensors, but another problem arose. Just by going about not using the Semipublic AR that everyone used, she stood out to the security guards watching.
To completely continue on, she needed a new account.
However, the security was strong enough that Mikoto could not create a new account even with her hacking.
To create a new account, it seemed she needed to physically contact a large server that managed a great amount of information.
(I’ll start my preparations there for safety and convenience’s sake.)
Mikoto could not use the Semipublic AR, so she forced herself to recall the signs she had seen before.
She looked all around her and stopped while staring in a direction from which a faint light was leaking.
There were many different types of night leisure activities.
That area was like an amusement park lit up with many lights giving it a different look from a daytime amusement park. There were clubs for youths filled with booming music and alcohol. There was an opera house that required formal wear and an otherwise nice appearance to get in. There were various amusements of every genre, for every rank, and for every target demographic. All of it filled that area of the dark night with light.
However, the areas that would fulfill Mikoto’s requirements were limited.
She needed a place with a large server that dealt with a large amount of data.
“The casino, hm?”
(…I’m more used to arcades.)
As Mikoto muttered both out loud and silently, she was not wearing her Tokiwadai uniform. Instead, she was wearing a mostly red dress. She had taken it from the back of a dress shop she had found along the way. It was labeled “Misaka Mikoto—Demonstration Outfit”, so she did not think it would be a problem.
Mikoto was fired up, but when she actually entered the casino, it turned out not to have as formal and dignified an atmosphere as she had thought. There were a lot of gentlemen and ladies in formal dress at the roulette and baccarat tables that had dealers, but the area full of slot machines had plenty of Asians in T-shirts and jeans. That area looked just like the slot machines in a pachinko parlor.
Mikoto had no idea what the laws were in Russia, but in the shopping mall, both adults and children were allowed in the casino hall. Most of the children were with their parents, but that was not because they were required to be accompanied by an adult. It was simply due to the fact that most of the kids in the shopping mall were there on a trip with their families.
As such, a middle school girl like Misaka Mikoto did not especially stand out upon marching into the casino.
In fact, she seemed right at home.
(Is that really something to be proud of?)
There were plenty of human eyes she could not fool with her power like she could with the cameras and sensors. However, no one pointed her out as a wanted criminal and the security guards did not come charging over.
Perhaps her atmosphere had changed due to the dress, perhaps the security guards had hidden the information on her from the general public, or perhaps the people were simply too used to the Semipublic AR so they were unable to focus on her as long as a “danger” icon did not appear above her head.
If she did not take action while she could, she would be cornered before long.
Mikoto looked around.
(There are all sorts of chips clattering around either increasing or decreasing in amount. This can’t just be the money they have on hand. There must be a system for using your credit card data to buy chips. There has to be a large server here that is linked to credit card companies across the world.)
However, the interior of the casino was made to look like an aristocratic mansion, so the ugly boxes like an air conditioner were not just left out in the open. They were likely stored somewhere possibly underground or in an adjacent room.
The walls, pillars, floor, tables, show windows, and everything else in that place were a terminal for the Semipublic AR, but those were just the very ends of the system. Those were far from the computers that managed all the accounts. Simply put, there were a lot of defensive walls between those two parts of the system and the data that could get through was limited.
However, if she made the commands directly in a large server, she could force her way through all the defensive walls at once.
Mikoto lightly looked around as she took a mixed drink known as a non-alcoholic cocktail from an unknown bunny girl.
There were stairs at the end of the hall that seemed to lead to the VIP seats on the second floor.
In other words, the area below that was a giant box.
“So it’s there.”
Mikoto lightly brought the cocktail glass to her lips and walked closer to the VIP seats while making sure not to go against the flow of people and the music being played within the casino.
There was a poker table below the VIP seats.
The cards were dealt by a physical dealer, but the betting and dividing up of chips seemed to be done digitally by the Semipublic AR on the table.
The dealer had his back to the wall, so it would be difficult to get up next to the wall.
You were free to watch the players, but hanging out in the back too much would probably make people suspect you were trying to spy on the cards and let one of the players know.
The best way to stay by the wall for a long period was…
(Sigh… I guess I have no choice but to join in.)
But while that game of poker used paper cards and a dealer (perhaps to ensure fairness), it also used the Semipublic AR for the betting and dividing up of the chips.
Mikoto could not use her own account, so was it even possible for her to join in?
“Hee hee hee. You seem troubled.”
Mikoto’s shoulders jumped in surprise at the sudden voice from behind.
Standing there was the girl named Lessar from the occult convenience store. For some reason, she was dressed as a black bunny girl and was piling variously colored chips onto a silver tray.
“I’m not sure what it is that has you so troubled, though. Did your allowance run out?”
“Wait a second. You said something about an orange to me, right? I need you to tell me what you were—”
As Mikoto tried to speak, Lessar stretched out her index finger.
She touched Mikoto’s lower lip with that finger.
“Non non. Should you be talking about that here?”
“(…I need to speak with you later.)”
Mikoto had no idea who this Lessar girl really was. She had given her a hint about the orange. Due to that, she had somehow managed to deal with the first orange explosion, but she still did not know if Lessar was good or bad. However, it was clear that she had something to do with the incident.
But Mikoto still had no allies she could be completely sure of.
She did not need to wish for that much.
(I suppose I have to use everything I can…)
Mikoto reconfirmed her plan.
(As such, I still need to work on getting a new account allowing me to freely walk through the facility like I originally planned.)
“Are you working now? Or are you dressed like that for fun?”
“Nihon Daruma is a shop for souvenirs that bring good luck and certain victory, so its true value can be seen in a place like this. Even those who would normally find it ridiculous come to buy things. Although I don’t think there is actually anyone who can use spells that twist probability theory or statistics. To answer your question, I do not work for the casino, so I am not prohibited from gambling on the job.”
“And you can use the Semipublic AR, right?”
“What about it?”
In response to Lessar’s question, Mikoto pointed toward the poker table.
“I’ll help you win some easy money, so help me out.”
It was not even a competition.
Lessar in her black bunny girl outfit sat down at the Japanese fan-shaped table and Mikoto remained on standby peering over Lessar’s shoulder at the cards.
Then Mikoto just had to give slight instructions on what to do based on the five cards dealt to Lessar.
By the way, no matter how much tremendous luck one had, not even an experienced professional player could win every single time. What was important in that kind of card game was to clearly have hands one won and hands one lost during the first stage. One pushed toward losing on the hands that would have the lowest damage and pushed toward winning on the hands that would bring the greatest benefit. The differences between those would bring the player victory in the end.
“Wow, you’re really making this look easy. It feels like I was given a bank account that never goes down no matter how much I use it.”
“Luck and skill are not needed. Anyone can win as long as they can do math.”
“But poker is more than just probability and statistics, right? In fact, I think the real thrill comes from the psychological warfare.”
“Economics is fundamentally the study of the movements of people’s hearts. If unease spreads through the market, stock prices can plummet for no reason. Deciding when to stay with it and when to back out is the same,” Mikoto replied arbitrarily, but her true goal was not victory in a card game.
That was just what she was doing in her spare time.
Her brain was mainly focused on manipulating minute electronic currents in order to hack the large server.
“But is this really okay?”
“No matter how many hands go by and no matter how mean the dealer gets, we do not lose any chips. The other players are getting mad, the dealer is getting panicked, and it feels like someone is going to call the security guards on us for cheating before long.”
“Hm, I guess we stood out too much. …Wait, did you know I was being chased?”
“More or less.”
“What do you think I’m doing right now?”
“Trying to get some money to use in your flight?”
“Don’t joke. Running away isn’t my thing.”
A commotion had started behind Mikoto. Like a wave, it slowly approached her. It seemed more like someone was cutting through the waves of people than like the clamoring people were approaching.
“Looks like the time has come.”
“What should we do? If you’re going to run, I suggest creating some legal disorder. For instance, you could slam your fist down on the pile of chips to send them flying everywhere.”
(Whether I create some disorder or not, running out in a hurry is not a good plan. It would simply stand out too much.)
Mikoto felt a numb feeling on the inside of her forehead.
She continued to interfere with the large server.
The commotion continued to approach as she did so.
The people cutting through the waves of people were likely security guards.
“(They’re gonna ask for your digital identification, so it’ll look suspicious if you can’t use the Semipublic AR. However, you can’t exactly show them your actual ID either.)”
“(…Shut up. Just stay quiet.)”
Lessar did not seem worried at all. In fact, she looked at Mikoto and the security guard with a mischievous look in her eyes.
The security guards were now directly behind Mikoto.
Mikoto’s bangs slightly wavered in an unnatural way.
They did not hesitate.
Mikoto felt a hand on her right shoulder.
For some reason, she responded by turning around to the left.
She could not display a digital ID or show her normal ID as Misaka Mikoto…or so it should have been.
“Do you need something?” Mikoto said with a smile.
At the same time, a large window displaying a digital ID appeared on the floor. She used the keyboard in the touch window on the poker table to set the Semipublic AR to a level where the security guards could see it.
Two male security guards had come.
They looked down at the ground dubiously.
One of them spoke while looking at the data giving the personal information of the girl before his eyes.
Lessar was the only one that smiled at that.
The girl in the red dress put her expression in order and slowly asked a question.
“Yes, is there a problem?”
She blinked her eyes in a way that a fellow woman could tell was completely purposeful.
“What were you two called here for?”
The security guards turned their suspicious gazes from the girl in the red dress to the dealer. He had likely been the one who had reported the girls for making people less likely to play at his table due to their constant winning.
“The movements of the cards should be tracked by the table’s Semipublic AR and you can also check the camera at the edge of ceiling over there.”
The girl in the red dress put a hand on Lessar’s shoulder in order to urge her to stand up.
The security guard men became a bit flustered.
“Eh…ah…wait! Where do you think you’re g—”
“Then I’ll leave these.”
Mikoto dropped all the chips they had gained on the table.
She then pointed toward the dealer.
“However, you are the one who will lose in the end. We didn’t do anything wrong and yet you conspired with the security guards to have our game forfeited just because you weren’t doing so well. If I am restrained even temporarily, the opinion of this casino will drop like a rock. No one wants to be arrested for a baseless crime.”
After saying that, the girl in the red dress left the table along with Lessar. She moved powerfully and quickly but not so quickly that it seemed unnatural.
“(…Now then, I wonder if this will allow you to get away.)”
“(Don’t worry. The dealer who started this will do everything he can to end it because his job is on the line.)”
“(I don’t know how you got it, but isn’t that account you worked so hard to get useless now that it has been checked on?)”
“(I created more than one account just now.)”
The girl in the red dress leisurely headed for the casino’s exit as she listened to the trouble still occurring behind her.
“What are you going to do now?” asked bunny girl Lessar.
“We need to go somewhere where we can talk. I want to ask you something about the oranges.”
“Hm,” Lessar responded arbitrarily. “Then let’s head for Nihon Daruma.”
“W-wait. That’s fine, but what route are you taking?”
“We’ll stand out if we’re together, so let’s split up and rendezvous back there.”
“Hey! You need to answer my ques—!!”
Leaving the door to the casino open, Lessar quickly mixed in with the crowds outside.
Yelling out after the other girl could bring the focus of the security guards back on her, so the girl in the red dress sighed and started calmly travelling along with the flow of the people.
Changing somewhere other than a dressing room took courage, but Mikoto managed to change out of the red dress and into her uniform.
She then headed to the occult convenience store.
Souvenir shops at tourist spots tended to close the earliest of any kind of store in the world, but that place did call itself a convenience store. Even after the date had changed, it was still filled with white-ish fluorescent light.
The girl named Lessar who had been working there had told Mikoto to watch out for oranges.
She had to know something.
On top of that, the occult convenience store was filled with suspicious looking goods. It was possible they treated horrible ants as pets.
Mikoto was planning to meet up with Lessar in order to get what information she could from the girl and then borrow a staff room at the occult convenience store or some other place that had a bit of privacy where she could use the Semipublic AR to search for some information on the living bombs.
“Wait, where’s Lessar?” Mikoto asked as soon as the door slid open and she got a look inside the store.
The girl who had been working there just a few hours before was nowhere to be seen. A different girl had brought a folding chair behind the register counter and was flipping through a few Japanese sports newspapers.
The girl was shorter than Mikoto. She had short brown hair that was forced up with a headband. Her nametag said “Lancis”. She was white just like Lessar.
She spoke after shuddering for some reason.
“…Lessar has not come back yet…”
“That brat. And she’s the one that said to meet up here,” Mikoto said accidentally letting her resentment leak into her voice.
The girl who seemed to be named Lancis looked at Mikoto’s chest with a confused look.
“…Lessar seems like more of an adult than you, though.”
“Where are you looking and what is your basis for that judgment, you damn brat!! I can’t lose to a child like that!!”
“Nnn, despite how she looks, Lessar broke the record at her school by starting to wear a bra in fourth grade.”
Mikoto faltered. It was a secret that she did not start doing so until halfway through her first year of middle school.
“A-anyway, it seems Lessar isn’t here, so I can’t ask her about the orange. Have you heard when she’s going to be back?”
“I have this.”
Lancis waved around something in her hand. Mikoto grabbed it doubtfully. It seemed to be a postcard. The entire backside had some kind of painting printed on it. It may have been a religious picture. The picture was in truly bad taste as it showed a lady being captured by incredibly large ants.
“…Wait a second. If Lessar hasn’t come back yet, where did this postcard come from?”
“They can be delivered very quickly within the shopping mall. Although it’s still not as fast as just sending an email.”
Mikoto flipped it over to look at the front. The top half had the destination address and the bottom half had the message. The area for the sender’s location was left completely blank, but the message section had round English letters written in black marker.
It said: There is an incident carried out that follows a rumor, but what if the rumor itself was intentionally spread for that reason?
Mikoto looked up from the postcard.
“I don’t have time for riddles.”
“Don’t look at me,” replied Lancis without much energy before collapsing over the newspapers and the counter.
It seemed the late night shift had made her rather tired.
“…We cannot predict what Lessar will do. And Bayloupe got after her about it recently, too…”
Mikoto even heard a snore. It seemed the girl had just fallen asleep.
For an instant, Mikoto thought of smacking the girl to wake her up and get Lessar’s cell phone number, but she decided that wasn’t the best idea. If Lessar was seriously intending to flee, she would not stay on the phone long enough to allow Mikoto to trace her using it.
(Anyway, it seems she didn’t immediately report me. I wonder how far the fact that I was involved with that orange incident and am fleeing from the security guards has spread.)
That kind of convenience store could have an alarm button under the register counter, so she could not let her guard down, but she wouldn’t worry too much until security guards actually showed up.
She had something she needed to investigate.
Mikoto put her hands on top of the register counter and called up a keyboard to control the Semipublic AR. Of course, she was using one of the accounts she had acquired in the casino. Her fingers raced across the surface as she began her search for the information she needed.
What she needed was…
(The security camera records for the entrance near the east gate.)
That orange had just been lying on the ground at that entrance with people streaming in both directions. If she checked on the footage from around that time, she might be able to find who put the orange there and where they went afterwards.
Of course, that information was not open to the public.
Mikoto put together her knowledge and ability to search for data she would normally not be able to access.
She almost immediately made it to the entire library of security camera footage.
“The data is corrupted and cannot be read.”
That simple message popped up. Mikoto tried to open a different file. There was more than one camera set in each place. Because things were being monitored from multiple different points, there were multiple files that could be used.
“The data is corrupted and cannot be read.”
“The data is corrupted and cannot be read.”
“The data is corrupted and cannot be read.”
Consistently receiving that same message surprised Mikoto more than it annoyed her. Someone had deleted the data for only that specific time.
Someone who worked at the shopping mall would be the most suspicious, but a third party could still have done it as shown by the fact that Mikoto had been able to hack in that far. It was difficult to narrow down who had messed with the security camera data with that situation alone.
She could not track where the oranges could have gone using those recordings.
Even then, the countdown continued until the eggs would hatch causing the living bomb to go off.
(That means I have no choice but to chase after the oranges using only the flow of the people.)
Mikoto looked back down at the postcard.
The riddle-like text seemed to be a hint related to the incident, but Mikoto could not get anything concrete out of it.
The picture of the ants and the lady reminded Mikoto of the crimson long-legged army ants, but it still did not seem to have any real information in it.
Mikoto focused on the lady’s clothes. They had a white and black design on them, but the balance seemed to be off at the edges as if it had turned into a monotone mosaic.
Her eyes were drawn in toward one point.
It looked familiar.
It was a square with a random arrangement of black and white.
(A QR code…?)
Mikoto pulled out her cell phone and aimed the camera lens at it, but it failed to read it. Mikoto almost gave up thinking she had read too much into it, but she suddenly looked over at the wall of the occult convenience store.
She recalled that the QR code used for the information on that orange had been in a format that needed to be read ultrasonically using the Semipublic AR.
She approached the wall.
Just like before, she pressed the postcard against the wall.
A rectangular window opened up like a large poster. It seemed to be different from a normal webpage. It was the type of page that could not be accessed via a search engine and could only be accessed directly through its IP address.
However, there was no information there.
It only had text in the center telling her to enter a password.
(Should I break through using brute force?)
Mikoto thought of using her power on it, but she then spotted a small signature at the edge of the backside of the postcard. However, the arrangement of the letters of the alphabet was too random to be a penname.
Mikoto entered those letters into the wall as the password.
She made it through on the first try.
After that confirmation, a great amount of information was displayed in the large poster.
What it said was…
Project Code EIC.
Concerning the encouragement of group psychology on the premise of economic effects.
The project will use this shopping mall as a testing ground to control the information about products on every level from the advertisements using the mass media to even the exchange of information between users over the internet and word of mouth. The intent will be to provide the most suitable stimulus to the customers on a mental level.
Due to the nature of the project, we cannot create a nonexistent product from nothing.
All this project specializes in is taking an already existing product and adding to its intrinsic value.
Products that have had their intrinsic value increased will become scarce because the rate at which they are consumed will increase. At the same time, the rate of consumption for products that have their value lowered will drop.
It may be simpler to think of it as giving products a sense of being “premiere” or making people see them as branded in a certain way.
We will call bringing a product’s sales up a “positive change” and the opposite a “negative change”.
By using these positive and negative changes, the rates of consumption for various products can be regulated. This can be used to create a large “flow” in the market and even to control entire economies. That is the true meaning of this project.
Whether we are making a positive or negative change, we add in all sorts of information based on an already existing product and make suggestions that compel people in one way or the other but leaves them with a certain degree of freedom.
They will make a personal judgment on the value of the product as it is and a prediction of the value of the product in the future. Based on that information, they will decide whether to purchase it or not.
When rain is scarce and water is expected dry up, people try to stockpile water and when there is too much rain and it is expected to have a negative effect on crops, people try to stockpile vegetables.
When a warm winter is expected, people will wait to buy studless tires; and when a cool spring is expected to severely lowers the amount of pollen, the amount of masks bought lowers.
And all of this happens even when the data saying these things are expected is based on nothing.
It is common for people to intuitively determine how credible they find the data they use to decide whether to purchase a product or not. Often times, information of every level from a news broadcast put out by a specialty agency that verifies everything down to even a widespread rumor are taken in without distinguishing between the two sources.
We will create positive and negative changes for specific products in that form of what is “popular”.
We will control the consumers’ mentality with information.
They will receive this information from multiple sources, but it is not important what forms of media are used.
People are weak to multiple media.
If one medium gives a product high praise and another medium says otherwise, people will end up deciding to think for themselves.
On the other hand, if something people have heard rumors of locally is picked up by television stations and other mass media, they will feel trust and assurance from that.
We can use the thought patterns the customers themselves have built up on how to make judgments on the information they hear by giving out information in stages from multiple media sources in order to give the sense of what is “popular” that we wish. In doing so, we can raise or lower what products sell and what stores customers go to.
If you think of it like a pyramid, our final objective is to push from the base in order to shake the peak with finely-tuned vibrations.
The experiment in this shopping mall will use rumors as the form of information.
We will see how far the experimental information we have created spreads and in what time frame. We will also see how long until it ends and how much the information becomes distorted in the process of spreading.
We will see what general percentages of different age groups actually take action based on the information we spread.
Multiple routes through which to transmit this experimental information have been prepared and the first experiment’s goal is to find the most suitable route for…
Mikoto fell silent as she looked at the poster-sized window.
Project Code EIC.
A system to manipulate business results by spreading false rumors that altered the value of various products.
A third party would put a different value on the standard products that one would normally be able to just reach out and grab. That concept gave Mikoto a similar impression to the one she had of the Semipublic AR that had utterly permeated that city.
What if that report was telling the truth and a special advertisement system to control sales had indeed been implemented in that city?
Even if that Code EIC had been created solely out of good intentions, it did not matter. The effects it could have were massive.
Code EIC did not have the ability to control people’s minds and forcibly order them to do things.
It could only manipulate how people viewed various products and determine what was popular by creating rumors about them.
However, that was enough.
Whoever was controlling Code EIC could spread any rumor they wanted no matter how absurd it was at any time.
For instance, they could spread a rumor about an orange with a large amount of army ant eggs implanted in it.
In that case, most of the strange aspects regarding the very valuable orange urban legend disappeared. The fact that an identical urban legend had spread through Academy City at the same time was because someone had purposefully spread the rumor with that timing.
And if those who were setting up the oranges could pull the trigger on the incident whenever they wanted, it was all quite simple.
(Why are they setting up the oranges in the first place? I can’t figure that out. Even if I know how the rumor is being spread, I can’t do anything if I don’t know why they are trying to cause incidents related to that rumor.)
She did not know who, but the person controlling the rumor had to be someone closely related to the shopping mall. But then what did they gain by spreading large amounts of army ants throughout their own home ground of the shopping mall?
“Hmm?” Lancis, who had been sleeping sprawled out on the register counter, looked up while rubbing her eyes. “…Are you still here? Don’t tell me you’re actually planning to buy something.”
“That’s about the worst possible thing for someone in customer service to say.”
Mikoto looked around.
If she used the Semipublic AR, she could figure out where most people lived. However, she was looking for the person completely controlling the popularity of things, the rumors, and the urban legends in that city using group psychology. She doubted whoever it was would simply tell her about their plan. However, she also needed to figure out where the other living bombs were set up around the city.
“You have all kinds of questionable things here, right?”
“…I’m not sure what you’re expecting, but we can even get you things like human skulls.”
“I see,” said Mikoto deciding to take that as a joke. “Then would you happen to have any oranges?”
As she asked her question, Mikoto manipulated the Semipublic AR on the floor, hacked through the security, and fairly accurately calculated out where a certain person must live given security camera records and the deposits of electronic money.
The person was Setali S. Skinikia.
She had been Mikoto’s guide to the city and had been the one to tell her the story of the very valuable orange.
And that had also been the name listed as the author at the end of the project report.
Setali headed underground in an elevator and then walked quickly down a long passageway.
She was not heading for a secret base or anything like that.
The giant shopping mall built on the plains of Russia was basically a flat facility spreading out horizontally. However, that did not give enough living space for the over 50,000 workers. That space had been developed underground. Setali was returning to her apartment.
Things had developed in an unexpected way.
It seemed that Misaka Mikoto girl had escaped from a security guard office and was even then wandering about the shopping mall.
It was best to escape.
In a way, Setali was Misaka Mikoto’s sole point of contact within the shopping mall.
The odds were not exactly low that the girl would come her way if she were wrapped up in some kind of trouble.
She did not need to be told by her fellow security guards that being found by that girl would be bad.
But the public transportation facilities were closed at that time and even if she tried to use a car, it would just make it more likely she would be noticed. Setali was going to gather up some things in her apartment and then head for a tourist hotel. The large number of hotels in the city could hold up to 200,000 people. If she used a fake name and mixed in with all those people, she would not be found.
She would gather together the bare minimum of necessities in her apartment and quickly head to the hotel.
Once dawn came and the public transportation facilities began moving again, she would get on a passenger plane and leave the city.
That would be the end of it.
The girl would no longer be able to track her and Setali would have successfully escaped to safety. In that time, the security guards could act and finish things. Misaka Mikoto’s escape scene would not last long. She would eventually be tracked down and captured.
Everything was going well.
In fact, Setali could see no factor that would fail.
However, the instant she opened her front door, a white hand reached out through the gap and pulled her inside the room. She was pulled into that room which should have been locked until Setali had unlocked it just then.
Her back was slammed up against the wall.
She thought her breathing was going to stop, but that was not just because of the impact.
“People never seem to realize…”
Grabbing Setali’s collar and whispering to her at close range was a Japanese middle school girl.
“…that I can freely move the pins in a keyhole using magnetism. If you would at least make them of brass or stainless steel, you wouldn’t be faced with this kind of problem.”
“Since you’re so surprised to see me, I’m guessing you have an idea what I’m here for.”
With her back pressed up against the wall, Setali tried to shake off Mikoto’s arms, but Mikoto was faster. She lightly swept Setali’s legs out from under her causing her to collapse to the floor.
She had held back, but that was hard to tell from Setali’s point of view.
That time, the woman’s breathing really did stop for a few seconds.
“I know that some oranges were delivered through the east gate at about 17:00 yesterday,” Mikoto said in a low voice ignoring the woman’s coughing.
She threw her next questions at Setali violently.
“Twenty oranges were delivered together!! Only one of those has been recovered! Where are the remaining 19!? Have crimson long-legged army ant eggs been implanted into all of them!?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Once those ‘detonate’, a huge number of ants will be scattered everywhere! They will eat up all human and animal flesh as they continue to breed and breed!! Once that happens, it’s too late! And with these crimson long-legged army ant living bombs, the colony is purposefully put in danger so the limit on the number of queens will likely be gone. Once the ants inside become active, they may breed so explosively that they will swallow up this entire city!!”
Setali shook her head back and forth as she was being pressed to the ground.
“I don’t know anything about these oranges!!”
There was a dull noise.
It was the sound of thrusting her knees onto the floor right next to Setali’s sides.
“I was suspected because the same rumor was spreading in Academy City and this shopping mall at the exact same time. The rumor was that of the very valuable orange. They claimed that I had to have purposefully spread the rumor and created an incident identical to it because I’m the only person who has gone between both cities.”
A high voltage current was coming dangerously close to shooting from Mikoto’s fingertips, but she desperately restrained herself.
“But there’s someone else who it could have been. After all, I had not heard the story of the very valuable orange until yesterday when I came to this city. That was when I first heard it from someone named Setali S. Skinikia.”
“Answer me. Why did you know the story of the very valuable orange that had only been spread within Academy City at that point? And how much did you have to do with the living orange bomb incident taking place in this shopping mall?”
“I really don’t know anything…”
Tears started spilling from Setali’s eyes.
Mikoto did not know if they were due to fear or if they were an attempt at deception.
“I first saw that urban legend a few days before on the internet. I was looking up local information on Academy City so I would have things to talk with you about. I don’t know why things turned out this way. What are these oranges you’re talking about? What do you mean by a living bomb?”
While still sitting atop Setali, Mikoto stared into her eyes.
With her face wrinkled up in tears, Setali shook her head.
“Even if some incident has occurred following that urban legend…”
Mikoto listened to Setali’s words trying to determine whether they were the truth or a lie.
The woman continued speaking in a voice mixed with tears and sobs.
“…what are you saying I did? If the spread of a rumor is deeply related to this incident, then the criminal would have to be able to control the very flow of that rumor. Do you really think I could do something like that? It’s true that I could spread a rumor, but only a small handful of people would be able to ensure that it spread and became a major story that anyone would have heard of. Even a professional in the television business has to rely on luck for that kind of thing.”
“Yes,” Mikoto muttered.
She had come to her conclusion.
No matter how many tears flowed from Setali’s eyes, no matter how much her face wrinkled up in fear, and no matter how much she desperately insisted that she had only been wrapped up in it all, she was lying.
Even if Mikoto wanted to avert her gaze, she had to continue.
“Project Code EIC.”
That time, Setali S Skinikia’s entire body convulsed as if an electric current had passed through it.
“That project purposefully controls rumors in order to add or remove value to chosen products and to completely control which stores succeed. This city already had a system in place to control rumors and urban legends. You had to have known about it. After all, your name was given as the author of the report.”
Mikoto did not wait for a response.
No, she could not wait for a response.
The next thing she knew, bluish-white sparks were flying from her fingertips. The current was at around 500,000 volts. That level of high voltage current was in bad taste even for a self defense stun gun.
A zapping noise exploded out.
Mikoto was ensuring that it did not head in Setali’s direction as she held the woman’s collar, but the woman did not know that. She was feeling only pure fear.
It was perhaps commendable that Setali did not avert the focus of her gaze.
But Mikoto ignored that.
“I don’t know why you spread those oranges around and I do not intend to ask.” Mikoto would no longer be fooled by tears. “Where are the living bombs!? Where are the remaining 19 oranges!? That’s all you need to tell me. I won’t call the security guards on you, so just answer me!!”
“I…don’t know…” Even then, that was all Setali said. “I really don’t know anything about that urban legend becoming an actual incident.”
She was conflicted about what she should do.
Should she pass beyond a certain line and use her powers violently?
(Is there some other way…?)
Mikoto poured strength into her hands and dragged Setali up from the floor.
“Then I’ll check to see whether what you’re saying is true or not.”
She headed further into the apartment dragging Setali along with her. She found the bathroom, opened the door, and threw Setali inside.
“What are you—?”
Setali’s words trailed off and her face stiffened.
Misaka Mikoto pulled a single large orange from her skirt’s pocket. It was an odd orange that seemed almost squishy because it was overripe.
Setali did not even have time to yell or stand up from the tiled floor.
Mikoto chucked the orange into the bathroom and mercilessly closed the door. She then dragged the washing machine over and pushed it up against the bathroom door.
Inside the small bathroom, Setali pressed her back up against the wall to get as far away from the orange as she could. She slowly approached the door, but it would not open. She pounded on the door with her fists and slammed into it with her shoulder, but it would not budge.
“Wait!! Wait!! What is this!?”
“…Oh? I see no reason for you to panic. If you truly think what I’m saying is a bunch of crap and you truly know nothing about the oranges, then you wouldn’t know how dangerous that orange is.”
“You have to be kidding… You have to be kidding!! You just told me!! You mentioned oranges with eggs implanted inside them!! You said the ants inside would become active!! If that’s true…!!”
“You don’t need to worry.”
Mikoto’s voice was kind.
For an instant, Setali’s heart tried to find escape in the idea that the orange was a harmless bluff, but…
“It’s true that there are larva inside that squishy orange and about half of them have grown to adulthood already, but the bathroom is a sealed area. Even if it does ‘explode’, the ants cannot escape so easily. …The ventilation ducts and drains are a bit worrying, but when you know what the dangers are at the beginning, you can set up traps. By sending a high voltage current through those areas, the ants that enter will be fried.”
“N-no, no!! What are you thinking!? This is not normal!! Do you know what kind of ants crimson long-legged army ants are!?”
“Not really, but that is a creepy name, isn’t it? I wonder if they could eat a cow or a pig down to its bones.”
Setali pounded her fists on the door. Her breathing was erratic. Red blood was leaking from her hands. But it was no good. The door would not open even a single millimeter. She was completely trapped.
“You probably shouldn’t get too worked up.”
Mikoto’s voice from the other side of the door was one of someone enjoying herself.
That irritated Setali’s nerves even further.
“My prediction is that the living bombs have a time limit set by intentionally manipulating the timing of the hatching and activation of the ants. When stored, they are likely kept cold and they are put in a very hot and humid place when they are to be used. …If you breathe too erratically, you’ll bring up the temperature of the bathroom with your body temperature.”
If the orange exploded there, over 100 army ants would come overflowing into that small area.
Setali had nowhere to run.
Even if she clung to the ceiling, she would be overrun by army ants.
“How much did you have to do with this incident?” Mikoto asked as if dangling down a final lifeline.
She gave that terrible announcement that would send Setali down into an instant hell if she missed even a word.
“Where are the remaining oranges?”
Setali’s black eyes moved around unnaturally.
It looked like the orange in the center of the bathroom was sweating like human skin.
And then she saw the thick skin of the orange squirming from the inside.
That was her limit.
“I don’t know!! I really don’t know!! It’s true I was involved with Code EIC!! The research is continuing even now and we have intentionally spread rumors!! But I had nothing to do with that urban legend!! Code EIC was only intended to spread information that would raise the value of a given product. I never even thought about using it to spread creepy urban legends like that!!”
Setali felt like she was a human IC recorder. Unrelated to what she wished herself, she would tell any secret as long as someone pressed the button. It was quite pathetic. A woman of over 20 in tears and being talked down to by a middle school girl was simply pathetic.
“Why did you tell me the story of the very valuable orange?”
“I don’t know!! I just all of a sudden found myself telling the story!! I don’t even remember where exactly I heard about it!! But I must have heard it somewhere. You can check on your own where I found the information by checking my internet history or the digitally broadcasted television shows I watched!! But I don’t know!!”
“If Code EIC was used in this incident, then the higher ups in the shopping mall are the most suspicious. Do you have any idea who it could be?”
“Of course not!! It’s true that we are a cooperative institution of Academy City that carries out economic experiments and research such as Code EIC, so we do have a few unofficial groups. But none of them are anything like a terrorist group that wants to harm people!! This isn’t a city with movie-like villains such as obviously evil organizations or fixers that control everything from the shadows!!”
“Wait… I’m telling the truth!! I don’t know anything else!! So please let me out of here!! The orange…that orange is moving oddly!! Please…please save me…!!”
Setali heard a slight noise from the other side of the door.
Setali thought it was the sound of Mikoto leaving.
She thought she was being left behind in that nightmarish bathroom.
She could not help herself.
She felt that small bathroom had become her coffin.
But that was not what was happening.
Mikoto was moving the washing machine from in front of the door.
The door opened and Mikoto stepped into the bathroom.
“…Sorry about that.”
Mikoto lightly picked up the orange from the center of the bathroom and Setali stared at her unable to believe her eyes.
Mikoto tore off the skin of the orange and showed Setali that nothing dangerous was inside.
“I cut the skin slightly with a knife and put margarine inside. The heat melted it and made it look like the skin was moving.”
Setali stared blankly for a bit.
Finally, she yelled like a beast and punched Mikoto in the face as hard as she could.
Mikoto did not even try to avoid it.
With her back slammed against the wall, Mikoto wiped the blood dripping from her split lip.
“If everything you said is true, then there really is someone out there who has set up oranges with crimson long-legged army ant eggs implanted inside.”
“…I thought I told you this city does not have any obviously evil organizations.”
“Yes.” Mikoto nodded. “So someone must be acting as if they are some dark group of “higher ups”. I don’t know if it’s someone from within the city or someone who has come in from outside, but I do know that these people actually exists and that they are causing dangerous incidents in the city.”
The city’s security guards still did not know that those people existed. Mikoto did not know if they would listen if Mikoto or Setali tried to tell them. It would be a problem if she was asked how she found out about Code EIC and a large scale incident could occur while she wasted time on that.
Having the living bombs full of ant eggs explode would be the worst possible situation.
“What are you going to do?” asked Setali. “How are you going to stop them?”
“I have no choice but to follow each hint I’ve been given.”
That said, all Mikoto had to work with were the security camera records, the reference to oranges by Lessar, and Setali who had told her about the urban legend. Two of those three had led to nothing.
That left only one.
“That Lessar seemed to know something, so I have to directly ask her about this.”