Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS2 Chapter4
Enirya G. Algonskaya stood unhappily in front of a small tenant-owned store inside the large commerce facility.
The metal shutter had been destroyed.
The space must have only been rented. It did not look as if it was being used for any proper business. The metal shelves had a few large fish tanks on them and the tanks that were filled with dirt had a large number of dead ants scattered about in them.
The room smelled of insecticide, but an even more powerful stench was also there.
It was not iron.
It was blood.
“There is no official record, so someone most likely broke into an empty store and used it,” said one of her colleagues who was wrapped in bandages and searching on the Semipublic AR. “I sent images of them to a specialist and it seems the dead ants are definitely crimson long-legged army ants. Do you think this was something like a weapon manufacturing plant?”
“With the oranges here too, this matches up with the suspect’s testimony. Even the number of oranges matches up.”
“But we still cannot deny the possibility that she set all this up herself.”
“We found remains of what seems to be remote control equipment inside and some of us were rescued from the snowplow equipment by the suspect and the girl who seems to be an acquaintance of hers.”
“Even so.” Enirya’s expression did not change as she arbitrarily listed off the various possibilities that came to her mind. “Let’s just assume the machinery here had the specs needed to control the snowplow equipment. However, we cannot deny the possibility that the machinery here was being controlled remotely by different machinery in a different location. Misaka Mikoto could have used the snowplow equipment to hold us up while she attacked this place and ran off with the people and objects she did not want us to see.”
Enirya used her chin to point toward the stains inside the store.
“Is that from a human?”
“Most likely. We’re currently comparing it to the Russian authorities’ database…but given the amount, it looks like this was a murder with no corpse.”
“Blood for a blood transfusion could have been repeatedly taken from a single person over a period of time and then scattered about all at once here. It’s premature to assume there’s a corpse just because of the amount of blood.”
Despite saying that, Enirya felt it was more likely to have been an actual murder than some kind of act.
“If this was a real murder, where is it hidden?”
“Yes, a body is rather large.”
“This shopping mall is a collection of manmade things. No matter where you go, the surveillance equipment is active and there are few places where something could be buried. After all, almost everything, including the ground, has been turned into a monitor for the Semipublic AR. The only places with dirt are the spaces for the trees along the pathways, but those are pretty much just large flowerpots.”
“Let’s assume it was incinerated or disposed of with chemicals.”
“Even with those methods, it would take quite a bit of time to make sure not even pieces of the bones remained. If someone took that much time, I would think their preparations and work would show up on the surveillance equipment.”
But even so there were only blood stains there and no sign of a body.
“…Don’t you think this workload exceeds what could be done by an individual?”
“But it looked like the suspect was fighting alongside someone else against the heavy equipment…”
(That’s not what I meant.)
While muttering that internally, Enirya looked up at the passageway’s ceiling.
To carry away and dispose of a body while slipping past the eyes of others and the cameras in that city would take quite a few people. But if there had been a large number of people in the vicinity of the scene, the surveillance equipment would likely have caught it.
(Dealing with a suspect who can manipulate electricity is tricky. I hadn’t thought of it before, but she might be able to interfere with the surveillance equipment.)
But she also made sure to think about possibilities that did not involve such mysterious things.
(So someone interfered with the surveillance equipment to hide a group, hm?)
Her job was to investigate and find every single one of those suspects.
She had to continue her investigation of Misaka Mikoto while making sure to look at all the possibilities before her eyes.
(But who could do that? If it has nothing to do with those mysterious psychic powers, then who could do that?)
Mikoto decided to take a short break.
That had been her intention when she leaned up against the wall, but she ended up sleeping for over 5 hours straight. Her body had already not been at 100% due to jetlag and then she had been forced to run around all night due to the incident. Her weariness had been well beyond normal. There was also the fact that she had felt relieved that there was no longer a definite time limit on the living bombs that used oranges.
However, it had still been careless of her.
Her punishment for that carelessness was a close up shot of Lessar’s face when she woke up.
“C’mon, that’s a hurtful reaction to have, y’know? But I’m surprised you could sleep with all this security around. What were you going to do if a security guard ran across you? Even though the living bombs were stopped, the tourists still found out about the attack by the snowplows. Everyone’s talking about it.”
“Huh? I-I was asleep!? I…huh!?”
“…At least you’re doing an excellent job at being comically half asleep,” Lessar said while holding out a paper bag to an international fast food restaurant. “From the way you’re acting, I’m betting you didn’t have time to get anything to eat, either.”
“Thanks…but I’m not sure I want something this juicy right after waking up.”
“How about I coax you into eating it with a concept the Japanese seem to love. Heh, this is what everyone eats in the West.”
“…I’m not going to just do what everyone else does and become overweight. There are people in the West who get so they can’t even get out their door and have to call in the fire department, right?”
As she spoke, Mikoto dug through the paper bag. She avoided the heavy main foods like the hamburger, the greasy nuggets, and the thick sausage and instead chose the lighter things like the salad and the French fries. The heavy meat dishes ended up in Lessar’s small stomach.
Mikoto looked at Lessar’s chest.
“(…Is this difference in our appetites what decides the winner?)”
“…If you’re interested, you can massage them a bit. Just don’t treat them too roughly.”
(I can’t stand how confident she is!!)
Mikoto turned her anger on the French fries and started eating through them violently.
“…You came back to me.”
Lessar looked confused.
Mikoto had thought of Lessar and the others from the occult convenience store as possible suspects for whoever had attacked with the snowplows. She had thought they might have destroyed the occult convenience store like that in order to destroy their point of contact with Mikoto who was getting too involved in some plan they were putting together.
But even after the destruction of the store, Lessar had come and contacted her. That theory no longer held any meaning.
Had Mikoto just been over thinking things?
“What time is it?”
“It’s already noon.”
“…I didn’t intend to sleep that long and my head still feels heavy.”
“Of course it does. Look where you were sleeping. That’s the first time I’ve actually seen someone sleeping while standing up.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose.” Mikoto let out a slight yawn as she spoke. “But you didn’t know I was here, right? You had to have run all over the place in order to search for me.”
“I just felt I had left things unfinished with you.” Lessar shrugged. “If you just disappeared and I didn’t hear anything about you, I would have been worried. But you certainly finished things in a showy way. Just because the person behind this set you up, you shouldn’t make them disappear leaving a bunch of blood behind. Isn’t that taking things too far?”
“…Hm?” Mikoto frowned.
She felt like there was a gap between how she and Lessar saw the situation.
“Wait a second. What are you talking about?”
“What do you mean? By the time I caught a peek of the store you attacked, it was all over. It looked like an abandoned store where some kind of tragedy had occurred to me. You did that, right?”
“Ah…eh!? N-no!! It was already like that when I got there!! I didn’t snap and go on a rampage!!”
“Hehh. So splitting up like that does create a discrepancy in information. How about we go over all the information we have to make sure it’s all in order?”
“We would need somewhere where we could speak safely to do that. I’m still being pursued by the security guards after all. It’s actually strange that I wasn’t found while sleeping here.”
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
Lessar winked and pointed toward the entrance to a delivery entrance.
“I know a good place.”
“Welcome to Nihon Daruma’s North Gate store.”
Mikoto was dumbfounded upon hearing Bayloupe say that in an utterly halfhearted way.
Her mouth flapped open and closed as she looked back and forth between Lessar at her side and Bayloupe behind the register counter.
“What? What is going on? Wasn’t the occult convenience store blown away by that construction equipment…?”
“Didn’t you hear her say this is the north gate store? It’s a different one. Didn’t you notice that we headed in a completely different direction? Or are you still half asleep?”
“…I see. It’s a convenience store, so it’s a chain…”
Mikoto had found it strange that a single store as suspicious as that existed, but it seemed the hidden parts of the planet were a bit bigger than she had thought.
As before, the shelves were covered with strange things such as dried bats and bagged crystals. As Mikoto looked around at it all, Lessar opened her mouth to speak.
“Let’s talk in the back. We have a backroom for the staff.”
“Oh, the place you take pickpockets.”
“Some people call it a break room.”
As Lessar continued muttering, she led Mikoto through the door behind the register counter and into a room beyond.
Two girls were intertwined together sleeping on a couch.
“Floris! Lancis!! Quit awakening strange new tendencies and wake up! We need to use this room!!”
“Wait…um…aren’t we being a little too intrusive here...?”
“Don’t draw back!! It’s fine. They’re normal! Lancis just has a bad habit of climbing into others’ beds when she gets sleepy!!”
Lessar struck the two girls’ heads and they opened their eyes looking annoyed. Mikoto had met the forehead girl named Lancis before, but it was the first time she had met the girl named Floris. She was a white girl with bright, almost whitish blonde hair that reached down to her shoulders.
Floris listlessly rubbed at her eyes while looking at Mikoto.
“Nn. Are you that middle school girl that Lessar got wrapped up in some strange stuff?”
“Y-yes, I suppose.”
“Sorry about that.”
After saying that, Floris peeled Lancis off of her who was still sleepily clinging to her. She then grabbed the other girl by the nape of the neck and left the backroom.
“Okay, just sit down wherever. I’ll go get some tea.”
“…I don’t really want to sit down here. It isn’t going to be all sticky, is it?”
Mikoto was cautious, but the incidents from some alternate dimension did not end there. The color and smell of the tea Lessar brought was clearly from the realm of the absurd and the snacks to go with the tea were some unknown objects that looked like black dried squid chopped up into the shape of sheets.
Mikoto grabbed one of the dried snacks between her thumb and forefinger.
“What is this?”
She had been given an odd sort of warning. The other girl might have actually been a bit angry.
“Okay, how about I start by telling you about us?”
“About when you were fighting the construction equipment?”
“No, not that.” Lessar took a sip of the strange tea. “I will start with why we opened this convenience store and slipped into this city.”
“We...um, how should I put it? ...Our methods are different from yours.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“We are a group that uses unique powers by controlling the self in religious, occult, and mental ways. While you use quantum theory to bring the mental out to the physical world, we use a different system to do the same.”
“Hmm,” Mikoto nodded. “So you use methods from a time when there was no distinction between occult and scientific abilities. …Things like witch’s potions may actually be a useful as a way of using natural resources like medicinal herbs and poisonous insects.”
“…Ah, dammit. Even after I tell you that much, you still interpret it that way? Fine. I’ve lost all interest in explaining this properly to you.” Lessar placed her teacup on top of the saucer. “Anyway, we opened this convenience store here in order to investigate a certain plan being carried out in the city.”
“You mean Code EIC?”
“No, it’s something beyond that.” Lessar shook her head. “Code EIC is a system that allows one to raise or lower the value of a chosen product by freely spreading whatever rumor one wants at the desired level by controlling all kinds of media from the mass media to the local media. However, the ones being tricked are not aware of it. You could say it uses group psychology to interfere with people’s minds at a rather deep level.”
“As someone who deals with the development of psychic powers on an everyday basis, you should know.” Lessar started eating one of the bat snacks. “Interfering with someone’s mind at a deep level has the possibility of drawing out the possibilities that sleep deep within them. …For instance, it could draw out possibilities at the level of overcoming the laws of physics.”
“You don’t mean…” Mikoto noticed her throat was dry and reflexively reached for the cup, but she stopped herself. “Are you trying to say the rumors spreading through this city could cause people to suddenly be able to use psychic powers?”
“(…Well, we theorize that it is not scientific powers that will appear. It is a magical method of refining people’s life force into magic power and creating a collective mental union by using the animal magnetism related to mesmerism.)”
Mikoto could not quite hear what Lessar was muttering.
“We did not know if Code EIC was just a coincidence or if it was an intentional project. In fact, we did not even know for sure if it even had the ability to control anything more than the values of products with its rumors. That is what we were investigating. But…”
“We have not gotten any good results. And then the whole orange incident cropped up.” Lessar wiped her mouth with a handkerchief. “That incident imitating the urban legend was different from what we were thinking of. It was a case of the bizarre phenomenon being created using normal methods.”
“But that did not have anything to do with what Code EIC was originally meant to do, right? That was a third party pretending to be the higher ups and interfering with Code EIC.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“…What do you mean by that?”
Lessar pointed both her palms in Mikoto’s direction.
“I’m not doubting what you said happened. Most likely, there really was a third party in that tenant-owned shop creating living bombs by implanting crimson long-legged army ants in oranges. Let’s just set aside for now that fact that whoever it was ended up going missing at someone else’s hands.”
“So that third party was the person misusing Code EIC and causing all the problems, right?”
“But,” Lessar said as if cutting her off, “even if this third party was the person behind the living bombs, can we really deny the possibility that some other person was the one using Code EIC to spread the urban legend about the very valuable orange?”
There was a short silence in that backroom.
Lessar gave a thin, almost challenging smile.
Mikoto thought for a bit sorting through the information in her own head before slowly opening her mouth.
“So in the end…”
“Who exactly was it that actually set up those living bombs?”
“I dunno. Frankly, we missed out on figuring that out. Since someone else completely disposed of whoever it was, we do not know the person’s name or what they looked like. Since they did not give the option of resolving things with money, they may have just been someone who had a grudge against the shopping mall.”
“…So someone used Code EIC to spread the urban legend of the very valuable orange for some unknown reason.”
“That security guard named Enirya said that urban legend began spreading on the day I came here, but Setali said she saw it on the internet a few days before that.”
“Maybe it had stages. It could have started as a cactus and the direction was gradually adjusted. It’s normal to only vaguely remember rumors, so people would still think they had heard of it before even after it changes. It may have just been that someone who wanted to get back at the city for something may have heard that story somewhere in the city. And so…”
“They chose to make it a reality. I’d like to know how this person managed to get their hands on crimson long-legged army ants, but it’s possible they just happened to be a major insect enthusiast or those ants may be sold somewhere in this shopping mall. Since there was almost no time between when the person would have heard the story and when they carried out the attack, they might have already been preparing to carry out some kind of terrorist attack.”
Since they did not have the person there, they would never get any real answers no matter how much they speculated.
And the past criminal was not the most important thing to think about.
What was most important was the situation that was still developing.
“…So that would mean the person who used Code EIC to spread the urban legend of the very valuable orange was not damaged by any of this.”
“Yes, they did make the person behind the oranges completely disappear. It seems getting in the way by imitating their plan made them rather angry. …Hmm, having people disappear in an amusement park or a shopping mall is going along with urban legends too, isn’t it? Don’t they talk about there being some kind of anti-human trafficking organization manual or lovers disappearing after entering a changing room?”
“So they made the person behind the oranges vanish and they have a plan. …But who are they? And what are they trying to do?”
“Who is it that has the authority to control Code EIC?”
“The higher ups of the city...” Mikoto started to say, but she shook her head. “But wait. Setali said there weren’t any higher ups that were obviously pulling the strings behind everything. I don’t think she would lie in the situation she was in.”
“It might just be that a subordinate like Setali does not have the authority to even have any contact with the true depths of the city. Just because she works here doesn’t mean she knows everything about the shopping mall. It’s highly likely that the security guards pursuing you see you as the enemy while remaining completely unaware what their own superiors are doing. And Code EIC can slowly decide on the direction the giant flow of a financial market takes by bringing together small things such as rumors and alterations in the values of products.”
Mikoto recalled the security guard named Enirya who had said Mikoto was a suspect during the initial incident.
If Lessar was correct, Mikoto felt a bit sorry for Enirya.
“Let’s assume the higher ups of this city are the ones spreading the urban legends.” Mikoto frantically pulled together all the information in her head. “In that case, why are they doing it? They of course can’t be spreading these horrible stories for no reason. Do you have an idea what they’re after?”
“No. At first I thought they were using Code EIC to research people having their mentality rapidly changed artificially by group psychology. I was disappointed when that didn’t seem to be it. I just know that they aren’t using Code EIC just to use Code EIC. As you said, it’s probably in preparation for some larger plan.”
The actions of whoever was behind it all made it clear whether that plan was a dangerous one or not. No matter what they had done, the person who had used the living bombs had still been a human. That human could very well be dead and it had solely been done because he or she had gotten in the way of this plan. The coldness of that method of dealing with the problem showed that the people behind it all were up to no good. It was not too hard to sense a dangerous atmosphere coming from some plan thought up by people like that.
“If only we had some kind of hint as to what they were doing and where…”
“But don’t we have one?”
Mikoto was taken aback by Lessar’s immediate reply.
“What do you mean?”
“Why did the higher ups behind this eliminate the person behind the oranges?”
“Well…he was getting in the way of their plan…”
“They are at the top of this city. That position allows them to freely send out the security guards. If they just wanted to stop this person from going out of control, they could have just had the security guards deal with him. After all, they could just say a terrorist was shot during an official operation. I can’t think of any reason they would have to hide it. …However, they instead went to quite a bit of effort to make this person completely disappear. I doubt they would have wanted to do that if they didn’t have to.”
“So there was a reason to make this person disappear rather than to kill him?”
“Why would they want such an incomplete resolution?”
“Because there is a dispute.”
Before Mikoto could ask what about, Lessar gave the answer.
“A dispute between Academy City and the cooperative institution that is the shopping mall.”
That time, Mikoto fell completely silent.
She had never even come close to thinking of that possibility.
“Think about the composition of this incident. The exact same urban legend was spread within Academy City and a cooperative institution. An incident occurred based on that rumor. The only possible culprit is the Level 5 who went from one city to the other. …It’s quite the false accusation, isn’t it? I seems like someone was trying to start some trouble to me.”
“…But which side?” Mikoto muttered in a trembling voice. “Which side wants this conflict?”
“We were discussing a plan on the shopping mall’s part just now, right?” Lessar said giving a simple answer. “Spreading the same rumor in both Academy City and here was the shopping mall’s plan, right? And just reading that paper on Code EIC makes it clear whether it would be possible or not. As we said before, a third party sensed that setting and used it for his or her own terrorism. We know next to nothing about that third party other than that they likely had a grudge against the shopping mall. However,” Lessar added, “the living bombs incident was completely unrelated to the initial plan, so it tells us nothing about what specific rumor was meant to be spread and whether the incident was to occur here or in Academy City. It may have originally been set as a completely different incident and the method could have been in the reverse.”
“The reverse…? You mean…?”
“I mean that they intended to cause an incident in Academy City after spreading the same rumor in both places.”
“Code EIC is a system to rewrite the values of products by purposefully spreading rumors using all forms of media both mass and local. But it is possible that its effects could be spread beyond the shopping mall in the form of ‘foreign news’ making its way into Academy City.”
“To do that, they would need to first spread the urban legend within the shopping mall and then have it sent to Academy City as news about what is popular here.”
“For the orange story, it seems information from Academy City was gathered, was spread through the shopping mall to have its details adjusted to be easier to use, and was then sent back. …Not messing with that and just carrying out a terrorist attack really would have been faster. Well, spreading the urban legend made sure there were a lot more people who knew about the story which would bring the number of suspects way up. I suppose that would draw suspicion away from the actual culprit.”
If they were spreading an urban legend in both cities and causing an incident according to that rumor, then they could do it in the other direction.
“I said before that if the higher ups of the shopping mall were guilty, they would be attacking their own city. Doing that would make no sense, so I don’t think they would. If they just want to cause trouble between the two cities, it makes more sense to attack the other city.”
If that was true, then the higher ups of the shopping mall would be truly beginning their attack on Academy City now that they had gotten their plan back on course.
“But why?” Mikoto asked. “This shopping mall is one of Academy City’s cooperative institutions. They have managed to advance this far thanks to our technological assistance. Conflict will only make them lose that benefit. Why would they cause a fight that does not get them anything?”
“Maybe they want out of that relationship.” Lessar responded smoothly as if she had already expected that question. “A cooperative institution cannot receive greater benefit than Academy City does no matter what. It isn’t too surprising to think they might feel dissatisfied about that. Having a technological gap of 20 or 30 years will create some friction. The shopping mall probably wants this conflict because they want to lessen that technological gap.” Lessar sighed just a bit. “If Academy City were to disappear, the fragments of scientific knowledge the cooperative institutions have would become the most valuable things in the world. That holds true whether that information is related to machines or psychic powers.”
“That’s why they’re trying to cause some kind of large scale terrorist attack…?” Mikoto shook her head. “But that wouldn’t get them anything!! Destroying Academy City in order to lessen that gap will only send the scientific level of the world plummeting down! And Academy City is the only place that can actually develop psychic powers. The technology in this shopping mall is not enough to pull it off. Without Academy City, the field of psychic powers development would be utterly destroyed!!”
“They don’t care about that,” Lessar responded immediately. “They don’t care if psychic powers disappear forever. If they can use that fragmentary scientific knowledge to advance the research in the wrong direction and manage to open up a completely new field, that’s enough. A lot of technology exists to support the development of psychic powers. If all they want is a profit, extending from that field is the most efficient method.”
“They just want profit…?”
“Well, it’s true that there are a lot of possibilities opened up by developing psychic powers, but you just need to remember that they will not necessarily pay any heed to that.”
“They’re establishing a business model,” Mikoto muttered as if she were carving the words into her own brain. “Does this shopping mall have research facilities like Academy City?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thoroughly looked over the place, so I can’t say. I just know that the place seems to be focused on thought experiments in the fields of finances and economics.” Lessar shrugged. “However, if Academy City were to receive catastrophic damage, the quality of ‘cutting edge technology’ would fall quite a bit all across the world. I’m sure the businesses and research organizations that want to benefit as much as possible would rely on the fragmentary knowledge held by Academy City’s cooperative institutions like the shopping mall. Even if the shopping mall did nothing more than set a way of charging quite a bit of money for the use of that information and a way to make a profit off of the sale of all products derived from that information, they would make quite a bit of profit. In fact, their profit would be greater than anyone else could keep up with.”
A world where the leading edge of science had been shaken.
That was what a world where Academy City had been destroyed would be.
The shopping mall understood what kind of distortion that would be, but they were after nothing more than profit.
“This shopping mall has its strengths in financial and economical areas. They have the data from all the experiments they have run, so they likely have the strength needed to survive the chaos that would occur if Academy City were to cease functioning. And at the same time the other cooperative institutions would be taking much more damage. With that, it is possible they could end up repainting the very structure of the scientific market.”
If that happened, it was not unlikely that Academy City would not be reconstructed.
What the companies and organizations around the world wanted was stability.
If another center appeared, they would have no problem moving there. If a situation were created where it would be more efficient to move to a new system rather than expending quite a bit of money to rebuild Academy City, no one would need Academy City anymore.
“The very valuable orange story was already used up by someone else, so they will be spreading a new urban legend between the two cities in order to carry out the next incident. After that, they will begin carrying out their large scale terrorist attack in order to destroy Academy City.”
“As I said before, spreading the urban legend between the two cities may have the effect of causing false accusations that will cause trouble and to hide who the true culprit is among a great number of suspects. However, it also may make a jumbled mess where it is unclear who was damaged by the incident and who gained from it. …And whatever is being planned, as long as it creates a situation where Academy City is catastrophically damaged, Academy City will be unable to carry out a detailed investigation. In that case, it is possible the shopping mall and the other cooperative institutions who have an interest in the scientific information may write up a report on the incident that gives a result convenient to themselves.”
Mikoto pulled out her cell phone and looked at the screen.
She was on the run, so merely using her cell phone was dangerous, but it was unclear if she would make it back in time even if she headed back for Academy City right that instant. In that case, she had no choice but to ask someone in Academy City to help resolve the incident.
She would need to contact a certain person who protected the peace of that city.
She would need to contact Shirai Kuroko of Judgment.
(They have prepared an urban legend in preparation for the incident. In that case, we may be able to predict what type of incident will happen next.)
“Do we know anything about what kind of rumor it is?”
“There is an unnatural surge within the shopping mall. It is most likely being artificially spread. I don’t know if it is in Academy City as well, but if my guess is right, it is also being spread there by some means. It is likely related to the next incident.”
“What kind of urban legend is it?”
“At the very least, it is more shocking than the orange one.” With a devilish grin on her face, Lessar spoke of the new rumor permeating the city. “The necklace of death. You may have heard of it. It is a rather famous story that involves uranium.”