Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS3 Chapter4
As soon as they stepped through the metal door, a muffled bass beat reverberated more in their gut than their ears. They were not even in a dimly-lit backroom. All they saw were stairs leading up to the surface. Some dance music was playing in the distance and only the bass notes made it this far and rudely rubbed at Misaka Mikoto and Sakibasu Yuri’s lower stomachs.
The violin-loving girl with curly-tipped black twintails frowned and started rubbing a finger against her temple.
“Th-this is more than I can bear. I do not understand how anyone can give their body over to music like this.”
“Yeah, it is like scratching hard at the scab.”
Mikoto agreed for politeness’s sake, but her tastes in music were not that biased. Still, she did find reason to criticize what she heard. A playlist like this required a theme or drama. For example, when putting together a playlist of love songs, they would start with a first love, move on to some trouble, continue with a ballad of heartbreak, and finish it off with a song yearning for a second chance. That gave the entire playlist an overall story arc. Mikoto sensed none of that continuity from the bass notes she could hear. This was just some Western music lover playing down the hit chart without even understanding the lyrics. You did not even need a human DJ for this. Just ask your phone to “play some upbeat songs, hits only” and you could get the same thing.
This was not somewhere they should be visiting in their Tokiwadai uniforms, but they had to pass through here or the attacker would escape.
After climbing the stairs and reaching the ground floor, they found large double doors in front of them.
Either for the appearance or for soundproofing purposes, the door was twice as tall as Mikoto. And standing in front of it were two men in black carrying a black device that combined a metal detector and a stun baton. This place was not made to be entered through the main entrance either. It may have been connected to an emergency exit or backroom.
One of the men, who were 2m tall, made a blunt demand.
“What do we do? My Stativarius Ainsel doesn’t work anymore. Should I try that unlimited black card that worked weirdly well at the karaoke box?”
“Don’t bother. We don’t know if the same keys work everywhere and everyone here’s an enemy anyway. These men are armed and working here, so they must be the rich villain’s soldiers.”
Mikoto breathed an exasperated sigh and snapped her fingers.
“Good evening. I’ve got your key right here, morons.”
With a popping sound louder than firecrackers, the combination metal detector and stun batons burst from within. The two large men screamed and writhed on the ground. One of them tried to pull a different weapon from his hip, but Mikoto ruptured his radio’s battery to silence him.
The other one weakly raised his hands while curled up on the floor. But he had clearly not given up hope since he kept glancing up at a corner of the ceiling.
Mikoto responded by putting a hand on her hip.
“I wouldn’t place my hopes on the security camera if I were you. How do you think I got through the electric lock into here?”
“Looks like you understand now. Sweet dreams.”
Bluish-white sparks burst from the bangs of her short chestnut hair to physically silence the man in black who still intended to resist.
Sakibasu was concerned enough by the men’s low angle view to hold her short skirt down with a hand and she looked alternately between the men and the door.
“I-I’m surprised no one heard that. The explosions were pretty loud.”
“Well, the area inside has got to be a vortex of sound. Still, this won’t last forever. These men are probably meant to make periodic reports. If we don’t get in there soon, we’ll lose the element of surprise. Come with me, Sakibasu-san.”
The door was more than twice their height, but when they grabbed the knob and turned it, it was surprisingly light. It had motors built in just like an electrically assisted bicycle. …Although that introduced the fundamental question of why they did not just use an automatic door.
And as soon as the door opened just a crack…
“Yeahhhh!! You wannabe gourmet sommeliers might not know the difference between ethyl and methyl, but don’t let this 40 proof stuff get you all tipsy! You don’t need any cheap drinks around here! I’ll use the invisible hand of music to reach into your head and puree your brains!! Woo!!”
It was like a flood.
The chaotic deluge of sound felt like it would scorch their chests in an instant.
In what seemed like a failed attempt at using indirect lighting, the nearly pitch black space had blinding red and green beams of laser art flying around. And for some unfathomable reason, special lights attached to the pillars were flashing intermittently but not to take photographs. The objects glowing in the dark must have been coated in a substance that reacted to black lights.
The place stank of a mixture of sweat, perfume, alcohol, and other more unmentionable things.
Were the dresses supposed to look like that or had those people been mugged? The women here wore what might have been underwear or a swimsuit with only a skirt or shorts over it.
The dance floor was larger than a tennis court and it was packed full of people. The side wall appeared to have been made into a bar, but the elevated space in the back was the DJ booth. And the curved stairs on either side of that booth led to the VIP rooms on the second floor. Some small rooms were enclosed in thick glass. The door to the backroom could not be seen from here, but it would either be behind the DJ booth or on the second floor with the VIP rooms.
Sakibasu Yuri looked a little nauseated just from seeing the dance floor packed as full of people as a train during rush hour. Her legs contained in black kneesocks and loafers moved hesitantly back and forth like she was preparing to step into a sticky bog.
“Urp… Wh-what is this post-apocalyptic nightmare?”
“Where do the corn starch footprints lead?”
“Ugh, this way…”
“Good. We won’t be here for long.”
Mikoto fired a lightning spear at the tall ceiling as a warning shot. When the deep popping sound burst across the dance floor, the half-naked women who had been swaying like heads of wheat instead screamed and curled up like pill bugs. With Sakibasu following her, Mikoto shoved the people aside to cut across the polished glass-like floor.
Of course, the club was not going to just let this happen.
Bouncers in black moved from the corners of the dance floor and the second floor, but Mikoto detonated the batteries of the radios or phones in their pockets instead of worrying about their fancy (ha) guns or knives. That was a quick way to incapacitate anyone who did not realize their convenient modern marvels could also be used as bombs. The ones with good instincts or just good luck quickly threw their communication devices away, but that gave them one extra thing to do. The enemy essentially had to sit one turn out, so Mikoto only had to zap each one in turn using lightning spears.
“Sakibasu-san, where’s the corn starch!?”
“It has been trampled on a fair bit, but the footprints climb the left stairway to the second floor!”
By the way, the awful dance music continued playing even as all this went down. But the DJ’s fingers had frozen over, so there was no link from one song to the next. The same song kept playing over and over.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!!” shouted the DJ. “I surrender, I surrender! What did I ever do to you!?”
“That machine you’re using to control all those awful disks! Is it the club’s, or did you bring it with you!?”
“Please no! I took out a bigger loan for this than for a car! Please don’t destroy it!! Heavy Round stopped producing this analog audio equipment ages ago, so the only way to get one is to snatch up one of the ones rotating between secondhand stores like conveyer belt sushi. There’s only so many to go around, so losing it would be a loss for the whole world!!”
Mikoto elegantly flipped him off like a proper lady as she climbed the stairs to the VIP rooms. A man in black stepped out from behind a pillar wielding a black leather blackjack full of countless metal balls, but she zapped him with a high-voltage current and shoved him down the hard glass stairs.
(Is this all? That model shop was more dangerous than this.)
Sakibasu Yuri frantically moved to the side of the stairs while following Mikoto up. She held her short skirt down while holding her violin case. Pressing her black kneesocked legs together so nervously made her seem all the more feminine. Misaka Mikoto decided maybe she should not have run up the stairs so boldly even if she was wearing shorts below her skirt.
“Don’t get hit when they fall down. Here we go, Sakibasu-san.”
The second floor VIP rooms appeared to come in different grades. Some of the thick glass booths were no larger than the waiting rooms on a train station platform and others were larger than a school classroom. When Mikoto aimed her palm toward the glass, she saw grown adults and hostesses cowering down while in each other’s arms. …You needed a key just to get inside the club, yet it was divided up even further inside. What was this nesting doll of an organization thinking? The people using them may have been delighted to pay the high prices needed to obtain their own private space, but Mikoto could only see it like a zoo with strange animals stuffed inside their cages.
“Th-those pancakes look awfully thin for such a fancy place.” Curly-tipped twintailed Sakibasu clung to Mikoto’s back as she nervously looked around. “Everyone on the dance floor and in these VIP rooms was an adult. I don’t see that attacker in a leotard.”
“Where do the corn starch footprints lead?”
“The pointe shoes continue further back.”
“Oh, there’s a door on the wall.”
The door had a heavy-duty biometric scanner, but an electric lock was an electric lock.
What Mikoto did might look the same, but she messed with the internal circuitry differently each time. She did not even let it report there had been an error. Zero-Day Link and the virus storage center were no concern of hers.
She held her palm toward the panel and forced open the door.
“Time to head backstage.”
The attacker was a girl with semi-long blonde hair and a light blue leotard. She looked elementary school aged and she clicked her tongue and slammed her small fist against the wall when she nearly tripped over a small bump in the floor. The dim lighting here pissed her off.
(I know I lured them in some, but this was too quick. How did they find their way straight here through that crowd? …Wait, are they using something to track me!?)
She belatedly realized what was happening and removed her pointe shoes. She then rummaged through the cardboard boxes placed directly on the floor of the narrow hallway.
She needed a tool for her esper power.
She had a very powerful form of Telekinesis, but for some reason, her power did not work on living cells. That meant she could not affect a flower growing in the ground or even one cut from its roots and kept in a vase. Her power only started working after it was made into a pressed flower.
That meant she could not directly crush a target’s heart from 10km away and she could not throw them 10km into the air so the fall would kill them. She had to attack using some kind of inorganic tool, such as a knife or a hammer.
Using the leather riding suits to mimic living creatures may have been her way of protesting that insurmountable hurdle. …That said, the Personal Reality forming the foundation of her power could not be analyzed with simple psychology.
The leotard girl did not think of her power as “useful”.
She had a different set of values than those emptyheaded Level 5s who liked to show off their flashy powers.
A rare method of attack made it easier to determine the culprit. She was already growing more reliant on her power after the shotgun was destroyed, but the more she used that impressive power, the more she was cornering herself.
Her small hands dug through the cardboard boxes stacked up on the floor and she pulled out an ordinary screwdriver set that could be found in any discount store.
(This would be a lot simpler if I could alter the trajectory of my own bullets, but I won’t have time to focus that hard.)
She did have a self-defense handgun shaped like a stationery stapler that was small enough to hide in her skintight leotard’s sleeve, but she could not use it directly. She could have the gun itself hover in midair to target the enemy from a blind spot, but that was no different from a dangerous toy made by strapping a gun to a drone. She was not about to entrust her life to something that could be acquired for less than 30,000 yen in some countries.
She could not afford to be captured here.
But not because she was afraid of being arrested and thrown into juvenile hall. Nor was she afraid of being thrown out and purged by the organization that managed the keys.
This was all the small girl had.
This was the only place where she could use every form of violence she possessed without simply relying on her power. She could never reach Level 5 no matter how hard she worked, but she had this one utopia that provided the conditions and possibility needed to overwhelm the Level 5s.
“I will crush you.”
She uttered a low, resentful growl that sounded out of place coming from her small form. The entire dimly lit back area seemed to creak ominously.
“I will crush anyone who would take my utopia from me.”
Something happened just as Mikoto’s foot kicked open the door to the back area.
Misaka Mikoto and Sakibasu Yuri’s pleated skirts suddenly fell down to their ankles.
They paused for a bit.
This was an esper power.
It was a truly ridiculous application of Telekinesis.
But the damage must have been greater for Sakibasu who was not wearing shorts like Mikoto.
Her black kneesocks were no defense at all.
One detail in particular will be omitted to preserve the maiden’s honor, but let’s just say the black twintails girl blushed bright red and screamed while frantically waving her hands holding the violin case to hide the area below her navel.
“Sakibasu-san, do you not believe in wearing underwear or something? Otherwise, I really recommend wearing it from now on.”
Now was not the time to be considerate.
Mikoto gave that somewhat exasperated comment, but on the inside, her tension had only increased. She did not relax because she highly doubted this was a simple prank. Comedic events were more effective than serious ones at preventing people from thinking straight. And with pants or a skirt around the ankles, it was just as difficult to move as with rope tied around the legs.
Also, you could not help but have your eyes pulled downward.
That was like shutting your eyes in front of the enemy.
This had to have been the Telekinesis of the leotard-wearing attacker who had been willing to use a shotgun. Mikoto could guess what would happen next.
“Get down, Sakibasu-san!!”
Mikoto did not bother pulling her skirt back up. The zipper was bound to be broken after it was pulled down while fastened. She freed her legs with the sound of tearing cloth and tripped the black twintail girl who remained flustered. Sakibasu Yuri had no way to resist with her ankles bound and the violin case in both hands, so she fell straight to the floor.
The girl groaned while kissing the floor.
“Ubfh!? …Carbon Search. Be careful, Misaka-san. This floor is a hotbed of tiny mites and fleas.”
A moment later, the cardboard boxes stacked up on the dark back area floor were shredded from within. The tools used to anchor speakers, amps, and lights shot out like bullets. Sharp screwdrivers, thick wrenches, and more attacked them from all directions.
(Telekinesis. She’s not holding back anymore!!)
A dull and heavy thud rang out. Even if they were being controlled by some other esper, Mikoto’s power was stronger when it came to manipulating metal. She forcibly held the screwdrivers and wire cutters in place as they tried to soar toward her, but…
“Crap, I have to control the stainless steel ones differently!”
A small stepladder and a wrench heavier than a hammer continued forward despite the magnetic net, so Mikoto had to swing around a screwdriver she had already taken control of to knock them down physically. More and more orange sparks flew through the dark back area. The exact conditions were unclear, but it seemed that leotard girl could use more than just metal items as a weapon. Nor was she limited to leather products. This backstage area was overflowing with practical tools, so it was perfect for her.
And the attacker was still freely walking around on her own two legs.
She would get away if Mikoto continued playing this one by ear.
Worse, the leotard girl had already proven she could control their clothes. If Mikoto let her guard down, she could be strangled by her own collar or have her shoes slip to create an opening. Mikoto and Sakibasu were both human. It was all over if a crowbar, icepick, or other pointed metal object struck them between the eyes.
And that was why Mikoto took a calculated view of the situation.
(She only sends weapons flying in from three places at once. It all looks random at first, but she’s set up a safe zone where no stray shots can possibly reach her.)
“Sakibasu-san, use your Carbon Search to the south-southwest! Scatter whatever kind of powder you can find!!”
The bare-butt girl was still lying face down (because she was too embarrassed to show her face), but she used just her one arm to throw something. Was it a powdered anti-itch medicine or cough suppressant? Either way, it was made of sugar or carbohydrates…which meant it was organic.
But that did not actually matter.
Mikoto heard a gasp from the darkness.
She fired multiple lighting spears down the straight hallway with enough force to tear through the stacks of boxes being used as cover. They briefly lit up the area like camera flashes. She doubted this would end the battle, so they were only meant to stop the leotard girl’s attacks. She wanted to get close while the girl was held in place.
(You won’t get away. I need to capture you to bring back our safety.)
The edge of the shredded boxes had ignited as Mikoto rushed around that large obstacle.
“Now, I’ve got-…”
But on the other side, she found that the gasping presence and any sign of movement had vanished.
For an instant.
Truly just an instant, Mikoto lost sight of reality. Her mind could not process the sight before her eyes. The girl had vanished, but where to? Had she teleported? Wasn’t her power a telekinetic one that allowed her to move objects without touching them??? Had she used that power to lift herself up the ceiling or throw herself backwards? Mikoto glanced every which way, but that was not what had happened.
The girl in a blue leotard could convert any object into a weapon.
She did so by grabbing and throwing it with her Telekinesis.
It was likely accurate enough to control more than one riding suit from a distance of several kilometers, make them look like actual people, and even indirectly control an electric motorcycle and a shotgun through them.
Mikoto’s ears picked up an odd sound like the air being twisted.
What if she could grab the air itself? If she could change the density of the gasses to bend light and sound like a mirage, she could create illusions wherever she wanted. And Mikoto’s electromagnetism was no exception there.
The girl excelled at using Telekinesis to make people think inanimate objects were people.
And compressed air alone made for an effective weapon.
She had come out on top in this game of mutual deception.
The maximum instantaneous wind speeds of a Category 5 could shatter a car’s bulletproof glass. That was the identity of the invisible attack that was aimed at Mikoto’s skull.
The girl in a light blue leotard felt an unpleasant sweat on her brow as she leaned against the wall from the side. Throwing around all those projectiles had already been well outside the normal usage of her power. It was difficult to picture how you “grabbed” a gas, so forcibly bringing the air under her control was a major task for her. It took time to gather it all up and she was overcome with exhaustion even when it worked. That exhaustion came from psychological stress.
Her bare legs were trembling.
If she could do that anytime she wanted, she could have prevented those dust explosions earlier.
(I did it…)
She straightened her spine as if stretching out the moisture captured between her damp leotard and the wall.
She walked through a door in the dimly lit back hallway and entered a kitchen space full of silver stainless steel. The ordinary fluorescent lights were just about enough to blind her. This was where the drinks and set meals for the bar were prepared.
The door in the back was the second floor’s emergency exit.
But instead of simply opening the door and descending the emergency stairs on the outside of the building, she wanted to use the small food trolley elevator to reach the first floor bar and head out that way. She expected that would do a better job of escaping the enemy’s expectations and tracking ability. A fully grown adult could not ride that down, but her small and slender body came in handy here.
The only cooking done here was heating up a packaged dish in hot water or microwaving something from the freezer and adding some finishing touches in a frying pan with some extra spices, so the only workers were a few part-timers. It may have been praiseworthy that they did not leave it all up to a single person. They seemed a little surprised by the leotard girl’s appearance, but even when she brandished her stapler-like self-defense handgun, they did not seem to realize it was a gun. The looks on their faces said they wanted her to hurry away so they could avoid any trouble here.
It only had two rounds inside, but a gun was a gun.
At this point, it was more of a protective charm than a useful weapon, so she returned it to her sleeve.
(It doesn’t matter if that defeated them or not. I don’t need to settle this here. What matters is that they can’t follow me. It looked like there was more than one of them, but they should all panic now that I’ve taken out the one. I need to use this chance to slip out the emergency exit. …Once I shake them, I reclaim my ability to kill them whenever I like. I can bide my time and finish this later.)
She had used her Telekinesis in front of the enemy often enough that they must know about it by now. If that witness information made its way to Anti-Skill or Judgment, they might begin a search using the Bank. That would be bad. She needed to end this before that happened. She doubted they could identify her that easily since telekinetic powers were common, but she still could not wait around too long. She claimed she could bide her time, but she would much rather end this immediately. Mikoto was not the only one hoping for safety.
(First, I need to get out of here.)
The blue leotard girl placed her small hand on the silver countertop as she walked through the kitchen. The sweat on her skin irritated her, but…
(I need to make my move immediately after losing them. I can aim for the moment they run out of Club Psychedelic Beach and aren’t sure what to do next. …I need a riding suit, a shotgun, and a small collapsible electric motorcycle. Okay, good. Everything I need is at a nearby coin locker. I’m glad I distributed my supplies all across the city. I can inflate the suit to look human and attack them from a safe distance.)
She reached for the elevator button while making her plans, but her slender fingertip stopped at the last second.
The blonde girl in a light blue leotard grabbed a fruit knife from the countertop and lightly tossed it toward the elevator button.
A high-voltage current burst from it.
The door to the kitchen flew open just as the sparks erupted out. The leotard-wearing attacker did not hesitate. As the frightened part-time workers tried to run away, she kicked one of them in the back of the knee to bring him down, reached an arm around his neck from behind, and forcibly lifted him up as a shield.
That silhouette stepped into the light to reveal not a scratch on her.
What had happened to that projectile made of solidified air!?
“I’m starting to figure it out.”
Bluish-white sparks scattered from her bangs as she gave a cruel smile while wearing her shorts without a skirt to cover them.
“It looks like your Telekinesis has trouble affecting living things. And this place is pretty gross. Maybe you can’t blame them since the guests are never meant to see this back area, but I think your control of the air failed because the floor and boxes in that hallway are a hotbed for fleas and mites. So keeping you from controlling the air was simple enough. I only had to alter the air’s composition similar to remaking oxygen into ozone.”
“There were a lot of small bugs flying around in that back alley when Sakibasu-san fought you off before, weren’t there? You can freely grab objects and the air, but your accuracy drops considerably if you accidentally grab a small living creature instead. Is that the flaw in your power?”
“Go to hell!”
Despite her enraged shout, she continued working to predict what happened next.
She had the stapler-like gun hidden in her skintight sleeve, but Mikoto could easily control and deflect that metal weapon. That girl singlehandedly possessed enough firepower to rival a heavy cruiser or fortress. You could not hope to take the title of Level 5 by force unless you did.
There were knives, frying pans, portable stovetops, portable burners, meat tenderizers, a juicer, and even an industrial microwave and refrigerator.
Just as the leotard girl swept her eyes around to list up everything she could possibly use, she heard an exasperated voice.
“You really want to fight over the products on these shelves? If it comes down to a clash of our powers, do you really think you can come out on top?”
“Then just try it,” roared the leotard girl. “Is your control really that precise? Can you fight with me over the weapons while also slipping your attack past the hostage to hit me and only me!?”
“I don’t even need an iron sand sword or Railgun for this.”
Mikoto ignored that and pointed at her.
No, she pointed at the part-timer worker being used as a human shield.
“Lighting spears are so convenient. Having just one nonlethal option gives you so much more freedom.”
She must have decided holding onto the hostage barehanded would only allow the high-voltage current to reach her through him. She cursed and tossed the hostage aside to regain her freedom of movement.
Meanwhile, Mikoto pointed somewhere other than the girl or the hostage.
Most of the food was premade and bagged or frozen, but there was a decent selection of fruit that only had to be cut up with a knife to be used for desserts or for smoothie ingredients.
Bluish-white sparks exploded out and a large watermelon burst on the cutting board.
The chunks and juice splattered all over the countertop, sink, oven, microwave, large refrigerator, floor, wall, and ceiling.
“You can’t control anything that’s alive.”
The leotard girl frantically looked around after hearing that, but it was too late.
“And since you worked at that shop that specialized in models and taxidermy, I’m sure you understand that living cells can remain active for a surprisingly long time after being removed. There are obvious examples like a lizard’s tail or a planarian, but most any cell can maintain its cycle of division as long as it has moisture, nutrients, and oxygen.”
“Also, the cells of a plant remain active even after being cut away from their branch, stem, or vine. In fact, the fruit surrounding the seeds is meant to provide the seeds with the nutrients and moisture they need to grow in that state. So a fruit with plenty of moisture is just like a flower in a vase. Now, that fruit has been splattered across this room, so what can you still control here? Anything at all?”
A long silence followed.
Did the blue leotard girl’s vision blur because of tension or because her tear ducts had raised the white flag?
She could grab and throw all inorganic objects and the air itself was no exception. A hit would be painful, but it was essentially meaningless without the element of surprise.
Misaka Mikoto was Academy City’s #3 and she was known as the Railgun. In terms of simple firepower, she could force back a cruiser in a direct shootout, so how could this girl ever stand up to her?
She heard the crackling of sparks from directly ahead.
“If you have nothing, then why not end this here?”
“I’m not doing this because I want to…”
This was no longer a battle between esper powers.
The leotard girl could not even control her own tear ducts as she shouted at Mikoto in fits and starts.
“It was all this power’s fault. This power let me pull in anything I wanted, so I wasn’t given any chance to move my body. Without stimulation, the human body is easily distorted. Did you think I wanted to do all this? I had no choice!!”
And she secretly reached a hand behind her back as she did so.
“My joints were too soft. I couldn’t run without damaging my knees and I couldn’t even lift a heavy cardboard box. I had no choice. It was all necessary. They were supposed to introduce me to a good doctor if I did what they said. I was supposed to get back everything I used to have!! That’s all it was supposed to be! And yet…!!”
Someone else peered into the kitchen from behind Mikoto.
She carried a violin case and she had mostly managed to get her skirt to stay up at her hips despite the broken zipper.
“Don’t you do it!!”
“Biological scan of target complete. No abnormality in cellular activity. All tendons and cartilage are healthy. So it was all a lie! She is up to something!!”
“You piece of shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!”
The leotard girl moved her hand back to the front while yelling.
She had pulled a stapler-like tool from her long sleeve. It was operated similar to a fire extinguisher, so she only had to squeeze the shallow V-shaped grip. She took aim with that self-defense handgun.
But it was no use.
She had known that to begin with, which was why she had tried to create an opening by making up a sob story to trigger an emotional response.
The dreadful zap of a high-voltage current erased all other sounds.
By the time Mikoto made it back outside, night had fully fallen.
This road was always brightly lit up, but it was now illuminated even more garishly by plenty of red flashing lights. Several Anti-Skill vehicles were parked outside of the front facing part of Club Psychedelic Beach.
They had finally done it.
They had captured that girl with semi-long blonde hair and a light blue leotard.
They still did not know her name or exact esper power name, but the immediate threat was gone. They had not dealt with the actual villain belonging to the organization managing those keys, but they had a solid lead now. Once that leotard girl was questioned in the interrogation room, they were sure to get more details. Then they could find the name of whoever was at the top.
“It’s true we pushed you in that direction, but I’m impressed you pulled it off.”
That exasperated comment came from the adult Anti-Skill officer watching as the stretcher carrying the limp leotard girl was loaded into an ambulance.
Mikoto was pretty sure his name was Inoue.
Mikoto responded while making sure to deal with all the phones aimed their way by the onlookers standing behind the Anti-Skill tape.
“To be clear, we were only saving our friend. This wasn’t some weird form of thrill seeking. The rest is your job, so make sure you settle this.”
“We much prefer you leaving it with us. C’mon, Maeda, speak up.”
“Maeda, they were right. Since we’ve caught a new suspect red-handed, it’s pretty obvious whether or not Sakibasu Yuri was guilty.”
Maeda could not bring himself to bow in apology and Mikoto started quietly laughing at his behavior. He had not realized the onlookers’ cameras were not working. She would have felt bad forcing him through any more of this exchange.
Inoue gave a small bow in his colleague’s stead and changed the subject.
“So where is, um, Sakibasu-san? Also, your skirt looks kind of odd.”
“I don’t need your concern. Did you think you had some kind of winning hand with a night club, a middle school girl, and a broken zipper? I don’t know what kind of gross things you were imagining, but we weren’t attacked in that way. The only reason Sakibasu-san isn’t coming out yet is, well, let’s just call it her personal fashion sense. …I need to make sure she’s properly dressed when she goes outside from now on.”
Inoue tilted his head in confusion, but this was a difficult thing to explain tactfully.
Mikoto shrugged with her torn skirt held together by pins.
“I have an underclassman in Judgment, so can she handle the investigation of Sakibasu-san?”
“Oh, it isn’t about that. I just wanted to apologize to her in person. Maeda feels the same way. He just won’t say it.”
The ambulance gave a quick honk of its horn.
They looked over to see the EMTs gesturing over from the pop-up back door where the luggage would be loaded in a normal van.
“I’ll accompany the suspect there. Sorry about all this, miss. We’ll give you a proper apology later.”
“You were just doing your job, right? Sakibasu-san understands that too.”
“Maeda, you stay here.”
“No, I’ll go too. Please don’t leave me here. I don’t think I could bear it.”
Inoue laughed quietly, bowed for his partner again, and then climbed into the ambulance carrying the attacker in a leotard. He and Maeda closed the back door and then the ambulance drove off with its siren blaring.
Mikoto did not know how this would end, but this was a clear dividing line.
Mikoto’s phone started ringing.
“Misaka-saaan, this is urgent! It’s a bit of an emergency!!”
“Wait, why do you have my number, Shokuhou?”
“What a dumb girl you are. Do not underestimate my clique ability. For one thing, Sakibasu is not yours. She is one of my girls.”
She then forced the conversation back on track.
“But more importantly, I have been investigating things from a different angle than you☆ But it’s just awful. The grownup world is such a filthy and horrid place.”
“What is your point?”
“The group managing those keys seems to have some members inside Anti-Skill. Some of the privileges and special services that the keys provide require that they have a presence there. And the problem is that the stereotypical example is to cover up the key holder’s crimes. You can imagine how much a black-hearted VIP would want that, can’t you? So to put it simply, they have a vanguard among those meant to protect the peace of this city.”
That alone was not enough to know anything for certain. Anti-Skill was a large organization. But for some reason, a very bad feeling raced through the back of Mikoto’s mind.
What if that ambulance simply disappeared on the way to the hospital? What would happen then?
They had captured that attacker, but they still did not know her name or esper power name!!
“Hold on. You aren’t talking about a man named Maeda, are you!?”
She breathed a sigh of relief when that suspicion was denied.
Then she felt guilty for doubting the man based on her impression of him instead of actual evidence. That made her the same as him when he attacked Sakibasu based on a first impression.
But then Shokuhou gave the answer.
“That is the one name I have managed to uncover. So don’t allow Anti-Skill near anything important here. Sakibasu, any important witnesses, and any evidence should be left in the care of a Judgment branch you trust. Make sure of that no matter what. …Wait, Misaka-san? Um, are you even listening?”
And somewhere else, an encrypted transmission was sent out.
“Take care of this, Reversible.”
It arrived at the small device in a certain Anti-Skill officer’s ear.
An icy female voice spoke from it.
“Make sure you kill Riot for me. To avoid future complications.”