Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS3 Chapter5
The ambulance drove toward a District 7 hospital.
But this was different from using a phone and bicycle to deliver food. There was a lot they had to do before arriving.
An EMT and the two Anti-Skill officers looked down at the small girl belted to the stretcher. It was the EMT who took the central role here. He attached a transparent oxygen mask to the limp girl’s mouth. Then he placed a sensor shaped like a fluorescent light on the leotard and slowly slid it across her smooth curves from neck to hips.
“The suspect’s age is estimated to be 10 to 12, her sex is female, and I guess I should mention she is showing the early signs of secondary sex characteristics. Her connection to a crime is confirmed. She does not possess any identifying items or documents. Based on the tag and logo, her leotard is a standard product of a sporting goods company, so we can’t use that to determine her school. The only other noteworthy fact is her lack of shoes. Her weight is estimated to be 34kg and her blood type is B Rh+. The simple test kit shows slight allergies to shrimp and cedar pollen, but nothing else. Okay, we can use whatever drugs we need. Moving on to her injuries, she was knocked unconscious and lightly burned by a high-voltage current and, although the medical sensor can’t get a good reading with the leotard covering her entire body, she also has some contusions. …They are located on the front and back of her body, so it does not look like she simply fell during the arrest. The bruises on her right palm and shoulder are likely from restraining the recoil of a firearm…but there are some others I am unsure how to explain. She may have been in a fight before arriving at the club.”
The EMT recorded his voice while finishing his scan of the leotard girl belted to the stretcher and then he used a pair of scissors to cut through the thin material covering her flat chest and left arm. The fact that she was a girl did not matter here. He attached electrodes to her smooth chest and her temple, rubbed alcohol inside her elbow to disinfect the area around the vein, and slowly inserted an IV needle while the ambulance rocked around them.
He groaned slightly when he checked the monitor.
“Ugh, there’s a significant disturbance in her brainwaves and heartrate. I didn’t notice any broken bones or serious internal bleeding, but did I overlook something?”
“No. She was shocked by electricity until she could no longer move and then arrested as the suspect in a major crime, so it would be odd if she was not extremely stressed. This proves she’s still conscious. Excuse me, but my name is Inoue. Have you treated criminal suspects before?”
“Only some people to blame for traffic accidents, but, um, this girl used a real gun, didn’t she? That’s not something you come across every day.”
Did they think they were safe as long as she was strapped to the stretcher?
The girl called Riot still had a chance until they injected her with a tranquilizer that would mess with her thoughts. While checking the faces of each of the adults looking down at her, she directed her focus beyond them. She sent her Telekinesis behind the Anti-Skill officers’ heads. She chose a sharp scalpel from among the medical tools affixed to the wall and had it slowly float up. Instead of actual surgery, it was a first-aid tool meant to remove crushed bullets or jagged shrapnel from the body. This clean ambulance smelled of alcohol, so she did not need to worry about biological impurities like mites or fleas. If she was willing to make a surprise attack, she could quickly kill everyone else here and cut the stretcher’s belts. And after doing that, the driver would have to do what she said.
(This isn’t over yet. They took my blood, but they haven’t looked it up in the Bank yet. If I destroy their local devices, I can still escape this.)
“So we’re finally making some progress. Right, Inoue?”
“Yes. Sorry about shoving all the worst parts onto you.”
“It’s fine. I know my appearance has a way of scaring kids. At school, I’m the ‘scary gym teacher’. It’s a thankless job, but I felt like the world had opened up before me when I realized that actually prevents a lot of trouble before it starts. You could say it’s the role I was born to play.”
The casually chatting adults thought it was already over.
They were oblivious to the sharp blade dancing behind their backs.
“This was a strange case, but we don’t need to pursue every little thing. If we get her to talk, we can learn everything that way.”
“How about we take some time off after this is over, Inoue?”
“Oh, do you have a bunch of leave left? I’ve used mine up.”
“Really? You’re no fun. I was hoping to head to the racetrack and use your intuition to win some money.”
The strapped-down leotard girl saw something out of the corner of her eye.
One of the Anti-Skill officers – Inoue was it? – was surreptitiously moving his hand. He turned the valve on the spare tank not hooked up to Riot’s mask. A colorless gas silently leaked out.
Hyperventilation is the most obvious example, but oxygen could be harmful when its concentration was too high. And it was a necessary substance, so it would not show up in an autopsy or poison test.
The person increasing the concentration only had to be careful about how much they breathed in and restrict it to one half or one third of the usual amount. It was a definite toxin, but no special masks or suits were needed to avoid its effects.
Once the preparations were complete, he only had to wait. The oxygen’s effects would work their way deep into the minds of those who continued breathing normally.
The first to feel faint was the EMT who was performing a precise task.
Maeda tried to support the woozy EMT’s shoulders, but then he realized he could not move the way he wanted to. And once the symptoms were this evident, it was already too late.
“Ino…ue? Are you…okay?”
Inoue leaned back against the ambulance’s wall and shut his eyes. Although he may have been sticking out his tongue in his heart.
Maeda did not have it in him to give this anymore thought.
They had all collapsed to the floor, but modern ambulances used a camera instead of a rearview mirror. And since the treatment space was separated from the driver’s seat by a white curtain to make sure the drive recorders of oncoming traffic could not peek inside, the driver would not have noticed anything was wrong.
Only the leotard girl who was breathing the oxygen supplied by her mask was safe.
And after making sure the other adults in the treatment space had fallen unconscious, Inoue pressed an index finger against his lips, switched off the recorder the EMT had been using, and made contact.
“(I will deal with the driver. An ambulance is a single box, so even with the thick curtain slowing the flow of oxygen, he will not last long. But we can’t have him passing out.)”
“Who are you?”
“(I am Reversible. I believe this is our first time meeting face to face, but I know you quite well, Riot.)”
The leotard girl breathed a sigh of relief when she heard that.
Luck was apparently still on her side. No, this may have shown just how thoroughly her employer had infiltrated this city.
But then she heard a clicking sound.
And a groan.
She looked over to see supposedly-unconscious Maeda had reached a hand toward something hanging at his hip. But instead of his weapon, it was his radio.
He had hit the emergency button to inform the rest of Anti-Skill that something was wrong.
Inoue clicked his tongue and twisted an oxygen tank’s valve. But instead of the spare tank, this was the one hooked up to the leotard girl’s mask.
Her mind immediately faded and her thoughts scattered. Now she could not use her power. Her powerful Telekinesis could grab gasses if she tried, but it was too late once she was having trouble thinking straight. Riot’s eyes widened in confusion.
“I thought you might not use your power if I earned your trust, but now sealing it off by force seems safer. As much of a pain as it is.”
“Sorry. You’re on the same side as me, so I was hoping to give you a quick death free of pain and fear, but that’s no longer an option. Thanks to him.”
Inoue kicked sluggish Maeda in the face.
“And on that note…Maeda, you shouldn’t have done that. I could’ve passed it off as a malfunctioning tank knocking everyone unconscious. Then I could have set everything up so only the girl there got a lethal dose. Well, the tank’s manufacturer might have had a bad time of it what with all the recalls, but only the one criminal would have died. Was that so wrong?”
Maeda seemed to be struggling to even stay conscious.
But that may have been why his unfiltered thoughts made it through.
“I am an Anti-Skill officer… The lives of criminals aren’t mine to take…”
“Oh, is that so?”
Inoue barely seemed to care.
There was not even any malice in his voice. He did not view the other man as an equal.
“But you should have given some thought to what would happen once you ruined my plans. I want to stay in Anti-Skill after this, you know? So I can’t leave behind anything that would risk that. Do you get what that means? More than just the one person has to die. Now everyone here has to die. The entire ambulance full of people needs to lose their lives in a natural fashion. That way the Anti-Skill backup won’t be suspicious when they find me as the sole survivor.”
A confused comment of “What? Eh? What’s going on?” came from beyond the white curtain. The driver had apparently finally sensed the ominous atmosphere from the back.
Inoue held a finger to his lips.
“Watch carefully, Maeda. What is about to happen is your fault. I wonder if he’s married? He might have a wife and kids waiting for him back home. If it’s a two-generation home, his parents might be there too. But now it all falls apart thanks to some complete stranger’s foolish decision. He isn’t to blame. He did nothing wrong. But now a dark shadow is going to fall on the lives of his beloved family. They may never find their smiles again.”
Maeda desperately tried to reach out a hand, but it was no use. Inoue’s ankle passed by just a few centimeters out of reach as the man walked by and pushed the white curtain aside. He reached an arm around from behind the driver’s seat and Maeda did not even have time to shout a warning.
“It’s no use, Maeda. You killed him.”
After a dull crack, the ambulance swerved to the side.
Inoue tossed something heavy onto the passenger seat and then climbed into the driver’s seat himself.
Maeda clenched his teeth and used the vehicle’s swerving motion to place himself on top of the restrained suspect.
“I’ve already…reported this. That unnatural oxygen poisoning won’t explain a broken neck. You’ve left traces of your crimes everywhere, Inoue…”
“It’s all in how you do it. I just have to dispose of the entire ambulance in a way that makes a broken neck look natural. And my target will of course be killed in the process.”
Inoue waved back from the driver’s seat.
No, was that a phone in his hand?
“I thought they stopped allowing this after that incident with a vehicle packed full of hydrazine, but I suppose the caution wears off with time. Products like these are apparently pretty common these days. Not that unmanned control tech is all that impressive in a city full of autonomous cleaning robots.”
“I am talking about driverless vehicles. The Zero-Day Link AI server gathers more than 8000 vulnerabilities, virus varieties, and other online risks on a daily basis and sends them to the virus storage center, so making such a large truck driverless seems incredibly dangerous to me.”
There was a straining sound as the leotard girl tried to move her seemingly paralyzed limbs since the excessive oxygen supply kept her from using her esper power. But the belts firmly strapping them down kept her from leaving the stretcher.
Maeda also seemed unable to do anything. It was too late to do anything after the effects were noticeable, so he could not even stand on his own two legs. His right hand was touching something where it had landed, but he would have trouble grabbing something and throwing it. He only had enough power to crush a rotten tomato in his grip.
Only Inoue could act.
And he actually looked excited by what he was about to do.
“Okay, it’s time for an exciting car stunt. Where’s a good location for a head-on collision?”
“GK> Anti-Skill has sent out an emergency alert along with coordinate data. The device that sent the signal is registered to…Maeda-san? But the signal from the ambulance’s car navigation system has vanished. It apparently has not arrived at the hospital it was headed for!”
Uiharu’s confusion was palpable even in the social media message.
The enemy had even infiltrated Anti-Skill, the city’s peace keepers. Just as they thought they had found a solid lead to this elusive target, the ambulance carrying the leotard girl had vanished. Whether the enemy was sheltering the girl or silencing her, their clue was as good as gone at this rate. Mikoto and the others would be forced to live in fear of assassins being sent their way from some unreachable position.
They had no time.
If they were going to take back that girl, how could they do it?
Mikoto thought for a moment on the nighttime street.
“Uiharu-san, where was the ambulance’s signal last seen? We can start searching from there!”
“GK> Um, quite close by. It’s about a kilometer south from that club. I’ll send you a map!!”
“Misaka-saaaan,” called a weak voice.
Sakibasu Yuri was ducked down and hiding behind Shirai Kuroko’s back while holding her violin case. Her skirt’s broken zipper had apparently been temporarily fixed with some pins. …She apparently did not wear underwear due to some kind of personal belief, so she had to be intensely worried that the skirt would fall down on the side of the road here.
“I have heard most everything and I will not let that girl be spirited away or whatever. Let’s search for that ambulance before the trail goes completely cold!”
“Thanks. Kuroko, you send Sakibasu-san there ahead of me! She might be able to find some kind of hint with her power!!
“Sure, sure. Your old twintail girl will help out too.”
Shirai was sulking a bit as she placed a hand on Sakibasu’s shoulder and caused them both to disappear together. Mikoto then used magnetism to cling to a building wall and jump between buildings to take various shortcuts to her destination.
(Anti-Skill, huh? If the enemy has people there, we can’t rely on any normal organizations or agencies. Are we supposed to suspect even the pizza delivery worker and door-to-door newspaper salespeople!?)
After using the map on her phone to cut across the nighttime city, she found Shirai and Sakibasu standing at a perfectly ordinary intersection.
Saten and Uiharu were also there.
“Hah hah hah. You can never underestimate a rentacycle, Misaka-san!”
“It hardly matters at this point, but we’re completely breaking curfew, aren’t we? Ohhhh, what are we going to do!?”
The whole gang was there.
The Judgment pair of Uiharu and Shirai were crouching down and doing something.
They were focused on a small stain on the asphalt. It almost looked like someone had dropped their ink during calligraphy class.
Except it was not black.
It was a much brighter and more sinister red.
“That’s…blood, isn’t it?”
Uiharu did mostly data analysis work, so she must not have seen it in person all that often. She seemed nervous, but then Sakibasu cut in from the side.
“It is B Rh+, but it appears to be a mixture of different people’s. It is likely the preserved blood used for transfusions.”
“Y-you can tell all that?”
“Ho ho ho. Do not take my Carbon Search lightly. Heh heh heh hah hah!”
Yes, esper powers were all about application. At the very least, hers was worth the laughing she was doing while bending so far back her spine strained. And the backwards leaning pulled the front of her short skirt dangerously high, but she did not seem to notice.
Mikoto cut in from the side.
“That may have been a sign from the ambulance. The back door opens upwards just like with a normal van, so there’s a gap at the bottom even when closed tight. Any liquid spilled on the floor will drip out onto the road. Someone might have secretly crushed a blood pack behind their back to tell us where they are.”
“Hm, in that case!”
“In that case, we can follow the trail of blood without using Carbon Search.”
Shirai Kuroko’s whispered comment caused Sakibasu Yuri to blush and start cutely hitting her. …Except those cute blows had to be painful with that violin case still in her hands.
Uiharu continued the conversation while rudely staring at her mobile device.
“For now, I’ll send the information to the Anti-Skill and Judgment networks. …Let’s see, searching for a missing ambulance. Watch out for Inoue Kasha.”
However, that name had been supplied by Shokuhou Misaki of all people.
It was unclear where she had gotten it from and was testimony she acquired from someone using her mental manipulation power even admissible in court? Plus, the adults would probably want to cover for someone in their organization.
“Uiharu, what’s in the direction the blood trail leads? Like, is there a giant airport or a next generation weapon armory?”
“Saten-san, if you’re hoping this incident escalates, we might need to have a chat in that alley over there. There is nothing that exciting in that direction. There’s only…let’s see, the most notable landmarks are an aquarium, a concert hall, and an online broadcast studio.”
Shirai frowned at that.
“Those don’t sound like the destination of choice for a runaway criminal.”
“I mean, Academy City as a whole is surrounded by giant walls, so it’s not a great place to lose pursuit in a car chase. Ta ha ha.” Uiharu laughed before adding more. “There is also a large tunnel, but they would never go there. With a single long path, they’d be trapped like rats if we sealed off both exits.”
“I want speed, so a long straightaway would probably be better. I’ll need to have the driverless truck go down it the wrong way, though.”
Inoue spoke his plan out loud, but that may have been because he thought no one was left to resist him. Or maybe he was feeling the pressure himself as he drove the ambulance toward a head-on collision with a large truck.
A curse-like voice arrived from the treatment space.
But this complaint did not come from leotard-wearing Riot who had some idea what was happening. Funnily enough, it was the ignorant Anti-Skill officer named Maeda.
“Why did you side with these criminals? Academy City is surrounded by walls and full of security cameras. You must have known this was risky.”
“Did you know net shooters can actually kill people pretty easily?”
He spoke casually.
It was almost like he was asking what Maeda had eaten for dinner the night before.
“Even though they’re supposed to be tools to safely capture a suspect just by pulling the trigger and launching a net. But when I did it, the compressed gas cylinder ruptured and the fragments shot out like a shotgun blast. That kid kicked the bucket so easily. But when they advertise them as nonlethal suppression weapons, why wouldn’t we believe them? A company made that product, so I really think I’m allowed to be mad about it.”
“I warned him like I was supposed to and I responded appropriately when he tried to resist arrest.”
The ambulance must have appeared normal enough from the outside.
They passed by quite a few cars, but there was no sign of anything happening in the outside world.
“That was all it was. It wasn’t my fault, but who’s going to believe me? That’s when it happened. Just when I was trying to figure out what to do, someone showed up to dispose of the body for me. When one door closes, another opens. There really were people who understood my situation.”
Maeda was at a loss for words, so Inoue continued while driving.
His tone remained unchanged.
There was no emotion in his voice.
“I want to stay in Anti-Skill. I honestly do want to crack down on crime and save people in need. I swear it. That’s why I’ve been working so hard, Maeda. I’ve been getting information on criminals you don’t even know about so I can keep Academy City safe. I’ve taken down brutal criminals who never would have shown up on our radar in a hundred years using the normal methods. To be clear, I did everything by the book and acted appropriately back then. So wouldn’t it be wrong to let that one punk take it all away? I can save so many more people this way. So what happens to those people if this path is taken form me? This is no longer my problem alone. If I’m arrested here, who’s going to protect this city?”
He was not doing it for money or because he was fed up with his job.
Inoue Kasha was a proper Anti-Skill officer.
…Except some gear had worked loose at the very core.
Unable to get up and simply lying on top of the suspect girl to protect her, Maeda spoke up with a groan.
“I don’t really expect you to understand. But if you ask me, Maeda, you aren’t saving anyone. Everything you do is no better than the way you’re lying on top of that girl. It might look visually similar to protecting someone and you might be satisfied with that, but you aren’t solving any of the actual problems affecting the victims. You aren’t worthy of respect because you don’t understand what it means to truly protect the peace.”
A roaring sound could be heard from outside the ambulance.
Everything was dyed in the distinctive orange color of the lights.
This was a bypass added later to relieve traffic. A tunnel of about 3km cut right past the area that got congested in the morning and evening.
If Inoue was to be believed, a large driverless truck had entered from the other side.
Even though it was driving the wrong way.
The Zero-Day Link AI server collected and tagged a massive number of vulnerabilities and viruses every day, but it was no use here. In fact, its mechanical way of working was the very problem there.
“I promise you I’ll work even harder once I get out of this. Maeda, I’ll work enough for your share too. I’ll take care of the perpetrators of those horrific crimes and bring peace back to the city. So it’ll be okay. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Our job…is to arrest criminals…and bring them back…to the straight and narrow. So they never need to resort to crime again…”
“Idealistic hogwash. How can you say that after seeing true crime? And I mean the indescribably vivid crimes lurking on the underside of this city.”
“If you can’t say it…then quit your job this instant, Inoue. You aren’t worthy…of the Anti-Skill name.”
Inoue only scoffed.
Maeda did not bother arguing further. He gathered his last strength to hold the girl protectively below him just a little tighter.
And so Inoue would not notice, he used his trembling fingers to undo the stretcher’s belts and slip the oxygen mask from her mouth.
The leotard girl looked shocked.
“(Hold your breath and use the carbon dioxide produced by your own body. You should gradually be able to move your limbs again. …I’ll do what I can to cushion the impact of the crash with my body, but it’s still unlikely you’ll survive. The entire ambulance is going to be crushed after all.)”
“(But if you do survive, do whatever you can to escae from Inoue and survive. Then please turn yourself in at the nearest Anti-Skill station. You need to be punished for your crimes, but you still deserve to live. I’m sorry, but this is all I can do for you.)”
Maeda could not move his own body.
So when the shaking of the ambulance shook his right arm, the leotard girl saw something there.
She saw it on his wrist.
And on his neck just below the collar.
He had several permanent scars visible on the skin between his Anti-Skill equipment. As someone who worked on the underside of the city, she knew those were all places with thick blood vessels. Even if your opponent was wielding a blade, you could not let yourself be slashed there.
He had gained these scars in his intense daily duties.
This was proof that he had arrived on the verge of death countless times while fighting to protect complete strangers.
And that was not all. She was only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
He was not an idealist who knew nothing of reality’s cruelty and he was not actively trying to show off these signs of his hard work.
It was possible.
Someone could face the great darkness out there and still choose to silently protect Academy City. If you used the city’s deep darkness as an excuse, you could justify anything, but it was only the weakness in the leotard girl’s own heart that had let her do that.
But this meant Riot might have been able to do what he had done.
She might have been able to escape the darkness. The back alleys still would have been the only place for her, but she could have faced the darkness in a different way. For example, when she heard a scream, she could have rushed recklessly to the scene and used her Telekinesis as a shield.
That might have been an option.
If she had not eliminated the possibility herself.
(He isn’t all talk.)
But it was too late to realize this now.
This was all meant to end her life.
She had caused this.
This man had what she did not and she had put him in mortal danger.
(There really were adults in Academy City capable of giving things real thought and acting on that thought? Then what have I been doing all this time!?)
When Inoue operated his phone in the driver’s seat, he heard a few deep honks from up ahead in the same rhythm as his tapping finger. Something large was approaching based on his phone’s commands. Zero-Day Link gathered online risks daily and the virus storage center created antivirus programs based on the level of risk, but neither of them noticed this danger. The truck had no bright headlights on because the driverless vehicle primarily used map data and radar scans, so light was not all that necessary. After confirming something, Inoue unlocked the driver’s side door. He opened the door a crack while calling back into the treatment space.
This was different from fanaticism.
Inoue remained cheerful to the very end.
He was not even aware that he saw things so differently from the rest of the world.
“You are naïve and not worthy of respect, but your determination wasn’t bad. The scary gym teacher, was it? I was honestly jealous of that. Really. If I could scare the kids into obeying without having to even raise a hand, that net shooter accident might never have happened. That’s something I lack. At any rate, don’t worry about what happens next. The peace of Academy City is safe in my hands!!”
“Shut up, you freak.”
With a sound of blowing wind, the criminal vanished from the ambulance.
With that, it was over.
They would soon experience a nightmarish head-on collision that crushed the steel ambulance like an empty drink can.
Several bodies would be found in the burning ambulance, but they would have been badly crushed by the crash and then burned in the explosion. No distinctive blades or poisons had been used, so an autopsy would not find much of anything.
Some formal suspicion would fall on Inoue as the sole survivor, but he would eventually be back to his normal routine. Rumors and caution faded with time. The sole survivor would seem suspicious, but there was nothing anyone could do without definitive proof.
Maeda hated his inability to accomplish anything here.
But more than the truth of his death going undiscovered, it pained him that he could not protect this small life in front of him here.
The time came.
The ambulance and the 20-ton truck approached in the long, long tunnel.
And they sped right past each other!!
The pressure was so great he thought his heart would stop, but the Anti-Skill officer realized something while using his life to protect a criminal.
The truck had passed them by.
There was no head-on collision.
By the time he asked the question, the change was already underway.
A continuous grinding sound came from the concrete wall.
Meanwhile, Misaka Mikoto scattered sparks from her bangs while clinging to the ceiling of the exhaust-filled tunnel.
“Drat, simple jamming wasn’t enough to stop it! Kuroko, you take care of the ambulance. I don’t know what’s going on inside, so be careful!!”
“I’m relieved to finally have a job other than taxiing people around.”
With that casual comment, Shirai Kuroko vanished into thin air. She intended to teleport inside the speeding ambulance and work the steering wheel and brakes.
It helped a lot that Uiharu had noticed a report of the stolen truck and linked it to this incident. By combining the direction of the blood trail with witness reports about the truck, they had realized the two intersected at this long tunnel. Dead men tell no tales. If Inoue’s plan was to kill his target and any possible witnesses, his best bet was to crush the entire ambulance and make it look like an accident.
“GK> Since they’ve started teaching programming in elementary schools, anyone can make a virus these days. Humans can’t keep up with all the problems, so we have AIs tag things based on risk. So if something isn’t tagged high priority, it won’t be sent to humans to create an antivirus. And the standards for tagging aren’t all that great…”
Of course, it was unlikely the criminal would stay on the ambulance to the end.
He was a professional criminal, so he would not choose a one-way ticket out of desperation.
(Where did that Inoue guy go?)
She heard the sound of a metal door slamming shut.
“Sa10> Misaka-san, tunnels like this have emergency exits at set intervals. He can escape outside even partway through!”
“GK> Why do you know that, Saten-san?”
“Sa10> It was key to an urban legend about people disappearing after their car broke down in a tunnel. A group was apparently capturing them for some kind of weird ritual.”
At any rate, Mikoto only needed to know where her target was.
She moved from the ceiling to the emergency walkway positioned a step up from the road. Then she used magnetism to tear the emergency exit door off its hinges. She was up against a corrupt Anti-Skill officer, so he was probably armed with a gun. She decided to keep the metal door with her as a shield.
“GK> Inoue Kasha has the code list and infiltration skills of an Anti-Skill officer, so he might take control of any electronics or net-connected cameras in the area. Be careful.”
“GK> Really, if only the Zero-Day Link online risk management AI was more reliable. Reality is crawling with digital criminals who can slip through the huge gaps it leaves.”
This was her first time inside one, but the emergency exit turned out to be like a small tunnel running parallel to the large tunnel. The single long pathway continued on ahead of her, but there were also stairs leading up at set intervals. You never knew where a fire would start or where the tunnel would collapse, so they prepared as many exits as possible and installed plenty of doors leading there in case of an emergency.
(Now there’s no way to know which exit he used.)
“Uiharu-san, can you access some satellite footage? Or grab all the security camera footage from around the emergency exits! I need to know where Inoue escaped to!”
That was when some strange static crackled from her phone’s speaker.
She held it away from her ear on reflex.
After shouting, she felt an unpleasant sensation down her spine.
Just like people reflexively looked up during an earthquake, certain things could trigger certain responses in people. For example, if something odd happened with their phone, their gaze would be drawn to that small screen.
It came from right behind her. A merciless blow struck her in the back of the head.
The metal door fell to the floor despite supposedly being supported by magnetism.
Misaka Mikoto could emit microwaves in all directions to accurately detect and intercept an explosive’s shrapnel as it tore through the air, so it was shocking for an attacker to sneak up on her like this.
Still, she had been careless.
Even a hit from the side of a notebook would daze someone if it was to the back of the head. That was not a spot you could afford to let someone attack you. She was lucky that she had not lost consciousness…no, that she had not been killed.
(Are you kidding me!? What happened!?)
Bluish-white sparks crackled out.
She forcibly jumped forward and planted her feet on the wall of the narrow emergency passageway, but her eyes were still shaky and refusing to focus.
“You can use your power on your own nerves? Is there anything you can’t do?”
An unpleasant sound caught up to her, but she sensed it more through her bones than from her ears.
(I dislocated…my thigh!!)
This was a trick she had learned from the Queen of Tokiwadai Middle School’s right-hand girl who handled most of the physical work since the Queen herself was so hopelessly unathletic, but just being able to control electricity was not enough to pull it off. Mikoto’s power was strong enough that she had to be very careful to avoid frying her own nerves or breaking her own bones.
She had no choice but to bite down on a handkerchief.
She suppressed the pain and used both hands as if shoving in a large hook.
She jammed the dislocated hip joint back into place!!
Clear drops fell from her tear glands regardless of her emotions.
Of course, her opponent would not have just waited while she did this.
She forced her eyes forward again.
She used her tear-blurred vision to focus on the identity of the threat.
“What is shouting my name supposed to accomplish? Silly girl.”
That keeper of the peace spun a dark and skinny object in his hand. It looked like a bored student spinning a pen, but this was no idle task.
He was calculating the distance between them so he knew how many times to let it spin when he threw it.
She saw it.
The throw came from directly ahead.
(No reading…on my microwave…scan!?)
That shock was immediately followed by a scorching pain in her right shoulder.
It had stabbed into her.
She had been stabbed.
It did not feel like metal, so it was probably some kind of aerospace material. It seemed to be the kind of hard plastic used in riot suppression shields and police batons. But whether it was metal or not, it should not have vanished from her microwave radar.
People instinctually feared lightning, but one theory said that was not just due to the bright light and loud noise. After all, lightning was different from a boiling tea kettle. Because so very few people knew what it was like to be struck by lightning, it was best to assume that fear came from something other than knowledge of the pain. The sound arrived after the light. The aforementioned theory said people feared the strange sensation of experiencing a single phenomenon through different senses at different times.
What had happened to Mikoto was similar.
She could not shake the odd feeling of her mind and body being separated. Like when dozing off, she felt like she would come down with sleep paralysis if she let her guard down.
“Oh, too bad. I was aiming between your eyes. And with it sticking in your shoulder, I guess you’ll figure out the trick before long.”
If she had used her eyes and ears instead of relying on her power, she might have been able to dodge it. At times, having too many data sources could be a problem.
She heard something swishing through the air.
This time, it was a black whip about a meter in length. Unlike in manga and video games, real whips were useless if they were too long. Try swinging around a jump rope or garden hose and that becomes readily apparent. A weapon with a similar feel to a belt was not as hard as a sword or a spear, so it could not stop enemy attacks very well. But it could produce great destructive force with just a snap of the wrist and it could lash someone from a variety of angles while moving along irregular trajectories. Its power was clear when you remembered it was used in circuses to tame ferocious beasts like bears or tigers that could shrug off a 9mm bullet.
Of course, this was not standard Anti-Skill equipment.
And Inoue did not hesitate to target Mikoto’s right shoulder where the throwing shaft was still stabbing into her.
(Is he some kind of security goods freak!?)
It was less of a surprise this time when the microwaves emitted from Mikoto’s body detected nothing there. She covered her wound by essentially shoving her left shoulder in the path of the whip.
He prepared another throwing shaft in his other hand. At this close range, it was more like a single-use spear than a throwing weapon.
She could no longer swing her body to either side.
She clenched her teeth and took a powerful step forward.
That might seem reckless at first, but it was a split-second decision. A whip carried the force of the snapping wrist to the optimal location. To put it another way, the attack would fail if the target moved closer than expected. It would hit, but it would not be a clean hit.
The whip hit her left shoulder with a dull snap, but it was knocked back and hit the throwing shaft that was meant to slip through the gaps.
She had narrowly escaped.
And once he was in grabbing range, it was Mikoto’s turn. She could bring down most adults by grabbing onto them and releasing a high-voltage current.
“Not gonna work.”
A rusty flavor and smell exploded at the tip of her nose.
It felt like she had run face-first into a concrete wall. Inoue had easily lifted his knee to stop Mikoto’s attempt to tackle him at the hips. Her vision faded while the broken Anti-Skill officer stepped back to adjust the distance between them.
He was up against the Railgun, yet he chose to fight at a distance.
The fact that this was not pure foolishness may have been enough to prove Inoue Kasha’s skill.
(Damn, I can’t read his movements. He’s right there, but I can’t even grab at his clothes!!)
Mikoto had experience with back-alley fights.
But that was only while using her powers. If she had to fight a pure martial arts match in a square ring with weight and all other factors made equal, she would be unable to rise very far in the ranks.
She was so used to having that microwave radar scan that she could barely function when it was unexpectedly taken from her.
“You don’t need to feel bad about this. Really, the fact that an amateur girl has lasted this long against a professional fighter is impressive.”
“Don’t talk down to me…”
“Also, I’m sorry to say that these unnatural injuries mean your corpse can never be discovered. I’ll process it and then bury it in the mountains or something. You’ll be treated as a missing person. I really would have preferred to have your corpse found to give your friends and family closure, but it is what it is.”
“How many times have you done this!? You monster!!”
There was a heavy thud.
Inoue had released another throwing shaft in the middle of their conversation and it hit her in the center of the chest, but it bounced off.
This was not thanks to her powers.
Instead of dodging to either side or below, Mikoto had stepped back. That was reckless against a projectile flying straight toward her, but she had given this the appropriate thought.
“So you’ve given up on the microwaves, have you? But doing everything with brute force is so ugly, don’t you think?”
The throwing shafts were not thrown in a straight line like a paper airplane or dart. They were spun end over end for a more stable trajectory. They were more like a tomahawk in that respect.
Since it made a full rotation every n meters, changing the distance between them would prevent the sharp end from hitting her and she could survive a hit to a vital point.
Mikoto brought her empty hand to her right shoulder and forcibly dislodged the throwing shaft there.
The pen-sized weapon was entirely black, had a rough texture, and had a burnt smell to it.
Only one possibility came to mind.
“Carbon materials? I’m honestly impressed.”
“I really would have preferred a ferrite coating over these cheap carbon things, but have you seen the price of those US boomerangs? Even with all the wealth in that rich country, they only sold 21 of them. There was no way a civil servant’s pay was enough for that kind of quality material.”
“So you were using EM absorbing materials.”
Those materials were used in a surprising number of fields, including spacesuits and anechoic chambers. By absorbing EM waves instead of reflecting them, there were no reflected waves to detect. They instead vanished silently. With origami-looking stealth fighters and bombers, the angles of the body would also be adjusted to redirect the waves it could not absorb, so the waves would at least not make a U-turn right back to the radar.
…Her mistake had been meeting him a few times beforehand. An Anti-Skill officer could get all the data on their powers from the Bank. Misaka Mikoto, Shirai Kuroko, and Sakibasu Yuri. He would have come up with a plan for dealing with those high-level Tokiwadai students who were connected to the case.
“Now, my tricks using a housewife’s handy tools aren’t going to surprise you anymore.”
There was a flapping sound.
It came from Inoue.
“So no point in holding back. Since I can’t hide it any longer, I might as well use it openly.”
He was dressed in ordinary black bulletproof clothing, but he also held a thick, dark gray sheet similar to a matador. It was somehow reminiscent of a stealth fighter’s surface and it negated Mikoto’s radar scan, but it also easily covered Inoue’s upper body, which kept her from using his eye and finger movements to predict his next move. Things that struck or stabbed were not the only threats. Even without any direct destructive power, this tool was more frightening than an obvious blade or bullet.
Mikoto sent sparks from her bangs while sharply swinging a hand from right to left.
She magnetically sent the metal door toward Inoue in sync with her hand’s motion, but he easily ducked below it.
But she had not expected that attack to defeat him.
“It’s too late to clench your teeth now,” she warned him.
“This isn’t like those throwing shafts and riot suppression whip. This kind of handheld shield was used with microwave power transmission from a space station. You can’t force your way through it with a high-voltage current or mimicking a microwave oven.”
She launched a lightning spear anyway.
The trail of bluish-white sparks was diverted away with a matador-like swish of the thick gray sheet, but she ignored that. While he was busy doing that, she jumped from wall to wall to slip into his blind spot while forming an iron sand sword as her real attack.
“Oh? You went to the trouble of bringing iron sand into the concrete tunnel for yourself?”
(Can he see the EM waves and flow of magnetic energy? It’s like he can see through everything I do!!)
She fought in the air while using even the walls and ceiling as a foothold and her weapon was an iron sand sword that could freely change shape like a whip.
But it was she who gasped.
A sharp high kick slipped through the gaps left by her curving blade. This was a narrow emergency exit tunnel and she was in midair, so she could not dodge it.
“Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, telepathy, precognition, and electrical control. This city is crawling with espers who have all sorts of powers, but those of us in Anti-Skill need to take control of the crime scene without relying on any of that.”
She just barely managed to connect her magnetism to the rebar in the floor to make a half spin out of the way before falling onto her back. She was Academy City’s #3, but he seemed to be saying the power rankings were a child’s status symbol and meant nothing in the adult world.
“You espers were developed to be managed, so why would you ever be able to defeat the technology of those managing you? The city would collapse otherwise.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the technology. The problem is when people like you use it.”
“Believe it or not, I am a pacifist.”
“You are the ones who keep forcing me to kill more people. All these extra victims could have been saved if you hadn’t gotten some half-baked ideas in your head and decided to get involved in a case you couldn’t hope to solve. If you had just let me silence my one colleague here, it would have been over.”
“Your name has already been sent to the Anti-Skill and Judgment networks.”
“Yes, and that’s why I have to really put my back into this job. I need to eliminate every last witness to prevent any conclusive evidence. They’ll be suspicious and they’ll probably have me monitored for a while, but that won’t last forever. Still, this is tragic. How many innocent people do you think have to die before I can regain my life now?”
He beat the air with the large sheet.
He covered his body with the EM-absorbing sheet and charged straight toward her.
Would the next attack be with his well-trained arm or leg?
Or would it be another security good like tear gas or a tonfa?
(My lightning spear and iron sand sword don’t work. In the worst case, he might even be able to predict and handle a Railgun shot. So what do I do!?)
Mikoto gave a roar as she ducked low and charged toward Inoue herself.
She stopped using her powers entirely.
For the first time, Inoue was shaken by doubt.
Without her powers as the #3 Level 5, Misaka Mikoto was only a normal middle school girl. She was not trained in martial arts such as karate or aikido.
It came down to a knee blow.
The dull blow hit the girl in the center of her body.
She had of course been unable to avoid it.
“You’re still going!?”
This was different from before.
The pain had not stopped her.
She forced down that instinct. Humans were not bears or tigers. They would not necessarily obey just because you hit them with a whip.
Mikoto instead clenched her teeth and wrapped her arms around him. She held onto Inoue’s torso.
“Nhh, you might be able to predict how I use my power. I imagine you’re using some kind of device to read the faint changes in the EM waves and magnetic energy. But I can cancel all that out by not using my powers. I just have to stop relying on electricity!!”
In both boxing and karate, you could not hit your opponent properly if they were close enough to embrace you. Blows made by rotating the body required you to swing your arm or leg, so the centrifugal force was directly linked to the force of the hit.
That was why Inoue Kasha had always stayed a certain distance away from her.
He had actually challenged the Railgun from a distance, but that had been necessary for him while he used the killing techniques listed in Anti-Skill suppression tactics textbooks in the “never do this” category.
A straight punch converted the rotation into a straight line like a metal crank. A hook or an uppercut directly used the rotation to throw the fist. But in either case, he could not put his weight behind the blow when his movements were obstructed by the girl clinging to him. His only remaining option was to act like a child throwing a tantrum and hit her in the sides with just the movement of his hands.
This would not reduce the damage to zero.
Mikoto clenched her teeth even harder and gave a roar.
“Now, what if I release my full power at point-blank range like this? How about we find out? I have no reason to hold back now!!”
He was clearly panicking now.
That squirming was enough for her.
He could not claim he had not known. This had to be what Inoue Kasha had most feared.
An unavoidable high-voltage current pierced the corrupt Anti-Skill officer’s entire body.
This had all occurred in a long tunnel, so their biggest fear had been another car being caught off guard and crashing into it all. After managing to stop the ambulance, Shirai Kuroko’s next job had been to assemble a triangle of reflective panels found in the vehicle and place it behind the ambulance to inform any approaching cars of the danger.
“Uiharu, has the tunnel still not been blocked off!? The truck scraped along the wall, so pieces larger than concrete blocks are scattered everywhere!!”
“GK> There’s nothing we can do until Anti-Skill arrives! …There won’t be more like Inoue Kasha mixed in with them, will there?”
Just as Uiharu suggested that frightening possibility, Saten rode up on a bicycle after apparently using the emergency walkway located a step higher than the road. Sakibasu was standing on the back (while looking horribly bothered by the fluttering of her skirt).
“Shirai-san, is there anything we can do to help?”
“Why did you come here when there is a possibly-armed Anti-Skill officer on the loose!?”
Shirai snapped at them while opening the ambulance’s driver’s side door, passenger side door, and back door.
Saten tilted her head while kneesock girl Sakibasu nervously got off the back of the bicycle.
“It seems that Inoue guy manipulated the oxygen level to knock out everyone else in the ambulance. It would be best to let in some fresh air.”
Shirai sounded exasperated, but some of her breaths were unusually deep. There was also a cold sweat on her brow. She looked a lot like someone trying to suppress their motion sickness. She had only activated the emergency break, but she might have been in trouble if she had stayed inside the ambulance just a little longer.
Someone was squirming within the back door.
It was the leotard girl who had somehow managed to undo the stretcher’s belts. The effects of the high oxygen level meant drool was dripping from the corner of her mouth and her leotard had been cut open with scissors for first-aid, so her appearance was nowhere near as sinister as before.
She was a powerful Telekinesis user and an expert criminal.
Shirai held out a hand to stop Saten and Sakibasu and she pulled a metal dart from the belt on her thigh.
“I will hear no excuses about the oxygen even temporarily dulling your mind. If you resist, I will attack.”
But escape was apparently not the leotard girl’s plan.
She seemed to be holding onto the Anti-Skill officer who was lying on top of her.
“There’s something wrong with him. He isn’t waking up like I did. Please, can you check to see what happened?”
“Be very careful.”
Shirai gave that quick warning, but Sakibasu pushed her out of the way to step forward. She and Saten dragged the limp Anti-Skill officer out of the ambulance.
The EMT was apparently still conscious. He weakly waved at them while slumped back against the ambulance’s wall. Was he saying he could take care of himself?
The EMT must have thought he could not do the job himself with his fingertips trembling so much, so he instead forced out a warning.
“The effects…of oxygen vary a lot from person to person. He’s in a dangerous state…”
Even after laying the adult Anti-Skill officer on the exhaust-covered asphalt, he did not even groan.
Saten looked disturbed.
“He isn’t…dead, is he?”
The girl with the rolled black twintails crouched down and whispered.
Then she grimaced.
“He is still breathing, but there is something wrong with the hemoglobin in his blood. It might be because he is a smoker, but the amount of oxygen his blood can transport was already reduced before all that excess oxygen was sent in.”
“I am aware of that!!” The slashed leotard girl could not even stand up, but she managed force out her voice. “Please, do something about it! I was the target, so these other people were uninvolved… And when we were going to crash into the truck, he said he would lie on top of me to absorb the impact. He asked me to escape from Inoue and turn myself in at the nearest Anti-Skill station. That verbal promise has no real power, but he clearly risked his life for a criminal. I don’t want him to die, so please!!”
“Wah, wah! Wh-what do we do, Shirai-san!?”
After some thought, Shirai Kuroko grabbed a convenience store bag that had blown in from somewhere.
“It might seem simple, but if the issue is with the balance of oxygen in his blood, we should be able to reduce the symptoms by having him breathe in the carbon dioxide produced by his own body.”
“No, Shirai-san. This Anti-Skill officer…Maeda-san was it? His breathing is extremely shallow. Covering his head with that bag won’t work!!”
Sakibasu was right.
Excessive oxygen in the blood was enough to harm the entire body. If breathing in their own carbon dioxide was not an option, it could also be solved with artificial dialysis that replaced all the body’s blood with fresh blood, but the ambulance was not equipped for anything on that level.
They knew a way to solve this, but it was not enough.
They could only wait as his breathing grew ever shallower and eventually stopped altogether.
“Please… I’ll tell you everything. If you save him, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!!”
The leotard girl was too weak to get up, but she still clung to him with what little strength her arms had. Shirai’s group had no way of knowing what had happened to her, but the way she was sobbing with tears and snot on her face made her finally look more her age. At the same time, if the world betrayed her here, that soft part of her would be forever sealed below thick ice, never to emerge again.
There was a loud slapping sound. Sakibasu Yuri had let go of her violin case and struck her cheeks between her hands.
And she started speaking to herself.
“You know what you have to do, Sakibasu Yuri. Yes, there is no time for any other method. You just have to provide him with more carbon dioxide than his normal breathing will provide. In that case, there is one method we haven’t tried!!”
“Wh-what method is that?”
Sakibasu muttered those two words in lieu of answering.
But what was she using her power on in this case? She had already finished scanning the Anti-Skill Officer, so it would not be him. Redoing it was not going to reveal some convenient new fact.
Shirai’s eyebrows twitched up.
“Wait, are you using the carbon dioxide in the air itself!?”
“You will only distract me, so be quiet. …And you must never tell anyone what I am about to do.”
What was she asking them to keep secret?
For some reason, she blushed and took a deep breath before stopping moving all together. She just sat there for a bit. She did not want oxygen, so she had to take in the air and “consume” it herself first. Then her slender hand grabbed Maeda’s jaw as he lay motionless before her. Once she tilted back the Anti-Skill’s head to open his windpipe, the preparations were complete.
The time had come to show her resolve.
She placed her lips on his and breathed out with enough force to fill Maeda’s lungs like a balloon.
A few long seconds passed.
After removing her lips from the Anti-Skill officer’s, Sakibasu took another deep breath, stopped, shut her eyes, and did it again.
This was different from artificial respiration meant to send oxygen into someone. She had to consume it in her own body before providing him just the right amount of carbon dioxide.
It did not feel like she was working with another human being. It felt disturbingly strange, like she was blowing up a leather bag. There was no response. A great hopelessness started to fill her heart, but not yet.
She could not give up.
This choice and this method could not have been wrong!!
She did it again.
Sakibasu Yuri was not Misaka Mikoto or Shokuhou Misaki. She could not solve everything in some clever way and there was only so much she could do.
But so what?
Everyone had the right to save people and everyone should have the right to be saved. She might just be one of the masses, but she was not going to let her efforts go to waste. She did not care if it was ugly and unsightly. If she did everything she could to make it work out, she could catch up from behind. She might feel out of place and not up to the task, but she could be one of those who reaches out a helping hand!!
She persistently repeated the process.
“He moved,” muttered the leotard girl. “His fingers just moved!!”
“Pant, pant… O-of course they did. I am not just randomly breathing into his lungs. I am constantly using Carbon Search to monitor the amount of oxygen in his body’s blood and the optimal density of the gas. I know exactly how much carbon dioxide is needed to treat him.”
She had blown all her air out over and over, so Sakibasu herself had to be feeling a little dizzy. The curly black twintail girl could not support herself and ended up pressing her forehead against Maeda’s chest while she smiled weakly.
The Anti-Skill officer was still sprawled out limply on the ground, but his breathing was gradually growing less shallow.
It was growing deeper and more stable.
He would be fine now.
Sakibasu must not have had it in her to pull out a handkerchief because she wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, sat flatly down, and then lifted her butt back up out of concern for the inside of her skirt.
Shirai Kuroko spoke up in surprise.
“Gwaaaahh!! Please do not say anything!! And I must reiterate that you are not to tell anyone about this!! This was my first time doing that, but it was an emergency and I had no choice! Anyway, I want to wash off my lips and eat lots of sweet things to overwrite the memory. Yes, like a thick pancake dripping with lots of honey!!”
“No, um, I hate to ask this, Sakibasu-san, but did you never take the disaster response class run by Judgment? Artificial respiration normally is not quite so romantic. You place a handkerchief or something between them and you. Um, to protect against infectious disease…”
Something fluttered in the air.
It was a specially-designed resuscitation tool that Shirai Kuroko had pulled from her skirt pocket. It was something like a square handkerchief made of transparent plastic. It had a hole with a special fold in the center so air could be blown through without direct contact being made.
“So, um, uh, if you had asked, I could have lent you this…”
This time, Sakibasu Yuri turned to stone in the middle of this city of science and technology.
At the same time, Misaka Mikoto appeared through the broken emergency exit door with the corrupt Anti-Skill officer draped unconscious over her shoulder.
“Hey, I’m all done. Huh, what’s with all of you?”
“You must not tell anyone what happened!! This is all the more reason why this must be a secret!! Ahh, ahh, gwaaahhhh!!!!!!”
The next morning, the leotard girl let out a soft breath in the District 7 hospital she had been safely taken to.
She gave a small smile of resignation toward Misaka Mikoto and Shirai Kuroko.
She looked them straight in the eye and made an announcement.
“I will tell you everything. Everything that I know, anyway.”