Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS3 Chapter6
Tokiwadai Middle School had a café.
It generally functioned as a hangout for the girls to enjoy elegant tea and small snacks that looked more like bird food than anything, but the girl whose long black twintails were curled at the end, Sakibasu Yuri, was different.
Her tower of thick pancakes with plenty of butter and honey on top was quickly becoming a landmark within Tokiwadai. In this high-class space, it was unusual for the tea to not be the main focus.
It was enough food for Shokuhou Misaki to grow a little pale as she watched on.
“Y-you sure can eat. Especially for someone your size.”
“Pancakes don’t count. And I prefer eating something thick like this. It barely feels like I’ve eaten anything at all if I haven’t stuffed my mouth with food.”
This might seem like an unusual combination, but Sakibasu Yuri had been a new member of Shokuhou’s clique from the beginning. She might not be able to meet the Queen herself very often, but she would have more opportunities than a student outside the clique.
Sakibasu worked at the tower of pancakes while occasionally fidgeting her butt in her seat. It was hard to tell at a glance, but a close look would show that her uniform’s skirt was brand new.
And Misaka Mikoto was another student who had needed a new skirt.
Sakibasu seemed to have her own issues to deal with, but Shokuhou Misaki did not touch on them.
“As a first year, are you starting to get used to your life ability here in Tokiwadai?”
“Yes. And the Stativarius I was able to acquire through your connections has been a godsend!”
A violin case was casually sitting on the ground near her black-kneesocked legs below the table. And it had no lock.
“I have even made some friends outside the school: Saten-san and Uiharu-san. No more am I a sheltered girl who only takes the bus between the dorm and school. I am now a proper lady who can hang around town with friends afterschool!”
“I see,” replied Shokuhou Misaki while resting her head in her hand and laughing.
Sakibasu tilted her head curiously with knife and fork in hand.
Shokuhou had come to the café, yet she had not ordered anything.
“Um. Come to think of it, what brings you to me, Queen?”
“Oh? Do I need a reason ability to visit with you? Now that you are in my clique, you belong to me.”
“Queen,” said a ringlet curls girl before leaning over and whispering something into the honey blonde girl’s ear. As the clique’s #2, this girl had the troublesome job of managing the organization, but she was also a confidant who the Queen trusted enough to give that job. As a newcomer to the world of ringlet curls(?), Sakibasu saw her as a goal still far out of reach.
Shokuhou Misaki sighed quietly and stood up.
“I am glad I had this chance to see you, Sakibasu. Especially because of that natural smile on your face. After all, I hold some responsibility as the one who introduced you to Chandelier.”
Sakibasu responded with a look that suggested she did not quite understand.
Although it looked like Shokuhou quite liked the girl’s imperfect behavior.
Before leaving, she asked one last question.
“Sakibasu, are you enjoying your school life?”
“Yes, very much!!”
Afterschool, Sakibasu Yuri first met up with Misaka Mikoto and Shirai Kuroko in their school building and then they joined Uiharu Kazari and Saten Ruiko outside the school.
“Riot, was it? I heard she was taken to a hospital instead of an Anti-Skill station.”
Shirai shrugged at Saten’s simple comment.
“Well, she was injured. And after that scandal within Anti-Skill, they probably can’t push very hard if she refuses to be questioned at a station.”
Mikoto casually cut in.
“Are visiting hours still going? I feel like those end pretty early.”
“We are not normal visitors, so I doubt we have to worry about that.”
Shirai Kuroko and Uiharu Kazari were both in Judgment, but the former was the type to talk about her “detective’s instincts” and the latter was more data oriented. When the girl covered in flower decorations said it would be okay, it was a lot more persuasive.
They walked to a large hospital in District 7 and they spotted a few Anti-Skill officers before even walking through the outpatient entrance.
Mikoto breathed an exasperated sigh.
“That’s a pretty strict guard.”
“Well, Onee-sama, they have no idea who will be fired if there are any further scandals.”
“I wonder if Maeda-san is here. Ugh, it would be super awkward if we met him.”
Sakibasu’s comment suggested there was little chance of an immoral love blossoming there, but since that awkwardness was not based on fear, she had taken this in a positive direction.
They all entered the hospital together.
Shirai and Uiharu showed off their Judgment armbands and school IDs while going through some kind of special procedure, but that took a surprising amount of time. There was apparently some jurisdictional friction between Anti-Skill and Judgment.
Saten leaned back in a lobby bench and spoke.
“Uhee, having to sit still is like torture for a middle school girl, don’t you think? If we have to wait, why not go explore the cafeteria? They might have a bunch of tasty stuff like the rice porridge you eat when you have a cold! …Wait, what’s with you two?”
“Well, um, the clock.”
“Oh, noooo. The curfew. Not the curfew. What do we do? I’ve snuck out multiple nights in a row already, so the dorm manager is probably on the lookout now.”
In true prestigious Tokiwadai fashion, their dorms were quite strict. An obedient student like Uiharu had been quite worried about the curfew, but Saten had learned something after sneaking out at night quite frequently. Sakugawa Middle School’s security was so lax that someone who collapsed in their room would become mummified before anyone noticed, so she was kind of jealous.
Mikoto and Sakibasu anxiously watched the clock, but after a certain point had passed, their shoulders slumped and they stared out the window where the sun was setting. Saten was forced to drag the two of them to the cafeteria installed in the hospital. Instead of serving a specific type of cuisine, it was more like a highway service area. They had a wide selection of meals in bowls that were not all Western and not all Japanese, but it did not look like they had worked to specialize in any one thing.
Sakibasu casually moved her knife and fork.
“Munch, munch. We missed dinner at the dorm, so if we don’t eat something here, we’ll have to go to bed hungry!!”
“Eh? That’s your dinner!? But it’s only a huge stack of pancakes!!”
“Just like with crepes, pancakes can be a meal or a snack depending on the toppings used. Hm, but these are not quite what I wanted. They are not good enough to surpass the best pancakes I have ever had.”
By the time Sakibasu had polished off the giant tower of carbs, Shirai and Uiharu finally arrived in the cafeteria. They both looked exhausted.
“W-we explained the situation to them. Honestly, is the adult world built from nothing but entrenched inefficiencies and wastes of time?”
“After all that work, we definitely need some sugar to fuel our brains.”
Those two led them to the suspect known as Riot. Mikoto had expected a special room with metal bars, but they ended up somewhere else entirely.
Sakibasu (who was still carrying her violin case around) tilted her head.
“A pediatric rehabilitation room?”
“Given the suspect’s age, isn’t it only natural to take her to the pediatric department? Besides, Anti-Skill has officers posted around her room. Although that was partially at Riot’s request.”
After Shirai’s explanation, data-focused Uiharu gave further information.
“The rehabilitation rooms are only used during the day. No one comes here after hours, so it is the perfect place for a private chat.”
Once inside, they found a large room the size of two school classrooms. To be more child-friendly, it was painted with bright primary colors. It felt like being thrown into a giant kid’s meal. The equipment inside could be divided into two categories: playground equipment like swings and a slide and training equipment like a bench press and a treadmill.
“Oh, they even have Witch & Psychic cards. Wow, this is the 15th wave booster pack! I thought that hadn’t been released in Japan yet!!”
Sakibasu Yuri quietly glanced over at innocently-excited Saten and gave her a somehow complicated look. Mikoto recalled how she had worried that the trading card game she had created when she was 5 might have caused her family to suffer.
But that was not the focus here.
The blonde girl had apparently been given baggy pajamas to wear. That made her look very different from when she wore the leotard. Instead of sharpening her slender body into something professional looking, she actually looked her age.
Sakibasu leaned forward and spoke.
“So you said you would tell us what we wanted to know.”
When she saw their faces, she gave a sigh of resignation.
No, it was when she saw Sakibasu Yuri who had saved Maeda of Anti-Skill for nothing in return.
The girl was sitting on a training machine.
She apparently did not want to touch the playground equipment.
“I will tell you everything. Everything that I know, anyway. You can call me Riot.”
That of course did not sound like a real name.
Going by a pseudonym may have been a sign of how deep in Academy City’s darkness she had sunk.
Shirai Kuroko glanced at a document displayed on her phone before asking a question.
“You are Hanakawa Hinadori-san, correct?”
Her hair was blonde and it did not appear to be dyed or bleached.
But the girl herself reacted to something else.
“I told you to call me Riot. I don’t like that name. It doesn’t fit who I am.”
“But it’s so cute.”
Sakibasu’s overly honest response only increased the exasperation in little Riot’s voice.
“For now. But who wants a name that means ‘baby bird’ when they’re in their 40s or 50s? Maybe forcing your hopes on your child is a privilege of being a parent, but I really wish they had thought this through.”
That might not seem that weird to most people, but these things could still end up being powerful complexes. Everyone had their own reason for falling to a life of crime. This may have been one of many contributing factors.
Then Riot, or Hanakawa Hinadori, got started.
“I think it developed all on its own to begin with.” The girl sighed in the simple pajamas she had put on in place of her light blue leotard. “You know how you might be able to get an expensive bag in a unique color or invited to try out new menu items at a fancy hotel restaurant? There are those things that only a chosen few get to enjoy. And then a weird reversal sets in where the people who receive those services feel like they have been chosen. …But then the people that felt that way gathered up those small rewards, drew lines connecting them, and built up a giant network.”
Hanakawa, the girl sitting on the training equipment, nodded.
“They developed a shared set of values. Or maybe you could call it a currency only they could use: Bag Rank 3, Ring Rank 2, Foreign Car Rank 4, Violin Rank 5, and so on. They developed and spread a culture that explained how to become one of those chosen few and what you had to present to receive what services. That’s what rarity is all about, right? There are regions of the world that use seashells or whale teeth as money.”
“Violin…” muttered black-twintailed Sakibasu Yuri while glancing down at her violin case.
The small girl smiled cynically.
The Riot name may have come from this side of her.
“Exactly. When some kids messing around caused the value of all Stativari to crash, the higher ups were less than pleased. Those were supposed to be Violin Rank 5, but a loss at a simple school exam, stripped them of their effectiveness as a key. Would Almati be next? Or maybe Guarnari? Either way, they needed to head to the Chandelier Auction House and spend a small fortune winning one. You can see why someone easily could have ended up dead.”
“Then you really were ordered to kill the violin’s owner?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Mikoto asked, but the girl on the training equipment shook her head.
“I mentioned a shared set of values, didn’t I? It wasn’t the Stativari that mattered. It was the giant organization – the network. They were afraid of the entire situation that had shaken trust in one of their keys. That key could be a ring, some fur, or land – it didn’t matter. Once one was destroyed, concerns would spread that something could happen to your key. And once everyone loses trust in the keys, the network falls apart. Oh, I know. Let’s say an online bank is hit by a cyber-attack and someone’s account is cleaned out. It doesn’t matter if they’re a friend or not; do you really think anyone is going to leave their money in that bank?”
“So they had to take measures to stop that,” quietly cut in Uiharu.
Hanakawa gave a snort of laughter.
“You’ve got that right. The ones feeling the pressure weren’t the Stativarius owners. It was the hosts who had attached the special label to the Stativari and said what services they were worth.”
“The hosts? You mean the people at the center or core of the network you mentioned!?”
“Yes, of course,” whispered Hanakawa Hinadori with a grin. “Blue Blood. They’re a group of complete nutjobs with delusions about their bloodlines.”
“Can’t we get him to talk?”
“Inoue Kasha has worked as a front line Anti-Skill officer for a while, so he knows all the ways we gather data and try to rattle people. That was his specialty, after all.”
Two adults were discussing that.
Of course, their voices did not reach the other side of the thick glass.
The actual questioning was being held in the adjacent room. The people in there could not see the people here. Through the glass, two men were seated on opposite sides of a table. The chairs and table would be bolted to the floor. As an interrogation room, they could not leave anything there the suspect could use as a weapon.
A honey blonde girl cut by behind the Anti-Skill Officers observing the adjacent room with stern looks on their faces. Except she could have strutted by in front of them and neither of them would have noticed her.
She tilted her head in front of the machinery, placed a white-gloved finger on her slender chin, and finally flicked off a few switches with a pause between each one to check what she was doing.
She had switched off all the audio and visual recording.
With her preparations complete, she reached for the knob to the adjacent room.
She used Mental Out, strongest of the purely psychological powers.
When she opened the door, the voice within reached her directly.
“Inoue, this is the end for you. Stalling in hopes of a plea deal will only leave a bad impression on the lay judges. Do you want to cause trouble for your innocent family?”
“Hi, Mr. Suspect☆ Can you see me?”
Of the two men seated across each other at the bolted-down table, the girl stood behind the Anti-Skill officer who looked close to tears.
And she looked past that proper officer’s head to face the suspect.
The organization’s hitman finally showed some abnormalities in his perspiration and heartrate.
He quickly tried to stand up from his chair, but it was too late.
He was not strapped down, but he could not move. Not his hands, not his legs, not anything.
It only took the click of TV remote.
The #5 Queen brought her empty hand’s finger to her lips.
“He reacted to that. Try using his family to shake him further. But going too far could make him regain his cool, so keep a proper distance.”
An off-base instruction reached the Anti-Skill officer’s ear via short-range radio, but Shokuhou did not care.
She laughed and pulled another TV remote from the bag hanging over her shoulder.
“Tell – me – eeeeverything. You get no secret-keeping ability here. Nothing remains hidden.”
The diligent Anti-Skill officer did not look back her way.
He did not even notice her.
Only Inoue Kasha trembled while unable to get up from his seat.
“Just to be clear, I am not in the mood to play nice today.”
“Delusions about their bloodlines?”
Sakibasu Yuri shook her curly-tipped twintails by tilting her head at that unfamiliar concept.
Saten also looked confused.
“That refers to noble blood, doesn’t it?”
Uiharu’s knowledge here may have come from her adoration of that high-class world.
The pajama girl seated on the training equipment, Hanakawa Hinadori, nodded.
“By delusions about their bloodlines, I mean people who baselessly think they have Napoleon’s blood or are a direct descendent of Nostradamus. They assume someone as noble as them could never be a simple office worker’s child. It’s a similar delusion to the people who think they’re the reincarnation of someone or other. Most of the time, they abandon the idea after everyone stares at them like they’re crazy, but sometimes there are people who build up so much detail in their head that they convince the people around them too. Once that happens, there’s no stopping them. In some cases, they themselves couldn’t back out even if they wanted to.”
“So you’re saying none of it is true?”
Mikoto sounded exasperated, but Hanakawa found the question even more ridiculous than that.
“It doesn’t matter either way. Bloodline? Noble descent? We live in a city of science, so surely you know none of that gets you anywhere.”
The twintail duo of Sakibasu and Shirai exchanged a troubled look.
Hanakawa Hinadori gave a snort of laughter.
“But it turns out those bloodline-obsessed freaks see Academy City as some kind of utopia. You understand why that is, don’t you?”
“Because your DNA determines your inborn talent. It determines the type of your esper power and its potential for growth.”
Mikoto understood this because of what happened when she supplied her own cells.
The military clones known as the Sisters.
Many factors had been complexly intertwined there, but none of it would have happened without her excellent esper power.
“Heh heh. But sometimes, promising seeds and buds are stifled by a poor teaching environment.” Hanakawa waved a hand dismissively. “Now, if you think you come from some noble lineage, what could be more attractive than the idea that people from a chosen bloodline can achieve the strongest esper power? After all, cutting edge science is proving their ridiculous discriminatory logic that someone’s status is determined by their birth. No theory of research could be more convenient for them.”
That was wrong on a fundamental level.
If Oda Nobunaga had used Pyrokinesis to fire the matchlock guns or Tokugawa Ieyasu had used Psychometry to predict and prevent the treason of his retainers, there might be something to it, but there were no records suggesting that. Pursuing Einstein or Da Vinci’s DNA would not lead to an excellent esper power.
There was no connection between someone’s historical success and their Level as an esper.
And more than that.
On an even more fundamental level, it was not that great people accomplished great things. A lot of it came down to choosing a path in life that played to your strengths. No one was destined to accomplish great things from the moment they were born. That was why second-generation celebrities and athletes had so much difficulty. They were placed into a set framework before anyone knew where their strengths lay. And if a great person was not blessed with the opportunity to accomplish great things, their greatness would never be recognized. Plus, success did not come solely from individual skill; a great many factors were complexly intertwined to create that result. For example, if Napoleon were to relive his exact same life, there was no guarantee he could repeat his impressive string of military victories. If the world around him developed differently or the people around him did not cooperate, there was nothing he could do. Even the difference between sunny and rainy weather during a decisive battle could change the result. That was how random and hard-to-predict success was. Mere DNA was not a perfect roadmap to success.
Even though the idea was so fundamentally flawed…
“That’s why they’ve gone completely nuts.”
Hanakawa continued on while sitting on the training equipment and letting her dangling legs sway a bit.
That unnecessary action may have been a sign of nerves not evident in her voice.
“They believe that a noble bloodline means a noble power. They know it to be true. They never even considered any other possibility, so when the research comes back and says their bloodline is worthless, they throw it out because ‘it must be mistaken’. In the end, they’ve already made up their minds. You can call it a delusion if you want. They aren’t focusing on their bloodlines because science says it’s right. They already value their bloodline and they’re just focusing on any scientific theories that say what they want to hear. They’re like people who insist the earth isn’t rotating and will praise any heretical scientist that backs them up. Crazy, right?”
They could only fall silent.
Tokiwadai Middle School was a prestigious school for high-class girls. The students there carried a variety of titles, but that was no excuse. Belonging to a special family or corporation did not give you the right to look down on others.
Or so Mikoto and Shirai had been taught.
Finally, Sakibasu Yuri spoke up.
She was a rare kind of Tokiwadai student who had earned her own way into everything required to be a “high-class girl”.
“We might have those ruthless cliques we created, but that isn’t something the adults gave us, right? Even if we relied on adult connections, no one would gather around us if were only doing it because the adults told us to.”
Riot only shrugged.
The look on her face said not everything in the world ran on logic.
“So…Blue Blood, was it? Is there anything they’re actually trying to accomplish in reality? Are they happy as long as they have those Academy City keys that let them feel special?”
It was a pain either way.
But they could not put together a plan to fight back if they did not know what that group hoped to accomplish.
Hanakawa Hinadori put on a troubled look.
“Your bloodline is pretty pointless all on its own, right? Maybe it would give you something during the Warring States period, but what about in the modern age where we strive for equality between all sexes, languages, races, religions, and classes?”
“Well…um, that’s a problem for them, isn’t it?”
Saten was weirdly hesitant to speak, but that may have been because she was in front of “real high-class girls” like Mikoto and the others.
Hanakawa breathed an exasperated sigh.
“The more they insist on their view, the more they’re ostracized. They end up discriminated against for their discrimination. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about what’s right or wrong here. There are plenty of people I can’t stand for no logical reason. But even an idiot knows that whatever you might think about them, the wise choice is to keep your mouth shut. Because once the accusations of discrimination start flying, it almost never ends well for you. It’s a small world out there, so no one wants to be oppressed by the emperor in his new clothes. We live in an age of majority rule. Three cheers for democracy and all that. Does that match up with your understanding?”
Now it was Mikoto’s turn to be exasperated.
“There were some unpleasant barbs hidden in your words there, but, well, I can agree that life’s easier without discrimination than with it.”
“However, they could not keep their mouths shut.”
The series of noises stopped there.
Silence fell for a brief moment.
And then Hanakawa resumed speaking.
“They had to force their ideas through, logic be damned. Arguing their case normally would only get them drowned out by the majority of reasonable people, so they had to rely on less normal methods. Academy City’s keys? Those are no more than a distraction. They’re placebos that only temporarily hold back the symptoms. They’ve managed to fool themselves this long with words like ‘socialite’ and ‘rarity’, but it seems they can’t restrain themselves any longer. I mean, we’re talking about morons who get angry when they have to breathe the same air and eat the same food as normal people. They’re an even stranger lifeform than those plastic-eating larvae. There’s no way for them to establish a livable everyday life. Their frustrations have built up for so long that they’re about ready to blow. In other words, they need some way to let off some steam. They won’t be satisfied until they’ve taken some kind of concrete action.”
“It’s a virus.”
In the interrogation room, Inoue produced a trembling voice while still sitting in his chair.
“But it’s designed to destroy instead of hijack control. It will be sent from Academy City and randomly disable networked devices all over the world when their OS, security, firmware, or whatever else is updated.”
“A computer virus???”
“Academy City’s tech is about 30 years ahead of the outside world, so if it can pose a threat in this small city, it can be plenty effective on the rest of the planet.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the well-behaved Anti-Skill officer. “Hey, Inoue. Are you trying to confuse us with disinformation!?”
Directly behind him, Shokuhou Misaki rubbed her slender chin with her fingertips.
Her other hand toyed with a TV remote and she whispered in a voice only the suspect could hear.
“What does that global prank have to do with the bloodline delusions?”
“The belief that birth and social status determine one’s quality as a person is only hated because the modern age rejects it. But sometimes people are more willing to accept something when you change the wording. Just like the fortunetellers giving advice based on their own experience and their observations of the customer have been resurrected in the form of AI speakers supported by big data. Basically, the higher ups needed a trigger.”
“So they want to spread a virus around the world and eliminate the internet and computers?”
When Shokuhou said that, Inoue continued.
He was not bragging. He simply could not even roll out of his chair anymore.
“They bring back the respect their bloodlines deserve. Noblesse oblige. The value of noble blood is found in how much they can support the commoners in their time of need.”
“So they’ve decided for themselves how much they’re worth and started a global game of chicken?”
If that computer virus really did spread, it would end up destroying more than just digital data: pharmaceutical factories, power plants, industrial complexes, dams, airports, etc. Even the people with no interest in anything new would be quite interested in bringing back what they already had.
“In the West, your social status is apparently determined by how much money you give to charity. So if our representative pays out far more than the real noble families and socialites, it will place us even higher than them, won’t it? After all, the people in our organization think simply having money is not enough. If they can pay to gain a position in an old and established family, they will pull out all the stops.”
It was hard to tell whether he was really answering her questions or not.
Although she was using her power to ensure he could not lie, so this had to be what Inoue really believed.
“The thing about all this is, if you build too large a charitable foundation and hand out money from a position of superiority, people will view you with hostility. Even in these largescale things, the grassroots are important. That’s how it is with Santa Claus and the Kasa Jizo, right? Everyone knows who they are, but they never identify themselves. Bring it far enough and the charity becomes a legend. And this is not some logic of the past. Do you remember when everyone was talking about the backpack gifted by an anonymous person a while back?”
…As someone who specialized in manipulating people’s minds, that seemed overly hopeful and optimistic to her, but she was not about to argue over the validity of the man’s views. Someone who truly understood the human mind would not even begin that kind of discussion.
And more importantly…
“Let’s say they do create an age with the hierarchy of power they want. What proof do they have it would be them who rises to the level of nobility? Nothing says they will be the only ones trying to take advantage of the risky opportunity they created. Aren’t there plenty of other people who would want to stand at the top if they had the chance?”
“There is no guarantee, of course. However. Their chances will be much better in that game of musical chairs than in the current age where everyone is stuck in the chair they already have. Creating a chance and a possibility is what matters. For one thing, this is their Plan B because the current method of using brand bags and violins to reduce everyone’s frustrations was not enough and they need to take some major step to prevent the entire organization from falling apart. Giving up and doing nothing is simply not an option.”
“Also, it is a noble bloodline that the higher ups want. They want to be nobility, not royalty. I called it a game of musical chairs, remember? If there are empty chairs left over, there is room for others to interfere. It is not quite like an auction. If all you want to do is enjoy evening parties and sip at the sweet nectar of your position, then being at the very top is actually a major inconvenience. Those executive positions require so much paperwork and you are publicly executed if you screw up, so those can be given to someone else. The best place to hide a tree is the forest and near the top is the best place to position yourself. There you have plenty of rivals who will hide your indulgences and ugliness with their own.”
They had no way of knowing if it would turn out that well.
Would the computer virus actually work, could they really manipulate so many people to do what they wanted, and would they really be chosen as the nobility of the new age? They had a general path laid out for themselves, but it felt like there were a lot of hurdles they would have to adlib their way past along the way. And if they had to place themselves at the mercy of some high-risk, high-return calculations, it was hard to think of it as a sure thing.
“They might be motivated by utter nonsense, but they can still cause real harm. And that includes how far the virus’s damage will spread.”
Shokuhou did not sound happy, but her words of course did not reach the Anti-Skill officer seated right in front of her.
She did not know much about phenomena outside the human mind.
The situation made her think of the #3 who she was constantly squabbling with.
An undeniable catastrophe might occur, or it might fizzle out. Financial deals might grind to a halt, starting a great depression, or a single country or continent’s digital systems might shut down, triggering an invasion by some other country.
In other words, she had no idea what would happen.
In a way, this was even more of a pain than being presented with a plan meant to slaughter the 7.5 billion people on the planet.
At the very least, it seemed impossible to keep the number of deaths at 0 if this was allowed to happen. But she knew nothing for certain since she did not have all the security information on the many power plants and factories around the world. It was possible there were some crucial facilities out there with outdated or sloppy designs and everyone just stuck with it because ‘it hasn’t blown up yet’.
“You said it would target the OS and security updates, didn’t you?”
“A few different companies and organizations are in charge of that, but they’re all effectively the same. Their engineers have already given up on manually identifying and working out countermeasures for the massive amount of viruses and hacking methods produced on a daily basis. An average of 8000 malicious scripts are discovered every day and the quantity and quality are gradually rising as times passes. The puzzles they must solve have far surpassed what they can handle.”
The IT classes taught in schools these days had their downside. When even elementary school kids could write their own apps, even elementary school kids could create and upload their own malware.
“The antivirus software is supposedly manually created in a special facility known as the virus storage center…but even that isn’t enough. Most of the process is automated for the same reason as destination sorting for online store packages. They have machines handle as much as possible and the humans handle the irregular parts left over. More than 80% of vulnerability patches are entirely done by the machines.”
“You understand, don’t you? The virus storage center is supposed to be a museum of malicious data, but it barely functions in that role at all. For the same reason that a small team of elite commandos can’t handle every war across the globe.”
There was no hesitation in Inoue’s voice.
He was not being arrogant either. He had simply fallen into a state where he was listing off everything he could think of until something worked and he could reverse his fortunes here.
“Corporations and universities that specialize in security will receive a great number of error reports from users and they use an AI system similar to a complex search engine to gather and analyze that data. They do receive an answer, but not even the programmers that designed the system can explain how that answer was reached. And in fact, more than 80% of patches are the same. …So if a few drops of poison are manually snuck in, those in charge will never notice the trouble. We live in a crazy age, don’t we?”
“Yes. The different groups like to talk about how they share data on viruses and vulnerabilities, but that’s really just them linking their representative computers together to steal each other’s methods of solving the puzzles. So as long as you can reach one of those computers, anyone can add the poison. And it will be a deadly and untraceable poison.”
That network would of course be closed to normal users.
It was only AIs exchanging data, so allowing normal users access would accomplish nothing.
To access it, there would have to be a spy within the management of Zero-Day Link or that field would have to have one of those “keys” set up, be it a piano or a violin.
Blue Blood wanted to make themselves into something special.
To do that, they would spread a computer virus across the world from Academy City to destroy everything from personal mobile devices to public infrastructure. All so they could prove they were better than the VIPs sitting on whatever thrones they currently had.
They had no way of knowing if it would turn out that well, but they believed it would.
“Zero-Day Link is composed of four AI servers. One with a university, one with a company, one with an organization, and one with the government. Which one is it? Where does Blue Blood intend to insert their poison!?”
Inoue Kasha slowly inhaled.
He could not resist even if he wanted to.
“That’s ridiculous!!” shouted Sakibasu Yuri, completely forgetting she was in a hospital at night. “That’s…that’s like selling wax food samples to starving children!”
“We’re talking about a criminal organization, remember? And they aren’t after money or revenge; they’re a bunch of nutjobs who truly believe in their bloodline nonsense. Did you think 1+1=2 or the rules of story progression would apply here?”
Uiharu and Saten groaned, but Hanakawa Hinadori continued in an annoyed voice.
“Only they know what the world looks like to them. I’m not convinced they think an apple would fall when they let go.”
If Mikoto gave up because they seemed incomprehensible, she would lose this lead.
Even if they were monsters, she had to forcibly reach for this opportunity.
“Zero-Day Link, huh?”
“It’ll be the corporate server,” stated Hanakawa Hinadori. And then, “If there’s one thing Blue Blood has, it’s money, so that’s he easiest one for them to mess with. A lot of universities outside Academy City are constantly whining about their lack of funding, but the ones inside Academy City are thoroughly supported. Blue Blood will work their way into the corporation with a Zero-Day Link computer and insert their poison there.”
“Have we wandered into a wormhole? This started with my Stativarius Ainsel, so how did we end up here?”
“Hey. That violin is to blame for all this in the first place.”
“I said their objective was to let off some steam, didn’t I? They had managed to settle down a fair amount using the illusion of specialness given by controlling Academy City’s keys. They felt like they had a monopoly on those wonderful antiques and they were given a lifelong pass to a special social circle just by showing them off. But your Stativarius’s loss shook the very foundation of that system. They realized they could not maintain their delusions just by holding onto those keys. So what happens once paying a small fortune isn’t enough to rid them of their anxieties?” The small girl laughed cruelly before continuing. “They all have bloodline delusions, but some have stronger delusions than others. When the waves of reality crash into them, some of them will come to their senses. Blue Blood is a network tying together many different brands of everything from wristwatches to bags. They provide special services for the chosen few, but just like the coupons in a gourmet guide, it only works when enough shops play along. So they needed to shift to Plan B before things unraveled further and the entire organization fell apart. They need to cause a major event to keep their existing members with them. Blue Blood’s representative had no choice but to start on the over-the-top plan they had kept as a hypothetical until now.”
“Their representative?” Mikoto frowned. “Do you know who that is? You were that deep in the organization!?”
“I am an outsider tied to them by profit. Why do you think they didn’t use insider soldiers for this? I was meant to quietly handle the dirty work that would snap their members out of their delusions if they found out.”
“Of course, it turns out I was some worthless pawn they were willing to throw out at any time. Reversible and I were in the same position. If our situations had been reversed and he was captured, I would probably have been tasked with killing him.”
“Who is their representative? They’re the one behind all this, right!?”
“She’s a filthy adult.”
“Do you know her actual name!?”
Hanakawa stopped speaking for just a moment.
She had said she would tell them everything, yet she showed some slight hesitation here.
“Just so you know, the initial job I was given was to attack the four who destroyed the Stativarius Ainsel’s legend.”
“Eh? You weren’t targeting me for losing?”
“No. The representative must have been panicking because she said not to worry about who else I might hit. You just so happened to be in a position where you would have been hit if the attack had worked.”
Why had she made this digression now of all times?
Mikoto looked suspicious, but this was about something else.
“You were the one who asked, so don’t blame me if you regret it.”
In the interrogation room, Inoue Kasha was again forced to speak.
Shokuhou Misaki frowned.
“What did you say?”
“A woman named Sakibasu Ryouu is Blue Blood’s representative.”
The girl with long black twintails went limp, her black kneesocked legs gave way, and she slumped down to the rehabilitation room’s floor.
There had to be a connection.
Why had her family name made an appearance here?
“That’s mother’s name. But why…? No!! It can’t be true!!!!”
Uiharu hurriedly tried to take her hand, but Sakibasu was too shaken to listen.
This went beyond simply being family.
Sakibasu Yuri may not have even known her mother was living inside Academy City. When a student’s parents lived outside the city, they would only see them two or three times a year at best. Her mother would only have to be there to greet her at the “family home” on those few days she could travel outside the city. She would have no way of knowing what her mother was doing normally.
Why had Sakibasu Yuri been so obsessed with the Stativarius Ainsel?
She had created a trading card game at the age of five.
She had built up a massive fortune in a single generation, but she had feared that doing so had damaged her parents’ pride as they worked the old-fashioned way. They could no longer remain normal people, but they did not have the history and tradition for the upper-class world to protect them.
Just like the people who won the lottery and ended up worse off.
So was that why?
“She only needed to belong to a superior bloodline. That would solve all the problems plaguing her.”
Was that why Hanakawa Hinadori had stayed away from the playground equipment? Witch & Psychic was the trading card game Sakibasu Yuri had innocently created as a small child, but it had since become the funding source for the villain used to send hitmen after people. She could not have wanted to see something like that after having her own life targeted in that way.
“Everyone in Blue Blood has some kind of troubled life, but the representative is the most prominent example. Her obsession with history and tradition goes beyond the norm. There are some huge taboos when speaking with her, so avoiding those landmines was not easy. I’m not sure how she ended up like that, but it looks like you do.”
“Ahh, ahhhh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???”
“Shirai-san, help me restrain her!”
“Yes, she might harm herself at this rate!”
“It’s my…ahhh…it’s my…it’s all my fault!! It’s all because I left them dangling in that in-between state!!”
“No!! Sakibasu-san, you did nothing wrong!!”
The pancake-loving girl curled up on the floor, held her head in her hands, and shook her head wildly. Her violin case sat abandoned nearby. That did nothing to protect her at this point.
“I brought misfortune to my own family…”
“If only I had never made that toy…if only I hadn’t made all that money, none of this would have happened!! And no one would have gone astray!! You said they can do this because they have lots of money, didn’t you? Ahhh, does that mean I was the one propping them up!? I caused all this!? I paid for those bullets!? How…ahhh…how could this happen!?”
At the time, Sakibasu Yuri may not have been thinking about money at all.
As a young child, she had probably only been giving shape to the images in her head, just like any child coloring with crayons so the adults would praise them.
But it had resonated with far too many people.
An unstoppable current had formed and the girl had unknowingly built up a great fortune.
The next thing she knew, her life had run off the rails.
“I just wanted them to praise me…”
The gears and path of her life had become hopelessly broken and twisted.
“I just wanted to smile while mother rubbed my head. That was all. That was all I wanted!!!!!!”
“Don’t bother saying anything to her,” said Hanakawa Hinadori from the training equipment. There was a hint of pity in her voice. “Everyone faces their sins in their own way. And at their own speed too. Just because something helps you get over something doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.”
“Do you have no heart? This girl believed in her innocence and worked hard not to cause anyone any trouble and this was the answer she found. But do you feel nothing!?”
“Hey, I said not to blame me if you regret it. And what, would she have been happier if the truth was hidden from her and she kept fighting against some unseen monster? Then she’d just be a dancing fool.”
“We’ve reached the next stage. Thanks to your decision. This is the same as that fortune she created: what’s done is done. The question is what you’re gonna do about it. So how about I throw your questions right back at you: Do you have no heart? This girl believed in her innocence and worked hard not to cause anyone any trouble and this was the answer she found. But do you feel nothing?”
Mikoto spoke in a low voice as she tightly held Sakibasu and her shaking head in her arms.
That girl could not be forced to fight any longer.
That would be too cruel.
But that did not mean they could put off solving this problem. No matter how harsh the truth might be, they needed to settle this.
“Sakibasu-san, what do you want to do?”
“If you want to protect your mother, that’s fine. If that is the path you choose. But if you instead want to correct the path she has chosen, then I think I can help you out. And if not, then sorry. You can resent me then.”
After all that, Shirai Kuroko slowly sighed.
“Things have finally settled down for the time being. We have Uiharu and Saten-san with us now, but I do not think we are ready to fundamentally solve this.”
Mikoto looked back into the hospital just once before leaving the building.
And she found someone else just outside the automatic door.
“Shokuhou. What are you doing here?”
“You have to ask? I am only lending you Sakibasu. Do not forget that she belongs to me☆”
She sounded like she was joking, but she was not at all.
The look on her face made that clear.
Mikoto did not know how Shokuhou Misaki had done it, but she felt certain that other girl had arrived at the same conclusion as her.
Sakibasu Yuri’s mother was behind all of this.
Another figure gently bowed behind the Queen. That girl with gorgeous ringlet curls was one of the most powerful espers within Shokuhou’s clique.
Shokuhou had a confidant just like Mikoto did.
She had brought her here because she knew there was going to be fighting in the near future.
“How is Sakibasu doing?”
“She keeps calling out for her mother and saying she wants to eat her mother’s pancakes. With your #5 Mental Out power, you could make an appearance and help her calm down some, couldn’t you?”
“You say that, but we both know you would be livid if I actually used my full power ability to intrude on someone’s mind.”
Shokuhou Misaki spun her TV remote around, but she did nothing more than speak in a singsong voice.
She seemed to be saying the remote’s target lay elsewhere.
And unfortunately, Misaka Mikoto could not come up with any words to stop her.
Even if they were talking about a friend’s family.
Even if they were talking about something as precious as someone’s one-and-only mother.
“Don’t mess with us, you piece of shit.”
“Don’t mess with us, you piece of shit.”
Two fists bumped together.
Tokiwadai Middle School’s Level 5s departed for the final battle.