Toaru Majutsu no Index:Virtual On Chapter3
“Ehh? What does that mean???”
Kamijou was not the only one thrown into chaos.
Night had fallen and all of the day’s tournament matches were over, so it was time to head home. At the same time, a group was holding a meeting about the following day’s finals.
Aogami Pierce and the other employees were in complete disarray on the center’s main floor.
The man who seemed to be in charge gave a troubled look.
“Like I said, a reinvestigation of the Virtuaroids’ actions shows that quite a few units are making actions theoretically impossible even with the publicly available Material Analyze. Simply put, they are using Defected PDs. …We hadn’t noticed until now, so I can only assume they have been using body doubles, sealed cradles, or other tricks to hide it. There also seems to be a strange rumor that Defected players disappear during the Ring Scan.”
That was of course cheating.
Once it was discovered, they could punish them. And that meant disqualifying them.
“I said there were quite a few, right?”
“Don’t tell me…”
“23 teams participated in the main tournament, but we discovered something in over half of them. Someone on those teams is using a Defected device. And it makes sense. The Defected units are bound to be stronger than the legal Virtuaroids, so of course a lot of them will show up in the tournament.”
“But if we punish all of them…”
“Yes, the tournament will fall apart. Even if a few teams remain, what good is sending them to the finals? People just won’t care.”
But they could not continue as is either because it would look like a farce.
It may not have been his place as a part-timer, but Aogami Pierce opened his mouth without thinking. That was just how much he loved Virtual-On.
“Whatever we do, don’t we have to contact them first? We need to settle this with them somehow.”
Another dark look came over the man in charge.
There’s more? gloomily wondered Aogami Pierce.
“We can’t reach them.”
“We can’t contact them. I’ve tried a few times already, but they aren’t responding. I thought they might be avoiding our calls or ran off because they think we’re onto them. But I still got worried, so I tried contacting the few safe teams left. And here’s the thing, I couldn’t reach them either. Since they haven’t Defected, they wouldn’t need to avoid the call or run off.”
“You mean…wait, what does that mean?”
“I don’t know.” The man shrugged. “All I know is that the tournament participants are disappearing. It’s almost like they’re being hunted down by a ghost or something.”
This was no longer just about the tournament.
Without the contestants, the entire event was dead in the water.
There was sure to be a major panic tomorrow. Even as a part-timer, Aogami Pierce was sure to have a crowd demanding an explanation. It might even develop into a heated argument.
But something was pressing in on them that overshadowed that normal sort of problem.
Aogami Pierce gulped as he thought about whatever was lurking within the failed tournament.
(What is going on in this city?)
The “match” was finally over.
Temjin disappeared and Kamijou Touma was left all alone in the airport.
The girl who had supposedly been there before was gone.
There was only silence.
And an unbearable chill.
The spiky-haired boy could no longer stand on his own two feet. He lost his balance and staggered 2 or 3 steps to the left. He bumped into the side of a fuel tanker truck. He then slid down to the ground like drool pulled down by gravity.
Where had he gone wrong?
What could he have chosen to avoid this future?
He thought and thought but found no answer. It was so unreasonable and had happened so suddenly that he could not perform any self-analysis.
He had an enemy to defeat: the Blue Stalker.
But even that thought did not light a fire in his chest. He could tell something dark and soot-like was caked over his heart, but that did not give him the power needed to cheer himself up.
The sense of loss was so great that he did not even shift into proper anger.
He could not.
Kamijou Touma had nearly forgotten how to form emotions.
“…This is just painful to watch.”
He heard a voice.
For a while, he did not even look in that direction. The speaker did not move either. They were waiting for him to move. Finally, Kamijou ever-so-slowly turned his head as stiffly as a doll to view the source of the voice.
He saw a white-haired, red-eyed monster.
This was Academy City’s #1, the peak of the seven Level 5s.
That shadow named Accelerator supported his weight on a modern-style cane and waved some papers that looked like some kind of report.
“I just have one question: do you have it in you to keep going?”
Kamijou sluggishly but desperately tried to understand those words. All while thinking no amount of sleep deprivation would slow his mind this much.
“Why should I keep going?” he muttered after finally giving up on processing it all. “I can fight and fight and fight…but what does that get me? I might trip along the way, or even at the very beginning, and then lose something I can’t afford to lose…”
“Don’t ask me,” cruelly spat out the monster. “Only someone who’s actually reached the end can tell you that. At the very least, someone who gave up during the ascent can’t talk about the scenery from the mountain peak.”
The next thing Kamijou knew, Accelerator held a large scythe in the hand not holding his modern-style cane. It seemed to have appeared from thin air and it was Ifleesa, Specineff’s weapon.
This was the same as the Apharmd and Grys-Vok that had attacked Furashina Ririn.
In that case, what did Specineff specialize in?
“If you want, I can contaminate your mind and erase your memories. How about it? Do you want to live out your life oblivious to the gaping wound in your back thanks to some strange anesthetic?”
He felt a slight pain deep in his head.
That pain insisted that it would never be healed no matter what he did, continue on or give up. So the only question was what kind of pain he could bear.
Would he continue on and be wounded?
Or would he smile and be wounded?
Which would you prefer, Kamijou Touma?
He felt like some gears had finally locked together in his chest.
He silently moved away from the filthy wall he was leaning against. He once more fought gravity. Strength filled his legs and he gradually stood up.
“I can sit around worrying after I’ve seen this through to the end. There has to be more I can do.”
Accelerator did not offer him his hand.
The #1 simply waited until the end.
“You weren’t supposed to need this.” He shoved the report into Kamijou’s chest. “But you do now that you’ve taken this step. Don’t forget your position here.”
“What is this…?”
“An internal investigation report on that insane bastard known as the Blue Stalker. Although I’m not sure how much of it can be trusted given how out there a lot of it is.”
Kamijou had few good memories when it came to secret reports. Most of them felt like a bog that dragged you down into depthless darkness. And that was bound to be even truer when it was given to him by the peak of Academy City who existed in the underside of the city.
“How did you get this?”
“I simply got involved in a different way but ended up in the same place as you.”
Kamijou briefly thought about the dark world Accelerator lived in, but…
“If it had to do with that, I would’ve just ignored it.”
Kamijou heard several dry clattering sounds as Accelerator carelessly threw multiple electronic devices to the ground.
They were portable devices.
Their LCD screens were broken, their interior chips were exposed, and they were clearly all dead.
“I’ve already smashed up all of that kind of thing. There were a lot of dangerous people hanging around the administrator of that underground site who saw himself as a kind of prophet and around the old man who had given up on life thanks to his own unnecessary efforts.”
He implicitly revealed that there had been a completely separate path to this incident and that Kamijou Touma simply had not seen it. He had overcome as much hardship as Kamijou to come this far.
“It seems Virtual-On was spread to benefit the Blue Stalker in some way. I investigated the guy spreading the information, the guy paying for it all as a sponsor, and more, but it looks like I ultimately didn’t make it in time.”
Then what else had happened?
Did this monster live in a world beyond what was seen in the light of day?
Was there something that could link them together?
Kamijou gave him a look of pure doubt, but it did not seem the #1 intended to give all the answers.
Accelerator looked away in annoyance and clicked his tongue before speaking.
“To put it another way, that’s what make this such a pain in the ass. Now that the original’s been turned into an NPC, the only way to grant that brat’s wish is to switch my focus over to helping the losers recover.”
The #1 did not try to say anything more.
He too must have had something he had to prioritize above all else.
And it was something he could achieve by working with Kamijou.
Even so, Kamijou grabbed the report, looked down, and scanned through all of the text found there.
And he did it of his own free will.
Investigation Report on Target: Blue Stalker.
Name: Unknown. Estimated Sex: Male. Estimated Age: 25. Estimated Blood Type: A. Nationality/Origin: Unknown. Education/Job History: Unknown.
All of the estimated entries are based on witness information and acquired samples, but we were unable to identify a clear individual from the genetic information. It was less like something was interfering with our analysis and more like there was some ambiguity in the genetic information itself. We are continuing the analysis, but I unfortunately must report that it will be difficult to ensure any results.
My honest impression is that there are no records whatsoever of the target individual. This is true of electronic information as well as analog media such as paper and microfilm. It is hard to imagine any normal means of concealing one’s information so thoroughly.
He may not be hiding the information. As we feared, the information may never have existed in the first place.
There are a few theories concerning how to create something from nothing, but this appears to be different from a phenomenon like Kazakiri Hyouka. (As a side note, that example seems to apply better to Furashina Ririn. For details, refer to the report on her.)
The Blue Stalker uses technology from a system entirely different from ours and has widely permeated Academy City’s center stage via Virtual-On. (We made a few different attempts to artificially end that trend, but they all ended in failure. For details, refer to the report on that issue.) We doubt all of this popped up overnight by coincidence, so the Blue Stalker must have been involved in some way.
One of the theories proposed by the Board of Directors is a parallel world, but this cannot be explained using our leading theory in which history acts like a rubber string.
The rubber string theory states that there is only one world and various parallel worlds are newly created when an alternate turn is taken at a branch. We picture it like placing pegs on a pinball or pachinko machine and passing the rubber string across the board so that it forms a single path even as the pegs bend it every which way, so it is much more like saying there is only one history and that it can be freely manipulated.
On the other hand, explaining the Blue Stalker requires a theory in which there are multiple worlds that exist literally parallel to each other.
The rubber string theory exists along a single line of history, but if we view that history as a flat rubber string, perhaps there is actually a bundle of countless strings. Or perhaps there is a reverse side to it like a storage tape.
That is enough discussion of theories and philosophy for now, but the point is that the Blue Stalker surpasses all of that.
He comes from a world where what we call Virtual-On is perfectly normal.
It is unknown what the Blue Stalker is attempting to do by crossing to another world, but its effects will be too great.
There is a fear this will conflict with the Academy City style of esper development that alters phenomena within a limited area using a broad interpretation of quantum theory. This could easily threaten the very existence of Academy City itself.
We are considering sending in the Kiharas.
Furashina Ririn similarly requires immediate action.
“What is this…?”
Kamijou flipped through the report again and again as he read and reread the text and tried to consider what it said. He was fairly certain he had not understood even half of it.
“It says our enemy is from another world. Sounds like a bad joke to me.”
“No, not that.”
“Why is Furashina said to be as dangerous as the Blue Stalker?”
There is no family register data on the girl named Furashina Ririn. Pursuing the online data suggests she first appeared as posts on a few message boards and blogs.
At first, he did not understand what it meant.
But as he continued reading, an unpleasant sweat covered his face.
Afterwards, a girl going by the name Furashina Ririn was actually seen in a few places.
His hands shook.
He felt a powerful discrepancy between what he had seen with his own eyes and the cold text of this report.
We predict her existence came from the nonexistent girl created as a means to save the NPC players and a technique to ‘pull back up’ those who had sunk.
The conclusion felt like a finishing blow.
Kamijou suppressed his dizziness and read that final text.
There are traces of the Blue Stalkers’ involvement even in the initial stage of spreading the rumors, so it can be assumed that Furashina Ririn’s very existence has been greatly influenced by his goals. Caution is needed.
“…I can’t believe this.”
He recalled when Furashina Ririn was nearly abducted in the twilit streets.
Had that been connected to the Blue Stalker too?
The Blue Stalker had some kind of malicious plan, but what if he had always needed to let Furashina Ririn walk free for a while and then capture her?
If Furashina Ririn was his goal, would he sit idly by now? And if not, what would he attack to get his hands on her?
The metal front door was broken from its hinges.
The balcony glass was shattered and a chilly night wind blew through the living area.
There was no sign of life in the dark room.
There was no one there.
Not Index and not Furashina Ririn.
There was no point in asking who had done this. He did not even consider the possibility that the Blue Stalker had not been involved and that Furashina Ririn had harmed Index. In this case, the most likely suspect was the culprit. No other possibility came to mind.
Kamijou Touma slowly took a breath in the trashed student dorm.
His senses had numbed over.
Furashina Ririn had likely been abducted by the Blue Stalker.
But what about Index?
She had only just met Furashina and had not had much of an opportunity to speak with her, so they would not have been that close. But if Furashina was being taken away before her eyes, would Index have just watched?
And if she had not, what would have happened?
What would the Blue Stalker have done when Index resisted?
This enemy was not a magician, so he would not be fixated on the 103,000 grimoires in her mind. If he had no intention of abducting her and getting information out of her, how would the Blue Stalker have disposed of that nuisance?
The image of that Raiden with a hole through its chest came to mind.
As did the face of Misaka Mikoto who had been lost along with the unit.
Had that happened here too?
Had the Blue Stalker shown no mercy?
For an instant.
Just an instant.
Kamijou felt something colder than the night wind blowing out from his chest.
That was when he heard a quiet mew.
The calico cat stuck its head out from under the broken bed. It alone must have escaped danger. Spotting Kamijou, it trotted over.
This may have been meaningless.
The cat surviving would not bring Index or Furashina Ririn back.
That one remaining connection to what he had thought was normal helped Kamijou relax his muscles somewhat.
He felt the truly hopeless blackness inside his chest recede somewhat.
He crouched down, picked up the kitten, and spoke.
“Sorry, Sphinx. It’ll take a while longer to clean up the room. Can you give me just a little bit of time?”
The cat could not understand human language, so he was only making sure his own limiter was in place.
He set the cat back down and left the door-less room.
After leaving the dorm, he found Accelerator waiting while resting on his modern-style cane.
“What’re you going to do?”
“I have even more reason to kick the Blue Stalker’s ass now, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“I’ll use everything available to me. …Even if that means help from you.”
“You’re asking me to lend you firepower?”
Accelerator frowned a bit when Kamijou immediately cut him off.
Then the spiky-haired boy said it.
“I want you to stop me if I seriously try to kill the Blue Stalker. That’s the help I want.”
He spoke quietly.
But that did not mean there was no emotion behind his voice.
Accelerator had met a variety of monsters and come in contact with many forms of malice.
But he could not ignore the darkness he saw in those eyes.
“I don’t really care, but where are you going to start? Surely you aren’t going to head back out without knowing where you’re going.”
If Kamijou had no answer, Accelerator intended to punch him out and deal with this on his own, but Kamijou Touma had a surprising answer.
“I have one clue. We just have to hope Anti-Skill hasn’t acted yet.”
It was late at night in the hospital where the crashed van’s driver had been transported for emergency care.
But he had no life-threatening injuries and only had some light whiplash in his neck. Anti-Skill had insisted he be hospitalized regardless. In other words, something seemed fishy about the crash, so they had him hospitalized as an excuse to keep him from fleeing.
Being hospitalized for such light injuries was odd and it was incredibly unusual to be given a private room right away, but few people were going to ignore the doctors and head home.
And that man currently had two visitors even though it was well past visiting hours.
They were Kamijou Touma and Accelerator.
The man in the bed wheezed like a whistle when he received these rude late-night visitors.
“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I can see from your reaction that you know we’re already ‘acquainted’.”
He frantically reached for the nurse call button and rapidly tapped it with his thumb.
But there was no response.
Something had stabbed into the top end of the bed.
It was the grim reaper’s scythe.
Accelerator had summoned Ifleesa from thin air and cut the nurse call cord along with the mattress and springs.
“We could always ask you our questions after I destroy your head with ‘this’,” said the white monster.
“A-abhah!? Abrbah! Please wait! I’m in the hospital!!”
“Now, now, now.”
Kamijou maintained a smile as he dragged over a folding chair for visitors and walked over to the bed. All while holding a blunt weapon that could probably smash a human skull if he swung it down.
“One of them was Grys-Vok. The other was Apharmd. So what about you? Temjin? Fei-Yen? Oh, that’s right! You can’t use electronics in the hospital, can you? Then I guess you don’t have that Defected portable device that makes you so special. You can’t pull out your prized Virtuaroid weapon.”
He was defenseless.
Now that he was reminded of that, the man trembled and asked a question.
“Wh-wh-why are you here!?”
“Oh, no reason! I’m not going to do anything. Even if your good friend the Blue Stalker ‘killed’ two girls I know, I’m not going to do anything to you. He’s an exception. I saw him entirely ignore the rough play check and the NPC player issue to fire straight through the V-Converter on a Virtuaroid’s back and eliminate the player in a single shot. But I won’t do anything even if that happens to you. Oh, but will you turn into an NPC if it happens when you aren’t in a Virtuaroid? Or will you just be burnt to cinders? What do you think will happen?”
The man’s mouth flapped wordlessly and he looked up at Accelerator, in search of help.
He felt such great pressure that the monster wielding a more obvious weapon seemed like the safer option.
Still smiling, Kamijou slowly sat down in the chair.
“And with that in mind, we’d like to ask you some questions. How much do you know about the Blue Stalker? You were abducting Furashina for him, weren’t you? You can’t be complete strangers.”
“I-I can’t tell you that. You know he’ll kill me!!”
“Let me ask you something else.” Kamijou spoke each word carefully. “Do you still not know how we found you here?”
“How many hospitals do you think there are in Academy City? Hell, let’s just narrow it down to District 7 alone. There would normally be no way to know which hospital an ambulance will visit after an accident. Unless, that is, some internal information leaks out. And if we could do it, what makes you think the Blue Stalker can’t?”
“Y-you don’t mean…?”
“I said one of them was Grys-Vok and the other was Apharmd, didn’t I? Do you not know what happened to them?”
How could he know?
He had been confined to this room ever since taken to the hospital and the TV news had only mentioned that there was a traffic accident.
But if these two had located this hospital right away…
“Anyone will do what it takes to stay alive,” said Kamijou. “If they sold your information to us, they might sell it to someone else too. I mean, you 3 failed your job and let Furashina Ririn escape. The Blue Stalker is pissed. He can’t have his information getting to Anti-Skill. The Grys-Vok and Apharmd managed to go into hiding, so they might have a chance to recover. But you? Not so much. And I’m sure those 2 want a gift to get back on his good side.”
“That’s not true… That can’t be true!! Marika and Takato have worked with me for ages! We were a great team! Th-they wouldn’t just sell me out like that!”
“If you say so. Well, we’ll be going.”
Kamijou ignored the confused man and turned back toward Accelerator.
He stood up from the folding chair and spoke.
“He can apparently handle this on his own. I’m worried about the Grys-Vok and Apharmd too, but if he can manage on his own, we can try elsewhere.”
“…Are you sure? He’s almost certainly going to die.”
“He’s convinced otherwise, so there’s nothing we can do. And we won’t get anything by forcing an injured man to talk.”
“What a fool. If we could defeat the Blue Stalker, he might just survive, but I guess he prefers almost certain death.”
“Again, he says he’ll handle it in our stead. Let’s take him at his word and just protect the Grys-Vok and Apharmd until the storm passes. We can each take care of one of them, right? The fewer sacrifices the better, even if we can’t reduce it to zero.”
They both breathed an exasperated sigh and readily started for the hospital room’s exit.
That careless treatment caused unease to rapidly swell up in the man’s chest.
…Almost like someone had slapped a “limited time only” sticker onto a product he had not particularly wanted.
Kamijou looked back and words flowed from the man’s mouth like a tap had been opened.
“I don’t know much! I don’t really know the Blue Stalker! I was only hired to kidnap that Furashina Ririn kid and take her to him!!”
“Sigh. That’s not really enough to set up an ambush for him.”
“I’ll tell you everything I know!! We were paid via an online bank. He of course tried to eliminate all traces, but I don’t think it was perfect. I’ll give you the data. A-and we were given a location to take the kid! Of course, I’m sure he knows the deal fell through, so I doubt anyone’ll show up if you lie in wait there. But…!!”
“The Blue Stalker was building up a foundation in Academy City using what he inherited from a certain old man,” said Accelerator. “But people aren’t as easy to inherit as money. I managed to get a list of the people working for the old man, but the Blue Stalker could only use the very lowest members. At that level, they probably didn’t even know they were working as that old man’s pawns.”
“The Blue Stalker might have been personally waiting somewhere with a view of the drop-off point. And if he was there for long enough, he might have left some kind of trace.”
“W-will I be…safe?”
“You’d better pray on that one. Oh, and one other thing.”
Kamijou asked one final question of the fearful man.
“How much do you know about Furashina Ririn?”
“Almost nothing. We were only given a photo and a map of her general field of activity. Also…”
“We were told she’s tougher than she looks, so it would take quite a lot to kill her.”
Now that they had the necessary information, Kamijou and Accelerator really did leave the hospital room.
The #1 monster sounded half-exasperate as he walked down the dark hallway.
“You’re a scary guy.”
“How many times do you think I’ve tangled with monsters like you? I have far too many examples to follow when it comes to playing the frightening young man for a bluff.”
Kamijou spat out the words like he was suffering under a large weight bearing down on his shoulders.
But he was unaware.
Getting whatever information you wanted without laying a finger on someone was a feat that not even many in the city’s dark side could pull off with much success.
The first thing they did was visit a waste treatment plant in District 7.
Most trash in Academy City was recycled, but it was far more active at some times than others. Simply put, its peak activity was from early morning to evening, so it was completely stopped in the middle of the night. It did not handle valuable materials, so the security was lax and it was easy to sneak into. That meant it was used for dangerous deals much more often than the abandoned buildings that were already marked as hotbeds of crime.
“There are tire tracks from something other than garbage trucks.”
Accelerator crouched down and traced his fingers across the asphalt.
“And based on the way they overlap, this is the topmost one…it’s relatively fresh. It may have been after the place shut down for the day.”
“Can we really follow that?”
“Even you can do it now.”
Accelerator spoke with a mocking tone and pulled out his portable device.
He aimed scanner on the back toward the ground.
“The Material Analyze?”
“Lilina, scan this tire track. But expand the definition and selection range to cover the entirety of the track.”
The small device hummed and emitted a ring of light much like the Ring Scan.
It was almost like AR. When viewed through the screen, even the faint tire track was highlighted so it was visible with the naked eye. His selection was literally visualized.
The Material Analyze required approaching the target, but as long as it was connected by a single line, it fell within the selection range no matter how far it spread. For example, scanning a car from the side would still gather information on the opposite door. The entire car was a single unit.
So if he selected the tire track, the selection range could spread to anywhere in the city.
“Let’s go. Unless the bastard changed vehicles midway, this’ll lead us right to him.”
While following the tire track on the screen, they wandered around a fair bit and ultimately found themselves among the automated factories of District 17. However, they were not at one of those factories. It was a giant warehouse within a line of similarly designed buildings.
Kamijou looked up at it.
“Is this the place?”
“If you have time for stupid questions, how about keeping your guard up?”
There was a human-sized door next to the giant shutters, but the locks on both were meaningless. When Accelerator grabbed and turned the knob, the internal structure was destroyed with a metallic noise.
There was of course no light inside.
They had to rely on the backlight of Accelerator’s portable device as he walked around with his cane.
The vast space contained something like a jungle gym made of metal pipes and diagonal metal panels. However, it did not fill the entire space and seemed to mostly fill in the edges.
“What is that…?”
There seemed to be a disconcerting empty space in the center. Kamijou thought for a bit, pulled out his portable device, and aimed it toward the center of the warehouse.
And he spoke to the small device.
“Lilina, do you have data on that blue Cypher? Place a life-size image of it on the screen.”
The AR-enhanced scene fit perfectly.
The giant jungle gym surrounded the Cypher when it was down on one knee. This was scaffolding. There was a small stairway up to the V-Disc on its back and it was positioned so someone could climb in as if there was a tunnel there.
Normally, Virtuaroids were rearranged and maintained on the portable device’s screen. A life-size hangar was not needed, so did the Blue Stalker simply have some odd habits?
“There’s one set of footprints.” Accelerator was investigating something else. “Lilina, record a sample of the footprints, search for similar ones in the area, and redisplay.”
In no time, the screen highlighted all of the footprints that presumably belonged to the Blue Stalker. The #1 slowly followed that trail and looked around the area.
Half impressed and half exasperated, Kamijou spoke up.
“Your Lilina is pretty amazing. Or am I just not using mine right?”
“But why is that Lilina so quiet?” asked Kamijou’s Lilina. “Was she not raised with enough love?”
Then Accelerator called over to him from a short distance away.
He pulled back a blue plastic sheet to reveal a small safe. As usual, Accelerator tapped it with his toes and the door burst open from within. It was full of papers. But these were not in Japanese. They were in…hexadecimal? They were filled by the digits 0-9 and letters A-F, so it was an odd sight.
Was the Blue Stalker able to read them without passing them through a machine first?
“Lilina, scan the pages and decrypt them. I don’t know if it’s possible, but try to translate them to Japanese.”
“No, that’s not what we need to do, dumbass.”
As Kamijou spread the documents out on the floor and gave his portable device some instructions, Accelerator spoke to him like he was a moron.
“If he really didn’t want the information getting out, he’d hide it in his own head. And this safe is too sloppy. If he had time to encrypt the documents, it’d be better to burn them. Plus, if he’s working alone, he wouldn’t need documents spelling out his plan. There’s only one other reason to leave behind something like this.”
“Wait. You mean…?”
“An obvious safe with meaningful-looking encrypted documents inside. It’s obvious what the Blue Stalker is doing: keeping any intruders here for a while.”
“It’s coming!! Some kind of attack is going to blow the entire warehouse away!!”
Someone clicked their tongue.
It was lucky they were holding their portable devices for investigation purposes.
Kamijou’s vision blurred and then he found himself inside Temjin’s cockpit.
A moment later, a blinding beam of light surged through.
More and more glowing projectiles were fired. They pierced the warehouse’s thick walls from outside and swept forcefully from one side to the other. Kamijou’s Temjin rolled to slip below them and Accelerator’s Specineff just ignored the attack. He did not even raise his Ifleesa scythe. As soon as a beam touched the surface of his sharp and pointed Virtuaroid, the light’s path bent like it had passed through a prism. It tore even more complexly through the warehouse’s walls, sending them crashing down in pieces.
This was clearly more than a normal Defected Virtuaroid. It could directly damage a normal building instead of just other Virtuaroids.
Their enemy stood at the source of the attack.
That unique Cypher was colored blue with bright yellow lines.
Looking at it again showed how out of the ordinary it was.
No, the unit itself was not all that different. It had a Virtuaroid’s unique streamlined curves that could not be reproduced by any metal or mineral of this world. Even if Temjin, Specineff, and Cypher had their individual traits, they all still fell under the category of Virtuaroids.
Something that could only be described as its core was different.
That feeling oozed out from it.
It was like the difference between a child holding a real sword and a master wielding a bamboo sword. Which one would inspire more fear of death? Could the pilot really change the impression of a unit to this extent?
“Blue Stalker!!” roared Kamijou.
But before any response arrived, something changed in an unexpected place.
“Ksshh, processing speed…overload…critical…overflow…”
A deafening frictional sound came from behind him.
The V-Disc on the back of the unit was probably rapidly heating.
“Hey, Lilina!? Dammit!!”
He could see, but all of the displayed text had grown corrupted. The different cursors were warping all over the place, so they were not at all reliable.
The entire battle zone was messed up.
With the warehouse’s walls torn to pieces, his vision opened up, but there were no walls to demarcate the field. The compression artifacts that protected the field objects (i.e. the city Kamijou lived in) did not exist here.
The usual rules no longer applied.
This was the Blue Stalker’s territory. It was controlled by the same rules he had used to “kill” Mikoto and Index while ignoring the safety regulations.
The rules had been rewritten.
The regulations had been hijacked.
“What did you do…? What the hell did you do!?”
“Nothing. But if you insist on an answer, it might be accurate to say I returned Virtual-On to its original form. Now it is no longer a Next Generation Game.”
A sticky yellow light raced across the blue Cypher.
“It is once more a cutting-edge weapon meant to efficiently kill and achieve victory in Limited Wars.”
Lightning surged out horizontally.
By the time Kamijou realized that was the Blue Stalker’s afterimage, the first exchange was already over.
His enemy wielded a fearsome close-range sword as long as he was tall. A single hit from that could easily bisect him and the sight of it made him shudder.
A tremendous amount of sparks flew from Temjin’s Blitz Saber that he had immediately raised.
He had not seen the movement, but his body had kept up on its own.
More and more clashes followed. Kamijou was inside the cockpit, but the vibrations still hit him with enough force to shake his cheeks.
Meanwhile, small windows appeared out of the way of his vision.
Lilina could not speak with him, but she was apparently still doing the job he had left with her. A few of the documents found in the warehouse had already been translated into Japanese.
Each time he read through one, he processed it into something he could understand. Was it thanks to his contact and firsthand experience with Virtuaroids that he was able to rework all of that strange terminology into something that made some sense to him?
He wanted to know anything he could.
Even as the tension scorched his skin, something stirred in his heart.
He wanted to know even the most trivial detail if it might help him win. He hoped it would let him decode this person known as the Blue Stalker and predict what he would do next.
His eyelids trembled and his lips twisted, but he wanted even the tiniest shred of data now!!
——The Tangram is an existence that can be called the central point of all things.
(Is it talking about an observer who views the entire world? Sounds like someone important.)
——It is a single existence, yet it simultaneously holds alibis in all parallel worlds.
(To put it in terms of the quantum theory used in esper development, is this some ridiculous being that shares all results of the different “ifs” that are influenced by observation? If it can choose the individual outcomes, then it’s sounding something like a god.)
——Successfully contacting it will place the entire world in the palm of your hand. You will be able to manipulate time, causality, destiny, and all such unreachable things.
(Contact? Is there a way for humans to control god? Would that make you into something like an almighty esper with control over the entire world instead of just fire or water or something?)
——On the other hand, the Tangram has something like a will of its own, so even if you do contact it, it will reject you if you are not accepted.
(If something like that went berserk, well, I can see how that would end badly. So does this Tangram god have a mind of its own?)
——That rejection takes an incredibly simple form. The power of the Tangram eternally exiles you to one of the infinitely expanding parallel worlds and you trade places with the same person in a different dimension.
(So basically, it’s like using a time machine to make it so you were never born? No, it sounds more like you’re swapped out with someone who looks just like you and they take over your body.)
“Can you imagine what kind of place my home was?”
The blue enemy unit blurred as it made repeated high-speed dashes to the left and right using quick bursts of repulsion. Or so it seemed until the Blue Stalker vanished from Kamijou’s view. He sensed the killer intent circle behind him.
But before he could turn around, Accelerator’s Specineff launched a jump kick like a shooting star. That eerie, demonic-looking unit repeatedly swelled out and settled down as if it was suppressing something trying to burst out.
The blue cypher allowed its humanoid form to collapse. Its silhouette crumpled into something halfway between human and fighter jet, but that allowed it to just barely avoid Specineff’s kick. That unique silhouette shifted its center of gravity more than would have been possible otherwise and it quickly slammed on the brakes. And like a bursting liquid being played in reverse, it regained its humanoid form and once more targeted Kamijou.
Kamijou’s movements finally caught up.
Temjin swung his Blitz Saber while turning around and locked blades with the blue Cypher’s brutal blade that had been targeting his back.
(He isn’t remotely fazed that it’s 2-against-1!! In fact, it’s more like he uses his Virtuaroid entirely differently. It’s like the difference between sport karate and an ancient art of assassination!!)
“It was awful. Truly awful. A few corporate groups monopolized the top and placed a lid on the heavens. Even war was turned into a tool of entertainment and the resources and land were worn away. The people did everything they could to ignore how obviously we were sucking the world dry and tried to believe they were the winners. …But the worst part of all was how almost all superior technology was focused on a single point and those who did not receive its blessings were doomed to fall.”
——We were not chosen by the Tangram. That must be a role exclusive to L’Ln Plajiner.
(Chosen? Role? Is it like a fingerprint scan and only a specific person will be accepted by this Tangram god?)
——But there is a way to make use of not being chosen.
——The Tangram exiles the unchosen to a parallel world. Person A in the one world is swapped out with Person A in the other world.
(The same paradox as before? So in our world, it would be like the birth a different person with the same name. But from his perspective, it would feel like being exiled.)
——From the perspective of the original world, it is no different from having your existence erased.
(Why is he so focused on that method of exile? And he makes it sound like it can be used in a positive way.)
——But we are not actually annihilated.
(Don’t tell me…)
——We travel to another world, a world of possibility.
(There are other possibilities there.)
——Yes, for example…
——There is only one of that loathsome L’Ln Plajiner in a world, but in another world, we might run across her in a different form. An easier to manipulate form.
(Did the Blue Stalker contact the Tangram to intentionally have it go berserk to gamble on the unknown alternate world it would send him to!? Even if that means giving up his position in his original world to someone from another world entirely!?)
“L’Ln Plajiner. She was chosen as the sole individual to discover, use, develop, and operate our world’s technology. She was also a donor and gatekeeper for technology. …There had to be something else that plays an extremely similar role in this world.”
That was not Furashina Ririn.
It was another term that came to Kamijou Touma’s mind.
“You can’t mean…Academy City!?”
“That is the Plajiner bud in this world. Ha ha. Even I was shocked by the level of freedom between parallel worlds when I learned a single girl had changed into an entire city!!”
——We will acquire a second L’Ln Plajiner.
(That means Furashina Ririn, right?)
——We will acquire her and bring her back to our original world.
(Where is that? The world that originally developed the Virtuaroids? But is there a way to get back after being rejected by that Tangram god?)
——The field of possibilities was closed because that girl ruled as the gatekeeper to all technology.
(Just like how Academy City leads the science side… So is that role held by a single person called L’Ln Plajiner in that world?)
——If two Plajiners exist, the world’s equilibrium should collapse.
(Well, if a second Academy City suddenly popped into existence, who can say how far the chaos would spread.)
——The Tangram that sent us away exists simultaneously in all parallel worlds.
——And no matter what form it takes, if we control the Plajiner bud once it blooms, the Tangram will accept “her” as having the exact same inherent existence values as the first L’Ln Plajiner.
(Inherent…? I’m not sure what that means. Is it like saying the Tangram is locked to anyone but L’Ln Plajiner, so they’re going to bring in a second person with identical biometrics to try to access that god?)
——So we only need think about continuing forward.
(If he assumes he’s heading back, he doesn’t need to worry about what happens to us afterwards.)
——The completed second L’Ln Plajiner can take care of the rest and we can control the Tangram’s power to return us to our original world.
(Nothing matters to him as long as he can use Furashina Ririn to manipulate the Tangram god.)
——Including myself, 1003 people were intentionally exiled. And if just one of us gets the Plajiner bud to bloom in one of those 1003 parallel worlds, we can rule over the Tangram which controls all causality and phenomena.
(So it was more than just the Blue Stalker? Did they just send a whole bunch of people in the hopes that one of them would happen across a world with favorable conditions?)
——Those who fail can be brought back by the one who succeeds, so we can achieve our goal with zero losses.
(The people sent to different worlds can be retrieved using the Tangram which is connected to all worlds, so they can cancel it all out. That’s the theory they’re relying on.
——That is why this is known as Code Phoenix.
(A suicide mission with an assumed resurrection at the end.)
——This is a phoenix’s mission in which we fully erase our existence to achieve our goal.
(But shouldn’t that kind of genius be able to realize how wrong all of this is!?)
Temjin, Specineff, and the blue Cypher all came to a stop.
(The point judgement still exists? But he blew Mikoto away in a single hit.)
90 seconds had passed and the first set was over.
The result could not have been more obvious.
(No, it keeps going as long as I can keep moving. But if I’m bisected by his sword, it’s all over!)
The Blue Stalker won the set.
But Kamijou did not care. He shouted the words in his chest.
“In that case!! Are you after what I think you are!?”
“Yes! Furashina Ririn is not my goal. Academy City is the Plajiner bud and I will contain the entire city in the form of a girl. I will capture her in that form and take her back to my original world!! Academy City and L’Ln Plajiner are more than just doppelgangers; they are the very same being. It just so happens that the possibilities of parallel worlds gave her the form of a city in one world and of a person in the other. So I remade her. And now I will make her mine. Because the second key, the Second Plajiner, can access the Tangram!!”
The second set began.
Accelerator’s Specineff moved once more behind the blue Cypher.
He raised the Ifleesa scythe.
If he had built his own Level 5 power into it as Misaka Mikoto had, that Specineff would have his reflection.
But the Blue Stalker moved just after Specineff charged in.
While locking weapons, he intentionally pulled back his close-range sword while shifting one leg back. He seemed to be opening the way and that caused Kamijou’s Temjin to pitch forward due to pushing “forward” with such great strength. The Temjin lost his balance and stepped forward, so the blue Cypher slipped past him and kicked him in the back.
And that sent him toward Accelerator’s Specineff and his reflection.
They were going to collide and the reflection would tear him to pieces.
But if one of them survived, they could defeat the blue Cypher. Since the Blue Stalker had altered the rules and regulations, he would not escape unscathed if he was defeated.
So it did not matter which one.
Even if Kamijou was defeated and destroyed here, turning him into an NPC player, the #1 monster could crush the blue Cypher.
As long as Index and Mikoto were returned to normal, nothing else mattered.
So he raised his voice.
“Just do iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!!!!”
Accelerator took action in response.
He removed the reflection power covering his body.
They collided. They briefly came to a halt. But Kamijou’s Temjin was not torn to pieces. Only then did Kamijou realize what the #1 had chosen.
They were losing a second set in a row.
And the Blue Stalker’s special rules were in effect. So if someone’s unit was destroyed, they would be taken out regardless of their points and rough plays.
A moment later, a beam of light surged out from behind the blue Cypher. The Specineff shoved the Temjin away in that instant. The blinding beam pierced the unit’s chest. It punched through. The Specineff came to a complete stop this time.
It had been destroyed.
No, it was just like with Misaka Mikoto…
There was static.
“It would’ve been the same either way.”
The static formed a human voice.
“So you do it. It would probably be meaningless for me to help with this problem.”
The voice vanished inside a great cacophony of static that sounded like everything falling apart. The stalled Specineff and the pilot inside vanished into the ether.
Kamijou Touma grasped the instant of opportunity available to him.
The Blue Stalker had prioritized defeating Accelerator, so he had used a sniping attack which left a lot of openings. Kamijou was in position to make full use of that slight moment of stillness.
So all he had to do was fire repeatedly.
He transformed the Sleipnir in his right hand into the Neutral Launcher long-range rifle, aimed it straight ahead, and fired blinding beams of light from the end over and over. The blue Cypher used its crushed mid-transformation form halfway between humanoid and fighter jet to dodge the glowing projectiles.
But Kamijou would not allow that.
He would not allow himself to waste the opportunity he had been given at such a great cost.
He moved forward with all his might. His high-speed dash seemed to cut through space itself.
With an explosive noise, his Temjin rushed forward. This time, he used the destructive power of his close-range sword to make a horizontal slash at the half-transformed blue Cypher.
Due to the unnatural silhouette, large gaps had opened in the module, leaving it defenseless.
A single hit could easily deliver a fatal blow.
“Not good enough…!!”
Just as he felt the slash miss, he saw the Blue Stalker completing his change to the fighter jet form.
He was finally using his full power.
That Virtuaroid would become a gust of wind that used overwhelming speed to slice through its target.
Or it was supposed to.
But in reality, there was a sound of gears breaking followed by the blue Cypher grinding to a halt. His transformation had not completed. Something had jammed it.
After checking on the details, the Blue Stalker’s eyes must have widened in shock.
“What…? Temjin’s close-range sword!?”
It was caught inside.
The tip of the Blitz Saber was stuck between the armor panels that were supposed to fold cleanly together during the transformation. It looked a lot like a giant hammer with the blue Cypher as the head.
Kamijou had nothing more to say.
He whirled his body around with all his might and used centrifugal force to swing the “hammer” down.
The flying bird was slammed down to earth with enough force to create a giant crater.
The blue Cypher was smashed to pieces.
Due to its excellent transformation structure, it was hard to tell what any individual piece did. Some parts looked a lot like arms or legs and others looked more like wings or weapons.
Either way, it was obvious he could no longer fight.
He had brought things back to the “original war” to blow away Misaka Mikoto and probably Index and Furashina Ririn as well, but that had been turned back against him.
And even if he was back to normal when the 3rd set began, Kamijou would not fall back.
Was it over now, or would it be over next time?
That was the only difference.
The Blue Stalker could be defeated. Knowing that meant a lot.
“So will everything go back to normal now?” wondered Kamijou inside Temjin.
He received an immediate answer.
“Yes, it will. In the way I wanted it to.”
Kamijou looked over to the smashed-up remains of the Cypher.
A V-Disc was sticking out from the crushed V-Converter.
“In another dimension, Academy City was a single girl: L’Ln Plajiner. That worldwide joker develops and manages all cutting-edge technology. Neither form is more correct. They are both correct answers. They simply took different forms among the branching possibilities of the parallel worlds. So all I had to do was return her to the form I wanted. As long as she took the same form as the girl with full access to the Tangram, nothing else mattered. That was all I needed to win.”
“What are you talking about? You can’t just transform Academy City. The entire city would disappear and you’d be caught in the middle!!”
“All I had to do was complete Furashina Ririn, the Second Plajiner. Once she passed a certain stage, the transformation would continue without my interference. No one can stop it now. I will return to that universe of death and resignation that is ruled by the plants and Limited Wars. I will return to blow a new hole in it. Academy City and myself inside it are no more than the rocket engine needed to achieve escape velocity. No matter what must be purged and discarded along the way, I will succeed as long as the payload is placed in orbit.”
For just an instant, something burst from the cracked and scarred V-Disc.
It looked like a young man wearing a strange suit.
But Kamijou could not say for sure.
After all, his eyes were dyed pitch black and an unnatural darkness lurked within them.
“It does not matter what ‘I’ am.”
The darkness scoffed.
The black in his eyes spread to the rest of his body. No, his body peeled away and collapsed.
“The man who attempted Code Phoenix failed at some point and became a part of ‘me’. I am the unified desire to return home of all my brethren who were rejected by the Tangram in the past and sent to different parallel worlds. Or perhaps I began as that and have split off into something else. It matters not as long as I can remain here as the Blue Stalker who obsessively seeks the Plajiner girl.”
Hadn’t the Academy City report mentioned that the Blue Stalker’s identity was completely unknown? But another document had said if Person A was rejected by the Tangram, they would be swapped out with Person A in a parallel world. So they were not entirely annihilated and they did not just appear out of thin air. But the Blue Stalker alone functioned under different rules.
Was this what had happened?
Was he a collection of desires, so the Tangram had been unable to find someone to swap him out with?
“Did you think killing me was enough to stop the transformation? You are already seeing the center of the transformation. And I am of course not referring to myself. The time bomb’s timer has already reached zero. It was counting down even as we fought this pointless battle. Even if I lost once, I could still return using the Second Plajiner, so this is checkmate. This city will change. I lost the right to watch it from a front row seat, but I will pass that right along to the victor.”
The words, the unit, the person, and the life all disappeared into the static.
Not even the referee sphere floating overhead could keep up with the situation.
The Blue Stalker vanished into empty air.
Immediately afterwards, a great change came over Academy City despite the Blue Stalker’s fate.
Between the Lines 3
I am the Plajiner bud.
No, I am the second one…so you can call me the Second Plajiner.
There is no essential difference between L’Ln Plajiner and Academy City and neither is superior to the other. They both function as a singularity that develops, uses, and manages the technology that holds a world together. They simply developed in different directions because they hold the position to freely alter the entire state of affairs in their world. Originally, comparing the two would have been meaningless.
The Blue Stalker – the man who chose that name based on the clothing I wear (or rather, that all Plajiners wear) – intended to find the Plajiners that had evolved in a different direction due to the branching of the parallel worlds (yes, it could be a book of prophecy, a supercomputer, an alien planet, or whatever other possibility a world provided) and to transform it into the physical body of the girl he knew as L’Ln Plajiner.
Just as this world would collapse if it contained two Academy Cities, two L’Ln Plajiners in his world would bring down the social order that puts great focus on the Tangram and is ruled by advanced technology and giant corporate groups.
I defined that chaos as destruction, but the Blue Stalker seemed to view it as salvation.
That may be why sleep is the proper state for me. The more I am conscious and the more I do, the more I will disturb this world’s order and bring the Second Plajiner closer to completion. Just as blood will clot to stop the bleeding from a wound, this city will take action if I feel I am lacking something. The fact that I can directly manipulate the language written within the V-Discs is a sign that I am gradually approaching completion.
Looking at what has happened, I should have been more cautious.
I should have ignored the smaller matters to focus on the overall result.
But oddly, I do not regret running across that boy. It’s hard to decide who saved who, but in the short time since my appearance to now, I can say those were worthwhile memories.
Farewell, kind world.
Perhaps I was blessed to be able to define my enemy that way.
What am I saying?
I can’t accept this at all. I don’t understand.
I tried to be tough, do the mature thing, act smart, and find a logical resolution to the situation I find myself in, but I can’t keep the static from filling my mind.
Why did this have to happen to me?
Just by waking up in this world, I doomed Academy City to destruction. I had no choice in the matter. I wasn’t given the option to refuse. Someone had me mimic some other person called L’Ln Plajiner and called me the master key to some strange thing called the Tangram. That was all there was for me. No matter what succeeded or how it failed, there was no way for me to get what I wanted.
I will fight.
Against what? For who?
If I have to begin a battle with everyone who intends to prevent Academy City’s destruction, will I have to cross blades with the boy I met in that park?
What is this?
I don’t want to do this. I want to step down right this instant. But what awaits me then? Can I live a normal life just like everyone else? Will I not break apart and crumble away the instant I step outside what that strange Blue Stalker man wants from me? Please listen. Can you please listen to what I have to say before turning hostile eyes in my direction or viewing me with fear in your heart?
Please help me.
I know no one will hear me and I know no one will answer me even if they can hear me. There’s no way for them to. But I’ll still say it.
Please help me.