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It was late at night in the center of the Antsiranana District’s Experimental Battlefield Madagascar.
Heivia Winchell stripped off his fully soundproofed suit as if he could not restrain himself any longer. He did it because he was afraid of getting athlete’s foot across his entire body, but the night air was not as chilly or pleasant as he had expected. It was a normal hot and humid night.
He must have wanted to feel the comfortable wind as much as possible because he excitedly reached for his normal uniform as well.
Thus began the undressing scene that no one asked for.
“B-bodyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!! This is true freedom. I can feel the earth on my skin!!”
Even if he was trying to relax after finishing a job, he was doing the exact same thing as an old man going around at night in only a raincoat.
The sight must have been unpleasant because a transmission came in from the Princess at Mach speed.
“Heivia, that’s disturbing, so stop it.”
“Oh? What an innocent young lady. Are you embarrassed seeing the beautiful body of Heivia, the super smart and attractive noble? No need to be shy, little kitten. Look! This is the male body!!”
He placed his hands behind his head and took the pose of a Greek sculpture.
“Heivia, the data from an Object’s cameras and sensors is stored in the black box. It can never be erased unless a high-ranking officer requests it and the military council gives their approval. And I think anyone would be able to view it if the military court requests that it be disclosed.”
Heivia screamed like a childhood friend being peeped on in the bath.
The Princess held her head in her hands because that too was being recorded, but she decided to ignore him.
Frolaytia then gave a warning over the radio.
“Aren’t you getting a little too relaxed? Even if we destroyed the Trinity Style in a single blow, the area is still crawling with Faith Organization soldiers.”
“Heh. Even though we’ve got them all at our mercy with their Object gone? They’ll know perfectly well they don’t stand a chance against the Princess no matter what they try.”
“And that’s why they might make a desperate counterattack when you remove them from your sights. A ferocious animal acts more wildly when trembling in fear for its life than when it’s capturing its prey. You shouldn’t assume they’ll all act logically.”
“Sure, sure,” said Heivia as he zipped up his pants.
Frolaytia seemed confused by the absence of the other boy who usually acted as the brakes.
“By the way, Heivia, where is Quenser?”
“Pant, pant, pant!! A cutting-edge Faith Organization Second Generation is right over there! It can’t move, so I can peek up at it from below as much as I want!! W-wow! This is amazing!! I can touch it as much as I want too! I’d never get to touch even the smallest bit of this kind of classified information back in that safe country school, but there’s…there’s so much of iiiiiiiit!! I-it’s all leaking ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutttttttttttttttttttttttttt!!”
“I see. So he’s being a pervert in his own way.”
Quenser had already stripped off his own soundproofed suit and he did not react in the slightest even though a beautiful woman was insulting him. The dam in his head had already broken and chemicals were pumping out in his brain, so his eyes were glittering in the moonlight.
No hint of the previous covert mission remained as armored trucks carrying reinforcements arrived with roaring engines and flashing headlights.
Heivia took and drank from a water bottle provided by a medic mixed in with the soldiers.
“So how long does this picnic last?” he asked.
“Three hours is probably the limit.”
“Even though we won this so thoroughly? The Faith Organization may be desperate to get that wreckage back, but it’s not like their leftovers can defeat the Princess.”
“True. It would take more than a day or two to send in a replacement Object. But things are different on the other side of the globe. There’s been a lot of unnecessary tension over some unnecessary national borders. They’re using the diplomatic route to threaten us with the massive costs of another battle if we don’t return the wreckage right away.”
“Wow. I can already imagine them giving us a teary upturned look, biting their lip, and clenching their fists on their skirt.”
“So the electronic simulation division, maintenance division, and technological analysis division need to swarm that sugar cube in the little time we have! How much of that five trillion dollar treasure trove we can make off with in the next three hours is up to you!!”
“Hey, no fair!! We risked our lives to destroy the Trinity Style, but you’re letting them show up and take all the credit!? Wait, wait!!”
“Kya ha ha ha! Yahoo!!”
Quenser threw his hands in the air and took off full speed like lovers running on the beach. He had reached a level of geekdom that Heivia could not hope to follow. The armored trucks with various analysis sensors attached drove toward the Object.
Heivia was an amateur when it came to Objects.
As nothing more than a noble that wanted some honorable deeds for his record, he looked to the Object illuminated in the darkness by the large lights set up here and there.
It was a Faith Organization Second Generation and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s codename for it was Trinity Style.
“It looks like a trendy lamp for a piece of imported furniture.”
He was likely commenting on the bottom of the Object. It was only a static electricity propulsion device, but its shape was rather unique. Three curved parts resembling a crescent moon or the grim reaper’s scythe were aligned like an Island Nation mitsudomoe and each part was supported separately.mitsudomoe
“Hmm. Could that be to absorb any impacts?” speculated the Princess.
“You’d have to ask that bastard panting in excitement over there.”
“Ha ha ha!! Yes! Yesss! Maybe I should take some pictures from over there too! Ahhh, yesss!! This angle is the best!!”
Various shouted comments and camera flashes could be heard and seen. Most likely, Perverted Cameraman Quenser was taking pictures with his handheld device’s camera. In his head, the Object may have been anthropomorphized and wearing a slingshot.
The main cannon was on the Object’s right side.
The crank-like arm was supported by two rotating axes.
Based on what the pervert had said before, the Trinity Style’s main cannon fired physical shells with optical technology like a horizontal laser space elevator that launched metal containers. Of course, explosives, liquid nitrogen, etc. could be packed inside for additional effects. In order to switch between the many different types of shells, it had a giant magazine on the left side. Like with a Gatling gun, a tunnel-like ammunition belt curved around the back of the Object and attached to the bottom of the main cannon.
But due to the direct hit from the Princess’s ablative shell, the main cannon was bent and had a flower of metal blooming from within. A portion of the spherical main body was also torn away to reveal just how badly it was “out of commission”.
There had been medics among the support troops in order to provide humanitarian aid to the Faith Organization soldiers that had been exposed to the shockwave on impact. The enemy had raised the White Flag and put their hands in the air, so ending the match was the gentlemanly thing to do.
“But why is this thing called the Trinity Style?”
“Thanks to some unpleasant rumors,” replied Frolaytia over the radio. “The intelligence division and the electronic simulation division are constantly gathering data on enemy Objects. …However, there are a lot of mysteries surrounding the Trinity Style. Or maybe I should say nothing seems to match up between the reports that come in. The only point in common is how it searches for its target using sounds.”
“On one battlefield, it will use a laser beam main cannon, but when we challenge it on that assumption, a railgun shell will fly our way. It might be using static electricity to move now, but on the next battlefield, it will be using an air cushion. Sometimes even the overall silhouette is different. And of course, the more our predictions are wrong, the less of an advantage we have in battle. That’s the biggest thing about its impressive records.”
“There’s even a theory that it uses different Pilot Elites for different battles. It’s hard to believe, but long-distance photographs have indeed shown different people and the tactics it uses completely change. This is unprecedented. This could destroy the idea of one Elite per Object.”
A strange feeling ran down Heivia’s previously elated back.
The spoiled noble hesitantly looked back to the metal corpse as Frolaytia continued.
“There are a number of theories. Maybe there are multiple Trinity Style Objects. Maybe it can take a number of attachments to share its main cannon with other models. Whatever the case, we haven’t found the answer. …It really was fortunate that the Princess took it out in one shot. I just hope we can answer these questions before returning it to the Faith Organization.”
That ominous atmosphere may have been why she was being so cautious and had sent the Baby Magnum in.
“Just be careful. The Pilot Elite probably hasn’t escaped the Object even though they’ve raised the White Flag. It’s probably just malfunctioning equipment, but we don’t know who they are. If you assume they’re some frail little thing, you might end up getting your brains blow out.”
Ominous rumors or not, Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage still had the juices flowing through his brain.
“Uhohoi!! I see! I see!! The secret to the supports’ shock absorption isn’t a damper or suspension! It’s bearings!! Oh, hell. Why didn’t I think of something so simple!? Ohhh!! I need to take a note of this, but writing it all down’s too much of a pain!! Where’s the voice recording app!?”
Annoyed, the old maintenance lady spoke to him with a toolbox in hand.
“I do understand how exciting it is to see all this cutting-edge tech, but please try to control yourself. The rest of us don’t want people to start thinking you’re representative of all technicians. You understand, don’t you?”
“I don’t understand in the slightest! I snuck deep behind enemy lines with my heart in my throat to reach this moment! So I’m making the most of this. Whoa!! This is what cleans the terrain sensors on the supports! I love the little bits of technology hiding in the corners like this!!”
“If you get it, then out of the way, amateur. If we can’t get our scaffolding set up, we can’t check over the entire machine.”
The old lady operated her tablet and several transport helicopters cut through the night to surround the Trinity Style. Flying aircraft was a task for the suicidal in the modern age of anti-air lasers, but once they were flying around like this, it was proof that the battle was over and the enemy Object had been completely stopped. It demonstrated the same arrogance as an animal napping calmly on its back with its belly exposed. Sour looks came over the Faith Organization soldiers tied up around the area.
The transport helicopters opened their cargo doors and threw several wires down. However, they were not simply to lower people down. The soldiers grabbed onto the spherical main body and manipulated the wires by swinging their arms. Some wrapped them around small cannons and others wrapped the wires together like a spider web or a cat’s cradle.
Next, they tied sandbags to them to complete makeshift elevators. It was an extremely primitive design that lifted up the one side when the other side was dropped down.
They only had three hours, so they did not have time to put together metal scaffolding.
The old lady placed one foot on a small loop made from a knot and gave instructions via the glowing screen of her tablet.
“By the way, boy, you can’t get any Object tech if you’re going to cry about a fear of heights.”
“Ah! No fair!! Let me on too!!”
Quenser grabbed at the wire just as a sandbag was dropped from above. The two of them were carried up to the top of the sphere quite quickly.
A man in a black assault uniform saluted the old lady at the top.
“Excellent work, Mrs. Ayami. …By the way, who is that?”
“Leave him be. He has no lifeline, so if he falls, it’s his own responsibility.”
“Wh-whoaaaaaa! Standing on this round body is pretty scary. I better hold onto these wires.”
Some of the elevators were meant for humans and could carry several dozen kilograms while others were meant for equipment and could carry several tons. In addition to the ones dropped from above by the helicopters, the armored trucks on the ground fired their own wires up. Instead of using gunpowder, they used five meter crossbow-like devices on their roofs. They resembled the ballistae used as siege weapons since the time of the Ancient Greeks.
“That’s dangerous!! Our own people are shooting arrows up at me!?”
“This is still war. Did you think you could make a ton of money without any risk of death?”
The arrowheads did not stab into the armor that could withstand a nuke. Instead, they used chemical reactions such as aluminum or iron oxide to weld to the armor upon impact. Quenser saw flashes much like from a camera and he smelled a very unhealthy odor.
The student was losing his nerve already, but the old lady ignored him with a sigh and shouted instructions to the maintenance soldiers around her.
“We don’t have much time! Run nondestructive tests and take samples! Don’t think about stealing the technology in its entirety as that wouldn’t be possible. Focus on taking back some cheap but clearly-defined data over some vague classified information. Start by sounding it out and grabbing at the soft points for some souvenirs!!”
“Sir, yes, sir!!” energetically shouted the maintenance soldiers.
Even if they were technicians, they were still soldiers. They always had an athletic side to them.
Quenser was only a burden, so he received no orders and had nothing to do. He decided to start investigating the nearby area.
First, he moved to the omnidirectional microphone at the top of the spherical body.
“I see. They combined directional parabolic mics like a soccer ball to make it omnidirectional. I’m not sure if that counts as analog or high-tech.”
When he approached the microphone and glanced around, he quickly found the giant magazine that stored the main cannon’s container shells. It looked like a diagonal roof covering the entire left side of the Object. A closer look showed a row of long and narrow magazines sticking into it.
The Baby Magnum’s cameras must have been viewing the same thing because a transmission arrived from the Princess.
“That’s a drink vending machine.”
“Hm? Oh, I get it.”
Quenser caught on after a short delay.
“The container shells are divided up by type and the proper type is supplied on demand,” explained the Princess. “Are the shells supplied in order from the top or are the entire narrow magazines pulled out?”
“It can probably work either way. But…”
From near the very top, Quenser looked to the back of the Object. He could see the thick tunnel-like ammunition belt connecting to the bottom of the main cannon on the right.
“Those heavy shells have to slide a few dozen meters in the middle of a high-speed Object battle, but wouldn’t that create a time lag? It doesn’t always use the same type of shell, so they can’t be stored in the belt like with a Gatling gun.”
“Most likely, it uses an air conveyer.”
“That thing used to sort postcards? But those container shells have got to weigh several tons.”
“Oh? But the vacuum pumps for wind tunnel experiments can create Mach 7 winds.”
She was talking about a world that defied imagination.
That alone sounded like a deadly weapon to a flesh-and-blood human.
He pulled himself together and looked in a different direction.
The main cannon that used a laser space elevator was located on the right side of the Object.
“Are you interested in that?” asked the Princess.
“Of course I am. The reactor, the main cannon, and the propulsion device are the standards. Although…”
He trailed off.
As previously stated, the Trinity Style’s laser space elevator main cannon had taken a direct hit from the Baby Magnum’s ablative shell, so it had bent and had a metal flower blooming from within.
“It looks like a shortcake some hysterical person threw against the wall. Well, I guess there’s still a chance I can steal the pastry chef’s recipe by tasting it.”
“…Well excuse me for being so rude.”
“Huh? Why are you in such a bad mood all of sudden?”
He was hesitant to touch the jagged edges and it was also sizzling from the residual heat. For the time being, he aimed his handheld device’s lens and snapped a few pictures. It was smashed to pieces, but he decided to view this as a chance to see the internal parts that would normally not be visible. It also revealed their damage control structure. How did one have to hit it to crush it and how had they intended to divert the damage? That was valuable information too. He doubted the Princess would smash her own machine just because he told her he wanted to see this.
“What is it, Quenser?”
“Well…what is that?”
He sounded puzzled as he peered inside the destroyed cannon through the giant flower.
A brick-sized mass was caught inside the barrel. It had tires with countless small suction cups, so it was probably some kind of work robot.
“Is it a cleaning robot for the inside of an air conditioner? But…”
He took a picture while frowning.
There was a depression inside the barrel, almost like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle was missing.
(Could it be…? But surely they wouldn’t go that far.)
His mind began racing, but…
“Hey, I know you’re having the time of your life here, but have you managed to cool your head yet?”
A voice from behind snapped him out of his thoughts.
He turned around and found an exasperated noble boy.
“Huh? Heivia, why are you up here too?”
“It’s simple. First, since they have so little time, the old lady insisted I look after you to make sure you don’t get in the way of their work.”
Then that awful friend pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
“But second, it looks like they’re going to force the cockpit hatch open, so all those technicians want someone who knows how to fight. Come with me and you can get the first shot at the piloting system and the Elite. What’ll it be, pervert?”
“I’ll go, I’ll go! Of course I’ll go!!”
“I see you’re too worked up to deny the pervert part,” added the Princess.
He walked across the spherical surface with Heivia to reach the back of the machine. Several maintenance soldiers were already gathered there and they were using a metal mask and a welding torch.
Quenser and Heivia spoke to the old lady who was waiting for them to finish.
“What’s this about?”
“Objects can withstand a nuke, right? Can a welding torch really get it open?”
“Not normally, no. But we found an external ejection device for when the Elite loses consciousness. …In fact, it’s a lot like the kind the Legitimacy Kingdom uses. As a defector, I’m not one to talk, but Frolaytia’s probably got her head in her hands over this information leak.”
Still, that had given them a way in.
Stolen technology was both good and bad. If one stole enemy technology and used it “as-is”, it was just like heading onto the battlefield with a glow-in-the-dark arrow pointing to your weakness.
A young maintenance soldier removed his metal mask and faced the old lady.
“It looks like it’ll work. Who’s going in?”
“Thanks for volunteering, youngsters. Now, go get yourselves some valuable life experience.”
She shoved on Quenser and Heivia’s backs, forcing them into the open tunnel.
“Wow. Are you sure you should be giving me a present when it isn’t even my birthday or Christmas?”
“I’m impressed. I really don’t think that was sarcasm.”
The old lady gave them one last instruction.
“This is already over. Avoid a firefight and do your best to get the Pilot Elite to surrender.”
“Is that because you don’t want bullets flying near the sensitive cockpit and reactor?”
“I want to hear some things from the Elite. …Let’s leave it at that.”
“Roger that,” casually replied Heivia.
The two of them did not hesitate to slip inside the Trinity Style.
The inside was a lot like a slide made from a two meter tube. The only strange part was how it did not take the shortest route like in the Princess’s Baby Magnum. Instead, it took a large curve like a highway off-ramp. It seemed inefficient, but there may have been some design reason for it.
They reached the deepest portion.
There were no lights, so they only had Quenser’s flashlight and the light on Heivia’s rifle.
There seemed to have been seventy barriers in total, but only the final one was still closed. The Elite may have locked it from inside. However, only the outside needed to withstand a nuke. Heivia fired his assault rifle at the important points, kicked down the door with the sole of his military boot, and stuck the rifle barrel inside.
It was a two meter wide cylindrical space. The front was covered in large monitors, but they were dark. There was a single chair in the center, but there were far fewer control columns and buttons than in the Princess’s cockpit. Instead, there was a single cable curled up on the floor. It also contained a mini-fridge and microwave oven just like the Baby Magnum. However, this one also had a travel pillow, a bottle of aromatic oil, a blanket, and other goods. The Elite seemed to be picky about getting some quality shut-eye.
But that was all.
The two of them were met with the stagnant atmosphere of a school at night.
“Hey, where’d they go?” Heivia asked a ridiculous question. “Where’d the Pilot Elite go!? This was supposed to be the world’s most solid sealed room!!”
Quenser peeked inside the cockpit and carefully tapped around the walls and floor while thinking. However, he did not find any obvious seams or handles.
“Hold on. This isn’t some ninja mansion. I doubt there are any hidden doors.”
“If it wasn’t here, it must’ve been in the tunnel on the way.”
They continued the search after borrowing some sodas and ice cream from the government-issued fridge. They checked through the upwards-sloping tunnel with their lights on and soon found it.
Quenser brought his radio to his mouth.
“Old lady! We found a hatch near the cockpit that’s probably a maintenance hatch for the react-…huh? Damn, are the walls too thick for the radio waves to get out!?”
“This stuff is good. They must give the Elites all the best food. So what are we gonna do, Quenser? Keep going or head back for reinforcements?”
“To be honest, I want to head back,” admitted Quenser. “But you heard me say this is probably the reactor’s maintenance hatch, right? We’ll be in trouble if the Elite is desperate enough to mess with the reactor. If it loses control, this two hundred thousand ton mass will be blown away and only a giant crater will remain.”
“Just once, can’t war give us a break!?”
Heivia tossed aside the empty container of ice cream and aimed his assault rifle toward the maintenance hatch. Quenser crouched down and grabbed the hatch’s handle.
“Here I go.”
“One question. An Object’s heart won’t rupture from a 5.56mm bullet, will it?”
As they spoke, they threw the hatch open.
Immediately, gunfire burst out from within.
With their plans immediately ruined, Heivia frantically pulled back while orange sparks scattered from the walls around him. Not only were bullets flying, but they were ricocheting like pinballs too.
“Close it, idiot! Close the hatch, Quenser!”
“We can’t fall back! If they go the self-destruct route, not even one of our trucks can get us to safety! Fire, fire!!”
Quenser forcibly urged Heivia on and Heivia sprayed bullets through the hatch in near desperation. Even with all its sensors, he was not going to hit anything like this.
But Quenser was not expecting him to hit.
While their opponent flinched back from Heivia’s gunfire, Quenser ducked through the hatch. Their opponent did not know he was a student and they must have been afraid of gunfire or a grenade because they moved further and further back while firing quick bursts back at the two boys.
“Just surrender!! We’ve already received the White Flag signal. You were abandoned!!”
Quenser courteously shouted into the darkness, but he of course received no response. That meant their opponent was not done fighting.
Heivia stepped through the hatch too.
“Ugh. What is this place?”
“A maintenance passageway positioned along the reactor. I doubt it was meant to be used while the reactor is active, though.”
It was a curving passageway only two meters wide. A pipe wider than the passageway itself covered the inside of the curve. There were other pipes for power and steam positioned along the ceiling.
If Quenser was right, the entire passageway formed a donut shape. Reactors came in a variety of shapes and varieties, but the Trinity Style was likely using the kind that resembled the fusion reactors of an older age. In other words, a circular frame was surrounded by powerful magnetic lines to manage a plasma flow with such overwhelming heat it was often referred to as a small sun.
“That sounded like a submachinegun, but the whizzing of the bullets was a little too high-pitched. Those were probably bullets designed specifically for PDW use,” said Heivia. “If that’s the Elite’s hidden weapon, then there probably aren’t any spare magazines. After all, they’d take up valuable space and be less useful than a fire extinguisher. It probably has at most fifty bullets inside.”
“If they’ve got limited ammo, this can act as a barometer to how desperate they are. They’ve already fired about thirty shots, so if we don’t capture them soon, they’ll turn one of the valves in here to cause an explosion.”
In other words, their opponent had already used up half their tickets to survival. They had to be feeling tragically heroic.
“Anyway, did you see that? I only caught a glimpse of them as they vanished around the curve, but they had twintails.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. …But if it’s a guy with twintails, I’m filling them with lead.”
The passageway was donut-shaped, so following after the Elite could allow that Elite to circle around and escape out of the maintenance hatch. However, it would be too dangerous for Quenser to cut them off the other way since he had no gun.
After some thought, Quenser pulled a few pen-sized electric fuses from his waist pouch.
“Wait, are you using bombs here!? As durable as an Object may be, there’s plasma at temperatures higher than ten or even a hundred thousand degrees right next to us!”
“I’m not putting these in the Hand Axe. The fuses themselves are just like giant firecrackers, but the Elite won’t be able to tell them apart from gunfire while cowering in the dark.”
“Oh, I see. You’re pretty bad yourself.”
“I’ll drive the bunny forward with some loud noises, so you circle around the other way for a surprise attack. We can only gamble that they won’t try to break through in this direction.”
Heivia tapped Quenser’s shoulder and then vanished down the passageway.
Left alone, the boy had a simple task at hand. He only had to throw the fuses randomly down the passageway and grab his radio. He had not been able to contact the old lady, but outside and inside were different. The signal would reach things inside the same Object.
He pressed the switch with his thumb and dry explosive sounds rang out. He heard a short surprised burst of gunfire that was likely the Pilot Elite’s counterattack. He seemed to have tricked them just fine. The Elite and Heivia must have run across each other on the other side of the donut because he heard an even shorter exchange of gunfire.
“Shit!! Shit, shit, shit!!”
“What is it, Heivia!? Why are you coming back!?”
“That wasn’t random! They were calculating out the ricochets! Oh, goddammit! I’d be dead if I hadn’t fallen back!!”
“Oh, c’mon! You can’t even do your job!?”
Quenser seriously considered kicking the boy back the way he had come, but then a twintailed figure appeared down the curving passageway. When he saw the ultra-small fully-automatic firearm simplified to the point of being T-shaped, he realized he did not have time to be stupid. The two boys scrambled out into the external tunnel and shut the hatch. They heard the heavy sound of bullets slamming into the hatch behind them.
“What do we do!? Wait until they’re out of ammo!?”
“You said they probably have at most fifty shots, right? But even if we counted accurately, we’ll get our brains blown out if they happen to have fifty-one shots. And what if there are more PDWs hidden around like fire extinguishers? We’ll make our triumphant entrance once things quiet down and then be filled with holes. We can’t rely on that.”
“Then do you have some clever idea!? Or is that clever head of yours only any good at wearing stolen panties!?”
“I’ve already done it.”
“Hey, Heivia. Assault rifles and PDWs are convenient, but you don’t need anything that impressive to kill. You don’t even need a single bullet or blade. Not even poison or drugs are necessary.”
He waved his hand with a smile.
“All you need is water and air. That’s enough to get them to give up.”
The twintailed girl was holed up in the donut-shaped reactor maintenance corridor.
She was the Trinity Style’s Pilot Elite.
She gasped for breath holding a PDW simplified to the point of being T-shaped, but this was already over. She understood that, but she could not just let this happen.
She could not surrender to the Legitimacy Kingdom.
If she did that, she would definitely be killed.definitely
That future appeared far too vividly in her mind.
(What should I do?)
The small elite thought deeply inside the donut-shaped passageway after driving the enemy soldiers out.
(What am I supposed to do now?)
Object reactors were generally electronically controlled. They would mechanically supply power without any input from the Pilot Elite and they could be manually controlled from the cockpit if absolutely necessary.
If the reactor was completely out of control, there were countless valves along this passageway for emergency intervention.
But that also meant she could send a stable reactor out of control and blow away everything for kilometers around.
Or she could convince the Legitimacy Kingdom she was doing so in order to get the entire unit to withdraw.
(I just have to do whatever I can.)
That may have sounded like a decent idea, but there was another important factor here.
That plan would change things too much.
Once she started, there was no turning back. If she successfully tricked the Legitimacy Kingdom into retreating, that was great, but there was nothing she could do if she failed and they remained at the maintenance hatch. And if she messed up her bluff and really did send the reactor out of control, she would be vaporized as much as anyone else.
(Yes, that’s right.)
The twintailed girl’s eyes fell on the many valves lined up along the donut’s inner wall. She faced them and touched one of them.
Was she really thinking logically here?
Or was that just an excuse and she really just wanted to take her enemy down with her?
(This has to be the best plan!!)
Without noticing that, she prepared to turn the valve.
But something stopped her.
Her sense of balance was suddenly thrown off.
She assumed the dizziness came from fear or anxiety. She wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand and found oddly warm sweat coating it.
It was not sweat.
It hit her as soon as she asked.
“Is that what they’re doing!? Dammit!!”
She let go of the valve and frantically ran over to the maintenance hatch, but it was too late. The hatch was shut from outside and someone seemed to be pressing up against it. When she realized she could not open it from within, she aimed her PDW toward the thick hatch and sprayed bullets at it in desperation.
The two idiots desperately held the hatch closed while hearing dull sounds from within. They knew the bullets were theoretically unable to get through, but the roaring sound was enough for their balls to shrivel up.
“I messed with the steam pipe running along the ceiling,” explained Quenser. “Humans can’t live long in a high-temperature high-humidity environment. There are detailed manuals they follow when constructing tunnels or working in mines. Saunas are adjusted for safety, but you won’t last twenty minutes in an improperly maintained one.”
The gunfire soon stopped.
The Elite seemed to kick at and bang on the hatch for a while afterwards, but even that eventually ended.
They waited a few minutes after that.
True silence surrounded them as the enemy put up no resistance at all.
The two of them nodded to each other, hesitantly opened the hatch, and felt the same humid steam as when opening an Island Nation rice cooker.
Inside, they found a girl with long blonde twintails wearing a green special suit that covered her entire body.
A loose cloth was wrapped around her body over the thin, skin-tight suit. The cloth formed an X over her chest and her waist, and together they created a diamond shape. It may have pointed to some kind of doctrine or rank within the Faith Organization, but the uncultured and unintellectual idiots could only see it as an oddly-designed swimsuit for a pin-up model.
She was lying on her side like a heat stroke victim.
Her skin was flushed and her bangs were plastered to her forehead. Her entire face was red and her entire body was covered in what may have been beads of sweat or drops of water.
Quenser sighed as he looked down at her.
“Things are finally starting to get sexy around here, so it would be a waste to turn her into a corpse. Let’s take her back while she’s still alive.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you: is that calm demeanor of yours something you buy at a store somewhere?”
In truth, the next step was the hardest part.
After all, the Trinity Style’s tunnel was a steep slope that curved around like an off-ramp. Even if girls were light, they still weighed forty to fifty kilograms, so it was the same as carrying a bag of rice. The two idiots slipped several times on the way and were very nearly forced to start again from square one.
The twintailed Elite woke up on the way, but she seemed to decide resisting was a poor plan when she had no gun and her thumbs were bound behind her back. For how much she had struggled before, she was being quite docile.
They somehow managed to arrive outside.
When the two idiots showed up absolutely soaking with sweat, the old maintenance lady gave them a puzzled look.
“It wore you out that much to catch one little rabbit?”
“Do you want to try it? I don’t even remember how many times we almost died in there.”
Heivia was too exhausted to say anything more.
Quenser placed his hands on the back of the twintailed girl’s shoulders, but not because he was a sexually harassing lowlife. The Object’s main body was a round sphere and the Elite could easily lose her balance and fall with her hands bound. And that was true of an accident or an intentional act.
“What’s your name? You’ll be interrogated more than enough later, but I thought I’d ask.”
“Skuld. Skuld Silent-Third.”
That was all the Elite girl said.
Or maybe it was all she could bear to say. Even taking into account the moonlight illumination, her skin was unnaturally pale. Quenser also felt a tremor in the shoulders he held in his hands.
She must have just been that fearful and anxious of falling into enemy hands. Unlike all the random grunts, she was the one actually participating in war and killing so many people. She may have been aware of the grudges she would have made.
However, that did not seem to be the real reason.
Skuld looked back toward Quenser and spoke in a slow, trembling voice.
“I’ll be killed. I’ll definitely be killed.”definitely
“Listen. We already received the White Flag. The battle is over.”
Skuld shook her head, but not because she could not trust Quenser and the others.
“I’ll be killed by the Norn.”
Quenser did not initially understand, but…
“I’m talking about this Object!!”
By the time he grasped what she meant, the situation was already underway.
The round Object that Quenser, Heivia, and the others stood on began to move.
The Pilot Elite was no longer onboard, it should have been empty, and it should not have been able to move, yet it was. With the simple movement of a wet dog shaking off some water, it worked at throwing off the puny humans clinging to it. No, it even swung around the helicopters and armored trucks attached by wires. It looked like an amusement park thrill ride using centrifugal force.
There was nothing they could do.
By the time he caught on, Quenser had already bene thrown out into the night sky. And he was not the only one. Heivia, the old maintenance lady, and the many other young technician soldiers joined him. They were all amusingly flailing around like awkward birds, but Quenser was no different.
A girl floated in the air nearby. Skuld had her thumbs bound behind her back, so he grabbed at her body and pulled her close.
There was nothing more to do.
The one piece of luck was just how huge the Object was. Instead of falling into the flower field directly below, they fell into a densely packed jungle a short distance away.
Narrow branches audibly broke and absorbed some of their momentum before they hit the ground.
He landed on his back and had trouble breathing, but the pain told him he had not died quite yet.
Not wearing a lifeline had actually proved fortunate. Even now, some of the spider web or cat’s cradle wires remained and both equipment and personnel were being swung around like morning stars.
“Ah…ghah!! Skuld…are you…okay?”
He looked to the girl in his arms.
She would not have been able to land properly with her hands tied behind her, so Quenser may have been right to grab her. At the very least, it did not look like anything was broken.
“If you are, then explain this. What is that!? Why is the Trinity Style taking strategic action with the Pilot Elite removed!?”
Was she going to say it was AI-controlled and did not need a Pilot Elite?
That was Quenser’s thought, but the answer was something else entirely.
“The Norns are the three goddesses of destiny.”
“You don’t mean…”
“Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. The Norn has three Elites.”
That explained things.
If the other two Elites could pilot the Object even with Skuld captured, the current situation made sense.
If the alternative was letting Skuld, who held highly classified information, fall into enemy hands, killing her here was the logical decision when the Elites were replaceable like that.
“Now I get it,” said Heivia who had fallen nearby.
Could a student like Quenser get away with calling him pathetic? That awful friend was beaten up and the old maintenance lady was practically grabbing at the back of his uniform’s collar to support herself.
“That busty commander was right when she said it looked like different Elites were boarding the Trinity Style. That’s exactly what was happening! But who would have ever thought that three of them were controlling the thing at once!? Goddammit!!”
“That would also be why the tunnel curved like an off-ramp. The shortest route would mean the tunnels leading to the three cockpits would intersect. They had to spiral around so that wouldn’t happen.”
“What’s going to happen now that they’re forcing it to move!? It was already taken out of commission by that ablative shell, right!? It can’t move right with that damage and its main cannon was blown away and turned into a flower or something. Are they really going to fight the Princess like that!?”
“You understand nothing,” said Skuld harshly.
The machine she had entrusted her life to was now targeting her and she spoke in the face of that unreasonable reality.
“You understand nothing of how dreadful the Norn is.”
A moment later, the most unreasonable thing of all happened.
With a blinding flash of light, the Trinity Style’s supposedly destroyed main cannon fired.
In truth, the old lady and other maintenance soldiers had found something strange while Quenser and Heivia were having their firefight with Skuld.
It was a blocky work robot the size of a brick. It had a few wheels covered in small suction cups, so it could likely move along the walls and ceiling.
Quenser had found one inside the main cannon that had opened up like a blooming flower.
He had guessed it was a maintenance device meant to clean the air conditioner or something, but the old lady and the others had a different idea.
“What is this?”
“We found a bunch underneath the armor panels. They completely covered the inside like wharf roaches. With that many, they could probably life up and move the armor panels.”
“What about the cannons?”
“We can’t rely on the main one since it was blown to bits, but we took some samples from the smaller secondary cannons. Same with the supports. It’s like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.”
“In other words…”
They heard the sound of a bug’s jaws opening and closing.
The old lady could not tell where it was coming from, but the creaking sound came from somewhere inside the giant machine. Almost as if it was changing form like a living creature.
“This Object isn’t a solid mass of metal. Is it more like children’s building blocks? Can a group of small blocks move around to create a completely different Object?”
After a deafening explosion and a blinding light, a few of the Baby Magnum’s main cannons were torn away. The sound of blowing wind came next. It seemed to happen with a certain frequency, like someone slowly swinging a metal bat, and then something arrived.
One of the Baby Magnum’s lost main cannons slammed into the jungle Quenser and the others were hiding in.
Quenser grabbed Skuld and Heivia grabbed the old lady’s hand as they took off running. They leaped into a depression in the ground and hid there just in time for the wreckage of the main cannon to pass by overhead while knocking down all the trees in the area.
But that was not the only damage.
Either the wires had snapped or the welded points had come undone because the swinging analysis equipment, armored trucks, and transport helicopters flew their way in long parabolic arcs. The analysis equipment felled countless trees, the rotors of the rapidly spinning helicopters mowed down the underbrush, and the armored trucks exploded and set the surrounding jungle ablaze.
Heivia trembled next to Quenser inside the depression.
“You’re kidding! You have got to be kidding!! What the hell was that!? I thought the Trinity Style’s main cannon had been blown away!!”got
“They’re called Dvergr,” said Skuld in Quenser’s arms. “They are the smallest unit making up our Norn. They are the dwarves that create the weapons of the gods, so there isn’t just one form. The damage doesn’t matter. The Norn will just take on a new form, become a new Object, and attack.”
“I can’t believe this,” groaned Quenser. “So it only looked out of commission after taking that ablative shell because you were playing dead!? You were waiting for us to get close so you could easily take out the Princess who was so far away!?”
“We didn’t plan it out that well. Your attack really was a complete surprise. The three of us were discussing how to best turn things around and we voted two-against-one to sacrifice me.”
“It doesn’t really matter either way. This just means the insecticide wasn’t enough to kill the roach, right!? What do we do? The disgusting thing’s still alive and kicking!!”
The Princess could still move even with a few of her main cannons lost. She was moving quickly to recover from the disadvantage of taking a surprise attack head on and she fired low-stability plasma cannons in retaliation.
The Trinity Style avoided a few of them, but one clearly hit it dead on.
It should have pierced right through it, but…
“It…stopped it!? But that was definitely a clean hit!!”
The surface was a little melted and orange, but that was it. Even as Quenser shouted his question, he came up with the answer on his own.
“Don’t tell me… You’ve got to be kidding me!! Did it take the evenly-distributed onion armor and focus it on that one point? It forced its way through using the thickness of its armor!? It can do that!?”
It no longer seemed feasible to simply blow through a single point of the armor. Unless the Princess burned through all of the tiny blocks making up the fifty meter, two hundred thousand ton mass, the Trinity Style would continue moving.
He started feeling faint from the hopelessness of the situation.
The Princess would be worn down like this. Once she was defeated, they would lose their support. And with the Trinity Style functioning, there was a chance the surrendered Faith Organization troops would resume the fight. The situation was doubly bad as things were.
“Didn’t I tell you?” said Skuld who had her hands bound behind her back with Quenser’s arm around her shoulders.
She looked up at him from near his chest with a smile of resignation.
“I’ll be killed by the Norn. A single Elite isn’t worth all that much to the Faith Organization. They’re perfectly willing to abandon us if it means winning the battle.”
The Object was made up of tiny robots and could freely change its design.
It always used three Pilot Elites, so they did not need any unique characteristics.
It made sense from a design perspective.
The idea had been discussed in the past. With one Elite per Object, military action could be stopped by personal issues like a stomachache, a cavity, or heartbreak. Those fears were generally ignored because a single Object was more useful than one thousand normal tanks, but the Trinity Style’s unit had taken a different approach.
They had raised the value of the whole by reducing the individual value to near zero.
“That’s Experimental Battlefield Madagascar for you. Everyone here is insane.”
When it came down to it, weapons development was about killing people in the most efficient and least wasteful way possible. There was no room for idealism there. The news on TV might talk about inhumane weapons, but who would be willing to head out there wearing a suit and holding a rose in order to elegantly kill people? Only the side suffering the death bothered with those consolations.
But this was different.
This design principle was lowering the value of the lives onboard the Object and of the lives the other soldiers were trusting their own lives in. That did not sit well with Quenser who was not even a novice designer yet. No matter how much it improved the odds of victory, no matter how low it brought the costs, and no matter how much the customer would love a design like this, he felt a chill before any excitement.
The next thing he knew, he was glaring at the loathsome colossal weapon and bringing his radio to his mouth.
“Princess, I know this can’t be easy, but please listen. Focus your main cannons on the front of the Trinity Style. Don’t give them a chance to rest.”
“They aren’t giving me a chance to circle around anyway, but then what, Quenser?”
He paused as he stared at the monster. If the “cool weapon” he had hoped for was a soda, then this was that soda after it had gone flat.
“We’ll circle behind it and destroy the damn thing.”
They left Skuld in the depression with her hands still bound behind her back.
Quenser got up and spoke to his awful friend.
“Let’s go, Heivia. Let’s end this.”
“Are you serious? We’re going to run through this catastrophe on our own two legs!? They’d better make a movie out of this!!”
Heivia tearfully complained as he ran alongside the other boy. They left the jungle and reached the plain covered in lovely flowers. The ground had been torn into here and there, leaving the dark soil exposed. There were also plenty of smashed helicopters and armored trucks lying on their sides. That was the fate of the armored weapons that had instantly welded their wires on with aluminum or iron oxide. Soldiers performing first aid were gathered behind them like bugs preparing for winter underneath a stone.
Quenser joined a group of them, tapped on the armored truck with the back of his hand and spoke to a medic wearing a military uniform and a nurse cap.
“Hey, you alive? Can anyone move? And do you know how many of these battered shields can still run?”
“I-I can share my map data with you. But what do you hope to accomplish against that monster? Everyone’s too scared to do anything.”
“You say they can’t do anything, but they’ve got two hands and two feet, right? Then you can break though their cowardice by telling them to help out if they want a new pick-up line to use at the bar!”
Another blinding light and deafening explosion illuminated and tore up the late night flower field. The giants were duking it out. The Princess was having a hard time of it in her First Generation, but not because she could not hit her enemy. She simply could not pierce the enemy’s onion armor because the pieces would gather at the predicted point of contact.
Quenser slapped the medic girl’s back to cheer her up and then similarly asked for help over the radio. Meanwhile, he ran out from behind that puny shield while staying low to the ground.
Heivia looked about to die despite not having been hit by anything yet.
“What are we supposed to do!? If all of the Princess’s low-stability plasma cannons can’t break through, then how are we supposed to damage it from the surface!?”
“Heivia, everyone’s working hard right now. At the moment, we have fewer minds than weapons. I don’t know how much a student like me can manage, but we need to get our hands and feet moving!”
“I’m asking what good that will do! Outdated bullets and shells can’t get through armor that can withstand a nuke!!”
“Don’t be so quick to say that.”
Immediately after Quenser’s baffling answer, a unique sound came from the surviving armored trucks. They were attacking the Trinity Style from behind while the Princess attacked from the front. Instead of weapons using gunpowder, they were firing wires from the five meter crossbow-like devices. The violent roar sounded a lot like a thick flat spring snapping after being bent too far.
The long arrows were launched one after another, but they did not stab at their target with their weight and speed. That would only have gotten them deflected by the Object’s armor. Instead, they used aluminum and iron oxide chemical reactions that created instantaneous heat of a few thousand degrees to fuse onto the armor panels.
“Ahh, I knew it,” lamented Heivia as he ran through the battlefield of flashing light and explosions. “That isn’t going to stop it! The trucks are being swung around instead!!”
They could see the soldiers scrambling out and diving to the ground just before the armored trucks were pulled up into the air. They never could have reacted that quickly if they had not already been prepared to escape at a moment’s notice. None of them had thought they could win.
Except one, that is.
“That’s what I wanted.”
“Hey, Heivia. It’s true the Trinity Style looks invincible at first glance. That fifty meter and two hundred thousand ton mass is made up of small robots that can remake the entire thing to match any conditions, environment, or enemy. It’s the ultimate Second Generation. No, since it can fight no matter the weather or environment, maybe it’s gone back to being a premium model First Generation.”
“What does it matter when we can’t beat the thing!?”
“Have you forgotten? All it’s doing is rearranging its materials. It doesn’t have a factory inside to create new blocks. It hasn’t overturned the conservation of mass.”
“If you’re actually planning to explain this, then just do it already.”
“If they’re prettying up one spot, wrinkles have to appear elsewhere. I’ll put it so simply an idiot could understand: It wants to make its armor thicker, but where is it taking those parts from? When it takes that armor away, won’t it be thinner there?”
Quenser and Heivia jumped inside an armored truck lying on its side. It could no longer drive around on its tires, but the turret-like weapon on the top still just barely moved.
“Wait, so you mean…?”
Quenser pointed at the screen and Heivia took care of the actual aiming.
Around them, several welded-on wires and their heavy trucks swung through the air before finally breaking off, flying into the distance, and stabbing into the ground. However, careful observation showed that something was different.
The wires were not snapping and the welding was not coming off.
The small robots – that were called Dvergr according to Skuld – and the armor panels were being peeled away. The Object was a two hundred thousand ton mass, but each individual robot was only the size of a brick. It was not that difficult to forcibly tear them away with the weight and centrifugal force.
This was helped by…no, caused by…
“The armor on the very back should be a lot thinner with the Princess’s main cannons hitting it on the front.”
They had invaded Skuld’s cockpit and he had seen the off-ramp curve of the tunnel on the way there. The other hatches had likely been hidden by the robots and armor panels, but if all three cockpits were positioned at the three corners of an even triangle, then he could take a good guess where the other two were.
He made sure to point at and verbally repeat each item on the screen.
“I’ve removed the safety, the fuse is set, and the final targeting is complete. I just followed the help guide, but is that enough? Will this work, Heivia!?”
“Yeah!! But just to be sure, cover your ears and open your mouth! I’m gonna fire!!”
“Then fire right up the filthy ass inside that naked apron!!”
The armored truck shook from the blast of firing.
This scene may have been out of place in the modern age of clean wars.
It may have been no different from firing a single puny shell.
But at this moment, things were different.
An intense shaking had to have reached the cockpit. The Pilot Elite who felt protected even from a nuke would have been filled with supposedly impossible fear.
And they would have learned that they were under attack from the Princess in the front and the tanks, armored trucks, and shoulder-fired launchers from every other direction.
The Trinity Style’s round armor had pieces missing like toy blocks had been removed. The contents were exposed, especially on the back.
The Dvergr could not immediately rearrange to fill the holes. If they did that, the Princess’s fierce attack would break through on the front. However, leaving the holes might lead to the surrounding infantry crushing the nearly exposed cockpit.
“Hey, what do we do? It’s still moving after all that. We haven’t destroyed the cockpit yet! What do we do now!?”
If the enemy truly intended to drag this down into a drawn-out battle of possible mutual destruction, then the outcome was still a mystery. If it used its nearly one hundred cannons to slaughter all of the infantry and continued fighting the Baby Magnum despite the damage it would accumulate, it might just turn this around.
But would the Trinity Style go that far? Was it willing to accompany an outdated First Generation and a handful of infantry to the depths of hell?
The next thing they knew, the Trinity Style had stopped firing as it took high-speed evasive actions.
A transmission was already coming in from Frolaytia.
“We’ve received the White Flag signal again. We could always destroy them since they already ignored the rules, but we don’t want to take any more damage either. Do not pursue. Wait for them to retreat.”
“We’ve won for now, but this is no time to celebrate,” said Quenser inside the overturned armored truck. “The Trinity Style can redesign itself to match the current conditions and environment. This weakness will probably be gone the next time we see it.”
The Pilot Elite girl named Skuld got up from the depression in the ground with her hands still bound behind her back. She quietly came out from behind cover.
Her beloved Norn had left.
She felt as neglected as someone who had been left in the line of fire by a rescue helicopter. At the same time, she felt relief at the immediate threat leaving. The two conflicting feelings mixed together in her head.
She would likely be taken into Legitimacy Kingdom custody along with the other Faith Organization soldiers. In the initial discussions, the Legitimacy Kingdom had promised not to touch the scrapped Norn or its Pilot Elite, but that verbal promise would have been nullified by that second round.
Skuld was a Pilot Elite.
Her body and mind were both packed full of classified information, so the Legitimacy Kingdom would be watering at the mouth at the thought of getting their hands on her. For the same reason, the Faith Organization would want to silence her as soon as possible.
In that case, it was obvious what would happen next.
“This means war.”
The Norns were the three goddesses of destiny.
Of them, Skuld was in charge of the future and the ultimate destinations of human lives.
In other words, she gave prophecies of death.
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