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The information is protected by high-level military compliance protocols, so we can only obtain fragments of it. Even so, piecing that together should reveal something.
Now, let us review what we know about Skuld Silent-Third.
Overview of the Norn ProgramOverview of the Norn Program
This project was established in order to fill the hole in the current system that requires everything to rely on a single Object and Pilot Elite. For information on the Object side of the project, see the other paper. Here, I would like to refer more to the concept of a general-use Pilot Elite.
Using the same development program on multiple genetically-similar people will implant identical traits in multiple Elites. By remaking the one-to-one relationship between person and weapon, multiple people can share the work and personnel can be swapped out if the unforeseen occurs. That will be Step 1.
If it succeeds, we can avoid being stuck with an entirely useless Object if the Pilot Elite is assassinated.
And the success of this project could also create a starting point for mass-producing Pilot Elites through cloning technology or the like. (n.b.: Whether or not Central will provide religious ethics approval is always a question.)
Journalist’s Voice Recording not Used in an ArticleJournalist’s Voice Recording not Used in an Article
Verdandi: “Yeah, let’s not be all formal. We’re sick and tired of that shallow and flowery way they talk about us.”
Urd: “Yes. They call us the goddesses or saints of the Norn Program, but we’re really no more than spares. The government propaganda makes it look like all three of us are working together to fight, but Verdandi and I really only just barely make the grade as Elites.”
Verdandi: “We use our ingenuity to make up for what we lack, so you should really praise us for that.”
Urd: “So the Norn’s only real Elite is that girl…Skuld.”
Verdandi: “Yeah, she’s a genius in the truest sense of the word.”
Urd: “But there is a major problem with her personality. We hold her reins and prevent her from going on a true rampage.”
Verdandi: “What’s gotten you so quiet? I thought you asked people questions for a living. You can’t exactly do your job if you’re dumbfounded, can you?”
Urd: “Cut him some slack, Verdandi. Who knows how his life would be destroyed if he put this in an article. Hee hee.”
Confiscated JournalConfiscated Journal
I don’t understand what life is.
It isn’t something you can see or hear.
Everyone says to treat life with care.
But I don’t understand what it is. No one does.
It must be something like water or air.
You can’t understand how much you need it while you’re breathing it and taking it for granted. But once you don’t have enough, you realize just how important it is.
So to learn about life, you must approach that final limit.
Confession Recorded by a CounselorConfession Recorded by a Counselor
Yes, yes. Please forgive me. Yes, please find it in yourself to forgive me. I understood Saint Skuld’s sickness. It is true she has been at the mercy of her inborn nature, but it is my responsibility for not treating it and even allowing it to exacerbate in how I interacted with her. An agent explained to me that this would protect the world and that it was necessary for the Norn Program and the Berserker Program that branched off of that, but that is not enough to wholly eliminate my guilt. Yes, this was all due to my immoral-…? What? A blackout? What is-…kssssssshhhhhhhh!!
…You should have just done as you were told.
Voicemail Seeking a Personal AppointmentVoicemail Seeking a Personal Appointment
Message left at 1:40 AM on August 19.
“Hey, Tony! Is it sunny enough for some bikini babes where you’re at? I’m on the other side of the world suffering through the damp rainy season. But anyway, I’ve got some good news for you. No, no. I’m not asking to borrow any money. …It wasn’t what I was after, but I happened to get a hell of a video out here in this battlefield country. It was dark and I only had my handheld equipment, so you can only see the shadows, but it’s gotta be you-know-who enjoying her ‘hobby’. You know what I mean, right? It’s what you wanted more than anything back there behind your desk! You probably think it’s a fake and that I’d post it online to become a hero if I really had the video of the century, but if I uploaded something this dangerous as an individual, it’d only look like some cruel snuff film. I need the reputation of the press! I really wish I could send you the video right away, but since this is a battlefield country, it seems like everything but the landline phone’s been cut off. Anyway, I want an appointment for the very second I’m back in the country. Listen, this is the crucial moment. Don’t forget I went to you first since we’ve been friends for so long!”
Would you like to delete the message?
A Freelance Writer’s NotebookA Freelance Writer’s Notebook
New soldiers occasionally vanish from Saint Skuld’s unit. There are a number of rumors: they get fed up with the battlefield after learning how tough life is there, they tried to earn some money on the side through smuggling and were dishonorably discharged, they foolishly tried to make a pass at Saint Skuld and were eliminated by the Valkyries, etc. But my intuition tells me the truth lies elsewhere. All of those explanations are almost eerily satisfying. Almost like someone planted the evidence after the fact.
And then there was the incident from a few days back. It only received a quick article on an online news site, but that’s when it hit me.
A soldier vanished in a safe country instead of a battlefield country. He was apparently close to Saint Skuld and acting as her bodyguard while she was on leave. If he was fed up with his job, it would be much more logical to vanish in a safe country than a battlefield country, but I bet…no, I know that isn’t the truth.
I know about her “hobby”. Or I think I do.
It always happened in battlefield countries where proper criminal investigations don’t take place. But this was different. It happened in a safe country, a territory controlled by the rules of us pacifists. I doubt they’ll have made a mistake, but it couldn’t have been easy covering this one up. Searching for any slight opening here might be a good way of reaching the truth.
(The next page is covered in dried blood and cannot be opened.)
Deletion RequestDeletion Request
To protect Saint Skuld Silent-Third’s life and lifestyle from saboteurs and anti-establishment groups, the following personal information must be deleted. Most of the information is managed by the military, but a few pieces still exist in a variety of media from before she joined. They all exist on the server such that they can only be accessed with a special tool, but please delete them ASAP.
1. Suspicion of Animal Abuse in the Rabbit Cage of Midgard Elementary School.
(Including the ghost stories on the school’s unofficial site)
2. Suspicion of Assault and Battery at the Same School (2 Incidents)
(Including the posts on message boards and SNS)
3. Suspicion of Serial Arson Targeting the Homes of Students and Teachers at the Same School (4 Incidents)
(Including an online request to a private investigator and a dismissed bill of indictment)
In addition to the above documents, please search for and delete any similar documents. If anyone requests the release of this information or works to block the deletion thereof, please report it to your contact.
Accountant’s MemoAccountant’s Memo
Authorization from Central → A clue → What would be best?
Important! When laying the groundwork, make sure this is not confused with the group working on the practical use of cloning.
From 4 to 5. Maybe one more to help things run more smoothly.
(Adjustments for the hidden jobs like assassination and cover-ups takes money, so one more.)
Is the military funding from the Venerable Elder not enough? Hmm…
Reduce the number of personnel? ✖The number can go up, but it can’t go down.
Ask for more? No good: Any more and the bank account management system might discover the Venerable Elder’s expenses.
Use a “woman”? → Too reckless with the religious ethics judgments. It might rub them the wrong way.
(But it could work as a threat against any helpers who refuse to agree. If I list up each of their family issues such as an overbearing wife or a deteriorating relationship with an adopted son or biological son, I can mark the ones for which that “bomb” might work.)
Other sources of funds… Hmm.
Draupnir. ✔This one.
Submitting a report on the uses of those edible insects, doubling or tripling the supply research budget, and then cutting away the fat might be a good compromise. (←Write up a clean copy before reporting to the Venerable Elder.)
Lead Article in an Agency PR MagazineLead Article in an Agency PR Magazine
Monthly Asgard April Issue!
This month I’m putting the spotlight on Saints Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, the three sisters who control the Second Generation Norn. These sisters have both power and beauty and I would like to introduce you to their noble minds and the spotless radiance of their lives. Let’s start with Saint Skuld. At the age of 14, she looks like she would still be entirely dependent of her family’s love, but she has fully parted with that indulgence of her peers. She has a fully-formed benevolent personality and genius piloting skills and she is the solid wall protecting our lives, lifestyles, and dignity. She is the ultimate…
It was pouring rain.
Thick and dark rain clouds covered the entire sky.
It was supposed to be the dry season in the Antsiranana District, but that did not matter. According to the satellite, the rivers were more than full and the land was flooded as far as the eye could see. The maintenance base zone’s location had been chosen based on geographic factors, so it had escaped the flooding, but waist-high muddy water could be found not far outside the base. And it continued all the way to the horizon.
“This is what they call heat pollution, isn’t it?”
Silver-haired and busty Frolaytia toyed with her bangs in annoyance while holding her long, narrow kiseru in her mouth.
“The industrialization of the mainland across the ocean has raised the upper atmospheric temperature by two or three degrees. As their operations pick up, the atmosphere grows unstable.”
“What’s the situation?” asked Quenser.
Frolaytia breathed out some sweet smoke and looked the other way.
She looked to the Baby Magnum having its armor and weapons swapped out in the center of the maintenance bay.
“The Faith Organization is sure to have noticed the approaching transportation fleet of submarines and hovercraft. But they’ve chosen to tolerate its presence. They must be waiting for us to finish our maintenance.”
The base’s vehicles were mostly just a pile of rubble, so new ones had been sent in for an almost wholesale replacement of the base.
“They must be monitoring us. They’re only overlooking this because the materials are flowing in and not out. If we tried to evacuate the officers or the classified servers, they would attack and give the fleet a watery grave.”
“Could we not evacuate in time with some emergency submarines?”
“That might work for a VIP or two, but there are too many of us. Besides, the Trinity Style is made of countless Dvergr work robots, so it can change shape whenever it wants. The area is flooded so badly we can’t see the ground, so it will almost certainly be using an air cushion. That means it can head out to sea, so attempting a game of tag would be too reckless.”
“But then why are they doing this?”
“Why are they prepared to respond at a moment’s notice and yet giving us this chance? Have you forgotten, Quenser? The Trinity Style…no, Skuld’s rampage began when she pretended to be defeated in order to defeat our Princess more easily.” Frolaytia smiled darkly. “If their military is willing to protect her despite all the problems she causes, she must earn them a ton of money. But I bet opinions are growing much more split within the Faith Organization. So they want a way to test Skuld’s loyalty. Or perhaps she needs a purification ceremony to clear her name.”
“She’s making up for all this by crushing the Baby Magnum? She wants to shift all the blame to the Princess?” Quenser sounded disgusted. “And just like they wanted, we chose to stay on Experimental Battlefield Madagascar.”
“Well, the higher ups wanted an early withdrawal to bring back Skuld and all of her classified information. Now that we can’t do that, we’re back to the original plan: kill the enemy. When you think about it, it’s a simple order.”
Quenser started to speak but trailed off.
Frolaytia nodded and continued for him.
“I understand. It all looks like we’re under Skuld’s control. Two world powers are working together to supply a hunting ground for a young girl’s hobby. It’s pathetic. In that way, maybe she is a genius. A serial killer who just kills people will be caught before long, but the truly dangerous ones understand society well enough to blend in despite their abnormality. She has the right instincts to mess with things beyond her reach and bring the current trends and public opinion to her side.”
Quenser heard her out, but he actually disagreed.
He doubted Skuld Silent-Third had thought any of this through.
Too much of this had been unpredictable: the battle with the Baby Magnum, the insect swarm, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s defeat in the second battle, the rescue operation, and her capture by Verdandi after trying to kill Quenser during that rescue operation. It had all been adlibbed and none of it could have been planned out.
She was simply snatching up the delicious-looking dessert she saw, as if she had happened across a food stand. She was not even worried about how much was left in her wallet.
And yet she had made it this far.
It was all so solid that it seemed to follow a single line throughout.
It was a blindfolded tightrope walk that could have met disaster at any moment. She was insane enough to continue laughing throughout. She had had no plan for success and she would have been thrown to the ground if she made even a slight misstep. That was all Skuld was doing.
If she was a genius, that was the important point.
She planned nothing, she only adlibbed, and she always made the choice that would lead to the most deaths in the moment.
That was all she had done, and yet she had thoroughly manipulated two world powers at once.
It was almost like some kind of goddess was embracing Skuld Silent-Third from behind.
But was that a goddess of fate, a goddess of victory, or a mysterious goddess of death?
It was time for the mission.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. We’re fighting one of the Objects that ended the nuclear age, not going fishing. Why do we have to rely on rubber boats now?”
They were riding a small rubber boat barely large enough for 10 people that had an engine-powered propeller on the back. Several dozen of them were lined up side by side as they travelled down along the flooded muddy river.
They could hardly believe this had been a dry and cracked wasteland just the other day.
They could no longer tell where the large river dividing the two armies’ territory had been.
It was only water, water, and more water as far as the eye could see. And it was far too muddy to tell how deep it was. Quenser felt his skin crawl at how this seemed more like the middle of a lake than a river, but Heivia was in a much worse state as he controlled the boat. Unlike a lake, there was a powerful current and they would be swept downstream in no time if he grew careless.
“Come to think of it, what’s the Princess doing this time? Her static electricity system needs naval floats to cross rivers and oceans, but what about in this pouring rain?”
“She can force herself across some gathered water with insoluble repellant, but this environment is pretty bad. Well, the old lady and the others were doing something with welding equipment, so I bet she’s had the floats installed. I mean, it’s completely flooded out here.”
“But the floats have a shark anchor weight that extends straight down. Won’t that hit the ground?”
“That’s why the old lady and the others were working so hard. They were cutting that away.”
The naval equipment would let the Baby Magnum float, but it would have trouble balancing. Having a handicap in battle was no laughing matter at this point.
Only two or three people were on each 10-man boat and the two idiots were the only ones on their boat. The rest of the space was filled with spear-like equipment thicker than metal rods and a giant attached crossbow that fired them.
The weapon looked a lot like the ballistae used centuries ago to bring down stone castles.
“Do you know what we need to do?”
“Yeah, this plan is a lot like a research project. We fire arrowheads full of aluminum and iron oxide at the Trinity Style so those giant-ass arrows will fuse onto it. Then balloons fill with carbon dioxide gas to increase the air resistance and slow down its movements. If that lets the Princess shoot the thing, we win. …Like hell that’ll work! That thing’s moving around at Mach 5 or 10 and it can shoot down every tactical missiles you could shoot at it!!”
“But the chemical fusion has already been proven to work. …Of course, that was just the old lady and the others attaching them while it was feigning defeat.”
“They just fired the arrows at the Object while it was sitting there. And when it was pretending to be stopped to trick us. That’s nothing like a real battle!!”
“The Trinity Style will have to keep a constant eye on us while it fights. That’s enough of a plan right there. We can’t think about actually defeating it. We just have to take some of the pressure off of the Princess so she can win.”
“But if we stand out, it’ll fire its plasma and lasers. Our skin isn’t made of orichalcum. If it even grazes us, we’ll be vaporized!!”
Complaining would not change anything about their situation.
They could see some silhouettes floating on the muddy river that spread to the horizon.
They were boxy silhouettes and Faith Organization soldiers were likely riding them.
“What the hell are those!? Are they floating around in armored trucks with propellers attached!? They’re making me feel like a neighborhood kid begging for a toy!!”
“Check out what’s beyond them.”
Quenser was referring to something beyond the floating armored trucks. A giant form could be seen rising above the horizon.
Even at this distance, tingling fear spread across Quenser’s entire body.
It was the Faith Organization Second Generation Trinity Style.
First, the Legitimacy Kingdom rubber boats clashed with the Faith Organization armored light trucks.
Powerful gunshots rang out as the heavy machineguns attached to the truck roofs roared to life. Each and every shot was an extraordinary bullet as thick as someone’s thumb. Every minute, two thousand bullets larger than the average anti-materiel rifle round were fired. A single hit would tear someone to pieces.
The Legitimacy Kingdom responded with assault rifles and light machineguns. They were quieter than the heavy machineguns that weighed several dozen kilograms, but the armored light trucks had sacrificed defense for the ability to float. These bullets were meant for heavy equipment and they could pierce through to the inside.
Both sides were risking their lives.
Sparks flew and pillars of water continually rose from the muddy river.
But even that exchange of lives was no more than a farce.
The true clash began soon thereafter.
The Baby Magnum and the Trinity Style both fired their main cannons.
The blinding light and deafening noise was enough for Quenser to nearly forget the reality of his situation.
Giant ripples expanded from the Objects and they threatened to capsize the rubber boats.
Meanwhile, the two mechanical monsters made quick and precise movements while firing main cannons powerful enough to instantly dig up and vaporize a nuclear shelter.
At some point, the firefight with the Faith Organization armored light trucks had ended.
Their heads were too rattled to aim properly and they even had difficulty tracking the passage of time. The one Object had a belt connecting the main cannon and giant magazine attached on opposite sides.
“The container cannon that uses the elevator? Are they starting with Urd!?”
“Enough with your technical obsession! We just have to do what we can. Load one of the ballista arrows. If you don’t have anything else to do, get to work!!”
The side effects of the Object battle were enough to tear their ranks apart. A rubber boat up ahead of Quenser and Heivia’s had already prepared their several-meter-long crossbow. Once they were in range, they pulled the trigger to fire an arrow thicker than an iron rod.
The sound it made was far too heavy to think of as a bow firing.
Even without the aluminum or iron oxide in the arrowhead, a hit from that would tear a human to pieces.
“You idiot! Look away, Quenser! Don’t watch it!!”
A light as bright as welding soon followed. It had been easily intercepted by one of the Trinity Style’s lasers before it hit.
It had been as casual as shooing away a fly in front of your face.
But a second laser took revenge by vaporizing the leading rubber boat and the soldiers aboard it.
“Dammit! Jump in!!”
Heivia switched off their boat’s engine, grabbed Quenser by the collar, and dove into the muddy river. A downpour of light continued even as the enemy Object fought the Princess. Several boats were blown away.
Quenser and Heivia’s boat was one of them.
The water was only about waist deep, but the current was too swift to stand properly. It felt like someone was grabbing and pulling at their legs, so the two boys’ arms flailed in search of something to help them float.
They grabbed onto a rubber boat by pure coincidence.
It was not the one they had been on and they had no idea what had become of the soldiers who had been using it.
They climbed onboard and caught their breath.
“I knew this wouldn’t work!! We’re just a nice target!!”
“That thing’s an acoustic scan specialist, right? It might be safer to put on a snorkel and dive below the muddy river.”
“And what kind of landmark would we swim toward when it’s that muddy? There’s a hell of a current and we’d end up kilometers downstream before we knew it!!”
And without their support, the Princess was on her own.
They may not have been any help in the first place, but that would still put her at a disadvantage.
Urd’s container shells continued to hit the water below the Princess. They likely contained liquid nitrogen or something similar. The Princess had to take further evasive action so she was not caught in the resultant blocks of ice, but then the Trinity Style ignored its previous “habits” and rushed right in toward her.
The main cannon changed form.
“Dammit, is it Verdandi now!?”
It started with a powerful laser beam.
When the Princess quickly dodged, the Trinity Style moved as if inviting her to dance. Their actions seemed synchronized except with the Trinity Style circling to the Baby Magnum’s side.
The upcoming second shot had caused great damage to the Princess last time.
But things were different this time.
The main cannon changed again. It changed to someone else’s.
“Everything is set up for you.”
Verdandi spoke frankly in one of the Norn’s three cockpits.
“This one is yours. Do it, Skuld.”
Verdandi’s special attack started by throwing her opponent off balance and taking up a checkmate position that allowed her to kill them with her next attack, but there were some ways to fight it if you knew it was coming. The Princess swiftly slid the Baby Magnum to the side to escape outside the movable range of her enemy’s main cannon.
She might have perfectly avoided Verdandi’s laser beam like that.
In that case, what happened next?
Not even Quenser understood what had happened as he watched it all from the side.
A terrifying flash of light burned into the entire world.
The Trinity Style had changed form. It only had the one main cannon on the side, but it hung down like an Island Nation katana sheath and the entire main cannon seemed to swing around using a booster.
It was not a laser beam or a rapid-fire beam cannon. Nor was it a railgun or coilgun. If anything, it reminded him of a low-stability plasma cannon, but that probably was not it either.
Quenser covered his face with his hands and screamed. He writhed in pain in the boat.
His eyes hurt so bad he feared he would never open them again.
Even so, he repeatedly replayed the scene burned into his brain.
Something like a saber or blade of light had burst from the Trinity Style’s main cannon. It had looked like a blowtorch’s bluish-white flame stretched to several kilometers long.
It had swung around as if hopping up diagonally.
More than just the main cannon, the entire Object had rotated.
The Princess had quickly dodged. She had even forced down the repulsion of the static electricity to sink her Object down. That slight distance had saved her. A few of her main cannons had been mowed down like weeds, but she had avoided a fatal blow.
(What…in the hell…was that!?)
At the most basic level, the Trinity Style’s main cannon was a laser space elevator tilted on its side. Urd fired metal container shells from there while Verdandi directly fired the powerful laser beam at the enemy.
Then what about Skuld?
How did she use the elevator to produce mass destruction?
(Oh, I get it…)
Quenser reached a conclusion in his lightless imagination while his eyeballs stills suffered from stabbing pain.
(The elevator is made to fire a powerful laser on the bottom of the container to expand the air and propel it forward. I’ve heard the heat can destroy the bottom of the container and turn it to plasma if the power is too high. Is she vaporizing the entire container to create a powerful plasma current that fires out like a blowtorch or flamethrower!?)
“…enser…Quenser!! Skinny boy! Get up already!!”
The boy finally focused on the outside world when he heard someone shouting in his ear.
He shook his head and got up as rain poured down on the boat.
“Dammit… I’ve figured out the Trinity Style’s main cannon. It’s creating plasma without a low-stability plasma cannon’s special gas…”
“Did you receive a message from heaven during your near-death experience? If the angel was a hot blonde, you’d better introduce me.”
Meanwhile, Skuld’s plasma blade fired again and again. The din was loud enough to nearly burst their eardrums, but it did not blind them like the first shot had.
There was a simple reason for that.
“That’s probably water vapor. Its main cannon is too hot, so it’s boiling the muddy water around it without even grazing it. This might even trigger a water vapor explosion.”
They could see a giant mass glowing orange beyond the sauna-like haze.
But it was not the Baby Magnum. The Trinity Style’s own armor was faintly glowing due to the residual heat of its own plasma blades.
If that was happening to the Trinity Style, how badly damaged would the Princess be as she constantly fled from it?
“That’s way too hot… How can it be melting nuke-resistant armor without even grazing it? That’s more like a shotgun or flamethrower. You can’t just dodge a single point. It covers an entire surface to keep its opponent from getting away.”
“Then what do we do!? How do we support the Princess!? If there’s nothing we can do, maybe we should flip over the boat, cling to it under the water, and pretend we were hit. Yeah, if we’re lucky the war treaties might protect us!”
“That’s not gonna work with that serial killer. She’ll slaughter us with a grin on her face.”
Quenser felt sick to his stomach just saying it.
The 5km blade was perfect for mid-range. And if she had free use of that, she should have been able to slice the Princess apart right off the bat. Even if Urd and Verdandi were not experts at using it, they could have borrowed the method to confuse the Princess. However, they had not done so. The reason why was simple: the weapon was so powerful that it even swung around the Trinity Style itself. Without the constant slight adjustments by a genius like Skuld Silent-Third, the 200,000 ton mass could easily have flipped right over.
She was not swinging the blade however she liked. She was making it look that way by skillfully redirecting that power which was great enough to swing around the entire Object.
It was just like that serial killer’s lifestyle.
She planned nothing, she adlibbed everything, and she killed as many people as she could at the moment. …In her pursuit of that, she set aside the concept of risk and produced enough results that it all “looked like” military actions.
“She’s using an air cushion this time.”
“We have a ballista that was meant to add air resistance to interfere with her movements. The arrowheads were filled with aluminum and iron oxide powder for the chemical fusion needed to attach them.”
“What about it?”
“This isn’t a lake. It’s a giant river full of muddy water. That means it has a definite current. And the Trinity Style specializes in acoustic scanning. It probably can’t tell what’s flowing through the water. Or it has difficulty doing so.”
“Yeah, and what about it!?”
“There might still be something we can do…” said Quenser on the boat. “Let’s take a look at the things floating in the river. It can be drums or plastic tanks, but we need empty containers above a certain size!!”
Eric Kingsvalley climbed onto the roof of an armored truck rocking in the current and continued with his mission. He threw coiled barbed wire into the river from upstream of the Baby Magnum. The plan was simple: wait for the barbed wire to catch on the Object’s naval float.
They were not actively attacking and they were not sure how effective this would even be, but the possibility of a trap in the river would restrict the enemy Pilot Elite’s movements. It was like asking someone to cheerfully walk across a minefield.
They of course made sure to mark the barbed wire’s location with an ultrasonic emitter. That allowed their side to remain cheerful. Even if the enemy picked up on the signal, they would still restrict themselves. Were their marked traps and unmarked traps? Were they playing into the enemy’s hand by relying on those markers? Even if they focused on those uncertain markers, it would still have an effect.
The Faith Organization’s plan was going well.
In fact, it looked like Saint Skuld was hunting down the Legitimacy Kingdom First Generation with or without their help.
That should have been a joyous scene.
They should have been watching the defeat of their hated enemy.
But a cloud hung over Eric’s face.
(What are we doing?)
Wars were given a justification, but good was not rewarded and evil was not punished. He had learned that all too well while taking part in this clean war. If he peeled away the thin layer of flowery words about their heroic actions, he was sure to find the sordid profit and scheming behind the scenes. He understood that and he knew that was none of his concern. Just as the military had its battlefields, the politicians had their own battlefields.
But something seemed wrong with what Saint Skuld was doing here. Eric did not care if someone was popping open some champagne in a secret villa to celebrate a successful conspiracy. If that ultimately benefited the people of the safe countries, then it was for the best. Eric was not a fish who swam through pure white bleach. If it would bring everyone happiness, he was fine with mixing in some “lubricant”. As long as it was a small “thank you” that did not put any pressure on the national treasury.
But who would see happiness from Saint Skuld’s actions here?
Who other than Skuld herself would be saved by this?
This entire battle was the same. They were killing the Legitimacy Kingdom’s First Generation in order to continue using the Saint Skuld in battle. That would prove that Skuld could be controlled by the Faith Organization while also having her destroy the original cause of this entire mess.
This battle had begun with Skuld’s selfishness and was meant to rid her of a personal crime.
This would only benefit a single individual.
That was nothing but a nuisance to the Legitimacy Kingdom and the taxpayers funding all of this. Not to mention the soldiers who had fallen victim to Skuld’s brutal “hobby”.
Was this really the right thing to do?
Wasn’t there something else he should be doing?
Eric clenched his teeth.
He felt ashamed that his hands kept working even as those thoughts filled his mind. Was he trying to escape those unpleasant thoughts by losing himself in his work, or had he just been that thoroughly trained by the Faith Organization and the Saints? Not even he knew.
At any rate, he finished throwing a set of barbed wire coils into the river and then used the headset in his ear to contact the fellow soldier in the armored truck.
“This is Eric. I’ve finished dumping them. Begin the ultrasonic signal test. We’d look like idiots if the barbed wire we dumped got caught on our own propeller.”
He had assumed he would receive the standard sort of response with a crude joke mixed in, but he did not.
“Wait, what the hell!? Hey, what’s going on!? Hey!!”
“What is it, Neil? If you think something’s malfunctioned, tell me. I’m on the roof, so I can pop open the engine grille and check the-…”
“We’re getting a distress signal from Saints Urd and Verdandi! But why!? Why would the ejection process be running when they’re winning!?”
An unpleasant sensation stroked along Eric’s back.
The situation was unnatural enough on its own, but one fact was more concerning than the rest: Urd and Verdandi. But what about the third sister?
If those two really were being ejected by some sort of malfunction, who would have absolute control of the powerful Norn?
“It can’t be…”
For whom was this battle being fought?
That question rose to the surface once more, and in the worst possible way.
“It can’t be!!”
Urd slammed her hands against the cramped cockpit’s console, but that was not going to trigger a malfunction in the 50m machine. They had left the primary control with Skuld, but that did not explain this.
The controls were not responding at all.
No one had pressed the button and the Object should have been in perfect working order, but the emergency ejection countdown was the only thing on the screen. She tried a variety of methods and processes for stopping it, but none of it worked.
“Verdandi, how are things on your end?”
“Since you’re asking that, I take it you’re faced with an inexplicable ejection too!!”
There was bitterness in her voice.
There was only one possibility Urd could think of.
The Legitimacy Kingdom had infiltrated their maintenance base to rescue the student named Quenser Barbotage.
To temporarily stop the Norn, they had installed virus in a Dvergr work robot they had previously captured and then slipped that into the Norn to infect the entire system.
The Faith Organization had thought they had fully eliminated that virus.
But it was possible a second virus had entered the Norn along with the first one.
And just as she considered that…
Her thoughts were cut off by laughter so full of young brutality that it rubbed her nerves the wrong way.
“Hee hee hee hee hee hee!! Ha ha, ah ha ha ha ha!! Hee hee. Ee hee ha ha ha ha!! Ah hah hah hah hah hah hah!!”
That reminded Urd that Skuld Silent-Third had temporarily been in Legitimacy Kingdom custody. She had leaked information on the Faith Organization base zone and joined in the operation to rescue Quenser (so that she could finish him off herself).
Who had slipped the Dvergr work robot into the Norn?
“Were you planning this from the beginning!?” asked Verdandi.
“Planning? Planning what? Do you really think this was a single straight path!? All I do is kill as many people as I can in the moment. I look at the situation in front of me and make the choice that will cause the most death. But I certainly never expected to have a chance to take the whole Norn for myself!”
It was all adlibbed.
There was no plan.
When an opportunity rolled out in front of her, she kept it rolling in the worst possible way. Since that alone had led to stealing an Object, she may have been a true genius.
“How insane are you!?”
“Let’s just say ‘completely’. Now, now. No one can stop me and no one can stop the Norn!! Ah ha ha! Death seen through a screen is flavorless because it feels like a video game, but it might not be bad to go all out here and escape with this. With this thing’s air cushion, I can cross both sea and land, so I have any number of escape routes. It won’t be long before I find my way to a safe country!!”
Oh, no, thought Urd as her throat grew dry.Oh, no,
Skuld could not be left to her own devices. If that lunatic blended into a safe country, the damage would spread without end. That was why the three of them shared control. (In practice, the two older sisters restrained Skuld.) If that system crumbled away and Skuld alone held the Norn, it would lead to a true catastrophe. The button to begin Ragnarok would be in the bloody hands of a serial killer.
“Farewell, my sisters. I will always remember what a perfect misunderstanding you had of me. But don’t worry about what happens after you eject. My anti-air lasers can shoot you a hundred times over while you float down with your parachutes.”mis
Urd knew that, but there was nothing more she could do.
The countdown reached zero. All of the barriers opened and the chairs holding the two sisters raced up the rails and were ejected from the Norn.
Two hidden hatches opened on the top of the Trinity Style.
Something shot out of them.
They were Pilot Elite girls in green special suits. They were thrown out into the pouring rain of the sky during the intense battle and their parachutes automatically opened. The parachutes caught the air and pinned the girls in place.
The surrounding air had essentially been fried by the extraordinarily powerful blade made from plasma that ruled over everything within 5 km.
As if that were not enough, a single secondary cannon moved slightly on both the top and bottom of the spherical main body. Those anti-air lasers could shoot down supersonic missiles without breaking a sweat and now they targeted Urd and Verdandi. Crazed laughter sounded from the warning speakers.
“Ah ha ha ha ha!! Ee hee ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Welcome to freedom, welcome to equality, and welcome to a world where you can feel a life in your hands!! Nothing needs to be planned and it can all be adlibbed, but I will always make the choice that leads to the most death!! Now, show me how brightly you shine!!”
Heivia felt a chill run down his back as he rode the rubber boat through the river.
“What do we do? Really, what the hell do we do!? This isn’t even a war anymore; it’s some utter moron putting on a murder show with a strategic weapon. The White Flag is meaningless and the war treaties aren’t going to help!! When did the world go completely insane, goddammit!?”
“We’re working to do something about that, aren’t we!?” shouted back Quenser.
They had a few wet drums and plastic tanks on the boat. They had gathered what looked usable from the trash flowing down the river.
“I’m not letting Skuld get away with this. If she can enjoy her blindfolded tightrope walk and laugh at the fact that she could fall at any moment, then I’ll shove her off. Her adlibbed life ends here!!”
“But how exactly are you going to do that!? The Princess is barely hanging on, her Object is melting, and the Trinity Style’s conscience was ejected and is about to get lasered!!”
“That’s why we have to do it!! There are literally millions of lives on the line here, so prepare yourself, Heivia!!”we
As he yelled at his friend, Quenser pressed the sole of his boot against the drum he had carried over to the edge of the boat. He then kicked it out into the river.
Someone had said this was not a war anymore.
Then what was it?
Someone thought it would be best not to name it.
This cruel concept needed to be sent back to the darkness from whence it came before it spread to the world at large.
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