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Despite their enthusiasm, Kamijou and the others could find no sign of Ureapaddy no matter how much they ran around Academy City.
She had already crushed the Gate of the Gods Come from the Heavens in order to eliminate any clues leading to her. Sozty had the most accurate information on her, but not even her information and experiences were of any use if Ureapaddy began fleeing or hiding using different methods.
Dawn had already begun.
As he breathed heavily, Stiyl said, “Tch. We lost our chance. Ureapaddy has completely hidden herself. This is no longer at a stage where we have any chance of running into her by searching at random.”
“Do we really have time to leisurely think up a new plan? If one of the rockets she sabotaged is detonated overhead, she’ll be able to use Brahma Astra.”
“I have received word from Academy City.” Stiyl lightly waved his cell phone. “The rocket container that Ureapaddy tried to sabotage and that we destroyed was scheduled to be launched at 9 PM three days from now. She likely chose rockets scheduled for that same time when she was sabotaging rockets outside the city, too. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“You mean Ureapaddy can’t use Brahma Astra without waiting three days?”
“You are truly a brilliant thinker. I am glad to see you can answer questions so difficult even a second grader could answer them,” said Stiyl mockingly. “In that case, thinking up an effective plan to corner Ureapaddy would be better than wasting our time wandering around at random. You should take this chance to rest so your already useless head does not rust over with drowsiness.”
“And what will you do?”
“I do not want to give Ureapaddy a chance to restore her strength. I will leave signs of activity around the city that only a magician can see. If it goes well, she will be too cautious to sleep. Magic is a battle of wits, so those small factors can greatly influence the outcome of the final strike.”
“I see. Thanks.”
“If you have time to respond in such meaningless ways, then get to somewhere where you will be unseen,” said Stiyl. “Also, I do not currently have access to the equipment to reliably restrain Sozty Exica. Give her food and a place to sleep to build some temporary trust. You might be able to gain some information on Ureapaddy that Sozty is hiding.”
That was likely just the “official reason” Stiyl had to give as a representative of the Anglican Church. Kamijou said he would do so and then walked back to Index and Sozty.
Unsurprisingly, Sozty was opposed to the idea of getting some sleep somewhere. She wanted to pursue her sister right away. But they had no clear hints and they had three days to spare.
What would be the most efficient way to make use of those three days?
At the very least, the answer was not to randomly run around a city of 2.3 million in the hopes of “just so happening” to run across a single individual.
“We have no pursuers from the Gate of the Gods Come from the Heavens and Ureapaddy Exica has no reason to go out of her way to hunt us down, but Anti-Skill will be keeping an eye on my dorm after we snuck out of the hospital.” Kamijou sounded a bit annoyed at that. “Well, if we just need to sleep, any 24 hour business should suffice. A manga café, a hamburger shop, or a family restaurant would be the standard options.”
“Y-y-you mean we’ll be staying in a restaurant for 24 hours!? Touma, that sounds like paradise! Let’s go right now!!”
“In cases like this, you make sure a single cup of coffee lasts as long as possible!! If you eat everything in sight the entire time, the cost will exceed that of a room in a resort hotel!!”
Since it was the morning, they wanted to avoid restaurants that were busy during that time due to their morning meals. If the restaurant was very busy, the workers would begin glaring at anyone who was asleep at one of the tables.
And since incidences of runaway children were quite common in a city of 80% students, Anti-Skill had specialized officers for that sort of thing. Kamijou and the others had to make sure they were not caught by one of those patrols.
“I don’t understand the local rules of Academy City. Can I just leave this decision up to you? It seems to me most any 24 hour restaurant will have some special morning meal.”
“We can use that to our advantage,” replied Kamijou simply. “Anti-Skill’s runaway children team will assume no runaway kids will head to the busy restaurants with morning meals. But not every restaurant has such great business. If we choose a restaurant that has morning meals but is not as busy, we can stay for a long period of time without issue and Anti-Skill won’t stop by to check.”
The location Kamijou and the others used as a makeshift inn was a 24 hour ramen restaurant. The restaurant was busiest during midday and late night, so it was fairly empty during the morning. Most people likely decided it was too greasy for their stomachs right after waking up.
The restaurant was almost completely empty, but it must have had a cycle of profit established because the workers did not seem particularly worried or resigned. In fact, they seemed to feel lucky to have such little business.
“A half serving of fried rice.”
“One chashu in an ultra-deluxe super-size that is reminiscent of the bubble era!!”
“Which one of you is the glutton who has completely forgotten we’re supposed to be showing restraint here!?” shouted Kamijou, but the white nun feigned ignorance.
They were planning to stay for a long period of time, so they of course could not eat all of their food as soon as they arrived. After intentionally leaving half of their food, Kamijou and Sozty quickly lay their heads down on the table. Index alone was left combating a bowl the size of a large plate of yakiniku.
With her cheek pressed against the table, Sozty whispered, “This was a failure.”
“This table is really sticky. That is the fate of any table that holds Chinese food, but it is a poor choice for a pillow.”
“Don’t underestimate runaway children. Were you expecting to have a nice blanket and a pillow made of a low-resilience material?”
Whether it was due to the country being safe or a desire to make efficient use of all time available, the Japanese were a people who could sleep in a crowded train or in the ridiculously small desks of a classroom.
“I can put up with it, but this stickiness reminds me of something.”
“I haven’t had a bath in a while. You can’t detect your own scent, so am I starting to smell?”
Kamijou’s eyes suddenly opened wide.
“You fool!! If you think you can force the situation into a public bath scene, you are mistaken!!”
“I won’t fall for that trick again! Do you think I like having my head bitten by that glutton every single time!?”
“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but be quiet. We’re trying to remain hidden.”
With a question mark floating over her head, Sozty tried to get Kamijou to restrain himself.
She then brought her upper arm toward her nose.
“But it might be hard to stay hidden if I smell too bad. Hey, I can’t tell how I smell, so you tell me.”
Sozty brought her upper body towards Kamijou’s face.
…She smelled like a normal girl.
“…I’m not sure what to say.”
“What is it? Is it that bad?”
“That isn’t what I meant…”
“If you have something to say, then say it. I can’t decide what to do next otherwise.”
Index must have caught a dangerous scent on the air because her canine teeth were glittering.
Kamijou laid his head back on the table in a desperate attempt to fool her.
He needed to change the course of the conversation.
(Hard to starboard!!)
“By the way, what do you think Ureapaddy is doing?”
“I don’t know. She might be lounging on the top floor of a resort hotel or she might be struggling by in a cardboard box on the streets. My sister has diverged from the cabal’s usual patterns to make all my information worthless. I have no way of knowing what she might be doing.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything specific. There have to be other conditions that make Brahma Astra easier to use. Where do you think she might plan to use it?”
“Like I said: I don’t know. For one thing, we have no way of calculating its range or power. But it does need to use the shooting stars, so I guess she would choose a spot where the stars are clearly visible.”
“That would make District 21 suspicious since it specializes in astronomical observation facilities.”
“We wouldn’t be having so much trouble if she was in any of the obvious places.”
Kamijou agreed with her there.
They could not guess what Ureapaddy was thinking. She had sabotaged multiple rockets inside and outside Academy City and they would simultaneously detonate to create a large number of artificial shooting stars. The overall idea was simple enough to understand, but another thought had occurred to Kamijou.
If she had been able to prepare multiple levels of insurance without even entering Academy City, why had she felt the need to go after the rockets inside the city?
Wouldn’t it have been safer for Ureapaddy to sneak into District 21 from the beginning and simply wait for the proper timing to use Brahma Astra?
“She might have strayed from the simplest and quickest route in order to make my information even more useless,” said Sozty as she laid her head on the table. “But that means she was increasing the level of visible risk to eliminate an invisible risk. If we can effectively increase those suspicions of hers, she might give us some kind of hint.”
The chairs were cramped, the table was sticky, and the noises of food preparation never ended, so it was not an environment conducive to sleep. Nevertheless, Kamijou and the others slept like a log until just before noon.
This meant Kamijou was skipping school, but he was in no situation to worry about that.
“I still have found no information on Ureapaddy,” said Stiyl via the prepaid cell phone. “Due to the attack on the satellite guidance vehicle, she is officially being treated as a possible important witness by Academy City. She has probably used some sort of spell to avoid being questioned by Anti-Skill. If I can find traces of that, I might be able to locate her.”
“Understood. What should we do?”
“Nothing in particular. Just ask Sozty about likely spots for using Brahma Astra and go around to each one.”
“Won’t that just leave us checking out the places Ureapaddy will most likely be avoiding?”
“It does not matter. We just need to give her the impression that we are tracking her down little by little. Sozty’s information and Index’s massive knowledge alone should be putting mental pressure on Ureapaddy. Even if we never find the right answer, she might make a mistake if she thinks we will.”
“So no matter what we do, we’re still waiting for her to make some kind of move?”
“It looks that way at first glance. But this will be decided by how much we can restrict Ureapaddy’s freedom and options during these three days. Even if it is only a bluff, we need to seal off the ‘large pathways’ as soon as possible. That way, if Ureapaddy later feels she has reached a stalemate, she will be forced to take some bold action that is more likely to leave us a crucial hint.”
If no matter what they did they could only wait for Ureapaddy to take some kind of action, they could not move the situation forward. It was possible they could be stuck in this stalled state all the way up to the time limit in three days.
And Ureapaddy of course did not want to be found. This was not a boy scout athletic event, so she would not leave behind obvious footprints or memos detailing her path as she travelled to her goal.
“So we just have to hope our enemy can still be shaken.”
The call with Stiyl ended.
Kamijou and the others left the ramen restaurant they had used in place of an inn and prepared to follow Stiyl’s instructions. Sozty seemed irritated that they were not striking a decisive blow, but she did not have any dramatic alternative ideas.
She said, “As I said before taking that nap, she will probably give priority to areas from which the stars are visible because the spell uses shooting stars. It would be best to go around to each of those places and set up a surveillance spiritual item.”
Index spoke up from the side.
“Touma, we need to focus on setting up a large number of them. Instead of hoping to actually catch Ureapaddy with the spiritual items, we can worry her by setting up lower level ones.”
“…? But Index, these surveillance spiritual items…they’re like cameras, right? Wouldn’t finding Ureapaddy with one of them be the best case scenario?”
Index sighed at Kamijou’s question.
“If we go all out in the creation of the spiritual items, we can only make so many. And if Ureapaddy knows we are getting serious, she will realize this is all we have. But if we create exceedingly simply-made spiritual items…”
“It will not take much time to make enough of them and my sister will have a harder time analyzing our ability if she happens to spot one. We just need to make her think we intentionally let her find it in order to guide her in a certain direction.”
“I see,” said Kamijou with a nod.
Their objective was to worry Ureapaddy. To do that, it was better to give an impression of taking meaningful roundabout actions rather than running down a direct path.
“Well, I guess the obvious place to start would be District 21. It’s such a mountainous area that it’s often used for astronomical observation facilities.”
Kamijou brought to mind the bus and train route maps in order to guide Index and Sozty.
A painful sound tickled at Kamijou’s eardrums.
It sounded like television static.
Kamijou looked around in confusion. And then he spotted it. It was the large screen on the side wall of a department store. The screen had been displaying the sales rankings for new songs, but it went black just after emitting that static.
And it did not end there. The destination display on a bus running nearby grew horribly garbled, the traffic lights started blinking with more than one light lit up at a time, and the cell phone in Kamijou’s pocket began emitting out-of-tune electronic tones very different from its set ringtone.
“Wah, wah! Touma, everything around here is going crazy!”
“The airship’s screen is messed up too. This seems to be pretty widespread.”
Index and Sozty seemed completely shocked by the situation.
For an instant, Kamijou put himself on guard because he recalled that Agni’s Festival Fire roasted people by amplifying the output of electromagnetic waves, but the situation did not develop that far. All electronics and other devices that used electromagnetic signals began malfunctioning, but nothing beyond that occurred.
He did not know what was causing it, but Kamijou pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
The phone was still emitting ridiculous electronic tones as if someone was randomly hitting the keys of a keyboard, but it seemed he was receiving a call from someone. He could not say anything more than “someone” because the screen was a mess of garbled text and nothing readable remained.
Among all of the oddities occurring, this was the only one Kamijou’s group could actually respond to.
Normally, answering a call from an unknown person held various risks such as it being some form of phone scam. However, the current situation held greater weight than those risks. Kamijou pressed the “accept call” button with his thumb in order to escape the pressure.
He then heard the voice of an unexpected person.
“…Ksshh… Kuroko, there’s a…of static, but can…hear me? …I have no…how long…phone call…last, so…listen. I…no time to answer questions…”
“Misaka?” muttered Kamijou in shock, but it seemed his voice was not reaching her.
In fact, he was doubtful the call had been meant for him.
He was pretty sure she did not know his number.
(Did some lines get mixed up due to whatever is causing all this strange static?)
It seemed Misaka Mikoto did not realize this.
She continued speaking.
“Kuroko, you all are probably…aware of…but a cooperative institution…in Australia…firing a ballistic shell...using a mass driver. It will…outside the atmosphere and…straight down on Academy City. It seems…city plans to…a device called Debris Storm…”
Some strange terms were mixed in with the staticky voice coming from his phone. One of them was “Debris Storm”.
“The device manipulates the flow of solar wind to…all of the space debris around…planet. If…succeeds, tens…thousands of pieces of debris…at several kilometers per second. The sandstorm-like…will fly around in space to…any suspicious objects. Whether…UFO or ballistic missile…be shot down with perfect accuracy. It is like a…missile defense net on…worldwide scale…”
A device that manipulated the tens of thousands of pieces of debris floating around the planet.
A device that could turn every one of them into a shooting star if used right.
“Not good! You have got to be kidding me!!”
“But…still only…the prototype phase. All of…electromagnetic interference is likely…side effect of the collision between…winds and debris not progressing as…had hoped. So Kuroko…no guarantee Debris Storm will…properly. We need to…”
The static grew more intense. No matter how much Kamijou shouted, Mikoto did not respond. At some point, the connection had ended. Even when he tried to redial, he did not even receive an automatic message.
“What is it?” asked Sozty, but Kamijou did not respond for a bit.
If that information had been correct, their initial assumption had just crumbled out from underneath them.
In other words…
“There might never have been a three day time limit…”
“What do you mean, Touma?”
“We assumed Ureapaddy planned to create artificial shooting stars by detonating sabotaged rockets when they were launched. But she never had to do that. There are already tens of thousands of pieces of trash called space debris floating around the planet. And if Academy City has a technology that can manipulate them…”
Ureapaddy’s attack on the Academy City satellite guidance vehicle had seemed nonsensical at first glance. If she had already sabotaged several rockets outside of the city, why had she taken the great risk to sabotage one inside the city as well?
But the situation changed if she had never needed any rockets in the first place. If she had not needed the rocket itself, why had Ureapaddy attacked that satellite guidance vehicle?
“The equipment and facilities related to space are concentrated in District 23. The same likely goes for this Debris Storm that can manipulate space debris. Normally, she would be unable to easily infiltrate that district. But the attitude control computer for the container on the top of the rocket is directly linked to the control system in District 23. If she was able to use that to take control of the Debris Storm equipment…”
“Would my sister be able to create tens of thousands of shooting stars whenever she wants?” muttered Sozty in utter shock.
Tens of thousands of pieces of space debris.
With that, the scale would spread beyond the sky above Academy City.
It was best to assume the skies above every part of the planet would be filled with shooting stars.
Kamijou had no idea why, but the electromagnetic interference caused by Debris Storm would increase and decrease over time. During one of the relatively calm periods, Stiyl called the prepaid cell phone.
He seemed to want Kamijou’s opinion on the interference as a member of the science side, but Stiyl’s tone grew even more displeased when he heard what Kamijou had to say.
“…This could not be worse.”
“But Debris Storm is an Academy City system. And it’s only in the prototype phase. I doubt someone from outside the city would have enough data processing skill to take control of it.”
“The details are unknown, but it would be best not to rely on that. Ureapaddy will have been aware of the level of difficulty when she put together her plan. Academy City has not said a word to me about this Debris Storm. Why do you think that is?”
“Why?” Kamijou thought for a moment. “They might not have thought it had anything to do with the issue at hand. Or the value of the information was too great to tell you. Or…”
“Or the situation is simply too dangerous and they did not want to bear the responsibility that would arise from explaining it,” spat out Stiyl. “Technology that can freely manipulate tens of thousands of pieces of space debris would be able to shoot down the missiles, rockets, satellites, and space stations of every nation and organization on the planet. And it does not matter if the destroyed equipment was being used for military or peaceful purposes. Revealing the existence of the system would be dangerous enough on its own, so having it get out that some unknown person had taken control of it would simply be too great a problem. If that is what Academy City fears…”
“Then Academy City is legitimately afraid Ureapaddy will take control of the system…?”
“As you said, it is unlikely someone from outside Academy City would have the skills needed to break through Debris Storm’s security. It is possible Ureapaddy is working with someone inside your city.” Stiyl left a moment of silence. “What matters to us is the specific benefit Ureapaddy’s Brahma Astra receives from the countless shooting stars created by Debris Storm. Can you get any information out of Sozty?”
Kamijou moved the prepaid phone away from his mouth and looked to Sozty. She thought for a bit after he asked her the question.
“Well… If shooting stars fill the skies around the world, she can likely set her target of attack to coordinates anywhere in the world. In other words, whatever person or location my sister targets will meet its end as soon as she fires the arrow no matter where it is on the planet. Also,” added Sozty. “Naturally, our cabal performed experiments and tests to strengthen the power of Brahma Astra. However, I never heard anything about those experiments having anything to do with the number of shooting stars. It also seems odd given the construction of the spell.”
“You said the shooting stars are needed to aim, right? So does this increase her accuracy?”
“The arrow would never miss in the first place, so she would have no need to increase the accuracy. I can only think of one benefit she could gain from altering how the spell’s targeting works.” Sozty’s expression grew grim. “Targeting for multiple simultaneous shots. Raising the limit of how many arrows can be fired at once. Brahma Astra can be fired when three shooting stars exist in the sky at once. Dividing ‘tens of thousands’ by three may give us her new limit. Or if the targeting uses the triangle created by the three stars and the same shooting stars can be used in multiple triangles, her upper limit would expand to several times or even dozens of times greater than the amount of space debris.”
Ureapaddy had arrows that would never miss once they were fired.
She could fire them at a location anywhere in the world.
And she could fire tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of them simultaneously.
Whether one hid deep underground or flew through the sky in an airplane, the attack would pierce straight through any intervening obstacles in the way and destroy everything in a clean 50 meter radius around the target.
“This goes well beyond Academy City,” said Stiyl. “She can target the leaders of every single cooperative institution around the world and still have plenty of shots left over. She could easily slaughter the leaders of the entire science side.”
Having just one leader defeated would be a major problem, but the actual system of society could still recover.
But what if all of them were killed at once?
All of those who were meant to help a recovery would be gone. The water and power infrastructures, law enforcement, and everything else supporting the society would come to a halt. The damage would go beyond political arguments on TV; it would quickly erupt in the form of crimes and riots. If that happened, it was impossible to guess how far the damage would spread.
Some would have their everyday discontent explode out, some would fight over who would now stand at the top of those organizations and systems, some would try to protect others from the rioters, some would loot, some would try to restore the military and police to power, and eventually someone would shoot someone else over any one of those issues.
And that first deadly bullet would begin a chain reaction that spilled much more blood than Ureapaddy’s Brahma Astra would directly.
“We have no way of knowing when Ureapaddy will use Debris Storm to create the shooting stars. It could be beginning right now for all we know.”
“No, wait,” said Sozty suddenly. “If my sister is trying to use this Debris Storm to fire a large number of arrows at once, how is she going to obtain the magic power needed for it?”
“…You’re going to have to explain it better than that.”
“All of those shooting stars will appear way, way above our heads. I don’t know exactly how high, but she cannot use leylines or anything similar to transfer her will to somewhere so high up. If she simply sends her magic power through the air, it will attenuate. Even if she can manage a shot or two like that, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands would simply be impossible. She would need some kind conductive material to prevent the attenuation, but I can’t think of any conductive material that stretches from the earth all the way up into space.”
Stiyl must have been able to hear her speaking because Kamijou heard him sigh.
“…There is one.”
“The driver of the satellite guidance vehicle survived. I spoke to him while secretly transporting him to the hospital. I did not receive any hints regarding Ureapaddy’s location or objective, but I did hear something of great interest.”
“And what was that?”
“A space elevator project.”
Kamijou’s breath caught in his throat when he heard that answer that almost sounded like a joke.
Stiyl continued speaking.
“The driver was complaining that he would not have been involved in the dangers of that troublesome job if the space elevator had been completed. And just so you know: his story was quite credible. As a resident of Academy City, I’m sure you know about the Venus Probe Contest.”
“Y-yeah. Around 400 groups are taking part in it.”
“It seems that large-scale contest is only camouflage to transport a large amount of materials into space. Those materials are needed to construct the spaceport at the top of the space elevator.”
They of course had a reason to do so in secret.
Countries around the world spent massive amounts of money on rocket technology. For that reason, the number of rockets launched was limited. However, a space elevator that could transport any number of items into space at the press of a button would overturn the accepted methods of the world.
And that technology could also be used for military purposes.
What would happen if a massive amount of explosives were transported into space with the elevator and thrown into orbit? Any location on earth could be bombed as easily as tossing aside an empty drink can.
An elevator that could easily transport massive amounts of explosives into orbit would allow a high density barrage or minefield to be set up in order to intercept an enemy nation’s missiles. It might not be enough to destroy the idea of nuclear deterrence, but it would at least greatly change the balance of power.
“This is not simply an issue for the science side,” said Stiyl. “This situation could also affect the balance between magic and science. Many of the spells we use have a strong focus on the arrangement and power of the stars. We never wanted the night sky to be filled with satellites and debris. …And this elevator would be like a smokestack spewing out a new form of pollution into space. Given prior notice, we would have tried to crush it diplomatically.”
As she listened from the side, Sozty sighed and said, “Also, leylines are strongly affected by the landscape. Even in this country, it is well known that Kyoto was originally designed around the principles of feng shui. A structure that large would be on a mythological level. Whether it was created with magical knowledge or not, it will greatly change the flow of power.”
It was because they had known all of this that they had remained silent about it.
They had said nothing until it was too late to stop its construction.
“The Gate of the Gods Come from the Heavens’ original plan had District 23 as the top priority target, right? And yet that district had little to do with their supposed reason for the attack. Could they have known about the space elevator construction project?”
“Possibly. Given the name of the cabal, they probably viewed astronomical issues as important. Not that this matters much since they have already been defeated.” Stiyl quickly changed the subject to the issue at hand. “At any rate, we know Ureapaddy can fire tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Brahma Astra arrows simultaneously by creating a massive amount of shooting stars with Debris Storm and using the shaft of the space elevator to efficiently conduct her magic power into space. The timing is up to the program Ureapaddy has set and that time might already be up.”
“But if Ureapaddy is using the shaft of the space elevator, she has to be at the earthport located at the base of the elevator.”
“Do you know where it might be?”
“This time, it’s definitely District 23,” said Kamijou definitively. “She might not be able to get in normally, but this electromagnetic interference will have impacted the defensive systems. She should be able to freely enter right now.”
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