From the moment I woke up, I had a bad feeling about the day to come.
The ship’s log of the luxury cruise ship Scarlet Princess contained that statement in the Legitimacy Kingdom’s official language.
It was 380 meters long, its top speed was 40 knots, and it could hold up to 2500 people. It was on such a grand scale that it was much like tilting a safe country resort on its side and taking it out to sea. Incidentally, the cost of the ship could purchase a resort and an 18-hole golf course with money to spare. All three layers of its deck contained a pool and the rear of the ship even contained a heliport.
Around twenty crew members were packed into the control room.
Electronics and automation had taken great strides forward, so the number of people needed to run the large ship had been drastically cut down. They had three shifts making three times that many crew in total, but that was still less than one hundred. Surprisingly, the number of “waitresses” outnumbered the crew who held the lives of everyone else aboard in their hands.
An elderly man let out a small sigh.
His name was Alfonso Zoom and he was the captain of the luxury cruise ship.
“Captain, we will be entering the Strait of Malacca soon.”
Alfonso gave a brief reply to the young (even if he was in his thirties) navigation officer.
Just like the Panama Canal, the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca was a gate of the sea. In its case, it connected the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was a narrow passageway and many world powers insisted it was their territory, but it was still the shortest course. Unless it was packed full of military resources or part of a transport fleet protected by an Object, a luxury cruise ship circumnavigating the world had no choice but to use the Strait of Malacca. Simply calculating the ship’s fuel expenses made that painfully clear.
Alfonso poured coffee from a thermos and into a mug as he spoke to the young navigation officer.
“Do you know what I’m worried about?”
“It wouldn’t be reefs. Is it wreckage of fishing ships that were caught in a storm? I’ve heard the sea around here isn’t very clean.”
“My daughters. Joining the military is fine. After all, this is the age of clean wars. But why did both my twin daughters have to choose to be Black Uniforms in charge of barrier duty? They are both young unmarried women and they chose to throw themselves into the part of the military with the most bullets flying around.”
“I bet it was a reaction to the extreme education their mother gave them. That came from a complex brought on by newfound riches. She surrounded those two in piano, violin, and ballroom dancing from a young age, so they eventually rejected high society. If you want your daughters to be brought up as proper ladies, why would you show them how oppressive it all is? Don’t you agree?”
“Um… Where are you going with this?”
“As captain, I have a lot of spare time to think about a distant safe country. Our course is simple and this isn’t all that dangerous an area. You can relax a little.”
Alfonso Zoom turned toward the large radio equipment. A few lights were flashing which showed that quite a few radio signals were being sent back and forth in this area of sea. He could tell at a glance that the situation here was complex.
“This is Ship ID PL_055 registered with the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Amazon region. Do you have our location? I want to check before heading into the crowded intersection. Over.”
“We have you perfectly. GPS, beacon, and radar are all functioning normally. Luxury cruise ship Scarlet Princess, please enter on the path given on the screen. Welcome to the Southeast Asia’s main entrance. Over.”
“Understood, harbor control. Today is another good day. Out.”
As he finished the transmission with the standard greeting, wrinkles of suspicion gradually appeared on the captain’s face.
The young navigation officer also looked doubtful.
“Captain, about that transmission…”
“Yes.” Alfonso Zoom let out a heavy sigh. “Just as famous people do not refer to themselves as famous, a professional does not normally refer to a luxury cruise ship as ‘luxury’.”
Then what had that transmission been?
The captain spoke the answer anyone could reach with a little bit of thought.
A ten-man fishing boat raced toward the luxury cruise ship while jumping from stormy wave to stormy wave. Yes, it was racing. The entire engine had been swapped out, so it was moving “above” the ocean while practically popping a wheelie. It was moving at about 80 kph. As hydrofoils made quite evident, boats could move at three digit speeds if the water resistance was lessened. And the fastest way to do that was to lift the boat itself above the water.
Thick metal panels were bolted to the sides of the fishing boat and heavily suntanned men were crammed inside. They held old rifles and submachine guns with an extra coat of paint to hide the scrapes and to stop them from rusting. Those tools were clearly not needed for fishing.
They were pirates who had butted into the transmission to put the ship where they wanted. A suntanned man returned a small microphone to the radio hook and whistled at the feast before him.
“Okay! Our prey is extra special today!! It’s got a giant antenna on top. That’s a satellite connection. They use it to check the black cards used in the casino. There must be tons of rich people on there!”
As the first man gave them some motivation, the other pirates started to grow rowdy.
“Eh? I thought it was for Wall Street which is so popular lately. They need to mess with their stocks and exchanges while on their cruise.”
“This is the Legitimacy Kingdom, so it would be the London Stock Exchange.”
“Who cares as long as they’re a bunch of rich ladies and gentlemen? More importantly, how are we on anti-ship missiles? We need at least two. The first acts as a demonstration. We need to make sure they know we’ll sink them if they don’t do what we say.”
“Leave it to me. There are four of them hanging on the sides of the ship.”
“You idiot!! Now I know why our fuel consumption’s been so bad!!”
An amateur pirate group could never mass produce missiles that were a collection of cutting-edge military secrets.
But nothing said they had to be “cutting-edge”.
What if they added modern technology to weapons produced fifty years prior?
Just as a hard disk sold in a home electronics store’s clearance sale would have been highly classified government technology fifty years ago, amateur groups could manufacture weapons.
In the festivals of Southeast Asia, rockets measuring three to five meters long were created to launch exciting fireworks 5000 to 10,000 meters into the air. If they were laid on their side, they made a decent starting point for a rocket motor.
Meanwhile, the other pirate ships gathered.
The suntanned man grabbed the radio again.
“Okay. A through F, go in front of the luxury cruise ship! Scatter some mines to stop them. G through I, take the starboard side. J through L, use anti-ship missiles to surround them from behind.”
“Shut up! You aren’t the leader!!”
“Don’t try to board the ship and earn some extra money just because it’s full of rich people. The plan is to make them lower their rescue boats. You don’t want to be killed by the peashooters they have for self-defense, do you?”
He heard a light noise.
One of his allies on the same boat was tapping the large radio.
And he whispered a question.
“Where do we fire the missile?”
“Don’t use it like you’re supposed to. If we sink the ship right off the bat, we can’t take any hostages. Don’t hit it on the waterline. Aim higher.”
He pointed into the distance while still holding the radio’s microphone.
As his finger jabbed toward the Scarlet Princess, it scooped upwards.
“For example, the control room.”
A seven meter tube shot from the side of the fishing boat. The anti-ship missile used solid fuel (aka gunpowder) to fly diagonally up from the ocean surface. In this “improper” usage, it was directly targeting the ship’s crew.
They all thought it was a success.
Blowing up the control room at the top of the luxury cruise ship would not immediately sink the ship. As previously stated, a ship’s weak point was the waterline where the seawater could surge in. However, the refined ladies and gentlemen would not realize that. If all of the professional crew was taken out at once and there was a fire on the ship, they would try to escape on the rescue boats no matter what. Afterwards, the pirates could surround the boats drifting powerlessly and carefully take hostages.
The next thing the pirates knew, composite material shutters lowered over all of the luxury cruise ship’s 1000 or more windows.
The shutters covered both the outside and inside of the bulletproof glass which was already over thirty centimeters thick. This was obviously out of place on a civilian ship.
For an instant, a complete blank filled the suntanned man’s mind.
The homemade anti-ship missile struck the control room, but its explosive flames and black smoke looked terribly unreliable. Once it all cleared away, only a slight dent remained in the shutters.
And then the ship began to fight back.
Strange metallic noises rang out again and again. From the bow to the stern, 20 mm Gatling guns of a close-in weapon system rose up along either side of the deck. They looked a bit like trees lining a road. The pools on the three layers of the deck split apart and 21 cm rapid-fire cannons rose high above them. The pirates could not see it, but a portion of the roof split into small sections like a chocolate bar or a honeycomb and countless vertical missile hatches opened in order.
They had stepped on a figurative landmine.
A horrible, horrible landmine.
Once they finally realized that, the captain of the luxury cruise ship spoke over the radio.
“Disguised Cruiser Scarlet Princess has confirmed an attack from the target.”
He essentially gave a death sentence.
That order opened the gates of hell.
“Begin Operation Codename ‘Blood-Soaked Princess’. Engaging target now. Pirates, this is your last chance to write your wills.”
With those words, the wolf in sheep’s clothing exposed its hidden claws and fangs.
After conceitedly thinking they could surround it with only about 15 boats, the pirates’ luck had run out.
The foxhunt had begun.
The two idiots named Quenser Barbotage and Heivia Winchell were groaning in the landing unit hold at the bottom level of the disguised cruiser named Scarlet Princess.
The exterior was made to look like a luxury cruise ship, but the inside was completely different. Of its 380 meter length, over half of the bottom was a single large space. And that space was crammed full of military hovercrafts. Quenser and the others were packed like sardines into those hovercrafts.
The hovercrafts were pitched as “small but able to hold a tank☆”, but they were far from comfortable for people to use. They reeked of machine oil.
“This is tyranny!! We were only riding along! Can you really throw us out in front of the pirate’s guns? This isn’t even the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s job! Who’s going to pay us!?”
“This is probably how we’re buying our ticket to ride the ship. I don’t feel like doing any real work either, though.”
“And how is this a ‘disguised cruiser’? It’s almost 400 meters long! They didn’t make battleships this big even back when they were relevant. That’s 100 meters more than the Island Nation’s Yamato! Are they insane!?”
“The category of battleship has vanished, so what can you do? And it’s a disguised ship, remember? Bringing escort ships along for protection would blow its cover, so it has to handle everything as a lone wolf. And it had to be heavily armored to safely draw in the pirates. It has to be tough enough to take a few rockets or torpedoes without issue.”
History had proven that aircraft would overtake the battleship in usefulness, but battleships could be useful once more now that aircraft could not be sent out. They were perfect for luring out and slaughtering pirates.
“…Why are you breathing so heavily?”
“Eh? Doesn’t seeing giant machines get you all excited? It’s human nature.”
Heivia shoved the perverted creep away with both hands as an ear-splitting buzzer rang and the lights switched to red.
Someone they could not see gave a high-spirited shout.
“Our brave ‘waitresses’, it’s time you risked your life fishing for sharks! Let’s make this an exciting enough battle to get a movie made! Rock & roll!!”
“Shut up! We’ve been ready!! And if you want to be the lead that badly, go do it on your own! Be a one-man army! Don’t drag us into it!!”
Heivia demonstrated his grace as a noble by elegantly raising his middle finger as he shouted at the man, but that changed nothing.
With a heavy rumble, the wall in front of them opened to either side. The bow of the disguised cruiser opened like a castle gate. One after another, amphibious hovercraft slid out and into the gunfire-filled battlefield of the Strait of Malacca.
Whether by coincidence or design, a rocket suddenly flew into the hold.
As Heivia frantically held down Quenser’s head and got on the ground himself, a tremendous shock wave spread through the enclosed space.
A dull pain exploded more in his chest than his eardrums.
“Gbh!? Cough!! H-how the hell is this a safe and simple mop up mission!!”
“Anytime they call the mission ‘simple’, you should be suspicious.”
“Wait… Wait a second!! Did this hovercraft just start sliding? Wait!! We’ve got a bunch of injured soldiers already! You can’t just throw us out on the front liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!!”
But his protests came too late.
The hovercraft slid down the slope and shot out the bow of the “Blood-Soaked Princess”. They were suddenly forced to clash with the small fishing boats (which had been modified into high-speed boats) sitting in front.
They were about sixty centimeters away from the closest boat.
They were close enough to jump from one boat to the other.
Heivia’s gaze met that of a suntanned man.
The man tried to raise the rifle carried over his shoulder with a sling belt, but he was too slow. Heivia pulled his handgun from its holster and fired repeatedly.
Quenser finally came to his senses as he watched three dark red holes appear in the man’s chest.
“Stop, Heivia! You can’t kill them!!”
“Ah? What!? I can’t hear you over all the noise!!”
“Don’t kill them!!”
All the 20 mm Gatling guns on the side of the disguised cruiser’s deck began to fire and shot down a homemade anti-ship missile flying over Quenser’s head. In return, several vertical launch missiles were fired at the pirates’ fishing boats. The noisy sound of rotors came from the heliport and a military attack helicopter began to take off.
The pirates had formed a half circle to envelop the Scarlet Princess’s path, but that proved a suicidal formation due to their misjudgment of the ship’s firepower. There had supposedly been around fifteen pirate boats, but half of them had already been sunk.
Everything was in motion and just watching it all made one’s eyes and head hurt.
And on top of that, the environment was so poor that one would be deafened while just sitting there.
After Quenser’s group’s hovercraft moved away, an attack from the air blew away the previous high-speed pirate boat like an empty can.
With his ears still ringing, Quenser shouted toward Heivia who was right next to him.
“If we just had to kill them, the ship’s weaponry could handle it! We were sent out for a reason!! Weren’t you listening during the pre-mission briefing!?”
“Oh? Oh, oh! Did they say something about that!?”
“They’re using fishing boats rather than used patrol boats so they can ditch their weapons in the sea and act like innocent fishermen if they have to! If we just kill them all, we’ll be suspected of slaughtering civilians. That’s why we need to capture a few of them alive and have them admit to being pirates. That’s what we were told!!”
“In other words, they’ve knocked down a hornet’s nest with a stone and now we have to retrieve it barehanded!? Goddamn this is a terrible job!! We’re at least getting paid extra for this, right!?”
Nothing the pirates did could turn the situation around.
Sounds of gunfire and explosions continued without end.
The ship’s rapid-fire cannons and the attack helicopter’s rockets were unilaterally blowing away the pirates’ boats.
“Two more! Our side just took out another two boats. Shit. If we don’t capture a pirate soon, they’ll all be dead!!”
“Shut up!! If you care that badly, jump over to that fishing boat and grab one yourself!!”
Only a few of the 10 meter high-speed pirate boats remained. The Scarlet Princess was fully equipped with the Legitimacy Kingdom navy’s best, so it was a 400 meter mass of giant guns. There was no chance of it being sunk now.
But there was a chance of the pirates fighting back in some way.
The fishing boats were equipped with homemade anti-ship missiles. They would be able to blow away at least one of the hovercrafts that used the power of air to float.
“This is way too scary!! A missile just shot by right above us!! What happened to the close-in weapon system support!?”
“Are these the type that react to magnetism to detonate? This thing’s hull is made of layered plastic and the balloon is made of synthetic fiber, so they might just slip past us.”
“Dammit. Of course the Gatling guns on the side deck wait until now to turn this way. …Hm? This way!?”
“G-get down!! And turn the hovercraft to the side! Our own side’s barrage is gonna fill us with holes!!”
The gunfire sounded like a broken buzzer as the line of CIWS weapons targeted an anti-ship missile flying a few meters above the ocean surface and scattered giant bullets at a rate of 5000 a minute. They were 20mm bullets which were masses of metal the size of a thumb. They were much larger than the standard used with anti-materiel rifles and even a single one grazing you could blow off a limb.
“They have to do all that just to shoot down a single missile. An Object’s laser beams are an entirely different story, but this says a lot about the balance between offense and defense.”
“Why are you starting that creepy breathing again!? Don’t get your design-obsessed blood pumping like it’s some instinct to preserve your genes in a life-threatening situation!!”
“Eh? I don’t mix my love of machines with lust. Making anthropomorphized girls out of weapons is kind of disturbing if you think about it.”
“Just think of it as adding on elements!! Don’t think of it as surgically cutting and pasting things!!”
The hovercraft ridden by the two idiots and 28 others had three engines resembling two meter ventilators on the back. One of them was sending out disconcerting black smoke (due to the barrage from their side’s close-in weapon system).
“How about we say the pirates did that and put in for injury pay? I think we deserve a bonus.”
“If we do that, it’ll mean we were injured by a group of amateurs. That would be a dishonor.”
Meanwhile, the battle was almost over.
The attack helicopter that had been sent out partway through was doing too good a job. It was sending down a storm of rockets which were enveloping the small fishing boats and the surrounding ocean in flames.
“Isn’t this pretty bad?” muttered Quenser as he carelessly looked up into the blue sky. “All of the pirate boats will be sunk soon.”
“What happened to capturing some alive!? If we don’t have one to say he’s a pirate, we’ll be accused of slaughtering civilians!!”
The two idiots looked around, but they saw nothing but eerie black smoke and wreckage starting to sink. It no longer felt like they were fighting. It was more like a treasure hunt.
“There!! There’s another fishing boat behind that smoke. If we miss that one, we’ll have to give up on catching anyone alive!! We’ll be mercilessly accused by a grinning international committee!!”
The attack helicopter flew by over their heads. It was clearly moving toward the same target.
Heivia brought a hand to his forehead.
“Is that pilot a coward!? I don’t think he can relax until he eliminates every threat he sees. And it’s not like those pirates can shoot down a helicopter flying around at high speed!!”
“What do we do? If we don’t take one alive, we’ll have to try our hand at necromancy during the court martial.”
“I’ve had enough of this!!” shouted Heivia in desperation as he shouted at the young soldier in charge of steering the hovercraft. “Head full speed toward the fishing boat! …I can’t believe I have to put my life on the line to protect the enemy!!”
“But what exactly are we going to do!?”
“We only have one choice.”
For some reason, Heivia removed the safety pin from the shoulder-fired missile launcher hanging from his shoulder along with his rifle. He rested one end on his shoulder and aimed the other end. Tanks on land, small patrol boats at sea, and ground attack craft in the air. Save for its ridiculous price tag, that missile was known as a masterpiece.
“We fire on our own helicopter.”
He did not hesitate.
He captured the target with both infrared and ultraviolet at the same time and he pulled the trigger.
The long, narrow missile shot out like a spear and shot by right next to the helicopter.
No damage was done.
Except for Quenser who was knocked backwards by the backfire.
He flew two or three meters like an unnamed character in a kung fu movie.
“Hot!! Hot!? Wh-what just happened? Are we under attack!?”
“If you’re that lively, I’m not gonna worry too much.”
The other soldiers on the hovercraft focused on Heivia. Their gazes were asking why he had fired on an ally.
“If I had actually aimed, it wouldn’t be in the air right now! I purposefully missed. But that coward of a pilot won’t notice that!! If you don’t want to die, get ready!!”
The attack helicopter belatedly took evasive actions and then took a tight turn around. It was clearly being wary. If the pilot panicked, there was a chance he would simply attack. It was similar to an extremely sleepy soldier caught in a whirl of gunfire confusing which side was his allies.
Heivia shouted in desperation.
“I bought us some time, but it’s only a dozen or so seconds! Charge straight into the fishing boat!! We just have to take at least one of them alive!!”
The hovercraft moved straight toward the lone remaining fishing boat. Meanwhile, Heivia aimed his assault rifle into the air and fired a long spray of bullets toward their attack helicopter. Orange sparks covered a side of the helicopter.
“With proper equipment, it can deflect rifle bullets.” While firing tons of wasted bullets, Heivia gave a thin smile. “But that coward won’t know that. His desire to survive made him panic and forget the plan. He’ll actually try to avoid this peashooter.”
The hovercraft approached the modified fishing boat from the side.
More accurately, it crashed into it.
Hovercrafts floated above the ocean surface with the power of air. The skirt portion that contained the air was a giant balloon made of bulletproof and knife resistant synthetic fiber.
Rather than a straight collision, the hovercraft climbed on top of the boat.
And the pirate man standing on the boat’s deck was knocked into the ocean.
The fact that the skirt portion was a soft balloon turned out to be a stroke of luck for both sides. As the man flailed his limbs around, he was knocked several meters horizontally like a small stone.
At the same time, a rocket fell from the heavens and struck the point of intersection between the fishing boat and the hovercraft.
The blast knocked the Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers into the air.
But it did not knock the will to fight from them. Or rather, they could not leave this sea of flames and smoke until they completed this. Several soldiers used strange wrestling moves to jump on the pirate who had fallen into the ocean.
Several dull sounds could be heard.
The pirate struggled as his head was forced under the salty ocean water.
Quenser and Heivia grabbed the pirate by the collar and dragged his head back above the surface.
And they shouted angrily into his ear.
“If you don’t want us to start an interrogation using the water here, then start talking!! Tell everyone that you’re a piece of shit pirate who was causing everyone all sorts of trouble!!”
They were forced to participate in a “detour” to eliminate pirates, but Quenser, Heivia, and the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s original destination lay elsewhere.
Those idiots had been sent to the Strait of Malacca ahead of the rest of the battalion. Sea mines, fuel oil attacks, nets in the propeller, and pirates were all threats that even civilians could accomplish. To ensure that none of the warships were damaged, all those threats had to be eliminated before the maintenance battalion’s fleet passed through.
In other words, their target this time was dangerous enough to warrant that.
Even in an age where Object vs. Object battles decided everything, they did not want to lose the backing of a single support ship.
“We’re really here.”
Their destination was the birthplace of Objects in the seas of the Far East.
It was currently a portion of the Capitalist Corporations and it was an important point for the Asian naval forces.
“This is the Island Nation. Should we really be here? This supposedly the artisan paradise that sent out the world’s first Object and it’s also known for its healthy food. A ridiculously proportioned macho man isn’t going to attack us with all sorts of strange new weapons, is he?”
Quenser sounded bored as he stood on the deck of a small aircraft carrier. Rather than the takeoff and landing of aircraft, it was primarily used as maintenance space for the Object contained between it and another aircraft carrier.
The princess must have had nothing to do because she was sitting on the edge of the deck and looking blankly in Quenser’s direction.
“Frolaytia said our job isn’t very dangerous this time.”
“She may be skilled, but you can’t trust any verbal promises she makes. Especially when we’re talking about the Island Nation. It may be part of the Capitalist Corporations, but the level of their newly developed technology is ridiculous. In fact, it’s gone so far that it’s created a kind of Galapagos Syndrome. Naturally, the same goes for their Objects.”
“This will not be a direct fight in the first place.”
“Yeah, they are going through some infighting, aren’t they?” Quenser let out a light breath. “The Capitalist Corporations were crazy enough to go fully down the PMC route and make listed companies out of their army, but the intensification of conflicts in recent years means the armies sent around the world by the different major companies aren’t enough. That’s why they created the new framework of half-public self-defense PMCs to quickly strengthen their naval defenses.”
“But one of those self-defense PMCs went out of control and started a civil war in the ocean around the Island Nation.”
“What did they think would happen when they gathered tens of thousands of rotten soldiers given dishonorable discharges in different parts of the world and then handed them cutting-edge weaponry? Yet they let their guard down so much that they surrendered an Object to them. What’s wrong with them? Were they trying to get themselves killed?”
“They had an aging society, so they had no choice. They had no young people.”
“I know they were shorthanded, but how could they possibly think people coming in to earn some money would defend their nation to the bitter end?”
The strategic simulations of the Legitimacy Kingdom military predicted that the civil war would not last long. The self-defense PMC could not be taken lightly, but they were only borrowing the Objects and other weapons and they could not maintain them or produce more on their own. And it was unlikely anyone would provide them with further supplies. The instant they ran out of reserves was the instant they met their end.
The simulations said they would last at most two months and possibly only a few weeks. But during that time, the Island Nation’s defenses would certainly be lacking. It was possible the confusion could be used to attack in otherwise impossible places or ways.
The princess pouted her lips.
“Why do we have to interfere with the Capitalist Corporations’ fight? We should just let them go at it.”
“We don’t want them having a nice fistfight by the river and getting along again. That’s why we need to stab them in the side and make sure they can never join back up. If we kill what enemies we can while we have the chance, we don’t have to worry about carelessly running into them on some other battlefield.”
At that point, a radio transmission reached the entire battalion.
It was from Frolaytia, their local commander.
“It’s time for the pre-mission briefing on how we will split the Island Nation. Gather in your ship’s conference room. I will provide the explanation via the monitor. …Also, a special message for the idiots who were playing basketball on the flight deck. The one who dropped the ball in the ocean must take responsibility by jumping from the cliff and retrieving it. That is government property. You aren’t allowed to lose it. That is all.”
“As you can see, the ocean around the Island Nation is in a state of civil war. We will use the confusion to move in deeper than their normal defenses would allow. Our mission is to scout out their forces and destroy what we can.”
Frolaytia spoke from the podium up front while a few arrows were added to the sea chart displayed on the screen.
“The biggest problem for the self-defense PMC is the supply line. According to the strategic simulation performed on our supercomputer, this civil war will run out of gas and reach a quick end. The major corporation controlling the Island Nation will likely carry out a sabotage operation to hurry that along.”
The screen showed a group of islands in the ocean south of the Island Nation. One of those islands had not originally been there. It was a manmade floating island. The industrially manufactured island could move on its own and it was created by combining giant floats.
Its center was a dodecagon and each vertex had a harbor dock extending out from it like a tree branch.
Its overall silhouette looked like the ship’s wheel used to turn the rudder.
“This is the artificial floating island Ame-no-Darin. It is made to extract resources from the ocean floor. It is the cornerstone of the self-defense PMC’s supplies and reserves. It was the discovery of oil and veins of iron ore in the deep Pacific that transformed the Island Nation into a top class resource superpower. Thanks to that, they’ve left behind an environment that’s covered in oil. Anyway, as long as they have this, the self-defense PMC will have plenty of ammunition and fuel. And by exchanging that for foreign currency, they can smuggle in food. This is the central pillar of this war.”
Frolaytia used her penlight laser pointer to indicate different points on the displayed document.
“It originally functioned as the Island Nation’s military reserves base. It was a treasure trove of fuel and ammunition and its security was left to the self-defense PMC in question as far back as the construction phase. Once the civil war began, they took full control of the Ame-no-Darin. With the standard reserves, they can fight for ninety days. With full use of its ocean floor resource extraction and refinement ability, they can create an endless supply of fuel and ammunition. It may be an expensive facility, but that expense paid for some nice features.”
“I have a question.” Quenser raised his hand. “Are we going to destroy that Ame-no-Darin? How does that benefit us?”
“An excellent question, student. But wait until I’m finished.” Frolaytia placed her long, narrow kiseru in her mouth. “Our mission is to sweep for mines in the ocean around the Ame-no-Darin and to physically remove the saboteurs thought to have infiltrated it. We intercepted the schedule for a large-scale sabotage operation and we plan to end it before it starts. Simply put, we will be protecting the Ame-no-Darin despite no one asking us to. After all, that will cause this war to drag on and cause great financial losses for the Island Nation. Any objections?”
It was a cruel plan, but they were at war and had no interest in benevolence or world peace. The Island Nation was categorized as a safe country, so they could not directly attack it or slaughter the non-combatants there, but they had no real reason to bring the civil war to a quick end or to protect the Island Nation’s mobile fleet which included an Object. If they did, the forces remaining at the end of the civil war would turn toward them.
A small hand then rose into the air.
It was the princess’s.
“Then who will I fight?”
“Did you think it would be the Object belonging to the isolated self-defense PMC? Well, it isn’t. You will be fighting the Object belonging to the Island Nation’s major corporation which has the overwhelming advantage. When we have a chance to freely defeat an enemy, it’s always best to choose the strongest one. We will extend this civil war and take the initiative in removing future rivals. Do you all understand now?”
They were fighting to protect their enemy.
They were fighting to help out the isolated underdog.
Phrasing it like that made them sound like a gunman from a Western, but the principles at the core has been twisted by the world which had shattered like stained glass.
“Then let’s begin. We are only here to benefit the Legitimacy Kingdom. Justice for the Capitalist Corporations is not our concern. How about you head out there and see what your precious Island Nation is really like.”
The two idiots named Quenser and Heivia were crammed into submarine torpedo tubes along with the other soldiers. It was one to a tube and they felt as small as coffins. The diving suits and oxygen tanks only made it feel more cramped.
“What is wrong with them? This is discrimination!! I’m a radar analyst. I shouldn’t be launched from a torpedo tube while holding an oxygen tank and an underwater gun! I don’t remember the contract I signed saying anything about doing this!”
“Shut up, Heivia. Sound is everything for subs. Make too much noise and the enemy will notice us.”
“Fine by me! I’ll make them wrinkle their nose at the most tremendous fart they’ve ever heard!!”
“You’re in an enclosed space, so you’ll just end up cursing your own asshole.”
As they chatted over the radio, Quenser’s coffin filled with red light. The torpedo tube was about to open.
The greeting from the weapons officer reached his ears.
“Carefree little birds, you have the precious free will of a human, so you can shit yourself if you want, but wait until you’ve left the sub first. Rock & roll!”
“Goddammit. Should I have brought an alarm clock along to set off after I left!? Well!?”
Heivia’s complaints were immediately followed by the external door opening and seawater rushing into the torpedo tube. Quenser did not fight the current and waited until the tube was filled with water before he slowly left the submarine.
“There’s nothing but sludge and oil around here. I’d heard ocean oil drilling always let some oil leak out, but this is crazy. You could set the ocean ablaze with a burner.”
“When you weigh ecology against resources, people tend to choose the more profitable one. Not that it matters to us.”
“What’s that giant mass over there? A new type of mutant?”
“It’s a clump of oil. It’s just like running into sewage. You can’t move once it gets all around you.”
Quenser, Heivia, and eight other soldiers travelled through the dark ocean using devices resembling kickboards with motors attached. They were on their way to the Ame-no-Darin, but doing so was not easy when the area was in a state of civil war.
Several vague silhouettes measuring a few meters across came into view.
As they came into focus, Quenser felt a chill run down his back. Long narrow cylinders which appeared to be torpedoes were stabbed into the clump of oil.
“Those are the Capitalist Corporations’ smart torpedoes,” said Heivia calmly. “I don’t know which side of the civil war fired them, though.”
“W-wait. Are we going to pass by them? If they detonate, we’ll be torn to pieces.”
“I said they were ‘smart’, remember? They only react to the acoustic signature of enemy ships that are updated over their network. They aren’t made to kill humans.”
“They cost 20 thousand dollars apiece. They’d lose a ton of money if a fish swimming by could detonate them. They’re made to only react to top priority targets.”
“But these didn’t go off! We can’t trust them.”
Heivia went ahead as a guide and Quenser nervously followed while weaving between the smart torpedoes.
But that was when something approached while producing a rumbling vibration that sounded like a coin laundry amplified several times.
A giant mass slowly passed by the two idiots.
It was a submarine.
Quenser’s eyes opened wide.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!! We’re swimming between unexploded torpedoes right this very instant! If they react to that acoustic signature, we’ll be blown away!”
“We have a bigger problem!! I don’t know whose sub that is, but the current created by its propeller is going to carry us off!! If we don’t grab onto something, it’ll suck us in and slice us to pieces!!”
“What am I supposed to grab onto!?”
The sensation of something tugging at his body created an instinctual fear in Quenser, so he immediately reached for the closest object.
It was one of the torpedoes sticking out of the oil.
Any kind of tactical thoughts were sent to the farthest reaches of the universe as he entrusted himself to what looked like a propane tank and prayed it would not explode.
“This is it! I’m gonna piss myself! I really am this time!!”
“Shut up!! That’s no different form peeing in the pool! Stop making such a racket!!”
“How about you try it! It’ll just fill your diving suit and there’ll be no escape from that hell of your own creation. I don’t want the kind of embarrassment that leads to suicide!!”
Those boys were from the nation of kings and knights, but they were desperate to protect their pride on an elementary school level.
An unpleasant noise rang out.
“The sub ran into the clump of oil! It’s coming this way!”
The back of the giant sub swung around like a bat and the propeller passed right by them like a lawnmower.
“Shit that was close. I don’t know whose sub that is, but any closer and it would’ve wiped all of us out.”
“Shouldn’t we help it?”
“How? And whichever side it’s on, it’s an enemy.”
Quenser’s entire body was covered with an uncomfortable sweat, but annoyingly enough, he could not wipe it away. He, Heivia, and the other soldiers moved carefully to the side of the oil clump and met up with the units that left a different submarine.
Ultimately, a group of around one hundred Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers were swimming toward the Ame-no-Darin.
“Is that it? It’s incredible that something so gigantic can float.”
“That just shows how reckless they’ve been. That’s gotta be the king of pollution around here. In an American comic, it’d be the villain’s secret base.”
As they looked up at the Ame-no-Darin from below, it looked like a never-ending ceiling. They had needed to travel directly below the floating island to sneak in, but having the surface sealed off made the ocean seem all the more oppressive. If their oxygen tank malfunctioned, there was no escape. It would mean certain death.
“Let’s go. Our way in is the emergency drain pumps used in case of flooding. They aren’t normally active, so we can make our way up into the float.”
“If they notice us, it’s all over. One flip of a switch and seven tons of seawater will be ejected every second. We’d learn what a bug in a drain feels like.”
After using their tools to destroy a few sensors and remove the wire mesh cover, they entered the drain pump pipe one at a time. The pipe was over two meters across, so they had plenty of room to move.
After working their way into the Ame-no-Darin’s spare engine area, they could finally remove their diving suits and heavy oxygen tanks.
“Hey, where’d our commander go?” asked Heivia in annoyance. “We can’t start without him.”
“It looks like we got separated somewhere,” answered a nearby female soldier. “He isn’t responding over the radio, so should we wait until he catches up?”
“No, thanks! He’s the one who got all worked up on the Scarlet Princess, wasn’t he? I’m not going to get myself killed for him. A group of one hundred can’t hide forever. If they throw a bomb in while we’re waiting for that jokester, we’ll all be taken out.”
“Um, Heivia? This is enemy territory, so wouldn’t it be bad if our commander was captured?”
“If his allies can’t find him, how is the enemy supposed to? And aren’t the rest of you pissed at him, too? Teacher won’t get mad, so be honest and raise your hands.”
None of the honor students raised their hands, so Heivia changed the question.
“Do you want to die for the kind of commander who returns to the sub without telling us, or do you want to continue the mission and get back alive? Raise your hands if you want to survive.”
All of the idiots raised their hands.
Their plan was decided.
The Ame-no-Darin was a float the size of a fair-sized island, but it was still an indoor facility. A group of one hundred travelling together would be too large for the passageways, so it would be more effective to split into groups of ten and travel down different routes to target the enemy from multiple angles.
And so it was time to split into groups.
Quenser raised his hand.
“I’m willing to follow a guide, but who takes the lead?”
“That’s decided by rank.”
Heivia’s offhand comment turned everyone’s focus on a new second lieutenant, but he trembled, shook his head, and grew pale.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said a female soldier in irritation.
“Then let’s go with experience and achievements.”
Heivia’s new suggestion turned the focus to the two idiots.
Needless to say, no one could outdo their achievements of destroying several Objects on their own. It was just that their negative achievements were also quite amazing, so it all cancelled out in the end.
“If we keep complaining, the enemy will spot us and get in the first attack. Let’s get moving.”
And that settled that.
The other ten-man groups determined their leaders based on the number of battles they had fought in and they all began to move.
“We have no guarantee we’ll come back here and who knows when we’ll need to jump in the ocean. It’ll be a bit of a burden, but we need to carry the diving suits and oxygen tanks with us.”
“Where will the enemy come from? Specifically, the saboteurs who are destroying the Ame-no-Darin to cut off the self-defense PMC’s supply line.”
“They’re boldly making their way in using transport helicopters with spoofed identifiers. They should be arriving any time now, so let’s head toward the heliport. We’ll probably run across them on our way there.”
“Quick question. How do we tell the saboteurs from the self-defense PMC protecting the Ame-no-Darin? They should both be using Capitalist Corporations Island Nation equipment.”
“Do we even need to? They’re both enemies.”
The Baby Magnum was released into the ocean near the southern islands after its naval floats were attached.
The old maintenance woman was waiting atop the flight deck of a small aircraft carrier in a large-scale fleet. Her job was to quickly and accurately maintain and repair the Baby Magnum upon its return, but the situation was different this time.
Her name was Ayami Cherryblossom.
As her family name suggested, she was originally from the Capitalist Corporations Island Nation. She had worked as a technician before leaving, so she had been recruited for an investigation of the abilities of the Island Nation’s Objects.
Her B5-sized tablet computer displayed satellite images and video taken by front line observers and she conversed with the Baby Magnums’ princess over her headset.
“There they are. We’ve picked up two Objects near the Ame-no-Darin. One is a first generation named Yuuhi which was officially deployed by the Island Nation to quickly end the civil war. I believe the Legitimacy Kingdom’s codename for it is Be Ablaze. It can literally set the sea on fire.”
“It’s a first generation?”
“That’s thanks to a sad mentality of the Island Nation. They’re better at creating improved versions of old weapons than they are developing brand new ones. For example, they add cameras to outdated fighters and insist on using them as spy planes. This one may be classified as first generation, but its insides have been completely swapped out so it can keep up with modern models. Underestimate it, and you’ll end up on the ocean floor.”
“But its main weapon is a flamethrower, right? I don’t see how that’s a threat to Objects that can withstand nuclear weapons.”
“It’s a close range defensive weapon known as the Hiding Clothes of Flame. It scatters fuel oil and napalm over the entire area and sets the sea ablaze. This is an effective anti-personnel weapon, but it’s mostly meant to disrupt targeting information with smoke and mirages. You should assume your laser targeting won’t work. You will be separated by several layers of mirages created from temperature change, so the light will bend all over the place.”
However, the ocean around the Island Nation was in state of civil war and the two forces were fighting each other.
The princess was targeting only one side and destroying the Be Ablaze was her top priority, but the situation was too complex for her to focus solely on that. Another giant enemy existed in that ocean.
Namely, the self-defense PMC’s Object that used the Ame-no-Darin as its supply base.
It was a symbol of rebellion.
“The other one is named Ningyo. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s codename for it is Mad Cooker. It’s a first generation equipped with a salt railgun. Naturally, it’s been independently altered to have the power needed to defeat a second generation.”
“A salt railgun?”
“They were mainstream before low-temperature superconductors were successfully used in weapons. It uses a liquid known as molten salt. When salt is heated to 1200 degrees and liquefied, it has ten times the conductivity of normal saltwater. That molten salt can be used to construct a cheap and primitive railgun.”
An endless supply of the raw material was located in the ocean below it.
With its huge reactor, it could easily heat it.
The reason the Island Nation had continued research into the outdated salt railgun was likely because they wanted to use the ocean surrounding them to increase how long they could fight.
“The current version gives the shells conductivity by creating them from a base of over 90% salt. The core of the shell is a long, narrow spike of tungsten that they call the Ushi-no-Koku. It’s made so the mass of salt shatters when it’s fired. That sends all the kinetic energy into the tungsten so it can pierce the enemy’s onion armor. Continuing to use the same method used by old tank guns is another example of the Island Nation’s sad mentality.”
As long as they had the technology to filter out and condense the iron and rare metals dissolved in the ocean, it was conceivable that the Object could fight indefinitely with no need to resupply. It was almost more dangerous from the experimental side than as an enemy.
“As I’m sure already know, your primary target is the Be Ablaze from the Island Nation’s major corporation. To drag out this civil war and deplete them financially, we need to protect the weaker side, attack the stronger side, and bring both sides as close to equal as we can. But if we go too far, the two Capitalist Corporations Objects might work together to eliminate us. In other words, there is no need to defeat your target at all costs. Just fire at it from the distance and cause as much damage as you can while ensuring all three Objects need to keep an eye on the other two.”
Modern wars were decided by the number of Objects.
With one-against-one, an Object would head in for a direct fight. With one-against-three, an Object would swiftly retreat before fighting.
With that in mind, it would cause incredible pressure to the Island Nation when a third Object of dubious affiliation entered the fray.
Normally, two Capitalist Corporations Objects would work together if the Legitimacy Kingdom attacked.
But they could not trust each other during a civil war.
If they joined together and the other betrayed, a one-against-two battle would be unavoidable.
That fear would bind the battlefield.
“Understood,” said the princess. “I will stick with long-range shots from ten kilometers away.”
“We don’t need to settle this or even see it through to the end. As long as we put an end to the large-scale Ame-no-Darin sabotage plan, we can retreat and watch the mayhem from a safe distance. If the civil war continues, it will do critical damage on an economical front. This has been an internal problem for the Capitalist Corporations from the beginning, so it isn’t worth it for us to risk our lives here.”
The major Island Nation corporation plan to sink the Ame-no-Darin was to send a large number of saboteurs into the facility while a large-scale battle between Objects acted as a diversion.
The plan was only being carried out after a thorough preparatory period and a similar plan could not simply be repeated again and again.
In other words, stopping them just once would eliminate this opportunity to destroy the Ame-no-Darin.
The civil war would drag on and the Legitimacy Kingdom’s objective would be achieved.
While occasionally speaking with the other groups over the radio, Quenser, Heivia, and eight others cautiously advanced.
“Hey, there’s an elevator over here.”
“I dare you to get on that thing. The instant the door opens, you’ll be riddled with holes. You can’t escape from a square box. Let’s just use the stairs.”
The Capitalist Corporations saboteurs had apparently arrived through the heliport by tricking the Ame-no-Darin with spoofed identifiers. Quenser’s group had started at the bottom and was ascending to the heliport. They assumed they would run into the saboteurs somewhere along the way.
There were apparently three floors’ worth of height from the bottom of the Ame-no-Darin to the ocean surface.
“Y’know, I’d heard they were a technological superpower, but this place is almost falling apart. Wall and ceiling panels are removed and the plumbing is exposed at points. Did they run out of funding halfway through building the thing?”
“Quenser, I want to make sure I’m not seeing things. What is that you’ve been pointing all over the place?”
“A digital camera. Why?”
“We’re in the middle of a mission to kill people!”
“And I can’t stand just going along empty-handed!! I have to take back at least one piece of Island Nation tech!!”
As they chatted, they made their way toward the stairs.
The stairway appeared to be for emergency use. Once they passed through the door, they found concrete stairs that reversed direction countless times.
They had to send someone ahead to make sure they were not completely wiped out in a surprise attack.
Heivia gave a sign with his fingers, his allies gave a different sign back, they began a war of gestures, and they ultimately played rock-paper-scissors.
After playing scissors, a trembling Heivia was thrust toward the staircase by his fellow soldiers.
“If this was chess, you’d be sending your king right to the enemy.”
“I don’t want to take responsibility for anything, so I’m fine being a pawn.”
The fluorescent lights flickered.
Quenser and four others acted as the scouts. Heivia held out his assault rifle to see up through the gap in the center of the staircase that formed a rectangle as it repeatedly doubled back.
“A cramped staircase is the worst.”
“Try to think before you speak. It’s not as bad as an elevator, but they can set all sorts of ambushes.”
An instant later, gunfire assaulted them in the ideal way from the ideal spot.
The enemy fired down while leaning over the railing up above.
The five of them could only retreat while firing back. Quenser headed for the entrance they had come from while helping a nearby soldier who was holding a bloody shoulder and was about to collapse.
“Heivia, fall back! Fall back!! We’ll be wiped out like this!!”
“Shut up! Why the hell do you think I’m trying to buy us some time!? You drag that injured soldier away!!”
“If they drop a grenade, it’s all over!! We’ll be slaughtered without a chance to buy any time!!”
That was when they heard a hard clanking noise.
The overhead attackers had tossed an explosive over the railing. The grenade struck the wall a few times and landed at their feet.
The enemy was playing it all by the book.
All five of them rushed toward the narrow entrance to the stairwell, but not many actually made it into the corridor beyond.
A muffled explosion burst out.
With his face dyed red with someone else’s blood, Heivia pressed against the wall and shouted out.
“We have casualties!! Check the damage!!”
“Almost zero! The injured private covered the grenade with his own body!!”
“That idiot tried to take all the glory for himself!!”
“He placed his balled up diving suit over it, so I don’t think he thought he would die.”
“You don’t have to point that out! We can just call it a valiant death!!”
At any rate, the blood-soaked Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers used the slight bit of time this gave them to return to the corridor where the other five awaited them.
The enemy must have dropped more grenades because multiple explosions reached their ears.
“This is bad, Quenser. The enemy is better than us. I only caught a glimpse of their uniforms, but assuming it isn’t a bluff, they’ve sent in someone amazing.”
“Eh? Does the Island Nation have any famous units?”
“They aren’t from the Island Nation.” Heivia wiped the blood from his face with an arm. “This is Moss Green co. ltd. They’re a land war PMC from the Northern Restricted Zone where long, drawn out wars continue 365 days a year because Objects are forbidden. I heard they’d been expanding their business to naval operations, especially landing operations, so this might be a promotion for their new services.”
“A soldier’s quality is determined by the quality and quantity of daily training, but these ones are out in actual battles year round. People who rely on Objects like us don’t stand a chance! The difference in experience is so overwhelming that we simply can’t win!!”
The longer one fought an unbeatable enemy, the greater one’s losses would be.
Even a child could figure that out.
But they were not allowed to simply raise the white flag and go home.
“Let’s escape to a more advantageous position. We can fire a bit, fall back a bit, and then repeat the process to wear down their numbers.”
“How long do you think they’d keep falling for that obvious method? Moss Green is filled with nothing but cruel, cigar-smoking sergeants with eyepatches.”
“Just start laying as many traps as you can along the way. If we can’t win in a firefight, we need to wear down their numbers in other ways.”
They had no time, but any immediately obvious traps would be meaningless.
Fortunately, some of the wall and ceiling panels of that floor were removed, exposing thick steel pipes travelling around like blood vessels. There were plenty of places to hide traps.
“Hey, are you just setting up the plastic explosives as is? Wouldn’t you normally bury them in piles of screws or nails?”
“We don’t have time and the shockwave will fill the corridor anyway. You can shoot them once they’re knocked out, right? More importantly, gather all our cheap rockets. I don’t have enough firepower with what I have on me. You’ll be too afraid to use them in here anyway, so let me use the warheads for traps.”
“A warhead with a contact fuse can be used as a landmine. Let’s hide them under the paper and mats lying around.”
They added other embellishments to the bombs: a dangerous cleanser that expanded as a mist when heated combined with a bleaching agent that caused intense pain and inflammation when it contacted skin. They found both of them in the lockers along the corridor.
Ultimately, they laid around thirty traps.
“Will this really work? A fat old man working on his home on the weekends makes better-looking stuff than this.”
“It’s a tragedy you can’t see the golden ratio to this. No matter where they try to evade, they’ll trip a different trap. It’s like a tangle of strings; they can’t just untangle one string at a time. I should get a medal for making something so artistic on such short notice.”
“You might find some fans in a prison. They’d probably all be skinny little guys, though.”
Just as Quenser and the others turned around to head to their ambush point, they heard an explosion up ahead and a great impact hit them.
The corridor wall had been destroyed from the other side.
Gray dust filled the corridor and cut off their path.
“Goddammit!!” shouted Heivia from the ground. “What is with today!?”
“What? My ears are ringing and I can’t hear you!?”
“Those Moss Green fuckers took a shortcut! Our escape route’s been cut off, so we can only fall back. And that means going through the corridor we just filled with traps!!”
It seemed unlikely they were being monitored via cameras or sensors.
The enemy had simply used their intuition and experience to accurately predict their actions. And that enemy had cut them off on the worst route possible. That level of accuracy made them seem like espers.
Multiple sounds of gunfire reached Quenser’s ears as they recovered.
He could no longer leisurely talk about thinking this through logically.
To escape the threat before his eyes, he charged into the spider web of traps he himself had laid.
The Moss Green soldiers peeking out from the hole in the wall were not courteous enough to aim for each soldier one at a time.
They accurately fired a bullet into a rocket warhead set up as a trap.
And an explosion swallowed up Quenser and the others.
A woman named Angela Hibiscus commanded Moss Green and she frowned after hearing the explosion.
“What? They’re still moving.”
“They must have kept their traps non-lethal. Their own kindness saved them.”
“Then go finish off the passed-out fools. Just as they planned to do to us.”
A blond combat engineer twitching on the floor moved his hand. He grabbed some fishing line to set off his own trap.
As the corridor filled with a white mist, Angela’s men spoke delightedly.
“Wow, a chemical weapon. They violated the war treaty, captain.”
“Undiluted bleach, hm? You can have fun if you want, but do you have protective masks and suits prepared for us?”
“I don’t recall supplying any. The air conditioning is blowing their suicidal smokescreen this way, so we need to fall back. If we let something like this gave us any casualties, it would affect the unit’s reputation. I don’t want to owe the advertising firm a favor.”
Meanwhile, Heivia was very nearly screaming after being thrown into the toxic smokescreen.
“Quenser, you idiot!! We already had a full course of hell lined up for us, so why did you have to order dessert!? What the hell is this? Cough, cough. Bleach!?”
“If you don’t want to destroy your throat, stay quiet. And you have your diving suit’s mask, remember? Your throat will hurt, but the mask will keep it below a lethal level!”
“You’re kidding. So we have to crawl through this!?”
“They can easily get rid of this impromptu smokescreen with the air conditioning and then we’ll need enough body bags for all of us. Would you rather stay here and end up filled with lead!?”
Either way, they could no longer return unscathed.
Quenser and the others put on their oxygen masks and continued through the corridor while experiencing some chemical inflammation. On the way, they set off even more of their non-lethal traps, but they finally arrived at the stairwell.
“N-now what do we do, you moron? They hold the area above the stairs. If we charge in, they’ll just shoot us all. And if they sense any danger, they’ll drop more grenades to finish us off.”
“Heivia, do you have any rope? Can you rock climb?”
“Yes, but how does that help?”
“Then we don’t even need these stairs,” spat out Quenser as he pulled out his Hand Axe plastic explosive. “I’ll blow them to smithereens. After blowing up the structure and their soldiers, there will be nothing but a vertical hole left. We climb that with rope.”
“Are you serious? Even if they hold the area up there, that won’t be all of them. They came from the heliport. The more we climb, the closer we are to the center of their forces. Climbing just means more of those monsters! Can’t we just give up on the mission and escape from the sea down below?”
“If we did that, Frolaytia’s fists would send us to heaven before long anyway. Plus, they’ve been able to predict our actions so far, so we need to think about this in reverse. We’re below the waterline right now and no water came out when we blew up the pipes in the walls. They must be used with the emergency pumps in case of flooding. If we held the upper floors, how would you wipe out an enemy down below?”
“…You can’t be serious.”
“If they close all the waterproof bulkheads in one area, they can fill it with water. Instead of risking their own men in a firefight, they can wipe out their enemy with the turn of a valve. In a boring fight against weaklings, they’ll definitely choose the easier method. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flood the area.”
“B-but! We have diving suits and oxygen tanks. Even if they filled a block with water, it wouldn’t kill us.”
“It would. I don’t know how many tons of water would come rushing in per second, but it would definitely be a horrific deluge. We’d be swept on and on while being slammed along corridors and stairways. It would be like tying yourself to a car and being dragged through gravel. Our limbs would be torn off and the oxygen tanks would rupture.”
“Ugh,” groaned Heivia through his mask.
“It looked like they didn’t expect the suicidal wall of bleach and their pride probably demands a flawless victory. But this is the moment when we can escape the cage of Moss Green’s expectations. If we don’t head up now, it will all be downhill. As soon as they decide which valve to open, we’ll be swallowed up by the deluge and torn to pieces!”
The 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s fleet remained on standby away from the battle. Frolaytia received various reports in the small aircraft carrier’s mission command center. A controller’s panicked voice reached her ears.
“Something is approaching the radar. It’s very fast!! It’s flying just off the ocean surface at around Mach 2. It might be a cruise missile or…no, it’s an aircraft!!”
“On the same battlefield as three Objects!?”
Objects contained a reactor that produced near-limitless energy and they were covered with anti-air lasers, so the complex evasive actions of an ace pilot were meaningless. Lock, fire, destroy. That was the standard of the modern battlefield, but this enemy was easily ignoring it.
Frolaytia’s eyes opened in surprise and the controller continued the report with a bewildered look.
“From its movements, it does not appear to be unmanned. The CIWS…had no effect! Here it comes!!”
“Dammit! All hands, brace yourself!!”
In that instant, the old maintenance woman was waiting on the flight deck in order to maintain or repair the Baby Magnum. From there, she saw a Capitalist Corporations’ air superiority fighter pass less than a meter over the steel surface.
It was a fli-21T.
That was a modified version of the normal fli-20. Its development had been stopped just before mass production and deployment, and it was currently undergoing its final tests in the Northern Restricted Zone.
It was tilted ever-so-slightly, so the top of the craft was visible from the old woman’s side.
The short girl in the cockpit wore an anti-G suit resembling an Elite’s special suit. Blue paint on the right wing drew a girl’s silhouette bearing a giant snow crystal on the back.
As the old woman saw the words “Ice Girl One”, a rugby ball-like mass below the wing was released.
It was an anti-ship aerial bomb.
Normally, its weight and the potential energy of the fighter’s altitude would break through the ship’s armor before it detonated, but when released just above the flight deck, the rugby ball bounced off the armor rather than penetrating it.
The old woman made an immediate decision upon seeing the bomb bounce into the air.
She watched the 200 kilogram explosive that had been perfectly left in the air so that the blast and fragments would efficiently spread over a wide area.
(The enemy has no interest in the fighters stored in the metal belly of the ship. They’re after the Object maintenance unit and its equipment. In other words, us!!)
“Jump into the water if you want to live!!”
She threw aside all her tools, turned around, and did not hesitate to jump from the nine meter height of the flight deck. She heard the tremendous explosion before hitting the water. The small island of steel behind her creaked ominously.
Her body produced a pillar of water as it vanished below the surface, but her head appeared soon thereafter.
She did not know how many of the maintenance soldiers had followed her.
“How...? How did it…get through the network of anti-air lasers?” groaned a young maintenance soldier floating nearby.
The old woman clicked her tongue.
“The air isn’t uniform. There are temperature differences, humidity differences, dust, dirt, and even salt content when over the ocean. The changes in those things will bend light just a bit. Mirages are the simplest example.”
“But…But… You couldn’t measure all that even with sensors.”
“No, but an ace pilot from the Northern Restricted Zone can sniff it out on intuition alone! Who is that pilot? Her senses are equal to or even greater than a pilot Elite's!!”
Placing even a single bomb was a risky process.
As Quenser attached the plastic explosive to the base of the stairs, Heivia and a few others fired their assault rifles up the stairs. They were trying to hold the enemy back. By creating a barrage without even a gap to poke one’s head out, the enemy could not throw down a grenade.
But it only lasted thirty seconds.
“Shit! Here comes a grenade!!”
“I’m done here!! Fall back!! Fall back!!”
Quenser, Heivia, and the others practically rolled back to the corridor.
A moment later, the first grenade exploded.
Quenser then placed his hand on his radio and detonated his Hand Axe plastic explosive.
Just like when a building was demolished, the spiraling staircase smoothly crumbled and almost seemed to sink down underground. A great cloud of dust surged out toward them, but the corridor was already much worse due to the bleach and cleanser.
However, a problem presented itself.
“What the hell!? The door’s filled with rubble! We can’t escape through here!!”
“Then we just have to destroy the wall and ceiling to widen the hole. Outta the way, everyone!!”
After destroying the wall and ceiling enough to widen the “gap”, they entered the vertical hole which had been a stairwell.
Several moaning and bloody figures were mixed in with the piles of rubble.
“Don’t,” said Heivia quickly.
Even so, one of the enemy soldiers pulled out a handgun despite being unable to stand.
After a few assault rifle shots, the groaning stopped.
Heivia clicked his tongue and spoke to Quenser.
“I’ve had enough of this. Let’s climb on up.”
They had no specialized device to fire a rope to the top, so they gathered a random weight from the bloody rubble at their feet. It was a fist-sized piece of concrete with twisted rebar sticking out of it in places. They tied one end of a rope to it, swung it around like a morning star, and tossed it straight up.
“Oh? Ah? What? I didn’t get in on the first try.”
“And now it’s falling. Move!”
After the second and third try, they were shedding tears over how wonderful the helmets supplied by their fellow soldiers were. Finally, Heivia tossed the rope and felt it firmly stick. It seemed the rebar sticking out from the concrete weight had caught on the remains of the staircase on the wall. And it had caught right next to the door on the upper floor.
Heivia put all his weight on it to thoroughly check it.
“If the enemy starts firing down while I’m climbing, there’s nothing I can do, so make sure to cover for me.”
“Then why don’t you give me a gun? I’m confident I can at least fire right up your asshole.”
With a parting raise of the middle finger, Heivia started climbing up the rope. Meanwhile, the other soldiers threw more ropes and secured a second and third route up.
Unsurprisingly, scrawny Quenser could not rock climb on his own, so the others had to pull him up last.
After exiting into the corridor, Quenser glanced at the sign on the wall.
It said 0m.
This floor had none of the pipes travelling around like blood vessels and the floor and walls were a shiny white. Nevertheless, some of the panels were still missing.
“It looks like we’ve made it above the waterline. They can’t flood us now.”
They were all battered and they had lost the soldier who had protected them from the grenade.
Their uniforms were covered in blood from god knows who, were ripped in places, and stank of chemicals.
“I get that they can’t flood us, but what do we do now?”
“We can’t just run. We have to wear down the numbers of those monsters from the Northern Restricted Zone. To ensure the civil war drags on and causes a great depression for the Island Nation’s economy, we need to wear down the stronger side.”
“I’ve had enough. We can’t beat them. What do they eat anyway? Pure protein? Steroids?”
An Object had not even shown up and yet Heivia was already in full complaining mode, so the Moss Green PMC was clearly quite skilled.
Heivia contacted the other units by radio, but it seemed they had already received their baptism from Moss Green as well. None of them wanted a direct fight with them.
However, they could not leave enemy territory until someone produced some results.
That left deciding the loser by drawing lots.
“Moss Green will be heading down, right? That means we have to head down to fight them, but we’ll be wiped out if they flood the area. What are we supposed to do?”
“I have an idea.” Quenser sat with his back against the wall. “All the pumps here are electronic. The manual valves will only let a trickle out, so we don’t have to worry about them.”
“Are you saying we attack the power source? The Ame-no-Darin is shaped like a ship’s wheel. In addition to the central power source, it has secondary power sources in each of the twelve spokes. Do you really think we can wander around such a huge facility and destroy all of them? If we could, we wouldn’t be in so much trouble right now.”
“We only need to take out one.”
“They’ll just switch to another power source.”
“Normally, yes.” Quenser grinned. “Think about the handheld game systems popular in the safe countries. They have two power sources: the AC plug and the DC battery. If you repeatedly insert and remove the plug a whole bunch, it can cause an error in the power source switching process and the entire system will die. But it might wipe out your save data, so I don’t recommend trying it yourself.”
“And you want to try that in a legit war?”
“There’s no better answer for us right now. We want to stop them from sinking this thing and we want the war to continue, so we can’t completely destroy their power source. If we did that, the war would be over.”
Hearing that, Heivia glanced over at the other surviving soldiers.
None of them shouted support, but no one spoke up in protest either. They likely wanted the correct answer whatever it might be.
Heivia clicked his tongue.
“If no one has any other ideas, we’ll have to go with that. If we hang around here, we’ll just end up cornered. It’s kill or be killed.”
“Where’s the closest power source?”
“The sixth secondary power supply is three hundred meters ahead.”
After eating some tasteless soap-like rations and drinking from their water bottles, the group started walking toward the sixth secondary power supply with guns in hand once more.
Because they had risen above the waterline, one wall was covered in windows. The cold gray ocean spread out beyond the glass and what looked like an embankment was visible two or three kilometers away. That was likely one of the harbor blocks sticking out from the center just like the one they were on.
As soon as Quenser turned toward it, someone strongly grabbed his shoulders from behind.
Heivia tackled him to the shiny white floor and a high-pitched sound rang out a moment later.
At first, he did not know what had happened.
It was only when he heard the gunshot that he finally realized it was a sniper.
“Get down, you idiots! Get down!!”
As Heivia shouted, his follow soldiers frantically dove to the floor.
Quenser moved just his eyes to look at the window. It only contained a small hole and crack as if the tip of an umbrella had pierced it. The rifle bullet had been travelling so quickly that it had passed through the glass before the force of the impact could propagate.
“How did you notice that!?”
“My rifle’s passive sensors just happened to pick something up. He’s using microwaves that react to motion! It’s a necessary item when doing long-distance sniping without a spotter!!”
A few of their allies held up their assault rifles while crouching down. They connected a line between the hole in the glass and the hole on the opposite wall and they followed that to determine where the sniper had fired from.
But Heivia spoke up from the floor.
“Don’t try it. He’ll have already moved and you couldn’t reach him without anti-materiel rifles anyway. If he’s using microwaves, he’s the type that shoots and runs. If he’s set the equipment somewhere else and is linked to it through his radio, that won’t tell us anything either. If you pop up to fire back, he’ll just shoot you from his next point!”
“How about we continue on along the floor?” asked Quenser. “If we stay below the windows, the walls will protect us.”
“I’d love to, but do you have any guarantee he isn’t using an anti-materiel rifle? And if he pulls out a missile or Gatling gun, he can rip us and the walls to pieces.”
It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
That was the honest opinion of the ace pilot girl of Sky Blue Inc., a Capitalist Corporations aerial PMC. She surrendered herself to the hard rock loudly playing from the smartphone she had brought into the cockpit.
The blue sky beyond the clear canopy was interrupted by several streams of black smoke, but the losses were not from her side. The Legitimacy Kingdom warships were being set ablaze one after another.
It would not have been this easy in the Northern Restricted Zone where she normally fought. The powerful long-time fighters of those never-ending death-filled battlefields did not rely on Objects. They would have seen right through this disturbance tactic and used manual targeting to swat down the bothersome flies. Destroying a heavy cruiser with just a handful of aircraft was worth a hero’s medal, so the girl found it almost disturbing that they were about to reach double digits so easily.
(The company ordered me to score some points here, but I guess this is what it’s like in the outside world. The only way to die on this battlefield is falling asleep because it’s so boring.)
She gave instructions to her colleagues over the radio.
She could see their next target.
It was a small aircraft carrier used as a flagship. To distribute the risk, there were a few identical ships in the fleet, but the thickness of the defensive barrages made it immediately obvious which was the flagship.
“Ice Girl 1 to Ice Unit. On my signal, perform a unified attack on the aircraft carrier’s bridge. Attack from the top to throw the bottom into chaos. And if I’m correct, that ship is connected to the Object. Hopefully the panic will spread to the star of the battlefield.”
The ship’s Gatling gun close-in weapon system began firing once they arrived within 100 meters, but a few thousand shots a minute was not enough to eat into their fighters. The bullets simply travelled across the ocean and tore into the neighboring ship.
Ice Girl 1 flew on through.
She even looked through the thick bulletproof glass and saw a silver-haired woman who appeared to be the commander. The woman was staring quietly at her.
But Ice Girl 1 did not care.
Her thumb gently stroked the button on top of the stick that fired a missile.
The pack of wolves would crush the head of the fattened herbivore.
But something happened just before that.
“CT to Ice Unit! Defense Charlie detected at nine o’clock. I repeat, an AAM Defense Charlie detected at nine o’clock!! Cancel it ASAP!!”
There had been no missile alert.
Or rather, there were so many meaningless targeting signals coming from the surrounding ships that she had not noticed this sudden intruder.
After Ice Girl 1 gave instructions to the others, they stopped attacking and took scattered evasive actions. The four fighters split into groups of two and flew past either side of the bridge at tremendous speed. The supposedly bulletproof windows shattered, but the aces did not have time to check on that.
“Ice Girl 1 to CT! Cancel confirmed! #4 was hit by some fragments, but it’s still active!!”
“There was no targeting signal just before it fired. The enemy is likely using visual identification. It’s using semi-active targeting and the pilot seems to be directly targeting you by sight!!”
In that instant, Ice Girl 1 felt a chill run along her spine.
It did not come from fear.
It did not come from unease.
It did not come from terror.
The vector of this emotion was in the exact opposite direction.
“Here it comes.”
The girl named Mariydi Whitewitch smiled fiercely.
“Something’s coming and it lives in the same world as us! Ice Unit, remember the real battlefield. The practice run ends here!!”
A moment later, someone sent out a transmission on an open and unencrypted band.
“Don’t grin like that with a job this boring. I’m sure you’re getting tired of tripping up those who have grown rusty thanks to the Objects. How about you let another ace pilot join you in this outdated sky, Ice Girl of the Capitalist Corporations.”
The man’s pretentious manner of speech reminded Ice Girl 1 of a certain fact.
The Legitimacy Kingdom had their own ace. While she and her colleagues stuffed everything necessary to fly into a human shell, this pilot flew a delta-wing fighter that looked like a beautiful sword and was created by removing all but the absolute necessities from the flying machine. He was a steel grim reaper who supposedly preferred using inconvenient semi-active targeting and would occasionally toy with the enemy fighters by “redoing the targeting” of missiles that flew off in the wrong direction.