It was July in the middle of the desert in the Central American Rio Grande District. Below a blazing sun that would have fit in right alongside cacti and cowboy hats, the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was faced with an unprecedented danger.
“As the independent Black Uniform unit, we will now meld an unscheduled inspection! All members of the 37th must follow our instructions regardless of rank!!”
It was absolute chaos.
The Black Uniforms were an independent unit with special privileges. Their primary mission was to police the troops. In other words, they performed investigations, made reports, and supplied punishments to ensure the Legitimacy Kingdom units deployed around the world did not go on a rampage or secretly commit war crimes.
They were of course frightening. Incredibly frightening.
That was hardly surprising when they carried guns filled with bullets meant for their allies, not the enemy.
Quenser and Heivia’s maintenance base zone was a collection of over one hundred large vehicles, but shouts, screams, sobs, and lawyer-like arguments blended together in the barracks where the soldiers lived.
“Nooo!! I can’t sleep without Honey the Bear! It has a major effect on my combat readiness, so you should actually pay for it!!”
“Not a chance. Confiscated.”
“Wait, wait. This may look like the latest handheld gaming system, but the electronic simulation division is constantly researching terrorist equipment made by modifying civilian devices to develop countermeasures. If you check the special addition to Article 30 Line 2 of the regulations-…”
“Ahhh, wait! I’ll give up on everything under the bed, but please don’t check above the ceiling!!”
“Why do these people have so many personal items!? And what is this!? Who filled this gun’s control chip with access keys to strip chats!? This is military property!!”
In the middle of it all, Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage looked like a deadbeat husband trying to stop his wife from leaving after she handed him divorce papers. Atop the scorching desert sand, he clung to the waist of a young woman with glasses, short blonde hair, and giant breasts. The size of her breasts must have been a sign of how well-behaved she was!
His face was of course covered in tears and snot.
“C’moooooon! Don’t be like that. Surely you can let this much slide!! Right, miss!?”
“No, no, no! B-besides, why do you have so many massagers!? It’s indecent!!”
“Ehhh? They’re just health devices. If they look inappropriate to you, I think that’s a sign of your own dirty mind. Grin, grin. Does that mean you know of an indecent way of using these things? Smirk, smirk.”
“Noooo!! Wait! Tits! Hear me out, miss! Tits! I have a legit reason to have these! Tits!!”
“Where do you think you’re shoving your face!? Do you want me to add lack of respect to your list of offenses!? Do you want to spend the night in a cell!?”
“Ehhh? Spend a night in a cell? With you?”
“Why would-… Why would I spend a night locked up with you!?”
“Heh. They do say the summer sun can lead people to dangerous love affairs. What’s wrong with spending some time together in a cramped space? Don’t worry. I’m down with being on the top or the bottom.”
“Major Capistrano! I would like to request a drug test!! His language is a complete mess and I cannot make heads or tails of what he’s trying to say. Are you sure he’s okay!?”
Busty and silver-haired Frolaytia Capistrano lightly scratched her head with a long, skinny kiseru in her mouth while she leaned against a metal container placed on the sand.
“That guy can see angels when completely sober, so there’s nothing you can do.”
“Major, you aren’t much better. Don’t try to distract me with that clean and upright atmosphere.”
Frolaytia’s love of the Island Nation was well-known within the battalion, so Quenser wondered if her collection would be confiscated too.
“This is an issue of authority, lieutenant. I’m willing to grant the Black Uniforms their independence, but you must also respect my right to secrecy as an officer who remotely commands multiple units and their Pilot Elites. Simply put, stay out of my room.”
“Noooo fairrrrrr! Why do you get the only safe space!? And if you knew this inspection was coming, why didn’t you hide our things in there too!?”
Quenser’s eyes opened wide, but then something unbelievable happened.
The Black Uniform woman recklessly snatched Frolatyia’s kiseru from her mouth.
“I will keep out of your room as asked, but nothing is stopping me outside of that space. I will be confiscating this, major.”
The busty commander replied quite charmingly with an indescribable smile.
“Do you want me to ***** your ***** all the way to the back of your *****, you *****?”
“Threats will get you nowhere. Confiscated☆”
Even if it was unscheduled, why was such a large scale inspection being carried out now? Quenser asked and his busty commander answered.
“A carefree noble from a safe country is apparently making a surprise visit, so we’re getting all cleaned up so they won’t see anything that might offend them.”
“Talk about a nuisance! And how is it a surprise visit if we know it’s coming!?”
“Who was it again? Oh, right. Some girl known as the Blue Rose of Winchell.”
“I’m going to kill Heivia!!”
Pissed, Quenser looked around with killer intent in his eyes (and while still clinging to the young woman). Word must have already gotten around because Private Heivia Winchell was being ganged up on by several other soldiers.
The noble boy tried to explain himself.
“I’m telling you, this has nothing to do with me! B-besides, the Blue Rose? With a flower in the name, it’s obviously a girl, but I don’t even know her name. She’s some sister several places or even a dozen or so places down the line from me! This is as much trouble for me as for you!!”
“This guy has more little sisters than he can count and he has the nerve to call it ‘trouble’!? This is worse than that legend from the Island Nation who had a dozen little sisters!!”
“Death to the bourgeois who have grown fat in this age of plenty!!”
Blows could be heard landing and the short-haired blonde glasses woman managed to remove Quenser from her waist. She was blushing a little and she raised her index finger in front of her face in scolding gesture.
“Anyway! We will be taking away all items that are not mission essential. No excuses! Goodbye!!”
After straightening her back in a salute, the frustrated young lady left with her butt wiggling back and forth inside her tight skirt. Frolaytia spoke to Quenser who had collapsed to the scorching desert sand.
“You got awfully close to that Black Uniform, but I assume you had a reason.”
She grinned and Quenser gave a wicked smile in return.
He tossed up the handheld device hidden in his palm.
“With some help from the electronic simulation division, I successfully stole the data using a contactless transmission. I’ve located the planned storage site of the confiscated items. If we can swap out the items before they write up their list, they’ll be happy with a pile of worthless junk.”
“Very good then. …That kiseru used the Island Nation’s Wajima lacquer. I’m not losing it to some little girl with no eye for value.”
With that irritated comment, she knocked on the door of the container behind her.
The contents avalanched out. It was packed full of cheap folk crafts of unknown use that had likely been bought at local souvenir shops.
“When I heard an inspection was coming, I wanted some insurance just in case. Now, time for Round 2, Quenser.”
“This is scary. That busty commander makes for one hell of an ally when she’s actually on your side.”
Quenser Barbotage began his unofficial mission. He used the stolen data on his handheld device to approach a cluster of tents in one corner of the maintenance base zone. The tents were large, like circus tents. They were lined up like harbor warehouses, but he accurately pinpointed one of them and peeked inside while pressing up against the wall and wondering if that actually made him stand out more. Then he snuck inside.
The warehouse seemed to have originally contained components for the vehicles making up the base. There had been a lot of spare space so that the components could be taken out at any time, but those calculated gaps were now filled with confiscated personal items.
He thought back to what Major Frolaytia Capistrano had told him.
“Since we’re out in the blazing sun in July and the Gulf of Mexico is so nearby, I was honestly thinking of giving us all a break at the beach once we completed our mission. But I guess I’ll have to cancel those plans now that all of our swimsuits were taken away. It really is a shame.”
(Curse you, Black Uniform!! Don’t think you can get away with everything just because you wear intellectual glasses and have giant tits! I’ll make sure to get your email address later!!)
Quenser’s heart burned with (supposedly) righteous anger as he used his handheld device’s map to jot down the general location of the personal items. Once he was done, a unit with a cargo cart would show up. He had to remove a few of the tent’s stakes, secretly invite them in, and then replace the real personal items with the container’s worth of decoy folk crafts.
It was a race against time, but he wanted to check for Black Uniform patrols, cameras, or IR sensors.
They could not fool the Black Uniforms unless they pulled off their magic trick before a list of the items was made.
He heard a female voice that sounded out of place in the tense atmosphere of the tent warehouse.
He doubted an unrelated soldier had just so happened to come here, so it had to be a Black Uniform. Quenser knew nothing about infiltration, so he pointlessly crouched down and checked on the situation.
The student peered out from behind a giant metal rack.
“Ahhh. It’s so hot today.”
It was a Black Uniform.
Specifically, it was the young woman with glasses, short blond hair, and giant breasts.
She may have had a habit of speaking her thoughts aloud when she was alone. Even if the tent was larger than a school building, she must have still thought of it as “indoors”. He could not deny the possibility that she was the type to talk to the TV while she ate dinner. Regardless, she was completely defenseless here.
But something was strange. Even if she thought no one else was around, he could not figure out why she would be stripping off her black uniform and its tight skirt. A cutesy and frilly pink one-piece swimsuit was revealed below.
And she was not done there.
It may have belonged to someone in the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion, but she used a hose to fill a round inflatable pool and then she sat down in it. Her long legs could not fit and had to stick outside the plastic edge. She acted like she was relaxing in a bubble bath at home and a waterproof bath TV must have been floating in the water. He could hear the sound of the broadcast picked up from the Capitalist Corporations.
“…and for the aforementioned reasons, the stockholder meetings for 7th Core, the seven corporations ruling our home country, are filled with lively debate over the so-called Home Treatment Proposal. Pressure from the related agencies has shown signs of relaxing the standards, but some experts have indicated fears that it will increase the burden on the patient…”
The topic on the TV was oddly serious, but it still excited Quenser because it too was a sign of that well-behaved young lady’s private side being defenselessly exposed.
What happened next clinched it. As she relaxed in the pool, she held up something familiar. It was one of the massagers she had taken from Quenser earlier.
(Dammit. I was trying to make an experimental naval destruction device by lining them up along the aquarium wall, but she had to ruin everything. …Wait, what is she doing?)
“Hm? Is this how you do it? You hit this switch and…ah!?”
She hesitantly pressed it to her shoulder and her finger seemed to touch the switch. It vibrated more than she had expected, so her shoulders jumped and she dropped it.
She stared at it for a bit and tried again.
“I never knew these were so amazing… Oh, ohhhhhhh. I see. Ohhhhhhhh. So you go like this, and…ahhh…”
The young woman who had traded her Black Uniform for a pink swimsuit gradually got used to the massager as she held it to her shoulder, relaxed her entire body, and sank into the plastic pool. She rested her head on the edge of the pool and stared blankly up at the ceiling.
As you might have guessed, a whispering voice grew at an explosive rate inside Quenser Barbotage’s mind.
(What should I do? What do I do now!? This well-behaved Black Uniform’s eyes are beginning to wander as she opens the door to a brand new world, but do I give her a hands-on lecture or do I adore her ignorance from afar? I can’t decide!!!!!)
To be clear, this place had temporarily been setup as the Black Uniforms’ personal space, so even a student would be in serious trouble if discovered inside. And if it was found out he was plotting to retrieve their confiscated items, he could not possibly avoid being disciplined.
So he used all his willpower to break free of this honey trap and made the right decision to complete the retrieval mission given to him by Frolaytia.
“Oh, whoops. I need to get that list made.”
She had said it.
That blonde young woman had said it.
Quenser had to swap out the confiscated items with the decoy items before that list was made.
If the list was made ahead of time, their plan would end in failure.
That meant he had to do whatever it took to prevent that list’s completion!
That gave him the justification he needed.
The boy would later describe as if it were a part of his memoirs:
That was when I could no longer restrain the demon growing inside my chest.
“Geh heh heh!! Looks like you’re enjoying yourself there, Miss Black Uniform!! I never thought you’d be using someone’s confiscated possessions to have such a nice relaxing time in here!!”
“Eh? Eh? Ah…hyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
“You fool. Crossing your hands now isn’t enough to hide those giant tits!! And if you want me to keep quiet about this, you’re going to help me with a few things, Miss Relaxation! Oh, this is so much fun. There’s something wrong with having such a straight-laced young lady only able to say ‘yes’ or ‘of course’! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“Wh-why are you even here!? We have used our special privileges to temporarily make this a protected zone, so if I report you-…!!”
“Ohhh? You talk big for someone in a swimsuit. You must have been looking forward to this. Were you wearing that swimsuit under your uniform? Are you a child? Were you that excited about going to the beach?”
“But do the uniform rules say anything about allowing that? I don’t remember seeing anything about wearing a frilly pink swimsuit underneath the uniform. Hmm? Does that mean you were breaking military regulations by bringing your own personal items here? But surely one of the well-behaved Black Uniforms wouldn’t do that.”
“What does a dog say?”
“Heh heh heh Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
That bout of information warfare was continuing below the surface, but…
“Today’s mission is to rescue a Legitimacy Kingdom transport plane that was shot down by the Capitalist Corporations.”
Frolaytia feigned ignorance while briefing her troops in the meeting room.
She gently waved her kiseru around as if to show it off to everyone, but the Black Uniforms mixed in with the others did not notice. That was proof that they had successfully swapped out the warehouse contents before the list was completed.
“The mission itself is simple. Travel to the site of the crash and rescue the crew if they’re still alive or retrieve the bodies if they’re not. That’s all. The problem is where it is.”
She projected a map onto the white wall behind her. It was the region just south of North America that bordered the Gulf of Mexico.
“As you know, North America is a hot zone with the Capitalist Corporations’ home country to the west and the Information Alliance’s to the east. The Central American Rio Grande District here is the entrance to both those world powers. The vast desert is the site of a territorial dispute between the two, so for over thirty years, throwing an empty can there could easily trigger a war.”
And then a Legitimacy Kingdom transport plane had crashed in that desert.
But why had it been flying somewhere so dangerous?
“A large-scale demilitarized zone exists down the center of North America to divide the Capitalist Corporations on the west and the Information Alliance on the east. It’s known as the Greater Canyon and it’s a two hundred kilometer wide blank zone cutting north to south through the center of North America. …Since the two armies are too busy glaring at each other to do anything, it also acts as a silk road for a wide variety of people, but someone must have been in a particularly bad mood this time.”
“You mean the Legitimacy Kingdom transport plane was trying to cut across North America using that silk road, but it messed up and was shot down in the Central American entrance?”
Quenser summed up the issue and Frolaytia nodded.
“Where it crashed is also a problem. Water is very important in a desert and it crashed right on top of an oasis. That’s right in the center of the territorial dispute. Both the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance will try to interfere if we go to rescue the plane’s crew.”
“If they’re gonna insist they have authority there, then they need to rescue anyone that’s crashed there, dammit,” complained Heivia who was bruised and swollen all over.
Frolaytia ignored him and continued.
“We will send out the Baby Magnum, but as I said, the main countries of the Capitalist Corporations and Information Alliance are just north of here. That means we’ll be overpowered if it comes to a serious fight. We only have to settle the transport plane issue. I repeat, do not think about fighting and winning. Poking at the hornet’s nest will only call in an inexhaustible supply of enemy reinforcements.”
Next, the Black Uniform with glasses and short blonde hair stepped up onto the platform.
She had of course changed from her pink swimsuit to her tight skirt uniform.
She spoke flawlessly as if the “previous incident” had never happened.
“Attention, everyone. I am Lieutenant Meena Stinger of Special Platoon 15.”
She gave the bare minimum of an introduction.
“This mission is not protected by any official treaties, but we have been told even the Legitimacy Kingdom home country is watching because an implicit agreement has been broken. And as a Black Uniform that enforces the rules of the battlefield, I am very worried about any moral hazards that may cross a line, either internally or externally. …In other words, I would like to bring an end to this chaos.”
“Lady, what exactly are you saying?”
When Quenser spoke to her, her shoulders jumped and she cleared her throat to regain her train of thought.
“Enjoy this daytrip and be back tonight. This is a simple mission as always, but the location is a tricky one. As we are asking this of you, we will not leave you empty-handed. The Special 15th will lend you as much personnel as we can. The oasis in question is at the center of an endless back-and-forth territorial dispute between the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance. We expect it will be much more heavily equipped than it appears. Of most concern…”
Meena paused before continuing.
“…are the reports of landmines. Be very careful.”
Period 1 of hell had begun.
The potatoes of the Legitimacy Kingdom were crawling below the blazing sun and the scorching sand that reached temperatures exceeding sixty degrees Celsius. There were more than three hundred of them. Every last one of them was dripping with unpleasant sweat, some were aiming handgun-shaped sensors toward the ground, and others were slowly sticking knives into the sand to carefully retrieve can-sized pieces of metal.
Heivia tossed one to the side and spat out a complaint.
“All that worry and it’s an empty can? I don’t want it to be a real one, so why do I feel so disappointed!? There are decoys buried all over the place, but the next one could be the real deal. I can’t believe they would do this!!”
“It’s better than having real landmines all over the place, right? And getting angry is only going to make you overlook a real one.”
“And it’s a can for beef stew! They even get good food!!”
“Watch the anger.”
Quenser was just as fed up with the situation.
They were more than one thousand meters from the oasis. The tall sunflower field blooming unnaturally in the desert was already visible in the distance, but the Legitimacy Kingdom troops were moving at a snail’s pace and they never seemed to get any closer.
Plus, they were more than just sandwiched between the scorching sun and sand. Every time they heard the beeping of a metal detector, they were assaulted by enough tension to feel like an invisible stake in the heart. In all serious, it felt like they had been crawling along for over a week.
“Don’t let your guard down just because there are empty cans everywhere. You heard what the Black Uniforms said, right? There are an estimated thirty thousand mines around here. It’s a flower garden of landmines. Carelessly step on one and you’ll set off a fireworks festival at ground level.”
One of those well-behaved Black Uniforms was already melting into the desert a short distance away. They usually investigated war crimes in the maintenance base, so she was not used to being out on the battlefield. Her trademark black uniform seemed downright suicidal in the July desert. Quenser was impressed that she did not strip it off like in the North Wind and the Sun.
He was whispering his assessment while looking over at the long black-haired young woman with an exposed forehead who was likely one of Meena’s subordinates.
For some voluntary help in the ESP research rumored to be a top secret military experiment, he focused on her defenseless chest to see if he could develop X-ray vision. Really, he was just staring intently at the yellow bra showing through her sweaty blouse.
“Lemon yellow, huh? And a size-enhancing bra? …I guess not all of those well-behaved Black Uniforms have giant tits.”
“You’re scaring me. I don’t know anyone else who could say that kind of thing about a woman with the right to kill her allies.”
That said, the two idiots knew perfectly well why the flat-chested Black Uniform was so annoyed.
They too had been crawling across the scorching sand at a snail’s pace.
It was all thanks to those mines buried everywhere.
“Why would they use so damn many of them? Were they trying to use up some extra inventory or something? Have they forgotten anyone gets blown up just the same if they step on these things?”
“These are smart mines, Heivia. They have a safety that picks up their allies’ IC signal, so they feel perfectly safe scattering them everywhere. I saw on a news site that these things have passed the assault rifle to become the most common weapon on the battlefield.”
“Are you serious?” Heivia looked around while still lying on the ground. “Then what are those rusty trucks and armored vehicles I can see all over the place? They were clearly blown up by the mines.”
“They’re about as reliable as the shoplifting alarms at the entrance of a store, unfortunately.”
An irregular rumbling reached them from the distance. The Baby Magnum was probably in an exciting clash with the Capitalist Corporations Second Generation Antlion.
“Besides, this isn’t how people break through a minefield these days. Why can’t we send a downpour of shellfire this way to blow up the entire minefield and then cross safely after the fact?”
“Have you forgotten that this is the entrance to the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance and that poking at the hornet’s nest will only summon an unending supply of reinforcements? The Princess is gathering the worker bees’ attention over there, so we can’t trigger a huge explosion over here.”
Quenser pulled a card from what looked like a deck of playing cards and placed it on top of the desert sand. It was a marker that reflected radio signals and connecting those dots would reveal a safe route without any mines.
“If these are high-tech mines, then can’t we sit back and get a nice tan while we wait for the batteries to die?”
“They apparently generate their own power from the desert’s heat, so they can keep running indefinitely.”
After setting down a decent number of markers, Quenser and Heivia took a break behind a sand dune while the others followed along the safe zone they had created. Clearing mines wore at one’s nerves, so they made progress by taking turns and giving each other short breaks.
However, the group for the next shift was dressed oddly.
“What the hell? Are those powered suits?”
“They’re bomb squad equipment,” said one of them. “We remembered they were gathering dust in storage, so we just dug them out.”
“Damn that busty commander! I swear I’m going to give her such a groping!!”
“Are you all okay wearing those suits out in this blazing sun? I feel like I’m going to get heatstroke just looking at you.”
“That’s why we’re covered in cooling patches. It’s so much I’m a little afraid we’re going to be too cold.”
The hunks of metal crossed the sand dune.
Quenser could only curse Frolaytia for leaving them poorly-equipped and only able to clear the mines by hand, but he guessed they could probably borrow the powered suits for their next shift. His radio conveyed the cheerful conversation of the group protected by the thick armor.
“Found a mine.”
“That was fast. Good, good. …This is the fuse here. Now let’s transform this into a lovely tray even a waitress would be comfortable using.”
Heivia took a sip of his water bottle.
“Disarming bombs sure is easy. All you have to do is grab and twist the bottom of the fuse with some pliers.”
“That’s because the puzzle-like detonators in dramas are completely unnecessary. They just get in the way if you want to remove the bomb yourself. That can happen if one fails to detonate or the situation changes, so only criminals who just have to leave them can make puzzles out of them.”
The powered suit group continued speaking over the radio.
“Dig up the sand around it. We need to see if there are any wires connecting elsewhere.”
“All checked. Lift this one up and it won’t go off.”
“Hm?” said Quenser with a frown.
Then he paled.
“Wait, you idiot! It isn’t that simp-…!!”
He did not have time to yell into the radio.
There was an explosion beyond the sand dune and the wall of sand itself crumbled like a landslide.
Even behind cover, Quenser and Heivia had the breath knocked out of them when the blast struck their backs. A little further away, the (flat-chested) black-haired exposed-forehead Black Uniform was flipped over with her legs spread, so her shapely butt was sticking up into the air.
Quenser covered his face with a hand.
“Damn, so her panties were sky blue. You mean the bra and panties don’t match!?”
“That’s not the issue here and why do I have to be the straight man!?”
The two idiots coughed and peered over the new shape of the sand dune. A portion of the desert had become a crater and the powered suits were squirming about quite energetically.
“What was that? Didn’t they say they’d removed the fuse!?”
“There was another mine buried below that one. That’s what happens if you let your guard down!”
However, the detonation of the mine was not what mattered.
The sound of the blast had reached the oasis protected by those countless smart mines.
“The Capitalist Corporations’ border patrol is going to respond to that!”
They had poked the hornet’s nest.
Continuing to crawl along quietly would be the same as waiting for death. The military force at the oasis would be coming and it was also possible a Second Generation guarding the home country would get off its butt to deal with them.
In other words, they needed to settle this quickly.
They swiftly sent a report back to the maintenance base zone and their plan was changed.
“Brave pyramid-building slaves, if you don’t want to be trampled underfoot by your own allies, then get out of the way!”
When they heard that announcement over the radio, Quenser and Heivia rapidly rolled to the side. Several armored trucks with bulldozer-like shovels on the front drove past. They scraped a bit into the sand to intentionally detonate the mines and clear a route.
But the oasis did not sit idly by.
Again and again, they heard the sounds of compressed air being released.
Narrow trails of smoke flew in long arcs and stabbed into the top of the armored trucks.
After a tremendous explosion, the scorched masses of metal flew up into the air.
Weak-kneed Heivia complained loudly about the unfairness of the world.
“Can you really call those mines!?”
“They’re top-attack weapons that target the top of a tank. There are landmines that are fired up from a thicket when a sensor detects something and then fall back down on the target. This is just a broad interpretation of that concept!!”
“We saw this coming,” someone said over the radio. “Those armored trucks are unmanned and remote controlled. Don’t think about rescuing them. Continue along the already cleared route to reduce our losses as much as possible. No matter how good their mines are, they only have a limited number. We’ll trample them all underfoot!!”
Several more vain explosions sounded.
Still, if this continued, the minefield did seem like it would run out of mines.
Quenser and Heivia plugged their ears and breathed slowly, but then things changed.
They heard a few noises much like the fireworks that signaled the beginning of an athletic festival.
Narrow trails of smoke passed over their heads and exploded in midair.
Then a total of several hundred devices fell down while spinning like bamboo copters.
Needless to say, they were additional smart mines.
If the wind blew just a little, they would probably vanish below the sand.
“Could this get any worse?”
The two idiots had to complain.
All their effort over the past several hours had been reduced to nothing, plus their escape route had been cut off.
Inside the Baby Magnum’s cockpit, the Princess was irritated.
For once, her role was not to defeat an Object or to win a battle. This was the entrance to the home countries of the Capitalist Corporations and the Information Alliance, so the enemy was simply too powerful for that. The more she stood out, the more enemy reinforcements she would summon. Even the extraordinary firepower of an Object was no exception there.
She had to get close but not too close.
She was shaking up the Second Generation guarding the oasis and maintaining a stalemate. She had to keep the situation stable and unchanging and that perfect balance was her top priority.
This was of course a necessary role.
If the enemy Object ignored the Baby Magnum and focused on its surroundings, the hundreds of infantry crawling along the minefield would be blown to Valhalla in no time. The soldiers could not have appreciated anything more than having the enemy Object kept far away from them.
She understood that, but that was not the same as liking it.
(I want to go help Quenser and the others already.)
An Object could take a nuclear blast, so it could clear a minefield in an instant just by moving across it. That was the simplest solution, so it was wrong for the flesh-and-blood soldiers to be sweating bullets and risking their lives clearing the mines.
But despite her thoughts…
“Princess, leave your thinking until later. Maintaining that balance is what matters now. In a way, you need to view this mission as even more difficult than normal.”
She focused on the battle again.
The Capitalist Corporations Second Generation was known as the Antlion. As its name suggested, it was specialized for combat in the desert. In addition to the static electricity float directly below the spherical body, it had four arms attached to the top. They drove thick stakes into the soft sand to grab at the ground and pull the main body along for powerful short dashes in any direction.
But something else left the biggest impression.
In addition to a rapid-fire beam main cannon on the right, it scattered a hail of something from the left.
The Princess took high-speed evasive action while opening a new window for analysis. The projectiles seemed to be tripods several meters long. They were a single spear when fired, but they would open up in midair so they could set themselves up on the ground. They looked something like the pyramid-shaped barricades made of metal bars that prevented parachute descents.
Then something changed.
There was movement, but not from the Baby Magnum or the Antlion. Everything else moved. The sea of sand making up the entire landscape undulated like a living creature. It looked like an area of several kilometers had suddenly turned to quicksand.
Again, the Object’s name was the Antlion.
“We saw that in the control room too,” said Frolaytia. “That’s its unique form of artificial quicksand!!”
“Unknown devices spotted. They’re probably antenna rods used for resonance. I have also detected some very high power HF waves. Unless it’s making sonar-like acoustic scans, it must be vibrating the rods to shake the sand.”
But the Princess was unsure what that mattered as she continued her high-speed battle.
Whether it used static electricity or an air cushion, Objects floated in the air. Even intense quicksand would not swallow them up or even obstruct their movement. This would probably be more frightening than a stormy sea to infantry or tanks, but was it really any use in an Object vs. Object battle?
But just as she was thinking that, something exploded right below the Baby Magnum.
Nothing had been fired at her, but she could see new devices in previously empty parts of the wriggling sand. The spherical protrusions were as large as fighter aircraft and they rose and sank within the wriggling desert like a fishing float in the waves. There was no way she would have overlooked them. Which meant…
“Princess, those are mines! The quicksand must have pulled up the equipment they had hidden deep underground!”
“I know that.”
Of course, no matter how effective the explosive inside, the mines could not destroy the Baby Magnum. Not even the ultimate nuclear landmine could do that. Objects were built to survive a nuclear attack from any direction, so that was only natural.
But whether it used static electricity or an air cushion, the field that kept the fifty meter two hundred thousand ton Object afloat was delicate. Having a large explosion mess with the repellant was not exactly a good thing.
Even if it was only for a fraction of a second, an opening was an opening.
(Here it comes!!)
The Princess saw the Antlion’s main cannon blast coming from the movements of the cannon itself and its targeting lenses. She immediately moved her Object far to the right. All the while, the shape of the desert was changing.
An intense cannon blast followed, but she was on a course out of the way.
Nevertheless, the electron beam cannon bent in midair like a snake.
This was entirely unexpected. Time seemed to slow to a stop like when about to collide with an oncoming truck. She instantly figured it out. Electron beams were easily influenced by magnetism. Before firing its main cannon, the Antlion had created artificial quicksand using multiple ultrasonic resonance rods. Targeting her with landmines would be useless.
So what was the true purpose of creating the quicksand?
(Some iron sand was arranged systematically along the surface like a magic circle.)
The Princess gulped.
(And that iron sand cut off or guided the earth’s magnetic field so the electron beam would bend on its own!?)
The speed of time returned to normal.
A dreadful blast of fire rushed toward the Baby Magnum.
She could not dodge in time.
The heated onion armor on the left side was peeled up like a giant flower and a storm of alarms filled the cockpit.
Moving ahead meant mines and falling back meant mines.
However, they could not sit tight in the middle of the battlefield either.
The Capitalist Corporations forces protecting the oasis where the transport plane had crashed had bared their fangs and the Legitimacy Kingdom was sending in more and more unmanned trucks with shovels on the front.
They could sense the danger just by standing there.
The trucks were fine no matter how many explosions they were caught in, but the mines scattered shrapnel every which way. The cans that were fired a few meters up by springs before exploding were the worst. One of them would scatter small metal balls within a radius of one hundred meters. Every single part of the situation only made it worse. The only welcome aspect was the seductive tears in the (flat-chested) black-haired exposed-forehead Black Uniform’s stockings.
Heivia lay on the sand and covered the back of his head with his hands while shouting.
“Are you trying to kill us, you dumbasses!?”
“Get up, Heivia. Let’s keep going. This will only get worse otherwise.”
“This is no time to play the model soldier! Besides, they’re shooting a ton of missiles since we can’t use our Object’s anti-air lasers. They’ve already located us! If they wanted to, they could blow us up at any moment!!”
“I’m not so sure.” Quenser wiped sweat from his brow. “These are being controlled as a group. I said they were smart mines, right? They can check for the signal to find the layout of the mines and whether they’re alive or dead, so the mine-launching missiles are set to automatically fire where the distribution of mines is thinnest. The oasis is mostly protected by unmanned weapons and the human soldiers aren’t all that skilled. They haven’t actually located us.”
“Got any proof of that!?”
“They can’t use thermo when the desert’s hotter than our bodies and we can hide from anti-personnel radar behind the sand dunes. And most telling of all, we would have been slaughtered already if they knew where we were.”
That list of reassurances was enough for Heivia the sweaty coward to finally calm down. He took a sip of his water bottle’s lukewarm contents and slowly stood up.
“Whatever the case, this’ll never end if we don’t keep moving forward. Looks like this shitty road through hell is our only option.”
They traveled through the desert while doing their best to follow the path taken by the armored trucks. That would be safe until new smart mines rained down from the heavens.
Or it should have been.
Nevertheless, something was sticking up from the sand in front of them. The end of the metal pipe had a rotating sprayer attached. On a safe country golf course, they might have thought it was a sprinkler for the lawn.
But this was a battlefield.
Instead of agricultural water, it sprayed out something with an irritant odor included.
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance and took off running.
A full five seconds later, it happened.
A tremendous explosion filled one corner of the desert.
The mixture of naphtha and detergent ignited and the entire area was remade into a burning hell.
They had just barely made it.
The two idiots escaped beyond the puddle, fell to their butts, and crawled around to keep the embers from falling on them.
“What the hell was that!?”
“The history of flamethrowers is an old one. It goes all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. But modern flamethrowers are well-known for having a metal drum buried underground and spraying out when a faucet is turned.” Quenser slowly let out a breath. “In other words, it’s a landmine.”
“I don’t care about that. I do care about what we’re going to do about our uniforms. A single spark of static could set us on fire. Even my own gun’s muzzle flash could do me in.”
They settled on pouring their water bottles over their heads, but it was obviously not going to help much.
Quenser shook his head like a wet dog and noticed a square piece of concrete nearly buried in the scorching sand. This was the desert, so it would not be a manhole to the sewers. He approached, opened the metal door with both hands, and found a stairway leading down.
“Looks pretty amateur to me. This is the entrance to North America, so I bet it’s a drug smuggling tunnel dug by the mafia or a gang.”
An oddly chemical and unhealthy smell wafted out.
Something was lying on the ground inside: several corpses burned black. This was not the result of simply roasting them in a fire. There was some obviously chemical inflammation mixed in.
“That was white phosphorus. Not only do the flames roast the entire person, but breathing in the powder mixed in with the smoke gives them chemical burns. It must have been a real disaster for these ‘dealers’. There was nowhere to escape in this small tunnel.” Heivia sounded annoyed with it all. “But this underground tunnel could be useful. All the mines up top don’t mean a thing down here. It’d be great if there’s a branch of the tunnel leading toward the oasis.”
Quenser was nowhere near as optimistic.
A large drop of sweat dripped down his nose, but he forgot to wipe it away.
“Why are these bodies here?”
“What? Because the criminal organization was wiped out, right?”
“Then wouldn’t the people who burned them know about the tunnel too?” pointed out Quenser. “I don’t know whether it was the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance, but if they knew about this long tunnel under the desert, they could have reused it for a special type of mine.”
He did not have time to answer his awful friend.
He quickly turned around. He saw sand tossed up into the air as dozens of unmanned armored trucks arrived from the maintenance base zone. Quite a few soldiers would be approaching using the path the trucks cleared.
Quenser quickly shouted into his radio.
“This is bad… Really bad!! Stop your approach! You should be able to use vibration sensors or ultrasonic waves to tell where the tunnels are!!”
He received no response.
There was not enough time for one.
The explosives buried in the web of underground tunnels covering a total of 160 kilometers exploded all at once.
The belt-shaped explosion could apparently be seen even by civilian satellites.
Heaven and earth seemed to swap places, but Quenser immediately resisted the urge to get up.
The smell of smoke filled his chest.
He checked around and saw a wall of fire behind him. He could not tell how far it spread. The wall of fire stretched from horizon to horizon like a strike from a giant’s flaming sword.
“Cough, cough… What was it this time?”
“It was almost like a pipeline detonating. There’s probably a ten meter deep valley over there. Plus, we have no easy way of crossing that wall of fire.”
They were truly cut off now.
They were about four hundred meters from the wall of fire, but scorched hunks of metal were raining down on the desert.
“Here they come,” said Heivia as he stared through his rifle scope that was supported by a variety of sensors. “They’re apparently going around to mop up the groups that had their escape cut off by the wall of fire. They’re actually coming out from the oasis now!”
Quenser could see them too.
They were not human. Instead, they were bull-like silver robots made of military stainless steel. They had likely been developed to provide cover from bullets and to carry heavy weaponry like a golf caddy, but they now had cameras and heavy machineguns attached to their backs. The guns were bestsellers that could blast through a human heart from two thousand meters away and through a cement wall.
“Shit. Even if they can’t use thermo or radar, they’ll find us if they check behind every dune. I’m not about to die in a spray of 12.7mm bullets. They’d only have a popped water balloon to put in my coffin.”
Quenser fell silent and began checking through the burned metal scattered about. He grabbed a large radio that a communications soldier had likely been carrying on their back.
“Help me out, Heivia. Let’s destroy them with a quick research project.”
“How!? They’re robots, so they don’t have brains or hearts. Do you have any idea how many bullets we have to put in them before they’ll stop? And they can move freely through all the smart mines. They can move at 60 kph, so it’s all over once they spot us! Making any kind of move will either mean being blown apart by machinegun fire or a landmine!!”
“Listen.” Quenser tapped the large radio with the back of his hand. “Smart mines have a safety that distinguishes between enemy and ally using IC tags and radio signals, right? If we jam them, they won’t be able to tell who’s with the Capitalist Corporations. They assume the safety is working, so their own mines will blow up their robots. Let’s focus the signal on a single point like a parabolic antenna. Then we can reach them.”
Once they tried it, it proved surprisingly easy.
They modified the large radio’s antenna so they could essentially point an invisible searchlight wherever they wanted. When they pointed it at the ground below one of the bull-like four-legged robots, the desert would explode amusingly easily. Perhaps because they knew these were not humans, Quenser and Heivia showed no mercy. They detonated the ground below the bulls again and again.
“Wow, it’s just like a shooting game.”
“That second one from the right’s machinegun is broken. It was hit by the blast or the shrapnel. Let’s avoid finishing off the damaged ones. We don’t have to fear them if they can’t fire on us, so let’s draw them in as much as we can.”
“Once they approach, we can have them step on all the mines. That’ll give us a safe route.”
The bulls were as solid as one would expect of weapons placed on the border of their home country. The two idiots lured the few that had survived along a straight path and used the jamming to detonate more and more of the smart mines. They almost looked heroic.
The oasis was three hundred meters away.
At this point, charging into the enemy lines was better than sneaking around. Extra mine-launching missiles automatically fired from the oasis after detecting the lack of mines via radio, but Quenser and Heivia ignored them and rushed down the bulls’ path to the oasis.
Until, that is, something much more frightening interrupted.
It was the Antlion and the Baby Magnum.
The two Objects cut across the desert.
All of their assumptions were instantly blown away.
The mines were blown away like firecrackers below the Objects. The entire idea of a minefield was erased. The bulls that had just barely maintained their original forms were finally turned to scrap.
Meanwhile, a creaking came from the countless secondary cannons on one of the four arms the Antlion used to grab at the ground.
It was accurately targeting Quenser and Heivia, those bugs crawling along the ground.
The student’s throat dried up.
A moment later, light as pure white as welding stabbed into his eyes.
However, he felt no pain. In fact, the cannon fire had not come from the Antlion at all.
A few of the Antlion’s secondary cannons were torn away like melted candy.
Quenser knew only one person who could have done that.
He shouted into his radio, but the Baby Magnum was not unharmed. It must have taken a full main cannon hit because its left side had melted like ice cream. She still fired her anti-air lasers to say hi. They destroyed all of the mine-launching missiles meant to scatter smart mines from overhead. Meanwhile, the Antlion had lost its chance to fire. The two Objects left the battlefield and resumed their conflict in a different region of desert.
“This is no time to watch! Get running! If they fire a second or third wave, our safe route could be contaminated by mines!!”
This was their chance, so the two of them took off running.
They desperately calmed their panicking hearts and made their way to the oasis.
The desert was wide open, but they were not interrupted by sniper fire or machine gun barrages. The area really must have been focused on unmanned defenses. Either that or the heavy machineguns on the backs of those remote controlled bulls had been their prized weapons.
Fortunately, no more mine-launching missiles were fired.
They had likely decided they were meaningless with the Object around.
The two idiots dove into the sunflower field surrounding the oasis.
“This is terrible.”
The sunflowers were taller than Quenser and they were so thick they created a natural curtain. They had stepped in together, but he could no longer see Heivia.
“I can’t even see even two meters in front of me. Not even jungle battles are this bad.”
“Heivia. Hey, Heivia!”
The student quietly called for his awful friend, but the other boy’s voice only grew more distant.
They could still contact each other over the radio, but that would not help them meet back up since there were no landmarks. But he could not stay where he was, so he decided to continue toward the crashed plane that was their original objective.
It was stuffy and hot inside the sunflower field.
The humidity was unpleasantly high.
He parted the sunflowers on his own. The stalks had something like small hairs on them and they painfully scratched at his cheeks. He grimaced and then noticed the sinister silhouette of a scorpion at eye level on one stalk.
(Animal contamination!? Does that mean there are tons of spiders and snakes here too!?)
But he did not have time to be afraid of every little thing.
He heard a few gunshots muffled by a silencer. Quenser covered his mouth with his hands and crouched down on the spot. The bullets must have hit them because the leaves and stalks of nearby sunflowers were crushed, producing a grassy smell.
(A silencer? Dammit, Heivia didn’t have one of those!!)
He had let out a shout, but the enemy soldier had not shot him through the head or heart.
It was obvious what that meant.
(They’re nearby, but the barrier of moisture-filled sunflowers is deflecting their anti-personnel radar waves. They can only make a general guess at which direction to fire!!)
If he moved, the sound of parting the sunflowers would give away his position.
Just like the sounds he could hear moving right toward him.
His heart pounded in his chest and his mind focused on the Hand Axe plastic explosive in his backpack, but he would be caught in the blast too when this close. He thought for a bit and then reached for a pen-sized electric fuse in the pouch on his waist.
A moment later, unfamiliar boots stepped out thirty centimeters in front of him.
He felt dizzy.
He was only a student, so he could not defeat a strong soldier in close-quarters combat. The advantage of a surprise attack would barely matter. A knife being more powerful than a gun at close range was only true in the movies, so he did not have the guts to face that soldier who held a carbine.
That was why Quenser relied on something else.
He tossed the fuse over without using any explosive. He threw it to the base of a sunflower near the enemy rather than the enemy himself.
It was the one with a sinister scorpion on it.
He immediately hit the switch on his radio. A blast louder than a firecracker broke the stalk and the giant flower fell toward the enemy soldier’s face. As did the venomous stinger.
As the enemy soldier swung his arms and legs around and made a lot of noise, Quenser snuck past him while still crouching. He did not need to rush. Slowly moving through the sunflowers was best.
A moment later, he heard a metallic sound.
He felt a squeezing in his heart when he saw a different carbine pointing toward his head through a gap in the sunflower curtain. There had been more than one enemy soldier.
And the gun did indeed have a silencer attached.
A wet sound followed.
However, it was not the sound of the student’s brains splattering on the sunflowers.
After sneaking up behind the enemy soldier, Heivia held his mouth with a hand and slit this throat with a large knife.
“Of course they aren’t going to send out just one guy on a patrol. Use your head a little.”
“It hadn’t been long since we got separated, so I assumed you would show up after hearing the fuse detonate.”
“Yeah, but the enemy will have heard it too. C’mon, let’s go.”
Heivia tossed aside the unmoving corpse and Quenser borrowed the silencer-equipped carbine before following.
“You’re not going to use that, so it’ll just get in the way.”
“It’s like a good-luck charm. Do you have any idea what it’s like to walk along the front lines without a gun?”
They carefully walked through the sunflower field when enemy soldiers or venomous creatures could be hiding anywhere. The constant green curtain made it easy to lose their sense of direction if they stopped paying attention.
“There aren’t any mines here, I see.”
“Mines don’t mix well with plant roots. Roots can lift up asphalt in some cases, right? They can trigger explosions, reduce the sensitivity, or whatever else.”
They were still worried about wire traps, but they never ran across any.
The sunflower field suddenly ended.
Instead of happening naturally, it looked like a line had been torn away in the donut-shaped field surrounding the oasis itself. The green curtain was torn up over a width of about fifty meters. This was the crash site, but there was no intact transport plane. It had split into three large hunks of metal and smaller pieces and wreckage were scattered everywhere.
Yellow tape cordoned off the area and plates with letters written on them were placed on the ground. Men in Capitalist Corporations uniforms were still working near the three major pieces of the wreckage. There were about ten per piece.
The two idiots crouched down right inside the edge of the sunflower curtain and discussed the situation.
“Where do you think the plane’s pilots are?”
“There’s no way they survived a crash like that. They’ll have been blown to bits. That busty commander must have realized we’d be more motivated if we thought they might still be alive.”
“Then what’s the Capitalist Corporations so busy searching for?”
“How should I know? We have no idea what was onboard or why it was shot down.”
This was not the world of a moving war movie, so they had no real attachment to colleagues they had never met. They would do their job, but they would also complain about it.
They argued some more, but there was no reason for them to actually defeat the Capitalist Corporations here. In fact, the enemy could send in an inexhaustible supply of reinforcements with their home country so close by. Trying to defeat them was wasted effort. If the pilots were dead, they could complete their mission by taking photos of the corpses to have evidence of their deaths.
“Do you think we can slip past all those soldiers?”
“Let’s start with what we can get at. God, what a pain. In the end, it’s human eyes standing in our way.”
Fortunately, there was quite a bit of wreckage scattered about. There were three main pieces, but small container or car-sized pieces were everywhere. Heivia left the sunflowers in a crouch and Quenser followed. They approached a nearby dented metal container.
“Why couldn’t there be topless girls waiting at our destination? Instead it’s some mangled corpses. Can’t someone find something to give me some motivation?”
“Wait a second. What is this container?”
Quenser looked to the piece of wreckage they were using as cover. It was an air cargo container shaped like a two meter die and it was made of aluminum to cut down on the weight. The crash had blown the door off, so they could easily peek inside.
It was not carrying weapons, ammunition, rations, or even an officer’s condoms.
It was divided into layers by metal racks and it contained an ultraviolet light meant to replace the sun and a small air conditioner meant to keep the temperature stable. The glittering silver box had plants growing inside it.
“A plant factory?” Quenser frowned. “But why? I’ve heard they can get more than twenty-six harvests a year by changing the wavelength of the light, but growing plants in place of rations has to be terribly inefficient.”
“That’s not what this is. …This is bad, Quenser.”
Heivia stepped inside the container and reached for the wheat growing on top of a large plate on one of the metal racks.
However, the color was strange. The heads seemed to be surrounded by hard purple shells and they had swollen one size larger than normal. Even an agricultural amateur could tell this was some kind of plant disease.
“These are ergots. Unless this was an accident, the plant was intentionally infected. And how would it accidentally get infected inside a perfectly sealed container?”
“Wait, you mean…?”
Quenser’s eyes widened as he finally caught on.
Heivia looked annoyed.
“The ergot alkaloids extracted from these are used to make the ever-famous LSD. This is mass-producing some life-ruining stuff that even the people taking dangerous drugs and herbs are afraid to touch. I think it’s called Colorful Vanilla these days.”
“Why? Because the drug smells like vanilla?”
“No, because it gets you so high even pure white vanilla is filled with psychedelic colors.” The delinquent noble spat out the words while spinning his index finger next to his head. “Haven’t you heard of the Capitalist Corporations’ Home Treatment Proposal? There are so many addicts that the hospitals and prisons are about to burst at the seams, so this reckless new rule would greatly relax the standards for who can be treated at home. They’ll be attaching GPS devices to their ankles, but they’re really just leaving the addicts to their own devices. No one can know when some hallucinating bastard will attack people on the streets or go on a mass shooting. One of the world powers is on the verge of succumbing to a drug.”
“But if the ingredient for that Whatever Vanilla just showed up in a Legitimacy Kingdom transport plane…”
Heivia paused before continuing.
“Our idiots have gotten involved in a drug war. This was no coincidence. We’ve been performing an invisible carpet bombing of the enemy’s home country, goddammit.”
Meanwhile in the maintenance base zone, Frolaytia Capistrano quietly slipped out of the command room.
Once in the hallway, she pulled out a handheld device, made a few operations with her fingertip, and then heard a voice from the side.
It was Lieutenant Meena Stinger of Special Platoon 15.
“Is something wrong, major?”
Frolaytia halted her work and put the device in her pocket.
Nothing good would come from letting the Black Uniforms know she was setting up a communications route that circumvented the military’s monitoring. No matter what her reasons, they would strictly compare her actions to the military regulations and punish her.
“We’ve received an unpleasant report from the intelligence division. Not that they often send us any cheerful news.”
“Heh heh. As a Black Uniform, I think I know what you mean.”
A look of curiosity flashed behind Meena’s glasses and she urged Frolaytia to continue.
“If telling me would not violate security policies…”
Frolaytia nodded, crossed her arms such that they lifted her breasts, and leaned against the hallway wall.
“I’ll omit the details, but the term ‘drug war’ is starting to show up.”
Simply put, a drug war was when the military or government (instead of a gang or the mafia) led the production, synthesis, and selling of drugs. That was of course not permitted as an official strategy, but rumor had it every world power was doing something similar.
Some said it was to contaminate enemy safe countries without the international criticism that came from bombs or poison gas.
Some said the drugs were sold even to their own people to make money.
“A military commentator once laughed in front of the camera and said it was meaningless to develop Objects and strategic weapons to destroy the enemy home country. He said it would be faster to open a national restaurant chain that sells the kind of greasy burgers that invite in the grim reaper of adult diseases. But this drug war is far crueler than some joke.”
“I know exactly what you mean, major.” Meena slowly breathed out. “That is exactly where our specialty lies. I apologize for being so rude before, but surprise inspections are essential to deal with that kind of drug war.”
“I understand. If white powder and rock candy are hidden inside handheld games and electric guitars, the military’s transport routes can be used for their delivery business. I allowed the inspection because I understand that, lieutenant.”
“Thank you for your cooperation.” Meena obediently bowed. “The higher ups do not understand how frightening a drug war truly is. I will not name any names, but some officers seem to view it as a necessary evil. Unfortunately, they seem to have trouble imagining that shifting the stage of war from the battlefield countries to the safe countries will also expose themselves and their families to the threat of drugs.”
“They probably innocently believe that their kids are geniuses and angels who will always succeed and never step out of line. All the while, they have no idea those drugs are advertised differently depending on the target’s status, complexes, and personality. Maybe they’re good for your looks or for dieting. Maybe they make you smarter or a better studier. Maybe they make you better at sports or fighting. Maybe they help you overcome your anxiety or make you popular.”
“But once they’ve been told there’s an upside, it can be very hard to stop them, major.”
“The merits of a drug war, hm?”
“I’ve heard it all. One, the military or government can interfere in the market run by the gangs and mafia to destroy any value in it and control the amounts being distributed. Two, it applies indirect damage to the enemy safe countries that can’t be directly attacked. In other words, it increases the crime rate, breeds mistrust of the government, and destroys promising youths who would otherwise have done great things in the future. Three, unlike other weapons, a drug war brings in more money the longer it continues. …Military action is an economic action, so they like the idea of something that actually makes money.”
“So it’s an issue of profit, is it? I’m sure those bigshots in the safe countries are only thinking about number three.”
If war was viewed as an economic activity, then every weapon and unit had a cost to use. Not just each bullet fired, but each day’s worth of food cost money. So the longer war continued, the greater the losses. Even if the war was won, the world’s rules declared it a failure if they did not gain something of greater value than the expenses. In some cases, troops would be ordered to withdraw even though those troops were in a prime position to rout the enemy.
But the drug war actually made money the longer it continued. It was like alchemy. It was a supernatural form of economics that completely ignored the law of conservation of whatever. It was a truly delicious cost-benefit calculation for the desk workers who only saw reality in the progression of a line graph.
Of course, drugs wars looked bad, so no state or military would officially adopt that strategy. But just like the big bang theory, this theory was about as close to proven as a theory could get.
Frolaytia sighed in exasperation and intentionally changed the subject.
“By the way, lieutenant.”
“You were rummaging around everything for that inspection, so maybe you know something about this. …Thirty-two white phosphorous incendiary grenades – a box’s worth – have gone missing. Any idea where they might have gone?”
“No. We can perform a search if necessary, but that would be a lot of trouble.”
“Yes.” Frolaytia gave an annoyed click of her tongue. “White phosphorous is completely unnecessary to cross a minefield, so if a soldier wanted to grab some extra gear to give them an edge, they would have gone for something else. …One of the soldiers on this mission might be planning to use that white phosphorous to erase something.”
“That transport plane?”
“It seems likely the Capitalist Corporations really did shoot it down, but it was an obviously forceful move. That means they had a good reason for doing so.”
“Something that could prove the existence of a drug war? In other words, something that could be hidden with white phosphorous?”
“Since the incendiary grenades vanished from here, it unfortunately means someone on that mission is planning exactly that.”
“This is serious.”
“The biggest problem is the lack of any real evidence.”
Frolaytia was using the term “drug war”, but she had not mentioned a specific drug. That was the extent of the information her intelligence network could find.
The final piece of the puzzle would be at that crash site.
That would be the Achilles’ heel for whoever was leading the drug war. That was why this forceful rescue operation had been suggested and carried out. If the evidence was turned to ash, they would walk brazenly through the world once more. They would continue their drug war. They would boldly say military action was bringing harm to others for their own country’s benefit and they would ask why swapping the bullets for white powder made a difference. After all, it had always been internationally acceptable for a military to harm others.
They would attack the enemy nation with drugs.
They would limit the amount entering their own country and direct it all to the enemy nation.
They would shield their own people and strike at the enemy.
Frolaytia truly grimaced as she thought through the justifications they would likely use. If a drug war was alchemy, then words were magic. Use them properly, and good could become evil or vice-versa.
“I want to end this here, no matter what it takes.”
But they still had no definite proof.
Having the entire unit fall back because they were all suspects was not an option. If they did not get their hands on the evidence at the crash site, they could not end the drug war.
It felt like having poison mixed in with an immortality drug.
Frolaytia reached for her bangs with a look of annoyance.
“No, I will end this here.”
The two idiots grew pale behind the die-shaped air cargo container.
“This changes everything,” groaned Heivia. “I wasn’t stupid enough to believe we were fighting for justice, but is this for real? So the Capitalist Corporations are fighting to keep Colorful Vanilla out of their country and we were sent out to erase the evidence that we’re supporting that business? What the hell!?”
“I don’t like it either. I think I’m gonna have nightmares for a while, even if I confess this to a priest.”
“I wouldn’t, since you’ll just get you and the priest blown away in the name of protecting classified information. If you need a change of pace, then go to a strip club instead.”
“Hey, do you think Frolaytia was involved in this drug war?”
“If so, she’d never have agreed to the Blue Rose’s surprise visit or the Black Uniforms’ surprise inspection. Would you want to hold a cookout on the mountain you just buried a corpse in? Even if your friends were planning it, you’d start gathering beach pamphlets, put on your best smile, and try to get them to change their plans. I doubt she knew a thing.”
“So she’s innocent. That’s good at least.”
“More importantly, what do we do now? We can’t let some idiot continue making money in the worst possible way, like it’s a fishy sort of FX trading.”
Quenser used his handheld device’s lens to take photos of the container number and the purple ergots growing on the wheat inside. He also gathered a few seeds in a bag, but he looked worried.
“Will this really work as evidence? How long has it been since the crash? There’s only this wheat inside the container. If we show this as proof, someone’s sure to suggest the ergot fungus spread to the wheat from the oasis. They’ll say this doesn’t prove the Legitimacy Kingdom was involved. It’ll be just like the investigation after a suicide brought on by bullying or overwork. When everyone prefers for there to be no connection, the report can be twisted however they want!!”
“But the mastermind couldn’t just abandon this stuff. That’s why they had us risk our necks on that minefield for this phony rescue operation. They must have felt they couldn’t let the Capitalist Corporations or Information Alliance get this stuff.”
Quenser thought on their conversation for a bit and then caught on.
“Heivia, you said they’ll ignore this by claiming the wheat in the container was infected by ergot fungus at the crash site, right?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“Ergot fungus is alive, so it has genes made from DNA and RNA. If we take this back and let a lab look at it, they can tell what region it came from. At the very least, they can tell it didn’t grow at this oasis.”
“So they can’t make that excuse anymore? Are you saying we can prove they were growing dangerous ergot-infested wheat in the container from the beginning!?”
They knew what they had to do.
They also knew the obstacles would grow the closer they got to their goal.
A voice reached them over the radio.
“Quenser, Heivia! Are you alive!? We had some trouble with that wall of fire that cut us off, but we’re resuming our advance. Don’t die yet and see you at the oasis!!”
“Goddammit! Who knows who our enemy is here! We need to protect this container!”
“No, let’s abandon it. As long as we have a few pieces of the wheat, we can get the ergots analyzed. If they blow up the container, the mastermind will rejoice and let their guard down. And I want to see who goes for the container first. That will lead us to who’s behind this.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s do that. By the way, what about the Capitalist Corporations? We’ve already killed a fair number, but I don’t really want to make more corpses now.”
They peered over at the transport plane’s wreckage again.
Even now, they were relying on their unmanned weaponry, so most of them were here. They were likely monitoring the situation and would know it was growing worse for them, but they may have decided cutting off the supply of Colorful Vanilla was more important than their own lives. It was possible some of them had family or a lover back in their home country.
They were the border patrol.
They were meant to risk their lives as they kept the dangers of the battlefield countries from entering their home country.
Quenser thought for a moment before speaking.
“Heivia, can you speak in a Capitalist Corporations accent? It has to sound native or it won’t work.”
What they had to do was simple.
Quenser and Heivia fell back to the sunflowers, stuck fuses in Hand Axe plastic explosive, and threw it all around.
Then they used the silencer-equipped carbine they had stolen from the Capitalist Corporations soldier. They pulled out a single rifle round, crushed the lead bullet portion with a pair of pliers, and reloaded it.
They fired into the air. Most of the bursting sound was absorbed, so only the sharp whistle-like noise of the crushed bullet tearing through the air rang out.
After a few seconds, Quenser hit his radio’s switch.
As the sunflower field was torn apart again and again, Heivia shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Legitimacy Kingdom mortars!! Once this area’s been levelled, their main force is coming. Fall back! Fall back to the shelter immediately!!”
Thinking explosives were raining from the sky, a stir ran through the Capitalist Corporations soldiers. They began to move. A few were reluctant at first, but the other soldiers grabbed their arms and fled.
“This would make any pacifist shed tears of joy. From now on, today shall be known as St. Heivia’s Day.”
“Don’t let your guard down yet. We need to hide and see what happens. Who’s going to go for the container before-…?”
He trailed off.
“Heivia, you’re all right!? That was one hell of an explosion just now!”
It was their (supposed) allies from the Legitimacy Kingdom. The noble boy let out a sigh and gave up. He casually removed his assault rifle’s sensors and military battery and dropped them to his feet. Then he joined the other soldiers with a smile on his face.
However, those soldiers had not called Quenser’s name.
They had not seen him.
He crouched down, took the gun accessories, and held onto the silencer-equipped carbine as he slowly slipped further back into the curtain of sunflowers. He heard a rustling just five meters ahead of him and the (flat-chested) black-haired exposed-f