It was designated a safe country belonging to the Faith Organization.
The Coromandel Region was a narrow strip of coast running north to south along the Indian Ocean and a military port and industrial city were located on the southernmost end.
“So I’m finally here in Lost Angels.”
Quenser Barbotage muttered to himself as he walked through the international airport’s lobby.
He wore a thin tropical shirt and shorts instead of his usual military uniform. He also wore pale sunglasses, but they looked frighteningly out of place on him. He pulled a cellphone from his sports bag and switched it on. He had been instructed to turn it off during takeoff and landing, but he could not relax with that signal cut off even momentarily.
He already had a few missed calls, so he called back one of them.
The call was to Heivia Winchell who was quickly becoming a close yet awful friend.
“I’m in the airport now. Aren’t you coming to pick me up?”
“Why would I head out into that godawful heat to see some filthy guy? I’m not taking a step outside this air conditioned room.”
“Wait, what about the beach? I thought Lost Angels was filled with girls whose horniness is barely contained in a swimsuit?”
“Yeah, but with all the money they’ve clearly spent on their skin, who knows what organization’s mistress they are. Are you sure you want to play a game of concentration where a single mistake means having your balls torn off?”
“Can I leave right this instant? You just killed any hope I had for this city.”
“Shut up, hail a taxi, and get your ass over to the hotel. It’s the Luxury Coast Hotel. …Well, there are five hotels with the exact same name, but you’ll get here if you tell the driver to turn off Muscat Street at the museum and head straight down Palm Street.”
Quenser hung up and left the airport building.
His entire body was immediately assaulted by a sweltering heat. It was enough to completely forget it was May, but the heat was not all that surprising since the city was farther south than Hawaii.
He could immediately tell how safe this city was by the old man with a cigar blatantly taking a bunch of crumple-up money from several women and by the masked men sneaking up behind the old man like it was all some kind of skit.
A group of teenage boys and girls – likely from a safe country somewhere – were being led around by a tour guide. Quenser glanced over at the School Trip Students who were boarding a tour bus as he hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take him to the Luxury Coast Hotel as instructed.
“That’ll be taking the long way around,” said the driver.
“That’s fine. Just follow that obvious route.”
The coolant must have been losing its effectiveness because the taxi’s air conditioner was barely working.
A small monitor was installed on the back of the front seat and it silently played an ad for health foods that looked like they would make you sick, a magic show where a passenger plane was made to disappear, and news about a civilian long-term space flight project that was cancelled due to energy problems, but Quenser was not watching any of it.
His eyes were focused outside the window.
The large street was lined with colorful flowers and palm trees and fine beach-like sand covered the ground. All of the buildings were polished and sparkling like a mirror, so it felt like being exposed to the concentrated fire of a giant solar cooker.
Before long, Quenser’s phone rang.
“What is it, Heivia? You can tell I’m having a bad day when I get more than one call that isn’t from a girl.”
“Just listen. I forgot to tell you something. Let me tell you about a certain ‘specialty’ found on Muscat Street. Try opening the window and holding out the phone. Hold on tight because you’ll be the one who suffers if you drop it.”
“What’s this about? I’m not innocent enough believe those rumors about a sixty kph wind feeling like a D-cup, you know?”
Quenser complained, but he did as he was told. And with the air conditioner barely working, he had no problem with opening the window.
Right at that moment, the taxi passed a black bulletproof car that had come to a brief stop.
The luxury car was protected by escort vehicles, its window was open, and an elderly man with silver-gray hair was leaning out.
As a disgustingly insincere show of charity, he may have been calling over a child wanting to wash his windows for some loose change.
Quenser’s hand struck the top of his head.
Something glittered and a toupee that had to have cost five thousand euros flew through the air.
Quenser paled when he heard laughter coming from his phone.
“What did you just make me do!?”
He then heard angry yelling from behind the taxi. Screeching tires followed and the taxi driver sensibly began driving more dirtily to deal with the pursuit.
After ignoring around three traffic lights, the gun-toting group of vehicles was finally cut off by a stream of cars.
The driver did not turn around, but he did show Quenser his middle finger.
“Next time! That’ll cost extra!!”
The fact that he did not just say “never do that” seemed to be the Lost Angels style.
After losing their pursuers, the rattling taxi pulled up to Quenser’s destination. He handed over the set fare as well as a rather large tip, left the taxi, and gave an annoyed comment.
“How is this a ‘Luxury Coast Hotel’? It’s a run-down motel.”
It looked a lot like a two-story apartment building. The stairs and corridors were on the outside, so they would probably be soaking wet on a rainy day with any kind of wind. Simply having this place chosen for his lodgings was enough to know he was going to be making anything but bright and shining memories here.
He received a text with timing so perfect he felt he was being watched.
The subject was only a three-digit message and the body was blank.
He found the indicated room number and lightly knocked on the first-floor door.
The door opened to reveal a studio apartment sized room with all four walls packed full of military computers.
“Hurry up and get in. We don’t want what’s in here exposed for too long.”
Heivia Winchell wore a Hawaiian shirt and jeans instead of his usual military uniform. After closing the door, the room grew as dimly lit as a home theater. While doing what his awful friend said, Quenser looked around in annoyance.
“A cramped room, a ton of strange computers, and nothing but soldiers? And you have the air conditioner on full blast to combat all the stuffy heat? Have you ever heard of the World Clock, Heivia? It’s because of stuff like this that mankind’s lifespan is being worn away.”
“Oh, shut up. Don’t forget that those useless humanitarian commercials use up energy too. I’m not listening to people who think they’re the exception.”
“How many days ago was it that you were rejoicing over getting to do an actual analyst’s job for once? What have you been doing in this cave of junk?”
“There are five people who outrank me in this cramped room. I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s going on by the time the introductions are over.”
However, no one was wearing their uniform, so none of them had rank insignia on their shoulders. The woman with short blonde hair seemed to be in charge, but she was wearing baggy cargo pants and a bikini top.
“You’re Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage, I take it. I’m Millia Newburg. I’m from the intelligence division and my rank is lieutenant. Nice to meet you.”
“Eh? Oh, right.”
“This is a pretty nice city if you ignore how bullets fly around like an afternoon shower and no restaurant has anything but chicken burgers. Now, let’s discuss some details.”
Millia pressed a button on a projector remote and the image appeared on the roof for some reason.
“With all the machines in here, this was the only surface left.”
“Is this…a map of Lost Angels?”
“You can’t get by in this city just by glancing through the airport pamphlet, so I’ll give you some basic knowledge. First of all, Lost Angels is located on the southernmost point of the Indian subcontinent. It belongs to the Faith Organization and its classified as a safe country, but it’s actually one of the least safe places you can be and people die more easily than on your average battlefield.”
The map of the city was divided into four different colors.
There was no obvious pattern, so it looked like bizarre bright camouflage.
“This is the division of power in Lost Angels. You could call it the territories of the four organizations that are causing this city to rot. But don’t rely on it too much. They all make sure to deliver for your convenience. Assume you’ll have lead flying your way no matter where you are.”
The bikini officer pressed another button on the remote and a red circle surrounded one point on the map.
It was the cape at the far south of this southern city.
“This right here is what’s led to all this. The Faith Organization has a large facility for Object construction and maintenance here. Currently, the second generation Collective Farming is moored there. Subsidies are pouring in in the name of stimulating the region, so everyone’s lost the will to do any real work. Everyone just assumes they’ll have money, so they spend it all on gambling, prostitutes, and insane ‘rock candy’. But as soon as their own habits leave their wallets empty, they get mad and go on a rampage. This is a city of two million where everyone’s the kind of embarrassing adult who acts like a child throwing a tantrum. And all while holding handguns and odd-smelling grass.”
“Feeling blue? Well, you just have to understand that I wouldn’t exactly recommend going swimming here. More importantly, do you have the phone our division lent you? Let me see it.”
“Um, you mean this?”
Quenser held out the cheap cellphone he had been using and Millia tossed it to Heivia. Heivia stuck a broad belt-like cable into the phone’s bottom connector to link it to the computer.
“Here we go, here we go, here we go. This is just what we wanted! This is Mr. Mayonnaise’s final puzzle piece!!”
“A crazy old man who smothers everything from curry noodles to Mont Blanc in mayo. But he’s the boss of the Faith Organization’s state-run factory, so we needed his biometrics for our operation.”
“You mean like his fingerprint and blood?”
“He started getting cautious after we’d collected a few of them. We only needed his heartrate pattern, but that meant someone had to hold their nose and get right in the smelly gorilla’s face. Just as we were going to play rock-paper-scissors to see who had to do it, we heard you were on your way. So thanks, Quenser. You won’t get a bonus for your trouble, but we appreciate it.”
Quenser recalled passing by a luxury car with several escort vehicles on the taxi ride here. He had unintentionally knocked a man’s toupee off and nearly been killed.
He must have been told to take such a roundabout way to the hotel in order to match the man’s schedule.
“I need to punch you later, but can you really use this? Won’t they have noticed what we’re doing and be on their guard?”
“Using biometrics is secure, but you can’t change them once they’ve been stolen,” explained Heivia. “He’s probably sweating bullets right about now. He can’t recover from this mistake, so I doubt that stupid mayo man will report it to anyone. We just have to take care of our job while he’s figuring out how to save his own skin.”
Heivia was in a pretty good mood for being forced into this city, but that may have been because he had actually gotten an analyst’s job for once. Then again, he was supposed to be a “radar” analyst.
However, a cloud fell over Millia Newburg’s face.
“That means we just have to take care of ‘that’.”
Quenser changed his mind and decided Heivia’s good mood was due to the beautiful woman in a bikini.
“Oh, so we’re going to do this the Lost Angels way?” asked the idiot.
“Yes. Although, if the people here were as clever as a London stockbroker, I wouldn’t have to worry so much.”
It may have been a comfort issue, but she tugged on her bikini’s central string with her index finger.
“We have no choice. I’ll gather the data and put together a definite plan. You two…I know. Heivia, you take Quenser with you to show him around while getting us a meal before we have to head out next. Anything’s fine as long as it isn’t curry or chicken, so buy enough for everyone. That’s all.”
With that, Quenser and Heivia were stuck walking through Lost Angels during the afternoon.
The city seemed to use cars more than trains and there were also a lot of bicycles and inline skates. There must not have been much of a distinction between the city and the beach because plenty of men and women were walking around in swimsuits.
“If we’re getting food, we should probably head up Apple Street and then down Pineapple Street.”
“Hm? But there are food carts set up right over there.”
“You don’t even want to know what’s in those. The sign might say chicken, but you’re lucky if it’s actually frog.”
There were no crosswalks in the area, so they ran across the wide street with horns blaring at them.
Quenser spoke up while passing by a College Girl in a Monokini who was taking a selfie with her smartphone.
“Everyone’s surprisingly defenseless for what I’d heard was a city of guns and crime.”
“That’s one of the digital exhibitionists. They purposefully carry around vulnerable smartphones and transmit their crazy personal life to the world 24/7. I do hear they make lovely bed partners for the people undercover here, though.”
The two idiots made their way into a small restaurant district. They ignored all of the restaurants with direct “takeout” counters and entered a large supermarket. There, they threw some random food into a cart: soft French bread, thick fillets of salmon, a few salads, anchovies, deli horse meat, canned olives, etc.
Quenser was clearly annoyed with the lineup in the cart.
“Are you planning a homemade hot dog party?”
“This one is sausage made out of the Island Nation’s tofu. If you let people choose their own ingredients, then it’s their responsibility if it doesn’t taste good. That’s a trick to slip free of your commanding officer’s ridiculous demands.”
“And why are you inspecting it all so closely? Can’t you just check the expiration date to see how fresh it is?”
“Don’t be stupid. Lost Angels’s transformer facilities are in the mountains and they’re so worn out that the power goes out all the time. If the refrigerators aren’t working, the food will often rot in its packaging.”
A young woman was working the register, but the employee training seemed to be decent because she had a pump-action shotgun casually leaning up against the counter. The sight was enough to make Quenser’s balls shrivel up. Heivia seemed used to it, so he held out some Faith Organization money. That money did not seem real to Quenser and felt more like a toy.
With bags in both hands, they both left the automatic door.
“Heivia, couldn’t we have driven?”
“I don’t want to own a car here. In this city, people get one by breaking the window in the parking lot or hijacking it from someone waiting at a red light. It’s like sharing a girlfriend with your roommates, so it just seems disgusting.”
Heivia spat out that comment as they waited for a break in the cars and a Pizza Deliveryman on a scooter so they could cross the road.
Quenser wiped sweat from his brow.
“I really didn’t think that would lead to all this.”
“Yeah, you’re clearly the one that caused this. Just because we’re only trying to kill some time doesn’t mean you can’t take the discussion seriously. You may have been joking, but the higher ups will take it all seriously.”
Quenser’s complaint trailed off.
Suddenly, a Hot Dog Stand in a van exploded as it drove by in front of them.
The explosives flames and shockwave sent the mass of steel into the air. It flew from the road and began tumbling along.
Quenser fell to a sitting position and wordlessly flapped his mouth opened and closed.
He first thought it was a car bomb but quickly realized he was wrong.
He noticed a thin trail of smoke coming from the opposite side of the road. He followed it back and found a black SUV stopped about one hundred meters away with someone leaning out the back window.
That person threw away what looked like a large cylinder.
“If you get what’s going on, then hide! C’mon, this way!!”
Heivia immediately abandoned the supermarket bags full of food, grabbed the back of Quenser’s neck instead, and dragged the other boy behind the flaming kitchen truck.
“Do gangs shoot those things in safe countries these days!?”
“In Lost Angels, they’re as common as seagull droppings.”
“First I knock off some guy’s toupee and now I’m caught in a gang war? What kind of first day is this? I came here because I’d heard its beaches had the highest topless rate in the world, but I’ve been seeing nothing but old men!!”
“What are you blathering about!? They fired that at us! And it’s not the topless rate this place is #1 in; it’s the nipple piercing rate, which is just disturbing! More importantly, you check for a sniper with the binoculars. I’ll take out the enemies I can see with my own eyes!!”
Surprised, Quenser turned around and saw Heivia reach into the backpack he was wearing with only one shoulder strap.
He pulled out a submachinegun with a suppressor attached. It was such a tiny fully-automatic weapon that the suppressor actually looked larger than the gun itself.
The student looked back and forth between Heivia who was loading the first bullet behind the burning kitchen truck and the five or six thugs approaching with shotguns in hand.
The delinquent soldier did not hesitate in the slightest.
He slaughtered those civilians with short bursts of muffled gunfire.
There were corpses everywhere.
“Could you please shut up!? We’re the ones being attacked. If we don’t shoot back, we’ll be killed. What’s wrong with returning fire!?”
“Wait, but, Heivia! This is a safe country! Even if they’re part of a local gang, they’re still technically civilia-…”
“Are you completely braindead!? Do you see a single goodhearted civilian around here!?”
He did not understand what his horrible friend was saying.
And as the boy shouted, that friend let loose some more bursts of gunfire that accurately killed a few more people on the streets.
“Listen, you bastard. For the most part, there are four organizations lurking in this city, but that’s just the official story.”
Heivia swapped out the magazine.
“They’re actually all hideouts for the intelligence division of the world powers: the Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, the Capitalist Corporations, and the Faith Organization. They’re after the Faith Organization’s Object construction and maintenance facility. They steal or destroy classified information and do whatever else they can. We’re officially labelled civilians, we’re secretly part of the gang named Azul Hive, and we’re secretly secretly with the Legitimacy Kingdom military.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“Do you really think I’m lying? The place has gotten so dangerous that all the local people have left. This is both a safe country and the front line. It’s a mystery how the place even still functions as a city!”
He loaded the first bullet again.
“The entire place is crawling with military personnel using suspicious, falsified resumes. Everyone else is a wanted criminal or someone else who can’t live in any other city. Simply put, the city is half soldiers and half exiles. But it’s obvious at a glance who are the predators and who are the prey. The girl at the supermarket register and this Hot Dog Stand are the same! This thing contains a giant illegal wireless router and the guy who runs it is a spy who steals data from all the devices around here!!”
“But wait. Why is the Faith Organization military a part of all this!? Isn’t this their home turf!?”
“They’ve been forced to dirty their own hands to get rid of the people who they can’t drive out through normal means. Anyway, the ones after us here are Information Alliance soldiers without their uniforms. If they’re taking this seriously, we have no reason to hold back either!”
Quenser heard a horn coming from somewhere else.
A giant truck cut by, crashing into the side of a car that had just pulled into the intersection. The truck came to a sudden halt, blocking all traffic through the intersection and the container on the back opened like a giant treasure chest.
Heivia groaned when he saw what appeared from within.
“Oh, we’re screwed.”
It was a mass of composite armor and it measured somewhere from ten to fifteen meters tall when it stood up on the truck bed. It was definitely a weapon, but it intentionally retained a humanoid silhouette.
“Let’s scram. We don’t have the firepower for that thing! In fact, does it even still qualify as a powered suit!?”
“That’s the kind of crazy thing you see at weapons shows! Y’know, like the lunar invasion tanks and personal-use jet engines that are clearly just someone having some fun with the tax money funding them!”
“Either way, that thing will be a demon straight from hell once it’s ready to go. Let’s get out of here before that macho man crawls out of his grave. Otherwise, people will start making amateur bets on how long we’ll last! Come with me!!”
Countless bullets were already flying back and forth, so Quenser crouched down and ran after Heivia.
Heivia contacted someone using a sturdy radio that clearly was not a normal cellphone.
“This is Blue 05, we’re currently engaged in combat with the Crimson Party. Yeah, as you know, that’s the Information Alliance’s hideout! We’re hopelessly outgunned, so we need to lose them. Find us some wheels to steal and an escape route!!”
“That will work perfectly,” replied Millia Newburg. “Keep them on your tail as you run down Pineapple Street to Mango Square. Get there in less than ten minutes and you’ll run into a group of transport vehicles from Mustard Cowboy…that is, the Capitalist Corporations. Having those two sides run into each other will give you more of a chance to escape, plus the Capitalist Corporations still have ‘that’ stolen. We can’t continue with our original operation until we take care of them. Can you do that for us?”
“Oh, I can’t believe this! Where’s a car I can steal!?”
“The guy on the large motorcycle at the front of those waiting for the light is with the Information Alliance.”
A short burst of muffled gunfire followed.
Shot in the leg, the driver fell to the road, but Heivia ignored him and righted the large motorcycle.
A Female Police Officer in a miniskirt was well within sight, but for some reason, she seemed to be doing her best to ignore everything that was going on.
“Damn this thing’s heavy!! Hurry, Quenser! If we don’t get going, that huge thing will catch up!!”
“I feel like I’ve wandered into a post-apocalyptic world!!”
Quenser shouted his complaints as he hopped onto the back of the motorcycle.
With both of them riding it, the large motorcycle took off with its tires scraping against the asphalt. The scenery quickly began to fly by.
“I’ll focus on driving, so you take care of the gun!”
“Do you really think a student like me can do that? And you try twisting around in this unstable position!”
Several engines roared like monsters as they began their pursuit. Quenser twisted around to check behind them and saw several black bulletproof SUVs approaching with no regard for the lane markers. They would hop into the air each time they crossed a short hill.
One of them opened its thick window and a man holding a carbine leaned out.
“Dammit! I’m gonna turn left at the next intersection, so lean!!”
“Why!? Isn’t straight the quickest way to Mango Sqaure!?”
“There’s an international theater up ahead! It’s where Crimson Party gets their funding and where the rich have their orgies! They have way more funding than a hideout in a run-down motel, so they’ve at least got guardhouses and enough security to make it a large-scale fortress!! So much as brush up against it and you’ll be filled with holes!!”
Heivia took a sharp turn at the intersection as he yelled his explanation. Quenser was slow to react and did not lean quite in time, so they just about toppled over. One of the pursuing SUVs crashed into a normal car in the intersection, started spinning, and nearly took out a telephone pole along with the Worker up at the top of it.
“Quenser! If you can’t use a gun, then at least pull out your phone! Hold it out!!”
“What good will that do!? Am I supposed to upload a picture to a social network!?”
“Run the app called #109 and then take a picture like it tells you to. The machine will take care of the rest!!”
Quenser did not understand, but he did as he was told.
As he was shaken back and forth, he placed one of the pursuing bulletproof SUVs in the center of the screen and took a photo.
The phone did not fire a strange deadly radio wave or laser beam.
Instead, an air-to-surface missile dropped from the heavens.
The explosion blasted the thick four-wheel vehicle straight upwards. It landed and tumbled over and over, dragging the SUVs behind it into the mess.
“What the hell!?” shouted Quenser.
“Look up. That’s a UAV called a Short Bow! Your phone is linked with the targeting system of the unmanned plane flying above us. Make sure you aim carefully. Just like a well-trained maid, that thing will obey even mistaken orders!”
Several of the bulletproof SUVs managed to steer around their destroyed allies and continue the pursuit, but then Heivia glanced over at the metal street sign.
It said Mango Square.
“Ha ha! We made it!!”
They saw three vans with all the windows covered in metal plates drive out of a narrow road behind a bank.
“That looks like a bank’s armored car and its escort team to me!”
“And that bank is from a chain run by the Capitalist Corporations’ gang. They also happen to be the bastards who stole ‘that’ from us. Hold on tight because we’re dragging them into this too!!”
“Ahh, ahh. I’m glad to see the hands of the World Clock are moving ever onward!!”
“Killing some villains is sure to extend mankind’s lifespan by a little!”
Heivia opened the throttle further and moved the large motorcycle closer to the armored vans.
They reacted quickly.
The rearmost of the three Capitalist Corporations’ vans threw open its back double doors, revealing what lay within.
“Dammit!! Another powered suit!?”
The humanoid composite armor was sitting with its knees up to fit in the limited space.
An autocannon that resembled a steel spear passed between its legs and straight backwards.
“There’s nothing funny about a robot spreading its legs for you! What’s it targeting!?”
Heivia clicked his tongue and made a quick turn. He burst into the oncoming lane, putting an angle between them instead of distance, and entered their blind spot.
The powered suit fired almost immediately afterwards.
The repetitive explosive sounds were far too deep and the Information Alliance’s bulletproof SUVs and the asphalt they drove on were filled with holes as easily as a paper box. There were no screams or shouts. The road was simply blocked by flames and smoke.
Heivia observed that filthy gravestone in the rearview mirror and spat out a comment.
“They’re already all dead? Talk about useless!!”
“As I hope you know, our real target here is the Capitalist Corporations. Unless we take out that armored van, they’ll still have ‘that’ and we’ll have lost our chance to continue the operation.” Millia Newburg gave that coolheaded clarification over the radio, so she may have been observing them using the UAV overhead. “And if you take too long, you’ll be cut off by the Great Fence…the no-entry zone. Three kilometers north of the Object construction and maintenance facility on the southern cape is a double fence with machinegun-equipped guard towers. Nothing good will come of getting close to that, so hurry up and finish this.”
Heivia clicked his tongue.
“You heard her, student! Now order the Short Bow to blow away those escort vans!!”
“The phone’s antenna icon just died, so can I even use that anymore?’
“They’re jamming us now!?”
Heivia weaved in between the oncoming traffic that shot their way like arrows.
The rearmost of the windowless vans kept its back door open and tried to target them with the autocannon sticking lengthwise down the vehicle. Unlike a normal gun turret, it could not turn the barrel, but it was possible the van could swing its back end toward the motorcycle and put the two boys in the weapon’s line of fire.
They were going to fail at this rate.
They could not escape the enemy’s line of fire forever and focusing too much on that could easily lead to a collision with a completely unrelated car.
“Return to the original lane!” shouted Quenser. “Approach the van from the right!”
“Are you stupid!? We’ll be torn to pieces the instant we enter that thing’s line of fire!!”
“Just do it before we reach the next curve!! This is our first and last chance!!”
Heivia clicked his tongue and did as he was told, half out of desperation.
Naturally, the powered suit in the van reacted as soon as they entered its line of fire. The autocannon spewed 30mm bullets at frightening speed and the recoil was too powerful for a flesh-and-blood human to hope to contain.
A high-pitched screech rang out.
By the time Heivia realized it was the van’s tires sliding to the side, the situation was already past the point of no return. The van completely lost its balance and toppled over. The sounds of bending metal and breaking glass followed.
“They kept firing that autocannon with its ridiculous recoil and the powered suit had already shifted the van’s center of gravity, so of course it was going to knock itself over if it fired during that sharp turn!”
“More importantly, watch out! It’s coming this way!!”
The large motorcycle just barely swerved out of the way of the approaching van and continued pursuit of the others.
Quenser looked down at this cellphone.
The antenna icon had recovered, so that rearmost van must have been the one jamming them.
The student immediately held up the phone and an air-to-surface missile dropped from the heavens three seconds later.
Like a large tree struck by lightning, the lead escort van was split in two.
The main armored van lost control after crashing into the exploding and burning escort van. It plowed into the sidewalk, collided with the traffic light pole, and bent in a V all the way up to the driver’s seat.
The large motorcycle’s engine roared wildly as it circled around and Heivia stepped down to peer in to the driver’s seat.
He raised his submachinegun in one hand and mercilessly fired inside the van.
The windshield quickly filled with white cracks, but there was no sign of the bullets getting through.
However, that was fine.
Heivia gave a shout to whoever was beyond the bulletproof glass.
“Get out, now!! We’re professionals! If you get that you can’t win this, then do what we say!”
“Heivia, what do we do now?”
“They’re with the Capitalist Corporations, so we’ll do what they’ll like least,” said Heivia. “We’ll blow away all the money in here with a missile! Pass this message on to Mustard Cowboy’s boss: ‘If we don’t get ‘that’ back unharmed, then we’ll keep doing this for as long as it takes. How about we wreck all of your luxury cars next time? Or would you prefer we soak your lovely golf course in weed killer? Your luck ran out when you interfered with our work to earn a little extra cash!’ And don’t get a word or letter of that wrong!!”
Quenser sighed when he heard that and then whispered to the other boy.
“(If we’re gonna burn it all, no one would know if we swiped a stack or two, right?)”
“(That’s already part of the plan. But don’t get greedy. Stuff too much below your clothes and you’ll look like you’re wearing a conspicuous bulletproof vest.)”
An explosive rise in land prices had affected two different areas in Lost Angels: the west and the east. One was an ultra-luxurious residential district where every house had a jacuzzi and a live-in doctor and the other was filled with ultra-high rise buildings polished enough to look like mirrors.
Mustard Cowboy – and thus the Capitalist Corporations – had their base of operations in the latter area. A set of twin towers stood forty stories tall and one of them had a pool on the roof which was filled with hard rock and beautiful women in swimsuits year-round. No matter how much anyone tried to conserve, the hole in the bottom of the tank would never be plugged so long as people like this remained. The advocates of the World Clock had to be crying.
A bearded man sat in the chlorine-smelling water with paid-for woman on either side of him and he received a report from a male subordinate who looked like he deserved a label saying “abstinence”.
The man was George Coral.
He did not even wear a swimsuit, leaving him nude except for his pure gold necklace, but that defenselessness was an indicator of his power. He did not need to use anything as a shield and he did not need anywhere to hide. If he fired ten thousand rounds into the nearest police station while puffing on a cigar, not a single siren would sound. It was because he had built up that system and because he was protected by that system that George Coral was the organization’s kingpin.
And while he achieved splendid results as a member of the Capitalist Corporations, he had also gained a thorough knowledge of the military’s “barriers” and had created several loopholes for himself. And those loopholes were of course to hide the income from his side businesses that he did not want the military or state to get their hands on.
In other words, his life was much like these twin towers.
It had two pillars and one of those had started to fall. And sadly, when one of the twin towers collapsed, it took the other one with it.
He looked like he was enjoying the scent of one of the women’s hair, but he actually had cold sweat pouring down the back of his neck as his subordinate on the poolside calmly spoke to him.
“Management has requested that ‘Branch Manager Coral’ provide them with an appropriate explanation. And not just about the lens incident. They would like to know about everything leading up to this…in other words, about all of your side businesses.”
“The bank, the jewelry store, the art gallery, and the various transport vehicles. The attack by Azul Hive – in other words, the Legitimacy Kingdom – has led to losses reaching four hundred million. Also, we just received a telegram saying they ‘hope to do similar business with you in the future’. Management is most interested in how you plan to settle this.”
“There is no distinction between the public and hidden part of a business. Everything I did was to provide the funding we needed for our activities. Surely you understand that.”
“Your answer please.”
“If, hypothetically, I said I had no way of paying, what would happen to me?”
The poolside subordinate did not immediately answer.
Instead, the beautiful women in swimsuits playing in the water all turned to silently stare at George Coral.
The Capitalist Corporations had some truly unpleasant sayings.
Those who do not work, shall not eat.
When the money vanishes, so do I.
The cold wind on that forty story roof robbed the bearded man of his body temperature.
In this moment, the system of this city which had protected him for so long was being switched off.
When that “Branch Manager” finally grasped the situation, his subordinate resumed speaking.
“Some of the more extreme individuals at the emergency shareholders meeting back in the home country are saying we can demonstrate our good faith to Azul Hive with the return of the lens and a newspaper article about a jumper suicide.”
By evening, “that” had been safely returned.
It was contained in a wooden box larger than a bathtub and protected by a lot of cushioning. Quenser peered at it on the back of a truck stopped in the motel’s parking lot.
It was made of tempered glass, it had an average thickness of twenty-five centimeters, and it had a diameter of two hundred centimeters.
“Now we can finally get back on track.”
Millia Newburg, their superior officer who wore a bikini top and baggy cargo pants, sounded satisfied.
Quenser on the other hand sounded annoyed (which may have had something to do with nearly getting the nickname Booby Boy for his failure at getting lunch).
“Are we really doing that?”
“According to Major Frolaytia Capistrano, this was your idea.”
“It was only a theory I came up with for a discussion to kill time! I never imagined it would be used in an actual operation! If I had, I’d have written up something more fun with lots of seducing women!!”
“Calm down. Either way, it’s an exciting and unprecedented operation. I’ve been in intelligence for a while, but you don’t often see a job that sounds like something right out of a spy movie.”
Millia smiled and placed a notebook-sized tablet computer on the edge of the wooden box.
It displayed an image created by combining the great many photographs they had taken up to this point.
It came together to form a collection of cutting edge military technology.
It had armor that could resist a nuclear strike.
It had an extremely powerful reactor and a colossal main cannon that transformed all that energy into destructive power.
It was synonymous with war.
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s enemy codename for it was Collective Farming.
The Faith Organization’s official name for it was Sarasvati.
“This is their Second Generation Object receiving maintenance in the construction and maintenance facility, isn’t it?”
“Besides its pure combat ability, it also has large-scale agricultural cultivation technology mainly meant for use in deserts. It’s a part of the Re Terra project meant to alter the entire planet’s environment. Restoring the environment sounds lovely, but it’s actually a weapon to invade the whole environment. Even the desert has its own endemic species, but this thing ignores all that and covers it all in its own plantation. That’s nothing but bad news for us. It would be especially bad if it expands the production of potatoes and corn. We can’t stop them when they claim to be doing it to combat food shortages, but they can actually turn it into biofuels and shake up the price of oil.”
Millia smiled with an oddly childish and mischievous light in her eyes.
“So it would be too boring to lie in wait and sink the thing. I was dumbfounded when I heard your idea to steal all the technology without putting a scratch on it. I was fed up with all the boring surveillance and interception, so make sure to let me join this party of yours, student.”
That was the plan.
It was fifty meters tall.
It weighed two hundred thousand tons.
The monstrous weapon’s magnificent form was visible from anywhere in the city.
But Quenser and the others would secretly and boldly steal it without putting a scratch on it and with everyone in that city of two million none the wiser.
It was 8 PM.
Even at night, Lost Angels was not the least bit chilly and the filthy motel room was wrapped in an odd heat. It was enough to suspect the musty air conditioner and its old coolant had finally kicked the bucket.
“Let’s go back over the necessary conditions.”
Millia Newburg pulled on the central bridge-like string on her bikini top as she started talking.
“Our target is the Collective Farming, a Second Generation Object from the Faith Organization. And instead of destroying it, we’re going to steal it unharmed to get our hands on its tech.”
“Um,” said Quenser as he raised a hand. “I know I keep saying this, but that really was just a theory. Are you sure we have everything needed to pull it off?”
“Don’t worry. The large facility for constructing and maintaining Objects is the heart of Lost Angels. It’s located on the southern cape and it’s a no-entry zone protected by a double fence called the Great Fence and by machinegun-equipped guard towers. …Just as you read in the report. This is a city of two million, but all of the witness’s eyes are turned in the same direction: southward. This should all go off without a hitch.”
“The local residents…are foreign spies I guess. But ignoring them, what about the guards and surveillance cameras at the Faith Organization base? For that matter, what about UAVs and military satellites?”
“Nothing to worry about there,” said Heivia. “Their Pilot Elite, Putana Highball, has extreme scopophobia, so she can immediately sense whenever someone’s eyes or a camera are looking at her. That may sound like it makes her invincible, but it has a huge downside. When tuning up her mental side, she supposedly meditates inside her Object, remember? They have to move all of the guards and surveillance away during that time. Just by intercepting her meditation schedule, we have a time when everyone moves away from the thing.”
“But the Object’s own high-sensitivity sensors take over, right? If we get close, we’ll still be blown away by the Collective Farming.”
“That’s what Mr. Mayonnaise was for,” said Millia Newburg as she tugged down on her bikini’s string. “He’s the manager of the state-run factory, so we can use his biometric data to sneak into the Faith Organization’s system. Since the maintenance port is open right now, we can overwrite the image displayed in the Collective Farming’s cockpit. It doesn’t matter if the sensors notice us as long as the information doesn’t reach the Pilot Elite.”
“To look at it another way, we don’t get a second chance if we let this one go. The Pilot Elite’s meditation spans several days, so if we tried to wait until the next time, the Collective Farming’s maintenance would end and it would head out to another battlefield. This is our only chance.”
“How’s the ocean? Oh, and what about the lighthouse?”
Quenser persistently asked about everything and Millia diligently answered all of his questions.
She was likely doing so out of respect for the one who had thought up the plan while also making sure there were no discrepancies between their actual plans and the one in his head.
“About three kilometers south of the southern cape is a small island with nothing but a lighthouse on it. It was easy to take over. The soldiers were confused why they got a bonus for attacking something so insignificant, though.”
“How’s the weather? Is there actually going to be fog?”
“You’ll see when you step outside. Lost Angels is covered in a thick fog almost every night. It’s only a weather issue, but the place seems to transform into a city of perverts and eccentrics once the sun sets. When you spend too long faking your identity in enemy territory, even a spy can get fed up with the world. I still don’t see why that makes you head out into the night wearing nothing but a trench coat, though.”
“What about the model?”
Heivia cut in to field that question.
“You can thank the recent craze of 3D printers for that one.”
“There are a few ways to pull it off, but they won’t suspect any of them. The transformer equipment in the mountains is so run down that the power goes out all the time on a really hot day.”
“So that just leaves…the boat, the light source, and the lens.”
“You already know we have all that. We put our own lives on the line for that last one.”
Quenser fell silent and thought back over the idea he had put together.
Was anything missing?
Could they go ahead with what they had?
He thought and reached his conclusion.
“I can’t believe this. I’ve lost any reason to oppose this.”
“Then I guess your theory is about to enter reality.”
Millia Newburg smiled and threw her fist into the palm of her open hand.
“As a kid, I loved munching on popcorn as I watched spy movies. Now I kind of wish I’d gotten a tuxedo.”
Putana Highball was a fifteen-year-old girl.
She had brown skin and her long black hair was tied back behind her head.
As the Pilot Elite of the Faith Organization’s Second Generation Object named Sarasvati, her entire body was contained within the characteristic special suit. The primarily green skintight suit covered her from the top of her neck to the tips of her toes. The hat on her head and the miniskirt-like design was somehow reminiscent of a nurse’s uniform.
In a way, that was the very concept of her Object.
While the Sarasvati was a purely strategic weapon, a bedrock road roller that destroyed obstacles with its great weight and vibration was attached to the front and a cultivator was attached to the back. It used those devices to cultivate large areas of wasteland or desert in a short period of time and to construct long waterways and large-scale farms.
After all, it was named Sarasvati, a water goddess and the protector of wisdom.
This great machine used human technology to rule over both life and death and Putana was the one who controlled it.
That was why her special suit resembled a nurse’s uniform. The Sarasvati would cut open the planet Earth, remove the lesion, pour in water, and give it new life. That directly led to prosperity for mankind. That Second Generation Object had been built to grant that very wish.
Putana Highball sank deep into her “seat” within a colossal weapon that could endure a nuclear attack, which also meant it was a more claustrophobic prison than being buried alive below the bedrock.
However, her seat was much different from the reclining chairs of a beauty parlor or a dentist’s office.
Simply put, belts made of synthetic fibers stretched from various parts of the cockpit. Each of the countless belts attached to her special suit, was drawn taut, and distributed her weight so she hovered in midair as if sitting in an invisible seat.
Why would she use such a roundabout method? There was a simple reason.
With her eyes gently closed, she became strongly aware of the “gazes” moving across the surface of her body.
More than ten endoscope-like tubes wriggled around her and the points of infrared laser light emitted from the end of the fiber optics constantly crawled across her body.
The movements on her skin’s surface allowed them to accurately read the flow of her blood, the tension of her muscles, the movement of her organs, and other information. This system directly connected her to the Object’s controls.
Putana Highball silently judged that, even in this state, she had yet to fully combine with Sarasvati.
When she did achieve that combination, it felt like having her human nerves reach every corner of the machine until she no longer saw any distinction between the two. When she reached that point, it was no longer the “gazes” inside the cockpit that she felt. The idea of being inside a machine left her mind entirely and all the many “gazes” running rampant through the outside world stabbed into her at once.
Once she reached that point, there was nothing to be afraid of.
From human eyeballs to the sensors of machines and from the birds flying in the sky above to the bugs crawling on the earth below, she could accurately trace any and all “gazes” back to their sources.
To put it another way, the Sarasvati was very difficult to pilot and it required an Elite with enough skill to pull that off.
It was obvious if one thought about it, but it had the large-scale cultivation functionality added in on top of the simple strategic weapon functionality. That inevitably added more weight and energy costs.
The brown Pilot Elite slowly breathed in and released the air little by little.
Her consciousness melted away.
By the time her existence fully vanished, she would once more be reborn as the goddess that brought moisture and blessings to the enemy of the wasteland.
When Quenser left the motel, the outdoors felt like a sweaty locker room. A sticky fog covered his hair, which only made the oppressively hot night all the more miserable. The fluorescent and decorative lights had become vague blobs with no real outline, so it felt like being thrown out into a nightmare.
He recalled what Millia Newburg had told him.
“We’ll meet up in the southeastern shopping district. That’s where we in Azul Hive get our funds. They might notice us if we moved as a group, so everyone find your own transportation and take different routes.”
The sound of a bolt unlocking snapped him back to the present.
He saw Heivia forcing open the door to a two-seat sports car parked on the side of the road. He then removed the plastic cover below the steering wheel and started messing with the wires.
“Hop in already, Quenser.”
“You’re kidding. Do you have any idea how old a car would have to be to turn on by touching two wires together?”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m shorting it to reset the immobilizer. See? This is how this city works!”
Quenser heard the roar of a cheap engine and the blinding beams of the headlights.
He clicked his tongue, climbed into the passenger seat, and saw Heivia ripping out the GPS car navigation and chucking it out the window.
“Let’s get going. Time isn’t gonna wait around for us.”
“Wow… You know there’s something wrong with the world when I’m the closest thing to a symbol of benevolence.”
“What are you talking about? Reusing cars is the ecological thing to do. This’ll move the hands of the World Clock back a little.”
“Yeah, but I hope this city’s crazy rules never catch on anywhere else.”
“To be clear, I’m following my own rules here. I check the door and the lock and only steal the cars that have already been stolen. Then I search out the original owner based on the number and secretly take it back to them. I’m kind like a rough towing service. And it’s true I tend to get into car chases and that’ll damage it a fair bit, but it’s still better than nothing.”
With that, the two idiots drove the stolen car off into the foggy city.
Even with the poor visibility, barely any of the other cars were showing any caution. In fact, it looked like most of them were not even obeying the traffic lights. There were also plenty of people on the sidewalks, but unlike during the day, there were far fewer in swimsuits. Instead, there were a lot of women in shiny strips of cloth that may have been cocktail dresses or stripper outfits.
“The old man in that black luxury car we just passed is the city’s most famous Jeweler. And I of course mean that he’s willing to launder the precious metals that people have stolen. He’s been getting carried away lately, so people have been betting on when he’ll be attacked by men in masks.”
“That tow truck is actually a Car Thief who steals luxury cars in broad daylight. If you see him, don’t get too close. He’s made a lot of enemies, so you never know when a stray bullet will fly his way.”
Quenser heard a dry explosive sound and thought he saw something like a life-size doll falling from a building’s balcony, but no one paid much attention.
“Don’t worry. That wasn’t targeted at us. These days, I’ve heard a lot about a mysterious Sniper appearing on the building roofs at night.”
Quenser got the feeling he would wear himself out pointing out how ridiculous it all was.
The normal old men and women walking along the street were as likely to be carrying guns as the more conspicuous people. Just watching it all seemed to wear down his spirit. He was feeling homesick for the battlefield country he had left to come here, but he concluded that meant he was normal.
He then heard Millia Newburg’s voice from the radio tossed on top of the dashboard.
“I just received word from the unit in the mountains. The blackout will begin in thirty seconds. Be careful as you approach traffic lights and railway crossings. It would be safest to stop on the curb ahead of time.”
A low rumble and a darkness deeper than a movie theater covered all of Lost Angels. Even with the car’s headlights, there was some confusion.
Quenser heard sounds of bending metal and breaking glass from all around, but Heivia slipped through it all with only one hand on the wheel.
“It takes an average of fifteen seconds for it to recover. As awful as this city is, it is supported by the military, so don’t get greedy and think you can break open a roadside ATM while the security is down.”
Just as she had said, the power returned as quickly as it had gone out.
The city’s lights recovered and blinded the already confused drivers.
After entering an intersection and nearly getting hit by a large bus, Heivia cheerfully honked the horn several times and turned the corner.
This new road was a straight shot to the wharf.
“What’s the Faith Organization military doing?”
“No obvious movements from the Object or the people,” replied Millia. “They don’t seem to have realized what we’re doing.”
“So Step 1 was a success.”
“This is where it really begins. Hurry on to the port.”
A group of Faith Organization soldiers known as the Clovers witnessed the blackout too.
They had originally been naval experts, but the reliance on Objects could be glimpsed in the fact that they were simply guarding a harbor. They seemed to have some interest in the distant Island Nation because their name was a pun on that nation’s words for white clovers and the white collars they wore.
They were meant to protect the Object construction and maintenance facility at the southernmost point of the city, but the Sarasvati had requested that they all move outside of the Great Fence three kilometers to the north.
Also, the naval Clovers were not the only ones to receive that request.
Everywhere they looked, the cafes and donut shops near the Great Fence were packed full of men and women in lab coats and work uniforms. They had all settled down here until Pilot Elite Putana Highball finished her meditation.
A young white collar who was really only a boy gave the foggy sky an annoyed look.
“What are we even doing?”
“Don’t let it get you down, youngster. We wouldn’t get any money without the Object.”
“I don’t know what this ‘scopophobia’ is about, but I can’t believe she had even her personal bodyguards leave.”
The too-young white collar glanced over at the Great Fence.
The fog kept him from seeing the details of the Object, but its dark silhouette was more than visible. A lighthouse on a small island provided a backlight for the Sarasvati and the Object’s shadow was displayed on the screen created by the fog.
“You can complain if you want, but don’t look back at the base. She’ll read the emotions in your gaze.”
“Seriously. The Elites are manmade espers, after all.”
That was of course untrue, but it was the view held by normal soldiers who knew little of Objects.
“Even the full security network of the base can’t hope to match the Object’s sensors. If she’ll do our job for us, that’s fine by me.”
“That may be true, but…”
He trailed off as Lost Angels was suddenly wrapped in pitch darkness. Even the lighthouse went out.
The too-young Clover pulled his visor down over his eyes and started to raise his carbine, but…
“Put down your gun! Panic and you’ll shoot one of us!”
Someone grabbed the gun from the side and pointed it straight up.
“Calm down, youngster. These blackouts happen all the time on hot nights. It’s because of all the air conditioners. This is a part of being ecological. The young wives who are so obsessed with the World Clock will be rejoicing.”
“It doesn’t matter. Either way, the Sarasvati has power from its reactor, so its sensors are up and running. Crossing the Great Fence in the dark will only get you vaporized.”
The city was not even wrapped in darkness for a full twenty seconds.
The power soon recovered, beginning with the most important regions. Fortunately for the donut shop, the lights came on just in time to reveal a young man preparing to break the register, so the workers were able to gang up on him.
“A toast to night in Lost Angels,” said the older white collar.
The lighthouse on the small island seemed to have recovered as well because the Sarasvati’s silhouette appeared on the fog once more.
“Let’s call a Pizza Deliveryman and get something to eat. I hear they’ll deliver anywhere in the city as long as you give them a GPS signal.”
“Isn’t that one of our researchers being attacked in that donut shop!? We need to help him!!”
Once Quenser and Heivia arrived at the wharf, they gathered with plenty of other Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. They had all stolen cars from here or there, so it looked like a gathering of a small street-racing gang.
The shopping port was a large scale source of funding and criminal infrastructure for the Legitimacy Kingdom’s Azul Hive, so once in there, the Faith Organization and the Information Alliance could not reach them so easily. They could see some guards/snipers on the top of gantry cranes and container piles here and there.
“Step 1 is complete and they haven’t noticed a thing. We’ve ‘removed their gazes’.”
Still wearing a bikini top and baggy cargo pants, Millia Newburg sat on the hood of convertible and encouraged them all.
“Step 2, using Mr. Mayonnaise’s biometrics to hack into the Faith Organization’s system, was also a success. We have a direct line into the Collective Farming through its maintenance port. The cockpit screens will never tell the Elite anything is wrong.”
She raised a finger at a time as she continued.
“But Step 3 is the problem. We don’t have unlimited personnel, so you all need to help. We’ll be splitting into small groups and boarding submersibles. We’ll bypass the Great Fence by using the sea. Do you understand? Then get going.”
They opened a metal container and pulled out a ton of oxygen tanks.
The submersibles were not downsized versions of whale-shaped submarines. They were forty centimeter wide, two meter long cylinders with a seat and handlebars forcibly attached. The rider would grab on while the cylinder was lying on its side.
“These are human torpedoes, aren’t they?” said Millia.
“Don’t worry, Heivia. These are harmless leisure products. They’re not even based on the Island Nation’s original weapon. They’re from European models made to take two soldiers there and back instead of giving them a one-way ticket. You’re apparently supposed to sneak up to a ship, attach the main portion with a magnet, and then detonate it from a safe distance.”
Quenser frowned with an oxygen tank in hand.
“Huh? This says it was made in the Information Alliance.”
“That’s the free market for you. We know someone who’s convenient to use even if they belong to a different world power. That RC Girl carries everything in with a drone and monitor glasses.”
Quenser and Heivia put some goggles on, placed the tanks on their backs, put the mouthpieces in, and jumped into the dark ocean. They both climbed up onto a seat and grabbed the handlebars.
“Quenser, why can you use a submersible just fine, but you can’t drive a car or a motorcycle?”
“I used one of these on a field trip back in the safe country. That one was shaped more like a jet ski, though. There are no roads in the ocean and you can’t fall over.”
They travelled along at a depth of about ten meters while moving much faster than a bicycle.
They were heading toward the jagged cape that looked like shark teeth.
After moving well past the cape and approaching the small lighthouse island, they surfaced.
“Amazing. They really haven’t noticed.”
“The simpler the trick, the harder it is to escape once you’ve fallen for it.”