It was October.
The continent of Asia had a wide variety of regions and climates, from landlocked deserts to the oceanic Island Nation, but in the southern sea near the equator, the weather was still quite hot in this season. The unique humidity of Asia trapped that heat around you and the smell of the rotting trees and mud of the thick subtropical forest brewed a unique kind of “air”.
The two idiots named Quenser Barbotage and Heivia Winchell had just infiltrated the Mekong District and completed a job there, so they and the other soldiers gave a look of annoyance at the beach where the clear water was washing in and out.
“…That was supposed to be our extraction point, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, hell. We spent five days without a single bath while we snuck through mangroves and blew away white powder processing plants, so what’s with the festivities here? Are they planning a parade for the triumphant return of Heivia the super handsome genius noble?”
They were on their way back from blowing up some old-style heroin factories that had started popping up all over the map, presumably because their market share was being threatened by the synthetic drugs that had become all the rage lately. This could get a little complicated, but poppy seeds produced opium, the primary component of opium was morphine, and morphine became heroin with some chemical processing. This will not be on the test, but it is all very dangerous, so pay careful attention. Anyway, they had gotten as far as blowing up the drug factories (which were rumored to have military connections) and returned.
A transport helicopter was meant to pick them up here so they could return to the warship out at sea.
But they found something enormous there instead.
It was a battlecruiser of unknown affiliation.
It had been beached.
It was located entirely up on the white sand.
The mass of metal was more than 200 meters long and painted a faintly bluish gray. Three-gun sets of main cannons were stacked in tiers and the large ship’s bridge towered up a bit toward the right. That said, the real firepower was in the vertical missile launcher tubes lined up along the stern of the ship. There were also Gatling guns and torpedo tubes arranged along either side like roadside trees.
“What do we do? Return to the hidden base in the forest?”
“When survivors from the heroin factories could still be wandering around out there? If we flee there and give away the position of all the secret facilities, we’d be putting our allies’ lives at risk.”
They then received an appreciated transmission from Her Excellency Frolaytia Capistrano, their busty, silver-haired commander who was monitoring the situation via satellite.
“Quenser, Heivia. Change of plans.”
“What in the world is going on?”
“The start of fall is apparently the season for cyclones in Asia. You had trouble with that yesterday, if you recall. Well, an Information Alliance warship was beached by the storm. We’ve picked up their rescue signal out here at sea. Sorry about making you work again after your all-nighter, but could you start on some philanthropic work?”
“What!? You want us to help them!? Not kill them!?”
“There are international rules unrelated to war concerning shipwrecks. You’ve heard about another world power’s submarine working to rescue the crew of a ship sunk in an accident, haven’t you? If enemy and ally work together to save them, it apparently makes for a lovely story.”
“…If that thing gets back out to sea, it’s our asses it’ll be targeting.”
“The ship’s diesel engine and troop equipment are apparently still working, so if we attack them, it’s all you little foot soldiers that will be blown to bits. Are you sure you want that?”
A beached metal ship was a troublesome thing.
At sea, opening a single hole in its belly would sink it, but a much greater amount of firepower was needed to silence one on land.
“Of course, since we were ordered to help out instead of blowing it away with the Object, I can only assume there was some argument in the safe country council,” said Frolaytia. “Simply put, doing this favor here will let us withdraw from a war on the other side of the globe. This is another form of war. A great age of life and peace is counting on this. If you screw it up, that diplomatic card will fail and the councilors will be less than happy with us, so make sure you do this right.”
The two idiots stared at the radio for a while after the transmission ended. Once it was clear there was no changing this, they covered their faces with their hands.
“We don’t even get a chance to take a shower…?”
“Do you really think Miss Sadist would agree to that? She’d just say we already got one when that cyclone dumped rain on our heads all night long, so let’s get this over with so we can return to the fleet.”
And with that, the mission had begun.
The Information Alliance battlecruiser was more than 200 meters long and appeared to weigh about 70 thousand tons. They could not exactly tow it with a truck’s winch and they could not line up logs to roll it forward either. Neither were bad ideas for moving something big and heavy, but this was just too big and heavy.
“Welcome to Hotel Flagship 019!”
Someone approached them across the unnaturally white beach.
The old man seemed awfully cheerful for someone who had been shipwrecked and forced to get help from another world power. Because he worked on a ship, he wore a white uniform that did not even try to use camouflage and he was accompanied by several bodyguards. And all of those bodyguards were young women in pure white sailor uniforms. …The uniforms should not have been a problem for navy soldiers, so why did it look out of place on those sexy women?
The man who inspired thoughts of “death to the bourgeoisie” introduced himself.
“I am Alfred Silverking, captain of the Flagship 019. It would seem human race is practically brimming with good will. I truly appreciate this rescue.”
“We’ll help out, but we’re not about to enter under your command. So we’re not gonna change our language or our manners.”
“Perfectly understandable.” The gray-haired old man pulled out a thick pipe and one of his female bodyguards lit it with practiced hand. “Some of your people arrived from sea earlier and are already working, but, well, we are the ones in need. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.”
“…Why do you insist on speaking down to us, old man?”
“That is just how I am. Now, our objective is to return the ship to sea as quickly as possible, but a 70-thousand-ton ship will not be easily budged.”
“Tie it to an Object and tow it on out to sea, idiot.”
“The ship would tear in half. Sand has friction too, you see.”
The old man explained the situation to the idiot duo and their jolly friends. As they trudged through the sand on their way toward the Flagship 019, he groped the butt of one of his bodyguards while showing no sign he thought he was doing anything wrong.
“Luckily, my ship is not simply a giant hunk of metal. It has a large empty space within. And I have not received any word of a hole being torn in the hull when it was beached. So it would be best to return to the basics. Ships are built in shipyards on the land, but they are sent out to sea once they are completed. Now, how do they do that?”
Quenser frowned at that.
“…Fill the area below them with water?”
“Precisely. Luckily, there is only fine sand below my ship. That can be dug out if we put our minds to it. First, we must support it with pillars on both sides so it does not topple over. Yes, there must be more than 100 on either side to ensure the weight is not focused on a single point. Then we use heavy machinery to dig out the sand below the ship, create a large enough space, and guide seawater into that space. That will get my Flagship 019 afloat once more and it can be returned to the sea.”
“Wait, wait, wait!! Wait!! You make it sound easy, but that’s gotta mean digging out a hell of a lot of sand! Not only do we need a space below the ship, but we need a route out to sea so it doesn’t scrape its belly on the way. Are you asking us to build a canal here!?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I truly appreciate this rescue.”
The gray-haired dirty old man was entirely nonchalant about it.
Before proposing an idea, Quenser thanked god that his commander was a busty, silver-haired beauty.
“Really though, if we have the Baby Magnum drag around a wire-attached bucket like it’s trolling for fish, it can dig up the seabed and create a route out to sea pretty easily. The real problem is the beach where something so inexact wouldn’t work.”
“Stop working your brain for this piece of shit, Quenser. We’re not the Capitalist Corporations, so don’t turn into a goddamn wage slave.”
A makeshift barricade was crudely placed around the beach and Legitimacy Kingdom work vehicles were already driving around within it. Instead of cranes or diggers, they looked more like armored vehicles and tanks with those parts added on.
Heivia gave an annoyed look to the Holy Sword: Shitty Shovel he had pulled out of the beach.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Our military still hasn’t automated this kind of thing?”
“Weapons always have a manual step, so they never fully hand over control. A machine can’t be legally responsible for its actions, so whoever’s in charge would get in trouble even if it’s all automated.”
“But tankers and cruise ships are automated to cut down on labor costs. And the navy isn’t much different. Not to mention spy drones and bombers. If the sea and sky are going the unmanned route, why is the land alone so untouchable?”
But Quenser was interested in something other than their diligent allies.
Something thicker than a firehose descended from the battlecruiser’s deck to the beach and then continued on past the barricade.
The student stared curiously up the 9 meters to the deck and asked about it.
“Oh, that. The ship’s diesel engine has better fuel efficiency when it is kept on at all times instead of switching it on and off for every little thing. But that would be a waste of energy, so we are sending the engine’s excess power to a local village. So soon after a cyclone, they are very thankful that they can make breakfast without waiting for the torn power lines to be repaired.”
“…I seriously doubt the black-hearted military would perform volunteer work if they weren’t getting anything out of it.”
“Do not be ridiculous. We are a peace-keeping force established for the purpose of self-defense.” Alfred was saying some unbelievable things. “But to be honest, we wanted to avoid a strained post-disaster environment where the people might relieve their stress by blaming their unexpected guests. We are giving them a treat to ensure our work goes smoothly. Oppressing people with military might is not the only way to cut down on terrorism.”
…The crude barricades which left a lot of openings were apparently part of creating that image. If they strictly kept everyone out of the area, the locals might see it as outsiders occupying their land. Quenser had heard that safe country factories would leave a portion of their walls transparent to allow people to see inside. This probably had a similar psychological effect.
“It’s a metal whale!”
“Hey, can we take a picture of it?”
“Won’t the metal whale dry out if they don’t pour water on it?”
The place was already popular with the local kids. This really showed the Information Alliance’s ability to control people’s minds.
Alfred Silverking waved past the barricade with the perfect smile for a press conference.
“I am sorry you have to work on this so soon after your previous job,” he said to Quenser and Heivia.
“I’d like to complain, but I’d be revealing military secrets if I did…”
“Are you referring to the heroin factories in Mekong? We have been monitoring that. Oh, that poor Faith Organization film industry. They might be the world power most lagging behind when it comes to guiding international public opinion, but once you start relying on dirty money to pay for more CG, you really are beyond saving as an entertainment industry.”
“It doesn’t matter if you know everything about it already! We still can’t say anything, dammit!!”
Meanwhile, that captain, who was old in every way but his sex drive, received a whispered message from one of his young female bodyguards in sailor uniforms. He removed the thick pipe from his mouth and instead took a radio from the woman’s smooth hand.
“This is Alfred Silverking.”
“Commodore, surely you know what it means when you’re receiving a call from someone sent here as a troubleshooter. I apologize for how sudden this is, but we have a problem. Immediately put together a unit for a land-based mission. Quality: a specialization in covert activity. Quantity: even just a platoon would be enough. And give priority to the quality requirement.”
“My ship is part of the navy, you know? Do you know where I could find a witch’s potion to give legs to a mermaid?”
“Is this inept resistance of yours in the middle of an emergency your idea of following the Information Alliance way of life and getting information out of me for free, commodore? That is a shocking level of idiocy, but if you like the idea of being hanged for violating international law, then by all means continue wasting my time. You are the responsible party here.”
“…To be entirely honest, I do not know where I can find such a unit. Do you know the animal that kills the most people in the world? The mosquito. They carry a great many pathogens and kill more than 700 thousand people a year. That is more than crime or war. I apologize for going on and on about this, but none of my soldiers have been vaccinated for malaria or the other diseases found in the Asian jungle.”
“The two sides are working together since you’re shipwrecked, right? If necessary, you can procure some Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers. Just hurry.”
“The truth is the greatest trump card. Tell them every last one of them will be slaughtered if they get caught up in our problem. Tell them the neighbor’s house is on fire and the direction of the wind isn’t looking good.”
The transmission ended.
The two idiots had a very bad feeling where this was headed.
Then the gray-haired dirty old man turned toward them, grinned, and made a suggestion.
“Now then, gentlemen. Which would you prefer: digging out sand with a shovel, or returning to a storm of gunfire on the battlefield?”
Since he was not silver-haired, busty, or beautiful, Heivia reflexively grabbed at the man, so the young female bodyguards in white sailor uniforms knocked him to the ground and thoroughly rewarded him.
Outdoor work in Southeast Asia felt like being steamed in an oven to healthily cut out the fat, but Quenser and Heivia were instead guided inside the Flagship 019 battlecruiser.
They parted ways with Alfred Silverking and a young male soldier showed them the rest of the way.
They found a space that seemed far too large for a battlecruiser. It seemed more like a crude ship’s hold from a helicopter carrier or a landing ship. A parasol, a simple table, and some chairs were set up and a girl of about 12 with long blonde hair was enjoying some tea with her legs crossed.
She wore a black military uniform that clearly identified her as not your average soldier and she moved just her eyes to look at them.
“…Is everyone in the Information Alliance a wannabe S who insists on looking down on people?”
“Heivia, you can’t expect much from these morons. Just be glad we traded that gray-haired old man for a cute girl…”
“Hah hah hah? A cute girl? A cute girl!? Oh, Quenser. Even if I’m being generous, we’re either looking at the investiture for some snot-nosed noble brat or the Island Nation’s Shichi-Go-San festival. This tiny, low-and-inside dead ball is clearly categorized as a little gir- bgwehohhhh!!!???”
He cut himself off with some odd noises because of the teacup full of piping hot tea that the black-uniformed grim reaper had chucked at him without batting an eye. It seemed being stomped on by the skirt-wearing women who had been hand-picked by that dirty old man had not been enough of a reward for this boy. Had he completely forgotten they were inside an enemy warship?
“Now. This high-ranking officer with a sexy and adult body will deign to ignore your adorably nonsensical statement.”
With her legs still crossed, the blonde girl held another cup out toward the empty air. A butler-like young man poured her some new tea. Without even looking in his direction, the little girl…no, the girl…no, no, the beautiful woman…no, no, no, the super sexy widow…no, no, no, no, there is simply no getting around the fact that she was a Rank AAA little girl. And she gestured toward the other seats with her chin.
She seemed to be telling them to take a seat.
“I am Wraith Martini Vermouthspray. I specialize in troubleshooting for the Information Alliance military. I don’t know if it is meant as a compliment or an insult, but I am known as the Stopgap Grim Reaper. I honestly would rather not have anything to do with you for long, but let’s try to work together for the time being.”
“We’re…wait, can we give our names, Heivia?”
“You just gave mine! Th-then again, giving our name and rank shouldn’t be a problem.”
Wraith sighed lightly at their exchange.
“Battlefield Student Quenser Barbotage and Private First Class Heivia Winchell.”
“You have a thing for feet and you have a thing for armpits.”
“Don’t let this surprise you, you innocent fools. We are the Information Alliance.”
The blonde girl provided an explanation that may or may not have had further implications.
Now that their fetishes had been exposed, Quenser and Heivia nervously took their seats as if a giant power saw had been moved up between their legs and stopped just before reaching their balls.
“So, um, what would you like to discuss?”
“I am glad to see you catch on quickly, in your own idiotic way. Sincerity is a virtue. You may have already heard from the commodore, but we have a problem. However, we do not have the ability to deal with it since we are beached here. Since you have crossed the battle line to rescue us, we are all in this together, so I will have the Legitimacy Kingdom assist in resolving this problem.”
The young man waiting behind her lined up a few paper documents on the table as if handing out restaurant menus. They may have used paper instead of a digital format because there was no way of fully erasing digital data.
In what may have been a habit of hers, Wraith needlessly spun a pen in her hand.
“The Information Alliance and Legitimacy Kingdom are currently working together because a beached ship is deemed ‘sunk’ and unable to operate according to the military regulations and leaving the 205 crewmembers with no ability to fight back would mean letting them die. A truly beautiful farce, don’t you think?”
“That just means you’re asking us to help because you can’t fight, right? What about it?”
Wraith sighed at Quenser’s question.
“…What if we secretly did have the ability to fight on land?”
Heivia frowned at that ominous suggestion.
“As I said, I was sent in after the fact as a troubleshooter.” The blonde girl looked annoyed. “So I will admit it took me too long to grasp the situation. …Curse the Flagship 019. The warship was carrying five tanks in its belly. I don’t want to protect that dirty old man and his crew, but this is more like a leaked report than an intentional cover-up.”
“Why would a naval ship have tanks…?”
“I don’t know either. Maybe they didn’t want to transport them through the usual routes, or maybe they were on some covert operation that precluded having the Tank 041s show up in the records.”
It was a strange thing, but Quenser and the others were inside an unusually large space within an otherwise cramped warship. What was that space?
It was possible the Flagship 019 was more than just a warship sent out as a naval fighting force. It may have also transported armaments.
“I really don’t like where this is headed. This unlicensed taxi definitely wasn’t headed to a hotel, I can tell you that…”
“Oh, one other thing, my dear idiots. Sorry, but you will have to take this information to your graves.”
“Hold on!! You forgot to ask us if we wanted to hear about it first! Don’t stab us and then apologize!!”
“Yes, but we are the Information Alliance, you see.”
“Curse her… She opened the drawer and then slammed it back shut so we can’t turn back!!”
“As wise and merciful as I am, I will guarantee your silly human rights. Thus, you are free to turn back here, but if you do that, keep in mind that someone outside my jurisdiction will likely add your names to some assassination list or another.”
The two idiots’ eyes bugged out at that, but they were already in the middle of a secret operation. If they said anything they should not, they could easily end up the target of a cross-borders payback operation.
“To get back on topic, the problem is that we have a fighting force capable of moving on the land.” Wraith nonchalantly sipped at her tea. “The request for cooperative rescue work only works in a pressing situation, such as a small submersible being sent to help a sunk submarine where the crew is simply waiting for death as the oxygen runs out. If we have a usable fighting force at our disposal, that condition no longer applies.”
…Of course, there was no way that five tanks could get a 200 meter and 70 thousand ton mass back to the ocean, but that did not really matter. The people back in safe countries who were cramming their noses in the rulebooks tended not to care about the actual on-site situation.
“If our temporary cooperation is abandoned here, the Information Alliance’s Flagship 019 will be blown away by an Object with no way of fighting back. But the Flagship 019’s guns still work. Plus, all those diligent Legitimacy Kingdom pigs are hanging around at point-blank range. If a battle breaks out, both sides will be wiped out before they can escape back to sea. No, in the worst case, your Object’s main cannon could even blow away your own infantry as they flee along the beach.”
“…I-I can see that happening. With that violent princess and busty commander in the same deck, anything can happen.”
“I would prefer to avoid a silly battle as well. Calculating out the scope of the damage would be a pain. So I want you to move the five troublesome tanks elsewhere as soon as possible. Yes, I can see it now. The first report on the morning news will be some of that oddly tall and narrow ‘viewer-supplied footage’ that has become so ubiquitous. I expect it would take two hours before any actual reporters with a press badge hanging from their neck arrive on the scene. Make sure you have this done before then.”
Quenser and Heivia understood what she was trying to say.
They might have been fine with helping the Information Alliance with this, but not here and now. They had just finished destroying heroin factories deep in the subtropical forest, so they were not about to start another battle now. If you accepted a cruel convenience store manager’s harsh timetable even once, that would become the norm from then on. They knew for sure their sadistic and busty commander would do that. There was no way they would accept to go on a likely literal death march for the war industry.
And something else bothered them more.
“But doesn’t everyone have some kind of camera these days? Just one person with a cellphone can send that tall and narrow footage to the entire world.”
“We are the Information Alliance. We can suppress amateur witness information, even if they use a civilian satellite service. We can shout fake news or fabricate evidence about the footage having traces of being doctored. If it comes down to it, we can even hit ourselves with a cyber-attack. We create our extreme explanation to compete with theirs. If it comes down to a futile argument between white and black, the people’s judgments will fall into the neutral gray zone in the middle. We can hold it back as long as we are not talking about that media that comes with the title of ‘mass’, which is far more persuasive.”
There was no need to overthink this.
They only had to fire up the five tanks and get them out of here.
Quenser and Heivia only had to act as guards along the way.
“You will find the remnants of an airport 120 kilometers north of here. It used to be an Information Alliance airfield, but we had to abandon it after the Faith Organization demonstrated the advantages of their way of fighting properly and killing diligently. Just get those troublesome tanks to the bunker there. Once things have stabilized, the Information Alliance will put together an operation to recover them.”
“Does that mean what I think it does…?”
“Yes, you would be aware after crawling around the forest destroying those heroin factories. This is a battlefield country, but it is effectively under Faith Organization control. South Asia is a melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism. And it would be a problem if they destroyed or captured the tanks in transit, since that material evidence could be used as a diplomatic card against us.”
In addition to simple terrain and weather information, the documents lined up on the table listed a few expected enemies and their equipment.
The threats to the Tank 041s were shoulder-fired rockets, anti-tank mines, anti-tank trenches, IEDs made from unexploded ordnance, barbed wire, tanks, attack helicopters, and…
“We would like to demonstrate some Information Alliance-style respect by relying on the data that is your experience in ‘surviving’ such things.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me…”
“The Faith Organization’s Second Generation Coilgun 073 is patrolling at irregular intervals. Oh, and your silly codename for it is the Paper Bikini, I believe. …We would prefer to avoid walking through that area, but we have no time. Find a way.”
The two boys fell silent when the memories came flooding back.
Yet it normally seemed like those two idiots would suffocate if they were not constantly talking.
In a way, this was a nightmare on the level of entering a tiger den, snatching up the tiger cub, safely escaping the forest, and celebrating that you would never have to face a monster like that again, just to remember that you had dropped the car keys in the depths of that cave.
However, the clock was already ticking.
If they did nothing, the fuse would burn down and they would be caught in the explosion.
They were stuck between a hellish rock and a hellish hard place.
The only choice with the slightest chance of avoiding bloodshed was to move forward.
“I have one last question,” asked Quenser.
“What might that be?”
“…Has our big boss, Frolaytia, agreed to this joint operation?”
When he hesitantly asked, Wraith Martini Vermouthspray elegantly returned her teacup to the saucer.
Then she crossed her slender index fingers in front of her adorable lips.
While forming a small X in front of her mouth, the blonde girl gave him a somewhat upturned glance and asked for something unbelievable.
“This will just have to be our little secret.”
And after all that…
“This is the worst,” someone groaned. “We only have two options here: die from a bullet or die from overwork…”
They were in a thick forest, but there was no solid ground below their feet. In fact, the seawater rose about halfway up their calves. This area was known as a mangrove. That meant it had worse footing than a normal forest, it was extremely hot and humid, and they could not even sit down to take a break.
Long ago, people had built cells that entirely ignored the captive’s human rights. The water cell had submerged the floor so the captive could not lie down and sleep while the Sisyphean cell had forced the captive to walk endlessly around and around in the small space by passing a long stick through the bars and prodding them whenever they stopped moving. Those nightmarish rooms had destroyed the captive’s mind through physical exhaustion, but marching through a mangrove without any rest was quickly reaching that level.
It was hellishly hot and humid, but they were surrounded by non-potable seawater. And even if they got desperate enough to try to cool off in the water, the osmotic pressure would still wear them out on the cellular level. This was the environment through which five masses of steel moved slowly in a line. It was an incredibly difficult route that kept switching between land and waterside, but the tanks managed to remain exactly the same distance apart.
Tropical mangroves were the perfect fit for the effects of global warming, so they seemed to have been taking over the landscape quite quickly. The greenery had swallowed up fighter jets, transport helicopters, and the like which had been shot down by an Object’s lasers. They could feel their balls shrivel up when they thought about how many small shrimps and crabs had to be living all through here.
“Are these those self-driving vehicles that are so popular lately?”
“Huh? Well, that does sound like something the Information Alliance would like.”
The tanks were clearly maintaining a walking pace so that the infantry like Quenser and Heivia could be positioned around them as guards.
“What the hell is this? There’s something wrong with placing flesh-and-blood guards around something with composite armor over a meter thick. What are we, a meat cushion used to protect that metal fruit?”
“I’d rather be here than out front. The ones who lost that game of rock-paper-scissors are taking the lead to make sure the tanks don’t trigger any tripwires or landmines, right?”
“So how far have landmines evolved these days, anyway?”
“I dunno. I’ve heard a lot of stories though. Like landmines that fly up into the air and fall right on top of the tank, or landmines that inform a remote operator when triggered and that operator uses video footage to confirm the presence of enemy soldiers before detonating it.”
“What happened to landmines being something buried in the ground…?”
“There are apparently also landmines that have something like a parabolic antenna on the ground which automatically turns its head to target the side of the tank. Just like a concave mirror, it focuses the blast on a single point to launch the blast like a spear and pierce the armor from dozens of meters away.”
The weight settings for an anti-personnel mine and an anti-tank mine were different, so they would not explode if a person accidentally stepped on them. …But to reiterate, this was a mangrove with seawater covering everything. Even at a depth of a few dozen centimeters, the water pressure could add enough for a person’s weight to trigger them. And if the mine was made from glass or plastic, the metal detectors attached to the end of their rifles could not locate them, so they had to be super careful.
“Have we wandered into a post-apocalyptic world? The greenery has swallowed up all these weapons…”
“It only takes a few years for this to happen. That goddamn Oceanian forestation tech seems to have been profitable. Although that dictator said he couldn’t trust some words on paper, so he didn’t sell them the Object tech along with it.”
Unlike direct sunlight, this was the same stuffy heat as a plastic greenhouse. Heivia was completely sick of it and wiped away the sweat dripping down his chin.
“We’re doing our jobs and protecting the battalion from a threat, but our busty commander is never gonna see it that way. Will she just think we’re skipping out on our sand-digging job?”
“The focus right now is on preventing this information from leaking out, but we’ll just have to hope that little Wraithy will explain everything once this is over.”
And since the Legitimacy Kingdom and Information Alliance were working together at the moment, this would not qualify as disobeying orders and deserting…or so the two idiots hoped.
The tanks in question – the Information Alliance seemed to call them Tank 041s – had been hastily painted with Legitimacy Kingdom-ish camouflage, but anyone who knew what they were doing would quickly notice something was wrong. The tanks did not look like a crude collection of straight lines. The body and rotating turret had streamlined curves that flowed front to back and it was designed to stay low to the ground. It made Quenser think of a sports car or the front car of a high-speed train.
They had to get those tanks to the remains of some airfield.
He made a comment while glancing over at the tank which was covered with small boxes about the size of a phonebook.
“I guess not even a tank can just knock down all the trees in its path.”
He received a clear voice transmission from the tank right next to him.
“Even if they’re masses of composite armor, they still weigh a few dozen tons each. It would probably be simplest to think of them like giant trucks. They smash through concrete walls in movies, but they can actually be stopped pretty easily. And when you do have to force your way through a barrier, you need to point the gun backwards so it doesn’t get damaged.”
“Who are you?”
“Oops, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Dorothea Martini Naked. Nice to meetcha☆”
The two idiots exchanged a glance.
“We’ve heard that name before.”
“Yeah, we’re…y’know, a part of that standard. The Martini Series,” said the voice. “Although I don’t recommend looking into that too much.”
This sudden operation existed outside normal operating procedures and it seemed to have some hidden connections to things they were not aware of. To sum it up, they had nothing but bad feelings about this.
“(Umm, have we been set up in some way?)”
“(That’s just how the military works. You’re either tricked by the enemy or caught in some conspiracy by an ally. It can come from the front or the back, but you get fucked either way.)”
Diesel exhaust filled their lungs along with the salty and muddy scent while Quenser and Heivia felt less than hopeful about the fate of the derailed train that was this mission.
Even the radios they carried felt different.
They had left their Legitimacy Kingdom format radios and handheld devices at the Disaster Rescue Base on the beach, and they had been given Information Alliance format ones instead. Everyone’s cute Wraithy claimed it was a way to prevent an intelligence leak, but everything looked suspicious once you entered that mindset.
Dorothea did not seem to mind.
“Man, it’s been a while since I worked in a group. It’s kind of exciting. And if I’m enjoying this, I guess I’m still not a true shut-in. Thank goodness I’m normal☆”
“Yeah, I’m sure it is enjoyable when the tank drives itself. Can’t you at least let us ride on top?”
“Every surface is covered in reactive armor to make sure an affordable $69.99-a-pop rocket can’t blow away a $9 million tank, so that would be a lot like sitting on top of a pile of anti-personnel mines. Ours are so sensitive they’d probably go off, but feel free to try.”
“Hm? Wait, it’s been a while??? Aren’t tanks run by groups of four or five?”
Dorothea answered Quenser’s question by waving the tank’s gun back and forth.
“That’s definitely been the tradition since tanks first appeared on the battlefield and those traditions are hard to break, but these days you can take everything from the driving to the firing control and concentrate it down to a single panel if you use a fiber-optic drive-by-light system. Even normal cars are going to be self-driving before long. It’s true you need some manpower when they break down or get stuck in the mud, but you can deal with that by keeping a movement-assistance suit or work robot onboard.”
There was a hemispherical multi-purpose camera the size of a basketball on top of the turret and there were small and narrow lenses on all sides of the tank, so a single person could control everything.
“Then why do we still use four people in each tank?”
“Don’t ask me. I don’t know what paradigm the Legitimacy Kingdom uses, but it might be a loneliness countermeasure. Being stuck in a metal coffin on the front line for long periods can be pretty taxing. So making sure there are several people in each one can mean a lot. Of course, here in the Information Alliance, we use a radio or infrared network to chat with each other. Your way is a waste of labor expenses. Nyahoo, Trevor, Magienz, Energy, and Roxeus, my friends on lonely nights.”
More calls of “nyahoo” entered the radio, so that seemed to be some kind of minor slang. Those online people holed up in their metal coffins were far from quiet.
“…Are all of them Martinis?”
“Of course not. We’re not just a dime a dozen, you know? Nyahoo.”
That pointless exchange did not last long.
Whatever they did, they were stuck walking on and on. Plus, they did not have flat asphalt to walk on. They were inside a mangrove forest with a bumpy floor of roots flooded up to the calves with seawater.
Even if they paced themselves properly, they could only march about 40 kilometers in 10 hours. And these Legitimacy Kingdom scumbags would put in any amount of work toward getting out of doing work, so there was no way they were just going to keep going like this.
“Hey, Quenser, it’s time to get creative! We can’t let them do this to us, can we!?”
“Not a chance. Okay, let’s grab some stuff from that moss-covered fighter. Its low-pressure tires are still intact. Then we’ll borrow the winch wire from that transport helicopter.”
“What about the crucial cart?”
“Won’t that broken main wing work?”
They could not ride on the tanks since their reactive armor was not much different from anti-personnel mines, but that just meant they needed to build a wheeled sled and have it pulled by a wire.
“Why are you two working up a sweat just to skip out on work?” asked Dorothea.
“I’m willing to do anything if it means taking it easy. Okay, Dorothea. You’re our cosplay reindeer crawling on all fours, so drag around this cruel Santa’s sleigh while we mercilessly whip you.”
That changed the nature of their journey.
If they ignored the diesel exhaust in the face and seawater raining down on them due to the lack of a mudguard on the treads, it was not that bad a ride. And it was sure to shorten the travel time. They wanted to finish this before the day was out.
“Yeehaw! Go, go! Whip, whip! Wah hah hah!!”
“…A-are they tormenting my butt in their imagination just from looking at the back of the tank? They don’t even know what I look like yet…”
Just then, something changed.
The deep roar of the powerful diesel engine suddenly stopped. But even if it had stopped moving, the tank’s flame had not gone out. It was for emergency use and only lasted about half an hour, but it had a fully electric mode. The idiots had not thought to add a brake to their cart, so they very nearly crashed face-first into the back of the tank. It sounded silly, but they very nearly blew themselves to kingdom come.
Also, all the chatter on the radio had suddenly vanished.
Something slowly filled their vision within a silence so great that the chirp of a bird was enough to make their hearts pound.
The giant mass was over 50 meters tall.
It was the Faith Organization Second Generation Paper Bikini.
Heivia just about rejected the truth before his eyes by taking off running, but Quenser grabbed him, got down from the cart, and moved right up next to the closest tank.
“(We’ll be killed! These metal coffins are useless against an Object!! They’re nothing but giant metal readings. Once it notices them, we’ll be blown to bits!!)”
“(Quiet down, Heivia!)”
“(We need to escape into the forest!! If we’re gonna try to wait it out, we’re best off far away from any metal readings! That fighter and transport helicopter in the forest were put there by that thing’s lasers, right!?)”
“(Are you stupid? How far do you think we’ve traveled already!?)
It did not seem the Object had a clear lock on them. It was slowly moving from right to left at a few kilometers away, but that was nothing to something the size of an Object. Dorothea Martini Naked had said the tanks could not knock over the surrounding trees, but that thing could likely plow right through the mangrove with no issue whatsoever.
It was the Paper Bikini.
It had a unique silhouette with the 50m spherical main body contained between diamond-shaped air cushion floats that looked like diagonally-flattened rectangles. It had a main cannon on either side, but they were not aimed forward. The ridiculously-huge coilguns covered the 180 degrees to the left and right.
Instead, it had two thick pieces of shield armor on the front.
Quenser groaned a quiet comment as he recalled what each part did.
“(The front is only used for charging forward. That Second Generation breaks through the barricades to move deep inside enemy territory before spraying gigantic shells everywhere.)”
“(That thing takes mobile weapon tactics back to the First World War. But it’s managed to use that to survive in this harsh age, so you can’t really criticize it either. You can’t exactly call those old methods smart, but if we’re caught, we aren’t going to get a pleasant death.)”
However, its most defining trait was not its shape or tactics. That would be the material used to make it: paper.
That might be hard to believe, so let’s say it again: paper.