The air was oppressively hot.
Buckets of torrential rain poured down on his head.
The large leaves of the tropical trees growing thickly around him caused a rumbling similar to a percussion instrument being struck repeatedly.
In all seriousness, Heivia Winchell wanted to check to make sure his neck was working properly. That was how heavy the rain constantly falling on his head was.
“…Dammit. Everything stinks of mud. Whatever happened to the coral ocean?”
The time was just before midnight.
He was in complete darkness. No artificial lights were lit and the thick rain clouds above his head cut off any light from the moon or stars.
As Heivia crouched down below a thick palm tree, another boy dressed in the same uniform crouched next to him. The other boy was named Quenser Barbotage. Instead of a rifle, he carried a bag filled with explosives.
“I thought we were supposed to have a champagne party after the princess blew away the Faith Organization’s Generation 1 Object. Why are we going through this mental training out here in the rain?”
“Didn’t you hear the additional radio announcement?” asked Heivia in annoyance. “This is the Loyauté district, an archipelago right next to Oceania. Due to the multinational coalition attack, the dictatorship in Oceania was destroyed and the area is in the process of being restored. You know that much, right?”
“Well, we were the ones to blow up the dictator in question.”
Quenser recalled hearing something about Oceania having plenty of resources, so it could earn money so long as the facilities needed for mines and refineries were brought in.
Little by little, Oceanian coal, steel, and platinum was scheduled to be taken to the Legitimacy Kingdom, but that meant it was no longer just an area requiring protection. It was an area that could have business negotiations and enact trade.
“Well, the Loyauté district is being used as a midway Object resupply base. For that reason, the Oceanian resources are being brought through the Loyauté district where they are moved to different boats before heading out to the world.”
“What does that have to do with us being neglected out here?”
“There will always be idiots who start scheming over this kind of thing. For example, some might attack the transport ships to steal the valuable resources.”
“…What does that have to do with this?”
“The media is referring to them as Hyena. In this age of ‘clean wars’ that use Objects, the higher ups would lose face if they were done in by that analog method, so they sent these orders down to our unit.”
“What does that have to do with this!? I don’t know anything about Hyena! This isn’t a war; it’s a crime. They should send in uniformed police officers!!”
“These are our orders. And what clean freak police officer is going to come to an unstable area like this?”
“But we have Objects we could be using. Oceania is right there. The coalition is still intact, so we have plenty of Objects. I thought the Capitalist Corporations’ Deep Optical was dealing with cleanup on the sea. Isn’t it a brand-new Generation 2 that uses tons of laser technology?”
“Why are you grinning like that while thinking about enemy weapons?”
“At any rate, this isn’t our kind of job! It just doesn’t have the right sense of intelligence to it. We’re more suited for some kind of smarter mission!!”
“I would like to get to sleep, too,” cut in their commander Froleytia over the radio. “But this is the sad side of a Multi-Role Generation 1 Object that is seen as a convenient tool for any job. The Baby Magnum can fight people as well as vehicles, so the higher ups view it as more suitable for this kind of thing than the specialized Generation 2s. …So let’s just crush these island platinum thieves and get to bed. You two, get down and cover your eyes. It’s about to begin.”
“…Seriously? The ground is stickier than some chocolate out in the summer sun.”
“I think this much mud might make my skin a little too shiny and healthy…”
Without the tension of facing enemy troops, the two took a bit too long to take action.
They regretted this soon after.
The darkness was blown away by a flash of light as an Object bombardment roasted the earth.
It came from the 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s Generation 1 Object known as the Baby Magnum.
The giant weapon had 7 main cannon arms stretching up from behind and over 100 other giant cannons covering its main body.
It had not just fired one of its main cannons. That had been a variety of the other cannons attached all over its spherical main body.
It fired laser beam cannons, rapid-fire beam cannons, coilguns, railguns, and low-stability plasma cannons.
They came roaring down like a shower of light, but Quenser and Heivia were unable to leisurely watch the sight as if it was a show in a concert hall.
“Ow!! Damn, the light is stabbing into my eyes!!”
“Rolling around on the ground isn’t going to make your sense of pain go away! Let’s just get our job over with, Heivia!!”
Quenser and Heivia headed on while meaninglessly rubbing at their eyes.
The Baby Magnum was bombarding an area about 5 kilometers away where Hyena had a beach bunker in which armored vehicles and high-speed patrol boats were hidden.
A thumb-sized piece of stone fell at Quenser’s feet amid the great squall.
It was a piece of the bunker/hangar made of quick-dry concrete.
(As usual, that is a level of firepower I do not want to have as an enemy!!)
They were afraid to get any closer, but they had a job they had to complete.
“Quenser, do you have that kit?”
“I can set it up in 7 places in 10 minutes.”
“Well, hurry. Hyena will be fleeing in this direction after being woken up by that horribly flashy alarm clock.”
And so Quenser pulled out a few devices known as Cursors. They were cylinders 5 cm across and 10 cm long mostly made of reinforced plastic.
He checked the Cursors’ frequency with his radio and then bound the cylinders to trees in the area using wires.
After setting up a few Cursors, he heard a few dull noises.
They were coming from palm trees that had been torn to pieces by the Baby Magnum’s bombardment.
“(Quenser, get down! They’re coming to show us their hospitality!!)”
“(Isn’t this sooner than expected? I’ve only set up half of them!!)”
“(You should know by now that this always happens. Just get down!!)”
The undergrowth in the area trembled from something other than the torrential rain.
(Is it Hyena?)
Quenser looked around as he hid behind some trees.
Their job was supposed to have been setting traps to take out Hyena when they ran off in confusion due to the Baby Magnum’s bombardment.
However, something else was happening.
Foot soldiers would not affect the undergrowth to such a great extent and the Baby Magnum was attacking a point over 5 kilometers away. Quenser doubted they could have made it that far so quickly.
“Wait, don’t raise your head. Do you want me to shoot you in the back of the head?”
“Is that thing noisily headed this way a tank?”
Heivia kicked the trunk of a palm tree without thinking and then curled up, holding his toes.
“(That damn large-breasted commandeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!)”
“I don’t think there is any job here where you can make a lot of money while remaining in complete comfort. We’d just give up if there was.”
“But pay is even across a rank!!”
“Heivia, what about an antitank missile?”
“That would be fine if a single shot could take care of it, but its sensors might detect the lock. Also, the missile would probably hit a tree before reaching the tank in this forest.”
Quenser clicked his tongue.
Naturally, a normal rifle could not pierce tank armor. And Quenser’s explosives would need to be brought close enough for the tank to be in range of the blast.
Of course, the odds were good the tank would notice him before he could get close enough to throw it and then he would end up being mowed down by a light machinegun.
“What do we do, Heivia?”
“I’d like to bring out some beer and have a round with them. This killing is wrong. The world should be at peace.”
“…Pacifistic ideals tend to come from the losers, don’t they?”
“Yeah, I guess they wouldn’t go along with that.” Heivia sighed as he scratched at his soaking-wet hair. “Then I guess we have no choice but to go through with this. Quenser, what about that kit?”
“Yes.” Heivia pointed at the device attached to a palm tree. “It’s an infrared trap that sends targeting information to the Object. Its sensors are directly linked to the Object’s lock data, so the target caught in the trap has an almost 100% chance of being hit. Let’s hurry up and set up that invisible net of lasers and blow them to pieces.”
By midnight, Hyena had been successfully eliminated.
“Sounds like Baby Magnum has finally ended its bombardment.”
“I need some eye drops. There’s something wrong with my eyes. Hey, Quenser. Do you think they have Lasik surgery pamphlets at the base?”
A few armored vehicles had been sent out from the site of the bombardment, but most of them had been roasted by the Baby Magnum’s laser beams. The others had been destroyed by the mobile maintenance battalion infantry and armored divisions surrounding the base.
The tank Quenser and Heivia had blown away using a Cursor had been one of those.
“I’m more afraid of friendly fire than a tank. The armor fragments blown off very nearly killed us.”
“That explosive reactive armor is dangerous. Once it scatters around, the pieces are like land mines.”
In that age, foot soldiers who had an Object on their side did not play the traditional role of infantry.
The soldiers could indirectly use the firepower of those gigantic weapons by transmitting targeting data, so they could conquer the battlefield with overwhelming speed.
Even if it was borrowed power, it still led to almost assured victory so long as they were able to borrow it.
However, the inclusion of Objects in infantry and tank conflicts meant that nigh unstoppable power was lost if the gigantic weapon was no longer there.
As the two boys leaned against palm trees in the soaking rain, a transmission came in from Froleytia.
“Thank you for a job well done. We have lowered Hyena’s numbers enough that they should have difficulty taking further action or even reviving their numbers. Do a sweep of the area and then head back.”
“(Once we get back, it’ll probably be time for the debriefing and weapons maintenance, Quenser. And that includes the armored vehicles and fighters that people as low on the ladder as us never get to make use of.)”
“Hm? If you want to kill some time, Heivia, I recommend you search Hyena’s base,” said Froleytia. “You can join the intelligence team.”
“No, thank you!! I’m not gonna investigate an enemy base after an Object blew it to pieces! Those monsters are famous for taking even dignity from corpses!!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a corpse that had dignity. Do you want them to be decorated with whipped cream and strawberries? But if you don’t want to, then come back. If you two hang around out there, I don’t get to rest either.”
“(I think that’s the real reason right there.)”
“Hurry up and come back,” said Froleytia resolutely. She may have heard that comment. “We were supposed to be off duty once the princess blew away that Faith Organization Generation 1 Object. I want to get the unit to Oceania’s coral ocean and white sand beach as soon as possible. Those damn old men keep forcing this extra work on us, but they refuse to push the final day of our leave back when they do. In other words, every second that passes is one second less we get off. So hurry up and get back!!”
Froleytia ended the transmission, but Quenser and Heivia did not look remotely upset.
They had learned something quite valuable.
“Did you hear that, Heivia?”
“It sounded to me like the entire unit is going on leave.”
“And in the southern hemisphere, December is midsummer swimsuit season.”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance.
“That means…That means this is what they call a swimsuit episode, Heivia!!”
“We get to see the wonderful collaboration of the princess’s plain but lovely swimsuit and our large-breasted commander’s almost unairable swimsuit, Quenser!!”
“I know. I know! I really like the idea of some time off. We’ve been working way too much lately!! What’s with this human vs. Object nonsense!? They should give more thought before putting together wrestling death matches!!”
“There’s nothing wrong with chatting in the classroom on occasion!!”
The two idiots began throwing their hands in the air and shouting “Hooray!!” repeatedly.
However, they suddenly heard metallic noises coming from all directions.
The noises were coming from rifles being aimed at them by numerous people who were oozing killer intent.
Quenser and Heivia froze in place at about the “hoo” part of “hooray”.
The leader of the local armed group said, “If you have free time, then come with us.”
The Legitimacy Kingdom, the Information Alliance, the Capitalist Corporations, and the Faith Organization.
The clean wars of the modern era were skirmishes between those world powers that each owned several Objects. The core of these wars was the clash between Objects that possessed overwhelming firepower. All other forces were used to keep the Objects running smoothly.
The Legitimacy Kingdom was completely ruled by a monarchy.
The Information Alliance determined good and evil by the amount and quality of information.
The Capitalist Corporations let economic activity surpass even human life.
The Faith Organization controlled society with religious faith.
The conflict between these new collective organizations that appeared upon the collapse of the UN showed absolutely no sign of ending. It was unclear if this was due to no one knowing how to bring it to an end or if there were those who did not wish for it to end.
Since Hyena was active on the Loyauté islands which had been used as a foothold for the destruction of the Oceanian military nation it would be easy to assume otherwise, but they were not affiliated with any of the world powers that owned many Objects.
They belonged to an area that barely had a government. Such areas were commonly referred to as blank areas.
As the area was not dyed in any of the colors of the world powers, the coalition army had decided to use it as a foothold.
In other words, even though the area had cooperated with the destruction of the Oceanian military nation and was being used as a relay point for the resources being brought from Oceania as it was restored, the people living in the Loyauté district were hardly friends of Quenser and the rest of the Legitimacy Kingdom.
With all of that in mind, Quenser and Heivia had their hands bound behind their backs and their heads stuck in burlap sacks as they were brought to some unknown place.
The bags were taken from their heads, but they could not tell where they were just by looking around.
“Bhah!? Dammit, these bags were originally used as sandbags, weren’t they!? My mouth was so full of dirt I couldn’t breathe!!”
“You have guts to put a bag over our heads when we aren’t the type to put a woman’s stockings over our heads!!”
The two immediately lashed out vocally, but they calmed down once they had rifle barrels jabbed into their chests.
“Why the hell do we have to be captured while we’re on leave of all times?”
“I think we should just be grateful this is some different organization from Hyena. If these were the remnants of Hyena, we would have been treated as outlets for their anger.”
Dawn had come.
As soon as the sun came up, they were wrapped in humid but cool air.
However, the rain had yet to stop, so they could still hear a percussive noise coming from the ceiling over their heads.
Quenser and Heivia were in a wooden house made of logs and large leaves that was different from a Western European log house. The two boys sat in the center with a ring of swarthy-skinned men encircling them. The men all possessed rifles of an outdated model.
“If I’m gonna be surrounded, couldn’t it be by girls in palm leaf bikinis?”
“Open your eyes to reality, Heivia. Also, wouldn’t those hard leaves tear some delicate areas to pieces?”
“Can we get down to business?” asked a quiet voice.
A man who seemed to be their leader sat down directly in front of the two idiots who had had all of their equipment confiscated, from their weapons to their disgusting rations.
It was possible the man was not their leader but instead the only one of them who could speak a language those of the Legitimacy Kingdom would likely understand.
“We hope you can see our sincerity in the fact that we have invited you here in one piece.”
“If you’re thinking of ransoming us, give it up now,” said Heivia immediately. “Unfortunately, I am a noble where bloodline and honor trump all else. If you try to ransom me, my family will certainly abandon me. They will simply say I died in the line of duty. So let’s not waste either of our time.”
“I’m a commoner. I don’t think I’m worth much more than a 3000 Euro a month salary.”
“We know very well who you are. And we know how impudent you can be,” said the leader smoothly. Their comments had not bothered him at all. “Quenser Barbotage. Heivia Winchell. You both belong to the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion and have destroyed several Objects without using an Object yourself.”
Quenser and Heivia sighed heavily because they had a good idea what the men likely wanted of them.
“Let me warn you: About 80% of what you read in the newspaper and on the gossip sites are utter lies.”
“If all of that was true, it would mean we had destroyed Second Generation Objects with nothing but our clenched fists.”
The leader continued nonetheless.
“We have one demand,” he said flatly. “The Capitalist Corporations have a Second Generation Object stationed here in the Loyauté district. I believe you call it the Deep Optical. We would like you to destroy it.”
Quenser’s lips twitched.
He had wanted to get a look at the Deep Optical once even if from afar, but he had not thought it would turn into something like this.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Heivia to cut off the man. “I don’t know what crazy rumors you people have heard, but we’re just flesh-and-blood humans!! If you just drop us in front of one of those monstrous weapons, no miracle is going to occur. You aren’t mistaking us for androids made out of some kind of special alloy, are you!?”
“Also, don’t just assume the enemy of your enemy is your friend!! And once you’re taking on an Object, you have a war on your hands! The two of us can’t just start a war between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Capitalist Corporations!!”
The leader snapped his fingers.
One of the men surrounding them pressed his rifle barrel against Heivia’s cheek.
“The enemy of your enemy is…?”
“M-mwy fwiend! P-pwease wet us do thwis!! E-eh heh heh…”
Heivia was putting on the world’s ugliest fake smile and seemed to be completely useless, so Quenser tried not to look at him.
The leader said, “The Deep Optical is a Second Generation Object specialized for naval battles and will likely become active around Oceania for the Capitalist Corporations’ own interests once its current maintenance is complete. In other words, you have a reason to defeat it now.”
“…And what is your reason?” asked Quenser. “If you just can’t stand to have an Object stationed nearby, you would have the same complaint with our Baby Magnum. Why are you targeting the Deep Optical first?”
“Blank areas have their own issues to deal with,” said the man. “I do not care if you believe us or not, but we have no reason to attack the Legitimacy Kingdom or the Baby Magnum. That is why we are asking for help. You can see our good intentions in the fact that we are not simply ordering you.”
If anyone truly believed they were being asked while surrounded by a dozen men with rifles, they were either honest to a fault or they had some kind of fatal flaw in their personality.
“So has the Deep Optical done anything to make you want to attack it?”
“Explaining it would be simple enough.” The man looked away from Quenser for an instant. “But it would be even simpler to show you.”
The horrid squall continued outside.
When they exited the wooden building, Quenser could tell they were in a cleared area of the forest with several similar buildings.
From the barbed wire surrounding the area and the wooden watchtowers, it was obvious at first glance that it was no normal facility.
Quenser and Heivia were led across the wet red clay and into a different building. They regretted looking inside the instant they did so.
The leader spoke from behind the two boys.
“The Deep Optical’s actions have certain side effects.”
The room was not exactly large and it was crowded with small beds.
They heard groans.
They saw bandages that looked anything but sanitary.
From the odd smell, self-grown medicinal herbs must have been used in place of disinfectant.
“The Capitalist Corporations has been carrying out missions within the Loyauté district in the name of eliminating armed forces and defending its maintenance base and infrastructure facilities. The Object goes to areas of the ocean around the islands and fires its cannons at the islands.”
“We have heard that it is nothing more than an act to give the illusion of tension so that their sponsor company will provide them with additional national defense funding. Unlike you, they are not working to eliminate a clear enemy. They are merely firing their lasers into empty areas to fulfill a quota,” said the leader plainly. “But it is firing lasers that belong to an Object, the weapon that is said to be more convenient and more powerful than a nuke. I hope I do not need to explain how much secondary damage is done by firing at a nonexistent enemy with such a weapon. As I said before, it is simplest to just show you.”
Lying in the small beds were children with the same light brown skin as the leader.
The youngest was around 10 and the oldest was around 15. They had other aspects in common.
This was not a simple case of the children having bandages wrapped around them.
They were not whole.
They clearly missed things that whole people like Quenser had.
“We would like for you to stop this,” said the man.
Perhaps because he could not resolve the situation on his own, there was a sadness in the man’s voice.
“Could you please help destroy the Capitalist Corporations’ Second Generation Object, the Deep Optical?”
Quenser and Heivia left the wooden building.
The storm showed no sign of letting up.
Heivia sighed as the bottom of his boots sank uncomfortably into the wet red clay.
“Do you think we could run away now?”
“With guards carrying sniper rifles in those watchtowers? Even if we slipped past the guards, how far from the maintenance base are we? If they went mountain hunting in an off-road vehicle, they’d catch up to us in no time.”
“I know. I just had to ask. I guess we have to just wait for our huge-breasted commander. This group doesn’t seem to be that large. A group of 10 foot soldiers armed with the latest weaponry and a single attack helicopter for support would be able to handle them easily.”
“They’re not going to give us the time for that. And who knows if Froleytia will see ordering a search as a top priority.”
“Then what do we do?” asked Heivia.
Quenser fell silent for a bit before saying, “Have you heard of the Capitalist Corporations’ Second Generation…Deep Optical was it?”
“Only our huge-breasted commander complaining about it. Once this leave of ours is over, it might be our next opponent. Officially, it is cooperating with the restoration of Oceania, but it has begun to go beyond that. Basically, it has begun to cause some small conflicts around the area of Oceania,” replied Heivia. “It’s completely unofficial, but our intelligence division has already begun reconnaissance on the Deep Optical. Of course, we can’t let anyone know that is who we would be crushing next. They would be disciplined if they were caught.”
“So as long as we aren’t caught, doing some reconnaissance isn’t an altogether bad idea.”
“Quenser, are you serious?” asked Heivia in shock. Some slight fear could be seen hidden behind his expression. “This is an Object we’re talking about. They’re telling us to fight that monster! And they’re having us do it at gunpoint!! I don’t want to die for something like that! We’re just normal humans!! We aren’t super heroes who can shoot strange beams from our hands! This isn’t a difficult concept. We may not know exactly what kind of monster the Deep Optical is, but there is no doubt in my mind that fighting it would be hell. So wouldn’t it be easier to survive this by using what power we have to deal with this armed group!?”
“We don’t even know if we can get anywhere near this Object!! We aren’t receiving proper support here. This armed group’s information may be outdated and useless. They aren’t going to have much in the way of weapons and equipment!! We won’t have a strategy put together by an expert commander based on all sorts of data from an electronic simulation department!! And we don’t have the protection of the Legitimacy Kingdom, so the theory of the clean battlefield does not hold here. If we raise our hands in surrender, they’ll shoot us. If we’re caught, the treaties regarding prisoners of war will not apply to us. Do you really understand what this means!?”
“I’m well aware this is not a normal situation.” Quenser brushed aside his wet bangs in irritation. “But you saw that, didn’t you, Heivia?”
“That isn’t a reason.” Heivia shook his head. “It’s true a tragedy occurred here, but that is no reason to put our own lives in danger! I didn’t join the army to be some hero of justice. It was to gain the valorous deeds I need as a noble. And you’re a student who is only here to learn about Object design!! So shouldn’t you be focusing your efforts elsewhere!?”
“Heivia.” Quenser sighed softly. “If you truly felt that way, wouldn’t you be working to escape on your own instead of arguing with me?”
Quenser looked around and spotted a guard in a watchtower looking their way.
“Either way, we can’t return to the maintenance base zone right now. And we need to face the Deep Optical eventually. So is it really that bad to get it over with now? And we even have the precedent to call it an unofficial recon mission.”
“That may work for us personally,” said Heivia in a tone that made it clear he was still not convinced. “But isn’t that bad from the point of view of the organization as a whole? This will still be a military operation.”
“I’m not a soldier, I’m a student.”
“Tch. You always have that escape route that only works for you. Just so you know, that excuse isn’t going to keep working forever.”
“What do you say, Heivia?”
Heivia did not reply to Quenser’s question for a while.
He muttered some things under his breath and hesitated for a while.
“I’ll do it. God dammit, I’ll do it!! But I’m not the only one heading into this hell!!” After shouting that, he lowered his tone of voice and panted as he spoke. “After all, I don’t see any other option. And this is for those kids who lost an arm or a leg. I joined the army to earn medals and honor. This is a bit of a roundabout method, but a moving tale like this might be useful against my family.”
Now that they had made up their minds, they only needed to take their one-way ticket to hell from the grim reaper.
“Quenser, let’s start by asking them if they have any weapons we can use. They captured us after we had finished our normal work and some overtime. Our equipment doesn’t have enough ammunition for another mission.”
“Yes,” said Quenser.
Rare of an idiot like him, there was a clear note of killer intent in his voice.
“But first there is something else I need to ask them.”
When Quenser and Heivia said they accepted the request, the leader showed them to another wooden building.
Several metal containers were kept inside.
“You can use equipment and firearms from the Capitalist Corporations.”
“The Deep Optical’s maintenance unit is resupplied by air. Containers are dropped down by parachute. However, not all of them fall where they are supposed to. When the wind blows them off course, a third party can easily take them. But anything too high tech is not well suited for us.”
“If it’s Capitalist Corporations stuff, this would be…damn…it’s low-penetration 5.56 mm ammo. Well, whatever. Let’s take a pair of uniforms while we’re at it. I doubt it will completely fool them, but we’ll be less likely to get shot than if we keep on these Legitimacy Kingdom uniforms.”
“I hope we can find an explosive with similar properties to Hand Axe.”
As the two muttered to each other, they opened the door of a container and pulled out the equipment they needed.
Naturally, the light brown men kept their rifles aimed at them the entire time.
However, there was a blind spot.
Specifically, behind the opened door of the container.
A clay-like explosive could be attached in such a way to send the fragments of the steel door towards the men.
(In 3 seconds.)
“Did you really think we would overlook your signs?” said the leader.
The surrounding men frantically adjusted their aim.
The leader narrowed his eyes and asked Quenser and Heivia, “What do you think are you doing?”
“If I detonate this, you are the ones who will be blown away. And yes, I have made sure that the fragments and the blast will not touch us inside the container.”
“I asked you what you are doing,” repeated the leader calmly.
Even if Quenser and Heivia killed all of the people there, plenty of guards surrounded the facility. They would come running if there was an explosion and the two boys would certainly be cornered.
Quenser had no intention of running away by force.
“If I did not set up this farce, I doubt you would have answered my question. Especially because I want the raw truth rather than some disgusting whitewashed answer.”
“…What do you want to know?”
The leader had paused slightly before asking that.
He may have gotten a bad feeling about what the question was.
Quenser spoke without hesitation.
“Your claim is that those children lost limbs due to the Deep Optical’s meaningless bombardments, right?”
“Like hell they did,” replied Heivia clearly. “Not even an old First Generation Object’s bombardment is that easygoing. If someone was hit by a stray shot, they wouldn’t even leave behind a proper corpse. There’s no way an Object would cause so many injuries on a level that would cause pain in others more than even a corpse would.”
“I don’t know if you intercepted some radio transmission or you found out in some other way, but you knew the Legitimacy Kingdom’s 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion was coming to the Loyauté district from a very early stage.”
Quenser could feel his breaths growing shallow.
He was not controlling his emotions as well as he thought he could.
“And so you made them yourself. You made the materials you thought would get us to help you. If those injuries were not caused by an Object, then I can think of only one other cause.”
He took a deep breath.
It did not help.
Even so, he continued on.
“You carved those children apart yourselves, didn’t you?”
The leader remained silent for a bit.
Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke.
“Yes, we did.”
“Why?” asked Quenser quietly. His voice then grew to a yell. “Were you that intent on having us take on the Deep Optical!? We’re nothing more than a student and a foot soldier!! What value is there in setting up the Deep Optical as some horrible villain with some sob story!?”
“You understand nothing!!” shouted the leader as if to drive back Quenser’s voice. “We have our reasons why we had to make this so simple to understand! Do not claim to understand how it feels to be forced to take a blade to the children who are supposed to be the next generation!!”
“What possible reason could-…”
“In reality, it is much worse than that!!”
Even the air in the room seemed to come to a standstill.
The leader continued speaking as he breathed heavily.
“Just as you said, an Object’s stray shot does not leave even a corpse. But you do not understand. You have not seen the true effect the Deep Optical has been having on this land.”
“So you made it visible because we couldn’t see it?” groaned Heivia. “You were dragging us up to a level where we could discuss it by dropping it down to a level we could understand? Do you really think that justifies this?”
“Let me tell you up front. We never forced this on them. That tragedy was put together out of volunteers.” The leader must have felt at least somewhat guilty because he began speaking more rapidly. “But there have been dozens or even hundreds of actual tragedies. They are still occurring even now in the Loyauté district. …If those wounds were enough to work up your anger, then you should be even more enraged over what is actually happening. Their atrocities have reached a level well beyond that.”
“Fine then,” muttered Quenser. “We’re going to face the Deep Optical eventually. The only question is whether it is sooner or later. Of course, that difference could decide whether we get rewarded or punished for it, but I will turn a blind eye to that. Just don’t think this is going to have a happy ending.”
“Whatever your reasons may have been, you did what you did. Do not forget that the day will come when you must pay for it.”
And so Quenser and Heivia were finally able to leave that area of red clay surrounded by barbed wire.
The two of them walked through a thick jungle while wearing Capitalist Corporations military uniforms and armed with Capitalist Corporations weapons. The continuing squall had created small rivers of water between the trees and they tried to leave as little trace of their passing as they could as they walked through those rivers.
“We aren’t getting paid for this. There are no beautiful women around. And yet we’re being told to go fight a Second Generation Object with nothing but puny rifles.”
“Yes, but our savings here will let us go nuts once the day of swimsuits arrives.”
After chatting a bit, the two boys lowered the tones of their voices.
“What do you think?”
“They aren’t just going to let us run off. They’re watching us from a distance. We could probably spot a few of them, but we have no way of knowing if we’ve spotted them all. The locals would probably know better how to hide around here than we would.”
“They can keep an eye on us all they like, but if they don’t tell us where they are, we’ll have to deal with them as soldiers of unknown affiliation if we spot them.”
Since Froleytia was not watching over them, Quenser had a relatively low-recoil 9mm submachine gun hanging from a sling belt.
“What’s wrong with that?” said Heivia who was more used to the smell of gun oil than Quenser. “If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. …To be honest, I have no intention of protecting them. If we accidentally shoot one of them, I can only see it as one less annoyance we have to deal with.”
There was a great difference in the extent of their actions, but Quenser and Heivia may have been as much outsiders as the Deep Optical was.
However, Quenser and Heivia could hardly be blamed for having a bad impression of the locals from the beginning.
“How far until we reach the destination?”
“15 kilometers. But we have this torrential rain and wet red clay to deal with. A normal vehicle wouldn’t be able to get through and something with too much horsepower would make too much noise. …If only we had something with a powerful electric engine.”
“With the weather the way it is, the enemy probably doesn’t want to be out in it either. The patrol routes are set in stone in the documents, but the actual soldiers may not be covering them properly.”
“Let’s pray they’re watching a 3D porn movie or something in the checkpoint log house. When it isn’t gonna get you paid any more, heading out with the possibility of getting caught in a landslide just to be on the lookout for enemy soldiers who probably aren’t even coming will do nothing but earn you an early grave.”
Their commander Froleytia would have hated to hear that, but that was how people felt in the age of the clean battlefield filled with Objects.
“Our goal is the Deep Optical, not the maintenance base. We can’t sit around here forever, so let’s get a move on. We can’t spend too long on just the first step.”
“Heivia,” said Quenser as he looked down at the ground.
With a look of confusion, Heivia said, “What? Are you worried about the footprints you’re leaving in the mud? Don’t be so worried. They’ll be washed away 10 minutes from now.”
“No, not that. …I think I see some kind of box sticking up.”
Heivia looked back down where Quenser was looking and spotted something made of plastic sticking up from the red clay mud. It was a box about the size of a computer’s AC adapter.
“…Not good. Isn’t that an anti-personnel landmine? And it’s one of the horrible nonmetal types. It can escape detection by a magnetic mine detector.”
“They didn’t tell us about this! If there are mines, they should tell us!!”
Of course, mines were meaningless if not hidden. But if you did not set them up so that you knew where they were, you would end up blowing your own leg off.
That was why the trees would normally have some kind of sign on them or the area would be divided into a safe zone and a dangerous zone. However…
“It’s this rain. Some of the mines must have been swept away from the signs.”
“So no one knows where they are? And we have to walk 15 kilometers through this!?”
“It’s probably not even worth reporting for them. And that includes any legs that might be blown off,” said Heivia in disgust. “What ever happened to the modern battlefield being a clash between two Objects? Why are they using landmines that blow off people’s legs? Where did that clean battlefield go?”
As he spoke, Heivia reached for the switch to the sensors on his assault rifle.
“I thought you said a mine detector wouldn’t work?”
“I said the magnetic ones wouldn’t work.”
“So we die when the sensor’s batteries die…”
With Heivia in the lead, the two boys headed on into the forest.
Thanks to the tremendous squall, there were few bugs, but the chill of early morning disappeared as time went on. All that was left was the horrid heat of a bath with a broken ventilation fan.
As expected, the Capitalist Corporations soldiers were not performing their guard duties with much enthusiasm. Footprints might be washed away, but the tire tracks of trucks did not disappear so quickly. However, they saw very few of those.
“Everything is soaking wet. Who knows what areas could crumble under our feet.”
“With the risk of landmines and landslides, it’s no surprise they don’t want to go out on patrol. Everyone wants to shove any dangerous work on the Objects and the Elites that pilot them.”
Heivia looked down at a Capitalist Corporations handheld device that contained only the bare minimum of data.
“I think we just passed the defensive line for the outermost checkpoint.”
The area seemed more like a mountain than a forest.
The slope of the ground made the rainwater flow even faster past their feet.
Quenser pulled a clear bag out of a pocket of his waterproof military uniform.
“Dammit, Capitalist Corporations rations are actually good. This one tastes like Salisbury steak.”
“Stop it. Getting too excited will just make it worse when we get back. …Wait.”
Quenser and Heivia stopped moving and slowly crouched down.
The trees of the forest and the pouring rain of the squall made it hard to tell but there were some figures hiding behind some thick tree trunks about 300 meters ahead.
From what they could see, there were 3 of them.
As they were all wearing the same uniform and armed with the same guns, they were likely all part of the same unit.
They were all women, but that may have had something to do with their unit.
It was unlikely they would be able to hear him from that distance, but Quenser still whispered as he spoke to Heivia.
“(It doesn’t look like they’ve noticed us. Are they from the Capitalist Corporations?)”
“(No. Look at their guns. They’re from the Faith Organization. And those are short-range sniper rifles…)”
“(Short-range sniper rifles?)”
“(They’re for shooting robbers who have taken hostages in an urban setting. Their penetrative power is purposefully kept low so the bullet won’t cause any damage to the surroundings after hitting someone.)”
“(If the bullet stays in the target’s body, couldn’t you also say it’s designed to make the wound as bad as possible?)”
One of the distant figures turned its head in their direction.
Quenser and Heivia could not move carelessly. Even the smallest movement on their part would cause a surprisingly large movement in the underbrush around them. The squall was still pouring down heavily, but an unnatural movement would still stand out.
“(But where are they expecting urban warfare to take place? In a safe country?)”
“(They must not be a military group. My guess is they’re some kind of police special forces. Maybe they’re the group known as Valkyrie. That’s a global divine punishment group that goes around to various Faith Organization owned areas and eliminates those who breaks religious rules. They use specialized equipment and the group is entirely made up of women.)”
“(Valkyrie, hm? It looks like they’re wearing something like a garter belt over their uniform…and is that a shell cup bra? A bra that doesn’t actually cover up the breasts is kind of getting your priorities backwards, isn’t it? Are they wearing that for some kind of ideological reason?)”
“(It’s probably just the tastes of the higher ups. Dammit, it’s a shame they’re from the Faith Organization. That is one nice ass.)”
“(You should probably stop that. Valkyrie is basically the enforcer of public morals in the Faith Organization. I get the feeling they wouldn’t appreciate jokes like that.)”
“(That depends on their specific religious sect. If they worship a god of fertility or a mother goddess, they can be rather proactive about sleeping around a lot. The stories about the Greek Dionysus are pretty amazing.)”
“(…So they’re police rather than soldiers, hm?)”
Soldiers left all the fighting to Objects while the police often had shootouts in urban areas. This meant it was entirely possible that a police officer working in a safe country would be more skilled than a soldier.
“(Why are they here?)”
“(Well, I doubt they’re working with the Capitalist Corporations. They wouldn’t be sneaking around like that if they were.)”
“(They do tend to not get along with the Capitalist Corporations who try to use religion for nothing more than to make money or the Information Alliance who use the internet to publish scientific analyses of traditional stories.)”
The woman who appeared to be the leader of the three Valkyries had some kind of cloth wrapped around her arm. It was possible they had already had a few run-ins with the Capitalist Corporations soldiers. Either that or they had other enemies.
Quenser calmly observed them.
“(But they aren’t allies of the Legitimacy Kingdom either. We could end up in a firefight if we aren’t careful.)”
“(It would be difficult to take them out here.)”
The three they could see already outnumbered them and there could be more hiding. Also, gunshots would likely draw in the Capitalist Corporations soldiers protecting the Deep Optical.
Heivia slowly held up his rifle.
“(Hopefully, we can get past them without being noticed.)”
One of the figures gave instructions to the other two with a gesture.
The two subordinate women silently moved out of a short thicket.
“(Slowly, slowly. Good, they’re leaving. Damn. Now the trees are in the way and I can’t target them.)”
After the two subordinates moved on ahead, the third figure headed after them.
They were headed in a different direction from Quenser and Heivia. They either had no business with the Deep Optical or were circling around using a different route.
“(Looks like they’ve gone.)”
Just as Quenser was wiping away some of the rainwater running down his chin, one of the figures stopped and looked back around the area.
Quenser called out to stop Heivia as his trigger finger twitched.
The figure remained still for a bit, but finally disappeared into the forest.
“(Looks like we made it.)”
“(What is Valkyrie doing here anyway?)”
Heivia’s question was a good one, but they had no time to think about it.
Deep Optical was enough of an issue on its own.
As Quenser and Heivia headed further into the forest, the ground grew sloped. The water from the pouring squall caused enough resistance to obstruct their path somewhat.
“What ever happened to the blue ocean and white beach?”
“You complained about that same thing back when we were dealing with Hyena.”
“It just pisses me off to think the rest of the unit is having a nice vacation while we’re trudging through the mud.”
As they chatted, a red dot of light appeared on Heivia’s chest.
It was the laser sight of a sniper rifle.
He held his hands up and the red light disappeared.
“…I guess that was a warning from our guards. God dammit.”
“Are they listening to us with the microphones on their rifles?”
(Idiots,) thought Quenser in his heart.
In the pouring rain, the light of the laser could be seen by the naked eye from the side as well as straight on. It may have made the armed group seem to be in complete control, but it also gave an opportunity for a counterattack.
“We really would have been in trouble if they had given us one of those warnings while Valkyrie was nearby.”
“We can only hope they’re smart enough not to do that.”
While being mindful of the unseen gun barrels, they continued on toward the Capitalist Corporations maintenance base zone.
As they came to a spot that was more of a hill than a cliff, Heivia realized something.
“Look down at the bottom of the cliff. There’re some Capitalist Corporations soldiers.”
Quenser checked too while hiding behind a tree trunk.
They were at the top of a cliff only a few meters high and the Capitalist Corporations soldiers were at the bottom. An electric armored vehicle was stopped in an old dry riverbed that had a new stream of muddy water flowing through it. Two or three foot soldiers were gathered around it.
“It looks like they’re delivering ammo or batteries. The high energy use is a major problem with modern equipment. I guess there are some willing to head out into this squall.”
“Do you think we can take them?”
“They don’t know we’re here, but it would still be tough. But that armored vehicle worries me. Look at all the sensors on its roof. After the delivery, I bet it’s going to head out on a patrol to do a thorough scan of the forest.”
“So we have to do something,” said Quenser. “But starting a firefight would just bring more soldiers here. Blowing up the armored vehicle would be even worse. Who knows how far the sound would spread.”
“Then we just have to do it naturally, Quenser.” Heivia pointed at the wet soil beneath his feet. “Naturally.”
A Valkyrie member named Sarasa Gleamshifter moved silently through the forest. The rainwater that had gotten inside the cloth wrapped tightly around her right arm was making the wound on that arm hurt, but her expression did not change in the slightest. However, she was on her guard. The slightest scent of blood could lead carnivorous animals to her and that could in turn gather the enemy soldiers’ attention.
Sarasa suddenly stopped.
She had heard the loud noise of a dirt wall collapsing. She then heard various transmissions being sent back and forth coming from the device she was using to intercept Capitalist Corporations radio transmissions.
“A landslide to the southwest. It seems a Capitalist Corporations armored vehicle and soldiers were caught up in it,” reported her subordinate Rachel.
“I heard them,” snapped back Sarasa.
Their objective was not the Capitalist Corporations; it was an old man named Oldnick who had fled to the area. However, they had not bothered getting permission for their search, so a firefight would break out should the Capitalist Corporations spot them. For that reason, nothing could be better than to have the Capitalist Corporations soldiers’ attention focused elsewhere. However…
Sarasa Gleamshifter did not simply give in to this good fortune.
It made her feel uncomfortable and raise her guard.
She sensed the cause of this uncomfortable feeling via her nose.
They were located downwind of the landslide.
“…I smell explosives,” muttered Sarasa. “And this isn’t from gun ammunition. This is the smell after some form of plastic explosive has been detonated.”
After thinking for a bit, Sarasa gave some instructions via gestures.
They would determine the cause.
They were a Faith Organization special unit that was sent around the world to deal with those known as “enemies of god” who had broken the rules of their religion. Due to the actions of their target that had fled there, they had no choice but to immediately pursue. The old man was trying to spread twisted treasures throughout the world that were in opposition to god’s providence, so they had to punish him no matter what.
And any irregular elements that got in the way of their pursuit would be eliminated even if said irregular element’s actions had nothing to do with the target.
The Capitalist Corporations soldiers had likely gathered at the point of the landslide by then.
Valkyrie circled around that area as they headed for the direction from which the explosion had occurred. After about half an hour, they arrived at their destination.
The Capitalist Corporations soldiers were attempting to save their comrades at the bottom of the cliff, while Valkyrie was at the top of the collapsed cliff.
Sarasa crouched down and touched the dirt with her hand.
(The surface is wet, but it is much harder deeper down. And the quality of the dirt is even. A landslide would not normally occur here.)
She could see no footprints in the area, but the squall would have soon washed away any that were there.
Sarasa Gleamshifter searched around for any other traces and clicked her tongue when she spotted something unpleasant about 10 meters away.
A Capitalist Corporations first aid kit was placed among the tree branches such that it was just at eyelevel. The plastic bag to an eaten package of rations had been placed over it to keep out the effects of the squall.
Sarasa looked down at her right arm.
She didn’t know who, but someone had noticed them. And whoever it was had caused that landslide, so they were not from the Capitalist Corporations.
After careful observation to ensure it was not a trap, Sarasa confirmed that it was nothing more than a first aid kit. This brought her anger to its peak.
Leaving behind the first aid kit showed whoever it was was looking down on her even more than someone giving a piece of candy to a small child.
Sarasa knocked the first aid kit to the ground and searched further into the forest.
However, she spotted something else unpleasant 5 meters in.
It was a trap using wires.
It was a simple type that activated with a tripwire. Sharpened wooden stakes were set on a well-bent branch so that they would attack their prey with tremendous speed.
However, there was an electronic fuse set at one end of the wire.
The fuse was normally used to set off some other explosive by causing an exceedingly small explosion.
However, it could also be used to sever a wire remotely.
However, cursing was not going to stop the fuse.
This enemy would kill her if she made an enemy of them.
They were not so benevolent that they would continue to show compassion to one who had turned aside their previous show of kindness.
Quenser and Heivia were observing her through their rifles’ scopes.
“Oh, shit! She’s still alive! Damn is she ever still alive!! Oh, god. Why do girls’ personalities change so much when they’re angry!?”
“So she didn’t accept. Well, I doubt she can track us down from this distance.”
They had carried out the explosion that caused the landslide after already getting a good distance away. It seemed the Faith Organization’s Valkyrie was trying to hunt them down with a demonic expression on her face, but finding them would not be easy where they were.
“…What is this indescribable chill? I get the feeling we should start running away just to be absolutely sure.”
“A woman’s grudge is a scary thing. If only they weren’t so bewitchingly beautiful.”
After that sidetrack with a Faith Organization opponent that had not been stated on any concrete information, the two boys got back to their actual mission.
After walking for a bit longer and crossing a small mountain, they spotted their objective.
Over half a day had already passed since they had left the headquarters of that armed group.
“So that’s the Capitalist Corporations maintenance base for the Deep Optical.”
Instead of the convoy used for a Legitimacy Kingdom base, the forest had been cleared out and actual buildings had been constructed. The buildings were mostly made of the thin, light metal often used in prefabs.
“…I’m surprised they went this far. Just keeping the area deforested must take a lot of work. The vegetation around here is extremely fertile, so the base would be overrun before long if they left it alone.”
“I see burned spots here and there, so maybe they’re burning it away.”
In the base was a single building made of thick concrete that was much, much larger than the rest.
It was likely the Object’s maintenance building.
While taking a broad view of the base, Heivia said, “I thought it was a Second Generation specialized for naval battles. Why would they build the base in the middle of the jungle?”
“It uses an air cushion, so it might be able to move throughout the island while it’s flooded from this squall. We would have to see it ourselves to know for sure, though.”
“…I’d rather deal with it before it heads out again,” said Heivia as he shed an unpleasant sweat that was distinct from the squall’s rainwater. “Even if it can’t move, it’s still an Object. If it notices us, it’ll aim its countless cannons directly at us.”
“That’s what we’re sneaking around to avoid…although this is going to be a real pain.”
As Quenser spoke, Heivia observed the area around the maintenance base through his rifle’s scope.
“It doesn’t look like we can sneak in easily. The guards near the base are actually doing their job. I guess they’re more likely to get caught with the higher ups so nearby. I don’t think we can sneak in without anyone noticing.”
“If that was possible, the armed group would have already done so. They know the terrain better than us.”
Since the armed group had apparently never succeeded, it must have truly been impossible.
“From what I can see, the guards in different areas wear different color armbands. The guards outside the base and inside it are wearing different armbands. Even someone from the Capitalist Corporations will immediately be suspected if they’re wearing the wrong color.”
And of course, the armbands would be more than simple pieces of cloth.
They likely had a magnetic tape or IC chip that contained electronic information.
“It’s possible the inside of the base is divided up by sections that use different colors. If so, we’ll still be in trouble even if we get in safely.”
As expected, getting in was not as simple as wearing a Capitalist Corporations military uniform. This was a base protecting an Object that cost 5 billion dollars. Plus, they were not on a clean battlefield. This was an area with armed groups. They would make sure not to leave any openings.
“We need to find an ‘unseen opening’.”
And so the two boys pulled out a directional microphone.
After sunset, Quenser and Heivia remained still as the rain continued to pour down on them in the jungle.
They were pointing a special microphone that was shaped like a handgun toward the base.
With the headphone in his ear, Heivia moved the microphone over toward the officer’s rooms.
“That won’t get you anything, Heivia.”
“Ahn? But listening in on the officers would be fastest to get information on the base.”
“The people who know the value of the information will make sure they aren’t bugged. They’ll have a gap in the wall with a vacuum in it to keep the sound from getting out and the windows will have motors attached to vibrate them.”
“Then what do we do?”
“If we can’t go straight to the source, we have to try a more roundabout method. We target the soldiers on patrol.”
“I doubt we’ll get much information from what they say.”
“No, not from one. But that changes when we listen in on dozens or even hundreds of them. If we bring all the small pieces of information together, we might gain some bigger piece of information about the base as a whole.”
And so they continued their remote bugging and jotted down every little thing they heard that they thought could be useful in any way. The rain prevented them from using paper, and they had to avoid using a handheld device because of the backlight. They were forced to use permanent markers to write the information down on the insides of their waterproof military uniforms.
“If we don’t hurry up, maintenance will finish on the Deep Optical.”
“Dammit. Capitalist Corporations rations really are good.”
While they occasionally quietly spoke to each other, dawn came, the sun passed overhead beyond the thick rainclouds, and darkness came once more. All the while, they gathered small bits of information.
“Hm, the maintenance building is ceramic compressed using quick-dry concrete. An Object cannon could easily handle it, but it could probably stand up to four or five shots from a normal tank.”
“God, these Capitalist Corporations rations are good…”
“When the hell did you make a class change to a gourmet character? And quit eating them all! Leave some for me!!”
This lasted for about two days.
Quenser and Heivia took turns taking quick naps in the pouring rain while leaning up against a tree trunk as they continued to pick up on the faint voices.
Before the second dawn, Quenser gave voice to the fruit of their labors.
“The Shadow Code.”
All the while, others were monitoring Quenser and Heivia.
These were the snipers of the armed group that had asked them to destroy the Deep Optical. They were hiding beneath ghillie suits created from old rags sliced up with a knife and then covered with multiple layers of different colors of spray paint. They were getting tired of watching Quenser and Heivia sit around doing nothing.
What were they doing?
That was the question all of the guards were asking. The two boys had approached the maintenance base zone well enough, but now they showed no sign of taking even one more step.
The snipers had been impressed when the two boys had dealt with the Capitalist Corporations armored vehicle in the landslide, but they were getting irritated since the two boys had accomplished nothing since. The snipers wondered if they had been overcome with fear upon seeing the maintenance base zone.
The armed group knew bits and pieces of Quenser and Heivia’s past activities from news sites, but they knew nothing of the methods used. They simply assumed the two boys would head to the battlefield and that would be that. They had assumed the situation would be resolved within the day once the two boys headed out. That was how they had viewed Quenser and Heivia.
This was nothing more than the process that led to people complaining about athletes simply “having more talent”. These people had no idea how much hard work and effort the athletes had put into it all because the people had merely seen biased and summarized information of the athletes’ results.
However, a further problem existed here. These snipers had sniper rifles they could use to shoot Quenser and Heivia at any time.
What would they do?
Would they continue watching or would they act?
The snipers of the armed group gave it careful thought. It would be simple enough to decide that Quenser and Heivia had chickened out, but firing that close to the maintenance base zone could easily bring danger to the snipers. And if they killed Quenser and Heivia, the Deep Optical would remain. The efforts of the “volunteer” children used to create the needed situation would all be for naught.
(Just a warning should be enough.)
A warning using the laser sight was relatively low risk when compared to actually firing a shot. However, they had used that method once already. The more they used it, the less of a psychological effect it would have.
What should they do?
As his patience wore down, one of the snipers continued to think.
That may have been why he did not notice something else.
A different shadow was silently closing in from behind him.
Quenser and Heivia sorted through the information they had.
They had discovered a possible way in.
“Their commander has a certain item known as the Shadow Code brought in through a separate route from normal supplies. Well, I do understand why he would be worried about that.”
“This Shadow Code doesn’t go through the standard route. It isn’t brought in with the other supplies, and it isn’t officially authorized. That would leave behind data the commander would prefer not be there.”
“The secret transporters have an implicit understanding with the soldiers of the maintenance base.” Quenser went over the conditions one at a time. “That means the secret transporters can get through the base without worrying about the sections divided up by armband.”
They knew what items they needed to sneak into the base.
Just as Quenser and Heivia were about to take action, they heard a rustling in the underbrush directly behind them.
But the noise came from too close behind them.
Quenser and Heivia frantically tried to turn around, but the attacker charged over at Quenser’s side.
Heivia cried out and tried to aim his rifle over, but he froze in place.
He had noticed two short-range sniper rifle barrels aiming at him from two different directions.
“You are not from the Capitalist Corporations. …Your equipment is made to look like it, but I see no reason why you would be hiding and spying on your own base,” said the attacker who was straddling Quenser.
It was a low, female voice.
When he saw her, Heivia brought a hand to his face.
“(Trade with me, Quenser!! Why is it always you!?)”
“(Are you saying you want a knife pressed against your throat!?)”
“That accent… So you’re from the Legitimacy Kingdom.” The attacker let some of her weight off of Quenser, but the knife blade remained at his throat. “What are you doing here?”
“So was the first aid kit not enough of a clue to stay out of this?”
“Shut it, kid. You may be trying to sound cool, but it just makes you sound immature. Answer my question.”
“What about you? What reason does Valkyrie of the Faith Organization have to let us live?”
Quenser was referring to the fact that they could have simply shot him and Heivia from a distance.
No matter how many weapons the women had, the fact that they had needlessly approached showed that they were not all that intent on killing them. And if they simply wanted to use blades to avoid loud gunshots, Quenser’s throat would have already been slit.
“A slight bit of thanks.” The Valkyrie woman then got up off of Quenser. “That last one hurt, though.”
“So what do you want?”
“If my judgment is accurate, you are about to attack the Capitalist Corporations maintenance base.”
The Valkyrie woman gave a thin smile.
It was most certainly not a smile of friendship.
“We are searching for an enemy of god that has fled to this area. However, they are in our way. If you are going to be causing them some trouble, we can use that. We simply wish to know when it will take place.”
“You are willing to ask the Legitimacy Kingdom for help?”
“You are better than the Capitalist Corporations or the Information Alliance. The Legitimacy Kingdom’s ceremonies such as the coronation are often based on religious ceremonies. …But more importantly, you are neither enemies of god nor are you obstructing our search. For now at least.”
“(Damn. I’m glad I didn’t make a crude joke when she climbed on top of me.)”
Even as Quenser felt a bit of quiet relief, another aspect worried him.
Quenser and Heivia were being monitored by the local armed group to prevent them from running off. Making contact with a unit from a world power could be seen as preparations to flee. It was possible they would be shot from afar.
When she noticed Quenser’s eyes racing around the surroundings, the Valkyrie woman said, “You do not need to worry about them.”
“We eliminated the others. We will use those who can be useful, but we have no reason to spare the ones who are of no use or who will hinder us later.”
Quenser heard a clanking noise.
The Valkyrie woman pulled out several scopes. They all had broken lenses and a dark red liquid splattered on the side.
“Would fingers or ears have functioned better as proof?”
He had known the woman was bad news before, but Quenser felt a chill run down his spine once more.
No matter how he thought about it, they were clearly enemies.
They would not be their allies.
He was also amazed at their ability to eliminate all of the snipers who had been hidden in the jungle.
He started to wish he and Heivia had gone further with the traps earlier.
“(Quenser. Hey, Quenser!!)”
“(If the guards from the armed group are gone, can’t we just run away now? We don’t have to go after the Capitalist Corporations Object!!)”
Heivia had a point.
With those guards killed, the armed group would take some other action. It was possible they would decide Quenser and Heivia had betrayed them and send out an additional unit.
If they did nothing about the Deep Optical, more disasters on a scale too large to see would occur in the Loyauté district.
That armed group might once more use children as a shield in negotiations with someone else. And if that did not work, they might do something even worse
And most importantly…
“(Are we really free to leave?)”
“(What do you mean?)”
“(Do you think Valkyrie took the risk to approach us for nothing? They’re hoping to use us. So if we refuse…)”
“Dammit,” groaned Heivia.
The Valkyrie woman could hear everything they were whispering, but she was letting it all go.
“So what exactly is your plan?” expressionlessly asked the woman who made the decision to kill based on whether the person could be of use to her or not. “I do not care what you are trying to do, but the bigger the disturbance and the longer it lasts, the better for us. If you need anything, just ask.”
“Well…” said Quenser as he concentrated on keeping his breathing regulated. “We need some bottles. I’ll tell you the brand, but they can be empty. You can probably find them in their trash. Also…”
Not only was Valkyrie surprised at what Quenser said, but so was Heivia.
Looking puzzled, the Valkyrie woman asked, “Is that really all you need?”
“We don’t have much equipment. We don’t even have that.”
“Understood,” she said, accepting his request. She then lowered her voice. “But if you are captured by the Capitalist Corporations, do not speak of us. If you do, we will thoroughly research who you are, infiltrate your safe country, and kill every one of your relatives.”
“You don’t need to threaten us. We don’t even really know if you’re from Valkyrie or not. We aren’t who our uniforms say we are either.”
“Very well then.” The Valkyrie woman gave a wicked smile that almost seemed to be blasphemous in itself. “You two do as you wish. If we can make use of it, we will.”
Quenser and Heivia’s strategy was not all that thoroughly planned out.
They directly approached the small gate while trying to stand out as little as possible.
“Wait a second. Stop. Yes, you two over there.”
When they arrived at the gate, an amplified voice called out from over 100 meters ahead. A giant light near the gate shined on them and an off-road vehicle equipped with a machine gun approached.
Two soldiers got out of the vehicle as it idled.
They wore the same Capitalist Corporations uniforms as Quenser and Heivia and had the same assault rifle as Heivia.
Quenser covered his face with one hand to block the bright light.
“Hey, stop that. You’re gonna give me a headache.”
“Are you with the unit?” One of the soldiers stared at Quenser and Heivia’s uniforms. “What are you doing here? It isn’t time for the night shift patrols to return. And where are your armbands? You should have one on your right arm.”
“We can’t wear them since we’re on a job that doesn’t allow it,” replied Heivia quietly.
The soldier frowned.
Heivia leaned in close to the soldier and whispered, “It’s in both of our interests to end this discussion about the armbands. Surely you’ve heard of the commander’s Shadow Code.”
The soldier looked away from Quenser and Heivia with a bitter expression.
He was looking over at what the two boys were transporting.
It was a handcart.
The soldier used an LED flashlight to peer inside the canopy. Quenser spoke up to him from behind.
“Don’t shine the light on it too much. It’s like tea in that light can destroy the composition without even opening it.”
“Oh, I see. But…dammit.” The soldier groaned and turned off the flashlight. “So the commander is ordering diet drinks again!?”
“He uses the ridiculous name Shadow Code, so no one knows what it is. We have to work our asses off all day while he’s eating and drinking enough that he has to worry about getting too fat. It pisses me off, but that’s just how the world works.”
“Our 4WD vehicle got stuck in the mud. Normally, we would have called for help, but we can’t given what we’re carrying. Thanks to that, we had to stay out this late trudging through the mud. We’re supposed to be part of the day shift, so I want to get to bed already.”
The soldier clicked his tongue.
He must have felt it would be best not to cause a commotion, so he gestured to have the bright light from the gate shut off.
“Understood. Head through. The night shift can get a bit on edge, so try not to stand out once you get inside.”
“You aren’t the only ones who will be in trouble if that doesn’t reach the commander.”
The soldiers moved the barricade made of a metal framework and barbed wire and then opened the steel gate. Quenser and Heivia pushed the handcart into the maintenance base while everyone watched on.
“(What do we do now?)”
“(If we managed to get into the Object maintenance building like this, we would be better off defecting to the Capitalist Corporations and becoming Hollywood stars. We need to head to the barracks to borrow some armbands. We need to make sure we won’t look suspicious around the maintenance building.)”
“(The armbands are divided up by color, right?)”
“(A beautiful woman’s ass is one thing, but I wouldn’t spend dozens of hours staring at these boring muscular men for no reason. I know what color toothpaste they use.)”
Meanwhile, the two boys headed through a few different sections of the base.
Occasionally, a powerful light from a watchtower would move towards them and they would start sweating, but the circle of light would humorously move away the instant it touched their handcart. It seemed the base truly did have an implicit understanding.
They stopped the cart behind the barracks in a spot the watchtowers could not see, but no voice called out to challenge them. They then slowly opened one of the windows lined up on the barracks wall.
Of course, the window would normally be locked and would have sensors.
“All the information is proving accurate. When the Shadow Code reaches the gate, they secretly unlock one of the windows.”
Just to be sure, they removed one of the diet drink bottles from the cart as a good luck charm and climbed into the barracks.
It was nothing but one of the empty bottles Valkyrie had procured with filthy, germ-filled jungle water in it, but no one was going to double check the contents even if they found it suspicious.
People had a lot of complexes about diet drinks. If the commander thought someone was giving it undue attention, he could very well hold a grudge.
“Y’know, if we actually delivered them to the commander, he might get food poisoning and the base’s chain of command would come crumbling down.”
“They would just stick someone else in charge. Directly targeting the Deep Optical is still our best bet.”
The two boys chose a room in the barracks to enter.
They of course chose their target from the name plate for the room.
All the data they had gathered was enough to know what that person’s duty was and that no one would be inside at that time.
Quenser and Heivia quickly started digging through the belongings inside to find the armbands they needed.
“Each individual person doesn’t have just one armband! Counting spares, they’re given three! We just need to find the right color!!”
“Blue or green! Blue is for the guards and green is for the technicians!!”
Given how Quenser and Heivia were dressed the blue for a guard would be more natural. Also, the person who stayed in that room was a guard.
“Maybe we should change out of these soaking wet uniforms into new ones.”
“We’re not officers. You don’t see regular soldiers walking around with an umbrella. More importantly, we need those armbands! Dammit. Are we not just going to find blue or green ones around!?”
Suddenly, Quenser and Heivia heard approaching footsteps.
“(Shit. This is bad, Quenser.)” Heivia lowered his voice to a whisper. “(We can’t find the armbands. It’ll look suspicious to stop by here with a diet drink! We’re cornered!! Anywhere we go is a dead end!!)”
The footsteps continued.
They were clearly headed for the room they were in.
Quenser suddenly spoke up.
“(Heivia, hand me the diet drink bottle.)”
“(We have nowhere to hide!! We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, so just hand it over!)”
Heivia tossed the bottle and Quenser caught it in one hand. Quenser then wrapped a new uniform jacket and the one he already had around the bottle.
The door opened without a knock as he was doing so.
A middle aged man wearing an expensive-looking uniform that seemed ill suited to actual combat looked at them suspiciously. He had quite a heavy-set build like the type of soldier that simply drew arrows on maps. To be blunt, he was the type of officer the bottom-rung soldiers would dislike.
“What are you doing here? Is this your room?”
“W-we’re hiding. We have our reasons.”
The middle-aged man clicked his tongue in annoyance when he saw the item Quenser was trying to hide
“If you’ve arrived, then hurry up and deliver them. If they are on the base, we can’t have the delivery seen as incomplete. …Also, even if this is the Shadow Code, make sure to return what you used for packaging.”
Quenser and Heivia passed by the middle-aged man’s side and attempted to quickly leave the room.
He called out to them.