“…Ksshh…Can you…hear this? …Is this…ksshh…language…you…ksshh…speak? My…ksshh…from Earth to Mars…ksshh…”
A normal high school student named Kamijou Touma leaned against the wall and looked down at his cell phone. He was watching the evening news on it.
“That is the result gained from analysis of the signal coming from the direction of Mars. No official announcement has been made by the special committee in Academy City’s District 23 and speculation is rampant.”
A girl stood next to Kamijou.
The girl peering at his cell phone had the odd name of Index. She had white skin, a short build, long silver hair that reached her waist, and green eyes. She also wore a showy white nun’s habit with gold embroidery that was reminiscent of a nouveau riche teacup. She would have stood out anywhere.
She trembled while watching the news.
“Aliens… There really are octopus-like aliens!!”
“Ehh…?” said Kamijou (an alien denier) in an exhausted voice within a pristine, white corridor.
Index (an alien believer) had been acting like that ever since that news had first come out a few days prior. UFOs and aliens may have seemed scientific, but it seemed wrong to seriously say that octopus-like aliens or silver aliens with huge heads were part of the science side.
Even if it was from a proper news organization, things were often reported before credible proof had been obtained. There were all sorts of stories about UFO photos being faked.
However, Index’s green eyes were opened wide.
“Since the message was in Japanese, they might be coming here soon. O-oh, no. There’s nothing in my 103,000 grimoires about what to say when you meet an octopus alien!!”
“Ehh…?” said Kamijou in a disheartened voice.
Index may have been able to use her knowledge from over 100,000 grimoires to defeat nasty magicians, but she did not know much when it came to aerospace concepts.
(She isn’t going to start saying something about nearby crop circles being linked to the sinking of Atlantis, is she?)
Kamijou looked down at the digital clock displayed at the edge of his cell phone’s screen.
It was 8:10 PM.
(She’s late. How long do those preparations take?)
Just as he thought that, he heard footsteps from further back in the building. Kamijou and Index looked over and saw a woman of about 20 approaching.
She was out of breath.
“Sorry, young Kamijou. The preparations took longer than I expected!”
“So you got the car ready, Fleiss-san?”
“Yes, somehow or other. The engine’s already started. C’mon, we need to get out of here!!”
Kamijou and Index followed the older Fleiss down the dark passageway. On the way, Kamijou glanced out a window. What he saw was not the normal nighttime scenery of the city.
He saw special vehicles arranged to surround the building. Lights much brighter than the ones used in theatres were pointed toward the building, making it difficult to see out, but he could see people moving about and watching the building through the gaps in the light.
(…Can we really escape from this?)
Kamijou was half in shock.
The three of them were currently on the run from Academy City.
It had all started with what Index had said a few hours earlier after dinner.
Normally, the girl only asked for dessert or to have tempura in her udon, but she had given a rare request that could have even been called romantic: I want to see some pretty stars. Needless to say, Kamijou had been shocked.
Academy City had been created out of the western portion of Tokyo, so it gave the image of being level all the way across. However, District 21 was exceptionally mountainous as it held the many dams that acted as the city’s water sources. The elevation only reached about 200 meters, but the stars could be seen more clearly there than in the city with its streetlights and neon. As such, they headed there.
Their destination was an observatory at the top of one of those slopes.
It was a fairly nice observatory that even had a mid-range radio telescope, but it was open to the public. It even had some of the kind of telescope on any popular elevated tourist destination that could be used for a limited amount of time for 100 yen.
The observatory was filled with people enjoying their evening and Kamijou assumed it was due to the news about Mars (although he had no idea how many people normally went there).
However, a battle had suddenly broken out between Anti-Skill, an organization that acted both as police and special forces within Academy City, and Fleiss-san, a woman with the strange occupation of “magician”. (Anti-Skill did not know of magic, so they seemed to be treating her as a mere terrorist.) Apparently Anti-Skill had found Fleiss-san mixed in with the normal people in the observatory and a skirmish had broken out.
It was a battle between science and magic.
That was a problem, but it was not too far out of hand. This one would resolve itself. There were plenty of incidents and battles in the world, but you just had to make sure you did not get involved in them. There was no need to stick one’s nose in other people’s business. That was why Kamijou and Index just needed to escape to a safe place and not take part in that ridiculous battle.
The problem was…
“Oh, c’mon… But wow. That really is a heated battle. Well, I have a bad feeling about this, so let’s go hide.”
“Mh, Touma! That expensive-looking suit of armor is about to fall over!!”
“Ahh!! Hoo, got the spear at the last second!!”
And like that, Kamijou was holding the thick spear that had fallen from the overly expensive and in-the-way suit of armor. Kamijou was breathing a sigh of relief that the nouveau riche antique was not damaged when…
A few Anti-Skill members suddenly looked over at him.
One of them turned toward his radio and said something.
“I’ve spotted reinforcements for the target!! He’s armed with a heavy-looking spear, possibly to use against our bulletproof vests! He looks ready to attack!!”
“Ehh!? W-wait a second…!! Hey, magician!! Don’t get that hopeful look on your face!! I’m not trying to join in…!!”
“The new target has a medium build and black, spiky hair! …There could be other terrorists around. We should assume we’re up against a group here!!”
“Eeee!? You’ve got it all wrong, Anti-Skill-san! We have nothing to do with that kind of supernatural fighter…Gaaahhhhh!?”
Kamijou’s sentence turned into some sort of yell at the end because he only got a stream of bullets as a response and had to frantically grab Index’s hand and head for cover. They were rubber bullets for suppressing riots, but they would still hurt if they hit you. It was not a good idea to just stand there when a shower of them was headed your way.
During all that, the rest of the crowd was quickly evacuated from the observatory guided by Anti-Skill. Thanks to that, Kamijou, Index, and the mysterious magician were the only three left inside. Kamijou wanted to yell at Anti-Skill telling them to at least treat him like he was the magician’s hostage, but it seemed they were just planning to shoot first and ask questions later.
“Sorry about that. It looks like I’ve gotten you wrapped up in all sorts of trouble.”
“Oh, yes, I suppose so. I’ve had a lot of practice though, so I can handle this much misfortune.”
And so they ended up carrying out their escape plan with Fleiss-san, the magician that had suddenly started talking to them like she knew them.
There was no real reason Kamijou had to escape, but he had a feeling misfortune would rear its ugly head if he did not get to some place where he could safely clear up the misunderstandings. If he simply headed out with his hands up, he could just see someone’s finger slipping and shooting him accidentally.
It seemed Fleiss-san could drive.
The metal shutter sealing a staff garage burst open and a 4WD wagon-type off road vehicle roared out. Since Anti-Skill was only planning on capturing rather than killing, they were not sure whether to attack or run away. During that hesitation, the off road vehicle Fleiss-san was driving slammed into the gap between two Anti-Skill vehicles and forced its way through the blockade.
The mountain road 200 meters up made many twists and turns, but it did not continue for long. They made it to the urban area in no time at all.
Of course, that was not enough to escape pursuit.
“They’re after us!! And they have a ton of cars!!” shouted Kamijou as he looked out the back from the back seat.
Academy City was a city that artificially created psychic powers and Kamijou’s right hand held a special power called Imagine Breaker that could negate any supernatural phenomenon whether it was magic or psychic in nature, but it would be of no help in that situation.
Index’s eyes darted about following the scenery whizzing by out the window while Fleiss-san looked back with a bitter expression using the rearview mirror.
“This is not good. I want to do something about it, but I can’t take my hands off the wheel. You, boy. Could you lend a hand to shake them off our tail?”
“Why do I have to do that!?”
“Because you’ve gotten wrapped up in this with me.”
“…!! Dammit, what do you want me to do!?” Kamijou said in desperation.
Fleiss-san must have taken that as a good answer because she nodded once and pressed some button with a smile.
“Well, first open the door in the back for loading and unloading luggage. Yes, the one that’s like the trunk on a car.”
“You, nun. Could you hand that boy the silver case over there near your ass?”
“Now open the case. There should be two tubes inside. Push them together and half rotate one to lock them together. Then push that round mass in the end.”
“Hm? Hmm? It’s all jumbled up and hard to understand…”
“Touma, take those two tubes, stick them together, and rotate one only halfway around. Then stick that round mass in the front.”
“Ohh, got it, got it. Thanks, Index. That perfect memory of yours can really come in handy.”
“Next, hold it up by resting it on your shoulder and press the red button on the top. A laser will come out, so aim the red light for the hood of one of the pursuing cars. Once that’s done, just pull the trigger.”
“C’mon, Touma. Raise it up and press the red button on top. Something called a laser will come out, so make the red light hit the car’s hood. Once you’ve done all that, you just have to pull the trigger.”
“Oh, I get it, I get it. You really are useful to have around, Index. Okay, so I just have to do this right? …Hm? Trigger???”
Kamijou looked confused, but his index finger had already begun to move.
The noise of something being fired exploded out.
The shock knocked Kamijou onto his back and propelled the round mass out the front.
The round mass opened up in midair, creating a giant 5 meter square net. The pursuing Anti-Skill vehicle frantically tried to avoid it, but the net covered the entire car. On top of that, the tire caught the edge of the net, sending the car swerving to the side with a slipping noise.
Kamijou watched in shock as the car slammed into a guardrail.
He then looked back to the tube he was holding.
“What? What is this thing!? What the hell is this thing!!?”
“It seems to be a special gun used to capture wild animals.”
“I thought you were a magician. Why do you know so much about this clearly scientific weapon!?”
“District 21 is a mountainous area, so I assume it’s a piece of equipment they need for whatever they do here. Japan really is a kind country. They won’t carelessly kill their wild animals any more than their criminals.”
“I’ll ignore that you never answered my question, but didn’t you say something earlier about being sorry you got us wrapped up in this!?”
“Touma, word for word, what she said was, ‘Sorry about that. It looks like I’ve gotten you wrapped up in all sorts of trouble.’”
“Thanks again, Index!! Anyway, you damn magician!! How about you tell me just what the hell is going on!?”
“Ha ha ha. You need to hurry up and load the next shot. We can’t get away unless you take all of them out.”
“Fuck that!! Why do I have to do that…!?”
“I don’t think you have much of a choice. Now that you’ve taken out one of the cars, they look like they’ve gotten serious. They might start using actual bullets now.”
With Kamijou at a loss for words, the car chase entered its second round.
With tears in his eyes, Kamijou picked back up the special gun when he saw one of the pursuing vehicles’ windows open and a hand stick out while holding what was clearly a giant magnum handgun.
A girl held a radio to her ear.
Her age was about the same as Kamijou’s, but she looked oddly sexy. She was wearing a blazer from some school, but it looked unnatural on her. Some might have referred to her as an “adult upperclassman”, a strange creature that every school seemed to have one of. However, no one there was about to say that.
The girl giggled.
Her radio was picking up signals on the frequency used by Anti-Skill. However, the voices coming from the radio were rather unprofessional for an organization like that. Normally, the keepers of the peace would not be saying things like, “I’m gonna fucking kill that spiky-haired brat!”
After listening to that for a while, the girl finally removed the radio from her ear.
She then spoke to the various figures around her.
“As expected, it seems normal Anti-Skill is not going to be enough for this.”
“Are we going, Professor Bisai?”
“Yes, we have no other choice.”
Kamijou Touma’s eyes were glazed over.
The vehicle Fleiss-san had been driving was parked inside an industrial area within District 17. The district was filled with mostly automated factories and they had hidden the vehicle and themselves in the gap between buildings. Countless pipes ran by overhead making it a good spot to hide from the satellite.
Kamijou was curled up in the dark alley and was not moving. A stray cat that normally would not approach people walked over to him, rolled on its back, and held out its paws as if to say, “Oh, fine then. Here.”
(Anti-Skill is made up of Academy City teachers. That means they’ll definitely have their eyes on me now. Uuh…And it’s hard enough just being a Level 0! Uuuuuhhhh!!)
Kamijou’s feelings exploded while he squeezed the stray cat’s paws and he went beyond rubbing the cat’s stomach and instead buried his face in its soft fur. In return, he got a nice slash from its claws along his cheek and was left writhing about in the dirty alleyway. Fleiss-san, the magician, laughed upon seeing that.
“Don’t get so down. I thought you did quite well.”
“Really, though. I was shocked when you managed to bring that pursuit helicopter down with only that net gun. You really must have a talent for that kind of thing to get the net caught in the rotor like that.”
“That doesn’t make me happy!! What kind of talent is that anyway!? How is that ever going to be useful in normal life!?” Kamijou shouted back, but Fleiss-san must have been used to getting others caught up in dangerous situations because she showed no sign of being bothered by it.
“Now then. How can we turn this situation around? Do either of you have any ideas?”
“I may be standing here in the middle of all this chaos, but this isn’t what I want to do!! I’d rather just abandon you here!! You’re clearly the kind of person that would find a way out on her own! You’re powerful enough that there’s no need for me to help you!! Why are things always like this always happening around Kamijou-san!? I just don’t want to help you anymore!!”
“I see. But at this rate, Anti-Skill will be aiming for you with real bullets, too.”
“It would be safer for you if we worked together. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure to send you back to your normal life.”
Kamijou did not feel he could trust her at all since she had been the cause of it all, but she simply continued on giving no sign of caring about the serious crisis of possible suspension from school he was facing as a resident of Academy City.
“By the way, do you two know about the signal from Mars that has been causing quite a stir lately?”
“Y-you mean the thing about the octopus aliens!? So they really are coming to Japan!! Just to be safe, we should go buy a bunch of snacks for guests!!”
Kamijou, the alien denier, was already tired of all that talk, but Fleiss-san spoke up in the tone of an older neighborhood girl giving a kind warning to a child.
“Oh, but I thought this was a science side issue.”
“...No, you guys on the magic side can have the little greys,” said Kamijou casually.
“The octopus aliens might get lost when they first come to Earth!! That’s why we need to help out if they ask us for directions!!” said Index, but the other two ignored her.
“Hmm, so do you really think there is no life on Mars? How do you explain that signal otherwise?”
“Life, hm? That question really depends on what level of life you’re talking about, but I at least doubt there are any octopus-like aliens or little greys. Sure, they’re talking about some signal possibly having come from there, but I can’t say for sure until I’ve seen it myself.”
“So what if we lower the level down to microbial life?”
“Mhh,” grumbled Kamijou as he thought.
Speaking purely of life on Earth, there were plenty of strange creatures like water bears that could apparently live anywhere from 150 degrees Celsius on down to -270 degrees Celsius.
“There may be microbes that could live in Mars’s environment, but I just don’t know enough about Mars to say whether life could have occurred there. …In the planet’s current state, the answer would definitely be no, though.”
“True, but there is no need for life to naturally form on Mars.”
Kamijou looked confused and Fleiss-san laughed.
“Do you know what attached microbes are?”
“…No, and I’m pretty sure that term would never come up in a normal conversation.”
“I don’t even know what you mean by microbe,” added Index.
“And aren’t you supposed to be from the magic side?” asked Kamijou, but Fleiss-san merely turned the question aside.
“The unmanned probes used for geological surveys of Mars are of course built on Earth and sent to Mars on a rocket, right? Well, sometimes those probes land on Mars with microbes from Earth still attached.”
“Oh,” said Kamijou, nodding in understanding.
That was indeed a way that it was possible for tough microbes like water bears to end up on Mars. They may not have a proper food chain allowing them to endure, but that would at least bring life to Mars for a short period of time.
“Also, recent probes have become much more complex. Small amounts of water are loaded onboard in order to care for the lenses for the geological survey and oxygen tanks are installed in the ignition device for the small boosters allowing for a soft landing. Both of those could be helpful in allowing microbes to survive.”
Index was still tilting her head to the side with question marks above it, but Kamijou was saying things like “Oh, wow. SF is so cool!!” in admiration. However, a question suddenly popped into his head.
“But this uproar is over a communications signal being sent from Mars. Even if tough microbes were sent to Mars from Earth, the microbes couldn’t do something like that.”
“Well, as for the means of transmitting the signal,” said Fleiss-san as she spun her finger around while pointing it up into the night sky. “I think it could have been one of the probes’ antennae. The probes couldn’t exactly function without some kind of equipment to send data back to Earth.”
“So it’s all stuff from Earth…”
Kamijou’s shoulders drooped as all of his dreams were shattered. He had been insisting that it could not be aliens, but he may have actually had some strange expectations just like Index.
Speaking of Index…
“Touma, what are microbes?”
“Hey, wait a second. You said the transmission was sent with the probe’s transmission antenna, but I thought you said there were only microbes on Mars? Can they even use the equipment on the probes? In fact, do microbes even have the ability to think and say things?”
“Hmm…” said Fleiss-san with her arms crossed and a troubled expression on her face.
However, that was not because she did not have an answer.
“This is all science side stuff and I’m not too knowledgeable about it, so I’m a bit hesitant to say it.”
“What if I told you the microbes underwent a different path of evolution in Mars’s environment than they would have on Earth?”
“S-so you’re saying these Earth microbe things were turned into octopus aliens by the mysterious powers of Mars!?” said Index excitedly
The door in Kamijou’s heart that had started to open suddenly slammed shut.
Fleiss-san laughed and shook her hands back and forth.
“No ridiculous evolution like that is needed. Microbes use thin hairs called cilia to move, right? All that is needed would be a little change to the pattern with which they move those thin hairs.”
“…Hey. What does the movement of their hairs have to do with their intelligence?”
“Have you heard of spring computers? They carry out calculations by moving small rod-shaped materials using electrical means. I believe they represent 1s and 0s with protrusions and indentations. Anyway, the actual computer is constructed from an aggregation of those rod-shaped materials on a micrometer scale. That matches perfectly with the size of the cilia.”
Kamijou had an idea where she was going with that.
“Don’t tell me you’re trying to say these microbes use vibrations of their cilia to carry out some form of high speed calculation…”
“Even if they did head down a different path of evolution than normal, the amount of calculation power of a single microbe would be limited. Most likely, a group of the microbes gathers together and accomplishes what we would call ‘thought’ by performing calculations in parallel. I wonder if it was the environment of Mars that changed them.” Fleiss-san sighed. “They evolved to adapt to the environment of Mars and gained this high level calculation ability. It may have been because of the various signals constantly sent to the probe from the observation posts on Earth that they had various kinds of information inputted into them. Thanks to that, this collection of microbes that was nothing more than a collection of high-level calculation ability gained thought patterns similar to those of humans.”
“So it isn’t octopus aliens?” asked Index, but Kamijou had a feeling he had just been told something either amazing or crazy.
Ignoring their reactions, Fleiss-san continued.
“The method of conveying signals between each individual microbe is most likely vibrations. Think of it as like an advanced version of an ant’s antennae. They could give and receive information via the contact of vibrating cilia.”
Of course, there was a kind of logic to what Fleiss-san was saying, but she had no actual proof. However, either because Fleiss-san’s manner of speaking was very true to life or because she continued to mix in examples of things close to Kamijou or things he had heard of, he got a strange sense that what she said might actually be true.
“S-so you’re saying they’re the ones that sent the signal to Earth!? But why!?”
“Well…” Fleiss-san did not hesitate as she continued to speak smoothly.
She was likely about to add some more support to give her argument more credibility.
Kamijou felt as if he were about to witness a moment akin to the one in which universal gravitation was proven.
And then Fleiss-san spoke…
“I honestly have no idea.”
In that instant, Kamijou was unable to actually fall over, so he was stuck trembling while still holding his breath in an awkward pose just barely on the line between falling over and not falling over.
While still in that pose, Kamijou shouted out.
“Why you-…Damn yo-…What the hell!? You can’t just do that after coming that far!! Please let Kamijou-san take a trip into a universe filled with mystery and romance!! C’mon, my heart was ready to escape the atmosphere!!”
“Oh, um…sorry. I really am just someone from the magic side, so I don’t know that much about science…”
“No! You do not get to say that after all that!! I-I have to know. Now I have to know!! I thought I was going to get a glimpse at the unique thought patterns of a new form of life!!”
Kamijou curled up on the ground, pounded his fist, and sobbed. Seeing that, Fleiss-san placed a kind hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sure they wanted to see where they came from…or something like that…I guess…maybe…”
“Waahhh!! Now you’re just trying to get out of this by telling me some crap you just made up!!”
Kamijou writhed about while being attacked by horrible indigestion due to the way Fleiss-san’s explanation had ended. However, doing that would not change the fact that Fleiss-san’s knowledge on the subject had dried up.
Kamijou ended up simply lying on the dirty ground and the stray cat approached him again. The cat held out its paw to him as if saying, “What is it boy? Are you troubled again?” After squeezing the cat’s paw for a bit, Kamijou’s mind had recovered enough for him to ask Fleiss-san a question.
“By the way, what was the point of the whole attached microbe thing?”
“? What do you mean?”
“Is there a connection between this strange life form on Mars and why Anti-Skill is after you?”
“Oh, that. Yes, there is a connection.”
“Most likely, Academy City doesn’t like what I’m after.”
“Well…” Fleiss-san nodded and grinned. “My goal is to exterminate those thinking microbes.”
Fleiss-san’s description of her objective was direct and to the point.
Index still looked confused because she had no clear idea what a microbe was. Kamijou could not imagine microbes with thought processes on the same level as a human, but there was something he had to ask.
“Exterminate? You mean…”
“But…is that really okay? Even if these microbes actually exist, I have no idea what kind of creature they are, but they are still living things. They may be unknown and mysterious, but they haven’t done anything wrong. According to your theory, all they’ve done is use the probe’s communications equipment to try to talk to us.”
“The people of this country certainly have a wealth of sensitivity.” Fleiss-san sighed and lightly brushed up her bangs. “I’d heard that the Japanese would get feelings for robots, pets, and even drawings on paper… I guess you’re one of those people. Are you forgetting that we’re talking about microbes here? Whenever you wash your hands with soap, you kill them by the tens of thousands.”
“But…” Kamijou trailed off.
It was true that the birth and actions of an independent intelligent life form on Mars could create various problems. The two sides of the Earth, science and magic, could possibly get into a fight over whose jurisdiction it fell under. Thinking along those lines, the attached microbes on Mars could possibly be nothing more than the sparks that start a war.
But even so, the microbes themselves were not planning to conquer the world like something from a cheap SF movie. Nor were they some kind of deadly virus. Was it really right for the humans of Earth to exterminate them for their own purposes? If they had feelings, would it be wrong to kill them, but otherwise it would be okay? How advanced a life form did it have to be before it changed from “extermination” to “murder”? Kamijou felt that was a difficult line to draw. However, he did not like it on a purely intuitive level. It was a sentimental opinion with no real proof, but those microbes had gained thought on a planet that was otherwise barren. He wanted to know what feelings had been behind sending that signal to Earth. What his exceedingly egotistical sensitivity as a human told him made him not want to use soap ever again.
Kamijou thought for a bit, but those philosophical questions were not something he would resolve any time soon.
Also, Fleiss-san was not going to actually carry out that extermination right that moment.
“How are you planning on killing these microbes? Are you going to fire a missile at Mars or something? You aren’t actually planning to go to Mars yourself, right?”
Fleiss-san gave no response to that question.
She leaned against the door of the vehicle hidden between buildings.
“At any rate, what I must do remains the same. I have come up with a plan for that and have made all the necessary preparations. You need to realize that, as a magician from the magic side, I had to be prepared to go through with this from the moment I set foot in Academy City, the headquarters of the science side.”
Her tone was extremely serious. Kamijou didn’t want to think it was true, but it was possible Academy City had some kind of technology that could attack the surface of Mars.
However, Kamijou never got a chance to ask about it.
Something else interfered.
He heard a light metallic noise.
It came from down at his feet. He looked down and saw a metal cylinder about the size of a coffee can. However, it did not have pull tab like a can of coffee would. Nor did it have an opening to drink from. Instead, the top of the cylinder had a device to hold a pin, but the pin itself was gone.
Kamijou’s mind blanked.
He had just realized what had been thrown toward them.
And the English words written on the side of the cylinder entered his vision.
He did not even have time to shout out.
An explosive noise like a high pitched scream and a sun-like flash of pure white light exploded through his various senses. A stun grenade did nothing but make its target falter due to the powerful light and noise, but at such a close range, Kamijou felt like he had been hit hard on the head and was knocked to the dirty ground.
Some random delinquents in the area would not have that kind of device.
(Shit!! Has Anti-Skill caught up to us!?)
The light and noise had already disappeared, but an intense afterimage was burned into Kamijou’s eyes and a ringing in his ears seemed to follow him around. Even after blinking a few times and shaking his head, his vision was still mostly gone.
Kamijou cried out, but he could not hear his own voice. They may have responded, but Kamijou could not hear anything.
His vision was warped as if some powerful glasses had been forced over his eyes, but he could see a number of legs. He could tell some people were approaching, but his ears had not recovered enough to hear their footsteps. He just barely managed to notice that the approaching figures were holding something. They were most likely guns. If he stayed there, he would either be captured or shot, but his semicircular canals must have been taken out along with his sense of hearing, so his legs would not move as he wanted them to.
“…The established five colors symbolize the five peaks. Therefore, the opposing five complementary colors become that which amplifies the elements of the five peaks.”
Kamijou’s hearing had been destroyed by the stun grenade, but he heard a smooth female voice.
It belonged to Fleiss-san.
“A red background bordered with a green outline. Triangle of Tejas, bring forth your great natural power by way of that emphasized symbol!!”
If Kamijou’s vision had been working properly, he would have been able to see the following.
Fleiss-san lit an oil lighter in one hand and pulled out a green card with her other hand. The card looked like something a soccer referee might have and she held it between her index finger and middle finger. She waved it horizontally as if to slice the small flame of the lighter in two.
A great noise exploded out.
An orange explosion burst out. The highly directional explosion did not even come close to charring Fleiss-san, Kamijou, Index, or even the walls of the buildings to the right and left, but it accurately blasted the approaching enemies out of the alleyway.
“Young Kamijou and the nun, are you okay?” asked Fleiss-san.
Kamijou and Index nodded while staggering around.
“Tch. Now you’ve done it, you and your damn analog magic,” said a voice.
Kamijou’s senses were finally recovering after the blast from the stun grenade.
The men who had been knocked away and to the ground by the strange blast were not from Anti-Skill, but they had a different type of professional bulletproof vest on. And standing in the center of the collapsed men was a lone girl about the same age as Kamijou.
Seeing the girl, Fleiss-san said, “Bisai Otome. Not bad, getting put in charge of that research at your age.”
“If you know who I am, then I can make a good guess as to what you’re after.”
The girl Fleiss-san had called Bisai was wearing a blazer that was likely from some school uniform, but she had a bewitching aura to her that made it seem unnatural on her. She held something like an especially long and narrow instrument case in her hand. Kamijou thought it might have had some old instrument in it, but he was wrong.
“Since you’ve brought out those analog skills of yours, you can’t complain if I bring out my digital version.”
The girl undid the latch and pulled something out of the long, narrow case.
Kamijou was confused.
It was a black leather whip about a meter long. Bisai held the tennis racket-like grip and lightly waved it about a few times as if testing it out.
Seeing the irregular weapon, Kamijou almost groaned.
“Who are you? You don’t look like you’re an esper student from Judgment, but I thought Anti-Skill was only made up of teachers.”
“Oh, dear.” The girl held the whip in one hand and looked over at Fleiss-san rather than Kamijou. “You get help from unrelated people and you don’t even explain the situation to them? You analog magic users certainly do play dirty. From the look of you, you might even be mistakenly thinking you’re doing the right thing.”
“Quiet,” cut in Fleiss-san. “You don’t understand how frightening a thing they are. I must exterminate them before they can spread across the Earth.”
“What do you mean by ‘them’…?” asked Index with a frown.
Kamijou had his own questions.
He did not know what organization the girl with the whip belonged to, but Fleiss-san had said she was trying to kill the microbes on Mars. However, their conversation did not seem to quite match up with that.
However, Fleiss-san quickly cleared all that up.
“She wanted to investigate the microbes on Mars as quickly as possible, so she tried to create the same thing here on Earth. The Martian microbes originated from microbes here on Earth, so she decided it would be faster to take the original microbes and have them evolve in an environment created to be the same as on Mars.”
“Don’t put it like that. We have actually managed a certain level of success.”
“Success? All you’ve managed to do is create microbes fertile enough to survive in the Martian environment. They have not gained any calculation ability.”
“If those things end up in Earth’s environment, they will cover the planet in no time at all. They are not some thinking being. Just like how the irregular production of plankton in a red tide causes serious damage to the fish, they would damage all other life on the planet.”
Kamijou finally understood what Fleiss-san’s objective was.
The microbes she wanted to kill were not the same ones that had sent the signal from Mars. They were the microscopic mutants Bisai Otome had secretly created on Earth months prior.
“That’s quite some second-hand information. I don’t know who told you that, but you only fear science because you do not understand it.” Bisai did not seem worried. “They do not have the ability to threaten the Earth. And even if they did, our storage methods are perfect.”
“Do you really think I’m going to believe you?”
“I don’t care if you do or not. Either way, all three of you are going to be defeated here.”
With a thin smile, Bisai lightly swung the whip in her hand.
That’s right, a whip.
No matter what technology it used, it was still basically a tool for striking. Even if it could be used for torture, it still did not seem like a combat weapon. The men around her holding guns seemed much better armed yet Fleiss-san had easily defeated them.
Red, green, blue, yellow. Fleiss-san spread out colorful cards like a fan and decided to take the initiative while keeping a cautious eye on the situation. She chose one card from the set and swiftly began activating her magic.
With a sharp noise, the card was knocked from Fleiss-san’s hand.
There was a distance of about 10 meters between Bisai and Fleiss-san and Bisai’s whip was only about a meter long including the grip.
Fleiss-san drew her hand back in shock and Bisai swung the black whip through the air as if attacking a second and third time. That was all it took to create a sharp snapping noise. A red swollen area ran across on Fleiss-san’s wrist and all the cards she held scattered about. A red line also appeared on her white cheek. With a tremendous explosion of noise as if from a whip, Fleiss-san’s body was easily blown away and struck the alley wall.
Kamijou was not quite sure what was going on, but he still ran over to the collapsed woman. Index also tried to approach her, but the crack of the whip exploded between Kamijou and Index as if to tear them apart.
Kamijou looked over at Bisai.
(Actually, what is even happening…!?)
“A word of warning,” the girl said with a giggle. She clenched the whip’s grip in her right hand, lightly gripped the side of the whip with her left hand, and stretched it. “This was originally developed to deal with wild animals in the mountainous area of District 21. In other words, it was not made to be used on humans. If you do not make sure to avoid it, you may end up seeing first hand just how soft the human body is.”
Kamijou grabbed Index’s hand and started to move back despite not knowing the whip’s range.
However, Bisai was faster.
She did not swing the whip. She may have been trying to stop Kamijou and Index, but she stuck her hand into her skirt’s pocket, pulled out something like a coffee can, and tossed it toward them.
It was a stun grenade.
Kamijou immediately closed his eyes and covered his face with his arm. However, the intense white flash seemed to pierce straight through and stab into his retinas. The amount of light was simply too great.
(Shit, how can she just keep using these? Does she have some kind of special color contacts or something!?)
However, he did not even have time to click his tongue.
Either his eyes had gotten used to it a bit after the first blast or covering his face with his arm had been somewhat effective because the stun grenade had not been as effective as before.
Kamijou was a bit disoriented, but he managed to hide behind some materials lying on the side of the alley.
But the nightmarish whip strikes continued mercilessly.
The crack of the whip exploded out.
By the time Kamijou realized it had struck him on the cheek, he was already collapsed on the ground. Not only was he clearly out of the range of the whip, but the strange strike had circled around behind Kamijou’s cover. Bisai was still standing in the same spot. She had not moved a step closer, but the whip had definitely hit Kamijou.
The reason she used a relatively ineffective weapon like a whip most likely lay there.
She would have her subordinates fire their guns and then she would use her whip to attack the enemy once they were trapped hiding behind cover. It was also possible she simply liked that it did not instantly kill her enemy, but not for kind reasons. It seemed more like a sadistic kind of “playing”.
More importantly, with the level of skill with the whip she showed, she could easily crush flesh and tear blood vessels. After she had “played” with her target long enough, she could kill them right away.
Bisai Otome’s black whip gave her too much of an advantage.
Kamijou glared at her and spoke even as he could taste blood.
“…Is that some kind of psychic power…?”
“Why should I tell you?”
The girl drew the whip tight with both hands, causing the unpleasant creak characteristic of leather. Kamijou noticed some kind of strange heat residing in her narrowed eyes and a chill ran down his spine.
The sound of screeching tires exploded out.
“Fleiss-san!?” Kamijou shouted out without meaning to.
Fleiss-san had climbed aboard the 4WD off road car parked between the buildings and was gripping the steering wheel.
Bisai immediately swung her black whip.
But even if she had a means of expanding its range, it was still a whip to be used on wild animals. It did not hold the power needed to blow up or crush a car. The windshield broke, sparks flew from the door, and the airbag activated needlessly, but the off road car ignored Bisai’s whip and passed by Kamijou and Index.
“Get on. Hurry!!”
They did not need to be told twice. Kamijou jumped toward the passenger side door and Index tried to follow. But…
A sharp crack was heard and Index’s feet must have been hit because she suddenly fell before she reached the car.
Kamijou had been trying to leap into the passenger seat, but he stopped while in an unstable position with his hands grabbing the door and one foot on the step near the tire.
He heard what sounded like someone clicking her tongue from the driver’s seat and the off road car drove off. Kamijou’s foot slipped from the step and he was stuck hanging from the door. However, something worried him more than the asphalt going by below his feet at high speed.
Still hanging from the door, Kamijou shouted at Fleiss-san.
“You idiot!! Go back!! Index is-!!”
“We can’t!! She started aiming for the tires. If she blows the tires, we’ll all be captured!!”
“I don’t care!! I’m going back even if you’re not…!!”
Kamijou started letting go of the door, but he then heard an odd noise.
He looked over and saw something like a ring of plastic tape connecting his wrist to the frame of the door. It had no connector. It had been melted shut with heat or something.
Fleiss-san held something like a handgun in one hand. It looked less like a military weapon and more like a device used to attach prices to products at a convenience store or supermarket.
On the left and right of the device were openings to emit tape and it looked as if it surrounded objects at point blank range like a stag beetle and melted it shut. It was something like a man catcher.
“This is yet another item used to deal with wild animals. It’s a tape gun used to restrain a captured animal’s legs so it can be safely transported.”
Kamijou immediately tried to remove the restraint on his wrist, but he could not tear it. It looked like a thin string, but it would not budge even when he pulled until his fingers hurt.
“Fighting recklessly will just get us captured, too! If you truly want to save her, you can’t waste what little chance you have!!”
Before he could grit his teeth, the off road car backed out of the alleyway and turned 90 degrees. This caused the door to open wide and swing Kamijou’s body with it.
“We have a chance. We just have to believe that!!” said Fleiss-san more to herself than to him.
Hearing that, Kamijou bit his lip until it bled.
Alternating down wide roads and narrow roads and making turns all over the place, Fleiss-san brought the off road car to an underground parking lot for a department store.
The battered car was wrapped in a languid atmosphere. Kamijou leaned back against the passenger seat headrest and Fleiss-san leaned forward, resting her upper body against the steering wheel.
No pursuit seemed to be coming, but they could not relax.
That was obviously because they had left Index behind.
Neither of them said anything about Index.
They both knew the situation without having to discuss it and Kamijou already knew what he had to do.
That was why Kamijou asked about something else.
“…Hey. Why did you come to Academy City?”
“Didn’t I already explain that?” Fleiss-san turned her head to look at Kamijou while keeping her body leaned against the steering wheel. “A research facility in this city created an environment the same as that on Mars in an attempt to artificially create microbes with the same thought processes as those on Mars. It was a failure, but if they escaped into the atmosphere and started to breed, they would become a threat to all other life, similar to a red tide. So before that can happen…”
“No, not that,” Kamijou said, cutting her off.
Fleiss-san lifted herself from the steering wheel with a puzzled look before Kamijou continued.
“Saving the world or protecting all life forms on the Earth…all that stuff is just on too great a scale. Your objective is so spread out that it becomes too thin.”
“At your core, you have to have a more personal, more subjective, and much smaller reason. This reason seems so raw to you that you hesitate to speak of it. That’s what I’m asking about. What are you fighting for?”
Hearing that, Fleiss-san fell silent.
After a short silence, she slowly started moving her lips.
“Well…” She leaned back in her seat and took a deep breath. “Do you know of a magic cabal called the Dawn that Wipes away Darkness?”
“No, of course you don’t. …Even on the magic side…hell, even in England where Golden-style cabals originated, very few people know of it. That’s just how far it has declined. It is a tiny cabal and I am one of its members.”
As she spoke, she pulled a few cards out of her pocket. They were similar to the red card or yellow card soccer referees had, but they were red, blue, yellow, and green.
“The spell we use colorizes the five great elements and then indirectly interferes with the five types of power in the natural world by mixing the colors and adding in complementary colors. Basically, it takes the rules of the Tattva color arrangement that spread throughout the Golden-style cabals and rearranges it into four colors that can be used as symbolic weapons.”
Kamijou looked on blankly as Fleiss-san pulled out an oil lighter.
“The basic color of fire is red. Its complementary color is green.”
She held a green card behind the small flame.
“Green emphasizes red, so bringing the card near the flame emphasizes the strength of the flame.”
With a roar, the lighter’s flame grew to a 30 cm pillar of fire.
As Kamijou watched in shock, she brought a red card near the pillar of fire.
“Conversely, red will not work with flames when using this spell. It causes the outlines to become vague which weakens the symbols.”
As if its oil fuel source had been cut off, the pillar of fire disappeared instantly.
“Huh… Magic really is amazing…”
“Not really. This method is almost completely obsolete.”
“Why? Creating and putting out flames is pretty convenient. I bet it could be used in all sorts of ways in a fight.”
Fleiss-san smiled at his ignorant question.
It was a weak smile.
“The magic side is still advancing. There is no longer any need to indirectly add emphasis or add vagueness to the elements. Spells have been developed that directly manipulate the pure element itself. It’s something like the relationship between vacuum tubes and integrated circuits. Vacuum tubes do have their advantages, but making an audio device out of them in this day and age would seem insane.”
Methods with no demand would become obsolete.
Kamijou had no idea how the Dawn that Wipes away Darkness dealt with society and gained their funds, but they had most likely lost their foundation.
“As you said, wanting to save the world or protect all life living here was a lie. That was just a front,” Fleiss-san said self-derisively. “This was really nothing but a promotion. I just wanted to carry out some major job so I could show that our techniques were not useless junk. …This is nothing more than the attempted return match of a loser.”
She most likely knew quite well that vacuum tubes would never return over integrated circuits no matter how much they were used. And even if they did, it would be nothing but straying from the proper path. It would only bring down the overall level of technology in the world.
“…What’s so bad about that?”
“I don’t know about magic, but in the world I live in, old things like soy milk and hatsuga genmai sometimes end up back in the spotlight. What’s popular and what isn’t is not solely determined by what is cutting edge or not,” said Kamijou. “And more importantly, I’m relieved to hear that completely ordinary reason. I wouldn’t know how to deal with someone so deep they could seriously talk about saving the future of all living things on Earth from humans all the way down to plankton.”
Fleiss-san looked surprised and fell silent.
Kamijou did not wait for her to respond.
He opened the battered passenger door and stepped out into the underground parking lot. Seeing that, Fleiss-san frantically called out.
“Where are you going?”
“Surely you know,” he said without turning toward her. “I’m going to save Index.”
“You’re planning on going alone to face those armed soldiers and that special whip that uses some kind of strange technology? In fact, you don’t even know where they went.”
“None of that matters.” Kamijou held his right fist through the open door and toward Fleiss-san. “Just like you, I’m not going to say I want to protect all life on Earth from humans all the way down to plankton. I have my own completely ordinary reason. They’ve captured Index and I want to save her. …Simple, isn’t it? It’s so simple I don’t have to worry about ridiculous crap like strategy.”
Kamijou did not appear to have any kind of weapon.
He was not wearing a bulletproof vest or blade-resistant suit. He could be killed by a single bullet or even a sharp stick, but he showed no sign of backing down.
His weapon was Imagine Breaker, his right hand that could negate any supernatural power.
“…I’ll go alone. You don’t need to come with me,” he said before walking off.
However, before he made it even a few steps away, he heard a car horn from behind him.
“Get in. I’ll go with you.”
“Just like you decide what to do with your life, I can decide what to do with mine.”
Bisai Otome, a girl wielding a strange whip, stood in the darkness where she had dragged Index. She was very near where she had attacked those three in District 17. As it turned out (perhaps obviously), she could not drive. Since the small fries around her had been taken out, she had to wait until backup arrived before she could travel any distance away.
Bisai pulled on Index’s arm while the girl had her hands restrained behind her back in handcuffs. Being dragged along in that unnatural pose caused an occasional dull pain to run through her shoulder.
“…Ugh, what a pain,” Bisai muttered while holding the instrument case-like object in her other hand. “Because you surrendered before I killed you, I now have to deal with you as a hostage. If only you’d resisted a bit more, so I could have killed you without having to hold back.”
“…What are you going to do to me?” asked Index with a serious tone.
Bisai traced her index finger across the case holding the whip and said, “It would probably be fun to make you suffer here, but I need to give my job priority. It would be bad if I was attacked again before the reinforcements arrive, so I’ll use you as insurance.”
Meanwhile, Kamijou and Fleiss-san were watching them from a distance.
Index and Bisai Otome were inside the grounds of an automatic factory within District 17. Kamijou and Fleiss-san had been able to find Index because she had left hints behind.
“A sigil?” Kamijou had asked when they had returned to the area of the attack to see if there was any clue left behind.
A strange pattern had been drawn on the road surface with a stone or something being used instead of chalk. It did not look quite like writing or a crest. If anything, it looked more like jagged lines.
The lines even intersected similarly to in the number 4.
Fleiss-san crouched down on the ground and said, “Yes, a sigil. This kind is used to symbolize a special cross among Golden-style cabals. And this symbol can also include representations of the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet.”
She traced her fingertips across the straight lines it seemed Index had drawn.
“Using that method of representation, the lines in this kind of sigil display a word. Most of the time, it is used to display the name of an angel in order to obtain Telesma.”
“Does this act as some kind of hint?”
“Some angels are in charge of protecting a direction. In other words, she is using the angel’s name to tell us which direction to go.”
They followed the direction indicated by the sigil and found another sigil. It seemed Index had quickly scraped out a sigil for the next direction with her feet on the wall or ground every time they had changed directions. Kamijou left the decoding to Fleiss-san and they followed sigil after sigil until they arrived at Index’s location.
“By the way…” asked Kamijou as he observed the factory grounds through some binoculars they had found in the off road car (possibly for bird watching). “How are you going to destroy the artificial Earth microbes once you find them? Are you just going to burn their container to sterilize them?”
“I’ll use this,” said Fleiss-san as she pulled out a card.
Unlike the red, blue, green, and yellow cards from before, this one was not a single solid color. It had a pattern made up of a few differently colored parts similar to stained glass. The somehow dull hues made the surface look rough.
Kamijou looked at it and frowned.
“A rose…and a cross?”
“This spiritual item was developed by one of the most basic of sects that is older than even the Golden-style. Dried herbs are broken into a powder and consecrated salt is used to create the pattern. It’s a tool used for purification spells.”
“Its main use is to prevent food from spoiling. If you think of the arrangement of the five great elements as what is making up an object, then rust, rotting, or decay is caused by an arrangement with poor balance. The aim is to prevent that rotting and decay by readjusting that balance.” Fleiss-san laughed. “But as someone from the science side, I’m sure you know what actually causes food to spoil.”
“Bacteria and other microbes cause them to decompose. That’s why preserved foods are dried or deprived of oxygen in order to keep those life forms from…”
Kamijou trailed off because he had figured it out.
Fleiss-san gave a small nod.
“I doubt the magicians who originally created this kind of spiritual item and spell had any idea things such as microbes existed. After all, that was back during the time of the Renaissance. However, this card still ended up possessing a powerful purification ability in regards to microorganisms. I expect it will be highly effective against the microbes in question.”
It sounded like quite a convenient item, but according to Fleiss-san, its power was not absolute. The card’s effects were limited, so if the microbes spread throughout the world, the purification would not be able to deal with them simply due to the great number of them.
At any rate, it sounded as if Kamijou could leave the issue of the microbes to Fleiss-san.
What Kamijou was most worried about was Index.
“But…” Kamijou said with the binoculars still in hand. “There are fewer people than I expected. …In fact, it’s just that whip girl. I thought she’d be surrounded by guards or something.”
“The guards Bisai took with her may have all been taken out by my magic back there. She can’t drive on her own and she can’t exactly call a taxi while taking a hostage with her. I suspect she is waiting for reinforcements from her lab or base or whatever.”
“So she’s all alone right now? Then this is our chance to rescue Index.”
“Seems that way.” Fleiss-san removed the binoculars from her face and narrowed her eyes. “Now, let’s get close and kick her ass two to one.”
“…I’d rather you didn’t say it like that.”
“We just have to win, right? If we take her out with our first attack, we win. Some might say that’s cowardly, but that won’t stop me. I think I’ll take that damn whip from her and give her some red lines all over that white skin of hers.”
“Please, stop saying things like that!! I’m feeling guilty enough just at the thought of raising my fist against a girl!!” shouted back Kamijou in rebuttal, but Fleiss-san was not listening.
And then their strategy began.
“…So you’ve come,” said Bisai Otome quietly when she saw Kamijou enter the factory grounds.
As it was an unmanned facility, it lacked even the level of lighting that would normally be considered the bare minimum. However, perhaps to save energy when lights were needed, its lights came on based on motion sensors. Lights flicked on and off in areas other than where Kamijou stood, but that was likely due to stray cats or crows.
Bisai must have had control of the security because there was no light above her.
She merely raised her head upon seeing Kamijou casually stepping into the light.
“I thought she might end up being nothing more than an unneeded burden, but it seems I was right to use her as a hostage.”
“You’re wrong,” spat back Kamijou. “To be honest, if you hadn’t captured Index, I wouldn’t have gotten this involved.”
“I see. Too bad.”
As she spoke, Bisai undid the latch on the long, narrow case and pulled out the whip made of black leather. The girl tossed the no longer necessary case to the ground and Kamijou spoke to her.
“Where is Index?”
Bisai’s expression froze for a second at Kamijou’s question.
“What do you mean? She’s right over th-…”
She started to point over toward a nearby location with her chin, but then her whole body froze.
She was gone.
Index had been restrained with her hands in handcuffs, but now she was gone.
(Did she run away on her own? No…!?)
In that instant, Bisai’s attention was drawn elsewhere.
And Kamijou did not overlook that opening. He intently stepped forward.
In truth, Fleiss-san had taken action.
She and Kamijou had used the binoculars to get a general idea of the location of Bisai Otome and Index within the factory grounds. They most feared having the hostage used as a shield to buy time. In other words, their top priority was not to defeat Bisai; it was to rescue Index.
As such, Kamijou had purposefully headed out below the lights to draw Bisai’s attention while Fleiss-san had circled around in the darkness and stealthily approached. The general plan had been for her to recover Index and get away.
Their plan had succeeded.
Fleiss-san had escaped to the back of the facility with Index in tow.
Once they had the hostage, it was two to one.
Bisai’s whip was still a threat, but it still improved their odds.
Or it should have.
“H-huh? Why can’t I get the handcuffs off? Hmm, maybe I should use the power of Tejas to burn the chains off…”
“I-if you do that, you’ll blow away my wrists!!”
“Then what am I supposed to do? I want to deal with this as quickly as possible and get back to help…”
Just as Fleiss-san said that, she heard an odd noise.
Her eyes narrowed in puzzlement just as two even thinner C-shaped pieces of metal came out of Index’s handcuffs. They circled around Fleiss-san’s wrists as she tried to get the handcuffs off and then they locked into place with a metallic click.
“Wha-? Eh? Wait a second…!!”
She frantically tried to pull her wrists from the metal, but they were firmly held in place. And as a final blow, a tiny speaker within the handcuffs started playing the following message.
“The unlawful release prevention program has activated. Any vibration, impact, electrical shock, or heat over a certain level is seen as an unlawful method. Upon detection of such a method, various methods of restraint such as tear gas will be used.”
Index and Fleiss-san fell silent upon being faced with the unexpected threat of the smart handcuffs.
Hearing the cracks of a whip and explosions starting a slight distance away, Fleiss-san muttered a few words.
“…What do I do?”
A few coffee can-like metal cylinders were thrown and the stun grenades blew up. The eye-burning flashes of light and earsplitting din filled the factory.
Bisai’s extended range whip mercilessly attacked from beyond Kamijou’s destroyed senses before he even felt the dizziness that made it feel as if he had been punched in the head.
The high-pitched crack of the whip seemed to “awaken” his supposedly destroyed sense of hearing and a tremendous shock ran across his cheek. Kamijou somehow managed to avoid collapsing to the ground, but Bisai sent the whip flying a second and third time. He felt pain wrap around his right calf and then felt himself being pulled forward.
The invisible strike made Kamijou lose his footing and he fell face up onto the ground.
(Dammit. What is Fleiss-san doing…!?)
Kamijou immediately went on guard for the whip, but the next strike did not come. Instead, something fell to his feet.
It was a stun grenade.
He immediately rolled to the side to get away, but that was all he could do. The stun grenade detonated right next to him and his already on-and-off senses received a further blow. It was not just pure brightness. He felt a dull pain eat into the outside of his eyes like when one looked directly at the sun.
He writhed about on the ground and heard Bisai’s voice.
“…If you’ve recovered your hostage, then is there really any reason for you to stick around…?”
In reality, she may have said more than that. However, the stun grenade had left Kamijou’s ears in a state where that was all he heard.
That was why Kamijou replied based on a guess as to what she was talking about.
“If you’re willing to just give her back, that’s great, but you don’t intend to do that, do you?” Kamijou spat back as his mind raced.
Of course, a whip that could apply actual damage to someone outside its normal range could not be a proper weapon. It either had some kind of gimmick or Bisai herself was using some kind of psychic power. Either way, Kamijou had no way of winning unless he could figure out what it was.
(What could it be…?)
Kamijou clenched his fist anew and focused on the dully glowing leather whip and Bisai’s wrist as she held it.
(What is it that bothers me about it? This isn’t just some “convenient esper power”. Surely I can narrow it down a little further than that…)
As Kamijou thought, a water droplet dripped down his cheek.
He wiped it off with the back of his hand and then frowned.
It felt oddly sticky and rough.
(Sweat…? No, this is…!?)
That was when Bisai made her next move.
She tossed a stun grenade with its pin removed and bent her black whip.
The stun grenade tossed at Kamijou’s feet quickly exploded.
However, Kamijou had removed his school uniform jacket and covered the stun grenade with it. The pure white light and explosive noise made the thick cloth seem transparent, but it was not perfect. Its effects were greatly lessened and Kamijou’s senses were not destroyed.
But something even more mysterious happened.
Bisai swung her whip when the stun grenade detonated and it flew through the air toward him, but no wounds appeared on Kamijou’s body. The whip had not hit him.
“The stun grenades are just deceptions,” said Kamijou as Bisai gritted her teeth in surprise. “Their true purpose was to scatter tiny particles that transmit impacts easily. That’s how you extended the range of your whip. But that also means I can bring its range back to normal by preventing you from scattering them.”
The “impacts” transmitted included sound.
With his senses in a normal state, he would likely have noticed something odd about the sound, but the stun grenade also took care of that. With his senses messed up already, he would not notice anything was amiss.
The girl swung the whip even harder with a twist of her hips. Her blazer made a flapping noise, but the crack of the whip drowned it out.
But Kamijou brought up his right hand and the cracking noise was diverted to the side.
“I see. So you blew the particles floating in the area toward me with the movements of your blazer. You turned your body into a giant fan.” Kamijou paused for a second. “That special particle grenade was not enough to pull this off. Merely filling the area with particles that easily transmit impacts would just transmit everything evenly around. That’s why you needed one more gimmick. You needed your own esper power that could set the directionality of the transmission to a certain extent.”
“What…but…” Bisai frowned. “How did you just negate my power? I understand covering the grenade with your jacket, but how did you get rid of my power…?”
“It may be unfair, but that’s the power I have.”
Kamijou wiped a trail of blood from his lips and held his right fist out toward the girl.
“This just became a whole lot easier if you’re using some kind of supernatural power. My right hand can destroy that kind of power whether it’s magic or psychic in nature.”
As he spoke, Kamijou picked his jacket back up from the ground. He clenched his right hand into a fist and held the jacket in his left hand. It made him look like a matador.
“…Do you really understand?” Bisai asked, holding her whip out reflexively. “You seem to think you have sealed off my attacks with that, but you technically haven’t. All you’ve done is-…”
“Oh, I know. I haven’t sealed off your attacks. By removing the power that was giving directionality to the impacts, I’ve made it so that the power that you had some control of before will now be scattered about again. You could say I’ve made it into a ricocheting bullet that’s path no one can predict. Your attack is now like firing a shotgun in an enclosed area.”
Kamijou’s tone was light.
He was already prepared.
“If you fall back now, this can end with no one getting hurt.”
Bisai fell silent.
However, she then clenched the whip’s grip even tighter than before.
“I can’t do that.”
“…Because I want to save them.”
That was all she said.
That must have been that girl’s reason. Now that she had reconfirmed her core motivation, a powerful light returned to Bisai’s eyes. Before Kamijou could prepare himself, she gathered up even more strength than before and swung the whip.
The impact scattered about.
The sound spread out in a strange distorted way. The air shook. However, Kamijou ignored it and ran forward. He clenched his fist tightly and stared forward.
The sound of the air ripping passed right by his ear.
When that was not enough to make him falter, Bisai stepped back a bit. She then swung the whip again in an attempt to stop Kamijou’s advance and get back into her rhythm.
Kamijou’s cheek split as he ran.
The tremendous crack of the whip exploded out.
Kamijou’s head shook and his vision blurred, but his focus did not waver.
He took another step.
As the boy stepped forward, the girl with the whip entered the range of his fist.
Kamijou clenched his fist even tighter.
He poured all his strength into it.
As Kamijou yelled, he swung his fist.
However, the impact from Bisai’s whip struck his arm and altered its trajectory. It had not been intentional. Like the whip was an exploding handgun, Bisai’s own finger had been struck as well.
Kamijou heard a small cry of pain. Bisai’s fingernail had been split. It must have been quite painful because her movements dulled slightly. However, that was Bisai’s only weapon. If she let up, it was clear Kamijou’s fist would find its mark. That was why she tightened her grip on the whip despite knowing it was a crapshoot.
The crack of the whip sounded out yet again. Fresh blood flew through the air. Drops of blood from both of them collided and fell to the ground. Even so, the stalemate did not last long. Kamijou stepped even further forward and clenched his fist tight.
Kamijou’s fist and Bisai’s whip.
The two attacks forcefully crossed.
The crack of the whip echoed throughout the nighttime factory.
Bisai’s whip had directly struck Kamijou’s cheek. The particles in the air no longer mattered. The whip had been swung at close range and the tip had taken its full force and directly struck Kamijou in the face. His skin split like a stocking and red blood dripped down.
However, that was not enough to remove the light from Kamijou’s eyes.
“If you insist on carrying out your objective even if it brings misfortune to others…”
Kamijou Touma’s right fist ignored it all and slammed into Bisai’s face.
Time stopped for Bisai.
Her strength left her and she collapsed to the ground as Kamijou continued to speak.
“…then I’ll destroy that illusion of yours.”
“Hmm,” said Fleiss-san. “So basically, you took all the best parts for yourself. Really, you should have left some for me. I wanted to knock that girl down from her high horse…Sigh.”
“Don’t say it like that!! That was quite difficult for Kamijou-san, believe me!! In fact, look! I was almost killed! Look all these wounds from that whip!!”
“Really, I just wanted to deliver at least one clever line.” Fleiss-san had a bitter smile on her face. “But look at us! No matter what I said it would have seemed pathetic, so I kind of lost all motivation.”
“Speaking of that, what are you two doing?” Kamijou asked.
Index had her hands restrained behind her back and Fleiss-san had her hands caught in additional thin C-shaped pieces of metal coming from the handcuffs. With a total of four hands caught in the handcuffs, it did look ridiculous.
Index was sitting flat on the ground and pouting.
“Well, that’s just how traps are. When you see them up close, they seem stupid, but they’re a serious matter when they catch you,” the nun commented.
“Oh, is that so?”
“By the way, winner boy. Did that sadistic girl have the key to the handcuffs on her by any chance?”
“Hm? Oh, this is probably it.”
Kamijou pulled a small key out of his pocket. Index and Fleiss-san looked relieved when they saw it. Their position must have been rather uncomfortable to maintain.
“Anyway, after you get these off of us, let’s go attack the microbe research facility. There may be some remaining forces at their base, but their line of command will be in chaos with that sadistic girl gone. This is our chance.”
“Oh, do you know where her lab is?”
“What have you been looking at this whole time?”
Kamijou looked puzzled and Fleiss-san lightly shook the handcuffs.
“At any rate, just get this thing off.”
“Okay, okay. But you really are an idiot. Even if they are Academy City smart handcuffs, they’re still nothing more than an extreme version of a jack-in-the-box. If you’re stupid enough to get caught by these, you-…”
Kamijou trailed off because he had heard a noise.
With a metallic noise, C-shaped pieces of metal came out and trapped Kamijou’s wrists as he tried to remove the handcuffs.
The three idiots were now restrained by a single pair of handcuffs.
They all remained silent for a bit, but…
“Gwoooahhh!! W-wait, Index! Don’t try to bite me with your hands behind your back like that! I’m completely defenseless in this position!! You’re going to hurt my back!!”
“Yeah, but this scene can’t end without a punch line!!”
“And Fleiss-san! Don’t lose your temper!! Don’t put that strange card in your mouth and try to cause some supernatural phenomenon!! Don’t worry! I’ll take care of this!! Kamijou-san will twist his arm around like in a human knot and get this key in the keyhole!!”
“Fghhmgh,” said Fleiss-san in an unintelligible comment due to the card in her mouth. It seemed there would be a few more troubles before the incident came to a close.
Bisai Otome lay sprawled out on the ground unmoving for a while.
Finally, she stirred within the empty factory. Before she tried to stand up, she pulled out a small radio from her blazer pocket.
She set the frequency while still on the ground.
This frequency was not one used by Anti-Skill.
She was intercepting a signal form much further away.
“…I was defeated. Most likely, the artificial microbes created on Earth for inspection purposes will be destroyed by some means or another. It seemed they knew the location of the cultivation facility.”
That location had been the observatory.
It had been that astronomical research facility in the mountainous District 21. It could not have been a coincidence that the analog magic user had been there. She had likely been searching for the location of Mars World, the small dome used to accelerate the evolution of the microbes.
“…Is that so… However…we did not wish for…the chaotic spread and propagation…of our own kind. …In a way…this resolution…could be seen as being…for the best.”
“How can you say that?” spat out Bisai while still collapsed on the ground. “I created a special storage facility to prevent that from happening. The whole point is to shelter you on Earth. That was why I needed to create microbes like you to run tests on beforehand.”
A throbbing pain ran through her.
“By the way, why do you think our conversation was leaked to the general public? You were sending the signal directly to my lab, so I find it hard to believe any other antenna could have picked it up.”
After thinking for a bit, Bisai’s eyebrows moved slightly.
The signal from Mars had started causing a commotion in Academy City a few days before, but Bisai Otome and the Martian microbes had first come into contact months before.
“It bothers me that that damn analog magic user had information about you. That’s science side information. I highly doubt it, but it wasn’t you, was it?”
“We…do not know who did this. …Most likely, it was…a different colony from us. We are not the only…microbes that arrived on Mars…via the probes. Colonies of microbes…that act as a whole…and have differences in intelligence and level…of advancement…are in a state similar to…what you call war. …After all, the water and oxygen…we require to survive…is limited.”
The conflict they spoke of was much simpler than what humans dealt in. They would take their enemy or opponent into their own body, digest them, and receive their nutrients. That was all there was to their extremely primitive war.
“Basically…it is a difference in…approach. …We asked for help…from the science side…of your planet. In other words…you. …However…there must have been a colony…that asked for help from…someone else…”
“I see. So we’re not the only ones thinking along the same lines.”
“…How are things…on your end…?”
“At the soonest, the next time I can get something into space would be the beginning of October. …Do you understand the Earth-based calendar?”
“It is…a measurement of time based on…the rotation and revolution of…your planet… It is a bit…out of sync from…how things seem here on Mars...but the devices inside the probe…count time using the Earth-based system.”
“Currently, Academy City is beginning to construct its fourth satellite. I intend to have the necessary equipment launched into space along with it.”
Bisai fell into thought for a short period before speaking again.
“I was thinking of saying something to ease your mind, but I guess there is really no point.”
“Yes. We know…that the odds…are low.”
“Basically, the probes to Mars were only meant to get there. Having one return to Earth is unprecedented. I will have multiple units combine together in space, creating an entire shuttle with a booster which will land on Mars. If it goes well, the large booster will ignite once it retrieves you and hopefully that will take you away from Mars’s gravitational field.”
“…If the shuttle is…tilted even slightly when it…lands, it could…burn up in Mars’s atmosphere. And if it does…manage to land on Mars, its…route back to Earth…cannot have even the slightest…mistake. It also…could fail its entry into…Earth’s atmosphere. …We are aware that there are…countless potential problems.”
The voice from the radio fell silent there.
After a pause, it started speaking again.
“But we… do not have anyone else we can rely on…”
Most likely, the plan would fail.
Bisai thought that because she knew what level humanity’s technology was at. Merely creating a small probe that would land on Mars was a major project, so creating a probe that would return to Earth again was just too unprecedented.
It only had to retrieve microbes rather than carry humans, so it could be much smaller than a normal rocket. After its multiple stages of boosters detached, it would only be about the size of two or three plastic bottles. However, even succeeding in that was worth any number of Nobel prizes.
She could not even calculate what the odds were and yet the situation required her to succeed on the first try.
After thinking through all that, Bisai Otome smiled.
“Well, it’s also possible I’m being tricked.”
“In this age, it isn’t just nations that can launch satellites. Civilian companies have developed satellites that are quite small and Academy City has put together an experimental satellite that is only 7 millimeters long. That was only put together in a lab though and isn’t the fourth one I mentioned.” Bisai stared up into the night sky. “Someone could have calculated the orbital paths of Earth and Mars and placed a small satellite between them. By sending and receiving signals from it, they could make it look like the signals were being sent from Mars.”
Whoever or whatever was on the other end simply listened.
“I tried to create microbes similar to you in my Mars World experiment, but I failed. However, that may have been the right answer. It’s possible that the microbes I used as samples would not undergo the sudden changes everyone is imagining they would.”
“As such, I need to keep in mind that this could all be a lie made using some civilian satellite. UFO photos are often faked and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some person out there who has the resources to do something like this for fun.”
“…You will…learn whether that is true or not…soon enough,” came the calm response from the radio. “If you…come here…you will know…”
Hearing that, Bisai sighed lightly.
Still sprawled out on the ground, she muttered a few words.
“…Mars really is a long way away.”