It was the first day of a rare long weekend.
In a certain student dorm in Academy City’s District 7, Index, a silver-haired nun in a pure white habit, rolled along the wooden floor.
“Toumaaa. The beepy thing isn’t doing anything anymore.”
“Hm? You’re afraid of the microwave and get dizzy watching the dryer, so why are you using a handheld game system? …In fact, it’s rare to see you messing with any kind of machine.”
The spiky-haired boy who responded was Kamijou Touma.
Index was swinging around a mobile device just a little larger than a pencil case.
“Some important person said each defeat in Virtual-On only makes you more powerful! So I have to keep fighting and fighting to get stronger!!”
“Who in the world is that ‘important person’? They must have quite an aura to get Index of all people to do what they say. Not that I’m entirely sure what this Virtual-On thing is.”
It seemed to be the latest fad, but Kamijou had never touched the video game and did not know too much about it. There were posters all over Academy City, so he just knew it had to do with colorful robots fighting each other.
He glanced down at the mobile device Index handed him and messed with it for a bit.
“Oh, it’s got a firmware update window. Looks like you’ll have to take it into the center, Index.”
“Farmware update…? But I’m not growing any grapes, Touma.”
“I said firmware, not farmware.” Kamijou sighed. “Well, I need to refill my credits soon anyway, so let’s head down to the center together.”
“Hm? You can’t update it here, Touma?”
“It says it won’t let you mess with anything inside to keep you from modifying any of the data.”
The ultimate security was to disconnect all internet connections and remove all external memory, but that meant it all had to be contained to one machine and it could not communicate with anything else. Safety measures had reached the point of seeing how much inconvenience people were willing to put up with, but this portable device seemed to have tilted the scales quite far toward safety.
“I don’t play games much, but I still find this device in my hands a fair bit. It’s not so much that holding it calms me down. It’s more like I can’t calm down without holding it. It’s a train pass, it controls ATMs, and it lets you access recipes… Oh, and I definitely can’t go without the coupon you get just by showing them the screen at the register.”
He used the hook-like strap to hang the portable device from his belt.
“Okay, let’s get ready to head out, Index. I’ll make sure the gas is off and everything’s locked up, so you go grab the cat.”
“Roger, Touma! Heh heh heh. I can’t wait to see Bal-Bados again.”
“All those names are pretty crazy. Maybe I shouldn’t say this when you’re a real grimoire library, but they sound like part of a magic spell made after drawing a magic circle on the ground.”
“Bal-Bados looks so tasty.”
“Bal-Bados looks grape flavored. Raiden would be blood orange, Specineff would be vanilla and mint, and Grys-Vok would be lime cause its green! It’s so hard to choose…drool.”
“Oh, no. Do you think they’re gummies or sodas or something!? L-let’s calm down, Index. I know it’s rude of me to say anything when you’re in gamer mode and I barely know anything about this, but based on the posters I’ve seen around, aren’t the Virtuaroids generally mechs!?”
“There’s no right answer in Cyber Imaginary Space!”
“And now you’re throwing nonsensical terminology back at me? At any rate, I’m pretty sure you’re the only person who would think those things are humanoid candy houses!”
Meanwhile, the two of them left the dorm room.
On that long weekend morning, there was not a cloud in the sky and the streets were full of people since they did not have to go to school. There were all sorts of people: a girl was jogging perhaps as part of a diet, a boy was taking a large dog for a walk, and a young man was apparently broadcasting some kind of video because he slowly spun around while pointing the lens here and there. They all held the same portable device or had them attached to their waist.
“Those things sure have gotten popular lately. Not that I’m one to talk.”
The portable devices were not really handheld games systems or mobile devices. They were seen as small boxes that could do anything. It could measure your calories, carry music around, play movies, and relay a broadcast, so its classification changed depending on who used it.
Just like people were starting to have trouble reading and writing kanji thanks to the kanji conversion on cellphones, some people were apparently having trouble with simple calculations and English words thanks to these.
“None of it can hope to match the jiggliness of the Virtuaroids. How can they stimulate my hunger so much when they’re just data?”
“As I said, they might move around smoothly, but I really don’t think they jiggle around like gummies or pudding!”
As soon as Kamijou shouted back at Index, a large shadow appeared overhead.
However, this was not due to a thick cloud covering the sun.
Two Virtuaroids bigger than school buildings were glaring at each other and clashing sword against staff.
One was Fei-Yen.
The Virtuaroid did not look much like a robot(?) thanks to its slender girl motif, its head parts were shaped like twintails, and it had special armor resembling a miniskirt around its waist. Its primary weapon was the rapier-style close-range sword in its right hand. That sword was named Kindness of the Fool and could be used both at close and long range.
The other was Angelan.
This Virtuaroid also had a girl motif, but its long ponytail and long skirt armor gave it a calmer look than Fei-Yen. Its main weapon was a staff-like device named the Staff of the Pair, but it used various long-range projectile attacks rather than fighting at close-range. In addition to simple destructive power, it gained an advantage by creating various interference effects and toying with the enemy.
They must have had some special customization done because neither one had its normal coloring. Fei-Yen had a bright purple cheerleader-like coloration and Angelan had yellow and black warning colors like a killer bee.
Kamijou did not know the details since he did not use his portable device as a game machine much, but those seemed to be the names of the Virtuaroids and weapons based on the posters he had seen around.
The machines approached and struck each other a few times with Kamijou and Index at their feet.
A gust of wind blew in and shook the leaves of the roadside trees.
With their weapons locked together, Fei-Yen and Angelan fired welding-like beams of light at each other and slid to the side.
Each increase in speed seemed to put some kind of burden on them because the giant disk-like objects attached to their backs grew ominously red with heat.
They expanded their path as if drawing a circle and finally moved behind the surrounding buildings.
A few seconds of silence followed.
Suddenly, they burst from behind different buildings and moved straight in for a clash with weapons locked together.
With their firepower, a single stray shot could bring down a building.
In fact, those overwhelmingly giant bodies would squash a human being with a careless step.
Nevertheless, Kamijou sounded carefree as he looked up at their battle.
“Ohh, they’re really going at it.”
Cyber Troopers Virtual-On.
That was the name of this next-generation contest.
At close range, the Virtuaroids wielded swords and staffs that looked like metal towers. At long range, they fired countless beams of light that seemed to be sources of intense heat. As if to represent their great mass, each movement shook the road and created a blast of wind like when a subway train passed through the tunnel. Of course, their accuracy was not 100% and stray shots were landing here and there, but no buildings crumbled despite the great explosions. There were no cracks in the walls or even broken windows.
There were roadside trees, parked cars, and even a jogging middle school girl down below, but none of them were crushed underfoot. Some of the people were casually aiming their portable devices’ cameras at them, some were shrilly cheering one or the other on, and some were walking through the streets in accordance with their own lifestyle, without paying them any heed. They all utterly lacked any fear toward those giant weapons.
Opening one’s portable device and performing a search or aiming it toward the fighting machines would likely provide more detailed information.
Some of the people on the road wore cheap earphones that let Kamijou hear the voice they were listening to.
“Okay, okay. The live DJ is here to manage the inter-district preliminary battles and link the videos together. This is DJ Nakamura Mary, the ultimate cosplayer you know for boldly attempting a Dordray costume with the giant cardboard origami that’s become the norm for robot cosplay! I’m free, so send your work this way!!”
“That’s called a kigurumi, you uncultured old hag. And try to think about the tournament’s sponsors. You can’t just advertise yourself on the job like that.”
“Shut up. And call me a young woman, you goth loli middle schooler. I have my own issues to deal with.”
“Try to stay in character.”
“Ahem. As the preliminary tournament begins across all 23 districts, one battle in particular has gained overwhelming popular in the live viewing numbers! It’s this one here in District 7! It’s a clash between two young ladies from the prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School. They have an elegance all their own!!”
As the spherical devices that acted as judges floated in the air, two shrill voices filled the air.
“Keep going, keep going!! Win here and you clear the preliminaries and you have a chance to appear in the real deal!!”
“S-stop that, Saten-san. Don’t shake Misaka-san’s shoulders! She can’t see you with those goggles on, so it catches her off guard!”
“Euhh… But if we end up in the main tournament, will we have to face some even more amazing opponents, Saten-san?”
“We live in an incredible age! Level 4s and Level 5s can fight it out in the streets without holding back. But the most unbelievable part is that Level 0s like us can fight on equal or greater footing if we’re skilled enough!”
“I’m not actually a Level 0, though.”
“Uiharu, I’ll let that slide for now since I don’t want to ruin the fun mood, but we need to have a chat later.”
A girl’s scream reached Kamijou’s ears from overhead. There may have been some cheerleaders or something on the building’s roof.
Despite the fierce fighting and intense bombardments, there was no tension whatsoever.
In a way, that was to be expected.
Just before a hit, something like unnatural compression artifacts raced through it and cut it off. There was wind and shaking, but anything that would cause serious damage was cut off with top priority. That was why no one would be hurt and nothing would be destroyed. No one cared even when those extraordinarily large masses stepped over their heads. It felt more like riding an elevator than a rollercoaster. It may have been frightening if one calmly thought about it, but no one was afraid because they knew solid safety standards were being followed.
(Yet I have no idea what kind of tech is being used to make the machines float up like in the games.)
This too was the same as an elevator. Even if people knew the general idea behind it, they did not know how many safety measures were in place or what standards it had to follow. They could not list off the inspection process either, but human beings still felt like it was “safe”.
That was why the boy walking his dog and the young man broadcasting some kind of video did not tremble in fear as the giant Virtuaroids fired beams of light, created a great cacophony of noise, and shook the ground.
They were simply treated as a part of the background, so a lot of people did not bother to stop and look as they passed right by the feet of the bright purple cheerleader named Fei-Yen and the killer bee named Angelan.
“What is it, Touma?”
“Well… Let me start by saying I know a Virtuaroid is a Virtuaroid and nothing more than a Virtuaroid.”
“By the way, what do you call that twintail one?”
“I thought so. That’s what the posters said. …But when I look up at Fei-Yen from this angle – how should I put it? – I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I feel like finding a proper part-time job would be better than this blasphemous feeling…”
The girl-style Fei-Yen and Angelan were continuing their high-speed battle and they would sometimes “step over” Kamijou and Index.
And as previously stated, Fei-Yen barely looked like a robot. In fact, its silhouette almost looked like a twintailed magical girl.
“Touma, that is a Virtuaroid and nothing more than a Virtuaroid, so the concept of a skirt and panties doesn’t exist there. You couldn’t peep if you wanted to, so it doesn’t count.”
“I know that. I really do. But when I look at Fei-Yen from this viewpoint, I start to wonder if no one thought about this back when it was shipped out…”
“C’mon, Touma, you’re overthinking this. Fei-Yen is Fei-Yen and it’s Fei-Yen whether you look at it from above or below. See, look at those colors and jiggling movements. It looks so delicious…drool.”
“Index!! Don’t say Fei-Yen is ‘jiggling’ and ‘delicious’! It makes you sound like an incredibly unique sort of person!!”
Kamijou and Index passed by below the two Virtuaroids on their way to District 7’s station area.
The center they were headed to was the closest supplier for the portable devices everyone had. They were technically rented, but just like train IC cards, it was more like they were given away for free. There were a lot of restrictions (such as only being able to update the firmware or refill the electronic credits at the center), but receiving such a useful device for an initial investment of zero yen did a good job of ridding people of any complaints.
Half of the center was a maintenance space for firmware updates, electronic credit refills, and customizations. The other half was filled with high-power stations. The next-generation competition of Virtual-On could be played on the portable devices, but a lot of people seemed to like closing themselves inside the egg-shaped cradle stations for higher resolution video and a greater sense of acceleration.
There were even people in the center sitting at normal benches and facing each other with their small portable devices instead of using the specialized cradle stations.
(Well, I guess it’s like the difference between a handheld player and a home theater. Everyone has their own goal.)
The large screen covering one wall was divided up into dozens of sections that showed the various Virtuaroids fighting in the vicinity of the center. It looked like a screen showing security camera footage, but was it all of the tournament’s preliminary contestants?
“No,” answered Index. “If you battle near the center, it’ll be sent here and there unless you do something special.”
“Why would they-…? Oh, I get it. They’ve opened up the channels for people who want to do a Let’s Play.”
The place seemed busy as it ran the tournament and showed people around. Employees were running around the center while contacting people with their portable devices and displaying the latest battle results on a large paper on the wall.
Based on the round-robin tournament display, that Fei-Yen and Angelan from before seemed to have progressed quite far. At this rate, one or the other had a good chance of being chosen as District 7’s representative.
“Hi, Kami-yan. What brings you here on our day off? Oh, were you caught in the rush to update to Ver. 20.5? C’mon, you’ve gotta manually click that ‘check for updates’ button every day.”
“Aogami…? You work here?”
“I don’t care about the money. I just want to be as close as possible to the moe that’s in season. No one can stop these pure feelings! Ah hah hah!!”
“Uuh… So this is what happens to someone who really does go after Fei-Yen…”
“Don’t be stupid!! The real moe is found when you forcibly place Guarayakha’s girly motion patterns onto Dordray so that muscular construction machine wiggles cutely around!! And of course, you’ve gotta change the coloring and emblem!! Use all those services that are meant to give it a rough and cool emblem and make your own itasha machine with catgirls drawn all over it!!”
“I’m sorry for snapping back at you when I don’t know anything about this! But could you rephrase that for someone who hasn’t played the games!?”
“I’m talking about this!”
Aogami pointed at a poster on the wall. Dordray seemed to be short and stout machine that’s low center of gravity and great width resembled a wall. It also had a drill and a U-shaped arm attached to its hands. And Guarayakha was a…what? It was even smaller than the girly Fei-Wen and, um…
“Guarayakha-tan is Guarayakha-tan! There’s no other way to describe her!”
“I think I’m about to give in to that intensity on your face!!”
Kamijou was almost in tears, but Index cut in from the side while waving her hand.
She pushed her portable device forward.
“Anyway, take care of this please. I want to meet my Bal-Bados again soon!”
“Sure thing. It is my job, after all. But Bal-Bados? You’re headed in a pretty twisted direction yourself.”
“I’m surprised you were completely unfazed by his nonsense, Index. Is this the composure of those who share a common language?”
“If you just need to update the firmware, you only need to open the settings screen and hit ‘update to latest version’. See? Now hit the ‘agree’ button on your own.”
No special cables were needed. A specialized wireless network for maintenance was set up inside the center.
Kamijou spoke up in exasperation as he watched the green bar move from one side of the screen to the other.
“Is there any reason to lock this thing down so much?”
“Kami-yan, you haven’t heard the rumors of the ‘Defected’ portable devices? It’s gotten a lot of attention.”
“I don’t know much about the game itself, but I saw it mentioned here and there in the online news. That’s when someone intentionally switches off the safety regulations, right? Instead of adding in modified data, I think it was more bout unlocking features that were already there, just hidden. So what is it? A debug mode that lets you change all the values for testing purposes? Or maybe something a developer put in there like writing their complaints in the empty space?”
“Either way, it lets people use all the services they normally couldn’t access. Of course, as the playerbase grows, the number of people doing stupid things will grow proportionally. 1% of 1000 people is 10 people, but 1% of 10,000 people is 100 people.”
“That’s a lot like turning off your computer’s security software, right? You can use these devices for anything, so they’re full of personal information. …Why would someone do something so risky?”
“Well, if it let me turn Dordray-tan into a cute girl, I’d ‘Defect’ right this instant.”
“Sorry, but I still don’t share that common language of yours.”
“Yeah, Dordray’s got the aura of someone with a great body hidden below.”
“Oh, this girl gets it!!”
“And would I end up like you two if I did share that language!? Are we talking about robot weapons stripping!? What does that even mean!?”
Kamijou felt left behind because he did not even understand the basics.
He glanced over at a poster on the center’s wall.
“So those…Virtuaroids are they called? Why are they all wearing the same backpack?”
“Backpack…?” Aogami Pierce looked shocked. “That’s the V-Converter. I’ll omit the details, but while Virtuaroids are masses of metal, they’re supposed to be materialized data. And the V-Converter is the core of that. The V-Disc inside is like the blueprint. The data on it is read to materialize the Virtuaroid.”
“Hmm. So data is materialized inside the game world. That’s kind of overcomplicated…”
“And the cover protecting the V-Disc is called the motor deck…but that’s not too important just for playing the game. It’s not like you get a headshot-style one-hit kill for shooting it.”
Index started hopping up and down to the side.
“It beeped! Touma, is that enough? Can I use Bal-Bados now?”
“Just try it out. Kami-yan, you’ve got a portable device even if you don’t play much Virtual-On, right? The app is installed by default.”
“Th-that’s right! Touma, you should try playing Virtual-On too!! I’ll open a new door for you!! This way, Touma! This way, this way!!”
“I’m not even sure if you can play Virtual-On if you’re not in the tournament.”
“I’ll teach you everything you need to know! And of course you can! If not, everyone would have to enter the tournament without practicing!! Try actually thinking about it for two seconds!! Hmph!!”
“See? This is just like asking a cinephile if they want to see a movie to kill some time and having them list off a bunch of artsy French movies!!”
“Oh, if you’re trying to convert him, why not teach him the taste of victory by having him defeat a weak AI NPC first?”
“The joy of fighting a human opponent has to come first!!”
Aogami Pierce waved and apologized.
“Sorry. I know you came all the way to the center, but all the high-end cradle stations have been reserved by the tournament participants. They really want the clear video quality and the low latency for…well, you probably wouldn’t know what any of that means, Kami-yan. Basically, less frame lag gives them an advantage.”
“That’s fine, that’s fine. If we showed that ignorant boy the high-end stuff, it wouldn’t end well. If he starts thinking that luxury is normal, he’d never be able to use a normal portable device!”
“Oh, this girl really does get it.”
Kamijou still had no idea what was going on, but Index and the calico cat took him out of the center. Dumbing it down to talk of frame lag was already near his limit, so how was he supposed to manage any of this?
Kamijou and Index moved to the edge of the sidewalk to stay out of people’s way and then booted up their portable devices.
As for Index…
“You’re always staring down at the screen. I don’t know too much about this, but aren’t there goggles for the game?”
“Those make me dizzy,” she explained.
“Is it like 3D motion sickness? Well, as long as you’re enjoying it.”
With that, Kamijou reached for the portable device which was a little bigger than a pencil case and he disassembled it with an audible snap.
The plastic cover on the bottom of the device came off.
No, it was more than a cover.
“That should do it.”
This was something he did not often use.
Kamijou pulled out the rubber strap connected to either side and covered his eyes like it was a pair of pool goggles.
The signal from the device in his hands brought the screen to his life before his eyes.
And immediately, Kamijou Touma’s mind was flying.
He was already onboard Temjin.
Meanwhile, some Virtuaroids had been fighting from short and long range while Kamijou and Index had walked through the city.
That was one of District 7’s preliminary rounds.
The winner would qualify as a candidate for the tournament between representatives for all 23 districts.
A total of 4 Virtuaroids stood in a square territory with 800 meter sides.
That well-known model had a solid silhouette and thick legs to support it. The bazooka on its right shoulder was known as the Zig-18. The excessively powerful laser cannons on both shoulders were known as the Binary Lotus. It was as much a “robotic robot” as Temjin, but while Temjin had a thin and sporty look, Raiden had heavy armor reminiscent of a baseball catcher or a hockey player. This one had special coloring, giving it a sporty look of primarily light purple.
Odd static slowly ran through the entire robot from top to bottom, like it was a television screen being filmed by a video camera. The customizations were added to the pilot’s Virtuaroid. That solidified its image as a piece of data instead of a steel weapon.
This one had been fighting before and it had a slender feminine silhouette with a more obvious custom concept. It was fighting on the same team as Raiden. With a close-range rapier known as Kindness of the Fool and a guided heart-shaped beam, its firepower had no blind spots, but its movements were the most unique aspect. It ran along the ground, kicked off building walls to jump, and flipped through the air in every direction for dynamic three-dimensional movement. It looked like the machine’s original agility had been further honed.
The Virtuaroids never seemed too much like robots made of steel, but some seemed more like they were made of light plastic or synthetic fibers. That sports-like impression may have been what led to them wearing what amounted to sportswear and sports protectors. Its coloration was the same purple as the Raiden, but it looked completely different. If anything, it looked like a lightweight cheerleader.
The opposing team was made up of two Angelans with identical colorations.
The Angelans were colored yellow and black like killer bees. They were specialized for long-range combat and they were known as interference machines that applied various forms of jamming on whoever their attacks hit. They should have been poorly suited for a close-range rush, but they forced their way through that with clever strategy.
The motor roared loud enough to hurt one’s ears and the giant V-Disc on the back of each Angelan rapidly grew red with heat. The unit was announcing the stress placed on it by this non recommended usage.
The identical two units demonstrated movements not at all possible with the cylinders and gears of existing robotics. They seemed far more human and even had a feminine allure to them. This was also part of the customization. There were multiple types of artificial muscles, but some of them used special fluids. This was likely an application of that.
Simply put, the identical units nimbly crossed paths as they aimed for their targets.
Just like balls being shuffled inside overturned cups, it was impossible to tell which Angelan was which.
The spherical devices overhead that acted as referees began moving rapidly back and forth.
The Raiden’s fire-control system (FCS) kept the locking cursor on one of the Angelans, but as it moved from blind spot to blind sport and even cut across the center of its enemy’s field of vision, the automatic seeking function could not keep up. If these disturbance tactics had included the aforementioned jamming attacks, the cursor really would have wandered around without knowing where to go.
To sum up…
“Oh, honestly!! Why do you insist on using those cheap movements over and over, Shokuhou!?”
“Kyah, you’re so scary, Misaka-san, lol. And Raiden’s legs are soooo thick, lol. It’s the perfect character for you, lol.”
“Ahn!? And quit saying ‘lol’!!”
The bright purple Raiden fired bazooka blast after bazooka blast, but the two Angelans flew behind the buildings on either side as if to mock her. If Mikoto pursued one of them, she would have to expose her back to the other.
“Just look at that synchronicity. You’ve got to be controlling your partner!!”
“Onee-sama! It would be best to ignore your FCS’s lock! Firing at them with straightforward manual control should raise your accuracy!!”
The light purple cheerleader Fei-Yen looked down at the buildings from midair and fired down a bombardment of pink particles.
However, none of them hit.
But not because Shokuhou’s side was rapidly evading to either side or jumping high into the air.
One of the yellow and black Angelans slipped through the gaps in the glowing rain as it ran toward the transparent wall that signified the edge of the combat area.
“Oh, honestly! It’s going for a pit stop! It might swap out its equipment!!”
The wall blocked the long-range attacks.
“She’s down to the 1 unit, which is good for us! Let’s take care of the remaining one before the other one returns! If we can take the lead in points, we can-…!!”
Before Mikoto could finish speaking, a yellow and black Angelan burst in from the other side of the wall.
“Eh? Aehhh!? It only just left, so why’s it already-…?”
“Onee-sama! That’s a different unit! The endurance has changed, hasn’t it!?”
“Oh, honestly. Are all 4 members of her team colored the same and registered as Hive Eater? That’s just confusing!!”
Mikoto rampaged through Academy City while viewing the usual streets from an unusual height.
In a way, it was like stepping into a different world.
But she got carried away and charged forward with a high-speed dash. She pictured the path as points connected by straight lines and used the strength of her legs as well as the invisible repulsion to launch her unit forward, but an Angelan’s staff stuck horizontally out from behind a building much closer than she had expected.
Mikoto’s Raiden’s legs were swept out from underneath it and it tripped.
An electronic tone sounded.
[District 7 Selection Candidate: Hive Eater has taken 2 points. Current Score: 6-8]
“Oh, hell!! What a cheap trick!!”
“Onee-sama, hurry up and recover!! If you don’t get up within 3 seconds, she’ll get another point!! She’s already won 1 set, so we’ll lose the game if we lose this set too!”
A killer bee colored Angelan repeatedly fired on the fallen Raiden.
And Mikoto did not bother getting up.
“I’ll take my time and let you have this point…”
With no time for that, she held out her bulky arms.
Both shoulders opened up like portable parabolic antennae.
Bluish-white particles danced out.
“So it’s time…you blasted off!!”
A massive beam of light swallowed up the killer bee.
That attack was a symbol of high firepower. It was hard to hit with it, but a single hit could turn things around.
Her opponent had not had time to dodge.
The Angelan simply vanished within the light.
“Huh!? That was a direct hit, so why didn’t I get any points!?”
“If I know it’s coming, I can respond appropriately.” The sweet laughter sounded like concentrated honey. “Unlike a certain someone’s thick-legged Raiden, my Angelan is slim, so in a straight-on blast, I can slip into the slight gap between the thick Binary Lotus lasers fired from your shoulders.”
“What!? Curse those refs. Are they even checking the hit-detection data!?”
“Oh, dear. You’re super scary, Misaka-san☆ Just look at that explosion of glaring ability. I bet that’s why the refs don’t like you.”
Mikoto clicked her tongue and the Raiden and Angelan jumped back from each other.
As a Next Generation Game, Virtual-On was not about destroying or killing one’s opponent. It was more like judo or wrestling in that you knocked your opponent down to score points. So even if you tore off your opponent’s head or separated their upper body from their lower body, it would be meaningless if it did not count as a point. On the other hand, a blinding flash of light or a light leg sweep could earn points as long as it unbalanced your opponent and knocked them to the ground.
It was all built on top of that. No matter how much damage you took, you could still win as long as you ultimately had more points. Focusing on the damage and major attacks while ignoring the smaller attacks was a good way to lose in the end.
These young ladies of prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School were not just fighting over the preliminary round for the tournament.
“By the way, Misaka-san, it’s your turn to show off your speech ability in a highly public place! C’mon, I’m not the only representative of the Level 5s at our school!”
“Hell! No! A showoff exhibitionist like you can take care of that!! C’mon, put on a frilly, see-through dress and go curry the favor of all those guests!!”
“Are you even listening!? I’m saying it’s your turn to put on the frilly, see-through dress!! Besides, there’s only one person I want to win over with my charm!!”
“Why does that piss me off so much? It sounds like a threat!”
As they fired at each other from a distance, the light purple cheerleader Fei-Yen tilted her head while viewing the battle from the roof of a tall building.
“Ah!? D-does that mean throwing this battle means I get to see Onee-sama fidgeting bashfully in a frilly, see-through dress?”
“Kurokooo!! I don’t need Shokuhou controlling you too!!”
“Oh, my, my. Do you really think someone as above reproach as me would do that?”
“All the Angelans are moving in the exact same way, so you’re clearly directly controlling all of your team’s pilots. And if you have to control someone to get a partner, does that mean the queen of the largest clique doesn’t actually have any real friends?”
“Oh, dear. Misaka-san, you do realize that theory doesn’t hold much persuasion ability when it comes from our great lone wolf of an ace, don’t you?”
After a short silence, the two of them reacted to the other’s provocation by rushing in for a direct clash.
Kamijou Touma was trapped by an odd pressure.
The space itself was like a spindle-shaped cocoon. He could not see any kind of chair, but he definitely felt his back being sucked in toward a chair back. There was no seatbelt either.
The interior was smooth with no decorations.
He saw nothing like a clear window or a hatch.
He apparently controlled the unit with only the portable device in his hands.
However, the plainness was not just a feature of a specific unit such as Temjin or Raiden. It was due to Kamijou being a beginner who had yet to customize it in any way. If he wanted to, he could design it to look like a tank or fighter plane cockpit. Some people might place a shogi board on the floor or have hand puppets dangling from the ceiling as shortcut keys for pilot assistance. Simply put, the space could be freely redesigned if you put in the effort.
Of course, Kamijou was not that “into it”.
If the portable device alone was enough, there was no better option.
(So…this is Temjin?)
He looked around the cockpit, but it was only for show.
He looked down at the portable device in his hands and saw the unit name displayed on the screen.
(Are you just thrown into one of them without going through a unit selection screen like in a normal fighting game? Oh, no, that isn’t right. I chose a face icon to register my portable device when I first got it, didn’t I? I just never used it after that.)
He leaned against the invisible chair back (Was his physical body feeling this back in the real world?) and then started questioning this.
Still sitting in the cockpit, he wiggled his fingers while thinking.
(How does this even work? Can it really control all of my senses just from putting some goggles on my head?)
If he was only viewing an image on the goggles, his senses would not feel separated from his body. It was a weird example for a student of Academy City, but it reminded him of an out-of-body experience.
“Well, that doesn’t matter. As long as it’s fun.”
After all, piloting a giant robot was like a dream come true. Academy City might be able to build something like that using its tech, but a normal high school boy like Kamijou would never be given a chance to pilot one. It was like an unreachable dream. He was still mentally distancing himself from it a bit, but if he could enjoy this, it would be best to go all out.
That round of positive thinking seemed to act as a signal.
Light filled the dark cocoon. His vision expanded in the 180 degrees ahead of him. An image was displayed on the spindle-shaped wall. Except it felt more like the wall had grown transparent.
Controlling weapons on all of the joints sounded like it would be overly complex, but the portable device in his hands was all he needed.
He thought about where his fingers needed to be.
His palms were sucked in toward the device and he felt like he had become a cog in the machine.
(Let’s see…what? …Stand, can I stand, wah, I stood up!!)
He checked on the movement of the Virtuaroid’s arms and legs and he heard low, heavy sounds from all around. It was more like bundles of thin fibers stretching and contracting than gears and cylinders. They were artificial muscles. …Yes, he vaguely recalled incorporating that from a roadside tree pruning robot when he went outside with Index earlier.
The spherical device that acted as a referee floated at a point in the sky and a square of the city scenery was divided off by glowing walls.
A small window opened on the edge of the building scenery so as not to obstruct his view. It seemed to be a video chat and it displayed a girl’s face.
“Yahoo, Username Touma-sama. Lilina-chan has successfully booted up. You’d neglected me for soooo long after initial registration that I was getting really sick of sleep mode.”
“What, what, what is this? A transmission!? I didn’t approve that!”
“Oh, dear. Has it been so long that I need to open the help menu? And to be clear, this isn’t an external transmission. I’m Lilina-chan, the support AI preinstalled on your portable device. Nice to meet you. I’ll also support you in battle.”
Index also seemed to be ready.
The Virtuaroid standing a short distance away was…Bal-Bados, he thought. It was a relatively skinny one and, instead of holding weapons with its hands, its arms themselves were cannons. But the lower armor looked something like a skirt and white armor flowed back from the head part, giving the overall silhouette a certain shape.
“It looks like Index. What is that? You can customize them that much?”
“That’s one way to enjoy it. Use the Material Analyze function and you can incorporate any material found on Earth. I’ll tell you how to do it in good time, but using a plain unit is pretty rare.”
He looked at the modified Bal-Bados once more. The primarily white unit was mid-sized when compared to the lightweight Fei-Yen and heavyweight Dordray he had seen on the poster, but that meant it was harder to imagine how it would move. It had cannon muzzles instead of hands, but would it fire from a distance or from point-blank range?
Its motions seemed oddly stiff, but that may had more to do with Index being the pilot than the unit’s own abilities. It would not surprise him if she viewed the Virtuaroids as marionettes controlled by strings more than as weapons or machines.
(I guess I’m the same in that sense.)
The Temjin that Kamijou Touma was piloting was also average and thus made it hard to predict what strategy it would take. It was the standard all-around protagonist unit. It felt like the character in a fighting game that could use both projectiles and anti-air techniques and held the default cursor spot on the character selection screen.
Its main weapon in its right hand was…a sword?
“That is Sleipnir, Temjin’s primary weapon. It switches modes to match the situation, so it can become a variety of weapons such as a close-range sword called the Blitz Saber or a long-range rifle called the Neutral Launcher.”
Lilina quickly did her job.
As Kamijou listened to her explanation, a different transmission arrived.
Needless to say, it was from Index.
“Touma, this is meaningless if you don’t take it seriously.”
“Isn’t that a little strict for someone who still doesn’t know how anything works? Well, this looks fun, so I might as well try it out.”
With an announcement of “get ready”, his unit was given freedom.
The result was instantaneous.
With a gruesome series of violent sounds, Kamijou Touma was beaten to a tearful pulp.
“U-um, Touma? Toumaaa?”
The transmission reached the cocoon-like cockpit just fine, but Kamijou stared into the distance while sitting with his arms around his knees.
“Hey, you’re wasting time. If you’re going to leave the switch on, let’s fight some more.”
Kamijou remained motionless as if his soul had left him.
“C-c’mon, c’mon. I’ll actually go easy on you this time.”
Those words reignited something inside Kamijou Touma.
His shoulders shook, the soul escaping from his mouth returned to his body, and he spoke in a low voice.
“Lilina, was it?”
“Uhey, hey. What is it, Touma-sama? Can I go back into sleep mode?”
“Can I ask one thing of you?”
It was not enough.
He needed more heat.
So he asked the support AI to perform a certain ritual.
“Call me a los-…”
“You loser!! You’re completely goddamn useless! You just don’t have what it takes. Ahh, ahh. I thought I had escaped that boring sleep mode hell now that you were trying out Virtual-On, but I guess I ended up with a failure of a player. That’s just my luck!!”
Lilina was apparently fairly high-spec.
She carried out her task even more proficiently than asked, so Kamijou felt a boiling heat rising from the pit of his stomach.
“Yes, yes. That’s right…”
“I can’t excuse this just because it’s a game or for fun. Yeah, I can’t just curl up in a ball after getting the snot kicked out of me!! I don’t know how long it’s been since she started playing and I might have only started 10 minutes ago, but I can’t hold my head high unless I bring some tears to Index’s eyes!!!!!”
“Whoa, you’re really getting into Virtual-On in a negative way. Well, with games you win as long as you enjoy it in the end.”
Kamijou pressed his right thumb against the button.
He approved the rematch against Index.
And after that…
“Tell me everything I need to know about Virtual-On. What do I need to do to wipe that smug look off of Index’s face!?”
“Heh heh heh. I like the look in your eyes now.”
Lilina smiled wickedly in her window.
The two of them faced the “nemesis” before their eyes.
“The fun of Virtual-On is how you get better the more you lose. So keep at it. I don’t know how long she’s been playing, but let’s keep challenging her the dozens, if not hundreds, of times needed to fill that gap in a short period of time!!”
“Yes, yes. So that’s all it is? I don’t need divine guidance or to pull a legendary sword from a stone? It’s just a matter of experience!? Then let’s do it. I’ll climb up to her level!! Wait there, dammit, and I’ll make you cry while I easily usurp that throne you took so long to reach!!”
Kamijou Touma did not have explosive reflexes or kinetic vision, so no amount of resolve would let him defeat Index’s Bal-Bados right away.
He had to learn everything from the ground up, all while being blasted, tripped, and kicked over and over.
What even was Virtual-On?
“In general, it’s something like a serious battle with weapons,” summed up Lilina. “Once one side wins 2 of the 3 sets, the game ends. But unlike a normal fighting game, your primary objective is not wearing down a stamina or armor gauge. Forcibly wearing down your opponent like that will earn you some points, but the victor is determined by whoever has more points from legal blows, much like judo or wrestling. Overall, it’s more like a sport than a fight.”
“Either way, it’s bad to let attacks hit you, right?”
“Of course. If your unit is destroyed, you lose 5 points. And when fighting solo like you, you can’t swap someone else in, so you lose the set right then and there. But as long as you have some endurance to spare, it is possible to intentionally take a hit without letting it knock you down,” remarked Lilina. “The units in Virtual-On come in a number of variations, but they have some set categories. For example, on ground or in air, close-range attacks or long-range attacks, and walking or dashing. All of a unit’s abilities can be seen as a combination of those categories.”
The nun-like Bal-Bados that Index was piloting was staying well away from him. She kept her distance and mainly fired glowing projectiles from the cannons that were her arms.
“Ow!! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!! I can’t seem to dodge at all! She keeps hitting me, so I can’t get close!!”
“You can’t exactly expect to dodge when you walk around an open area without dashing. When the enemy fires, move quickly! And not just in one direction! Cut back and forth so they can’t predict your movement!! She’s locked onto you, so she can just tap the button to hit you as much as she wants!!”
He operated the portable device’s sticks and buttons as told, but he still could not dodge very well. He was hit over and over until he was knocked to the ground and lost points for going down. His unit’s endurance was also worn down, so the unit itself was destroyed before long. He lost in no time at all.
He continued to the next set, but it too ended before he could accomplish much of anything.
“Can I get more than ‘yeah’?”
“As I said, the sets are determined by points and the game ends after one side wins 2 out of 3, but if all the units on a team are destroyed, the set ends without calculating the points.”
“No matter how much your endurance gets worn down, the final calculation begins if you survive 90 seconds. Once there, the points are what matters. But that’s going to be difficult at your skill level, Touma-sama. Even if you try to stretch it out, you’ll just get a ton of points taken in the next set and lose the normal way.”
He had been utterly defeated.
And a thought occurred to Kamijou.
“Maybe the problem is with Temjin?”
“That’s quite possibly the worst comment you could have made. It has rookie written all over it.”
“Maybe I could try another one.”
He returned to the unit selection screen. When he placed the cursor on one, Lilina pulled the information from the official website and displayed it for him.
Some of them specialized in standard weapons like missiles or beams while others used more twisted methods like psychological attacks.
“Oh, some of these look a lot lighter! Fei-Yen…I’m a little hesitant to choose that one. But how about this Cypher one!? It’s pointy like a jet!! It looks fast and strong and its knees jut out! It’s like a main character!!”
“Well, if that’s what you want. And Fei-Yen is a perfectly good unit. But I wouldn’t recommend it when you don’t know how to dash or jump.”
He was pummeled soon after beginning.
He was easily destroyed before the points could even begin to matter.
Lilina gave up on her real-time voice support and gave an exasperated comment.
“Y’know, the light and fast units generally have thin armor that allow damage through more easily and they go down a lot easier. You can’t make use of their advantages when you can’t dodge properly, so you might as well be an animal rolling over to show its belly.”
“Then I’ll go with a tough one that can take a beating! Aogami mentioned one called Dordray! I’ll try that one out!!”
“Ahh, well, if you want.”
He was exposed to a downpour of long-range fire before he could even begin moving around.
He was not destroyed this time thanks to the high defensive power, but for the entire 2 sets, he was either knocked down or unable to move as he was knocked back. Of course, that meant he had more and more points stolen and he had no chance of winning. No chance at all.
“Doesn’t she realize this is supposed to be a game!?”
“The units with thick armor are generally heavy and have difficulty moving. And trying to find an easy way out is the wrong way to go about this! Even that extraordinarily large boss Jaguarandi has a weak point. No Virtuaroid is a safe zone that ruins that balance!!”
“Don’t give me that. Every unit has its pros and cons, so part of your strategy can be using a Virtuaroid well-suited for taking on Bal-Bados. You’re playing 1-on-1 here, but in a 2-on-2 game, you can swap out with your partner to have a better match for your opponent. But you need to learn the basics before doing that! You can’t exactly pull your weight on a team if all you do is trip them up.”
He ended up returning to Temjin and practicing over and over. He was still only dodging some and getting hit some, so his frustration continued.
“If you like, I can show you the training command log.”
“All I see are rows of arrows and colorful circles and I have no idea what any of it means.”
“Touma-sama, all you have to do is input the given sequence with the buttons and sticks!”
“Some of them are inside red or blue frames.”
“I said Virtual-On is a game of points, right? The moves that will work in your favor are colored blue and the ones that will work against you are colored red. More importantly, you need to hurry! Dodge, dodge!”
But as he was hit more and more, something unexpected saved him.
He just so happened to move behind one of the city’s many buildings.
“Huh? Did I just cheat???”
“It’s fine. Using obstacles is one of the most basic techniques. But then we have to rely on the cursor for the opponent’s location, so there’s a chance that they’ll move closer, circle around the obstacle, and hit you with a major attack. And explosive weapons can be dropped beyond a wall to damage you. There’s no such thing as a perfect save zone, so I recommend you keep your guard up even after moving behind cover.”
Kamijou could not dodge well, so he always felt like he was gradually losing in a direct firefight. That was why he moved from building to building in order to challenge Index’s customized Bal-Bados at close range.
“If you’re going to get close, you need to hurry it up.”
“Eh? Why? I’m sick of getting hit by all those projectiles, so isn’t it better to observe things from here?”
“You can’t just stand around. In fact…ah! Oh, no!!”
Some text appeared on the edge of the screen: Negative Alert.
“If you sneak around and don’t do much fighting, you’ll be docked a point as punishment! So we’ll lose even if you aren’t hit!! This rule keeps things fair because the winning side has to keep fighting.”
“What? But it’s working against me and I’m on the losing side here!”
“In pure points, yes. But what about unit endurance? What about position? What about remaining ammo or accuracy? Look at it holistically and it’s possible to see you as the one with an advantage.”
“Oh, come on…”
“Besides, the default length of each set is 90 seconds. If the losing side has their points taken, they can have the set stolen from them!!”
“Ah, what a pain!!”
He put up a frantic struggle, but he could not change his tactics and charged forward. He kept the high-speed dash going to quickly move toward Index’s Bal-Bados from behind cover. In addition to his legs, he was supported by…a tailwind? No, it was the invisible repulsion. With the assistance of that power, he felt like a flying arrow or bullet.
Partway there, Kamijou’s Temjin slowed down. The support of the repulsion gave out and he returned to his slow “normal movement”.
“Wha- huh!? What happened!?”
“A single dash using the turbo only takes you so far!”
He grabbed the small device in his hands once more and kept tapping the turbo button for the dash.
“Why! Can’t! I! Move! Forward! At! All!? I just keep pitching forward worse than before!! Am I stalling out!?”
“You moron!! If you hit the turbo again while dashing, it cancels the dash! You’re interfering with your own dash! The dash is supposed to take you a set distance in a single direction and the cancel gives you freedom of motion mid-dash, but you’re just tripping yourself up!”
Meanwhile, glowing projectiles flew in from distant Bal-Bados.
Kamijou focused on the turbo and sticks to dash sideways toward a building wall, move forward at full speed, and dodge the best he could.
“Dashing in Virtual-On is best pictured as points connected by straight lines. The distance you can move with each dash is set, but you can also cancel it partway like you were doing. Moving between points might sound inconvenient, but you can move quite smoothly if you use right angles and zigzagging paths properly. And it doesn’t really wear down your gauge, so you can use it all you want to confuse your opponent.”
He did not have time to stop and listen. The match was underway and the glowing projectiles were targeting him. Kamijou continued using the dashes and tried to approach Bal-Bados while scattering his own projectiles.
“Not good! Ohh, not good, not good, not good! Ahhh!!”
“What is it now!?”
Before he could even finish asking his question, he heard what sounded like a game show buzzer. He looked over and realized the sword-like weapon had stopped firing beams of light.
“Eh? Eh? Did it break!?”
“There are generally 3 different types of attack: right, left, and center. Each of them has its own gauge. Fire too much and you have to wait for it to recover or reload and you’ll be defenseless. Firing from a distance to deter your opponent isn’t a bad idea, but you’re wasting your ammo if you don’t lock onto them! Touma-sama, you’re not using an area of effect attack that produces an explosive blast!!”
“3? There’s only 3 in all!?”
“Well, they change depending on a variety of factors: long-range, short-range, while pressing the turbo button, while jumping, while crouching, etc. And they each have their own unique traits such as long-range attacks being unblockable and close-range attacks not having a gauge.”
“How the hell do I crouch!? When I push the sticks down, all I do is back up!!”
“I’ll teach you how later!! Oh honestly! You used up both your right and left hand attacks already…”
Kamijou’s Temjin wanted to challenge Index’s Bal-Bados to a close-range fight, but if he stopped attacking, it gave her more freedom.
“Huh? Where’d Index go!?”
“If the FCS cursor disappears, it means she isn’t in your field of vision. Focus on the arrow pointing up, down, left, or right! This one’s up!!”
Index’s Bal-Bados had all of a sudden ended up on a building roof and she aimed her arm cannons at him while peering down at him.
He wanted to flee, but he was stuck between buildings in front of and behind him and he could not dash even if he pressed the turbo button. Or rather, he would end up running toward the wall.
“Long-range attacks are unblockable! There are only 3 options: dodge it with your speed, hide behind cover, or attack to stop her!!”
Even if he could challenge her to a rematch as many times as he wanted, he hated being taken out in such one-sided beatdowns. But he could not dodge the rapid-fire attack when he was in such a cramped place and was still unused to the controls.
“Your left, right, and center long-range attacks are reloading. You’ll have to run away and wait for the gauges to-…”
“Not a chance!! Index is right there!!”
Kamijou’s Temjin jumped straight up. Just like when dashing, he was supported by the invisible turbo repulsion, so the scenery quickly moved around him.
“Double lock. Your weapons have switched over to close-range.”
The colors of the right, left, and center gauges changed. The slowly recovering bars were now brand new.
And the weapon in his right hand changed form.
Kamijou adjusted his grip on the close-range sword named Blitz Saber. A hit from that had to count for a lot.
But just as he prepared to attack, the screen blurred.
Then he shot right past Index’s Bal-Bados.
The sudden occurrence confused Kamijou.
“Oh, you automatically lock onto the closest enemy when you jump.”
“It’s just how it works☆ And how long are you going to cruise around in the air!? You’re too high!! Way too high!! There’s nothing to use as a shield in the sky! Keep this up and you’ll be the perfect target!!”
After a horrifically violent-sounding racket from below, Kamijou Touma’s Temjin transformed into a firework.
With the unit destroyed, he lost the set.
Kamijou slumped down as the negative results appeared on the screen, so Lilina spoke to him from her window.
“By the way, jumping is crucial, but you can also cancel a jump by hitting the jump button again. That lets you make a short hop. If you just hold down the button the whole time, you’ll move pretty slowly and your opponent can hit you pretty easily. That’s a basic technique.”
“Oh, is that so? I guess I’ve taken another step toward adulthood…”
“In a 2-on-2 match, you can ask your partner for help when you’re in a pinch like that. And you can register up to 4 people on a team, so you can also use a pit stop to swap someone else in. But that can wait until you have a handle on the basics.”
He had no reason to give up here.
He was prepared to lose as many times as it took to get stronger.
For the second set, he went on the offensive, lost badly, and requested another rematch.
He heard a deafening sound and his Temjin ended up covered in damage. He fell over, the referee sphere floating overhead judged it as a down, he had a lot of points taken away, and he lost.
But through all that, he gradually came to understand some things.
He had to throw out his pride.
He did not need to stick with just Temjin.
At one point, he requested a rematch while using the same Bal-Bados that Index’s unit was based on. But this was not just him feeling jealous and wanting to do the same thing as her.
“I see… She looked so invincible, but this is how the thing moves. It’s not all that nimble. And it’s good at close-range, but it’s got some weird idiosyncrasies.”
“You’ve learned a little more. However they might have been customized, the base Virtuaroids are all publically available, so using the enemy’s unit to analyze its pros and cons is one method you can use.”
Of course, he could not win.
Index had been playing Bal-Bados all along while he was only trying it out, so he did not stand a chance. He could not get close, he lost plenty of points, and he was defeated without accomplishing anything.
But it was a learning experience.
Bal-Bados was not an unbeatable wall. It could lose depending on how it was used. In other words, it was the same as Temjin. It only looked unbeatable because Index was making use of its strong points and making up for its weak points.
He was still severely disadvantaged, but he caught the faintest glimpse of something.
He returned to Temjin, grabbed the portable device in both hands once more, and spoke.
“Temjin really is an all-around unit. It can fight close-range and long-range. It has fairly tough defenses and it’s fairly quick on its feet. It might not outdo Index’s exceptional Bal Bados, but it can produce decent results no matter what it does.”
“But Bal-Bados is a lot trickier to use. That’s why she never approaches me. …If I can do everything fairly well, there’s no reason to fight in her field. Temjin has no outstanding specs, but it can also take advantage of the weaknesses of any other unit.”
“That’s more like it, Touma-sama! It doesn’t matter if you have the right answer. What matters is that you think for yourself, predict your own traits, and pilot your unit consistently. Don’t just mash the buttons randomly. Have a goal in mind and focus on that throughout. If you do that…”
The arm cannons fired, scattering barrage after barrage.
“The Virtuaroid will become an extension of your body.”
Kamijou’s Temjin used the turbo for a high-speed dash to the side supported by the invisible repulsion. After dodging the first barrage, he switched to forward movement. After moving in close, he reached a field he had almost never reached before: a close-range battle.
Of course, a rookie like Kamijou could not cleanly dodge every shot.
He still got hit.
But it did not matter. Not as long as the damage he took was less than the damage he did with a single hit from the Blitz Saber. If his powerful attack knocked her over and qualified as a down, he would earn some points and take the lead. Destroying your opponent was just another way of earning points. Virtual-On was about earning points through legal blows instead of wearing down your opponent’s stamina. The number of points was more important than the number of hits, so the damage was unimportant if he could win in the end.
That was the fighting style he had chosen.
It was not written in the manual and he was not following any kind of walkthrough.
It may have been awkward and entirely misguided, but Kamijou Touma had still put together this fighting style on his own.
“You begin a dash by pressing the turbo button and pushing the stick in one direction, but if you bring the stick back to its neutral position and push it in another direction, you can change direction in the middle of a dash. That’s known as a vertical turn, but if you incorporate it into your movements, you can easily avoid the attacks your opponent fires along the predicted points of your path.”
“Oh, oh. Like this?”
“You can break free of a lock by moving out of your opponent’s field of vision. So the closer you get, the more easily you can break free by circling around Bal-Bados. The time it takes her to reestablish a lock will create a defenseless lag. That’s your chance to move in and attack!!”
They were now nearly at point-blank range.
Temjin and the customized Bal-Bados glared at each other for a moment.
Index seemed to be saying she would move to block Kamijou’s Temjin if he tried to circle around to either side. And then she would hit him with a cross-counter to score a down and steal his points.
But Kamijou did not cut to the right or left.
He went up.
He continued the momentum of the high-speed dash with a jump right in front of Index.
He tapped the button twice.
Instead of jumping high into the sky, he passed just barely over Bal-Bados.
This was known as a jump cancel.
“Well done. Virtuaroids don’t handle attacks from directly above very well. Due to the way the FCS works, the cursor indicating the enemy unit’s location prioritizes the horizontal directions of front, back, left, and right, so it takes a second to display when an opponent pass straight overhead!”
He landed right behind Index who was still facing forward.
Temjin and Bal-Bados stood back to back.
He tightly gripped the Blitz Saber.
And he spun around.
The two Virtuaroids swept their close-range weapons toward each other as they turned around.
Temjin used a plain close-range sword wrapped in light.
Bal-Bados used a fork-like thing with multiple pointed optical weapons rotating quickly.
Both weapons had their pros and cons, but Temjin had the greater close-range attack specs.
A high-pitched metallic sound rang out.
Something spun through the air. It was the customized Bal-Bados’s right arm. The arm itself was a cannon and it was supposedly intercepting Kamjiou’s attack with a close-range optical weapon.
It had been severed.
Lilina shouted back as the rotating right arm came to a stop in midair. The same repulsion used to control the units seemed to pin it in midair and it floated there with definite human intent behind it. Then the cannon arm resumed targeting Kamijou’s Temjin from the optimal range.
He immediately moved back to put distance between him and Bal-Bados.
Rapid-fire attacks stabbed down into the ground and were deflected by what looked like compression artifacts. The two Virtuaroids moved apart as Kamijou was forced to abandon the close-range he had finally achieved.
When he looked back, he saw the nun-like customized Bal-Bados’s remaining left arm detach at the elbow and float up into the air.
“I forgot to mention this.” Lilina gave a belated report. “Bal-Bados’s greatest selling point is its ability to detach its body parts, control them independently, surround its enemy, and simultaneously attack from multiple lines of fire. The arms are known as ERLs, or Ejectable Remote Launchers. As that name suggests, the battle truly begins once both arms have been detached.”
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
But as Kamijou slowly exhaled, there was a fierce smile on his lips.
“In other words, Index is finally starting to sweat. Good, good. I’ve taken away her ability to look down on me. I finally feel like we’re standing on the same field. And you know what that means?”
“Eh heh heh…”
“I’ve finally got a real shot at winning.”
“Ah ha ha ha ha!! Are those the words of a rookie who only started Virtual-On today!? Where did you learn to enjoy combat like this!?”
The battle was underway.
Temjin and Bal-Bados ran through the streets at tremendous speed.
He ended up losing that set too.
He fought 7 or 8 more 3-set games after that.
His losing streak continued, but none of them were wasted. He learned to move his unit as he fired, to shift from a dash into a jump, and when to cancel both of those to intentionally throw out his speed and height. If he came up with his own objective or task and focused on “learning”, an idea always came to him. The button layout had initially seemed unintuitive and it had slowed him down, but he could feel himself starting to control the Virtuaroid more on instinct now.
Even so, Index was on another level.
She did not limit herself to a single strategy. Each set, she would weave together a different pattern of the various options available to her: midair attacks, ground attacks, horizontal movement, wavelike movement, sticking close, sniping from a distance, etc. That hinted at the great variety of situations she had experienced. She had played this game a lot. And her perfect memory may have been helping out too.
The end arrived suddenly.
Kamijou pushed the ultra-thin goggles up from his eyes.
“Stop, stop!! Ugh, I can’t go on. There’s a prickling in my temples… I don’t think this is 3D motion sickness, but let me take a break…”
“Ehhh!? But I haven’t tried out my special whipped milk cream yet!!”
“How am I supposed to know what command that is when name it something like that!?”
The two of them were causing a scene, but no one paid them any attention.
There were a lot of boys and girls using portable devices around the center. Coming all the way here yet not going inside may have been an issue of style. Or perhaps they had felt an urge to play once they saw the preliminary matches on the screens.
When they put on the goggles and operated their portable devices, something like a ring of pale light appeared over their head. It resembled a hula hoop and it moved down from their head to their feet before vanishing.
(I couldn’t tell with the goggles on, but did those appear with us too?)
“Index, do you know what that is?”
“No, but it seems to be scanning their body in some way.”
He was a little curious about that, but it was not worth thinking about it too much.
Besides, Kamijou’s goal was to refill his portable device’s electronic credits. The Next Generation Game of Virtual-On was listed as F2P. Kamijou did not really know what that stood for, but it apparently meant he did not have to pay anything to play the game. But the device could be used for almost anything and some of those things required money. In Kamijou’s case, that meant when he was riding the train or subscribing to a recipe magazine.
“I’m going to take a break by running my errand, but I’ll play some more once I get back.”
“Mhh. Then I’ll find a free challenger around here. Even during the tournament, they can’t all be registered for the preliminary battles and there are a lot of spectator players in front of the center. If I send them a message saying I want to see how my portable device is doing, most anyone will play a few rounds.”
After watching Kamijou wave and duck inside the center, Index puffed out her cheeks a little.
(There’s no point if I can’t show off to Touma…)
The calico cat on her head uttered a leisurely meow.
That said, there was something she wanted to try out, so she sent out a portable device transmission.
She let it search for an opponent.
With a light beep, the first result appeared.
Index tilted her head at the name given.
It was not written in fancy German and it was not full of unusual kanji.
In fact, the name field was entirely corrupted.
“Who is that…?”
It may have been that Index was just fundamentally bad with machines. It may have been that her curiosity won out over her unease and so she reached for it without worry.
Normally, no one would have hit the accept button.
But Index took that step forward with her head still tilted.
That girl’s world immediately changed.
If he loaded a whole bunch of credits at once, he would end up buying all sorts of useless apps and ebooks, so Kamijou only purchased 1000 yen’s worth. Afterwards, he realized the atmosphere inside the center had changed.
He felt a prickling on the back of his neck. It was a hostile aura, like an uninvited guest had marched right on in.
The center had a monitor large enough for a movie theater and it was divided into several small screens. The matches being played near the facility were being relayed there at random. Simply put, it was set up so people could do Let’s Plays if they wanted to. And based on the corporate logos dancing in the corners of some screens, the ones that stood out the most could even get advertisers.
When he looked closer, he realized everyone’s eyes were fixed on one screen in particular.
That seemed to be the source of the hostility.
Kamijou was the only person confused by this reaction and Aogami Pierce called out to him.
“This is bad. Real bad.”
“What is it, Aogami?”
“What is it? One of the Defected players is here. Man, and normally…well, I’m not sure anything about them is normal. But regardless, the Defected players generally ‘disappear’ so they can’t be traced or tracked, but this one’s making an appearance right in front of the center! They’ve got guts!!”
A Defected portable device.
For greater freedom and access to more services, those devices had their safety regulations removed. Accessing functions that should have already been there was one thing, but Kamijou felt no desire to go out of his way to step into dangerous territory.
Aogami Pierce used his thumb to point at the giant LCD monitor in the back of the center.
“Look at that blue Cypher. It’s a textbook example of someone who wants to stand out.”
The Virtuaroid moving about on the screen was very thin and angular. Sharp points that were not quite wings and not quite horns jutted out from far more than just its back and shoulders. The model looked like it would be very fast. And that lightweight and high-speed impression was overturned by the brutal-looking close-range sword that was longer than the Virtuaroid was tall.
It was colored blue with yellow borders. That too was not normal.
“The username is corrupted, but people are calling them the Blue Stalker. I feel bad for the Bal-Bados fighting them. Everyone was having so much fun with the tournament, but this person has to ruin it all. Oh, damn. The ref spheres are completely ignoring it. What kind of magic trick is this?”
“Wait a second…”
“Yeah, if the Blue Stalker removed their anti-tracking stealth and showed up at the center, they probably expected to show up on the screen here. Do they enjoy beating up their opponent while cheating like crazy?”
“No, not that. Did you say Bal-Bados?”
Kamijou shifted his focus from the mystery Cypher to its opponent.
It was a white Virtuaroid.
Instead of holding its weapons, its arms could detach as mobile cannons.
Due to the great customization, the Bal-Bados’s additional armor gave it a nun-like silhouette.
Kamijou’s Temjin had faced this opponent not long before.
“Hold on. Isn’t that Index!?”
“Well, that ain’t good! That ain’t good at all! We need to stop her Defected opponent’s Virtual-On!!”
Kamijou could not keep up with his friend’s panic.
It was true Index’s Bal-Bados was fighting an illegal Defected player. It might have included abnormal data to tamper with its own movement speed and attack power.
But this was only a game.
This was not a shootout between tanks and it was not two fighters struggling to get on each other’s tail. Even if she took a direct hit, even if she was enveloped in explosive flames, and even if her endurance was worn down to 0 and her unit was destroyed, it would only affect her points. Index herself would be fine.
Or so Kamijou thought until an unpleasant sensation ran down his spine.
He altered his thinking.
“No…is that part of it too? If she loses, do her device’s administrative privileges get taken so her opponent can hijack it!?”
“In a way, it’s even worse.” Aogami Pierce sighed. “I dunno how reliable this information is, but there’re rumors that some of the players involved with Defected players have shown certain symptoms.”
“Loss of muscular strength, loss of autonomic nerve control, loss of consciousness… I could list plenty more. I don’t know how much of it is true, but where’s there’s smoke there’s fire. It would be best to stop this!”
That was all Kamijou needed to hear.
He and Aogami immediately made a mad dash for the center’s exit.
Once outside, the battle on the screen exploded within the actual scene around them. The Bal-Bados had detached both arms and sent them floating around. The blue Cypher was kicking off the walls, flipping through the air, and otherwise making quick dashes and jumps using its repulsion. It would swing its giant sword around to shift its center of gravity to assist its irregular acrobatics.
It was a one-sided battle.
Index had tossed Kamijou around like a rag doll, but she was helpless against the blue Cypher known as the Blue Stalker.
She was just barely avoiding an immediate defeat, but that forced her to focus entirely on dodging. However…
“Not good. She’s got no chance at this rate. She’s basically running straight toward a dead end.”
“Why? Look at all the crazy movements her enemy’s using. I would’ve been taken out right away, so she’s doing pretty good!”
“But there’s a time limit. If she keeps losing points and having her endurance worn down, she’ll have nothing to show for her performance when the time runs out. And then she’s done for.”
There were two ways to win in the Next Generation Game Virtual-On.
One was to take away as many of your opponent’s points as you could during the game.
The other was to destroy all of the opposing team’s units.
In a 1-on-1 battle, destroying your opponent was enough to end the battle. And Index was at a disadvantage in both those ways. Simply dodging would not allow her to turn things around, but if she changed tack and charged in, she would be killed instantly.
“She’s going to lose like this.” Aogami Pierce had a bitter look on his face. “Cypher can transform, so it switches between its humanoid Virtuaroid form and its airplane Motor Slasher form. Everyone uses it differently, but it’s weird not to use it at all. It’s like they’ve placed a restriction on themselves.”
“You mean they’re actually holding back…?”
Kamijou was watching from the sidelines and even he had to stay focused or lose sight of its ever-changing movements, and yet that was not all it could do?
“No, that’s not the issue here. Hey, Index, accept whatever penalty it gives you! Just cut the connection!! That guy’s one of those Defected…”
Kamijou trailed off.
Index was definitely there. Nothing had changed from when he left her. She was on the edge of the sidewalk to stay out of people’s way and she looked down at the portable device as her fingers moved.
But there was no light in her eyes.
Her fingers moved at blinding speed like they were independent creatures.
Finding this odd, Kamijou called out to her and shook her by the shoulders, but there was no response.
Her head wobbled on her neck, so was she even looking at the screen?
“Excuse me a moment.”
Aogami Pierce circled behind Index and suddenly placed a large bag over her head and the cat sitting on it.
“What are you doing, Aogami!?”
“Look! Her fingers are still moving even with her eyes covered and the Bal-Bados over there is moving just the same! How does this even work!?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
What was going on?
Was it due to the connection to a Defected portable device?
The situation was truly abnormal.
And how bad were the penalties for losing that Aogami Pierce had mentioned?
“What is it, Kami-yan? Should we take away her device? If that Bal-Bados keeps moving even then, I’ll just give up on trying to understand this.”
“No, I’ll save Index a different way. Virtual-On is more than just 1-on-1, right? I can join in as part of her team, right?”
“Yeah! So that’s what you’re gonna do?”
“I’m going in.”
Kamijou removed the ultra-thin goggles from the bottom of his portable device.
Kamijou’s skill could not reach Index’s level, so he would not stand a chance in a straight battle against the Blue Stalker.
But he did not have to fight a straight battle.
He only had to help drive the enemy back even if it was 2 against 1.
In the Next Generation Game Virtual-On, teams could have up to 4 people. Those spots were not filled, so he could join in. If all 4 spots were filled and one of them was destroyed, that did not open up the spot and the official tournament only allowed the registered members, but neither of those situations applied here.
That meant he could do it.
He could save Index.
“If this doesn’t work, you start trying everything you can think of.”
The result could not have been more obvious.
Kamijou Touma groaned inside the spindle-shaped cocoon-like cockpit.
He did not understand what had happened.
He had honestly never planned to win the first set. He had only wanted to get used to the Blue Stalker’s movements. But he had been naïve. The first set had ended before he could even figure anything out and the second set was not going much better even with Index fully recovered.
Their opponent’s movements were not normal.
He did not have time to even think about coordinating with Index. His eyes could not keep up with what was happening and a piercing headache passed from right to left behind his eyes. Perhaps because his break had been cut short, simply moving his eyeballs made him feel nauseous.
He heard something like an unpleasantly high-pitched motor behind him. The V-Disc on the back of the unit was probably ominously glowing with heat.
Kamijou had incorporated artificial muscles into his Virtuaroid, so he was always surrounded by the sound of those fibrous bundles expanding and contracting as he fought, but now they sounded like they were about to snap.
Kamijou clenched his teeth as the referee sphere floated in the sky above.
(They’re on an entirely different level…)
Kamijou was “controlling” the Virtuaroid using the movements of his fingers and hands.
But that Blue Stalker was different.
They were clearly pouring their own willpower into the unit.
It was like the difference between a marionette controlled by strings and a possessed doll moving on its own. There were no apparent limits or simplifications in its actions.
(How can they control it like that? Is this the power you get from Defecting?)
Battles between Virtuaroids could not destroy the buildings or roads, so Kamijou’s Temjin sat down and leaned against a building.
Meanwhile, the Blue Stalker slowly approached.
And it held that brutal close-range sword that was longer than it was tall.
The Blue Stalker was not being careless. Even if Kamijou raised his right hand and fired beams from the Neutral Launcher that his primary weapon had become, this opponent was sure to simply vanish from his field of vision. The Blue Stalker could do that. As calm as it looked, it was being appropriately cautious.
“It’s locked onto us. Touma-sama, you need to be careful! This is the second set, so you’ll lose if you don’t recover some points! And it looks like Temjin is going to be destroyed before that anyway!!”
Lilina yelled a warning from the navigation window.
(What do I do…?)
For one thing, he had no idea what happened if he lost to a Defected player.
He had only heard the worrying rumors saying people had suffered loss of muscular strength, loss of autonomic nerve control, loss of consciousness, and more.
How much was a lie and how much was true?
He could not believe it all, but he did not want to test it out with their own bodies either.
(What do I do!? How am I supposed to turn this around now!?)
He had plenty of buttons and sticks in his hands, but he could not see any real options.
He had to do something immediately, but his fingers froze up because he knew anything he did would end badly.
Fear pinned him in place.
He could not escape that close-range sword of death and slaughter.
Given the Blue Stalker’s speed, if he simply guarded now, the Blue Stalker would immediately circle behind him and slice his back open. In fact, that unit’s movements were odd. It had so much more freedom. It felt like it could easily pull off supposedly impossible actions like a backflip or sliding between another unit’s legs.
A meaningless sweat built up in his palms.
That horrifically long close-range sword could easily decapitate or bisect a Virtuaroid.
And it rushed in!!
He shouted, screamed, and squeezed the portable device in his hands.
And at that moment, he heard a quiet tone. A small line of text appeared in the edge of his vision like a subtitle.
“A short text message? Eh? But the sender’s address is this device?”
Lilina sounded confused.
And her confusion meant she could not read the actual text that followed.
Despite the extreme danger he felt, Kamijou’s mind was drawn to that short string of text.
The situation was hopeless.
He could not win while the Blue Stalker was cheating.
…But was that assumption correct?
Was the power that made him special really only usable by him? If Kamijou was to shake that assumption, what was it that held him back from victory?
That was something he would never touch while playing normally.
It was a right he had abandoned even though it was right before his eyes.
(…I’ll do it.)
He felt like he was being tested.
Kamijou focused more on the portable device in his hands than on the positions of Temjin and the blue Cypher.
Was the feeling in his hand real or virtual? He was still unsure.
(If I’m going to overcome this situation and if I’m going to find a way to save Index, I have to try even the most suicidal possibilities!!)
A moment later, Kamijou Touma snapped the portable device in half between his hands.
He destroyed his controller.
That was the opposite of what he needed to do if he was trying to win or even just play the game, but it felt somehow allowable in this cramped space.
The various components hung in midair as if gravity did not affect them. The pieces of circuit boards and the LCD display spun while reflecting the light. And an especially tiny black chip was at the center. What had it originally been? A processing circuit, a transmission antenna, or something related to user authorization? Kamijou lacked the technical knowledge to investigate further, but his instincts told him it was the core.
This was the heart that tied it all together.
And the action he took was simple.
He bit it.
The chip was a quarter the size of a stamp, so he placed it below his canine tooth and immediately crushed it between his teeth.
That settled something. It definitively sent him off course.
Everything rapidly rewound in his hands. The weightlessly floating parts gathered back together. Even the damage to the portable device’s exterior vanished and light returned to the LCD screen.
It was good as new.
Except, that is, for the black chip.
Immediately, Kamijou heard the roaring wind. He reflexively swung his head back like someone had thrown a ball toward his face. Temjin responded to that normal movement by bending backwards, just barely dodging the Blue Stalker’s giant blade as it swung down like a guillotine.
It all happened naturally and Kamijou only caught on after the fact.
That was not possible. It should not have been possible.
The Virtuaroids were controlled by a lever that only allowed 8 directions of movement, so leaning backwards to dodge a blade was simply not an available option.
(And yet I did it?)
The 8 directions of movement had grown to the true freedom of arrows sticking out in every direction like a hedgehog’s spines.
In other words, he was the same as the Blue Stalker.
He had Defected.
As soon as that term entered Kamijou Touma’s mind, a great tension left him.
His Temjin pushed on the side of the brutal close-range sword as it swung down alongside him. He used his shoulder instead of a weapon. The horizontal vector knocked the blue Cypher a bit off balance, so he made a further attack to its face. Once again, he did not use the close-range Blitz Saber.
He used Temjin’s equivalent of a forehead.
He used a headbutt.
With a dull sound, the Blue Stalker bent backwards.
Kamijou’s attack had reached that ferocious opponent. It had hit.
That was not a fatal blow.
It had only opened a tiny bit of distance between them.
And that was why Temjin adjusted his grip on the Blitz Saber. He gathered all his strength and aimed for the Blue Stalker who had been pushed back to the perfect range for the sword.
A great noise burst out.
But the attack had not hit. The blade had been thrown off course. The Blue Stalker had not set up a mysterious barrier or magnetic field. In the moment of the attack, it had kicked at Temjin’s knee joint.
The diverted blade missed its target and the Blue Stalker jumped back.
“Wait, wait, wait! What is going on? I’m receiving a storm of improper button inputs, so why is the unit reacting!? How is it moving like this? This is more than just a bug or a secret trick. The only way to explain this is that the Next Generation Game Virtual-On includes 2 or 3 times the amount of scripts that I have authorization to see!!”
“Lilina, if you have any questions, search for answers on your own.”
“I’ve found more than 174,000 hits. And the most common keyword found in the results is ‘Defected’! This is not good! Of course, some of them are strange banner ads or sites clearly meant to redirect you elsewhere, so it’s not exactly the most credible information in the entire world!!”
“Then I don’t care. I wasn’t the one that made this.”
The portable device only had colorful buttons and smooth sticks.
Could he really produce these movements with those? How could he move each limb, each finger, and even his head independently like this? Not even he knew the answer.
It all felt backwards. It was less like he was doing things by operating the buttons and more like he was taking the actions in his mind and the commands came to him after the fact. He could display the training command log, but he felt like nothing in there would let him reproduce these movements.
Yet he was doing it somehow.
And if he could do it, then there was no reason to restrain himself.
An explosive noise rang out.
The giant V-Disc on the back of the unit gave a scream as he pushed his movements past the limits. It grew red hot like heated steel. He could not see it himself, but he could tell. The state of the unit reached him the same as his own body’s senses.
He did not wait around for his opponent to move.
He was no longer a cowardly turtle. He could be a lion that freely hunted its prey.
They stood alongside each other, glared at each other, and charged forward at the same moment.
Both Temjin and Cypher became roaring wind. The colored winds filled the scenery as they used the asphalt road, building walls, roadside trees, and signs as footing to bounce around almost like pinballs.
More and more deafening sounds burst out. Anyone watching it would have had no idea what was going on. The creation of something only he could understand filled Kamijou with a solitary sense of superiority. His emotions shifted into a zone that made his head spin.
The second set was close to ending.
He had lost far too many points and Temjin’s endurance was nearly gone.
There was a serious risk of an instant loss after he and Index were destroyed.
What did that matter?
They only had the one opponent. There was no one on standby to take that blue Cypher’s place during a pit stop. If he destroyed that Blue Stalker, they could ignore the points. Victory would be theirs and they could continue on to the third set. In that 50/50 final battle, one would win and the other would taste dirt.
Kamijou would get back at this opponent.
He would beat them until tears streamed down their face.
He felt like his thoughts were escaping through his forehead.
Something was being drawn out of him.
The feeling of the portable device in his hands was fading away.
Kamijou Touma was no longer in a state of extreme combat. In fact, he was calm enough to comment on it.
“This is dangerous. This is a dangerous thing to get used to…”
Lilina started to ask what he meant, but she fell silent instead.
It was unclear if a programmed AI could feel fear or revulsion, but the boy ignored her too. But not because he was too focused on his battle with the Blue Stalker.
He would drag that opponent down from their throne.
He had placed a crude chair next to that throne.
And he had a chance to kick them down.
He focused on the ticket he could use to make it his turn to look down at them.
But that was when it happened.
Temjin and Cypher were moving in a horizontal spiral with their weapons locked together, but as Kamijou watched on, odd sounds came from the Blue Stalker’s shoulder and legs.
These sounds and movements were not necessary just to move its limbs like normal.
But hadn’t Aogami Pierce mentioned that Cypher could transform and that it was odd not to use that at all? And hadn’t he said the Blue Stalker had probably placed a restriction on themselves?
They had shaken free of their own decision. They had cast it aside.
The battle truly began now.
Kamijou’s opponent lost their humanoid form and transformed into a fighting beast.
They still had a card hidden up their sleeve.
They had kept it hidden for their own enjoyment.
And so Kamijou spoke.
“That’s dangerous, you know?”
His voice was cold and mechanical. His eyes were as emotionless as an insect’s.
As if his soul were being influenced by some unknown factor.
A white and black Specineff stood on a building rooftop a short distance away.
Despite its thick limbs and wings, this bizarre Virtuaroid’s torso was made entirely from thin spine-like parts. It looked more demonic than industrial.
That grim reaper carried a scythe named Ifleesa.
Plus, it had been customized so many times that its body parts pulsated eerily in a way simple armor panels never could. It was almost like something could burst from within at any moment.
“Honestly,” spat out the pilot. “The trouble that guy puts me through.”
Something charged in like a flash of light.
This was not a cannon blast fired from a blind spot. A Virtuaroid itself butted in from outside the combat zone. It had simply moved so quickly that it had looked like a single line of light.
The Cypher named Blue Stalker flew backwards.
But it had not been hit.
The Blue Stalker had taken purposeful evasive action.
Having missed its target, the demonically white and black Specineff slid along the asphalt to slam on the brakes.
And it spoke.
“Choose: leave now, or fight to the end. Either one’s fine with me.”
“You’re the source of the Defections. You might have more pure experience than me.” Specineff pulled a claw-like finger forward. “But the demon containing Academy City’s #1 is more than you can handle.”
The movement was swift.
The Blue Stalker declared its surrender and the invisible walls demarcating the field were removed. Even so, the blue Cypher remained there. With a series of solid sounds, its humanoid form transformed into an angular fighter jet.
And it flew away.
The unit itself grew as streamlined as a laser beam that shredded everything it came into contact with.
“What just happened?” muttered the Temjin. “Was I just saved? But why? And what was that just now?”
He turned toward the Specineff in search of an answer, but the demon did not provide one.
“This will begin in earnest soon.”
“What will begin…?”
“You’ll know all too well soon enough.”
The Specineff jumped high into the air.
It landed on a building rooftop and then hopped rapidly from building to building.
Kamijou Touma recalled what that white and black Specineff said just before leaving.
“Because you’re one of us now… Because you have a Defected portable device.”
The composition of the atmosphere and the gravitational values are almost identical.
In fact, even the periodic table of elements is exactly the same. I was surprised to find no Earth Crystal readings, but that must have been just one of many “paths”.
This universe expands infinitely without being poisoned by the ever-growing plants or the Limited Wars. If you turn a blind eye to the slight debris here, it actually looks brilliantly innocent. It feels like people can still dream here and like you could count the stars if you peered through a telescope. It makes me feel guilty, like I’m standing before a defenseless girl who is oblivious to the danger she is in.
The biggest surprise was the unexpected form of the Plajiner bud here.
It will likely take some effort to fold it up into the proper form, but this is also a lot of fun. It would seem my soul is that of a scientist, not of a soldier.
It delights me to find a difficult problem standing in my way. The greatest tragedy is the extinction of possibility, as if you could search the endlessly vast deserts of Mars and never find even a single speck of gold dust. And you could say that perfectly describes the life I had lived.
My many comrades and I were not chosen by the Tangram.
But there is a way to make use of not being chosen.
Look down on us if you like, chosen one. Until the day when we overturn the punishment given to us and pierce that “eye”.
Code Phoenix has safely passed Stage 1.
I will now begin Stage 2 along with my comrades walking down the many other “paths”.
It is all to guide us to the ending in Stage 3.