Chapter 4: The Executives
December 24th, 22:50 (Japan Standard Time)
The Shopping Center on the Pacific Chrysalis
“...well, compared to before, I wonder if I’m building up a trusting relationship with my subordinates,” Tessa whined as she hugged her knees in the darkness. “But recently, I feel like they’re building a strange, suck-up kind of relationship because of something. Before, everyone said ‘Colonel’ or ‘Captain’ very courteously, but now it’s more like ‘Coloneeeel’ or ‘Caaaptain’...like I’m a child. I don’t like it.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why they would call a small maid like you such strong nicknames, but it must be pretty tough,” Sailor agreed with her as he looked through the items at the luxury goods counter.
“Mr. Sailor? I want you to forget about the Colonel and Captain part, but can you take me seriously for a moment? Since we’re both in the same position, I’m being honest with you.”
“Okay, I got it, I got it.”
“Are you really listening to me...?”
It wasn’t that Tessa just wanted to complain to her partner- it was actually her strategy. If she could stall Sailor by talking with him, then it would be easy for Clouseau to locate and surround them. If she understood his personality, it would be easy for her to guide his actions.
Naturally, she had a tendency of somewhat deviating from subjects such as military tactics and so on.
“Oh! Found it,” Sailor said as he shone a dim light on a row of small boxes on a shelf.
“What have you found? Are you planning on making some more dangerous weapons?”
“No, dummy, cigars. Cohiba Lanceros!? These are Cuban, aren’t they? They even sell these? I was starting to have a bad opinion of this ship for their lack of security, but they just redeemed themselves a bit.”
He tore off the wrapping, rummaged around inside and took out a cigar. He bit the end, tore it off, then spit it out on the floor without a shred of elegance.
“Umm, you’re going to smoke it? Could you please respect my health and...”
“Shut up! My brain functions differently with this than without it. So if I can smoke, then I’m gonna smoke! ...so, now, hmm...fu-”
He lit the cigar with a burner-style lighter, then exhaled the smoke with a look a pleasure on his face. Tessa couldn’t restrain herself and turned her face away, coughing violently.
“Cough, cough- ...?”
She was then hit by a strange sensation, and sniffed the air a little. The smoke from Sailor’s cigar smelled a little like flowers. The scent reminded her of when she had pulled the cork off of a small bottle of dry potpourri-
Why was that? It felt very familiar.
“I hate Castro’s guts, but there are two things I like about Cuba- their baseball players, and this cigar. Even Kennedy approved of the trade of Cuban cigars.”
“A superior officer that I respected once said, ‘Lord God, our power evermore, whose arm doth reach the ocean floor, o hear us when we say our prayer, so that you may give us a cigar.’*1 He
was a very heavy smoker,” Sailor said in a rising, clear, sonorous voice. The cigar flickered lightly in the darkness.
“Isn’t that a parody of an old navy song?”
“Hmm, yeah, it is... wait, you know that!? Are you really a maid?”
“No, well. Anyway, about that superior officer of yours, what was his name, if you don’t mind my ask-”
Just then, from far off, there was a large thud.
♦ ♦ ♦
Exactly 100 seconds before Tessa heard the sound-
Listening to the sounds of his muscles and bones going beyond their limits, Kurz reached inside his vest.
His neck was going to break any second now.
He pulled the automatic pistol out from its holster, an FN high power. Why did he have a single action gun? He quickly cocked it, pushed the muzzle against his enemy’s wrist and pulled the trigger.
Two shots. Three shots.
The spray of blood he expected never came. Instead, there were flying fragments of metal and plastic, which lightly grazed his cheek.
His grip slackened like a broken eraser. Without any relief at all yet, Kurz made to hit him with his gun, aiming at his enemy’s face- at the red, glowing slit, and continued firing the 9mm bullets. Sparks flew in front of his eyes.
There was a ‘bassh’ sound and the smell of something burning, and his opponent’s upper body was thrown back a bit.
Kurz kicked him with all his strength. It felt like kicking a hundred kilo sandbag. The enemy he was now separated from showed no sign of discomposure at all. Merciless and resolute, it came back at him, trying to kill him.
Kurz staggered and fell to his knees, gasping for breath. His body needed oxygen. His enemy’s left arm came swinging down; even with its almost-severed hand dangling at the wrist... was it an artificial hand? No, that wasn’t it. What in the world was this man-
Someone flew from out of nowhere, beating the large man in the back of the head with an iron pipe.
It was Yang.
His entire body was covered in blood, the red liquid dribbling off of him from all over, but he was alive.
Thank god. But there wasn’t even time to think that. The large man was indifferent to Yang’s blows, and his right arm automatically went by in a flash. Yang used the pipe to shield himself, but it buckled easily and he went flying into one of the containers.
It wasn’t human- they knew that much at least. No matter how many times it had been hit in the head or torso, there had been no effect at all. Kurz leapt, grabbing onto his enemy’s legs, then aimed his gun at the back of its right knee. His experience from piloting ASes told him to do so. He pointed at a piece of the unyielding armor, then shot three times. Gel-like liquid and polymer parts scattered everywhere. His enemy suddenly lost its balance and collapsed to the floor.
Without giving it a chance to retaliate, he shot it twice in the right arm joint. Then twice in its lower left side. When he had
shot it twice in the inner-left hip joint that connected to its femur, the pistol slide went back and stopped. He was out of bullets.
The “enemy”, with most of the parts connecting its limbs now destroyed, continued nevertheless to struggle with its still-moving joints, pursuing Kurz with its cracked head sensor.
“Ku... Kurz? Are you okay...?” Yang stammered, resting up against a container.
Kurz, shoulders heaving as he gasped for breath, expertly changed the magazine out in his pistol.
“Yeah, damn it all to hell... what about you? You’re covered in blood.”
“No, this is from the mountain of whole tomato cans that exploded all over the place when this guy shot ‘em. I think I blacked out for a little bit.”
“So the joke’s on me, huh?”
Of course, now that he was calm, he could tell that this wasn’t the smell of blood. However, now an entirely different problem filled his head. Why him? The whole tomatoes were ruined. It had been a narrow escape from death, but now the cook was going to kill him.
“What about Wu?”
“I don’t know. He was right next to me, but-”
“Excuse me, Sergeant; Corporal.”
Wu’s face appeared from the shadows of a large box far behind Yang. He appeared to be intact.
“I pretended to be dead and hid. I thought he looked to be a pretty dangerous character.”
“Then how ‘bout you at least yell ‘Look out!’ or something!!”
“I will from now on,” Wu smirked and scratched the back of his head.
“Anyway, what the hell was this thing... cough-”
His neck hurt tremendously. He looked, and their attacker seemed to have lost most of its motor function. It had the shape of a human being, but it was a machine. If a 3rd generation AS like the M9 were shrunk down to human size, this is probably what it would look like. Was this the life-sized AS that Kaname had encountered in Shibuya...? If he hadn’t have heard her story, he probably wouldn’t have been able to come up with the idea of attacking its joints like that so quickly.
“I don’t understand it, either. It just suddenly jumped out of the container at us-”
Then Yang stopped. He and Kurz noticed it at the same time.
No matter the situation, would an enemy that had inflicted so much pain upon Mithril just hand these “machines” over to them so easily? And if there were a situation where they might fail, wouldn’t they naturally take precautionary measures accordingly?
Exactly- and taking two, three steps back from the robot, which had suddenly stopped wriggling around, Yang mumbled, “Ku-Kurz, it’s gonna-”
“-I know, run!!”
They all broke into a run at about the same time.
Moments later, a tremendous shock wave passed through as the robot exploded into flames, scattering lethal ball bearings everywhere.
White fumes and dust rose up while fragments and debris rained down.
The explosion was about on the same scale as one Claymore mine, Kurz guessed, frowning because of the ringing in his ears.
“Heeey, Kurz, are you alive?” Yang said in an easy tone of voice. It seemed they were okay, too.
“Unfortunately. Dammit, they got to us,” he cursed as he swept the burning pieces of wood off his back. The area around where the robot had exploded was in terrible shape. Steel frames were bent, containers crushed, and various cargo was going up in flames. The sprinklers activated and starting drenching everything in water.
Yang then said, “We have to report this to the Lieutenant. We don’t know what those robots really are, but there’s no mistaking it’s a trap.”
“I know- Uruz 6 to HQ! Can you hear me!?” he yelled into his radio, and Clouseau answered him right away.
“This is HQ. Did that explosion just now come from area C32?”
“Affirmative! We came across a robot like the one Angel told us about. We managed to beat it somehow, but then it self-destructed.”
“A robot? Those Amalgam bastards, huh? Damage report.”
“No deaths, three with light injuries! No hindrances to crew mobilization. The greatest loss was the whole tomatoes.”
“Was there only one enemy?”
“That’s obvious, isn’t it!? If there had been two or three of those things-” Kurz was cut off by a piercing “gashan” sound, which rang throughout the inside of the storeroom.
And in the middle of the area where they were standing- the door of one of the comparatively unharmed containers burst open. It had been forcefully kicked out by something on the inside.
There was the sound of heavy footsteps. Trampling on the crushed door, a large man all in black stepped out of the container. It was exactly the same as the one before. Its height, garments- it even had the same inorganic facial features.
Bunnn, hummed its propulsion system.
The sensor in the single slit on its head was glowing red.
“Not another one of these things...”
But unfortunately, it didn’t just stop at one.
The sound of containers breaking open continued from all around the room. One after another, the clone robots showed themselves, and slowly began to examine their surroundings.
Or perhaps it should have been called “reconnaissance”.
There were eight... no, there were more than that.
“Uruz 6, what’s wrong? Uruz 6, report.”
“Th... there are more than ten of ‘em now.”
“What did you say? Repeat it more clearly-”
“Hey, run! It’s dangerous her-” Yang and Wu tried to warn him. When he turned around, they had already broken into a headlong dash towards the exit.
There wasn’t even time to swear at their cold-hearted backs. The Alastors sprang at him, and, slipping through their fingers, Kurz continued after the others.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Uruz 1 to all units. Code 13, top priority. 10 small-type ASes have appeared in the storeroom in C32. They are probably as powerful as reported. In the event that they are incapacitated, they scatter shot and self-destruct. Be careful. In accordance with protocol, lead the hostages to safety. Team Delta will move to the
corridors in C28, and Team Echo to those in C35. Subdue the enemy. Use of AP bullets is permitted. If subduing the enemy proves to be too difficult, then confine them as much as possible-”
Clouseau wasn’t shouting or yelling at a time like this. He was just giving each group their orders very composedly in a calm voice. However, the precision in his voice itself gave away the tension of the situation to his subordinates.
Each group responded to their orders, but it felt different from before; there was a feeling of anxiety.
What on earth are they trying to do...Clouseau thought to himself.
What were the robots after? Were they planning on removing all of the Mithril personnel and taking back control of the ship? No, when he thought about what Kaname Chidori had said, he didn’t believe that the robots were capable of carrying out such a delicate operation. It would be simpler than that. Then what about protecting the secret of the “vault room”? Kill all the people onboard and sink the boat- no, the robots wouldn’t be necessary for something like that. A high-power charge of about the same size would be sufficient.
What was their objective? To what extent had the enemy inferred their activities?
It was full of holes.
But it was obvious that some very powerful enemies had appeared on this ship; enemies with whom they could neither negotiate nor threaten.
One of the PRT soldiers asked, “Lieutenant, what is the enemy after?”
“We don’t know yet. This might have been a trap from the very start, or it could be a last resort... either way, the enemy is real.”
He called to Mao in the vault room over the radio.
“Uruz 2. Status report.”
“Nothing yet. At the worst, it’ll be three hours; at the best, 30 minutes. That’s about it,” she answered him quickly, the high-pitched sound of a drill whirring behind her.
“Contact me when you have a better idea, then. If it’s going to take a while, we’ll give up and pull out.”
“Understood. We’re hurrying. Over and out.”
Clouseau violently grabbed the laptop that one of his sergeants was working on, causing a cup and battery case to fall off of the table.
“I’m going to go take a look. Look after the movements of all of the teams and hostages, and give instructions. Understand-”
He looked at the ship layout projected on the 20-inch roll-up screen. He grabbed a nearby mechanical pencil and drew a heavy, black line straight across the screen- cutting off about a fourth of the back of the sketch.
“This is the last line of defense. Have the hostages put behind here. Don’t let the enemy get past this line. Got it?”
Grabbing a submachine gun loaded with armor-piercing bullets instead of rubber bullets, Clouseau stepped out of the bridge.
He was worried about the hostage evacuation situation.
The storeroom where the enemies had shown up was right next to the hall where the school students were seated. He didn’t know what kind of program the robots had been given, but- What if was the type that would make them kill without discretion?
What if a killing machine of that kind were plunged into the middle of several hundred school kids?
♦ ♦ ♦
When they heard the sound of an explosion in a nearby area, everyone from Jindai High School stopped their carefree noisemaking.
Most students asked their nearby companions, “What was that?” and exchanged confused looks.
Kyouko, who was next to Kaname, did the same. They stopped playing a game called “Scotland Yard”, which Kurz and the others had brought over from the toy store after the sea-jacking so the kids could “pass the time”, and their attention was drawn to the masked guard.
The guard was talking with someone else over the radio.
After a strange silence, the man cut through the crowd as he ran to the stage, then grabbed the mike and said, “E-excuse me... everyone, I’m sorry to interrupt your fun, but it seems we’ve had a small fire in the storeroom below us. The explosion you heard was just the cans bursting from the heat.”
The students got restless.
“Ah, it’s okay, it’s okay! Remain calm. Since there’s some smoke coming out, for the time being we’re going to move you guys to the hall on the backside of the ship where the other passengers are. Does everyone understand? See where I’m pointing?”
His index finger pointed towards the ceiling, and the crowd turned towards the stern side of the ship.
“-yes, that way. So everyone please turn that way and move out. Calmly and quietly, now. Let’s not panic, okay? You can just walk. Now, if everyone who is near the exit please-”
There was then loud racket from the direction of the kitchen.
Someone yelled, followed by the clatter of pots and pans falling on the floor, then the commotion of the cooks running noisily out of the kitchen. Kaname and the others, still only spectators at this point, saw Kurz come out behind the rest.
“Ah, Sergea... er, no, not sergeant, um, okay, everyone! Look this way. It’s okay, everyone just slowly evacua-”
“No no no no no!!” Kurz shouted, cutting the other guy off. “Hurry up! Run! Right now! It doesn’t matter if you fall down, just run! Do you wanna die!? What’re ya just standing around for!? Hurry up and run!!”
He violently pushed one of the nearby schoolboys in the back, then aimed his pistol at the ceiling and fired. The several hundred students, who had been standing there blankly, started to scream and rush in a frenzy towards the exits. Even the principal and staff, who should have been reprimanding such chaos, just stood there looking very pale.
“Ka- Kaname...!!” Kyouko cried as she was carried off by the sudden wave of people.
“It’s okay! We’ll meet up later!” Kaname yelled out finally. She watched until she could no longer see Kyouko, then, in the middle of the mayhem, fought the current and rushed over to Kurz. “Hey, Kurz!? What’s the meaning of this!? Are you serious!?”
“Those robots you told us about are here!” he yelled to her over the noise, “and there’s not just one, but more than ten of ‘em! They almost killed us in the storeroom, and they’ll be here any minute now. Anyway, we have to get everyone out of here!”
Was he talking about those machines called Alastors? Why were they here? Did that mean that Leonard was somehow involved in this incident?
She shook off the various questions that had flooded her mind for a moment, then drew closer.
“Bu... but this is madness! Someone’ll get hurt like thi-”
“Better than being dead... hey, you!” he turned around and yelled at one of his colleagues, “give me your P90s and all your AP bullets! Get all the stragglers and evacuate to the back of the ship! Team Golf will provide backup, okay!?”
“Protect the hostages at all costs. As always, be calm and collected. If you got it, then hurry!”
The Mithril man tossed the Belgian-made new model submachine gun and magazine filled with armor-piercing bullets to Kurz and turned around. He urged the upset Jindai teachers and students on, and helped a girl student who had fallen down back up.
Kurz checked the magazine like a true professional, and while operating the selector, yelled out over the radio, “Uruz 9, what’s happening over there!? ...okay, somehow manage to hold that corridor for another three minutes...huh- I don’t know, think of something!”
He turned the radio off and glanced at Kaname.
“What are you doing? You need to run, too.”
“W-will you guys be okay? I mean, those robots have superhuman strength, and can pick up someone easily...”
Kurz gave her an ironic smile.
“Yeah, we’ve discovered that already. Your information saved us, though. So hurry now.”
“A... okay. Be careful.”
Kaname didn’t linger any longer. She turned around away from the kitchen- and hurried towards the exit.
It happened suddenly.
Without any warning at all, there was thunderous roar and the ceiling overhead burst open.
Pieces of building material and dust poured down, and something large fell into the hall. No- rather, it landed.
One of the girl students who had fallen behind let out a high-pitched scream.
It silently picked itself up off of the crushed floor, the red sensor on its head staring at the nearby girl.
The hotel district two months ago- the scene that had happened there in the pouring rain came vividly back to Kaname. How the robot had dealt with that assassin. One strike with those arms would probably break the girl’s delicate body.
“Run! Hurry!” Kaname warned, running to her, but the girl didn’t move. She was frozen in fear and surprise. It was a girl in the class next to hers, but she couldn’t remember her name. The Alastor moved closer to her.
The robot didn’t look ready to attack right away, though. While bending down, it examined the girl- who had about the same build as Kaname- up and down, and looked into her face.
But there wasn’t time to ponder on this. Without any regard for her own safety, Kaname shoved the girl away from the Alastor.
“I said run!”
The enemy half-turned towards her, its black coat flapping around as it moved. There was a humming sound as the servomotor in the inner part of the red sensor adjusted its focus.
The robot was exactly like the ones she had seen before- but now she could see much more if it.
Its bulky chest. And huge arms.
Even the pro-wrestlers she had seen a long time ago from ringside seats looked like school kids compared to it.
Overwhelmed, she stepped backed aimlessly.
Its inorganic face filled her vision.
Behind her, Kurz was shouting something. He was about 20 meters away. She didn’t realize it just then, but she was standing in the way of Kurz’s shot.
“Kaname, don’t move!”
Immediately after he yelled that, there were gunshots. She felt a tiny breeze go right between her thighs, and the Alastor was hit three or four times in the right leg, causing it to lose its balance. Kaname’s skirt fluttered somewhat belatedly.
The bullets had passed through the small gap between Kaname’s legs. It was absolutely amazing marksmanship, but Kaname just went deathly pale.
She started to turn around to yell, “What’d you do that for!?”, but there wasn’t any time for that. Although the Alastor was unsteady, it unexpectedly reached out for her. It seemed that the shots to the leg hadn’t done enough damage.
It grabbed a hold of the ribbon on her chest and pulled her with all its might. The air arbitrarily escaped out of her lungs, and she let out a hysteric scream.
Gunfire. A bullet hit the left side of the Alastor’s head as its gaze fixed on Kaname. There was a “gakun” sound and its head turned to the right.
The person who had just shot it was Sousuke. He and two of his colleagues dressed in combat uniforms ran in from the exit leading towards the front of the ship.
He shot again, hitting the Alastor continuously in the left side of its body. There was debris of body fibers and plastic, then sparks flying everywhere.
“Ah ow ow ow ow ow!”
Kaname, who was in a panic because of the point-blank impact, was tossed aside; then the robot pointed its left arm straight at Sousuke and fired its internal rifle. The bullets missed and hit the pillar behind him. Its bad aim was probably due to being shot; however, that seemed to be its only injury. The Alastor crouched down; then took off, zigzagging with unimaginable speed for such a large body.
“Sousuke!?” Kaname yelled as she fell to her hips.
The Alastor drew in close to Sousuke, its hand coming down like sword. Sousuke narrowly evaded the blow while at the same time roughly aiming at the Alastor, then fired full-auto at pointblank range. The sound of rapid fire filled the room as it pounded against the robot’s upper body.
It wasn’t working.
The Alastor’s movements were somewhat awkward, yet quick. It was frighteningly bulletproof. Lightly stepping to the left, the enemy rotated around. Its coat flew up like an umbrella, and it did a late, violent, reverse roundhouse kick on Sousuke.
“Ugh!” Sousuke quickly pulled his gun up to shield himself just as the heavy blow hit him and sent him flying. Making his way beside them, Kurz ran out and fired his machine gun.
Even as it was being bombarded with bullets, the Alastor managed to jump- it jumped unfathomably high and far, just like the 3rd generation ASes. No- this robot was smaller version of those ASes in the first place. It surpassed the motility and power of humans.
If the situation were being fought with ASes, it would be comparable to one M9 doing battle with four Rk-92 Savages. They would find it difficult to bring it down without damage.
The enemy fired its internal gun again. There was the heavy sound of the gunshot as it hit one of their colleagues right in the chest, knocking him over. He didn’t even scream.
“Don’t stop, keep firing!” Sousuke yelled, throwing away his worn-out submachine gun and grabbing his pistol. Kurz and the rest fired incessantly, pouring bullets into the Alastor.
Fragments scattered everywhere. There was the dull sound of impact. Dinnerware on top of the tables was smashed by the flying bullets.
And yet the enemy continued to move. It was almost impossible to aim for its weak joints with the way it was moving.
Sousuke dropped to his knees, single-mindedly firing his automatic pistol. Kurz changed the magazine out in his submachine gun and continued firing. They dodged the robot’s attacks, shooting at it at point-blank range.
Over and over again, it charged. They looked like matadors.
There was nothing Kaname could do except stay down behind a fallen table, covering her head with her hands.
They shot it no telling how many times, and finally, the Alastor’s movements slowed down. They shot it in the joints, and its knees snapped. Sousuke and the others surrounded the robot,
mercilessly pumping it full of bullets, as if it were a weakened and cornered animal.
It definitely could not be called an “elegant” fight. It differed from the few gunfights Kaname had seen before in that it had been quite an ugly display of force- one where they had used all of the ammunition and firepower they had to force out a win.
Sousuke and the others weren’t weak; their opponent just wouldn’t have gone down any other way.
Finally, the enemy stopped moving.
When she looked, the hall was completely empty, and she could no longer see any of the other students around. It seemed that even the girl she had pushed earlier made her way out, as well.
But Kaname was the only one breathing a sigh of relief.
“Run! It’s going to self-destruct!”
“Chidori! Why are you still here!? Run!”
Sousuke grabbed Kaname’s arm as she hastily tried to stand up and ran. He was so rough it surprised her. Kurz and one of the others had already picked up their companion who had been shot and, carrying him between them, hurriedly ran off.
“Get down!” Kurz yelled. Sousuke pushed Kaname down, throwing himself on top of her. A moment later, the Alastor exploded.
Fragments and gunshot scattered out, making numerous holes in the walls, ceiling and light fixtures. The shock beat against their skulls, and a dull pain ran up through their eardrums.
Smoked covered the area. The sprinklers activated and rained all throughout the hall.
“Are you hurt, Chidori?”
Sousuke moved, and Kaname rose up. The water poured down, and droplets of water dripped from his forelocks.
“Can you stand?”
“Yeah... thanks,” Kaname nodded, and tried to stand up. Her knees were shaking, and she didn’t do very well. Without saying anything, Sousuke supported her. He smelled like sweat.
“Kurz, are you okay?”
“Yeah. Howard’s alive, too. Looks like it hit him in the body armor. It might have cracked some ribs, though.”
“I... I’m fine, Sergeant.”
It seemed that even the person who had been shot earlier was also okay. From the other side of the clearing smoke, they could see the shadows of people as they rose up and coughed violently.
There was the sound of dinnerware falling from the direction of the kitchen, then the faint sound of heavy footsteps echoing off the walls. The sound of many footsteps. There could be two, or even three-
“More are coming...”
“A place with this of clear view won’t be good for an ambush. Let’s retreat and contact the Lieutenant. Chidori, can you run?”
Then everyone ran out of the hall in a hurry.
They left the hall, going down one of the corridors leading to the back of the ship. There wasn’t the feeling that they were being pursued, but Sousuke and the others kept a lookout in every direction nonetheless. Even above them. They didn’t know where an enemy might appear.
They heard the sounds of heavy gunfire from far-off. It seemed that another team was doing battle with them.
“They’re formidable,” Sousuke said, walking quickly.
“Isn’t that the truth? I barely survived one high-powered round with those things. I was lucky,” Kurz replied.
“You said that there’s another ten close by. This is bad. They aren’t indestructible, but our firepower isn’t enough. We don’t have enough ammunition, either. If we have to fight against them full on, there will definitely be injuries. And we won’t be able to protect the hostages.”
“Yeah, damn it all. What’re they after? If they want to kill everyone, then-”
“I don’t think it’s that,” Kaname said. “I don’t think they’re out to kill everyone. I think it’s something else.”
“How can you be so sure? I was attacked all of the sudden down in the storeroom, no questions asked.”
Vague thoughts raced around in Kaname’s mind, gradually coming together to make a clear picture.
The robot’s stagnate behavior. What was the same and what was different? What was the focus of the dispute on this ship in the first place? Of course, it was what was in that vault roo- no, it wasn’t.
It wasn’t that at all.
She stopped and looked up in the direction of the hall.
“The target’s physique...”
“Think about it...the robot didn’t rush to attack a girl who’s probably 165 centimeters tall and weighs maybe 50 kilos*2. If it finds girls who fit this category, then it scans the details of the face next. And not just the outer appearance, either, but the build, blood
vessels, and retina patterns, too. If those match up with my data, then it moves onto the next routine, which is probably to guard me while escaping- or kill everyone other than the target.”
There wasn’t a trace of the usual oblivious high school girl left in her face. Sousuke and Kurz’s eyes grew as they watched her logically explain everything.
“When it grabbed me, Sousuke shot it, right? Don’t you think that was strange?”
Sousuke, who had been caught off guard by Kaname’s sudden change in demeanor, came back to himself and nodded.
“...it certainly was odd. It pushed you out of the way. If it had used logical fighting tactics, it would have used you as a shield.”
“Hey, hey, wait a minute, now. Are you saying that Kaname’s their target?”
“Probably... actually, I have no doubt that I am. The Captain had his eye on me from the very beginning, right?”
“Well, if that’s so, then what’ll we do about it? Stand you in front of us while we fight those metal puppets?”
Sousuke gave Kurz a dark look.
“Using Chidori as a shield is out of the question.”
“I know that, it was just a joke. Anyway, it’s dangerous here. Getting out should be our first priority.”
“Wait a minute,” Kaname stopped Kurz as he was about to run on ahead, “I can’t be a shield, but I could be the bait. Actually, there really is no other choice, given the situation.”
When Sousuke heard these words, his brow wrinkled up.
“No, it’s too dangerous. The enemy may not be able to lay a hand on you directly, but it’s likely that you could accidentally be hit by a stray bullet or something.”
“Well, just getting here wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, either! Everyone’s involved in this mess now, aren’t they!?”
That’s right. This is bad. There were still a lot of those dangerous robots on the ship, and even though it seemed they were able to get everyone from school to safety, they were still on the same ship, after all. Sooner or later, something terrible was going to happen. Many people would get hurt, or even die.
And it would be none other than her own fault.
She absolutely could not permit that. They had to stop it somehow.
“Please. If something were to happen to anyone from school, I couldn’t face them ever again. Is what I’m asking so unreasonable?”
Sousuke gave a hard look at Kaname’s urgent face. He didn’t want to put her in danger, no matter what the cost. There was impatience and hesitation, indecision and doubt. After brushing all of them to the side, he finally shook his head and gave a small sigh.
“...fine, I’ll explain to the Lieutenant. Let’s get out of here for now, though.”
Sousuke turned on his radio.
♦ ♦ ♦
The sounds of unceasing gunfire resounded through the second deck starboard-side corridor as Clouseau ran through. The Echo team, under the command of Sergeant Roger Sandarapta, was attacking the enemy.
“Roger, report,” he called out to the large Native American, who was kneeling down by the wall at the intersection and changing the magazine out in his rifle.
“Two units. 2 heavy casualties, 0 dead. Focusing fire on the heads, but we will be out of ammunition soon,” he said almost like an AI on an M9.
They seemed to have stopped them somehow thanks to the straight and narrow corridors. The enemies were hiding in the doorway of one of the guestrooms facing them, and if they showed even just a fraction of their heads, the soldiers would start raining bullets mercilessly in their direction.
“Lieutenant, the enemy is tough. They’re like wild buffaloes, but smart enough to let the bullets go by.”
“Can you take them down?”
“If there’s only two of them, we should be able to. But we don’t have enough ammunition.”
And it looked like they had run out of support, Clouseau recognized. And that’s what the always-objective Roger was saying, as well. However, it, which they had on standby in case their equipment wasn’t enough, wouldn’t be helpful at all in a place like this.
They should probably lead the passengers and crew to the lifeboats, but the front part of the ship was already a danger zone. Getting everyone off of the ship now would be next to impossible. He was also worried about Captain Testarossa’s whereabouts. If she were in the front part of the ship, she would be in danger. He had a mountain of things that he wanted her advice on-
When he realized he was looking for someone else to depend on, he shook his head at himself.
No, he couldn’t do that. He was the one in charge. He couldn’t look anxious in front of his subordinates.
“Buy some time and retreat slowly.”
He then received a communication. It was from Sousuke.
“What is it?”
“We have a proposal.”
Sousuke briefly explained what Kaname had said, suggesting several different plans.
“Use her as bait? It’s dangerous. And how would you gather those things up from around the ship?”
“She’s saying that there should be a data link function. If we carefully offer them the bait, then the enemy will contact the others and tell them to gather in that area.”
“The girl says that?”
“You only know what you’ve read about her in the reports, but it’s best not to underestimate her potential. If you consider that-”
Just then, someone broke in.
“What are you jabbering about!?”
It was the voice of a young woman. She had probably snatched Sousuke’s mike. For the first time, Clouseau was hearing the voice of Kaname Chidori.
“Hurry up and give permission or orders or whatever! If something happens to anyone from my school, I’ll make you sorry, got it!? You stupid old man!”
Who the hell is she calling ‘old man’ without seeing him first? He thought this, but he just said in a calm voice, “Okay, I got it. So let me talk to him again.”
“You do get it, right? Are you sure!?”
“Just hurry up!”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I can’t really stop her in such matters...”
“Don’t worry about it- it actually eases my conscience a little. We’re going to do as she wants.”
He felt like they were left no choice but to grasp at straws. Talking loudly so as to be heard over the gunshots, Clouseau discussed the detailed plan with Sousuke.
After they had finished and he had ended the communication, Clouseau muttered to himself, “Really, where did they come up with ‘Angel’ for her?”
♦ ♦ ♦
December 24th, 23:24 (Japan Standard Time)
1 kilometer from the Pacific Chrysalis, Underwater
Tuatha de Danaan
“Con, sonar. New contact from 0-8-3, direction of the tow array,” Sergeant Dejileny informed Commander Richard Mardukas from the sonar room.
“...no wait, the sphere array is picking it up as well. Assigning Mike 13 to target. Distance is... hm? This is strange; very strange indeed.”
Inside the command center, acting-Captain Mardukas stood next to the empty Captain’s chair. He made a grim face.
Added on top of everything else, he was worried about the situation on that cruise ship. It seemed bad enough that the Captain’s whereabouts were unknown while everyone else was being attacked by mysterious enemies. He was also worried about the movements of the Japanese patrol boats passing by only four miles away. But in spite of all that, when it came to this sonar operator...
“Make your report clear and brief, you idiot-”
“Quiet! I can’t concentrate!” Dejileny reproached him. “...it’s not a ship. It’s underwater... above the thermo cline. And- it’s going incredibly fast. Over 50 knots...!?”*3
“A torpedo!? Battle stations!”
A wave of tension swept through the command center all at once. The deck officers hit the alarm buzzers and announced the warning to the rest of the ship. The sea chart on the front screen displayed a yellow marker, which indicated the target.
“No! We would have seen it sooner if it were a torpedo! The characteristics are completely different- this is a submarine! Damn it, we’ve detected another two ships! Assigning Mike 14 and 15 to the targets! Estimated distance 10 miles and approaching!”
It couldn’t be. You could search the entire world, but you wouldn’t find a ship other than the Tuatha de Danaan that could go faster than 50 knots. But Dejileny had never once been mistaken in his analyses so far. Even Mardukas recognized that.
Were they enemies?
That was a stupid question. Of course they were.
Mardukas took a deep breath.
“Contact the ground unit, then cut the communication cables. Turn to port, course 1-0-5, speed, 30 knots! Bottom rudder 20 degrees, depth, 200! We’re about to enter ASW!”*4
♦ ♦ ♦
December 24th, 23:25 (Japan Standard Time)
15 km East of the Tuatha de Danaan, Underwater
There was the high-pitched sound of the super-conductive propulsion system firing and the resulting turbulence. Cutting
through the pitch-black water, the three “Leviathan” ships came around, going at a speed that no existing normal ship could match.
“Shark 1 to all ships. It seems the TDD-1 has noticed us. We’ve stopped staying alongside the Pacific Chrysalis, and have changed course to 1-0-5,” said the man piloting “Shark 1”, one of the Leviathan ships.
A normal submarine traveling at high speed would not be able to perform decent reconnaissance because of its own noise, but his boat was different. He was already collecting the information from the scattered sonar buoys in the area without changing speed at all, and was about to find out the exact location of the enemy ship.
“Shark 2, roger. Capturing that ship will go exactly as planned...”
“Shark 3, roger. What a mediocre Captain. It doesn’t look like he realizes the difference between his abilities and ours,” said the two wingmen following a few hundred yards behind.
These vessels, which had completely turned the concept of what a submarine was upside down, often used tactical aircraft terminology. Actually, the concept of the Leviathan, plan 0601, would be better called “Underwater Fighter Crafts”.
There were only two crewmembers per ship. It was an entirely new weapons platform, using the operating technology of Arm Slaves, which would close in on the target at high speed and deliver an unavoidable blow. It could also be seen in close combat. The purpose of these “units” was to quickly bring down a slow vessel carrying several hundred people using their unparalleled mobility.
It was a streamlined vessel; its shape suggested the idea of a throwing knife. Its outward appearance looked like a scaled-down Tuatha de Danaan, but there were close combat fighting
arms on both sides. The Leviathan was capable of grabbing its target and wielding a monomolecular cutter against it.
So far, the ships that had gone up against these machines, whose marine battleground was predominated by ASes, had no way of opposing them. They had already sunk Indian and Soviet submarines in combat tests, as well as a few merchant ships.
All of them had been treated like accidents, but the people on the targeted vessels probably had not even known anything other than they had been attacked and killed.
The Shark fleet, which piloted the Leviathans, had yet to meet with very tough targets. Especially Shark 1, whose captain had originally been a sailor on one of England’s elite submarines. He had quit his original path of one day becoming a submarine captain because of his superior officer’s high-handedness, but now he was in charge of the world’s most powerful underwater vessel. He was very grateful to Amalgam, which had given him this ship.
The Tuatha de Danaan would probably be his greatest trophy. According to the information, the female captain of his only really formidable enemy wasn’t on the ship. The hunt wouldn’t be difficult.
Perhaps the one commanding that ship now would be him. That incompetent, nervous officer, who had made his life a living hell. The time had come to finally teach that bastard a lesson.
“I’ll show you...” He gave a secret, cruel smile from inside the cramped cockpit. “Now, as we planned, come at it from three sides... Break!”
The three ships, which formed a V-shape in the dark waters, deployed in three directions at the signal. They changed direction as sharply as a bird of prey. From the viewpoint of the Leviathans, their target’s movements were incredibly slow and helpless.
♦ ♦ ♦
December 24th, 23:27 (Japan Standard Time)
The Casino on the Pacific Chrysalis
“...now?” Sousuke whispered into his radio from the corner of the casino while aiming his Belgian-made submachine gun. The water from the sprinklers in the hall was now pouring down like rain.
“...not yet,” Kaname, who was drenched from head to toe, said in a shaky voice.
She was standing about a dozen meters away from the roulette wheel, with one of the Alastors standing directly in front of her. It was close enough that it would be able to knock her down with a single bound.
“Not yet. I’ll know when it’s a sure thing, so don’t interfere. Don’t worry.”
“But what if you’re wrong? Isn’t this enough? Get away from that thing, Chidori.”
“I’m saying this ‘cause it’s not enough...!” she said, raising her voice. Even Sousuke, who had the Alastor in his sight from a distance, heard it without the radio.
The robot drew closer to Kaname. Slowly.
All the Alastor had to do to tear Kaname in half was just step forward a few paces and attack. The sensor glowed dimly within its hood. Its gaze was focused straight on Kaname.
Sousuke had been involved in numerous bait operations, but this time, even though he kept fighting the impulse to pull the trigger, he was desperate.
But she’s completely new at this.
What if that iron scrap heap hit her with all its strength across the head? What if it used the rifle in its arm to take her out? It could just grab her by the throat and twist lightly-
He was surprised to find himself imagining these kinds of things.
Kaname had been in the middle of several battles already. So why did he always get like this? Whenever she was put in a dangerous situation, Sousuke would lose his cool. His feelings would flare up, and his blood would boil. But he didn’t get like this when it was one of his fellow soldiers.
He squinted. Through the haze of the light rain, he could see Kaname standing completely still in front of the Alastor; the water dripping down the side of her face, and her slender shoulders shivering slightly. The dim, white lights shone over her.
Looking at her almost symbolic figure, he suddenly realized something. It was completely abrupt, out-of-place and unexpected.
There was no logic to it. It was because she was special.
He thought she was strong. He thought she was beautiful. He wanted to protect her.
Peace, hope, and longing. All three were synonyms for her.
He wanted her for himself. He couldn’t stand for anyone else to do as they pleased with her. Especially the enemy.
Well, he was here, now, feeling that way. That fact in and of itself was enough.
He finally understood-
Her voice interrupted his epiphany.
“Ah... wait. Huh...? Tessa? I’m kind of busy at the moment-”
“Huh...? What is it, Chidori?”
The tone of her voice suddenly changed, and over the radio, she mumbled, “I’m sorry, Miss Kaname. The situation is... well, dangerous. But, well... I understand. I’ll leave it to you-”
What was she saying?
It was strange- like that time in the Lady Chapel in the depths of the de Danaan. She spoke like a completely different person- no, like Tessa, having a conversation with someone.
But Sousuke didn’t get the chance to wonder about it any longer than that. Kaname soon came back to herself, then yelled out, “Now, Sousuke!”
In his sight, Sousuke saw as the robot tried to reach out for Kaname.
He shot without any hesitation. It hit, and the enemy turned in Sousuke’s direction. Kurz started an all out gunfight from the other direction.
“Run!” Sousuke yelled as he pulled the pin out of a flash grenade.
♦ ♦ ♦
Even though he was handling all sorts of problems, Clouseau found himself in a dire situation. From the evacuation of the hostages, giving orders to his subordinates, dealing with the enemies that were coming after them, not being able to contact the ship, and the situation with the vault room, they just kept coming, one right after another-
“Team Golf, retreat from E13 to E15, as slowly as you can. Don’t give up the path to E14. Gebo 9, nothing on Santa Claus yet? Leading Kano 6 is your top priority-” he instructed as he fired.
The empty ammunition cartridge that his gun spit out fell to the floor, and the smell of gunpowder filled the corridor. The black
shadow on the other side of the hallway quickly jumped back, hiding behind the corner.
That bastard robot. It’s trying to make me use up all my bullets, isn’t it?
It was learning.
Just then, he received the transmission he had been hoping for. It was Tessa. She was using the on-board telephone in the ladies’ restroom, and the communication was patched through from the radio in the bridge.
“Uruz 1, this is Ansuz. Report.”
“Captain? Where have you been? That passenger-”
Tessa quickly cut him off in a hushed voice.
“I’m still with him. When there’s time, I’ll tell you about it. You don’t need to worry about him. Anyway, those robots have shown up, haven’t they?”
“Yes, ma’am. Probably more than 10 of them.”
“Go to where Angel’s mission is.”
How did she know about that? She hadn’t been able to contact them up till now- but Clouseau didn’t have the time to wonder further.
“However, have Team Golf stand by in G10. Since there will be a hole in the perimeter right there, Corporal Yang will be better equipped than you to handle it. Those robots are more cunning that you guys think.”
The sound of her commanding voice, which Clouseau was hearing for the first time, stopped all of his doubts. Since he could think about all this stuff later, for now she was his superior officer worthy of his trust.
She then fired off a line of questions at him in rapid succession.
“What about the hostages’ evacuation?”
“We haven’t been able to locate him yet.”
“We haven’t been able to open it yet.”
“The de Danaan?”
For a moment, Clouseau didn’t know what to say.
That’s right. That was what else he had to worry about after those robots.
“They told me ‘Three super-high speed underwater ships capable of going 50 knots are approaching. Their objective is probably sinking the de Danaan. The head ship is moving to attack right now.’ Right now the Commander has taken command of the ship.”
Like most ground soldiers, Clouseau was an amateur where submarine battle was concerned. But the enemy that the de Danaan was going up against was dangerous- he understood that much.
And there were three of them. This was the greatest threat that the de Danaan had faced since its commission. And the one who had brought the ship through the many crises it had faced had been none other than the child prodigy, Teletha Testarossa.
But she wasn’t there right now. She couldn’t give orders or advice.
It’s a hopeless battle...
It was pretty clear that with such an undistinguished commander in charge, that it would be very-
“It seems there’s no choice but to leave it to him,” Tessa said in a persistently calm voice.
“Yes. However, the Commander-”
“Mr. Clouseau. Do you know what Commander Mardukas was called during his time in the Royal Navy?”
“He was called ‘The Duke’. His ship was peaceful. His tactics were cool-headed. An invincible submariner who played the field like a chessboard. He has been decorated several times for secret combat situations that have no documentation left. There isn’t anyone who has fought underwater that hasn’t heard of ‘The Duke’.”
“That’s the Commander?”
“Did you think he was just another nagging technicality monger?” Tessa said in a cheerful voice, despite the emergency situation. “I have heard that when it comes time for him to really get down to business, ‘The Duke’ has a small habit. Unfortunately, I’ve never even seen it myself, but perhaps some of my crew will get to see it today.”
♦ ♦ ♦
About the Same Time
The Tuatha de Danaan
For the first time in six years, Richard Mardukas performed this habit.
With the fingertips on his right hand, he grabbed the brim of his hat. The left hand did the same to the back. He slowly turned the hat 180 degrees, until his hands had finally changed positions-
The switch was complete.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is battle,” Richard Mardukas informed them as his squinted eyes ran across the screen. “It looks like the enemy thinks we are its prey. Big, sluggish prey. However, we’re going to make them see who the real prey is in this. Our lady of a warship is the dominating queen of death here in the deep.”
He paused for a moment.
“FCO! ADSLMM one and two, loaded!”
“Load all of the MVLS with the ‘maglocks’.”
“Aye, Sir. Loading all of the MVLS with maglocks.”
“Maneuvering, set course 2-0-5 to port.”
“Aye, Sir. Setting course 2-0-5 to port.”
“FCO. On my signal, open doors on tubes one and two.”
“Aye, Sir. Ready.”
“Maneuvering, suspend EMFC, and slow down your advance. Sonar room- let me know when there’s cavitation.”
Then everything became a mysterious spell that only they understood. A battle ritual held by priests in ancient times. Those clusters of words woke up the enormous, sleeping power in the ship.
The sonar room reported, “Con, sonar... cavitation in estimated five seconds. 2, 1... cavitating!”
“Open doors one and two.”
“Aye, opening doors one and two.”
“Uh... Commander, we are in full view of the enemy,” said the deck officer, Lieutenant Godart, uneasily.
“They’ve been able to see us. Tubes one and two, fire.”
“Aye. ADSLMM, fire one. Fire two.”
The self-propelled mines launched from the torpedo tubes. They were weapons that silently made their way to the set
coordinates, then quietly waited for the enemy- but their top speed was 20 knots, which was one-third the speed of the enemy.
Things were going well because the smart mines they fired were masked by the noise caused by the de Danaan’s high speed, which occurred when it disabled the EMFC (electromagnetic fluid control)- but the course of the mines was completely different from the enemy’s path.
“Keep going like this. After 20 seconds, activate the EMFC at Lieutenant Dean’s signal. After that, continue forward at one-third power, decelerating to 20 knots.”
“Commander, if we do that, then the enemy’s attacks will-” the navigation officer said.
“There isn’t time, Lieutenant Dean.”
“A... aye, Sir. EMFC, on my mark. 5, 4, 3- contact.”
“Contact. EMFC, activating,” the AMC officer replied. The turbulence noise around the ship was hidden by the electromagnetic power of the EMFC.
“That’s good. However, the enemy still sees us. Sonar room, keep your ears open.”
“Course 2-9-5, depth, 120. Up-angle, 20 degrees.”
“Aye, Sir. Course, 2-9-5, depth, 120. Up-angle, 20 degrees,” Mardukas commanded, and his subordinates read the orders back.
Mardukas, without smiling as the reports were obediently given, said quietly, “Very well. Ladies and gentleman, we can’t be deceived by the enemy’s speed. Impatience leads to irreversible error. Enjoy this moment.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The Pacific Chrysalis
After she finished giving directions to Clouseau and left the ladies’ restroom, Tessa found Sailor standing right in front of her.
“You’re late,” he growled at her, but his tone was strangely quiet.
Right now, since the two of them were in the lower layer of the front side of the ship, there wasn’t anyone else around. Ever since the explosion they heard earlier, there had been the sound of furious gunfire in the distance.
When he had heard the gunshots, Sailor made a fuss saying, “The Navy Special Forces have rushed in! But it’s too early- in a two-hour movie, this would be about the 60 minute mark. They’ll get annihilated for sure, if we don’t go to save them.”
Expressly letting an unreasonable soldier such as this one plunge into a danger zone was too thoughtless. It was for that reason that Tessa kept stalling, give him all sorts of excuses. Every time he would become instantly irritated, but-
“I-I’m sorry you had to wait. Well, then, shall we go?” Tessa said nonchalantly.
“We’ll go later,” he replied.
“Huh? Is there a problem?”
His impetuousness had settled down a while ago. His face darkened, glaring at Tessa with a serious expression.
“I may not look it, but my hearing is pretty good. I can’t say that I heard everything, but I did catch some stuff. Who were you talking to?”
Submachine gun in hand, Sailor stepped closer to Tessa.
“You mentioned ‘The Duke’, as well as his real name. How does an ordinary maid like you know Mr. Mardukas?”
“He’s the man who saved the submarine I was serving on back when I was a deck officer. While on an operation in the Barents Sea, there was an accident and we were attacked by the Soviet Navy and almost sank. The one who saved us was the Captain of the nuclear submarine, the Turbulent- ‘The Duke’. After the affair had been settled, my Captain- Commander Testarossa, was grateful, respectful, joked with him, and gave him a hat like ours with the Turbulent’s insignia on it.”
Tessa was stunned by his words, so much so that she forgot the precariousness of her situation. This meant that Sailor had been one of her late father’s subordinates. And Mardukas had been friends with her father, as well.
Mardukas had never mentioned this to her at all.
“I heard that he became an executive for a shipping company after he retired, but- what were you talking about? Is he on this ship? I don’t understand- there’s a lot you’re hiding from me, isn’t there!?”
“O-of course there’s one or two things that a girl would hide- umm, could you please not put your face so close? You smell like a cigar.”
Tessa turned away from Sailor, who was now snorting violently, with a look of suffocation.
“Don’t screw with me! Just who are you!? If you don’t speak up now, I’ll tie you up and throw you in the men’s bathroom!”
He seemed to be serious. She didn’t even have the time to be strangely disturbed. It probably would be best if she just explained to him her position and the basic situation, then ask for his cooperation. Even though everyone else was having such a hard time, the fact that she herself was spending forever in some
weird comedy with this middle-aged man would most certainly stick to her reputation for a long time in the squad.
That being said-
“You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“That’s for me to decide! So spill it already, everything. ASAP!”
“Well... the truth is, I’m a submarine Captain, just like you.”
“I’m being serious here!”
“See? I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Of course not! Are you an agent for the CIA or some other organization? If you’re trying to steal the credit for this from me-”
Then he stopped.
At the head of the gloomy corridor stood a large man wearing a hooded coat. Pale light glowed from the thin slit in its head.
Tessa knew what the robot was at first glance. It must have managed to slip through Clouseau’s defenses to get this far.
The Alastor silently approached them. One step, then another.
“Eh? Who are you? What’s that on your face? Hey, stop right there. Can’t you see this!?”
Sailor pointed his submachine gun loaded with rubber bullets at it.
“No, don’t! Throw away your gun!” Tessa yelled as she grabbed for the gun- but she was too late. In response to Sailor’s hostile action, the robot suddenly leaned over and pointed its internal left-arm rifle at them.
The enemy fired. It was his good luck that Tessa’s leap knocked him off-balance. At that moment, three bullets passed
right by Sailor’s head, hitting the wall behind him and scattering sparks everywhere.
Bnnn... its propulsion system hummed. Without firing anymore than that, the enemy rushed them, coat flapping.
Tessa immediately put herself in between the robot and Sailor. Based on what she knew from her “resonance” with Kaname, she guessed that the robot wouldn’t be after her.
She didn’t even have time to breathe before the Alastor had brought its right arm up across her tiny frame, hitting her into the wall. It was probably taking it easy on her, but- even so, for a small girl like Tessa, it was a terrible blow.
She felt the wind get knocked out of her. Everything went black, and she couldn’t tell up from down or right from left anymore.
She could hear Sailor yell out as he started firing wildly. Countless numbers of rubber bullets bounced off the walls and rained over Tessa as she fell face down on the floor.
Her head spinning, she shook her head a little as she raised herself up; she then found that the enemy had its bulky arm wrapped around Sailor’s throat.
“Mr. Sailor!? Stop it! Stop!”
Tessa got up and grabbed onto the robot’s arm, dangling from it. But no matter how they tried hitting it or scratching it, the robot took no notice of either of their attempts to harm it.
“I’m... gonna die...”
“Stop it, please!!” Tessa cried, and then- the robot loosened its grip.
Sailor pushed himself away from the Alastor’s chest for dear life. He and Tessa stumbled and fell down, but their opponent didn’t attack them after that.
Appearing to have completely lost interest in them, the Alastor slowly looked up at the ceiling back behind them, in the direction of the upper deck at the front of the ship.
In the next instant, the robot suddenly turned around and leapt, breaking through the ceiling. Bits and pieces of plasterboard and pipe rained down as dust enveloped the area. There was only a gaping hole above them after that.
It was gone.
Did its architect program it to listen to her entreaties? No, that couldn’t be it. He wasn’t that type of person anymore.
If that was the case- then the feint was a success.
Miss Kaname, Mr. Sagara... please do your best, she prayed deep within her heart.
Sailor finally stopped coughing and started cursing.
“Ehh... what in the hell was that!? That bastard’s unbelievably strong... cough.”
“Are you okay, Mr. Sailor?”
“Not at all! What’s happening on this ship!? What the hell are those things!? And who are you!?”
He’s involved this far, now. Time to just go ahead and tell him everything- she thought, but as soon as she did she heard someone else’s voice.
“That girl is the Captain of the ‘Toy Box’, Sir. The leader of the terrorists.”
They turned around to find Captain Harris standing there. He was holding a German-made automatic revolver.
Sailor gave a dubious look from beside the solemn Tessa.
“Captain. Where have you been hiding? Also... what did you say just now? The Captain? Of the ‘Toy Box’? Leader? This girl? I don’t understand all of this nonsense-”
“I’m afraid there isn’t enough time to explain, and that I’ll need to leave you here.”
Harris fired nonchalantly. Immediately following the sound of the dry gunshot, Sailor dropped down heavily to the floor.
Blood pooled on the floor. Sailor let out a small groan of “Damn... run away... strange maid.”
“Mr. Sailor!? No! Hang in there!”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but... run away...”
“I won’t! I’ll get some help-”
“There won’t be any need for that.”
Harris coolly pointed the muzzle of his gun at Tessa as she clung to Sailor.
“This ship is going down. That’s what I would do if I were an executive in Amalgam. If this ship goes down in the sea in this weather, there won’t be any way to save it.”
“How could you? He saved you when you were our prisoner out of a sense of justice.”
Harris just shrugged at her glare of disapproval.
“Oh, well. He just wanted to play hero and cause problems. A loser. And let us not forget that the ones who got him as well as all of the other passengers and crew involved was none other than your Mithril.”
“But there’s no time. I’ve given up trying to get Kaname Chidori. I’ve decided to take you instead. If I bring them the Captain of the Tuatha de Danaan, then the organization will be understanding.”
He was planning on escaping, and taking her with him. He was going to throw away his passengers, crew and ship and run away.
“You coward. You’re unworthy of being a seaman...! Compared to Commander Sailor, you’re the loser!” Tessa criticized, but Harris just grinned and came up beside her.
“Wow, I was such an idiot. I didn’t notice at all when I was yelling at you on the observation deck when we first set out. Who’d have thought that the rumored Testarossa woman would be a little girl who was so pathetic and weak that keeping her down would be simple?”
His arm reached out for her neck.
♦ ♦ ♦
Kaname ran up the stairs.
Holding onto the handrails, which were painted in rustproof white paint, she flew up three flights of stairs.
She wondered how much further it would be until they reached the top deck. In actuality, it really wasn’t that far up- but right now, for Kaname, this ship seemed like a 100 story skyscraper.
“Don’t stop, keep running!”
From behind her, Sousuke stopped, aimed at a pursuer, and shot. The sound of gunshots pierced the air, making it hard to catch what they were yelling.
“Haa, haa... for god’s sake...! Who came up with such a plan!?”
“You did,” said Kurz, finishing the joke as he shot his submachine gun.
Both Sousuke and Kurz, with a nicely timed tempo, alternated firing at the Alastors coming after Kaname.
“Uruz 7 to all units! We’re coming out at the jogging track! Don’t shoot at us! There are three enemies visible at present- no, now there are four! Team Echo will come from starboard-”
Sousuke speedily informed his allies over the radio. Now out of breath, Kaname made her way up the top flight of stairs, throwing the door wide open.
We’ve finally made it to the top. The moment she thought this, she saw an Alastor standing right in front of her.
I-it anticipated us...!? Oh n-
A rain of bullets suddenly poured in as the Alastor made a grab for Kaname. She was attacked by the sparks as well as the ear-piercing sound of shells grating against bulletproof armor.
“This is Team Golf! We somehow managed to make it in time. Hurry and get Angel to safety- you hear that, Kaname!? Run, run, run!!” yelled a Mithril soldier holding a gun- she remembered that his name was Yang- from his position only five meters to her right. He was in the corner of a corridor that led to the fitness center.
Sousuke grabbed Kaname and ran in the opposite direction. The Alastor tried to attack Yang and the others, but Kurz fired to distract it. Just when they thought they had managed to escape the
enemy’s clutches, another Alastor appeared out of the darkness, rushing at Kaname and Sousuke.
One right after another they appeared, chasing after them. Just how many of those things are there? She didn’t even have time to catch her breath.
Right now, they were on the upper part of the ship- a huge rooftop deck. There were dual tennis courts and basketball courts. Kaname again found herself amazed by the sheer size of the ship.
“Run! Hurry-! Eh?”
When they looked back, they saw not one, but three Alastors pursuing them, as well as Yang’s group making a hasty retreat. Kurz was also being chased after, the enemy showering him with bullets. He dove behind a nearby bench, then ran into the darkness as if he were being followed by a point-blank range impact.
“Don’t stop! Keep going!”
Kaname frantically pushed on. She tripped over her own legs and fell down, but Sousuke roughly grabbed her arm as he ran, half dragging her along. She cried out “That hurts” and “Lemme go”, but he didn’t seem to hear any of it.
“Stand up, partner! The goal is close!” he encouraged.
Partner. Really, what a boorish, unrefined word to use for a member of the opposite sex in a relationship. While she thought that, Kaname also reluctantly admitted- well, it probably suits us better than “honey” or “darling”.
Thinking such a thing in these circumstances...!
“What kind of Christmas is this!?” Kaname yelled to the heavens, amidst the gunshots, explosions and screams.
Okay, at this age, it’s okay to admit it. I love him. But why is it I’m only sure of it now? Of this trust. I can’t deny it in the middle of this gunfire.
And tonight is Christmas.
Right about now, ordinary Japanese couples would probably be talking about their enchanting love with one another. There would be a beautiful night view and music full of emotion. A wonderful dinner and a loving conversation. It would be like a scene straight out of a Tatsuro Yamashita ballad. Even she longed for something like that just a little bit.
But I’m with this guy!
They were being chased by mysterious robots, flinching at the shells flying past them at point-blank range, and completely concentrating on just running. They were both dripping wet and running all over the place!
Who’s ever heard of a couple like this!?
Really, why does it have to be Christmas!? "What about my youth- my 17th Christmas Eve!?"
“It was something in a former life! One of us must have done something terrible in a former life!!”
“I don’t really understand, but it’s not a problem!”
“It’s a big problem!! What’s happened to my youth- my seventeenth Christmas Eve!?”
“You think so? I think this night seems a lot like you, actually.”
“I can’t take this anymore-!!”
“Why are you laughing?”
Then the two of them stopped.
There was a wall ahead of them. The smokestack, called the funnel, rose into the sky right in front of them. Behind them were the open tennis courts. They looked back, gasping for breath, and found that approximately eleven Alastors had fanned out and surrounded them.
Clouseau chimed in on the radio.
“Uruz 1 to Uruz 7. Most of the other teams are out of ammunition, and won’t be able to cover you. I wish you luck.”
“Uruz 7, roger.”
Slowly, the eleven Alastors closed the gap. They were crouched down low, so as to be able to leap out at any time. They had their arm-machine guns out, aiming straight at Sousuke and Kaname.
“Seems they’ve cornered us.”
“Yes. Exactly as we planned, exactly as we planned.”
From up above, there was the faint sound of something scraping against metal, but Kaname didn’t really hear it. Clinging to Sousuke’s arm, she looked out at the group of Alastors.
“They’re gonna kill us.”
“You’re the one who guaranteed they wouldn’t.”
“Well, I’m not so sure now. Besides, you’re the one who’s in more danger, aren’t you!?”
Kaname said, clearly upset.
Without answering her, Sousuke quietly whispered over his radio, “It’s Uruz 7. You’re coming, right?”
There was no reply for a moment. Then the synthetic sound of a man’s deep voice answered, <Affirmative. I have arrived at my station. I was worried that I would not get my turn.>
“How many times have I told you to stop with the pretend-human talk?”
<How many times have I advised you that jokes are necessary in this type of dangerous situation?>
“...if we make it out of this alright, I’m going to dismantle you this time for sure.”
<Regrettably, Sergeant, you do not have the authority to do so.>
The Alastors stood ready. They were about to attack any minute. Sousuke clicked his tongue, then said to his partner on the other end of the line, “They’re coming. Permission to fire at targets. Shoot, shoot, shoot!!”
<Roger. Fire at will!>
Sousuke muttered, “What kind of will do you have, you idiot?”- but those words were erased by an unimaginably loud, thunderous storm.
Suddenly, from the top of the funnel, there came a firestorm of large 12.7mm bullets over Kaname and Sousuke’s heads. They were powerful shells that rendered the rifles and submachine guns used by Sousuke and the others useless. These warheads could easily shoot out a solid military engine. They weren’t for use against humans, but rather for destroying lightweight military vehicles.
Those bullets were shot out in a large quantity at a speed of 30 shells per second.
The barrage from the violent skies started again. From the right side of the robots to the left; then from left to right.
Small pieces of debris rained down all over Sousuke, who was lying on top of Kaname to shield her. The group of robots surrounding them were destroyed in a moment.
It seemed that several of the robots tried to self-destruct, but it wasn’t enough to even hurt Sousuke and Kaname, who were lying in a drainage ditch in the corner of the court.
The Alastors were mostly smashed to bits now.
Somehow one of the Alastors had escaped the fatal blow, and was using its remaining limbs to make its way closer to its target, Kaname, and Sousuke, who was standing protectively in front of her, but-
Suddenly, the robot was flattened as if smashed by an enormous invisible hammer. The air above it shimmered like the haze on a summer day.
<All targets completely destroyed. Your orders?> said the voice over the radio.
“Cease fire. Stand alert on master mode 4.”
<Roger. Hold fire. Mode 4, stay alert, ready.>
<Roger. ECS, off.>
Above the mercilessly smashed wreckage that no longer had even a visible shadow- in that space, a pale, light spot spread out. Instantly, that spot took form, and finally changed into the shape of a single AS.
It was the ARX-7 Arbalest.
It was bent down on its knee in the middle of the thick, black smoke, with the remains of the last Alastor still underneath it.
“...amazing,” Kaname said loudly without thinking, her face frowning because of the ringing in her ears from the gunfire.
When she had told them the strategy to lure and gather the robots to the only open place on the ship to deal with them, Sousuke and the others said, “We’ll use the AS on the helicopter overhead”. However, even though they were well aware of it, the AS’s overwhelming firepower had surprised even them.
Nevertheless, all it had taken for the Arbalest to wipe out the Alastors, which had given the flesh and blood humans so much trouble, was to use the two 12.7mm machine guns built into its head. These fixtures were low power weapons that weren’t particularly useful in a fight with another AS.
One could only imagine the destructive capability of the high power equipment- the 40mm rifle or the 57mm shot cannon that the AS used. Just that alone was enough to make one’s head spin. Their mobility and firepower. That the AS was called “the strongest ground weapon” was no exaggeration.
“Is it over?”
“Yes. What a wonderful view, too,” Sousuke mumbled as he rose up in the midst of the black smoke, putting his hands on his hips. “Although the view would be better without the backside of that annoying AS.”
Kaname just gave him a blank look, out of either relief or surprise, and the Arbalest responded over the radio, <Sergeant, when you say ‘that annoying AS’, do you mean me?>
<Completed. Would you like to know the results?>
“I’m not interested.”
<Roger. I will input any valuable data regarding the autonomous combat function displayed by myself and these machines.>
“Good work. That is all.”
<Training message. Please tell me the meaning of ‘good work’.>
“Try guessing. After that, be quiet until you are given orders.”
<Roger. But I do so reluctantly.>
“I said be quiet.”
The Arbalest’s AI was silent.
Kaname, who had listened to the exchange quietly, thought What a weird operator and AS... For some reason, it sounded a little like an ordinary conversation between Sousuke and herself.
Ahh, I see.
Kaname realized deep down.
This Lambda Driver-equipped AS had been designed to be as close as possible to the passenger, so that it could understand and synchronize with the passenger’s mentality and emotions. It didn’t just copy them. It “matched up” with them. As long as that continued, this machine could efficiently amplify them from a chain reaction from the Omni Sphere. Compared to the enemy’s weapons, which could only perform the limited functions it began with, the ARX-7 held many possibilities.
The person who made this machine- Tessa had called him ‘Bani’- he was, of course, a very capable dreamer. She knew that he had liked Tessa, too.
At Sousuke’s voice, Kaname came back to herself. Those thoughts had been a twinkle of light for just a moment.
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
“Ah... no, I’m fine. But what about everyone from our school? And Tessa..”
In the next instant, Kaname felt a new sensation flowing through her, and her body froze.
“Miss Kaname. I’m sorry to keep doing this. You did very well. I’m glad. But something terrible has happened. Please send a medic to the starboard corridor in H21 right away. There is a
casualty. He will need a lot of blood. At this rate, Mr. Sailor will die.”
“I had also wanted you to send my subordinates to the observation deck on C16, but- they probably wouldn’t make it in time. Harris has me, and he’s almost finished making preparations to escape. This is probably good-bye.”
“I’m ashamed at my own helplessness. I wish I were as strong as you. Please be strong for everyone. You are probably the only one who can take my place. And concerning Mr. Sagara... ah... that’s all...”
The resonance ended.
There was a pain in her right cheek, as well as the pain of handcuffs. And then the impression of that Captain’s slimy grin was all that was left.
1. From what I read in Japanese, the lyrics sounded like a rough translation of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”- although I can’t be sure, this is my best guess.
2. 165 cm = 5’4”; 50 kg = 110 lbs
3. The thermo cline is a transition layer between deep and surface water; 50 knots = 58 mp/h
4. ASW = Anti-Submarine Warfare