Full Metal Panic! - Volume 6 - Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Sleepless Holy Night 
December 24th, 23:35 (Japan Standard Time) 
Off the Coast of Izu Island, Underwater, Shark 1 
Shark 1 inferred from the information it had received from the deployed sonobuoys that the Tuatha de Danaan was making a desperate feint. It changed course and speed frequently, probably to try to confuse the Shark’s TMA (Target Motion Analysis). 
It was a foolish decision. Did he really think that using textbook underwater battle tactics would work against these Leviathans? 
Opening an encrypted line used in shallow underwater communication, Shark 1 sent orders to his subordinates. 
“B240, D300, Code 13. 
“Course 240. Go to a depth of 300, then attack the target from 3 sides. Permission to use high-speed torpedoes.” 
Ten seconds later, he received a “Roger” from both of the other Sharks. 
From the back seat, the “co-pilot” of Shark 1 activated the firearms control system. 
The weapons loaded on the Leviathans were Soviet-made ultra high-speed torpedoes called “Buryas”, which could reach speeds of 120 knots. They could reach an enemy at more than double the speed of the torpedoes currently used by the Western powers. It would be impossible for even the Tuatha de Danaan to shake off these missiles. 
The ship’s AI informed him that they were in optimal firing range. The other two ships had also snuck in to the same distance. 
Even a quick submarine like the de Danaan would have no chance if it were hit by Buryas from three different directions. 
He released the final safety device and pulled the trigger. 
There was a heavy shock, and the super high-speed torpedo that the Leviathan had been carrying shot out of the firing tube, heading towards the de Danaan. 
How easy. Extremely easy... 
Shark 1 chuckled. 
Then, aiming towards the waters where the Pacific Chrysalis was, he began preparing the equipment for the next task. Regular torpedoes would be enough for this. 
He didn’t know who was on that ship. He didn’t really care. He would follow his orders and destroy it. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Tuatha de Danaan 
The de Danaan’s deck officer, Lieutenant Godart, appeared very calm on the outside, but on the inside, his heart was beating violently against his chest. 
Without any warning, they had suddenly found themselves in an almost hopeless battle. Just a few minutes ago, they had believed that there were no enemies in the sea which could threaten this ship at its best. But now...! 
The enemies’ speed was over 50 knots. And there were three of them. 
More than likely, their top speed was better than the de Danaan’s. And this enemy- if this was normal- was blatantly disregarding the rules of combat. It was unthinkable to sneak in to try and strike the deathblow. 
A hit and run, huh? 
Draw in close with unbelievable speed, immediately striking with an insane amount of firepower. Then, once everything had been speedily taken care of, withdraw from the battlefield. 
And all in a very short time. It would be impossible for an ordinary submarine, but these enemies could do it. If he himself hadn’t been acquainted with the de Danaan’s abilities, Godart wouldn’t have believed that such tactics were possible. 
Compared to these small ships, which possessed the mobility of your average torpedo, the de Danaan was just too big. On paper, if this type of situation were presented, there would be no way to win. But no one would even hypothesize this kind of fight in the first place. 
Godart glanced at acting-Captain Commander Mardukas’ appearance. He was standing silently in the middle of the command center with a melancholic look on his face. He was probably guessing at how powerful the enemy was from the data they had collected so far. 
His dark expression made Godart feel increasingly uneasy. 
What’s going on... 
The enemy’s movements were linear, meaning they were confident in their victory. Why the arrogance? Were they carrying some other kind of unbelievable weapon? 
The sonar room answered that question. 
“Con, sonar! Torpedo! Heading 0-4-9! From Mike 13!” 
“Can you tell what type? And how fast?” Mardukas asked, unsurprised by the enemy’s attack. 
“Wait a moment... impossible. It’s going too fast. More than likely, over 100 knots...!? This kind of torpedo doesn’t exist. What in the hell-” 
“It’s a ‘Burya’.” 
Godart raised his eyebrow when he heard the Commander’s words. 
“It’s a Soviet-made super high-speed torpedo. It creates an air bubble around itself and uses a rocket motor for propulsion. It probably uses a wired guidance system. It seems that occasionally the Intelligence Department can do their job.” 
“Bu... but Captain, even if we know what it is, we won’t be able to shake it off at that speed.” 
“It’s strange that a ship could shake off a torpedo to start with. It’s nothing to make a fuss about.” 
Mardukas darted an angry look at Godart. 
“Don’t panic, Lieutenant. If you panic, you’ll bother me. If I’m bothered, then this ship will sink. I’m sorry, but this time there won’t be time to argue about the details of battle tactics while I’m giving you gentlemen instructions. Obey without thinking. Quickly, and loyally.” 
“Y... yes, Sir.” 
“Very well. Then set course 1-3-5. Slowly speed up to 60 knots. Don’t worry about cavitation. Open door to torpedo tube number three. Cancel all safety devices.” 
“A... aye, Sir!” he replied, and repeated all of the orders. 
<Estimated 60 seconds to contact> 
Handling the complex target motion analysis, the mother AI began the final countdown. Then the sonar room yelled out as if they had been hit. 
“There’s two more torpedoes! One each from Mikes 14 and 15! The same kind as the other! Their directions are 0-6-8 and 0-8-9!” 
The enemy torpedoes that were currently heading towards the de Danaan were astronomically more powerful than the ones used by the American submarine during the Perio Islands incident. He wasn’t even sure they could dodge just one- but now there were three of them coming from three directions. 
There was no time. Only about 50 seconds. 
Even so, from what Godart could tell, Mardukas didn’t seem to be upset. He just stood there staring sullenly at the multi-purpose screen like a student of codes in front of a seemingly meaningless sequence of information. 
None of that data showed a way for the ship to escape. 
Unless- Godart thought- the Commander sees something the rest of us don’t...? 
“We’ve passed 50 knots.” 
“What’s the course of the torpedo from M13?” 
Right now, the de Danaan was moving on a course almost perpendicular to the course of the torpedo. The torpedo was correcting its route little by little as it made its way straight towards them. 
“Now... 40 seconds left!” 
Then, in a tone of voice that made him sound more like he was ordering lunch in a restaurant than fighting a battle, Mardukas replied, “That will do. Full stop. All ahead port. Course, 0-4-5.” 
“Aye, Sir! Full stop! All ahead port! Course, 0-4-5! ...what!?” 
Even though he diligently carried out the orders, the executive officer’s expression radically changed. This was because Mardukas’ orders were moving them into a course that faced the incoming torpedo head on. 
“Weapon’s control. When we’ve reached course 0-4-5, fire torpedo number three.” 
“B-but at that distance, the safety devices will-” 
“Five degrees more.” 
“Aye, Sir! ...Firing number three!” 
The torpedo rushed out of the firing tube. Immediately, Mardukas ordered, “Start engines, all back full. Activate EMFC.” 
“Full reverse!” 
“EMFC, contact!” 
The speed of the enormous ship suddenly decreased. It pulled away from the fired torpedo at full speed, stopped before long, then began to retreat. But the enemy torpedo had closed in on them. Was he trying to ambush it? 
Godart went pale. It would be impossible to attack a torpedo coming that fast with their torpedo. Because of the enormous amount of water pressure, as well as the torpedo’s explosive power, the blast radius would be very small. Unlike its fellow anti-aircraft missiles, whose blast could scatter debris for dozens of yards, if the torpedo didn’t hit its target almost exactly, then it would cause no damage. 
It wasn’t as if the Commander didn’t know that. Then why was he- 
“All hands, brace for impact,” Mardukas said in an even tone of voice over the ship intercom, then gripped the armrest of the Captain’s chair right beside him. Godart hastily followed his lead. 
On the main screen, the marks of the approaching enemy torpedo as well as the torpedo they had just shot were at a distance where they would make contact in a few seconds. 
“FCO. You’re calm, right?” 
“Y... yes, Sir!” the fire control officer replied in a high-pitched voice. 
“Very well. Detonate torpedo three. Right now.” 
“Aye, Sir!” 
The torpedo exploded just short of the enemy torpedo, right in front of the ship. A tremendous roar and shock wave hit the de Danaan. The ship shook as if had taken several hundred jabs, and the crew was tossed around. 
Godart nervously poured over the wavering main screen while gripping his seat. 
Intercept failed. Their torpedo had exploded before the enemy torpedo had passed. 
Because of the tempestuous noise caused by countless numbers of bubbles, he couldn’t confirm its existence, but it was probably still alive. And it now it would be aiming for them at high speed. 
According to the countdown, there was one second left- 
“Next. All back stop. Move forward at two-thirds power. Course, 0-6-7. Surface to periscope depth,” Mardukas said through the noise. His tone of voice stated that he had already moved onto the next level of the fight. 
Beginning with Godart, most of the crew looked doubtfully at each other. 
The enemy torpedo had disappeared. All of the data confirmed it. Even though their torpedo hadn’t hit it. 
“We’re past the first one. Number two and number three are on their way. We’re going to fight the others the same way. With the next interceptions, shoot all of the maglocks from the 
MVLS above the surface. Set all of the coordinates exactly as I give them. Understood?” 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Shark 1 
The pilot of Shark 1 was surprised. The Burya heading towards the “Toy Box” had been destroyed by the blast of the enemy’s torpedo. 
“Impossible... they knew?” 
One of the Burya’s few weaknesses. 
In order to displace the enormous amount of water pressure created by the amazing speed at which it traveled through the water, the Burya formed a large bubble-membrane around itself. That balance was very delicate- if it were hit by a momentary explosive impulse from a certain distance, the sudden turbulence which beat against it would render it flightless. 
Just like a plane going into a tailspin. 
Once the balance has been destroyed, the Burya is unable to protect itself from the power of the water and its own speed tears itself in two. 
The commanding officer on the Tuatha de Danaan noticed this weakness.  
Shark 1 hadn’t been surprised for long before the enemy ship had moved onto its next course of action. And the de Danaan was using the same method as before to attack the approaching Buryas from Sharks 2 and 3. 
There were numerous explosions in the distance, causing a deep-sea concerto of ear piercing noise. The racket caused by the 
birth of millions of bubbles completely masked the sound of the de Danaan’s movements. 
This is bad. 
He couldn’t see the enemy. First, he would have to decelerate to eliminate the noise, then listen carefully. Shark 1 suspended its high speed cruising. The loud turbulence disappeared, and in the deep, dark silence, Shark 1 concentrated on the data from the sonobuoy. 
He didn’t know where it was, but the de Danaan was probably still out there. There was no doubt that they were lying still in the area around where the explosions occurred. However, if he took offensive measures, he would soon find out their position. 
“Be careful. If we find them first, victory will be ours...” 
The area of ocean which had been filled with noise until a moment ago, suddenly became a quiet, pitch black void. 
His two allies had also dropped speed, cruising along silently. 
“The bubbles around the enemy ship have cleared away. Let’s set sonobuoy to active to confirm their position,” his co-pilot said from the back seat. 
“Good. There’s nothing our colleagues can do. We’ll calmly track down our enemy.” 
It seemed that the Buryas had been overkill, but he wouldn’t use the same trick twice. This time, if the enemy took the offensive, he would sense their position first, then deliver a blow that would be impossible to avoid. He would challenge them to close combat. 
In any case, that ship would meet its watery grave. 
“They won’t know what hit ‘em... heh heh heh.” 
Just after Shark 1 had gloated, he detected a new sound source. It sounded like each of his allies- Sharks 2 and 3- had been surrounded by five large splashing sounds. 
That was because something had dropped from the sky. 
It was- 
“Maglocks!? When did they...!?” 
Maglocks were anti-submarine missiles. Like Tomahawk missiles and Harpoon missiles, they were shot from underwater; after speeding along above the surface of the water, they reentered the water, used their sonar to lock on to the enemy submarine, and destroyed it. 
The de Danaan had shot out a large quantity of Maglocks without him noticing. 
Normally, he would have been able to detect the sound- a very large reverberation- of an enemy firing a group of missiles above the water. He could have used that time to take evasive maneuvers beforehand. Then it would have been a stalemate. 
However, Shark 1 had been completely unable to hear the sound of the de Danaan firing those missiles, because it had been masked by the sounds of the Buryas exploding. They had used the very short amount of time during which the shock waves had hit them, causing an enormous amount of noise- 
“It can’t be...” 
When he realized the level-headedness and audacity of the enemy commander, the pilot of Shark 1 shuddered. 
For his comrades, who had been taken by surprise, there was no chance. The torpedoes had been spread like a net in a small, several hundred-meter radius. That alignment was also so accurate it was god-like. 
Before they had time to exhibit their ostentatious high-speed capabilities, Sharks 2 and 3 were caught by the Maglocks that the de Danaan had shot and sunk. 
The ringing sounds of merciless explosions and noise confirmed it quite clearly. 
“A... all back flank. Course 2-7-5. Those Maglocks’ll get us if this continues!” his backseat co-pilot reported. Then, shaking off the unpleasant memories, Shark 1 thought again. 
But it’s okay. We’ve already fired an ADCAP at that passenger boat. It’s not like a Burya; it’s only a conventional torpedo, but it’ll be enough for that ship. 
It was less than five minutes to impact. It was proper that the most important mission be carried out. After this, the Pacific Chrysalis would go down along with its hundreds of passengers. And so would the de Danaan. He would have his revenge. 
“We’ll approach from the north and use the remaining torpedoes to hunt them down. If they dodge those, then we’ll use our speed to come in close and bring them down with the grappling arms.” 
“Understood. We’ll show ‘em.” 
“The enemy got the upper hand, but that ends now. We’ll show those bastards!” 
It had received some unexpected damage, but the remaining Shark could still bring the de Danaan down. They would see. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Tuatha de Danaan 
“M13 reacquired! Direction 0-3-1! It’s started accelerating to course 2-0-5!” the sonar room reported without trying to hide the excitement in his voice at all. 
“Th-the last enemy is approaching from the north, Captain. It won’t run across anymore of the Maglocks,” said Lieutenant Godart, who, up until a few seconds ago, believed he was going to die. He wiped the beads of sweat from his brow. 
The way the Commander had dealt with those enemy missiles, the brave counterattacks he had used just on the verge of impact- even though he had seen all of that with his own eyes, Godart thought that this time they were helpless. 
“Course 2-0-5, you said?” Mardukas replied as calmly as ever. 
“Estimated 50 knots!” 
When Mardukas heard that, his expression loosened just a little. It was the smile like that of a teacher when a certain student has given him exactly the answer he expected. 
“I see. M13. If you still wish to fight my ship, then there’s no other road to take- although it’s a pity...” 
“Captain? What...” 
“Lieutenant. You recall the ADSLMMs we set up earlier just in case, right?” 
The ADSLMMs- when Godart remembered the position where they had secretly deployed the self-propelled mines, he slapped his forehead. 
Right now, the last enemy was headed straight for the area where those mines were hidden. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Shark 1 
Shark 1, who was burning with the desire for revenge, was completely unaware of the enemy mines hidden in his path. 
If he had been thinking discretely and prudently, he would have thought about the possibility of the enemy shooting them while it was making so much noise. If he knew just that, he would have still been able to escape. 
But he didn’t. While he understood that the abuse one suffered in private was a certain thing in the navy, he had never understood the cold, reckless behavior of his former superior officer. 
Suddenly, two self-propelled mines appeared in his path, heading straight for him. 
Even with the Leviathan’s mobility, it was too close to avoid. 
There were only a few seconds left. He shot some decoy countermeasures, but they were completely ineffective at such a close distance. His co-pilot in the back seat let out a scream. 
Between that and the noisy ringing of warning alarms inside the cockpit, he cursed the name of his former superior officer. 
“Mardukas. You son-of-a-bitch.” 
Those were his last words. The de Danaan’s smart mines detonated nearby, blowing Shark 1 to pieces. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Tuatha de Danaan 
“The sounds of the ADSLMM exploding. M13... has sunk!” 
When they heard the sonar room’s report, the crew breathed a collective sigh of relief. But there wasn’t enough time for everyone to burst out in joy like in a movie scene. 
Godart was also incredulous. He smiled tensely as he glanced at Mardukas’ profile. 
“The enemy should have known better. Trying to sink a ship under my command with three tiny ‘underwater fighters’ is like trying to challenge a fortress with three infantrymen.” 
From the very beginning, Mardukas was able to anticipate everything, from how the fight would progress, to how the enemy would move. Just like a chess match. What composure- what courage he had. Knowing the true merits of his superior officer put Godart at a loss for words. 
“If the Captain had been here, she would have done the same thing. If it had been her orders from the very start, you probably wouldn’t have been so terrified, huh, Godart?” Mardukas said in his normal, stingingly sarcastic tone of voice. 
“No, I just... I apologize.” 
“Hmph. Never mind it, then. Besides...” 
The Duke returned his hat back to its original position. 
The Commander, who had shown that he wouldn’t be beaten by the likes of Lieutenant Commander Kalinin or any of the other burly ground unit men, turned back into the tired, middle-aged man that he always was. 
“This is game, set, match. Open a line with the ground unit right away. They’re in more danger than us right now- there’s a torpedo headed their way.” 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Pacific Chrysalis 
When it rains, it pours. 
Just when they had taken care of the group of Alastors which had appeared on the ship, Sousuke and the rest of his unit received word from the de Danaan about a new threat. 
“Enemy high-speed torpedo approaching. Estimated time, under one minute. Take evasive maneuvers and evacuate the passengers without delay.” 
“Damn it, could you not be so nonchalant about it?! Well?!” Kurz yelled at the heavens when he heard the communication. His voice was drowned out by the sound of the evacuation broadcast over the intercom. 
“All passengers and crew are to immediately evacuate to the starboard, or right, side of the ship. I repeat, the starboard side of the ship. We are incredibly sorry to make you, our good passengers, worry on such a wonderful, wonderful Christmas Eve, but in order to prepare for the very small chance that something might happen, we need you to immediately make your way to the starboard side of the ship-” 
Clouseau grabbed onto the side railing and yelled into his radio, “Enough with the stupid apologizing already and just repeat the order!” to his subordinate on the bridge. 
“But, Lieutenant Clouseau, since we’re inconveniencing everyone, it’s our duty to- oops, damn. The speaker switch is on.” 
“You idiot...!!” 
Clouseau, whose real name had just been grandly announced all throughout the ship, shook his fist as the vein in his head throbbed. 
“Uh, Lieutenant. I understand that you’re in a difficult position and all, but I think we’d better evacuate. If the torpedo hits, this part of the ship will probably be blown to bits,” Kurz said calmingly from behind him. Clouseau just clicked his tongue. 
On Mardukas’ orders, all of the helicopters on the de Danaan were waiting on standby for a rescue operation. The other transport helicopters that had taken off beforehand were to scatter countermeasures above the water to jam the torpedo’s guidance systems, and try to somehow protect the ship. 
However, it would be almost impossible for such a large ship to avoid an enemy missile. 
“Everyone is to evacuate. There’s nothing that can be done now.” 
“There is a way,” Sousuke replied over the Arbalest’s external speakers, as well as the radio. When they looked back, they saw the Arbalest, which had just been boarded by its operator, stand up in the middle of the tennis courts. 
“Hey, what’re you doing, Sousuke?” Kurz asked- right next to him, the Arbalest walked over to the port side of the ship in which the torpedo was headed, and gazed out into the pitch black sea. 
Inside the cockpit, Sousuke pushed the voice command switch and said, “Al. Activate all sensors, no limits. Wide reconnaissance. Search for a heat source up to a depth of 30 feet.” 
<Roger. A torpedo?> 
The machine’s AI, Al, answered. 
<Target detected at Alpha 12. Direction, 11 o’clock, distance, 1000. Estimated 90 kilometers per hour. It is approaching. 30 seconds to contact> 
“Sniper mode. We’ll intercept it using all firearms. Adjust for calculation errors.” 
<This machine does not possess valid alignment correction data in regards to an underwater target> 
“It can’t be helped. Now concentrate.” 
<Roger. Sniper mode> 
Sousuke could see the glowing white “heat source” approaching from underneath the surface of a green-colored sea on the night vision screen. 
This wasn’t a time to be conservative with the ammunition. He lined up his sights, and without any hesitation, pulled the trigger. 
The 40mm rifle he was holding as well as the head-mounted 12.7mm chain gun lit up. At the Arbalest’s feet, Kurz and the others covered their ears against the terrible noise and ran towards the starboard side of the ship. 
The “chain gun” was a 30mm machine gun originally developed for use by combat helicopters. It was reduced in size, its firing speed increased, and then mounted on the heads of the Arbalest and M9s. This was the chain gun that only moments ago had put an end to the row of Alastors. Its firing speed was 1800 rounds per minute. That calculated to it being able to spit out 30 large-sized bullets per second. That chain gun, along with the 40mm rifle shooting 1200 rounds a minute, rained down a barrage of bullets into the sea. 
But for all of the firepower that he used, the approaching torpedo didn’t change course at all- because nothing hit it. The courses of the bullets became erratic the moment they hit the 
water’s surface. At best, their power only lasted to a depth of a few meters. 
The high-speed torpedo continued on its course straight towards the Pacific Chrysalis.  
<Interception of torpedo failed. Evacuate immediately.> 
Al was probably thinking about their safety. It was recommending retreat. 
However, at that moment, as Sousuke stared at the floating image of the target on the screen, his normally under-used imagination started working. 
There was nothing left to do. The ship would sink. His colleagues, everyone from school, and Chidori would all be blown up and thrown into the winter sea. 
He wouldn’t let that happen- 
That certain confidence and determination awakened the sleeping system within his machine with perfect form. 
<It is here. We can do it. Your orders, Sarge> 
Al replied briefly, as if inspired by Sousuke’s feelings. 
“We’re going in!” 
Sousuke and Al threw themselves off of the deck of the Pacific Chrysalis, out into the sea in front of them. 
It was a short flight. The bubbles from where the machine dropped into the water violently burst open against their surroundings and disappeared. Using a wire gun which it had shot into the ship’s hull, the Arbalest skillfully adjusted its own position as it swam through the turbulence caused by the large ship’s hull. 
<The torpedo is coming. OK. Stay in this position. Ready? Count 5. 3... 2...> 
Al counted down with perfect timing, expertly picking up on Sousuke’s tempo and mood. It was a message that would have been impossible for an ordinary AI. 
Up ahead, in the middle of the night vision screen, the torpedo approached at high speed. 
Grasping the controller, Sousuke jerked the right master arm. The Arbalest traced the movement exactly, delivering a firm punch into the torpedo that now filled his vision. 
The waters foamed, and space became distorted. 
The Arbalest’s Lambda Driver started, and drove an invisible force field into the torpedo directly in front of it. Suddenly, the target was smashed to bits and blew up. 
All of the energy from the blast was blown in the opposite direction. 
An enormous waterspout erupted from the water, and the aftershocks of the explosion rocked the ship. The Arbalest was also at the mercy of that same tremendous power as it clung to the wire coming from its left arm. 
<Success. Lambda Drive was functioning. The enemy torpedo has been destroyed. We should quickly raise our spirits in case there is another one. Confidence. Confidence is very important.> 
“I got it, so shut up!” Sousuke yelled as he struggled to keep the unit’s posture control against the raging waters. It would be a serious problem if the wire gun’s anchor were to break and pitch him out away from the cruising boat. 
It wasn’t long before the turbulence from the explosion died down. There didn’t seem to be another torpedo. 
Sighing with relief, Sousuke carefully retracted the wire gun and somehow managed to climb back onto the ship’s deck. 
The crises and dilemmas continued. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
At the same time that the Arbalest had stopped the torpedo, Kaname, along with Yang and several Mithril soldiers, was running to the starboard side observation deck. After she had heard Tessa’s voice, Kaname called out to the nearby soldiers and they took off towards the section where the lifeboats were kept. 
Suddenly, they were hit by a thunderous noise and shockwave. The boat leaned precariously to the right, and Kaname, who was clinging to the wall to keep from being tossed around, yelled out, “What was that just now!?” 
“It felt like we were just hit by the torpedo, but... that’s odd. It didn’t seem to do much of anything.” 
Sousuke and the Arbalest somehow found a way to stop it... Kaname thought, then stood up. 
“Then it’s probably okay. Let’s hurry!” 
“Eh? Uh, sure,” Yang answered, and took off once again. “But, are you certain!? That the Captain’s been taken-” 
“There’s no doubt. That other Captain used a life boat and- over there!” 
Kaname pointed to the area in front of the jogging track where several lifeboats hung. 
Yang moved out in front, his gun straight in front of him. 
“Stay down, and get behind me. The enemy could be hiding.” 
According to the guidance map right beside them, there were five lifeboats stationed in this area. But when Kaname and the others ran in, the number of boats there was- four. 
“One’s missing. That means Tessa’s...!” Kaname cursed. Then one of the soldiers yelled, “Damn it. On the water, in the direction of one o’clock, distance 500!” 
When they looked out in the middle of the dim ocean illuminated by the lights of the luxury ship, they saw a single boat moving away at full speed. 
“We’re too late,” Yang said despairingly. 
“We can’t give up now, can we!? There’s gotta be a way-” 
“I got it- this is Uruz 9 to Gebo 9, do you read me?” he called out over the radio to the helicopter flying overhead. That transport helicopter- Gebo 9- soon replied, “This is Gebo 9, we read you.” 
“You know the lifeboat that just left the ship? Leaving north-northwest, distance is 800 meters. Ansuz has been abducted! Stop it!” 
Even as he said this, the boat on which Tessa was riding got further away by the moment, and was eventually swallowed up by the night. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
MH-67 “Pave Mare” Multi-purpose Helicopter 
Call Sign “Gebo 9” 
“Stop them? How!?” Lieutenant Eva Santos, pilot of the Mithril multi-purpose helicopter- MH-67 Pave Mare, replied in a raised voice as they circled four kilometers south of the Pacific Chrysalis.  
“Tessa’s on it, right? So we can’t attack it without involving her, too.” 
“Well, can’t you just hit the engine or something!?” Yang yelled over the radio. 
“That’s easy for you to say. We could try it, but... ahh, damn it. Where’s the target!?” 
Santos yelled, and the electronic warfare officer operating the helicopter’s infrared sensors from the backseat quickly replied, “Wait... I found it just now. Course 3-4-0, distance 4000. Moving at 30 knots.” 
“Alright then, we’ll circle around from the left side and move in.” 
Lieutenant Santos moved the controller, making the helicopter hurry after the boat. The engine turbines groaned, and the Pave Mare closed in on its target at once. Because it had already dropped off its large cargo, the Arbalest, the helicopter was able to move almost as sharply as a small fighter plane. 
In less than a minute, the boat skimming along the surface of the water was within the view of their night vision goggles. 
“I see it. Have mini-gun two on standby. Even if you miss, don’t hit the Captain.” 
“Roger, Captain!” the firing crew replied spiritedly. Santos ordered them to take up position about 200 meters off the left side of the boat kicking up the white caps of the waves. 
The muzzle of the 7.62 Vulcan machine gun mounted on the right side of the Pave Mare lit up. A rain of 100 bullets a second grazed the back of the boat and caused numerous waterspouts to shoot up out of the water. Unfortunately, their aim was off. 
“Adjust your aim!” 
“The waves are making it bounce all over the place- shit, we’ll hit the Captain. The target’s too fast. There’s no way to just hit the engine. Can’t we get any closer!?” 
“Understood, I’ll try-” 
When Santos went to move the helicopter closer, something unusual happened. Several hundred meters ahead of the life boat- from an area of water where nothing was, came a ribbon of light. 
“Anti-aircraft missile!” someone yelled. 
The missile, which had suddenly appeared from the water, rushed through the sky, heading straight for Santos’s helicopter. 
She violently moved the stick and cyclic. Scattering decoy flares and chaffs throughout the sky, the Pave Mare went into a steep turn. It was a rough maneuver that looked like they were diving straight into the water. 
It was close. Then two seconds later... 
The missile exploded at point-blank range. 
There was an impact and the sound of something going “gakun” on the right side of the helicopter. The meters spun out of control, and a dark, metallic noise thrummed from the engine and drive shaft. 
A lot of alarms went off. The co-pilot and electronic warfare officer were yelling. 
“Engine two is on fire! Electricity failing! Oil pressure falling!” 
“We’ve lost the starboard ECS unit! The left stub wing’s been blown off!” 
Santos, who was dizzy from hitting her head on the corner of the seat, calmly checked the response of the controls. 
“Don’t panic. Cut the power to engine two. Switch the electric and hydraulic systems to backup. And the fuel supply system, too. The tail rotor’s still working, right? Can we still see!?”  
“Affirmative!” the crew in the cargo hold answered. 
“And the automatic fire-extinguishers?” 
It was okay, they could still fly. If they had responded just a few moments later, they would have been blown up. It had been close. 
While directing minor damage control, she used the active ECCS (anti-ECS sensors) to scan the area of ocean that the missile had come from. 
“Damn...” she cursed when she confirmed the target’s true nature. Floating on top of the water, hidden by ECS, was an enormous airship. An infantry-portable anti-aircraft missile had been shot from its wing. The airship probably belonged to Amalgam. It had used ECS to slip into these waters without anyone noticing. 
They couldn’t outrun a second shot. She really wanted to save Tessa, but they would end up being shot down before then and everything would be lost. 
Gritting her teeth, she turned the helicopter back in the other direction. Santos had no choice but to give the humiliating report to her unit. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
In the cabin of the boat, which now sped through the night, Tessa sat quietly, with her hands cuffed. She could do nothing but watch silently as her allies’ helicopter faded into the distance after 
being attacked by a missile. That was probably Lieutenant Santos’s Gebo 9. She hoped no one was hurt. 
“Hm hm hm hm, hmm hmm, hmm hm hm huh, hmm huh hmm...” Harris hummed as he sat in the pilot’s seat, the salt air blowing over him. It was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. 
“It’s Christmas. Be happy,” he said cheerfully as he turned around to face her. “To tell the truth, you’re a much harder VIP to obtain than Kaname Chidori, since you’re usually hidden under the water where no one can reach you. But I got you. I really- really got you. If I could have used the facilities on my ship, then I would have been able to thoroughly investigate your mind, but... well, just have to give up on that, I guess.” 
Tessa said nothing, scowling at her companion. 
“Ooh, how scary.” 
Harris shrugged. 
“But it is a shame. I’ll probably be removed from the role of investigating you personally. I wanted to strip your spirit bare, and penetrate you to the deepest recesses of your mind. I wanted to see that strong, beautiful face of yours distorted as you cried out in pain. Expose all of your ugly hatred, fear, and obscene desires- your eyes clouded in a trance, spit dripping wretchedly down your face... I really wanted to see it.” 
Tessa, taking in the vulgar look he gave her, opened her mouth. 
“...the equipment you used to study Miss Kaname in Shun On is on that ship, isn’t it?” 
“That’s right. That’s because it’s a boat that goes all around the world. It’s very convenient for abducting ‘candidates’ that have been chosen from all nations using certain techniques, and getting them out of the country.” 
“How inefficient. If it were me, I’d-” 
“You wouldn’t use such methods. Don’t you agree? That’s the point. That’s why we haven’t been suspected until now. No matter how popular they become, a passenger boat like that usually carries the harmless upper class. Local customs, public safety, secret services; all of them give us leeway. Because they think, ‘there’s no way’. I know now- the reason you guys suspected the ship’s true purpose. Probably thanks to Mr. Iron’s meddling.” 
The boat’s engine became quiet. 
“We’re here. A pleasant flight awaits us.” 
From the cabin window, Tessa could see the wing of the gigantic airship with the ECS now cancelled. The boat she was riding slowly turned and pulled up along the right side of the ship. 
“Stand up,” Harris commanded, pulling Tessa up. 
The airplane she transferred to was about the size of an average jumbo jet, big enough to carry several 50-ton tanks. It was even larger than the C-17 “Globe Master II” transport planes that Mithril used. 
Soviet-made, huh... 
She had seen the recent reports from the Intelligence Department. This was the world’s largest aircraft that could perform water take-offs and landings. And from looking at the equipment in its hold, she could tell that it had transported some small ships. 
“Don’t be looking around! Walk!” 
An armed member of the airship’s crew prodded Tessa in the back. 
As soon as they had finished the transfer, the ship started to accelerate. The waves crashed up against the hull, causing it to shake a little. 
No one was there to stop it. 
The large airship left the water, rising up into the night sky. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Pacific Chrysalis 
“They got away,” Clouseau said dismally after cutting off his radio. 
“The Captain is... the enemy has...” 
“Hey, hey, aren’t we going to do something!? It’s still close, right? If we shot an antiaircraft missile or something-” Kurz raised his voice, but Clouseau cut him off. 
“Shoot it? With her on there?” 
“Uh...” Kurz faltered. 
The enemy airship was already in the air. It would be easy for the de Danaan to shoot it down with an antiaircraft missile, but then Tessa would die, too. 
Not noticing that airship land near the Pacific Chrysalis in the first place was a defeat. But there was no helping it. The de Danaan had been fighting the enemy submarines, and Santos’s helicopter had been preoccupied with that as well as transporting the Arbalest. It would have been impossible for even the most capable soldier to notice an airplane using ECS at a time like that. 
Sousuke had taken care of the robots and torpedoes. Mao said they’d have the vault open in a little bit. Mardukas had said that there weren’t any other threats underwater. It seemed that Santos’s helicopter was down, too. Most of the hostages were unharmed. The worst injury had been to the American who had been with Tessa- and according to the medic who had treated him, he had narrowly escaped death. 
Everyone had done their best. They would soon be able to safely withdraw. 
But even so, Tessa was- 
“Shit!” cursed one of the soldiers, “How could this happen? And today was her birthday, too...” 
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Sousuke said over the external speakers. The Arbalest was kneeling down next to Clouseau and the others as they stood helplessly in the middle of the tennis courts, which were strewn with the debris of the Alastors. 
“Her birthday, huh? Today’s been a really busy day. -really busy.” 
“Sousuke...?” Kaname, who was as downtrodden as the others, looked up. 
“What’re you talking about? Tessa’s been kidnapped! How can you be so indifferent all the time-” 
“No. I understand the severity of the situation. If you ask around, it seems that Christmas is a day when anything can happen.” 
When she raised her eyebrow in doubt, the Arbalest’s AI answered instead of Sousuke. 
<That is correct, fellow-comrades in arms. Today is Christmas. According to the information from the radio reports I have picked up over the past few days, it is indeed a day when anything can happen. The feeling of being able to overcome anything is essential. So let’s sing sweet carols, and praise God in the highest.> 
“-how many times do I have to tell you to shut up, you idiot!?” 
<Excuse me. Anyway, please explain our proposal to them, Sergeant,> Al said disinterestedly, and Sousuke clicked his tongue.  
He then cleared his throat, then told everyone, “Lieutenant Clouseau... first, please contact the de Danaan, and have them surface and send out the AV-8s. We need to gain some time. Then have them prepare the equipment I list off. The skill of the maintenance crew will be vital. First, we’ll need-” 
After listening to Sousuke list off various parts and equipment, Clouseau’s eyes, as well as everyone else’s, grew wide. 
“Are you serious?” 
“Of course. I’ve had Al do the calculations, and he says it’s possible. Although there is the problem of the preparation speed.” 
“It’ll be dangerous.” 
“That can’t be helped.” 
Clouseau grabbed his chin as he thought it over- then he lifted his face and looked up at the Arbalest. 
“Very well. We’ll give it a shot.” 
He turned on his radio. Opening a line with the nearby de Danaan, he relayed the details. Next to him, Kaname, who had listened to their conversation in silence, looked anxiously up at Sousuke. 
“Ar... are you sure this will work?” 
“I don’t know.” 
“But you said...!” 
“There’s something I want to talk to you about.” 
“It’s something that I just noticed earlier. Don’t worry. It’s probably a good thing. But I don’t want to say it with things being the way they are right now with her.” 
The Arbalest’s two eyes looked down at her. Its right hand moved and gave her a thumbs up. 
“When I come back, I want you to listen to me.” 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
December 25th, 00:13 (Japan Standard Time) 
Over the Pacific 
She could see the moon floating in the night sky from her window-side seat. It seemed that the airship was turning in a southwest direction. But Tessa, who was a prisoner, was unable to guess anymore than that. 
What was their exact course? What was their altitude? And where were they going? She didn’t know. 
Her own ship, as well as that passenger ship, was probably safe. And that stubborn but good-natured Sailor character, did he get the medical attention he needed? And how was the vault that Mao and the others were having difficulty with- 
She couldn’t help but think about those sorts of things rather than her own fate. 
After takeoff, Tessa had tried to use her “resonance” with Kaname again, but it was no use. For some reason, resonance with another wouldn’t work if you were too far away. For example, if they were “thought waves” that were transmitted through the air, then the cause would have something to do with their strength and wavelength. 
“So Miss, is there anything I can get you to drink?” Harris said as he returned to the cabin after talking with the pilot. “I’m sorry, but we’re out of champagne... but it seems we have ginger ale. How about we toast to our new endeavor?” 
“How about you drink alone?” 
“That’s cold. It’s thanks to me that you didn’t share the same fate as that ship. I would like it if you showed a little gratitude.” 
Just then, the airship shuddered. The high-pitched sound of turbines reverberated through the walls, and the cabin ceiling shook a little. 
“What is it?” Harris yelled, clinging to his seat. 
“Mithril STOVLs!” the pilot said over the intercom. When Harris looked out of the window, he saw one of the de Danaan’s fighter planes, a Super Harrier, flying surprisingly close by. 
Harris went pale. 
“Impossible. I’ve got the girl with me. If they shoot us down, then-” 
Outside of the window, the red light of a flare bomb flitted by. It was a warning shot. It was so close that it could graze the wing. 
Beside him, Tessa gave the crouching Harris a cold smile. 
“It’s the logical course of action. I know a lot of Mithril’s classified information. It would be wise to blow me, along with this ship, up before you could drug me into talking, now wouldn’t it?” 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
December 25th, 00:20 (Japan Standard Time) 
The Tuatha de Danaan’s Flight Deck 
Inside the Arbalest’s cockpit, Sousuke checked the condition of his oxygen mask. 
The ship’s air-traffic controller informed him of the situation. 
The large airship carrying Tessa was flying on course 196 at 350 knots. They were losing altitude and speed due to the threatening conduct of the ally AV-8. 
“It’s still in range. But this is crazy, Sergeant Sagara. Theoretically it’s possible, but-” 
“It’s not a problem. Anyway, I’m depending on your support.” 
“Understood. Leave the guidance to me.” 
“Thank you,” he answered briefly, then scanned the screen display. Launch mode. All parts of the rotor blades and rocket motor, check. Fuel, good; oil pressure, good; data link with ship, connected. 
<Final check complete. Awaiting orders from the control room> 
Right now, the Arbalest was fixed to the de Danaan’s flight-deck steam catapult. On its back was the “XL-2” emergency expansion booster, like those used by Mao and the other’s M9s during the rescue mission in Shun On. 
The original purpose of the emergency expansion booster was to forcibly make them fly by using enormous wings and rockets and throwing them into a distant battlefield in a short amount of time. Because they detached before landing, they could only be used one-way. The return trip was either walking or transport helicopter. 
The roar of the booster grew louder. 
A pale flame blew from the nozzle. The extremely hot exhaust escaped upwards from the blast deflector- a plank sticking out from the back. 
“Flight control. All preparations are complete.” 
“Roger. Beginning final sequence. Uruz 7, you are clear for take-off. Good luck.” 
“Uruz 7, roger.” 
<Sergeant. We have received the final clearance for take-off. Beginning countdown. Count 5-> 
Al’s voice reverberated throughout the cockpit, which was creaking because of the booster’s power. 
<4. 3. 2-> 
The nozzle contracted, the flame flashed brightly, and the entire AS leaned forward. 
The rocket disconnected. The catapult, which had the power to easily sling a one-ton vehicle one kilometer, accelerated the Arbalest at once. 
The G-force was terrible. And the sound was loud enough to burst his eardrums. He felt like his body was sinking into the back of his chair. The end of the flight deck drew closer. The Arbalest automatically detached itself from the launch block, and jumped using the power in both of its legs. 
The takeoff was a success. The numbers on the digital altimeter climbed instantly. The figure of the de Danaan reflected in the external sensor became distant in no time at all. 
Altitude 5000 feet and rising. 
If it had been a normal launch sequence, this is where the AS would stop its ascent, and then soar straight to its target destination. 
But the Arbalest didn’t stop its ascent. It continued to rise further. 
Altitude 7000. 8000. 
The vibrating of the fuselage didn’t change. Because the wings were, by design, used for regulating courses at low altitudes, the uncertain situation didn’t end. Even though the altimeter indicated they were still rising, Sousuke felt like he was falling. If they didn’t operate while the rocket’s power was at its maximum, the Arbalest would at once fall into a spin and crash. 
Alarms went off. Al warned him. 
<Booster is abnormally overheating. Cause is due to the length of time at maximum output capacity> 
“Pray. This is a gamble.” 
<I interpret that order to be a joke. However, a joke at a time like this is mostly ineffective. Your rules of usage are-> 
“I’ve begun to understand that recently, but-” Sousuke cursed as the violent vibrations almost caused him to bite his tongue. “Jokes are something that should be told at ineffective times.” 
<A profound thesis> 
“Think about it later. Concentrate on the controls.” 
It was cold. In order to perform this operation, the cockpit couldn’t be pressurized. Because he had done drops from high altitudes numerous times, he knew how his body handled being under low pressure, but- 
18000. 19000. 
20000 feet. 
<We have reached restricted altitude. Following control room’s guidance and changing course.> 
The Arbalest stopped ascending, then flew straight into the prescribed direction. It was only a few seconds before Al reported: 
<Target acquired!> 
In the image captured by the night vision sensors, Sousuke could see the exhaust heat of three aircrafts. The two ally Super Harriers, with the remaining one belonging to the enemy airship. It was the size of an average jumbo jet. It would probably be able to carry more than six M9-class ASes with room to spare. 
Tessa was in there. 
This was where he would attempt an extremely dangerous maneuver. However, Sousuke possessed a strange kind of confidence. 
No problem. 
He would clean this up neatly, and finally go home. 
<There is little fuel remaining.> 
“I know. Lower velocity as we approach. 150 feet above and right behind it.” 
They drew in closer to the airship. The turbulence created by the target shook the Arbalest violently. This was as close as they could get on the temporary wings of the emergency expansion booster. 
However, this was not a fighter plane. This was a human-shaped weapon; an Arm Slave. 
Its uses depended on ideas. It didn’t need to be held back by common sense. 
“Let’s go...!” 
When it reached just 50 meters above and behind the airship, the Arbalest thrust out both of its arms. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
“What’re you doing? Shake them off. Since we’re in cruising range-” 
Just as Harris ran into the cockpit, something strange happened. 
There was the sound of something metallic hitting the ship from behind. The ship suddenly dipped, causing Harris to almost fall over. 
There were decompression warnings. The sounds of alarms rang all throughout the cockpit. A bunch of lights flashed red, and the pilot and co-pilot started yelling. 
“What’s happened?!” 
“It seems like we’ve been hit by something. The pressure inside the plane is dropping quickly. If we don’t decrease altitude, we’ll be in danger.” 
“Don’t be stupid! Never mind that and just shake it off!” 
Harris caught him up by the shoulder, but the pilot pushed his hand aside. 
“Like I can do that! Why don’t you have them stop their attacks?” 
“Don’t worry about it and just keep flying. It’s not like any of her people have the guts to drop this ship.” 
That’s right. This was all a bluff. If they were trying to shoot them down, they would have sent out a missile much earlier. Their aim was no doubt to make them land on the water. In other words, they were limited to just meddling with their flying. 
The enemy STOVLs had a short cruising range. If they went just a little further, they would have to give up their pursuit. 
“Mr. Harris, bring that girl in here. Let them hear her scream in pain over the radio. Then we’ll warn them to stop their attack.” 
“But that girl is- no, you’re right, that’ll work. We’ll remove a finger or something.” 
After accepting the pilot’s proposal, Harris started to return to the cabin where Tessa was, when- 
This time, they were hit by an enormous impact. 
The ship dropped several dozen feet as if something was pressing down on them from above. Harris went airborne, and 
bounced up and hit the cockpit ceiling- then dropped and hit the floor. 
Gasping through the burning pain in his shoulders and back, he got up. 
“...what the hell was that!?” 
But it looked as if neither of the pilots could hear Harris’s question. Their eyes were fixed on the multifunction display in one corner of the cockpit. 
The ghastly pale Captain groaned, “How in the hell... damn it... that’s fucking insane.” 
There was an image taken by the camera set up on the tail. From the top of the tail, it commanded a view of a large portion of the ship’s body and wings. 
They saw someone on the middle of the body, hanging on to the roof right behind the wings. 
No, this wasn’t human. This was a much larger, human-shaped machine. 
It was an AS. A white AS. 
The enemy white AS was clinging to the back of the ship. It drove in its wire gun, closed in, then plunged its monomolecular cutter into the roof. 
“Shake it off!” 
“Don’t be stupid! Our wings would break before then... huh!?” 
Bewildered and not knowing their enemy’s intentions, they watched as the AS did something even more unbelievable. 
The cockpit hatch opened. 
The operator emerged, wearing a helmet and oxygen mask. 
That operator dropped from the back of the white AS down onto the roof of the ship. They could see a wire attached to his hip 
to keep him from being blown off by the raging wind. It was probably tied to somewhere in the cockpit. 
Even though he was hidden in the shadow of the AS, he bent down into a posture for rappelling off the ship. But the man, as if he were repelling down the surface of a building, skillfully used the wire to back up ten meters, then threw something. 
“What is that? What’s he trying to do?” 
“That’s a... shaped charge.” 
Harris’s expression changed, and he ran to the rear cabin. 
That man was planning on coming in alone by blasting a hole in the roof...! 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
He was being tossed around by the fierce wind. 
Sousuke moved several meters away from the shaped charge and pressed the detonation switch. 
There was a dry implosive sound. Debris went flying, and was blown away in the blink of an eye. An enormous amount of mist was pulled from the one-meter open hole towards the tail. 
Fixing his grip on the wire, he kicked the roof with a light ‘don’. Trusting his body to the force that would pull him down, Sousuke hopped in. He defied hitting the fragile inner wall, and jumped down into the cabin below. 
He released the wire, and grabbed the submachine gun strapped over his shoulder. The sudden decompression of the inside of the plane had caused a white fog, which was being sucked up through the hole that Sousuke had come in through. 
“Kill him! He’s alone!” someone yelled from beyond the bits of dancing paper and cloth. There were two men with guns. 
Sousuke closely adjusted his sight on those who were angrily pointing their guns at him. 
They immediately started firing. And then more gunfire. 
Moments later, both of his enemies doubled over and collapsed. Despite the shaking and gusts of wind, Sousuke ran towards the front of the ship. He ran through several doors and passageways before he encountered more enemies. 
The enemy soldiers shot freely. The sound of the numerous gunshots burst in his ears. Sousuke crouched down to dodge the attack, and as he jumped for cover, returned fire. 
Shells, sparks and people’s cries were flying all over the place. 
One by one, the enemies fell. Compared to fighting the Alastors on the ship, these guys were easy opponents. These enemies were excited, impatient and enraged. 
No- actually, that was the problem. 
Their erratic gunfire was shooting holes all in the ship. Several important cables, oil pressure pipes, even the distributing panel were blown out. It seemed that the enemy had forgotten they were still flying. 
This is bad... 
The ship shook furiously, lights were flickering on and off, and fires sprang up here and there. The engine was also making a strange “dooon” sound. 
They were losing altitude. 
After he had taken out the last enemy in the cabin, Sousuke immediately looked around. He couldn’t see Tessa. The control room was in front of this. Had they taken her to the cargo hold below? Or- 
Sousuke was shot right in the back. 
He knew that his bulletproof vest had stopped the bullet. Staggering, he turned around and quickly pointed his gun behind him. 
“Oooh?! Just try and shoot!” 
Harris was standing in the cabin entrance, holding a large pistol. He was cleverly using Tessa, who had her hands tied behind her back, as a shield. 
“Mr. Sagara!?” 
She looked more astonished than relieved. It seemed that even Tessa didn’t anticipate using such a method to infiltrate a flying aircraft. 
“Captain. I’ve come to bring you back,” Sousuke said, pointing his gun straight ahead. 
Turbulence made the fires inside wreathe around. There was furious noise and vibration. There were even flames blazing outside the window, because the failing engine had caught fire. 
“Give up and hand her over. This ship is going down. There’s still time to escape.” 
“No,” Harris sneered as beads of sweat formed on his pale face. “I’m ruined no matter what happens. At least this way, everyone goes with me.” 
“Can you not see what a disadvantage you’re at?” 
“I’m perfectly calm!” the hysterical man shouted. “That organization would never forgive me for escaping alone. It’s the same if I’m captured by you bastards. You’d pump me for information, then throw me away. I’m dead either way.” 
“But I’m not going to let you do what you want. I can still kill you. All I have to do is wait.” 
A stream of sweat rolled down Sousuke’s temple. 
He was serious. He was planning to die. 
It would be extremely difficult to accurately hit Harris in the middle of a shaking plane with violent gusts of wind blowing through while he was using Tessa as a shield. 
“I hadn’t expected this at all, though. A sailor like myself, dying in the sky.” 
There was a dark humor mixed in that voice filled with despair and resentment. 
“You bastards at Mithril successfully started the counterattack. But that ends here, too. Amalgam is a very elusive, very powerful organization. You won’t be able to crush them with military power. And they are trying to put an end to the typical expansion of that military power.” 
“You’re a pro, Sousuke Sagara. So far, you guys have proven to be an opponent that’s more than a group of punks with new toys. Amalgam has also been collecting mercenaries. If Mr. Iron- Gauron- hadn’t been taken over with a cancer, he probably would have become Commander. The next-in-line, Mr. Kalium, was a man who paled in comparison ability-wise, but- luckily or unluckily, he was killed by your hand. In Hong Kong.” 
Gauron, taken over by a cancer? Even though he was taken by surprise at these facts, Sousuke was aware that their time was running out. From the receiver in his ear, he could hear the voice of the air-traffic controller on the de Danaan yelling. 
“-there’s no time. This is it. Get out of there.” 
“They’re cruel and cunning. They’ll eradicate your friends. So why don’t we just go ahead before them and check out the next world together?” 
“You’re joking.” 
“You’re gonna shoot me, huh?! You’ll hit her!” Harris sneered as Sousuke concentrated on his alignment. “You’re afraid 
you will, so you can’t. That’s the way with you bastards. You’re on the side of justice. How sickening. But reality is harsh, and the world is cruel. At any rate, your friends on that ship will learn that. Fate will betray them, and in that defeat, that harshness will become theirs. And the only ones that can do it is my organization!! Only Amalgam can put an end to it all!” Harris yelled, having moved beyond the point of madness.  
The body of the airship began to make a bizarre creaking sound. Harris’s right hand moved. He pointed the pistol at the back of Tessa’s neck. 
The next few seconds lasted an eternity. But even so, it was still hard to aim. The vibrating plane shook the muzzle of his gun. 
But Sousuke fired. 
Very calmly. 
The bullet hit the wall, scattering sparks and going clean through the other side. Harris, who had been shot beyond the wall and in the chest, staggered and fired his pistol. Tessa fell down in front of him. From his position, Sousuke couldn’t tell whether or not she had been shot. 
“I... I’m alright-” Tessa replied in an unexpectedly cheerful voice. It looked like she hadn’t been shot. Harris was lying face down and didn’t move. 
They were out of time. Sousuke ran up to her, took her by the arm and hurried to the nearby hatch. He turned the emergency lever and opened it. Tessa’s hair and skirt flapped around in the wind. 
“Mr. Sagara, where’s your parachute-” 
“I don’t have one. Sorry.” 
Breaking into the ship and fighting alone in a shootout would have been impossible wearing a heavy parachute. Depending on the situation, he had planned on maybe stealing an enemy parachute and escaping, or maybe taking his original route back to the Arbalest. 
But now there wasn’t enough time left for any of that. 
This ship was going to disintegrate before it ever hit the water’s surface. 
“Then there’s nothing left to save us...” 
“There’s one last chance. Now, hold on to me tight-” 
Just then, the airship’s wings broke in half. 
The ship rolled haphazardly as it went to pieces. Sousuke and Tessa were thrown into the empty pitch-dark of space. She tried to hold on tightly to his arms, but unable to resist the violent wind and centrifugal force, she let go. 
Sousuke’s voice was erased by the wind and explosion. Her small body was tossed around by the turbulence, and she quickly dropped further and further away. 
A crushed body. Broken wings. And in the middle of the debris, Tessa fell. 
Even though she could see pieces and parts burning here and there, it was extremely cold. She could see the horizon dimly lit by the moon’s light floating in the night sky. How much time did she have left before she hit the water’s surface? 
Tessa felt faint as she gave herself over to gravity. A shadow drew closer to her. He skillfully manipulated the wind using his arms and legs, and managed to glide straight through the sky. 
He was using free fall technique. 
Sousuke Sagara’s body collided with Tessa’s a little roughly. Embracing each other, the two of them spun around several times in the air. Even though they would fall and die like this, he stubbornly wasn’t giving up. 
Pressing his mouth up close to her ear, Sousuke yelled out something. His lips touched her earlobe. The sensation was quite sweet. 
But his words weren’t quite as sweet. 
“Hold onto me! Don’t let go!!” 
“Brace for impact!” 
Just then, the figure of an approaching white AS filled her vision on the right. 
Having detached its wings and now free falling, the Arbalest came closer and closer. Just as she clung to Sousuke’s chest, the two of them hit its enormous hands. 
The AS had chased them down and rescued them in a sideways position. 
The breath was knocked from her lungs. She felt dizzy, and couldn’t tell which way was up or down. 
Then Sousuke yelled out, “Open parachute!” 
There was a final impact. While it held Tessa and Sousuke, the parachute sack on the Arbalest’s back burst open. The parachute, a tool used many times by humans, spread out towards the heavens. It was a miracle that she didn’t bite her tongue. 
Suddenly, the squalling wind ceased, and her surroundings became quiet. 
The wreckage of the burning airship outstripped them and crashed into the water several hundred meters below them. The Arbalest on which they were riding descended slowly. 
A mid-air rendezvous- his lips gently touch Tessa's earlobe as they fall... 
<This was a very Ultra-C night>*1 
The AS said over the external speakers. 
<I only briefly calculated it, but the odds of successfully completing this kind of nonsense mission is 256 to one. Although the phenomenon of Christmas being able to disregard probability theory is-> 
“Shut up.” 
And the AI went quiet. 
The parachute flapped in the wind, making an irregular fluttering sound. 
“Captain. Are you hurt?” Sousuke asked the vacant-looking Tessa. 
“...huh? Oh... uh, I might have some bruises, but... I’ll probably be okay.” 
“Good. If even the smallest thing had happened to you, the people in our unit would have killed me.” 
“I wonder about that,” Tessa said in relief, but a little bit sulkily. “They may just look worried on the surface. But do you think that they really care what happens to a useless idiot like me?” 
“Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s not like I really meant that. But-” 
Tessa swallowed her words. 
She felt miserable. 
Why was Sousuke the one who had come to rescue her like that? If it had been anyone else- Clouseau, Mao, or someone else, she wouldn’t have felt like this. 
Is it really a good thing that he did something so dangerous for my sake? 
Does that mean I mean something to you for you to have come this far? 
That’s not it, is it? Because you can’t make her sad. 
Was it comradery? A sense of duty? The confidence that you would return alive? 
It was probably all of them. But that made her despair. The motive for his being there was not the kind that she really wished for. It certainly wasn’t his sincere love. 
When Harris had taken her hostage, Sousuke had shot him without hesitation in the end. If it had been Kaname, he probably wouldn’t have shot. Even though it meant she would have died. There was a difference here. A definite difference. 
“There’s nothing I can do” -she remembered Captain Sailor’s words. 
It was exactly as he said. In the end, her illicit love hadn’t been enough. 
Of course, she wasn’t the one who had intimately captured his heart and wouldn’t let go. It was her. It was the world she belonged to. She knew that. Even from Tessa’s viewpoint, the world he had encountered was so dazzling and charming... 
Was this really love? 
Would someone prove to her that this wasn’t just an ordinary escape? Would someone prove to her that the man before her eyes really loved her? 
Staying silent became painful, so she asked. 
“Mr. Sagara?” 
“Do you like Kaname?” 
“...probably, yes.” 
“More than me?” 
Sousuke’s cheeks tensed up. But at the end of his hesitation, he answered clearly. 
She had known it, but she felt like she had been hit in the back of the head. But that was only natural. Sousuke Sagara was not the type of man who would be wishy-washy and at loss for words when something was presented clearly to him. That was his appeal. That- was the harsh reality. 
Tessa hid her eyes, and mumbled, “You say that very bluntly, don’t you...” 
“I’m sorry.” 
She had had a dumb, secret fantasy up until a few days ago. Everyone on base would throw a party, and after the banquet had gotten underway, by chance, the two of them would end up alone. He would say, “Happy birthday, Tessa,” and- 
She tried not to cry, but couldn’t help it. Big teardrops rolled down. She wanted to run away from him, but she couldn’t do that either in the hands of a descending AS. 
“I’m sorry. I... I’m fine. I guess I’m just... just a little disappointed.” 
She tried to force out a smile. Sousuke’s happy appearance gripped her heart. 
“Ah, because a mission that was supposed to be pretty light ended up so messed up, you see. Because I’m always so useless. This has been a pretty terrible birthday.” 
Sousuke didn’t say anything. He desperately refrained from giving excuses, or saying words of encouragement. 
Because he was sincere. 
He was- really sincere. 
But I love him. I want to be with him. Couldn’t God grant that one thing, that meager wish on Christmas? 
Harris’s last words resurfaced in her mind. Didn’t it all start when you couldn’t forgive fate for letting the gears of something 
that was yours go out of control? For the first time, she felt like she understood the feelings of those people who had conveniently labeled themselves “terrorists” and were destroyed. 
The Arbalest neared the water’s surface. In the distance, she could see the faint light of the friendly helicopter coming to rescue them. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
Pacific Chrysalis 
“Uruz 1 to Uruz 2. How are you progressing? Are you done yet?” 
He’s only asked “Are you done yet?” no telling how many times tonight, thought Mao. 
This was also desperate. If they were sloppy with the vault’s lock, the explosive apparatus would operate and be irreparable. They had to be discrete and quick. Her colleagues didn’t understand just how difficult that was. 
“For heaven’s sake. I completely understand how a writer feels on his way to the publisher’s...” she muttered as she wiped the sweat off her brow and hurriedly tapped on the keyboard. 
“What did you say?” 
“Nothing. Executing protocol simulation QRD. Just a little longer.” 
“How many times have you said, ‘just a little longer’ tonight? It seems the Japanese Coast Guard has noticed the disturbances. We’re out of time, so don’t give me ‘just a little longer’, I need an accurate-” 
“When I say ‘just a little longer’, it means just a little longer! If I’m right, 10 seconds! If I’m not, then more than a 100 
minutes! Before you start barking at me, buy me some time, okay? Time! God, since the moment you were promoted to management, you’ve become really boring, you know that!?” 
“Anyone appointed to such a haphazard unit would be nervous, too! I can’t help but feel sorry for Commander Mardukas and Lieutenant Commander Kalinin. I swear, you’re so-” 
“Wait!” Mao said, focusing on the display screen. It was the “Yes/No/Cancel” screen that asked whether or not to oscillate the final unlock signal. After a moment’s hesitation, she chose “Yes” and pressed enter. 
A muffled sound resonated from the inner part of the metal door. The vault door that had been fastened hard opened smoothly as if it had never been locked at all. 
“What is it?” 
“It opened.” 
After a short silence, Clouseau said, “Okay. I’ll get you 15 minutes somehow. Anyway, investigate and report.” 
Just then, Mao remembered the person who normally should have been there. 
“And Tessa? Is she alright?” 
“Sagara did well. Anyway, hurry.” 
“Roger. Out... okay, it’s open! We’re going to do some housecleaning! Keep it up!” Mao told the nearby PRT soldiers, and rushed into the vault. Disregarding the line of racks holding works of art and jewels, she ran towards the middle of the room. There was a door standing wide open in what normally should have been an ordinary wall. Mao had already cancelled this lock with the operation outside. 
She stepped into the vault room door. 
The room was the size of a school classroom. 
There was numerous electronic and medical equipment. There was a grandiose coffin-size medical examination table surrounded by a lot of sensors. Mao was knowledgeable about electronics, but she didn’t understand what purpose this equipment served. 
How should she investigate this? 
If Tessa were here, she would have promptly started handing down the necessary orders. 
“Second Lieutenant, where do we start?” one of the soldiers asked. Mao, who was at a loss for an answer, just shook her head and said, “It doesn’t matter! Just take what you can, and carry all that you can carry. It’s okay to be rough. Use the adze to break into the cases and pull out the hard disks!” 
Even so, there was no doubt that they had scored big. If they could take their time to study it later, then they could find out a little about what the enemy was doing- and why they were targeting people like Kaname. 
From the beginning- 
Mao thought. 
Tessa’s birthday was today, December 24th. 
Kaname’s birthday was also December 24th. 
Their race, history, personality, body characteristics- the only common feature of those two very different people was their birthday. Was it simply coincidence that these two, who possessed some kind of power that exceeded human intellect, were born on the same day? 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
December 25th, 01:30 (Local Time) 
Sydney, Australia 
The bar was crawling with people celebrating on Christmas. Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” was playing, and drunk men and women were singing, drinking, and making a racket. 
In the dark recesses of the bar, a young man was sitting in a seat dimly illuminated by a pale light. He had long, ash-blonde hair, bluish-gray eyes, and graceful features. 
He was listening to the details of a military operation in Japanese coastal waters from the receiver in his ear, as well as concentrating on his glass after dealing with a tottering woman’s seductions, when a large man wearing a suit sat down on the other side of the table facing him. 
He had a quiet look, and wore his long gray hair pulled up in the back. He had heard that this man was in his mid-40s, but he was starting to look old, probably due to having led a tough life. 
“I’ve kept you waiting, I guess” the man said. 
“Not really. How did it go?” 
“We’ve captured Admiral Borda’s secretary, Mr. Jackson- whom your people call ‘Mr. Zinc’. Since we didn’t tell anyone about my unit’s movements, he was found out easily.” 
“How splendidly skillful of you.” 
“I wonder. If you had wanted to, you could have let him escape.” 
“But if I did that, then we might have had to kill each other,” the young man said half-jokingly, then drained the contents of his glass in one gulp. 
“Anyway, it’s been an honor to meet you, Lieutenant Commander Andrei Kalinin.” 
“I have heard rumors about you, Mr. Leonard Testarossa.” 
A waiter carried over a vodka. 
The two politely lifted their glasses. 
Translator’s Notes 
1. “Ultra C” in Japanese refers to a decisive technique for beating one’s opponent.

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