Chapter 2: Heat
Sydney was very hot that morning.
The head of Mithril’s Operations Department, Admiral Jerome Borda, dressed in his usual suit, was on his way to work in a sedan driven by a guard from Operations Headquarters, and had to ask the driver to turn the air conditioner up on high mid-route. Out of security habits, the commuting time and routes were changed randomly from day to day. The sedan was made of the newest bulletproof materials that could withstand even a direct hit from an anti-tank rocket.
While he scanned over the regular reports in the car, Admiral Borda’s sedan entered one of the buildings in midtown. Officially, it was the main office of the Argyros security firm, but this building was the Operations Headquarters for Mithril. The communications facilities and intelligence agencies that unified and managed the various units around the world were located in this building.
The security was very strict for that reason.
If someone had serious intentions of trying to break in, even a company of infantrymen, they had better be prepared to stand out in front of the gate for more than 30 minutes while they were baptized by large bullets, personal land mines, and a number of other devices. After finishing with the troublesome procedures, Borda got out of the car in the parking lot, and met up with one of the management personnel, Captain Wagner, just as he was coming into work.
“Good morning, Sir.”
He was an American under 50 years old. He wore an eye patch and had a peculiar way of dragging his right leg when he
walked, quite like the Captain of a pirate ship. Borda had heard that it was from an injury during his regular army days.
“Good morning, Captain. It’s rather hot this morning, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Sir. We’ll run a complete inspection of the air conditioning system.”
“It was just a comment. Speaking of which- what’s going on with Jackson?”
“We filed the results of the interrogation three weeks ago.”
“He’s still in the hospital. They were rather inhumane measures.”
The two of them got on the elevator and headed to the upper floors.
When they were alone, Borda said, “We have it about 80% figured out. We can’t make any conclusions yet- but it seems that the Geotron Company is also in bad shape.”
He could guess its meaning. Wagner tensed up a little.
“Amit’s been acting funny. We should handle their reports with that in mind.”
“You don’t think the General is...?”
“I don’t know. Since Sir Mallory’s the same as ever, it might be time for us to finally pull out of here. However, at present, this place is probably okay. That’s why we have to put up with the warm reception of these security procedures every day.”
“Yes- they can’t easily reach us unless they use bomber planes.”
The elevator reached the 26th floor.
There were already several members of the Headquarters’ staff at work in the command center, which took up two floors. The room was dim, as there were absolutely no windows at all. Instead, there was an extra-large display light, which dully lit the room. It was as if they had enlarged the battle information center of an Aegis class destroyer.
“Things are going to get a lot busier around her, Captain,” Borda said to Wagner, returning the salutes of his subordinates as they walked along.
“The enemy’s command systems are completely different from anything we’ve seen. If they aren’t, then we shouldn’t keep falling behind like we have. Normal intelligence networks and weapons are powerless before them. Or it may be just as Tessa said-”
Just then, the room was hit by a violent impact.
There was some kind of enormous explosion. The walls blew out, screens and machinery were blown to bits, flames flew up, and people he was acquainted with were torn to pieces; all of it collected together to become a wall of death rushing towards him.
Jerome Borda knew nothing after that.
♦ ♦ ♦
It was already morning, but he hadn’t slept.
Clutching his familiar submachine gun, Sousuke filled the driver’s seat of a light van.
They were in a parking lot adjoined to a large park located in north Choufu-shi. The grounds were quiet, with cars parked sparsely around the area. The inside of the van was very cold because he had turned the engine off.
Last night, after such an invasion of privacy had been allowed, they of course didn’t have the courage to hang around at Kaname’s apartment. Just as Kalinin had pointed out, Sousuke had prepared emergency provisions by his own personal channels. After contacting Merida Island, they briefly packed some bags, got into the already-prepared vehicle and left. They thoroughly removed the possibility of anyone following them by using the metropolitan expressway, and even changed vehicles twice.
They should be safe for the moment.
They hadn’t been able to make contact with the “other guard” from Mithril’s Intelligence Department, code name “Wraith”, since the night before. It wasn’t as if Wraith would miss Leonard breaking into Kaname’s apartment, but- no, more than likely, he had been “incapacitated” during that time. Either way, Sousuke couldn’t depend on that agent. For several months now, whenever he needed to be absent, a PRT personnel member from the Tuatha de Danaan would come and switch out with him.
He sensed Kaname move in the backseat. She was curled up in an outdoor blanket.
“What time is it?”
“Before eight. Did you get some sleep?”
Kaname rubbed her eyes as she slowly sat up. She was still wearing her school uniform from the day before.
“I want a bath...”
“You can’t have one.”
“What about breakfast?”
Sousuke took a Calorie Mate out of his pocket and tossed it easily behind him.
“Wait a se...”
“I put some milk and vegetable juice in there, so go ahead and drink something. This might turn into a physical battle.”
“But there’s a helicopter coming for us, right?”
“Yes, but just in case.”
The transport helicopter dispatched by Mithril should make a direct landing in this parking lot. The established rendezvous point- this avoided the Choufu airport, the campuses of several school, and the grounds which bordered the Tamagawa river.
The communication he received several hours ago reported that the helicopter would be carrying the Arbalest. Tessa had arranged it. Since it was only there for a worst-case scenario, there probably wouldn’t be any chance to use it. Otherwise, there would be a problem.
“Hey, I’m going to change, so could you not look back here?”
“Okay,” Sousuke said, bending the back mirror. He could hear her rummaging through her clothes behind him.
“...but this is a problem. I don’t really have any changes of clothes. And I’m worried about my hamster’s food. And I don’t know if I shut the air conditioner off.”
She spoke as if she would be able to return to her apartment after a few days like she had the times before.
“I’ll be able to come back again, right?” she said, her voice clouded with anxiety when she noticed Sousuke’s unusual silence.
He didn’t have the courage to tell her the truth.
The conversation he had with Atsunobu Hayashimizu the day before. Sousuke knew very well that they had already reached that point.
For the past nine months, Mithril had made secret arrangements here and there to protect her social situation. Using ingenious intelligence operations, pressure and bribery with the appearance of morality to draw out voluntary restraint, they had easily kept the mass media and those connected with the local government silent.
Mithril’s AI system continued to spread false information on the internet.
If someone wrote “This is a conspiracy” with a fairly accurate basis, it would reply “There’s another conspiracy nut” while pretending to be another person who would overreact. It moderately spread verbal disputes and slander, murking up people’s concerns and points. In the end, probably only one person in a hundred didn’t miss the more important points. If that sagacious person presented a question, the AI would skillfully change the pattern, and repeat the same thing. Humans get tired, but the AI basically never tires. And before any conclusion is reached, “the problem girl” would disappear behind the veil of dim imagination. What was left in the memories of most people was just “yeah, there’s that rumor, too”.
This wasn’t just limited to Mithril, who was just one member in the information war waged by the secret intelligence agencies of every country and corporate giants. If organizations with big budgets used their talented people and equipment, it wasn’t that difficult.
But even this had its limits. From the level of macroscopic society, Kaname was just your typical individual. However, in a school of just 1200 people, with stress, bribery, and information
you couldn’t really expect results. That was because you relied on their simplicity and naiveté. Hayashimizu’s words were the “feelings” of a person who commanded a view of the people at school.
Was there a reasonable way to turn Kaname back into someone of no value to the enemy?
Unless there was, there would be no way for her to live a proper life after this. Sousuke had thought about that for a long time.
What if Kaname reported everything she knew, then presented it to everyone around the world under a false name? Then it wouldn’t be her that was important, but the technology information it was said that she possessed. After the Hong Kong incident, Sousuke tried suggesting this to Tessa. When he did, she gave him a terribly mournful yet mysterious smile, and said:
“Mr. Sagara, don’t you think that someone’s tried that already...?”
Tessa didn’t tell him any details, but said that the results of the experiment were useless. If you present a small gold nugget to those who are mining gold and say, “This is it. There’s no more”- they wouldn’t throw away their hovels or pickaxes.
In other words, the Whispered weren’t the lucky ones who had struck “gold”.
Because essentially, they were the “gold”.
It wasn’t a gift. It was a curse.
There was no way to escape this fate.
No way at all.
How in the world could he tell her such a harsh truth?
He gradually tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
The day before, right before he had said, “Let’s hold hands” to Kaname on the way home, Sousuke had endeavored to tell her the words that couldn’t say at all.
-let’s throw everything away, and run away together.
It doesn’t matter what happens. Let’s go to a place where no one knows us, change our names and live a quiet life. It doesn’t matter if we’re poor. We don’t need money. If food becomes a problem, we’ll steal it. If something happens in the world, we’ll plug our ears and go on with our lives. One day we’ll be able to settle down with true meaning. And you and I can live in peace- Together-
Just then, Leonard’s words resurfaced.
“You’ve killed more than three times that many people”
“Someone like you, who’s killed more than a hundred people”
“I don’t think it’s fair”
It was true.
It hadn’t just been during regular battle. He had shot enemies who were crying and running away in the back, and blown up trucks filled with anxious new recruits. He’d also shot prisoners pleading for their life to conceal the traces of his group.
It wasn’t as if he had done it for fun. It had just been necessary.
But it was the truth.
And it wasn’t as if the past nine months he had spent in Tokyo reflected only his virtuous qualities. He had been made aware of just how bloodstained and tainted his life had been.
Was there someone out there who would love someone like him? Was he even worthy of running away with her?
Much less peacefully.
He must seem like a monster to her.
“...what is it?”
He couldn’t say anything in the end.
He felt a deep gulf.
Nothing had changed since then. It was still like when they were in the mountains of North Korea nine months earlier-
Lost in the dark, and in the rain.
It seemed that Kaname was finished changing. With her permission, he adjusted the back mirror, and saw her, now wearing plain clothes, turn the cap off the vegetable juice.
“It’s quiet, isn’t it... can we turn on the radio?”
Turning the volume down to a moderate level, he turned on the FM radio.
There was a gloomy, melancholic duet playing. Without even suggesting they change the station, she nibbled on her Calorie Mate silently until the end of the song.
“...alright, what a nice song. That was Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’,” the male DJ said in a calm voice. “...we have another song in store for you, but... eeh, we’ve just received some breaking news. Let’s go to Miss Kobayashi in the news center.”
It switched to a female newscaster.
“Hello, Kobayashi here. There has just been a large explosion in midtown Sydney, Australia. According to a quick announcement we’ve received from the Associated Press, today at around 7:30 Japan Time there was the sound of a loud explosion, and flames rising from the vicinity of a 25 story building. We don’t have information about casualties at this time. The building is... uhh, the headquarters of the Argyros security company, but we don’t know if this was an accident or an act of terrorism at this
time. We also don’t have any news as to whether or not there were any Japanese citizens registered at that company-”
The Argyros Building- Mithril’s Operations Headquarters?
Sousuke immediately took out his portable terminal, and brought up the television broadcast.
It was a picture of the morning office district. Smoke was pouring from one of the buildings. The images were being taken from the roof of another building somewhere. At a glance, it looked like some kind of explosive from the outside- more than likely a half-ton bomb had been dropped on it. Several of them.
Despite its many security systems, Operations Headquarters had been destroyed. Had it been hit by a bomb with a GPS system from high altitude and from a long distance?
“What’s this...” Kaname, who was leaning over the back seat to look at the terminal screen, said in a shaking voice.
Using his satellite communication equipment, Sousuke made contact with the Merida Island base. A female officer in the command center replied.
“What’s the situation?”
“We don’t know, only that Operations Headquarters has been bombed. We can’t make contact with them,” she said in a nervous voice. It seemed that she knew what had happened in Sydney. “But that’s not all. We’ve lost contact with the bases of the Mediterranean and South Atlantic squadrons... and we received a warning from the Indian Ocean squadron’s base just five minutes ago, saying that there were a number of cruise missiles headed their way-”
For a moment, the transmission was filled with static. Then it came back.
“Is everything alright?”
“...answer me, Uruz 7... yeah, we’re fine. It seems that there’s some electro-magnetic interference. E-line and D-line are also... ahh, what’s happening?”
“Sorry. I can’t reach the Lieutenant Commander or the Captain. Here’s Lieutenant Clouseau-” There was a little clicking sound.
“It just switched over. It’s me, Sergeant,” said a man’s voice. It was the commanding officer of the SRT, Ben Clouseau.
“We still don’t know what the situation is yet. It seems that the other squad bases are under attack. We’ve also been put on alert. It’s hard to imagine, but this is an all-out attack. We don’t know what will happen.”
“You know what I mean. We can’t let them do as they please. You’re to link up with Gebo 9 as planned and get back here as soon as possible. No...” Clouseau hesitated on the other end of the line.
“Cancel that. You won’t make it now. Stay on standby. After you meet up with the helicopter, wait for us to contact you at point Romeo 13.”
They wouldn’t make it in time. They were probably fighting for every minute, every second at the base. Even going at top speed, it would still take six hours to get there. Then it would be pointless. However, it was riskier to make the incredible reserved strength of “Sousuke Sagara and the Arbalest” wait at inter-calculated point Romeo 13- a small estate in the Bonin Islands.
“Got it, Sergeant? Protect the Arbalest at all costs. Angel, too.”
“Roger. Also, Lieutenant, I told this to Lieutenant Commander Kalinin last night, but they’re serious now. Be careful.”
The noise got stronger.
“You told the Lieutenant Commander what?”
“I said that they’re ser-”
“Can you hear me, Uruz 7!? Please repeat-”
The noise grew extremely loud, and then the transmission was cut off.
Silence. Kaname stared anxiously at the profile of Sousuke’s face as he furrowed his brow.
All-out attack? Seriously?
Setting aside the Operations Headquarters in the middle of the city, the other Mithril bases were basically impregnable fortresses. They would be unperturbed by a few bombs. Even getting near them with any kind of bomber was difficult to start with. Furthermore, there was their military force, equipment, training exercises, emergency stores, and reconnaissance abilities. If it really was their intent to take down Merida Island, then they needed an entire marine regiment. And if they moved a military force that size, there’s no way that Mithril wouldn’t notice it.
If they had ASes equipped with Lambda Drivers. If they had such superior technology.
Think about it. The enemy was even jamming Mithril’s communication network, right? But was such electro-magnetic interference really possible?
“What’s happening...?” Kaname asked in a restrained voice, as if she were touching a sore spot.
“We’re not going to Merida Island.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen there. It’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous... what d’you mean?”
Sousuke didn’t have time to answer before another call sound came from the FM radio. It was from the all-purpose helicopter sent by the Western Pacific Fleet to pick them up- the MH-67, call-sign “Gebo 9”.
They were able to pick it up digitally, but the signal was fairly weak. No- it wasn’t that. The television images were messed up, as well. Everything was full of static. Was there strong electro-magnetic interference throughout the entire neighborhood? Or was it an even larger area than that?
“This is Uruz 7. The landing zone is secure.”
“Uruz 7. Gebo 9 is presently passing over the outskirts of Atsugi. Please continue to secure the landing zone,” a woman’s voice said through the noise. It was Lieutenant Eva Santos of the flight unit. She had taken care of them countless times. To her “passengers” Sousuke and Kaname, her voice was just like that of a singing angel.
“Uruz 7, roger. The landing zone is...”
Then Sousuke faltered.
A cold chill ran up his spine.
“The landing zone...”
Looking very carefully out of the van window, Sousuke tightened his grip on his submachine gun. With his left hand, which was holding the radio, he slowly gestured to Kaname to “get down”.
“What’s wrong, Uruz 7?”
“...Gebo 9. We are currently surrounded. By at least five of those Alastor type robots. I also detect foot soldiers armed with assault rifles... four... five... six... there are at least eight of them.
They are about 80 meters away, concealed in a thicket in the northeast.”
“Damn it all to hell. It’s not just Merida Island, they’re here, too...”
“Gebo 9, roger. Try to hold out, Sousuke!”
Sousuke clicked the safety off of his submachine gun. At the very least, it was thirteen to one; and if you thought about general tactics, there were probably more.
Can I do this...?
But there was no other choice.
“I’m sorry, Chidori,” Sousuke muttered, “but it looks like it’s going to be a long five minutes.”
The enemy closed in on Sousuke and Kaname, who were sitting in a van in a parking lot. As far as they could tell, there were more than 13 of them. And half of them were those robots. Even if the numbers were fair, he didn’t have the power to beat them.
“Lie down in the seat, and don’t raise up for anything,” Sousuke said to Kaname, who was sitting in the back seat with an anxious look on her face.
“What do you mean-”
“Aren’t you listening? The enemy is here, we have to escape.”
Sousuke turned the key and threw himself across the passenger seat.
Just then there were gunshots. There was a sharp noise as radial cracks ran through the bulletproof front windshield. Just as expected, a sniper had aimed at the driver. The enemy wasn’t
stupid. The bullets that penetrated the bulletproof glass had torn up the headrest where Sousuke’s head had been only a few moments before.
Kaname let out a short scream as she was showered by pieces of sponge and fake leather in the back seat.
Still keeping down, Sousuke put the van in gear, stepped on the throttle and quickly took off. He had warmed up the engine every couple hours during the night, because it had become that hard to start it. The tires smoked, and the van slid a little on the road. Several more shots came from another direction, hitting the driver’s side door and hood. Thick metallic sounds struck the body in succession.
Cutting the wheel as he got up, Sousuke turned the van away from the parking lot exit. It was obvious that the enemy would be waiting to ambush them from there.
As they went along, they were sprayed by machine gun fire from the right. The enemy was aiming at the chassis. Sousuke could tell right away from the sounds of the gunfire that they were using 5.56mm German-made machine guns. That was okay; they couldn’t puncture the bulletproof tires with those caliber bullets. The van accelerated. They rushed at the wire fence at the back of the parking lot.
Three shadows jumped out in front of them. They were giants wearing black trench coats.
The robots aimed their arm rifles at the van. Sousuke turned the high beams on and plunged forward. The enemies didn’t flinch. They were different from humans. They accurately shot at the driver’s seat, causing the windshield to turn pure white.
Sousuke bent down to dodge the line of fire, then stepped once again on the throttle. The three enemy robots were close.
“Hya...” Kaname’s body was tossed around in the back seat. One of the Alastors went flying to the left. But the two remaining Alastors were using their superhuman strength and stamina to hang on to the body of the van. One was on the hood, and the other was next to the passenger side door- in other words, right in front of their eyes.
It wasn’t as if he could stop. If he did for even just a little bit, everything would be over.
Sousuke fought for control of the steering as it went wild, then used force to drive into the fence. There was an ear-shattering noise and blinding sparks. The van heaved up and down violently, but the Alastors weren’t thrown off. The van skidded along, dragging the wire fence it had hit with it.
Before they even had time to catch their breath, they were running along the street that had suddenly appeared in front of them. The van accelerated for a second time.
The enemy on the passenger’s side started to fire its rifle into the bulletproof glass from point-blank range. Fragments flew all over the place as the glass was instantly pulverized. The enemy on the hood swung its fist, and with tremendous power, beat the hell out of the front windshield. After the glass, the driver would be next-
As Sousuke sped up, he cut the wheel to the left side of the street- up against the block wall around a house. The Alastor on the passenger side was crunched in between, yet continued to hold onto the window frame without letting go. Remaining completely expressionless, it tried to attack Sousuke.
The van pulled away from the wall. Adding momentum, Sousuke hit again. The Alastor was thrown off like a snapped rubber band and hit the pavement.
“Sousuke, in front of you!!”
There was no time to relax. Kaname’s shouting made Sousuke face front, where he saw the other Alastor break through the windshield and try to reach for his chest. No, it wasn’t trying to grab him. It was already pointing its arm rifle straight at Sousuke’s head.
He slammed on the brakes. The van was thrown forward, messing up the enemy’s positioning. Then there was a glaring shot in front of Sousuke’s eyes. The bullet just barely missed his head.
He’d been able to shut his eyes, but the shot from point-blank range- a sound almost like a shock wave- had blasted in his right ear. A piiiiing sound rang in his ear, his sense of balance was off, and the smoke made it temporarily impossible to see anything. His head was spinning.
“It’s still in front of you!”
Sousuke relied on Kaname’s voice. He fumbled around until he grabbed the submachine gun on the passenger’s seat, then fired on full auto at the enemy. The Alastor was thrown back again, but it didn’t go away. He aimed at what appeared to be his opponent’s wrist and emptied the rest of his cartridge. Fragments were flying around inside the van, and Sousuke felt a thick pain run up his left arm.
He tore the wrist apart.
When he wiped his watering eyes and looked ahead, he saw the Alastor in danger of regaining its balance on the hood. He turned the wheel wide right, then left. The enemy was unable to withstand this and was thrown off.
He accelerated quickly. The gears were making strange noises. He tried to check behind him, but there wasn’t a rearview mirror anymore.
“Are you hurt, Chidori!?” Sousuke yelled over the blowing wind. He couldn’t hear much of anything out of his right ear.
There was no time to confirm it, because now there was a black sedan following them. When Sousuke tried to turn right at a crossroads, his hand slipped off the steering wheel. It was his blood. His left arm below the elbow was soaked in it. A piece of metal about the size of a ticket was stuck in his arm. He wasn’t shocked. Experience told him, “You can still move”. He’d treat it later.
He ran through a red light as he used one hand to change the magazine of his submachine gun. He very nearly ran over an office lady on her way to work.
“If we stop we’re done for!”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?! Stay down!”
Gan! Bullets hit the van. The pursuing vehicle was shooting at them. Even though it was morning in the town area, the enemy didn’t care.
“Sh-should I shoot?”
“No,” Sousuke rejected her promptly. “You’re not to shoot.”
“Oh... but why-”
“You’re not going to touch a gun!”
She hadn’t had any training, so it wasn’t like she could hit anything.
Also, she shouldn’t have a gun.
She couldn’t have a gun.
♦ ♦ ♦
Communication lines with Indian Ocean squad were also completely cut. The officer in charge tried every means she could think of. She even tried using civilian phone lines, but that didn’t work, either.
“This isn’t just regular electro-magnetic inference. We can’t use the business satellite circuits, either... what is this?” muttered Tessa, who was sitting in the squad leader’s chair in the Merida Island command center. She hadn’t changed from the night before because she had been on standby the whole time with only a nap. Even though she was properly dressed in her usual uniform, she was incredibly worn out.
She was worried about Admiral Borda, whom she adored like her own uncle, but for now, she couldn’t even mention such worries. The same with Sousuke and Kaname, as well.
“It’s happening on a global scale, Captain,” Sergeant Shinohara, who was in charge of communications, said as she hurriedly pecked at the panel. “Most if the spy satellites, including Sting, are out of use. And not just ours. Business satellites are of course down, but so are Navstar, Comstar, the Keyhole series; even the American military satellites have received damage. Those stations that were reporting on the Sydney incident stopped transmitting a few minutes ago.”
Tessa clenched her teeth.
“A solar wind. But that’s an extremely small scale.”
Storms of electromagnetic waves emitted from the sun- those were solar winds. When sunspot activity became particularly lively, occasionally large-scale electromagnetic radiation would rain incessantly down on the earth. These days, they routinely
released “storm warnings” for predicting increases in sunspot activity by observing the sun. Because of advances in protective measures, in most situations, those electromagnetic waves had very little effect and caused little malfunction in manmade satellites or ground technology.
Something like an earthquake, for example. And no more than just a small one.
However, every once in a while, a “major earthquake” happens.
It’s impossible to accurately predict a major earthquake. You can infer as to the likelihood and endeavor to reduce the risk, but you won’t know exactly when it will happen. It was like large dips in the stock market, or a large-scale epidemic.
In the case that the earth was hit by an incredible solar wind, the damage caused would be comparable with the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion. There would be little effect on the human body, but it would deal a great deal of damage to precise electronic equipment. Even cable communications wouldn’t be an exception.
Restoration was possible, of course. With just a little time, the malfunctions and difficulties would improve.
Nevertheless, this degree of damage would take time.
“Most of the long distance communications which use satellite circuits and the ionosphere, without regards to those for military or business use, are not functional at present. VHF and ELF are alive, but... there’s still an outbreak of downed servers on the internet, and a vicious cycle of confusion and overloading. There’s mayhem in the military and business flight controls from the west coast of the US to the west banks of the Indian Ocean. They will be restored, but this kind of solar activity has never been observed before-”
“Solar winds aren’t the problem,” said Tessa’s second-in-command, Commander Richard Mardukas. He was always a hard-to-please man, but now he was even more tense than usual.
“I’ve had experience with trouble like this. During this kind of disaster, enemies as well as allies would not be fighting. However, our enemy has taken advantage of this. That’s the problem.”
An unpredictable “major earthquake of electromagnetic waves”.
More than it working out for the enemy, each of Mithril’s bases were under attack.
“Even if the enemy has abilities of that magnitude- the gamble would be too risky. What do you think, Lieutenant Commander?” Mardukas asked Lieutenant Commander Kalinin, who was discussing the base’s warning systems with Lieutenant Clouseau of the SRT (Special Response Team).
Kalinin turned around. After staying silent for a moment, and without any facial expression, he shook his head side to side.
“Now... we just have warnings.”
“I know that. What’s your opinion?”
“I don’t know. I-”
Tessa raised her eyebrows at Kalinin’s very unusual behavior.
“No. In any case, if the enemy is coming, it will be soon. We gave orders to all of the available multi-purpose helicopters to go on patrol. Antiaircraft equipment will also be necessary. Five of the AV-8’s equipped with AMRAAM are-”
Just then, the officer in charge of the antiaircraft warning system yelled out, “Super high-speed cruise missiles are coming.
There are eight of them. Zone D4. Distance, 70 miles. Mach 6.3. Estimated time till impact-”
“65 seconds. An ambush. Sound the first alarm. Have everyone in the above ground observatory take shelter,” Tessa ordered immediately. The chilling tone of the air-raid alarm sirens, which had never been used outside of training, resounded loudly throughout the area. The lights in the command center turned red, and the words “Red Alert 1” ran continuously across the screens.
“Air traffic control. Abandon Gebo 6 on the runway and take shelter along with the surrounding ground crew.”
“Ro-roger. Gebo 5 is currently land-”
“Have them make an emergency takeoff, and go as high as they can.”
Even as Tessa was giving orders, the bright points on the screen- the super high-speed missiles, drew closer to Merida Island.
The Tomahawk cruise missiles that traveled at subsonic speeds were already 1st generation weapons. The new, up-and-coming Fasthawks attacked by closing in from high altitudes at ultra high-speed- at devastatingly high speeds. They probably wouldn’t be able to protect the base with their own antimissile missiles. If the warning radar didn’t drop below half-efficiency, there might have still been measures to take.
However, Tessa wasn’t given the time to be surprised by the fact that the enemy possessed such equipment or to complain about their own handicap. All she was permitted to do right now was save the personnel she could save, and try to curb as much damage as possible.
<-Warning. Multiple high-speed missiles are approaching this base. All above-ground personnel, discontinue your work and
evacuate to the underground zones. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill-> the AI announced neutrally.
Including the command center, most of the facilities on the Merida Island base had been constructed underground. It was a structure modeled on the Gremikha Base on the Soviet Commonwealth’s Kola Peninsula, which made use of Typhoon-class submarines.
While Tessa handed down detailed orders, Merida Island’s anti-aircraft missiles were fired to intercept the enemy missiles. There was no image or sound. The points of green light indicated on the screen were just figures getting closer to the enemy missiles at a strong speed.
It would probably be an enormous endeavor. In a dry, composed voice, the deck officer reported, “Three targets successfully intercepted. The remaining missiles are still approaching.”
Another officer then said, “A second wave of enemy missiles detected in zone E4. There are nine to twelve of them. Distance 85-”
“Fire all missiles.”
“Roger. BOL firing six through nine.”
All of the remaining missiles they could fire shot out of missile launchers from various places around the island. There was no reason to be hesitant. The impact from the first wave would probably destroy most of the above ground intercept systems.
“Fi... First wave, five seconds to impact.”
“Calm down,” Tessa said with a light sigh, leaning back against her seat. She had a dignity about her that not even a veteran commander could match.
“The core of it will be a moment.”
The bright dots on the screen piled up on Merida Island.
And for the first time- the first, real time, the command center was hit by the impact of war.
♦ ♦ ♦
The black sedan moved right beside the van.
Hitting with all its might, the sedan almost caused the van to go into a spin. Holding down the struggling wheel with one hand, Sousuke pointed his submachine gun out the window.
The armor piercing ammunition poured against the driver’s side of the pursuing vehicle, filling the bulletproof glass with holes. The enemy also shot. Sousuke got the better of the enemy fire by using the emergency brakes as he emptied the remaining bullets in his magazine.
A spray of blood from the driver splattered inside of the enemy vehicle. The black sedan rocked heavily, and seemed to retreat from view. But just then, the enemy moved to avoid hitting the shoulder of the road, and collided into the rear right side of the van.
Kaname screamed out.
Sousuke calmly countered, trying to somehow recover from the hit. It wasn’t enough. There was a slow truck directly in front of him that he couldn’t avoid, then a shock that felt like the van had just been hit by an enormous hammer. This time Sousuke completely lost control, and the scenery outside- a metropolitan street- turned into a raging torrent and rotated, and before they knew it, even the sky and ground had changed places.
Now upside-down, the van’s roof hit and scraped against the asphalt, making a bizarre shrieking noise. The van continued to
slide along like that until it reached the middle of the intersection, where it finally stopped.
Sousuke’s head and shoulders were throbbing in pain. The offensive smell of burned metal stung his nose.
Kaname didn’t answer.
The warped driver’s side door wouldn’t open. Sousuke gathered up the noticeable equipment and crawled out through the window. The pursuing vehicle had also flipped over, and was gushing steam about 60 meters behind them. Facing them was the truck they had hit.
“H-hey... are you okay?” the driver of a car pulled over nearby asked with a look of concern on his face as he approached. When he noticed that Sousuke, who was injured all over and covered in blood, was holding a submachine gun, the business-looking man stopped in his tracks.
“Get down,” Sousuke said, shoving the man aside and pointing his submachine gun with both hands. He shot three times, aiming at an enemy that had just crawled out of the wreckage of the pursuit vehicle. The guy fell down and didn’t move again.
“Hee...!?” the man dropped down in fright as onlookers who had watched the scene from a distance screamed and ran around trying to get away. Without giving any thought to the chaos he had created by his display of violence, Sousuke knelt down and looked into the back seat of the van. Kaname was stretched out senseless across the upside-down roof. As far as he could see, she didn’t have any conspicuous external injuries.
“Chido-” he started to call out again, but stopped because the man behind him would hear. If he did that, then what chance
would she have left of returning to a normal life- such a futile thought crossed his mind.
He crawled halfway in through the broken window and dragged Kaname’s body out.
“Hang in there.”
“How many times does this make...” she said in a hazy voice. “Never again... will I ride in a vehicle you’re driving.”
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to as many times as it takes to protect you.”
There was the sound of squealing tires from far off. Two more vans were making their way to the scene of the accident.
“Can you stand?”
“I think so...”
“Can you run?”
“It’s not like I have a choice, is it?”
Slinging Kaname’s bag over his shoulder, Sousuke grabbed her arm and started to run. Looking as if her slender legs would get tangled up, Kaname followed unsteadily after him.
They entered an alleyway and turned west. The cars would get past them by doing this- but he was worried about the enemy surrounding them. Even if it was just by one second, they had to somehow hurry west. If they ran just a little further, there was a large nature park where a helicopter could land.
As they ran, Sousuke used his radio to try and contact Lieutenant Santos.
“Uruz 7 to Gebo 9, do you copy?”
“This is Gebo 9. We can’t hear you. Report your present position. I repeat, report your present-”
“The landing zone has changed. Pick us up at the park three kilometers west of here. I repeat, pick us up at the park three kilometers west-”
There was strong static then a beep. Then silence.
It was no use.
Debris, shells, the crash- he didn’t know what the cause was, but the radio wouldn’t work after that. There was only an unintelligible code of unknown meaning filling up the screen.
He threw it away. This wasn’t the time to worry about the preservation of password data.
They came out on a small road in the middle of a residential area and ran. Somewhere a dog was barking. They ran across a neighborhood housewife at the corner who screamed and dropped her trash bag.
“Wait... my ankle...” Kaname said imploringly, limping.
“Put up with it.”
Violently pulling her along by the wrist, Sousuke pointed his gun behind them. Climbing silently over the fence of the private houses, one of the Alastors came into view.
He aimed for the head and shot. The enemy crossed its arms protectively over its sensor area. In that moment, Sousuke took out a hand grenade and pulled the pin out with his teeth. As he tossed it using an underhand throw, he reversed his steps and pulled Kaname’s arm to the other side of a nearby telephone pole. The grenade rolled under the Alastor’s feet and blew up.
There was a dry explosive sound and shock wave. The flying shrapnel from the grenade hit the poles and block wall and scattered all over the place.
Smoke covered the road. There wasn’t any time to see what had become of the enemy before Sousuke started running again. Even if it had worked, they couldn’t stay there.
A middle-aged school boy had fallen down in the middle of the road, clutching his right leg and wailing. It seemed that he had been walking to school when he was hit by the flying debris from the explosion. It was a shame, but there wasn’t time to help him. Sousuke pulled on Kaname’s hand, running past the boy, whose hands were covered in deep crimson.
“How could you...!!” Kaname said starkly, “We got him involved, didn’t we!? You know that, right!?”
“Would it be better to die right here!?”
“Don’t think, just run!”
Without paying any attention Kaname, who had turned pale and was shaking, Sousuke continued to hurry.
The enemy had almost completely surrounded them. They could be attacked from any direction. And the enemy wasn’t stupid. The next time they came, it would be finished. The only way left to run was west, and the enemy was even trying to gradually close off the exit out of that tunnel.
They could hear the sound of ambulances in the distance. They left the residential area and cut across the road.
Climbing over some azalea bushes, they headed into the nature park. All of the cherry trees were bare, their naked limbs stretching out into the cold winter sky.
They could hear the sound of a helicopter rotor from overhead.
It was their allies’ helicopter, Lieutenant Santos’s Pave Mare. To them, it was a sweet sound, like the fluttering of an angel’s wings. Somehow, they had been able to catch Sousuke and Kaname’s movements.
The Alastor that had been hit with the grenade a short time earlier was now awkwardly running after them. And human pursuers carrying rifles were coming from the direction of 7 o’clock- behind them and to the left.
“I can’t run anymore.”
“Help is coming. Just hold on.”
Lending the staggering Kaname his shoulder for support, Sousuke returned fire as they ran. The enemy shot. Bullets danced all around the two, knocking chips out of the tree trunks next to them.
He could feel the pain from his wounds and Kaname’s weight.
His heart was pounding violently and it hurt to breathe.
His vision was slowly swimming.
It felt strangely like déjà vu. The person over his shoulder was different, but he had been in this situation many times before. In some jungle. In the hopeless ruins of a faraway place.
But his surroundings now were of course the area he had become familiar with over the past nine months, Tokyo.
No, it wasn’t.
This was now his world. Specifically, a war zone.
They cut across a tree-lined road, and could see a desolate plaza through a gap in the trees.
He threw a smoke bomb into the middle of the plaza. He needed to let his allies know their position. The smoke bomb emitted an enormous amount of yellow smoke. Sousuke then
turned aside quickly, taking cover behind a tree and continued returning fire.
There was a point-blank impact from the right.
Throwing Kaname down, Sousuke fired back. The enemy fell down, clutched his stomach and cried out. Sousuke finished him off by shooting him in the head. Without wasting any time, he fired at the enemy from the other direction, then changed out the magazine of his gun with his bloodstained hands.
About 100 meters behind them, pale lightning flashed overhead. Now with its ECS cancelled, the figure of Mithril’s MH-67 Pave Mare appeared and turned heavily.
The helicopter turned starboard to the enemy side. Using the rotary machine gun with which it was equipped, the helicopter fired at the pursuers. It was called a “minigun”. It could shoot 6000 rounds per minute- or in other words, it could rain 100 rifle bullets a second down on the enemy.
It certainly was reliable reinforcement.
The tremendous support fire from the sky tore the Alastors ragged. The human soldiers were also turned into sprays of blood by the barrage of bullets. Pieces of equipment, as well as human fragments created a morning rain in the park.
Kaname averted her eyes from the gruesome spectacle, shaking her head like she was shaking off a bad dream. Her face was pale and trembling so much it was heartbreaking.
Santos’s voice called out over the external speakers, “Go around to the north side! We’ll hold them from the back!”
The Pave Mare started to land where the smoke bomb was.
The strong wind from the rotor violently shook the plants in the park, and rolling up the smoke, spread it out in a spiral shape.
All the while, the helicopter’s machine gun continued its rain of bullets.
“Stand up,” Sousuke said, pulling Kaname’s arm.
Just then, an orange light ran across the corner of his vision. He soon realized that the enemy had shot a large carrier missile.
It wasn’t aiming for them.
It flew straight towards the landing helicopter, hitting it right in the nose.
The impact seemed to hit his entire body.
There was a pale flash, then crimson flames.
The Pave Mare, which had still been 30 meters in the air, all at once lost its balance and crashed into the ground, tail-first.
The caudal area was smashed, and the helicopter broke apart. The rotors snapped, essentially turning into an enormous, sharp carving knifes that went flying off in a haphazard directions. One stuck into the ground, one flew off into the distance, and one sliced a nearby shrub in two-
The jet fuel caught fire, and the helicopter was engulfed in a raging inferno. Various parts that had caught on fire smoked and were scattered all over the place.
It had been too easy.
But they had to accept it.
Santos and the others had been killed instantly.
Gebo 9’s crew members- the casual conversation that they had shared with them. Their smiling faces, full of self-confidence, came to mind. The ever-so-important picture of one of the crewmembers’ families. The scene where Santos had teased Tessa at the party.
All of that passed by in an instant.
And with just one hit-
It was Kaname’s desperate voice. But Sousuke didn’t even have the time to be overcome by the scene before the missile shooter was hurriedly trying to get to the other side of a thicket, launcher over his shoulder.
Sousuke lined up his shot. He fired. He killed him.
Where was the next one?
The next enemy.
Turning away from the wreckage of the burning helicopter, Sousuke continued firing his submachine gun.
“Stop it. Stop it already-”
Forcibly holding down the half-crazed and screaming Kaname, Sousuke attacked the enemy.
He only had a few bullets left.
He didn’t have any hand grenades, either. And no one to rescue them.
There wasn’t anywhere to run.
This was game, set, match.
<Due to file X1-01 special orders, emergency evacuation mode activating. Compulsory execution of external voice application>
A voice suddenly resounded out of nowhere from the burning wreckage behind them. It was a man’s deep, calm, and synthetic voice.
<This unit’s serial number is C-002. ARX-7. Code name, “Arbalest”. If there are any soldiers affiliated with this machine within a 100 meter radius, please make an oral reply>
“Al, you’re still alive?”
<Check. Sergeant Sousuke Sagara confirmed. Affirmative, Uruz 7>
The Arm Slave that had been loaded on the Pave Mare- the Arbalest, was still alive.
<This unit is exposed to high temperatures exceeding the practical heat-resisting limits. Permission to evacuate>
“Permission granted. Get over here now.”
It burst out from the ugly ruins of the cargo hold.
There was a very black silhouette.
Pushing its way through red hot metal and flames, an eight-meter tall giant appeared.
♦ ♦ ♦
It wasn’t a perfect attack.
But their aim was terribly accurate.
The flight of the enemy missiles continued to a third wave, all in all raining down 18 shots of 500-pound explosives. The anti-aircraft radar system. The communications system. The intercept missile system. The runways, observatories and several munitions storehouses. All of those were destroyed, with quite a bit of damage reaching underground, as well. The fire extinguishing system had started, but when it would stop- more than that, whether there was a real point to it at all- that in and of itself wasn’t clear.
Staring morosely at the mostly irrelevant data on the screen, Tessa said, “Casualties?”
“18 with light injuries, 11 with serious injuries-” the watch company officer paused for a moment, then said, “-and five dead. The people in observatory number two didn’t make it out in time.”
“I see,” she said in a voice like she had just heard tomorrow’s weather, and nodded. She remembered the faces and names of the dead. She even remembered their favorite genres of music.
“The real trouble starts here,” she said, lightly holding Mardukas, who was trying to comfort her, back with one hand. To even her own surprise, she found that her fingertips were shaking ever-so-slightly.
“The enemy attack will keep coming. More than likely, they’ll send in ground troops, too. This time they’ll use aircrafts. Flight control. What’s the status of the runways?”
“They’ve been hit bad,” said the officer in charge of flight control as he displayed the damage to the base on the screen. “The elevators and dome, too. It’ll probably be more than six hours until the aircrafts on this base can take-off.”
“That’s not enough time.”
They had already lost most of their anti-aircraft faculties.
In order to intercept any enemy aircrafts approaching Merida Island, they would need a sortie of Super Harriers equipped with the very latest advanced-model mid-range missiles.
However, the huge elevator that transported such aircrafts from the underground hangar to the surface had been destroyed. Just removing the wreckage alone would take at least a day. And that estimate by the flight-controller included AS assistance.
“We’re receiving a transmission from Gebo 5. 10 large-scale aircrafts approaching from zone F8. Either transports or bombers.”
Now that the base’s radar was destroyed, they depended solely on the radar of the helicopter they had sent out earlier.
“Seems they’re serious about this...”
“Yes, it does,” Mardukas agreed.
The enemy really planned on invading the island.
Should they retaliate? Or turn tail and run? ...no, neither of those were choices she had. Tessa knew that very well.
The de Danaan was having some adjustments made. The work had been rushed since yesterday, but it would not be operational for several more hours. In other words, for the next several hours, Tessa and the others were prevented from escaping the island by those means. By air, and by sea.
It was a magnificent surprise attack- Mithril had lost. By taking advantage of the chaos in the communications and radar networks, they had blindsided them and left them without a leg to stand on. Afterwards they would be able to strike as they pleased.
However, they weren’t such pushovers as to let the enemy do what they wanted. If the enemy wanted to bring it on, then Mithril would keep pace with them. At best, give them some painful memories-
“Lieutenant Commander Kalinin, please start all of the ASes. Equip them with class-A equipment, even the training M6es. Station six ASes along the north bank.”
“Captain, we are receiving a warning from Gebo 3 on patrol...!” one of the officers said in a tense voice, “Zone G2. There are approaching... warships? It’s not clear what, but something is approaching from the sea. Three of them detected by infrared.”
“I need to you clarify. What’s coming?”
“I’m sorry. Since there isn’t a corresponding category... it seems that Gebo 3 can’t explain, either. No, wait. We’re getting an image. Putting it on screen.”
He minimized the map of the command center, and switched to the images captured by Gebo 3’s optical sensors.
The image was very far away and shown in real-time.
Zone G2 was a 30-mile area of ocean northwest of Merida Island. It was very shallow with coral reefs that had sunk years ago underwater. Plunging through those ocean green waters were the three “somethings”, heading southeast.
In a moment, they could see what looked like three fat men submerged up to their hips in ocean water, solemnly pushing through the waves. They were holding what looked like a laundry pole with both hands.
But that wasn’t what it was.
They were large. Abnormally large. And those “three men” were covered in boorish blue armor. They looked like inverted triangles wearing out-of-date metal armor. Their enormous shoulders were comparable to gas storage tanks.
Those massive ASes- were Behemoths. Just like the one that had wreaked havoc on Ariake six months earlier. Now three of them together had appeared, and were heading towards Merida Island.
What looked like laundry poles were actually enormous rifles- cannons. Very large caliber cannons that looked like they could destroy any kind of fortification with just one shot.
Even though they looked like they were moving slowly, the scale was different. They were probably going faster than 30 knots. In other words, they would reach the base in an hour.
Super weapons equipped with Lambda Drivers that could withstand all sorts of enemy fire. The only thing that could compete with them was the Arbalest.
And those enemies were coming closer to the base-
♦ ♦ ♦
Now in the Arbalest, Sousuke grabbed up Kaname and exited the nature park.
With the power of the 3rd generation AS, it only took two or three jumps to clear it. They had no choice but the leave the wreckage of the fallen Pave Mare.
He called up the digital map.
The north and south roads of the commuter belt were horribly congested right now. Using that congestion as a shield, Sousuke hurried north. He would use the ECS for a while. If the invisibility mode were functioning, it would make it difficult for enemy pursuit. Even an ordinary person who was scared whenever they saw its figure would only make a strange face at the nearby propulsion sound and ionized smell.
Even still, the city was in major chaos.
Patrol car sirens wailed, and police helicopters circled in the sky.
They went by Mitaka, towards Kichijouji. Since the roads were covered up, they moved from rooftop to rooftop. Jumping over the JR tracks, the Arbalest landed on the rooftop of a tenant building. All while transparent.
Sousuke set Kaname down on the roof, and then opened the hatch.
“Wait on standby in mode 4. Even if I’m mistaken about this, don’t use the active sensors.”
<Training message. Please explain the meaning of “even if I’m mistaken about this”>
Accurately judging that Sousuke was about to shout at it, the Arbalest’s AI, Al, said:
<A joke. Did it relieve the tension?>
“Since I completely owe you for today, I’ll let it pass.”
<Thank you, Sergeant>
Sousuke slipped out, coming down the arm and rushed over to Kaname. The atmosphere was frazzled, because the Arbalest was still using the ECS. Something within the limits of the invisibility field became invisible from the outside. Even Kaname, who was sitting exhausted in the Arbalest’s hands.
Looking haggard, she asked, “Can we... take a break, now?”
“Yes. For the time being.”
“Have you calmed down now?”
“On the outside, yeah.”
Her voice was dark. She sighed.
She rubbed her sore ankle, then placed her hand on the Arbalest’s finger.
“This always shows up when we’re in a tight spot, doesn’t it?”
<Are those words evaluating this unit’s specifications, Miss Chidori?>
Kaname smiled awkwardly at Al’s words.
“I guess. Anyway...”
“That was Santos’ helicopter, wasn’t it?”
Kaname also knew about Santos. She had seen her many times since last fall.
“So... they’re gone, aren’t they?”
Kaname clinched her fists.
“They died coming to save me...”
“No. It was their mission.”
“But it’s the same thing, right?”
“Everyone’s getting mixed up in this...” She held both of her arms and drooped her head. “Even though I haven’t done anything... I’m sorry... but, I... I don’t think I can be strong anymore...”
Her voice was trembling.
“I’m scared. Of myself. Of them. And... I’m sorry, but...”
Big teardrops fell from her cheeks, which were hidden by her long hair.
“I’m scared of you, too.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore. I like you, but I’m scared. I like you so much it hurts, but I’m scared. I get panicked, and I feel so helpless...”
This was the first time he had ever heard her so vulnerable before.
But it was only natural.
No matter what, she always appeared too strong. No matter what, she was always the older sister. No matter what, she always charged, “Give me your best shot”.
But in the end, she was just a 17-year-old girl.
A human being that could stay completely calm in the face of raging violence- that would be stranger.
Just then, there was an electronic sound coming from the pocket of her jacket. It was her cell phone. She had received an email.
Looking down, she took out the phone. She didn’t think at all about the danger that someone could find their location by her taking the message.
When she read the email, Kaname wailed out like someone completely broken.
“What is it?”
“Kyouko is... everyone is...!”
He took the phone from Kaname. There was a picture attached to the message.
It was a rooftop. The rooftop of Jindai High school.
There was a female student who had been gagged- their classmate, Kyouko Tokiwa, with her hands tied behind her back. She had a ton of block-shaped C4 explosives wrapped around her torso. Kyouko looked very pale, and like she didn’t have the faintest clue about what was happening to her.
The message read like this:
“There are explosives like this in various places inside the school. If you want to save your friends, leave the AS and come to the school. If you don’t comply, we’ll blow everything up.”