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Full Metal Panic! - Volume 7 - Chapter 3


Chapter 3: Damage Control 
 
 
Sergeant Kurz Weber was helping with putting out fires on “Path 0”, which ran through the middle of the Merida Island Base. 
Since he had been out jogging when the air raid had started, he was still wearing a sweat suit. He was wearing one of the oxygen masks that had been equipped around the base, and using an adze to remove obstacles, he was busy pulling casualties out from underneath the steel framework. He was drenched from head to toe by the ocean water unloaded by groups fighting the fires. 
Angry rebukes and reprimands were being tossed back and forth. The lights were out, and the dim passageways were draped in clouds of water vapor. Water poured down in torrents from the ceiling, and he could barely see five meters in front of him. 
Kurz carried a casualty over to a waiting medic. 
“Second degree burns on his right arm! He didn’t breathe in any smoke, and he’s conscious! He said his right ankle hurts!” 
“Thank you, Sergeant!” 
The wounded man was carried away on a stretcher. 
Kurz took the mask, inhaled the stuffy air and coughed a few times. 
“...damn, this is a hell of a way to wake someone up.” 
He tried one of the cell phones for internal use on the base. Thankfully, the lines were still working. When he tried to call the leader of the SRT, Clouseau was in the middle of a call; so he called the second-in-command, Second Lieutenant Melissa Mao, and got through. 
“Are you okay?” 
“Yeah.” 
“Three enemy Behemoths are coming. Hangar number three. ASAP.” 
“Roger.” 
With just that concise exchange, they hung up. He was to meet up with her as soon as possible in hanger number three, where the main force of their unit, the M9 Gernsbacks, were kept. 
They were both professionals. There was no need to show concern for the other’s welfare or be happy that the other was okay. A detailed explanation of the situation could come later, too. 
However- 
“Did she say three Behemoths?” 
Those huge ASes? Three of them? 
How on earth were they going to fight those? 
Hadn’t missiles and 7mm bullets been useless against that giant? 
The memory of the battle a half-a-year earlier in Ariake, Tokyo, came to Kurz’s mind. An entire unit of self-defense ASes had been helpless before the Behemoth. The only one who had been able to oppose it had been Sousuke’s Arbalest- because it was equipped with a lambda driver. 
Even given that, it had been a severely close fight. 
And now, neither the Arbalest nor Sousuke were here. 
He ran to hanger number three, where everyone was already running around, making pre-battle preparations. 
“Isn’t the transfer armor for three done yet!?” 
“Not yet!” 
“Get it done now and perform a complete check! You can go ahead and skip up to protocol C!” 
“Roger!” 
“You idiot! There! Carry the 40mm bullets over there!” 
“Huh? But-” 
“Ahh, damn it, didn’t you listen!? All GEC is loading in the second spot!!” 
The company commander of maintenance, Lieutenant Sachs, was yelling here and there at his subordinates. Even though the hangar had escaped damage from the air raid, the lights were on emergency settings. Through the dim red lighting, the M9 Gernsbacks, which were still connected to power cables, let out a low, propulsion sound. 
“Sorry I’m late!” 
The AS pilots were gathered in one corner of the hangar. Including the pilots of the old M6es, there was a total of 18 of them. They were in front of a whiteboard covered in dregs of ink. 
Just like Kurz, everyone was dressed in what they just happened to be wearing at the time. 
Melissa Mao, who had slipped into the clothes of a commissioned officer- the khaki-colored skirt and blouse like Tessa wore- had a difficult look on her face. It was not her usual field clothing. 
More than likely, she had been doing paperwork earlier. Since her promotion to Second Lieutenant, she had been wearing the uniform of a female commissioned officer more often. 
“You here!? Attention!” Mao shouted in a not so very elegant fashion. Then Clouseau, who was dressed in his field clothes and looking a little worn-out, probably because he had been up all night, moved out in front of the dirty white board. 
“It would be useless to refute with a ‘maybe’, wouldn’t it?” the Lieutenant, a Canadian of African-descent, replied. “Amalgam has mounted a general attack. They have more power than we expected. There are three Behemoths approaching from area G2. In 40 minutes, this base will be in firing range of their rifles.” 
Clouseau barely refrained from clicking his tongue. 
Just 40 minutes. That didn’t leave them with much time, did it? How had they missed them from so close a distance? 
“It’s well known that these Behemoths are thought to be designed as anti-AS gunboats. The main target of these three machines is the last of our major fighting potential- namely, the ASes. 
It’s a difficult situation even for CAS (Close Air Support), but we’ll carry out an ambush attack.” 
“Hey, hey, wait a minute,” Kurz said as he saluted. “These ‘Giants’ are equipped with those lambda drivers, aren’t they? Fighting a machine like that, let alone three of them- it’s impossible.” 
“That may be so, but we still have to fight them,” Clouseau said quietly. “This base was designed to withstand substantial bombing, but there are limits even to that. If the three Behemoths come ashore, they’ll destroy de Danaan, which is still undergoing maintenance at the dock.” 
“But-” 
“It’s the only way to escape.” 
“...” 
“This is a solitary island in distant seas. Since there are no reinforcements, the enemy won’t consider taking prisoners. If we lose the de Danaan, every human being on this squad will have no choice but to commit suicide in this shelter. There isn’t any way of surviving other than bringing down those Behemoths.” 
A heavy silence filled the room. 
Every AS pilot in the room had already heard the report about the famous battle with the Behemoth. They also read the detailed reports from Sousuke, Kurz and Tessa. 
There was no way to win in the first place. Everyone knew that too well. So did Clouseau and Mao. 
“So, what do we make of this?” said Corporal Spake of the SRT, breaking the silence. He was an American in his mid-twenties, who had come from the Marines’ Special Forces. “Stop this nonsense about fighting an absurd losing battle. Let’s get some rifles and go to the command center.” 
With just those words, they understood what Spake was trying to say- Mao said in a low voice, “Stop it, Spake,” but he continued on defiantly. “In the event that Tessa and the de Danaan do make it out unharmed, the enemy would be aboard, too. They know the A-B-C’s of strategy, too. Resistance against a battle we’ve already lost without anywhere to run to- that’s incredible. We would have to be ready for heavy damage. If we finish this with a business-like discussion, I think they would be satisfied, as well.” 
“Keep talking bullshit. You’ll be tried for treason and deserting under fire,” Clouseau said. 
“You’re saying this to a soldier-for-hire? The Operations Headquarters was blown to kingdom come, wasn’t it? Are you going to pay our fees? Well, Lieutenant?” 
“You bastard...” 
“So we should gladly die for our colleagues in the unit, right? But this isn’t some dumb Hollywood war movie, is it? That kind of simple-minded heroism won’t cut it. I’m telling you, I won’t die for nothing.” 
His voice was already dripping with venom. 
If there had been even the slightest possibility of escaping, Spake probably wouldn’t have said such a thing. That’s how he had been up to this point. 
But this time was different. 
The odds were just too bad. Spake was definitely not a bad man; when he had been drunk at a pub before, he had said that he 
wanted the power to do everything possible, because he liked Tessa. However, he didn’t think that it would be fine to die without any reservations. And it seemed like others besides Spake were thinking the same thing. 
The tension ran through the strained atmosphere. 
Just then, a new voice broke in. 
“Use me, then. It’s a good idea.” 
It was Tessa. She was followed by two PRT soldiers carrying automatic rifles as they all walked in through the entrance of the hangar. 
“Captain...” 
“I thought that such a discussion was going on, so I came to see.” 
“You heard?” Spake mumbled glumly. 
“Yes, but only part of it.” 
“Please don’t take it badly. This is just business, too.” 
“I see,” Tessa said, nodding. She then turned to the soldier beside her and said, “Please lend me your gun.” 
After a moment’s hesitation, the soldier took the Swiss-made handgun from the holster on his waist, and handed it to Tessa. 
“Thank you.” 
She released the safety and pulled the hammer up. Slowly, she got a reliable handle on it. 
She stood very still, calm, holding the jet-black pistol. Although it was pointed towards the floor, that was enough to make everyone present feel unsettled. 
“I know there are others who feel the same way as Mr. Spake does. However, I will not accept it. I will kill anyone who attempts to mutiny right here.” 
She said this with a mechanical smile on her face. Spake stood there gaping for a short while, then finally gave a small sigh and shrugged. 
“Hey, hey, don’t do anything rash. I think you’re a good kid, but-” 
The sound of the gunshot resonated throughout the hangar. 
Just like that, Tessa had shot at Spake’s foot. The bullet had scraped off the concrete and hit the back wall, kicking up a small cloud of dust. 
“Correct your attitude, Corporal,” Tessa said to the naturally stupefied Spake, who was staring straight at her. “Perhaps you think that I came on purpose, to cry to try to get your cooperation, right? Or maybe you thought that I would hope for your good intentions, or ask for your loyalty out of sympathy, right?” 
“Uh...” 
“As long as you are here, you’re walking down the ‘Soldier’s Corridor’ as well, right? It was your own volition that has brought you into this predicament. Am I wrong?” 
“No...” 
“Did you think I was just a nominal princess?” 
“...” 
“Just say it. Who am I? What’s my post and rank?” 
It was the same, sweet tone of voice she always used; definitely not something that would threaten others. However, her quiet words were tinged with a dark intensity. 
Spake was quiet for a while, swallowed, then opened his mouth to speak. 
“...Captain... Teletha Testarossa. Commander-in-chief of the Tuatha de Danaan squadron.” 
 
 
"Just say it. Who am I? What's my post and rank?" It was the same, sweet tone of voice she always used. But her words were tinged with a dark intensity. 
 
“Good. Now withdraw your last remarks and apologize. Immediately.” 
“…I take it back. It was a joke that went too far. I’m sorry.” 
“Very well.” 
Tessa pushed the hammer back down on the gun and forced it back on the guarding soldier. 
“It’s unfortunate, but the enemy has the firm intention of wiping Mithril off the face of the earth. Even if we proposed to enter into reasonable negotiations, it probably wouldn’t do any good.” 
“…” 
“Corporal Spake. This group needs your abilities. If everyone survives, I’ll forget about the crime of abetting mutiny.” 
The squadron chief reversed her steps and started to leave, the sound of her pumps hitting against the floor echoing loudly. 
Spake, with his head down, said in a strained voice, “…survive? Where do you get such hope…?” 
“If there isn’t any, we’ll make it. That is all.” 
Tessa stood still. 
“Read my report again. Use your head and devise a scheme. If you have any problems, ask for advice from Lemming or myself. Or are you a good-for-nothing who can’t even do that?” 
“uh…” 
“It seems you misunderstand me. I have never once ordered any of you to ‘die’. Never once. And- I never will.” 
For just that moment, her voice was full of unwavering strength. 
Determination. 
Determination that would yield to no one. 
She alone was not giving up. No matter what, she was going to try and save the squadron. 
Just a seventeen-year-old girl. 
Oh, lord. 
At a time when even the veteran soldiers had lost faith, the small back of the girl who could advise them seemed ten times bigger. 
Everyone was standing up very straight. Clouseau, Mao, and Spake, too. As well as all of the other officers. Even Kurz, with his spontaneous feelings, was able to assume the same posture. 
Tessa looked around one last time. 
“Stay alive. That’s an order.” 
Everyone answered simultaneously, “Yes, Ma’am!” 
“Good luck.” 
This time, she gave them a heartfelt smile and left the hangar. 
Even the commotion of the maintenance work had stopped. The remaining soldiers looked at Spake. 
“Ah, I know-” 
He seemed sullen- however, he also seemed very clear. 
“I’m sorry, damn it. I was just irritated. But you were all thinking about it just a little, right? So don’t look at me like that.” 
What Spake said was probably true. Most everyone smiled a little guiltily, then looked at Clouseau. He also relaxed and smiled. 
“…you really did it that time, didn’t you? She’s right. Let’s quit wallowing around in pathetic resignation, and think about it. And why don’t we say that your pay will be your life?” 
“Sounds fair.” 
“Well, there might be something we can do…” 
“Ahh, I can’t stand it. I wanted a bride.” 
At Spake’s last words, Clouseau shrugged. 
“That’s too bad. A proposal to her goes up the ranks.” 
This time they laughed out loud together. 
Which was what they needed most in a war situation like this. Something that was lost in times of human suffering- the humor had returned. Laughter made it easier to think. One’s outlook expanded, and the imagination was stimulated. 
That was it. A breach had been produced. 
“Now, then… let’s get on with discussing the counter-plan. Now, who here is the one who currently has experience fighting and sticking it to a Behemoth?” Clouseau continued, and everyone found the face of Kurz. 
“Huh…? You mean me?” Kurz said in surprise, pointing towards his own nose. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
They avoided any detection of their position as they moved from Kichijouji to the Okikubo vicinity. 
After reaching the roof of some apartments in front of an open shop, Sousuke once again put the AS on standby and got out. 
Even though she had been riding in the hand of the Arbalest as it jumped invisibly from building to building using ECS mode, Kaname had been unresponsive the entire time. She was still unresponsive. 
“Chidori.” 
She didn’t answer. 
She was leaning back against the fingers of the AS, staring into empty space with tired eyes. 
Even her long hair was disheveled. 
“I know that you’re in shock, but-” 
“I understand. Really,” she uttered. “There’s no way I can continue the life I’ve had up ‘til now. One day the enemy will 
come for me, and after they cause a lot of trouble, they’ll take me away.” 
“Chidori...” 
“That was the conclusion that became clear more than six months ago. I can’t stay here. I guess this is just my punishment for not facing it...” 
She drooped her head, her shoulders shaking. 
“It’s just like he... Tessa’s brother, said. I should have shut-up and gone with him. There’s a lot of people involved now because I was stubborn. All because of me. It’s my fault.” 
“That’s not true. It was the enemy that made it come to this-” 
“If I had gone with him yesterday, this wouldn’t have happened, right? But I was thinking, ‘It’ll work out like it always does. I’ll be able to come back one day.’ And now Kyouko... and everyone else is...” 
“They’re still okay. Don’t get upset.” 
“But there’s no way to save them, is there!?” 
“That’s not for certain.” 
Kaname threw Sousuke an angry look. Her eyes were bloodshot. It was the first time she had ever given him a look of resentment. 
“What are you talking about? You’re being stupid, you know that? Everyone at school is a hostage. It’s not just Kyouko- detonators have been hidden all over the place. You surely realize how difficult it is even for a professional to find hidden explosives?” 
“Using the Arbalest’s electronic armor, it’s possible to localize the source of electromagnetic waves-” 
“No good. With the level of the equipment that the enemy has, the detectors would probably use a difficult correspondence 
system and send out a signal. And of course they probably have the school surrounded, making it difficult for even an AS to come close. Don’t you understand why that helicopter crashed? It was also using ECS. The enemy has guidance missiles equipped with an ultra-broadband radar that they’ve made small enough for infantrymen to carry. Isn’t that strange considering they have broad molecular spectral sensors, interference-tracing mikes, and high-sensitivity magnetic sensors? For example, even if that AS can locate the positions of the bombs, do you think it could disable them? Even if you knew what was inside, it would be useless. They could make as many devices that react to nuclear magnetic resonance as they want to. Don’t you understand something so simple?” 
For a short while, Sousuke was speechless. 
He couldn’t understand but just half of what the girl in front of him had spoken of so naturally. 
“You don’t understand?” 
“No...” 
“I see. Of course, that’s because you’re that way, too.” Kaname spat out the words, demonstratively snorting her nose in irritation. 
“Chidori...” Sousuke said soothingly as a cold chill ran down his spine. 
“What’s with that look? Do you think I’ve gone crazy?” 
“I didn’t say that. But you’re-” 
“Yeah, that’s it. It’s just like he said. It’s annoying. When you make that kind of dumb face, I feel like you’re mocking me. Why doesn’t anyone understand such simple things? Are you all stupid?” 
“Chidori. That’s just a feeling you have because your intelligence separates you from ordinary people. Don’t look down on others. Accept your weaknesses. Remember, you’re always-” 
“That’s it. By giving me that worried look, you’re asserting a psychological dominance over me. Do you think you can take leadership with such a pretense? How simple.” 
“Chidori...!” 
Sousuke grabbed Kaname’s slender wrist, jerking it up. Without being able to draw from her disciplined strength, she leaned weakly against him. 
“You said it earlier. That you were afraid of me. You liked me, but you were afraid,” he said, staring at her from a distance so close he could almost feel her breath. “So do I. I like you. But I’m scared. I don’t understand it, but I’m attracted to you. That’s how it’s been, ever since I first met you. I’d never felt that way before. The one who changed my entire world was you.” 
“...” 
“I was thinking about it until this morning. School and Mithril- whether or not I should throw it all away and run away with you. Just the two of us. But something held me back, and I couldn’t say it. Part of it was that I didn’t have the courage. But that wasn’t the only reason. It wouldn’t mean anything, just the two of us. Tokiwa and everyone at school, my colleagues in Mithril- I need you to be among friends; to laugh and get mad at them. That’s why I-” 
Even though he was surprised at his own verbosity, Sousuke continued. “That’s why I- will protect it all. Not just you. I will guard everything in the world that you belong to. If I don’t, my ‘mission’ is finished. So don’t despair. Together we’ll save Tokiwa. And everyone at school; and of course, you. So please come back to your senses. I’m certain that from your point of view, 
I’m just a stupid guy, but... I have the power to fight. How many times have we done this before? I want suggestions. Don’t give up, and lend me your strength.” 
 
 
Kaname stared expressionlessly at Sousuke. He couldn’t read her eyes at all to know what feelings and sentiments were coming to her mind. 
“You really think we can save them?” 
“Affirmative. If you’re with me.” 
There was a long silence. 
Finally, she said, “If this was a cheap novel, this would probably be the emotional kiss scene...” 
Her exhausted voice came out sounding like that of an old woman, and she escaped from his arm. 
“But of course that’s impossible. We’re the best at giving up quietly...” 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
The base was being bombed again to finish the job. 
M6s equipped with anti-aircraft missiles were deployed throughout the jungle maneuvering grounds, and by ambushing the enemy as much as possible, they were able to shoot down half of the enemy bombers- but the remaining planes rained an incessant downpour of concrete-penetrating bombs and fuel vaporizing bombs on the base. 
“Uruz 2 to Headquarters. Damage report,” Mao called out as she stared at the black smoke rising from the direction of the base. She had already sortied from the base in her M9, and was hiding in the dense forest on the outskirts of the maneuvering grounds- on the north end of Merida Island. 
“This is Headquarters. They’re hitting us with everything they’ve got. The upper stories have lost almost all function. However, the de Danaan’s dock is safe. The evacuation had finished, though, so there are few human casualties. Please use 
passage number three when you withdraw, as it is undamaged and the main large elevator has been destroyed.” 
Passage number three, which was under construction, was the tunnel that connected the aboveground training grounds with the belowground base. It seemed that the enemy didn’t know about its existence yet. 
“Gebo 3 to all units. The Behemoths have started to deploy. Behemoth A is moving towards area E1. Behemoth B is moving towards area H1. Behemoth C has stopped in area G1. It seems they intend to encircle Merida Island. Transferring data now.” 
The helicopter that was continuing its enemy search from above the island compressed the latest information on enemy movements, which was sent to all allies by short-range communications. 
“This is Uruz 1. Thank you, Gebo 3. That’s enough, pull out of there.” 
“Gebo 3, roger. Behemoth C fired just now. We will move to area X0 and wait-” 
There was a loud noise. The sound of an explosion came from the southern skies. 
“This is Gebo 3. Our engine’s been hit. We’re going to try an emergency landing. I repeat, we’re going to try an emergency landing. The enemy fired an antiaircraft missile-” 
The transmission from the helicopter stopped. 
No one knew if they were all right or not. However, with their skills, they would probably make it- that’s all anyone could hope for, anyway. 
“Uruz 1 to Kano 13. Go to the crash site.” 
“Kano 13, roger.” 
“All other units, remain on standby. The data has been collected, right? Behemoth B is the target. Disregard A and C. 
Uruz 1 and 2 will take on each of those. Uruz 2, you’re going after A. I’m going to have some fun with C.” 
“Uruz 2, roger. It’s pretty tasteless to have to dance with them, though.” 
Clouseau snorted on the other end of the radio. 
“I feel the same way. Uruz 2, I authorize you to use ITCC-5 unlimited operation.” 
“Uruz 2, roger. At the very least, I’ll take good care of it.” 
Now, then. 
From inside her machine, which was in full ECS mode, Mao took a deep breath. Already, her opponent- Behemoth A, was being acquired. Roughly four miles from the northern coast of the island. It would be soon now. As the Behemoth was submerged in the ocean water up to its knees, she took aim at its enormous gun turret. 
From here on out, Mao had to fight this Behemoth alone. Of course, she had no intentions of destroying it. She simply was to use every tactic she knew to gain time- that was all. 
Clouseau was also fighting Behemoth C for the same reason. Mao and Clouseau’s M9s were different from the others because they were equipped with the “ITCC-5 Integrated Tactical Correspondence Control System”- a powerful data link apparatus used on the front line commanders’ machines. It could integrate and control all sorts of battlefield data, and instantly carry out countless controls and commands on any ally machines. Not just ASes, either. If a weapon were loaded with a system controlled by the ITTC-5, it could be manipulated to do just about anything. 
Tanks, for example. Or antiaircraft self-propelled artillery. 
Or even- an AS. 
“Okay, then, here we go... Friday!” 
<Yes, Lieutenant?> 
“Change the control system to XA-1. We’re going to attack Behemoth A.” 
<Roger. Connecting control system to XA-1. Assigning optimum target for Behemoth A> 
She pressed the button for final confirmation on the screen. The active display appeared, and entered preparations for remote operation of XA-1. There was an unmanned AS on standby in the bushes 800 meters from Mao’s M9- an M6 Bushnell. 
The M6 aimed at the Behemoth in the ocean, fired anti-tank missiles from its shoulder rocket launchers, and then quickly began to move out. Using its two smokeless rocket motors, the M6 went flying towards the enemy. 
Perceiving the source of the fired missiles, the Behemoth quickly turned its cannon towards the unmanned M6 and fired without any hesitation. 
There was an enormous flash. 
The head-mounted guns also fired, spitting out 30mm bullets by the thousands at the M6. 
The slower M6 was unable to make the necessary evasive moves, and the point-blank impact combined with the incessant 30mm bullets caused it to come to pieces when the cannon hit it a second time. 
“Sh...” 
The screen showed her a scene as if she had been destroyed, but Mao’s machine was perfectly fine. The signal ceased, and the control system returned back to her AS. 
The missiles that the M6 had shot were getting closer to the enemy. 
“Detonate XM-3.” 
<Roger> 
Immediately following, an enormous waterspout erupted next to the Behemoth’s right leg. 
A self-propelling mine hidden in the area outside the base had exploded. 
The blast shook the giant unexpectedly. Just a little. Immediately after that, the antitank missiles made a direct hit. 
One hit the right shoulder. Then another hit the left arm. 
“Now, what happens now...?” 
Staying hidden, Mao zoomed in on the images taken by the optical sensors of another unmanned M6- the XA-2. If she used the ITCC-5, the ability of that machine would make it like manipulating her own. 
She very carefully observed the right shoulder of the Behemoth after the first shots. 
“Damn...” 
It was completely undamaged. 
That was because its lambda driver was working. An ultimate system that defended against all sorts of attacks, and occasionally became a weapon. 
There was no way to hurt this enemy. 
A feeling of helplessness welled up within her chest. She started to tell the other units the details, when she barely noticed something. 
A small cloud of white smoke was rising from the Behemoth’s right leg. The right leg that had first been bitten by that mine. Its armor was subtly warped, and the coating was peeling off. 
“It... worked?” 
Six months earlier, in Ariake. With one tiny rifle, Kurz was able to cause devastating damage. 
So that was it. 
If they could hit them suddenly. If they could attack them at an unexpected moment... 
There was room left for them to take advantage of the Behemoths. 
It was too early to despair yet...! 
“Uruz 2 to all units! Although it’s not much, I damaged the huge AS!” she said, suppressing her excitement. “We can do it. Just be careful. The enemy’s firepower is overwhelming.” 
A reply of “Roger” came from every unit. Their voices were encouraged. She knew from experience that every ally had been hoping for this report. 
Just then, she received a message from Kalinin in the command center. 
“This is Perth 1. This is right after good news, I know, but I have to report some bad news. An enemy landing force is approaching from the southeast. It probably has a large number of ASes as well as infantrymen. The enemy intends to overwhelm the underground of this base.” 
So they were here at last, huh? The fucking bastards. 
Mao cursed inwardly as she operated the electronic armor. 
“More than likely, we will be engaging in hand-to-hand combat in less than fifteen minutes. Until then, we must do what we can to finish off the Behemoths. If we don’t-” 
Kalinin’s words were cut off. 
“All units. The de Danaan is unable to put to sea. If it were to leave the underground dock, it would be sniped.” 
It was a sound argument, but Mao felt strongly irritated. 
Just ten minutes? 
Against those three? 
That was absurd. 
“But, no matter what, we have to do it, don’t we?” 
“Affirmative.” 
“Hah. Really, that’s easy for you to...” 
Behemoth A’s head was facing her way. ECCS. Mao’s machine had been detected. 
The cannon was pointing at her. The AS switched to master mode. She canceled ECS, and emerged using combat maneuvers. 
She jumped. The enemy AS fired. There were tremendous explosions reminiscent of a battleship armament. The thunderous roar and shock rocked Mao’s M9 violently. 
“Looks like it’s going to be a tough fifteen minutes...” 
The machine turned. Mao cursed as she kept an eye on her landing spot on the screen. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
The three giant ASes kept up their relentless long distance bombardment. 
The Behemoths weren’t just armed with large caliber howitzers- or “clothes poles”- they were also scattering numerous napalm bombs across Merida Island from launchers equipped on their shoulders. Many M6’s were helplessly destroyed by the saturated missile attack. 
The strange shaped rocks often used as a landmark in the maneuvering grounds- “The Twin Rocks”, were smashed to pieces by the bombs; even that couldn’t be saved. The above ground facilities were destroyed to the point where they didn’t even cast a shadow, the rainforest was ablaze in flames, and an enormous amount of black smoke shrouded the skies above the island. 
If anybody had been able to see Merida Island from far away on the ocean, they might have thought that there was a sinking battleship engulfed in flames. After they had spread the 
storm of destruction enough, the Behemoths slowly began their descent on the island from three sides. 
“Just doing whatever the hell you want, huh? Damn it.” 
In the midst of the violent shelling, Kurz’s M9 hid patiently in the underground shelter on the southern part of the island. The intermittent tremors could be felt in the cockpit. All that could be seen on his screen was the gloom of the shelter, and clouds of dust dancing in the thin light. 
<Behemoth B has entered area H0. Estimated sixty seconds until C-line.> 
The enemy machine closest to the base was entering into his range. Clouseau and Mao were trying to give each of the remaining Behemoths trouble. They were buying as much time as they could by using a strong data link function to activate all of the surplus unmanned ASes in coordination with self-propulsion mines. 
During that time, all of the remaining M9’s on the Tuatha de Danaan were waiting to intercept just Behemoth B. 
“Now then...” Kurz mumbled to himself. 
Two M9s piloted by Corporal Spake and another SRT member were hidden in the sea south of Merida Island. Since each M9 had landing faculties, they were able to move, without any difficulty, at depths of up to thirty meters. 
From what they could see on the images taken by Gebo 3 from a distance, they judged that these Behemoths did not have much anti-underwater combat equipment. This opinion was shared by both Lieutenant Sachs of the maintenance squad, and Second Lieutenant Vilan of the research department- 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
-in a pre-operation meeting, Sachs, a large man with a mustache, said this with a grim face: 
“There’s plenty of ground equipment, but it’s better if we don’t try the depth charges. 
“However, there is the sphere array passive sonar in the chest. Also, the size of it. There may also be the towed array sonar, too...” 
They were the same type of sensors found on an attack-class submarine. 
“...but if they enter the littoral waters around the island, sonar won’t work, because only the upper body will be above the surface of the water. So... if I was the designer, I would attach short-range, high frequency sonar around the shin, or knee area. And if the landing operation was the main mission, I probably wouldn’t be able to mimic moving that slowly across the bottom of the ocean. With compact, high frequency sonar, they should be able to understand the topography of the bottom of the ocean as well as the location of any mines.” 
“What do you think the class and performance of high frequency sonar are?” 
Clouseau asked, and Sachs shrugged. 
“I don’t know. But the equipment on those monsters ain’t impressive enough to scare us. 
“For example, those howitzers; they’re not a type of rail gun. They’re probably automated weapons misappropriated from the main armaments of battleships like the Missouri. I don’t think that the development of those cannon was especially original. With that kind of time, it seems quite fast to stock up on quite a lot of super high speed interlocking energy missiles. Even just test firing- it would require an incredibly spacious target area. Even if they 
were able to secure such a location behind the iron curtain, it would’ve been difficult to keep that a secret from Mithril, right?” 
“In other words, the sonar is the same type?” 
“I can’t be positive, but the size of those shins is about the same as the sail of an 8,000 ton submarine. If you think about the enormity of developing new sonar, I would probably forcibly mount it on existing equipment. There’s nothing that can reliably surpass it.” 
“...temporarily, you mean. As for the enemy currently using the latest high frequency sonar, do you think that self-propelling mines or M9’s could be hidden from that detection?” 
“I don’t know. The Captain would have the most details about that, wouldn’t she?” 
At that time, Mao was already talking about something on her cell phone with Tessa, who was in the command center. More than likely Tessa, who was under tremendous pressure, gave her a short reply. Mao’s conversation seemed very brief. 
“I just heard. ‘We can. Since Sergeant Dejilany’s going, ask him,’ she said.” 
“Okay. Do you think that there’s a way to inflict serious damage to those monsters with the assumption that we can ambush from the sea?” 
Everyone looked sullen at Clouseau’s words. If the enemy were an ordinary “giant”, they would be able to see a weakness from here, but the Behemoth was different. Because of the Lambda Driver, most of the attacks were deflected. 
“It’s been said before, but the Lambda Driver isn’t all-powerful.” 
This time it was Lieutenant Vilan who spoke. He was in his mid-twenties, with intelligent brown eyes, and blonde hair. He had 
been transferred from the research department, and was the one person who knew about the Lambda Driver in detail. 
“First, there are limits to the duration of time for the passenger, and the ability to concentrate. Also, at that level, the strength of the “shield” is controlled by the ability to concentrate. If we can just make a surprise attack, there’s the possibility of inflicting damage on the enemy. Sergeant Weber is proof of that.” 
When Kurz was fighting the Behemoth in Ariake, he had successfully damaged it with a single sniper shot because the pilot had been completely unprepared for it. If only they could use that weakness… 
“Well, things certainly turned out well that time.” 
Kurz replied. 
“As far as causing damage due to incompetence, it was impossible. We’ll probably only get one chance. That one shot will be decided upon, but I think we’ll have no choice but to aim at the cockpit.” 
“What about the ‘slit on the back of the hips’ like where Sagara shot?” 
Spake asked, and Mao groaned. 
“There is that. However- it’s pretty conditional to say that they didn’t learn from their failure in Ariake, and yet have been planning for the past eight months to attack us, the same enemy they fought before.” 
“That would be out of the question...” 
“The enemy would have thought of countermeasures.” 
“If so, it’s definitely the cockpit, then.” 
“If you want something easy to aim at, then that’s an easy target. The cockpit on that giant is in the head. But the armor there isn’t shoddily done. It’s surrounded by double-layered composite armor, and the pilot is deep inside, several meters away from the 
exterior. No matter what artillery or missiles we use, it would be impossible to take it down in one shot.” 
But, the only chance they would get was that one shot. 
And there were three of them. 
“Even so, there has to be something we can do.” Clouseau said very patiently. 
“We just need to gain enough time to escape. If we can turn three Behemoths into two, we might have that chance. Nevertheless, by turning those two into one- the possibility of escape materially rises.” 
“That might be hoping too much, though. But- at the very least, we might be able to take care of the first one… if we can thread the needle, that is.” 
“Do you have a plan?” 
“Yes.” 
“Let’s hear it.” 
Kurz told them- 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
Behemoth B crossed the designated line. The underwater alarm network and the few remaining sensors reported that to Kurz’s M9. 
“Activate ECS invisibility mode...” 
<Yes, Sergeant. ECS, on> 
The unit’s ECS activated. The hologram, which arose through staggering the phases of multiple laser beams, concealed the machine from visible light, turning the M9 invisible. 
Moving discretely, Kurz’s M9 left the underground shaft of the air-raid shelter. 
The maneuvering grounds had been desolated by the bombs. The structures and trees had been leveled, and black smoke hung in thick clouds all around him. Nevertheless, Kurz didn’t let down his guard. In order to avoid being detected by the enemy, the M9 crawled along the ground, holding a sniper-cannon, towards the small hill about 200 meters away- very carefully, and very slowly. 
Using the landscape, now greatly reduced by the bombing, Kurz moved into perfect sniping position. 
“This is Uruz 6. I’ve arrived at my station. All members of Team Red, report.” 
“Uruz 5 [Sandarapta]. I’m ready whenever you are.” 
“Uruz 10 [Mandela]. Twenty more seconds.” 
Each of the other allies reported in. Because of the nature of the operation that was going to be carried out, Kurz had been given command of the offensive that would attack “Behemoth B”. 
“Uruz 8 [Spake], can you do it?” 
“This is Uruz 8. I don’t have any choice, do I? ...I’m okay on this end.” 
“Okay... well, in this book, we’ll take that big bastard down in one shot.” 
“Be a little more cool, Sergeant, for the readers.” 
“Don’t be ridiculous.” 
Kurz aimed his sniper cannon at the enemy AS in the distance. In the middle of the hazy black smoke, in the sea even further off the island’s coast, he could see the Behemoth. 
“Activate ‘fairy eyes’.” 
<Roger. Activating ‘fairy eyes’> 
The new model sensor equipped on Kurz’s AS activated. A green image was projected on top of the figure of Behemoth, much like a night vision scope. It displayed the areas indicating the effectiveness of the enemy’s Lambda Driver. This was new 
equipment from December of the previous year. The developer hadn’t been asked. 
By using this equipment during the pirate suppression on Badamu Island, Kurz was able to observe when Sousuke’s Arbalest used the Lambda Driver. Right now, the giant’s “shield” had been slightly expanded to cover the entire body. Kurz was able to catch this by the “intensity” of the green on the screen. For the time being, it seemed that while the enemy remained cautious, it had plenty of confidence, and was about to move into the last stage of landing. 
He switched the optics on the screen, and the Behemoth was advancing easily through the sea, which sparkled white in the sunlight. 
Distance: 2,400 meters. 
Wind, west-southwest, about twelve meters. 
Atmospheric temperature, twenty-two degrees Celsius; humidity level, eighty-three percent. 
Various environmental data was projected on the lower right hand section of the sniper mode screen. Kurz cut the commutations switch after a moment, then clicked his tongue. 
“Damn it...” 
His field of vision was poor- there was a touch of backlighting. 
The wind, the atmospheric current… It was all very different from the ground to the ocean. 
If he shot here, the ballistics would go astray. The enemy was also moving, left to right, and by no means at a steady pace. He couldn’t read its movements. 
He changed to firearms control mode, and aligned it to complete manual. The bilateral angle was at its worst. It would be impossible if he didn’t aim with his own skills and intuition. 
Damn... damn, damn! 
It was too difficult. There were almost no people in the world that could successfully pull off this kind of shot. At this distance and under these conditions, shooting through the mark that appears after this- it exceeded the limits of his abilities. 
But, he had no choice. 
“What’s wrong, Kurz?” Spake said with ridicule in his voice. His M9 was hidden in the sea near the Behemoth. “Don’t tell me you’re playing around.” 
“Ha, what are you babbling about?” 
“If this goes well, I’ll make you rich.” 
“Your stocks again?” 
“Yeah. This whole affair made me think of it just now. Starting sometime next week, the price of potatoes is going to go up for sure. If you give me five thousand dollars, I’ll turn it into twenty times that.” 
At a time like this. That idiot. 
“What does that giant bastard attacking us like that have to do with potatoes?” 
“It would take too long to explain. So let’s fuck this bastard first.” 
“Yeah, yeah.” 
“It’s a favor, okay? You can make a killing. I said it earlier, right? You can get a big house in Florida, with a Lotus and beautiful women in bathing suits.” 
“I don’t care anything for a Lotus...” 
“A Ferrari then.” 
“That’s better.” 
The enemy was coming closer to the designated line. 
“This is Uruz 6 to all members of Team Red. The enemy will pass line D. Everyone ready?” 
Everyone answered, “Ready anytime.” 
“Countdown 5.” 
He looked at the Behemoth on his screen again. It was bigger than before. 
“4... 3...” 
Drawing the strength from his shoulders, he easily moved the joystick -just barely, just enough to gently stroke a baby. 
“2... 1...” 
He mumbled shortly. 
“Alpha, GO.” 
Spake’s M9, which was hidden in the sea near the Behemoth, moved first. The underwater unit’s water jet started, suddenly propelling the AS above the ocean surface. Then, skipping like a stone, Spake’s M9 drew closer to the Behemoth. The giant reacted instantly, and half-turned its upper body towards Spake’s machine. 
“Let’s go!” 
As it sped across the top of the water, Spake’s M9 fired off a lot of rockets from the rocket launcher on its shoulder. They became speeding arrows of flame. One after another, they each hit the Behemoth- no, they detonated just before they hit, pale sparks scattering everywhere. 
It was the Lambda Driver. It was stopping them. But that was the plan. They knew it from the “fairy eyes” images, too. The Behemoth turned in Spake’s direction, and the Lambda Driver’s force field was forming “strongly”. 
“Beta, GO.” 
“Beta, roger,” said the team members in charge of the self-propelled mines. At about the same time, an enormous waterspout rose on the opposite side of Spake. 
It was an attack of self-propelled mines. A few minutes earlier, Mao had been successful doing this. However, it hadn’t caused vital damage. The enemy had focused on the leg area, expanding the “force field”. There was some damage, but it was more like a light brush for the Behemoth. 
However- 
The images from the “fairy eyes” on Kurz’s AS clearly showed the direction of the enemy’s force field- or, in other words, where the pilot’s attention was focused. It was trying to attack Spake’s machine, and the mines making a surprise attack from the opposite direction- the enemy was watching below it. It had its maximum force field spread out against any attacks from under or above the water’s surface. In the green images, the dark color of the lower half of the body changed to the lighter color of the upper body. 
And around the head- 
We can do this. 
Instantly changing the optics to sniper mode, Kurz yelled, “Gamma, GO!” 
At his signal, three ally M9s, which were hidden in various places along the south coast of Merida Island, fired missiles called “Javelins”. 
This was the crucial moment. 
An infrared guidance laser shone from the head of Kurz’s M9. That laser point was aimed at the side of Behemoth B’s head, and the three missiles rushed towards it. These weren’t old-style missiles which poked their way along slower than the speed of sound; these were large missiles which destroyed the enemy using ultra high speed kinetic energy. 
That tenth of a second lasted an eternity. 
Those three missiles hit Behemoth’s head at about the same time. Fragments of armor suddenly flew out, and white smoke spread out over the shockwave. The huge body only staggered a little. Because Kurz was such a long distance away, the sound of the explosions hadn’t reached him yet. 
No. 
It would have been too late by the time he did hear it. Kurz only really had but a few seconds. The point of impact was covered in smoke and he couldn’t see. He had to guess as to how much “escaped”, as well as the angle and position. He was relying only on his intuition. 
Calmly. Mostly automatically. 
The area was hit by the three missiles. He aimed at the shaking, moving hole, only a few dozen centimeters across, almost 2,400 meters away, on the other side of smoke, air, and wind. 
He fired. 
A dart-like piercing object flew from the sniper cannon of the hidden M9. It produced a pure-white blaze before his eyes, and the black smoke which surrounded him suddenly spread out from the blow to the atmosphere. The sound of the missiles’ impact in the distance immediately followed. 
When the blow from the sniper cannon hit, the Behemoth staggered slightly again on the screen. But Kurz couldn’t tell whether or not it had hit the place he had aimed for. 
“Did it work...?” 
For a little while, the Behemoth didn’t move, as white smoke rose from its head. It stood there silently in that spot. 
The giant slowly leaned over- but didn’t fall. 
The Behemoth was still alive. Covering its partially destroyed head, it continued on, aiming its black gun turret in Kurz’s direction. 
It fired. 
Kurz quickly got his machine up and jumped. A moment later, there was a violent explosion under his feet. The shockwave caught his M9 and flipped him in the air. 
“Shit!” 
He’d failed. The Behemoth’s head had received enough damage, but it hadn’t reached down far enough to kill the pilot inside. 
Opening the missile launcher on its shoulders, the Behemoth fired numerous ground to ground missiles at his allies. Sandarapta and the others tried to attack and take evasive maneuvers. 
Explosions went up here and there in succession along the south coast. Kurz didn’t know what had become of the others. Half of them may have been crushed. 
Somehow Kurz managed to regain his balance in time to make a landing, but was attacked yet again. 
There were enormous flames in the distance. The shells were coming. 
Although he barely avoided these, the shock and vibration made him feel dizzy. If he had been an ordinary pilot, it would have knocked him out. 
Annihilation. 
This word came to his mind. It was impossible after all, wasn’t it? They would be trampled helplessly like this against an enemy with overwhelming firepower. 
The muzzle of the enemy’s gun caught sight of Kurz for a third time as his M9 tottered on both knees in the midst of falling dirt and smoke. It was no use any longer. There was no way he could dodge it... 
“Uruz 6, don’t give up yet,” he heard Spake yell sharply over the wireless radio. On the screen he saw the Behemoth in the sea. Right beside it, he saw Spake’s M9 kicking up sheets of spray as it moved at high speed over the water. 
That idiot. Why hadn’t he run away and hidden? He would be murdered by the thirty millimeter cannon. 
Spake’s M9 had already fired all of its rockets. Behemoth stopped as it was about to fire at Kurz, and transferred its attention to Spake’s machine. 
It expanded its force field, then scattered rockets in all directions. 
Spake wasn’t panicked by this. He probably understood everything now. He rushed at the giant, same as before, blowing off his underwater unit. As soon as he was free of it, he used that momentum to fly in the air for just a moment, and then jumped at the Behemoth’s enormous left leg, which was more than five times the size of an M9. 
Kurz couldn’t hear anything, because it was too far away. Besides, there was a terrible ringing in his ears from the second attack. 
“I’m going to make another chance for you.” 
Taking out the monomolecular cutter used for hand-to-hand combat, Spake’s M9 violently thrust it into the enemy’s armor and ran up the large body in almost an instant. It was a move that took more than average skill. There were probably only a handful of people in the world who could pull such a feat off in an AS. 
“Stop it, Spake.” 
Hanging on to the Behemoth’s shoulder, Spake’s M9 seized the revolving carbine rifle, and fired on full-auto at the enemy’s head- in the area that had been half-destroyed by the other four attacks. All of those bullets were destroyed by the Lambda 
Driver’s defense shield. Pale light and red sparks gushed forth, creating a deep shadow on the Behemoth’s right shoulder. 
“Doing something like this isn’t like me, though.” 
“That’s enough already. Run away!” 
The Behemoth groaned. It looked like it was feeling… anger. 
“Tell the Captain I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” 
The images captured with the “fairy eyes” showed as the enemy’s shield shone brightly. No, it wasn’t a shield anymore. An overwhelming power full of directivity aimed at the annoying Spake and attacked. 
“Spake!!” 
Spake’s M9 was blown away off the Behemoth’s shoulder. Its arms were torn off, its legs contorted, and the body was crushed- the entire thing crumbled into pieces. It slowly scattered in all directions, falling into the sea. The pilot was dead. That much was very clear. 
The thirty millimeter machine gun on the Behemoth’s head was still volley firing into the sea where the wreckage fell. 
You filthy worm. I’ll show you your place. 
That’s what the giant seemed to be saying. 
It was only a few moments. 
This is what the “fairy eyes” showed him. The enemy had its attention completely focused in the direction of the falling wreckage of Spake’s M9. Kurz saw a hole in the shield- on the head, on the side of the head. All of the data displayed on the screen instantly ran through his head. 
The wind, light, temperature and humidity. 
All of the conditions gave him the go sign to “kill it”. 
He fired. 
This time the second shot hit the Behemoth’s head. It passed through the hole in the armor, and then, inside- it flew clean through into the cockpit, where the nameless and faceless pilot was sitting. 
The Behemoth stopped. 
White smoke rose. 
Finally, just like it did in Ariake, the giant started to shake. 
The arms went limp, dropping the huge gun into the water. It began to lose all of its armor. 
Dragged down by its own weight, the Behemoth’s body contorted, and collapsed vertically in on itself. 
One was destroyed. 
But they had sustained serious losses. 
Of Sandarapta’s group, which had fired the missiles from land, two ASes had been destroyed in the counterattack immediately following, and Sandarapta was seriously injured. 
Also- 
“Spake, you dumbass-” he finally mumbled. 
If only his first shot had hit. If only he hadn’t missed. 
But he didn’t have time to bask in the feelings of self-condemnation before Mao radioed in. 
“This is Uruz 2. I have serious damage to my right leg. I can still avoid him, but- I don’t have long. I’m going to try and stop him somehow.” 
“Mao...!” 
At the same time, his unit’s AI reported. The enemy’s air troops were closing in. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
When he thought about it just a little bit more calmly, Kaname Chidori’s assertions were correct. She was completely right. 
Saving Kyouko Tokiwa and everyone else in the school without surrendering was no longer “difficult”. It was more like “impossible”. 
By choosing the foolish gamble here, the probability of success was small. Despite this, if this were a western or something, the cavalry would unexpectedly show up and lend a hand, and the one percent possibility would be realized. Such a miracle was convention for them. Therefore the protagonists would indiscreetly choose the “pretty” choice, and wait for good results to happen. 
Sousuke was different. He had grown up in a world set completely apart from such hopes. 
As an assassin; as a guerrilla; as a mercenary. 
For example, which choice would be the most logical? 
There was a ninety-nine percent chance that sacrificing one person would save ninety-nine others. And while it was possible to save the one person and ninety-nine others at the same time, it was a mere one percent chance. 
What was the wise choice? 
It was obvious. 
She was right. Completely right. 
But at the same time, Sousuke Sagara had one more proposition. 
What if the value of the lives of those ninety-nine and the one to be sacrificed were equal? 
If you offered just that one person, then it would be okay to allow everything in the world to be destroyed- and if you assumed such a standpoint, then what? 
Of course the ninety-nine were very important. They were irreplaceable. However, that “one person” was also irreplaceable. 
Think about it. 
Should he raise the white flag, and give her up? 
He couldn’t do that. 
He didn’t have that kind of courage. If you could even call that courage. 
Mathematically, it was a conundrum. Before, it would have been an absolutely simple problem. Now, he was being hit by a terrible dilemma. 
He wanted to bet on that one percent. 
It was a terrible temptation. 
It was a temptation that would overcome anyone, right? The former him would have probably scorned the him now. But he couldn’t do it anymore. This might have been what it was to love something, Sousuke thought vaguely. The extremely irrational, foolish people he had met before now, he now understood their feelings so much it hurt. 
A girl student who went mad with jealousy and wrote slander on the bathroom walls. A member of the basketball team so afraid of losing a game that she sent a threatening fax. A teacher with such strong feelings for another colleague that she forgets her place and causes a big scene. 
Who could blame them? 
The reason was clear. It was because they loved something. It was because they were afraid. 
That was it. 
Who could blame them? 
At that time, could Sousuke have reasonably asked himself that- he didn’t even know. 
But he gave in to the temptation for the results. 
He bet on the one percent. 
“There’s no time. Let’s go...” Kaname mumbled feebly as she started to make her way to the designated location. Sousuke made his way over to her back, taking out his stun gun. Moving to grab her from behind, he pressed it against her abdomen and pressed the switch. 
Electric current passed. There were minor convulsions. 
Soon, Kaname could no longer move. 
He quickly supported her as she collapsed, grabbing her with both hands, and laying her down. He chose a tranquilizer out of his medical kit and, with an experienced hand, gave her the shot. This would keep her asleep for several hours. He then carried her to the top of a water tower on the roof of an apartment building, laying his jacket covered in blood and mud over her. He searched her pockets and took out her phone. 
Suppressing the urge to caress her pale cheek, he stood up and turned around. 
“Let’s go, Al.” 
<Roger.>, replied the AI of the Arbalest- the Arm Slave which was bent down on one knee on standby. Sousuke stepped on the armor’s ledge, and after quickly climbing up the machine, he slipped down into the cockpit. 
<Sergeant. I have a question.> 
“What is it?” 
<Are you leaving Miss Chidori here?> 
“Oh, that. Forget about it,” Sousuke answered shortly. “We’re going to Jindai High School. We’re going to find the bombs and disable them.” 
<It is not like I can understand all of the tactical circumstances, but your choice is a mistake.> 
“Is that right?” 
<It is obviously an unreasonable choice. It might even be called malignant. I suggest reconsidering.> 
“Refused.” 
<Even if the explosives are disarmed, the enemy can keep repeating the same strategy.> 
“We’ll stop them no matter how many times they try.” 
<That is impossible.> 
“I’ll make it possible.” 
<That is impossible.> 
Impossible. Unreasonable. Pointless. A bad decision. 
Would she forgive him? 
Probably not. 
Even so- 
“I don’t know what else to do.” 
Sousuke grabbed the Arbalest’s joystick, and made the machine stand up. The AS ran through the vacant parking lot and leapt. 
He left behind the sleeping Kaname. 
Moving through town areas with the same skill as always, Sousuke went several kilometers, and then stopped the Arbalest again. 
He rearranged himself to where he only took up half of the cockpit, then, using his free hand, operated Kaname’s phone. As he didn’t have much experience doing so, it was difficult for him to use the ten-odd keys required to compose a text message. 
“Your threats were effective on Kaname Chidori, but they mean nothing to me. It does not impede my mission no matter how many people at Jindai High School die. There will be no negotiations about handing over the top-secret AS. Furthermore, I have been instructed to kill Kaname Chidori as it has been judged 
too dangerous to allow her to work for the enemy. Call this phone. If you do not reply within three minutes, I will carry out my orders.” 
Send. 
He didn’t have to wait long. The phone rang less than a minute later. 
“What are your demands?” said a man’s electronically-altered voice. 
“I want you to guarantee my safety, as well as an escape route. With the place and time that you have designated, there is no guarantee of safety.” 
“You don’t seem to understand, do you? Should I blow up one of the bombs in the school?” 
A chill ran up his spine, but Sousuke exercised superhuman self-control, and feigning perfect indifference, said, “Then negotiations are at an end. Do as you wish.” 
He hung up. 
Sousuke watched the LCD screen and waited. If the enemy was serious, he would start negotiating. Sousuke wasn’t the only difficulty. The enemy- he was no doubt very worried that Sousuke and Kaname would somehow find a way to escape. It could be said that taking Kyouko Tokiwa and the school hostage was a pretty desperate move. 
It was a very long few seconds. 
The phone rang again. 
He resisted the urge to press the button right away; then after a moment, he answered. 
“If we can secure Kaname Chidori, that will be enough.” 
“I wonder.” 
“We have no interest in the AS. But it is a threat. If you can just guarantee that the AS will be temporarily disabled, then I can promise your safety.” 
“Very well. Then at 2200 hours, I will move the AS to the closed factory on the second block in Sengawa. There, I will open the hatch and wait. You can have someone watch me. Kaname Chidori will be alone facing Sengawa Station, two kilometers away. After the exchange, I will disappear.” 
There was a short pause. After thinking over these conditions, the other party replied, “Fine. But if it even looks like things aren’t going according to plan even just a little, I’ll detonate all the bombs in the school.” 
“Like I said before, that’s not a threat.” 
“I wonder.” The man on the other end gave a short laugh. “I’ve also lost around ten of my subordinates. We’re both pros, but I can’t help wanting to make you suffer.” 
“I’m not interested,” Sousuke said quietly as he felt the sweat rise on his back. 
“It’s just like Mr. Iron said. You’re an interesting brat.” 
“If you’re just interested in idle talk, then I’m done.” 
He hung up. The enemy was probably already piecing together his location, and would be forced to rush either the reconnaissance party or the assault party. 
“We’re moving, Al.” 
<Roger> 
He closed the hatch, then reinstated piloting mode. The Arbalest ran invisibly through the gloomy lead-colored streets. 
He had regained the initiative to some extent. 
Even if it was only temporarily. 
After this, the climax of the gamble would take place. The enemy definitely wasn’t bluffing when they said they would kill Kyouko and the others. They were serious. 
He had to do something. 
All by himself. 
 


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