9S Volume 1 Chapter 1
"Warning. Energy consumption levels have passed their specified limit. Warning. Energy consumption levels have passed their specified limit."
Being warned by an electronic female voice, Sakagami Touma could only feel discouraged. Gazing at the underwater monitor, it seemed as though the equipment he was transporting would fall off the manipulator.
-I guess I shouldn't mess with it.
Making an intelligent decision, Touma removed his hand from the Manipulator's control device. In the process, the equipment leaned precariously, but somehow managed to resist toppling over.
Red letters had appeared in a corner of the screen, indicating the recommended energy consumption for the Manipulator, and the amount of energy Touma had actually used. The latter value was red and more than twice the recommended amount. Yet the work that needed to be completed was still but half done. It was quite discouraging. This was a task he was supposed to finish before the end of the day, but the only confidence he had was that he would be unable to complete the job on time.
Sighing deeply, he looked out the window for a change of mood. Even though he looked out, it wasn't a field that greeted his eyes, but a part of a large scale research facility modeled after earth, with a diameter of 520 meters.
The name of the research facility was Sphere Lab. It was completely enclosed with it's own ecosystem for self-sustainability. Were this experiment to succeed, it would be a facility independent from all outside resources, where a human being could live and work. It was said to be the first hope of ushering in the Space Age. According to one extreme rumor, after the self-sustaining ecosystem was perfected, as long as it was a place where the sun's energy could reach, the system could be released anywhere in space.
Previously, Russia and America had performed similar experiments, but those had ended with the failure of the system.
Differing from the previous experiments, Sphere Lab incorporated an elite computer system with biotechnology to monitor the conditions of the system, and half a year had already passed since the opening of the project.
Most of the staff and their families, like Touma, lived together in the research facility. It could also be said they were like a small town community. Beyond the experiment itself, direct contact with the outside was kept to a minimum. That said, the laboratory was surrounded by a vast ocean.
At the time the project had been made public, the mass media, not to mention the world as a whole, had gone crazy over the concept. However not until recently, apart from one science magazine, had there been much information released to the mass media.
Touma himself had only started working here as of ten days prior. He had taken it as an excellent part time job over his spring vacation, with necessities like food and clothing already provided for. Even so, since coming to the facility, there was a huge workload he had been given, and so many things he was unfamiliar with it made him want to laugh.
Especially because at the time of the announcement, details of the supercomputer LAFI's complete system control were not the same as they had been made out to be.
He asked himself repetitively if it was natural for a seventeen year old to spend their spring vacation in a place like this. Touma's thoughts were filled with ways to escape the error messages constantly appearing on the monitor.
It was during one such moment of contemplation that a man, whose personality was as carefree as the laugh he entered with, appeared beside Touma.
“Ha ha, no matter how many times you do this, you just don't improve, huh."
“Please don't laugh at me so much, Mr. Yokota."
The man approaching Touma did hold back his laughter, but that didn't stop a wide grin from remaining fixed upon his face. The impression he gave off was that of a man around his thirties, with an expression that gave away his every emotion, and a beard he was too lazy to keep trimmed. Even so, this man was the one in charge of the Sector One facility.
His appearance was just like that of a unkept wild creature. More than a year had passed since Touma had known him, yet the impression he got of the man never wavered, in fact it had actually solidified. He had been the one who had misleadingly told Touma that the job of operating the Manipulator was possible if one just gave it a shot.
“How many times does this make today? Three tries?"
Silently Touma lifted up four fingers.
Laughing again, Yokota put on a more serious expression, rubbing his beard.
“Well, we can't have that now, can we. Even without talent, there should be a limit, shouldn't there."
“It's just too complex! How is someone like me supposed to operate a machine when all seven wheels need to be controlled simultaneously? Besides, don't you find it rather confusing that while the objects attached were about to fall off, before they did, there was a warning about the energy consumption levels?"
“You don't need to mention that. After all, Sphere Lab has a daily limit on how much energy we can use. There's only so much energy Mr. Up Above and the ocean currents can provide, and that has to power this mammoth of a place. Let's use the resources mother nature gives us carefully."
The last sentence Yokoto spoke was a catchphrase. Here in Sphere Lab, it was said by the staff more as a way to end sentences than because it held any real significance to them individually. Though it was true to a sense because Sphere Lab was a self-sustaining system, a miniature earth.
“That's right. Let's take the energy you've wasted through your attempts to operate the Manipulator, and compare it with a place on land. Let's see...hmmm...yeah, the amount of energy you used could be compared to three times the amount of energy required to power the entire city of Tokyo for a day."
“Are you kidding me? It's that much?"
“Just by being here at Sphere Lab, you feel how important natural resources are, don't you? Well, acting based on that might be just a dream within a dream though."
As though he had remembered something, Yokota looked at his watch.
“It's about time for the Honeybees. I'll be heading out now then. Have you had anything to eat?"
Stretching, Touma followed Yokota out of the room. They entered out into a large thicket. It wasn't something one would expect to see inside a building. However, this thicket was only one of six held within the 525 meter in diameter Sphere Lab. Just one of these places provided the oxygen required for the air that was contained within Sphere Lab. However perhaps to ensure there were no problems dealing with the required amount of oxygen, all of the plants in the facility had been genetically engineered to produce even higher levels of oxygen.
The two proceeded hurriedly down the path which meandered through the trees.
“Ah, geez. It's already time. Let's run."
Looking at their watches, the two broke into a sprint.
From the ceiling black specs began to descend, coming together above their heads, in such a way as to be reminiscent of ink dissolving in water. At this point it became hard to distinguish what the black specs were, but if the two were able to see them, they would be looking at robotic systems the size of one's fingertip, called Honeybees.
In order to cover the massive oxygen requirement for Sphere Lab, the vegetation was all arranged in the area known as the Plant Sector. It was these mechanical Honeybees that were performing the system management for all the vegetation within Sphere Lab. The reason they were called Honeybees was because their function and responsibilities, as well as their appearance of flying in the air with four wings, was very similar to their biological counterparts.
“It's kind of an uneasy scene, isn't it."
Running besides him, Yokota gave a hearty laugh at Touma's comment.
“You just don't have any nerve. But don't worry. They don't have any kind of aggressive behavior. They check on the physical condition of the plants, carry pollen and make honey. So they aren't dangerous, and without them there's no way we humans could do with our hands what they do. You're being cruel, you know, you'll hurt their feelings."
“But people are chased out when the Honeybees are active."
“Look, it's not that it's dangerous to people, it's just that when people are aimlessly meandering and get in the Honeybee's flight path, they have to exert more energy to avoid us, the obstacles. Okay? So let's hurry up and get out of here before we get in their way."
Hurriedly continuing down the winding path, the door eventually came into sight. They practically flew in, such was the speed of their movement.
“Mr. Kenichi Yokota, Mr. Touma Sakagami, you are exceeding your specified energy consumption levels."
As the door closed shut behind them, an electronic female voice spoke to them. Meeting each others gaze, Touma and Yokota broke into laughter.
“Geez, they can really calculate our energy levels down to point one percent. Just as you'd expect of something created by Mineshima. But it's a little annoying, wouldn't you say? I wonder if this is what a mother-in-law is like?"
“I wouldn't know, even if you ask me."
On the opposite side of the window, the mechanical Honeybee's flew about as though rushed.
It was a rather strange scene, yet within Sphere Lab, such peaceful days continued on.
“Don't you think we could loosen up on the energy consumption observance system? Hasn't today's work been rather tough?"
Shifting his gaze from one of the room's monitors, Koganei swiveled around in his chair, nodding his agreement with his coworker. The upper section of the monitor revealed that there had been over two-thousand reports from the Energy Monitoring System. There were 573 Research Staff, 150 Security Personnel and 320 others who lived in Sphere Lab, such as family members of the staff and personnel. This brought the total to 1413 people living in Sphere Lab. There was on average two reports on energy over-consumption per person each day.
“There's going to be a trial experiment in the Lab tomorrow, right? It seems that is going to take an enormous amount of energy. So that may be why the monitoring has been so strict."
“Maybe it's just me, but doesn't it seem weird to have a Lab facility inside this place we call Sphere Lab?"
“Not like I care."
The man who responded yawned audibly.
At any given time, taking into account the scale of Sphere Lab, there were no more than five people in the Situation Monitoring Room. Even so that was still a large number. This number was decided upon by the vigilant supercomputer, LAFI, but it still left those in the room in a very bored state.
"Do you think we will end up using the energy output from the central sector? If it is below normal values, impossible situation right?"
“Who knows. Wouldn't it be helpful if we could simply know beforehand how much energy really needs to be supplied?"
“In reality there should be a thirty percent leeway, so will you ask if we can use some of the reserve energy? We're only going to get chewed out if things remain the way they are."
At that moment a knock from outside could be heard on the door. Everyone turned their gazes simultaneously towards to the video of the survellience camera outside the door.
“Oh, if it isn't your Madonna, Miyane Ruriko herself!"
With similar sentiments directed at Koganei who was opening the door, the other members expressions betrayed their now high spirits.
“You're pretty happy, aren't you."
“Ooh, do I detect some jealousy?"
Koganei's coworkers sighed in amazement. It was at that precise moment, when he was beckoning Ruriko inside after having opened the door, that the noise was heard. Outside the glass wall reflecting light to highlight a faint rainbow color, a transport helicopter had appeared.
If you tried to sum up Sphere Lab with one statement, it would have to be that it was a glass ball with a diameter of over 500 meters. That glass ball was floating atop the ocean's surface.
Attached to Sphere Lab was a large, flat platform. It was a small port, in other words the gate to Sphere Lab.
Kanda approached the helicopter that had just landed with a wary expression. A large number of his subordinates followed behind.
Kanda held the job of Head of Security. Sphere Lab was a facility known throughout the world. Mineshima Yujiro's over-technology was incorporated along with many other technologies. To corporate spies or other countries, it was what one might call a mountain of treasure.
This was the reason for his stance to not accept anything remotely suspicious. A few people detached themselves from the helicopter, and began taking down a large container.
“Hold it right there. The reports we've received were that the materials were to be delivered next week."
Kanda lifted his voice to a man that seemed to be the center of the group.
“Eeh, what did you say?"
Perhaps unable to hear due to the loud sound of the rotor blades, a man with very dark eyes asked to hear the question again.
“I said the reports we received were that the delivery would be next week."
“Even if you complain to us, there's nothing we can do about it. We were just told to bring it here today, at this time."
“What's in the container?"
“Ah, a terrorist set."
Kanda knitted his brows at the humorless joke.