Toaru Kagaku no Choudenjihou SS Volume 2 Chapter 8
A craft 80 centimeters long and 50 centimeters wide including the very ends of the main wings was bringing destruction to Academy City. It had the same basic form as the kind of toy with a battery and motor inside that gained propulsion from a propeller. Normally, it was controlled remotely, but if the signal weakened, it could continue flying automatically according to a program.
It was a small UAV.
It held the detonation signal for the Solntse hydrogen bomb and would mercilessly detonate the bomb Anti-Skill had recovered once it entered Academy City airspace.
Someone had sent it out.
It was as if the grim reaper had folded a love letter into a paper airplane and thrown it toward Academy City.
Mikoto pulled out her cell phone.
Before, she had been unable to contact Academy City. It was likely the situation had not improved, but she refused to give up on that hope.
Lessar was (reluctantly) applying first aid to Caliche and the others from her organization. Mikoto darted through a narrow employee corridor, heading to a floor where she thought she would get a better signal.
She opened up her address book, highlighted Shirai Kuroko’s number, and hit the call button.
She had to get her message across as soon as possible.
If they were satisfied with only having successfully intercepted the old fighters over the Sea of Japan, they would be unable to stop the slowly approaching UAV.
If that happened, it was all over.
Academy City would disappear in a flash of light.
(Answer, answer, answer. Just answer already!!)
The ringing continued.
The confusion must have been continuing on the other end as well. Mikoto doubted they would actually announce that a hydrogen bomb was approaching, but the back and forth over the emergency lines could possibly overload the communications network. She had to get her information across before that happened.
She knew she had to, but…
She had to get it across no matter what, but…
No matter how many times she tried, her phone would not connect to anyone outside the shopping mall.
“Dammit!!” cursed Mikoto.
She hit the call button again, but it just would not connect. She was not even switched over to the message center.
A bad feeling built up in her chest and she gave up on trying to make a call. Instead, she started typing out an email with her thumb. Right after she hit the send button, she got an email in response. It was simply too quick. She checked her inbox and found a new message with a cold subject saying her email had failed to send.
(But I managed to connect with that Lancis girl before!! Is it just outside this city I can’t connect to!?)
Mikoto’s power could be used over a network. However, she failed even when she tried to forcibly open the line. It was either cut off with some kind of special method or the connector was physically removed.
Then, Lessar opened the door coming from the employee corridor and headed toward her.
“How goes it?”
Mikoto explained what had just happened. As usual, Lessar’s expression clouded over a bit.
“We have no way of knowing if the Solntse’s detonator has been dismantled yet or not. Academy City has no idea this UAV is headed there. …With the way things are, can they really avoid this danger?”
“It’ll be difficult. I’m sure they will remain on guard for the time being, but it will only be on the level of seeing if any remnants of that group are still inside Academy City. They won’t suspect that there is still a chance of the Solntse detonating now that they have determined it to be safely recovered.”
“So what will we do?”
Mikoto lightly shook her cell phone in response to Lessar’s question.
“We find the person that’s keeping me from using this. Whoever it is has to still be hiding in the shopping mall. First, we need to find them from the method and route used to block the signal. …And if they’re the person behind all this, they might have a means of getting a detailed location of the UAV. If I can get that information to Kuroko, the odds of successfully intercepting it will go way up.”
“Caliche I. Niknosh did not seem to have any more allies,” Lessar said as she thought. “Should we hit her some more to see if anything more turns up?”
“With as much blood as she’s lost, anything else is likely to stop her heart. If we aren’t likely going to get any information, it’s just a waste of time.”
(Well, the blocking of the signal is not the kind of method I would expect from Caliche anyway.)
Mikoto looked puzzled, but she had no time to think about anything else.
She focused and turned her power toward the cell phone.
“Where are you going to check first?”
“The transmission network from the shopping mall to Academy City. I’m rechecking the path data from this phone takes as it heads to its destination. There has to be an opening a third party is using to cut in and interfere.”
As she responded, Mikoto manipulated the internal workings of the cell phone directly using her power to manipulate electricity, but she was very uneasy.
They were at the climax. Whatever she did, she had no time. If some new giant and dangerous secret organization showed up, it was highly likely she would not be able to deal with it. She had to pray that the enemy was on a size where she could manage to take it out before the UAV arrived at Academy City from Tokyo Bay.
As she thought that, Mikoto suddenly frowned.
“What is it?”
“I’m checking how the data from my phone heads to Academy City, but it seems that all phone data in the shopping mall gathers in one place before being sent outside.”
That in and of itself was not too unusual.
In an area that dealt with information with a certain level of value, phone lines did not just stretch all around like a spider web. All the data would be gathered together in a giant server and checked in real time before being sent out. Essentially, a checking station was set up.
There did seem to be isolated servers like the one for credit card information in the casino, but the main pipeline out seemed to be cut off due to the emergency situation.
It was a bit different than she had expected, but now the issue was just where the checking station for phone and email was located.
Mikoto continued to look confused and spoke to Lessar.
“It’s in the main computer of the stock market center. In other words…”
“The center of Code EIC?”
That computer had been set up on the pretext of gathering stock data from around the world and processing it all at high speed. In secret, Code EIC sent out information to various types of media both mass and local in order to freely manipulate the people within the shopping mall. In either case, it was not too strange for it to act as a relay point for cell phone data.
However, the timing was odd.
Code EIC had already been suppressed and had no one controlling it, and yet it was blocking transmissions that would inform Academy City of the danger.
Mikoto thought for a bit on what that meant, but her thoughts were cut off by Lessar.
Technically, it was by a noise coming from Lessar’s clothes.
She forced her hand down through the collar of her lacrosse uniform-like shirt.
“Oh, it seems I have my hands full with transmissions, too.”
“…Isn’t it a bit much to stick it there with that outfit?”
“Heh heh heh. They may not look it, but mine are big enough to hold something between them.”
“Shut up,” Mikoto snapped back.
At the same time, Lessar pulled her wireless device out.
“Um…Why are you holding that piece of cardboard like it’s a cell phone?”
“There’s no need for you to know.”
Lessar made no attempt to explain why she looked so victorious.
“Hello, hello. Is this Bayloupe?”
“Yes. I’m currently on the roof of the grand hotel.”
Mikoto looked shocked. The cardboard vibrated and produced a human voice.
(??? Is that a cell phone made from some new material…?)
She thought it must be ecological, but she also thought it would be unsuitable for normal life. It seemed the corner would start peeling up if you messed with it.
“How are things at the hotel?”
“In regards to the rioting? Things are relatively calm here. It seems the shopping facility was the worst, but everyone has just been staring in disbelief ever since that strange giant wheel was rampaging around,” the girl who seemed to be named Bayloupe then changed the subject. “Can you see it from there?”
“One portion of the airport on the edge of the city just opened up. If it isn’t a pitfall for an elephant, it has to be a launch facility for a rocket or a missile.”
Mikoto and Lessar exchanged glances.
“A missile…? It isn’t related to the Solntse, is it?”
“If they could use multiple hydrogen bombs, they would have actually put them on the old fighters, don’t you think? They went out of their way to reuse the hydrogen bomb that they have no idea how far Academy City has dismantled, so they presumably only have one Solntse.”
Mikoto thought for a bit.
What reason was there to launch a rocket that had not been turned into a weapon…?
“We still haven’t found whoever is truly behind this plan.”
“Then are you saying whoever it is has been cornered and is trying to escape using the rocket?” Lessar said with a puzzled look. “But what would they do even if they made it into space? Even if they managed to escape our reach, a spaceship that cannot resupply from a space station or something can only stay up there for a few days. And its expected landing spot can be calculated from the surface. In fact, a ballistic missile with a normal warhead could shoot it down. That method of escape is nothing more than cornering oneself further.”
“They would just have to never come back down to the earth,” said the girl who seemed to be called Bayloupe. “If whoever is behind this does not need supplies, that doesn’t matter.”
“I see,” Mikoto said cutting in. She politely matched the other two by speaking in British English. “So someone is acting in secret to make us think Code EIC is behind this.”
“They’re afraid of taking the blame themselves, so they’re making it look like it was all caused by an out of control computer. But there is a danger of their interference being detected if the computer is thoroughly investigated, so they’re having the computer escape the solar system so it cannot be investigated.”
“But isn’t the plan stored in the offline storage…?”
“I’m sure they’ve thought of that. They could have added some unnatural parts to the records to make it look like the records are just fakes Code EIC made to manipulate people.”
“Which means,” said Mikoto confidently, “whoever is truly behind all this is currently making preparations in the launch pad’s control room. If we capture whoever it is and get the whole story from them, we can wrap this whole incident up.”
A machine that looked like a model aircraft flew through Japan’s capital.
It was not high enough to be said to be in the sky.
It cut through the wind at a height similar to a traffic light where it just barely made it by beneath power lines and overpasses.
It did not go unnoticed.
People who had the attention to spare looked up in confusion at the flying piece of machinery that gained its propulsion with a propeller.
It did not fit into the scenery crowded with buildings and people. It stood out. Most everyone who saw it was not sure if it was technically violating any set rule but still felt it was violating common manners.
At the same time, no one saw it as a military weapon. It looked like nothing more than a toy.
In reality, precision machinery with a camera that could transmit information in real time was classified as military weaponry.
Most of what were called military satellites were only used for reconnaissance. They did not have anything like laser weaponry installed. Even that was known to the people in that country that had been dulled by peace.
Information could be used as a weapon.
In fact, it could be more useful than directly using a bullet or a bomb.
And that small aircraft held a string of numbers in it no longer than a bank account number that could blow away the city center by reviving the recovered hydrogen bomb.
Many people noticed the UAV as it headed in a straight line for Academy City.
It was predicted to arrive in thirty minutes.
As soon as it penetrated the city’s outer walls, the entire city would be erased from the map.
Enirya G. Algonskaya headed for a large helicopter sitting on the heliport. It had many antennae so that it could communicate in many different ways. It even had a means of accessing a communications satellite for cell phones.
“I was right,” she muttered to her colleague. “The electronic signatures used to declare martial law were not from the higher ups. They were created by a third party. Do you know what this means?”
Her colleague did not respond. It was not that he did not know; he simply did not want to admit it. That was why Enirya continued on for him.
“Some unknown person or persons currently hold authority over this city in place of the higher ups. Since the true higher ups are showing no sign of trying to stop this, they have likely completely left already. This third party may have directly forced them to leave or they may have left for some other reason.”
“The data came from the rocket launch facility.”
“This third party may have ordered us to stop the rioting with martial law so that the rioters would not interfere with whatever plan is being carried out there.” Enirya looked over at her colleague as they walked along. “Can you contact the launch facility?”
“The staff locked up the facility when the rioting broke out and evacuated to a safer underground area.”
“Well, I suppose that was the best decision. The launch facility is filled with fuel and oxidants, so any rioting there would have turned it into a sea of flames.”
“But that also means the area should be completely abandoned.”
“Yes, but we know someone is there,” replied Enirya. “Did the account search turn up anything?”
“If this result is correct, it is most likely this person.”
According to the information displayed in the window at their feet…
Mikoto and Lessar entered one section of the international airport on the outskirts of the giant city known as the shopping mall.
It was a rocket launch facility.
In that city, space development may have been nothing more than another business through which to make money. However, Mikoto was not sure whether their service was to launch people or objects into space or to gather information from satellites that had been launched into space.
“Y’know…” Mikoto looked around the flat area as she ran. “This place reminds me of Academy City’s District 23. Why does everything have to be so damn huge when it comes to air and space!?”
“It seems there is more than one launch module.” Lessar showed no sign of fatigue as she ran alongside Mikoto. “There are 25 total. They’re laid out in a 5 x 5 pattern.”
“Do you know where the rocket with the core of Code EIC inside is?”
“According to what Bayloupe can see from atop the hotel, it’s the module in the fourth row and fourth column.”
“And where are we?”
“Row one column one.”
“We’re pretty much on the complete opposite side!! This is about the worst possible situation distance-wise!!”
As they spoke, the two girls dashed through the rocket launch area.
The launch modules were large circular holes opened in the ground. They were about 30 meters across and 30 meters deep. The edge of the holes had no railings, so they did not want to approach them. However, it seemed the rockets stood in the center of the circle and they were surrounded by crane-like devices that attached cables and tubes for data and fuel. The module Mikoto and Lessar circled around had all that minus the actual rocket itself.
Those giant modules were set up in a nice 5 x 5 layout.
Suddenly, Lessar realized something as she ran along and reached into her pocket.
It seemed she had received a transmission over that cell phone-like object made of cardboard.
“Hello, this is Floris. I’ve snuck into the center of the stock market center, and I found something interesting.”
“A part of the giant Code EIC computer has been removed like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The missing piece is…I guess about the size of a small refrigerator.”
“I guess that piece was brought to the rocket.”
“Yeah, and I doubt the rectangular box just grew legs and walked off on its own. Although, I’m sure some people would insist it was carried by people being manipulated by Code EIC.”
“You said your name is Floris, right?” Mikoto cut in speaking English. “Since you’re in the stock market center, could you try to bring the phone lines back online? It seems the city’s phone system is set up to head outside after going through there, so that would be the most likely place for something to be set up.”
“I’m not too knowledgeable about that kind of thing.”
“Just do what you can. All I want is to see if you can get it back online and connected to the outside. Even if we gather information here, it can’t be used to intercept the UAV if I can’t get it back to Academy City. So just do what you can.”
“Understood,” she said and ended the transmission.
And in the next instant, another transmission arrived.
This time, it was from a different worker at the occult convenience store.
But Mikoto did not know them well enough to know who it was just from a laugh.
“Hee hee hee. Nyu ha ha. I-it ticklesh…Nyahh.”
“Hello, who is this playing around in the middle of an emergency?”
“Lancis. Thish is Lancish. Nyuhu. Uuh, I can’t stand it. Magic power really does…tickle…”
Lancis continued muttered nonsensical things, but she slowly forced herself to calm down.
“Heh…heh. I received some new information from that cabal.”
“I’m surprised they told you anything.”
“Not from the people…nyuhu…I gathered the information left behind in that giant wheel snake.”
“But the cabal is not who is truly behind all this.”
“It seems they were…hee hee…gathering information from all over the shopping mall to see if anyone was going to get in the way of their plan.”
“And you found some information on who you think might be behind this?”
“It seems a French Academy City cooperative institution is deeply involved in all of this. Nyuha. A man named Peter Wellgo was invited here to see the #3’s demonstration, but it seems he had connections to the shopping mall’s higher ups beyond that.”
Mikoto frowned and activated the Semipublic AR on the ground. A window opened like a shadow at her feet. She used a few tricks to access the data meant for Misaka Mikoto while using a different account and accessed the data on the demonstration.
She found the same name there.
He was one of the people who had been invited to view the demonstration as a representative of a cooperative institution.
“A cooperative institution?” said Lessar glancing over at Mikoto as they ran.
“Assuming that information was not put in there to intentionally throw us off track, it seems he is the person behind this. Even if the plan came to light and Academy City and the shopping center destroyed each other, the French cooperative institution could benefit by establishing a business model using the scientific information they have.”
It started with the oranges filled with crimson long-legged army ants and continued with the Code EIC report, the attack by remote controlled snowplows, the uranium ornament, and the establishment of a business model. Many people had been involved in that single large plan. There had not been a single “incident” or “criminal” and the plan had eventually left the control of the shopping center higher ups who had created it in the first place.
A lot had happened.
But they had finally come to the last person manipulating things from the shadows.
It was clear he was trying to load the core of Code EIC onto a rocket and launch it into space.
He likely knew the nuclear detonation code and the flight path of the UAV.
In other words…
“If we can capture this Peter Wellgo and get the details of the plan to Academy City, they can almost certainly shoot down the UAV and prevent the Solntse from detonating.”
“Wellgo came to the shopping mall with…nee hee…a few bodyguards, but he is likely the only one involved in this plan. He would want to keep his connections to the shopping mall as secret as possible so that the odds of blame falling on the French cooperative institution would be as low as possible.”
Suddenly, a pillar of flames erupted up from a launch module directly to their side.
The huge explosion filled the entire 30 meter width and depth of the large hole. The brilliant red pillar of flames reached well above Mikoto and Lessar’s heads. After reaching 50 meters above ground, it finally stopped its ascent and started spreading out in all directions.
“Wha—!? What is that!?”
“The liquid fuel in the launch area must have exploded! I don’t know if it was liquid oxygen or hydrogen though!!”
The shock of the explosion caused Lessar to drop her cardboard cell phone, but she did not turn back for it.
The flames overhead had already surpassed Mikoto and Lessar’s location creating a “ceiling” of flames.
“But that module didn’t have a rocket in it!!”
“To create an explosion with the fuel, you just need the supply tanks and pipes. I’m betting someone set it to detonate remotely!”
“So nothing is being done directly by humans to the end. By using the tools and equipment here, he can make it look like Code EIC is doing this.”
The ceiling of flames wavered.
The far end of it dropped as if it had finally recalled the existence of gravity.
“Isn’t that right, Peter Wellgo!?”
As Mikoto shouted, the ceiling of flames collapsed.
It turned into countless masses of blazing heat and rained down on the launch area as Mikoto and Lessar ran through it.
Mikoto ran and Lessar leapt, but they were not quite going to make it in time. They rolled across the AR ground and the flames filled the area just behind them.
The danger did not end there.
The hard ground was smashed by the vibration. Mikoto covered her face with both arms to protect it against the fragments and she could see a dazzling light make its way between her arms.
It was coming from one of the fuel pipes that had been buried in the ground.
The thick steel pipe had been partially torn up and was spraying flames around like a flamethrower.
“There’s more!! Above!!” Lessar yelled.
A container larger than a tanker truck was spraying out flames and falling down above Mikoto like a long throw in baseball.
But this time Mikoto did not panic.
After all, the pipe that was writhing around on its own was…
“It’s made of steel, so I can handle it!!” she shouted and used magnetism to forcibly bring the pipe to a stop.
She pointed the flamethrower-like opening straight upward and smashed it against the giant tank that was sending flames down.
The high temperature flames quickly raised the internal temperature of the tank.
Only one portion had burst, so it was spewing flames, but the entire tank then lit.
As a result, it exploded.
The new explosion in the air blew away the remains of the ceiling of flames that was still collapsing and raining down.
During it all, Mikoto and Lessar ran as quickly as they could.
The Semipublic AR on the ground must have been damaged by the flames because complex static spread across it.
Many launch modules had pillars of flames erupt out of them, many supply pipes were ripped apart, and flaming tanks attacked them like missiles.
But none of it stopped their advance.
They knew that continuing forward was the best way of protecting themselves from the continual fiery attacks.
“There it is!! Row four, column four!! The core of Code EIC is there!!”
“And so is Peter Wellgo!!”
The launch area was filled with the orange of the flames and the static of the broken AR as Mikoto and Lessar ran through it.
Holding a spear-like object, Lessar asked a question.
“Do you know where the entrance to the rocket launch facility is?”
“Row four, column four!! Didn’t your companion on the hotel tell you that!?”
“No, not that! That’s where the rocket is launched from. The door people go in and out of has to be somewhere else!!”
“This is all we need.”
Mikoto smiled and ran across the gray surface.
A giant hole was opened in the ground ahead of her like some kind of strange crop circle.
“If we jump in there, we’ll be exactly where we want to be!!”
She jumped in without hesitating.
The giant hole was 30 meters across and 30 meters deep. A large pillar stood at the center giving the hole a donut-like impression. A few cranes stretched in from the side connected to the central pillar either to prevent the pillar from collapsing or to pass in cables for data transfer.
It was the rocket.
Mikoto focused magnetism on the bottoms of her feet, ignored gravity as she jumped, and stuck to the side of the rocket. She then moved vertically down the side like someone skiing down a steep slope.
Sparks flew from her bangs.
Above her, Lessar peered over the edge of the hole and frantically yelled down at her.
“Most of the rocket is filled with liquid fuel!! If you make a careless attack, it’ll all blow up!!”
(I know that.)
Mikoto had no intention of blowing herself up and pure destruction was not going to resolve the current situation. She had to retrieve the core of Code EIC from the rocket in a state where it could be analyzed.
Mikoto slid down the side of the rocket. On the side of the cylindrical hole were many thick windows used to observe the rocket. Through them, giant pieces of equipment one would not see at an electronics store could be seen. They were likely used for control either during or after launch.
She saw a single figure amidst the equipment.
He was one of the people on the list of people who were to have viewed her demonstration.
He was Peter Wellgo.
It was her first time to see him, but Mikoto was naturally able to guess who he was.
And she did not hesitate.
She changed the flow of magnetism.
She pulled her body toward a steel door on the other side of the thick wall.
Her body flew horizontally.
A thick window made of reinforced glass stood in her way, but Mikoto ignored it and smashed through.
With a high-pitched shattering noise, she entered the facility.
The man within immediately tried to protect himself from the countless glass shards. As he covered his face with his hands and balled up, Mikoto “landed” directly on him. The shock had to have been more than from a simple body blow. She cut off her magnetism and knocked him to the floor so she was sitting atop him.
The man Mikoto had restrained seemed to be around 50. He was a tall white man. His pale blond hair had gray mixed in. He was wearing a high class custom suit, but he seemed to be using it to hide his muscles that were beginning to wither away with age.
“Checkmate, Peter Wellgo.”
Mikoto stuck her thumb toward the aging man’s throat and sent bluish-white sparks flying so that they almost reached his skin.
“I am here because I’ve seen through your plans. I know you are from a French cooperative institution. I know that you were supporting the shopping mall’s rebellion so that you could also benefit by establishing a business model using the scientific information you have. And I’m not stupid enough to think you’re really just being used by Code EIC.”
“You put the main portion of Code EIC on that rocket and are trying to launch it into space so that it can’t be investigated. But it’s all over. Now, stop the rocket. If you don’t, I’ll have to physically destroy you personally with a high voltage current.”
Mikoto felt it was finally over.
She did not think Peter could turn things around in that situation. From what she could see, no one else was hiding within the area, but she could still handle it if he did have subordinates hiding somewhere. It truly was checkmate. She would safely retrieve the computer core of Code EIC, get all the information from Peter, and get the information on the UAV heading toward Academy City. With everyone behind the plan gone, she could finally get a phone call through and tell Academy City the information they needed to destroy the UAV. A small craft that could be flying anywhere was one thing, but they would have no problem with a target that they knew the location of.
That was what Mikoto thought, but…
“…It wasn’t me…”
An odd sound reached her eardrums.
It took her a second to realize it was a voice because it was so far outside of what she had expected.
Peter Wellgo spoke once more from his location on the floor.
“It wasn’t me.”
A smile was affixed on his face.
The smile made it look like small bugs were wriggling about under his skin about to rip the skin apart with their movements.
Mikoto had a thought.
Ignoring logic and calculations, her pure thoughts arose from the depths of her heart and formed words.
What is he saying?
Is he truly Peter Wellgo?
The aging man’s words and atmosphere were so odd that she started to grow unsure of the assumption she had made. That doubt was spurred on by the fact that the man had never actually confirmed that he was Peter Wellgo.
But she could not let herself be led astray.
The French cooperative institution he belonged to would gain nothing by him telling the truth there. Peter Wellgo would choose to either remain silent or lie.
After all, the plan to destroy Academy City was still ongoing. Once the Solntse was detonated and the core of Code EIC was dealt with, the French cooperative institution could sip on the wine of victory.
(How am I supposed to get him to talk?)
Mikoto felt a strange sweat on her cheek.
(And even if he does talk, how am I supposed to determine if he’s telling the truth!?)
At the same time, an explosive noise came through the shattered window.
It did not end with just one noise. The explosions continued on, one after another. The walls and ceiling vibrated violently since the soundproofed window had been lost. The din was much greater than that from road construction.
The rocket engine was beginning to ignite.
“…Stop it,” Mikoto said.
She had thought she had reached checkmate, but she was the one trembling.
How were you supposed to defeat an opponent that continued playing even after their king had been taken?
“Stop the rocket!! I broke the window! If the rocket launches now, the flames and scorching wind will fill this room. If that happens, neither of us will survive. We’ll die!! Sending Code EIC into space now will not lead to a victory for you!!”
Hearing those words, Peter’s smile grew even wider.
Mikoto shuddered at the mere fact that a smile wider than the previous one even existed.
“…It isn’t my fault.”
His words were like a spell.
His twisted sense of legitimacy meant he would not give in even when faced with one billion volts or 2000 degree flames.
“It was all the machine. I was just a tool. We were all just used, so I can’t stop this.”
That must have been how he wanted it to be.
No matter what, that was the “truth” he wanted the world to see.
(He wasn’t doing this for the sake of his own life or position…)
Finally, Mikoto glimpsed what the conditions were for him.
(He just wants to bring prosperity to the French cooperative institution he belongs to and to keep all blame from falling on them. That’s all he wants. That’s all!!)
What was the cooperative institution to France?
Was Peter Wellgo a leader of the institution or was he just in charge of that mission?
She did not know the answer to any of that.
And she had headed to the conclusion of the incident with all that information lacking.
The shaking within the facility grew. The rocket would launch before long. Once it did, the materials that could prove who was behind the incident would be sent outside the solar system. Mikoto and Peter would be enveloped by flames without passing along any information on the hydrogen bomb or the UAV. When the UAV arrived, the Solntse within Academy City would detonate allowing those behind the incident to profit by establishing their business model.
She had to stop it.
But randomly attacking the rocket would just cause an explosion. That held the danger of roasting Code EIC, preventing any information from being retrieved. And more importantly, the explosion would kill Mikoto and Peter. The result would be the same.
(What do I do…?)
While still restraining Peter, Mikoto looked around.
The many control devices were lined up within the room. She knew a lot about computers, but even she did not know what to do with such specialized equipment. The rocket would not necessarily stop if she just ended the program.
(What do I do!?)
The rocket was beginning to launch and the UAV was about to head into Academy City.
There was no longer any time to spare.
The countdown reached zero.
The stabilizing cranes attached to the side of the three-stage rocket fell to the side, disconnecting one by one.
The mix of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen that acted as a fuel produced a huge amount of explosive power.
At the same time, a great amount of water was sprayed out like a shower from the side of the launch facility.
The water ensured that the high heat of the engines did not destroy the facility. The white gas that expands like cotton candy often seen in videos of launches was steam rather than smoke.
The rocket started to float up.
It was only a few centimeters, but it had definitely left the ground. The power of the multiple rocket engines was slowly lifting the rocket up. The first few dozen seconds was the most delicate time. Once it gained enough power to break free of the chains of gravity, no one could stop it.
A giant computer was loaded on the front.
No calculations to give it a stable orbit had been carried out.
The contents of the rocket merely had to be taken away from the earth.
The giant manmade mass started moving up more rapidly.
The thrust created by the rocket engines won out over gravity pulling the large mass toward the ground.
It looked as if it had suddenly been shot upward.
The three stage rocket violated one of the most basic phenomena of the planet as it headed for the sky as if it was being fired up by a rubber band.
And suddenly all light disappeared from the rocket engines that had been creating such massive amounts of energy.
It happened right after the three stage rocket made it about 5 meters into the air.
It suddenly stopped firing and the giant rocket was pulled by gravity back to the floor of the underground launch facility. The bottom of the engines were crushed and the main body of the rocket wobbled in its vertical position. Having lost its support, the giant vehicle was no longer able to keep its balance. It started to fall toward the side of the facility and the main body was bent when it struck the wall.
At the center where it bent, cracks appeared and white smoke poured out.
It must have been the liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen used as fuel.
The fuels were only able to remain in their liquid state by being kept at temperatures lower than minus ten degrees. At normal temperature, they would immediately return to being a gas just like what flowed through the air.
Misaka Mikoto was standing facing the broken window.
Her palm was held out toward the launch facility.
“It’s no use. That rocket cannot fly anymore.”
For some reason, the rocket had failed to launch.
Or it had been stopped from launching.
However, Peter Wellgo’s smile did not disappear as he lay collapsed on the ground. The rocket itself had fallen, but his plan was not completely done for. With such a crude means of stopping the launch, the liquid fuel was sure to ignite and explode. He could only speculate as to how advanced Academy City’s analysis techniques were, but he was pretty sure Code EIC’s core would be mostly unreadable after being exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time.
His 100% safety had only been lowered to 90% safety.
He would still win.
The hydrogen bomb attack on Academy City was still ongoing.
That city would be destroyed and they would have no way of determining that his cooperative institution had been behind it, so their business model could still be established.
It did not matter that the rocket exploding would kill him.
The end result would be a victory for Peter.
“I told you: it’s no use,” Mikoto said, cutting off the aging man’s thoughts. “The liquid oxygen and the liquid hydrogen will no longer explode. That is why the rocket cannot be launched or blown up. There is no way for you to win now.”
At first, Peter did not understand what she meant and just stared at her blankly.
Finally, he noticed that nothing was exploding and his expression suddenly changed.
Just where did he get the extra strength from?
Peter Wellgo forcefully stood up and shoved his hand in his pocket. Bluish-white sparks flew from Mikoto’s bangs and struck Peter, but the man did not stop. As he screamed, he threw something he had pulled out of his pocket. It flew through the broken window and out into the launch facility.
It was a lit oil lighter.
The lighter flew in a parabolic arc and fell down into the very bottom of the launch facility. A great amount of fuel that had leaked from the broken engines had to be gathered down there. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The fuel had been prepared to provide explosive thrust even in areas with no air. It was enough to create an explosion large enough to instantaneously wrap the entire underground launch facility in flames.
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“Why? Why is nothing happening?”
“It wouldn’t detonate even if you used a flamethrower. I made sure of that,” responded Mikoto lightly to Peter Wellgo who stood shuddering at the edge of the window. “The way rocket engines use liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen is simple. Oxygen is needed for things to burn and the hydrogen that causes the explosive force is no exception. That’s why the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are mixed to cause hydrogen explosions using oxygen even in places with no air.”
“And oxygen molecules can be easily broken down with electric power. When two oxygen atoms bind together, they create an oxygen molecule, but three create ozone. Needless to say, oxygen and ozone have different properties. A mixture of ozone and hydrogen will not ignite.”
Peter peered down into the launch facility.
The fire had disappeared from the oil lighter. The conditions needed for fire to burn were not met down there.
“Well, I can only just barely manage to pull off that method. When the entire launch area was burning before, I couldn’t deal with it and, more importantly, I might have ended up suffocating myself. But the bottom of a single module is sealed off to a certain extent, so it does not affect my own breathing.”
Mikoto wiped sweat off her face with the back of her hand.
“Your plan to launch Code EIC into space and leave the responsibility for this incident vague has failed,” said Mikoto as if stabbing the words into Peter. “Now, tell me everything you know about the UAV being used to detonate the Solntse. Where was it launched from, what route is it taking, and when will it enter Academy City? If we know that, we can intercept it. There is no longer any merit for you in attacking Academy City.”
Peter Wellgo’s shoulders shook slightly.
He seemed to be laughing.
It happened immediately afterwards.
He did not even turn around.
He simply jumped straight out the broken window.
The action was as natural looking as a plastic bag being swept up in the wind. Due to that, Mikoto was a bit late in reacting. When she finally realized what was happening, Peter Wellgo had already disappeared from her vision.
Mikoto frantically manipulated magnetism, but she failed to grab anything. She then heard an unpleasant noise.
She leaned out the window and looked down.
A human form was collapsed at the bottom of the module right next to the leaning rocket. He was not touching the puddle of leaked liquid fuel, but he was not moving and Mikoto could tell his life was slipping away.
Suddenly, she heard Lessar shouting from the top of the launch facility.
“The UAV has not been stopped yet!! The Solntse will detonate at this rate!! Hurry up and find what the UAV’s route is!!”
“But what about him!?” Mikoto yelled back. “There is no oxygen down there! A lighter cannot even remain lit! All of the oxygen molecules have been turned to ozone!! Even if he’s still breathing, he won’t last longer than a few minutes down there!!”
“Agh! Fine, then I’ll get him!”
“I just have to do it without breathing, right!? I’ll manage somehow!!”
After that somehow occult-sounding response, Lessar jumped to the wall of the launch facility. She then slid down to the bottom as if skiing. She showed no sign of suffering, so she must truly have had some way of “managing”.
(The UAV’s route…)
Peter Wellgo had sealed off his information by defenestrating himself.
Was there anyone else who had a complete understanding of the incident and the UAV’s route?
(Wait a second.)
Mikoto looked up and out the broken window.
Her eyes landed on the very end of the bent rocket.
(He was trying to put all responsibility on the core of Code EIC. In that case, it wouldn’t surprise me if he put all the data on the incident inside the computer to make sure the disguise was perfect. He would have made sure there were records making it look like Code EIC itself had come up with and carried out the plan!!)
Peter had been afraid of Code EIC being recovered, but he would have tried everything he could. It was highly likely that the computer loaded on the rocket contained files on the incident.
Mikoto shouted out the broken window.
“Has that Floris girl contacted you!? Has she repaired the phone lines!?”
“I don’t know! I lost my communications spiritual i—uhh…communications device in the fire! And Floris already told you that she doesn’t know much about machines!!”
(Dammit. So I have to continue tightrope walking when I don’t even know if the other end is connected to anything!!)
Mikoto immediately began manipulating magnetism.
She jumped out the window and flew pretty much horizontally before landing on the side of the bent rocket.
She then ran for the top.
(Please make it in time….)
She pulled out her PDA.
She sliced through the armor at the top of the rocket with an iron sand sword to reach the computer within.
“Please make it in time!!”
At the same time, the small UAV that had taken off in Tokyo Bay raised its altitude slightly.
It had to in order to cross Academy City’s outer wall.
The outer wall was made to emit a highly directed jamming signal pointed vertically in order to prevent information from being leaked.
As such, a signal sent from outside the walls would not reach anything inside Academy City.
The instant the UAV passed directly above the outer wall, its flight grew slightly unstable.
But the UAV continued flying while it shook.
It held the signal needed to detonate the hydrogen bomb within it.
The UAV took the final action needed to detonate the Solntse which had been recovered by Anti-Skill.
It passed the outer wall.
It passed the jamming signal.
The UAV entered Academy City. It reached an area where nothing would block its signal. The UAV had a clear connection to the Solntse.
Mikoto sat flat on the floor.
She was within the top of the rocket.
Her PDA was connected to the giant computer and a few pieces of information were displayed on the small screen.
She held a cell phone in one hand.
Odd-sounding static could be heard through it.
It was not a proper connection.
Mikoto used a cell phone about as frequently as any middle schooler in Japan, but this was the first time she had seen such an odd connection.
She could not hear any voices.
She could not sense any breathing on the other side.
She could not imagine what the scene was like on the other side.
It was if…everything had suddenly vanished.
For a while, Mikoto said nothing.
All strength left her body.
The PDA slid from her hand.
She just barely managed to hold on to the phone because she trusted her connection with the person on the other side.
Finally, she heard a voice coming through the phone.
But it sounded different from normal. It was extremely scratchy and hard to hear as if all moisture had been taken from the very depths of the speaker’s throat.
The speaker was Shirai Kuroko.
She was giving her final report.
“The UAV…was successfully shot down… And…it was thanks to…the information you gave us…onee-sama…”
Hearing that, Mikoto finally remembered to breathe.
Meanwhile, Shirai sounded confused.
“But your voice…sounds very distant.”
“That’s probably because I’m not using a proper antenna.”
As she spoke, Mikoto looked up at the sky through the opening she had created in the side of the rocket.
The cell phone in Mikoto’s hand was not her own.
That one had fallen down from above in the middle of the countdown.
She had heard the sound of something repeatedly beating against the air above her.
She had looked up and seen a large helicopter circling around. From the Russian she could read on the side, it belonged to the security guards.
The helicopter’s door had opened and Mikoto had recognized the face that stuck out.
It seemed the woman had come that far following different information, but it had saved Mikoto and Academy City in the end.
The large helicopter was loaded with all sorts of communications equipment so that it could carry out investigations smoothly. It had antennae for things such as simple radio signals and also had a device that could access cell phone satellites.
Enirya had thrown down the cell phone and Mikoto had caught it.
Enirya may have determined she should help Mikoto because the helicopter had intercepted Mikoto’s failed transmissions as she tried to get the information to Academy City during the countdown.
“So what’s the situation?”
Just as Mikoto asked that, the sound quality became much clearer.
The helicopter’s antenna may have performed some kind of adjustment.
“As you told us to before, the UAV approaching the outer wall was intercepted. The Solntse has shown no signs of being detonated. It seems unlikely, but it is possible that a second or third UAV could have been sent out at the same time, so the Solntse is being sent to a sealed off underground facility. Even if there is another UAV, it can no longer receive the signal.”
“So for now the danger has been avoided.”
“How are things on your end?”
“I’ve recovered the core of the Russian shopping mall’s super computer, but it’s a decoy. The person truly behind this is…”
Mikoto looked down over the edge of the rocket.
Lessar looked back at her while holding Peter Wellgo.
“Well, he’s alive. If we ask him for the details, we should be able to get more info about the background to this whole situation. There seem to be some passionate security guards in this city, so it looks like this will clear all the suspicion that had been placed on me. It’s all over,” Mikoto said with a sigh.
The incidents surrounding the Russian shopping mall and the Solntse attack on Academy City were all over.
She felt more exhausted than refreshed.
The end of a real incident did not leave one with the same sense of achievement as the end of an RPG.
“So in the end, what happened?” muttered a silver-haired girl named Bayloupe.
She was riding a small charter plane rather than a large passenger plane. It was currently waiting in a corner of the airport for its turn to use the runway.
A girl with black hair that had just the ends braided sat across from Bayloupe.
Her name was Lessar.
“What do you mean?”
“The end with the UAV, right?” added a blonde girl named Floris who was sinking into a massage chair. In annoyance, she pushed another girl, Lancis, off of her lap. “With Misaka Mikoto? That Japanese girl put up quite an effort, but did she really make it in time?”
“Right, right.” Bayloupe leaned against the wall. “Even though she got the UAV’s route out of Code EIC’s core and got the information to Academy City, would the defense units really move that quickly? After all, it’s just the word of a middle school girl. I doubt they would immediately send out all their forces.”
“Normally, they would act too slowly, the UAV would get its detonation signal out, and…boom!”
Bayloupe and Floris spoke back and forth, but then Lessar spoke up.
“Well, maybe that was their intention from the beginning.”
“Maybe the higher ups of Academy City had already predicted there were dangerous elements within the cooperative institution and they wanted an opportunity to draw them out. By carefully monitoring the Russian shopping mall, they could find all the dangerous people involved with the organization.”
“Which would mean…”
“Maybe they were constantly monitoring the whereabouts of the Solntse and the UAV using a different information source. By letting the situation develop as far as possible, they could see just how much strength the dangerous elements had. And as a result, they also managed to draw out another cooperative institution supporting the shopping mall. Not to mention actually capturing Peter Wellgo.”
“Uehh,” someone groaned.
“Would they really go that far for that?” asked Bayloupe.
“In that city, they would.”
“But the Solntse is a hydrogen bomb.”
“In Academy City, even that isn’t too much for them,” replied Lessar lightly. “I don’t know how sharp their higher ups are, but they might have been thinking about a possible future war between magic and science. This could be seen as an elimination of enemies on their own side before such a war begins.”
All four of them fell silent.
The word “war” weighed heavily on them.
“Well, if there is a war, Russia would be a likely candidate for the main battlefield.”
“And the other cooperative institution is from France, another dangerous location.”
“So they were laying the groundwork by getting rid of the unnecessary institutions before the fighting begins. With all the higher ups gone, this shopping mall will likely be completely shut down,” said Bayloupe with a grin. “I suppose we’re lucky no British cooperative institution was eliminated.”
“I wonder about that. At least our part in helping resolve this situation might help fool them a bit.”
Suddenly, Lancis spoke up for the first time.
She was twisting her body as if an invisible hand was tickling her side while she flipped through something like a small book.
“…Hee…hee hee. It found it.”
“The Coronation Sword. I…hee hee…just got a signal from the spiritual item…heh heh…automatically carrying out the excavation. It found it. It will…hee hee…start the actual exaction now, but this is most likely it. Heh heh.”
“Hmm,” Lessar smiled thinly.
It was a devilish smile.
It was a smile that indirectly showed that she was aware of her own ill will.
“If the revolution in England succeeds, I doubt the cooperation of Academy City will matter anymore, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. After all, we are a group that does what is best for England.”
They received permission to use the runway.
The pilot slowly moved the charter plane.
They arrived at one end of the straight runway and started accelerating for takeoff.
As the airplane took flight, Lessar said, “I guess we need to start seriously preparing for war.”
“Onee-sama, can you still use your cell phone?”
“We haven’t taken off yet. It should be fine for another ten minutes or so.”
Mikoto was holding her cell phone within a passenger plane. The large plane seemed to be waiting for its turn on the runway. Currently, she could see a small charter plane taking off.
“But,” said Shirai Kuroko over the phone, sounding upset. “That Russian shopping mall is a terrible place. I can’t believe they would carry out terrorist attacks in order to establish a business model using their partial scientific knowledge! I can’t believe they would bring a hydrogen bomb here to do that! And I especially can’t believe they would chase you around trying to capture you!! Those security guards they have instead of police sound completely useless!”
“W-well, the security guards did their job at the end and cleared me of all suspicion. I don’t think there is any more need to find fault in them.”
“Of course there is!! The security guards are supposed to protect normal people like you, onee-sama! What they did at the end does not cancel out what they did before that!!”
Mikoto had a sudden thought as Shirai continued to shout over the phone.
She did not think Academy City was a paradise. She did not think the city held the burden of the entire world’s justice. But she was still quite shocked to find that clear enemies of Academy City had appeared.
Why was she so shocked?
Was she simply shocked at the mere fact that Academy City had enemies?
Or was she shocked at the realization that she had believed up until then that Academy City did not have enemies.
There was no such thing as a perfect system.
There was no system one could unconditionally rely on forever.
Just like the shopping mall, Academy City might have its own dark side.
It might have enough darkness to produce enemies like that.
“Hey, are you listening, onee-sama?”
“Yes, I’m listening,” Mikoto responded arbitrarily as she looked out the plane’s window.
She made a gun with her fingers and pointed it toward the land of Russia that she would soon be leaving.
“But, y’know, this really did become one hell of a demonstration.”