Toaru Majutsu no Index SS: Biohacker Chapter 2
"Yes, that's right."
"That L.S.S. truck wasn't just a random disguise; it appears to have been real. They've just gone berserk. So how do you intend to fix this as a member of the Board of Directors?"
"Surely you aren't going to take a wait-and-see approach. This is never going to end with that one attack. I will protect myself, but this could still be seen as a direct attack on a Board member's Brain."
"Kaizumi. Just this once, I will defer to you since I know you so well. I will wait six hours from this very moment. Use that time to calculate out the pros and cons on your secretary's computer or whatever."
"Yes, that should tell you what you need to know."
"It does not matter how much corporate profit L.S.S. provides. They have started using you-know-what, and that is supposed to be Kihara Kagun's domain. Washing your hands of them and crushing them would be the best choice for Academy City."
"My interest here is in Mitsuari Ayu."
"Surely you know who that is. She is the esper developed as a parallel line to ******** ******. Aren't you curious what they want with her?"
Tokiwadai Middle School was known as a prestigious esper powers development school.
The girls who attended had to be at least Level 3 and the school was having an especially fruitful year since they now had two students at the effective upper limit of Level 5.
That was this girl's goal, yet she found herself unable to attain it.
Fluffy-haired Mitsuari Ayu was not fond of the Curriculum she was put through. Her Mental Stinger affected people's minds and it did not work on animals like monkeys or dogs. So no matter how safe the experiments were, they had to be human experiments.
(I have heard that espers with telepathy and mind reading powers have similar worries.)
The school counselor was of course aware of these troubles, but Mitsuari was a specialist in manipulating people's minds. The adult counselor tried to resolve her problems by following the arrows on the flow chart in some manual, so it was as meaningless to her as watching a magician when you knew how all the tricks worked. Whether or not it was effective, there had to be a bond of trust established first.
"Red," she said softly while feeling blue.
She sat across from a Tokiwadai teacher who was assessing her power. The cards in the woman's hand were held so Mitsuari could not see what color they were, but she continued regardless.
"Yellow, red, red, blue, red. Oh, and that is right to left from my perspective."
The teacher smiled brightly while turning the fanned-out cards so the girl could see.
"A perfect score, Mitsuari-san."
Mitsuari did not have a remote viewing power. Her phone did have an external lens attached, but not for that purpose.
The power to control people's minds was so broadly defined that the user sometimes had to clearly define what they were doing in order to use their power properly. That may have been exacerbated by the fact that the power had no visible component, unlike the power to produce fire from the hand.
So in her case, she had to start by aiming with her phone.
All she was doing was breaking through the barrier of the teacher's mind, slipping inside, and stealing away the images of what the woman was seeing, but did the teacher really understand what that meant? She may have been so delighted to have found such an excellent student that she did not care that her mind was being read, but she also might have had other intentions hidden somewhere deeper.
The teacher put on a perfect smile and spoke even more politely than an ATM.
"We can compare the data on our brainwaves later. Are they synchronized, or are they drastically different? We should learn a lot from that."
"I have been interested in Mental Stinger for a while. If you ask me, the final frontier for research is not the farthest reaches of space; it is the human mind. In that sense, I am so glad you were placed in my care."
A veil of mystery hung around the adults in Academy City.
Looking purely at abilities, they should have been easily overthrown, yet that never happened for some reason. The majority of the population were the students in the schools, but the small minority of supposedly powerless adults remained in control.
The teachers encouraged a spirit of competition by telling the students they could stand at the top if they increased their Level and grew stronger, but the adult teachers themselves were outside that entire framework.
"Sensei, there's something weird with my data."
Just as Mitsuari started to speak, someone else cut in.
Yes, this special classroom contained around 30 girls hooked up to the measuring equipment on the desks in front of them.
The teacher turned around with a bright smile.
"Yes, yes. I will be right there. Remote viewing is such an interesting power. There is no actual organ reflecting or absorbing the light, yet somehow you can establish a fictional viewpoint in 3D space. If you ask me, the final frontier for research is not the farthest reaches of space; it is…"
The teacher started a very familiar spiel.
Her praise was a canned thing that could apply to anyone once she filled in the blanks. Mitsuari felt a twinge of self-loathing for letting that come as a shock. It meant she had let herself trust one of those creepy adults.
Sitting by the window had been a mistake. The fluffy-haired girl glanced outside and allowed her mind to drift from reality. The air conditioning was perfect and the special glass was thin but solidly soundproofed, so she could not even hear the cicadas crying in the outside world.
Some adults in work jumpsuits were holding something like monstrous bug-catching nets. Had a dog or a cat gotten on the school grounds again? That was the usual explanation when people were wandering around in jumpsuits designed differently from the usual cleaners and janitors.
You have such a promising future. You are an excellent student. You are sure to reach Level 5.
She snorted as those words came back to her.
She toyed with her phone and muttered to herself.
"If that were true, we would be doing this one-on-one in an individual room, not in this big room full of other students."
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
The cicadas really were loudest when the sun was high overhead.
"Why aren't you in school? At your age, you should have entrance exams to prepare for."
An exasperated voice spoke on a roadside that was already shimmering with heat that morning.
It was hardly fair how a beautiful older girl could look stunning no matter where she was, from a party hall to a park bathroom.
But the pointy-haired boy gave her a dubious look.
"Classes are at irregular hours because we're preparing for entrance exams. The teachers are so busy doing practice interviews with the kids hoping to get a letter of recommendation that us normal kids have had study hall after study hall."
"That doesn't mean you can just skip school, you know?"
"Yeah, well, what are you doing wandering around in your school uniform on a weekday morning?"
"You act like a capable older girl and you're definitely a grownup girl, but you seem more like me deep down. Do you even go to the school that uniform's from?"
Kamijou Touma gave Bare-Midriff High School Girl Kumokawa Seria a skeptical look, but he could not break through her jokey atmosphere. A super high school girl's personal space was inviolable.
"Now, you never answered my question." She put a hand on her hip. "What are you doing here?"
"They do say the criminal returns to the scene of the crime."
"I'd rather you didn't put it like that."
Kamijou kept things casual as he sighed and moved his chin to point at the ordinary ground.
Yes, there was nothing here.
Despite the excitement from the day before.
Heat shimmered up from the asphalt as if to mock them.
"It's all been cleaned up without a trace. I was aware this kind of mysterious phenomenon could happen when some rich kid drunkenly destroyed a street sign or something, but the scale was way bigger here. This was more than knocking over and breaking a sign."
After all, that dragon had been around three stories tall when standing on its hind legs. He had stopped at putting it into hibernation since he had been hesitant to kill it, but what had happened to it afterwards?
Someone had not wanted it making the news and becoming the talk of the town.
But based on what he knew of Anti-Skill, he doubted it was them that cleaned this up. Running across them while out late at night was unbelievably annoying, but he knew they did their job. It was not like them to cover up a crime due to special circumstances.
That meant someone else had done this.
And if that someone else could hide all this, they could probably make a corpse or two disappear just as easily.
The beautiful older girl used her flip phone to search the online news.
"It looks like the story was passed off as a propane gas container rupturing behind that multi-tenant building."
"That sounds plausible enough, but did you see any of those big gray metal canisters in the alley yesterday? Cause I didn't. I'm pretty sure the place received town gas through underground pipes."
Kumokawa only shrugged.
The motion was enough for her large chest to jiggle a little. Delightful.
And whether the building used propane or town gas, those two knew all too well that the fire yesterday had not been a simple accident.
The upperclassman girl made a grownup suggestion.
"It's probably best to keep out of this from here on. The immediate threat is gone at least."
"You said that dragon was a chimera creature made by a Biohacker…so through genetic manipulation or however that all works, but could an individual really create and raise a creature that big?"
"What if it's a group instead of an individual and what if they have more than just that dragon? Then aren't we in trouble? They might have learned what we look like and who we are."
That was why he had wanted to see it on the news.
He had wanted to hear that the incident was over and that everyone involved had been arrested and he had wanted to see footage of the tough-looking heroes in fancy suits carrying box after box of evidence out of the secret lab.
He had wanted to know nothing more was going to happen.
"I wonder what happened to him," he muttered while surrounded by the noisy cicada cries.
His words sounded oddly tranquil.
After the dragon, he had punched out the researcher who had released and guided the dragon.
"He should have been arrested by Anti-Skill, so I can't imagine he could do anything more. But then why didn't the newspapers or TV news say anything about what happened?"
It was a conversation.
Three girls exchanged words that did not reach anyone else.
"Is it done, Riku Onee-chan?"
"It is, it is. Man, that was not easy at all. He had no ID and the facial recognition turned up nothing, so his address and occupation remain unknown. I imagine even those hard-workers were hesitant to report that to the news, but nothing lasts forever. He really shouldn't have let Anti-Skill get to him. Really, he was a little too mischievous. There's no way we could have covered for him this time."
"He won't die right away, will he, Rikuri Nee-san?"
"Don't worry, Kaibi. I used a slow-acting one that has to break down inside his body first. Honestly, even if visiting hours were the only option, doing it through that thick acrylic was not easy!! But regardless, the foaming at the mouth and eyes rolling back in the head will only happen after lunch, so don't you think they will suspect that first and foremost? Oh, right. And I learned in advance that the lunch today is fried oysters, so they should assume shellfish poisoning. Even when those things are raised in a temperature-controlled indoor environment, the summer sure can be scary."
"It's divine punishment! He shouldn't get to eat so well after screwing up and getting thrown into a holding cell!!"
"Amazora, my ever-complaining little sister? How about we go get some oysters for lunch. There is no need to get upset. Academy City raises and grows everything indoors, so you can get whatever you want year-round."
"Yes, yes, yes!! Kai Onee-chan, I want them raw instead of fried! I want to eat even better than him!!"
"Let's avoid the raw ones, my adorable little sisters. We have another job coming up, remember?"
The first afternoon class after lunch was always a struggle with drowsiness. That was as true for the girls of prestigious Tokiwadai as it was for anyone.
And it was worse when that class was gym.
Not only did you have to contend with the drowsiness then, but if you used up all your strength, you would zonk out in the next class. This was made all the more troublesome because their school held its students to a higher standard of classroom behavior than normal schools. They did not even want to imagine what kind of lecture they would receive if they fell asleep in the middle of class.
They needed a delicate hand on their reins at times like this.
If they did not hold back just enough to preserve some power during gym, the boredom in the following class would be too great, their batteries would run dry, and their faces would slump down to their desks.
So this was not her fault.
The word "unathletic" did not at all apply.
"A-are you okay, Mitsuari-san!?"
They were inside the gym.
The day's activity was volleyball.
The fluffy girl wore a sleeveless athletic uniform - in other words, the top showed off her shoulders and armpits and the shorts showed off nearly all of her bright thighs. She had her hips low and her hands together in the perfect form to receive the hard ball flying her way, but she instead received it straight to the face.
It was such a clean hit that the ball bounced straight up and was still considered in play. Her teammates would not let her sacrifice go to waste. They quickly tossed it around, made a powerful attack, and scored the winning point. The gym teacher nodded silently with arms crossed, so she seemed to approve of how they waited until they had won to rush over to aid the girl. Mitsuari Ayu, on the other hand, wished they had come help her sooner.
After using up all her strength, she fell straight to her knees and collapsed forward. The butt showing its shape through her shorts stuck up in the air behind her and she secretly wondered if she could take a nap in the infirmary if she just lay here like this for a while longer.
"Ugh… Why does this have to happen to me?"
She rubbed together her almost fully exposed thighs as she hobbled out of the gym alone. Her change of clothes was in the classroom, but she had brought her small bag with her to the gym.
As soon as she stepped out the door, her ears were assaulted by the cicada chorus.
A few classmates had offered to accompany her, but she had refused. Yes, when you wanted to throw a fit and climb into one of the beds, you could not let the school doctor know the exact amount of damage you had taken. Bringing a witness with her would only work against her.
She removed the shoes meant for the special wax that kept the gym floor so shiny and put on her ordinary indoor slippers before walking down the outdoor walkway to the white-walled school building. To really get some good sleep, she would have wanted to take a shower, spray herself down with deodorant, and change into her uniform, but making herself look hurt mattered more right now.
She reached into her small refrigerated bag and pulled out what looked like a gelatin drink but was not. It was a type of ice cream that you melted yourself and sucked out to drink. It of course broke the school rules, but the world of maidens was rife with secrets. The strawberry milk flavor in her mouth now was more valuable than anything.
(Ugh. Sweet things really do make me sleepy.)
On the way, she heard a rustling sound.
It was loud enough to hear over all the cicada cries since it came from the bushes right next to her. A prestigious school considered the psychological effect of the scenery in addition to simple efficiency and logic, so there was a lot of greenery on the Tokiwadai campus. They did not actually believe in the negative ions myth, but flower beds and even artificial woods were fairly common.
Mitsuari Ayu kept the ice cream pack's opening in her mouth and kept walking.
She only glanced over while continuing on her way. A fair number of Tokiwadai girls had unusual pets like snakes or monkeys, so she assumed one of those had escaped. An intruder here was unthinkable. It seemed far more likely she would run across an animal protected by the Washington Convention.
That was why she let her guard down.
And a moment later…
A great din seemed to chew through space itself as a Gatling gun mercilessly fired 6000 rounds per minute.
Normally, she never could have survived that.
She would have been torn to pieces and killed before she even knew what was happening.
And while strictly speaking she may not have been normal, her power was a psychological one. She could not hold out a hand to produce a thick barrier.
So in this case…
A surprised voice came from the bushes.
By that point, Mitsuari Ayu's small butt had fallen to the walkway's floor, tears had welled up in her eyes, and she had rolled and turned around so fast it swung her small bag around. The hips in her shorts wiggled back and forth while she crawled and then tried to stand back up.
How had she managed to survive that deadly spray of bullets?
An odd voice could be heard from behind the bushes.
"Eek!? There's something on my back…ahhh!? Please tell me that isn't a cicada! Please, Mr. Janitor! You're keeping precious rich girls here, so do a better job of maintaining the grounds!!"
It sounded like whoever this was had pulled the trigger prematurely.
And unfortunately, while Tokiwadai had janitors, none of them was a "Mr."
The bullets had been fired in frustration at the flying cicadas, so they hit the artificial woods instead of the walkway. Broadleaf trees thicker around than Mitsuari were splintered as easily as chopsticks.
The ubiquitous chorus was gone.
A figure came into view.
It was a girl smaller even than Mitsuari. The longish wavy hair fluttering around her was an unnaturally bright blonde, likely made through bleaching. Could she be in elementary school? But that appearance clashed with the Gatling gun and the enormous drum magazine that she dragged around like a vacuum cleaner.
Mitsuari could not believe her eyes.
She doubted this girl was only here to destroy those empty woods. And since this was the middle of a class period, Mitsuari was the only one on the walkway between the gym and school building. There was only one conclusion here: Mitsuari was the target.
Plus, this was a Gatling gun.
She thought of those as something from the action movies she rarely watched. How had one of those left the movie trailers and entered the real world? It was rumored those could slice a tank in two if you attached it to an attack helicopter and fired on the surface along a straight line.
Since her hips did not give out and she did not wet herself, Mitsuari Ayu may have had greater-than-average coping skills when it came to abnormal situations. Or maybe it simply worked in her favor that she was so shocked that she froze in place and the ice cream caught in her throat. She did not have time to think about anything else.
"Bweh!! Cough, cough!!"
She spat out the still-solid chunk of strawberry milk ice cream and then aimed her phone's camera toward her own forehead.
(Self-suggestion!! I need to force my body to move!!)
That paid off.
Wavy, bleached blonde hair fluttered. The attacker was holding shockingly high firepower at her hip, but she immediately hid back behind the bushes.
She could still be heard complaining to herself, but not because she was unaccustomed to fighting. She simply did not bother keeping too quiet since the roar of the Gatling gun would drown it all out.
She knew she could make up for a small mistake.
That young girl had a monopoly on that deluge of violence.
"Dammit, that isn't what I was told. She wasn't supposed to be able to use her power! I thought they kept their valuables elsewhere during gym class!!"
(Someone told that intruder detailed information on how Tokiwadai works!?)
She actually needed more than just the phone with the external lens to use Mental Stinger. Not even psychological powers were that convenient and all-powerful.
She needed to accurately target the other person.
Still, she held out her phone as an empty threat and repeatedly used the camera's flash while making a mad dash away from there.
(Hm? She fell for my bluff?)
"Amplify fear!! Now your mind is trapped in the fog of suspicion and doubt!!"
"Don't get carried away, dammit!!"
Mitsuari swallowed a shriek, gave up on her poor attempt at acting, and focused on running.
She moved off the walkway's path.
(Even if I am in my indoor slippers.)
Tokiwadai looked peaceful, but gathering that many teenage girls in one place and making them live together was bound to lead to trouble. There was plenty of friction between classes, cliques, clubs, and committees. And everyone involved was at least Level 3. A fight or prank done on a whim or just for fun could often be decorated with deadly force even if they did not realize it themselves.
So Mitsuari was more accustomed to death than normal girls.
Otherwise, she would have died when she encountered a dragon so large she had to look up at it. Or so she believed, anyway. And the other two with her there had been even less normal than her.
"Get your ass back here!!"
(The teachers? Anti-Skill? No, this isn't a normal intruder since she managed to get inside not just the School Garden but Tokiwadai as well!! The protection of the grownups isn't going to stop her!! They'll all be swept aside and blown away!!)
That firepower was enough to drown out the midsummer cicada cries.
The wide schoolyard or open walking paths would be suicide against all those projectiles. A real Gatling gun would be able to tear through the school building's white walls like they were styrofoam or cardboard, so holing up in some sturdy location was not an option.
Thus, she did not hesitate to run inside some other artificial woods.
She ran alongside the tall fence next to the tennis court.
She was still in her indoor slippers, but she did not have time to worry about that. It helped that she had her bag and thus the unlimited card within. She kept moving her legs, which had most of the thighs exposed, and made sure she did not trip over her own feet as she ran at full speed.
She stayed off the paths and worked to leave the school grounds. Tokiwadai and the School Garden were no longer safe, so she had no choice but to try to escape them. Even a sheltered girl knew how effective a credit card could be while outside your usual territory.
"Argh, really!? That idiot's running. Riku Onee-chan, this is why I told you to make sure she was surrounded!!"
The fluffy-haired girl was dumbfounded when she heard that voice again.
She had not mistaken what she saw earlier.
The girl really was that tiny.
She spoke crudely, but it was still the voice of a girl younger than a middle school first year like Mitsuari. Mitsuari caught glimpses of her as she ran, but she did not have time to aim her phone at her. But if that appearance was not some kind of disguise, then it had to be a blonde girl of elementary school age. Although her hairstyle and dress made it seem like she was trying to look older than she was.
She was less than 130cm tall.
A girl that small was walking around with a Gatling gun meant to be attached to a fighter or armored truck, but that was Academy City for you. In a way, her skimpy dress left even less to the imagination than Mitsuari's athletic uniform, but there was no sign of any motors or pistons supporting her movements. She probably used an esper power to strengthen her muscles.
Mitsuari heard something slice through the air.
This was clearly different from the deafening roar of the Gatling gun. And in a battle against an esper, you could not afford to overlook any hint. Hadn't that unidentified gunner mentioned a "Riku Onee-chan" who was supposed to make sure Mitsuari "was surrounded"?
Mitsuari came to a stop and did not take another careless step forward while she held out her phone and slowly spun around on the spot. Stopping seemed to remind her how wildly her heart was racing and how out of breath she was. She was not simply relying on Mental Stinger. Modern cameras could be more precise than the human eye when focused on certain functions. The expanded capabilities of the attached external lens helped.
The small screen showed glimpses of something shiny.
"A wire? And it's moving!!"
A thin metal wire was drawn taut along a horizontal line as it approached her from straight ahead, as if slicing through the scenery. In a world where esper powers were commonplace, you could not freeze in place just because you saw something absurd or unreasonable. She doubted hiding behind a tree branch or even trunk would be enough here. At first glance, she could not judge the power or accuracy of this attack, so she crouched down to the ground in a frog-like pose and let the sharp wire pass by overhead.
But it turned out the wire was not being directly moved by an esper power.
She heard small motors running.
She also heard something that reminded her of the electric shaver her father had used long ago.
(Drones!? Are two of them holding the wire between them as they charge in at me!?)
She looked up through the trees and caught a glimpse of those devices that resembled giant crane flies.
She might be able to bring down one of those drones if she held her bag by the shoulder strap and swung it around, but they had flown past before she thought of that. Just like with her phone's camera, it was over before you realized it.
(They're slicing right through branches as thick as my arm, but they seem to be avoiding the thick trunks.)
And the simple cutting edge was not the scariest part. She could see some kind of sticky liquid on the wire. She did not want to lick that or even touch it.
Being sliced through was not the only way to die here. That was a poisoned blade, so even the smallest nick would be deadly.
Even if it had been a split-second decision, she was ashamed of how wide she had spread her legs there. She sat up and used her index finger to fix the shorts that were riding up.
(It isn't big and it isn't a weird shape.)
The older girl's words from the day before were still bothering her, so she childishly pouted her lips while thinking about her situation here.
This was a real pain.
It had sounded like the initial Gatling gun girl knew that she controlled her powers through her phone camera. So was this other person staying hidden and using drones as a method developed specifically for use against her?
She heard the bushes behind her being parted.
That would probably be the Gatling gun girl.
Staying here would allow that girl to catch up and turn her to mincemeat. But even with the expanded functionality of her phone's camera, she had no way of knowing if she had spotted all of the wires. The drones were constantly flying around, so they could always set up a new wire in a spot she had already checked and judged safe. She was unsure if continuing on blindly would be a good idea.
She felt like a fleeing soldier driven into a minefield.
She pictured her opponent's smile in her mind's eye.
She grimaced while aiming her phone's external lens around.
She had a shallow wound on her exposed upper arm.
It looked almost like a cut, but she doubted it was from that wire. That would have taken off her entire arm and then made her foam at the mouth with its poison.
(Really? Did I cut myself on a leaf like a papercut?)
She could only bite her lip and bear with it.
Now was not the time to shed tears of disgrace.
She continued observing through her phone camera. The Gatling gun was the most obvious threat, but the invisible wires were there too. She was trapped between the two and could not move.
The Gatling gun girl was approaching from behind while using an esper power to strengthen her muscles and swing around that heavy weapon. Unlike Mitsuari, she did not seem to be using any electronics or sensors.
(Does she simply trust her ally not to attack her? Can she not actually see where the wires are?)
There was no time to actually confirm that theory.
It would mostly be a gamble.
Mitsuari Ayu grabbed a longish stick that had fallen nearby and then turned around to look at the branches that had been sliced through at about her eye level. The clear sticky liquid on the wires was more frightening than the wires themselves. It had to be some kind of poison, so even a scrape could be deadly.
Then Mitsuari looked down.
These artificial woods were more than just thick trees. There were also bushes and underbrush toward the ground. And it was possible for the edge of a hard leaf to cut a girl's soft skin.
That Gatling gun girl had been showing just as much skin as Mitsuari.
Still silent, Mitsuari Ayu lightly tapped the side of the refrigerated bag she used to sneak ice cream and drinks into school.
Her final trump card was in there.
The girl was less than 130cm tall.
Her wavy blonde hair had obviously been bleached and her gaudy minidress looked out of place on her slender frame. It must not have been fitted properly because the shoulder straps were slipping off and, if she were to lean forward, the dress would likely create a tunnel revealing her undeveloped chest. However, no one who laid eyes on Gokusai Amazora would have paid any attention to that.
Something else seemed far more out of place.
She was carrying a giant Gatling gun made from 6 barrels, each capable of firing 20mm rounds, and she was dragging around a drum magazine full of those rounds. The magazine had small wheels attached in a very DIY way, but no one would mistake it for a household vacuum cleaner.
She used a single hand to casually drag along the weapon despite its barbell-like weight and she used her other hand to vigorously scratch at what was more her butt than her thigh. The skirt was short, but the dress also provided little protection for the armpits or chest.
She was dressed maturely, but her behavior was so childish it may have made other girl's her age blush.
"Why do they have to bite me in all these awkward places? Those wild bugs are just plain rude! You know I'm atopic, Riku Onee-chan! This was the wrong job for me. Oh, hell! Why can't every last kind of creepy crawly go extinct!?"
She was willing to yell and shout because she already knew stealth was not an option while dragging such a large piece of equipment through the forest. She could not wield it skillfully enough to follow the basic rules like not stepping on leaves or breaking twigs.
But the bare-thighed little girl's complaints led to an unexpected conclusion.
"Bugs are biting you? Amazora, those aren't mosquitos, are they? We make a living with murder, so we can't leave any blood behind on the scene."
She rapidly whipped her blonde head around every which way, but she had no way of knowing which bugs had sucked out her blood. That was not something she could investigate by hand.
However, the second sister, Kaibi, showed no mercy.
"So. What are you going to do about it?"
"Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."
But when god closes a door, he opens a window.
In this case, it came in the form of intervention by the biggest sister.
"Yes, yes. Your trusty big sister will send in a drone and check things out for you. A mosquito full of blood will weigh more than twice one that isn't, so they fly subtly differently. I can analyze the camera footage to figure it out real quick. And I can grab those flying blood-suckers with my poisoned wires, so none of the evidence will remain on the scene."
"Wahhhhhhhhh! Riku Onee-chaaan!!"
"Rikuri Nee-san, she will never get any better if you spoil her like this."
"She learned her lesson, so it's fine. And besides, if my cute little sister got scared and wet herself, that would just mean more evidence. And even I would have a difficult time digging up the ammonia-smelling dirt with one of my drones."
"I knew you weren't really on my side! Shoo shoo!!"
3rd Sister Amazora took all her emotions to the extreme. Her job was to pursue their target while 2nd Sister Kaibi and 1st Sister Rikuri helped her keep track of the details.
That was how they worked as a team.
The short girl was like a hound. Her job was partially complete as long as she made a lot of noise, pursued the prey in the hunting ground partitioned off by Rikuri, and filled that prey with plenty of fear. Once she had guided them to the perfect spot, Kaibi would supply the finishing blow as the hunter.
(What is wrong with that she-cat? I get running, but why that way!? I need to get this over with already so I can have Riku-Kai Onee-chans rub anti-itch cream on me. I won't scratch until then. I won't. That would only make it itch worse. Ughh, gwaaaaahhhhh!?)
Her innate inability to focus may have been her undoing because she did not notice anything until she had already parted those bushes with her long blonde hair fluttering behind her.
She had failed to notice the sharp leaf edges lightly cutting her bright thighs.
She had also failed to notice the mystery goo splattered on the bushes around here.
For the first time, the girl with the giant Gatling gun came to a complete stop.
In fact, her mind itself had gone blank.
"Riku Onee-chan, wait. Where are you sending those drones of yours!?"
Instead of that familiar voice, she was answered by a long tree branch flying in from somewhere. She reflexively swung around her Gatling gun and blew away the surrounding trees with a spray of gunfire while her short skirt fluttered wildly, but that was not what mattered.
The stick was as long as a mop handle.
And the clear goo on the end gave off an obviously artificial sweet smell.
The drones piloted by 1st Sister Rikuri were not the only ones who could use that poison. Anyone could use what had been left on the scene already. For example, they could scoop it up with a long stick and rub it somewhere else without ever touching it themselves. It was a lot like digging up someone else's landmine and reburying it elsewhere. Anyone could have figured out that the 3rd sister was following the target around, so what if the poison had been smeared on the hard leaves at hip height, where the path of the narrow animal trail would block it from view?
That made it a game of probability.
But there was no guarantee that the target had only placed the poison here.
What if she had desperately set up poison locations all around this area to fill in all the gaps and then waited for the attacker to cross that deadly line?
So what if that tiny, tiny cut had allowed in her oldest sister's prized product?
An itchy, unpleasant sensation ran up Amazora's thighs and then across her entire body.
"R-r-r-r-r-regroup!! You two! Riku Onee-chan! Bring me the antidote! Regroup, regroup, we need to regrooooooooooup!!!!!!"
Shorts Girl Mitsuari Ayu softly exhaled.
If she hurried onward, she would get sliced by the poisonous wires, but if she was too slow, the Gatling gun girl would catch up from behind. So what was she to do? The fluffy-haired girl used her experience with life-risking catfights to reach the following conclusion:
She had to find some way to stop the Gatling gun girl.
Then she could carefully search out the way ahead without losing her life.
The most nerve-racking moment had been when she threw the stick to heighten the illusion for the other girl. She had known the girl would fire wildly, so she could have been hit by pure chance. That would have torn off an entire limb.
Once it was over and she could relax some, tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.
It was too soon to collapse quite yet. She had to remain focused.
Only after wiping sweat from her brow with the back of her hand did she realize how improper that was.
(But breaking the school rules pays off sometimes. I'm so glad I had that ice cream in my bag.)
Her gym clothes left her shoulders bare, so she only had to hold that drinkable ice cream pack in her armpit to quickly melt it. By squeezing the sticky sweetness on the end of the stick and on various leaves, the difference from the poison would be too subtle to detect with the naked eye.
It also helped that the other girl was already feeling itchy from the bug bites.
She was caught in a horrible situation, but she could only count herself lucky today. Otherwise, she felt like her spirit would break and she would come to a stop.
"Agh, itchy, itchy, itchy."
She had also fallen victim to the bugs targeting soft maiden skin.
Her bra's hook had apparently shifted a bit out of place and her shoulder blade had been bitten through the thin fabric of her gym shirt. She arched her back and reached back with both hands, but she could not quite reach the itchy spot. She realized just how bad an idea it was to run through the midsummer woods with your shoulders and thighs bared.
But she had to remember that the tiny army of bugs had helped bring the Gatling gun girl to a stop. That girl was panicking and throwing a noisy, tearful fit, so now was the time. Mitsuari quietly left that area and aimed her phone's enhanced camera around to check for wires as she made her way out of the woods.
The Gatling gun was certainly frightening, but so were the drones.
Not only were the wires and poison dangerous, but the drones themselves had cameras. If her location was discovered, the Gatling gun girl might regain her cool.
The Gatling gun could easily destroy a target from a straight-line distance of 2 or 3 kilometers.
That was too far to escape on foot, so the best course of action was to get as far away as possible without being discovered.
She managed to break free of the bushes.
She found herself in what looked like a faculty parking lot.
She pulled some chilled tea from her refrigerated bag, took a sip, and sighed.
She had noticed some difficulty in walking, so she looked down and removed the pebbles caught in the grooves of her indoor slippers' rubber soles while she thought.
This space was surprisingly peaceful given the deafening roar of the Gatling gun from earlier. That may have been a downside to being a prestigious esper powers development school. People would assume those destructive sounds were part of some Curriculum or another. The assumption that intruders were not possible did not help matters.
She was still in her indoor slippers and she had left her school bag, textbooks, and uniform back at the school.
Now that the chaos had temporarily passed, she felt a little embarrassed. Still, heading back now would be beyond suicide. She had to consider herself as fortunate for having the bag containing her credit card and her phone which could handle e-transactions.
(Ugh. My face is…fine. At least I don't see any bug bites there.)
She viewed her face in the side mirror of a nearby parked car and performed a quick once-over of her appearance. Now that she had avoided the worst possibility, she had time to think about the smaller problems. It was a stereotypical technique used in business deals to guide people's thoughts.
Just as she breathed a sigh of relief, she heard a dry gunshot and the window of the car door shattered right next to her.
She shrieked and crouched down as another gunshot rang out. This did not seem to be the Gatling gun. The entire car would have blown up if it was. This sound was as light as the starting pistol for a race, so she guessed it was some kind of handgun.
Not that that was any reason to relax.
Bullets were bullets and she was not wearing those tough bulletproof jackets that Anti-Skill wore. She would be killed instantly in those thin gym clothes.
When she pressed her back against the car door, she felt the soft pressure on the bug bite to her shoulder blade. An odd "hahoo!" of air escaped her mouth. It may have been an instinctual response to preserve her mental stability by forcing her to focus on that slight pleasure signal.
It could not accomplish much, however.
Her heart had been jackhammering in her chest for a while.
"There's more than just the Gatling gun and the drones!?"
She belatedly recalled how the one girl had included a qualifying name to the "Onee-chan" title. That meant she had to have more than just the one older sister.
Someone was approaching from the other side of the parked car.
That person was intermittently firing while walking straight toward her. She could not raise her head, but if she stayed put, this assailant would circle around the car.
But she was in luck: this enemy had made a physical appearance.
They were firing a handgun, but that was far weaker than the Gatling gun from before.
Mitsuari Ayu gripped her phone tight.
She did not know who this was or what kind of power they had, but if she could take control of them before they used that power, she could overcome this threat.
As long as they stood here themselves, her power could work on them.
She remained crouched with her back pressed against the car while she slid to the side. Her gym shirt was caught between her body and the metal door, so it pulled up to reveal her navel. She moved forward, toward the hood. She got down on all fours, pressed her soft cheek against the ground, and nearly jerked her head back up from the heat, but once she did peek down below the car, she saw bare legs and feet in expensive-looking sandals.
She had never tried using her power when she could only see the target's legs, so she did not know if it would work.
She would much prefer to aim the external camera lens at their face or head.
That would make it a sure thing.
She slowly let out a breath and held the phone to her chest.
She waited until the time was right.
This was just the one opponent. They had no allies to cover for them while they swapped magazines, so there would be a slight opening there.
Now was her only chance.
She gathered strength in her legs and hips to spring up. She leaned out over the hood and held out her phone's enhanced camera.
A blonde head showed a look of slight surprise while its owner froze in the middle of loading the first bullet.
"Die, bitch!! Mental Stinger!!"
An odd sound filled the air.
No, it may not have actually been a vibration of the air picked up by her eardrums.
Her power had been deflected?
No, that was not it. She found it hard to believe, but could it be?
The attacker was a girl with long and obviously bleached blonde hair worn up in the back. She may have been Mitsuari's age or a little older. Regardless, there was a thin smile on the lips of that girl in a dress that shined gaudily with spangles.
"Hm, that was unexpected. I knew it was theorized that similar powers would interfere with each other, but we may just have proven it."
Come to think of it, the Gatling gun girl had hidden in the bushes as soon as the phone was aimed her way. And the drone pilot had chosen not to make a physical appearance at all.
They had both taken different countermeasures against Mental Stinger.
So this girl in a dress, whose blonde hair was worn up to accentuate her bright nape, never would have walked right up to her without any sort of plan.
"On the other hand, I doubt even my Measure Heart would have stood a chance against the rumored Mental Out."
"It's lucky we had a more manageable target like you. It's important to know your limits."
With a metallic gashunk, the handgun's slide returned to its proper position and the initial bullet was loaded.
Mitsuari let off several camera flashes before the gun could be aimed her way. A few dry gunshots rang out in response, but they were poorly aimed thanks to the bright flashes. Or had the other girl fired while rushing behind cover because she was afraid of having a photo taken in the middle of a crime? Either way, Mitsuari Ayu used that chance to climb the faculty parking lot's fence and drop down on the other side while ignoring the tug on her shorts when they caught on a piece sticking out from the fence.
This was not over yet.
The nightmare produced by this trio of hunters was far from over!!
The girl in a dress sighed softly.
She was Gokusai Kaibi, second of the three sisters.
After shaking her head to the side to crack her alluring neck, she placed a hand on her ear. She spoke into the small radio there.
"Success. I will continue to apply pressure, but it looks like she will leave the School Garden regardless."
"Ugh," groaned the youngest sister. "Kai Onee-chan, bring the itch cream already. I can't stand it any longer!!"
"Hee hee," laughed the oldest sister. "Don't worry. I don't have an antidote for insect venom, but if you use this botulism bacteria, it will block the signals from your nerves. Just leave everything to me, my adorable little sister, and that itchiness will be a thing of the past."
"Hurry!! Before Riku Onee-chan gets to me! And don't you dare try that!! You can't bring back the dead nerves afterwards!"
That had been their plan.
Not even those three sisters could cause trouble in Tokiwadai and the School Garden for long. If they were going to do this, they had to be more precise. First, they had to make sure their target thought she could survive this if she lasted just a bit longer.
She had to assume Tokiwadai Middle School and the School Garden's security were useless.
They wanted her to use her shallow, childish mind as best she could and grow so paranoid that she ended up leaving the entire School Garden.
Once their prey had left that safe birdcage, the true hunt could begin.
"Rikuri Nee-san, are you tracking her from the sky with your drones?"
"Always. I am relaying my control signal through a cellphone tower, so we don't have to worry about the distance causing any trouble. Still, I do wish I had splurged a little more and gone with a model meant to disseminate agrochemicals. Then I could hit her with a single spray of knockout gas even in the middle of the city."
"Then is there a convenient location nearby?"
"Oh, dear. Are you trying to test your biological sister? There is a parking garage for a shopping mall near the School Garden's gate, so that should do. The rooftop seems to be a popular peeping spot for lonely gentlemen. They can park a car there with an active drive recorder and 'just so happen' to 'coincidentally' film some rich girls frolicking in their school swimsuits and it's all perfectly legal. Although the exact positioning never allows Tokiwadai to be in the frame."
"Burn it all down!" insisted the 3rd sister in a newfound spirit of righteous chivalry, but the 2nd sister remained entirely rational.
(That might just work.)
Kaibi ignored the shoulder strap slipping down on one side as she crouched and reached into the bushes for what she had hidden there earlier. She pulled out an electric minibike small enough to fit in a backpack when folded up.
"Then we need to leave too. Let's chase her down and finish this."
She caught on.
Mitsuari Ayu finally caught on.
She had ended up here while being chased by the drones and an electric minibike. All while wearing her indoor slippers.
She lightly beat on her fluffy-haired head because she was now inside a concrete parking garage.
She had figured out what the enemy was trying to do, but it was too late to matter.
She had screwed up really bad.
"I'm so stupid, stupid, stupid!! What is wrong with me!?"
She heard a loud boom followed by the disconcerting roar of flames sucking up oxygen.
She could no longer return to the first floor. A sweep of the Gatling gun had shredded the cars there like wet tissue paper, triggering a large explosion and engulfing everything in a great conflagration. It terrified her how the heat seemed to stab into the upper arms and thighs left exposed by her gym clothes. Worse, there was a risk of the gym clothes' synthetic material melting like cheese on toast.
She climbed the winding slope.
That was all she could do.
Once on the second floor or higher, there was no escape for the skinny girl. Her sleeveless top and her shorts were both uncomfortably soaked with sweat. She gradually consumed the drink she had pulled from her refrigerated bag, but she felt like she was sweating the fluid right back out of her. It was like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.
The emergency stairs on the outside wall had long since been torn away by the Gatling gun, but if she jumped down and hurt her legs, she would be obliterated by the Gatling gun or sliced up by the wire drones. On the other hand, the rising heat and smoke of the fire meant she would be burned to death if she stayed where she was. The second and third floors both felt equally oppressive. It was already a midsummer day, but now she was assaulted by an intense heat similar to a sauna or pizza oven. There was no doubt in her mind that her stamina was slowly but surely being sapped from her.
She really was trapped.
What had she been thinking?
She could not help but wonder that while dripping with sweat.
She had her phone with her, but Mental Stinger only worked on people's minds. She needed someone to use it on. Her power had one weakness: being alone. That seemed to perfectly reflect the shape of her own heart.
She did not know who this enemy was.
There were at least three and possibly more. That was all she knew.
The thing was, she had actually run across some people on the way here. She had spotted some Tokiwadai students, some School Garden security officers, and even some people in this very parking garage. If she had aimed her phone's camera at them, she could have controlled them and sent them toward the enemy as a diversion.
But she had not.
Now that she was trapped, she had to ask herself why she had not.
Of course, the answer could not have been more obvious.
"Okay! Can I go in first, Riku-Kai Onee-chans? Neither of you already entered the first floor, did you?"
The 3rd sister's long, wavy blonde hair fluttered behind her in the blazing sun as she began checking on her surroundings only after firing her Gatling gun to blow away everything on the first floor.
A carefree voice reached the small radio in her ear.
"That's perfectly fine, my adorable little sister. I am enjoying some tea while looking down at you from above. Hee hee. I wish I was still young enough to not care about getting sunburnt. Our bath tonight should be fun. Let me peel it off, will you?"
"It must be nice letting the drones do all the work, Rikuri Nee-san. Of course, I'm also holding a position that gives me a good view of everything. And, Amazora, you stand out a little too much. You never know when the higher ups will cut off their support, so you need to make sure you have an escape route for yourself."
"Yes, yes. Grownup society is so unfair. The hardest workers get all the complaints."
3rd Sister Amazora pouted her lips, but her face lit up when she looked in the window of a car parked nearby. She smashed the driver's side window with the Gatling gun barrel and made sure to cover her hand with a handkerchief before unlocking it from the inside and grabbing the small bottle sitting on the dashboard. Reaching over caused one of her dress's straps to slip off of her skinny shoulder, but she did not seem to care.
"Yay! I found some itch medicine☆"
It was a liquid variety instead of a cream.
She began humming as she removed the cap and pressed the wet opening against what was closer to being her butt than her thigh. An icy feeling similar to ethanol soaked deep into her skin.
"Unyah!? Heeee, kh, khh!!"
She shivered from the unexpectedly powerful feeling and then someone behind her slapped the top of her head.
She spun around toward whoever was treating her like a quiz show buzzer, but it turned out to be the 2nd sister with an exasperated look on her face.
Kaibi pointed at the car's broken window with her automatic handgun.
"What are you going to do about that?"
"Well, ha ha ha, let's just call it a necessary mission expense?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Wahhhhh! Kai Onee-chan, help me!!"
When her older sister put a hand on her hip and spoke with the emotional distance of a local dentist, the bare-thighed 3rd sister rubbed her inner thighs together and started to cry.
Then the loud sound of breaking metal exploded out nearby. Kaibi looked over in surprise to see a supposedly empty steamroller drive up onto the car and crush it flat.
Now no one would be able to tell if the window had been broken beforehand or not.
The oldest sister, who specialized in using unmanned machines, spoke lazily over the radio.
"There you go. Now is not the time for sisterly fights, my adorable little sisters. Just borrow some remote-controlled heavy machinery and all that dangerous evidence goes bye-bye."
"Rikuri Nee-san, how many times do I have to tell you not to spoil Amazora!? …Wait, where'd she go!?"
The flashy Gatling gun girl had vanished in the short time Kaibi let her out of her sight.
She had forgotten how speedy that girl was despite her heavy equipment.
"Don't worry. I'll make up for my mistake," said missing Amazora over the small radio in Kaibi's ear. She sounded so carefree you would think she was talking about splitting up the chores between the sisters. "That girl is following the usual path. We just have to trim the meat, soften it up, slice it up nice an even, and then cook it over a sizzling flame!! She'll be ready to serve with some ginger sauce soon enough☆"
Mitsuari Ayu's teeth chattered inside the parking garage as it was gradually engulfed in flames, starting from the bottom.
Her refrigerated bag was almost empty.
She had consumed several drinks and ice creams, but she did not at all feel hydrated. At this rate, she would wither up in the heat.
Wasn't that just about the worst way to die?
How could you rank it? Being killed by someone else for no good reason was the worst no matter how it happened.
She trembled, her legs naturally turned inwards and lost their strength, and her small hands wandered through empty air in search of anything at all to rely on. But there was nothing there and she slid down to sit on the concrete floor in her out-of-place gym clothes.
She was not just afraid of the absurd attackers who had managed to waltz right onto Tokiwadai's campus.
This was not like the night before.
Then, someone had always grabbed her hand to lead her around the fiery scene, she had been given a role to play, and she had not had to defeat that giant dragon herself. Things could not have been more different from when that pointy-haired boy and mystery high school girl had been with her.
She had the power to control people.
But if she did that, she would have to take responsibility for everything that happened to those people. What if they were caught in the fire and smoke or if they were torn apart by the Gatling gun or wires? She could never carry that weight. Choosing to fight meant to no longer remain just a victim. She would then be a victim and an attacker simultaneously. One or the other would be hard enough to bear while living a peaceful life, but a normal student (albeit one at a prestigious school) could not so easily choose to bear the combined cross of the two.
So she had failed to do anything.
She had not even asked for help.
There had been some adults here who would have shared her fate in the parking garage, but she had aimed her phone's camera at them and given them a simple command: Forget your cars and wallets. Just leave this place immediately.
This was the result.
If she had chosen to fight despite the consequences, she may have found a different option along the way. If she had created a great army using her phone, the attackers might have feared the difference in numbers and chosen to regroup. If she had chosen to cry and beg to exchange addresses the night before, she may have even been able to ask for help from the two who had defeated that giant dragon.
But she was alone.
She had turned her back on all of the cruel choices she could have made and that had led her to the precipice.
Perhaps this result was to be expected.
Had it really been strength that led her to avoid getting anyone else involved? Could it have come from weakness instead?
Just then, she heard the strange roaring of an engine.
No, it was not the sound itself that was strange. Plenty of large motorcycles in Academy City made the exact same sound. Then why did it seem so strange here?
The direction it came from.
The fluffy-haired girl's eyes widened in disbelief, but no matter how crazy it seemed, the reality before her was very real. She could only accept it.
In other words…
"It's outside the building? But this is the 5th floor!"
With a deafening roar, an airborne motorcycle soared into the parking garage at a point well off the ground.
It began with his phone.
Kamijou Touma pulled it from his pocket and glanced down at it. A few unread online news notifications were flashing.
A parking garage was on fire near the School Garden.
The wind could carry the smoke to nearby locations.
Kumokawa Seria raised one of her shapely eyebrows.
"What, did you actually write a macro for that?"
"It's nothing that fancy."
It was a built-in service on the phone, although he rarely used it.
The pointy-haired middle school boy exhaled through his nose. By inputting some keywords, the icon would flash whenever related news articles or blog entries were posted. He had given it several keywords related to the previous night's incident: dragon, District 7, L.S.S., archery, Tokiwadai Middle School, Biohacker, and School Garden.
"I was a little afraid that this list of terms would make me look like I had something to do with it, though."
"You're overthinking it. Bored people on the internet will pursue incidents far more obsessively than the actual criminal. If search terms were enough to arrest people, the jails would be full of self-styled defenders of justice and freelance tabloid writers. It's not hard to find full articles posted online about the various crimes and accidents that happen around the city. With very little evidence for any of the conclusions drawn therein."
Kamijou Touma did not care if it came from TV, a newspaper, or the internet. He just wanted to find what news he could related to that dragon so he could learn that the culprit was arrested and there would not be a second attack. Unfortunately, he had found nothing so comforting and had to conclude that someone was instead covering it up.
That was why he had set this up, but it had not given him what he wanted.
And now it was picking up on something else. Because he had set the keywords to focus not on himself and not on Kumokawa Seria but on that other girl.
He snapped his flip phone shut and sighed.
Then he turned around.
"Where are you going?"
"I know where this is happening. I've wanted peace of mind this whole time and I've finally found a clue where I can find it."
"Have you already forgotten what you got caught up in yesterday? Based on that article, there's already a fire. We have no idea what is going on a rampage there. It might not be anything as cliché as a dragon."
"Does it look like I want to go there? Can't you see my legs shaking? But that's why I have to go."
He was no saint.
He had his own reasons for doing this.
"It might be that Mitsuari girl being targeted today, or it might be someone else entirely. But what about tomorrow? Or the day after that? How can I ever relax knowing nothing has stopped the people who released that dragon, had it attack us, and then cleaned everything up afterwards? Plus, we already tangled with them last night. We probably have higher odds of being attacked than most anyone else."
He glanced down at his right hand.
He clenched it to form a fist.
He was plagued with misfortune, so he would never consider the possibility of being coincidentally overlooked for no reason.
He knew all too well that those prayers would only leave him feeling like a fool.
He needed a solid basis for thinking he was safe.
"This is an opportunity. Or you could call it a crossroads. I was only reacting to the crisis before my eyes, but now I might be able to catch up to whatever this is. It's either this or tremble in fear while waiting to be attacked. It could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now, and it could be a year from now. Am I supposed to wait that long? If it's dangling in front of me like this, it would be faster to just go for it. The risk is the same either way. Whether I'm attacked tomorrow or a year from now, the odds of death are still 100%."
And if this was not considered to be the crime it was, then he could not call Anti-Skill like normal. He felt like the grownups' rules did not apply this time. He had no proof of that, but he still felt sure of it. If he did not see it through to the end himself, he could never rest easy.
If this did not follow the grownups' rules, he would have to seek out the truth using the children's rules.
"I see," said the older girl, even if she did not sound convinced. Her tone was one of pure exasperation. "You seem to have a way of sounding reasonable without actually being reasonable. That sounds nice and all, but if the risk is the same tomorrow or a year from now, then why the rush? Plus, those search terms aren't focused on you. You clearly used keywords related to Mitsuari Ayu."
"Fine, let's just say your reasoning is valid. But even if the risk to you is the same whether it happens tomorrow or a year from now, you might be able to save someone else if you act now. Isn't that what this is about?"
"No, I wasn't…"
He trailed off and stopped speaking altogether.
He heard a dull metallic sound and looked over to find Kumokawa Seria had broken the chain lock to a large motorcycle parked nearby.
"Hold on. What are you doing!?"
"Was it that confusing? Don't they teach how leverage works in elementary school? Scissors and chain cutters use it, so it isn't just about seesaws, you know? I knew you weren't bright, but this is just sad."
"No, not that."
"This is a no-parking zone and it's covering up the tactile paving for the visually impaired. Removing this asshole's bike would be doing the world a favor."
"No, I'm asking why you're getting involved in this! Stealing a motorcycle isn't exactly risk free!!"
"Oh, that? My reasoning isn't as pure as yours. For me, it's about weighing the pros and cons. The risk is the same whether I'm attacked tomorrow or a year from now, but if I save a useful esper now, it increases the odds of having them on hand later. We aren't up against a single Biohacker here; it's probably a group, so I doubt anything we do today will be enough to fully end this. And if I'm looking at a long-term fight, it can't hurt to have a full set of cards I can play at any time."
"Her power was called Mental Stinger, right? I've never actually seen what it can do, but I guess she is from that prestigious Tokiwadai school."
"(She isn't the useful esper I was talking about.)"
"Just talking to myself."
After brushing off his question, she spread her legs wide in her skirt to mount the large motorcycle.
With a dull snapping sound, she broke the keyhole and easily reconnected the wires to start up the engine. She really was a super high school girl. The pointy-haired boy had no idea who this mystery older girl was, but she seemed more accustomed to the rules of the city's night than he was.
"Now, boy. If we are going to act, time is of the essence, but are you prepared to do this? I am the one stealing the bike, but some blame will fall on you if you ride behind me."
"There's no time."
"Didn't even have to think about it, hm? You're quite something. …But you're only thinking about fluffy cotton candy girl, aren't you? I may need to give you a kiss on the cheek once this is all over."
With an unnecessarily deep roar, the motorcycle picked up speed.
Kamijou was nervous at first and tried not to touch the defenseless back and hips of that busty high school girl (every word there is crucial), but it was too wild a ride to keep worrying about that. He ended up wrapping his arms around her torso to hold on for dear life. She was a lot softer and warmer than a boy.
"You're awfully pure for someone who wanders the streets at night. Heh heh heh. I can feel your pounding heart on my back."
"Bff!? No, um, you misunderstand! I'm scared because I don't normally ride motorcycles!!"
"Oh? So you won't say you never ride them?"
"And if you're going to hold on, do it a little lower. Stop using your arms to surreptitiously weigh my boobs. Stop lifting them."
He frantically let go only to have the blowing wind nearly blow him back into a bridge pose.
The girl and boy riding in broad daylight without a helmet roared out onto the main road while ignoring all the lights and speed limits. First, a drum-shaped security robot sounded an alarm and then one of Anti-Skill's (so-called) supercars, which was legally modified from a civilian vehicle, took chase with lights flashing.
"Pull over right this instant, you criminal couple!! We have a V12 hooked up to oxygen under the hood, so we can reach 400km/h easy! You can't outrun us, so give up now! We've already scanned the license plate number! Why the hell are you stealing people's bikes in broad daylight!?"
"Hey," said Kamijou.
"A couple, hm?" said Kumokawa. "Heh heh. Is that what we look like? And, boy, don't look back or their facial recognition will get you."
"No, not that."
"We know something's going on at that parking garage, right? Won't the attacker panic if we arrive along with Anti-Skill, the defenders of law and order?"
Their motorcycle's engine could not hope to outdo that car, but it provided its own advantages. Once the cheerful blue sky grew discolored by toxic-looking smoke, Kumokawa turned the handlebars so hard Kamijou screamed and clung to her back. They turned right into a nearby park.
Park entrances generally had thick poles in place to keep vehicles out. A motorcycle could slip between them, but a car could not. They heard screeching brakes and shouting behind them.
"You damn criminal couple!!"
"Hah hah hahhh!! If you want to stop the city's young residents from getting it on, you should really research the usual hookup spots!! You've gotta use your head if you want to keep people from doing it outdoors, Anti-Skill!!"
Kumokawa laughed as she cut across the park and drove out the exit on the other side.
He felt like a mystery phrase of hers had hinted at an exciting concept.
"You're probably full of questions, but don't search that one online."
They were almost to the burning parking garage now.
Since they were so close to the School Garden, a well-dressed adult woman could be seen watching the spectacle. The white foam she was spraying on the sidewalk from something like a monstrous vacuum cleaner was probably a fire extinguishing chemical meant to prevent the spread of the blaze.
"If she has something like that, why isn't she helping to put out the fire?"
"Stop breathing on my ear, boy."
"If I don't hold your hair down with my chin, the wind blows it back into my face, and it really hurts when it slaps me like that!!"
"Call it what you like, but stop using it as an excuse to enjoy my scent, fetish boy."
She must have had her own thoughts on what was and was not acceptable because her tone was much lower than with the arms on her underboob earlier.
And after that sharp warning…
"Also, don't be so harsh on her, boy. Adults have their own issues to deal with. The School Garden has much better equipment than the other districts, so acting beyond their jurisdiction can get them in trouble more easily. Simply put, she wants to help out but can't. Because that would count as moving beyond her territory."
This time, there was no sign of a dragon, kraken, or other giant monster created by a Biohacker. They only saw the tall parking garage engulfed in flames and dark smoke.
They had no idea who they would run across if they rushed in there. They did not know the first thing about what the attacker looked like, so they could not even trust an office worker with neatly parted hair walking in the area. Thus, they chose to observe things from a distance.
The motorcycle was stopped now, but Kamijou continued holding Kumokawa Seria's slender waist in his arms like she was a stuffed animal.
"The first floor is burning and the second and third floors look risky too. Hmm."
"I'll overlook it this once since I doubt you're doing it on purpose, but stop teasing my navel with your fingertip, boy. That hurts more than you would think." And after that sulky warning, "Do not forget about the smoke and heat. In a real fire, most of the deaths aren't from the flames themselves. You need to worry about heat, lack of oxygen, and dehydration."
Kamijou glimpsed something.
The plain concrete wall had openings that were more not so much windows as gaps between the barrier and ceiling.
He saw some fluffy chestnut hair through one of those.
He subconsciously squeezed the motorcycle driver's torso even tighter.
"There she is. 5th floor!!"
"Ngh, my navel! Kah, cough, cough! W-we have two options here. One, run into the blaze and meet up with Mitsuari Ayu. Two, circle the parking garage to find the attacker and defeat them if they're here."
That was not even a question.
"If circling the place is enough to find them, then the Anti-Skill we brought here can deal with them. And defeating them isn't going to make that fire go away. What's the point if the girl in there suffocates on the smoke while we're fighting!?"
"Rescuing an ally takes precedence over defeating the enemy? Fine, we can do things your way today."
The engine gave a deep roar once more.
Kumokawa spun it around and the pointy-haired boy could only grab onto her waist like before.
"Hm? What's this hard thing here?"
"What are you, a mischievous elementary school boy? That's my bra hook. But I will throw you off the bike if you undo it during an emergency like this."
Now, Kamijou Touma had stated his ideal solution, but how exactly were they supposed to get in there? The ground floor was engulfed in flames, so they could not get in unharmed no matter which cardinal direction they chose. And these flames were not as thin as a circus's ring of fire.
"This will be a little bad for your heart, so be careful," casually warned Kumokawa Seria.
"Huh? What will be?"
"Academy City is well known for packing its buildings in close together. Entering the first floor of a burning building is not going to be easy, but there's a tall building right there next to it."
The parking garage had been built as a later addition for the large shopping mall next door. The older sailor uniform girl drove the motorcycle directly inside the large shopping complex and sent it up the down escalator for a ride even wilder than a coming of age ceremony. Once at the top, she made a sharp turn and drove up to the next floor. They needed height. Their goal was the 5th floor, so the 7th or 8th floor would be best.
Kamijou Touma's eyes widened in shock while he was tossed around in the back seat like he was in a rodeo.
"Can we calm down for a second!? What are you trying to do right now!?"
"If you would hold onto my hips more firmly, you wouldn't be so close to being thrown off and dying. Listen, you need to wrap your arms around my hips for what's coming. Nice and tight like this, okay? Bikes don't come with seatbelts or safety bars, so you have to look after yourself."
She finally stopped the wild motorcycle.
The engine continued to idly rumble below them.
Kamijou had his chin on her shoulder and was nearly rubbing his cheek against hers, but he was entirely focused on what the headlight was shining at.
It was a women's clothing store.
It looked like it had a solid wall in the back, but that was actually a giant window with decorations attached over the glass wall.
It did not take a genius to realize what she was planning.
"Hold on. Wait."
"What, does the women's underwear section still make you blush? That mannequin there is displaying a concept model, but don't you worry, boy. Don't let it shock you. Not everyone wears that kind of see-through stuff on a daily basis. Everyone prefers what's easy, so you'll find ordinary white is pretty common. Same with stripes."
"That's not what I meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeant!!!!!!"
He tried to shout in the busty high school girl's ear, but accidentally bit her earlobe instead, eliciting an odd cry from the older girl's lips, but none of this changed that she was the one in control of the handlebars and foot pedals. With a screaming Kamijou on the back, the 750cc mass of metal used its full speed to crash through the women's underwear and negligees.
His life flashed before his eyes while he was surrounded by a kind of frilliness that featured nowhere in that life.
"That one you can't stop staring at is known as an open gate bra. Undo the bow in the middle and the thin cloth falls away to reveal the tips. There's also a bottom to go with it, but I don't have to explain how that one works, do I?"
He was too preoccupied to respond.
The large motorcycle plowed full speed into the wall and shattered the reinforced glass window simply covered with a sheet.
This was the 8th floor.
An ordinary motorcycle with no special flight equipment soared through Academy City's sky.
(What is ordinary Anti-Skill doing here? The higher ups were supposed to tell everyone but a bomb squad which will never actually show up to stay away in order to prevent secondary damages from an explosive leak!)
3rd Sister Amazora, the elementary school girl with wavy blonde hair and a gaudy dress, gasped at what was happening.
She doubted hiding behind one of the decorative pillars would be enough.
Those people took everything too seriously, so she had learned the hard way that her special move, Thigh Flashing Seduction, did not work on them. She also wanted to avoid using that because (for some reason) her older sisters got really mad when she used it.
She folded up the thick metal components like a 3D puzzle and the six-barreled Gatling gun was soon small enough to fit in a drum bag.
She wanted to take advantage of this man's preconceptions.
If he was going to find her regardless, it was best if she approached him than if he found her spying out from behind a pillar.
"What are you doing here? Why aren't you at school!? Those clothes and that luggage…you didn't run away from home for the summer, did you!?"
"Heh, eh heh heh. Today's the anniversary of the school's founding, so we have the day off☆"
She fidgeted and rubbed her bright thighs together.
She also waved her phone around to make it look like she was here to get some footage of the fire.
Since a smiling elementary school girl was holding one bag over her shoulder and the other in one hand, he would never guess each one weighed more than 50kg. She was trying to act mature, but she did not seem to notice how the belt over her shoulder had twisted her dress's strap out of place.
(I might be screwed if he asks me to open the bags.)
She maintained her perfect smile as she began wondering if she should play the harmless little girl to avoid any questioning, or if she should use up one of the acceptable deaths for this mission.
But her thoughts were interrupted by a loud shattering of glass.
The adult must have had an idea what caused it because his head shot up to look overhead.
Just as he shouted into the air, Amazora used the distraction to slip away. That righteous hero had been lucky, but the 3rd sister had to click her tongue and hide behind a nearby building while carrying around two hefty sports bags and without paying any attention to the hem of her short skirt. A villain up to no good would not rely on luck. They could hardly complain if the tables were turned on them.
It was a motorcycle.
A 750cc motorcycle left the adjacent building, soared through the blue sky, and entered the burning parking garage from a point well above the ground.
Once she had cleverly escaped to safety, she had to whisper into the small radio in her ear.
She set down her bags and absentmindedly fidgeted with her dress strap as she did so.
"Riku-Kai Onee-chans, what should I do?"
"Plan B," replied the middle sister. "We don't know what kind of power or means of escape this newcomer has, so we can't just let them burn. Of course, neutralizing them would be simple enough if I used my Measure Heart to adjust their emotional distance. If their beloved husband or girlfriend was still inside that conflagration, they wouldn't be able to turn tail and run so easily, right?"
"Let's hope this intruder isn't a teleporter and doesn't have a personal jetpack," added the oldest sister. "Hee hee. This is a pain, but let's head on in and take them out ourselves. Did you know that dehydration increases the concentration of sodium in the body? Inject a little more from outside the body and the balance is easily broken. Hee hee hee. Just inject some here and the burned corpse will look right at home in the scorched building."
The elementary school girl giggled and sent commands to her two drum bags. There was no need to hide it anymore. The Gatling gun heavy enough to crush an adult was revealed, so she picked up the machinegun itself and dragged along the wheeled drum magazine. If she leaned forward just a little, the baggy neck of her dress would likely have created a tunnel around her flat chest, but she did not seem to care.
Each unit weighed 50kg.
Together, they weighed around three times her weight. That was blatantly too much to wield unassisted.
This unnatural feat was boosted by an Academy City esper power.
"That's perfect. To be honest, waiting around isn't my style!!"
Everyone was gathered in one place.
Good and evil, expert and amateur - everyone.
The large motorcycle broke through the shopping mall's 8th floor window, flew in a falling arc, and charged right into the 5th floor of the blazing parking garage. The force of landing blew out the rear tire, but Kumokawa kept the motorcycle from falling over and forcefully stopped it by spinning it around in something like a roundhouse kick.
A high-pitched scream sounded from surprisingly close by.
A fluffy-haired middle school girl was crouched down clutching a refrigerated bag to her chest to look as small as possible as she cried out in terror. The heat and smoke must have gotten to her because she was so sweaty you would think she had been in a sauna. Also, she was inexplicably wearing sleeveless gym clothes. It was plastered to her bodylines and the color of her skin showed through in places.
"What's with the oddly sweet smell in here? I was wondering how she had held off dehydration in this sauna of a place, but she must have been rehydrating all the while."
"Eh? You mean that isn't just how girls smell? I mean, she is pretty sweaty."
The motorcycle was useless with the tire blown.
Kamijou hopped off of the rear seat and Kumokawa did not bother with the kickstand. She just let it fall and she did not seem to care when the sidemirror was smashed against the floor.
Mitsuari Ayu stared in confusion at first, but once she recognized who this was, she felt a different sort of panic. This must have been an odd curveball for her current mental state because her eyes started spinning and her small hands wandered aimlessly through empty air.
She wore gym clothes and indoor slippers.
She sat there in that mismatched outfit and looked up at the boy and the girl.
"Wait, what? What are you doing here!? Why would you break free of the earth's gravitational pull to come here of all places!?"
"Direct your thanks to Mr. Lady Killer here. To be honest, I wouldn't have seen any need to come here if I was doing it myself. I'm pretty sure I can get information on LS.S. from another source."
Still unable to get up, she glanced over at the pointy-haired boy, but he did not say anything.
What could he say?
If he explained at length why he had come to rescue her, what would it accomplish aside from making it sound like he was asking for something in return?
He did not know how much it would help, but he handed her the handkerchief from his pocket.
"I don't see anyone else in here. I don't know who did this, but was the idea to let her burn in here?"
"That would make this easier, but I imagine they'll come check the corpse to make sure she's dead. So someone will be coming here. What I can't tell you is whether that will be a human or if it will be a dragon or dinosaur or something."
The fluffy-haired girl got her voice out in fits and starts.
She squeezed the borrowed handkerchief in both hands and spoke like she was taking a step forward in this hopeless situation.
"There are at least three of them!! One is an esper using a Gatling gun, one controls drones with poisoned wires, and one is another psychological esper with a handgun!!"
Kumokawa Seria put a hand on her hip and sighed.
That girl could have done a better job than this with Mental Stinger at her disposal. If she had controlled a large number of people and sent them in, she may have been able to escape to safety even if it meant a bloodbath for everyone else. But there was no sign of that. In fact, there was no sign of anyone else having collapsed from the fire and smoke in this parking garage. No customers and no security guards.
Kumokawa coolly asked a question within the blazing heat.
"Did you use your power to move the other people away? First this boy insists on going to rescue you and now this. Does no one else have any sense at all?"
"So why the change of heart now? The information you gave us may change the outcome of the battle. And in this fire, if the attacker is left unconscious, they could be killed in the fire they themselves set."
Still slumped down on the floor and with tears in her eyes, Mitsuari's mouth moved.
For a while, no words came out.
But she finally managed to squeeze the words from her dry throat even though her hips were too weak to move and the sweat pouring from her skin had plastered her fluffy hair to her cheeks.
She was desperate.
This did not at all sound like a brand-name girl.
"I can't keep going like this. Someone came to save me even though it meant choosing to fight and being an attacker instead of just a victim. So…so I can't just hide behind them. I want to be useful to someone!!"
That was enough.
It was unclear what she could do in this situation.
But in that moment, Mitsuari Ayu joined their party. Of her own free will. She was not waiting in safety to see which side was going to win and then joining them. She was taking their side when everything was still up in the air.
Now it was Kamijou's turn.
They were all in this together now.
So it was time for him to reveal a certain secret.
"We're not up against a giant creature made by a Biohacker. We have multiple opponents and we need to be on the lookout for next-generation weapons based on esper powers. In that case, we might just be able to use my right hand."
"Do you really believe that?" cautiously asked Kumokawa Seria, but the pointy-haired boy did not apply the brakes.
"I don't know if it's true or not, but I believe it with all my heart. Maybe I'm wrong, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it. We all make mistakes, but it definitely wouldn't be this girl's fault."
These were exceptional circumstances.
Mitsuari Ayu looked up at him with a curious look while she sat on the floor with her sweat-soaked gym clothes plastered to her skin.
Kamijou Touma rotated his entire right arm around as if to see how his shoulder was doing and then he clenched his fist.
For the first time, he called a certain girl's name.
"Don't worry, Mitsuari. If anything tries to hurt you, I'll smash it to smithereens."
He took on the burden of that girl's life after she was driven to the very edge.
He was in his element now.
A certain inexperienced boy was going to use his right fist in a true battle between espers.