“They fell down geocity Iota!? That’s impossible!”
Kanzaki’s roar echoed across the office.
Elze, who stood straight as a board, continued the report with a frown.
“The data drive seems to have fallen along with them. …We’ve confirmed that 80% of the Saiga Lab was lost in the collapse.”
“No no no, this can’t be—! Why did it have to collapse at this timing!?”
“…Their reports read that they were using grenades and suicidal drones during their encounter.”
“…What a bunch of imbeciles!”
Kanzaki hollered towards the heavens, and then turned his vacant gaze onto Elze.
“You know what to do, don’t you?”
“—R-Right. Of course.”
She felt a shiver run down her spine at his stare.
His gaze was as if he wasn’t looking at a human being—like he was merely looking down at a piece of moving flesh.
She could only nod her head in reply.
“…Although most of the geocity is offline, there are various spots where live cables still run. If we can just reach there, it should be possible to operate drones still despite the poor reception.”
“Make sure you locate it. Without it, you will also be going down along with the project.”
So he said as he flashed a carefree smile once more.
Feeling goosebump rise all over her skin, Elze left the office.
∗ ∗ ∗
The silvery-white hairtips brushed past Akito’s nose and tickled it.
It caused him to sneeze and he slowly opened his eyes.
When his view came into focus, he came to a still.
Right in front of him was the face of a girl so perfect it looked as though it was the magnum opus of a first-class CG designer.
The doll-like girl who was more beautiful than any doll was lying on the ruins of a building, her shoulders moving up and down with regular motions. The scene of her profile being illuminated by the streams of sunlight filtering through the cracks of the wall reminded him of the sleeping beauty of a fairy tale.
Akito stared fixedly until he forgot to even breathe.
That peaceful sleeping expression seemed somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t piece it to anyone in his memories.
Suddenly, her eyebrows trembled and furrowed with her eyes still closed.
At last, he finally realized that the figure belonged to the strongest spear of the Lorelia Federation—Lethal Blue, or rather Philia Loadrain.
Belatedly, he realized that he couldn’t move his body.
When he looked down, his eyes bulged.
Philia was hugging him tightly like he was a bolster.
His whole body petrified and he stopped breathing for some reason.
This is weird. She and I should have been sleeping on opposite sides to begin with.
Twisting his neck slightly, he confirmed that this was the designated spot where he slept at yesterday.
In that case, the one who moved during their sleep had to be Philia—
She murmured in her sleep, then brought her face closer to his chest and dug into it. A sweet scent wafted into his nose and a soft sensation covered half of his body.
Akito’s blood pressure shot up in an instant, and his body temperature began to rise.
Before long, she raised her eyelids and her spirited sapphire-blue eyes stared back at him.
“…Y-Yo. Did you sleep well?”
Unable to stand the awkward silence, he tried to greet her.
She must have still been half-asleep as she looked up his face, then turned her gaze down to discover the situation she was in.
She took a deep breath.
At that same time, Akito instinctively heard the whispers of death.
Philia shot up and grabbed the handgun by her waist. Her right hand moved almost completely by muscle memory, and Akito immediately pushed it away from his face with his left hand.
A flash and a bang exploded right after.
A strange utter leaked from his throat.
The 9mm lead bullet flew offside and shattered a piece of glass elsewhere.
Even as he grabbed her wrist, a part of him inside was thinking calmly about how slender her arms were.
She followed up with kicks from her long legs. Even as he evaded them, he was met with more bullets. Straining his just-woken body, he desperately shook his arms.
“Wait a sec, calm down! It’s me, Ichinose Akito! We decided on a truce yesterday, remember!?”
The empty brass cartridges tinkled as they hit the ground.
Silence filled their surroundings and their ragged breathing created white clouds in the frigid air. It was completely unlike the surface battleground which was filled with gunfire and explosions.
Inside such an environment, the agitated Philia was still pointing her handgun at Akito, her shoulders heaving up and down.
Gradually, the light of understanding filled her pupils and she looked into his face.
Akito smiled back stiffly.
She brought her hands up to her head as if she was suppressing a headache.
“That’s right. Yesterday, I fell down…”
She looked down at the handgun in her hand, then turned to face Aktio.
As she stared at him, her cheeks turned flushed and she glared at him.
“…Wh-Wh-Why were you sleeping so close to me! I remember demarcating our sleeping zones! Don’t tell me you were trying to do something—”
“That’s my question.”
While looking at the handgun in her hand, he widened his arms as his heart skipped a few beat for various reasons. She appeared puzzled and gave a look around.
Finally, she realized that she was the one who had intruded into Akito’s sleeping zone, and her face turned ever more crimson all the way up till her ears.
Seeing this side of her for the first time, Akito felt a mischievous itch and took the opportunity to ask.
“Who’s this ‘Eve’?”
“…What does it matter to you.”
“You were calling out their name in this sweet voice so I thought for sure that it was your lover or something—”
He twisted his neck to the side in that split second.
It was so fast that even the support AI’s warning came later than his reaction.
“W-Watch it! Anyone else would’ve died already, you know!?”
“I know. That’s why.”
What a woman.
Her face had turned so bright red from embarrassment and a bead of tear even welled up in the corner of her eyes. It was so far removed from her usual composed self on the battlefield that Akito was surprised.
“You didn’t hear or see anything, got it? I was just sleeping normally, and did not mutter anything in my sleep. —Are we clear?”
Akito nodded repeatedly even as his thoughts ran at full speed.
To think that this berseker is capable of showing such a cute and abashed side. One truly cannot judge a book by its cover. Is this “Eve” a man? But, the name sounds like it belongs to a female. Who knows, perhaps it’s her roommate, and they’re more than friends but not quite lovers—
Seeing him stare at her like that, Philia gave up and sighed deeply.
“…It’s the name of my drone.”
“Huh? Can you say that again?”
When he asked back, he was greeted again by the muzzle of her handgun.
Akito raised up both of his hands at the speed of light.
Her eyes narrowed in on him.
“Try asking that again and I’ll make you a new hole to breathe through on your forehead.”
“That’s a pretty cute thing to do, naming your drone.”
A demonic smile formed on her face and she swiftly closed the distance between them, shoving the muzzle against his cheek.
“You… so you heard it after all…”
“You only said about asking again, but I was just commenting so it doesn’t count!”
Seeing his pleading look made Philia sigh in resignation, and she turned the safety off before holstering the handgun.
“…It’s like a nightmare, seeing your face right as I wake up.”
Akito shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I get how you can’t wait to kill me, but the feeling’s mutual. If you’re awake, let’s get down to packing up.”
“…I said, don’t order me around. If possible, don’t speak to me at all.”
“I understand how you feel. But, we need to make haste if we’re to escape from those guys. Let’s finished our preparations ASAP.”
“…We’re only wasting time like this because you talk too much.”
Akito picked up his MAR-16 leaning against the wall. Watching him, Philia appeared doubtful as she muttered.
“The feeling’s mutual, huh…”
“What is it.”
Leaving only one word behind, she spun around to pick up her belongings and exited the ruins.
∗ ∗ ∗
The day before, Akito and Philia had used up half of their on-hand ammunitions and barely managed to break through the encirclement of UGVs. Following which, they spent almost an hour running through the complicatedly interwoven underground city.
The UGVs lurking in every corner of the geocity were old models created before the great war, meaning their AI were outdated and their tracking capabilities were rather low. On the other hand, they were outfitted with generous battery capacity. This made the escape from their vast numbers quite the taxing task.
When they finally managed to shake them off and hide in this desolated building, the two of them were utterly exhausted and had collapsed like logs.
However, being out of their comfort zone was what shaved off their spirits even more so than their bodies, he thought.
Foremost of it was how they were disconnected from Arcadia. Despite pushing it into the corner of his mind, that fact occasionally popped up and made his heart heavy. Philia must have been feeling the same, as he could sense trace of unease coloring her eyes from time to time despite her trying to maintain a calm expression.
Even so, or should it be said as to be expected, being one of the elites of the Lorelia Federation army, she did not let down her poker face even as they were brainstorming how to return to the surface.
“How many times do I have to say it! Not only are we short on supplies, neither of us even has the map data of geocity Iota! In order for us to avoid enemy encounter, we need to disperse aether for now and gather information!”
“We’re still in an open space now so we can just rely on our sight to watch out for enemies. Rather, we should be conserving aether now for the trip towards the comumincations tower. The engagement distance is also far shorter, and there’ll be far more situations where aether will be crucial.”
Warm sunlight shone down from the ceiling panels and softly illuminated the forgotten city. Flowers whose names they did not know grew from the cracks on the ground, and butterflies danced between them.
It was a scenery completely alien to that of the surface which constantly rocked with never-ending explosions.
Akito and Philia were going over their remaining equipments atop an abandoned car wrapped with vines serving as a table.
A variety of items were spread across the rusted bonnet—from disassembled guns to grenades, an anti-tank blade, spare batteries and magazines etc.
On one end, Akito was fiddling with the smart bullet linkage module when Philia stopped him. She then approached him from the side across.
“I’m not saying that we have to use all of it at once. Since there’s no UAVs around, what we have to look out for most is to avoid battles of attrition, isn’t it? For that, we need to search carefully for the enemy. …You are always like that. Always doing things so haphazardly.”
He was still continuing with his task of filling up the magazine with bullets, but he took a step back at the pressure emanating from her.
“And you’re being too cautious. There’s no battlefield lax enough where you can gather 100% of the data before taking action. At most, 70% is all you need to make a decision.”
“And you don’t even have 50% much less 70%! You don’t call that making a decision, it’s purely a gamble!”
Akito averted his face at her exclamation.
After that uproar in the morning, the two of them climbed up a building to confirm the geography of the surrounding area. With that information in hand, they were looking over their respective equippments and trying to come up with a plan to escape from the geocity.
Their discussions included the distance they had to travel, how long it was going to take, and at which point could they replenish their food and water supplies. Most importantly, how were they going to evade the detection of the drones roaming around this underground world.
And as they went over their inventory, they debated with no end in sight.
During this time, two facts became clear.
Firstly, that there was only one route to the surface: that is through the structure too large to be called a building known as the communications towers which linked the bottom of the geocity to the top.
The communications tower was made up commerce facilities and office areas, the rest being residential area used by the affluent.
It was 40 kilometers north of their current position, and they could see its outline faintly from here. However, that was simply the distance between them, not taking into account the densely-packed and maze-like streets of the geocity.
Unlike the streets above, most of the geocity was packed with various structures which intersected with each other, forming a labyrinth. With their jet kits now inoperable, they estimated it would take a significant amount of time to cross the distance.
The other fact was that the two of them were despairingly lacking in terms of supplies and equipment.
Since the two of them lasted the longest on the battlefield without dying, they always carried far more ammunitions than the other members. This operation was no exception, and they brought enough supplies for them to continue fighting for more than half a day with enough to spare.
Nonetheless, they lost most of it when they fell from the Saiga Lab.
Their jet kits were broken off right at the base, and their suits had holes here and there even after the biometal fibers underwent self-repair. Akito also dropped most of his spare batteries for his anti-tank blade, while Philia lost her entire swarm of drones.
Akito exhaled deeply and raised his arms.
“…Fine, fine, let’s do it your way. We’ll disperse aether here and watch the surroundings.”
“If you had just agreed quietly, I wouldn’t have had to speak to you so much.”
She still seemed somewhat discontent, but nodded deeply.
He had a feeling from the times he faced her on the battlefield, but it seemed this girl was the kind who would never back down from something once she had made up their mind. To say she had an unyielding will would be to put it nicely, otherwise she was just plain stubborn.
Following that, they worked out the specifics of their plans.
Such as the pace they’d be advancing at, when they’d take a break, where would it be likely that they could obtain food and water, the schedule between them sleeping and keeping watch etc.
Overall, they estimated that they should be able to reach the surface in slightly less than two weeks.
“I can’t believe I have to spend nearly two weeks together with you, how unbearable.”
“Well, we’re pretty much acquainted for three years already. …Now that I think about it, perhaps you’re the one I spent the most time with ever since I came to Reikyo. Hahaha. Looking at it that way, we’ve already been together for a longer time than most couples out there. What’s two weeks compared to that.”
“…This is the worst time of my life.”
Philia’s expression turned into one of obvious disgust.
She placed her hands on her hips and continued.
“…And how about you stop addressing me by ‘you’ this ‘you’ that.”
Akito pulled a wry face as though he was being told something extremely troublesome.
Philia immediately brought down her heels on his foot.
“Why aren’t you using honorifics! If this was Lorelia, you’d be charged with insubordination!”
Akito shot up in pain. His tactical suit meant that most shock from an impact would be buffered, but Philia’s leg was also strengthened by her suit. The suit did not tear, but he could feel her entire body weight dig right into his toes.
“What insubordination… Then, what do you want me to call you?”
“Too long, rejected.”
Her heel came crashing down again, but this time he dodged cleanly.
Undaunted, she brought her leg down again and again, and raised her face in annoyance.
“Why the hell would I not dodge!?”
Faced with the retort at point-blank, Philia opened her eyes in surprise.
“…But my men were very happy to get stepped down on.”
Hearing that shocking confession, Akito shook his head from left to right.
“…Are your men right in the head?”
“…As I thought, they’re not normal, right.”
She turned her face away abruptly.
As commander, she had many worries and concerns day in and day out, but there was no one she could turn to to share those with. In the first place, there weren’t that many people holding the same rank as her back at base, and anyway, they were pretty much rivals so it wasn’t as if she could have a heart-to-heart conversation with them either.
Seeing the look of melancholy on her face, Akito unwittingly felt a sense of camaraderie with her.
Two faces came into his mind then. They belonged to a red-haired weirdo who loved shotguns and used grenades for everything beyond mid-range, and the eccentric girl who claimed “I don’t need anything other than 9mms” while charging through the battlefield with two sub machine guns in hand.
Apparently, it wasn’t only him who had comrades who had a few screws loose in their heads.
“—Oh, that reminds me.”
Akito suddenly recalled something.
He brought close the medikit and began fishing for something.
“Why would you walk around with something like that when there’s Arcadia.”
“Don’t you think it’d be pretty dumb if you were to Respawn from losing a bit of blood?”
“…Not really. That’s the kind of era we live in nowadays.”
I guess you’re right, muttered Akito when he finally found what he was looking for.
They were two jet-injectors filled with a blue liquid.
He held one out to Philia.
She took it suspiciously.
“…What is it?”
“A famed Elmea army nutritional supplement. Its official name is ‘Restorative Tactical Jet-Injector #4’. We usually just call it ‘stim’ or ‘the blue one’ or simply ‘No. 4’.”
Replied Akito casually, while Philia stared back.
“…It’s not poison, right?”
“It’s something close, but with that you stay active for one week. Fret not, you won’t die from it. In fact, it’s for use when you sustain a heavy injury; it stimulates the body’s restorative abilities. Not to mention, you know I couldn’t make it to the surface alone if I killed you now.”
“…No wonder. I thought it was strange that you didn’t get hungry no matter how many hours we fought.”
Akito removed the cap and plaed it at his neck above the MS Syncer. Then he pushed the plunger with his thumb.
A myriad of nutritional supplements entered his bloodstream at once, and his vision turned hazy.
However, it only lasted for a few seconds and he soon regained sensation in his feet.
Philia exchanged uneasy looks between the Akito and the injector in her hand, then gingerly placed the tip against her neck.
She then shut her eyes tightly and pressed hard on the plunger.
“…What… is this…”
Her face felt like it was on fire, and she staggered on her footstep.
“It’s because of the sudden secretion of insulin. Don’t worry, it only last for a second.”
When he rushed up to support her shoulders, she looked up at him with a deadly glare, her face completely flushed. If only she had turned red from shame then his heart would have fluttered, but it was merely the side-effect of the drug and there was nothing cute about it.
“…If you continue to look at me for three more seconds, I’ll crush your eyeballs!”
“I’ll listen to you this time since we don’t have an ATAP now.”
Akito turned his gaze towards the far end of the streets just as instructed.
Around one minute passed before Philia shook off his hands.
“…If I sense any strange side-effects, I’ll shoot you right then.”
“Trust me a little, I used the same thing after all.”
In response, she stared back frigidly with a sharp gaze.
“Hell would freeze over before I trust the words of an Elmer.”
Akito shrugged his shoulders at her reply.
I should be glad she even agreed to cooperate until we reach the surface, but I guess we won’t come to an understanding any time soon.
Looks like our road ahead will be fraught with challenges.