Theo said as he looked up at the extinguished light
“……Eh, a blackout.”
“Something happened? The electric cables are underground. The wind can’t cut it.”
“Maybe the Republic got wiped out.”
“…Eh, Kurena. It’ll be great if that’s the case.”
Daiya might have been excited to say that, but even the Processors, confined to the Concentration Camps since young and living through battles every day, yearned for such gatherings. Neither the storms, the blackouts, nor the destruction of the Republic would affect them. For them, it was a joyous gathering.
The conversation then shifted from the supernatural phenomena to the attack from the new “Legion” model, aliens, to the cause of the blackout. Everyone was involved in the fracas, but someone then stood up and left silently, before it got bright again.
There was some regret in the relieved voices, and Shinn silently returned.
“What a downer.. ”
While saying that, the light suddenly got extinguished again.
Everyone quietly looked over to the extinguished lights, and this time, Shin did not move..
The Para-RAID started, and beyond the ‘sound-only’ holographic window, there was the voice of a nervous sounding young man.
“Handler One to Spearhead Squadron. Cut off with the pointless medical units and maintenance right now; it is a waste of electricity.”
It was the voice of the Handler coming from beyond the Grand Mur , the 85 areas of the Republic. Unlike the uppity attitude and the high ranking, his responsibility was simply to babysit them, and he was a worthless commander.
Such was the reason why the breaker failed.
The medical units in this case referred to the machines acting as replacement for the doctors, capable of determining the ailments and severity. For the white swines, it was a cutting edge technology for battlefield treatment.
However, the triage itself had a major issue. It was merely sufficient enough to ensure the Processors could return to the battlefield. Those that were severely wounded would be discarded as ‘unsalvageable’, even if they could be saved. It was designed to not waste resources on Processors who lost their ability to fight, a blatantly pragmatic decision on the Republic’s part..
Of course, the commanders hated the Processor, which they deemed as cold, killing machines.
Shin sighed, and spoke up. It was his responsibility as base leader to communicate with the Handler.
“Handler One. Resupply during the day was late, and preparations for the “Juggernauts” remain incomplete. We left the maintenance of the medical units for later as it was of lower urgency.”
“Don’t you know? Hurry up with the maintenance scheduling already. I want to go back.”
Everyone sighed after hearing that. The “Juggernaut” maintenance was of priority more than the medical units. It did not matter to them whether the Handler was working overtime.
“Hear that, you pigs? Where’s the courtesy to your superior?”
And there was no need to show respect to a fool who demanded courtesy out of pigs.
So everyone present ignored the Handler, who wheezed furiously.
“This is unsightly…whatever, this is my last time commanding your Eighty-Sixers. You can continue fighting the “Legion” to your deaths.”
Ahh, so Shin blurted callously.
“So you’re retiring? You enlisted because you couldn’t find a job, and now you found a new position?”
The Handler was gobsmacked.
“…Who told you that?”
Everyone was wondering if the Handler was drunk, but nobody said so. This time, the Handler hissed with a heinous tone.
“Goodness, I shouldn’t be careless around the ‘Undertaker’…that monster possessed by an ominous being.”
An incensed Kurena frowned, and Theo too frowned with cold eyes, but Shin himself did not mind.
And then, it was the Handler who admitted defeat in silence.
“…What? Filthy livestock wondering who the next Handler (master) is?”
“Not at all.”
Shin concluded, but the Handler did not hear.
And for some reason, he sounded increasingly gleeful.
“Guess it wasn’t mentioned that. Replacing me here is a princess, ex-nobility, an elite who skipped grades and graduated from university. How can that princess possibly command well when she knows nothing of this world? At most, she’ll just let you die for nothing…but it’s an appropriate fate for you Eighty-Sixers, hah.”
Kujo stared at the wordless Shin, wondering what he would do. The Processors would hardly believe the Handlers, since it did not matter whether they had Handlers…the latter just needed to watch and not bark away. Anything else was fine with them.
Perhaps they would feel lonely, but even then, they had long discarded that feeling.
Ultimately, he would choose to ignore any order from their Handler.
“Since you’re resigning, you don’t have to worry about the schedule now. Can’t you just head back?”
But the moment going home was mentioned, the Handler was clearly rattled.
“What nonsense are you saying? My reputation will drop if I go home now, and I will cause trouble for others. Or else, I would have left――”
Shin clicked his tongue without thinking, and the Handler clearly was startled.
Yes――no matter how arrogant he might sound, the Handler was a little terrified of Shin whenever the Para-RAID was used..
“Any-anyway, this is an order. Stop all work in the hangar, and switch off the lights in the barracks. Come on. Are you pigs not going to defend the people of the Republic and party all night long or something?”
Saying that, the Handler hurriedly switched off the Para-RAID, and everyone exploded into rapturous cheers.
Despite what the fool had said, the maintenance of the “Juggernauts”, their lifelines, could not just stop.
They did switch off the lights in the cafeteria, brought the light sticks they found from the abandoned military bases, and hung them up for lighting. The Processors, bemused by the interesting atmosphere, continued to have their fun.
The noise from the maintenance continued to echo like raindrops grinding away at stones, or the shrieks. Even though it was dark, they were trying to play jenga, and stories of the supernatural got more incessant, some drinking away from cans with blurred labels and stored for long time. Shin himself was not reading in the darkness, and instead, was playing chess with Raiden.
“…But it’s rare to get a female Handler.”
Raiden nimbly moved the Queen forward, and said that after some thought.
Despite it being labelled an advanced country advocating equality amongst its people, the Orthodox Army of the Republic remained rife with male chauvinism. Also, despite it being a period of mass unemployment, it was not a place a princess of noble heritage fresh out of university should go to.
“She’s a princess though. Who knows how she looks like.”
So in the middle of the night, Daiya was drinking some liquid of mixed colors he could not see. Haruto twirled the glass with a gloomy look.
“How does she look like? Some really pretty girl, I guess! A real princess!”
One could sense the ill intents from their comrades.
“It’s decided…a really amazing princess swine.”
“She goes ‘boing’, but she’s a pig.”
“She’s a white swine. Of course that’s to be expected.”
What is with this mood? Theo, adept at drawing, was sketching something, and the onlooking comrades burst out laughing one after another. Even Kujo was chortling away. There was a white pig dressed in a frilly apron, blinking clumsily towards them.
“Woah, and carrying a pink rose on her back too.”
“Well, guess that’s how it should be. She’ll end things with ‘desuwa’ and address herself as ‘watakushi’. Definitely.”
“Then she’s going to greet with ‘Gokigenyou’, and say ‘yokuteyo’ if she agrees…even Shin won’t be able to last 3 days.”
“You’re not going to last the first day then, Theo.”
“What are you saying, Haruto? That’s what I should be saying.”
“No no, who knows if she’s such a weakly princess, the heaviest thing she carries is a needle?”
“Maybe she’s the type who’ll die when in contact with a typhoon or bright sunlight.”
“Hey, that’s a soldier?”
“Maybe she’s weak and timid, only capable of being sure with a soft voice…or maybe she’s the type to get irritated easily.”
“Everyone, hold your horses, calm down. It’s not something major that should be slowing our work down. That’s how it is.”
“What goddess are you talking about here? An embodiment of one who take pity on us Eighty-Sixers and relieve us from the suffering we have in reality…maybe the next Handler’s like that.”
While everyone was talking of the new Handler as a new talking point…Kujo narrowed his eyes..
It did not matter whether she was a goddess, or a kind princess.
“It’s fine as long as she’s a kind one.”
That kind of dream was one he wanted to see, even if it was just once.
If there was really such a redemption around, there would be nobody to protect. Such was the folly of the battlefield.
He looked forward, and saw Shin grimacing and shrugging while looking at the sketchbook. To the Processors, a kind Handler was no different from an incompetent one. One might say that the incompetent ones were the ‘kind ones’ who would talk all about theory, and letting such people command them would only cause more casualties.
The Handlers were fools who would give up command and leave it to the field, or so all the Processors thought.
Kujo scowled. It would be great if that was the case, even though they did not have long to live――
Suddenly, the atmosphere around Shin cooled.
Like a hunting dog being called, he lifted his head, and looked to the distant East–towards the lands dominated by the “Legion”.
Everyone held their breaths, for they understood the meaning to that. The slightly sharp, cold red eyes were narrowed towards Raiden.
“Yeah. Looks like the second squad and the others can’t handle it.”
The principle of night combat was that the second and fourth squad, in charge of the same areas, were to sortie, but if the first squad, Spearhead, was to be asked to sortie, they would.
The squadrons were forbidden from contacting each other directly, and required assistance for communications from their Handlers. This would prove particularly fatal, especially when their Handlers had returned home at night.
Theo shut the sketchbook, and those who had followed Shin before they were assigned to Spearhead quickly reacted.
“I’ll notify the mechanics. What’s the ETA?”
“3 hours at most. Once we’re ready, request to sortie without waiting for help..”
Theo, whose eyes were sharp as a cat, was running through the hangar. Shin watched his back as he looked towards the remaining comrades. There was no chatter nor whisper, and a tense combat mood spread. 20 pair of eyes were staring right at him.
“Go take a rest for now. It looks like we’ll be fighting all night long. We won’t be able to rest once the operation starts.”
The bloody red eyes showed no hostility or determination despite a battle being imminent. He just went back to remaining calm, but Kujo sensed something startling.
He did not fear. Someone might die in this underdog fight against the “Legion”――even him.
But he was completely calm.
It was――a completely different nature.
“We can’t sortie until the “Juggernauts” are prepared, and even though there’ll be lots of casualties, our priority is to destroy the “Legion”…Don’t help anyone on the battlefield. It’s naive.”
“――All personnel, as your Handler is currently unavailable, I shall be taking over. Squad four in the same area is calling for aid. Please respond.”
“Understood, Handler…thank you very much for your kindness.”
As Shin had predicted, the friendlies could not handle the massive onslaught of the “Legion”, and within the rubble of the abandoned city that was their battlefield, there were lots of corpses and “Juggernaut” remains left beneath the rubble..
The “Legion” forces that had steamrolled through their comrades were being flanked from Spearhead Squadron, in a reversal of roles. They were being picked apart from the scattered squadron.
As the word Spearhead implied, Kujo watched the Juggernaut” with the personal mark of the headless skeleton lead the charge and slaughter its way through, mesmerized as a result. It was Shin’s unit, the “Undertaker”.
He is strong.
He is really strong. His overwhelming skills and unparalleled combat abilities surpassed that of the technologically superior “Legion”. He was the point man, the one group with the highest casualty rate, in charge of close combat in his “Juggernaut”, dealing with the enemy bullets and blades, and slaughtering them one after another like a nightmarish machine monster. The flames in the night were flickering due to the drizzle, and it made him resemble a terrible monster in some fable.
Yes, Shin is strong.
He is capable, combatively, and his heart was the same, so Kujo thought.
Shin could not laugh, and would not lose to the circumstances. He could not see hope, but he would not succumb to despite.
He was closer to death than everyone…and like him, he could continue to grin in the face of death, even though there was no comrade he could rely on, that this could continue for a while.
Even though those around him had died, Shin was going to keep fighting until the very end, even if he remained alone.
Kujo was a little envious, and yet at the same time, a little lonely.
For that was not a way to live. That was a way for an ice blade to exist. To discard some things just to sharpen oneself. He would be nothing except for a blade――one that would crumble once his objectives were achieved.
Surely that would feel lonely.
So at the very least, if only――there was something other than his objectives――someone.
If only I had been around――.
He knew it was a fleeting dream, but them, locked in the ends of the battlefield, along with a new incoming Handler, were practically all useless. At this point, there was nobody would could save them from this battlefield.
Ahh, but the attitude from the one before was fine.
There was the silvery-bell voice of a girl from before, which gave Kujo relief. Before they sortied, she contacted them despite them not being under her command. One had to wonder which Handler she was.
There was no fixed Para-RAID signal, so they had to communicate through the wireless signal of the base instead. However, the platoon leaders did not attend the strategic meeting, so Kujo answered. Even though they were mostly discussing about administrative matters, one could hear the kindness and sincerity in the clear, gentle voice..
Despite that, at least someone else cared.
A ripping voice broke through his thoughts.
“Kujo (Sirius), what are you doing!? You’ll die if you stop!”
“!, sorry Kaie (kirschblüte)!”
His platoon leader Kaie chided as she hurried over. The visuals captured by the optical sensors beneath the machine was shown on the screen. There was a blown canopy and legs of the “Juggernaut”, along with the massive silhouette of a Grauwolf――.
The sound sensor picked up a soft sound.
He gasped, and looked over, and in the midst of the raindrops and the swaying red-black flames, he could see a silhouette of someone in combat fatigues. A survivor! Someone escaped!
Mina’s death remained in the back of his mind. He never got to see it personally, but he was lucky that his comrade’s suffering did not continue for long. However, Processors would suffer and die if they were left be. Even though he could not save Mina…surely he would save this one!
He got ready to open the lever of the canopy. The “Juggernaut” had no manipulators, so Kujo had to save the survivor with his own hands.
And at that moment――for some reason, Shin’s warning before they sortied echoed in his mind.
――Don’t help anyone on the battlefield. It’s naive.
He shook his head, and opened the lever. The pressure flushed upon him, and he leaped over the barrel and the canopy, the downpour pelting upon his body.
“――Hey, you alright!?”
There was loud banging from the door of the control room, and the girl left in the shared office of the Handler lifted her head in shock.
“Shit, the bad things are piling up one after another…! There goes my reputation…!”
The colleague slammed the door as he stormed out, and she watched him, dumbfounded. It was a public place, a workplace, yet he was being so rowdy and emotional, flailing away.
The sidelong, slender face looked a nervous wreck, and when he was not around, there were flickering lights on his message windows requesting for aid, so Lena deputed as Handler for his squad. Perhaps he went off drinking while during working hours, and it took Command much effort to summon him back.
The area each Handler commanded was never to be publicized, so Lena did not know which area he was commanding. Looking at the situation however…it seemed the outcome was not optimistic in the slightly.
However, he was still grumbling away about his own reputation, which he was most concerned by.
The girl was truly worried about the Republic citizens and their situation, her face gloomy as a result. There was a conversation with a Processor who was part of the defenders asking for help, in that unknown territory.
It was the voice of a somewhat older youth, one filled with some sadness and melancholy.
She was told they were not humans――but that was not the case.
So the girl――Handler of the 3rd squadron in the 9th battle area, Vladlena Millize thought as she lowered her head to pray for the people who perished for their country, in a distant battlefield unknown to her.