The armor of the Dinosauria rose slightly, extending an endless number of “arms.”
The arms were silver, comprised of nanomachines. The fingers were long, the joints massive, and they were the hands of an adult male. The arms transformed at a breathtaking speed, and extended several sizes beyond their original length. Some were left arms, some were right, and they were reaching out, seemingly yearning for something.
Every arm reached out for the “Undertaker,” as they were accompanied by a roaring boom,
Even with synchronization at the lowest level, that bellow was deafening, throbbing their organs and curdling their blood. Raiden, the one most accustomed to this, was shivering in a cold sweat. Angel shrieked, and covered her ears.
Shinn in turn reacted as though he was called up, and turned the “Undertaker” towards the enemy unit.
“Go ahead. Raiden, you’ll be in command.”
Raiden could practically see his cold eyes staring intently at the Dinosauria before them.
“Once you enter the forest, watch out for the Ameise, and you probably won’t be discovered. Break through, and continue on.”
“What about you?”
“Once I get rid of this guy, I’ll continue. We can’t continue if we don’t get rid of it, and I don’t want to continue… it doesn’t look like it’s going to let me off either.”
Once he heard Shinn’s last words, Raiden felt a chill up his back.
This guy, just,
Ahh. It’s hopeless.
There was no turning back. This guy never thought of escape at all. All the time, he was looking, seeking the head of his dead brother that was taken by the enemy. It was likely that it all started from then… no, ever since he was nearly strangled to death by his brother.
Raiden knew very well. However, he hissed,
“You’ve got to be kidding. Who’s going to obey you?”
Who’s going to obey this run away and leave me behind order?
“If you want to fight alone, fine by me… but we’ll block the other attacks for you. Finish that guy off.”
Saying that, Raiden gritted his teeth, enduring the rising emotions.
Fight alone, huh?
You could have told us. Just say that we’ll fight together, and we’ll agree to help out. Why is this idiot so… stupid at such a moment?
After a short moment of silence, Shinn let out a little sigh.
“That makes all of us… don’t die.”
This time, Shinn did not respond.
The shrill metal cries of the long-distance cannons marked the start of the battle. The volley rained down like the wind, and the four units quickly retreated.
The four-legged spider carrying the skeletal death god immediately dashed forward, like a beast aiming for its prey.
The Dinosauria began its plan.
The Ameise waiting by the side began moving everywhere. The other units had weak sensors, and thus a massive number of Ameise, having sacrificed their offensive potency, acted as a data link that conveyed intel about the enemy. The Dinosauria’s objective was to have the Ameise all over the battlefield. Two of them caught sight of the approaching “Undertaker” and conveyed the various pieces of data back to the Dinosauria. The latter combined the data with the optical images captured in its unit, and turned its cannons towards them.
The 155mm cannons boomed. These cannons were not tank cannons, but heavy cannons. The armor piercing rounds broke the sound barrier, flying in at high speeds, and smashed hard into the space the “Undertaker” was at.
The “Undertaker” immediately fought back, not aiming for the Dinosauria, but at the surrounding scattered Ameise. It took one down and evaded, kicking at the body of a second unit, before taking aim and firing at the Dinosauria again. The smoke grenade exploded in the air, temporarily masking the optical sensors of the Dinosauria, and the “Undertaker” seized the moment to duck into the blind spot of the two destroyed Ameise.
The main cannon of the “Juggernaut” was a 57mm cannon, completely incomparable to the Dinosauria’s, and its firepower was unable to pierce the latter’s sturdy armor, no matter the angle. There was only one effective spot, and to approach it, there was a need to destroy the exterior eyes covering the blind spots of the massive enemy, and increase the chances of success.
The massive body of the Dinosauria blew aside the veil of white smoke, and leaped up. It predicted the approach pattern of the “Undertaker,” and raised its heavy machine gun, took aim, and spewed a trail of fire. The “Undertaker” quickly ducked back to evade, and the smoke between them scattered.
The sizzling hot muzzles of the cannon were aimed at the headless figure. While the enemy continued to aim with some godlike precision, the “Undertaker” continued to race forth with movements of a man possessed.
The had obviously planned to have the “Undertaker” isolated from the other four units, and then isolate the four units before finishing them off.
Several Grauwolf and Löwe moved towards their targets, and even if they were to hide, they would be discovered by the Ameise scattered all over the battlefield. All possible routes of retreat were sealed by the Stiers, and the long-ranged bombardments of the Scorpions greatly limited their possible routes of retreat. They defeated the next to them, but more enemies continued to assault them.
Typically speaking, the would never use such a clustered formation as a tactic. Clearly this was commanded by a “Shepherd,” the “Shepherd” that was most likely inside that Dinosauria.
Amidst the maddening assaults, volleys, and slashes, Raiden glanced towards that side. The continued to swarm like ants, but that side remained clear as the Dinosauria and the “Undertaker” took each other on.
It was an utterly ridiculous scene.
Fighting that Dinosauria alone was completely preposterous. Whatever that was happening before his eyes was a miracle. The “Juggernaut” was far inferior, whether it was in terms of firepower, armor, or mobility.
This should have been no contest. Yet this battle could continue because the one riding in that “Juggernaut” was Shinn… no, even Shinn could not make it a real battle. The Dinosauria pretty much ignored all definitions of a heavy tank as it remained still. In contrast, the “Undertaker” continued to dance and slash its way around in a delicate, yet barbaric manner, one that would make one’s guts wince, yet it was forced to continue this unbelievable chain of movements.
It was not a battle. How long could the tightrope walking continue?
Or will we be the ones to fall first?
Raiden’s heart faltered. He could no longer remember how many enemies he had dealt with, for every time he got rid of one, another would appear. Fatigue and futility were setting in on the battle-hardened veterans.
“Reloading! Cover me!”
Seo panted as he yelled. That voice was clearly filled with fatigue.
Fido darted through the fire alone, doing its utmost to resupply the various units, and had ejected one of its six containers. This clearly meant that the ammunition in the container was depleted. Of the one month’s worth of ammunition, 20% was depleted in this battle alone.
Once we run out of ammunition, that’ll be our demise, huh?
Thinking about this, Raiden gave a wry smile. Marvelous. This was the life he had hoped for, and the death he had hoped for.
Suddenly, another person joined in the synchronized channel.
“Lieutenant Shuga! Lend me your left eye!”
In an instant, his left eye darkened, before it recovered again. The same voice continued to shout,
“Firing now! Prepare for impact!”
At the same moment, the sky suddenly cleared.
A silent flash was followed by a delayed explosion. The Eintagsfliege deployed in the air were instantly burned away and vaporized by the flames, or shattered by the shockwaves that spread everywhere else, crumbling apart.
Those were the flames and energy released in the explosion of a fuel type shell. The silver clouds dispersed momentarily, revealing a temporal blue sky, before being colored black due to the barrage that followed.
The missiles landed accurately above their targets, and as their fuses burned, these missile shells cracked apart. The hundreds of bullets within seeked out the coordinates of the enemy units as per radar detection, exploding at a supersonic initial velocity of 2500 to 3000 meters per second.
In the torrent of steel, the feeble armor of the Ameise broke apart, and the first half of the “Legion”‘s second wave was instantly silenced. A second wave of barrage followed immediately as steel rained upon the remnants of the second wave, obliterating them.
Raiden, Seo, Krena, and Angel were momentarily stunned.
They had never seen it before, but they understood. It was an interception cannon, standing behind the line guarded by the “Juggernauts” like a hedgehog, a piece of scrap metal that was never used for its purpose.
And someone had actually activated it.
There was only one weirdo who was willing to work hard for these people on death row.
“Major Millize, is that you!?”
Answering him was a silver bell-like voice, filled with some determined, ruthless conviction.
“Yes. It is me. Sorry for being late, squad.”
“I told you not to show up before me again, Lena.”
Lena was worried that Arnett would not show up, but the latter did show up at the hall, right on time.
“Yes, I heard that, Arnett. But I never said that I would comply.”
It was a drizzling night. Lena stood at the intersection between the light of the entrance and the darkness of the night, her face clearly fatigued and weary like a ghost. She was dressed in a flimsy military uniform, her silvery hair messily combed, her snowy white face devoid of any make up.
The adamant silver eyes were giving off a strange glint from deep within.
“Visual synchronization settings. RAID device adjustments. You can do that, right?”
Arnett groaned. She had the eyes of a defeated hound.
“Not doing that, and it has nothing to do with me.”
“You will. Get to work.”
I guess my face is looking really cruel and ugly now, so she thought somewhere in a corner of her mind.
“That childhood friend of yours that you left for dead.”
She chuckled. Like a devil. Like a death god.
“His name is Shinn, right?”
At that moment, Arnett’s expression changed.
“…How did you…!?”
Once she saw the pale look on the girl’s face, I guessed so, Lena quietly remarked.
Though Lena was trying to lure this out of her, she was somewhat confident to begin with. He had once lived in the first area, where Colorata were few in numbers, was of a similar age to Lena and Arnett, and had an older brother.
Shinn’s ability allowed him to hear the voices of the dead for some reason, while Arnett’s childhood friend could hear the hearts of others. It was likely both of them were similar in nature, just different in the type of hearing.
Given the many clues, a conclusion could be easily derived.
“How do you know that name…!? Is he—!”
“Right, he is in the squadron I am commanding. Leader of Spearhead Squadron, codenamed ‘Undertaker.’ That is Shinn.”
Again, she had a chance to save him, but again, Arnett had abandoned him.
Arnett grabbed Lena’s collar. The latter remained unfazed by her anxious actions and eyes, not flinching in the slightest.
“Did Shinn tell you that!? I-Is he still alive!? D-Does he still hate me!?”
“Why ask me? Doesn’t it not have anything to do with you?”
Lena waved off Arnett’s hand, and slowly retreated. Ignoring the rain on her clothes, Arnett continued forward, and Lena showed a chilling smirk as Arnett’s face showed a darkened look.
Lena never heard Shinn mention anything about Arnett… it was likely that he had forgotten all about her. He, whose memories of Ray and his parents were swept aside by the battlefield and the voices of the ghosts, surely would be unable to remember his childhood friend.
As for whether it was a redemption or a curse for Arnett, Lena could not tell.
“If it has something to do with you, help me. What do you intend to do? —Hurry, before the rooster crows.”
Before that happens, you might reject me a third time.
Arnett remained rooted, smiling. That smile was mixed with tears, and a tinge of relief.
“Well put, Technical Captain Penrose. That goes for me, and you.”
Yes, Lena was not dismayed nor disheartened in the slightest. She was simply too busy to be synchronized with the rest of Spearhead Squadron.
She was looking for everything she could do that would be of assistance, whether it was the visual synchronization setting and adjustment, or the firing activation codes of the interception cannons in the neighboring battle zones.
“…Half of them cannot be fired…!?”
Once she saw this, Lena groaned. 30% of the cannons could not be fired, and of the rest, another 30% could not light the fuse, so their rounds could only plummet and bounce. The missiles, weighing more than a hundred kilograms, landed heavily on the unlucky Ameise units, crushing them, but they were utterly ineffective given the firepower they should have.
The maintenance crew had actually become so lax. They did not maintain the armor that was protecting them, and it was utterly foolish of them.
She entered similar coordinates into the remaining interception cannon, and fired. Once she saw that the targeted enemy units were all wiped out, she heaved a sigh of relief.
Back then, Shinn said that they were finally free.
Lena did not think that could be considered freedom, but she could not retract the mission, and could not give them the pardon they deserved. At the very least, she wanted to ensure that their long-awaited journey to freedom would not be too obstructed, that they could continue on as far as they could.
This freedom they had attained was so rare, so valuable.
She would never allow the first day of their long journey be the last, and not have their destination be at her doorstep.
Upon hearing that silver bell-like voice, Raiden lashed out. The second wave off the enemy was wiped out, and the third wave ceased advance, stunned by the sudden situation. The first wave lost support, and everyone attacked at once.
“You’re really an idiot, aren’t you!? What are you doing!?”
“I simply synchronized with your left eye, checked the location, and fired the interception cannon there. Oh, I had my left eye closed during the synchronized sight so that you would not be distracted.”
Once he heard her nonchalant reply, he was increasingly enraged. What do you mean simply? How’s that simple in any way!?
“Don’t you know that synchronized visuals can cause a Handler to go blind!? And where did you get the authority to fire the intercepting cannons!? You’re already defying military orders there, aren’t you!?”
The information shared through the visual synchronization was overly massive, and could easily cause both sides to be confused, so much so that if synchronized for too long, the brain would be overburdened, and in the worst case scenario, it would result in blindness of the eyes. Thus, Handlers would typically not share synchronized vision. The directive for this mission clearly stated that any support was forbidden, yet this superior of theirs provided automated fire support without permission. Her actions were not worth it for a squadron put on death row!
Suddenly, Lena shouted. It was the first time he had heard the girl lash out.
“So what! Everyone can go blind anyway. Even though I may be defying orders and providing support using the interception cannons, I will only lose my rank and pay. Not that I will die here!”
Raiden was flabbergasted by this outburst. She was panting hard due to the sudden agitation, and spoke with a cold voice he could never have imagined from her.
“The military, the government, none of them are reasonable, so I do not have to listen to their reasons, nor do I have to bother with their reprimands… I should not have waited for any orders and gone ahead to begin with.”
The hissing was filled with bitterness, and then, she proudly snorted.
This tension between them finally eased up, and Raiden gave a little bitter grin.
“…You’re really an idiot.”
“Not that I am doing this for you. With so many enemies, the Republic will be endangered if they break through. I am doing this because I do not want to die.”
She flatly stated such, and Raiden laughed out loud. And so, Lena smiled for the first time on this day.
“If the third wave begins to advance, I will be attacking. Sorry that I cannot support you since the first wave is so close to you. Please figure something out.”
“Right, leave it to us. This is just business as usual.”
“…What about Captain Nouzen?”
Upon hearing that name, Raiden winced bitterly. Though they were synchronized, Shinn never answered, nor did he pay them any mind, merely giving off a cold, heinous will to fight.
“Duking it out with his brother. That’s what Shinn’s really aiming for. He can’t hear us anymore.”
Amidst the deafening howls of his brother, Shinn continued to pilot the “Juggernaut,” seeking a chance for counterattack.
As he continued to battle on a tightrope, where even the slightest mistake would be punished, his concentration was focused entirely on the enemy before him, so much that the surrounding scenery, the countless shouts, and even the passing of time was all but neglected.
The cannon took aim. It fired. The “Undertaker” deliberately slid, breaking its balance, and evaded the cannon by mere inches. The sub cannon was to the right of the main cannon, and if he continued to dodge to the left, the enemy could only attack with the main cannon and the turrets at the top…
But the sub cannon fired.
The shot grazed past the right leg. At the same time, the main cannon took aim. The “Undertaker” unit continued to skid to the side, and was unable to evade in time.
Another shot. With the assistance of the grappling hook shot into the ground, the “Undertaker” barely managed to avoid the shot, and the Löwe positioned right behind was hit, and exploded. Due to the consecutive shots, even the Dinosauria with its massive weight and sturdy legs had to grapple the ground with its eight legs to withstand the tremendous recoil.
Seizing this moment, the “Undertaker” quickly darted before it.
It had its main cannon aimed behind of the Dinosauria’s turrets. It was visibly the weakest part of the armor, the only part of the impregnable armor that the “Juggernaut’s” main cannon could penetrate.
He squeezed the trigger. The armor-piercing round flew in an arc, preparing to deal a fatal blow.
However, an arm extended from the Dinosauria, deflecting the grenade.
Shinn widened his eyes as he witnessed this nightmarish scene. The extended arm got hit by the grenade, and shattered, but as it was made of nanomachines, new fingers grew immediately, and they swayed again, as though nothing had happened.
He sensed the Dinosauria direct its consciousness upon him again, and instinctively retreated. At the same time, the bullets of the spinning machine guns pelted upon him, so he retreated again, again, and again until he pulled far enough away. The weapons of weakest firepower the enemy had, the machine guns, were enough to force the “Juggernaut” to retreat. The massive Dinosauria slowly turned around.
The enemy was shooting to fend him off, and he had to do his best to evade. Also, his final possible attack point was sealed off.
While he was shivering, his lips showed a smile.
A Grauwolf seized the opportunity to attack as it broke free from its squad and approached from the flank. However, the Dinosauria cruelly blasted it apart, basically growling for no interference. Seeing this, Shinn’s smile got wider.
The dying voice of his brother lingered in his eardrums. Sin. Your name. How fitting. It’s all your fault. Repay with your life.
So even when dead, you want to personally kill me?
…Same here, brother.
For Ray at this point, whether he should be called the ghost of Shourei Nouzen or a member of the whose memory was replicated from his brain that had yet to rot on that snowy day, it did not matter. He had died, yet he had obtained a second chance. That was all fine to him.
He knew Shinn had arrived on the battlefield. He heard that voice.
Shinn’s voice, however, was soft, covered by the massive, ugly skeleton called the Republic. The Republic shamelessly dumped Shinn into the battlefield like a personal property, which left him unable to distinguish Shinn’s voice from the rest.
Whenever it was deployed to a certain battle, it would search using the eyes of its Ameise. Ray, as a member of the , was unable to defy its given directives, and as commander, could not leave the inside of his assigned zone. However, if Shinn was nearby, it wanted to meet him again. To see him, to apologize to him, and to beg for his forgiveness. At this moment.
One day, through the eyes of an Ameise that was wrecked and unable to move, it saw him.
It was a night filled with meteor showers. Though the distance was too far away, it was finally able to see his face after enlarging the visual to maximum.
He was all grown up, and probably saying something to his friend, an Eisen. It wanted to hear his voice, and directed the receiver towards them. Surely his voice must have broke. Or not at all. In any case, it wanted to hear that voice.
Both of them were looking up at the night sky as the meteor shower glided back, resting on a “Juggernaut” that was all curled up, their silhouettes resembling children.
“Your brother’s still around?”
“Yeah. He’s always calling for me. That’s why I have to go.”
Talking about me? Are you looking for me?
The machine kept shaking. It was sad to see Shinn step onto the battlefield, but once it knew he was seeking it, it could not hide its delight.
“But are you not going to find your brother’s corpse and bury it? That should be enough, isn’t it?”
Ohh, bury my corpse? How kind of you, Shinn.
“…Brother’s not going to forgive me just for that.”
It was stunned.
Why do you say that? If you cannot be forgiven, that goes for me too, right?
No, that is not true, it wanted to tell him, that it was not true. It wanted to see him, the desire driving it mad.
The Republic’s carrier quickly deported Shinn along with the others, and his brother’s feeble voice was mixed in amongst the noise. It continued to search, and whenever it found him, it got excited. Ray could not leave its area, but it deployed all the units it could.
Shinn kept fighting.
Even though he knew that he would be buried alone in a corner of the battlefield, he continued to fight with ease.
There is no need to fight.
There was no need to fight for those swine. If those swine could only do that to survive, it might be better to bring Shinn over to its side. Shinn could leave the fragile exterior exoskeleton of a human, and change his body easily. Surely it could protect him, protect him, for eternity.
On this day, the swine had finally lifted their filthy hands from Shinn. Amidst the voices within the noise, his feeble voice remained distinguishable.
Ray knew that Shinn was headed towards it, and went to welcome it. Finally, it could take action.
At this moment, he was right before it. Its beloved brother, whom it had beckoned for years, and anxiously awaited, was in that ugly spider.
That spider’s armor was too fragile, and it had to be careful not to destroy that spider. It raised its arms forth, and the spider was quick, hard to capture, so it only aimed for the legs.
Finally, I get to meet you. Finally, I get to bring you back.
We shall be together, forever. Brother shall always protect you. So, come here, Shinn.
The Dinosauria was aiming only for the legs, not using grenades, only armor piercing rounds. The grenades’ explosions would create shrapnel flying at blinding speeds in unpredictable directions, and the “Juggernaut’s” shoddy armor could not withstand the blast of a 155mm cannon from up close.
Is he messing with me? Or is he not willing to kill me off immediately? The countless arms, the arms that tried to kill him on that night, were weaving about erratically.
You think this will happen again?
Shinn glanced at the optical screen, searching for terrain he could fight on. He feinted a retreat, and saw that Ray gave pursuit.
He darted horizontally, as he retreated. The cannons tailed his movements as they anxiously swayed left and right, trying to aim for the legs. They locked on, and the moment they were about to fire—
He came to the planned location.
Moments before the cannon unleashed a flash, Shinn shot his grappling hook, aiming for a massive tree to the left, behind the Dinosauria. The next moment, he retracted the grappling rope, kicked off the branches and twig, and immediately leaped over the top of the Dinosauria.
The turret of the Dinosauria was mainly to attack ground-based armor units, and though it could turn to an angle above, there was a limit to its peripheral angle. It could not attack anywhere directly above, and could not hit anything right beneath its feet.
Shinn glided in the air, and at the same time, adjusted to where the enemy unit would be. He stomped on an armor joint, and landed right behind the Dinosauria. The turrets could not hit that position as it was overly massive, and compared to the front side, the armor was a little thinner. Shinn swung the high frequency blades used for closed combat, and stabbed it deep into the armor.
Sparks flew, and the thick armor was severed like liquid. The frequency blades pried a massive hole, and after which, he aimed the main cannon at it.
However, two silver arms extended out from that hole, tightly grappling the armaments.
And, as a repeated of what happened that night in the Church.
He was raised up and then slammed down hard into the ground. At that moment, Shinn lost consciousness.
Pzzt. The synchronization with Shinn was severed. Raiden immediately widened his eyes. The surrounding were more or less wiped out, and Fido discarded the second container. The surging forth from the back began to retreat due to the bombardments Lena unleashed upon them. At this moment,
The latter’s signal was lost, and he tried to connect again, but failed. Looking over, he saw the “Undertaker” collapsed unnaturally before the Dinosauria, motionless, probably knocked aside.
The Para-RAID required an awake consciousness on both sides, so if any side was to pass out, the synchronization would not happen. This showed that Shinn was probably asleep, or unconscious — or even dead.
The Dinosauria loomed slowly. For some reason, it did not attack, but the more it approached, the more ominous it seemed.
Raiden switched the wireless communicator, and luckily, he got through. It seemed the cockpit was not damaged badly.
“Shinn, you idiot! Get up!”
But the “Undertaker” remained motionless.
It did its best to control its strength and not damage the cockpit, but the armaments of the fragile “Juggernaut” could not withstand this impact, and Shinn, whom it managed to catch after much effort, flew away again.
Seeing Shinn motionless, it heaved a sigh of relief. He was probably passed out, probably injured. In any case, it probably had to apologize afterwards.
Suppressing the agitation in its heart, it approached it slowly. Finally, it could bring him to its side.
Finally, it could bring back what it had lost. Finally, they could be together. Thus, first, he had to discard that feeble body of flesh.
Once she saw the Dinosauria on the radar slowly closing in on the “Undertaker,” Lena bit her lips. Raiden and the others gave pursuit, but their armaments alone would be unable to stop it. Surely, if this kept up, Shinn, and even Raiden and the others, would die.
She bit her lips so hard, she could taste blood.
Back then, Ray said that he wanted to return. He did not say how much he doted on his little brother, but his expression revealed everything. However, why did that Ray want to kill Shinn so much?
Lena wanted to stop Ray, but she was out of ideas. There was an extremely potent weapon in her hands, but she could not use it to attack the Dinosauria without hurting Shinn.
The power of the guided missiles, or the cannon, would be too much. The armor of a “Juggernaut” was exceptionally fragile, and if it did hit the Dinosauria, the shrapnel from the explosion would clearly hurt Shinn.
What do I do? Is there really nothing I can do?
Think, think, quick, think. —Suddenly, a memory flashed by, and Lena widened her eyes.
“Lieutenant Cucumila, please give me the coordinates of the Dinosauria. The more precise it is, the better.”
Krena nearly jolted once she heard Lena’s orders. As a sniper, she immediately knew what Lena was planning.
“I shall leave the probing beacon to you. Just have the laser primed on the target…”
“W-Wait a moment! Are you…!?”
And then, Seo interrupted. Everyone was riled up. Even Angel joined in, feeling anxious.
“Are you really going to fire!? You’ve got to be kidding! That Shinn’s still there!”
“With an explosion nearby, there is no way the ‘Juggernaut’ can withstand the blast! Shinn will surely be caught in the blast!”
“I have an idea. However, I guess it can only create an opening… I do not want the Captain to die either.”
Her voice was filled with honesty and determination.
And Krena unwittingly nodded.
Raiden caught up and fired, while Seo and Angel too continued on. The armor deflected their bullets, but they continued to fire. At the same time, they kept firing at the surrounding Ameise, continuing their fierce attacks.
Everything was deflected by the armor, or parried away by the arms, as the Dinosauria showed no intentions of stopping in its track. Damn it, these two brothers really are the same, not caring about anything around them.
A machine gun was disabled by shrapnel, as a cannon blast on the optical sensor exploded before his eyes.
Finally, the Dinosauria directed its attention towards them.
The remaining machine gun turret turned around impatiently. Raiden saw it move, and evaded to the side. The sweeping volley of bullets whizzed right by him.
Seo and Angel seized the opportunity to approach, and fired their grappling hooks onto the Dinosauria’s cannon and leg respectively, before stomping hard off the ground. The weight of the “Juggernaut” was only a tenth that of the Dinosauria’s, and even with two units, they were not enough to take it down. Raiden fired a grenade with a timed fuse in an arch, disabling the remaining gun, and then followed up with a grappling hook to latch onto the Dinosauria. The massive machine finally slowed down slightly.
A strong killing intent he had never sensed before came right at them, and the trio immediately loosened the wires. The next moment, the Dinosauria swung hard at the cannon and limbs that were latched onto. The “Snow Witch” was a tad too late, and was pelted into the air, slamming hard into “Laughing Fox,” who too was sent flying far away.
“Same here. Sorry, Seo.”
“It’s fine. Now… Raiden! It’s coming for you!”
While he was momentarily distracted, the enemy aimed at him. Raiden could not evade in time. The moment he gritted his teeth, he saw the body of the Dinosauria sink hard. The cannon shot came from far behind the “Werewolf.” It was a snipe by Krena. She blew a hole in the ground under the feet of the Dinosauria.
“Raiden, are you okay?”
“Yeah, saved me there! Retreat first though. We’re doomed if you’re finished here… Major, you alright!?”
Lena’s voice was filled with tension.
“I have launched it. Distance to landing… 3000! Lieutenant Cucumila!”
“Roger that. Preparing probing beacon. ETA to target is… five seconds… three, two…”
The “Gunslinger” was aiming with a laser probe invisible to the naked eye. It was pointed right at the Dinosauria stopping right before the “Undertaker.”
The Dinosauria had weak sensors.
Even as a commanding unit, Ray was no exception, and could only compensate for this handicap using the numerous Ameise by its side and the armies it commanded. However, the Ameise were utterly annihilated, and he had never given orders to his forces except for the beginning of the operation, resulting in them being beaten back. For it, taking back Shinn’s head was its primary goal, and the rest were secondary, which it paid no mind to.
And thus, the moment it realized what was going on, it was too late.
It was about to pry the cockpit open, before an alert signalling lock on rang without warning.
On the optical sensors that popped out, there was a massive cannon round that was right before its eyes. It was akin to a baby-sized maggot, deploying its control wings as it flew in at forty-five degrees, aiming right for the armor.
A 155mm heavy cannon, with a piercing round.
Rage boiled within it.
Of course. It was a massive, powerful cannon round, so much so that if it were to hit, even Ray could not remain unscathed.
Those Republican bastards. It’s not enough that they’re discarding him, they’re using him as bait to kill us all?
Ray could not escape with Shinn in time. Thus, it stomped its front legs, and raised its upper body like a horse that was reined in, trying to block the incoming round with the sturdiest front armor, and deployed all of its nanomachines to form countless arms before it. If the weak armor on top could not withstand it, how about the front? I’ll block everything, the blast, the impact. I’m going to protect Shinn behind me no matter what!
The cannon round was right before it, and it would hit at the next moment.
Suddenly, he recalled the countless stars he saw, as though countless pixies were muttering in the night.
And beneath the sky, a girl spoke. She had silver hair and eyes, and was of similar age as Shinn. He had met her before.
“Do you want to protect him?”
Ahh, yes. I have to protect Shinn. He’s my beloved little brother.
The girl then said,
“And you are going to kill him again?”
The “Juggernaut” remained motionless. Little Shinn did not move.
Upon contact, the probe, did not explode.
It was a dud.
Given the materials used, the probing beacon filled with explosives would never be able to break through the thick frontal armor of the Dinosauria, even with velocity or density. The shot was quashed, and as the probe did not activate, the explosives would not explode.
But given the supersonic speed and the material quality that was far superior to a tank shell, the tremendous impact it carried seeped into every corner of Ray’s body.
“Right on target.”
Lena saw the probing beacon indicated on the radar, overlapping with the Dinosauria before vanishing.
It did not explode. Of course. Lena deliberately made sure not to arm it.
She once heard her father say.
That the armor of a tank could deflect bullets. However, it did not mean that the tank was not damaged in any way.
That as long as it was hit, some kinetic energy from the round would spread through the tank. This energy would be enough to loosen the parts of the body, knock down the passengers, or if the armor was fused together through nails or screws, these nails or screws would bounce out due to the contorted armor, even bouncing inside like bullets, killing the passengers.
But for the Dinosauria, it was probably just a mere scratch. For Lena, given her weapons, this was her only choice if she wanted to attack it without hurting Shinn.
At the very least, she had bought a few seconds. She prayed that everyone could use this short time to create some change.
Suddenly, she noticed.
There was an additional person in the synchronized channel.
Raiden had been trying to connect to Shinn while in combat. He too noticed that Shinn had woken up.
The latter’s reaction was slow. It seemed he was still groggy. Raiden called out again, but there was no response.
And so, he yelled,
“Get up, you idiot! Hey Shinn!!”
“Captain Nouzen! Do you copy, Captain Nouzen!? Please wake up!”
Lena heard everyone else in the squadron call out, and she too shouted. Wake up, get away from there, finish off the Dinosauria. However, she did not ask him to do so for those reasons.
She knew. She noticed. Thus, she had to have him finish his mission.
That moment, that night, he swore that he would beat his brother with much heartbreaking conviction.
Shinn was not willing to fight his older brother, but he stood before the latter, and the reason for their faceoff was.
“You want to hang your brother, right!? —Shinn!”
The red eyes seemed to have opened slightly.
The body of steel stumbled back greatly, and crumpled onto the ground. With the impact reverberating through greatly, the CPU malfunctioned, resulting in a temporary blank.
However, the instincts of a combat machine caused it to wildly fire its cannons at its surroundings. He could sense the flies flying around it.
The CPU and the sensors recovered.
And so, Ray saw it.
Behind him, the “Undertaker” had finally stood up, raising its cannon right back at it.
It seemed Shinn was injured the moment he lost consciousness, for blood remained glued to his left eye, and he had difficulty opening it. He felt that his body was so far away, his limbs would no longer obey him. His mind was still groggy, and he was unable to think properly.
The sub screen was down, and in the dim cockpit, he raised his left hand, touching his still dizzy head, leaning on the inner wall, not getting up, just holding the joystick and staring at the main screen.
Someone called out for him, and he opened his eyes, but the pain and damage would not disperse. He did not know what had happened, he did not know why he remained alive, nor did he know what was going on around him.
But Shinn and the “Undertaker” were not dead.
And the brother he wanted to personally bury was before his eyes.
In his blurry consciousness, his body moved instinctively, and he held onto the joysticks again, priming his finger on the trigger.
That was enough.
It was the ghost’s voice, the voice of his dead brother. Just like the last words he had heard, it was the voice of his brother, who was alone somewhere on this battlefield, still unwilling to forgive him even in death.
The moment he heard that voice amongst the groans of the ghosts, he decided that he was going to find his brother, and bury him personally.
Before he knew it, Shinn gritted his teeth. He, who should have been strangled to death at the age of seven, was silently weeping in a corner of his heart, wailing, saying that he should have died, that it was all his fault. His brother’s voice continued to coax him, saying it was never too late to do it. Your brother will never let you forget… will never forgive you, ever.
However, Shinn was no longer a child. He would never let it happen to him again.
An ample amount of time had passed since then, and he knew more than enough, and already understood what happened.
Back then, when he was nearly choked to death, that was not his fault.
His parents’ death, his brother’s death, everything was not his fault.
That was just his brother venting frustrations upon him. Back then, his brother could not take it anymore, and found him, who was much weaker, to be someone to lash out at. That was simply all it was.
He had no sin to bear.
The ghost continued to call out.
That voice kept on calling, but Shinn did not think it was scary. It was simply a tragic thing. It was a machine that borrowed the words of the dead, or some fragmented words it eavesdropped upon, and yearned to have some place to return to.
The countless ghosts lost their country, their bodies, and though dead, could not return to the place they should be headed towards, merely repeating their desire to return, using the wailings of the dead who did not want to die.
He could not bring himself to leave his brother there, nor move on from there.
His brother was killed, and after his death, his head was extract, sealed in a combat machine like a ghost, moaning over and over again to be returned to the ground. Shinn had to find him, face off against him, fight, defeat, and bury him.
For this reason, Shinn stood on the battlefield. For this reason, Shinn fought for five full years.
It was not the debt he should bear. It was not the sin he should seek redemption for.
He knew that well. But even so,
At the very end, his brother cursed him with a sin. Till the very end, the ghost of his dead brother kept calling for him.
Without this redemption, Shinn could not move on.
The reticule took aim. The cannon was aimed at an opened gap in the steel-colored armor.
He squeezed the trigger.
Through the optical sensors at the back of the unit, Ray witnessed everything.
The trigger was squeezed, and a spark appeared.
For some reason, at that moment, he saw it.
The bloody red eyes were staring right at him, filled with strong conviction and will.
That face, that expression, they were all too foreign to him.
But that was obvious.
Five years ago, Ray died. It died, and since then, it never changed, and never grew up.
But Shinn remained alive. He lived on, and thus, he could continue to grow, venturing into unknown lands.
The weak little brother it swore to protect was no longer around.
Sooner or later, one day, Shinn would be older than it was. Though elated, Ray was a little forlorn.
Ahh, of course.
There were those last words, just those words it wanted to say.
The words it wanted to convey, but never could bring itself to say. The words it wanted to say before its death, in the dumps on that snowy night, but could never do so.
Just like before, it reached its hand out. A hand reached out from a gap in the armor, and it seemed something passed through.
The canopy of his cockpit flapped up, and during this time, a gap appeared. From that gap, flowing nanomachine seeped through, forming an arm.
In fact, there was less than a second between the trigger to the hit. The hand however continued to extend for an immeasurable amount of time, slowly, steadily reaching forth. His brother’s massive hand opened slightly, seemingly seeking something.
Shinn recalled that night, and instinctively shriveled. However, he quickly gritted his teeth, lifted his head up high, and stared at the hand before him, not flinching in the slightest.
The next moment, his brother would be burned to bits due to the cannon. For five years, he sought his brother, or to be precise, the lingering thoughts of his brother before the latter’s death. He wanted to etch this scene in his mind.
Whether it was malice or an urge to kill, he wanted to remember, even though he had no intention of bearing it.
The hand touched his neck, wrapping itself around his scarf. It resembled the hand that had tried to kill him, yet it tenderly, sadly stroked the ugly scar it had once left behind.
At that moment, he widened his eyes. The flow of time resumed as normal.
The next moment, the cannon shell hit the machine, and the explosives contained within shattered. The metal was deformed by the high temperatures and high speeds, the armor cracking from within as a result. The next moment, the massive body of the Dinosauria oozed out dark red flames.
His brother’s hand let go, seeping out through the gap of the cockpit, and back into the burning flames.
He unwittingly reached his hand out, but could not catch it in time. His brother’s hand retreated, and was devoured by the flames, burning away, so all he was grasping was a fleeting scenery that vanished in the flames, and everything seemed blurred.
Something slid down his cheeks. For a moment, Shinn did not realize what it was. Ever since he was killed by Ray, Shinn had never cried.
He did not know why he was sad, and neither could he comprehend that the feelings rising from the bottom of his heart were called anguish.
All he knew was that tears were coming out, and that he could not control himself.
“—Major. Disconnect please… that guy probably doesn’t want anyone to see him like this.”
A moment later, Raiden connected, saying it was fine, so Lena activated her Para-RAID too. The others were done, and Raiden spoke up for everyone.
Shinn’s reply remained hoarse, but it seemed he was no longer crying, back to his usual calmness, albeit with something else broken. With a chuckle, Raiden said,
“Now you can leave your brother’s name here.”
In response to that, Shinn quietly, but clearly, smiled,
And he directed his consciousness aside,
“I am here. Of course I am. I am the Handler of Spearhead Squadron after all.”
She wanted to see them off through the very end. It was not an order, nor was it an obligation, but she knew it was something she had to do.
“Conflict resolved. Good work Undertaker. And everyone else too.”
Lena deliberately called out using the codename, and Shinn showed a wry smile.
“Yes, good work, Handler One.”
“Okay,” Raiden muttered. It seemed he was stretched in the cramped space, and spoke up.
Lena suddenly blinked. Just then.
For some reason, it seemed they had all made up their minds, with Lena excluded. She was forced to watch them, flabbergasted.
“Fido, you done with the reloading?”
There was a silence, and they seemed to be waiting for something. “Fido? Ahh, that ‘Scavenger’ who’s always following us.”
“We can only do our maintenance and repairs once we find a place to sleep… used up so much ammunition on the first day. It hurts.”
“Well that’s fine isn’t it? Took out lots of them.”
“I guess… well, no choice then.”
A heavy rumbling sound rang. The five of them activated their waiting “Juggernauts,” and stood up.
“Let’s go — see you then, Major. Please take care of yourself.”
Lena heard the extremely common farewell greeting, and for a moment, she could not understand.
For the battle was over.
The enemy had retreated, and they had no casualties. Surely, they could return back to camp like usual on this day.
The teenagers ignored Lena’s concerns as they strode forth. The “Juggernauts” heavily ravaged in the intense battle gave off clattering sounds, and started chatting like children on the way to school.
“Oh yeah, you sure we’ll be fine going forward like this? There were a lot of duds fired.”
“Yes… it certainly does seem scary since these are landmines. Shinn, do you mind looking for an alternate route?”
“There are no other units around, so any way is fine… duds?”
“Let’s talk on the way. I say, Shinn, you really don’t watch wherever you’re walking, huh?”
They continued east, to the unknown battlefield controlled by the .
They would not return again.
Anxiety filled her heart, her body cold as she sensed that she was about to lose something. Lena could not take it anymore, and blurted out,
“Wait, please wait…!”
It seemed everyone stopped, and turned around, waiting for her to continue. However, Lena did not know what to say. For she was the one who had shooed them. She was the one who had ordered them to die. At this point, whether she apologized or blamed herself, it was pointless to them, so she had nothing to say.
But she inadvertently blurted out,
“Please do not leave me behind!”
A moment later, Lena realized what she had just said, and froze up. Of all things to say, this? Shameless, and perplexing it was.
But once they heard those words, they kindly smiled.
They were kind smiles, with a tinge of bitterness. They were like older siblings headed into grade school, watching their little sister pout as she yearned to go to school too.
“Oh, that’s a nice way to put it.”
Raiden grinned. His voice was filled with the determination and pride of a wild beast, striding across the prairie with his strength, along with his comrades.
“Yeah. We’re not being chased. We’re marching on. We’ll keep going on, until the very end.”
Everyone diverted their attention towards Lena again. Their eyes, their hearts were all fixed forward, towards the future.
She could sense the feeling in their hearts. It was not rugged determination, and neither was it callousness.
They were like people who had witnessed the vast seas sparkling with blue light.
They were like children who had witnessed an endless prairie in spring, who were told by their parents that they could play however they liked.
It was exhilaration, riveting emotions that could no longer be suppressed, pure ecstasy, joy, elation, an irrepressible anticipation.
She could not stop them. No words could form a shackle, a yoke.
For them, it was freedom,
It was something so precious, so difficult to obtain, even though they knew that it was their burial place, and a path leading towards that land.
Once they saw that Lena had silently accepted their goodbyes, the teenagers moved on again. However, they probably saw through the lingering unwillingness in her heart, for at the very end, Shinn smile.
For the first time, he showed a hearty smile.
It was a clear smile, devoid of any pretense.
“We shall be on our way, Major.”
The Para-RAIDs disconnected silently.
The five blips of light vanished silently. They were beyond her jurisdiction, and they were erased from her Para-RAID contact list.
From this point onwards, they would never meet again.
Tears welled out from her eyes, forming broken trails of beads. She could not rein in her sobbing.
Lena laid prone on the console, and cried out loud.
The five colored flag laid out in the horizontally reciprocal manner had long faded, and it remained hanging on the wooden wall of the barracks.
From left to right, the colors were reversed, hinting at the reversal of the values. Oppression, discrimination, bias, violence, degradation.
To the side of the five colored flag was a vandalized image of San Magnolia, who was not holding a sharp sword breaking the yoke of oppression, but chains and shackles. She was not stomping upon the chains of oppression, but the people who were derided as swine as she maintained the smile of a Saint.
That was the Republic as seen from their eyes.
Lena reached out her speckless fingers that were properly cared for, and caressed the thoroughly battered wooden wall along with the paint on it. This mural had been around for a long time, probably when the barracks was built nine years ago, and painted by the first batch of Eighty Sixers.
It had died. Long dead was the Republic, whose citizens, including Lena, had trusted in.
They were the ones who personally tore it down, trampled upon it, and discarded it without a second thought.
She closed her eyes, and sighed. She recalled the boy who could hear the ghost of the Republic, the boy who was no longer around.
After that battle, her superiors told her to maintain a low profile before her punishment was determined. However, she boarded a transport craft to the base camp Spearhead Squadron was at. The craft was filled with the next batch of soldiers gathered from various battle zones, ready to be executed. She was only able to board this craft by threatening the weak-willed, kind-hearted logistics staff soldier.
“…Major Millize, right?”
She turned her head around, and found a mechanic who was in his fifties. Lieutenant Lev Audreht, chief of the maintenance crew.
“I heard from the kids, but I never expected you to show up here. You’re a weird one.”
He spoke with a hoarse, husky voice, and raised his chin, pointing at the barracks behind her.
“They tidied up at least, but they did not leave anything behind. There’s still some time until the new kids come in, so if you’re willing, go have a look.”
“Thank you very much. I apologize for dropping by when you are busy.”
“It’s nothing. I’ve seen a few batches of kids leave already, but you’re the first Alba who came to mourn them.”
At that moment, Lena lifted her head at his sidelong, tanned face.
“…Lieutenant Audreht. Are you,”
His hair was not grey, mixed with some white. Instead, it was silver hair, wrinkled as a result of oil stains.
“An Alba… no?”
Finally, Audreht removed his sunglasses, revealing eyes as silvery as snow.
“My wife was a Heliodor. My daughter really resembled her, and since they were taken away, I couldn’t take it, and dyed my hair to follow them. Back then, I swore to have them regain their citizenship… I was useless. Negotiations failed, and I had no choice… I could only watch them go to the battlefield, and die there.”
He took a long sigh, and scratched his head.
“…You heard of his ability? That Shinn?”
“That ability’s rather famous along the eastern battlefront… when he was first assigned here, I did whisper to him, asking if there were any looking for this shitty bastard who couldn’t protect his wife and daughter.”
“I was thinking, that if they were there, I would go over and have them kill me. That brat answered that there were no calling for my name. Hearing that… I was a little relieved. At the very least, my wife and daughter aren’t left behind on the battlefield. One day, when I go over to the other side, I might be able to see them.”
The elderly mechanic chief showed a smile, somewhat forlorn, yet somewhat at peace.
But as he looked on at the distant battlefield to the east, his face was filled with sadness.
“Before every special scouting mission, I would inform every squad member of my real identity, that it was fine for them to hate me, that they could just kill me if they wanted to vent… none of the listened to me though. This time too. I’m still unable to die.”
It was as though he was complaining that he had been left behind again.
By his wife and daughter… and the many children he had watched over up to this point.
He put on his sunglasses again, probably to hide the swelling emotions, and crudely said,
“What? Didn’t I say there isn’t much time now? …Hurry on.”
“Yes… thank you very much.”
She bowed to Audreht, and passed him by, entering the barracks.
The barracks made of shoddy materials was filled with grey and brown, and it was a dilapidated sight to see.
The corridor was a little white due to years of materials aging, along with the dust. The wooden floor was popping up everywhere, and as she stepped forward, it was creaking.
The cafeteria and kitchen were completely covered in oil and stains that could not be cleaned. In no way could it be considered clean.
The bathroom resembled a gas chamber from the documentaries, damp and dark. In a corner, there was something black shaking.
There was no washing machine, no vacuum cleaner, just a broom and pan, along with some pails and boards filled with jagged marks at the pond in the back garden. These were all the cleaning tools they had.
There was no sign of civilization to be seen. Lena was utterly embarrassed to think that this was the lifestyle a developed, humane country granted its people.
She came to the sleeping quarters of the Processors on the second floor. She stepped on the stairs, and the wooden floor contorted, making creaking sounds in protest.
The cramped room was filled with old, narrow pipe beds and closets. The colors had faded away due to dust, time, and sunlight, and the room was all tidied up, no presence of its original residents to be sensed, only piles of cleaned blankets, bedsheets, and pillows awaiting the next batch of residents.
The innermost room was the most spacious, for the squad leader to use. She nudged the shaky door aside, and it let out a creak.
It too contained a narrow pipe bed and a closet, but this room contained a desk too, along with items of various sizes.
An old guitar, a deck of poker cards, a tabletop game, and some working tools.
A book of crossword puzzles with its pages scattered everywhere, only spaces of unsolved ones remaining.
A sketch book without any illustrations, completely blank.
A basket containing laces and needles, with nothing done.
A small bookshelf hastily made with boards, containing various books of various genres and authors, and it seemed the owner had no particular preferences.
Perhaps they were not tidied up as they could be used for the next batch of squad members. Everything else that was created was all discarded, for they knew they could not be left behind.
She could hear their laughter.
They knew nothing would be left behind, but these youths did their best to laugh and live through every single day.
They never succumbed to despair
They never let hatred blemish their pride.
In the harsh circumstances that could have trampled upon their dignity, they insisted upon a human dignity anyone would be proud of.
She came to the bookshelf, and found a black kitten with four white feet, seemingly wondering where the previous occupants had gone to. Outside the window, the soldiers were gathering Processors who had their photos taken.
Looking at this room, it seemed she could not find anything. She took out the book written by an author she had heard of, and flipped through it, trying to at least understand what it was about.
At this moment, something slipped out from between the pages.
She picked it up. A few pieces of paper. The one on top was a photo depicting a group of people standing before a building.
She could see the reversed five colored flag. The photo was taken at this camp. Standing at the front were the maintenance crew members dressed in jumpsuits, along with twenty or so teenagers.
Lena understood without any explanation needed. They were the members of Spearhead Squadron that had existed until the previous day. It was likely the first photo of the squad when it was formed, including Shinn, Raiden, Seo, Krena, Angel, and the other members.
The size of this photo that was used for a case file was not big to begin with, and to ensure that all twenty four Processors and mechanics were included, every single person was small and blurry. For some reason, even the old “Scavenger” was included. That was likely to be Fido.
It was the first time she had seen them. As the photo was too small however, and as it was taken from too far away, she was unable to see their appearances clearly. However, she could see them standing erratically, facing the camera, smiling serenely.
The second piece of paper contained a messy, strong handwritten note of a male.
“If you’re looking for us now, and find this piece of paper, that makes you a real idiot.”
This time, she gasped.
It was Raiden. He did not sign off, but it was clearly written for Lena.
If you’re looking for us now, and find this piece of paper, that makes you a real idiot.
Are you not the same? You left this piece of paper for me, this one line.
The piece of paper underneath had the names of many written messily. Obviously, it was written so that Lena could tell whoever was at which position.
“Writing my name now. You’re probably crying away since you can’t tell who is who here.”
“Keep that cat. Since you like to act nice, isn’t it fine?”
“It does not have a name, so please come up with a cute name for it, Major.”
She held the paper with trembling hands. The feelings rising in her heart filled her chest.
They left words for her. They left their final words for her, who could not fight alongside them, who could not save them, and could only stamp on their heads, saying useless, pretty words.
The last piece of paper contained words written by Shinn. The tidy words and nonchalant attitude was so typical of him.
“If one day, we arrive at the end of our journey, do you mind providing flowers for us?”
It was a simple line of words, yet it contained a proverbial message.
At the very end of their lives was the freedom Shinn and the others yearned for. Lena had to take a step forward to reach their destination.
Lena too could continue to move on.
Do not succumb to despair, nor trample upon the dignity of humanity, and keep on moving forward, until the very end of your life.
Yes, I believe you can, until the very end.
A tear fell down her cheek, filled with some warmth, and moreso anguish. Despite this, she showed a smile.
Shinn had said that it was only a matter of time until the Republic fell. It was destined to fail, for it remained arrogant, and forgot to protect itself.
Perhaps this country could not avoid its impending doom. That day might be tomorrow.
But she was to continue fighting until the very end, never to give up, to live on, and to struggle until the very end, just like those indomitable people who proudly lived from beginning to end.
To keep fighting. Until the end of her destiny, until her final moments.