Chapter 2 – Im Westen nichts Neues
“129 days till Run Out Date!! Fucking Glory to Spearhead Squadron!!”
On an inner wall of a black garage that had already faded in color due to weather, there was an old blackboard picked up by someone unknown, and those large words in colored chalk stated the countdown.
Shinn lifted his eyes from his clipboard, and spotted this one optimistic line on the board. In fact, they should have a hundred and nineteen days. When Kujo was assigned to this squadron, he would update that number every day.
Ten days ago, he died.
Shinn had stopped to look at the countdown, and lowered his head back to the maintenance records on the clipboard. The “Juggernaut” remained on standby in the hangar. He went towards his personal unit.
The bright red eyes of a Pyrope, and the short hair of the Onyx. He had inherited the noble bloodlines of both the Pyropes and the Onyx, and of who they called the Eighty Sixers, he had the most defining characteristics of the Colorata.
His handsome face was etched with poise and a calmness unbefitting of his age, somewhat aloof, and his slender body and white skin reflected his old identity as a member of the Empire’s nobility. The landscape of the Eastern frontier was mostly dominated by forests, grasslands, and wetlands, yet he was dressed in desert camouflage of dirt yellow and dark brown, for those were salvaged from the corpses in the deadstock of the Republic. The collar was messy, but he did not have to tidy himself, for no superior was there to supervise. The blue scarf was wrapped around his neck.
The sound of machinery churning echoed in the hangar, as maintenance continued on while the repair crew were growling at each other. At the courtyard before the hangar, there were a bunch of people playing some two vs two basketball with strange rules. A leisurely guitar riff came from somewhere, an old anime song being played. Kino was lazing in his cockpit with its transparent hatch, reading a porno, and waved at Shinn once he spotted the latter approach.
It may have been the frontlines, but the members of this base had it free and easy on days without battle.
According to the report sent to the Handler, it should be the time for patrol in the Contest Area. This should have been a daily routine, but the squadron had deemed it to be pointless, and did not do so. Of those who wanted to go out and about, they went to the nearby towns to scavenge, while the others went down to work on the chores they were assigned (cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, planting vegetables, feeding the hens, and so on), or just killed time.
The military boots echoed crassly upon the floor, and following that was a bellow louder than a tank’s, one that echoed through the hangar.
“Shinn! Shinei Nouzen! You made a mess again, you bastard!”
Like a cockroach, Kino scampered from the cockpit to the shadows, while Shinn merely stared at the shouter with a blank face.
“What, you say, Undertaker!? You bastard—!”
Quickly storming towards Shinn was a man with the savage face of a watchdog, donning sunglasses plus a few strands of white hair amidst the grey, a mechanic who was approximately fifty, wearing oil-stained clothes.
The maintenance chief of Spearhead Squadron, Lev Audreht. The sixteen-year-old Shinn was considered a senior amongst the Processors, but Audreht was a survivor of the first batch of recruits nine years ago, an elder amongst the seniors.
“Why do you have to wreck the machine so much every time you sortie? The actuator and the dampener are rattling again. Its wheels aren’t that stable, how many times have I told you to stop being reckless!?”
“You think a simple apology will settle this!? I’m not making you apologise, I’m changing you for the better right here. One of these days, you’re going to die in some stupid battle! We’re already running out of spare parts, and until the next resupply, repairs are unlikely!”
“What about the second unit?”
“Yeaaahhh we have the second unit all thanks to that certain leader wrecking the units until we had only two spare units left! Maintaining your personal unit alone takes triple the amount of time it does for the other Processors. Who do you think you are, a Prince!?”
“The feudal system was abolished in the revolution three hundred years ago.”
“You sure are a shitty brat… given how you’re wearing them out and wrecking them, two or three units won’t be enough until the next resupply and sortie dates, you hear me!? What do you want me to do, pray for you not to wreck it? What next, hope the scrap metal won’t come haunting you over the next hundred years or something, huh!?”
“Fido probably had Kujo’s unit scavenged.”
Shinn said these words with his usual monotonous tone, and Audreht was momentarily silent.
“Yeah, we can get some spare parts from that Kujo’s unit… but I don’t want to do it. Seriously, don’t you think something is wrong about it? Putting on the unit of the dead onto your own?”
Shinn turned his head around slightly, and pointed at the armor of his personal “Juggernaut,” the “Undertaker.” There was a spray painted skeleton wielding a shovel beneath the canopy, one without a head.
Audreht could only grimace.
“No point nitpicking the details now… this is what you mean huh, Undertaker?”
The elderly mechanic nodded in thought, and turned to the ajar hangar shutters, at the endless plains of Spring.
The sky, so tall, so distant, was blue and cloudless, melting everything beneath it. Under it, the lapis-colored Cornflower and the emerald young grass glittered, the scenery depicted endless as it became the grave of millions of Eighty-Sixers scattered all over the battlefield.
The Eighty-Sixers had no graves. They did not exist, and naturally, had no graves; even reclaiming their corpses was forbidden.
The pigs with the appearance of humans had no right to rest, and no freedom to be mourned over by their friends. That was the state of the world created by their own country nine years ago, and still maintained up to this point.
“That Kujo was blown to smithereens, wasn’t he?”
Automated mines, faceless anti-personnel weapons with four limbs, their bodies filled with explosives; they were hideous, so resembling humans to an extent such that when viewed from a distance, they could be mistaken for casualties. Kujo went to assist another squadron in a night skirmish, and picked one up.
“Now that’s just great. He’s there now, right?”
Personally, Shinn did not believe in the existence of Heaven or Hell, but he was willing to believe Kujo’s soul had left this place, and found its solace.
Audreht gave an intriguing look.
“That Kujo’s lucky to be in the same squadron as you when he died… these guys too.”
The ball entered the hoop, and the tattered net swayed as the court erupted in cheers. The anime song echoed in the company of the guitar riff, together with the random lyrics as delighted singing reverberated across the farms within the camp.
Audreht knew very well that the scenery before them was never to be seen in any of the other squadrons.
Continuous battles. Daily patrols against the ‘s raids. Extreme tension and fear would drain a person’s psyche, and across battles, friends would be lost. As every day was critically arduous for them, they had no possible times for any daily human life, let alone relaxation or entertainment.
Yet this squadron could relax, and not worry about any enemy raids, despite being unable to avoid any raids.
“…These guys here are able to live peacefully because of you, Shinn.”
“The one with three times the armor maintenance of the other processors is me, right?”
Audreht was left speechless. Shinn could only shrug upon facing the displeased look beneath the sunglasses.
“Brat… just a little joke, and you took it for real.”
“I do feel bothered by this. Though I haven’t expressed this through actions.”
“Fool. Us mechanic’s job is to make sure you brats come back alive. One or two units isn’t much as long you guys come home. We’ve got to repair them no matter how tough it is.”
He rattled off this spiel of words, and turned aside bashfully.
“…Anyway, our Handler has changed again. What kind of person is it this time?”
“Yeah… say something…”
“That seems to be the case.”
Due to the frequent changes, Shinn had long forgotten their names. In fact, the Processors would never care about the existence of the Handlers.
For the Handlers had long abandoned their duties. Once there were one too many Eintagsflieges, the radar would be unable to transmit the data, and the HQ in the mainland far away would be able to command effectively. Thus, the Processors would never care about the Handlers, for their existences did not matter.
Thus, the duty of the Handler was merely relegated to supervising the Processor, and that was the job’s scope. The mission the Handler was left with, was to suppress the rebellious spirit of the Eighty-Sixers, using the Para-RAID that allowed them to monitor every action, and thoroughly dominate them.
Shinn recalled the infrequent conversations over the past week, and said,
“Got more writing work. Looks like I have to write a new patrol report every week.”
“…They haven’t been reading them, and the only audacious one sending the same carelessly written reports from five years ago is you.”
To wit, he did not change the dates and location, and ever since then, they had never went on patrol, so everything included in the patrol was a sham. Shinn was dumbfounded that such reports remained undetected.
“Did you send a past document here on accident?” He recalled the calm, silver bell-like voice pointing out this issue, and sighed. “Never thought you would have a careless moment.” She chuckled as she said, her laughter filled with pure kindness and sincerity.
“On the day she was appointed, we synchronized as she wanted to greet us, and she said we are to keep in contact in the future, so there’ll be contact at least once a day. I guess it’s a rare type among the Republic’s army.”
“Sounds like a kind one… well, she’s going to suffer now. Poor one.”
Shinn had the same thought, and did not answer.
In this world, justice or ideals were both powerless and pointless—
And for some reason, Shinn turned towards the endless plains of Springs, as though someone had beckoned for him.
“Ba dum tss! Now this is really a ‘Pig living outside the Grand Mur!’”
“Very funny, Haruto.”
At the cookhouse of the army, Seo, who bravely volunteered to control the fire of the massive pot containing the berry jam, bluntly retorted at the tomfoolery of the boy in his squadron. He was a Jade, with blond hair and green eyes, sixteen years old, a little short and scrawny.
The Rubies boy Haruto hanging the massive wild boar at the entrance of the courtyard opened his arms wide to emphasize his delight, and scratched his head.
He did not have any duties for the day, and went boar hunting in the nearby forest.
“Hmm, what’s with the lack of reaction? That was funny, right?”
“If I have to say, it’s a cold joke… but well.”
Seo dropped the sketch book he had in hand, and sized up the hunt before his eyes. It was probably dragged over by a “Juggernaut,” but it might have been difficult for one to hunt it, for it was a monstrously large boar.
“This is amazing. It’s big.”
“Isn’t it!? We’re having a barbeque tonight! Where’s Raiden? And Angel? I want to switch dinner duty with them.”
“Well, Shinn’s the one in charge today. Raiden went to ‘town’ to search for stuff, while Angel and the other girls are in charge of washing clothes today.”
Haruto stared at Seo.
“When was that decided?”
“Probably… after breakfast.”
“It’s almost noon.”
Even though they had to do the laundry for the entire camp, with six people washing, it would be impossible for them to not be done.
The washing point was by the riverside, and it’s a bright sunny Spring day.
Haruto broke into a leer.
“…So now they’re bathing. The river’s Heaven now, right!?”
“Before you go to Heaven for real, they do all have guns with them.”
Haruto froze up immediately. Seo sighed hard, took up the wooden scoop, and stirred the pot. Once he saw that that the berry jam was almost done, he extinguished the fire.
He was about to close the lid when his Para-RAID activated.
When he was commissioned, Seo had a RAID device implanted into the back of his neck, and there was also an earring data tag for registration synchronization. The RAID device and the earring activated at the same time, creating a hallucinatory heat. He tapped at his earring with his fingertip, and switched to communication mode.
Once the Para-RAID was synchronized, Seo’s green eyes became icy cold. Not far away was Haruto, the latter’s hand cupping his ear as the smile vanished from his face, with whom he exchanged looks with.
“Shinn… what now?”
The washing point was at the riverside. The river was wide, and lots of water body could be seen, the six female members of Spearhead were enjoying a water fight amidst the river flow.
“What are you doing, Kaie. Hurry over.”
Krena stopped in her tracks once she spotted her fidgeting squadmate, and called out to the latter. She had short Agate brown hair and the golden topaz eyes of a cat.
She had taken off her combat uniform and tied the sleeves on her waist, the olive drab tank top showing the curves of her body in the middle of the day, but none of her friends were bashful despite being dressed as such.
“No, well, thinking about it, it’s a little embarrassing…”
Kaie was a black haired girl with black eyes and white silky skin of ivory. Though her tone was similar to a boy’s, she was a girl. Her eyes were slightly red, probably mindful of the tank top sticking to the body. The ponytail as long as a knight’s helmet decoration draped upon her flat cleavage, giving off an alluring vibe.
“And is it really okay for us to be having a water fight… warrgh!!”
Angel, with her blueish-silver hair scattered on the back, scooped water with her hands and splashed it at Kaie. The former did not remove her uniform, but she had her zipper pulled to her belly, and for this posh lady, it was a daring getup for her. The silver hair proved her identity as an Adularia, but as she had inherited the light blue eyes of her great grandmother, a Celesta, she was deemed as an Eighty Six by the radicalized Republic, and banished to the borders.
“You’re being so serious, Kaie. It’s fine, our clothes are washed anyway.”
The other girls started to chime in,
“And Shinn will understand.”
“Ah yes. He also said it’s hot today. Showed a rare smile even.”
“Well that’s kind of understandable, even from that stone-faced leader.”
Saying that, they suddenly smiled at Krena.
“Th-That’s not it! That’s not what I meant!”
“What’s so good about that guy who always seem to have something on his mind?”
“I said it’s not!”
“Anyway, your thoughts, Kaie?”
“Shinn? Hmm, I personally don’t think he’s bad. Not much of a talker, stoic, but he’s fine.”
“Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wait a sec, Akie!?”
Krena suddenly panicked, and Kaie stifled her laugh. Krena really was easy to read.
“I see, I see. But since nobody’s got him, I’m going to strike first. Let’s show him an Eastern ‘night raid’ tonight, as quickly as possible…”
“K-Kaie!? E-Erm, I don’t have any thoughts about Shinn, but, I don’t think that’s good! You sh-should be more like a Yamato Nadeshiko, or something.”
Krena reacted flusteredly, and the girls smirked in unison.
“””You’re so cute, Krena.”””
A moment later, and Krena realized she was had.
“Yo, found you.”
The forest rustled, and their squadmate Daiya showed his face. He was a tall lanky one, with bright blond hair and emerald eyes befitting a Sapphire.
Just to note, he was a boy.
Daiya was assaulted by the supersonic weapons from all the women, who were probably equipped with such weapons since birth, along with all kinds of throwable items, and he hastily retreated behind the shrubs.
“Hey! Who threw a pistol!? It’s dangerous if it’s loaded!”
Daiya, struck directly during this second assault, finally went silent.
The girls hastily put on their clothes, and Angel approached.
“So, Daiya, what is it?”
“It’d be great if you could ask me ‘Are you alright?’ with a cute voice now, Angel.”
“Well are you fine Daiya?”
“Ah, my bad, please don’t say that with a blank face or I’ll cry…”
Kaie latched the velcro of her combat uniform, saw that the others had dressed up, and said,
“Yep, Daiya, you can come out now… what is it?”
“Ah yes. Actually, I have a part-time job as a messenger for today.”
It seemed someone had requested that he deliver a message. Krena used her arms to futilely cover her voluptuous body that could not be camouflaged by the combat uniform, pouting unhappily.
“You could have contacted us through the Para-RAID. Why come here?”
Daiya scratched his head.
“Well, won’t it be awkward to communicate with you girls through Para-RAID when you’re playing around, and that I’ll accidentally eavesdrop on your love stories? Most likely it’s about ‘Krena really likes Shinn~’ or something like that.”
Krena’s face went beetroot upon hearing him speak with a cutesy tone she would never use, and the female squadmates next to her started chatting away.
“Hmm. Peeping’s unforgivable, but this decision is the right one.”
“We personally don’t mind, but Krena definitely can’t take it.”
“And we were talking about this just now.”
“Oh yeah, if Shinn’s synchronized with us next time, have her say it out loud. Let’s see his reaction then.”
“Krena just said that Shinn was horrible, always the stone-faced death god, never changing his expressions, not cute at all.”
“I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I didn’t say that! Stop it already!!”
“””You’re so cute, Krena.”””
“WAHHHH!! You idiots!!!”
Krena, who was teased by everyone present (including Daiya), cupped her head as she screamed.
Kaie was huffing her shoulders as she laughed, and asked,
“So, what is it about? Whatever you’re supposed to say.”
Upon hearing that, Daiya immediately erased all expression from his face.
“Ahh… it’s from that Shinn.”
And upon those words, the girls’ faces tensed up immediately.
Man does not live on bread alone.
Thousands of years ago, an ethereal savior once said so, and to this day it remained a classic adage. In a person’s life, there is always a need for additional things to enrich the mind and body, like snacks, coffee, music, games, and such. The white swines of the Republic who dumped them into this Hell never gave them anything other than the bare minimum, for they probably assumed there was no need to.
On the other hand, if Man wanted to live on, the primary issue would be to first fill the stomach.
“Alright Fido, we’ve got a problem here.”
It was a town reduced to rubble, and from time to time, they would search this town for some food that could be preserved for long, some vegetables growing in the gardens of some homes, pets that had become wild after escaping from captivity in the chaos of war, and abandoned entertainment.
They were at a plaza buried under the rubble. The Vice-Commander Raiden put down the synthesized food and the compressed bread, produced in the base’s factory and obtained from the emergency storeroom of a town hall raid shelter. His uniform was loose, showing his massive, tall body. He was a pure-blood Eisen, his dark metal short head and sharp face showing a robotic body.
The “Scavenger” was a drone that would tail the “Juggernaut” and resupply the latter with ammunition and energy packs. It was lanky, with four short legs, unappealing in appearance. At this point, one such “Scavenger” opposite him had its head lowered, sizing up the objects before it through the lens-shaped optical sensor.
“Which one is the trash?”
Fido immediately reached out its mechanical arm and tossed the synthesized food aside.
Raiden watched the white object roll afar, and picked up the bread left behind, chewing on it. Even a drone knew it was trash. The tongues of those white swines must have been infected given how they had just flatly deemed it as food.
All Concentration Camps and bases had production plants and automated factories for the necessities required for battle.
The power source and production control inputs came from the underground cables, coming from the other side of the Wall, and this was the automated food resupply system that was needlessly posh. However, the ones controlling this system were the white swines who had deemed them as pigs, and the produce were of the bare minimum quality, the thing called food that was synthesized out of it looking like plastic bombs, without exception, and the taste so unpleasant, one might become dumber.
Thus, one would have to search through the dumps abandoned nine years ago if real food was to be found. Luckily, this squadron had no need for patrol, and lots of time and energy packs could be conserved for the squadmates to search through towns while piloting the “Juggernaut.”
“So Fido, we’re looking for stuff other than that trash today. Get as much as you want, including other kinds of food.”
Raiden, seated on the ground like a delinquent, stood up, and Fido followed him with creaking footsteps. One of their missions as “Scavengers” was to fill their cockpits with anything from the debris of the machines, including bullet casings. Raiden’s instructions however were a little weird.
To wit, the term “Scavenger” was just a moniker. If the supplies on hand were insufficient in battle, they would pick up usable items from destroyed “Juggernauts” or other “Scavengers.” Out of battle, they would wander the battlefield, and pick up items that could be used. Thus, the Processors simply called them “Scavengers.” They were reliable squadmates, alleviating the worries about insufficient ammunition or energy packs, vultures who greedily searched their dead.
Fido was a “Scavenger” who followed by Shinn’s side for five years.
It was said that it was picked up by Shinn after the latter’s squad encountered an enemy assault, and he ended up as the lone survivor, not completely destroyed, but its mobility lost.
It had the bare minimum learning capability, but a mere broken robot that was picked up would not have the intelligence for gratitude. Ever since then, Fido would always prioritize Shinn as the one to resupply, would follow him no matter the squad he was assigned to, and be by his side immediately whenever he sortied. Unlike the “Scavengers” who would not bother about feelings, it did showcase some semblance of loyalty. It was an old model that began service in the beginning of the war, and as it had been in service for long, it probably learned more things.
And to this drone that obediently followed its master, Shinn merely named it as “Fido.” A name appropriate for a dog. Like Pochi or Shiro… as expected, there was something wrong with that lad’s head.
Fido suddenly stopped behind Raiden, and the latter turned around.
He looked over at where the optical sensors were aiming, and saw the white bones that had long faded in color, huddled up at the bottom of a massive tree giving in the shadows of the rubble.
So that was what he was being called for. Raiden approached the corpse. The uniform was completely tattered, the dismembered arms still grabbing the assault rifle until the very end. His neck had an identification tag latched to a chain, and he did not seem to be an Eighty-Sixer. Probably, he was one of the Republic’s Orthodox army who fought nine years ago, until the very end.
A tad later, Pi, Fido let out another electronic sound, asking if it could drag some things back. Outside of battle, it would prioritize picking up leftovers from the dead, probably a habit it had picked up from Shinn. It would never touch corpses, however, for the white swines had forbidden them from reclaiming corpses.
After a pause, Raiden shook his head.
“No need… just leave him here.”
He recognized this tree before him. The Sakura. It was a tree that originated from the Far East of the continent, blooming with flowers when Spring started. This year, during the blooming season, per Kaie’s suggestion, every member of the squad visited this eyecatching tree to marvel the flowers. The pink petals merged into the night as the full moon illuminated it back then, making it beautiful.
The soldier remained on the carpet of petals, looking up at the radiant flowers; there was no reason to bury him and deny him the light of day.
This may have been one of the Albas, but he did experience battle, and was a warrior who gave his body for his country; he should not be deemed a white swine.
After a short moment of silence, he looked up, and felt a hallucinatory heat from his ear.
“—To all forces on a stroll. Do you hear me?”
“Seo? What is it?”
The clear voice could be heard within striking distance. As representative of all synchronized members in the dumps, Raiden responded.
“A sudden change in the weather report. A storm is coming.”
Raiden narrowed his eyes. To the East, in the skies above the areas controlled by , some faint silver could be seen spreading, the color so faint that he, who had exceptional vision, had to squint his eyes to pick out.
The Eintagsfliege of the <Legion? were the size of a butterfly, able to absorb and refract visible light and electromagnetic waves, jamming the signals across a battlefield. These drones would lead the way whenever a raid began, nullifying the enemy’s radar, and perfectly protecting their allies. They were the crux for whenever the launched their raids.
“I’m guessing in about two hours. It looks like other forces will be meeting up behind the ones closest to us. Resupply, more or less.”
The closest forces were so far that eyes could not make them out, and the radar was already disabled. However, Seo… no, the one saying that could determine the actual situation as though it was in the palm of his hands.
“Understood. Returning immediately — Chise, Clotho. Meet at the entrance of Route 12.”
“Looks like there’s no ‘Shepherd’ this time, just a head on fight. There might be changes in the enemy’s routes, but we’ll set up an ambush near Point 304 and clean them up in one fell swoop.”
Raiden gave commands to his scout team and returned to his personal unit not too far away; Seo’s voice was filled with an urge to smile as he said this in response. Raiden showed a savage smirk on his face.
“Just ‘Sheep’ huh? Good time to hunt.”
While the actual situation was more dire than they described, the tactics of the “Sheep” were simple without a “Shepherd” leading them, and a lot easier to deal with. Having knowledge of the enemy’s strength beforehand, they would feel more relieved than ever.
Goodness sake, this great ol’ death god. Raiden thought, and frowned.
What was the former thinking?
That red-eyed death god roaming the battlefield, seeking lost heads.
Raiden and the others returned to base, and saw eighteen other units on standby, ready to sortie. Seo’s unit was the one closest to the entrance, and he smiled like a mischievous cat.
“You’re slow, Raiden. Thought you stepped on a landmine.”
“Came back as fast as I could. Also, enough with the landmine jokes.”
Kujo was blown apart by an automated landmine. In the two months since this squadron was formed, he was the third KIA.
The thinning rate of the processors was extremely high. Every year, hundreds of thousands were conscripted, and a year later, less than a thousand remained. Although, this was a great improvement as compared to their forefathers, who could only tussle up close. Back then, the only way to fight was to charge into the camp with rockets or bombs in hands, such that the casualty rate each day would be at least fifty percent.
In contrast, while the KIA rate of this squad was strangely low, the fact remained that this was the frontline.
There was no battlefield without losses incurred.
The arrival of Death would always be sudden, and fair.
“Everyone here? Listen up.”
Everyone straightened up once they heard the quiet voice that traveled far.
The map of the First Battle Zone was clouded with a transparent cover containing the necessary information for the operation. Shinn was already before them, as though moonlight shone down upon him.
His white face was accompanied by a familiar desert camouflage uniform, and the emblem of Captain indicating his identity as leader; the blue scarf continued to flutter around his neck, and that was one of the sources of his ominous nickname.
The head of this death god was long gone, but remained hidden under the scarf, or something like that.
“I shall explain the situation.”
This squad leader, nicknamed the “Death God,” spotted the grim looks of his squadmates in his cold red eyes.
The briefing over the enemy numbers, progression routes and planned countermeasures was extremely simple, yet clear. All of the processors boarded the “Juggernauts.” Each of them, face or physique-wise, were youthful soldiers, in their mid-to-late teens.
Once the last part was sealed within the hatch, the twenty one armored units awoke from their slumber.
The M1A4 “Juggernaut,” a multi-pedaled armored weapon unmanned drone that had men within.
Its four limbs were thin and long, supporting the little pupa-shaped body of light brown armor, like aged bones. The unit had two heavy machine guns as subarms, a pair of wire anchors, and a 57mm mounted cannon on the back.
From afar, the machine resembled a wandering spider, and the combat weapons swinging at the front, along with the main cannon on the back, resembled the claws and tail of a scorpion. This was the burial place of their Eighty Sixer compatriots.
The ambush was to be set up in an abandoned city. Shinn was hidden in a corner of a collapsed Church, camped in the cramped cockpit of the “Juggernaut,” and opened his eyes that had been closed.
The area of this kill zone was a main street, and they had divided into various teams, scattered along the corners of the street to assure that firing range would not overlap. The vanguard team comprising of Number One and Number Three (Shinn and Seo) had acted independently from the Covering Team comprising of Number Two and Number Four (Raiden and Kaie), flanking the street. The grenadier team led by Number Five (Daiya) and the sniper team led by Number Six (Krena) were hidden at the other side of the street, waiting in place.
Shinn callously stared at the holographic screen of little visibility, detected the enemy numbers and formations, and narrowed his eyes.
The cockpit of the “Juggernaut” was similar to a fighter jet, with various switches lined on both a left and right joystick, and an LCD display showing various instruments. Unlike the anti-wind hatch of the fighter jet however, the cockpit of the “Juggernaut” was completely covered, and it was impossible to see the outside. Instead, there was a three dimensional optical screen and a holographic window for showing messages, providing the pilot with intel but not alleviating the darkness and confined spaces at all. One could say it was a coffin.
The enemy’s formation was as expected, scattered in the shape of wheat—the scouting team leading the vanguard, and four teams at the tip of the wheat. Such was the classic offensive formation of the armor squad, textbook-like, in fact. Numbers and capabilities-wise, the was always superior, and it would not use any unpredictable formations. Thus, they could be easily identified.
No matter the prediction, the enemy would send in a large fighting force to win with numbers. Such was the tactic that had never changed.
In the face of this , the nickname well deserved, it would be hard to beat it even with double the manpower, and a typical army would have chosen to retreat due to despair and helplessness. However, the fighting style of the “Juggernauts,” the Eighty Sixers, had always been to fight many, the overwhelmingly many, with few.
Suddenly, Shinn recalled a line from long before, when someone recited a line from the Bible.
He could no longer that person’s face and voice.
All he could remember was the final scene, and the voice.
And that line.
—et interrogabat eum.
Raiden heard Shinn mutter something through the Para-RAID, as though it was some noise, and put his leg down, sitting upright. He was hidden under the rubble, his main screen buried under the grey concrete, the radar in passive mode.
Shinn was not speaking in their mother tongue, the Republic’s language, and he could not understand. All he could hear was dicit ei legio nomen mihi. Seo snapped in annoyance,
“Shinn, were you reading the Bible just now? That’s poor taste from you. Especially when you’re using that line right now!”
“What did he just say?”
“When the Messiah asked if they were demons or dead spirits, they answered, ‘Legion,’ for we are many.”
Raiden went silent. Of course, it was horrible.
Suddenly, there was another person synchronized in the Para-RAID.
“Handler One to all units. My apologies for being late.”
The delightful silver bell voice entered their ears through the Para-RAID. It appeared this new Handler was assigned here after the previous one was terrified by this “death god” and resigned as a result. From her voice, it appeared she was of similar age to them.
“Enemy approaching. Please intercept at Point 208.”
“Undertaker to Handler One. Confirming. Deployment at Point 304 complete.”
Shinn flatly answered. There seemed to be a gasp from the other end of the Para-RAID.
“How fast… impressive on your part, Undertaker.”
The Handler marveled with sincerity. Of course, Raiden muttered in his heart. Shinn and the other squadmates had personal codenames, indicating that they were veterans.
Most processors would use call signs based on their squad names and numbers. Those who were not named as such were veterans, who survived a year of battlefields when the survival rate was less than a single percent. They were blessed with talents and elements those killed never had; they were demons, death gods, taking the form of monsters.
All the processors in Spearhead had their unique “call signs,” and they were veterans with four, five years of combat experience. They were not handicapped in any way, even with the Princess hiding behind the city’s walls.
But at the same time, he was quietly impressed.
Given the knowledge that the would be attacking, Point 208 would be deduced as the optimal point to counter. It had been a week since she had taken duty, but it seemed she was not simply a kind one.
The sensors by the feet resonated. The holographic window popped out before him, and zoomed in.
Before them, there was the debris of a building down the main street they were flanking, and there appeared a black spot at the other end as the sun shone down; following that, the horizon was covered in metal.
They have arrived.
The monster army of robots swarmed the grey dumps, like a shadow eating into the light, looming towards them.
The units were lined accordingly, each team fifty to a hundred meters between them. Even the lightest of them, the scouts (Ameise) were more than ten tonnes in weight, yet when they advanced, they would let out a soft rattling of the bones, and no footsteps to be heard. Only the rustling of the leaves … as they spread before them.
Such was a surreal yet regal sight.
Three pairs of legs advanced at the front, shuffling their legs, the complex sensor unit beneath their abdomens and the 7.62mm anti-personnel guns on the shoulders shook before them. Such were the Ameise who were like piranhas.
There was also the close range hunting type (Grauwolf), a terrifying unit resembling a six legged shark, with 76mm anti-tank rocket launchers on the back, and high frequency blades on the front pair of legs reflecting a dull light.
They were accompanied by fifty ton tanks (Löwe) with eight legs barely supporting the weight, bearing a terrifyingly overwhelming 120mm smoothbore cannon as it marched on with uppity.
The massive flock of Eintagsfliege drones scattered in the skies above blocked off the sun, casting shadows onto the ground. The nanomachines forming the blood and neural system of the created husks due to metabolism, fluttering in the air like silver powder or white snow.
The Ameise scouts entered the kill zone. It passed by the first team in ambush, leading the rest forward, until the final Löwe had entered—
All of them entered.
Shinn ordered. At the same time, all units on standby squeezed the trigger in unison.
The first shot came from the fourth team, aiming at the vanguard, and at the same time, team one fired cannons from the back. The weak Ameise and the Löwe with thin armor at the back were shot down, disabled as a result, and before the rest of the could ready themselves, the other combat units unleashed cannons through them.
Explosions. Booms. The shattered metal chips and the silver blood of the the nanomachines splattered along with the black flames.
At the same time, the twenty one “Juggernauts” turned immediately.
Some of them continued to fire while leaving their cover, while some quickly dispersed while using obstacles as cover, moving to the back or sides of their squadmates firing at the , and then fired away. Those that fired initially left their cover and began to flank the enemy.
The “Juggernaut” was a failure as a machine.
Thin aluminium alloy could not stand up to the barrage of a heavy machine gun. Though its mobility was far superior to a caterpillar tank, the cannon’s firepower was pitifully little compared to the Löwe.
The delicate four limbs could only withstand lighter weight, probably because the programming time for movement was too short (the more legs there were, the more complex the programming required), the pressure on the legs remained massive, and the legs would easily lose footing at the softer terrain of the swamps along the Eastern frontier. Combat robots in movies and anime were often depicted to run and jump with much speed, even in air, but those were an unattainable dream for this machine. One might even laugh in ridicule, for it was a moveable coffin.
The “Juggernaut,” so vulnerable to one hit, could barely muster a fight against the weakly armed Ameise, and was unable to fight a Grauwolf or a Löwe head on. Typically, they could only coordinate with multiple units and use the landscape and obstacles to make up for the deficiency in mobility, duck to the flank or back where the weaker armor was, and attack. Such was the tactic that had passed on for seven years, derived from the Eighty Sixers predecessors who had made terrible sacrifices, developed these techniques, inherited them, and passed them on to others.
The processors of Squad Spearhead relied on this to survive years on the battlefield, and were more familiar with this than anyone else. Chemistry was developed in the squad, such that they could understand each other, and fluidly fight on without the need for additional instructions and contact.
Before he knew it, his lips showed a sneer.
We have the protection of the “death god” here.
The “Juggernaut” bearing the spray painted headless skeleton, the “Undertaker,” quickly darted through the collapsed buildings and the shadows beneath the rubble.
The enemy’s shots could not hit him, and he never missed. He could rely on skillful routes to attack the blind spots of the enemy, or lead them into his squadmates kill zone’ to be eliminated, whether they were Ameise, Grauwolf, or Löwe.
Shinn’s mission was to deliberately charge into enemy ranks alone and break up their coordination, slicing his way through. He focused on close ranged combat against the Point Man of the enemy which was the style he was best at.
The red signals indicating the enemy attackers did not vanish, as his bloody red eyes were no longer watching the radar filled with them. Like a real death god, he affirmed the order of enemy machines to be destroyed with his cold eyes. Suddenly, he was rattled by a little lament.
Again, he would not show up, huh?
This meaningless thought remained in his mind for just a moment, before it was scattered along with the massive explosion as he immediately squeezed the trigger. His eyes and thoughts were quickly diverted to the next one, and while firing away, he gave the most efficient killing instructions to his squadmates’ machines.
“—Team Three. Lure the enemy before you and retreat south west. Team five, hold your position, and wait for all the enemies to enter the kill zone before firing.”
“Daiya (Black Dog) here, understood… Angel (Snow White), use this time to reload.”
“Seo (Laughing Fox) too. Don’t shoot at us, Black Dog!”
“Haruto (Falke). Bearing 270, distance 400. It’s coming out from the building. Once it shows up, open fire.”
“Understood. Kino (Fafnir), lend me a hand.”
A chain of rumbling cannon shots could be heard from afar, and the rubbled atop the dumps shook.
The Grauwolfs scaled the wall perpendicular to the floor with unexpected mobility, aiming to attack from above, only to be torn apart by gunfire the moment they leaped off, exploding in the air.
Shinn scanned his eyes for the next target, and spotted strange movements from the enemy before quickly averting his eyes.
“Everyone cease fire and scatter.”
Everyone immediately responded to the sudden commands, and nobody asked, Why do such a stupid thing? As long as the frontlines were struggling, the would send in reinforcements. There was still an enemy unit that had yet to show up.
Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinn, there was a shrill buzzing.
The bombardment came from afar and landed upon every corner, resulting in sudden explosions, and the black scorched earth burst like bubbles, blasted into the air.
It was the covering fire from the 155mm automated cannons, the long ranged type bombardiers “Scorpion.”
With the computer assisting to calculate the trajectory, it was deduced that the cannon was shot approximately 30km to the North-East. However, this information was pointless, for they had no weapon that could attack over such a long distance. What they could do was to scan the landscape and distribution of the enemy spotters that would be imperative for long distance sniping—
“Handler One to all units. Sending possible locations of spotters now, three of them. Please identify and suppress.”
Shinn raised an eyebrow. There were three lights flickering on the digital map, compared it with the enemy distribution he had figured out, and gave the instruction to the marksman Krena hidden amongst the buildings at the back.
“Krena (Gunslinger). Bearing 030, distance 1200, four units on rooftop.”
“Understood. Leave it to me.”
“Handler One, transmission of data through laser may reveal our locations. Please relay only through voice during operation.”
“…! My apologies.”
“Next wave of spotters are coming. Please continue to deduce and reveal enemy position.
Pa, he seemed to sense a beaming smile from the other end of the Para-RAID.
Upon hearing the heartfelt answer from the Handler girl, Shinn frowned—and his consciousness was again dragged to the battlefield with sudden flashes and alerts.
The cannons bombarded the battlefield like a storm, showing no concern for allied machines. Such barbaric tactics could be used, for they were all drones. Raiden heard the deafening explosions, and continued to seek the next prey.
Looking across at the trail of bullets, he could see that the enemy was still superior in numbers. One hit from a heavy machine gun would be critical damage, and a blast from a tank cannon would naturally blow him into smithereens.
He darted through cover and entered the shadow of the ruins, only to find a guest there. It was the “Undertaker.” He seemed to have depleted his bullets, and was getting resupply from the “Scavenger,” Fido, as usual.
“Quite a lot of them.”
“Isn’t it like hunting? Just enjoy this.”
He definitely overheard the conversation with Seo, for he gave a sarcastic retort.
“…We got a lot more Löwe than expected. Looks like reinforcements resupplied them.”
He noted with a blase tone, as though a reminder to bring an umbrella during a drizzle. Rather, Raiden had never seen Shinn falter at all. The latter would probably remain as such when he dies, or even after he dies.
“There’s a limit to the cover we have. Our movements are going to be detected at this rate. Better wipe them out before that happens.”
Fido’s crane arms swapped out the ammunition container, and reloading was done. “Undertaker” stood up.
“I’ll handle the Löwes. I’m Leaving the other enemies and command for covering fire to you.”
“Understood, Undertaker… you’re going to be blasted by that old man Audreht again.”
“Undertaker” seemed to have chuckled. It burst out of the rubble.
With the maximum speed possible, the “Juggernaut” darted from one spot of cover to another, and quickly approached the four enemy Löwe. Such was an action that could not simply be dismissed as suicidal, let alone reckless, and the Handler Girl shrieked,
“Undertaker! What are you…!?”
A Löwe adjusted its cannon, and opened fire. The “Undertaker” twitched to the side, evading the shot. Another cannon fired over, and he dodged it.
Fire, fire, fire, fire; both humans and drones would be obliterated to dust by the continuous 120mm cannons, yet the “Undertaker” managed to dodge them all and avoid forward. He did not adjust his path upon see the cannons, but through experience and instincts, and a nightmarish piloting skills, like a headless white skeleton crawling about.
The four Löwe seemed peeved as they turned around, glaring at the ground with heinous looks, and charged head on with explosive pace.
The steel bodies were as heavy as ever, yet they could accelerate to maximum speed silently from standing position, and charged towards the “Undertaker.” The enemies’ mobility was so unfair, boosted by powerful shock absorbers and a highly potent linear actuator.
The eight legs bent slightly, and one unit jumped up abruptly, intending to crush him. At this point—
The “Undertaker” jumped immediately.
It evaded the attack from the Löwe by leaping to the side, spun in the air, landed, and jumped again. He got onto the leg of the Löwe, trampled upon the joints, climbed up, quickly arrived atop the cannon, spread the front legs apart, leaned forward, and thrust the main cannon mounted on his subarm against the enemy’s steel armor.
Visibly, that was where the armor was thinnest, atop the back of the cannon.
The fuse for the minimum range was killed off, and the high speed piercing grenade slotted through the steel plates, as the highly potent explosive that could trigger a detonation velocity of 8000 meters per second burst into the unit.
The “Undertaker” was already eyeing a second Löwe by the time it hopped off the first one that was sputtering black smoke. He dodged the clustered array of bullets with much agility, and at its legs, swung the high frequency blades, a close ranged combat weapon that nobody other than Shinn had equipped, for it had tremendous power yet limited range.
Once the second unit lost its balance and tripped over, he got onto its back, and fired to expunge it, using it to block the cannon from the third unit. While the Löwe’s weak sensors were distracted by the flames of the explosion, he fired a Wire Anchor, grappled onto the nearby frame of a tall building, and leapt onto the third unit that was moving its cannon in a frenzy after having lost its target, and fired upon it.
He could sense the speechlessness from the Handler on the other side of the Para-RAID.
If the developer of this aluminium alloy coffin was to see this sequence of actions, he might collapse or begin frothing in fear. Raiden narrowed his eyes as he watched Shinn battle.
The “Juggernaut” was not meant for such a manner of battle. It was simply a suicidal weapon that would be taken down in one shot, lacking in firepower, armor, and mobility, only good if it could shoot. To beat just one Löwe, let alone many in this unit would be unthinkable.
Naturally, the price of this was huge.
The legs of the “Juggernaut” were fragile, and with the excessive burden, they would be utterly ruptured after the battle ended, so much that it would easily become a target for the other units aiming to protect the main forces, the Löwe. Due to his efforts though, Raiden and the others could take down the other enemy types without worry for the Löwe, and the outcome was already decided. In fact, Raiden was curious as to how Shinn managed to live on. Not only did the latter not die, but for five years, this monster continued to survive through such methods.
It’s a pity, Raiden always thought.
For three years they had fought together. For three years Raiden was Shinn’s Vice Commander, his deputy. Both of them had “Personal Codenames,” but Raiden could never mimic Shinn’s movements. He could never surpass Shinn. That headless death god was really a prodigy at battle. Not only was he protected by luck, but if he had ample time and equipment, Shinn might become the crucial core of obliterating the entire by himself, and he had the potential to be a hero of any era.
However, Shinn just happened to be born at the wrong time. If he could have appeared earlier, like in the era of the Knights from years back, he would have been a renowned warrior, and if he was in the final war of humanity, he would have been a hero with his name recorded in the war annuls.
It was a stupid battlefield, and he had no hope for that.
He had no human dignity or rights, no grave after he dies, and no accomplishments left behind. He would be simply used as a single-use weapon, and be abandoned upon death, lying in an unknown corner of the battlefield; such was his fate. Like the millions of comrades and allies on this battlefield, they would leave nothing other than rotten bones.
The clouds formed by the Eintagsfliege drones started to disperse, and the clear sun returned to the land, while the remaining retreated under the cover of the Scorpions. The cold drones would never harbor vengeance for the sacrifices of their comrades, for once they deemed that the losses exceeded a quota, they would determine that the objective would never be achieved, and immediately retreat.
The setting sun shone upon the “Undertaker,” now amidst the remains of the Löwe, and displayed its silhouette.
That light was like a moonlight shining upon the blade of an ancient sword, so breathtakingly beautiful.
As long as there were no night battles or raids by the enemy, the few hours between cleanup after dinner and lights out was free for them.
Angel cleaned up the kitchen, brewed coffee for everyone, and returned to find everyone in the base gathered at the courtyard before the hangar.
“Alright, one shot on Master Bear, and two on Rabbit Knight. Seven points for Haruto!”
“Argh, missed two there. I really am poor at using the handgun~”
“Oho, Fido suddenly poses a challenge! Put the cans sideways! How would Kino, coming next up, fare this time!?”
“You serious… ahhh! I can’t do it at all! Next! Who’s next, hurry up!”
“It’s me. Eh… Kaie Tanya, challenging now!”
“Okay, two points.”
“Woah, all five shots hit. As to be expected of you, Raiden.”
“Hmph, too easy.”
“Huh, don’t get cocky. Get out there, Krena! Show them your real godlike skills!”
“Okay, leave it to me! Fido, don’t set it up, just toss it!”
“…Goodness, you’re making it difficult today, Fido. This tower shape is harder than before.”
“Shinn, your turn.”
“……Wooooooaahhhh, you cleared them all. As annoying as always…”
There were lots of empty cans after dinner, and everyone took out their handguns for some shooting game. Seo drew a few cute animal illustrations on the cans to denote points, while Fido picked up the empty cans that were shot down while everyone else was shooting, arranging them in towers or pyramids.
Angel smiled as she watched this bustling mood.
Dinner was considered scrumptious. They tore the boar meat and roasted it over the fire, and added lots of sauce made from currants, accompanied with vegetables harvested from the fields, canned milk, and mushroom cream soup. It’s not fun to eat in the canteen, so everyone yapped, so they moved the tables out; those on cooking duty had too much on their plates, resulting in everyone preparing.
It was enjoyable. She felt utter delight in her heart while being with everyone.
Shinn did not look at the cans he shot down, and started flipping through the pages of a book at a corner a little distance away from the ruckus; Angel placed the mug of coffee before him.
Shinn merely lifted his eyes towards her as response. Angel handed the tray of coffee mugs to Daiya, took a chair opposite Shinn, and sat down.
He continued to read through the thick book, his eyes focused on it. A black cat with white claws, which the squadron had adopted, was fighting a rough battle against the pages. She smiled,
“Is it interesting?”
Shinn said, and probably felt his answer was too frivolous, so he continued on,
“When I think about other matters, I won’t really pay much attention to that.”
Angel said as she gave a faint grimace. That alone was something neither she nor her squadmates could share the burden of.
“Thank for for everything.”
Suddenly, the RAID device heated up.
“To everyone in the squadron. Is it convenient now?”
The Handler Girl’s voice rang. It had been a week since she assumed duties, and every day, she would interact with everyone at this time, after dinner, not skipping a single day.
“No problems here, Handler One. Good work again for today.”
Shinn answered in everyone’s stead. His eyes remained on the book, but the cat would not let him flip the pages, so he raised the book up.
The squadmates who were enjoying their game hurriedly ejected the bullets from their handgun, and holstered them. The government had forbidden all Eighty Sixers from wielding small arms in case a rebellion occurred. However, as nobody had been checking on them, they had taken them from an abandoned military facility nearby.
“Yeah, good work from you and your squad too, Undertaker… is everyone playing a game? I do apologize if I am disturbing you, so please continue.”
“Just wasting some time. Please do not mind.”
You may switch off the Para-RAID if you do not wish to talk, the girl had said the first day they synchronized, so they switched it off and started a knife throwing contest. To these squadmates of his, Shinn answered as he watched them. Raiden, Seo, Kaie, and a few probably decided to settle down for some coffee, as they dragged chairs to sit, or sat on the table.
“Really? You do seem to be enjoying yourself… in any case.”
It seemed their Handler had finally decided to get to the main point. Shinn could practically see the serious eyes directed right at him.
“Undertaker. I do have a few words for you today.”
It sounded like a gentle reminder from a student councilor to an elite student, rather than a superior’s reproaching, and Shinn took a sip of coffee, not minding in the slightest. He did not intend to listen to the Handler who was hiding within the city’s walls.
“What is it about?”
“It is about the patrol and battle reports. They do not seem to have been sent mistakenly… I found all of them to be the same.”
Shinn raised his eyebrows.
“You read them all?”
“Only the parts after you were assigned to Spearhead.”
“…You’re still doing that again?”
Raiden looked absolutely dumbfounded, but Shinn ignored him.
“What is the point for you to know about the frontlines? It is a waste of time.”
“It is one of our duties as Handlers to analyze the tactics and formations.”
Upon saying that, the Handler eased her tone slightly,
“I do understand that you did not send any as we have not been reading them. It is our fault, and I will not reprimand you on that, but from now one, please write them to me. I will read them.”
What a bother.
Shinn thought, and spoke up.
“I’m bad at writing.”
“You’re so stubborn.”
Daiya muttered, and Shinn ignored him as he flipped a page of the thick philosophy book in his hands.
Of course, the Handler would not know what he was doing as she was not present. She probably had assumed that a processor detained in a Concentration Camp since childhood might not have undergone basic education, and awkwardly said,
“Ah… my apologies. But if so, I do suppose there is a further need to train you in writing. Surely it will come in handy later on.”
The Handler was clearly dejected. He can still read words though, Seo snorted without care as he threw a knife, the blade hitting the cute swing princess, knocking it off the table.
Kaie, holding her mug with two hands, tilted her head slightly,
“No, it will help, won’t it, Undertaker? Your hobby’s reading anyway… aren’t you reading a philosophy book now? It does look a little difficult.”
There was a terrifying silence from the other end of the Para-RAID.
The Handler spoke up. Her voice remained so kind, and her face might have a smile, but for some reason, there was an abnormal pressure in that voice.
“Please send all reports from this point on, you understand? Battle reports too. Everything.”
“…Can’t I just send the data from the mission recorder?”
“Not at all. Please write them.”
Shinn clicked his tongue. Kaie, who had been peering at his face cautiously, shivered, the ponytail behind her hand swaying. She immediately clapped her hands together and lowered her head in apology, It’s not your fault, but Shinn merely waved his hand off.
Goodness… the Handler sighed, and seemed to have realized the reason why he had not been sending the reports. She quelled her heart, and spoke with earnesty.
“Analysis here will be very useful in formulating tactics. Your battle records as elites will serve to facilitate this. Proper planning will reduce the casualty rate of the frontlines, and also reduce your losses, so I do hope you will assist.”
Shinn did not answer, and the Handler Girl remained silent. Perhaps she realized the reason why the Processors did not trust the Handler was due to the latter’s side.
Then, the girl’s tone became cheery, probably to shake off the awkwardness from before.
“Anyway, the date of the report seems to be from a long time back, so did you obtain it from someone? Or has it not been modified since then?”
“Ahh, this lad’s always been like this, Handler One. He’s always been like this, even before I knew him.”
Raiden hopped in with a teasing voice. It seemed the Handler was blinking in confusion.
“Werewolf, have you known Undertaker for a long time?”
“More than half of us here are like this. For example, Daiya (Black Dog) and Angel (Snow White) were always in the same squad since conscription, while Haruto (Falke) and I were together for a year. Seo (Laughing Fox) and Krena (Gunslinger) joined the squad with Shinn (Undertaker) and Raiden (Werewolf) two years ago… you two have known each other for two years, right?”
Raiden answered, and the Handler went silent.
“…How long has it been since you were conscripted?”
“Everyone’s in the fourth year. Ahhh, Undertaker’s the most experienced here, this is his fifth year.”
The Handler seemed encouraged.
“So, Undertaker is about to finish service… what do you intend to do once you retire? Is there any place you want to go to, or what you want to see?”
Everyone focused their attention on Shinn. The latter continued to stare at the book, and flatly answered,
“Who knows. I never thought of that.”
“I, see… but, I do think it is good to think about it now. Maybe you might think of something; I’m sure it will be enjoyable.”
Suddenly, Shinn smiled. The sleepy cat next to him pricked its ears, and looked up towards him,
“Maybe it is.”