As representatives of Obliterating Industries, Hideo and Wilco had made a promise they would enter the Sacred Demon Grand Prix race.
Yet the road back was paved with Elize Industrial assassins with Minako at the lead.
“What are we going to do, master…?”
No place to escape in three sixty degrees. The several dozen blue-collar workers were all enemies as far as he could see. The only open path was up, to where the blue skies were colored by the lingering soot of the tall smokestacks.
Half-resigned, Hideo turned to Minako and put up a defense.
“… That is. A misunderstanding.”
“That’s right! Wilco definitely didn’t commit robbery and scamper home…!”
“Then I will gladly hear you out, but you will have to start by providing evidence.”
He had none. Nothing but evidence of their rampage remained at Elize Industrial. That wouldn’t prove the contrary on attempted burglary.
… The contrary? That’s right. Precisely because of her love for justice, her heart was set ablaze by crime, but she was an officer faithful to the law.
“Then on the contrary.”
Hideo quietly continued on.
“Do you have any evidence. We ran away on bad terms?”
He got her, or so Hideo’s hopes lasted a brief instant. Minako indicated the workers as she spoke.
“But I have gathered plenty of testimonies!”
That’s right, come to think of it, this was the woman who smacked him in the head the moment they met.
“No matter how you look at it, this public lynching isn’t like you at all…!”
“Lynch? Please don’t insult me like that. As the officer I am, I’m simply here to arrest you.”
The heinous criminal of the virtual world looked on dejectedly.
“I said it before, but in this city with no police force, I have to be the law. And putting your charges against my law, I have determined your actions have warranted a severe penalty… however.”
When she had blazed like a raging inferno, Minako completely changed to utter admiration.
“Apparently the president of Elize Industrial and her partner, the hero, as lenient as they are… said they would forgive your violent outburst with a three-day-three-night lecture.”
(… Three days.)
That explained it. So they were adamant on preventing him from entering the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. They were contriving to kill or kidnap Elize just this morning… and it did seem the other side had chosen abduction on top of imprisonment as well.
What’s more, Hideo’s side was thoroughly evil. The other side was acting out virtuous souls who hated the sin, not the sinner. With this, Elize Industrial’s reputation was set to rise again. Elize Mithrilite. They had busted up her office building, and she didn’t plan to let them off for that.
Obliterating Industries conducted their evil head-on, out in the open. Meanwhile Elize Industrial moved their hands behind the scenes. Now which one was righteous?
There was no way either was right.
“Wait, officer, what do you mean by lecture?”
“In order to rehabilitate Hideo, I’m going to lecture him for three days and three nights in the interrogation room!”
Did an interrogation room not exist to interrogate? Where did they get one in the first place?
“But if you do that for three days, you won’t be able to participate in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix either…”
“Of course, I want to join in, but I owe you guys one for that time with Javan… so I! I shall force myself to swallow down my tears to get Hideo back on track as a decent human being!!”
Oh how splendid, how admirable, with just a slight hint that she was full of herself.
“Officer, you’re being tricked…”
The intense different in enthusiasm had Wilco falter back. She recalled the rankings from that morning, where Minako was definitely recorded as a high-level competitor with three wins under her belt. With her strong sense of justice and stable strength in battle, she had already gathered some attention. To abuse her personality, sealing their movements while simultaneously dragging Minako herself down with them….?
If that spirit had it all calculated out…
The young man called Hasebe Shouki seemed to have a sense of justice that didn’t fall short of Minako’s. Perhaps rather than a partner, he was also a mouthpiece being used.
Minako took out her handcuffs.
“Now Hideo, let’s eat some warm katsudon in the interrogation room! Once you’ve had three days-worth of katsudon, I’m sure you’ll be a man everyone looks up to…!”
“Wait, are you trying to kill him!? If he eats that stuff for three days, you’ll screw up his metabolism!”
He was already afflicted with shut-in syndrome. If he was overweight on top of that… it would be two-fold. He would be a shoo-in for the three great diseases of adulthood. Five-fold. That was as many layers as Houryuji Temple.
[TL: Three Great Diseases of Adulthood, Cancer, Heart Attack, Stroke]
(… This is.)
Crap. It was just as Wilco said. He would die. He was a dead man walking.
(This is life. Or death…)
“Umm, incidently, officer.”
As Minako shuffled closer, Wilco continued blurting out whatever she could to distract her.
“You mentioned crimes, interrogation, and lectures, but you’re not a police detective, right? What did you used to…”
“Me? I’m part of the finance department, why do you ask?”
“Wait, isn’t that the section furthest from any crime!!?”
No. She didn’t get it. Wilco didn’t get it at all. The finance department. In exchange for being the department furthest from violent crime, they were one of the departments that worked closest with virtuous civilians, second only to the officers at the police box.
At that moment, Hideo recalled when he first got to the big city.
In a concrete jungle where he didn’t know left from right, the time when he dropped the wallet he could call his everything. When he had nothing but fears and misgivings, the finance department that gave him courage and handled him kindly and courteously. When the wallet was found shortly after, the finance department that said, ‘isn’t that great’, and rejoiced with him.
That was the moment he knew from his heart humans couldn’t live alone.
What was projected in Hideo’s eyes was no longer a normal policewoman. An angel in blue, who went by the name Kitaooji Minako…
“… Take me away. Offi—”
“Oh no you don’t!!”
He was getting the feeling Wilco was punching more than she was chopping these days.
One of the workers surrounding them reservedly cut in.
“Umm… officer. We have work to get to, could you keep it quick…”
“Oh, right, right. That’s right. Now, Hideo, come in quietly…”
Her fingers far stronger than she looked grabbed Hideo’s arms. The handcuffs were put on, and it was at that moment.
“Could I trouble you for a moment?”
A calm woman’s voice had Minako turn by reflex.
“Why of course, are you lost? Or did you drop something?”
One of those conditioned reflexes.
(… Dog of the government…)
For some reason, the sort of words that might come from an underground organization crossed Hideo’s mind.
“I am looking for these two.”
She composedly shoved her way through the heavy encirclement. It was a beautiful woman, overflowing with more refinement than Hideo had ever seen before. Long, black hair as smooth as silk. An extravagant kimono of black cloth inlaid with silver and gold… on top of that, she was floating like Wilco.
The item she flashed was unmistakably the photo of him and Wilco that was taken when he joined the company.
“Mn? Oh, so there they are. Now come with me, you two.”
“No, umm… who are you?”
When Meeko asked, she smiled sweetly.
“I go by Meeko. Takase asked me to come.”
Takase? That president who even Lily referred to as master…?
Without the slightest care for the atmosphere, the woman who introduced herself as Meeko floated right up to them.
“I heard you might be targeted by some company or another. Therefore, I came to support you.”
Not a rival for nothing, the president had a firm grasp on Elize’s personality. Of course, not just a second, she was quite a bit too late.
Against these dozens of opponents, she stood alone. As expected, one of the workers,
“Lady, sorry but could you stay outta this…”
The stillness faded and he tried to grab Meeko’s shoulder. Before his hand could touch her kimono, she grasped him first. Her arm so slender, yet with pure strength alone, she lifted up a well-built factory worker and slammed him down.
The pitiful worker took a harsh blow to his back and showed the whites of his eyes.
“Lowly human. Do not touch me so casually, fool.”
Her sleepy, endearing eyes were now narrowed in terrible tedium.
With that alone. So genuine and overwhelming. A pure difference in power. Those bottomless eyes. A dread-inducing tone of one who didn’t see anyone on the same level.
By this point, more than her refinement, her bearing gave off a sense of absolute.
When he had met so many strange races and participants, there was something different about this woman. That wasn’t the case when she was just smiling. But now when she was lording over the crowd… he couldn’t express it, but there was something disconcerting. Not the sort of disconcertment that came with anger or disgust, the sort that came from anxiety. This woman before his eyes was simply, genuinely terrifying. He ended up seeing himself as far too minuscule and insignificant when he looked at her. He felt such a difference in existence.
Perhaps if they were confident participants it would be a different story, but the normal workers opened their eyes wide and took a uniform step back. Minako… must have felt the same as he did. Even so, she mustered up her courage.
“D… don’t tell me you’re also a member of that evil organization!? I’ve caught you red-handed for assault…!”
Strangely enough, as Minako took a stance with Okamaru, he didn’t so much as twitch in response.
Push or pull, not a single word.
“Hey, Okamaru!! What’s gotten into you!?”
‘… Minako. Give up. Do not even try it.’
There were glimpses of an unnatural reverence in his voice.
‘I was only born in Edo, I cannot call myself too knowledgeable. But this individual is either a celestial being… or otherwise… whatever the case, she is far beyond our means…’
Upon hearing that, Meeko’s displeased face finally crumbled away.
“You’re knowledgeable for your youth.”
Not to Minako. She spoke to the truncheon in her hands. She called the one who spoke of Edo and Black Ships young.
“… Uu. aa…”
What could that sound be, Hideo turned to find Wilco groaned. She looked like she was hurting somewhere, there was static noise intermittently running down her body.
At the end of that word, Wilco collapsed as if she had come down with a high fever.
What? What just happened?
“I shall take charge of these two, do you have any objections?”
There was no longer a soul who would cit into her words or her path.
Whatever the case, to make his exit, he hoisted Wilco’s body over his back. There was still a bit of lingering static. He was only learning this now, but Wilco’s body was light as if it were hollow.
he turned just once to Minako’s voice.
“… I have not done anything. I am ashamed of.”
That feeble defense was the most he could give.
“You saved us. Back there.”
“Fufu, well do not worry about it. Still… perhaps I lay it on too thick.”
They were en route to that doctor’s hospital that was an affiliate of Obliterating Industries. Meeko’s eyes were the sleepy ones she had first appeared with. While Wilco’s noise had disappeared by that point, she didn’t look like she was going to wake up just yet.
“Lay on… what?”
“That girl is a spirit, is she not? By the look of things, she is still a newborn.”
“So I’ve. Heard.”
“Aren’t you feeling a little sick as well?”
On her words, Hideo recalled the off feeling he felt before. No matter how he looked at her now, all that went through his mind was that she was a pretty person. Why had he been so afraid, come so far, he was peaceful to a peculiar extent.
“… What exactly.”
“Spirits don’t appear on this side so often. That must be why my power affected her so… you should ask Hazuki for the specifics.”
He didn’t really get it.
“But to think someone like you would be a top contender.”
“… My thoughts. Exactly.”
Just a little, Meeko drew her face closer.
“You have absolutely no power, do you.”
She hit the mark, but he made sure not to show it.
“Fufu. Hide it all you want, but once you’ve lived long enough, you can generally tell. You are not someone who can live in a place like this. Then does that mean you lost your place on the world above?”
She didn’t particularly seem to be teasing him.
She spoke simple fact, like she was engaging in idle gossip. When he had managed to cheat a veteran on the Colonel’s level, he was seen through without making any particular misstep. She wasn’t just anybody. She didn’t have a gilded coating like he did, there really was something different about her existence.
Who could she be? If she was a competitor too… then her seeing through to the real Kawamura Hideo carried a terrible risk…
“Now then, is Hazuki around?”
While his anxieties were running deeper he had arrived at the hospital. She airily barged straight in. There was no one in the lobby. No patients waiting for an examination, no nurses running around. At the reception desk, that lab coat-wearing scraggly headed black-rim spectacled doctor was sitting himself.
… Which meant no one wanted to be treated by him, and no one wanted to work for him.
The mad scientist actually seemed to have quite the trendy name.
“Oh if it isn’t Lady Meeko. How rare. What could you possibly need at my pla… Heee!?”
The moment he noticed Hideo, he surmounted the front desk with a triple twist and a half with a graceful landing. He was immediately right before his eyes.
“… Umm. Doc.”
“I get it!! I understand completely!! In the end, you were unable to return your debt, so you came over to me, right!? Right!? Riiiiiiigggghhht!! Heeeeeeeeee!!”
Four conical drills from the pockets of his lab coat. Did he always carry those around?
“One minute!! I’ll have one on in a minute!! How about I buy one minute of your life for one million tickets!! That’s all it’ll take.”
Holding what looked like a croquette stick she didn’t have before, Meeko smacked the doctor in the back of the head.
“… Lady Meeko. That weapon is definitely not supposed to be used like this.”
“When see you acting like that, I end up sympathizing with your brother. More importantly, have a look at the girl.”
With the hand from which her weapon disappeared like a magic trick, she pointed at Wilco. He nodded.
“Oh, the spirit girl, is it… what’s wrong with her?”
“When I got just a little angry, it hit her.”
The Doctor scratched up his hair.
“… Your mana? Then it’s obvious she’s in shock… still, to collapse from that, she must have a terribly low resistance.”
Let’s have a look, he put his hand on the rim of his glasses. Every time he pressed the rivet that connected the hinge, the lens that was only inserted in one side seemed to display something different.
Could it be that was enough to scan and analyze her? Did technology get far enough to make it?
“Oh… I see, this is… she may be a spirit, but she’s a type I’ve never seen before. Alright, you, could you bring that girl to the lab? I’ll need to get a good look at her.”
“… I don’t mind, but. Doc.”
When he looked at this person, his anxieties transcended to insecurities.
“Eeheehee, don’t worry. Despite how I look, I know how to treat girls just fine…”
… Just girls?
“Doc. What about.”
“Maan, I haven’t had a job this big in a while! Eeheeheeheehee…!”
Did you properly treat me…
The doctor’s laboratory.
That space underneath the hospital looked more like an operating room than a place for research. Be that as it may, it was far too crude to deal with human life. Rusted scalpels and scissors, there were medicine bottles where the labels had deteriorated scattered over the floor, and as his eyes followed the dark black stains on the tiles of the floor and walls, they ended up tracing all the way to the ceiling.
“Could you set her down on that bed?”
“… Umm. On second thought.”
Just as he was about to make a U-turn, Meeko tapped him on the shoulder.
“You need not worry. He may love to mess around, but he would not dare commit harm while I am here.”
Strangely, he didn’t feel like going against or doubting this woman.
As he was told, Hideo lay down Wilco’s light body. With his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his lab coat, the doctor looked down over her.
“It’s probably overdose.”
Judging by the flow of the conversation, Hideo tried taking a guess.
“… Of mana?”
“Heehee, that’s how it works. Normally, spirits are formed out of psions. In this world, magic particles… so-called mana exists everywhere in small amounts. As long as they went about life normally a newborn spirit would take in the mana drifting about the natural world and gradually develop a resistance to it… what about her?”
That was a difficult subject, but when it came to whether she could develop resistance, was there even enough time for her to do so? She did say she only managed to materialize when they first met.
“I see. Meaning it’s only been ten days since she appeared in this world. Yet she suddenly came to this city and was bathed in Lady Meeko’s magic point blank…”
He suddenly sunk into thought.
“You, have you heard anything else?”
The day they met. He recalled their exchange in the Okutama mountains.
“She is a radion and a psion. An existence of superposition.”
“Hmm…? Come to think of it, I’m definitely getting an electric signal… which means she’s a completely new breed… one we’ve never had before.”
The doctor looked at Meeko’s body again, fiddling with the frame of his glasses.
“She said without a house like a PC she’s just a ghost. Without a medium like me. An electric virus.”
“Which means you’re the object representing her spiritual portion…”
In other words, his own body was her house in the spiritual sense? Was that what it meant? A virus did make a home out of the organisms it infected, so he did get the feeling the logic checked out.
“She said. I was infected.”
“Heehee, a computer virus born of the net infected a human… how interesting. To equate it with a normal spirit, that means you’ve been possessed.”
Infected, possessed, both sounded just as dangerous.
But was he really going to help her? It was quite clear this doctor’s curiosity was getting the better of him but there was no one else to rely on. If he could understand what sort of thing Wilco was, it would be a huge benefit in fights to come. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Hideo spoke about whatever he knew about Wilco, her actions and speech. He tried showing the laptop.
“So this is her house…?”
When the doctor opened the screen.
‘Will.CO21 is reconstructing the system. Please wait.’
So she really was in trouble. But based on the please wait portion, she wasn’t dead. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“If we pull this off…”
The doctor plugged a cable into the PC and connected it to a desk terminal in the corner of the room. He analyzed it further.
According to him, Demons, ghosts and apparitions had been elucidated by science to a certain extent, but,
“A spirit is an existence born out of human will, born of ‘thought’. When numerous thoughts are attached to a certain target, they appear as a supernatural phenomenon with a sense of self… that’s what we generally call a spirit. But spirits with a complete physical body like this girl are pretty rare…”
They were overwhelmingly short in numbers. The sample size was so small, so to speak, that it was impossible to hold a study at all. Of course, from the point of view of Hideo, who had lived perfectly normally until he met her, this was all the continuation of a long, long dream.
“You. You said she can freely control how she manifests, right?”
“… She can hide. In the computer. I would put it like that.”
No, but she produced a shield the other day.
“Hmm… is that true…?”
With a new serious face, he lifted his head from the computer screen and spun in his chair.
“This girl just might be able to turn.”
Turn? She did change into maid clothing but what? Could she transform even more? If fitting with this crazy world, she could change into a dragon or something, that would be pretty reliable.
“Heehee, looks like he got the wrong idea.”
“… I’m pretty dim. On the subject.”
“Is that so? Well, she’s hiding incredible possibility, is what I’m trying to say.”
“She was originally born of the internet, wasn’t she? She was born of a world of existence and nonexistence. There’s an old saying that numbers control the universe, there isn’t an object or phenomenon in the world that can’t be expressed with numerical values. Numbers are the omnipotent concept birthed by humanity. You can simplify that to the extremes into what we call binary. The values of 0 and 1.”
This was bad. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to follow. Meeko who said she’d be watching had fallen asleep still floating up and down in the air.
“You can hear Mozart’s Requiem from a speaker, and you can display Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa on a screen. No matter how masterful an entity is, it is possible to decompose it into 0 and 1 to convert it.”
“The current problem is if the binary sequence required to express is too long, it will require an immense amount of energy to process. If you want to simulate climate on a global scale, you’ll need a supercomputer as large as a gymnasium but… have a look at this.”
The monitor on the desk showed various scans of her. The X-Ray images and MRI diagnosis showed the same result. She had no internal organs, nothing but a uniform light-gray silhouette was projected. Her appearance was in shape alone. I see, thought Hideo. No wonder she didn’t have to eat or drink.
“Have you ever played a game with 3D polygons? If you put the camera at a strange angle, you can see the hollow insides of the character model, right? This girl’s body is close to that. Meaning…”
It was just a vague hint, but connecting it to the previous topic, he got the feeling he knew what the man was trying to say.
“… She does not have the energy to express complex bone structures or. Internal organs.”
“Heehee, now you’re getting it.”
Was that why she shield she produced had no color or unnecessary portions, its appearance was simply that of a glass pane?
“If you follow that argument to the logical conclusion, the world we live in can be expressed solely by the existence or nonexistence of elementary atoms. Though it takes far too much time and effort, and modern science hasn’t reached that point yet… if you take the position of every particle as a coordinate, it is certainly possible to express a solid body. As a matter of fact, it looks like that’s how her body is being formed…”
If you took a poster and looked at it under a magnifying glass, you would see a cluster of ink dots. If you made the shapes of a polygon smaller and smaller, you would eventually arrive at atomic dots.
“Precisely because she was born in a world of 0s and 1s, she is able to use 0s and 1s to manifest herself in the world. Heehee… do you know what that means? The one-dimensional vibrations of Requiem, and the two-dimensional array of the Mona Lisa have been more or less successfully deconstructed into 0 and 1. How about you raise the dimensions by one and think in three dimensions? If you can decompose a target and have her process it as data… this girl should be able to reproduce it.”
Hideo’s hair stood on end.
That meant. At the extreme.
“As long as Wilco has. Enough data and power… are you telling me…”
“That’s right, she should be able to manifest everything in the world! For everything is made of 0s and 1s! Alpha to Omega! This girl just might be able to become a God!!”
“Heehee, computer virus is an understatement. This girl is the model for a God—”
God. This Wilco could… become a god?
Hideo looked at the girl lying on the bed, his mind captured by peculiar sentiments. Swords, magic, and monsters were one thing… but now it was coming to God. Those rarely ever came out even in games. And this was a computer virus of all things. Sure, the girl herself said something about wanting to be the God of the Virtual World and so forth. But this doctor was talking about reality.
He lightly shook his head.
“… I doubt it.”
The doctor nodded to Hideo’s denial.
“Right. Well of course, as you said, this all comes with conditions. We’re only talking about if she has enough energy to rival omnipotent, and enough data to be called all-knowing.”
“However, Hideo, was it?”
Awake before he realized it, Meeko gazed into the distance as she informed him.
“The origins of spirits… and gods generally trace back to similar phenomena.”
She spoke as if she had seen it with her own eyes.
“I never thought I would see a spirit that could become a god in this day and age. In ancient days, they were born of human thoughts towards unreachable realms. The god in the heavens, the god of the earth, the god of the mountain, the god of the seas. Then what?”
She was right. While modern-day humans might not all experience it, they could understand. What was above the sky? What was under the earth? What was at the summit of the mountain? What was at the depths of the sea…?
In ancient times, they were places the people without science could only enter with their imaginations. They were places that brought both blessing and calamity. That’s why the people were convinced something had to be there… they feared, they revered.
“Those thoughts. Made Gods…”
Strictly speaking, they became energy. The thoughts of countless people came together, bringing about enormous amounts of power, great enough to form a god.
“Fufu. You’re sharp for a modern-day human.”
The doctor continued on.
“But in this day and age, humans have constructed a completely new unreachable realm with their own two hands… then what?”
It was clear. The world in the screen where Wilco lounged about as if space truly did exist there.
In reality, nothing more than a mass of electronic parts, but like paper and ink becomes a novel, to grant endless imagination to the people… electric signals of 0 an 1 projected their endless possibilities on screen. A realm one could see, but whose hand would never reach.
A digital world—
“I’m sure even with a knowledge of the mechanics, the thoughts of computer fans were strong enough to produce a virus that can talk and move. But what if that were in an age of belief, before science came around? The spirits of fire and water born in ancient times are no less than Gods in the modern era. They can’t show their form. By this point, they can only show a slight fragment of their power through summoning arts.”
Could such a thing really happen in reality? But if he brought that up… there was magic and monsters here. In this city. To be more precise, among the sort of people this tournament gathered, the world he could call this side, the common sense he needed to set as a basis was different.
God of Electronics didn’t really hit home, but God of the Earth and God of Fire were somewhat… No, more than anything… wasn’t Wilco’s very existence proof of that?
He suddenly recalled her predicament.
“I get that part. But doc.”
“What is it?”
“In short. What happened. To Wilco?”
He was in danger of forgetting himself.
“Oh, that? She came down with overdose from a wave of Lady Meeko’s mana. For a normal spirit made up of only psions, they might get off with a little nausea, but as you saw, this girl’s body is so empty she’d fall from a slight breeze.”
He pointed at the desk monitor.
“So in the first place, she does not have the right foundation to endure those sorts of waves. What’s more, there’s electricity mixed in. She was hit with strong mana without being given the time to grow accustomed to it, so with electricity, psions and mana three different forces all interfering with each other, she came down in shock.”
He didn’t get it at all. But the point was she came down in shock… so she would probably be fine. When it came to Meeko, she was sound asleep again.
“But, I’d like to bring us back to those possibilities I was talking about.”
The explanation was so long he almost forgot about that.
“It looks like in the midst of that, this girl took in an immense amount of mana.”
“… What do you mean. Took in?”
“The psions would be her spiritual power portion. Electricity is just normal electricity, but as magic holds the power to manipulate it as well, you could say those two forces ended up combining.”
So according to him, she took in so much at once, she had to completely remake herself. She had reconstructed her constitution to be able to use mana. That did explain the message on her screen.
“Mana, you see, is an absurdly versatile concept. Depending on the vectors you give it, it’s an energy with innumerable varieties. If she manages to master it, you might be able to solve the power problem.”
Meaning the possibilities of a god. The path to it was open…
With a blip sound that had gone out of fashion, the message on the laptop changed.
‘Will.CO21 is restarting. Please wait.’
The computer hard disk began throwing itself in circles at an incredible pace. Clatter, clatter, enough to shake the main body…
“Wilco has returned!!”
Was she better now? Wilco jumped down from the bed as if nothing had happened at all.
She was laughing more than she ever had before.
“Now, now, master! As the fortunate slave chosen by history’s first digital God, offer up all your electricity and fiber optic cables! Worship your God!!
Seriously, why was the master the slave?
“… Listen to…”
“Wilco heard all of it! Rather, the heinous virus Wilco is generally on the run, so when she’s down from any major error, the PC is set to automatically gather information! She just took in all the data recorded on the internal microphone!”
How convenient. Was the one chasing her a vaccine? Well, it was helpful he didn’t have to repeat all that. It was quite impossible for him to give the Doctor and Meeko’s explanations a second time. For now, it was good she was well… or so he thought for a moment, but she was looking restless.
“…? Wilco is feeling a little uneasy around here…”
She held her abdomen.
He took another peek with his glasses.
“She has a stomach now.”
He and Wilco were both astonished.
“Heehee, but it’s just a stomach, nothing else.”
A second shocker.
“What is Wilco supposed to do!?”
Waking up, Meeko seemed quite amused as she pulled a manjuu out of the sleeve of her Kimono. For some reason, Wilko stared at it fixedly.
She stared as if she was trying to endure an irresistible desire.
Hideo alone got the third shocker.
“This is…! It’s not as good as military secrets, but it’s just about as tasty as CGs that get you all hot and bothered!!”
As Wilco greedily scarfed it down, Meeko watched over with warm eyes.
Rather, military secrets and CGs, what exactly were the standards for the taste of data?
“… Doc. What is this?”
“She took in Lady Meeko’s mana, so maybe some of her attribute transferred over…”
Attribute? If it was fire or water, he was used to them in games but… what exactly was an eating attribute…
No, but still, she was originally a computer virus that ate data so… for the time being, she could eat in the real world as well.
“Yes, yes, this is nice… Even with only a stomach, it’s being digested without a trace left behind. Heehee, just like the digital world, do you think she’s reducing it all to 0s and 1s?”
The doctor laughed like he was observing a patient on the road to a steady recovery.
“Here, have a senbei too.”
“It’s hard! Delicious!!”
“I have a snack called Tyrant Habenero too.”
As long as it was tasty, all’s well with the world. Just how many snacks did she have hidden in that sleeve? Meeko was an ever-growing mystery.
“Eeheeheeheehee. Now that that’s settled, yooou.”
“… What is it, doc?”
“Which would you prefer?”
In one hand a sheet of paper, in the other… an antenna?
“Eeheeheeheeheeh! Now, which do you want!?”
He looked at the paper. Wilco took a peek too.
“An invoice… hold on, Wilco fixed herself on her own!!”
“Heehee, how troubling… you should read the fine print!”
Consultation fee, fifty million tickets.
He just examined her. He didn’t even give her an IV.
“This is extortion! And wait, Wilco is part of Obliterating Industries! Aren’t we colleagues!?”
“They’re providing the building but personally, Takase’s just a friend… heehee, so how about it!!”
He held out the antenna. The sort of telescoping antenna one might find on a car or radio.
He kept it short. Hideo carefully chose his words and expressed exactly what he wanted to say.
“What signals. Am I supposed to be. Picking up?”
“Eeheeheeheeheeh, you think so!? I knew it, AM and FM aren’t enough for you! I thought this would happen and prepared this!!”
An antenna. Not for car or radio, one with plenty of horizontal bars like the ones sprouting from the tops of houses.
“UHF!! Of course, VHF is fine too!!”
“Umm, master… when it’s come to this point, Wilco kinda wants to see how that would work out too…”
The computer virus was on board. Radiowave man Hideo.
“No… no, I’m telling you. Doc.”
“Hee!? I-I see!! I’m sorry! How could I forget something so important!? You youths these days are all or digital, right!? Here’s that popular 1seg you neeeeeeed!”
“Let’s go with it, master! I’ll tell you as your radio wave-senpai, the reception is wonderful here!!”
He didn’t need that sort of senpai. He would rather not be grouped with an existence that went out on WLAN every day.
“I’ve got iiiiiittt!! What wonderful resolve!! Is it a parabola!? You want to be able to communicate with the will of the cosmos without a mystery circle, isn’t that right!? If we’re going that far, you’ll need a transmitter too…!!”
That was enough. He had looked out for him quite a bit, but it was time to have some direct talks with the president… Hideo thought as he turned his back, and it was right at that moment.
He turned in terror to Wilco’s serious voice. What stood before him… that very same legendary antenna.
“With this, Master will be three times faster…!?”
If an antenna was enough to increase performance, forget ten years, the duchy could have fought another twenty years.
That…! Was he going to declare this was the Tem Ray Engine—!!
“This shouldn’t exist.”
With immense sorrow, Hideo lifted the antenna up from the doctor’s hand and smashed it on the ground with all his strength.
Once the matter was settled, the lab door was hurriedly thrown open.
“I heard Wilco collapsed…!”
The president, Iori Takase.
Meeko sent him a cheerful smile.
“A, it’s Takase. As you can see, I properly brought them back.”
“… Oh, I see you’re alright. Can you still enter the Sacred Demon Grand Prix?”
The computer virus responded with overflowing confidence.
“Yes, why of course! Wilco is doing so well she’ll eventually become a God, after all!”
The details were conveyed to Takase in short.
“Hmph, how worthless. Nuts to your god. Monsters like Meeko aren’t born that eas–”
Meeko’s hammer that had taken out the Doctor as well sent Takase into his death throes. It was considerably painful, it seemed. And once again, this Meeko seemed to be higher up than the president.
“Who’s a monster, fool.”
“Heehee, well we’re talking about possibilities. Putting that aside, as far as I can see, she shouldn’t have any impairment to her normal life. I’m sure she can take part in the race.”
With the doctor’s endorsement, Takase unsteadily stood, cradling the back of his head.
“I… I see. That’s all well and good… but Hideo, Wilco. Honestly, you have my gratitude.”
The unexpected words heralded a blank look from Wilco.
“? About what?”
“The Sacred Demon Grand Prix. Head on brawls are one thing, but when it comes to racing, we don’t have any decent personnel on our side.”
If they didn’t have any on this side, were there any on the other?
“You met that damn brat, Hasebe Shouki, didn’t you?”
Former Hero. He did look strong, but Takase added onto that.
“His skills on a motorcycle are nothing to laugh at. What’s more, his partner’s the spirit of mithril; if they use mithril to pimp up their ride, they’ll undoubtedly have a light and sturdy machine on their hands. At the very least Superbike class, worst case MotoGP…”
“Ah… master, in car terms, that would be an F1-like machine. On good roads, over three hundred kilometers per hour, it’ll be a Highline battle.”
No. That was beyond him.
“So with that said, the other side will probably be coming on bike… what about you? You accepted the match without consulting me, so naturally, you must have some surefire plan…”
There, he let his raised silver-rimmed glasses glint.
“Indeed… you must have one, right?”
Hideo almost felt himself curling back from that menacing grin.
Crap. He never imagined he would be going up against such a foe.
“So how about it? If there’s anything you need, I’ll have it arranged. It’s too late for a full custom, but a market supercar might…”
his naturally earnest nature was his curse, Hideo had never driven a car over the speed limit. If he took part in the company car he was using at the moment, then reckless driving or crude tactics, meaning accidents and injury were out of his field. A car that was simply fast would be wasted on him…
From Hideo’s silence, Wilco’s experience informed her they were in a pinch.
“Ahem, well then president. One with as many electric controllers as possible… umm, Wilco will search it up…”
She brought over the laptop from the doctor’s desk.
“Right, right, get one of these.”
“… Hmm. Well that’s definitely sturdy… but a Ferrari or Porsche would be faster.”
“Wilco searched up the route to the checkpoints, and this is probably what you need to take the shortest possible route. The bottleneck is all the unpaved roads in the Forest District.”
“I see, as I recall, that place is…”
They seemed to be discussing something but… this was one time bluffs and skillful words would be completely ineffective. They were in need of actual speed. If he sprinted a hundred meters full speed, he was sure he’d surpass hyperventilation and come down with some actual sickness, and it wasn’t as if he could fly with magic.
“… You heard her, are you okay with that, Hideo?”
He wasn’t listening. He wasn’t too knowledgeable about cars. What to do…
“Oh, it’s fine! Perfectly fine! Wilco will be the one driving in the race!!”
Come so far, Hideo was surprised another time. Of course, Takase hadn’t expected that.
“Say what? But you… no, isn’t Hideo the one normally driving? Can you do it?”
“Nihahah! What are you talking about, president? Wilco here is an electronic spirit! From the Paris-Dakar to Le Mans, WRC to F1! In each and every race, the driving data for all the top racers sleeps on the net! All that’s left is for Wilco herself to trace it!!”
Takase hit his hands together.
“Ha ha hah! I see, I see, so that’s what the electric controllers are for! As expected of an electronic spirit, to think we could have a Schumacher and Mäkinen right here… Ku ku ku, we can do this! As I thought, hiring you two was the best choice I made since I founded this company! Don’t worry about the rest, we’ll take care of it!”
Picking up another strange word, Hideo muttered.
Certainly, the race did say it wasn’t limited to Sacred Demon Cup participants.
“Half of our company employees will be taking part solely to obstruct the competition!!”
His sinister smile radiant as could be.
Could it be the decision that anyone could participate was solely for this reason? Even if he was a scoundrel, when he was this thorough with it, Hideo had to respect him.
The heinous virus was also genuinely delighted.
“Hooray! As expected of the president!”
“Ha ha ha, well leave it to me. The remaining half will be lurking in the shadows to get in their way. That alone should be a considerable handicap! I can’t wait to see what happens! Kukuku, With this, it’s only a matter of time before our Obliterating Industries Group has a Mithril Manufacturing plant! Aaaah hah hah hah hah hah!!”
Wilco seemed to be confident, and the president was in high spirits. But… in that case, what exactly was he supposed to do in three days?
“Which means Hideo will inevitably be your backup, right? Do you need grenades? A heavy machine gun? An anti-tank rifle? Well, we have three days, I can prepare anything you need.”
… What a bother.
As a fired-up Takase led them out with a laugh, the doctor’s laboratory returned to its usual quiet.
“Lady Meeko, what do you think about him?”
“He is a normal person without any destiny. Or perhaps you have a different take?”
“Heehee. In the tournament, they were calling him a top contender from day one, so I was a bit curious. I did a little digging last time he was hospitalized.”
The doctor pulled a medical chart from the drawer on his desk.
“Hmm. Then you’re telling me he was from some famed house?”
“Perish the thought. You’re spot on the money. No destiny or karma, he’s completely mediocre. In physical abilities alone, he’s far below the average for a man his age. He’s in terrible health. He was so malnourished I had to give him a market nutrient IV.”
Bobbing up and down, Meeko gave a tired laugh.
“… Is that so? Then a prospective God dragged along not a shrine maiden or a priest, but a normal human? It is a strange era we live in.”
“It just goes to show she was born in a new era. Incidentally… Lady Meeko, shouldn’t you be more worried about the tournament?”
“Hm? I have no interest in that. Suzuran is making it fine on her own. That child has no intention of relying on me. As long as she’s having fun, that is enough.”
She smiled before falling asleep a third time.
“If you want an afternoon nap, you could do it somewhere else…”
And three days later—
The day of the Sacred Demon Grand Prix came around.
In the Center Plaza where the opening ceremony was held, the great crowd that had gathered back then in the hopes of a turnabout—or perhaps a get-rich-quick scheme— had once again all gotten together.
Sine anyone could participate, it wasn’t just the pairs that had won and remained, among them the losers were mixed in in no small numbers. Hideo was relieved he couldn’t see the Colonel or Javan among them. He could picture the Colonel in some battle chopper and the hero of justice on some flying scooter.
With so many people gathered, there were numerous stalls set up as well. There was even an audience. It was like in the midst of a festival, a new festival had broken out. There were relay helicopters in the sky.
Noon, the starting signal was close at hand. Bokes, cars, he couldn’t bother to count them. The exhaust smoke enshrouded the sky.
But there were those who chose otherwise. Those who excelled in speed or movement ability. They lorded over the rows of cars as worthless, with presences as if they were waiting for this moment.
Standing before the car Takase had prepared for them, Hideo and Wilco were overwhelmed by the sights.
“What is it, master?”
“Were there always. This many cars. In this city?”
He got the feeling he rarely saw them at all.
“Oh, I hear the president is running rentals.”
The signs in the audience booths and strung along the sides of the roads spelled out the name of the sponsor, Obliterating Industries. Well, a merchant should never overlook a chance for a quick buck.
“Man, just barely made it in time.”
He turned to a tired voice to find Ryuuta covered in bruises, with his partner Elsia as charming as ever.
“Hey, Hideo, you look like you’re doing good for yourself. Is that your car? Since you work at that company, I was expecting something amazing, but…”
Ryuuta alone seemed curious. Elsia as graceful as ever.
“This is one race where your demon eyes won’t work.”
“Nihahah, you can never know until you try!”
“Yes. That is true.”
Elsia easily accepted it. That could be taken as cold, but she wasn’t cynical in the slightest. In contrast, Ryuuta made no attempt to conceal his usual daringness.
“Well, by the look of it, you’ll be eating our dust.”
“… Then what are you. Driving?”
Ryuuta pointed his thumb behind him. He must have rented it too. It wasn’t at the level of a supercar, but it was a two-door convertible. A calculated choice, to a certain extent. With obstructions in mind, it would be easier to deal with them With a wide field of vision and a full shooting range.
“We’re not going to lose to a sedan. Just take care you don’t drop out.”
Ryuuta laughed and lightly tapped against his chest. He made his leave with Elsia.
“Elsia is one thing… but Ryuuta doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about cars either.”
As someone just as unknowledgeable, Hideo did think that theirs looked faster.
When he turned, it was Minako this time. It had been so awkward since then, he was taking care not to run into her at the apartment.
“So you’re participating after all. No matter what, you’re going to support that company?”
Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial, the fortunes of each company hung in the balance. But more than that… their own futures hinged on this.
“Just to let you know, officer! Wilco and her master haven’t done any of the cowardly things you’re thinking…!”
“… Is that… so. I have done some thinking since then. And honestly, I’m lost. Was the Hideo who once risked his body to protect me the real one, or should I trust the words of Elize Industrial.”
As she hung her head, Hideo spoke up.
“Just one. Thing.”
Of course, he wanted to defend himself. Now that they had met, there were plenty of things he wanted to say. Even if she was prone to misconceptions, her misunderstanding was far too terrible. But he belonged to an evil organization. He wasn’t completely innocent. So there was only one thing to say.
“We will. Win for our own sakes. As we have. As we will. And in this race. That’s all.”
“… If that. Goes against your. Justice.”
She couldn’t let Hideo carry those sincere words to the end. Her face had completely cleared up.
“Understood. Today, fair and square, let’s have a match… no that’s not it. Let’s both finish this race. And someday, maybe at the finals. I’ll be able to confirm your intentions… that’s what I believe.”
Like she had broken off some binding, Minako left with a smile. Her destination was a black and white… while it didn’t have a police light on top… a two-tone old-fashioned vehicle.
“The officer was kinda… strangely honest today?”
There are times words from the heart get through more than logic. This was surely one of those times.
Five minutes to start.
A small-built shadow rose to the platform, her brisk, lively voice came from the speakers.
“Welcome one and all! I’m sure quite a few of you haven’t seen me since opening ceremony, but I’m Kirishima Lena of the Administrative Committee! Once again, I’ll be serving as moderator on top of the real-time announcer for the progress of the race!!”
Would she be cheering them on? Just a little? A slight hope. He ended up thinking back to the day they went to the restaurant.
No, this wasn’t getting here.
‘Now, there’s not long before the start! I’d like to give one last check over the rules but… it’s incredibly simple! After the starting signal, make for the shopping district, residential district, nature district and industrial district in that order, and after you’d passed through the checkpoint in each area, you just have to make it to the finish line in Center Plaza!! That’s all! That’s all there is to it! We have no input on your means of transportation! Abilities, weapons, items, magic use, there are absolutely no restrictions! Meaning any and all sorts of interference are permitted in this race!!’
As always, Lena knew the right words and temp to get the peanut gallery heated up. Hideo’s eyes met with his own partner’s. They nodded in unison. Wilco got in the driver seat, Hideo the passenger seat.
They stared forward silently. Ahead of them a single point that went by the name of victory.
‘Now who will get the better of such a cruel survival race!? Who will get their hands on a hundred million tickets and an unprecedented number of stars!? The ball is about to get rolling on this huge event that could set the course of the entire Sacred Demon Cup!!’
Red signal. Three of them in a row.
All signals green!
‘Let the Sacred Demon Grand Prix Commence!!’