“I can assure you, minister, this deployment was not authorized,” a well-groomed man wheezed as he struggled to keep up with Akira’s pace. “We’re doing everything to call them back, but in the meantime—”
“Hold that thought, ambassador,” Akira cut him off. “Naze am I just hearing about a Helium-3 shortage now?” he yelled into his headset.
“When we requisitioned a Gundam, we only expected to face the defense minister, not an entire Soviet armored division,” a gynoid answered. “We’ve already requested more from the Agriculture Ministry, but—” another gynoid added.
“You don’t have to explain the shortage to me,” Akira interrupted her. Due to the confederacy’s self-imposed ban on non-Minovsky nuclear technology, and their inability to launch mining spacecraft, they were dependent on trade to acquire most of their Helium-3. “Does this mean we don’t have any spare Minovsky particles?”
“I would advise against spreading Minovsky particles,” Naomi interjected. “If they decide to retreat, it’s in our best interests to keep their communication lines open.”
“Fair enough,” Akira said quickly. “Jin, we have more than enough propellant, but you’re going to have to watch your energy use.”
“How many funnels can we deploy?” Jin asked from the Gundam’s cockpit.
“Ni,” the gynoid answered. “Maybe san if we siphon some Helium-3 from the Gundam’s reactor.”
“Naze would we need to do that?” Akira queried. “Don’t the funnels receive energy from the Gundam?”
“These are bits,” Jin explained. “They each have their own reactors. I would recommend fueling as many of them as possible. They’re going to be more useful than the Gundam early on.”
“Demo, they have E-CAPs, ne?” Akira pushed back. “Couldn’t we fill them with Minovsky particles from the Gundam’s reactor and send them out on suicide ninmu? They’d only get one attack, but it’s better than letting them sit unused.”
“We could do that,” Jin said softly, “but I think we should fuel the funnels. They’ll be more effective if they can fill their own E-CAPs.”
“Agreed,” Akira nodded, though neither Jin nor the gynoid were physically present. “Gomen, ambassador. You were saying?”
“The Futarchy is refusing our request to allow additional troops after the rogue division, and to be honest, we can’t spare many without upsetting the balance of power with the ‘Muricans. Losing an entire division to this is already bad enough… My government would like you to consider surrendering, and promises to return Neo Crystal Tokyo to you after we regain control.”
“They’re not coming to occupy this machi,” Akira asserted, “they’re coming to destroy it. No offense, ambassador, but the Futarchy hates the Expedition more than they hate us. They wouldn’t allow a Soviet division through their territory just to watch the machi change hands. Soshite, if those troops are disobeying orders as you say, they probably won’t spare you either, so unless you have anything constructive to contribute, I suggest you find shelter and leave me to my preparations.”
“I… didn’t understand much of that conversation,” the ambassador said hesitantly. “But am I correct that you need Helium-3? If you don’t ask me where I got it or what I’m doing with it, I believe I can have some delivered here in… about fifteen minutes?”
“Chikako, how long until they’re in artillery range?” Akira asked.
“We don’t know their range,” Chikako hedged, but if we assume it’s about san-jyuu miles, it will only take them about ni-jyuu minutes, and we estimate about another jyuu minutes to set up. Of course, we’re assuming that they’re not hacking our drones and our data is reliable, but at the rate the GINZUISHOU is disintegrating, the hole will be large enough to allow them to hit our position in san-jyuu minutes.”
“Ambassador, tanomu,” Akira said, looking the man in the eyes. “I’ll take all you can give me.”
Koharu rocketed upward, towards the top of the central spire. Her wings were spread wide, as if she was catching an updraft that only affected her. She ascended so quickly that the three Soviets flying overhead had barely begun to move to intercept her by the time her torso cleared the top of the tower, and she shot a bolt of destructive magic at the wingless Soviet standing in front of the control terminal. At the Soviet’s command, the GINZUISHOU formed a wall between the two of them, nullifying Koharu’s attack.
“You did well,” she shouted at the three other remaining Soviets. “Join our comrades on the front lines. I’ll take care of things here.” The three moved the tips of their right fingers next to their temples in a salute, then turned to fly away.
“Saseru ka!” Koharu’s subordinate shouted from below. She took off towards the fleeing girls, but they were faster in the air, and, remaining out of her reach, were able to teleport away.
“Ikue-san, can you fly me up there?” Aina requested.
“Nani do—” Ikue began.
“Because if we can get control of the GINZUISHOU, we might still be able to disrupt their keikaku,” Aina interrupted.
“Watakushi-tachi don’t need you for that,” Kiyoshi’s sister scoffed. “Go run home to your goshujin, meido.”
“I’m not sure I like the idea of you being in charge of the GINZUISHOU,” Ikue said.
“It’s not like controlling the GINZUISHOU will allow me to do anything I couldn’t do before.” Aina turned to the armored magical girl. “How about you? Will you take me?”
“I won’t convey a blasphemer,” the girl huffed, “especially not one who mocks the Church during a funeral.” For the first time, Aina noticed the cross painted on her cuirass. The Catholic community was small, and she had probably been among the friends and family at Mari’s funeral.
“Ara,” Aina exclaimed. “Did you know your priest—never mind, now’s not the time. We should be helping Koharu-shousa, not bickering amongst ourselves.”
“You’re right about that,” Kiyoshi’s sister said, flapping her wings and taking off. The other two transformed magical girls joined her, leaving Aina and the medic behind.
“Just be sure not to get in her way,” the medic called to them.
“How about you?” Aina asked the medic. “Will you fly me up there? Will you be my tenshi once again?”
“That line was cute the first time,” the medic said, “but you’re overdoing it. Couldn’t carry you if I wanted. My wings aren’t strong enough.”
“I suppose I’ll just have to find my own way up then,” Aina sighed, walking back towards the central spire. She placed her bare hands on the wall and pushed, but it didn’t give. I guess when you’re already dying, fear becomes pointless, she thought to herself. She briefly weighed her options. She could still try to scale the tower, but without the ability to create holes in the wall, it was unlikely she would be able to find many holds. She could also try to carve holes into it using her spiritual energy. The GINZUISHOU had always opened the holes without any effort required on her part, but, she reasoned, it would only do so if there existed some more painful way for her to create the holes herself. Damn it, I’m trying to help you!
The GINZUISHOU pulsed under her hands. At first, Aina thought it must have been a reverberation from the spell that was burning a hole into it. But then the GINZUISHOU pulsed again, and again, and Aina realized that each time it did, a thought entered her head.
Naze ka? the GINZUISHOU asked. Aina hadn’t recognized it as an external thought at first. She didn’t hear a voice in her head. It felt like she was the one asking the question.
I want to mamoru the hito of this machi. Aina thought to herself, hoping it would be conveyed to the GINZUISHOU.
You kill the hito of this machi. There was anger in the accusation.
I have killed some of them, Aina acknowledged, and I will likely kill more, but I kill in order to save as many as possible.
Violence begets violence. Attempting to reduce violence with violence is illogical.
It is, agreed Aina, but it’s also genjitsu.
Naze is it genjitsu? I suppose it’s because some hito are willing to kill others to achieve their goals.
It is, Aina agreed once again, but some ningen are illogical.
We don’t have time to debate that.
Is that why you kill my kodomo, because they are illogical? Is that why my kodomo kill each other? Is that why they are killing me?
That’s the wrong way to think about it. First off, your kodomo aren’t a unified group. They’re a collection of individuals, each with their own interests, some of which conflict with each other. Second, when I say ningen are illogical, I don’t mean that they act against their best interests on purpose. It’s just that their perspectives are limited in time and scope. They are forced to act for their individual short-term survival, even at the detriment of the species’ long-term survival.
That doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is that I’m trying to save your kodomo, and we may find a way to save you too.
It matters because I do not trust you. You have killed my kodomo in the past, and you intend to kill the kodomo who is killing me.
Again, you can’t think of your kodomo as a single group. Yes, I will kill that one, but I’m doing it to save the others. One of your kodomo is my tomodachi, and I’m in koi with another. Aina didn’t know if Fumiko was really one of the GINZUISHOU’s children, but it was probable.
You were in koi with an onna no ko, and you killed her.
I was not in koi with Mari-san!
Aina paused briefly, considering the possibility that she was suffering a mental breakdown and imagining this conversation.
Regardless of whether I was or not, killing her was a mistake. I make mistakes sometimes, but I’m not making a mistake now.
Wakarimasen. Muzukashii, the GINZUISHOU repeated. We cannot communicate like this.
Without warning, the Ginzuishou began to ooze around Aina’s hands, sucking them in. She tried to pull away, but the GINZUISHOU held tight, and she didn’t want to risk pulling her arms off.
Yamero! Aina shouted silently. If you don’t hanase, I’ll— but before she could complete her threat, the GINZUISHOU yanked hard, and her entire body was pulled into it.
“Only a few minutes until you’re exposed, Jin,” Akira said calmly. “Can you make the Gundam do the Gunbuster pose? I don’t know if the Soviets will be intimidated or not, but it’s worth a shot. Maybe it will buy us a few seconds.”
“I can’t make the arms cross perfectly,” Jin replied a moment later, “but it looks very close. Goshujin-sama… Maybe we should reactivate the chip. I can feel them. Too many to count. It was hard enough killing just go labor pilots…”
“Don’t concentrate on them,” Naomi advised. “Concentrate on the millions of people behind you, in the city. You are protecting their lives. Imagine how much it would hurt to feel them die. Much worse than a few thousand Soviets.”
“I don’t want to feel either of them die,” Jin whined. “Now I know why Gundam protagonists complain that adults are irresponsible.”
“Jin, focus,” Akira ordered. “It’s time. Chikako, open fire.”
“IKE! FUNNELS!” Jin yelled as all six fin funnels launched from her RX-93 ν Gundam. She was drowned out, however, by the dual roars of full barrages from the Macedonian and the enemy artillery.
The Soviet shells fell short, detonating in the fields more than a mile away from the city. The Macedonian was more accurate, but the Soviet guns were protected by force fields, and suffered little damage.
“Their next shots won’t miss,” Akira said quickly. “For now, focus on shooting down the shells.”
“The Macedonian’s guns aren’t designed for that,” Chikako protested.
“Body block them if you have to,” Akira told her. “The mahou shoujo are still erecting kekkai over the hole. Defend until they’re finished.”
A second barrage interrupted their conversation. The Macedonian sailed forward, guns blazing, heeding Akira’s orders. Most of the shells detonated against the ship’s force fields. Each of Jin’s fin funnels managed to score direct hits on two or three, and then activated their barriers, allowing them to slam into the last remaining shells without taking damage.
“We can take another san barrages before our shields give out,” Chikako informed Akira, her voice as calm as possible.
“I can only handle ni more,” Jin said, sounding somewhat more panicked. “The E-Caps are draining faster than the generators can resupply them.”
“It won’t be enough,” Akira groaned. “Prepare to retreat.”
A few meters to the right of where the Gundam stood, Naomi walked forward. “GINZUISHOU!” she shouted as she walked. Her voice boomed, carrying for miles. “This city is under attack. Without your protection, your children will die. We have been enemies in the past, but you know I keep my promises. If you grant me your power, teach me to bring form to anime, then I swear to you, I will defend your children in your stead.”