Editor: Thor’s Stone
「J-Just what the hell was that subterranean tank!?」
A man was screaming hysterically within a room inside Fortress Area X463’s control center.
It was the Development Engineer, Alberto Knapp.
「Did you really have something like that available? Gaaah, answer meee! Damned Development Department!」
He called on to the control center’s weapons development AI.
『The answer would be a definite no.』
The weapon development AI’s reply was short and blunt.
「So is that a weapon from the Planetary War era then?」
『Incorrect. I believe it was designed and manufactured by a Development Engineer.』
「So it’s possible for me to create something like that as well?」
『I believe that would be difficult for you. The materials used to build it are within the scope of your authority to manufacture, Alberto. But it also requires a high level of AI support and flexible thinking. Both of which are currently beyond you.』
「An A rank huh. Dammit.」
『Even an A rank Development Engineer will have a hard time creating such a weapon.』
「Haa!? You mean there’s actually a rank higher than A?」
There were only 6 recognized A rank Development Engineers in the Nemesis warfront.
Even B rankers like Alberto himself were considered talented geniuses.
He didn’t even think of the possibility that there could be a rank higher than A.
『You do not have the authority to obtain such information.』
「So there really is one! That response proves it!」
『I’m sorry, but cannot answer your query.』
「A true genius huh. Either that or it’s someone who had obtained a rank higher than A that may or may not even exist. Dammit. Either way, they’ve really messed around with me!」
He watched through a monitor as the MCS was pulled out of the super-heavy tank. They were going to abandon his creation.
「Wait. I don’t know if there really is a genius higher ranked than A, but why did such a person invade Fortress Area X463 in the first place? I wasn’t really interested in it, but is there really something sealed up within this place? Hey, contact Bardo for me!」
Bardo, who headed for the sealed section of the Fortress Area, was an E rank Development Engineer. He was able to activate and control repair and maintenance facilities and other small-scale unmanned facilities, but large-scale ones were out of his reach.
In the first place, the sealed section couldn’t be entered by those without a Development Engineer qualification or something comparable. Even the unmanned weapons of the Stones and their official envoys were unable to enter it.
It was an ancient facility that may date back to the Interplanetary War era, or even the Planetary Pioneering Era.
『Bardo was defeated by an enemy Silhouette. He has an 85% probability of surviving the battle.』
「You’ve gotta be kidding me! You’re saying that guy was actually defeated? Just how much did you think I forked out to get my hands on that Falco!? No, that’s not the point. He got defeated even when piloting a Falco…… Was it Takaba? But he’s an A rank……」
Of course, it would be quite difficult for those who allied themselves with the Stones to obtain weapons and technology from the human side. It was especially difficult to get the latest machine models, even on the black market.
Even so, he was still asked by Bardo to buy the TSF-R10 Falco for more than 5 times the market price.
『The details of the enemy pilot are unknown. The Silhouette used was a TSW-R1 Lanius.』
「Have someone go rescue him then.」
『Currently, you are the only individual who has the right to enter the relevant section.』
「It’s impossible for me to fight it out with the intruders you know!」
『The intruders have already left the sealed section.』
「So you’re really telling me to get out there huh. Dammit. I can’t believe I’m cleaning up after a mercenary. –Fine. I suppose I’ll have him owe me a favor then. Can’t be helped.」
Bardo was useful. That, at least, was certain.
Although he hated the fact that the man was a battle maniac, he wasn’t totally broken as a human. So it would be best to still have him on hand.
And then, Alberto suddenly realized something.
「Wait. Was the Lanius pilot actually a Development Engineer as well? Yes, that has to be it. If that wasn’t the case, then that person wouldn’t have been able to enter the sealed section in the first place.」
『That is correct.』
The control center’s AI wasn’t capable of lying. It will simply refuse to answer if it wasn’t allowed to share certain information.
A wild conjecture formed within Alberto’s mind. He was, in the end, also a kind of genius.
「Did that Development Engineer achieve their goal?」
『I am unable to ascertain the intruder’s goal. Hence, I am unable to say if they had accomplished their goal or not.』
「Just what did that intruder do within the sealed section?」
It was a sealed section that only Development Engineers could enter. Alberto was trying to get to the bottom of things with only limited information available to him.
『You do not have the authority to obtain such information.』
There you have it, Alberto mused. This probably meant that whatever the intruder did could only be accomplished by one who held a Development Engineer qualification higher than A rank. But he had definitely done something.
Fortress Area X463 still hasn’t self-destructed. If so, did he actually fail? It was strange that an individual capable enough to defeat someone like Bardo failed. Perhaps he used some form of deception to fool the eyes of the Stones.
In order to confirm his theory, Alberto asked his final question.
「Was that man an A rank or B rank Development Engineer? Please answer this question, at least.」
『You do not have the authority to obtain such information.』
A smile formed on Alberto’s lips. It was unmistakably filled with malice.
It was as he’d expected. The enemy Development Engineer was A rank or even higher. Can a mere C-ranker make a drill tank like that? Of course, not. It’s said that the difference in authority between the A and B rank was immense. The level of their AI support was also highly different. They were said to be friendlier to A rank Development Engineers.
And the difference in authority between B and C rank also included the extent of AI support available to them.
A Development Engineer who was neither A nor B rank. The Weapons Development Department AI refused to answer his questions. The opponent wasn’t a genius. Instead, it was a Development Engineer who obtained something like an S or perhaps EX rank qualification.
This information had tremendous value.
There was a weapons technology auction recently held by Okeanos. The weapons industry leaders throughout the Nemesis warfront as well as Fortress Area officials were eagerly searching for the technology’s source.
But until now, they haven’t had any results.
Alberto was currently the only one who managed to find him. That meant he would be able to freely sell such info to any company he chooses for undoubtedly enormous rewards.
The identity of the enemy Underground Forces could be investigated at a later date. Once he compiled and analyzed the information, the answer would most likely come naturally to him.
And there was the biggest question of all. Just what was the Development Engineer’s goal?
Alberto concluded that the answer would come to him as well if he analyzed the movements of the enemy force that attacked them today. He was quite confident of this.
He surmised that the information he now held could even serve as an effective bargaining chip against the Stones.
「Hmph. So his development of weapons is fully supported by super AI huh. He sure has it pretty good. And that drill tank…… I’m sooo jealous dammit! A drill’s just cheating! Cheating, I tell you! I wanted to create such a weapon too!」
Alberto started screaming hysterically alone inside his room.
「Drills are greaaat! I wasn’t able to come up with such an idea! Alright, I admit it. I admit it, you unknown Development Engineer. You are someone who possesses an imagination greater than me!」
To think there was an even bigger idiot who surpassed an idiot who insisted on making super-heavy tanks, Alberto mused. Alberto was very self-aware about his inherent eccentricity, but this still severely hurt his pride.
The man who looked at himself as a genius had admitted that he was lacking in imagination compared to another. He sincerely recognized his defeat.
「It’s unfair…… It’s so unfair! Dammit! Just wait until next time! As a fellow Development Engineer, I accept this challenge!」
Albert gritted his teeth as he bellowed a declaration that would confuse the heck out of Kou if he were to hear of it.
Kou and Blue had managed to reunite with Barry and the others.
Barry and the others had just gone through a deadly battle with Keres, and they had managed to completely decimate the first wave.
「Impressive as always, Kou. You actually went and defeated Bardo.」
「So that uncle really was famous?」
If he didn’t take the initiative to go in for the kill first, Kou felt that he might not have won.
At least, it would have been impossible without the use of the thruster equipped with the detonation engine.
「He actually seems to be dissatisfied about the method he used to win though.」
Blue’s tone was a bit harsh. Perhaps she was so strict on Kou because she was worried about him, but he wasn’t sure.
He was only aware of how worried she was earlier because Aimer secretly told him through the comms.
「You sure are a difficult fellow. A win’s a win y’know.」
「Yeah. I get it.」
「We’ve achieved our goal. Let’s get out of here. It’s gonna be a tough retreat.」
「Did they already discover our infiltration route?」
「We’ve annihilated the ones that came to get rid of us, and we made sure to fight them from here. It’s unclear if they still had the numbers to search for our infiltration route.」
By proactively going on an offensive, Barry and the others made the enemies prioritize intercepting them over searching for their infiltration route.
After hearing that, Kou’s tense nerves relaxed a little.
They made their way back to the tunnel they used to infiltrate the Fortress Area interior.
「The hole was closed up?」
「No, no. This was my handiwork.」
Fuyuki controlled his Silhouette and pulled something from the ground.
It was a quantum stealth sheet made out of metamaterial. It was a kind of optical camouflage.
「Ugh. I told you not to call me that. The second wave of enemies should be coming soon. Let’s go.」
「Roger that. The tunnel is structurally weaker because it isn’t fortified by Whis now. Please make sure to be careful.」
When they infiltrated the place, the tunnel was structurally sound because the armored excavator driven by Voy provided Whis. Now, however, it was just held up by the hardening material alone.
「I’ll take the rear. The enemies are here. Hurry!」
They entered the tunnel one after another. Kou was in the lead while Fuyuki brought up the rear.
Fortunately, the tunnel didn’t collapse on top of them, and they exited one after another.
They all safely made it out. There were no enemies present outside.
Kou, who turned to confirm Fuyuki’s escape, saw Fuyuki working on something at the tunnel opening.
「Sorry for taking some time. Let’s go.」
The five machines started moving to rejoin the main force.
Metal Iris had also already confirmed Kou and the other’s successful escape from the Fortress Area. It seems they would be picked up by a recovery unit.
As they advanced, a large explosion went up from behind them, causing a huge pillar of flame to rise up.
The explosion was so powerful that the trees around the area were nearly brought down by the shockwaves alone.
「Whoah. That surprised me. It was you, wasn’t it, Fuyuki?」
Mike asked as he watched the flaming pillar rise higher and higher.
「I merely poured boiling water inside an ant nest.」
It was Fuyuki who wiped out the chasing enemy Ant-type Keres by setting off explosives within the tunnel.
The rest were probably buried underground.
They succeeded in retreating with a huge fire pillar as the backdrop.