“Power down to 12%. No estimation until restoration.”
“Watcher drone efficiency down to 34%. Deputy Director, at this rate we wouldn’t be able to maintain stealth. Our indoor equipment are likely to be affected soon.”
Reports from staff members arrived one after another. Jace, the Deputy Director of the 4th research center, glowered and spat out his orders.
“Cease everything in the Experiments building except for currently running experiments. Reduce operation of the indoor environmental control system to 40%, then move the free power over to the security system. Leave the normal drones alone but order the stealth type to stay still. We’ll use them as fixed cameras… you shouldn’t be needing me to tell you all this.”
Damn incompetents, Jace grumbled with an imaginary tongue click as his orders sent the staff members running around in a hurry.
But his evaluation was an uncharitable one. The staff here all had the skill and experience to be hired as employees in a top-class corporation. They’d thought of one or two solutions to the problem of their own.
Jace was just the typical genius. He believed his thinking was superior, perfect. He rejected any ideas that ran contrary to his own. His constant displeasure and dictatorship tendencies had discouraged the staff members from voicing their thoughts.
“What about her?”
“Y-yes, sir, she hasn’t moved after parking at the drive-in… should we deploy a team?”
“Not necessary yet. Track her if she attempts to connect somewhere.”
Several days earlier, an incident had happened in the 12th research center. All of its guards were slaughtered.
Reports had mentioned the culprit hadn’t used a single gun, only bladed weapons. Considering the fact that they’d managed to slip through the powerful monitoring system that was even capable of detecting active camouflage, the culprit was suspected to be special forces from another company of a certain country with industrial espionage being their goal, but at the same time, the lack of tracks left behind had also given rise to the probability that it was done by an internal employee. The corporation had declared what was practically martial law.
The culprit had been nicknamed the Ghost for the lack of tracks they’d left behind. In a normal investigation, all people involved would have been questioned, but the first to discover the crime scene had been the janitor, and the employees weren’t even aware anything had happened until after the corpses were cleaned up. So the staff were ordered to continue working as normal, except everyone was now under surveillance, including those who had been absent from work.
The investigation department, who were doing ‘marketing research’ to those employees not in the know, had reported that a female staff member of the 12th research center who had been on a vacation was heading for this place, the 4th research center.
Her name was Jennifer Caride, 26 years old. She had been scouted as an expert in electronics. With her background of being a game hacker, she was put into the game development team for the MMORPG World of Yggdrasia at the 12th research center.
The development team was subject to continuous network surveillance. Reports showed there was nothing suspicious in her family background or her private life.
But normally, her vacation was always for gaming. Why would she come here? This region had nothing of note. And right after the incident too, at that.
Most of the development team hadn’t been informed that the stage set behind the game was a real world, except for a small number of staff members who were closely watched, with even a part of their private life under careful management.
But while Jennifer was young, she’d been a famous hacker since her student years. Then perhaps something had piqued her curiosity, prompting her to look through the information about the staff members and helped her realize the truth?
In his wariness, Jace had looked into Jennifer. He found out she had been frequenting a fan website of the game, but the members of the site had included royalty of a certain country, famous doctors, and celebrities. Even Jace found the place too dangerous to infiltrate.
He didn’t have any concrete evidence, but his suspicions toward Jennifer only deepened.
She was more than likely to be related to the murders in some way. Jace decided to observe her on his own instead of telling the investigation department his thoughts.
And at the same time she appeared, the 4th research center’s power level suddenly dropped.
He was certain. Jennifer was somehow related to the Ghost. Yet she hadn’t access any website ever since she’d taken her vacation, the highway cameras only showed her driving alone, and there was nothing else suspicious about her aside the more-than-usual amount of food she was getting.
“… wait… what’s this…”
“…me too… weird…”
“…where’d they go…”
“No mutterings! What happened?” Jace shouted, irritated by the whisperings of the staff members. He had moved to the monitoring room to better give his orders to the whole facility.
“Yes, sir, umm…” “We can’t see anyone in the fifth section!” “Same with the third!”
“What the hell?!” Jace leaned forward at the unexpected report. “What happened?! Confirm the situation with the sixth section!”
“Deputy Director, we can’t contact the sixth!”
“Out of the way!”
Jace pushed aside the staff member to peer at the terminal screen. It displayed the image of a room now dark due to the power having been rerouted to the security system. There was no one there, as though it was a holiday or late night when they’d all gone home.
“…get the guards there. Some watcher drones too!”
The staff worked the terminal, ordering several drones to move to the area now devoid of people.
The images captured from the drones’ cameras were being transmitted to the terminal screens and digitally cleaned up to be brighter for easier viewing, yet for some reason, the on-screen footage was still far too dark.
“What the hell is going on?!”
“I-I don’t know, sir.”
While Jace questioned his staff, the drones continued to show empty rooms one after another. One of the drones detected a slight thermal signature inside a garbage container in the section that had been experimenting with the newest model of the magic gun. It peered inside.
One of the young staff members gulped, his face green, palm holding in his nausea. A woman screamed.
The screen showed a container packed tight with bodies, their throats all torn off. The image only lasted an instant before it was snuffed out.
The whole room was quiet, their minds blank upon witnessing a sight that looked as if it was taken wholesale from a horror movie. Then someone whispered, breaking the silence.
All in the room blanched at the possibility.
The serial murderer that had slaughtered all the security guards in a single night without leaving a trace was here.
“…call back the secret beta testers…”
“Call the secret beta testers back from Yggdrasia, now!”
The staff were shocked by his order. An older staff member spoke, sounding almost panicked.
“Deputy Director! Do you plan on having the soldiers they lent us to deal with the problem?! That’s a breach of contract! You’re jeopardizing our relationship with the military-”
“Contract?! We’re having bigger problems here!”
“B-but, sir, we don’t have many weapons here for them to use. We don’t have enough of the experimental magic weapons either, and using mana required the Director’s approval…”
“The hell can that damn politician do now?! We’re not using the magic weapons!”
“Then-” The staff member cut himself off upon his realization. His face lost all colors.
“We’re using the militarized monster avatars!” Jace growled.
Several minutes after the recall order, the secret beta testers who had been raising their levels in Yggdrasia returned.
Currently, there were three experimental types of militarized monster avatars that were usable.
[MO-11-B] [Militarized Monster Avatar] [Experimental Spider-Type] [Magic Points: 700/700] [Hit Points: 1000/1000] [Total Combat Power: 2200]
[MO-14-B] [Militarized Monster Avatar] [Experimental Ogre-Type] [Magic Points: 500/500] [Hit Points: 700/700] [Total Combat Power: 1800]
[MO-13-B] [Militarized Monster Avatar] [Test Iridescent Armor] [Magic Points: 500/500] [Hit Points: 500/500] [Total Combat Power: 3000]
The last [Iridescent Armor] type of militarized avatar was created for the purpose of taking over player characters in order to gain high firepower, which was why it couldn’t be used on Earth. In terms of overall power, the [Spider-Type] was the most stable, with speed and mobility better than a light tank, plus firepower and armor equivalent to a heavy tank. But as the battle was going to happen indoor, the [Ogre-Type] was chosen instead for their humanoid shape. They were currently being rapidly charged with mana.
The company of on-loan soldiers accepted Jace’s request. Their commanding officer was having a meeting with the three platoon leaders in VR.
According to the information they’d received, the special operative nicknamed Ghost was attacking this location, the 4th research center.
The order they’d received from the government and the army generals to be here was a top-secret one. There were many, many restrictions on what they were allowed to do. Themselves moving out to deal with just a simple terrorist was liable to be a violation of military regulations, and this was why the platoon leaders had wanted to refuse. However, the company leader thought this was a chance.
Magical weapons such as small arms were already beginning to be deployed on test runs on Earth, but militarized monster avatars still hadn’t been used here. The military wanted them to be available for live combat as soon as possible, and their company was afforded some amount of discretion in order to hasten the process.
If they could get some results here, the corporation would find it a lot more difficult to refuse to supply the military with the monster avatars.
“Isn’t it about time we try our hand at fighting humans?”
They had been killing monsters and raising their level in Yggdrasia, but soldiers were originally created to fight other humans. They had killed demihumans and refugees before in order to silence eyewitnesses, but that wasn’t a fight. That was just shooting turkeys on the loose. They had some pent-up frustration of their own.
“Alright, we’re doing this. Our mission is to eliminate the Ghost that had infiltrated the 4th research center. We’ll be equipped with the MO-14-B model. Tell those mercenary fossils in the guards to stay back.”
“The security guards’ signals have ceased transmitting. Sending drones to confirm ASAP!” “We’ve lost drone number 038, 039, 045, 046!”
“What the hell’s happening?! Where are the secret beta testers?!”
“All the MO-14-B have moved out… I think.”
“…t-the soldiers don’t seem to be planning on telling us their locations. We can’t detect them!”
“Fucking military bastards…!”
“We can’t contact the researchers in the eighth section!”
They had an invisible terrorist, the soldiers weren’t cooperating, and their researchers were still being killed. Jace couldn’t see anything. He moved to put on his personal VR set even as he was ripping his own hair out in his frustration.
“Give me a drone! I’ll go see myself!”
Through an audiovisual-only VR system, Jace drove a watcher drone to explore the facility interior.
Unsurprisingly, the digitally-processed camera footage continued to stay dark even through the VR connection. Only faint red exit lights and white emergency lights kept the hallways from being pitch-black.
It was quiet. Scarily quiet. Like an abandoned building devoid of all life.
Just as the thought passed through his mind, his body shivered as if in the cold. His sense of touch wasn’t even connected to VR.
He came to the lockers without particularly looking for anything, and what he saw sent him squeaking. Crammed between the lockers was a thing that used to be human, their blank eyes staring into him.
The corpse’s clothes marked him as an ex-mercenary in the security team. It was likely he had been killed without even a chance of retaliation, and his body was then placed there. But he wasn’t the only victim. In the dark room, another human body was huddling into a large decorative plant. The corpse looked like it was glued there, twisted and bent.
Jace barely managed to clamp down on his scream.
Fucking hell, what the fuck were the secret beta testers doing, he thought, trying to ignore his fear by channeling it into anger toward the soldiers.
There were fifty Ogre-type avatars moving out. They couldn’t be this quiet. Had they immediately met with the Ghost upon activating their avatars? They were capable of acting covertly, but unlike the other mana-filled world, their active time was limited on Earth. They shouldn’t be able to afford to move so slowly.
With that in mind, Jace drove the watcher drone to the section where the soldiers were. As always, silence reigned. There wasn’t even a single sign of battle.
Anger smoldered in Jace, anger toward the soldiers. As he headed for the VR room where they were supposed to be, he noticed the door was ajar.
Did something happen…? The door to this room was supposed to be heavily locked down. If it was open, then had they already defeated the Ghost and disconnected from VR?
“Have the secret beta testers contacted us?”
There seemed to be some sort of noise. He couldn’t hear the operator’s voice very clearly.
Yet standing still wouldn’t solve anything, and so Jace decided to peek inside through the door gap. He saw the VR capsules still closed in the darkness, so he knew they were still connected.
But something was strange. The soldiers inside the capsules looked different from what he remembered.
Had they always been so thin? So small?
He zoomed the camera in. He whimpered.
The soldiers inside the capsule were all dead. Withered and frozen in ice.
White-colored wind began dancing. A white mist covered the top of the row of capsules, coalescing into a human shape, an arm reaching out toward Jace to crush something in its hand.
At 30 years old, Jace once dropped the chemical he was holding during an experiment. Now his arms were burnt.
At 25 years old, his chair once broke and injured his hips. Now his bones were crushed.
At 18 years old, he once injured a rib from a football tackle. Now his lungs collapsed.
At 12 years old, he once got beaten by his father as punishment for his mischief. Now his jaw was cracked.
At 1 year old, his family once met with an accident in a car that had resulted in his mother suffering a whiplash. Now his neck was broken.
“And… that’s it.”
I used [Cyber-Manipulation] on the air-gapped mainframe computer dedicated to research and deleted everything related to monster avatars and magical weapons.
I had wondered how I would deal with the mana weaponry and equipment that were currently being experimented, but then I found the mana storage tank, so I just used all of it to smash everything to smithereens.
Such a pity. It was the first chance I had to refill my magic, and then I spent a ton of it to destroy everything. Back to scrimping mana once again…
I fiddled with the dog tag I lifted from the secret beta testers.
I had wondered how they could move so precisely, so exact. Turned out they were actual soldiers. Then did the government also have a hand in this? I wanted to deal with them too, but I didn’t have that much time. After I was done with everything, maybe.
Well then… next, the 7th research center.