Mastermind

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The Metal Iris and Storm Hound’s combined forces quickly retreated and withdrew from the battlefield.

The Asia Rescue Operation was a resounding success.

They moved to the nearest Defense Dome in order to replenish their supplies and get some well-deserved rest.

Jenny was called by Blue, so she made her way to a room inside their hangar carrier.

「Thanks for escorting Kou, Blue.」

「It’s nothing.
It was an easier task than expected after all.」

「But it looks like a really formidable rival appeared huh.」

「Who’s rivals with who!? Let’s talk about the real issue at hand, okay?」

「Alright.
Shoot.」

Jenny stopped fooling around and turned serious.

「I think I have an idea about who the mastermind behind Kou is.」

「As expected.
And I suppose it’s not Asia.」

「Asia was a prisoner until recently.
There is an existence that employed Kou in order to rescue Asia.」

「An “existence” huh.
So it’s not a human.」

「Yes.
The mastermind’s identity is probably… Astraea.」

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「W-Wait! Hold up a bit.」

Jenny’s expression hardened.

「Why did that name suddenly come up? That’s the name of the demon that held power to destroy humanity back in the Interplanetary War era, right?」

「You’re putting her in a pretty bad light you know.
She just worked to equalize the strength of all the major powers back then.
Kou was probably transferred here by Astraea.
There’s no doubt about it.」

「But she was so diligent and impartial in her job that she ended up providing frightening superweapons to all the major powers, and that resulted in the conflicts intensifying.
We’re talking about that Astraea, right? She was named after a goddess who upheld justice and equality represented by a pair of scales.
And in the end, she used her sword to grant equal judgment onto humanity.」

「Once upon a time, humans had managed to obtained iron and gold.
After obtaining these metals that came from under the ground, the prosperity of humankind had reached its peak.
Human hearts were greatly shaken and wars frequently occurred.
This legend resembled the situation back in the Interplanetary War era.
And an AI was named after the goddess who stayed in the mortal world until the end and supported humanity while extolling justice.
This was the AI Astraea.」

For Nereids like Blue, Astraea was akin to a distant relative.
Hence, Blue didn’t hold much ill will toward her.

「So I guess that means she still holds hope for humanity huh.」

「I heard that she self-destructed along with Sophia on the last day of the Interplanetary War era.
The AI Astraea of the Integrated Weapons Development Department that reports directly to Okeanos, that is.」

「We’ve heard that was the case too.」

「Kou-kun’s amazing, but he’s gotten the attention of something even more amazing huh.」

「If Astraea has decided to get close to Kou, then I don’t think the results would be that bad.
In other words, the balancing scales are now in Kou’s hands.」

「……I find this idea unbelievable, but Kou-kun… Don’t you think he actually managed to get his hands on Astraea’s integrated control facility?」

「That can’t be.
Haha, that’s actually not very funny you know… Ugh.」

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The two ladies both laughed powerlessly.
Integrated control facility.
Just like the previously imprisoned Asia, Astraea should have a facility housing her central computer as well.

If someone obtained it, they would also gain the help of the greatest support AI that had access to Okeanos.

Then the two ladies finally remembered one crucial detail.
Their mission this time around was issued directly by Okeanos.

Jenny changed the topic to ease the awkward atmosphere a bit.

「Hey, the names of the AIs that have taken the side of humanity were all taken from the Greek Titans and divine beings related to them, right……? I wonder if there’s a meaning in such a naming scheme.」

「I think there is.
After all, we Nereids followed that naming scheme as well.
Astraea and Asia were related to Uranus and Gaia as well.」

「But Nemesis is different, right?」

「Nemesis was part of Khaos’ clan, I think.
But Uranus abided by Nyx, the mother of Nemesis.」

「By the way, the developer of the Fennel OS was Prometheus, a high-dimensional observation computer’s super AI, right? It’s also named after a Titan deity.」

「Yes.
I’m not sure why the super AI of a high-dimensional supercomputer actually made the OS for escape pods and humanoid work machines designed to function in extreme environments, but…… the theory that it loved humanity to a somewhat excessive extent is widely accepted.」

「I wonder if this means humanity is going to have to fight against the Olympian gods at the end of it all.」

「Titanomachy? I don’t really think the Stones can be proper analogs to the Olympian gods, but they certainly have their arrogance down pat, don’t they? They basically stopped being humans after all.」

It was a tasteless joke.
Blue let out an empty laugh, but she recomposed herself fairly quickly.

「I wonder what Astraea wants Kou to accomplish.」

「It’s probably increasing humanity’s strength by spreading weapons technology.」

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Jenny gave an answer immediately.

「I’m sure Astraea is plenty dissatisfied at the state of the present era.
After all, humanity, which she was supposed to protect, is being pushed around by its enemies because of the severe lack of suitable equipment.
So it’s actually related to her reason for existence as well.」

「So that auction was actually due to her? You’re saying Astraea guided Kou to take such an action?」

「That’s what I think.
Picture it this way.
The auction was meant to release patented technology to the public.
That means even latecomers would be able to get their hands on them eventually.
Don’t you think something that impartial is a bit impractical?」

「I see.
If we were in Kou’s place, then limiting the technology distribution to a certain extent would allow us to amass a lot of benefits……」

「That’s it.
Of course, Kou is so good-natured that he might have thought of sharing the technology and giving an equal opportunity to everyone anyway.」

「Maybe Astraea found it convenient that Kou was such a person.」

「A lot of things make sense now, don’t they? If Astraea is really the one behind Kou, then I feel like I somehow understand his actions now.」

The two of them felt that they couldn’t hope to imagine just how an AI that looks after humanity actually thought.

Jenny herself was feeling quite overwhelmed by the discussion already.

「For Astraea, the Stones are clearly enemies.
After all, they seek to restrain human will itself.
They are the enemy of all intelligent life on the Nemesis warfront, and now, the balance between good and evil has clearly tipped.
And evil is prevailing.」

「The Stones are evil? No.
I’m sorry, but I beg to differ, Jenny.
They aren’t necessarily evil.
They merely made a different kind of choice.」

「They are the embodiment of malice.
Absolute evil.
Just why do we have to be killed by those freaks who quit being human? Those unfeeling monsters.
I take back my earlier statement about Astraea being a demon.
The scales are in Kou-kun’s hands already.
And what is needed now is the sword of judgment.」

Afterward, Jenny showed Blue a big smile.

「Hey, let’s become Astraea and Kou-kun’s sword of judgment, Blue.」

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「Jenny?」

「We of Metal Iris and Storm Hound will gather under Kou’s banner.
And it’s not just a temporary alliance.
We are planning on becoming a single Underground Force.」

「Just when did you plan for such a thing!? And I don’t think Kou would just agree to it either.」

「So I’m asking you to help out, okay?」

「Please don’t act cute with me.
Uu…… Why are you always charging ahead into things so recklessly like this? Honestly, you and Kou make for a good combination, Jenny.
Truly birds of a feather.」

Blue’s brows wrinkled in worry.

「Aww, don’t think so hard about it.
Let’s just have fun with everyone! Alright?」

「Well, it certainly does sound fun.」

「There you go.
I’m counting on you when we meet up with Kou later, okay? He might come to meet us immediately once he gets back to the base.
It feels like he has something to discuss with us as well.
And even if he doesn’t come now, he’ll meet up with us again after one to two months.
We’ll settle it at that time.」

「So it looks like you really are selling us off huh.」

「Yeah.
I really think this is the best course of action for us though.」

Jenny’s smiling face turned grim for the briefest of moments as she muttered under her breath.

「–And with this, I’ll be able to fight it out with those Stones to my heart’s content.」

Blue gazed at Jenny with a pained look in her eyes.

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