Even if we were far from it, I knew. This thing that was filling up the air-raid shelter with its imposing presence, this thing was a machine that was almost like the ENIAC, the first computer ever made, something I’d only seen in textbooks.
“What the. That’s a computer. Something like that exists in this era……?”
As I said this in Joseon language, Renka, who misheard what I said, asked me.
『……? Do you mean kompeito?』(note: Japanese sugar candy, this mistake arises from the word for computer in Korean being “computer”, and sounding very similar to “kompeito”)
That was right. This was an era where the word “computer” didn’t even exist. I didn’t know too well about this, but weren’t computers like the ENIAC first made after World War II?
Alright, let’s pretend that they could have existed before World War II, I mean, it’s a world where monsters and Gates exist, unlike actual history. The operation of mana was also logically quite similar to how programs work, so it could be understandable that this was inspired from how mana is operated and developed a couple decades earlier.
But even so, shouldn’t this be in a military science lab in the USA or Germany? What was it hidden in a school in a Japanese-ruled Joseon, and underneath a shrine at that?
I couldn’t just leave this be. This had the potential to completely change history from the way I knew it.
‘I have to look at it closer.’
I looked inside the air-raid shelter through the slight opening in the door, but I couldn’t see anybody. I lowered my voice and spoke to Renka.
『Let’s go in.』
Renka nodded and followed me. However, as soon as we took a few steps inside,
Something came down quickly in front of us and blocked our path. A metal door, almost like a fire shutter, came down and blocked us.
‘What is it?!’
And from behind, I could her the heavy clacking of metal gears. Renka shouted.
『S-Shirabayashi-san! The door is locked……!』
Like that, we were suddenly completely trapped in a narrow dark space, and before we could get a grasp of the situation, I could hear the growling of beasts coming from our left and right.
The shine of countless eyes approaching us from both sides. As Renka belatedly lit up her sword on fire, a pack of Claw Wolves emerged from the dark. Seeing this, Renka gasped and shouted.
『A pack of Jinro……!』(note: originally text had this as 人狼, literally “man-beast”. Might be a wordplay on the Korean dog breed Jindo)
They were the same monsters I fought yesterday during the squad tactics practice a few days ago. This wasn’t even a dungeon, and it was in no way a natural habitat for such a large number of Claw Wolves. Then, did this mean that this place was connected to the practice monster barn?
I bit the end of my thumb, drawing some blood, and fed it to the sword as I said.
『Renka. You take the left. I’ll take on the monsters to our right.』
As soon as we finished speaking, a Claw Wolf came rushing at me with its long claws outstretched. I lightly dodged it and cut its front leg and neck in one slash.
Renka, who had her back to me, also shouted and started cutting down the monsters that rushed at her. The cut up monsters’ pieces rolled onto the floor, without even a chance to spew out body fluid due to the burning blade scorching them as they were cut.
Several minutes had passed since I and Renka swung our swords back-to-back, but the number of monsters rushing at us wasn’t reducing.
Renka breathed heavily. I could also feel my stamina depleting from moving so violently in this hot space.
‘Forget about the monsters, we have to get out of this place first.’
A deep underground space, narrowed down by having two opposite sides blocked by iron walls. And on top of that, a huge number of monsters were in here, so there was a real worry of lack of oxygen if we fought here for too long.
To make matters worse, Renka fought with fire, so the more time we spent, the more dangerous it would get.
‘But I can’t tell her not to use her ability…… Wait.’
As I slashed the monsters I looked at Renka. Renka would be able to tear a hole into this iron wall with her ability. A tightly closer iron door might be too difficult, but the thickness of these walls that came down like shutters, wouldn’t be too much of a hassle for her. I asked Renka.
『Renka. Can you break through this wall?』
To my question, Renka, who after cutting down a monster got a few seconds opening, knocked on the wall with the tip of her sword a couple times. A light clinging sound resonated. Renka answered.
『This wall is thing, so I think I could do it, but I would need some time. Before we take down all the monsters here—』
『I’ll take the monsters on.』
『……! These many monsters, by yourself, will you be fine?』
『Well, you’ve seen me do it before, right?』
I was talking about what happened inside the Spirit Gate at Dongsomun. Of course, the termite-like monsters from back then and the Claw Wolves I had to deal with right now were at a completely different level.
However, I had also progressed quite a bit since then. First of all, my strengthening ability had gone up by a level, and on top of that, I was getting hastening by the sword I took from Aoki-shosa.
As I answered confidently, Renka nodded and answered.
『Understood. If it is you, Shirabayashi-san……. Alright, I will do it.』
Renka drew her mana and poured it all onto her sword. As soon as the blade started glowing a bright red, Renka thrusted it right into the iron wall.
The hot blade penetrated the wall and went halfway in. Having poked through the wall, Renka started to apply force on the handle and cut an arc, as if she was drawing a circle on the iron plate. In a few minutes a hole big enough for a person to go through would be opened.
I looked back at the monsters. Having paused for a bit at Renka’s flames, the monsters started approaching again, eyes glaring, as Renka focused on breaking through the wall.
‘They’re a lot to deal with alone but.’
They weren’t so many that I couldn’t deal with them, but it would be physically too much for me to deal with while also protecting Renka from this many monsters.
‘Nothing I can do about it.’
I slashed my arm with the sword and drew some blood. I had drawn some blood from my thumb earlier and fed it to the sword, but the effect was minimal and didn’t last long. After all, I hadn’t drawn too much blood from my thumb.
The black monsters’ blood didn’t work. Only human blood was effective.
‘Seriously, this sword just feels wrong.’
However, the more blood I fed it, the better the hastening effect was. I started feeling a bit like if I had gone back to my old body, and began to mow down the monsters.
A few minutes passed. Slashing the monsters, half in a trance, it was right as I cut down the last of the monsters that I heard a clanging sound.
As Renka’s blade, which she had thrust into the wall, had drawn a circle and come back to the place it started, the round iron plate that had been cut fell to the ground on the other side with a loud clang.
Renka gathered her breath in front of the hula hoop sized hole, then extinguished the fire on her sword and looked back at me as she said.
『Huff, huff…… Shirabayashi-san, I am fin-』
However, Renka, after looking at me, asked in a shock.
『A-Are you okay? Shirabayashi-san?』
I looked down at myself, wondering why Renka was so worried, but of course she would, my school uniform was torn up and was drenched in blood in places.
I had made light cuts on my body as I fought the monsters to be able to feed my blade blood, and I had ended up like this from that. Hmm, no wonder she’s surprised.
『They’re just scratches.』
I answered. I had actually just lightly slashed myself to the point of just drawing some blood, and most of the bleeding had already stopped with the scars already getting scabbed over.
『Uh! AHH! Y-You, what are you! How……!』
Someone cut off Renka’s words and shouted from inside the hole. The sound of the piece of the wall falling to the floor would have been, of course, audible from inside there.
I looked inside the air-raid shelter through the hole.
A man in a suit and glasses that were so thick you couldn’t even see his eyes, was standing with a pistol drawn, aiming it at us, shaking. Looking at him, I held my sword in front of me and thought.
‘I can’t feel any magic from him.’
If he was an Awakened that used mana bullets like Song Byung-oh, he would be a pain to deal with, but he didn’t seem to be one. Compared to when I face Aoki, I was much stronger and had this hastening effect on me, so deflecting a regular pistol bullet would be easy for me.
The man’s hand holding the gun was shaking. No matter how you looked at it, he didn’t seem to know how to fight.
I entered the shelter through the hole that Renka cut open as I thought.
‘First, let’s take the fun off him and tie him up.’
『D-Don’t come any closer! Y-Y-You terrorist-』
The suited man threatened me with his pistol in his trembling, but as soon as he saw Renka standing behind me,
『L-Lady? Lady, why are you? In this place……?』
He asked, with a dumbfounded look on his face.
Does he know Renka? I looked back at Renka. Renka frowned for a bit, as if she was thinking “who was it?”, pondering for a bit,
『Hakase(doctor) (note: Doctor as in PhD)?』
She said. Being stuck right in the middle, I felt very perplexed.
‘They know each other?’
I was in trouble.
The plan I originally had while following this guy was to interrogate him about who made the mana technology to open Gates written onto this Redstone and also how far it had spread, and if he was a technician that was a key figure to the whole operation, I was ready to stain my hands with blood.
This compulsion wasn’t excessive.
If the Gate generation technology was indiscriminately abused, it could lead to the Catastrophe. This meant that there could be disaster too big for humanity to handle right now.
Also, since I found a computer here, I became even more determined. But he and Renka knew each other. So I couldn’t do anything to him right now.
Renka shouted at him.
『Why are you here, doctor?』
『Ah……! Did you not know?』
The doctor continued speaking, pulling his pistol back and scratching his head.
『Well, you see…… I am in charge of management and technical support for this school’s mana engineering facilities, and……』
『Mana engineering facility? That thing?』
Renka asked, as she pointed at the vacuum tube computer that filled the shelter.
『It is the first time I have seen a machine like that.』
『Uh, that is our lab’s…… secret technology, one of a kind in the whole world.』
Of course. Judging by what I had seen so far, the level of technology in this era wasn’t too advanced. The presence of a computer in the underground of this school was an exceptional case.
『So, what role does that machine play?』
『Ah, yes. This is machine is a state-of-the-art mana engineering machine to maintain the barrier that keeps the school safe.』
『If you are talking about barrier, it is of my understanding that the metal rod barrier installed around the school site is doing that job.』
The doctor answered.
『Hehe…… Of course. This is the machine that injects mana into and maintains those rods. It is, after all, not free to maintain a barrier surrounding such a large area. To control that many barrier rods at the same time, a high-level of mana engineering is-』
『I understand. But why is such a machine under the Shinto shrine?』
The doctor answered as if it was obvious.
『Well, if you look at a campus map, you can know the reason at a glance, right? This place is in the center of the school site.』
『Anyway, yes, that is why I am here today. During the pre-field exercise, did a monster not break in? So I check over it, but there was nothing wrong with the barrier rods on the outside, so I came here to check on this machine, but—』
The man took his notebook out. There was a moth stuck on to a page of the notebook with plastic tape.
『Well, as you may see, a b-bug was causing the issue! This guy caused a short circuit in some circuits.』
At this point, Renka had no choice but to believe him. But still, it seemed she still had things to argue with the doctor about.
『……Understood. However, what about that iron wall or the monsters? Because of that my—』
Renka looked at me for a moment, then glared back at the doctor and continued.
『My friend was seriously injured.』
『T-That is…… T-There have been attempts of terrorism on this facility from outsiders. T-This is why a trap has been set up……』
『There have been terrorist attempts?』
Now that I thought about it, the first word the doctor had said when he saw me was “terrorist”. When Renka asked about the terrorist attempts, the doctor replied, scratching his head with an embarrassed look.
『Yes, yes. It is an important security facility, after all……. This is why the entrance itself was disguised as the shrine’s ceremonial plate storage room, but I did not expect you, my Lady, and your friend to come in like this! Your friend is quite hurt. How could I take responsibility for this……』
『I shall take responsibility for it. We will now exit, so I would thank you if you opened the door for us, doctor.』
No, wait. I want to take a closer look at that computer. I shook my hand at Renka saying 『I’m fine』 but,
She shouted at me, scolding me. Even if I told her I was okay, my appearance made my words less convincing.
So, eventually, I was forced to back up. Also, the doctor took the lead, saying that he was done with business down here, and Renka followed me.
‘If I leave now, I won’t get another chance.’
The shelter’s iron door was firmly closed again, and the lock engaged. Also, once we left, the disguised entrance, made to look like a warehouse, would be secured even more, so it would probably be ven harder to sneak back in.
I looked at the back of the doctor who was climbing the stairs ahead of me.
‘Rather than the computer, I should question this guy.’
In fact, just the way that mana circuits were built differently to those from the 21st century, checking the way the vacuum tubes and wires were arranged and connected wouldn’t be worthwhile.
The doctor’s words, saying that this was a barrier maintenance machine, didn’t have any weak points, but I didn’t believe everything he said.
‘He’s definitely hiding something.’
Even if it was just a tube computer, it was still a computer. There was no way that this was its only use.
Of course, even if it was occupying such a large space, its performance was probably no better than that of a portable calculator in the future. It was hard to even call it a computer, since it wouldn’t be able to run Doom, let alone Tetris.
One could wonder what such a machine would be able to do, but it wasn’t something to laugh at. This thing would be able to make calculations way faster and much more accurately than a human could, and it could also be used to build sophisticated mana circuits.
I put my hand in my pocket and touched the thing I had in there, thinking.
‘Just like the Spirit Gate opening circuit on this Redstone.’
If I wanted to find out about these things, the surefire way would be to mess up this technician guy rather than sneaking and peeking at that computer.
‘But, how do I do it?’
There was no way this guy would tell me the secret so easily. Also, since he knew Renka, it would be harder to mess him up to make him spit his secrets out.
So after thinking about it for a bit,
『You’re truly amazing, doctor!』
I shouted out at the doctor, in a voice as if I had been moved.
As the doctor looked back at me, I said, looking up at him with much more respectful eyes, as if I had genuinely been moved, and said.
『I had no idea that mana engineering was such amazing technology!』
『Shirabayashi-san……? Why are you suddenly talking about mana engi-』
Maybe she thought it was strange to see me like this, so Renka, who was walking behind me, asked me tilting her head. To Renka, I answered aloud, as if to make sure the doctor could hear me.
『I thought wielding a sword was the only way to protect people, but to think that a machine like that was protecting the school! I just realized that mana engineering can protect so much more people!』
『……! Shirabayashi-san, that……』
Renka, of course, as well as the doctor who had just heard such outrageous praise, said, grinning gloomily and scratching his head awkwardly.
『Heh, hehe, oh my, I didn’t know there was a cadet so interested in mana engineering! If there were more cadets like you, Japan’s future would sure be bright…….』
『So, I’d like to know more about the mana engineering that went into the machine back there, so if it doesn’t bother you, may I ask you where I can find you?』
The doctor took a brief pause,
『I’m at the Higashinori Otherworld Chemistry Laboratory in Yayoicho, Gyeongseong, but we are performing research so outsider can’t come in, but…… T-That’s it! If you tell the security guards that you came looking for Dr. Higashinori, I’ll come out! Hehe……!』
So Higashinori Otherworld Chemistry Laboratory in Yayoicho. Alright, I memorized it.
As we spoke, we arrived at the shrine warehouse on the surface, and the doctor said he would wait for me to contact him and left first.
Me and Renka came out of the warehouse too. It was afternoon when we entered, but by the time we came out of the warehouse, the sun was already setting.
I wasn’t too seriously injured, but I was exhausted because I moved too much, so I wanted to get back to the boarding house and just sleep deeply. So I was about to say goodbye to Renka but,
She asked me.
『Are you sure you do not need to get treated? If you are unable to be hospitalized due to financial problems, I can provide you with it-』
『No, I’m okay. As I said, it’s just light scratches. Here, look.』
I pulled my sleeve up and showed her the scab that had already started to form. However, Renka continued to ask me with a worried look.
『You, I think you need to get a new uniform as well,』
『I’m fine. I have a spare at the boarding house.』
『I’m fine. What about you? Didn’t you use up a lot of your stamina piercing that iron wall? It’s not easy to use up that amount of mana during several minutes. That takes a toll on the body, so you should go back home and get some rest.』
Renka dropped her head and answered. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t just me that went too far. Renka, although she wasn’t hurt, would be pretty tired right now.
『I’ll get going then.』
I dragged my tired body back to the boarding house and thought.
On the surface, he seemed to be a sloppy person who stuttered, but he had a lab with his name on it, and he even had a security guard on duty there.
On top of that, he had a foot dipped into the Spirit Gates owned by the ODC and even at this school.
He definitely had someone behind him. Besides, he knew Renka, so he wasn’t someone I could approach hastily.
I had to plan it out, and for that, I had to find out what kind of person he was first. However, he knew me now, so it would be difficult for me to sneak up on him.
However, there was no need for me to move.
‘I know someone perfect for this kind of task.’
After Baek Cheol-yeon left, Renka stood quietly, looking in the direction Baek Cheol-yeon disappeared, and quietly muttered.
However, Renka didn’t speak for a while to Osue, who had appeared behind her. As Renka stayed quiet for a long time, Osue grasped Renka’s intentions, and opened her mouth first.
『……Should I follow Shirabayashi-san?』
What Renka said next was unexpected.
『From now on, stop monitoring Shirabayashi-san.』
Osue raised her head looking at Renka as soon as she heard those unexpected words, but Renka kept just looking at the setting sun.
From the moment she saw him, she had been curious about him.
How could a regular cadet, unlike someone like her, fight so well? This felt like it denied her whole life, so she had tried every possible means of monitoring and intervention to discover his secrets, but she hadn’t been too successful.
‘But now I think I know more.’
Renka thought. The reason Baek Cheol-yeon was able to be so strong was nothing more than “his will to protect the people around himself”.
Looking back, every single time Baek Cheol-yeon demonstrated his strength was when he needed to protect someone else.
When he fought the Onikumo during the pre-field training,
When he faced up against the fake Japanese professor, Choi Seong-gil,
When he defeated her fiancée, Aoki.
‘And even when he slapped me.’
Renka thought, as she touched her cheek. When Baek Cheol-yeon slapped her, this too, was to protect the people around him despite the risk he could face.
And also today, had he not faced the monsters by himself while protecting her?
‘To such a person, I.’
She had asked her subordinate to monitor Baek Cheol-yeon to dig up his secrets, when he was just a righteous person. Yes. As Lee Yu-ha had scolded her the other day, how petty and shady could she have been to be monitoring her friend?
He would never do something like this.
So, she too, would stop doing this kind of things.
Renka once again made it clear to Osue, who was dumbfounded.
『The order to keep an eye over Shirabayashi-san is over.』
From now on, Baek Cheol-yeon was not someone she wanted to find out more about from behind,
He was a person she wanted to get close to from the front.
“Comrade Baek? Why are you……”
The next morning, having arrived to school early, I called Hong Ok-rye to a quiet place behind the school’s main building, as soon as the morning assembly was over, and told her with a smile.
“Yeah. This is important for the liberation of Joseon, so can you keep an eye on someone for me?”
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