༺ Officers of the Military State ༻
The officer frowned so severely that it bordered on rudeness, and she glared at the golem without even returning the salute.
The golem, missing the timing to lower its hand, kept holding the salute and spoke.
『I have heard much about you, Madam Lieutenant Colonel. I will serve as your aide until you leave—』
“I see. Captain, you are late to arrive. Even later than the laborer.”
Her tone was sarcastic and cutting. Momentarily taken aback by her demeanor, the golem responded with a slight delay.
『I will make amends. However, there is a reason for that…』
“Are you attempting to make excuses now?”
『…I will make amends.』
The golem fell silent, while the officer tsked and turned away, not even showing her face to the former as she went on to speak.
“I have no interest in how many of your golems were damaged, Signaller.”
That was a lie. She was very interested. But her curiosity stemmed from reproach, not concern. She inwardly questioned what the other party had done with all those golems.
“Likewise, I will not raise an issue regarding that golem’s condition, which is even worse than a tin can of beans.”
To clarify, she was raising an issue big time. The officer even had the urge to scold the golem for neglecting to check its own appearance before saluting, though she refrained.
She turned around, solemnly clasping her hands behind her back and causing her two gleaming medals to shake along with her uniformed chest. Emphasizing her medals with pride, the officer held her chin high.
“However, as your mission entails monitoring and managing Tantalus, you should at least be dedicated to it. Yet despite my arrival yesterday, I had not heard a single report from you. Not even until this moment when the laborer brought you here.”
『…I will make amends.』
“I reached the area under your jurisdiction as your prospective superior, yet it took a full day for our first encounter. Is it a deficiency in capability or in will? Merely calling it a lapse in discipline would be an understatement.”
Listening to that relentless barrage of criticism, I grew restless.
Do I hold back? Should I?
Actually, I can’t. How can I let an atmosphere like this go on?
『…I will make—』
I interrupted, swiftly bending down to tightly embrace the golem while raising my voice.
“Please don’t treat our Captain Abbey like that! What did our child do wrong?!”
Military officers were so predictable. She was trying to regain pride by bullying an innocent subordinate. Well, about 10% of it, at least. Not that I’d let her. It wouldn’t be fun if I just let things unfold according to her expectations.
“That’s right, it’s actually all my fault! If only I didn’t force Captain Abbey into the splits out of mischief! And didn’t take off her loudspeaker! Waah, I’m sorry Captain Abbey!”
“There there. It’s okay, don’t cry. If you cry, Grandpa Santa says he won’t bring you any presents.”
After confusing the situation, I snatched up the golem again. It struggled hastily in response, but I patted its back as if comforting a young child while turning around.
“Colonel Callis! I apologize for making you put on a show of embarrassing the golem while you’re busy! Feel free to continue working!”
Since the atmosphere was no longer good for assigning blame, clicking her tongue was all the officer could do. So I quickly waved goodbye before she said anything else.
Leaving the colonel behind, I exited the warden’s office. I hadn’t realized it, but the golem nestled in my arms had become motionless. As I wondered if it was disconnected, the golem spoke up in a weak voice.
『…It was not really your responsibility. As the colonel said, It was my negligence that led to having only one unit left.』
I responded nonchalantly.
“But she still went too far. Actually, she fell in here by mistake and yet she questions why you didn’t come to her. It’s so unfair.”
『Do not mind. It is familiar territory. When you become a signaller like myself, without taking any sort of test, and become a level 3 citizen just like the cadets from an advanced military academy, without any effort or competition… it is seen as an insult to them』
Elementary citizen school graduates were considered level 1 citizens. If they also completed secondary military school, they became level 2 citizens.
Citizens made up the majority of the Military State and served as the country’s foundation. However, a foundation essentially meant something to be trampled upon. They were oppressed, pushed around, and labored to lay the groundwork for the State, which thrived on their blood and sweat.
But things were completely different starting from level 3 citizenship. Those who excelled in their respective fields and were deemed extremely difficult to replace: officers, technicians, scholars, factory managers, and so on. They would gain expanded facility access, higher income, and certain privileges that lower-level citizens didn’t possess.
Officers who graduated from advanced military academy immediately attained level 3 citizenship, and they carried an immense sense of pride in this achievement. So much so that they would despise signallers who obtained the same status purely by luck, without any effort…
…Or at least, that was the role Colonel Callis was playing. Who’d have guessed?
I could read people’s thoughts. When I quietly perked up my ears, I could hear the desires hidden in their hearts. Wishes that were determined impossible, or shallow faith placed in over-confident plans. Such things approached me with either peculiar resignation or great excitement.
And in response, my usual approach was to…
“Was Colonel Callis always like that?”
『Today was my first time meeting her in person as well. She is renowned for achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at such a young age. The stories of her hunting down the beast of Auk Valley at the end of a three-day operation and single-handedly dismantling a Resistance base have been told among signallers as breaking news.』
“Someone like her talking down to a signaller? Doesn’t something seem off?”
Well, my usual approach was to nudge the circumstances in an entirely unexpected direction.
『For someone like the colonel, who has earned commendation through their own efforts, it is natural to feel aversion to a signaller who works comfortably without earning any merit.』
“Nope, I’m talking about competence, Captain Abbey. Why would someone so competent engage in such detrimental behavior?”
The officer, Colonel Callis, reprimanded Captain Abby. Actually, that was an understatement. The way she acted from the very first day of their encounter practically begged for a fight.
Whether Captain Abbey was obedient or rebellious, she would never even go near the coloonel with the attitude she was displaying.
“She enters the abyss by error and disrespects a signaller. What a messy affair. Is that the true face of the famous Lieutenant Colonel Callis?”
And that was what Colonel Callis intended.
“Captain Abbey, as you’ve seen, I’ve gained the Progenitor’s favor. Mr. Shei, on the other hand, is an antisocial who dissects golems on sight. Among those in Tantalus, the colonel’s only ally is Azzy, the friend of all humans. Which essentially amounts to nothing.”
It’s time to begin.
Persuasion starts from a common starting point. Standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing words of empathy, and walking side by side. And then…
“Yet why, on her first day of appointment, did she act so harshly toward you, the one and only individual who is an ally in Tantalus?”
The trick is to proceed slowly, ever so slowly, steering the train of thought in a completely different direction from its original course, yet with such a natural curve that it’ll go unnoticed. And that’s what I call persuasion.
“Because, Captain Abbey, you’re no ally to Colonel Callis!”
When I read the officer’s thoughts earlier, what I felt was aversion. Her dislike of signallers was undoubtedly genuine. However, in this secluded abyssal prison where a signaller served as the sole link to the outside world, their presence held tremendous value.
Was the colonel incapable of even mustering the patience to temporarily set her feelings aside and hide her animosity?
Well, if she were that kind of fool, she wouldn’t have risen to her rank.
『What does that mean?』
“Simply put, the good colonel! Has a reason to elude your gaze, Captain Abbey! She wants to be isolated once more in this secluded place! Could it be that she’s as much of a loner as I am?”
『What, do you…』
“Oh, really now. You’ve got such a twisted hobby. Must I spell it aloud for you, even though you get everything?”
In truth, she probably already knew. Given that signallers specialized in handling information, Abbey must have detected something wrong.
Although I couldn’t read a golem’s thoughts, I was confident that my words had made an impact.
The reason behind the value in truth is simple: economic logic. They’re unique, after all. While lies are abundant in the world, there is only one truth. That’s why genuine truth always finds its way.
I conveyed the fact I had discovered from Colonel Callis.
“She’s up to something shady while evading the Military State’s scrutiny!”
『Do not instigate me!』
The golem retorted in an obligatory manner.
『I will not be swayed by your instigations. Between a small-time criminal like you and Lieutenant Colonel Callis, an officer of the Military State! It is obvious whose words carry more weight! How dare you! The soldiers of our country are bound by blood and iron! To utter such baseless slander… Baseless…』
Individually, each occurrence involving the colonel could be comprehended, dismissed, and overlooked. But upon reflection of the collective incidents, they seemed so suspicious that it became difficult to understand why they hadn’t been noticed before.
But typically, people don’t notice. The intentions of others aren’t visible to the naked eye, and there are too many events occurring in the world to connect them all. If you know the answer though, everything that exists becomes evidence.
『However, if that is the case, this goes beyond insubordination…』
Good, she fell for it.
The duty of a signaller was to report. She might not believe my words, but she would at least report any suspicious activities… and then it’d be over. I just had to wait until the State took action. In the meantime, I’d take care of my own interests.
『…If so, then Colonel Callis’ reprimand was merely an act…』
“Nope, I think there was some sincerity mixed in there.”
The golem gave me a brief side-long glare before adjusting its attitude. Then it met my gaze and spoke.
『…I will now withdraw. Please keep this unit in a safe place.』
“Leave it to me.”
The golem’s body suddenly fell limp; the signaller had disconnected.
I placed the golem carefully in a corner of the cafeteria, then took a seat to ponder for a minute. I didn’t know what she was up to, but I had to show that elite officer the bitterness of society. A life where everything went smoothly would be too dull, wouldn’t it?
Besides, that was in my best interest. If the startled State decided to bring her in for truth verification, that would be the perfect opportunity. To observe the method to escape the abyss, that is.
Since I had planted the seeds of doubt, I figured I might as well use the remaining time to read the officer’s memories. Knowing what I was up against would make it easier to handle.
I stepped out of the cafeteria again and turned the corner, heading toward the warden’s office.
And there I ran into the regressor, holding Chun-aeng high above her head, ready to break down the office door.
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