Akira was standing in a white space. As he looked around in his hazy consciousness, he saw two Alpha and a young boy that seemed somehow familiar to him. He could see shadows of countless people standing beside that young boy.
“How is your development”
“Great, very great, in fact. I can even delegate my calculations too and theres a good chance that Ill be able to get better equipment. Although I still dont have the exact time, Im planning to get the necessary equipment in about a few months. Well then start working on the main project right after that.”
“Im sure theres no need for me to tell you this, but youre not allowed to make him one of your terminals, you know. The subject that we can send to the commanders room should not be one of us. If you turn him into one of your terminals, the system will recognize him as one of us. So be careful.”
“Yeah, I know that even without you telling me. There was a case in the past when that happened and it did not work. In the first place, if a remote terminal was fine then we would have used one of those automata and gone there ourselves. Thats why we have no other choice but to go through this painful process.”
“Its to ensure that the one accessing is a real person. We cant do anything about it, thats just how the security works and it applies to us too.”
“Well, youre absolutely right about that.”
The two Alpha smiled bitterly at each other.
“So then, how about yours”
“After the change of plan, the local networks nodes spread incredibly fast. Although I have no complaint about the number since the more nodes we get, the more fighting power we will have. But there might be a problem if the number goes beyond what I can control. Im planning to evaluate the total strength by doing something soon. After that, depending on the result, I might decide to bring the subject to the commanders room.”
“Are you sure youre going to be fine If you let the local network node spread wider and wider at this rate, the system might see the network as one entity and youll have to bring all the nodes to that place when that happens, you know.”
“It should be alright. Although I said its a local shared network, it has a proper stratification and the head of that system is the only one that fulfils the conditions.”
“I see, that explains how your progress got ahead of me. Well, thats perfectly understandable.”
Alpha seemed a bit disappointed, the other Alpha then frowned and asked.
“Does your subject not show any sign of forming a local network”
“Nope, none at all. After all, he was originally a loner and the thought of forming relations with others never crossed his mind, thats why I cant use that method. But Ill be the one managing him after the connection, so dont worry about it.”
“Whats wrong Is there any problem”
“As I explained, the local network spread out way faster than I expected. As such, I sometimes cant take control of the network. So I might need your help if things get bad.”
The first Alpha agreed to help the other Alpha but she also blamed the second Alpha.
“Sure, I dont mind, but you should do something about it first before it comes to that, you know.”
“Unlike the subject under you, I still havent even received the consent for the contract from my subject. So it might be not that easy”
“As I thought, doing this with an uncontracted subject is not ideal.”
“This is also an experiment. Regardless of the result, itll be useful for our future trials.”
“Well, thats true, but still. Ah, by the way, about Tsubaki…”
While the two Alphas were still talking to each other, Akiras vision blurred.
Akira finally woke up. He felt that weird feeling as he realized that he was no longer in the same place as where he last remembered and immediately scanned his surroundings.
“…Where am I”
Shiori noticed Akira waking up and spoke to him.
“Youve woken up, are you alright It doesnt seem that you sustained any injuries from the outside, but, just to be safe, I gave you some medicines. Ill bring some more if youre still in pain.”
“…Where is this place”
“Were inside Akira-samas APC. Since we found you fainted on top of the APC, we brought you in and let you lie down until you woke up… Are you alright”
Akiras consciousness was still hazy, although there was a slight trace of calmness in his mind, the haziness prevented him from being fully awake.
That was when suddenly Alpha appeared.
“Akira, good morning.”
“It seems that youre a bit flustered there, how about you take some deep breaths first Itll calm you down, you know”
Alpha was smiling gently at him, just like usual.
Judging from how Alpha was smiling at him, Akira understood that he was in a safe place for now as he took a deep breath. It was a short ritual that helped Akira reset his state of mind. But as he regained his calmness, the hazy memories of what he saw when he was unconscious was lost in the exchange.
“Alpha, give me the status report for now.”
“You fainted after fighting two automata on top of the APC. You dont remember that”
“…Ahhh, right, I was fighting those automata!! …So… I fainted after that, huh”
Akira thought that the weird feeling that he felt was the leftover adrenaline rush that was cut short when he suddenly fainted in the middle of that fight. He then noticed Shiori who was looking worriedly at him.
“Ah, right, Im fine… I fainted up there so it means that you must have saved me from falling over. Thank you.”
“Its great that youre alright. Im sorry to ask you this just right after you woke up, but there are some questions that I want to ask, is it okay”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Shiori and Akira then exchanged information to understand the situation that they were in.
While Akira was unconscious, they were able to successfully get away from the swarm. Right around the boundary when the green plants that covered Lida commercial district stopped growing, the monsters also stopped chasing the APC. It was a common trait that monsters could not leave the ruin. That was why people used to call them biological security drones guarding the ruins.
The vehicle was on the way heading back to Kugamayama city at the moment. Togami was driving the APC while Reina was sitting and resting on the drivers assistant seat.
After carrying Akira in, Shiori and Kanae really did not help Reina at all. Although Kanae was standing next to her, she was only there to guard Reina while sometimes making idle talk. To put it in a better light, it might have helped Reina not get too tense, but it might be just Kanae having nothing else to do to waste time. It was also to give Shiori time to think as well as to help lighten the side-effects of the trump card that both of them had used.
Togami was driving the vehicle while talking with Reina about their next plan. They were trying to flush any other potential issues including the distribution of rewards and where to sell the relics before Akira woke up. Todays ruin exploration was basically registered under Togamis party which only included Togami and Reina. Kanae, Shiori and Akira were basically considered outsiders this time. As the leader of the team and as the only other member in the team, Togami and Reina were seriously discussing what to do about their negotiations with Akira.
After hearing a short explanation from Shiori, Akira more or less got the gist of what had happened. But he then confusedly said.
“I dont know anything about this maid automaton, Olivia. The ones that I fought were only those two automata. I bet both of them jumped onto the APC back then, but I have no idea how they did it.”
“I see, she was already there when Kanae and I arrived at the scene.”
“Hmm, I have no recollection of that automaton at all. Either it came in between after I fainted and before you got there, or it was there all along and was using a camouflaging device. But if that was the case, then why did it not attack me Wait, that one has nothing to do with camouflage, huh.”
“I might have a guess regarding that matter. It said that it had worked for what it was paid for already. So I bet that automaton was hired by the ruins system. Although, I dont know the details whether its only to repel intruders or to fight back against armed robbers. But it seems that it had judged that it had worked enough after Akira-sama defeated those two automata.”
“…I see. I dont know if its being earnest or not by doing so, but either way, I was saved by that. So it doesnt really matter, huh.”
Akira found that interesting since it was more of a human-like emotion that a robot would not normally have.
Shiori then handed a white card to Akira.
“That automaton left this for you. Do you know what this is”
Although Olivia left that card for Akira, it was not like there was anything in particular written on it. So it looked like nothing but a plain white card.
Since it had happened when Akira was unconscious, he had no idea the reason why that automaton left him that white card. Shiori also deliberately did not tell Akira how she got that card. Alpha also deliberately kept herself from telling anything to him. Because of that, he thought nothing of that card other than something that one of the automata might have dropped during that intense battle.
Akira took that card, flipped over, and took a closer look at it. But as expected, he had no idea at all.
“Alpha, do you have any idea what it is”
“Well, that is already obvious.”
“Akira, even if I tell you what I know, what will you do if Shiori asks how you knew about it”
Alpha indirectly scolded Akira for his carelessness. He then shook his head and extended that card back to Shiori. But Shiori did not take it back and Akira found that really strange. Shiori then added.
“This is just a guess, but that automaton might belong to the Lion Steel Corporation. Does that give you any hints”
“Lion Steel Corporation”
Akiras face slightly twitched the moment Shiori mentioned that name. Shioris gaze turned sharp. Both of them were watching each other closely for the slightest change, trying to judge what the other party noticed from the others reaction, as this awkward but careful silence was maintained for a while. Shiori was the first one to break the silence.
“Do you have any knowledge regarding this name”
“…As I said, this is nothing but my guess. That Lion Steel Corporation is probably an old-world company. If Im not mistaken, that name was also there in the Seranthal buildings guide map. If this card has something to do with that and if its a card to give special permission to pass through, it might be useful to go to some floors that are originally closed off to outsiders.”
“That is indeed interesting.”
“Well, I have no plans to go there ever again anyway, so I basically have nothing to do with this card.”
Akira tried to suppress the agitation inside him and keep calm. He remembered that only happened because he could connect to the old-world domain, that incident might lead to the old-world connection device and hint to his ability to connect to the old-world. Lion Steel was a name that was connected to both cases. As expected, knowing that name was enough to make people suspicious, Akira could not be sure that he was able to completely hide it.
Shiori tried to read what was behind Akiras words and said.
“Very well then, Akira-sama, in that case, would it be alright if we keep it”
“Uhh, you mean the card, right”
“As well as everything connected to that card which includes the information that Akira-sama told me just now. Of course, it wont be for free. But it is difficult to decide how much it is worth. After all, even if we bring this card to the Hunter Offices exchange centre, it would only turn into a small amount of money. So I dont recommend deciding the worth of the card based on its selling value.”
“But then, its difficult to decide how much its actually worth. We can actually just take it as our collective possession as a team, but Im basically an outsider in this team.”
The price of the card was not clear and was difficult to decide even among the inner circle, but if it was sold, it would only turn into a small amount of money. Even Akira understood well that making a mistake in the method to divide the loot might cause a fight.
“It seems that Akira-sama is not that interested in this card. But even so, I dont think its right to just let go of this card for free. In that case, how about exchanging this card for a favour”
Akira hesitated for a bit.
“Alpha, what do you think To be honest, its not like I really want that card anyway, but is it something that I shouldnt just give away willy-nilly”
“If youre afraid that it might give rise to suspicions if you just let that card go, you can show a little resistance before giving it away.”
“Ill do that then.”
Akira thought that if it was really a precious relic, Alpha would have stopped him. But since she did not give any reaction which hinted at that, he thought that the relic must not be that important. So he decided to put up a small resistance on his own.
“Well, in that case, Ill use that favour right away. Before dividing the reward from this exploration, I want you to first subtract it based on the ammo that we have consumed during the battle just now and pay me that money upfront, and inform that to the other two. With all that happened today, Im sure well fight over how to divide the loot anyway. So in exchange for giving you that card, I want you to do this. Is that alright”
“…Very well. Ill convince Milady and Togami-sama regarding this matter. In case if it doesnt work, Ill take responsibility and pay it with my own money.”
“We have a deal then.”
Akira smiled and handed over the card. Shiori politely received that card, put it in her pocket and smiled.
“Indeed, we have a deal.”
The card that Olivia left for Akira now had turned into Shioris possession based on a deal that Akira had accepted. That meant Akira had transferred all the rights coming from that card to her. During that negotiation, Kanae was looking at them with a rare serious face.
Shiori and Kanae then went to Togami and Reina to tell them about the deal. Akira, who was left behind, sat down and looked at Alpha.
“Say, Alpha. Did you do something to me during that fight on top of the APC”
“Yes. I boosted your time compression. I always wanted to do that and finally, I was able to.”
“Thought so. I felt something was weird back then. What can I say… It felt like all my five senses suddenly turned so sharp that everything around me seemed completely different than usual.”
“Thats simply because the information that you received during that brief period of time was multiplied. The difference is similar to looking at a blurry picture and a sharp picture.”
“I see, thats kind of true, it felt exactly like that.”
“Akira, let me at least warn you about this. You should not use it too frequently. It places too much burden on you after all. It has the same effect as taking a strong accelerator drug. In the worst-case scenario, it might even kill you.”
Akira slightly frowned.
“…I did something that dangerous, huh. But still, Ive already done things that dangerous so many times before and I know its way better than getting killed because I didnt do it.”
“Itll lessen the burden which makes it safer and increase its effectiveness the more you use it. So theres no other way but to get used to it. You might even get to the point where you can do that on your own without my support at all one day, you know. But make sure to be careful. Its something like a trump card that you should not use often.”
“I know… Ahhh, now that I more or less understand what happened, Im feeling super tired now and my head started hurting too.”
“You can lie down and take a good rest. Youve worked pretty hard this time, so Im sure no one would complain.”
Although he was not sleepy, Akira decided to lie down again. As he stared absentmindedly at the APCs ceiling, he noticed a small slit.
Akira was thinking about what to say to Shizuka when he placed that order. Either he will have to try and hide it or be honest and tell Shizuka everything. He was not sure which one to do.
Olivia was running through the wasteland, she was running as fast as a vehicle.
There were many conditions that needed to be satisfied in order to reactivate Olivia from its storage device. But those conditions were reduced due to the long years where it stayed inactive and the signal that the storage devices terminal was receiving at that time. Thanks to that, even a random button press from Rodin was enough to wake Olivia up. That was the reason why Olivia followed the security protocol in case it was activated through the wrong method.
The security protocol led Olivia to kill any intruders that got into restricted areas. And when the information of the unauthorized intruders was sent to Olivia by the system, the system also submitted a request with payment since Olivia was originally not a part of the system. It then decided to accept that request and to only work as much as it was paid.
After that, it found other automata from another company and checked their conditions. It then judged that those automata would be either destroyed or misused, thus it changed its view of the automata and decided to turn them into its own terminal in order to use them to take care of the intruders.
The reason why it baited the monsters to attack Akira was nothing more than a decision made by its AI side, it was something that was built-in into it as if it was its personality. To put it simply, it did not want to get involved in the fight itself if it was possible. Furthermore, the system wanted to clean up any dangerous elements inside the facility which included monsters. At the same time, Olivia also judged that there was no need to get too serious since it was not a deal made with a real human.
But the intruders were able to survive the swarm. So Olivia decided to throw the other two automata to that APC. And even those were defeated by Akira, thus it had no other choice but to go there itself.
Olivia took the weapon that the other automata dropped and was about to go and kill Akira. As it was thinking that it had already more or less worked hard enough for the compensation that it received, Akira suddenly stood up while still unconscious. He then said something that normal humans could not comprehend before falling limp again. Shiori and Kanae arrived at the scene right after that.
The moment Olivia understood what Akira had said, it decided that it had indeed worked hard enough for what it was paid for. As a matter of fact, it thought that it should receive more for what it had done that day. After it lightly repelled Kanae and Shiori, Olivia left its business card before leaving the scene.
Olivia sighed and mumbled.
“To think that I got to meet that thing right after I woke up, I guess I really am unlucky.”
For Olivia, who had the ingenuity to understand the concept of luck, it did not like the entity behind what Akira said back then.
“I want to work for a human. Even if the payment is good, I have no plans to work for something like that. I just gave him that card since the record said that he had once accessed the counter on his own. But now that I think about it again, it might have been better if I had killed him considering that hes working with that thing… I wonder if I can find a good employer somewhere…”
Olivia looked rather disappointed, but she immediately smiled afterwards. That day, one more old-world automaton was released to the wasteland.
The people from Yuzumo Industry finally arrived at where Kurosawas team was. Among the people that were dispatched there, Kurosawa spotted Shikarabe.
“You guys are damn late.”
Shikarabe lightly scoffed and countered.
“Its not my fault. Dont tell me that someone got killed.”
“Nah, its zero like usual, though someone has been badly injured, hes not going to die.”
“Then its business as usual, isnt it”
“If only you guys came sooner, we wouldnt have had to go through that and we might have been able to earn more money. Four undamaged old-world automata now turned into two broken old-world automata, you know And here I thought I was about to bring back a lot of money.”
“Well, you have my condolence.”
Shikarabe laughed and said so as if it was not his fault. Kurosawa replied with a click of his tongue. Their casual exchange demonstrated that they were pretty much safe.
With the dispatched squad already there, Kurosawa finished his duty and relinquished the command to the new squad. So he also let the rest of the Hunters take care of the negotiation with the new squad.
Among the new squad, a guy with a broad back listened to the reports given by Rodin and the other Hunters.
“To be honest, its really unfortunate that the four undamaged old-world automata are now turned into two damaged automata. But, were also here for the money. It was not free to come all the way here, not to mention that we encountered a swarm of monsters too. Although according to the contract, we wont charge you anything because of that, its better if you do not expect to get paid even after handing those automata to us. Im sure the money that we get will be mostly used to pay for the transportation fee to come here. I hope you guys can understand that.”
The Hunters ruffled their heads in frustration. Although they more or less knew that it was coming, being told that all their hardship resulted in nothing still pained them.
That was when that guy smiled and said.
“But well, the fifth automaton is indeed interesting. From what I heard so far, we might be able to be considerate. Please tell me in detail what you know about the last automaton.”
“The detail, huh, the only one who knows about it is Rodin. Hey, Rodin, do you have anything to add here”
“Well, even if you say so…”
“You are the one who found it, right Tell him everything from when it started moving.”
Rodin explained everything that he knew while deliberately leaving the misunderstanding that the other Hunters had. After that, he took that man to the room where Olivia was sleeping.
After they got there, that guy pushed Rodin out of the room.
“This room is ours too. Although we still need to do further investigation, I bet this might bring you some money. Youre okay with that, right”
“…Well, as long as it brings more money.”
The guy pushed Rodin and the other Hunters out and locked the door. That guy was left alone with Olivias empty container as he took a closer look at the container with a serious expression. He then called someone through an encrypted secret communication line.
“Its me… No, although its only just a guess, I think the other four are not what we are looking for. But, I found a container that might be of the automaton that we are looking for… No, we couldnt secure the automaton. Its just its container. It seemed that it attacked the Hunters after it was activated and left the area and we have no idea of its whereabouts right now… A card, huh No, we didnt find anything like that… Alright, well search the area assuming that its not in the possession of the Hunters… Yes, please excuse me then.”
The guy cut the call and turned towards the empty container.
“Lion Steels automata, huh… It would be strange if we had found it way sooner. But up until now, it always killed the person who activated it before returning back to its container though. Is it because this one had looser restrictions If thats true, it means that it should be easier to communicate with… If that rumour is true, this might turn into a small war.”
A long time ago, a certain Hunter found an old-world automaton and opened a business based on that automaton. Then that Hunter climbed the ladder in no time until their company reached the upper echelon of the Corporate Government. It was the result of him trying to reopen a certain old-world company in the current era, and right now, that company was providing maids for the rich and received their support in exchange. The Hunters were nothing but decorations as the main functions were all run by automata. Even the maids were nothing more but an imitation of the old-world lifestyle, and since it was difficult to find good automata in the current era, they employed skilled people in their place.
The rumour had it that the said automaton was made by Lion Steel company. It was a common rumour in the eastern district that a huge corporation had some kind of connection with an old-world company. As it was nothing more but rumours, there was no concrete evidence regarding that matter. But it was indeed a profitable rumour.
After Akira and Togamis team arrived back in the city, they disbanded the team. Until they agreed on how to divide the loot, all the relics were handed over to Shiori to hold on to. Since Akira also decided to lend the APC to them, he asked them to take the APC to the repair shop in order to get it repaired. He then headed to Shizukas shop while Togami and Reina went to Drankam to give their report.
As Shiori was driving the APC, Kanae suddenly asked her a serious question.
“Ane-san, was that really okay Although we didnt tell a lie, we still tricked him, you know Whats your plan if the cat is out of the bag”
“…When that happens, Milady would be disappointed in me and Akira-sama would hate me. Thats all.”
Having Reina disappointed in her carried a huge implication for Shiori. Kanae let out a big sigh and said.
“Well, if Ane-san did that fully knowing the risk, I have no plans to say anything.”
Kanae then returned to her usual self and smiled.
“Well, if Ane-san gets found out and has to fight Akira, do tell me. Ill be more than happy to help.”
“Before it comes to that, Ill do my best to solve it peacefully. Ill apologize after telling him everything and offer him peace money. And if nothing works…”
“If nothing works”
“Ill use you as a decoy and take Milady to safety. I know that you always wanted to fight him. So its a win-win solution.”
“Eeeh, thats so cruel.”
Shiori said so jokingly, Kanae laughed and replied with a grunt.
In reality, if either one of them had to stay behind in that situation, it would have been Shiori and Kanae would be the one taking Reina to safety. Whether it was to let Akira kill her in order to abate his anger or to kill Akira instead, Shiori would be the one staying behind. Even if Kanae tried to convince her otherwise, Shiori would still do so and both of them understood that very well.-