Yodogawa looked at Tabata with a confused expression.
“Hey, are you sure youre going to be okay after saying that”
“Ill pay the fee using the budget for the test. Im the one with the authority on how to use that money, so I wont use the marketing funds.”
“Thats not it, what are you going to do if you keep losing Hunters are pretty persistent when it comes to money, you know”
“Ill change the system setting to prioritize winning. Just so you know, I too am actually holding back since it was just a test. But from here and on, no more holding back. So it should be fine.”
Yodogawa just could not shake off his worry. Tabata looked straight at Yodogawa with a sharp gaze.
“Are you going to say that the system that I made will have no chance of winning”
Yodogawa flinched back from the pressure, he then lightly sighed and said.
“Alright, just do what you want. But, Ill stop you if you lose or win too many times, okay The biggest enemy of a merchant is the enmity of the customer, you know. Keep in mind that its me who will face the full brunt from the customer.”
“Okay. Ill leave it to you when to stop. Moreover, Ill lower the setting if I get too many consecutive wins. But do tell me if you want me to stop.”
Yodogawa and his men started changing the parameter setting for the group coordination support augmented suit. Although the technicians had a troubled look on their faces while working on the ongoing test, they still changed the setting as they were told. Yodogawa looked at his men working while fighting back the headache attacking him, thinking about what might happen.
When Tabata told Erio and the other children what was going on, it raised a small excited murmur while at the same time, they had a concerned look on their faces.
“Uhh, when you say that well have a real battle after this, does that mean that were going to use real bullets Or that it will be painful when we get hit”
“Dont worry. Itll be the same as before. But, the order coming from the system will be under the assumption that you are in a real battle. So basically you guys will have to run and do some difficult moves, both will put your body in some level of stress. Since youre volunteering for the test, I hope that you can understand that and bear with it.”
“Well, if its only that much, then…”
As the children regained some of their calm, Tabata then said with a serious expression.
“Its just as you said, hes been holding back up until now. But from here on out, hell stop holding back anymore. If you guys can win against him with the help of the coordination support augmented suit, itll be proof of your strength, as well as the proficiency of the system. So endure the fight, Ill give my best support as well. Im counting on you guys.”
Tabata turned around and headed back to the trailer. Erio and the other children started conversing with each other.
“Winning against serious Akira-san, huh Do you think we can do it”
“Dont be stupid. Akira-san went alone to Ezont Familys base during that commotion and saved boss, you know We basically have zero winning chance against him.”
“But like, this augmented suit is a new product from a huge company which originally would cost a whole lot of money, thats just how great this augmented suit is, right Im sure that Ezont Family also had some crazy equipment with them too, but all of us are using this amazing augmented suit right now. So like, our winning chances are not exactly zero, right”
“Well, its not like Akira-san will come at us with full force trying to kill us anyway… So, maybe we can win”
“Well do the mock battle several times, so if we can at least win a round…”
The thought of the possibility of winning against Akira. It was not a reckless abandonment, they started to believe that it was a worthwhile gamble. Akira was also a boy from the slum city, just like the rest of them. The only difference was that he rose up as a Hunter while the rest of them stayed as children of the slum. They started to think that if they could win against someone like Akira, they might be able to break the impenetrable wall that had been separating them. This might be a good chance to do that. As that thought permeated and spread among them, they started getting fired up for the next mock battle.
Erio clapped his hand once to gather everyones attention and to calm everyone down.
“Putting aside whether we can win or not, one thing for sure well have to give our best for our next battle. Thats all there is to it. Dont get too excited and stay sharp. Lets go.”
Erio put his helmet back on, which he had taken off during their short break and started walking to his designated position. The other children also wore their helmets and followed the orders that came up inside the helmet.
Once Erio arrived at his designated location, he repeatedly took deep breaths to calm himself down while waiting for the start signal. That was when a voice came out from the inside of the helmet.
“Detected high anxiety level, please calm down in order to keep the effectiveness high.”
“Do you want to use low concentration anxiety drugs through the ventilator Warning, no compatible drug detected, unable to dispense.”
“Just shut up then!”
Erio inadvertently raised his voice from the irritation, he then reconfirmed his situation and changed gear.
[…Calm down. This is just a test. They did tell us that they are still holding back a lot of things. If I dont calm down, I wont be able to win whats originally winnable.]
In reality, Erio was as anxious as the other children. Even when Akira stopped joining their usual training, they continued doing training by themselves. The empty AAH rifle for training that they received from Akira was originally unusable without Alpha, but with the help from Sheryl and Viola, they somehow gathered enough equipment to get them usable and had Colbert to help them in their training.
All the training that they had in the past gave them a level of confidence. Colbert even went to rent a vehicle and took them to the wasteland to do some easy subjugation requests. Their skill was more or less good enough for them to be called newbie Hunters.
[…If we can win against Akira, even if its just purely out of luck, Sheryl would recognize our skill as well. We can get better treatment, better position… And finally, face a lower risk of getting kicked out from the gang.]
Erio and the other children felt that their positions were in danger. Although the overall power of the gang increased dramatically, it was purely from Sheryl, Viola, and Akiras contribution. On the other hand, Erio and the other children almost did not contribute to it at all, to put it simply, the gang needed them less and less.
After the clean up of that incident in the slum city, Sheryls standing was considerably elevated among the gangs in the slum city. The gang was even able to borrow some men from Shijimas gang from time to time to patrol the area under their gangs control. Even some of the staff from the reopened relic shop came from Violas connection. But some of the members of the gang were not completely happy with those changes.
With the boss of the gang regarded highly among the gangs in the slum city and the Hunter backing the gang being strong enough to defeat a powered suit alone, both of them were extremely strong pillars for the gang. But at the same time, they made it harder for the children to be laid back.
Even if Sheryl kicked out most of the gang members, she already had enough influence to get some men from other gangs to fill their positions. As for Akira, he was only helping out Sheryl, so strictly speaking, he was not on the same side as them. Although Sheryl and Akira had already distinguished themselves as no longer mere slum children, Erio and the others still could not escape that position.
Then before they even realized it, Sheryl had even gained a connection to someone within the City Management, and that officer was even lending them augmented suits as well as providing the gang with relics. Mere slum children had no chance of competing with that officer.
Erio and the children were always worried that they might get kicked out of the gang anytime. As they were doing their mock battle training, each of them reacted differently due to that worry. Some replaced it with admiration, some pushed themselves harder to show their worth, and some completely looked away from that matter.
Erio chose to do his best in order to show his worth. After all, he might need to use that strength to protect Alicia if something bad were to happen.
[If we can win against Akira when hes serious, that would definitely be a great achievement. Furthermore, were not really in danger since its just training, and even if we get to shoot Akira, its not like he or Sheryl would get angry at us either. This is the perfect chance, lets do this!]
Erios serious face was filled with steel-like determination.
The coordination support system started the countdown until the start of the mock battle on the helmets display. As the number approached zero, Erio heightened his focus to its peak. As soon as the countdown reached zero, he immediately started running.
Not too far from the training ground, Alpha smiled amusedly and asked Akira, who was waiting for the signal to start the training.
“So then, how much support do you want this time”
“Hmmm, no support please.”
Alphas smile distorted a bit.
“Oh, thats pretty brave of you. Theyre getting serious this time, so Im pretty sure that theyll be coming at you without holding back to win the round though. Are you sure you can win”
“Its not about winning or losing. They said that theyll pay for the expense, so theres no more need to hold back. Well, if Im losing too much, Ill ask for your help to get back my win-lose ratio.”
”Alright, but just to be safe, youre planning to win all the rounds, right”
“Its all good then. But just for a bit, Ill make a slight adjustment to your shooting. After all, I dont want you to get too used to that imperfect hit calculation.”
“Sure, fair enough… It seems that were starting.”
Akiras headgear display showed a countdown until the start of the mock battle. He calmed down his breathing and gathered his focus. He lowered his SSB rifles on both of his hands and relaxed his muscles. He soaked in the information sent to his information-gathering device to his augmented suit through his skin and probed for the opponents location around him.
From his headgear display, Akira could see what was behind him from his information-gathering device along with the scene captured from the aiming device from both of his SSB rifles. He distributed his focus to those information displays as well in order to expand the horizon of his consciousness.
[…Focus. Remember that feeling. Even if its only a portion of it, bring my consciousness closer to that time and pull off here.]
Akira asked Alpha in detail about what she did to him during his fight against the old-world automata. He felt like all his 5 senses were boosted to the point that it was as if he was transported into a completely different world. And Alphas explanation regarding that support surprised Akira.
The world from Akiras point of view was based on the information coming to his brain, and due to the time needed for his brain to interpret that information, the world painted in his brain would always be late. In short, Akira was always perceiving not the current world, but a world where things had already occurred. So in order to shorten that time, he was filtering out any unneeded information from his brain. And in order to compensate for the reduced information, his brain had to fill in the hole with rough predictions. Basically, he was only perceiving a rough approximation of the world.
Furthermore, Alpha used her special private connection with Akira through the old-world domain to intercept the incoming information, analyze them, and then send the result back to Akira. Due to Alphas powerful computation ability, it further shortened the calculation time, and with Akira skipping most of the information digesting process that he would normally have to do, his perception of the world got very very close to the real current world, to the point that it was as if he was in a completely different world.
To put it simply, it was as if, while the others were using a slow machine that could only pick blurred images, Akira was using a machine with clear images and superb reaction speed. As long as his opponents could not read the future, they had no chance to get ahead of him.
Alpha explained all of these things in detail to Akira while keeping a few things to herself. After that, Akiras training changed into getting him to be able to control the process when he was perceiving the current world.
It was actually close to impossible for Akira to do it without Alphas support. But it was not impossible for him to try to get closer to that state. During the short exchange against his opponent, he extracted the information of where his opponent was, and his consciousness indeed was getting closer and closer to perceiving the current world, not the past world.
[I can do this! If I dont believe in myself, I wont even be able to do whats possible…!! I can do this!! Now I just need to keep trying until I can actually do it!!]
Akira renewed his resolve. He kicked the ground almost at the same time as when the signal for the start of the mock battle went off.
In order to collect information regarding the test, the area around that place was littered with small information-gathering devices. Tabata was looking at the data gathered from those devices and could not hide his surprise.
One of the technicians smiled bitterly and muttered.
“Well, this is pretty bad.”
“To be honest, its a good data set considering its from a test. But still, I dont know if theres any point in continuing to do this. Tabata-san, are we going to continue with this pattern set”
The technicians witnessed a small portion of Akiras power during the aiming device adjustment. Because of that, they more or less expected that this would happen, so their reaction to the result only ended with a bitter smile.
But that was not the case for Tabata. He was staring at the ongoing mock battle with a stern face.
“…Get the data learning constant to maximum.”
“Eh If we do that, the system will lean toward adjusting itself on how to fight that particular Hunter. It will be unusable for general use, you know We might be able to get a win if we do that… But still…”
“Just do it!”
The technician smiled wryly and did as he was told to. Tabata still had his eyes fixed on the monitor showing the progress of the mock battle. He could see that Erio and the other children were gunned down one by one at an unbelievable speed.
Erio was running with a stern face. The augmented suit setting was changed from prioritizing in keeping the users burden to a minimum into prioritizing to empower its user. Thanks to that, he was able to run faster and more agile than ever before, but the burden that it put on his body was not small.
At first, Erio was delighted when he found out that he was way stronger than ever before. Although the sudden increase in the burden was nowhere pleasant, the sensation as if he suddenly became superhuman thanks to his augmented suits strength still made him immensely happy and motivated.
When he thought that he might be able to win with his power-up, that exact thought was completely destroyed when he glanced at the display inside his helmet which showed the current situation.
The other children were shot down one by one. And when he was still trying to cope with the surprise, the number did not stop falling. Then, before he realized it, the number had reduced to one, he was the only one still alive.
Right at the next moment, Erio caught a glimpse of Akira moving between the rubble. But the moment he noticed, it was already too late, multiple bullets already landed on his body.
The magazine that Akira was using for his SSB rifles was set to be an extended magazine. The bullets that he shot from those rifles formed a wall of bullets that crashed into Erio. Even if Erio tried to evade that, he would not be able to get away from those bullets.
That was Akiras first win after the learning setting of the system was changed.
Due to Tabatas request, the break until the next mock battle was longer than usual. After all, he needed time to let the system digest the data.
During the break, Sheryl came to Akira and praised him with a smile. Yodogawa also did the same although with a slightly stiffer smile.
“Well well well, Although it was against the system that our company developed, as expected of Akira-sama.”
“Well, thats more or less what would happen when Im not trying to keep the expense low. Ah, right, Ill send you the payment invoice after each battle, so you can stop the next mock battle anytime when you think its getting too expensive.”
Akira took out his information terminal and sent an invoice to Yodogawa, who frowned when he saw the number.
“So, you want to stop now”
“Ah, please dont worry. We can pay this much, no problem at all. But still, it seems that it didnt pose much challenge to you. Ill tell Tabata to take this more seriously, so please excuse me.”
Yodogawa lightly bowed and went back to the trailer.
The moment Yodogawa entered the trailer, his smile vanished as he yelled.
“Damn it!! What the heck is with this result! Even if we lose, can we at least try not to be this pathetic”
Yodogawa was about to continue, but he stopped mid-way and flinched back when Tabata looked at him. Tabata had a grim expression plastered on his face as he said with a deep voice.
“… I know. I admit it was my mistake looking down on him, but this wont happen again next time.”
“I-I see, Ill leave it to you then.”
The other technicians only smiled bitterly at Yodogawas reaction. Some of them then continued with the usual reporting.
“The system is done analyzing the data. Were ready to start again.”
“Lets start then.”
“Starting the countdown.”
The countdown for the second mock battle started, the seconds left before the second mock battle started was shown on the main monitor. Tabata was looking at that countdown with a stern face, Yodogawa did the same anxiously with furrowed brows, while the rest of the technician team was waiting for the countdown with wry smiles. All of them were waiting for the countdown to reach zero with their respective feelings shown on their faces.
And so, the second battle started.
Akira blazed through the training ground. His speed was abnormal but he was able to decelerate and make clean sharp turns. He was able to do all of these thanks to the power of his augmented suit.
Every time he stepped off the ground to control his direction and sped up, a small forcefield was expanded under his feet, turning his footing into a hard surface. Then, with the help of the power output of the augmented suit, he was able to keep his balance while boosting the propelling power from his steps. That was also what he did when he made turns, the forcefield armour prevented him from slipping when he made sharp turns. With this, he was able to get firm footing even if he was running on muddy terrain.
In reality, with a good enough augmented suit, he would be able to do that in the air as well. But his current augmented suit was not good enough to do it although he could do the same on the walls of a building.
Of course, this manoeuvre, burned through the energy pack really quickly and increased the burden on Akiras body. So, in short, he would have to spend more money on his energy pack and medicine that he used to compensate for it. It was indeed, just as he said to Yodogawa, manoeuvres that need money.
But it was not for nought. Erio and the other children could not get a good aim at Akira who was moving too quickly from behind the rubble. Although when the coordination system preemptively aimed at where Akira would be according to its prediction, it was still not fast enough to catch him. As a matter of fact, they were on the receiving end of the bullets that Akira shot from his SSB rifles.
The surviving children grouped up and tried to use the rubble to form a defensive circle. Unfortunately for them, Akira quickly closed up on them and jumped right into the middle of the circle, and used the small opening created from the surprise to gun down the rest of the survivors.
The second mock battle also ended with Akiras victory.
Even in the third, fourth and fifth battles, Akira won all of them. But with every mock battle, Erio and the other children were able to survive longer and longer. It showed that the learning system of the coordination system was working as intended. But even so, it was still not able to reach its main objective.
Yodogawa was hanging his head low inside the trailer.
“Tabata, if youre thinking of continuing, Im sorry, but Im stopping you here. Not only is the expense not small, we even have to pay for the bonus for winning the mock battle too. If you have no idea how to fix this, Im stopping you here.”
Tabata frowned and seemed to be wrecking his brain hard. He then seemed to have decided on something as he changed the setting of the coordination support from his terminal.
When another technician saw the new setting, he frowned and asked Tabata.
“Tabata-san. Isnt that cheating”
“…We have different equipment than the opponent in the first place. It wont be strange to have at least this much if we consider this as a real fight. Moreover, the corresponding equipment is also planned to be sold as an optional item together with the main product. So there should be no problem. Well also adjust the support pattern to suit the new setting, so get on to it.”
Seeing how Tabata was still working hard on his work, Yodogawa thought that it seemed there was still a chance to win. So he did not stop the sixth mock battle. But even so, it did not erase the worried look on his face.
Right when the next round started, Erio was confused at the instruction shown by the system through their helmets. He followed that instruction to change the firing setting into grenades, aimed his rifle at a seemingly random direction, and pulled the trigger. But nothing happened even after he waited for some time. As he looked around, he noticed that the other children also showed the same reaction.
While they were still questioning what exactly they did, the next instruction that seemed to be a more serious one came up. So they moved on to follow the instruction to surround Akira. They immediately noticed that the instruction was different compared to the ones they were receiving up until now.
Akira immediately noticed that Erio and the other children were moving differently. He frowned a bit and quickly dove behind a wall before stopping right in front of a small gap in order to confirm his guess. The moment he stopped, he could see bullets coming flying straight at him through that small gap.
Although they were nothing but virtual bullets, with the adjustment from Alpha, they looked like real bullets to Akira. He could even hear the sound of them flying and see the tracks that they left behind. Alpha did that in order to prevent him from getting too used to the setting used for the training. If he got too used to the bullet projection in that training, which had a lot of errors, it might cause him to make a mistake during a real battle when he had to be able to read the trajectories of the bullets with high precision.
Moreover, due to the low precision of the hit recognition and bullet trajectory calculations of the system, Erio and the other children appeared to be stronger than they really were. Considering the rate of fire, range of fire, size of the ammo, and the other specifications of the rifles, the rifles used by Erio and the other children were of high quality, expensive rifles.
Akira followed the trajectories of those cylindrical bullets as they flew through the air, with this, he confirmed his guess.
“As I thought, they know where I am.”
Alpha smiled and gave some extra explanation.
“During the beginning of the training, they were moving as if they had pre-installed a small number of information-gathering devices around the area beforehand. My guess is that they changed the setting so that they can gather more information from those devices. They had small information-gathering devices scattered around the area beforehand to gather information during the test.”
“…Isnt that cheating if we assume that this is a real fight”
“Since youre not holding back your expenses, they are also not holding back on their expenses. If they use enough small information-gathering devices, its not impossible to imitate this situation. Although its not cheap, if thats enough to kill you, Im sure they believe that would be worth the expense. Spending more money to defeat a strong opponent, its completely normal, isnt it”
“Thats true. So basically theyre getting serious now after losing so many times, huh”
“It seems that its going to be great training, arent you glad”
“Cant agree more to that.”
Alpha was smiling teasingly at Akira, who replied with a light smile and a short remark.-