Chapter 232: Middle district
After finishing business with Shikarabe and Arabe, Drankam started to join Akira in his pruning job. After a fierce negotiation between Sheryl, Drankam, and Hikaru, they decided to keep the 1-week gap while still increasing the area coverage based on the new size of the team.
Due to Kurosawas return to Drankam, the command chain quickly stabilized. The team worked very well under Kurosawas command which was great for Akira. While at the same time, hunters kept encountering powerful monsters around the city, that should have been further to the east from Kugamayama city.
With the appearance of these monsters, hunters started to feel the pressure. Some of the hunters backed out from their job, some demanded more money to make it worth the preparation and the risk. One of the reasons why Hikaru asked Akira to shorten the gap was to help tip over the balance.
But Akira himself was not that powerful yet, he ended up having to use his trump card, the AF anti-material cannon, every day. It reminded him just how scary the wasteland of the eastern district was.
During noon, Akira was having a meeting with Hikaru in a restaurant on the first floor of the Kugama building.
“But still, just how long is this pruning request going to continue for It has been a month since the transport season started, you know Hasnt it already ended a long time ago”
“Although it started together with the transport season, it doesnt stop together with it. It will continue as long as theres demand for it. Especially this time. There are many people coming to this city because of the last incident in the Kuzusuhara ruin. These people of course include higher-ups as well. Its not like we can stuff these people to a safebox and send them away without escorts, you see, but at the same time, there are not enough inter-city transports to ferry them since their schedule is already fully booked. I even heard that even someone from Saka**a Heavy Industry is sending their officers in secret too.”
“I see, thats pretty amazing.”
Hikaru smiled bitterly. For the cities under the corporate government, getting an officer guest from the Saka**a Heavy Industry was a huge thing, but even so, unlike what Hikaru was looking forward to, Akira only showed the bare minimum interest in the matter. She felt that it was a mistake to leak insider information in hopes that it would surprise Akira.
“Yep, thats really amazing. This is pretty valuable information, you know So dont leak it outside, okay”
Hikaru felt a bit disappointed that Akira reacted to something so important so casually, but she just shook it off for now and continued.
“So then, its about todays main subject. I want you to escort one of the inter-city transports. I know its a bit sudden, but itll be tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow Thats just way too sudden, I have to make sure that Elena-san and Sara-san are ready too, so…”
“Im sorry, but the transport only has limited capacity, so youll be going alone. Thats why Ive only finished the paperwork for you thinking that if its you alone, it should be fine. You should already have your supplies and seem ready to go anytime. So, that should be okay, right”
“Well, if its only me, then yeah. But still, this is pretty sudden.”
“Yeah, it came to us out of the blue as well. Although I cant tell you all the details, theres this strange thing going on where abnormally strong monsters are appearing around the area. So, the original hunters assigned for this got injured fighting against those monsters or something like that. But with that being said, its not like they can just postpone the dispatch, you see. So, can you go If you insist on refusing, I will have no other choice but to back off, but if you can, it would be great if you would do it.”
Akira thought while looking at Hikaru who was smiling at him while still giving off a serious aura.
“Thank you!! Really really thank you!”
Hikaru said so and gave an honestthank you to Akira.
After listening to a short briefing about that request, Akira left the restaurant and went back home. Hikaru, who was left behind, stayed in the restaurant, working through the paperwork while enjoying her parfait. Since Akira had accepted, she had to take care of the administration work as soon as possible. Since she was basically trying to insert Akira into the request using the opening created by the suddenly vacant escort slots, she had to hurry up or someone else would take that spot.
“…Alright! I made it! Although its a little bit too close for comfort, its all good as long as it gets through, yep!”
Judging from his performance in the pruning requests, Akira obviously had the skill to handle this escort request. He would have no trouble fighting in the wasteland further into the east. So, if Akira could contribute well during this escort mission, it would no doubt pull up Hikarus reputation as well. Hikaru could not hold back her smile as she was looking forward to the result.
“Akira, good luck out there, Im rooting for you, you know”
Akira unexpectedly took the request without much need of convincing. So, it seems that she could expect more from him in the future. As Hikaru was thinking about that future, a call suddenly reached her. It was from Kibayashi.
“Hello, its Hikaru, what is it”
“Its me. Theres something I want to talk to you about the escort request.”
“Is there a problem Dont worry, I was able to get Akira to take on the request.”
Hikaru thought that Kibayashi was calling her, worried that he might lose his connection to Akira, that was why she replied with a rather haughty tone there. But unexpectedly, Kibayashi replied with a rather amused voice.
“Oh, not bad at all. To be honest, I didnt expect you would be able to pull that off. Well well, I guess it was a good thing I introduced you to Akira.”
Hikaru was taken aback by that unexpected reaction.
“I-I see. Thank you very much.”
“I heard that you pushed the joint work with Drankam in order to cement the peace treaty as well as to win some trust from Akira, right That peace treaty, its actually made by me, you see.”
“Is that so Thank you.”
“No no no, Im just happy to find that my work is useful to others. But still, its pretty impressive using that peace treaty to push for that joint operation.”
Hikaru was not sure how to react to Kibayashi, who was praising her.
“Anyway, Im sorry for imposing on you by bringing this matter up, but returning back to the main subject, theres something I want you to do for me when you meet Akira tomorrow.”
“What is it”
After hearing Kibayashis request, Hikaru replied with a confused tone.
“Is that all”
“Yes, thats all, thats all from me. Call me again if something comes up.”
Kibayashi then closed the call. Hikaru tried to understand the meaning behind Kibayashis request for a bit, but nothing came to mind. Thus, she just stopped there and left it as something that must have some kind of deeper meaning to it.
On the morning of the next day, Akira was waiting for Hikaru in front of the Kugama building. He was carrying one spare AF anti-material cannon and 4 LEO rifles that were hidden under his newly bought coat. The large-sized rucksack on his back was filled with extended magazines and energy packs. Each one of these energy packs were focused more on capacity instead of price, so both were by no means cheap.
The transport truck was also filled to the brim with ammunition, so if needed, Akira could just buy them right there. But Akira wanted to buy from Shizukas shop as much as possible. Of course, the quality of the product from the transport truck was guaranteed to be great, and he could use his position as the escort to get a small discount. In comparison, the ammo that he bought from Shizuka was slightly more expensive, but even so, he still prioritized Shizukas shop. It was basically one of those occult things among hunters.
Hikaru, who came right on time, looked puzzled at Akiras luggage.
“Thats quite a lot of luggage for a 3 days, 2 nights journey.”
“Regardless of the estimated time, the journey between cities is always going to be long. So, its better to be safe than sorry.”
“Well, youre the one who will be escorting that journey after all. Now then, lets go.”
Hikaru then happily took Akira through the Kugama building and into the inner wall. In the middle of that, Hikaru gave Akira a bracelet-type information terminal.
“Always keep this on during the request, okay It doubles as evidence that you have permission to enter the middle district as well as permission to bring your weapons in. So, make sure not to lose it. The area where youre going has the same security system as the middle district. In the case where you break that bracelet, dont move and contact me right away. In the worst-case scenario, the system might recognize you as a treat and deal with you.”
“Alright. Can I just put this on top of my augmented suit”
“Its pretty durable since its designed for hunters, so it should be okay. You can also change the size; you should have no trouble putting it on… Do you need my help to put it on Thought that would be on your neck.”
Hikaru smiled mischievously, Akira only lightly chuckled and replied.
Akira put that bracelet on his left arm. He then showed it to the guard on the gate before he could proceed into the inner wall. The moment he stepped into the inner wall, Hikaru twirled around and spread her arm as she looked at Akira with a huge smile.
“Akira, welcome to the middle district!!”
The huge wall divided Kugamayama city into the inner and outer sections. The thick tall wall represented the gap of public order, economy, and environment between the inner wall and the outer wall, and Akira finally stepped into the inner section.
Of course, there was no shortage of land considering all the unused lands out in the wasteland, but once walls were erected, it created a limited supply of safe areas. In order to make the best use of that limited resource, tall buildings were erected inside the inner wall. But even so, it did not feel crowded. In fact, the urban landscape was designed to give off a sense of freedom. The well-cleaned road boasted the difference between the inner and the outer section of the wall to Akira.
An unmanned vehicle stopped in front of Akira and Hikaru. She was the one who summoned that vehicle. It was the common way to move around inside the middle district. The inside of the vehicle was relatively wide for its size thanks to the fact that it did not have a driver seat, Akira did not have any trouble at all stuffing his luggage in. After he boarded in as well, Hikaru set the destination, and the vehicle started to silently move without making any noticeable shaking, but even so, it was coursing at a rather high speed through the middle district.
Akira was gazing at the cityscape through the cars window with great interest. However, Hikaru found something strange looking at Akiras expression.
“You dont seem to be that excited. Is the middle district not as great as you thought it would be”
“Ah, no, its indeed really amazing, I guess its as expected of the middle district, but because of that, I kind of expected this so it doesnt really surprise me.”
“Is that so Many who enter the middle district for the first time from the outer wall seem to feel overwhelmed and found it absolutely amazing though.”
The area around the gate of the Kugama building that connected the inner and the outer part of the wall was deliberately built to give an impactful impression to those who entered for the first time. It was the way the middle district showed its glory and greatness to those from outside the wall as well as the way to encourage the people who live inside the wall to be proud of where they lived and worked.
Hikaru also thought highly of the middle district, and she was planning to move on to the upper district one day. This was the reason why she was working so hard right now. But that was also the reason why she wanted Akira to be happier after she took him from the lower district to the middle district. Unfortunately, Akira was as apathetic as usual with his reaction and Hikaru found it regrettable.
“Ahhh, it might be because youre a hunter that youve found something more amazing somewhere in the ruins, right Well, its true that no matter how amazing the buildings in the middle district are, theyre all still just buildings made in the current era. Theres no way they can stand a chance against the old-world buildings, huh”
“Is that so Hmmm, that might be the case…”
That was when Hikaru remembered what she heard from Kibayashi yesterday. She thought that it was a good time to bring it up and smiled.
“But still, this place is not the same as the outer wall, you know And its not limited only in terms of the outlook. Hear this and be amazed! In the middle district!! If someone gets killed in the middle of the road! The murderer will be properly caught, sent to the court, investigated, before finally punished based on the available evidence! Isnt that amazing!”
“Ohh!! Thats amazing! As expected of the inner wall!!”
Both Hikaru and Akira were surprised, but the reason for it was completely different. Akira was simply being honest that he was surprised at how public safety was enforced in the inner wall. Meanwhile, Hikaru was taken aback that Akira was so surprised. The difference in their common sense regarding public safety was in full view.
Hikaru was suspicious if Akira was only trying to match her excitement instead of being honestly surprised. But judging from Akiras reaction, it was obvious that he was truly surprised. When she remembered what Kibayashi said yesterday, it caused her to start feeling anxious.
Kibayashi asked Hikaru to do 2 things. The first one was to tell Akira just how safe the inner wall was, which she had done just now. The other one was something that she thought was not that big of a deal. However, after seeing Akiras reaction, she conveyed this last bit to Akira carefully.
“…By the way, Akira, how many people have you killed till now It might be rude for me to ask this, but it has something to do with submitting your permission, you see.”
Akira pulled back his head and thought for a bit, but eventually, he shook his head and said.
“Sorry, I have no idea, its not like Im counting it in the first place…”
“Theres no need for a precise number, an estimation like how many digits should be enough.”
“In that case… 3 digits… I guess Im sure it doesnt go as far as 4 digits or does it Hmm… Its just my guess though.”
“I-I see… Is that the number from the ones you killed directly Or does it include those who are killed indirectly as well”
Leaders often counted the people that the team killed due to their orders. Hikaru thought that Akira might be one of those when she asked that question, but he interpreted that question differently.
“Does indirect include something like I shot them, but they did not die right away only to die later because of the wound too”
“That would be direct.”
“In that case, that number is from the direct ones.”
Akira answered Hikarus questions as if it was a casual conversation. Like what he just had for lunch a few days ago. Hikaru was only barely able to maintain her smile thanks to her greatly polished negotiation talent. She then reached for the information terminal and stopped the car.
“Sorry, I forgot to report something to Kibayashi, can you please wait here for a bit Ill go out and make a quick call.”
Akira replied with a short affirmation, so Hiraku smiled at him and left the car. She unconsciously walked away from the car where Akira was, half-running. After she opened some distance from the car, she repeatedly took some deep breathes to calm down her throbbing heart. She tried to calm down as much as possible before calling Kibayashi.
“Oh, did something happen”
Kibayashis casual voice incited an explosion of emotion from Hikaru.
“Dont give me that! Just what the heck is wrong with him!”
“Even if you yell at me like that, I have no idea unless you tell me what happened, you know”
Kibayashi was chuckling since it turned out exactly as he expected as he listened to Hikarus explanation. After that, he then innocently asked Hikaru.
“I see, so, is there any problem”
“Are you-! Of course, its a huge problem! Why did you let someone who killed that many people into the middle district!”
“Why, you ask What are you even talking about Isnt that because you asked me to”
“It doesnt take a genius to refuse that request, you know! Dont tell me that you did something behind the curtain to get permission for him.”
“I didnt do anything. Well, if you ask me if hes a dangerous person, Ill give you a straight yes. Even I would hesitate to let him into the middle district. So, Im really amazed by your negotiation skill, you really managed to get him into the middle district. Im being serious here, Im honestly impressed that you actually did it, didnt I tell you yesterday as well, remember”
In contrast to Hikaru, who was barking complaints, Kibayashi replied with an amused tone.
“It seems that youre suspicious why your request got through, the final decision for the permission is made based on many considerations. For example, even if its true that Akira killed hundreds of people, that happened outside the wall. In short, that happened out there in the wasteland. So, I bet the higher-ups are not really concerned about it. But with that being said, if he was a murderer who killed people he saw no matter where he went, the permission would not have been granted. As a matter of fact, he would have been put on a bounty. Even if he has killed hundreds of people, it happened outside the wall, and considering that the public safety outside the wall is virtually non-existent along with his hunter rank being 50, I bet his permission was only barely managed to get approved.”
“T-thats… Arent you going a bit too far with that guess of yours”
“But thats completely possible, you know Didnt you work so hard to close that gap That peaceful resolution with Drankam through the hunter office, and with that as a basis, you get them to join operations with him. That should be enough to prove that Akira is a professional hunter who obeys his contracts closely. Basically, what you have done so far is guarantee that hes safe. Man, thats really impressive. If it was me, I wouldnt be able to do that. After all, that guy went in alone and crushed a huge gang in the slums just to kill someone who stole his money, you know He did kill quite a lot of people during that incident, after all, so theres no way his kill count only stopped at dozens, you know.”
“S-so that was not because he somehow got roped into the conflict…”
“Hm The record didnt go into that detail, huh Did the record mostly omit that part because of its connection with that powered suit Hmm I see. Its under the information restriction, huh Well, I guess things like this do happen from time to time, ah, right, make sure not to leak this info, okay”
Hikarus face turned paler and paler.
“Im sure youll be deemed responsible if he causes some sort of issue there. Though it wont go as far as firing you, I bet you wont be able to live inside the inner wall anymore. But again, I bet you know this very well before you brought him into the middle district, right By the way, I went to call you in person yesterday because I just wanted to confirm if youre sure with what you were doing, just to be safe, you know”
Hikaru then thought that she should have noticed it the moment Kibayashi said something suspicious to her yesterday, but all that she could do for now was just to wallow in her regrets.
“Well, basically, everything will be fine as long as he doesnt do anything bad and its your job to make sure that nothing bad happens. Be careful, yeah If a random thug in the inner wall said to him that they would kill him, theres no doubt that hell go ahead and kill them instead, thats just the kind of person Akira is. Even with the fact that hes a ranking 50 hunter with a connection to city managements officer and a strong letter of recommendation from city management staff, he only managed to get temporary permission to enter the middle district, you see. So, Im sure you understand the meaning behind it without any further explanation.”
Hikaru always thought that high ranking hunters with connection to city managements officers would always be proper hunters, but that did not seem to be the case.
“He might be able to accomplish whatever crazy plan you have, you know So, just give it your best shot, Ill be waiting for the result.”
Even after Kibayashi closed the call, Hikaru still stood there without doing anything for a few minutes. When she returned to herself, she finally understood that Kibayashi was using her to do something crazy and she had no inkling of how to get away from that.
Sending Akira as the escort for the inter-city transport was supposed to be a low-risk high-return gamble, but now, it has completely changed into a life-staking high-risk high-return gamble. Unfortunately, she had gone too far to back out now. Not only did she forcefully get Akira into a job related to another city, if she suddenly decided to back out of it at the very last minute, her reputation would be crushed to nothing. In the worst-case scenario, they might blame her and banish her from the inner wall.
In the first place, it was highly unlikely that Akira would be okay with quitting at this point. For the hunters, the request to escort inter-city transport was a fortuitous request. If Hikaru told him to back out although she was the one who strongly pushed that request to him, it would definitely buy her a lot of grudges. She did not even want to imagine what would happen to her after that.
“Okay okay! I just have to do this, right!”
Her route of retreat had already been destroyed. Which meant, her only choice was to push forward and reach for the win. She clapped both of her hands on her face and expelled the fear inside of her.
“Lets do this!”
Hikaru declared so to help herself get fired up as she gave off a strong smile.
The transport terminal inside the wall was built like a harbor to handle large cargoes. The huge trucks carrying countless containers were going back and forth between the transport trucks and the warehouses. The size of the tires of those large trucks was even bigger than Akira. The transport truck was large enough to make those large trucks that hunters used look like cute tiny baby trucks. The scene laid out here really threw off the sense of the size for everyone there.
Akira was looking closely at one of those vehicles and was completely overwhelmed by the size of it. Although he encountered them a few times in the wasteland, he never looked at them up close. Their sizes really felt different when he was this close to it.
“I know that this thing is designed to be used in the wasteland, but still, its really something. If a vehicle this huge is going through the wasteland. Its no wonder it would attract monsters. That would explain why there were so many pruning requests. Well then, Ill be going now.”
“Of course, good luck.”
Akira walked through the ramp and boarded the vehicle, Hikaru saw him off with a smile. But after Akira vanished into the vehicle, her smile quickly turned wry. She only stood there while running her brain at full power, and then when the ramp was about to be removed, she finally made her decision and ran into the vehicle as well.
Akira went to the room that he was assigned to and took a short rest there. Since the inside of the transport vehicle was considered as a part of the middle district, it was well equipped to welcome the guests suitable for those who would visit the middle district, the individual rooms were relatively large and equipped with all kinds of facilities. And to match its size, the bath in the bathroom was also equally big. The wall was equipped with holographic displays and projected the scene from the outside of the vehicle, it gave off a sense of grandiose. Hunters could also pay extra to get better rooms with more facilities, but Akira did not think that it was a wise thing to spend his reward for that.
Akiras job was to watch the outside and to follow command when a battle broke out. Since the escorts groups and posts were already decided beforehand, they were free to do anything until they were called upon. Akira was thinking of going to the cafeteria or perusing the merchant quarters to waste time. As he left the room, that was right when Hikaru, who was running toward his room, arrived at his door.
Hikaru was still panting when she asked Akira.
“A-Akira… Where… Are you going”
“Im just thinking of checking the cafeteria or the stands…”
“I-I see… W-well… Can you please stay in your room… For now P-Please…”
Hikaru was still panting as she meekly pushed Akira back into his room. Akira was weirded out by it but still decided to get back to his room.
Hikaru was trying to calm her breath while giving off a rather anxious look, Akira frowned at Hikaru and threw a question at her.
“The truck will be going soon, is it okay for you to be here Werent you planning to give me support from the city”
“That was the plan, but theres a small change in that plan. Ill be going with you too. Its faster to give you support from closer by after all. Although I cant help you during the fight, we dont need to worry much about lag and interference when were close. Ill be with you for the full 3 days, so, Ill be in your care.”
“I see, in that case, Ill be in your care as well. Now then, Ill be going out for a bit-”
Akira stepped back and was really weirded out by Hikaru, who stopped him so suddenly and desperately. But Hikaru then gave a polite smile and said.
“Please just stay in the room. If you want to do something outside, please tell me first. If its something I can do, then Ill do it for you. So dont leave this room, okay”
“…Why dont you want me to go out that much”
As expected, Akira started to find it suspicious. Hikaru tried to keep calm as she looked for an excuse.
“Although you received permission to go to the middle district, we actually kind of forced it so that the permission got approved on time. Because of that, some data is still being processed. Im worried that the security system might not correctly recognize the permissions supposed to be granted to you. So, if its possible, I want you to just stay in this room. Im sorry, this is all my fault.”
“Is that so Ah, thats why you suddenly have to change your plan, huh”
“Y-Yes, exactly! Im really sorry.”
“Well, it cant be helped then. Fine, Ill refrain from going out from this room as much as I can.”
“Thank you, and again, sorry.”
Hikaru sighed in relief, Akira sent a glance at Alpha who was floating next to Hikaru.
“Shes not lying, but I bet its just an excuse.”
“Thought so. Well, Im sure she has her reasons too. She has been acting weird ever since she left the car to call Kibayashi, I wonder if Kibayashi said something to her.”
Since it was basically an order from his requester and it was not something that hard to do, Akira thought that there was no need to unnecessarily refuse that order and did not dwell any further on it.
For the time being, Hikarus plan was to reduce Akiras contact with others. This was in order to reduce the possibility of him causing any form of trouble as much as possible and that plan was going well for now.
The displays on the wall suddenly turned on, showing the views outside the vehicle. It seemed that the vehicle finally started moving. The large transport vehicle approached the high walls. The wall then started to move and opened a passage into the wasteland. The transport vehicle passed through that opening and immediately accelerated the moment it entered the wasteland. With this, Akiras request to escort the transport had begun.-