Chapter 296: s.h.i.+rou’s Objective
The camping vehicle was moving as fast as the transport vehicle. Inside it, Akira and s.h.i.+rou immediately started working on opening the cases.
“I’ll tell you this beforehand, they won’t open right away. They are cases used to secure frontline equipment after all. It’s obvious that they’re locked extremely securely to protect the dangerous objects inside them.”
Akira nodded. He knew that s.h.i.+rou wanted to chase after Hikaru as soon as possible. Therefore, he had no reason to suspect s.h.i.+rou would spare any effort in opening these cases.
s.h.i.+rou put his hand on one of the cases.
“You might think that I’m not doing anything here, but I’m properly working hard to open these cases. So don’t complain, okay?”
Akira nodded again.
They both went silent for a few seconds. s.h.i.+rou still had one of his hands on top of the case as he was staring at it. Although he seemed to be doing nothing from the outside, it was obvious from his expression that he was doing whatever he could to open the case as fast as he could.
“…I’ll give you a light explanation while I have the chance. Everything that I’m going to say from here on out is all just my guess. There’s no guarantee that they are correct. But my thoughts are based on my own investigation. So, I believe it is accurate… That girl is Haruka, ‘Rebecca’ is just a fake name. Well, ‘Haruka’ might also be a fake name, but, basically, my objective is to rescue her.”
s.h.i.+rou then stopped. Akira waited for him to continue. Seeing that, s.h.i.+rou slowly knitted his eyebrows.
“…Akira, is that not enough?”
Akira’s face turned stern.
“That doesn’t explain anything to me. So, you want to save Rebecca… Well, it’s Haruka, right? But it doesn’t seem like she wants to be saved though? Didn’t she kick you down back there?”
s.h.i.+rou’s face also turned stern.
“I don’t understand why she did that. She might not believe me. But I am absolutely serious. I just want to rescue her, and I have prepared myself to be able to negotiate even against the big five. Even if that doesn’t work, I can at least take her with me and go on the run. Though, looks like she still does not trust me.”
“I see, so then, what should I do after I get back inside Atlas? Should I take her here by force?”
“No, I want to try to convince Haruka through your information terminal. That’s why I want you to get close enough to her.”
“Ahhh, I see.”
“Is that good enough?”
Akira thought for a bit before shaking his head.
“No, as I thought, you should explain to me more. What exactly do you mean by rescuing her? And you did say something about going on the run from the big five companies, so who exactly is she? And you want to save her from what exactly?”
“…I’ll be honest, it’s better if you don’t know. Once you know, you won’t be able to claim you were acting unaware of the situation.”
“Let me ask you this question instead, is it going to be a situation where people would accept it if I said, ‘I don’t know’?”
“At least, it’s easier for you to say ‘you don’t know’ when you really don’t. At the very least, you would be able to claim that you got tricked by me. I know that I’m roping you into my own issues when I hired you, but if you don’t know, you can at least make an excuse. You can even claim that you did it because I am an agent from Sakas.h.i.+ta Heavy Industry. But once I tell you this, you won’t be able to use that excuse anymore. Are you sure you’re fine with that?”
As expected, Akira hesitated. But he immediately made his decision and said with a serious tone.
“Just tell me already.”
Akira did not feel like he owed s.h.i.+rou that much, At least, not enough to warrant him to do anything s.h.i.+rou asked without knowing anything. Likewise, to engage in a fight while ignoring the doubts festering in him which came from that lack of information. Alpha was the only one that Akira would go that far for. So, with that resolve, he told s.h.i.+rou to just tell him.
With that, s.h.i.+rou finally gave up.
“…Alright, but promise me two things. First, don’t tell Tsukisada about what I’m going to tell you, and second, you will still help me no matter what you’re going to hear from here on out.”
“I won’t tell Tsukisada, I can promise you that. But I can’t promise you that I will still help you no matter what. I don’t know what exactly you want me to do, and I don’t have the obligation to do whatever you ask me to. After all, I will not kill myself even if you ask me to.”
s.h.i.+rou hesitated. There was no guarantee that Akira would still help him after he revealed everything to Akira.
However, s.h.i.+rou knew that Akira would not help him unless he explained. Likewise, even if he told Akira, the worst that would happen was for Akira to not help him. He did not believe Akira would turn hostile against him.
Even though they had not worked together for long, from the time s.h.i.+rou had spent with him, he knew him well enough to know Akira would not cross that line. Thus, he finally made his decision.
“Alright, that’s good enough. Akira, I won’t take responsibility even if you say that it’s better for you not to know afterwards, okay? I did warn you, after all.”
As the mood suddenly turned heavy, Akira thought that s.h.i.+rou would say something very important and inadvertently nodded. And so, s.h.i.+rou went to the main subject.
“This is just my guess, but there’s a good chance that Haruka is a part of the rebuild research laboratory. Although I don’t know for sure if she’s one of the test subjects or the researchers, my bet is that she is the former.”
s.h.i.+rou first met her inside the virtual s.p.a.ce within the old-world domain. He was in the middle of strict training at that time, to polish his skills as an old-world connector. When he was training there day in and day out, he found Haruka inside one of the old-world domain’s virtual s.p.a.ces that he was connected to by pure coincidence.
At first, Haruka would not tell s.h.i.+rou anything, not even her name. During their exchanges, they looked at each other with suspicion. Still, for s.h.i.+rou who was in the middle of such gruelling training, being able to talk with someone from outside Sakas.h.i.+ta Heavy Industry’s facility was like an oasis in the middle of a desert.
Haruka’s common sense was slightly abnormal as was s.h.i.+rou’s. He had spent all his life inside a strictly secured facility that was isolated from the outside world. Thus, it was normal for his common sense to be abnormal compared to someone from the eastern district. Both of them were old-world connectors, so s.h.i.+rou thought that Haruka was also in a similar situation as he was. In the middle of their jam-packed schedule, they made sure that they would have the time to meet up in that virtual s.p.a.ce. There, they discussed about their skills as old-world connectors, taught each other, and praised each other. As time flew by, their relations.h.i.+p deepened.
The closer they got, the more they wanted to know about each other. But it was not like they could simply confess their personal information to each other. Thus, what they did was use their skills as old-world connectors to investigate each other. It could also be interpreted as them wanting to know the other person’s real ident.i.ty before they considered whether to continue their relations.h.i.+p or not.
The desire to know Haruka more greatly fuelled s.h.i.+rou’s motivation. He put more effort into his training and became so skilled that it even surprised the staff of Sakas.h.i.+ta Heavy Industry. This eventually led to the preferential treatment that he had been receiving.
Even so, s.h.i.+rou was the first one to crack as he was the first to open up about his personal information to Haruka.
“…The first one who suggested trying to investigate each other was Haruka. Now that I think about it, I bet she thought that there was no way I would be able to gather any information about her. Well, it was indeed not easy. The reason why I was able to get her personal information was mostly because of luck… Haruka was connecting to that virtual s.p.a.ce from a rebuild research laboratory. I bet it was from a renovated facility in the middle of some ruin.”
s.h.i.+rou then heaved a big sigh.
“I thought that she was inside a facility owned by one of the big five corporations, just like me. I never thought that it was from the rebuild research laboratory. It was a huge shock for me at that time. I immediately completely erased that information from Sakas.h.i.+ta Heavy Industry’s log, if they found out about her, her life would be in danger.”
s.h.i.+rou’s expression then turned serious as he turned to Akira.
“My original request was to ask you to help me sneak into the rebuild research laboratory and rescue Haruka from that place. I have the confidence if it is for hacking or something similar, but that alone won’t be enough. I need someone who can fight against those guarding that place. That is also why I stocked up on Chrome. I thought Hunters, who are strong enough and can be trusted with such information, cannot be paid only by Aurum.”
s.h.i.+rou let out a small sigh.
“But well, in the end… I had no other choice but to use all my Chrome to get away from Hammerz. After that, when I was looking for someone that I might be able to hire to accomplish my goal with my emergency Aurum, I found you, Akira.”
After he finished his story, s.h.i.+rou then stated to Akira in a serious tone.
“There, I’ve told you everything. Now that you know everything, I will have you help me.”
Although Akira gave his affirmation, he said it too nonchalantly. s.h.i.+rou, who did not expect such a response, was caught by surprise.
“…Wait, what?! What is with that reaction!? Were you even listening to my story!?”
Akira winced back from s.h.i.+rou’s sudden outburst, but it was not from fear. He was simply weirded out by that outburst.
“I-It’s fine, I did properly listen to your story. Basically, you want to save your friend who is trapped inside a dangerous place, right?”
“Well, if you put it that way, that’s true. But your reaction is just wrong, you know!? Do you have a heart made of steel or something…!? No wonder you have no problem picking a fight with the Lion Steel company…”
s.h.i.+rou exasperatedly sighed. Nonetheless, Akira’s bold response did help him to calm down. That was just as he managed to open the first case, inside it was an augmented suit. s.h.i.+rou shot a serious gaze at Akira, who just saw what he did.
“I opened the first case. Akira, I’m sorry, but as expected it will take some time for me to open all the cases. Haruka will get away in that Atlas if you wait for me to finish opening all the cases. So please.”
s.h.i.+rou lowered his head to Akira, who gave a light smile and casually said.
“Alright, make sure to open the rest before I’m back, okay?”
“Of course! Akira, thank you, I’m counting on you!”
s.h.i.+rou firmly thanked Akira. He was completely shocked and was thrown into disarray when Haruka rejected him, but he was fine now.
Although Atlast D2771 could not quickly gain speed due to its size, its maximum speed was still above the camping vehicle. Due to their conversation, they were a bit late in starting their pursuit. Currently, the camping vehicle was already running parallel to the very last section of the transport vehicle.
Akira leapt from the camping vehicle’s rooftop and landed on the side of the transport vehicle. He then started walking up the wall to the rooftop of the transport vehicle.
“Alpha, I know that we’re in a hurry, but isn’t it better if I put on that augmented suit?”
Although he finally got his frontline equipment, he was still not using them.
“It’s better like this. After all, we don’t have the time for me to modify that augmented suit. Moreover, our objective is to get close enough to that girl so that s.h.i.+rou can talk to her. Coming here with powerful equipment would only needlessly make her feel uneasy.”
“You have a point.”
Akira eventually reached the rooftop, he then looked around for a door to get inside the transport vehicle. But for some reason, he could not find it anywhere.
“s.h.i.+rou, I’m fine with searching for Haruka inside the transport vehicle, but I don’t see any gates to get in. Can you find me a way in?”
“Sure, wait for a sec. That gate would be… No luck, the control pattern has been changed, I’ll look for another way in…”
“Wait, didn’t you open a similar door before?”
“It’s not that simple. I’m in a hurry right now, so I don’t have the time to explain it to you.”
“Ah, now that I think about it, Haruka is also an old-world connector, right? Can’t you contact her through telepathy too?”
“No, it’s not that simple. If I can do that, I would have done that by now.”
“…There’s a hatch about 300 metres away from you. Try that hatch first, if that doesn’t work, I will look for another door.”
Akira followed s.h.i.+rou’s instructions as he walked on top of Atlas. Although he still had some questions, he thought that it would be bad to sour s.h.i.+rou’s mood even more. Thus, he threw his questions to Alpha instead.
“Alpha, what do you think I should do to find Haruka?“
“I’m sure that without trying to find her, once she notices that you’re around, she’ll come to you. After all, from her point of view, a dangerous person that she had just expelled from the transport vehicle had returned.”
“Expelled? What do you mean? Was I expelled from the transport vehicle by Haruka?”
“Yes. My guess is that back then, she had done something to that door so that someone from the outside could easily open it.”
“Why would she do that…?”
“She doesn’t want you to get in her way of stealing the cube.”
Akira raised his eyebrows.
“Wait for a sec, so she is the one that attacked the transport vehicle?”
“Yep, although, it’s just my guess. She is not just one of the attackers, I am willing to bet she’s actually the leader of the attackers.”
“…Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You won’t be able to hide it. You couldn’t even pretend that you didn’t know something, right? If she noticed that you know about her real ident.i.ty, she might stop pretending to be someone from the team trying to secure Atlas. To avoid unnecessary hostility from her, I was not able to tell you. It’s not like she’s your enemy, so there’s no need to fight her when there’s no real reason to.”
Although Akira completely understood Alpha’s point, he still could not help but to make a complicated expression.
“But still, she’s one of the attackers, right?”
“Yes. But she is not your enemy. You are only here to pick up your equipment. You never accepted any request that needed you to fight the attackers. So, there is no reason for you to pick a fight with her. Though it’s true that she is the one who sent those multi-legged drones to attack you, it would be strange if you don’t get attacked there instead, right? Furthermore, she did help you fight too, afterwards. I thought that it was better to let her know that you’re not worth the problem so she would let you finish your business there and get out of the transport vehicle as soon as possible. I believe you can at least understand that much, right?”
“…Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Although Akira was still displeased with what had happened, at the moment, he was working for s.h.i.+rou. Thus, he decided to focus on the task at hand for now.
Inside the transport vehicle which had suddenly started moving, Zelos’ team was faced with an intense battle as they were slowly pulling back. Zelos, who was standing right at the front, spearheading the team, shouted to his com.
“Don’t chase them too deep! Focus on pulling back! We’re retreating to sector A7!”
Their enemies were small girls with weapons. These girls had the same faces and they looked exactly the same as the ones Zelos had killed before he called for a retreat. Everything from their fighting capability, equipment, and green blood, were all the same. At that time, Zelos was fighting them while they were running away from him. However, this time, they were the ones pressing an a.s.sault on his team. All of them had flat emotionless eyes. Even when their friends got killed or blasted to pieces, they did not show any reaction.
Their emotionless faces were ominous and creepy. All of these girls had this exact look, and all of them looked like Haruka.
The hallway was filled with the laser beams released from the girls’ laser cannons. Zelos’ team used the portable walls that they had installed, to secure each sector. to block the lasers as they were slowly pulling back. Whenever Zelos’ team found even the smallest opening, with Zelos as the main firepower, they would quickly attack and decimate those that were open.
However, they were still feeling the heat from the a.s.sault. No matter how many they took out, the enemies kept coming without an end in sight. Their numbers were not reducing at all.
After Zelos took out a nearby enemy, he knitted his eyebrows and turned toward his men.
“How’s the situation?”
“We have three badly injured, but everyone is still alive. We also have secured a route to retreat back to cargo sector A7. The badly injured are prioritized to retreat first.”
Zelos’ stern expression relaxed after he heard that report.
“Alright then, just continue retreating. No need to worry about your ammo. Make sure to stay in the hallway until we can regroup at cargo sector A7. Never try to set up a barricade inside a room even if the fight gets tough. Make sure that everyone understands it.”
“Of course! After all, we’ve investigated where exactly these girls came from. It turns out that they were coming out from the rooms that we had secured beforehand. Just how exactly did they get in there…”
Suddenly, another man spoke with a stern look.
“I bet they were hiding.”
“But we made sure to sweep the sectors when we had secured, you know?”
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“I bet we just checked if there’s someone inside, right? I witnessed it myself, you know? The moment when they formed from a locker. I’m not saying that they came out from inside the locker, but the whole locker itself turned into one of these things.”
“Let me tell you one thing. You might think that I’ve escaped that place, but that is not correct. I still have not escaped that place.”
“…What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you more. But, as long as you don’t know why, you won’t be able to rescue me. So please, just leave.”
Haruka seemed honestly happy and sad at the same time as she threw a smile at s.h.i.+rou through Akira’s information terminal.
“I’m really happy that you have gone this far for me. It’s already good enough. So please, just leave.”
A sad silence pervaded. It was s.h.i.+rou who finally broke that silence.
“…Akira, return back.”
Akira walked to one end of the rooftop. He then turned around and looked at Haruka. She was only standing there as if struck by helplessness.
Akira let out a sigh and jumped off the transport vehicle.
Haruka then headed back inside the transport vehicle. All the emotions she felt were left here. It was taken by the wind created by the speeding transport vehicle and carried away.
After Akira landed on the ground, he waited for s.h.i.+rou to pick him up. Even before s.h.i.+rou came, he could no longer see the transport vehicle. Akira jumped onboard the camping vehicle and went to check up on s.h.i.+rou, but contrary to his expectation, s.h.i.+rou was doing okay.
“Akira, I’ve opened all the cases.”
“O-okay, thanks. So then, what’s your plan after this?”
“Just as I planned, we will still go and rescue Haruka. Our target is the rebuild research laboratory. This is where things get serious, so let’s get ready.”
The camping vehicle accelerated even faster under s.h.i.+rou’s remote control.
“…Say, s.h.i.+rou. Didn’t Haruka say something along the lines of it being impossible for you?”
“She didn’t say anything like that. What she said is that she still has not escaped from the rebuild research laboratory. Well, I still have not fully understood the meaning of her words there. Akira, what do you think she meant by that?”
“Hmmm. Something like that body of hers being a remote terminal that she’s controlling from the laboratory?”
“No, that one is not a remote terminal. That is the real Haruka. There is no doubt about that. I can guarantee you that. It’s normal practice to prepare a body double when an important person goes on-site. So, I’m experienced in both faking myself and seeing through fake bodies. That’s why I can tell. That was the real Haruka.”
“Then what did she mean by that?”
“…I don’t know. But, if she’s still under the control of the laboratory for any reason, then I will go and rescue her. We might be able to find the reason if we go to the laboratory, it’s worth checking.”
“Hmm, it still sounds like we’re just going with the flow.”
s.h.i.+rou heard that and made a rather smug smile before speaking.
“At least not as bad as you thought.”
“You have a point.”
Akira could not do anything but chuckle in reaction to that.
“So then, how long will it take before we reach that laboratory?”
“It’s about 5 hours from here.”
“Alpha, is that enough time for you to familiarize yourself with the new equipment?”
“I see. Although this rebuild laboratory sounds like some super facility, I have my frontline equipment with me this time, so I guess it should be fine.”
“I’m really counting on you for this. It is a secret laboratory, so it might look like it’s undefended from outside, but it should at least be as secure as a Sakas.h.i.+ta Heavy Industry facility.”
“A secret lab, huh?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t easy to find it, you know? I’ve been trying to find it even using the information that I got from Viola, but that turned out to be useless, so it was really not easy.”
The camping vehicle continued running through the wasteland and into the rebuild research laboratory that even s.h.i.+rou had a hard time finding.
Back in Sheryl’s base, Sheryl was fearfully receiving a visitor.
“U-Uhmmm, I heard that you have some business with Viola… U-uh, m-may I ask what it might be?”
“It’s nothing serious, I just have a few questions for Viola-san regarding some of her past dealings. It would be great if you would cooperate.”
The guest was Maruo. Inabe, as an officer from Kugamayama city, already told Sheryl beforehand that Maruo was someone from the Corporate Government and warned her not to do anything rude to him. That was why she was so nervous.
“So then, where is Viola-san?”
“S-she’ll be here in a minute. S-so please wait for a bit.”
Although she had Akira’s support and her gang had become a rather untouchable organization in Kugamayama city, they were still nothing compared to the Corporate Government. Thus, it was not strange for everyone in the gang to be nervous with the current guest around.
A moment later, Sheryl’s men came in with Viola. Viola sat in front of Maruo as she was trying her best to keep her usual smile.
“I heard that you have some questions for me, so, what might it be?”
“I want to know in detail about your deal with someone by the name of Gorou in Mihazono ruin. We have investigated and it seems like you gave him a certain piece of information, what did you give him?”
“I see, so you want to buy that information? In that case…”
In order to get into her usual rhythm, Viola tried to start negotiations in her usual fas.h.i.+on. But Maruo stopped her.
“I will give you the grat.i.tude amount, but let’s negotiate a later date. I want to know that answer first and foremost. I know you like to complicate the discussion. So, let me state this. I can actually just ask your brain directly, but that will require certain preparations first. So, to not have to go through such a troublesome thing, it would be of great help if you can just tell me honestly. Would that work for you?”
In front of Maruo, who said that with nonchalance and a peaceful smile, Viola got overwhelmed by the pressure and told Maruo everything.
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