Akira followed Sheryl to the clinic, which was located inside the slum city. Although it was located outside Sheryl’s territory, it was not that far from the base.
It was located in a particular area inside the slum where there was an unwritten rule among the residents not to cause any trouble. After all, if the clinic got involved in a fight, it would bring trouble to all of them. Also, even if the clinic was fine, it might refuse to treat them if they caused trouble there. Although it was an unwritten rule, it was effective enough to make people around the area obey.
When Akira saw the exterior of the clinic, he frowned and asked.
“…Sheryl, is this really the place?”
“Yes, it’s this building… I understand what you want to say, but this is the clinic.”
“… I see.”
The clinic looked suspicious from the outside. Rather than a clinic, it looked more like a laboratory, weird devices were sticking out of its roof as if to say that they were doing questionable experiments inside. The dangling signboard was so worn out, the letters written on it were almost unreadable. But, it still could be read ‘Yatsubayashi’s clinic’.
Akira and Sheryl entered that clinic, a guy in a white suit was tending Sheryl’s men. He might be tending their wounds, but judging by the glowing liquid that he was using, it looked more like he was experimenting on Sheryl’s men. That man noticed Akira and Sheryl, he immediately went to Sheryl, whom he had asked to come to the clinic, and said to her.
“You’re here, huh. It’s about the medicine that I use… Hm?”
That man looked at Akira and felt like he had seen Akira somewhere before. He then lightly smiled and said.
“Oh, it’s you. Long time no see.”
But Akira did not remember that guy at all.
“Did we ever meet before?”
“It’s me, Yatsubayashi. I tended on your wounds back in the Kuzusuhara city, remember?”
When Yatsubayashi said that, Akira immediately remembered him.
“…Ohhh, the guy from back then, huh.”
“Now you remember. I heard that you got badly injured right after I tended to your injuries though. Thanks to that, the City Management intervened and I couldn’t use the data that I gathered from tending your wounds, you know?”
“It’s not like I can do anything about it even if you tell me so”
It seemed that Akira’s contract with Kibayashi to erase all kinds of records from back then had affected Yatsubayashi too. But it was not like Akira could do anything about it even if Yatsubayashi told him so, and in reality, Akira himself was not bothered by that.
Sheryl lightly bowed to Yatsubayashi and said to him.
“Thank you for helping us, so I heard that there’s something you need to talk to me about…”
Yatsubayashi looked at Sheryl and Akira alternately, he then lightly nodded and said.
“Nah, it’s not a problem now. It seemed that the guys your men brought in had been treated with some expensive medicine. So I just thought that if you have enough money to buy that kind of stuff, I want you to properly pay for the treatment, but it seems that’s not the case.”
Yatsubayashi thought that it would not be strange for Akira to easily pay for those expensive medicines to win some points from Sheryl. After all, from his point of view, Sheryl was beautiful enough for Akira to aim for her. He then smiled and said.
“Putting that aside, do you want me to charge more for the treatment? The more you pay me, the better the treatment that these guys will get.”
Akira flatly replied.
“I have no reason to go that far.”
“I see, well, that’s to be expected.”
It seemed that Akira was not really that interested in Sheryl. Yatsubayashi thought so when he saw Akira react that way, so he decided to stop offering more treatment. He then shifted to Sheryl.
“Over there are the people that I’ve finished treating. 2 of them ended up dead, but that’s not my fault. If you want me to take care of the bodies too, then you’ll have to pay more. If not, then take them home. While for those who are still alive, they should be able to walk back home by themselves by tomorrow.”
“I understand, Akira, I’ll go and check on them.”
Sheryl lightly bowed and left. Sheryl’s men who had already finished getting their treatments noticed Sheryl although some of them were still half-dazed. Some of them were already recovered enough to move, it might be because their injuries were not that bad, or it might be because the strange green medicine was pretty effective.
Akira suddenly casually asked Yatsubayashi a question.
“How bad were the people that you couldn’t save?”
“Hm? They got shot in their body and their organs were in a mess. They were bleeding pretty badly too.”
“Was that really that bad? I thought that level of injury is only a light injury, right?”
Yatsubayashi lightly laughed.
“That’s indeed the case for Hunters. You can’t just compare the injuries between Hunters and normal people. Normal people would die with that level of injury, you see. As for those who are still alive, even after they are left with nothing but their heads, they are mostly cyborgs. While those who are still alive even after they get cut into two are only alive because they use a lot of medicines to forcefully keep their bodies functional. Those people with enhanced bodies basically have a completely different level of resilience compared to normal people. So if you compare these normal guys with Hunters, they would die, you know? You gotta be careful about this difference.”
“Now that you say so, that’s kind of true…”
Akira smiled bitterly, he just realized how badly skewed his perception was.
Yatsubayashi then changed the subject.
“Well, putting that aside, since you’re here, how about getting some treatment too?”
“Ah, that’s right, I wanted to have a check-up. As for my injuries, I already treated them with my own medicines, so I just want you to do a normal body check up and also check the nanomachine leftover accumulated inside my body.”
“Just a check-up, huh. Geez, just to let you know, it won’t be free.”
Akira took off his augmented suit and did a check-up there. Just like last time, Yatsubayashi used weird devices to check Akira’s body. When he was doing that, it seemed that something picked his interest as he said to Akira.
“Say, are you trying to be superhuman or something?”
Akira asked back confusedly.
“Superhuman? What are you even talking about?”
“You were putting your body under immense stress while consuming a lot of medicines, right? And that stress was so immense that it more or less negated the healing effect from the medicines that you consumed. Do you have any recollection of doing something like that?”
“Well, I did fight a lot while consuming medicines to compensate for the stress from my augmented suit though. Is it from that? Is there anything wrong with that?”
“So you don’t even realize that you’re doing it, huh. You’re really crazy.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Although not many people realize it, the people of the eastern district would improve a lot only with a small amount of training, you see. Of course, the effect differs between people and there’s a limit on how effective it is. But some people have an abnormal level of growth, these people basically can throw a tank without any extra help, these people are what you usually call superhuman. But even those people can’t get that level of strength purely from training. After all, their talent only increases their potential the more they train, not their real strength, that’s why they need to do something else other than just physical training to obtain that strength. And one of those methods is to put your body past its limit while consuming powerful medicine. They do that to compress the training intensity as much as possible.”
Akira searched through his memories, it was true that he did something similar numerous times in the past.
“Is that even effective?”
“I heard so, but well, rather than doing that, it’s far faster to just modify your body or to just use an augmented suit though. So, unless you’re obsessed with getting that level of strength only with your body, no one would try to do that.”
“But, that kind of thing is a talent that you are born with, right? So I bet most of the people can’t do that even if they try.”
Yatsubayashi seemed to be having fun talking about that subject, it might be a subject that he was interested in.
“Surprisingly enough, a lot of people actually have that kind of body, they just don’t realize it themselves. Some theories say that those superhumans might be the descendants of enhanced people from the old-world era. As the story goes, some people tried to be superhuman by using technologies in the old-world era, much like how they did it in the past. On the other case, some people get their bodies modified before they even realize it because of the nanomachine that they keep using. Either way, that strength propagated to their children and then their children used new technologies to achieve the same thing. And basically, everything accumulated together.”
The old-world technology was at a level where it could redefine what it meant to be a human. As a matter of fact, the current people of the eastern district were created through the old-world technology, so they were, in a sense, old-world relics.
Because of that, relics sometimes cost a lot of money. For example, the people who can connect to the old-world domain were prized highly. And that worth would not go down until they completely analyze the cause and extract the technology from it.
“I even heard that some people from the central district call the people from the eastern district as mutants or even biological weapons. Well, looking from that point of view, it could be said that everyone in the eastern district is a mutant, and since we call biological monsters as monsters because of similar reasons, I can’t say that is wrong.”
Akira slightly frowned. The free food distributed in the slum city were free because they were not safe, they were filled with stuff that might cause mutation and Akira had been eating such substances for a long time. His body might as well have been mutated, although it was just not enough to kill him straight away.
“A lot of veteran Hunters have abnormal strength. Although they are not superhuman, they get pretty close to being one from all of the training that they have gone through. Well, of course, a lot of them died before they could reach that point, or just decided to enhance their body with a particular technology that has been fully analyzed, or lose their potential to be a superhuman because of an unexplainable reason even now, that’s why there are not that many superhumans out there. Personally speaking, I don’t recommend trying to be one too.”
“I don’t want to be one either.”
“Yep, if you want to get stronger, my recommendation would be to modify your body. So, want to try it? Although you can’t use any insurance for this, I’ll give you a big discount so that it’ll cost more or less like a normal treatment, you know…”
Akira swiftly replied.
Yatsubayashi clicked his tongue and looked slightly disappointed.
“You don’t need to be that wary. It would be fine, of course, I already checked that it’s more or less safe.”
“I want a guarantee, not ‘more or less safe’.”
“Isn’t the possibility of getting killed an occupational hazard for a Hunter? It’s less risky than exploring old-world ruin. And considering that it’ll give you a superhuman strength if it succeeds, I would say that it’s a very low risk.”
“I wonder why people hate it so much, they often commented that the outlook of this clinic looks so suspicious. Why does no one other than me find this old-world vibe interesting.”
Akira remembered the outlook of the clinic. According to Yatsubayashi, it was based off on old-world design. Now that Yatsubayashi mentioned it, Akira could understand his point. But rather than giving the high-tech vibe from the old-world, it still gave off a suspicious impression. Akira thought that it was normal for other people to think so too.
After Yatsubayashi finished with the check-up, he told Akira the result.
“Your injuries will fully recover in no time as long as you don’t do anything crazy. But as I thought, the nanomachine count inside your body is too high. I’ll prescribe you a medicine to clean it off, so make sure to take it. You can buy the medicine in another place, but if you buy it from me, I can give you a better one, although I can’t guarantee its safety. If you decide to take my medicine, I’ll put the medicine cost together with your checkup cost. The check-up alone is 10,000 Aurum, if you want to buy the medicine too, the total will be 100,000 Aurum.”
“I’ll take your medicine.”
“Thanks for the business.”
Right after Akira paid for his check-up and medicine, Sheryl came. She then thanked Yatsubayashi one more time before leaving the clinic together with Akira.
After Akira and Sheryl left, Yatsubayashi mumbled.
“The record says that he’s been using a lot of expensive medicines, it means that he’s earning a lot of money and I am always in need of more money for my research. It seems that he’s Sheryl’s lover, I wonder if I can get a lot of money from him through Sheryl… I guess I’ll think about it.”
Yatsubayashi was a kind person, he had saved the lives of a lot of people who would have died otherwise. But that kindness did not come for free. The biggest reason why he opened a clinic in the slum city was because poor people would be desperate enough to try something risky. In the slum city, it was relatively easy for him to test pretty dangerous stuff that would have originally taken a lot of money and time. Not to mention, no one would complain if some of them got killed in the process.
The slum city was the perfect place for those researchers who believed that small sacrifices were unavoidable in order to save many people.
After Akira took Sheryl back to her base, he headed back home. In the middle of the way, he thought of something and asked Alpha.
“Say, Alpha, about that superhuman thing though, do you think I can be one?”
Alpha smiled and replied.
“Possibility-wise, yes. But the success rate is too small that it’s unrealistic to change your training schedule just because of that.”
Akira seemed a bit disappointed.
“I see, well, I did expect that though.”
“It’s not like there’s any need for you to throw a tank solely relying on your physical strength, right? If you want to do that, you can just do that with an augmented suit.”
“Well, you’re right about that, but is that even possible?”
“It depends on the quality of your augmented suit. Let’s just hope that Shizuka would find a good one.”
Akira headed back home while looking forward to his new augmented suit.
That night, a truck was parked near the border between the Kugamayama city’s lower district and the wasteland. Two girls were standing next to the back door of that truck, they were Carol and Viola.
Viola was wearing casual clothing not recommended for combat, in contrast to her, Carol was armed to teeth.
Carol was way more armed compared to when she met Akira that day. She was using an augmented suit and carrying a portable heavy weapon. It would not be strange if she went to explore an old-world ruin in that state, but there was no mistaking it that she did not need that much firepower in the area where she was right now. Of course, that was excluding the case if she expected something to happen that needed her to be that armed.
Carol was checking the area around her with her information-gathering device when she suddenly threw a question at Viola.
“They should be here soon, right?”
“Soon, but not yet.”
“My information-gathering device hasn’t picked anything yet though, are you sure they can reach this place before the meeting time? Just so you know, if they don’t come on time, I’ll leave. I have no idea who are you dealing with, and I have no plans to get involved in trouble with people who can’t come on time.”
Those who could not come at the meeting time could not be trusted to uphold the result of the negotiation. Thus, Carol thought that it would be dangerous to negotiate with them.
Viola had her business face up as she replied.
“I’ll wait until the last second. And if they don’t come, then they’re the ones who scrapped the deal, so it’s not my fault.”
Viola then smiled and continued.
“…By the way, putting that aside, is your next prey that Akira boy?”
Carol smiled smugly and replied.
“That’s so rude to call him a prey. Call it investing in a prospective customer.”
“Geez, you would even go for such a young boy, you really have no integrity at all. Or did you change your principle or something? Or is that you see something special in that boy?”
“Age has nothing to do with it. You saw for yourself how strong he is from that fight against those robbers, right? So I’m not talking about potency, he’s pretty good even right now.”
Judging from how Carol responded, Viola knew that Carol did not target Akira out of a whim. So she thought of a plan based on that and made a suggestion to Carol.
“If age has nothing to do with it, then how about you go for that popular Katsuya? He should be around the age of that Akira. From what I heard, he did pretty well during that battle in Mihazono ruin, and the City Management seems to be interested in that boy too. Even some skilled Hunters in Drankam decided to create an anti-faction since they’re scared of his power, it’s the main reason why the gang is broken into factions right now. There’s nothing to complain about his skill and it seems that he likes girls pretty much that even his team is called Katsuya’s harem team. I’m sure it’s an easy thing for you to slip in. It’s your favourite thing, right? Money that these Hunters earned with their talents.”
Viola knew well about what Carol liked. So she tried to test if Carol would be more interested in Katsuya than Akira.
But Carol’s reply was rather ambiguous.
“Ahh, that guy, huh. I just can’t get interested in that guy, you see…”
“Oh my, is it that you don’t have the confidence to capture him? Don’t tell me that your skill in capturing men has gotten rusty.”
Viola tried to provoke Carol for a bit, but Carol did not show any change.
“Of course I’m sure I can do that, but… What can I say…”
“…? What is it?”
“I actually had a job to go to Drankam’s facility, I heard about that boy from back then and I did check him out too. To be honest, I don’t want to get involved with him. About that harem squad too, I feel like they’re going to kill me if I try to seduce that Katsuya.”
Viola found that a bit weird and asked Carol.
“Leaving that Katsuya guy aside, I don’t think the people around him can do any harm to you though, that harem squad is nothing but small fries to you, isn’t it? So why you don’t just go ahead and crush them.”
“That is if they’re really nothing but small fries… But that’s not exactly true, they’re… Uhh, rather than strong, they’re more like cult members?”
“Yep, cult. Well, it’s not like all of them are like that. But I’m sure it’ll only gather more and more members with time. Just like you said, it’s already big enough to break Drankam into factions. So at this rate, probably, it’ll take over the whole gang. I have no plans to get killed fighting a cult, you see.”
Carol sounded like she really hated that idea. Although she was already used to facing death since she was also a Hunter, she at least wanted to have the leeway to choose how she would die, and she hated the idea of dying to a cult.
“Aren’t you the one who usually is more interested in that kind of thing? Messing with that kind of stuff is completely under your area of expertise, right?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Viola was smiling when she said that, even Carol could not tell what she was thinking.
Carol checked the time, it was already 1 minute past the meeting time. She still did not get anything from her information-gathering device. She then mumbled.
“As I thought, they didn’t come, so it was pointless, huh…?”
Suddenly a signal was detected in her information-gathering device. Although that surprised her, she still reacted quickly to it, she immediately covered Viola and aimed her rifle in the direction where the signal came.
In the direction where she was aiming, a guy was standing, where there was no one just a moment ago.
That guy’s head was made of metal, it was obvious from the first glance that he was a cyborg. He was using a black robe so it would be hard to spot him in the middle of the night. That man slowly walked toward Carol and Viola. His strong looking arm was carrying a single case.
That man must be the one who had the appointment to meet Viola. Although Carol hesitated, she eventually lowered her rifle.
Even when Carol was aiming her rifle at that man, he walked normally toward Viola as if it did not bother him at all.
Carol already lowered her rifle, but she still had her guard up as she cautiously said to that man.
“To be honest, if it could be helped, I would like for you not to sneak up on us though?”
“Sorry, we just don’t want to stick out. I was hoping you can understand that since we picked this place and time to meet. Moreover, I did remove my camouflage not too close to you, so I hope you can forgive us with that.”
In reality, that man was actually there even before Carol and Viola arrived. But he kept himself hidden under his robe.
That man stopped in front of Viola, placed the case he was carrying on the ground, and showed the money inside it. That case was filled with bills up to its brim.
That guy then said to Viola.
“Go ahead and confirm it, how about the goods?”
Viola pointed toward the back of the truck and said.
“It’s inside, you can go ahead and check it too. Don’t worry, it’s open.”
That guy left the case on the ground and went inside the truck to check the goods. There were five body bags inside the truck, they were the body bags of the robbers that attacked Sheryl’s base. That guy opened the body bags one by one and checked the bodies inside them.
While outside, Viola was checking the money inside the case. Carol tilted her head and looked at her, confused.
“…Is it really that profitable selling dead bodies?”
“Well, I can’t say for sure.”
“Don’t give me that, you’re the one who came up with the deal, aren’t you?”
“This is my first time too, you see. I have no idea why they want those dead bodies.”
Carol could not tell whether Viola was being serious or that she was just playing fool. Considering both possibilities and the fact that she needed to still get along with Viola, she decided not to ask any further.
Viola might really not know or she was telling Carol not to ask her. But she then continued.
“I can’t even tell if this negotiation is with him alone or he’s just a representative of a bigger group. I don’t know what they are going to do with the corpses, and I have no plans to find out either… Or at least that’s what I want to say, but seeing how he can easily break through your guard, I don’t want to ask now. If it was a common camouflage, you should have been able to spot him, right?”
“Well, yeah, we’re not in a thick colourless mist and the information-gathering device that I’m using is not cheap that it can’t detect common optical camouflage. Although it depends on the distance, even if he’s just standing still, as long as he’s breathing or as long as his heart is still beating, it’ll still trigger my information-gathering device. I was using such a powerful information-gathering device while watching the surroundings. I know that he was using camouflage and he is a cyborg, but it’s still surprising that I couldn’t detect him.”
The guy stepped out from the truck and said to Viola after he closed the door.
“I already checked it, there’s no problem. How about yours?”
“I have no problem too.”
“We have a deal then.”
“I don’t know if there’s next time, but if we’re going to do business again, just transfer the money, okay? It’s not easy for a frail girl like me to carry around this heavy case filled with money, you know?”
“Honestly speaking, I did this since I don’t want to leave a suspicious record in your bank account. I can still transfer the money if you want.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I see, I’ll take my leave then. Just to be safe, let me remind you that it’s better if you don’t try to tail me.”
“Of course. As I promised, we’ll stay here for a while after we finish the deal. And also, you can just take the truck with you.”
The guy went to the driver’s seat and drove away, he was heading to the wasteland instead of to the city. The truck, together with that guy and the bodies inside it, disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Viola and Carol just stood there without saying anything while watching the truck leave. Once the truck had completely vanished from their views, Viola let out a big sigh. Although she was smiling and looked relaxed from the outside, she was actually pretty nervous during that exchange.
Carol also looked slightly relieved.
“It’s not like I want to dictate to you what to do and what not to do about your deals, but you won’t be able to stay alive for long if you keep making deals like this.”
Viola, who had regained her composure, smiled amusedly and replied.
“I don’t want you to tell me that when you’re working as a Hunter yourself. Although right now I’m the one who agreed to make that deal in this place and time, it’s still safer than exploring old-world ruin as a Hunter, you know?”
“Well, that’s true.”
Viola was indeed correct, Carol smiled wryly and gave that short reply.
After they waited there for a while, they returned back to the city in the car that Viola called.
The cyborg guy, who drove the truck with the dead bodies inside, drove away for a bit and stopped not too far away from the city.
He stepped down from the driver seat and went to the backside of the truck. He then dumped some of the body bags while they were still opened. He dumped 4 of the 5 body bags as if they were just trash.
As for the last one, he carefully picked that body bag and carried it outside. It was Zalmo’s body bag. That cyborg was treating Zalmo’s body differently.
When that man stepped out of the truck, someone called him.
“It’s me… Yeah, I’ve picked up our brother… Yeah, it’s no problem, I’ll leave the rest to you.”
It was a call through the communication device installed in that guy’s body, thus his conversation did not make any sound at all from the outside.