Tsubaki guided Akira and Alpha into a room that looked like a warehouse. It was a pretty wide room with a tall ceiling. There were organized shelves lined inside and each of those shelves housed old-world relics.
Akira was a bit overwhelmed by the scene when he peeked from the entrance. A normal Hunter would go crazy in that situation, but for him, it took some time to process the scene in front of him. He was more troubled than happy.
Akira stepped off from his bike and just stood there, so Alpha smiled at him and told him to start working.
“Well, she did tell us to get out of here as soon as we finish, so let’s get this done fast.”
“Alpha, can you give me explanations of what is going on here?”
“I’ll explain it to you while you’re working. It would be bad if we don’t leave this place before that girl’s mood gets worse.”
Akira started his work. He took out a rucksack from his bike and pulled out more rucksacks from within the previous one.
“That girl is the manager AI of this Tsubakihara building. Although I said she’s the manager of this building, she’s also managing the area around this building. The well-maintained state of the area around this building is mostly thanks to her. Although it’s not like she did everything herself, you can just think of her as someone who is responsible for maintaining this area.”
There were all kinds of relics on the selves, it was impossible for Akira to carry all of them back home. So he was looking around the room to choose only the most expensive-looking relics.
“Remember that we were just driving around this area since we came to this city, right? It’s just as you guessed, I was looking for a building with not-too-strict security. I was planning to choose a building with a lowered security system due to the time deterioration to look for relics there. But unfortunately, in the end, I couldn’t find a good place at all.”
There were cases made of transparent-looking material that looked like glass or plastic. The height of the case itself was only about 4 centimeters. Inside it, there were spherical objects that seemed to be made of rubber or metal. While other cases had cubes, or triangles, or even powders inside them. Alpha said that they were basically some kind of old-world information terminals, so Akira prioritized those objects to stuff into his rucksacks.
“I did consider robbing a place with relatively lower security, but as I thought, it’s too dangerous. Although I don’t think they’ll use full force just to fight a single person, I have no idea how much force they would bring out. With that being said, it’s not like we can go back empty-handed, that’s why I made a change in the plan.”
There were also fabrics stored on some shelves. Some of them looked like working attires or some kind of uniforms, and of course, all of them had an old-world design. There were also other articles that looked like something that Akira could find in the current era’s shops. All of those articles including the clothing were stuffed inside boxes.
“So then I made a deal with that girl to let us take the expired articles. In exchange for that, we have to leave this place as soon as we’re done with it. Although I said it so casually, it’s the result of a difficult negotiation. If the amount of information that we exchanged is written in words, it might take about 100 years. Being able to make that kind of deal is one of the great things about my support, you know? Of course, normally it would be impossible to do that without me. Remember when you tried to talk with the AI manager of the Seranthal building? That time, she did not even respond to you, right? That’s what normally would happen without my support.”
There was also some lady underwear among the clothing articles. Although he hesitated, since they fetched a relatively high price for the amount of fabric that they had, Akira told himself that it would be the perfect relics to bring back in that situation where he only had a limited amount of space to spare and decided to take them too.
“She came by herself to pick us up because I was able to get us that deal. She said that she would only let us in if we can reach this place by ourselves, but it was no problem at all thanks to your bike. Aren’t you glad to have bought that bike?”
Akira also found some underwear for men, since he thought that he could use them later, he decided to take the whole box with him. After all, he kept changing between them quickly since they got soaked with blood in no time. Some of the underwear that he found were even made of strong enough fabric to even be used as armour. But personally speaking, as long as he could wash them and reuse them again instead of just throwing them away, it was more than enough for him.
“By the way, it seems that this warehouse is actually for obsolete articles. So all of the items here are basically trash.”
Akira’s hands stopped the moment he heard that and he inadvertently looked at Alpha.
Akira once again took a good look around. There were many shelves around him, all of them were filled with relics that were still in good condition.
“So all of these relics… They’re all expired articles? All of them? And since they’re trash, they’ll be just thrown away, right?”
“Yup, that’s exactly why she allowed us to take them for free. So let’s take as much as we can.”
Although Akira was surprised, he also looked slightly conflicted. If one of these relics was found in the slum city, it would definitely cause a fight where people would get killed. And here, all of them were basically trash to be thrown away later. He could not help but find it really shocking.
“…What a huge waste. All of these relics are basically in very good condition and I feel like they’ll fetch me way more money than those relics that I got in Yonozuka station ruin. To me, they don’t look like trash at all, you know.”
“Although they’re expired articles, it’s not like they’re broken or anything. Some of them have simply expired because of the change of season. Or they are just articles that simply get replaced after a fixed amount of time. These articles are basically registered as expired articles in the system although they’re not broken or faulty. Since no one would buy them and no one would use them, they were built and then showcased for sale, and later collected for disposal–this cycle has been going on forever.”
Alpha said so in such a casual manner. But Akira felt an indescribable feeling, a mix of suspicion and something close to loneliness. He then said with a serious expression.
“…Why are they doing that?”
“Well, even if you ask me so. There are actually various reasons why they’re doing that. The core system which manages this place doesn’t question that at all although it might look meaningless to normal people. That’s why they never stop doing it. That’s also the case for most of the manager AIs too, that’s why they don’t try to stop that system. Even if there are some AIs with better intelligence that question the system, unless they have the right to change the system, they would not be able to stop that cycle either.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep, well, but of course, there are exceptions. If some AIs prioritize individual opinion above rules, they might decide to ignore the rule and apply some changes. For example, some of them might adapt to be able to trade with the people of the current era. These AIs might be the reason why some of the big companies can trade with them using Chrome. It’s even possible for some of these AIs to adapt to trade with the people of the current era using the money for the current era too, you know. Some of them might as well already be secretly mixed among the rank of the Corporate Government.”
Akira listened with full interest.
“What can I say… It’s really something.”
Alpha smiled amusedly.
“Well, if we’re talking about possibilities, that’s just how it is. And also, don’t stop there, keep moving your hands. She did tell us to leave as soon as possible, so we need to hurry up.”
Akira flusteredly returned to gathering relics again.
Once he was done, Akira looked at his bike with relics piled on top of it and murmured. The rucksacks that he used were those that could slightly expand their volumes, and Akira had filled all of those rucksacks with relics before putting them on his bike. He also stuffed the backside of his coat with the smaller relics. But even so, he actually still had some spaces to spare.
“Hmmm, Alpha, I feel like we can still carry some more relics though.”
“Nope, this is as much as you can carry.”
“But like, I can still put in some relics there, right?”
“If you carry more relics, you’ll just drop them on our way back. Not to mention, they would prevent you from moving freely during a fight. So just give it up, okay?”
Akira slightly frowned, displeased, but he then shook his head and got on his bike.
“You’re right, it would be stupid to be greedy here just to get myself killed later.”
Alpha smiled bitterly and said.
“To be honest, I think you’re already greedy enough here though. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to save all of these relics in case we encounter some monsters on our way back home, you know? So just keep that in mind.”
“I’ll be counting on you to find a safe route so that we won’t have to go through that.”
Alpha smiled mischievously at Akira.
“Of course, I’ll do that without you asking me. But it will still depend on your luck, you see. Let’s just hope that you don’t run out of luck after we got here safely and collected all of these relics without any trouble.”
Akira smiled bitterly and slowly accelerated his bike.
When Akira exited the warehouse, Tsubaki was standing close by, waiting for him. There was no smile on her face, she just looked at Akira with a business-like and flat expression.
Akira felt awkward. Although he was already used to having people looking at him with contempt, Tsubaki’s cold gaze was an unfriendly gaze for a robber who was not even trying to be discreet about it while she could not do anything against it.
Akira inadvertently bowed lightly to Tsubaki.
“…Uh, uhmm, I’ll excuse myself then.”
“Be careful on your way back.”
“Ah, yes, of course.”
As Akira was about to awkwardly walk past Tsubaki, she suddenly said.
“May I ask you one thing?”
“Uh, sure, what is it?”
“It seems that you’re using all of your bandwidth for a single connection, are you really okay with that?”
Akira tilted his head. He could not understand the meaning of that question, but Alpha suddenly interjected while still smiling like usual.
“It’s fine. It’s in order to maintain my full support for him for the sake of his safety. So it’ll be fine, or more like, can you just mind your own business?”
Alpha and Tsubaki stared at each other. There was no friendliness between them.
“Akira, let’s go.”
“Eh? Ah, okay.”
Alpha accelerated his bike before he could. Akira was a bit surprised, but he could immediately regain his balance. Tsubaki kept watching Akira as he left the building until he eventually vanished from her view.
Akira was on his bike as he drove down the wall of the Tsubakihara building at a relatively high speed. He could not help but frown as he watched the ground coming closer and closer to his face.
“Alpha, aren’t we going too fast!? I did ask you to drive safely, didn’t I?!”
“It’s far safer than getting the tire stuck on something since its sticky feature would activate if we’re too slow and that might trip the bike. This is the safest option. The ground is not too far below, so just hang on tight for a bit longer.”
“I have to say there’s something wrong with your standard of driving safely!”
Akira smiled wryly. All the questions and doubts inside his mind were erased.
The bike’s wheels kept in close contact with the building’s wall until the bike went past the curved slope that connected the wall and ground. Once the bike was on the ground again, it slowed down under the speed limit and kept going at that stable speed. Now that Akira had calmed down since he was able to safely reach the ground again, the question that he decided to just forget came back up again.
“Say, Alpha, what was she talking about when Tsubaki said something about bandwidth?”
“Oh, are you curious?”
“…Yeah, a bit.”
In order to maintain her friendly relation with Akira, Alpha was actively discouraging him from asking questions about particular subjects.
But of course, that did not mean Akira’s curiosity about those subjects was completely gone. He used Tsubaki’s question as an excuse since it was a question from a third party about the subject that Alpha had told him not to ask.
Alpha looked at Akira and decided that telling him not to ask that question might be a bad move there. So she casually smiled and said.
“You are someone who can connect to the old-world domain and you’re using that connection to download information from the old-world network. My image and my voice are both conveyed to you through the network. But the amount and the speed of information transfer through the network are not unlimited. And at the moment, all of your connection capacity is allocated for transferring information with me, that’s why she said that back then.”
“Is that something bad?”
“Not at all. It’s no problem at all. After all, I need enough bandwidth to maintain the support that I can give you. Moreover, if I take most of your bandwidth, you can maintain a high-speed connection even when you apply an information filter for the sake of your safety. Like that one, you know, remember when you met a maid girl that I couldn’t see in Higaraka residence ruin? In the worst-case scenario, that could have killed you, you know. It was because I’m putting a filter in your connection that you were safe. That’s why it’s not something for you to worry about.”
“Well, that does sound like it’s no problem at all, but then why did Tsubaki say that?”
“I bet it’s a matter of individual opinion. You do know that I can control your body by controlling your augmented suit, right? Like how some people hate that, there might be people who don’t want their bandwidth to be used for just one connection. It’s the same for the connection filter too. I think she was talking about that.”
“Hmmm, is that all?”
Though Akira understood from Alpha’s explanation, he did not feel like that was enough of a reason for Alpha to interject as she did back then. When he said that, Alpha smiled faintly at him and said.
“This might be just a guess from me, so it’s not like I want to say anything bad about her. But if I may add something, she might want you to open some bandwidth that she can use to connect with you.”
“If she can connect with you, she’ll be able to talk through telepathy with you too. That way, she would be able to make a deal with you without telling me. The reason why I interjected is simply to avoid that. To put it simply, it was so that you won’t cheat on me.”
Alpha said so and smiled mischievously at Akira, who winced back when he saw her expression.
Alpha came closer to Akira’s face and smiled amusedly.
“I trust that you would say no even if she offers you 10 billion Chrome and performs other services for you to just forget the request from this girl whom you can’t even touch. But it still doesn’t feel right to me, even more so when you do that in secret.”
Alpha came so close to Akira that if she had a body, he would be able to feel her body heat from that distance. So Akira inadvertently pulled his face back, he then smiled bitterly and said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll still prioritize your request. After all, I already owe you a lot until now. I have no plans to just ignore that.”
“Is that so? Thank you, I’m really happy to hear that.”
Alpha smiled as if she was really happy, she then returned back to her usual posture.
Akira tried to calm himself down as he shifted his eyes forward. He then thought.
[Does this mean that Alpha still hasn’t fully trusted me yet? Well, I did ignore her warning and went to raid a big gang’s base, I even almost got myself killed fighting in a battle that I could have avoided. So I guess that’s to be expected, huh? I guess I have no other choice but to properly do my Hunter job, get better equipment, give my best in my training, and regain some of her trust.]
Akira said so as he made his resolve and decided to stop worrying about it for now.
He was actually being tricked there. Although Alpha did not lie, she also did not tell everything to him.
As Akira kept his connection bandwidth solely for Alpha, it was slowly turned to suit Alpha’s connection. Although at the moment most of Akira’s bandwidth was still general-purpose bandwidth, it was only a matter of time before all of them were modified for Alpha’s special use. Alpha did not say anything about that to Akira.
In the first place, Akira was the one who gave Alpha permission to modify his bandwidth. Of course, he did not know that himself when he did that.
It took a lot of power to change a contract that had been signed and Akira did not have such power at the moment. No one could tell for sure whether he would ever get the power to do so before he could accomplish Alpha’s request, or even if that kind of power existed in this world in the first place.
Once they left the area maintained by Tsubaki, the scene returned back to an abandoned city with rubbles and half-destroyed buildings scattered everywhere. Akira lightly sighed and felt slightly relieved when he saw that.
“It might be weird to say but I feel much calmer in this place, although, technically speaking, it’s still in the inner part of the ruin.”
“Well, the inner part of the ruin actually extended over a wide area after all, and it’s not like there’s any clear indicator that separates the inner and the outskirt of the ruin. But if we say that the area further in than the forward base is an area where monsters which normal Hunters can’t handle roam around, I guess it’s safe to say that this is already the inner part of the ruin. Though I’m sure it would change when the forward base finishes building a road to go further into the ruin though.”
Akira then hummed.
“And they’re already in the middle of building that road, right? If I’m not mistaken, Elena-san and Sara-san are working on a request related to that… If things are going smoothly, that road will eventually go all the way to an area like the one with the Tsubakihara building, right? Won’t that be dangerous?”
Akira thought that if the road extended that far, those powerful big drones with camouflaging devices might backtrack that road all the way to the forward base, and that would be disastrous. In the worst-case scenario, forget the forward base, those monsters might even come all the way to Kugamayama city.
“I’m sure the City Management has also thought about it too. I’m sure they’ll do something like dispatching the city defence squad or calling back those Hunters who are originally working in much more dangerous places… I’m sure you’ll get called for that too sooner or later.”
“And I’ll say no to it. This time I won’t be taking any request from the City Management ever again.”
Akira looked extremely displeased, Alpha who saw that only smiled at him mischievously. Akira had no plans to be sent to the hospital again after all.
Alpha’s expression then changed to a serious one, at the same time, she augmented Akira’s views.
“Akira, we have company.”
“Roger that. Well, in the first place, I didn’t expect to get back home without encountering any monsters after all.”
Akira casually said so as he switched his mind to battle state. He let go one of his hands from the handle and reached for his CWH anti-material rifle. That was when Akira’s relaxed face turned stern.
Akira could see multiple signals from the monsters chasing him from behind in his augmented vision. At first, when Alpha warned him, it was only one signal, but it immediately went to 4, then to 8, and now it was already 20.
“…Aren’t there too many of them?”
“They’re a swarm of weapon dogs. But I don’t know if it’s a huge swarm or if it’s an amalgamation of multiple swarms.”
Akira remembered his past experience the moment he heard the word weapon dog. They were monsters that he could not fight against back then when he went into Kuzusuhara ruin with nothing but a pistol. Even the one that he was barely able to defeat was the one that was faulty.
But he was no longer the same from back then. He had more firepower now, a better augmented suit, and more support from Alpha. The current him should be able to take care of that swarm just fine. He thought that it was a good chance to confirm how much he had grown since then as he looked at the first weapon dog. But he frowned when he saw that weapon dog.
“…Isn’t that weapon dog bigger than usual?”
“They originate from the area near the inner part of the ruin, after all. They’re basically different to their smaller siblings that you can find roaming around the outskirt of the ruin.”
Akira thought that those weapon dogs would only be equipped with some big guns that normally won’t be used to fight people. But the weapon dogs in front of him had cannons, mortars, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, and big bodies powerful enough to support all of those guns.
“Akira, we’ll be running away as fast as we can. I’ll take full control of the bike, so you just try to shoot their heads. And also, make sure to hold on, it might get a little rocky.”
Akira aimed his rifle behind, at the same time, the bike’s arms also started to move too. The A4WM automatic grenade launcher and DVTS minigun fixed on the ends of those arms were properly aimed at the incoming weapon dogs. Akira focused his aim on one of the weapon dogs and pulled the trigger.
The CWH anti-material rifle had enough power to even destroy a tank, while the grenades from the A4WM automatic grenade launcher had enough destructive power to destroy the rubbles, as for the DVTS minigun, it could turn normal monsters into minced meat in no time. Those 3 guns started shooting at the same time.
Sounds of explosions mixed in between the weapon dogs’ howls. The cannons that could destroy a tank, the missiles that could destroy buildings, and heavy machine guns that could easily pierce a thick metal, all of those rifles on their backs started shooting at Akira.
The lonely wasteland was swallowed with sounds of explosions and fire in a snap.
Akira’s bike blazed through the ruin, Alpha used her advanced computation skill to predict where those rain of warheads and incoming bullets would land and nimbly controlled the bike to slip through the openings between them.
The explosions from Akira’s A4WM automatic grenade launcher were slowing the monsters down while his DVTS minigun was shooting down the incoming missiles.
The missiles that got shot veered from their original aims and hit the buildings, destroying them. Alpha nimbly manoeuvred left and right through the falling rubbles. When the road forward was blocked, she ran the bike on the walls of the building to get past those rubbles.
The weapon dogs ignored the rubbles blocking their way forward as they used their powerful body to break through those rubbles. Akira did try to make some turns and used buildings to get away from the incoming bullets, but it did not seem like he was able to get away from the weapon dogs that were chasing him with a speed unsuitable for their sizes.
Akira was aiming from a situation that was far from ideal. His aim swayed left and right following the bike’s movement. Not to mention, sometimes it ran on the side of a building’s wall too. In that chaotic situation, he only gathered his focus to its utmost level when he was about to take a shot, as he compressed his time perception to its limit, he carefully aimed his rifle inside a world that was almost completely frozen in time before pulling the trigger.
Although the special bullet’s firepower was reduced the further the distance it travelled, it was able to deal a deadly injury to the head of the weapon dog that it hit since those weapon dogs were weaker than a tank. The weapon dogs that had lost their command centres went limp and just dropped dead on the ground.
Akira let out a long breath before he moved to his next target. But he was taken aback by what he saw, the weapon dogs that he had shot down slowly started to move again. They slowly stood back on their feet and aimed their weapons at him.
“Alpha! Those monsters are still alive even after I shoot their heads!?”
“Akira, calm down. It’s just because something else outside that swarm is controlling them remotely. It still doesn’t change their weak point, which is their heads.”
“So that kind of enemy is here too, huh!?”
“If you only destroy their control device and leave their bodies mostly undamaged, they can still be used for fighting if something else takes control of their bodies. It might be some kind of system to make sure that they can still fight even after losing their control device. Akira, reload!”
The bike’s arm extended its DVTS minigun next to Akira. The arm did not have an automatic reloading system. Although it was using an extended magazine, it did not take much time for it to run out of ammo when used for continuous shooting.
Akira hurriedly reloaded a new magazine, once he did that, the DVTS minigun returned its aim at the incoming swarm and started shooting again. It did not take that long before his A4WM automatic grenade launcher also needed a reload. Akira kept alternating between reloading new magazines and shooting the swarm.
Alpha’s shooting was more focused to suppress the enemies, while the killing shots were executed by Akira with his CWH anti-material rifle. The special ammo for the CWH anti-material rifle was not cheap, every time Akira loaded a new magazine and threw away the empty magazine, he felt like he was throwing away a bundle of money. So he could not help but complain there.
“There are so many of them and they’re too strong, what’s going on here? We didn’t encounter any of them on our way here, right? So why are there suddenly so many of them on our way back? And here I thought my bad luck was finally gone when we didn’t meet any monsters on our way in and were able to collect all of these relics without much trouble.”
“It must be because you’re carrying relics now. They must have reacted when their sensor detected someone carrying a lot of stolen goods with him.”
Akira did not stop shooting as he replied.
“Stolen goods? But these are expired articles and we had the permission to collect them, right? Though I can understand the system looking at Hunters as robbers, that’s not the case this time, right?”
“That might be true for the mechanical monsters under the management system of the city, but that might not be the case for the monsters roaming the wasteland, you know? I’m sure that there are a lot of other faults in their programs too. But with that being said, it’s indeed suspicious to see someone carrying this much luggage through the ruin.”
“So that’s why they started shooting at me, huh? What a huge pain in the neck!”
“If you understand it now, it would be great if you can stop complaining and focus more on the fight.”
“You’re right. I feel better now to know that it’s not because of my bad luck.”
Akira smiled bitterly and said so as he returned back to shooting the incoming weapon dogs.