Akira was spending his time training in his garage inside his home. Ever since he bought a large vehicle, he had to renovate his garage to fit it in. But now that it was out for repair, the garage was large enough to use as his training ground.
But during his training, Akira was not seeing his own garage. Instead, he felt like he was inside an old-world room in the middle of an old-world ruin. And he was running through the room evading Alpha’s flurry of attacks.
As Akira aimed his empty SSB rifle at Alpha and pulled the trigger, a virtual bullet shot out from the muzzle following realistic mathematical calculations. Alpha hid behind a virtual wall to take cover from those bullets, she then swung a virtual blade that cut through the virtual wall and aimed straight for Akira.
Akira leapt and rolled over to evade the incoming blade. But one of the rubble scattered on the ground tripped him over. His augmented suit stiffened the moment his leg struck the non-existent rubble, throwing him off balance. That small opening was enough for Alpha to peek out from behind the wall and shoot him. By the end of that sequence, an image of Akira with his head blown off was lying on the ground.
Akira looked at that image and sighed. He looked slightly displeased as he said.
“…This time, I didn’t even last 10 seconds, huh. Alpha, it’s not like I’m asking you to pull back your punches, but like, can you go a little easy on me? This is just a one-sided fight, can you make some adjustments for the training?”
Alpha, who was behind a wall some distance away from him, suddenly teleported in front of him. She was using an old-world fighting suit which was exposing too much skin according to the current standard. The suit gave a clear view of her shoulder and thighs as well as a part of the valley on her chest. She had blades on both of her hands which she used to attack Akira just now, and her rifle was not only equipped to shoot bullets but also lasers from its muzzle.
Alpha then gently said to Akira with a smile.
“Nope. I’ve already placed some level of adjustment, you know? It’s your turn to do your best to put up a fight.”
“I’m already doing my best here, but like, you know, it also depends on the opponent’s weapons and positioning, and luck too. Like, that blade that can even cut through the wall, is that even necessary for this training?”
Akira said so while questioning the aforementioned weapon, but Alpha then said teasingly.
“Even if you say luck as an aspect, I think your luck is already in the correct setting though? After all, you did fight someone with a similar weapon in the past, right? Personally speaking, it would be great if you can get strong enough to fight against your bad luck as soon as possible.”
“…Well, you have a point there, but still.”
Akira could not help but frown since Alpha did give him a real example. Although he accepted that reasoning, part of him still could not accept it for a different reason. It was obvious from his face that he was feeling conflicted about it.
“Well, we already did quite a lot of damage in this place, so can you clean that up for now?”
All the virtual objects from Akira’s augmented vision vanished. Including all the images of the dead Akira, the blood that was scattered on the wall and the floor, the walls that were put there to make the huge garage suitable for close-ranged fights, the holes on those walls from the bullets, the scorch marks on the floor. Everything vanished and his vision returned back to normal, to his original garage.
“But still, this is really convenient. It’s not like I’m using real bullets, so it’s not like I’m paying for the bullets that I shoot. I can shoot as many expensive bullets as I want. We could have used this kind of training sooner.”
“Unfortunately, in order to give you realistic feedback via your augmented suit, I need to be able to do fine-tuning and detailed adjustments to your augmented suit, which means that I couldn’t do it unless you were using a high-quality augmented suit. Thanks to your new augmented suit, I can finally do that to some extent. If we use an inadequate augmented suit, the feedback from the augmented suit would be far from realistic, that’s why we didn’t do it until now.”
“Ohh, I see. I’m really glad I splurged on my equipment.”
Akira was fully convinced by that answer and Alpha was smiling like usual.
Alpha was not lying there. But she did hide some fine details from her explanation. One of the main factors why they could do that training now was because Alpha’s connection through the old-world domain with Akira was stronger than before. This way, she was able to transfer a bigger load of data to his brain.
The reason why Akira leapt out to evade the incoming blade although he should not have been able to see it coming from behind the wall, was because he felt its presence and reacted accordingly. Although it was not like he completely saw through Alpha’s move, he just received enough information to trigger his instinct. It was from a faint change in his surroundings, like a slight change in the ambient sound. Akira was able to experience that level close to reality during this virtual training.
This also meant that one day, Akira would be able to feel Alpha, who was nothing but virtual data through the same means. While on the other hand, Alpha, who was nothing but virtual data, would be able to choke Akira to death through the same means too, just like a ghost choking someone to death.
“Alpha, I’m tired, can we take a short break?“
“Sure, in that case, we can finish the training here for today.”
“Hmmm, let’s see… I’ll decide later after a short break.”
Akira thought that his mental fatigue was from the nervousness during the training when it actually came from the burden of the huge data transfer. Not to mention, he was keeping his time compression up throughout the training as well, so it further prevented him from noticing that.
While Akira was taking a break, a call from Sheryl came in. He was about to pick the call up when Alpha suddenly interjected.
“You don’t need to use your terminal, instead just pick that call through me.”
“It’s fine. If I get too used to doing that, I feel like I will progressively stop using my terminal. In the worst-case scenario, it might cause me to make a blunder somewhere, so it’s better if I keep using my terminal like usual.”
“If you want to commit to it, you can just say that you have a thought-controlled type terminal planted inside your head, you know.”
“Hmm, for some reason, I just don’t like that idea. If we’re going down that route, I prefer the external equipment that I can control with my brain wave. But considering that brain waves can be read through several means, I feel like someone can eavesdrop on that too… I guess it’s too late for me to be worrying about that, huh? In the first place, my brain wave is already readable all the time after all.”
Akira sent a teasing glance at Alpha, who replied back with a capricious smile.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“Well, thanks for that.”
Akira smiled back at Alpha, on one side, he reminded himself that was indeed the case.
In contrast to that, Alpha found something bothering her about Akira, but she did not show it on her face.
After some time, Akira took his bike and went to the location that Sheryl told him when she called. Alpha, who was floating next to him, was curious and asked.
“But still, there’s no need to stop your own training just to go join another training, right?”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? I’m bored of getting my ass kicked by you. It’ll be a good change of pace. Furthermore, I’m also interested in what Sheryl told me. Moreover, you did say that you don’t mind ending the training there, didn’t you?”
“But to be honest, I’m not sure that training with Erio and the others can serve as a good training for you anymore.”
“Well, that would depend on how far what Sheryl said is true.”
While Akira took a short break from the training inside his garage, he had got a call from Sheryl. Basically, she asked him to help Erio and the other children’s training if he had the time. When he asked about the details of the training, something piqued his interest, so he decided to stop his own training and went to help Erio and the others.
When he arrived at the training location, which was in the middle of the wasteland, he spotted a big trailer parked there with Erio and the other children undergoing mock battle near it. Sheryl and some people in sleek suits were watching their training.
Akira stopped his bike near the trailer and met up with them. Sheryl, who was wearing a light outfit for the wasteland, happily welcomed him with a smile.
“Akira, thank you for coming although it was rather sudden.”
“Don’t worry, I’m also a bit interested in the training after all.”
One of the men in suits politely welcomed Akira.
“Akira-sama, I presume? I’m Yodogawa from a company dealing with machines. We’re really thankful that Sheryl-same is volunteering to work with us to test our Group Coordination Support Augmented Suit.”
“Eh? Ah, yeah, sure.”
Akira glanced at Sheryl, seeking an explanation. So Sheryl interjected.
“Yodogawa-san, I have something to talk about with Akira first, meanwhile, can you prepare Erio and the others for the training?”
Yodogawa lightly excused himself and went back to the trailer.
Sheryl sat next to Akira, grabbed his hand, and stared at him.
“But still, it has been quite a while since the last time you came to see me. I’m happy to see you again.”
“Hm? Has it really been that long?”
Akira looked honestly confused, so Sheryl longingly said.
“…To be honest, I wish I can see you every day.”
“That won’t happen, I’m pretty busy myself, you see.”
Although Sheryl was acting to some extent, she was not lying. She seemed to be genuinely happy to see the person she loved after quite some time. In contrast to that, Akira replied in his usual manner. Even after she affectionately held his hand and looked at him with endearment, he only showed the bare minimum reaction to her.
Her actions, which would trick a lot of people, her words that she picked to bring Akira closer, and her expression used to pull Akira in, all of those things would only be properly conveyed between the people who loved each other. But that was not the case for Akira. Sheryl was reminded of the reality that hurt her heart.
“…It’s nothing. But I would be super happy even if you only come to see me to kill time.”
“Sure, I’ll do that if I have free time.”
Sheryl did her best to smile. At least Akira did not hate her. He still came even when she asked him out of the blue as long as he did not have anything else to do. She told herself that to push in the welling sadness from inside her heart.
She then went on to explain Akira about the situation.
In return for removing his rival, Inabe had offered Sheryl some support for her relic shop, which included equipment as well as firepower. These equipment were not counted into their deal, which was only for the quality and the quantity of relics sent to her shop.
Although Akira was the backer and guardian of Sheryl’s gang, it was not like he was always in Sheryl’s base to defend it against attackers. He was basically like a firepower reserved for retaliation and not firepower for direct defence. With Inabe sending expensive relics to slum city, he wanted more insurance so that those relics would not be stolen or robbed.
That was why Inabe used his personal connection to seek help from an experimental technology from a certain company and get Sheryl involved with the testing of that technology. It was technology that they were thinking of offering to the city defence squad eventually. Thus, it would be meaningless if it was not even good enough to be used in the slum city.
Although Sheryl’s gang was somehow able to get a deal with a big gang such as Shijima’s, leaving Akira aside, the gang would only be left with Erio and the other children who could not be counted as a deterrent. Since it was basically a gang consisting of small children, it would not really help if they tried to get more members. While on the other hand, its territory had grown big enough that it had become difficult to properly guard all its territory. Sheryl’s gang was actually having a crisis in terms of the ability to enforce.
That was when Inabe came with a timely offer. Since they were volunteering to test the system, it did not cost Sheryl any money.
Akira, who was listening to her explanation, found something that was bothering him.
“Won’t Katsuragi complain if you use another company’s product for your gang?”
“Indeed. We’re in the midst of negotiation about that matter. But don’t worry, Katsuragi-san is the merchant that you introduced to us and we’re also in his debt too. So we won’t do anything bad. Not to mention, this type of augmented suit is not something that Katsuragi-san has, so it should be alright.”
“Hmmmm, well, I leave that part to you. But still, augmented suits, huh? And with coordination support too. That sounds pretty amazing.”
That was when Yodogawa returned to them. The other person that he brought with him overheard what Akira just said and excitedly interjected in Sheryl and Akira’s conversation.
“Oh, you have some interest in it?! By all means, feel free to try our product! It’s the latest product from our company and we can guarantee its quality.”
In contrast to Akira who was a bit overwhelmed by Tabata’s excitement, Tabata continued with his high enthusiasm.
“Ah, sorry, I’m Tabata. I’m the developer of the coordination support augmented suit, or to be more precise, the coordination support system King’s Mind. I’m also involved in creating the augmented suit to use in tandem with the system as well as its development. We’re aiming to create a new standard for the next generation augmented suit and…”
Seeing that it would continue indefinitely if left alone, Yodogawa immediately cut him short.
“Tabata, I’ll do the business-related stuff, so you go prepare for the test.”
“Ah, right, my bad. Akira-sama, in order to adjust for the ‘hit’ calculation, I’ll need to sync your equipment with the system. I hope that it doesn’t bother you. You just need an aiming device that will work with an information-gathering device, even a cheap one will do. In case it isn’t compatible, I need to ask you to use our equipment instead? Are you okay with that? Or do you want to use our equipment right from the start instead?”
“In that case, can you check if my rifle can work with the system?”
“Of course, over here please.”
Tabata guided Akira to the trailer. The inside was littered with strange equipment and it looked like a mix of a laboratory and a workshop.
The aiming device of Akira’s SSB rifle was compatible to sync with the system. After a short adjustment to connect to the system, Akira received a short explanation about the virtual bullet used in the training, he then started shooting at a target practice to finish the finer adjustments. Akira aimed at the target and after getting some hit notifications, he then tilted his head and mumbled.
“…That last one, the system said that it was a hit but I’m pretty sure that was not a hit though.”
“Is that so? The system says that it was a hit, you know.”
“Can you put up a practice target at a fixed distance away? And keep it there even after I hit it.”
Akira then started shooting again. This time he deliberately shifted his aim bit by bit to investigate the hit calculation of the system.
“I feel like it’s not accurate though. Like from a certain range, the system calculates the hit using a random chance based on the bullet landing radius.”
“…Well, this is basically the system that we use to calculate a hit.”
“Alright then, by the way, I’m okay with the adjustment now.”
Akira then left the room together with Tabata. The other technicians who saw him leave looked at each other with a frown.
“Say, about that just now though, do you think it’s true?”
“No idea, there are a lot of people who complain that their shot should have hit when the system doesn’t recognize it, but normally, no one would complain when their shot hit though. Usually, those who do that are people who just want to look cool.”
“We still have the log anyway, I guess I’ll try to recalculate it with better accuracy.”
Since it was not a weapon test, the hit recognition of the system was not that advanced. After all, a more accurate recognition system would demand more calculation time. In that situation where the system was still calculating for the hit, they could not afford to stop the experiment while waiting for the result to come out. It was better to adopt a faster hit recognition during the testing since their main goal was testing the coordination support system.
The technician used his terminal to pull up the shooting data and threw it into the advanced system for calculation.
“…This is taking some time.”
“Well, it’s not like we’re using the headquarters’s computer after all. It’s to be expected that it’ll take some time since we’re using the computer in the trailer. Oh, it’s out, hmmm, well, if it’s only this much, it’s not that bad though? Though it looks like he was just shifting his aim left and right.”
While those technicians were laughing, another technician beside them restarted the calculation with a serious face.
“What are you doing here?“
“I just thought of re-doing the calculation after adding other data sets too.”
“Other data sets?”
“Like the wind, humidity, temperature, the effect from the light colourless mist. Basically, everything that I can add together.”
With more data, the calculation takes longer as well. As expected, it took more time than the last calculation, but when the result was out, it really surprised all the technicians.
“…He’s right. This data, although it seems that he’s just shifting his aim left and right he was actually checking how close he needs to shoot at the target to register a hit. He deliberately made the system calculate a hit and a miss in turn.”
“Wait, no way, that’s impossible unless he knows how our system works, you know?”
“…The system is set to recognize the hit not from a random chance. He might have calculated and backtracked the hit recognition calculation with repeated shooting… No, it’s not like he actually calculated it, it’s more like he understood it instinctively…”
The technicians frowned and smiled wryly at each other.
“…That gives me goosebumps.”
“I heard that guy is a great Hunter despite being young. As I thought, people like him are just built differently, don’t you think?”
The technicians shook off the shiver that ran down their spine as they returned back to their original job.
The technicians were more or less correct. But Alpha was the one who told Akira where to shoot to check for the system’s hit recognition. And although he received some support from his augmented suit, Akira was able to execute accurate shooting following Alpha’s instruction. His skill had already exceeded the shooting skill of a common human after all.
The mock battle between Akira and Erio plus other children which also doubled as a test for the coordination support system started. Just like usual, Akira was alone versus Erio and the rest, the mock battle would stop every time one side was completely eliminated. But unlike usual, Erio and the other children were all using augmented suits and they were receiving instruction from the coordination support system in the display visor under their full-face helmets.
The coordination support system recognized the current situation and the location of all the members, it then gave instructions for all the members to work as a team. It gathered information from the individual information-gathering device carried by each person to share the information of their locations and flush out the location of the opponent. At the same time, it also prevented friendly fire. It transformed the members under its command from an uncoordinated group to a well-oiled group, increasing their effectiveness as a team.
Moreover, it also controlled individual augmented suits to some extent to provide support to its user. It included the ability to evade enemy attacks and to shoot back at the opponents.
This meant that the augmented suit would be able to move outside the user’s wish. Whether it was a good thing or not, different people had different opinions on it. There were many people who did not like the feeling of their body moving without their consent. But since it was moving following the movement of its users at the moment, Erio and the other children did not feel any discomfort using it.
After a few rounds, Akira’s loss rate was floating around 50 percent. Tabata was smiling happily after seeing that result. It seemed that the system that they developed was performing really well.
In the end, Erio and the other children were complete amateurs, they were nothing more than children from the slum. Although it was a single person against a huge group, they were able to maintain that winning rate against a high-ranking Hunter thanks to the coordination support system. It was a good result from the system developer’s as well as from the business point of view.
After a few rounds, Tabata happily went to Erio and the other children while they were taking a rest from the mock battles.
“How was the system? With this coordination support system, if you work together, then you can even beat the hunter that you guys are relying on all this time, you know? Isn’t it amazing?”
But the children looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Then Erio spoke up to summarize what everyone was thinking there.
“It’s indeed amazing, but…”
“Hm? Is there anything that you find unpleasant? No need to hold back. We’re in the middle of development, so we’re also collecting opinions from its user to improve it.”
“No, it’s not like that. I heard that it’s difficult to move inside an augmented suit until you get used to it, but I don’t feel anything like that.”
“But of course. We have put a lot of effort to make it move as naturally as possible, you know.”
“And the voice, as well as the instructions shown in the helmet, don’t block our vision that much as well…”
“Yep yep. We made sure that it won’t block your view, the voice is soft enough to be heard but not too loud, and the instructions are concise and easy to understand. The instruction display and design are all calculated. The voice volume and the length of the instruction are adjusted to be easy to catch depending on the situation that you’re in and…”
Tabata was bragging proudly of the system that he had developed, but he suddenly stopped when he noticed Erio and the other children’s expressions.
“So, what problem exactly are you having then?”
“Nothing exactly, it’s just that…. About why our winning rate is 50 percent… Well, it’s difficult to say this nicely, but I’m pretty sure that he’s not taking this seriously, or more like, he’s pulling his punches.”
Tabata, who was jovial up until now, frowned.
“Pulling his punches? What do you mean?”
“It might be more correct to call it a handicap I guess. We actually had similar training before with Akira-san, and back then, our winning rate was also 50 percent. He said that he put in some adjustments to keep the winning rate around that number. Like, decreasing the power output of his augmented suit, or he would stop using his information-gathering device, or reducing the firing range of his rifle. I’m pretty sure he’s doing the same thing this time too.”
“…I see, excuse me for a moment.”
Tabata said so with a serious face as he left Erio and the other children and headed towards Akira.
The children looked at each other, wondering if they just said something that they should not have.
After hearing Tabata’s explanation, Akira thought for a bit before answering.
“It’s not like I’m deliberately going easy on them and it’s not like I’m putting a handicap on myself just because I want to, I’m really taking this seriously as a training. It’s true that I’m not taking this as if it’s a real fight, and if you say that is exactly the proof that I’m going easy on them, well, I can’t really deny it.”
Tabata frowned. Yodogawa, who was recommending some of the company’s products during the break, also smiled bitterly. He had lost his ground in recommending their products.
The reason why Sheryl’s gang was picked to test the new system was not only because of Inabe’s connection but also for Yodogawa’s sake as well, they were trying to sell their augmented suit to Akira.
Shooting down a powered suit all by himself, defeating the huge monster that half-destroyed a certain area near the outskirts of Kuzusuhara ruin, and many other achievements as well. Akira had taken the interest of a certain group of people who were seeking high-ranking Hunters.
A normal boy from the slum, without anything special, suddenly became super strong in such a short time after using a certain augmented suit. Even if it was not the truth, letting such rumour out would be a great advertisement for the company.
Sheryl’s connection with Akira and the fact that her gang was selected to test the new technology, if that information was spread together with that rumour, it would be enough to convince some people.
If that rumour went out, some people might think that Akira was actually involved in that experiment for quite some time and they were just hiding it from the public, or his augmented suit was custom built based on that new technology, or he was gathering achievement before making it public, or all that he did up until now was actually for the sake of advertisement. Some people would think that they might become as strong as him if they could get the same augmented suit as him.
The record showing that the system allowed a group of amateurs from the slum city, who were mere children, to defeat a high ranking Hunter, was basically the perfect record to advertise the system. But both Akira and the children were saying that the 50 percent winning rate was because Akira was not taking the fight seriously. Thus, that record was basically meaningless. If that information also leaked out with their rumour, it would be ineffective. Yodogawa who thought so then smiled and said to Akira.
“In that case, Akira-sama, would it be possible for you to take the fight seriously as if it is a real fight?”
“Hmm, well, even if you say so…”
Akira seemed a bit troubled there, so Yodogawa tried to give another push by provoking him.
“It’s not like it is a one on one fight, so you can use that as an excuse if you lose.”
Sheryl, who noticed that cheap provocation, frowned in displeasure. But Akira did not even notice that it was a provocation.
“It’s not about losing or winning. But, if I take it seriously, it means that I’ll have to use my money too. It’s not like the energy pack for my augmented suit is free, you know. Not to mention, the medicine that I need to take in case I need to push my body to execute certain maneuvers too. There are cases when I get too tired and have to take a short break from my Hunter work as well. So if you are telling me to take the fight seriously, I will have to charge you, you know? I’m just here helping with the training purely out of curiosity. So I have no wish to go that far for free, you see.”
Yodogawa was trying to see if it was just an excuse to avoid having to take that fight seriously or if Akria was being serious there. But before he could say anything, Tabata suddenly said.
“Alright, I’ll pay for it then. I’ll pay you 100,000 Aurum per round.”
“100,000 Aurum, huh? Hmmmm…”
Yodogawa started to panic since Tabata suddenly made that suggestion without consulting with him. And Akira seemed to be interested in that offer too. Seeing that, Tabata just ignored Yodogawa and gave another push.
“Let’s do this instead then, I’ll pay you 100,000 Aurum more for each round. But if you lose, I’ll have you pay instead, how about that?”
Akira smiled and said so firmly. In contrast to that, Tabata made a serious look.
“Alright then, starting from the next round, we’ll take it as if it is a serious fight, right? I’ll go and readjust the settings then.”
Tabata returned back to the trailer. Yodogawa was at loss for a bit before excusing himself and went to the trailer too.
Sheryl looked at Akira.
“Akira, are you sure about this?”
“Eh? Is it something that I shouldn’t have done?”
“No, if you’re okay with it, then it’s fine.”
Sheryl was actually worried if Akira would incur consecutive losses and lose a lot of money instead. But judging from his reaction, it seemed like it should be fine as she prevented herself from saying anything further. After all, she could not afford to ask what he would do if he kept losing since it would sound as if she was doubting his strength and that might offend him.
Akira found Sheryl’s reaction a bit weird, but she immediately changed the subject and he did not pursue it any further.