In the commander room of the escort team’s HQ, the staff finally sighed in relief now that they had finally overcome the predicament. They then immediately moved on to their next job. One of the officers had a rather irritated expression instead of an exhausted one as he said.
“To think that an old-world connector from Sakashita Heavy Industry is in the lost transport vehicles… As well as those people trying to kidnap them. Good grief. I know that it’s not like we can refuse, but it would be great if they told us beforehand, you know?”
Another officer chuckled and replied.
“In the end, the old-world connector is fine and we were able to quickly take control of the situation since we immediately gave that order to recapture the lost transport vehicles. We did our job. At least we can use that as cover.”
“Though, they could make a complaint, saying that we should have given that order sooner.”
They already knew that the Hunters sent to check transport 6 and 8 did not come back because Erde’s team had ambushed them. It seemed that they followed the standard checking protocol and got ambushed inside the hallway of the transport vehicle.
Akira was able to reach his room without encountering one of those ambushes, but it was partially due to luck. One of the main factors was because his room was located outside the hallways, along patrol routes. Thus, he could head straight to his room without taking any detour. This meant that he would not have encountered those hallway ambushes that were set to buy time.
The Hunters that were sent to do something as trivial as checking on the situation were of course no match against the team sent to kidnap an old-world connector from Sakashita Heavy Industry. They were quickly silenced in order to buy time.
The decision to immediately tell the rest of the Hunters to secure the transport vehicles was correct albeit rather late.
The escort team officer tried to cheer up the other officer.
“No one told us that we’re transporting an old-world connector, so I bet they can’t criticize us just because of that.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Although they would not be held responsible, it did not change the fact that there was still a mountain of problems that they had to go through later. That was why that ‘cheer up’ attempt only ended as an attempt.
Another staff member then reported in with a rather confused expression.
“It’s about that old-world connector. We’ve received a message from Sakashita Heavy Industry. It seems to be a very important message pertaining to the security for that old-world connector.”
The officer sighed exasperatedly before replying.
“So basically, they’re saying to prioritize that old-world connector now that we know we have one here, huh? The gull of these people. So, what is it?”
After listening to the content, the officer frowned.
“So… They’re basically telling us to do that on our own, huh?”
“Well, it’s our job to manage the Hunters in the convoy after all. So, it’s understandable. What’s the plan now?”
“…We can’t refuse. So, tell them that we’ll do our best.”
The officer heaved a huge sigh now that a problem immediately appeared, which he had expected.
Melshia returned to her guard post, she was surveying the surrounding for an ambush from the rooftop.
“That was pretty rough. Tatsukawa, didn’t your intuition say that we won’t face anything big?”
Tatsukawa replied casually.
“What are you talking about? My intuition was on point. I said that we’ll be mostly free, I didn’t say that nothing would happen. not to mention that we were able to take our time after repelling those bugs.”
“Is that so? Well, it might be better if I say it was fast, huh?”
“Yikes, that was uncalled for.”
As they were talking while laughing, suddenly, the escort team contacted Melshia. After listening to the message, Melshia frowned and replied.
“Do you know that you’re basically looking down on us by saying that?”
The officer who called Melshia understood that it soured her mood. But even so, he still pushed forward his request albeit while sounding a bit apologetic.
“I know, but it’s a request from Sakashita. We don’t have any other choice but to cooperate. Of course, they’re saying that they’ll be paying a suitable reward for it. Moreover, it’s not compulsory. With that being said, I’m sure there’s no need for me to even tell you how problematic it is to leave a track record saying that you’ve refused a request from Sakashita. I believe that it’s not a bad offer, so would you please cooperate?”
Both Melshia and the officer had their position to consider. Because of that, both of them could not simply back off. But since the request was coming from Sakashita, the escort team basically has the upper hand.
Both sides understood that. The escort team tried to push the request using rewards instead of threats. Nonetheless, they still needed to make a threat. Because of that, Melshia decided to fold.
“At least give us some time to consider it. After all, it’s not like I want to force my men as well. Is that fine?”
“Very well, sorry, and thank you.”
The call ended. Melshia sighed. Tatsukawa lightly smiled and said to her.
“Did they dump something problematic on you? What is it?”
“They said they want some Hunters to escort an old-world connector.”
“Hm? That would give a good track record and a good reward, right? What’s the problem?”
“The requirement for the escort is just not right. Basically, they’re asking for a cyborg and to give some level of control to that cyborg’s body.”
Tatsukawa smiled bitterly, he finally understood why Melshia gave that reaction.
“Oh, that’s rather haughty for them.”
Under normal circumstances, the full right of a cyborg’s body was in the hand of its respectful owner. Any abnormal circumstances mostly appeared when they exchanged parts in a clinic. For those who replaced their entire body with mechanical parts excluding their brains, giving control right to someone else was not a small matter.
Sakashita’s demand was equivalent to asking a cyborg for its life, it was a very arrogant and selfish demand with zero regard for the other side. It would not be strange to take that as a declaration of war. Although, of course, Sakashita would be the one to win. The only choices were either to die or to comply and give barely enough control to satisfy them.
Of course, Sakashita had no wish to act in such a manner that bought the grudge of many. It would only lead to more expenses after all. But that also meant if there was a need or profit in it, they would not shy away from doing so. An escort mission for an old-world connector affiliated with a large corporation satisfied that prerequisite,
Melshia then said to Tatsukawa with a serious expression.
“So, what’s the plan? Although it’s from Sakashita, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re treating us disrespectfully. What do you think?”
“Even if you ask me so, it’s not like we have the choice to say no, right? It’s a good thing that both you and I don’t satisfy that prerequisite. I’ll ask the men who want to take it and send them away, if no one volunteered, then we have no other choice but to say sorry and refuse.”
“Are you okay with that?”
Tatsukawa was a bit confused seeing Melshia asking him with such a serious expression.
“Do you find anything you don’t like with that?”
“If it was the past you, you would have immediately refused that offer just from how they’re treating us.”
“Well, if I do that, this team would not be able to survive for long. It would be a huge waste since it has become this big.”
“In that case, we can just rebuild a new team, no?”
Melshia kept pushing questions with a serious look.
Tatsukawa smiled wryly and embraced Melshia.
“Although I said our team, it’s mostly thanks to you that it became this big. Don’t throw it away just because I don’t like how Sakashita is treating us. That would be a huge waste, you know? Though, if you say that you don’t care, it will be completely up to you. You can toss aside this team.”
“…Is that so? Well, in that case, let’s keep it.”
Melshia smiled happily and embraced Tatsukawa back.
“You’ve really calmed down.”
“Well, we’ve grown up since then. So, there’s no need to take on those reckless actions like what we did in the past.”
Seeing the blushing Tatsukawa, Melshia smiled mischievously.
Shirou was moved to a different room. The new room was pretty spacious with expensive decorations.
As for Hammerz, he was getting treated in the infirmary, so he was not around Shirou at the moment. He did not seem that happy having to leave his post as Shirou’s escort although only for a bit. However, since it was an order from Sakashita, he could not refuse. Moreover, although he could still fight, he was actually quite tired and had received some damage as well. Therefore, to be able to perform at his absolute best, he had to leave the room to rest and heal.
In place of Hammerz, a few Hunters were posted in Shirou’s room. They were guarding Shirou while Hammerz was not there. All of them were cyborgs and part of their control rights were given to Hammerz. In the worst-case scenario, Hammerz could take control of their bodies to buy some time until he returns.
All the Hunters there understood their position, that was why they were not amused at all with the situation.
Shirou sounded rather apologetic. Though, he still had his usual smile as he welcomed those Hunters.
“Welcome welcome! I’ll be in your care! You can go ahead and relax!”
The Hunters looked annoyedly at Shirou. They understood that he was someone important from Sakashita Heavy Industry and souring his mood would result in nothing good. Normally, they would be careful so as not to offend him. Although they knew that, they still gave Shirou stinky eyes.
Shirou acted surprised.
“Whoah, don’t give me that look. I know that it’s not fun giving the control rights of your cyborg’s body to someone else, even I think that it’s not pleasant, you know? But you see, it’s a command from the top, I can’t really refuse it”
One of the guys annoyedly said.
“Humph, we’re in this situation basically because of you.”
”Come one now, don’t say that. Calm down. Although you guys will be guarding me, it’s not like you guys have any work to do. So, you can just eat and drink until we reach the city. If you put aside your grudge against me, it’s basically a very easy job with a huge reward, you know? Come in and just relax.”
Shirou sat on a nearby sofa and invited the others to take a seat too. He then took a bite of the meal on the table and made a blissful expression.
“Are you not going to try it? It’s really delicious, you know? Though it might be weird for me to say this, it’s a meal prepared by Sakashita to keep me in a good mood. I bet you’ll never taste something like this before, you know?”
Shirou smiled and invited the others to take a few bites as well.
The Hunters there knew that it would be bad if no one volunteered for that request from Sakashita Heavy Industry, so they were akin to a bunch of sacrifices that were sent here. That was why they did not find their situation amusing at all. Even so, after some time, the feeling of repulsion got worn down and some people started to take a seat and had a taste of the meal, the others followed suit not too long after that.
The taste of the dish quickly blew away their grudge as one of them inadvertently exclaimed.
“Woah, this is really good!”
Shirou smugly smiled. He then once again invited the others to join. The rest looked at each other before eventually joining the Hunters that were already eating there.
But one of them did not bulge, Shirou looked confusedly at him and asked.
“You’re not going to join? It’s not poisoned, you know?”
That man answered back half shouting.
“I can’t eat food, you know?!”
That guy had a cyborg body that did not allow him to digest food. Shirou, who noticed that, was exaggeratedly surprised, but his surprised face quickly changed to a smile.
“Ohh, I see, I have an idea! Wait for a bit!”
Shirou left his seat and returned back later with a large box with a device inside it.
“In that case, you can borrow this. It’s a special VR device. Although it might not fill your stomach, it can at least let you enjoy the taste. Though in the end, it’s just a VR food, so it might be not that satisfying.”
“Do you really think this will be enough for me…?”
“Well, you can also use it for something else, this is just a secret between us, but you can enjoy erotic stuff too with this VR too.”
The guy suddenly stopped, Shirou’s smile widened as he continued.
“It’s amazing, amazingly erotic.”
There were many cyborgs who had to sacrifice their lust, desire for food, and desire for sleep in order to get a body fully specialized for battle. Due to the limitation of the current world’s technology, high-quality bodies demanded expensive body parts. Even so, there were still people who claim that it just did not feel the same. That was why this was a very tempting offer.
“…Is it that amazing?”
“But of course, after all, it’s prepared by Sakashita to keep me in a good mood. Well, though, if it’s me, I might be able to get a real one if I just ask. But let me tell you this. It’s pretty amazing even for me too, yep, amazingly erotic.”
“B-But how about the safety…”
“Sakashita prepared it for me, so I bet it’s totally safe”
“But, how about the connection with the cyborg body? It’s not that simple, right?”
That was when finally Shirou frowned and apologetically said.
“Well, about that, it’s true that normally it won’t work, but since I have limited control of your cyborg body, we might be able to use it.”
“Ah, I see…”
The guy then frowned, normally, he would never let others take control of his body for something like this, but since he had already done that, he might as well use it for his own advantage.
Shirou then continued.
“Although you can take back any of the food you want, I’m afraid that’s not the case for this VR device. If you want to try, this is your only chance. I do feel sorry for making you do this, that’s why I’m making this an exception. So, do you want to have a try? Well, I won’t force you though. It would be weird to force people to try this when they don’t want to after all.”
The guy hesitated, another guy suddenly interjected.
“Can I try then?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Shirou replied with a smile.
After that, Shirou connected the VR to the other guy and turned it on. From others’ point of view, that guy only seemed to be sitting without doing anything. But with his 5 senses connected to the VR, although he only sat there without moving, he was actually moving around inside the VR.
After 10 minutes of using the VR, he then opened his eyes. The guy next to him asked him, piqued.
“So, how was it?”
“…That was really something.”
That short impression left much to be questioned, but it was clear from his reaction that it was indeed something amazing.
The other guys looked at Shirou.
“Can we try it too?”
“Sure sure, feel free to use it. Though there’s a limit on how many people can use it at the same time, so you guys can only use it in turns.”
The guys that hesitated at the start finally joined in too after hearing the impression from the others. It did not take long for them to start using it in turns.
As Hammerz was getting his injuries treated in the infirmary. He was also watching Shirou through the shared vision of the cyborgs that he had a shared control over. Hammerz frowned as the Hunters were looking at naked girls, which he could watch as well.
“What the heck are they doing over there?”
He quickly called Shirou, and Shirou then waved at him through the Hunter’s vision.
“What is it? I’m still here and not doing anything you know?”
“Some of the Hunters over there have weird things in their sights, you know? What did you do to them?”
“Oh, about that, I basically lend them the VR device, so I bet it’s from the VR.”
After hearing Shirous’s explanation, Hammerz sighed.
“Listen here. They are bodyguards, okay? Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? Just let them play for a bit. I believe things should calm down after that incident. Moreover, we have some control over their bodies and are basically forcing them to guard me. It’s scary for me to be here surrounded by angry people you know? So, at least let them enjoy this.”
“I didn’t know you were that much of a coward.”
“That’s because I always have a reassuring bodyguard next to me.”
In response to Shirou’s rather empty compliment that he said in his usual casual tone, Hammerz gave up and thought to himself. [Well, this should at least not bring me any trouble.]
“Anyway, only send video feedback from the real world, don’t allow anything else in.”
Shirou then closed the call and the video feedback sent from the Hunters were immediately cleaned up. Some of them seem to be closing their eyes, so what was shown only reflected endless darkness, while some had their eyes fixed on the same point as if they were stationary cameras. From there, Hammerz could see Shirou sharing laughs with the Hunters.
Seeing that, Hammerz thought that it should be fine and returned to treat his injuries.
As for Akira, after he received some treatments to make sure that his life was not in danger, he went and lay on a bed. He had already been removed from the escort team roster because of the damage to both his body and equipment. He just had to wait until the convoy reached the city.
Hikaru was sitting next to him. After giving her report to the escort team and Kugamayama city, she was released and finally could relax.
Hikaru glanced at Akira’s sleeping face and thought.
[Judging from the condition of the isolation room, it is easy to imagine how intense the battle was and how powerful Akira is. Although his might still instilled fear within, it still gives me a sense of reassurance. I guess the only thing that draws the line between both is whether his power is directed at me or not…]
Akira had killed hundreds of people outside the walls. In that situation where it would not be strange if he abandoned her, he still chose to save her even if it meant that he almost got killed because of it. Hikaru just could not understand this person called Akira.
[It might be his loyalty toward his contract, but that doesn’t sound right. After all, it’s just as he said, not saving me does not violate his contract…]
With that strange feeling welling, she looked at the sleeping Akira and mumbled.
“Say, why did you save me?”
“And here I went out of my way to save you because you asked me to, isn’t that question a little bit too insensitive?”
Hikaru was surprised, she did not expect Akira would answer her. Akira then pushed his body up.
“Y-You were awake?”
“I just woke up.”
After an awkward pause, knowing that Akira had heard her, Hikaru thought that she should rephrase the question.
“I’ll say this again, thank you for saving me. So, basically, considering the situation back there, I thought that it would be normal to abandon me instead. That’s why I thought it was weird that you didn’t. That’s all there is to it. So, can you tell me? Why did you save me?”
Akira casually replied.
“If someone asks me for help, as long as helping them doesn’t put me in trouble, I don’t see why not. Though it depends on the situation as well.”
“Although it might get you killed?”
“Dying is a normal thing for Hunters. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Ahh, now that you mention it, that might sound weird for you since you live in the inner wall, huh?”
Hikaru’s face turned serious.
“…Uhm, it might be weird to hear this from me, but you already killed quite a lot of people outside the wall, right? Didn’t they beg for their lives?”
“Well, it usually happens when we are shooting at each other. So, it mostly ends with an instant kill. Actually, I don’t recall them having the chance to beg for their lives. There’s also no reason why I have to listen to their plea right after we were trying to kill each other, right?”
Hikaru raised her eyebrows.
“Uhhh, Akira, do you get attacked that often? Although you’re this strong? It’s really hard to believe.”
“It’s not like I was this strong right from the start. The slum is a place where it’s expected for you to get robbed when you’re just a child with 300 Aurum in your pocket. The longer you survive in such a place, the more people you would kill. That’s just how it is. After all, I don’t want to die.”
Akira said so casually, allowing Hikaru to have a glimpse of how cruel his past was and it helped her understand his line of thinking.
“…I see, it must have been hard.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
That was when Akira suddenly pressed Hikaru.
“Ah, by the way, since you asked me the reason why I helped you, it reminds me of what you said. You mentioned that you’ll do anything, right?”
“Y-yeah I did.”
Although she did say that in a spur of the moment and that it was nothing but a verbal promise, it was still a rather reckless statement made to a powerful Hunter. Hikaru was a bit scared of what he might ask her.
Akira then said to her with a serious face.
“As you promised, I’ll have you get me a good enough reward. Wait. No. At least enough to pay for my expenses. I ended up using a lot of expensive bullets and medicines, I also broke most of my equipment too. Especially the one that I got with a huge discount thanks to my connection, I heard that they were originally very expensive. I would hate to end up in red after going through all of that. So please help me with that one.”
This request completely caught Hikaru off-guard. It was a completely understandable request though. After that, she smiled confidently and swore.
“Just leave it to me. Negotiation is my speciality after all. I’m also indebted to you for saving me as well, so I’ll be sure to do my best to get your reward.”
Akira sighed in relief and pressed once more just to be safe.
“I’m really counting on you for this one, okay? You understand that, right?”
“Don’t worry. You’re pretty famous as a new rising star in my department. Even Kibayashi-san also describes you as an amazing person, you know?”
Seeing that Akira finally seemed to be relieved, Hikaru leaked a bitter smile.
The convoy finally received extra reinforcement for the escort. They were the squad sent from Kugamayama city by Sakashita. It included several powered suits and a few people with heavy augmented suits, all of them went to their respective transport vehicles.
Yanagisawa joined the convoy as well. He received an emergency report and went to collect Shirou himself. Hammerz finished his treatment and went to the waiting room.
Yanagisawa was smiling happily as he started the conversation.
“I heard that you went through quite an ordeal, I’m glad that everyone is okay.”
In contrast to Yanagisawa, Hammerz showed caution toward him.
“The escort duty should be given to us until we reach Kugamayama city. If you want us to hand him over, we will have to go through Director Sugadome first, though?”
“But of course. Since I’m already here, I was only thinking of at least introducing myself. Nothing more.”
The door to the isolation room opened, Yanagisawa and his men entered. As expected, the escorts stopped playing with the VR and stood ready.
Yanagisawa scanned the room, but Shirou was nowhere to be found.
“Where is him?”
Hammerz had a bad feeling and asked the Hunter escorts.
“Where’s Shirou? Is he in the bathroom?”
The Hunters frowned and pointed to the sofa.
“Eh? What are you talking about? He’s right over there.”
There was no one sitting on the sofa. Hammerz frowned and checked the image from the sofa with the Hunters’ visions instead of his own eyes. And indeed, there he was, Shirou looked apologetically while waving at Hammerz.
Hammerz quickly understood what was going on and inadvertently roared.
“That damn brat!!!”
Shirou controlled the Hunters’ five senses and showed them an illusion. In short, he had escaped the room.
Hammerz angrily went to his comm to give a report, but he immediately stopped that and took some distance from Yanagisawa by pure reflex.
As expected, Yanagisawa also understood what was going on. Right at that moment, his usual smile immediately vanished, and his face turned emotionless. His expression was devoid of everything except for one thing, a sense of pressure that radiated terror.
It was a good thing that the Hunters had control of their bodies hijacked. If they were free to move, they would have tried to shoot Yanagisawa. Most likely resulting in Yanagisawa killing all of them.
The Hunters were overwhelmed by Yanagisawa’s presence. If they could not control their emotions, they would have fallen to a state of dread. Hammerz was also showing a strong sense of caution toward Yanagisawa, the mood inside the room turned intense in a blink of an eye.
Yanagisawa then returned back to his usual self. He immediately retracted the terror that he was unconsciously radiating. The dreadful terror that blanketed the room immediately vanished.
Yanagisawa took a deep breath to help him calm down. He smiled politely at Hammerz and said to him.
“…My apologies. It seems that Shirou-kun has been lost somewhere, huh? Let’s ask for help to find him.”
Although Hammerz was being very cautious of Yanagisawa, since he had regained his calm, he also immediately shifted his focus to solve the current dilemma.
At that point in time, Shirou was already outside the transport vehicle. He went to the hangar with a group of his Hunter escorts, which he had hacked. He then hopped on a powered suit that he had prepared beforehand and left, using a patrol mission as a disguise.
None of his escorts was suspicious of him as they were moving around the transport vehicle. When someone got suspicious, Shirou would reconnect them to display that they were still inside of his room together with the other Hunters.
After the Hunters tried the VR and had their turn, they did not realize that their senses never left the VR world. This caused them not to realize that they had gone out of the room with Shirou.
As unmanned powered suits were patrolling around, outside the transport vehicle, Shirou used fighting an incoming monster as an excuse and left the convoy. Inside that powered suit, Shirou lightly laughed and said.
“I’m sorry, Hammerz, it’s just a small detour. Don’t worry, I won’t cause you any trouble. Just so you know, I’m being considerate of you here.”
His expression then turned serious.
“I’ll be able to move around freely for the time being. So just wait for me.”
His goal for escaping the convoy was not to regain his freedom. It was just a means to do something, and in order to accomplish that, Shirou took a long detour to head to Kugamayama city.
After that, rumours that an old-world connector from Sakashita Heavy Industry had infiltrated Kugamayama city started to appear.