Shikarabe and his friends spent the whole night preparing themselves and finally went out to the meeting ground. Shikarabe’s APC was parked in the meeting ground with a few other vehicles parked around it.
Akira parked his vehicle near the other vehicles, he then stepped down from his vehicle and walked toward Shikarabe and his friends who were discussing their plan for that day near the APC.
Shikarabe quickly noticed Akira.
“Akira, you’re here, huh. How are you today?”
“I see, we’ll start as soon as its time. Make sure that you finish all your preparation by then. Once you’re done with your preparation, just stand by and you’re free to do anything while waiting. I’m going to be busy for a while, if you have any question, just go and ask Yamanobe.”
Shikarabe then pointed his finger toward the APC. The back door of that APC opened up and Akira could see the other Hunters who would go with him today, the other people who were waiting in their respective vehicles around that APC also looked like Hunters.
Akira then followed Shikarabe’s order and went to the APC to do up his preparation. He then took some stuff inside that APC and carried them back to his own vehicle.
The stuff that he had taken consisted of a lot of things. A walkie-talkie and a communication code, rocket launchers designed to fight huge monsters, a configuration chart of the jamming smoke that Shikarabe had prepared, and extra data to adjust information-gathering devices. It also included the info about the bounty monsters that Shikarabe had gathered and CWH special ammo. Although Akira also brought with himself extra CWH special ammo, it was always good to get more ammo reserve, thus he thankfully accepted it.
Akira then used the close-range data transfer to download the new data. Since his information-gathering device was connected to Alpha, she was able to use the new data too. As a matter of fact, Alpha quickly analyzed the new data and had set the information-gathering device to minimize the effect from the jamming smoke.
Akira finished his preparation and waited for the time to pass. But if he just sat there and waited, he might start feeling sleepy again. Thus he followed Alpha’s suggestion to do light exercise outside his vehicle to keep himself awake.
Alpha spread out and rotated her 4 limbs one after the other. She then turned around to bend her hip, then stretched her hands and stood skilfully on one leg. That posture further boosted her already charming figure. Although Akira had been used to it, the fact that he barely reacted to that scene showed that he was very insensitive about that kind of thing.
Akira was doing light exercises while still in his augmented suit, so when he did not stretch enough, Alpha would control his augmented suit to forcefully stretch his body.
“Alpha, that hurts!”
“Your body is stiff, it’s important to stretch your body to reduce injury and increase your performance. I guess it’s a good idea to keep doing your augmented suit training and regularly readjusting it.”
“P-please be gentle. O-ouch!”
“Don’t worry, you still have some medicines.”
Alpha smiled when she said that.
“That’s not a level where you can say that I don’t need to worry!!”
Akira kept complaining while doing his stretching, but he did not tell Alpha to stop.
Alpha spread her legs and bent forward to show how it is done. She spread her legs in a straight line and bent so much that her chest touched the ground, she looked completely alright in that position. While on the other hand, Akira gritted his teeth in pain while trying to imitate her, but he was barely able to do that.
That was when Shikarabe appeared.
“What are you doing?”
“You can tell, right? A light stretching.”
Shikarabe was actually asking Akira why he was doing light stretching right now, but Shikarabe then remembered something else and asked Akira.
“…I see. By the way, just out of curiosity, is that augmented suit a sync-type or a read-type?”
Akira did not understand what Shikarabe was talking about, so Alpha answered that for him.
“Akira, it’s a read-type.”
“It’s a read-type.”
Hearing Akira’s answer, Shikarabe frowned a little and said.
“I see, I’m sure you’ll be fine, but be careful.”
Akira looked confused and asked Shikarabe.
“Be careful? From what?”
“There are Hunters out there who don’t do their research before using their augmented suits, you see. They think that anyone can use an augmented suit by just putting it on. So, in the past, I knew someone who bought a cheap augmented suit from the black market. He immediately used it without readjusting the augmented suit first, so he was still using an augmented suit based on other people’s data. Since he did not find anything wrong until then, after reaching the ruins he began stretching his body to check his augmented suit’s performance while killing time. Ah, by the way, his augmented suit was a read-type augmented suit, so it was still working based on the previous user’s data. So when he stretched his body, the augmented suit extended based on the previous user’s data and ended up tearing his ligaments.”
Akira frowned, looking a bit scared. Shikarabe then continued.
“A sync-type will not go further than what the current user can do, so something like that would not happen for a sync-type augmented suit. While the read-type augmented suit reads straight from the neuro-signals of the user, so it sometimes moves faster than the user intends. Since cyborg body has a different neural-signals than a normal body, incidents like that are not rare, you know.”
“…Don’t they have safety functions too?”
“I heard that the previous user had turned it off. There are a lot of Hunters who do something like that. After all, there are cases where they have to move so fast to the point that it’ll tear their limbs and break their bones in order to survive. So the safety function is actually a problem when they face such a situation.”
“What happened to that person after that?”
“He took a lot of medicines and somehow was able to return back alive. But since then, he was traumatized and he never used augmented suit ever again, instead, he’ll only use physical strengthening modification and normal armour.”
Akira turned to Alpha, who just smiled as usual. He told himself that Alpha had mentioned about medicines just before teasing him.
He then decided to change the subject to banish that thought from his mind. He stood up and asked Shikarabe.
“…So then, why are you here? Are we going soon?”
Now that Akira mentioned it, Shikarabe remembered why he came there.
“Ah, that’s right. We’ll move out soon, but not yet. I just have something I need to ask you, can you give this guy a ride?”
A young Hunter was standing behind Shikarabe. He was more or less as old as Akira. He then introduced himself to Akira.
“I’m Togami, nice to meet you.”
“Akira… Shikarabe, I just want to make sure of one thing here. Do you need me to help him and watch over him or something?”
“Nope, you can just fight the way you want. That’s our deal. Togami will also fight the way he wants. There’s no need to try too hard working together with him.”
“If he’s too much of a deadweight, I might throw him off from my vehicle, alright?”
“I won’t stop you. But if it’s possible, throw him into my vehicle when you do that.”
To be honest, Akira wanted to refuse Shikarabe’s request. But it was not like he was really against it. Because of that, he tried to make a lot of excuses to Shikarabe, but in the end, he ended up accepting it. So then, although he looked rather displeased, it was not like Togami was against it either.
Akira gave up and let Togami into his vehicle.
“…Alright, if you’re okay with that, I’ll let him get on to my vehicle.”
“Sorry about that, we’ll be going soon. Don’t be late, okay?”
After that, Shikarabe left Togami’s equipment there and went back to his APC.
Akira and the other Hunters started moving to hunt for the bounty monsters. They headed to the dark wasteland with Shikarabe’s APC leading on the front.
Togami was sitting on the driver assistant seat on Akira’s vehicle. His equipment was crammedtogether with Akira’s stuff in the back seat.
Togami still looked as displeased as he was before he climbed onto Akira’s vehicle. It seemed that he was offended by that exchange between Akira and Shikarabe.
He arrogantly asked Akira.
“Hey, what did you mean back then?”
Akira still locked his gaze forward as he casually replied.
“What did I mean by that? It’s as you heard. Do you really need me to explain it?”
After hearing Akira’s answer, Togami looked even more displeased than before.
“Are you kidding me? You said that as if I’m just a deadweight. What is your Hunter Rank by the way?”
Hearing that, Togami sneered arrogantly and said with full of confidence.
“21? And you dare to talk like that about me? I’m 27, you know!”
Akira glanced at Togami, but he quickly returned back looking forward again.
That reaction angered Togami even more.
“Oii!! Are you listening to me!?”
Now that it had turned into something too much of a pain to deal with, Akira just ignored him.
Alpha, who was sitting in the mid-air beside Akira, pointed at Togami and asked.
“Are you sure it’s okay to just ignore him?”
“If he starts bothering me more than that, let’s just throw him to Shikarabe’s vehicle.”
He casually answered Alpha’s question with that. Since Shikarabe had already given Akira his permission, Akira really planned to do that.
Togami kept complaining to Akira even after that, but Akira just ignored him. It did not take long before he clicked his tongue, sat down, looked at the opposite direction from Akira, and shut up.
Shikarabe, Yamanobe and Varga were in the foremost APC. The APC could fit 10 people, they used the leftover space for their ammo and other stuff. But even so, it actually still had enough space for Togami.
Yamanobe was the one taking the wheel. The navigation control unit was showing the area where the bounty monsters might be. The scouting groups from Drankam were actively broadcasting information that was received to that APC. Yamanobe picked a route where they could avoid any needless fighting.
Yamanobe then asked Shikarabe.
“Say, why did you take that boy?”
“Which one are you talking about?”
“Togami, I know just how strong Akira is from yesterday’s incident. I have no problem bringing him with us… But that Togami, it’s not like I’m going to say that he’s useless, but at the same time, is there any need to bring him along? Not to mention that he’s also one of those young Hunters, so why did you bring him here?”
Shikarabe looked obviously displeased as he said.
“Even for me, it’s not like I brought him here because I wanted to. It’s more like he was forced onto me. When we were discussing about the budget, they told me to bring him along if I want to get more budget.”
“…Forced to, huh? Are you sure it’s okay to really take him along with us?”
“Although they told me to bring him along, it’s not like we have to make sure that he returns back alive. It doesn’t matter if he dies. It would be a huge pain in the neck to have him here together with us, that’s why I have Akira take him.”
Shikarabe laughed, Yamanobe just smiled bitterly and said.
“Seeing what happened yesterday, I have a feeling that Akira would really throw him off his vehicle.”
Varga looked honestly confused as he asked Shikarabe.
“I get why we have to take him with us, but why is he hunting for bounty monsters with us in the first place? He can just join the other young Hunters, right? So why us?”
Shikarabe looked irritated. That expression was directed to the people in Drankam’s management. That look was enough to answer Varga’s question.
“It’s because Togami is a part of the anti-Katsuya faction.”
Shikarabe had a close connection with Arabe, one of the officers in Drankam. He heard a lot of things about the inner Drankam management from Arabe. Shikarabe then explained that to Yamanobe and Varga.
The young Hunters in Drankam were mainly divided into two factions. Katsuya faction and anti-Katsuya faction. Or basically, Katsuya faction and not-Katsuya faction.
Katsuya faction had the support from the officers who supported the young Hunters prioritization plan. These officers were well-organized way up to the upper echelons, thus most of the suggestions that they made in Drankam were approved. Thanks to the influence held by those officers and the track record left by the Katsuya faction, they rolled out a huge amount of capital for this bounty monsters hunting.
While on the other hand, the anti-Katsuya faction was basically all the other young Hunters who were not a part of the Katsuya faction. It’s not like they had formed an organization or something. Moreover, more and more people who had not joined the Katsuya faction yet started to get absorbed into that faction as long as they did not have any particular reason not to join that faction.
There was a need for the anti-Katsuya faction to gain some kind of power to reduce the Katsuya faction’s influence within the gang. The other factions who thought so started to get their eyes on young Hunters like Togami, and started gathering skilled Hunters who did not like Katsuya.
With the record of hunting a bounty monster, it would help them to fight against the Katsuya faction. That was why they sent Togami to help Shikarabe and his team. Other than Togami, there were also other young Hunters from the anti-Katsuya faction sent to hunt for bounty monsters.
Varga looked exasperated as he said.
“The heck, so it’s basically to annoy Katsuya, huh. Ahh, now that I remember it, you do hate Katsuya, right? Hm? If that’s the reason, then there’s a need to make sure that Togami will return back alive, right?”
“They did ask me that, but I refused. If he doesn’t have enough skill to return back alive without anyone watching over him, then the bounty hunting record will just be a meaningless record. They immediately shut up when I told them that.”
“Well, if they’re going to use him to fight Katsuya, he’ll need to be at least that strong… What is Katsuya’s current Hunter Rank again…?”
Varga tried to recall Katsuya’s Hunter Rank, but before he could, Shikarabe interjected.
“It’s 32. There are not that many Hunters out there who could reach Rank 32 at his age. It’s understandable that she’s got her eyes on him.”
The girl that Shikarabe was talking about was Mizuha, she was a Drankam officer and an avid supporter of the Katsuya faction. Mizuha was the one who pioneered the young Hunters’ preferential treatment and she was promoting it even now. And as more and more young Hunters grew stronger, including those who were in the Katsuya faction, Mizuha’s influence as the main supporter of that policy also grew bigger.
Shikarabe then mockingly said.
“That woman is planning to use Katsuya to advertise Drankam. That’s also one of the reasons why she sent Katsuya for hunting bounty monsters. She also formed a team of mostly young Hunters for hunting the bounty monsters, and of course, the leader of that team is Katsuya. If that team successfully hunted bounty monsters, I bet she would announce it everywhere. A young skilled handsome Hunter, there’s no doubt that the sponsors from the inner wall would be overjoyed to hear that.”
Yamanobe laughed bitterly.
“That’s true, that boy is rather handsome after all. People like us won’t work for advertising the gang.”
Varga, who was also laughing, noticed a signal from the detection device. He then said while still smiling.
“There’s a monster on our way forward, should we use it to check this rising star of anti-Katsuya faction?”
Varga took his communication device and gave an order to Togami.
“Number 8! There’s a monster forward! Go ahead and take care of it!”
All the Hunters in Shikarabe’s team were assigned different contact numbers. Togami’s was number 8, while Akira was number 9.
Togami was still staring at the wasteland with a displeased expression, but when he heard that order, he smiled boastfully and said.
“It’s number 8! Roger that! I’ll take care of it!”
Togami then turned to Akira.
“Hey!! Take me closer to that monster!!”
Akira did not say anything as he paced his vehicle faster. But because of that sudden acceleration, Togami lost balance and almost fell over from his seat.
Togami tried to regain his balance in panic and then said to Akira.
“Hey!! Drive more carefully, will you!! What the heck are you thinking?!”
Akira glanced at Togami, he let out a short sigh before returning his gaze forward again. Togami glared at Akira with full anger.
Akira did not even bat an eyelash as he kept pacing his vehicle toward that monster without slowing down at all.
He was heading toward a carnivorous monster that was more or less as big as his vehicle. That monster quickly noticed the vehicles heading toward it, it immediately roared and ran toward Akira as it quickly closed the distance between them.
Akira did not even bother to look at Togami as he asked.
“So then, how close do you need me to get?”
“…Just stop somewhere nearby!”
Togami half sighed as he said that. Akira did not say anything as he slowed down his vehicle to a stop.
Togami thought that the other Hunters beside Shikarabe and his friends were Hunters without enough skills to join the bounty monsters hunt. He thought that they were there only to replace their lack of fighting power with numbers. After all, most of them did not look that strong, Akira was only a small boy while the other Hunters used weak-looking equipment such as a worn-out armour.
As a matter of fact, Togami was half correct. Lending good equipment for Hunters with debt might cause trouble in case those Hunters tried to use that chance to run away. Because of that, Shikarabe only lent them mostly worn-out equipment that they would throw away after one use. Those equipment would only fetch a small amount of money even if they tried to sell it and taking all of it while running away was not worth the trouble.
Togami thought that the reason why he was sent to join that bounty hunting team was because the higher official in the Drankam thought highly of his skill. Although that was indeed correct, it was a completely different matter whether Togami correctly evaluated his own skill.
Akira’s vehicle had gotten considerably close to the monster that they were aiming for. Togami took his rifle and jumped off Akira’s vehicle, he then mockingly smiled at Akira and said.
“They told me to take care of it. I can do it alone, you just shut up and watch me from there. I’ll show you the difference in our skill.”
After he said that, Togami ran to a position himself at a vantage point.
Once he reached his destination, he took out the powerful rifle that was prepared for hunting the bounty monster and aimed at that monster. He then confidently pulled the trigger. Although he missed some of his shots, he shot a lot of bullets to compensate for it. The bullets pierced through that monster’s skin, flesh, and bones. For such a large vigorous monster, bullets which did not pierce through its weak points could only inflict minor wounds, but with enough small wounds, they turned fatal enough to kill it. And so Togami was able to kill that monster in a short time, which was rather commendable.
While he was focusing his shots at that one particular monster, the other two monsters quickly closed the distance. Togami spread bullets at those monsters to slow them down and wound them. The other monsters slowed down because of the wounds, they quickly noticed their dead friend and faltered. Togami kept on shooting at the rest of the monsters, he took his time to kill them.
Togami thought that he had done well enough to showcase his skill to Akira. So he walked back to Akira looking forward to his reaction thinking that Akira should have understood his power now.
But it did not go as Togami had expected. Akira was still sitting on the driver’s seat while looking forward, he looked bored. Shikarabe’s APC then passed beside Akira’ vehicle.
Togami stood beside Akira’s vehicle with a displeased look on his face. He was waiting for Akira’s reaction from that fight just now. No matter whether it was a good reaction or not, as long as Akira would give him a reaction, he would be satisfied. If it was praise, he would accept it. And if it was an insult, he would take it as Akira being jealous of losing against him. So no matter what it was, it would give him some satisfaction.
But on the contrary, Akira did not show any reaction at all. He was not just simply ignoring Togami, it was as if his behaviour saying that it was nothing special at all.
Togami did not try to hide his irritation as he asked Akira.
“…Hey, don’t you have anything to say to me?”
“Get in here, quickly. They’ll leave us behind, you know?”
Akira somehow sounded exasperated when he said that.
Togami’s expression immediately turned worse, he was about to burst when suddenly a call for Varga stopped him.
“Number 8, number 9, you’re going to get left behind. Did your vehicle get damaged from that fight?”
Akira answered back.
“This is number 9. The vehicle is okay. But for some reason, the number 8 isn’t getting into the vehicle. Can I just leave him behind?”
“Is number 8 somewhere near you? Number 8, are you hurt and unable to move?”
Togami sounded annoyed as he answered back.
“N-no, I’m not hurt…”
“Then get your ass back!!”
Varga shouted at Togami and closed the call.
Togami gritted his teeth and was somehow barely able to hold his anger as he dragged himself back into Akira’s vehicle.
Akira quickly started his vehicle and tried to chase Shikarabe. He was able to catch up with them in no time.
Akira was driving his car without saying anything, but he was actually talking with Alpha through telepathy. Togami sat next to him while looking in the opposite direction from him. Although Togami was about to burst back then, they did not say anything to each other while driving. Togami knew that if he caused trouble there, it might cause Akira to make a blunder and hurt both of them, that was why he was somehow able to calm down.
The sun had risen up and shone its light onto the wasteland. Alpha basked under the sunlight as she smiled at Akira.
That was the moment when night turned into morning. The area that the sunshine reached turned into morning while the area that was still blanketed in the darkness stayed as the night, it was the moment when morning and night existed at the same time. In that ephemeral moment, Alpha’s hair and skin somehow gave off a fantasy-like glossy aura under the morning sun.
“It’s morning, Akira.”
“…That was a rather dull response, don’t you have like… something more to say?”
“Even if you tell me so…”
Akira looked around him and Alpha, it was not like he did not show any reaction at all, but he did not have enough words to accurately describe the feeling that was swelling inside his heart.
“Well, it’s really something else compared to the morning in the slum city.”
That was all that Akira said. There were a lot of things that he needed to have so that he could say those words, and if it was the past Akira, he would not be able to say those words there.
For example, in order so that no one would kill him in his sleep, Akira had to carefully pick where he slept and he ended up sleeping in places where sunlight could not reach.
The other thing would be the leeway to see the sunrise. Since he had to keep himself away from any possible threats, he had to focus his attention to the places where the sunlight could not reach, like the dark and shady places where he could get ambushed.
There were still other factors too, but basically, the past Akira did not have the leeway to leisurely watch the sunrise.
Even now, Akira still did not have the leeway to leisurely watch the sunrise.
Alpha suddenly pointed her finger toward the wasteland.
“Akira, it’s more monsters. They already noticed you and they’re heading this way.”
Akira could feel an irritation that he did not understand himself well enough, he then obeyed that irritation as he quietly went to the backseat. He took a stance and aimed the CWH anti-material rifle attached in the back seat to that monster, he looked somewhat annoyed as he carefully took an aim at that monster and pulled the trigger without hesitation.
He was using CWH special ammo at that time, thanks to the high-level accuracy support from Alpha, the bullet pierced right through between that monster’s eyes which was its weak point. After that bullet broke havoc inside that monster’s head, it pierced right through its torso and vanished into the wasteland. The shockwave from that hit was enough to rip off that monster’s limbs.
A call then came in from the communication device, it was from Varga.
“Number 9, a big-sized monster is coming from the right. Judging from its moving speed, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with us, go and take care of it.”
“Number 9 here, it’s done.”
A short expression of disbelief from Varga passed through the communication device. It took some time for Varga to check the scanner, and after he confirmed that the signal had indeed vanished, he sounded a bit surprised as he said.
“…Ahhh, I’ve confirmed it too. You’re doing great, keep that up.”
“Number 9, roger that.”
Akira still looked slightly annoyed as he returned back to the driver seat. Alpha smiled mischievously while staring at that him. Akira felt a bit embarrassed as he jabbed at her to hide his embarrassment.
“It’s nothing. It seems that you really enjoy watching the sunrise. You became really annoyed when that monster disturbed you.”
Although it was not like Akira was enjoying the sunrise, he awkwardly responded to Alpha’s question with that short answer.
Alpha was still smiling at him, she knew a lot more about Akira that Akira himself knew. Although he had gotten used to her charming outlook, the sight of her basking in the morning light was even more charming than her usual look.
Togami, who stared at Akira as he returned back to driving, was amazed by Akira’s move there.
There was another monster near the monster that Akira just killed. It was a 1-metre big spider monster with a steel body. Cameras were fixed on its head in place of eyes. That monster was looking at Akira through those cameras.
After Akira and the other Hunters left that place, that monster finally started moving while making clunking sounds.