Akira was talking with Alpha about what happened back in the Higaraka Residence Ruin while doing maintenance for his guns inside his room.
“So, what exactly was that girl?”
“It seems to be some kind of holographic worker from a company. I think there’s some kind of device inside that basement that connects it to the old world domain. But judging from the fact that you had to stand on a certain location to activate it and its limited connectivity, I believe that the device is unusable for the general public.”
Akira was puzzled.
“…Worker, huh? But they’re only holograms, right?”
“In this world, there are various types of work that would open up if you can see and accept their existence.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep, it is. If you want proof, you’re seeing one right now.”
Alpha then smiled and pointed at herself. Akira immediately understood her point and nodded.
Inside the secret room in the basement of that mansion, he clearly saw a maid girl appear out of nowhere, though it was only an image. But Akira, who was lacking in knowledge about that subject completely ignored the fact, or more like, he did not notice that fact at all.
Alpha also did not tell everything to Akira. If he showed some sort of reaction to that maid girl, Alpha might start putting on a maid uniform from tomorrow, but that did not happen.
Alpha then continued.
“Akira, I’ll at least warn you about this, don’t tell anyone about the device inside that basement which can connect to the old world. And don’t ever think of taking and selling it, okay?”
“Why? Isn’t that an important device? It might earn me a lot of money, you know?”
Alpha made a serious face as she strongly warned Akira.
“Don’t do that no matter what.”
Akira was surprised when his simple question was answered with a firm warning. But looking at Alpha’s expression, he understood that there was definitely a valid reason for it.
“Alright, I won’t tell anyone and I won’t try selling it. But can you at least tell me the reason why?”
“Anything that can help you access the old world domain is a highly valuable object. Because of that, they might ask you how and where you got it. And so there’s a chance they might discover that you’re someone who is connected to the old world domain from your answers to those questions. I thought that such a thing would be unlikely to happen if you don’t know that you are someone who is connected to the old world, and that is why I didn’t tell you up until now. But now that you know, you have to keep it a secret no matter what. If someone discovers it, you’ll die a painful death.”
After that, Alpha explained to Akira the dangers of being someone who was connected to the old world domain. In the worst-case scenario, people would keep him alive as a test subject for all kinds of experiments, and even if he died, people would carefully remove and dissect his brain. Akira’s face turned pale when he heard that.
“…To be honest, I would choose to not know it if I had the choice. Wait, no, I guess it’s better now that I know, right? Wait, screw that, it’s better if I don’t know!”
“It is actually pretty safe if you keep it a secret, you see. I’ll also give my support too. And not to mention that there are people who keep lying by saying that they are connected to the old world domain. So I think it’s going to be alright as long as you’re careful.”
“I don’t understand why people would lie about being one of them?”
“The connected people tend to be very effective in analyzing information. So there are people who want to market their name as a skilled hacker by lying so. Although, I think the real connected people would never do something like that.”
Akira let out a big long sigh as he hung his head. He looked depressed for about 10 seconds before he suddenly raised his face.
“Alright then! It’s because I’m connected to the old world that I was able to meet Alpha and survive up until now!! I’m a lucky boy!! That’s my take of the situation!!”
Akira said that out loud in order to convince himself. After that, he looked way more positive and enthusiastic than before. Although it looked a bit forced, he just pushed it out with pure determination.
Alpha smiled as she watched Akira.
“Akira, it’s a good thing that you got over the shock so fast, but your voice was too loud. It’s okay for now, but it’ll be bad if someone heard that, you know? So be more careful in future.”
Akira who just got back on his senses trembled as he asked Alpha.
“…T-that was really dangerous. B-but it was okay, r-right?”
“It’s alright. No one should have heard that and I don’t detect any eavesdropping tool. I’ve checked everything, so don’t worry.”
Akira let out a sigh of relief. Judging from it, Alpha knew that he understood the seriousness of his situation as she smiled in satisfaction.
“Now then. Let’s just stop talking about scary stuff here and talk about our today’s result.”
Alpha then started explaining about the result from today’s exploration.
The maid girl that Akira saw was from a hologram worker company that was advertising its service through the old world domain. It showed that even now some of the relics of the current era were still connected with the old world facilities. Any facilities that could be accessed through relics were of great importance to the people of the eastern district. After all, they would allow them to extract knowledge, technology and products of the old world from such a facility.
Anything that allowed access to the old world domain was regarded as an invaluable object in the eastern district. There was no mistaking that selling it to the Hunter Office or to the Corporate Government would earn you a huge amount of money.
Akira also understood its worth from hearing Alpha’s explanation. But he did not think that it would give him any kind of profit.
“…I understand that it was a great find, but I don’t see how that would earn us any profit though. After all, if I tell anyone about that place or that device, they might notice that I’m connected to the old world, and that would be really bad, right?”
“There are plenty of ways on how to safely use our findings. That device was connected to the Lion Steel Corp, although it was an old-world corporation that had ceased to exist, it still has facilities that are active even now. It seems that the Lion Steel Corp sold their service through information terminals installed at different places and I was able to extract the locations of these terminals and the branch offices owned by the corporation.”
Now that Akira could see clearly how it would benefit him, Akira looked less tense.
“…I see. So we’re going to look for relics in those places, right?”
“Yep, that’s it. Of course, these locations are in the old world ruins. If the other Hunters haven’t found them yet, you might be able to find a huge amount of relics there.”
“Nice!! Let’s go then!!”
“Stop there, at least wait until you have a vehicle specialized for exploring the wasteland. Since you will need to go to a faraway ruin, it would be dangerous to go on a bike, not to mention, it would be hard to bring back home all the relics that you might find with a bike.”
“So I still need to wait, huh. But well, it’s better now that I have a clear goal in mind. I guess I’ll work hard so that I can get a vehicle soon.”
If he could find an unexplored ruin, he would be able to find a pile of relics that no one had ever touched before. Akira was excited by that possibility as he was doing his gun maintenance in a good mood.
Akira was on a bus that was heading to the Kuzusuhara ruin. There were a lot of other Hunters inside the bus, some of them were amateur Hunters like him, while some of them were radiating the aura of a veteran Hunter. All of them were on the same request from the Hunter Office.
The Kugamayama city management decided to build a frontline base in order to effectively explore the deeper part of the Kuzusuhara ruin. They first planned to build a base near the outskirts of the Kuzusuhara ruin before constructing the communication line into the deeper part of the ruin.
As the construction of the base went underway, they would also use the heavy equipment to remove the wreckages that blocked the way to the deeper part of the ruin. Once the wreckages were removed, it would open a way to send in transport vehicles and tanks. Of course, the monsters roaming inside the deeper part of the ruin were powerful monsters, but if they could send in tanks and humanoid soldiers, it would help them fight against those monsters and carry relics that were difficult for the normal people.
Exploring a ruin would accelerate the development of a city and bring profit to that city. That was why they would do all of these preparations for exploring a ruin.
The request that Akira took was to help protect the construction of the said base. It basically consisted of protecting the workers and securing the area. After all, constructing a base was not Hunter’s job.
Akira was listening to the explanation given to the Hunters inside a temporary base. After that, the hunters would be assigned to their jobs depending on their ability and interest.
The staff distributed rental terminals for the work and explained how to use them.
“We’ll give our instructions through this terminal. This terminal also contains a transmitter so you can check the other Hunter’s whereabouts if you open them from the terminal. So be careful not to mistake another Hunter as a monster and shoot each other. And also, although we’re in a ruin, refrain from searching for relics. I won’t tell you as far as to not take any relics that you accidentally find, but we’re not here to gather relics. We would be in trouble if you guys focus more on searching for relics, and don’t forget that we always track your location too. So make sure not to stand in the same location for a long period of time or do anything that might cause suspicion. Finally, there should be a number behind the terminal, we will call you based on that number, so be sure to check that too. That’s all. You may go to the ruins once you finish your preparation, you just need to follow the map’s navigation in the terminal.”
Akira then turned his terminal over and checked his number. Akira and Alpha immediately smiled bitterly the moment they saw the number.
“It seems that this number is really fond of me.”
The number taped behind his terminal was 14.
As Akira followed the navigation from the terminal, he arrived at an opening surrounded by countless crumbling buildings. He then pulled out his terminal to answer a phone call from the Hunter Office staff.
“This is A2 division HQ. Number 14, can you hear me?”
“This is number 14, I can hear you.”
“Take control of the building in front of you. Explore and make a map of that building, don’t forget to take out any monsters that you find. The terminal has an auto-mapping function, so you just need to check all the rooms inside that building. There’s also a good chance that if you leave corpses of dead monsters, they might attract other monsters, I know it’s a pain in the ass, but carry them all the way to the building entrance.”
“What if they’re too big or too heavy for me to carry?”
“In that case, let us know and we’ll send a special team to help you.”
Akira then ended the call and went inside the building in front of him, but Alpha suddenly stopped him.
“Wait, this is a good chance for exploration training, so let’s do that too.”
“But, won’t it make me slower?”
“That’s why you would have to do this carefully but not too slowly. If you don’t have that much level of skill, you won’t be able to survive in a colourless mist, you know? After all, my detection ability reduces inside the colourless mist. So you would have to rely on your own skills when that happens. We can use this chance to prepare for such a situation.”
Exploring without Alpha’s detection ability and support from an information-gathering device would be a nightmare for a beginner like Akira. Thus he could not help but frown at that possibility.
“…The colourless mist, huh? Alright, tell me how to do this.”
Akira made his resolve and entered the building.
Akira started exploring the ruin from the first floor. Some of the floors in that building were covered in dust while some of them were not. It was because of the Hunters who had searched the building and the monsters which roamed inside it. He noticed that some walls inside the building were already crumbled.
Akira proceeded carefully as he tried to walk without making any sounds. He explored the building by moving from one cover to another. He would stop from time to time to listen to his surroundings. He then readied his gun as he quickly slipped into a room. He was exploring the abandoned building as if he was stepping into a monster’s nest. While doing so, he regularly received warnings from Alpha, so he would quickly correct the way he moved every time Alpha warned him. Because of that, Akira moved slowly but was surely improving.
Akira finally finished exploring the first floor. And of course, it took him longer than usual.
“I know that it’s to be expected, but I did take a lot of time. I can see now why they told the Hunters not to go looking for relics.”
“It’s an important skill for a Hunter to be able to safely and quickly explore an area. And the only way to learn it is to train and improve your ability bit by bit. Especially when you’re facing a monster with camouflaging ability.”
“It’s an ability that would let monsters stay undetected. There are some monsters that have optical camouflage skin or armour. They can become one with their surroundings or stay undetected in the shadows.”
“…Those optical camouflaged monsters, how can I detect them?”
“There are actually a lot of methods to detect them, you can look for optical anomalies or analyze the surrounding sounds. An advanced information gathering device or someone who specialized in information analysis would be able to detect them without any problem. It would allow you to evade needless fighting or to get the first shot in case you want to kill them, so you can safely and quickly search for relics.”
“That sounds like Elena-san’s duty. I’m sure Elena-san is very skilled in it.”
“Yep, that’s true. But even the skilled Elena-san will have trouble inside the colourless mist. After all, the colourless mist would render the information gathering device useless.”
Akira remembered about the time when he saved Elena and Sara. At that time, the colourless mist did not affect him much thanks to Alpha’s support. While on the other hand, the guys who ambushed Elena and Sara could not detect Akira at all due to the colourless mist.
“The colourless mist is really dangerous. Is there any way to cope with it?”
“You can buy advanced information gathering devices that could still barely work inside a colourless mist. But I heard that it’s very expensive and it’s less powerful compared to a normal information gathering device at the same price. Other than that, you can instead rely on your exploration skill rather than relying on your information gathering device. So there you have it, that’s why you better work hard from now on, okay?”
“Roger that. Next is the second floor… By the way, how many floors are in this building?”
“…I still have a long way to go now.”
Akira mumbled as he proceeded to the second floor.
It took about 3 hours for Akira to finish exploring the whole building. After that, Akira went to the rooftop and took a break. But suddenly he heard cannons from faraway. It was coming from Hunters who were fighting some monsters. Akira did not find any monster in the building because of pure luck.
Suddenly his terminal rang again.
“This is A2 division HQ. Number 14, can you hear me? Tell me about your situation there.”
“This is number 14. I just finished taking control of the building.”
“Confirmed. Follow the navigation in your terminal and move to the next building. Now then, number 14, you took more time than we expected for taking control of that building. Did you meet a powerful monster or was there any other unexpected situation?”
“I didn’t meet any monster at all. It’s just that I searched all rooms carefully, I think that’s why I took more time than usual… How long is your approximate time by the way?”
“We approximated that it should take you only about 1 hour. I won’t tell you to rush things up, but do it faster next time. That’s all.”
Akira ended the call. He was a bit depressed after being told that he was less skilled than expected. Looking at that, Alpha just smiled trying to cheer him up.
“Don’t worry about that, let’s just continue like this. There’s no reason to get yourself in more danger just to rush things up.”
“But what if it causes me to fail this request?”
“It doesn’t really matter. It’s way better rather than getting injured badly. Your safety is number one priority. So if you try to rush your exploration, I’ll force you to stop, you know.”
Since Alpha told him firmly like that, Akira cheered up feeling lighter.
“You’re right, I understand. Let’s continue carefully.”
“Yep, that’s good. But you need to remember that you have to enhance your detection and stealth abilities as soon as possible, you know? So you need to hurry up to improve in that aspect.”
“…Please be gentle on me.”
“Nope, I’ll work you hard.”
Akira and Alpha smiled as they exchanged jokes. He then changed his gear and headed to the next building.
Akira took control of so many other abandoned buildings after that. Eventually, his navigation map led him back to the temporary base. So he went back and gave his terminal back to one of the staff there. With that, his job for today was finished.
Akira felt tired as he let out a sigh, though, he was not tired to the level of exhaustion. He only met some monsters during his exploration and his augmented suit greatly reduced the stress on his body, but it did not help in reducing his mental stress at all.
“This will be all for my today’s request, huh…? I’m tired. As I thought, since I always rely on your support during my exploration, it’s really tiring when I do it myself.”
Alpha smiled and complemented Akira.
“You did very well. Let’s take a rest for now. Since we’re here, how about we look for something to eat? After all, you’ll only get to eat that frozen food if you’re back in your room, right?”
The construction site was surrounded by many trailers, they were owned by the merchants who were selling their stuff for the Hunters and the workers from Kugamayama city.
There was a bus in the construction site that travelled regularly from here to Kugamayama city. But since it took time to go back and forth, these merchants catered to the Hunters who wanted to get ammo refills and food but did not want to take the bus.
Some of them sold ammo and guns, some sold food. There were even some renting their camping trailer as a portable inn. The construction area was bustling with people.
Seeing how the Hunters were eating soft and warm food rather than their usual hard Hunter ration, Akira felt hungry out of nowhere.
“You’re right, I guess I’ll buy something to eat too.”
Although Akira went and browsed the trailers, he did not know which food was tasty and which one was not. He felt like he would end up picking up something bad if he just chose randomly, so he observed other Hunters. Although there was no queue close to him, he spotted a relatively long queue nearby.
After adding himself in that queue, Akira peeked at the price and the food that the trailer was selling. It was a hot sandwich, 980 Aurum per portion. With Akira’s sense of money in his current situation, he felt it was quite costly for a meal. But it would not feel right if he just left after lining up, so he ended up deciding to buy the hot sandwich.
As Akira’s turn was about to come, he heard a familiar voice coming from the transaction between the seller and the buyer in front of him. Akira tried to remember whose voice it was, but before he could come up with any conclusion, his turn came and he stepped forward. He immediately realized that it was Sheryl.
Sheryl looked surprised for a moment, but she quickly returned back to her usual smile.
“Welcome. The hot sandwich is 980 Aurum per portion.”
“…I’ll take one, please.”
“Certainly. If you are going to pay with card, please place your card over the terminal.”
Sheryl operated the terminal at the counter. The upper part of the counter showed 980 Aurum, as Akira put his Hunter ID on it, it made a beep sound and the payment was completed.
Sheryl then took a warped hot sandwich and gave it to Akira, but as she handed it over, she leaned towards him and said.
“I’m happy to see you here.”
Sheryl indeed sounded very happy when she said that, but she returned back to her normal smile almost immediately after.
“Thank you very much, please do come again.”
Sheryl then smiled at Akira with a smile that she directed towards other customers.
After Akira left that trailer, he quickly noticed that Katsuragi’s trailer was also present.
Katsuragi spotted Akira who was standing not too far from Sheryl’s shop.
“Akira! So you’re here too, huh?! Good timing! I have something to talk about, come in! Darris!! Watch the shop for a bit!!”
Darris’ voice echoed from inside the trailer.
“Your break is still later, you know!!”
“Akira is here!! There’s something I want to talk to him about!! So just watch the shop while I’m gone!!”
Darris appeared out from inside the trailer while looking annoyed. But the moment he saw Akira, he was taken aback by Akira’s equipment. Akira looked completely different compared to the boy that he met not too long ago.
Darris looked at Akira’s equipment and understood what Katsuragi meant when he said he had something important to talk about with Akira that he would even ask him to watch the shop. Thus he went to watch the shop without complaining any further.
Katsuragi went into his trailer with Akira. He and Akira then sat on a table together, Sheryl was there too. She had also left the shop to one of her subordinates. There were 3 hot sandwiches served on the table.
Akira and Katsuragi looked a bit troubled while Sheryl was smiling very happily since she was able to meet Akira again.
Akira and Katsuragi looked at each other and noticed both of them looked a bit worried about Sheryl’s behaviour.
“So then, Katsuragi, what do you want to talk about?”
“Well, it’s not something that big. I just wanted to know how you are doing lately. To be honest, I’m just wondering why you haven’t brought any relics since that time. I thought you were injured or something so you couldn’t do any Hunter job. But since you’re here, it means that it’s not the case, right?”
“I’m focusing more on taking monster-hunting requests lately. I do hunt for relics in the Kuzusuhara ruin usually, but I’m sure that you know it’s not the right time for that, right?”
“Well, it’s true that it’s not a good idea to explore Kuzusuhara ruin in the current situation. I heard that the distribution of monsters in the ruin changed greatly after that battle and strong monsters started roaming the outskirts of the ruin. And since there’s no expensive relics left in the outskirts, I guess it isn’t worth the danger, huh. But on the other hand, I heard that battle greatly culled the number of monsters. So this is a good chance if you want to grab some relics from the deeper part of the other ruins, right? Isn’t that the reason why the manager of the city would even spend a huge amount of money to build the frontline base like this?”
“It’s kind of difficult to go to the other ruins since I don’t have the means of transport. I can’t rent a vehicle with my current Hunter Rank, you see.”
Katsuragi took another look at Akira’s equipment. An augmented suit, AAH assault rifle, CWH anti-material rifle and an information-gathering device. Akira did not look like someone who would have a problem with transportation.
“…You have pretty good equipment though. I don’t think anyone would refuse a Hunter like you if you want to rent a vehicle for your Hunter job, you know?”
“It’s because I’m selling my relics to you, so my Hunter Rank doesn’t go up much. I only got the augmented suit from the money that I earned back then, and for my information gathering device, Elena-san was nice enough to sell it for cheap to me. I put all of my money into my equipment, that’s why I don’t have much left, and not to mention I need money to rent a vehicle after I get my Hunter Rank high enough. It’s because I promised to sell my relics to you, I have to do monster-hunting jobs to increase my Hunter Rank now. So there you have it, I can’t do much even if you say that to me.”
“Well, it can’t be helped if that’s the case.”
“Just wait for a bit more. It’s not like you’re in trouble just because I’m not bringing any relics to you, right?”
Katsuragi actually just wanted to make sure whether Akira had abandoned Sheryl or not since Akira did not bring any relics to him lately.
Akira then shifted his gaze to Sheryl and she smiled happily at him.
“So then, Sheryl, what are you doing in this place?”
“I’m managing the children from the gang who are working for Katsuragi-san. And I’m also managing a simple shop with help from Katsuragi-san. That hot sandwich was made by us, you see. This is also thanks to Akira, so thank you.”
Katsuragi then added some more explanation.
“I’m basically just doing my part of the deal with you. I’ve also offered Sheryl and her gang some jobs like helping us load goods or stuff like that to help them earn some money.”
Katsuragi pointed at some children who were moving his goods around when he said that. All of them were the children from Sheryl’s gang.
“I still buy metal wreckages from them, but at least this work should earn them a bit more compared to that. You do know what to do if you want me to give them a better job, right?”
“I know, I’ll sell relics that I find to you.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to that.”
Katsuragi finished the hot sandwich that he had been eating while talking.
“…That wasn’t enough. Sheryl, bring me one more.”
“Of course. Akira, how about you?”
“You should contribute to their sale too. Although you say that you don’t have much money, you at least have enough money for another sandwich, right?”
Akira had finished his own sandwich too, and since he also felt that he was not satiated, he decided to ask for one more. He then gave his Hunter ID to Sheryl while telling her to bring one more sandwich, so she went to process the payment.
When Sheryl left Katsuragi alone with Akira, Katsuragi suddenly asked Akira while making a puzzled look.
“…Say, Akira. Did you do something to her?”
Akira shook his head.
“When I noticed it, she was already like that… As I thought, it’s weird, isn’t it?”
“She’s completely different now compared to the first time I met her. I would even believe you if you say that she’s Sheryl’s twin, you know. Well, the current Sheryl is better as a business partner though. She’s good at handling people and she’s pretty smart as well. That hot sandwich was originally her plan, you see. And it’s selling pretty well too.”
“So that’s not your shop, huh?”
“Nope. I want to attain success by staying in my field of expertise, you see. So I have no plans to do any food business. Although I helped her to get that shop running, that shop is Sheryl’s own.”
“Is she going to be okay?”
“Hm? I’m the one who procured the ingredients. I’ve told her to make sure that the children who would help her are bathed and cleaned properly. I prepared them cheap but clean clothes and told them to properly use the food-grade disposable plastic gloves too. Moreover, they basically just need to heat up stuff and put sauces on it. So they should be okay.”
Akira thought that Katsuragi would make him pay and take care of the aftermath if anything bad happened to Sheryl’s shop, that was why he wanted to make sure the possibility of any trouble happening later was low and it was not like he was concerned about its hygiene. But since Katsuragi answered back with that, Akira thought that it did not seem there would be any trouble later anyway, thus he decided not to try digging deeper into the subject.
Sheryl came back with the extra hot sandwiches and placed them on the table. Akira took a second look at the hot sandwich that he just received. It had a thick sauce and the bread was soaked in the meat juice as if it would not even let a drop of that goodness to getaway. The meat was pretty thick and had a good texture when he bit on it. Strangely enough, it did not feel rough despite its appearance. But it was not strange enough that it warranted a complaint.
If someone asked him whether it was good or bad, Akira would answer back that it was a delicious sandwich. But if asked whether he would spend 1000 Aurum daily to eat that sandwich, Akira would hesitate to say yes. After all, the sandwich’s price was not affordable in a normal situation, it was only acceptable because they were in the middle of the wasteland.
But for the Hunters who were in that area for the construction help request, they did not mind paying such an amount for that sandwich. There were even people who would gladly pay for another portion after feeling that one sandwich was not enough. The price and the size of each portion of that hot sandwich were actually tuned very well to match the demand in such a situation.
Akira then asked Sheryl.
“Who decided on the price of this hot sandwich? Was it Katsuragi?”
“No, I did… Is it not a good price?”
Sheryl enquired, sounding a bit worried, but Akira replied as he shook his head.
“Nope, it’s good and I think that the price is acceptable for food in the middle of the wasteland.”
“I’m glad that you find it satisfying.”
Sheryl smiled with relief. Katsuragi then added while smiling.
“Well, it’s basically the wasteland price. It’s because an extra price is added since we took the trouble in bringing them all the way to this dangerous wasteland. So I hope people would not get offended by its price.”
“About that though, did you teach it to Sheryl?”
“Nope, I only helped her procure the ingredients and the equipment. I didn’t tell her anything about how to run her business. I only did what she asked me to do… Don’t take this wrongly though. I have no plan pushing it to you if it fails, you know? I’m serious here, okay?”
Katsuragi mixed his joke when he said that, but it could also be interpreted as a subtle warning. He was making excuses for something that Akira did not ask about. But Akira just simply ignored it and instead he shifted his gaze to Sheryl and looked genuinely impressed by her.
“…I see. That’s pretty amazing of you.”
Sheryl blushed as she smiled happily.
“Thank you very much. But it’s all thanks to Akira and Katsuragi-san too.”
Akira and Katsuragi looked at each other, although he could not talk telepathically with Katsuragi, he understood what Katsuragi wanted to say to him. Katsuragi was really questioning whether Akira really had not done anything to Sheryl.
The stare that Akira directed to Katsuragi was saying that he really did nothing. But it was rather doubtful whether his thoughts were properly conveyed to Katsuragi or not.