Chapter 295: A Certain Girl
Akira, who asked Shirou to help him open the door, believed in Shirou’s skills. Akira expected him to open the door with ease. But strangely enough, the door was still locked even after a few minutes and Shirou did not say anything.
“…? Shirou, what’s wrong? Is it giving you trouble?”
“Eh? Ah, no, it’s fine. I’m opening it now.”
The door started to slide open. Akira was so happy that with this, he would finally be able to get his front-line equipment. Because of his jovial state, he was not able to notice Shirou’s surprise when he called out to him.
There were several containers inside the cargo sector B28. The sector was well-made to defend against attacks. The containers were also strong and robust. To guarantee the security of whatever was inside those containers, different containers were only able to be opened by certain people with specific authorization. Moreover, the authorization to open one of these containers was completely separate from the authorization of the transport vehicle.
As expected, Akira’s equipment was inside the container owned by Sakashita Heavy Industry. He already received the lock code from Kibayashi before coming here. So, if his lock code was rejected again for some reason, he would have to return back to Kugamyama city to report it. Just to be safe, he asked Rebecca to stay next to the door while he went in to pick up his new equipment alone.
As Akira was walking through the room, Shirou spoke to him through telepathy.
“Akira, just a question. How did you end up with that Rebecca girl?”
“She said something about getting separated from the rest of her team and…“
Akira then explained how he met Rebecca to Shirou. At the end of his explanation, Shirou just muttered.
That short answer was somehow strongly laced with conflicting emotions. So much so that even the usually emotionally inept Akira was able to notice.
“Shirou? Is there anything wrong?”
“But you don’t sound like it’s nothing.”
“Akira, just focus on getting your new equipment for now. Once you’re done with that, I will have you do my request first, you did promise me that after all, right? So go and quickly get your stuff.”
“…That’s true, alright then.”
Even Akira knew that Shirou was simply avoiding the subject. Nonetheless, he completely agreed with what Shirou just said. It was only a few more steps before he could finally get his frontline equipment. Therefore, Akira thought that he should hurry up and just do that before anything bad happens.
As Akira stood in front of the indicated container, he carefully opened the door. There were four large-sized cases inside the container. Those were his new equipment. His mouth curled up into a smile, his new equipment was finally within reach.
Akira tried to open the case.
But it did not open.
Akira was flustered. He thought the case should open normally. He never heard that the cases needed some kind of identification code to open.
Of course, Shirou, who was looking at him through Akira’s information-gathering device, noticed Akira’s reaction and found it to be weird.
“Akira, what’s wrong?”
“The case won’t open.”
“Well, that’s normal. Although they are your new equipment, to be more precise, they are still Sakashita Heavy Industry’s cargo, set to be delivered to you. Since your authorization is limited to just transporting the cargo in place of the transport company, you don’t have the permission to open it.”
“…So that’s why, huh?”
Akira thought back upon his conversation with Kibayashi and finally understood what Kibayashi meant back then as the latter wryly smiled.
“Don’t worry, if you bring them to me, I can open them for you.”
“Really? Can’t you open it from there? You were able to open the door remotely.”
“I can, but I don’t want to if it can be helped. It might cause trouble later, you see.”
Shirou refused and gave Akira his reasoning.
The inside of any inter-city transport vehicle was basically treated as a part of a city, and Atlast D2771 was no exception. The whole space inside the transport vehicle was treated like the lower district. Meanwhile, special locations, like where the cube was stored, were being treated like the upper district. Normally, someone like Akira would never be allowed to enter those areas.
The reason why Akira was able to get authorization this time was most likely because of Sakashita Heavy Industry’s influence. That frontline equipment was Sakashita Heavy Industry’s reward to Akira after repelling the Nationalists. Therefore, the longer those equipment could not be handed off to Akira, the greater the chance that it might damage Sakashita’s reputation. This was the main driving force that eventually allowed Akira to be granted special authorization to enter this area.
But as expected, his permission only went as far as to enter the transport vehicle, nothing more. Basically, he was not able to receive permission to open the cases that housed his frontline equipment. This also meant that he was not able to enter areas treated as a part of the inner wall. Giving such authorization meant being his guarantor as well, and there was no reason for Sakashita Heavy Industry to go that far for him.
If Akira opened the cases in this situation, there was a good chance that the transport vehicle’s security system would attack him. For someone who had even picked a fight against the Lion Steel company and just received frontline equipment, the transport vehicle’s security system could not afford to underestimate his power. In the worst-case scenario, he might be suspected of trying to get the cube as well.
That was why they did not want Akira to open the cases inside the transport vehicle. They wanted to avoid that possibility at all costs. After Shirou explained, Akira finally relented.
“I-I see, fine…”
After being told as much, Akira did not have any other choice but to step back. He finally understood why people recognized him as ‘that Akira’.
Shirou then added.
“To be honest, I was surprised that you even got the authorization to enter Atlas D2771. The guy who provided you with that authorisation, Kibayashi, was it again? He must be one hell of a guy. He also somehow managed to get you ammo and medicine during your fight with Lion Steel.”
“…You have a point.”
Akira inadvertently made a wry smile. He felt conflicted since he had to admit that he was indeed often helped by Kibayashi’s amazing skill. However, he was also often thrown into trouble thanks to that man.
And this time, Akira was here because of Kibayashi. Even now, he could not tell if it was a fortunate situation, or if he got thrown into another mess again. It could even be both. Nonetheless, he decided to stop worrying about it for now and just kept moving forward.
Akira used the case’s mobile function to set it to follow him. Four legs unfolded out from the case, which had wheels equipped on the end of each leg. The cases then formed a small group as they lined up behind Akira. He was a bit entertained when he saw them trailing behind him as he walked back to the door into the sector where Rebecca was waiting.
Rebecca squinted her eyes and stared at the four cases following Akira.
“Are those yours? What’s inside them? Don’t tell me it’s the cube.”
Rebecca said so in a light joking manner, so Akira replied with a light smile.
“Not even close, they’re just my new equipment.”
“Your equipment? That does sound super strong. Can I take a peek?”
“Sorry, due to certain reasons, I can’t open them here.”
“Aah, I see. Hmmm, that’s too bad. Well, let’s put that aside for now and just get out of here.”
During their casual exchange, Rebecca did not think Akira was lying and just let the matter slide.
Even so, Akira found Rebecca’s reaction a bit strange. However, since it was just a faint feeling and Alpha did not say anything, he thought that there was no need to worry about it. He tried to open the door, but just like last time, the door would not open, which really surprised him.
“…Again? What’s going on here?”
Akira sighed and called Shirou.
“Shirou, the door won’t open again, can you check it?”
“Sure, wait for a sec… You’re not receiving an error from the identification code. It’s an emergency lock. The danger level of the area around that place went up.”
“What’s going on?”
“Basically, there’s an ongoing battle behind that door.”
Akira inadvertently looked at the door.
Zelos was running through the hallway, trying to catch those who attacked the transport vehicle while exchanging shots. He was against 2 people. Both were girls with augmented suits that looked like a leotard, covered by a defensive coat that looked like a dress. Both were carrying laser cannons. They were not that strong, but they kept running away. Since they were neither that fast nor that powerful, Zelos decided to pursue them.
Bullets and laser beams flew from both sides, filling the narrow hallway. Normal Hunters and monsters would get blown to pieces by now.
But both sides managed to put up a good fight. They evaded each other’s attacks. Deflecting the laser with forcefield armour or blocking the bullets by temporarily increasing the power output of the defensive coat’s forcefield armour.
Naturally, the battle ended in Zelos’ victory. He was mostly unharmed as well. He had managed to tear off the enemy’s arm, which was far from fatal. When they approached a turn along the hallway, they managed to escape and hide from him.
Zelos knitted his eyebrows.
[…They got away again, huh? I pursued them quite far from my main group. This is bad, did I get baited to come here alone?]
Zelos’ team encountered these enemies when they were trying to secure a new cargo sector. However, those that faced them were not the main force. They were the team left behind to secure and reinforce the conquered sectors. With a wide gap in firepower, the team was able to barely hold their position thanks to the walls and other structures they had set up. It was only when the main force arrived, did they manage to quickly seize the upper hand and repelled the attackers. Afterwards, the main force went to pursue the attackers as they tried to flee.
However, Zelos’ team quickly lost the upper hand the moment they pursued the attackers to a different cargo sector. This sector was not secured yet, which meant that they did not know where the attackers might try to ambush them. Unlike the multi-legged drones, which seemed to have been sent for reconnaissance, the attackers were pretty strong. To prevent an ambush and to secure an escape route, it was of great importance that they secured the hallway first. However, that meant dividing up their force.
If the attackers were slightly stronger, Zelos would have decided to retreat. Unfortunately, the enemies were not that strong, which caused Zelos to insist on the pursuit. As the pursuit continued, Zelos got baited to go deeper inside the transport vehicle. Eventually, the rest of his men were assigned to secure the hallway while he was left alone to pursue the enemies.
Zelos looked down on the floor, the arm that he had shot off the attackers was oozing green liquid.
[This blood… Is it recovery medicine? Well, it’s true that replacing blood with medicine would greatly increase fighting capability. But it’s impossible to reconfigure the body to produce medicine instead of blood. It would cause a lot of trouble in everyday life. They really put everything they had into this attack, huh? Well, they are trying to get the cube by attacking an inter-city transport vehicle, so I guess it’s not that surprising that they would go this far…]
That was when suddenly a call from his men reached him.
“Zelos, how’s our situation over there?”
“Not good. They just got away from me again.”
“…Should we send some people over?”
“No. Make sure that we have an escape route. We ended up over-extending, creating a rather long route through sectors that have not been secured yet due to my command. I’m sure that it’s not easy, but it would be bad if we don’t have a safe place to retreat to in case something bad happens. I’m seriously counting on you, alright?”
“Roger that. Don’t get too reckless, yeah?”
Although they were speaking casually, it was clear that they deeply trusted each other. Zelos then continued the pursuit. According to his information-gathering device, the enemies were just waiting on the other side of the turn, which Zelos found weird.
[Again, they’re not just simply running away. They’re just keeping their distance from me as if to lure me. That location doesn’t seem like an advantageous area to fight me. They don’t seem to be waiting for reinforcement either, so what exactly are they doing…?]
Zelos’ mind wandered to one vague term – high-functioning people. Zelos did find that term strange, but for some reason, it was compellingly convincing. He shook that off his mind and ran through the hallway to face the enemies not too far away from the corner.
Suddenly, a few dozen flat objects flew out from behind the corner. These boards were able to reflect images as if it was made of glass. Zelos quickly reacted by shooting at them as he quickly threw a smoke grenade at the corner.
A moment later, the attackers shot lasers from behind the corner. Normally, these lasers would not be able to make a turn and hit Zelos, but that was where these plates came in. Reflecting off the plates’ surface, they could make a turn and head towards Zelos.
Zelos, who had already expected this attack, destroyed some of the plates before the laser beam was shot. Using the gaps he created, he avoided the incoming beams. He then pushed forward, past the corner, and shot at the enemies.
They quickly reacted to aim their cannons at him. However, the smoke grenade that Zelos had thrown beforehand, already bounced off the corner, landed close to their feet and finally started releasing smoke.
The smoke was infused with particles to counter energy weapons. It was able to effectively disperse and damp the laser cannon, greatly reducing its firepower. It was to the point where even if Zelos got hit, it would not be able to deal that much damage.
Since the smoke only affected a limited area, normally, enemies could just step back out of the affected area while keeping their distance. Thus, it was meaningless to use such smoke grenades from afar. However, in an enclosed space like this where they were in close range, the smoke was highly effective. Although the effects would only linger for a few seconds, it was enough to decide the battle. Zelos was certain that he had already won.
[You had spent too much effort adjusting your shots with the reflecting plates that you’ve made the mistake of adjusting your distance from me! This will be your end!]
Zelos stood still and released a relentless assault. He stood with a stance that prevented him from evading as they exchanged an intense barrage. The result for both parties greatly differed. Zelos got a slight burn on his cheek, while the enemies did not even retain their original shape. Zelos knew that the medicine inside their blood could bring them back from death, that was why he executed such a risky move. It was to ensure that his enemies were completely obliterated.
Zelos lowered his rifle and sighed. Pieces of the enemies were scattered on the ground. It was impossible to reconstruct their original form from such a state.
“Alright, that should do it. You really gave me a hard time.”
Zelos pinched off the scorched skin on his cheek and applied medicine paste to the area. Once he was done, he called his team. But, he suddenly noticed a sudden change in his radar.
It was at the end of the hallway. Normally, Zelos would have readied himself and not gotten flustered, but the location completely surprised him.
The signals came from behind, to be more precise, it was from the hallway, behind the corner where Zelos had just come from a moment ago. This completely caught him off-guard. There should be no enemy there.
Still, Zelos managed to quickly react by taking a shooting stance. The enemies were behind the corner, so he did not have a clear sight of them. Worse, he had used most of his ammo to make sure that the previous two enemies were dead for good. Thus, he was also worried about his ammo reserve. With the signals quickly heading towards him, he had no time to reload. Thus, instead of relying on his rifle, he put them back and unsheathed his blade before running toward the corner.
Zelos knew that at this rate, they would end up engaging at the corner, in close combat. Therefore, he could just use his blade and that range and finish up his enemies. And as he had predicted, they did make contact at the corner.
As Zelos swung down his blade, his face was filled with shock. The enemy was a huge bundle of flesh, which completely blocked the hallway. Judging from the size of the signal, Zelos had expected it to be something close to humanoid. However, this huge fleshy mess of a monster in front of him caught him off guard.
Naturally, the monster did not let any opening get unexploited and lunged to bite Zelos.
The wide-open jaw clamped hard, only to take out a piece of air. Zelos narrowly jumped away. He managed to use the opening of its jaw being close to launch a strike, slicing the monster cleanly into two. The carcass simply rolled over on the floor, without any further response.
Zelos did not stop there and quickly proceeded through the hallway.
[That was too weak! So, its frightening appearance is just for show, huh? But what the heck with its size!? The signal was not that huge! Just what in the world…]
As questions regarding the current situation ran in his head, the calm Hunter part of him urged him to hurry up.
Putting that aside, he was flanked in a one-way hallway with no branches. His team was left behind to secure the hallway. They should have prevented this from happening. Even so, he got flanked. This meant that the monster had broken through the secured hallway.
He just contacted his men a moment ago. Thus, there was fear of the monster killing his men so fast that they could not even afford the time to plead for help. If the monster broke through the secured hallway without killing his men, there was a good chance that his men were still alive.
Zelos prayed for the safety of his men as he hurried back to his men, if they were still alive, he might still be able to save them.
Zelos’ men were busy securing the hallway, they were surprised when they saw Zelos running at them. However, Zelos did not notice their bewilderment as he shouted.
“How is the situation!?”
“…? Nothing in particular over here.”
Zelo and his men exchanged a confused look.
“Zelos, what just happened?”
“…Wait for a sec… So, what exactly was that?”
His men were fine. They did not even encounter that huge monster in the first place. Zelos, who finally understood that, immediately turned solemn. He realized how bad the situation was.
“Everyone, retreat back to sector A7!”
“What? We’re pulling that far back? Are we going to just abandon the sector that we have secured? We will have to redo them again, you know?”
“That’s fine. Just forget about the sectors that we have secured. Think of them as unsecured sectors. I will tell you the reason later. Just get moving! Now!”
With that one order, everyone’s expression immediately turned serious. Although they still did not understand why Zelos would give out such an order, they knew that something must have happened. In other words, he had no other choice but to give such an order. They placed their trust in Zelos and they immediately started retreating.
With that, Zelos took his men and pulled out of the area.
The monster that Zelos had sliced into two and left behind started shrinking. When it had stopped shrinking, it returned back to its original form. It was the arm that Zelos had shot off the humanoid enemies a moment ago.
Akira was rubbing his head in front of the locked door.
Due to the ongoing battle nearby, the warehouse was put on emergency lockdown. Akira thought that it might be the security team fighting against the attackers, which was understandable. He did not mind joining the fight, but in order to do so, he would have to open the door in front of him first. However, because of that battle, the door could not be opened.
“Shirou, can you do something about this?”
“Even if you ask, this lock is no longer a simple identification lock.”
Akira frowned after hearing what he had said. It seems like Shirou could not help him this time. In the worst-case scenario, he would be locked inside this sector for some time. Akira sighed and mumbled.
“Well, this sucks…”
That was when Rebecca suddenly asked.
“You can’t open the door?”
“Yeah, it seems like it’s locked because there’s an ongoing fight occurring somewhere nearby.”
“I see… Uhmmm, in that case, how about we go out through the wall instead of the hallway? There’s actually an exit right over there…”
“Is that even possible?”
“Is it not? Did the operator say so?”
Akira raised his eyebrows. He did not expect her to say something like that. Seeing how he reacted, Rebecca frowned and apologetically said.
“Ah, you just said that the door won’t open because there is a battle nearby, so I just concluded there must be someone who told you that. So, that means, you must be in contact with an operator or something to open the doors… Sorry, were you trying to hide it?”
Judging from what she said, Rebecca noticed that he was talking to someone. However, it seemed like she was still unaware of him being an old-world connector. After all, there were information-gathering devices that could access the old-world domain and Akira had heard Hunters near the frontline had these kinds of information-gathering devices. Thus, he believed Rebecca must have assumed that he had one and calmed down.
“Ahh, right, just keep it a secret.”
“Okay. So then, is it not possible to get outside the transport vehicle?”
“Shirou, how is it?”
Akira threw that question just to at least hear Shirou’s opinion, but there was no reply.
“…Alright, let’s try that.”
Shirou paused for a bit before finally answering.
Akira stood in front of the door that led outside the transport vehicle.
“Shirou, I’m already in front of the door”
“I’m on my way there, just wait for a sec… Alright, I’m here, opening the door now.”
The door to the outside slowly slid open. That door was for human use and not to transport cargo, thus, it was a relatively small door. Still, it was big enough for Akira and his cases to pass through. The door that opened up by falling forward, turned into a pathway to the outside.
Akira stood on that door and extended both of his arms forward. The multi-legged cases that were following behind him up until now leapt forward and stacked themselves on top of his arms. What Akira needed to do now was just to jump off with his cases. Although it was from a height that might even be taller than that of a building, it was not a problem at all for the current Akira. When he peeked down, Shirou already moved the camping vehicle there as he was looking up, waiting for him.
“Rebecca, just to be safe, you can jump on your own, right? If not, we can jump together.”
“Alright, I’ll be going first then.”
Akira jumped off, but on his way down, he passed by Shirou, who was travelling up.
As soon as Akira landed, he immediately looked up. Shirou jumped up to where Akira was a moment ago using the power of his augmented suit.
Rebecca could not hide her shock the moment she saw Shirou suddenly appear in front of him.
Shirou smiled happily toward the girl who named herself ‘Rebecca’ in front of Akira.
No matter how much special treatment Sakashita Heavy Industry had given Shirou, opening an inter-city transport vehicle door to the outside was a huge crime. After all, it created a security vulnerability to the cube. In the worst-case scenario, Sakashita Heavy Industry might completely see him as an enemy. Even so, Shirou still did it. It was for the sake of rescuing his precious friend, even if it meant picking a fight against the five largest corporations of the eastern district.
The thought that he had finally made it was fully expressed on his face. Meanwhile, Haruka’s expression was one mixed with surprise and struggle.
“Shirou, why are you here? You should be in Sakashita’s research facility…”
“Yeah, I slipped out.”
Haruka, who understood what such an act meant, was aghast.
“What do you think you are do-!?”
“I’m here to rescue you.”
Hearing those words, Haruka was taken aback. She would never imagine that Shirou would go this far for her sake.
“And I can say the same thing to you too, why are you here? How did you get out of that place? Ah, no, that doesn’t matter now! Since you’re already here, I’ll take care of the rest! So, let’s go.”
Shirou extended his hand to Haruka. Her expression was filled with happiness as she extended her hand to reach out for his. But she suddenly stopped as her expression started to turn dark.
Shirou believed that Haruka was just getting worried, so he firmly declared.
“It’ll be alright. Although I look like this, I’m actually pretty amazing. I will handle the rest. Don’t worry. Trust me.”
However, Haruka could still not accept his hand. She managed to make a small and weak smile before she replied to Shirou.
“…Shirou, thank you, I’m really happy, I really am.”
Her expression then turned forlorn.
Haruka then kicked Shirou off the platform.
Shirou had waged everything to come here to rescue her. The rejection hit him hard. His face turned sorrowful as he fell.
Haruka was watching Shirou fall with an equally mournful expression.
Seeing Shirou get kicked off the platform and show no signs of preparing to land, Akira flusteredly caught him.
“Shirou, what are you doing?”
Akira’s confused voice pulled Shirou out from the shock of his own powerlessness and emotion took over his body. He thought that he should still be able to make it. Thus, he immediately tried to chase her. He quickly got off Akira’s arms but, the moment his feet landed on the ground, he stopped. [In terms of strength, I am no match against her. It will be impossible for me to make her talk with force. I would only get kicked down again if I tried…]
Shirou gritted his teeth as he cursed his own powerlessness. However, he quickly realized that there was someone who could do that for him.
“Akira! Get back to her! Please!”
“Get back? I don’t know what’s going on here, but she’s going to jump down, no?”
Akira said so and looked at Haruka. She was standing on top of the door, gazing down at Shirou. She then turned around, went back into the transport vehicle, and closed the door. Akira tilted his head in confusion. That was when the ground suddenly started to tremble. It was from the transport vehicle revving up its engine.
“Whoah, what the heck…?”
Akira was still confused by the rapid sudden change of events; Shirou suddenly grabbed Akira’s shoulder and shook him.
“Akira! Just go and get back to her! Otherwise, Haruka will be gone!!”
“Haruka? Isn’t that girl, Rebecca-”
“That doesn’t matter! Just go!? I don’t have the time to explain everything right now!!”
Akira was about to be spurred to action as Shirou kept hurrying him up like that, but Alpha stopped him with a solemn expression.
“Akira, no. Your equipment is more important.”
Thanks to that, Akira was reminded of his equipment and was able to regain his calm.
“Shirou, open the cases first. I’m here to get them in the first place. And, make sure to tell me the rest later.”
“Like I said, I don’t have the time-”
Akira turned and glared at him.
“My equipment first.”
With that, Shirou finally calmed down. He then glared back at Akira and asked.
“You’ll do my request first once your business here is done, right? That’s the promise.”
“And I’m here to get my equipment. I have the cases, but not what is inside. If you won’t open them here, I will have to go back to Kugamayama city first to open them. I’ll only do your request after that.”
Shirou glared hard at him, but Akira was unfazed.
“And also, although I will prioritize your request, it’s not like I’m willing to do just about anything without any information. If you want me to properly fulfill your request, you should properly explain everything to me first.”
In the middle of them speaking, Atlast D2771 started to move slowly. Shirou buckled under the pressure and relented. The camping vehicle started to accelerate under Shirou’s remote control, to race after Atlast D2771. Meanwhile, Shirou did as he was told.
“I’ll open the cases and give you an explanation while we chase that transport vehicle! Get on, now!”
Akira and Shirou immediately jumped into the camping vehicle.
After Haruka returned back inside the transport vehicle, her expression was dark. It was deeply clouded by the feeling of guilt for rejecting Shirou. She reminded herself of her duty and gave an order to the rest of her men.
“…Change of plans. We’re not going to wait until the retrieval team is here. We’re going, now!”
With that order, the transport vehicle that was stopped up until now, started to move. It was the proof that Haruka had seized complete control of the Atlast D2771.
[Shirou, how did he know that I was here? Was he sent by Sakashita Heavy Industry? If he came here because he received information from Sakashita Heavy Industry, Sakashita would send their army here too…]
Haruka then sighed and mumbled.
“Shirou, why are you here… At this timing…?”
Shirou was here to rescue her, and Haruka was equally happy and sad at the same time because of his sentiments.