Rebuild World - Chapter 268: Carol’s decision.
Chapter 268: Carol’s decision.
Akira rode his bike in the opposite direction of Kibayashi. After some time, he stopped behind a crumbled building and sighed.
“Well, it seems like no one is coming after me yet… right?”
Alpha smiled and nodded.
“Most Hunters still don’t know that you’re a bounty target now. So, it should be fine for the time being. Let’s use this chance to calmly think of a plan.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
When a bounty for a monster was up, a notice would be sent out from the Hunter Office to all Hunters in the area. This was how Hunters would receive this information. However, this was not the case for bounty targets that were human. It was to grant an opportunity for the parties involved to talk it out. Perhaps, they might be able to take back the bounty designation.
Although it did not take a lot of work to figure out when someone became a bounty target, it required someone to actively look for such information. As such, it took some time before it spread among the Hunters. This period of time was a form of an extension for the involved parties to negotiate.
In Akira’s case, since he had also been recognized as a monster, all private security firms contracted with City Management had already received a notice. It was only a matter of time before his bounty spread around, among the Hunters who were acquainted with him. Moreover, Akira had no wish to peacefully resolve this matter.
Since he could not return back to the city, his only choice was to spend his night in the middle of the wasteland. It was unclear how long he had to live out in the wasteland. He now had to be careful of both monsters and Hunters.
Akira was talking to Alpha about how to face this issue. Mid-conversation, he suddenly received a message from Carol through his Hunter code. The content was another code to access a certain secret line. Akira and Alpha looked at each other, after briefly hesitating, he decided to access that secret line.
“Akira, it seems like you’re alright. Thank goodness!”
“Carol, what is it?”
“Geez. Don’t give me that when you just left your bodyguard job without any explanation, right?”
Carol sounded a bit angry. Akira frowned and apologetically said.
“Ah, right. Sorry about that. I was in a hurry due to certain business, you see.”
“Well, I guess it can’t be helped then. But it seems like you’ve calmed down now. At least enough to have the time to call me back, right? So, let’s meet up and talk.”
Akira frowned. He paused for a bit before giving his reply.
“…Well, actually, a lot of things happened afterwards. So, it’s kind of hard to meet up right now, you see…”
Akira was trying to refuse while still being vague. However, Carol suddenly brought out the main point with a serious tone.
“If it’s about Lion Steel putting 50 billion Aurum on your head and Kugamayama city recognizing you as a monster, I already know.”
Akira was caught by surprise. He did not say anything. He did not even try to make an excuse. As he started putting his guard up toward her, Carol who already guessed his response, quickly added.
“Just to let you know, I have no wish to fight you. If you don’t believe me, then I guess meeting up will be impossible. And if you won’t change your mind no matter what, then, there’s no point in continuing this call. So, I’ll hang up.”
After that, Carol went silent. The anxious heavy mood continued. After a minute of silence, Akira lightly sighed and said.
“Alright, let’s meet up then.”
The mood immediately cleared up after that. Carol sounded extremely relieved as she replied.
“Thank you. Well then. How should we meet up? It’s not a good idea to just meet up somewhere randomly in the wasteland, right? If you have a good idea, feel free to tell me. I will abide by your decision. But, if you don’t have any good idea, I will try to think of something.”
“Let’s see then, in that case…”
Akira and Alpha discussed through telepathy, how and where to meet up with Carol.
“Alright. Let’s talk about the rest later then… Akira.”
“Thank you for trusting me. I’m really happy that you did.”
Carol jovially said before closing the call.
Akira raised his eyebrows. He seemed rather taken aback by her remark. Meanwhile, Alpha looked worriedly at him and asked.
“Akira, are you sure you’re okay with this? It’s 50 billion Aurum, you know? It won’t be strange if she changes her mind later because of the bounty.”
Akira bitterly smiled.
“Well, I bet that would be the case for most people, but Carol can get 10 billion Aurum in a single night. So, I guess five times of that would not be that much of a difference from her point of view, no?”
Although it was not like Akira completely trust Carol, he had at least one reason to not be unnecessarily suspicious of her.
“Well, I won’t deny that, but there’s no guarantee she won’t betray us either, you know?”
“A guarantee never existed anywhere in the first place. Moreover, Kibayashi also advised me not to simply abandon any negotiations that come my way.”
Akira had become a bounty target with a 50 billion Aurum prize on his head. However, due to the power struggle inside Kugamayama city and between branches of the Lion Steel company, not to mention negotiator firms, there was a good chance all kinds of people were trying to get in contact with him for various reasons. If he could handle them well, it could buy him a good amount of time. That was why Kibayashi advised him to not just toss aside opportunities to negotiate. Kibayashi even went as far as to offer to take over negotiations in his stead if he found it too cumbersome.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect someone to contact me this soon. But it’s not like we’re strangers and I did work for her up until just now. Also, with you around, I bet that it’ll be fine.”
Although Akira’s argument was not foolproof, since he brought up Alpha as one of his reasons, she could no longer say no. Alpha then bitterly smiled. There was a tinge of joy in her smile. It was a smile indicative of her allowing Akira to do as he wishes.
“Well, it can’t be helped then. But make sure to not completely lower your guard, okay?”
Watching her warn him with a smile, Akira also smiled back at her.
“I know. Let’s go.”
Akira started his bike and went to the meeting location.
Carol took her camping vehicle and headed west from Mihazono ruin. As the dusk settled in, she deliberately chose the route that her camping vehicle could easily go through.
The scanner installed in the camping vehicle showed signals cropping up here and there. Those signals must be from monsters, considering that she was in the middle of the wasteland. Thanks to the noisy engine of her large sized-vehicle, none of the signals tried to approach it. Seeing that, Carol thought there should be no issues as she kept on driving. However, suddenly, a signal appeared nearby.
Carol, who immediately noticed this signal, raised her guard. However, she suddenly heard Akira’s voice through the close-range communication line.
“It’s me, Akira.”
Not only had Akira predicted Carol’s route, but he had also cloaked himself with Alpha’s support. He used the camouflaging function of his augmented suit and used a thin layer of forcefield armour around his bike to reduce his presence. With the help of Alpha’s detection capability, he first confirmed that no one was tailing Carol before approaching her camping vehicle.
“Just keep going and open the back door.”
Carol turned the autopilot function on and went to the back of the vehicle. She then opened the back door, which was connected to the back room, used for storage.
The moment it had sufficiently opened up, Akira released the accelerator and jumped in. The door immediately closed shut right away to prevent any information from leaking out.
“Akira, welcome back. You can go and take a break… Or so I want to say, but first, let’s do maintenance on your equipment. I’ll help out.”
The camping vehicle was filled with Akira’s reserve ammo and supplies. Originally, he was planning to be Carol’s bodyguard for an indefinite amount of time. Thus, he had prepared a lot of supplies.
“Thanks and sorry.”
Akira checked and refilled his equipment with her help. Reloading all magazines for his rifles. He reloaded the ammo in his bike, replacing energy packs for his rifles and augmented suit. He also recharged the bike’s energy tank, replaced the blade, and refilled the liquid metal inside the bike’s container tank. Once they were done, he took some more medicine and quenched his dry throat with a drink that Carol had brought in. He finally let out a huge sigh. With this, he had somewhat recovered after that battle back in Mihazono ruin.
“Akira, before we talk, do you want to take a bath first?”
“Yep. A bath. I’m sure you’re exhausted, right? I bet our conversation will take a while, so I’ll feel bad to make you talk while you haven’t freshened up.”
“I’m fine if it’s only this much…”
“Furthermore, it’s not like you can return back to the city, right? In the worst-case scenario, this might be our last meeting.”
Akira suddenly turned silent, seeing that, Carol then casually added as if it was normal.
“Ah, just to let you know, if you think that it should be fine as long as you don’t get too close to the city, that would be a mistake, okay? Most cities normally contract private security firms to watch over the area around them. Since Kugamayama city has recognized you as a monster, I bet it will not be easy to approach Kugamayama city.”
That sentence hit Akira right where it was hurt. He could not help but frown. For Akira, who was already used to taking a bath at least once per day, it was extremely important for him. After a few seconds of hesitation, he finally made an extremely difficult decision.
“U-uh, thanks. But let’s finish our discussion first. We don’t know what might happen later, so let’s first deal with my purpose for coming here.”
“Is that so? Well, in that case, let’s talk over there.”
Carol went to the living room. Akira followed behind her, wondering if he had made the wrong decision.
They both sat face to face in the living room. First, they exchanged information on what was going on. Carol showed information she had received from Viola to him, information that had no alterations. Since Viola was also interested in information pertaining to Akira, she gathered much about him in a short span of time.
It included his battle against Chloe. The reason was due to a breakdown in negotiations regarding a certain relic between him and the Lion Steel Eastern District Third Ward branch. It was not rare for the situation to unfold in such a manner. Especially when a certain Hunter did not want to let go of a particular relic no matter what, while on the other hand, a large company was doing whatever it could to obtain said relic regardless of the cost. Therefore, when presented to third parties, who would normally be suspicious of any information alterations, they did not doubt the authenticity of this record. Thus, everyone outside of the parties involved believed this to be the case.
After digesting how others viewed the situation, it was Akira’s turn. He explained in chronological order what had happened between him and Chloe. He did so without hiding anything. After hearing the story, Chloe raised her eyebrows.
“…So, it was all about lending that card? And that card is no longer even in your possession? At that point, no matter who had possession of that card, it should have been dealt with within the Lion Steel company. An inner conflict which you have nothing to do with? You did that, even though you could make the Lion Steel company deeply indebted to you if you just said that you would lend them the card?”
“…Yep. Pretty much.”
Akira said while looking a bit offended. Seeing how he reacted, Carol smiled and tried to lighten his mood.
“I’m sorry if I offended you. I don’t mean to blame you. That part of you that is so unyielding, is also the reason why you’re so adamant about contracts and agreements. To be honest, I like that part of you, you know? That’s why I know I can trust you.”
“I-is that so?”
Akira was a bit weirded out, seeing how Carol was happily gazing at him. Although he did not regret his decision, he knew that common sense would dictate his actions as foolish. Something done solely out of his vain pride. But even so, he could tell that Carol was evaluating him highly. At least, for that quality of his – just like Kibayashi. Thanks to that, Akira felt a bit irritated.
“Now then, since we’re done with sharing what we know, let’s get onto the main topic. Well, it’s actually quite simple, really. I want you to continue working as my bodyguard.”
Akira frowned. Although he understood what she had said, he could not understand why. He re-evaluated what he had just heard to make sure that he had not mistakenly heard her. However, even after reconfirming, it still sounded as though Carol still wanted him to continue working as her bodyguard. Thus, he could not help but look at her in bewilderment.
“…Wait for a sec, I’m a bounty target right now. A 50 billion bounty target. Many Hunters will come after me.”
“If I’m around you in this state, you will definitely get involved too, you know?”
“And I can’t get into Kugamayama city since I am recognized as a monster. Meanwhile, the Lion Steel company sees me as an enemy.”
“I know that too. Listen, Akira. We both know already. Very well in fact, from the information exchange that we did just now, right? I understand all the risks and still want you to be my bodyguard.”
Akira frowned and pulled his head back. The reason ‘why’ could still not be figured out. Unable to answer that question, he eventually mumbled a short question.
He could not understand why someone would still ask him to be their bodyguard. Unlike Akira, who was obviously confused, Carol was completely calm.
“Well, I wonder what exactly you are asking. That question could consist of the reason I want you as my bodyguard. It could also be asking for the details of how I decided after considering all the risks involved. Since there are all kinds of reasons and more questions associated with them, there will be no end to it… So, I’ll just state the overview. I understand all the benefits and the drawbacks. In the end, I still believe that having you as my bodyguard brings me more benefits than drawbacks. That’s why I decided that I still want you to protect me.”
Carol said so with a serious expression as she leaned forward.
“So, what’s your answer? Are you going to accept my bodyguard request?”
Akira knew his heart was beating hard. As he tried to calm his chaotic thoughts, he wanted to voice out a question. However, before he could ask, Carol stopped him and warned.
“Let me state this first. If you are going to reject my request because you’re a bounty target, worried about getting me involved in your troubles, I will clearly state, once again, that I accept that risk. As I said before, I already know the risks when I request you to once again be my bodyguard.”
Now that his question had been answered before he could ask, Akira became silent. Thus, Carol continued.
“If you can’t accept because it will bring you too much trouble, I will do my best to compensate. So, what’s the problem? Do tell me if you still have any issues. This is how negotiations work, after all.”
Akira tried to think of the drawbacks if he accepted the job. Other than getting Carol involved in his problems, there were no other issues. Thinking about it, it was Carol who would be more likely to be negatively affected by this deal.
“It’s true that I might slow you down if you have to protect me. But on the other hand, I can also help you, right? Since I brought pretty good equipment myself, I’m sure I won’t cause you that much trouble. Or at least, it should be enough to compensate for the trouble that I might cause you.”
Carol smiled and started talking about the benefits that Akira could receive.
Since he would be working together with her, naturally, he would have access to her camping vehicle. Even if he had to live out in the middle of the wasteland, he would still have access to a fluffy bed and a warm bath. He could also stock up a lot of ammo and food inside her vehicle. Even if he wandered the wasteland for months, his standard of living would be vastly different compared to if he was to live on top of his bike.
In terms of safety. It was also much safer. After all, he could use the camping vehicle’s powerful scanner. The vehicle’s armour was also much tougher than his bike. In terms of fighting capability, it was no doubt better to have Carol’s assistance rather than having to fight alone. There was nothing but benefits.
The deal hardly had any drawbacks to him, which Carol explained. Even so, he could not simply bring himself to nod and agree. Instead, he started looking a bit troubled, with a tinge of suspicion.
As expected, Carol could not keep smiling when faced with suspicion.
“To be honest, I believe that it’s a good offer. That’s why I had the confidence to ask you to meet up. Is there something that you don’t like?”
Akira showed an expression indicating that he understood why she found his reaction to be dissatisfying. Nonetheless, he frowned and stated.
“Well, to be honest, I do think that it’s an amazing offer.”
“Then, what’s the problem?”
Carol asked and stared at him, solemnly. There was a slight tinge of anxiety and desperation in her eyes.
The reason why Akira could not simply agree was because that offer was just too good to be true. Instead of taking this great offer as a good opportunity, he could not help but to get suspicious, believing it to be some kind of trap.
Akira did think of asking Alpha, but eventually decided not to. He told himself to at least decide this matter on his own. If it was indeed a trap, then that just meant he was a fool. Furthermore, he did accept a bodyguard request from Carol before. At that time, he also had his suspicions. Thus, this time, he once again decided to deal with this matter on his own.
The less he relied on Alpha, the more time he needed to evaluate his options. As he thought in silence, Carol started to tense up. She was obviously getting desperate. After a little bit more silence, Akira, who noticed her expression, thought, [maybe I’m just overthinking things?]
“Just answer this question for me. I’m someone who did what others deem unthinkable. I’ve tossed negotiations with a huge company like Lion Steel aside. To top it off, I got into a fight with them and ended up with a bounty on my head worth 50 billion Aurum. Are you sure you want someone like me to be your bodyguard? If I take this job and get involved in some kind of incident, I don’t mind. So long as it’s not because of me. I know you’ve considered the possibility before asking me. You’ve said it yourself. But there’s a limit on how far you are willing to compromise, right? So, are you really sure?”
From other’s point of view, those with common sense, Akira definitely had a few screws loose. Akira knew that and was aware of it to some extent. However, surface awareness did not mean that he could stop himself from thinking and acting in such a manner.
That was why Akira could not help but get suspicious when someone asked a person like him to be their bodyguard. By thinking so, it meant that he did not trust Carol. However, it was a fact that he at least trusted her to be there in the first place. Minimally, he saw Carol as not an enemy and that she had no wish to cause harm to him.
Akira knew that it was pointless to ask her to tell him all the details – why she wanted him to be her bodyguard. Carol had already told him that it was not something that would make them enemies.
Nonetheless, Akira could not simply unconditionally trust her. On the flip side, that also meant that he could trust her conditionally. As if seeking to fulfil that condition, he curiously questioned her.
Meanwhile, Carol was a bit taken back by Akira’s suspicion. She continued to lightly smile and said.
“Are you that worried about it? Don’t worry. As I said before, I’m fine with it as long as it’s not your fault. And from what I’ve heard from you, Lion Steel’s bounty is not your fault.”
Carol casually stated, as if to indicate that she truly did not mind.
However, in contrast to her casual attitude, Akira’s reaction was by no means small. His eyes widened. This news has come as a huge surprise to him. Even Carol was surprised by his reaction.
“Akira, what’s wrong?”
“Ah, no, it’s nothing… So, about me getting into a fight with them, you think that it is not my fault?”
Seeing how he questioned her rather timidly, Carol noticed that it seems like she had won some points from him. Thus, she stated her real thoughts.
“Yeah. I mean, although the scale of the incident was by no means small, in the end, the main reason why that happened was because they tried to use force to get something from you. You simply fought back, right? That would mean you were not the one at fault. They were.”
“Well, if I am being honest, I do think that this is one of your character flaws. You have no hesitation in accepting a fight against a huge company like Lion Steel. But I guess it’s way too late to be complaining about that at this point. Since it had something to do with your pride as well, it’s not like anyone has a say in it, right?”
After Carol said as much, she smiled rather confidently at him.
“Moreover, as the one being protected, I think that part of you works well for me. After all, it means you will not simply abandon your job as my bodyguard even in the face of a tremendously strong opponent, right? After all, you rejected an offer from a company as large as Lion Steel, regardless of how good their offer was. So, I can expect you to properly protect me no matter what.”
Akira bitterly chuckled.
“Hmm… I guess it really depends on what point of view you look at, huh?”
Carol smiled back, a moment later, her expression turned serious.
“…So then, what’s your answer? If you’re okay with it, I wish you will continue being my bodyguard.”
“Alright. I’ll do it.”
In contrast to Carol, who asked with a serious and desperate expression, as though it was her last chance, Akira replied with ease. Although she was happy to hear his answer, it also made her feel a bit troubled.
“Thank you, that’s a big help… But if you’re going to accept it that casually, you could have just accepted it right from the start, right? Are you having fun teasing me or something? I don’t really think highly of someone who would play with a girl’s heart like that, you know?”
As Carol asked, half-jokingly, she started moving her body as if to seduce him. Akira simply gave a soft smile and replied.
“That’s not it. Well, ever since I got recognized as a monster and got a bounty on my head, I may have become a little bit more paranoid than usual. Sorry about it. I will properly do my job. So, I hope you can take my commitment as an apology.”
“Does that mean I can expect you to properly protect me?”
“Though I look like this, I take my job seriously. So, well, you can at least expect me to do my job.”
“Oh? Would that include accepting payment on top of the bed?”
“That would be a no.”
“That’s just too bad.”
Akira and Carol smiled at each other after exchanging banter. However, with this, Akira once again became her bodyguard.
Seeing that, Alpha smiled while staring at them, deeply.
As the camping vehicle ran through the wasteland wrapped in the darkness of the night, Akira was recuperating his body, enjoying the bath. It had been a very long, exhausting day for him. So, he allowed his body to be lulled by the warm water, satisfying his desire for a bath.
Alpha was sitting in the bathtub, naked, as usual. Her skin and hair were as graceful and lustrous as always. However, non-existent water droplets were running down her skin, hair, and bosom, before dropping into the warm water. This greatly boosted her sex appeal. As always, it was in clear view for him. Nonetheless, as always, he completely ignored it.
Up until now, everything was as usual. However, Alpha’s expression was a little bit off than her usual expression. She seemed a bit more worried than usual.
“Akira, it might be a little bit too late to ask this now. But are you sure you’re fine with retaking this job?”
Akira shifted his gaze to her. He thought that she was wearing a rather unusual expression as he replied.
“Hm? It’s fine, isn’t it? Thanks to that, I can get to bathe like this, after all.”
“Honestly speaking, I don’t think your safety can be easily exchanged for a bathing time, you know?”
“I don’t think I’m exchanging anything for this time to bathe though, or did I?”
“It’s the risk of protecting her. This is while we are still uncertain what exactly she is so scared of.”
“Well, I can understand that argument. But, it’s the same situation as the first time I accepted this job. So, why would I worry about it now?”
“Our situation back then is not the same as it is now. It is now clear that Carol is so frightened by something that she believes it’s better to have someone in a conflict with the Lion Steel company, who is recognized as a monster by Kugamayama city and has a 50 billion Aurum bounty, to protect her. I know that she has her reasons, but now that it has come to this, it’s impossible to ignore the potential risk. A danger she perceives as great than the danger you are involved in.”
Akira gave a slight nod. It showed that he agreed with her argument. However, that still did not change his decision.
“Well, I bet she has her reasons. But Carol still decided to do so knowing that she might get involved in my issues too. So, it’s more like we’re roping onto each other’s problem, no? As for me, personally speaking, I completely expect that level of risk considering she brought up such a good offer to me.”
Akira released a small sigh caused by the nice warm bath. He touched the warm water with a pleasant smile.
“Moreover, had I not accepted this job, I would be spending the night in the middle of the wasteland right now, correct? And that won’t be only for one or two days… In the worst-case scenario, I might have to be out there for 3 whole months… That would be no fun at all… I might have been able to do it back then when it was normal for me to sleep in a random back alleyway. But that’s not possible for the current me. So, I’ll at least do this much if I can avoid having to sleep in some random alley inside the wasteland.”
Akira smiled bitterly and shook his head. Alpha sighed with exasperation and asked.
“Good grief. You really have gotten used to this lifestyle, huh? If you accept Carol’s request just because of this, what would you do if she betrays you?”
“I bet it will be fine. And even if that happens, I will think of something when the time comes.”
After Akira casually proclaimed, he frowned and tilted his head. He just noticed that for some reason, Alpha was being abnormally cautious of Carol. While he took notice, Alpha smiled confidently and stated.
“Just leave it to me when that happens.”
Seeing her expression, Akira believed Alpha was only acting out of caution, which also emphasized how valuable her support was. Thus, he smiled wryly.
“Yeah yeah, I’ll be counting on you when the time comes.”
Akira then allowed his consciousness to melt into the warm water while he looked at her smile.
On the other hand, Alpha reminded herself to be more careful of him while smiling at the boy who was lulled by the warm bath.
The question of what he would do if Carol betrayed him was only a check. If it was the Akira of the past, Alpha was certain he would have firmly responded with ‘I’ll just kill her when that happens’.
However, Akira’s answer was different this time. He only said that it should be fine. This demonstrated his belief that such a possibility was small. Even if that happened, he would simply react casually. This showed how unlikely it was for him to quickly jump to murder to deal with the aftermath.
Everyone needed some form of recognition. Akira was not an exception. Therefore, Akira thought highly of Carol, who recognized and justified his actions during his quarrel with Chloe back in Mihazono ruin – where he was not at fault. Alpha believed that was the reason why he treated her differently now.
While Alpha concluded what had happened, she continued to ponder. [It’s a fact that I was the first one to affirm his actions. As the one who did it first, I believe the effect is bigger.]
Alpha told herself that she got lucky in affirming his actions. As she was looking at Akira, who was focused on enjoying the bath, she thought that it might be better to warn him not to sleep on the same bed with Carol. After all, it would be horrendous if an accident occurred.
In front of the only person who could see her right now, Alpha continued to smile. She gave a suggestion just as usual. Though, her judgment regarding this individual had changed.
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