Chapter 245: Shirous Sight-Seeing
Inside the upper district of Kugamayama city, there was an area that was rented specifically for Saka**a Heavy Industry. Sugadomes office was located there, and in that office, Hammerz was lowering his head after giving his report regarding Shirous escape.
“I have no excuse to give for my failure.”
It was obvious from his expression that he was extremely vexed by his blunder. In contrast to that, Sugadome seemed relatively calm.
Sugadome did not seem that angry from that mistake as he told Hammerz to raise his head. After that, he then said.
“It was indeed very regrettable, but I have no wish to blame you for what happened. He escaped when you were not around him and it was us who told you to leave his side to get your injuries treated. If I must blame someone, that would be the person who ordered you to do that. Otherwise, you would have seen through Shirous lie.”
Hammerz seemed confused there, Matsubara who was standing by next to Sugadome then explained to him.
Shirou sent a help request to Saka**a heavy Industry using the old-world connection, he mentioned that Hammerz was badly injured. So, in the request, he asked to allow Hammerz to treat his wounds and also asked for an escort replacement. Moreover, he stated that he did not feel safe having people not from Saka**a guard him, so he had requested the escorts to be cyborgs and he be given control over their bodies.
On the other hand, Hammerz reported that he was mostly fine. But Shirou told the staff beforehand that the battle both inside and outside the transport vehicle was so bad that they even destroyed a portion of the transport vehicle. Thus, that staff thought that Hammerzs report was him trying to sound tough due to his loyalty toward his duty.
After hearing how things played out, Hammerz could not help but frown as he mumbled.
“That damn brat…”
Hammerz unconsciously leaked out his rage, when he realized it, he flusteredly calm himself down. Matsubara shed a few cold sweats due to that intense anger. But Sugadome was completely fine as he lightly smiled and tried to calm Hammerz down.
“As Im also a part of the commanding team, Ill have to apologize as we will handle this on our own. Shirous report was difficult to discern if it was truthful or not and the risk was too high if we were to make the wrong decision. As such, I believe that the correct decision was made under the limited information we had. Now that Ive informed you about it, can you please take it as our blunder as the commanding team”
Hammerz flusteredly shook his head.
“N-No, I didnt mean to blame you at all…”
“I see, thank you.”
Sugadome then changed the subject.
“Now then, about the current incident, it was indeed a blunder on the Saka**as side. For the sake of Saka**as reputation, we must rectify this. Im sure you have your own thought regarding the matter. If anyone is blaming you for it, you can just tell me. Ill take care of it. As I said before, were not blaming you at all. But if you feel responsible for it, I hope you can help us. Do you have anything you wish from us”
Hammerz replied with a serious face.
“If its possible, rather than assigning me to guard another old-world connector, I want to be assigned to look for Shirou.”
Sugadomes smile widened.
“Very well, you can go ahead and do your own investigation, you may also join the search team if you want. You know Shirou very well, so I bet its better if you act separately without the limitation of a team. You have the freedom to do what you want.”
“Thank you very much, Ill definitely answer your expectation.”
“In that case, I shall look forward to the results. You can go now.”
Hammerz bowed deeply and left the room with a face full of determination.
Matsubara frowned and said after Hammerz left.
“That seems to be a rather lax decision, are you really okay with that”
Sugadome replied casually.
“Being strict is not the only method when dealing with others, that is doubly true when someone strongly wishes to rectify their mistake.”
“That might be true, but…”
“Did you find it inadequate”
“Not at all. I was just curious. I dont find it wrong at all…”
Matsubara then changed the subject as if to escape from the topic.
“Talking about curiosity, theres also that matter with the transport convoys ambush. If that ambush was really for the sake of kidnapping our corporations old-world connector, that ambush has many questionable points.”
“Which points are you talking about exactly”
“The ambush was way too sloppy. It would not be strange for their target to be killed with how they executed their plan. It also damaged many of the transport vehicles. Even if their aim was not to kidnap, but to kill, it was way too half-hearted. Well, theyre not like our military, so it might as well have been because their men were too amateurish and lacked the necessary skills…”
“I bet they actually didnt care about Shirou-kun.”
Matsubara raised his eyebrows; he did not understand why Sugadome said that.
“Excuse me, but I couldnt understand what you just said… Its hard to believe that they didnt care about Shirou considering they caused that much ruckus for the sake of searching for him…”
“Well, saying they dont care was indeed an exaggeration. But I bet their real goal was something else. That incident must be not that important for their real goal. Something like: it would be great if they could kidnap Shirou-kun alive. However, it was fine if he dies as well. As a matter of fact, it doesnt really matter if that operation succeeded.”
Matsubara was even more confused, so Sugadome proceeded to explain his hypothesis to Matsubara.
Based on the scale and teamwork of the enemies during that ambush, it could be inferred that it was done by multiple organizations. Although they were using the Nationalists name and the report was also saying that they were from the Nationalist, they might actually be people from the other corporations disguising themselves as the Nationalist.
It was not rare for corporations to wage war against each other while blaming the attacks on the Nationalists. When their involvement surfaces, they would shift the blame by saying that it was because the Nationalists had infiltrated their ranks. They would then give a public apology and pay some compensation.
The one receiving the payment often knew that it was only an excuse and just let it slide. The bigger the corporation involved, the more they tend to solve incidents like this. After all, if they refused to accept that it was an attack from the Nationalists, they would risk an all-out war between big corporations.
If that all-out war occurs between the five big corporations, it would greatly affect their sphere of influence and government in the eastern district. In the worst-case scenario, it might entirely wipe out the eastern district. Thus, in order to keep the current world from destroying itself, big companies would simply accept that excuse.
If the big companies other than Saka**a worked together with an organization connected to the Nationalists or even with the Nationalist itself just to kidnap one old-world connector, it would definitely cause trouble later on how they would split the reward. In the worst-case scenario, it might even be better for them to fail.
After listening to Sugadomes explanation, Matsubara nodded in agreement and thought that something was still amiss.
“Isnt that a bit too weak as a reason to just ignore his safety If their aim were simply to cause damage to Saka**a Heavy Industry, it means that their main goal in that operation had to be something else. But that ambush was obviously aimed at Shirou. It is hard to believe that they dont really care about him considering the size of the assault squad that they had prepared in order to kidnap him.”
“As I said before, that is like a side mission which is insignificant compared to their main goal. Thats just how it is. To put it simply, this ambush is just one part of a bigger scheme.”
“An ambush of that scale And its nothing but just one part of a bigger scheme In that case, what is this bigger scheme of theirs”
“This is just my guess, but I bet its to confirm something.”
The already confused Matsubara was even more confused than before, Sugadomes gaze turned serious as he then explained.
“Just how serious is Saka**a Heavy Industry in reclaiming Kuzusuhara ruin Its that kind of confirmation. It seems that ever since the great transport season started, they have been sending more and more monsters from the east bit by bit, I bet they were trying to confirm it ever since that time.”
The monsters from further east that were sent here were strong enough to be designated as bounty monsters in Kugamayama city. It was to test if Saka**a Heavy Industry would still send their important personnel into an area with such abnormality.
It was a check to see how far Saka**a would go in order to transport their important personnel to Kugamayama city for the sake of reclaiming Kuzusuhara ruin. It was all just for confirmation. Shirous kidnap attempt only meant that much to them. Thus, it was not that important for them to successfully kidnap Shirou. They were only testing how Saka**a would react, as such, their real aim had already been fulfilled.
Matsubara was so surprised after hearing that explanation. He then returned back to himself and inadvertently asked.
“I-Is it really that important To the point that they would go that far!!”
“Its just my guess. Its from someone responsible for the transport request, connecting the dots without any evidence. So, I believe it doesnt really serve as a good hypothesis. At the very least, I believe that theres something in Kuzusuhara ruin that would even rope in the other big 5 corporations. At the very least, the upper echelons, Tatsumori and Tsukisada must know something.”
Sugadome had a serious look on his face as he continued.
“Judging from how the big five reacted, there is something there that is big enough to shift the power balance between us, or at least, that possibility exists and is very likely. Well, I bet if any evidence which confirms my hypothesis and that thing were to come up, Tatsumori and Tsukisada would even go as far as to openly wage a war against us. So, they should not have strong evidence about the existence of such a thing. Thats why I believe they went this far to check our reaction. In order to probe if we know something about that thing as well.”
Matsubara was so surprised that he did not know what to say. Thus, Sugadome casually continued.
“If I may add one more thing, I bet that something is also the reason why Yanagisawa is so obsessed with staying in Kugamayama city.”
“Do you think that he knows the existence of such a thing with absolute certainty And hes trying to get it”
“Dont even think about trying to dig it out from him. Its fine to just keep our distance and monitor him. In the worst-case scenario, he might even counter investigate us, and it would be a huge pain in the neck if he infiltrates Saka**a.”
Matsubara tensed up as he realized that he had heard something that was of vital importance. Sugadome then relaxed as if to ease the tense mood.
“Well, currently, its nothing but just a guess. Theres no need to be overly concerned by it. At the very least, we are actually not that serious about exploring Kuzusuhara ruin and we both know that. The problem is that there are people who dont know that.”
Due to Yanagisawas deal with Tsubaki, the relics carried out from the area under Tsubaki to Kugamayama city had brought the city a huge inflow of capital. To guard the area under Tsubaki, City Management bought many expensive powered suits from the front-line. The manufacturer of those powered suits were the corporations under Saka**a, that was why Saka**a earned quite a hefty sum from the deal as well.
That was also the reason why Saka**a Heavy Industry was willing to lend their old-world connector to Yanagisawa. But for those who did not know that, it seemed to them as if Sak**a was gathering a powerful military force in Kugamayama city.
The information control that Sak**a put up for the sake of Shirous safety as well the effort they took to conceal his escape seemed like Saka**a was trying to hide their military movement around the city.
Moreover, considering Yanagisawas involvement as well, those who did not know the full story had enough suspicion to interfere with their business.
To top it off, at the moment, there were many factions and people gathered in Kugamayama city, which invited a lot of misunderstandings.
After Sugadome gave a short explanation regarding the matter, he then gave one order to Matsubara.
“Though I said quite a lot of things back there, theres no need for you to be worried about it. You just need to focus on finding Shirou-kun at the moment. Go. I will be waiting for your report.”
Matsubara lightly bowed and left the room.
Now that Sugadome was left alone in the room, his face turned serious and his gaze was turned to the middle of the room, there was a holographic projector in the middle of the room.
The device recognized Sugadomes voice and started working. After a short time, an image of a young boy appeared in Sugadomes vision.
“Hows the progress”
The young boy frowned.
“Like hell I can do anything in such a short span of time. Ill contact you when we get some progress.”
“Whether theres progress or not, its important to give a regular report, you know”
He then sighed. The young boy using Saka**a Heavy Industrys secret line was Shirou.
On the night when Shirou escaped, when Sugadome entered his room, he saw someone there. Someone he did not expect. This figure was created by a holographic device, which had been turned on remotely, showing a figure of someone familiar. It was Shirou.
Sugadome was a bit surprised since he did not expect that at all, but he quickly sighed exasperatedly and looked at Shirou.
“Youre a pretty rude brat, you know that You can at least make an appointment beforehand.”
Shirou was surprised. He did not expect that Sugadome would be this calm. But he quickly returned to his usual smile and said to Sugadome.
“Well, my apologies. I do feel bad for coming without saying anything first, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to make an appointment at the moment. Though I do feel that I should talk to you directly about this.”
Sugadome took a seat. He then tapped on the table with his finger as if to let Shirou know of his location.
“In that case, you should have come here directly.”
Shirou laughed awkwardly.
“Well, to be honest, thats a little difficult for me at the moment.”
Shiorus response had two meanings. It was impossible for a virtual image to transform into his real self and it was also impossible for his real body to go there.
Sugadome lightly sighed.
“So then, are you here to share with me the progress of your escape Or more like, why did you escape in the first place Im pretty sure we didnt restrict your freedom much to the point that you would want to run away like that. Tell me if theres anything that you dont like about how weve treated you. Your motivation to do your job is proportional to our profits. So, well do our best to accommodate your wishes.”
Shirou exaggeratedly shook his head.
“No no no, thats not the problem at all. Im actually thankful for letting me live in such a life of luxury, and I really mean it.”
“So then, in that case, why did you run off”
“Well, uhh, what can I say. I just thought of walking freely outside for a bit, you see.”
“Very well. But its dangerous to walk around without a bodyguard, you know Ill send some people to escort you right away, can you tell me your location right now”
“Eh But that would be Hammerz, right It would be a bit awkward… It wont be much fun walking around with someone like that…”
“In that case, we can send you a girl, you can even choose what kind of girl you want.”
“Well, to be honest, Im quite shy… So like, it would be really awkward to walk around with an unknown girl no matter how beautiful she is.”
Sugadome showed a will to compromise, but Shirou kept coming up with a reason not to. Although they seemed to be just be talking casually from the outside, they were actually carefully probing what the other person was thinking.
“Well, to be honest, its not like I have any wish to defect to Tatusmori or the other corporations. Ill return back once I have my fill of walking around, thats why I wish you can let this slide. That will be okay, right”
When they could not find any middle ground, Shirou suddenly made a demand believing that there was no longer any point in continuing their conversation.
“Well, lets talk about something else then. Actually, Im in control of the security of this room. That is why I can use this secret line to hijack the holographic device in the room.”
“That seems to indeed be the case. Well, I think its unreasonable to demand other places to have the same high-quality security like what we have in Saka**as facilities to prevent you from hacking.”
“No no no, I had a hard time trying to get in here, you know By normal standards, the security system here is already pretty strict. Thats why theres nothing for you to worry about. So, putting that aside, Im basically in control of the safety of that room. Just a little bit of change is enough to kill anyone inside it. With that being said, I wish you can let me roam outside for a bit.”
Shirou smiled and threatened Sugadome, but Sugadome did not relent at all.
“If you think you have to go so far, you can go ahead and do it. Im sure you know well what it means to pick a fight with Saka**a.”
That calm reply from Sugadome did not show any kind of pressure, it was so casual as if he was only talking about the previous days weather.
But that was enough to make Shirou shiver. Sugadomes casual warning meant that he was completely okay with Shirou being dead. After all, there was a part of him that was completely fine with giving an order to throw someone into inhumane experiments.
At the moment, Shirou had not really picked a fight with Saka**a yet. But he was bordering on doing just that. Shirou understood knew the weight of what Sugadome had said. While he was teetering along that border, he was trying to play it cool as if he was trying to trick Sugadome. He smiled bitterly and apologized.
“Sorry, I was joking too much, Im sorry.”
There was a short silence between Shirou, who desperately trying to regain his calm, and Sugadome, whos carefully watching him. After that, Sugadome was the first one to break the silence.
“Lets return to the matter at hand. As long as you dont accept any escort, we cant let you roam free. Thats why Ill have you do work for me.”
“Do you know an AI by the name of Tsubaki”
“Of course, shes the caretaker AI of a certain area inside Kuzusuhara ruin. I dont know the details, but she made a deal with Kugamayama city. Although Saka**a sent someone to negotiate with her, everyone including the escorts was killed while the negotiator was only left with his head, right”
“Thats correct. I want you to create a negotiation route with that AI.”
“No no no, that would be impossible. Im not that good with negotiation.”
“If you can access the old-world domain, Im sure at least she wont kill you like those escorts.”
“No no no. That kind of AI will actually come for my head thinking that I was trying to hack her if I try to contact her through the old-world domain. In terms of the risk of death, its the same as those escorts you had sent there. Im sure you already know this yourself, right”
“If youre talking about the risk, isnt it the same considering you want to walk around without escorts”
That was then the first time Sugadomes words was tinged with a threat.
“I will not take no as an answer, youll do it for us.”
Shirou winced back. He did not want to risk his life for anything outside of his main goal. Although he was pushed to a corner, he had no plans to give up. However, he could also not refuse that demand. He knew well what would happen to him if he refused.
Sugadome then relaxed back and tried to bait Shirou with a reward.
“If you can do that, I can make it such that your escaping was necessary in order to create a connection to that caretaker AI.”
Shirou interpreted that reply as Sugadome being willing to let him roam free for a bit if he would become a bridge to Tsubaki.
“…Alright, Ill do it.”
“Very well. Make sure to report regularly, that is, if you dont want me to think that youve abandoned the mission.”
“Thats it then. Im a busy man. The only reason why I let you take my time like this without a prior appointment is only because you had contributed substantially in the past. So make sure to remember that.”
“I understand that as well, later then.”
Shirou had a clouded expression plastered on his face as he closed the call. At the same time, his image from the holographic device also vanished.
Sugadome sank deeper into the chair and let the backrest support his weight. He then sighed and thought about what just happened.
[He understands that he was living a good life under our care, and he also understands the benefits and risks of his actions. Basically, he escaped although he knew all of that. Just what is he trying to do What makes him want to take up all those risks Is it for some kind of personal goal Although I brought up Tsubaki, it does not seem to be about her. This is only my guess, but I bet his aim is not Kuzusuhara ruin.]
Sugadome knitted his eyebrows.
[Although he knew that we prioritize his wishes, he did not even ask us and decided to make a move on his own. He even rejected escorts. Which means, his goal is something that he doesnt want Saka**a to know about. But he was not lying. He was being careful with his words since bad lies will only lead to the truth. A truth that hes trying to hide from us. From everything gathered so far, it can be inferred that his goal does not have anything to do with the other corporations. He also didnt lie when he said hell return back once hes done with whatever hes trying to do.]
Sugadome continued to analyse his exchange with Shirou, he then remembered a certain word.
“Just to walk around, huh”
It was clear that Shirous aim was not only to tour around the city. But that word also had some kind of connection to what he was doing, It was not exactly a lie. Sugadomes thoughts continued to dig deeper. Eventually, it reached a point that it was so close to the truth that Shirou would be shocked if he heard Sugadomes hypothesis.
As Shirous image appeared through the holographic device for his regular report, Sugadome causally threw a question at him.
“So how is it going”
Shirou lightly smiled and replied.
“Im still sightseeing.”
“I dont know what youre actually sightseeing, but it would be great if you can be done with that soon.”
“Well, its not easy to find a view that would satisfy me after all. So please be patient with it.”
Sugadome looked at Shirou with a neutral expression. But Shirou could feel like those two eyes were boring a hole through his heart. He could not help but step back a bit. Thus, he decided to change the subject as if to avoid the current subject.
“Ah, by the way, I heard that you told Hammerz to search for me. But didnt you let it slide since Im working on connecting to Tsubaki”
“Were dealing with you as if you had escaped. So, we cant afford to also stop the search team. If you dont like it, I suggest you get back instead of just fooling around.”
“Yeah yeah. Anyway, let me thank you for not blaming Hammerz. Later then.”
Shirou closed the call there.
Once Sugadome was alone again, he then mumbled.
“It seems that its not going well for him as well, huh”
Judging from that reply, Sugadome decided that it was too soon to use the full power of Saka**a Heavy Industry to search for Shirou.-