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Full Metal Panic! - Volume 8 - Chapter 3


Chapter 3: Real Bout  
 
 
“Get out. You’re next.”  
The command was followed by the harsh sound of screeching metal. Opening the rusted jail door, the jailer entered the detention cell to drag Sousuke out.  
An evening had already passed since they had been arrested.  
An unjust arrest by the police based on fabricated evidence. But in a third world country, something like that was a common occurrence.  
The detention cell was filthy, and it didn’t surprise Sousuke in the least. Sigh, it could be worse, was the first thing he thought when he first saw the cell. That was, of course, assuming that the cell was the worst room to spend the night in. 
The walls and floor were damp and stained with filth. The cell was teeming with a heavy stench, and a noisy buzz of flies zipping around echoed through the cell. The cell was lit by only one beam of sunlight that was shining in from a grate close to the ceiling and out of reach.  
It was said that if someone stayed there for 3 days and nights, they’d suddenly become ill in either body or mind. Actually, all the occupants of the cell were men, and most of them had too skinny shoulders that shook from the cold, and they muttered to themselves deliriously non-stop.  
Sousuke was the only one they were summoning. Lemon, who was caught along with Sousuke, was left behind to mingle with the other prisoners. He watched Sousuke leave with a mix of fatigue and anxiety in his eyes.  
“Sousuke.”  
“Don’t worry,” is all Sousuke said before he stepped out of the multi-prisoner cell. Hands cuffed behind his back, Sousuke was escorted to an interrogation room located on the second floor of the police station.  
Even though it was called an interrogation room, the only things in the room were a pair of pipe chairs and a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  
Many dark red stains decorated the bare concrete walls. More than likely blood that splattered during ‘Police questioning’ between the officers and prisoners. It was not just blood. In the corners of the room, blending in with the dust and rubbish, there was something that looked like brown pebbles scattered around.  
Those – would be teeth.  
Were they pulled out with pliers? Or were they knocked loose from being hit too hard? How many “guests” must there have been in order for so many teeth to be collected? Did they leave the room like this, without cleaning it, in hopes of fanning the next victim’s fear? He wondered silently.  
But rather than being affected by the dreary scene, Sousuke was strangely nostalgic.  
It’s true it was strange. Considering that place was supposed to be his own personal graveyard.  
Nevertheless. He couldn’t help what thoughts passed through his mind.  
A warm Tokyo apartment. A classroom overflowing with light. A good home-cooked meal and the feeling of laughter. Those, of course, were happy memories. But it was a world he no longer belonged to. Especially the way he was right now.  
He must become a weapon.  
A precise weapon that operates flawlessly.  
The interrogation room was nothing special, except for the ruins of pain. Expressionlessly, Sousuke sat in one of the chairs and fixed his gaze on a spot on the wall. His heart slowly became cold, and his feelings became dry.  
His eyes stared blankly, and his nerves sharpened.  
Sharper. Colder.  
In that way he turned back into “Kashim”.  
It was a process he had been perfecting little by little, ever since he left Tokyo. It was essential for him to do so. Even if it had been a hindrance while living with Nami and Lemon.  
After waiting for roughly an hour, a man finally entered the room.  
It was “Chief”.  
He walked casually with purposely-slow steps. Is this how the stupid man walks in order for it to be understood who’s in control here? The wide trousers – which had plenty of extra room for his overly large buttocks – and riding boots he was wearing remind Sousuke of a cold-blooded German Nazi officer. 
“Burglary, assault, attempted murder.” the Chief listed, “Blackmail, false testimony, illegal immigration, illegal gambling conduct, article forgery, interference with a government official in the execution of his duties, and possession of illegal weapons… is there anything else you would like to add?”  
“What is that?”  
“Your charges, Sagara Sousuke. Estimated to get you at least 48 years of penal imprisonment. That’s almost half a century…”  
“How about ‘Assaulting an Executive Officer.’ I can put it into practice right now.”  
The Chief’s jaw spasmed in annoyance. A large police officer standing nearby stepped forward and immediately hit 
Sousuke across the face. As expected, the officer held nothing back, and the blow was painful. Sousuke was hit so hard that his whole torso twisted sideways from the blow, and his body leaned backwards. Just when he was on the verge of falling off the chair, Sousuke was roughly grabbed by his shirt collar and pulled back into his seat by the same officer that hit him.  
“Somehow I don’t think you understand the situation.”  
“……tsk.”  
“This is not simply just an interrogation room. It is also the court. It is the place where punishment is executed. I am the public Prosecutor. I am also the Judge. As well as the Executive Officer.” 
“Wow, you seem to be extremely under-staffed,” Sousuke muttered the sarcastic remark with difficulty. The inside of his mouth was bloody, and a broken molar was tumbling around his tongue. He considers spitting it out, but, not wanting to give the room another trophy, he swallowed it instead.  
“What do you want? There must be something you wanted to discuss, or else you wouldn’t have brought me up here just to inform me of a 50 year penal imprisonment sentence.”  
“You’ve got good judgment,” the Chief laughed, causing the fat of his stomach and chin to jiggle back and forth. “It’s the Arena.”  
“……”  
“You’ve been on a winning streak right from your debut match, and it seems your team will be promoted soon, correct? Your skill is building quite the reputation, even among the Match-makers. If you’re promoted to A-Class, and you obtain sufficient funding, it’s only a matter of time before you reach the top.”  
“That’s the idea.”  
“That would be a problem.” the Chief casually took off his regulation cap and wiped his receding hairline. “The Arena holds 
many flourishing teams. The balance of victories is good, and by managing the position of an Ace Pilot appropriately, the audience can continue to enjoy the game forever. Efficient management. Stable entertainment characteristics. With this, we enjoy a large profit. Understand?”  
Sousuke understood the emphasis with which the Chief said “we” perfectly.  
The Arena’s Management Committee. Match-makers. Merchants supplying AS parts. Influential people in the town. – It was all a Bureaucratic Organization within a Crime Syndicate. They all gathered around this competition, where a vast amount of money was flowing, to get sweet deals.  
“Dao and his team were B-Class, but they worked well for me, keeping the order. And – Sagara Sousuke – you are about to disturb that order. That is the reason why you have been summoned to this room. I hope we can come to a mutual understanding. After all, don’t you think it’s best to make ‘adjustments’ in order to secure your own future?” 
 “So that’s how it is.”  
“Adjustments” – in other words, a fixed match. Or something slightly different but along those same lines.  
“Meaning, if I don’t comply, I’ll get 50 years of penal imprisonment?” 
“The Frenchman too. It would be good to include your friend, the young girl owner, too. There’s no need to explain to you how those bored prison guards and prisoners would treat a young girl like her, is there? When you’re in this town it’s not a good idea to cross me.”  
Even when Lemon and Nami were threatened, Sousuke didn’t lose his cool. On the contrary, he was seriously considering, 
with his hands cuffed behind his back, whether or not he could kill the two officers and the Chief. 
Yes, he could.  
If he killed the three men and removed the handcuffs, he wondered if he could commandeer a weapon and escape.  
It wouldn’t be that difficult.  
Break Lemon out of the detention cell, run to where Nami is, and then leave town?  
In all honesty, it would be easy.  
But there would be no point. So instead Sousuke answered.  
“I guess you’re right. If the ‘adjustment’ is necessary, then I will cooperate. However, I have a request.”  
“Oh?”  
The Chief raised an eyebrow in amusement.  
“I don’t mind making friends and playing nice in the soccer stadium, but I want the opportunity to start getting serious. Somewhere I can display my skills freely, with no holding back, and where there is more money involved. That kind of place.”  
“……”  
“It exists, doesn’t it?”  
In response, the Chief watched Sousuke with careful eyes.  
“What are you referring to?” 
“I heard a rumor.”  
“Where did you hear it?”  
“Here and there.”  
Expressionless, the Chief said something in his native language, and one of the policemen nodded and left the interrogation room reluctantly. The other officer – the one who had hit Sousuke – stayed. It was more than likely he was aware of what Sousuke was talking about.  
When the door closed again, a crooked smile crossed the Chief’s face.  
“Do you know exactly what you’re talking about?”  
“Of course. The Yami Battle is intended to entertain VIP guests. Live ammunition firearms are used. The reward is in a completely different league from the Arena, as well.” Sousuke said, repeating exactly what an old friend of one of his war buddies had told him before, when he was still in Tokyo. In fact, Sousuke had come to this town specifically for the Yami Battle.  
“Do you realize that half of the participants die within a few months?” 
“Obviously.”  
When Sousuke answered so casually, the Chief put back on his regulation cap.  
“… There are only two kinds of people who wish to appear in that place,” he muttered. “A weak AS pilot trapped in debt, or a foolish, hot-shot pilot who has too much confidence for his own good. It’s either one or the other. Mind telling me why you’re so interested?” 
“First of all, I need the money. I want to buy back a woman. She’s a prostitute.”  
“Where?”  
“Not here. In Tokyo.”  
Of course, the story was nonsense. It was a common story Sousuke had heard in the pubs and on TV. As for deciding that the woman was in Tokyo, it was simply to make it difficult for the Chief and the policemen to investigate his story. He was guessing that the Chief would not be very interested in a story about a woman. And the Chief himself confirmed Sousuke’s suspicion.  
“And the other reason?” 
“I guess you could say it’s similar to you with your work. You like this kind of room, right?” Sousuke said, surveying the interrogation room around him and taking it all in – the traces of blood and teeth alongside scattered fingernails.  
Traces of pain. The smell of violence.  
“The competition in the Arena is a sport. Even if the irritating odor of jet fuel is there, the smell of blood and gun powder is not.”  
“That’s your reason?”  
“Isn’t that enough?”  
The Chief threw his head back and laughed. His whole body shook with laughter. His flabby meat jiggled endlessly, and the drawn laughter leaked from his gaping violet lips. 
“Looks like you’re somehow the second kind. You definitely aren’t lacking self-confidence in your skill.”  
“I would like to hear your answer.”  
“Interesting. Very interesting. I guess I can put in a word. However – you have no sponsor. We’ll be keeping the Frenchman and we will release him after the match, as long as you can prove you’re trustworthy. You may leave, Sagara Sousuke,” the Chief concluded and left the interrogation room.  
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
He was hesitant to leave Lemon behind, but for the moment he had no choice. However, before leaving, Sousuke choose a suitable looking police officer and gives him $50 with the instructions, “Do not harm the Frenchman, and make sure he is treated politely. If you can do that, then afterwards I’ll give you another $50.”  
After leaving the station, Sousuke only walked a few steps before he heard Nami’s voice.  
“Sousuke!?”  
Nami rushed across the dusty road. She probably already knew about the arrest. She looked like she was waiting – just killing time – at the cheap café across the street from the police station.  
“What happened!? Where’s Master Lemon?”  
“Still inside. They let me go after I talked to the Chief.”  
“The Chief…… that cold-hearted villain?”  
It seemed like the Chief was well known. Reading the surprise and doubt on Nami’s face, Sousuke nodded his head in confirmation.  
“Why did he let you go after you talked to him? … Ugh, something stinks.”  
Nami made a sour face and sniffed the air. Even though it was only one night, he had been among a bunch of unhygienic, filthy prisoners. It was no surprise that he reeked.  
“Let’s return to the hotel. I’ll explain the situation there.”  
The two of them hailed a taxi and headed back to Lemon’s hotel room.  
After a shower, putting on some clean clothes, and drinking some mineral water, Sousuke felt refreshed. He was more than gratified after going so long without clean clothes or drinkable water.  
When he returned to the living room, Nami was sitting cross-legged on the sofa watching TV anxiously. It was more than understandable that she hadn’t calmed down.  
“… So? What’s going on?” 
“We won too much. It seems like it got on our colleagues’ nerves. They held Lemon under ransom, threatened you, and 
suggested a fixed match. I consented.” Sousuke said, sitting down on the sofa.  
 
 
 
 “A fixed match. So that’s what this is about.”  
“You’re not angry?”  
“Not really. I heard rumors about this kind of thing before. Besides, anyone that expects good sportsmanship from a gambling town full of swindlers, is an idiot. I’m just glad that’s all that happened. But…”  
“But?” 
“The situation could get ugly. Their real intention behind arresting you and Lemon, and making us work so hard for nothing, is because they’re beginning to consider us a threat. If we don’t cooperate, they’ll just use force and get rid of us. The police Chief, did he give you any terms or conditions?” 
“Some, for the time being.”  
“What were they?”  
“I’ll be fighting in a Yami Battle.” 
“Come again?” Nami’s leg, which she had been bouncing up and down, suddenly stopped. “Yami Battle?”  
“Yes.”  
“You serious?”  
“Yes. The profit seems good.”  
“Wait a second. Do you even know what kind of competition that is? There’s been rumors floating around between the people in this trade, but nothing’s been confirmed. That it doesn’t matter how strong you are, it isn’t enough. Don’t they use live ammo? Isn’t it an actual battle?”  
“Seems like it.”  
“Using my AS?” 
“That’s the plan, yes.”  
“You’ve gotta be joking!” Nami yelled, shooting to her feet in anger. A reasonable reaction. “You think it’s as simple as using that AS in the Yami Battle and having a fair fight?! Well it’s not! 
You realize, I haven’t even touched the F.C. (Firearms Control) system since I first picked that Savage up!? The armor is worn-out too! The Administration demanding a fixed match, that I can understand, but competing in the Yami Battle!? That’s a whole different story! This is seriously dangerous!”  
“You’re right.”  
“Then why did you agree!? If you want to die, that’s your own choice. But why do you have to risk my precious AS?”  
“That’s…”  
Sousuke trailed off and continued towel drying his hair.  
Should he tell her the truth? 
Or, should he just leave it at that? 
This was the question he had been hesitant about answering since he left the police station. He would have to give a vague explanation.  
However, if he did express his desire to participate in the Yami Battle, no matter how high the reward, Nami and the others probably wouldn’t consent to it. That was only speculation, but Sousuke’s intuition was usually right about this kind of thing.  
“Lemon was taken hostage, so I had no choice but to agree to the terms.” 
After telling them that, and resolving the funds issue, it may be possible to persuade them.  
Because he’d lived with her up to this point, Sousuke knew Nami was a good person. From his own point of view, he couldn’t really say whether there was enough trust between them.  
But suddenly he remembered.  
“I don’t want to die without knowing anything!”  
Tokiwa Kyoko’s words from that time, and the look on her face with her eyes full of tears were never far from his mind. But they hit him hard right then.  
Pathetic. Only half a day ago he had felt nothing and was doing so well – had been so close to becoming that deadly weapon. But now every phenomenon, every circumstance, swayed his heart. Could he really achieve his “Strategic Objective” in such a state? 
He didn’t know.  
“Is it about abacus calculations?” Nami asked after waiting patiently for a while for an answer.  
“……”  
“Hey. The thing is, I may never shut up about the financial situation. Even if it’s called being stingy, I feel like it can’t be helped. But, you know? You and me, are we only business partners? I mean, you can talk to me about it, right?” 
“Huh?”  
Sousuke didn’t understand what she meant, and looked up into Nami’s eyes. She leaned forward toward the sofa.  
“…that isn’t the reason.”  
“I thought that we were at least friends. Was I wrong?” she asked and leaned closer. Incidentally, the motion caused her breasts to peak out from the top of her tank top. Startled by the unintentional act, Sousuke suddenly felt conflicted and like a fool.  
What is the precise weapon? What is the strategic objective?  
Didn’t he know the answers only a moment ago? It turned out he was only human, an existence full of contradictions. No matter how hard he tried, that was a fact he could not escape.  
That’s why he had such a hard time.  
Averting his eyes away from the soft skin before him, he said, “You’re right. Then I will tell you.”  
It was better to confess to this new friend than to lie to her. If they couldn’t reach an understanding between them, then he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. 
“The one who suggested the Yami Battle to the Chief, was me.”  
“Why!?” Nami demanded with wide eyes.  
“Because that was my objective from the start. Competing in the Arena was the only means I had to get closer to the Administration’s darker side. I heard rumors from my fellow mercenary friends, about the real fighting level of the Yami Battles. It’s suspected that ‘Amalgam’ is involved with it in some way.” 
“Ama…lgam?”  
“It is the name of a certain organization. They are a Terrorist organization and a Military-Industrial Complex with deep connections. They instigated disputes in many places all over the world. Amalgam has masterminded many of the serious terrorist incidents which have occurred over the past several years.”  
“Whoa whoa. Wait just a minute…”  
“There is a highly top-secret Mercenary Corps who fought against Amalgam. They have the fortune to use equipment that is one generation advanced, they pride themselves on rivaling the special forces of regular armies. It’s a Corps that fights against brutal Terrorist and Criminal organizations. As well as intervening in regional conflict crises and resolving the situation. I’m a survivor of that Mercenary Corps.”  
The story was suddenly becoming large-scale and serious, and Nami was becoming more and more confused.  
“I- … I don’t really get it. What do you mean ‘survivor’? What happened to your Mercenary Corps?”  
“Amalgam wiped it out.”  
“……”  
“Amalgam’s true nature is unclear. Neither who nor where. Very little is known about the extent of their influence. The few clues that I could gather pointed to Namsak and the Yami Battle. A 
few times my Military unit overthrew Amalgam’s ASes. From the defeated machines we were able to collect identities, specifying how many of their operation soldiers had once worked as players in Namsak.”  
“Oh…”  
“You don’t believe it?”  
He looked at his companion with his face as straight and hard as possible. Nami, still looking half in doubt, stared at Sousuke and froze.  
“Are you serious?” 
“Affirmative.”  
“Well, I always kind of knew that no ordinary person could possess your caliber of skill… that aside, aren’t these people you’re going after dangerous?”   
“Yes.” Sousuke nodded, then said in a completely casual tone, “I want to get closer to Amalgam. Your cooperation is necessary to do that.”  
“……!”  
What followed that was a reaction that was only natural.  
Nami flew into a rage shouting ‘You got to be shittin’ me!!’, up-turned the table, scattering the contents across the room, yelling “Fight alone without permission?!” Then after hurling a PET bottle at his head screamed, “I never want to see your face again!”.She then stormed out of the hotel room, slamming the door behind her.  
It didn’t make Nami a bad person.  
It was a totally understandable reaction.  
As I thought, it really is impossible.  
Sighing deeply, Sousuke began cleaning up the mess Nami had caused. By the looks of things Nami would probably be firing 
him, and he wondered if he’d be able to find someone else with a suitable AS in time. No one reliable came to mind.  
Well, what should I do? he thought as he cleaned up all the rubbish. That’s when the doorbell rang – resounding through the room.  
Opening the door, he looked outside to see that the visitor was Nami. Looking very displeased, she stared at Sousuke motionlessly.  
“For the time being all I want to know is this,” she said with a slight pout. “Are you in trouble?” 
“Yes.”  
“Do you need my help?”  
“Affirmative.”  
Receiving the honest reply, Nami’s tense shoulders relaxed and she tapped Sousuke good-naturedly on the chest with her fist.  
 
 
“Okay. I guess I’ll let you stick around a while longer.”  
“Is that really okay?”  
“Master Lemon is in prison. Plus, the reward money is good, right?”  
“Yes, definitely.”   
“I don’t want you to get your hopes up though, because I don’t know if the crew will go along with it. If they say no, then it’s no.”  
“Roger.”  
“And don’t tell them anything about Amalgam. It’s harder to be involved in something if you know nothing about it.”  
“Thank you.”  
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
It turned out that Nami had quite a bit of charisma at her disposal.  
Team Crossbow’s maintenance crew did consent to participate in the Yami battle. There were a few people who were opposed to the idea, but after Nami explained about Lemon becoming a hostage, and reassured them that Sousuke had extraordinary skills, eventually, they reluctantly gave the “OK”.  
The following evening of the next day an errand boy arrived with a message from the Chief. It said:  
[On Saturday at 21:00, come to the Church ruins, north of Munamera. Of course, bring the AS, too.]  
Munamera was a small farming village along the highway, roughly 20 km north of Namsak.  
There was no way they would hold the battle in Namsak. The live ammunition the AS’ use – 30 mm bullets – could easily reduce anything they hit to rubble. The Yami battlegrounds were 
somewhere in Namsak’s outskirts, in the mountain areas, where there weren’t very many people.  
[Don’t be late. If you are, your friend in the detention cell may face various inconveniences.]  
After delivering the Chief’s message the errand boy exited the hangar.  
“I feel sorry for Master Lemon. Not only will he develop neuroses in jail, but he’ll also be violated by the gay prisoners.” 
Nami grumbled while quickly dismantling the white Savage’s control box.  
“I gave the prison guard a tip,” Sousuke said, helping with the maintenance.  
“It would be nice if that’s all there is to it. We can remove that switchboard over there. That shouldn’t be a problem.”  
Nami picked at a circuit connected to the F.C. system.  
“Is it any good?”  
“Uh-huh. At any rate, the Flbn-32 probably won’t be of any use. If that’s the case, you had better reduce the burden with the home-made software.”  
“Home-made software?”  
“I rewrote it. Specifically for the Yami Battle. It took me most of the morning to finish. I’m pretty weak when it comes to stuff like that, and I mean big time”  
Sousuke stopped what he’s doing and stared intently at Nami’s smiling face.  
“Just this morning? You rewrote the software on your own?”  
As far as Sousuke knew, that wasn’t a job someone could finish in a few rushed hours. Even a specially trained engineer would need at least a few days – working slowly and carefully – to complete it as much as possible. It was not a process a 16 or 17 
year old girl, who had not undergone any specialist training, could handle.  
Actually, in the beginning, when Sousuke was in Afghanistan, most of the amateur or beginner engineering students in the guerrilla groups tampered with the Savage software like that. But the custom-made software was ineffective and they had to suffer with it until they got a hold of the software that was actually professionally made for the ASes.  
“Have you studied it before?” 
“No way. I just kept tinkering with it a bit.”  
“Even then, it’s not something that can be done so easily. Where on earth did you get technical skills of that caliber–” 
“Like–I–said!” Nami waved her hand as if she were shooing something annoying away. “I said I was weak at it, didn’t I? Well, if I touch it a little, I think I can get a general understanding of it. It’s not really that big of a deal, right?” 
Impossible.  
“When you first got your AS, you learned AS maintenance methods from someone, right?” Sousuke asked the question as casually as possible, waiting for the answer.  
“Huh?”  
Nami stopped her maintenance work and stared at Sousuke with a look full of wonder.  
“You didn’t learn it from anyone?” Unease started to tickle the edge of Sousuke’s mind. “Then, why–”  
“But, even if I don’t understand it, I can just fiddle with it a bit and I work it out. Somehow.” 
It was hard to think. Even if it was a 2nd generation type, to understand the AS system, let alone operate the AS, proper training was necessary. 
For a teenage girl who didn’t have any engineering knowledge – who hadn’t been taught by anyone– it shouldn’t be possible.  
It can’t be. Her too? 
No. Such a coincidence was impossible. The chances of one person being that are one in tens of thousands. Actually, the probability of their existence was less than one in a million. The chances of meeting one himself so abruptly and by accident– 
“Hey buddy,” Nami said, shaking Sousuke from his thoughts. “Don’t space out on me. Quickly, unfasten that plug over there.”  
“Right.”  
Sousuke returned to doing maintenance work on the Savage, with a heavy heart.  
Right now I’m busy.  
I’ll worry about it when this mission is completed. If time allows, I’ll look into it with more detail, Sousuke thought carelessly.  
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
That Saturday evening- 
 
After they loaded the Savage onto the huge tractor-trailer, Sousuke and the rest of the team drove out of Namsak and headed to Munamera Village. The narrow roads they had to take were in ill repair from the long years of war; making it nearly impossible for any on-coming traffic to get passed the bulky AS trailer.  
The scenery on either side of the road seemed to go on forever. On one side there were rice fields as far as the eye could see, and on the other was endless line of mountains covered with 
leafy trees. But they could barely see the scenery, or much of anything really, on account of the dust obscuring their vision. It was the dry season, so all the dust the trailer was kicking up wasn’t settling at all; it just stayed floating in the air, making it very hard to see.  
When they finally arrived at the church ruins, there were already some policemen – from the Namsak police department – waiting for them. Sousuke and the rest of the team weren’t late. They’d actually arrived before the promised time, but by the way the officers were acting one would think that they were late.  
“Wait here and don’t move!” stated an officer gruffly, pointing his gun at Sousuke.  
So they waited.  
30 minutes later, the Chief arrived by helicopter. The roaring turbo shaft engine resounded loudly as the helicopter landed in an open area in front of the church ruins.  
The Chief stepped down from the helicopter and when his eyes rested upon Sousuke’s stern face a lewd smile blossomed across his pudgy mug.  
“Sagara Sousuke! You’ll board the AS here,” he ordered. “Go 2 km northeast to more ruins. That is the ‘Arena’. The rest of you will be obedient and wait here.”  
“What?! The radio signal won’t reach if we’re that far away from the location! What the hell kind of–”  
An Officer turned and aimed his carbine rifle directly at Nami, cutting off her protest.  
“– on second thought, it’s a wonderful idea. Aha ha ha ha….” she finished lamely.  
“That’s enough young lady,” the Chief said and walked over to a nearby pick-up truck that had arrived around the same time as the helicopter.  
“Will you be observing the match?” Sousuke asked the Chief’s retreating form.  
“I will be. But you don’t need to know from where.”  
“Fine. Just be careful of any stray bullets.”  
The Chief paused as he went to climb into the truck, and snorted.  
“Your concern is touching. However it’s unnecessary. We would never expose our important clients to something so dangerous.”  
“Then I can fight without reserve.”  
Without another word Sousuke boarded the white Savage, and the Chief climbed into the truck.  
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
When Sousuke boarded the AS the first thing he did was go through a primary system check. Boot the support power unit up. Check. Headgear connection stable. Check. And so on and so forth. After he finished the pre-battle system check, Sousuke turned on the main power unit – a 1200 horse power diesel engine.  
The engine roared to life – the groaning voice of raw power.  
Sousuke turned off the safety on the control system and, in one smooth motion, the Savage stood up.  
The oil pressure was normal and the muscle packages were in mint condition too. It had taken three days of intense preparation to get the AS into the condition it needed to be in for this battle. The white Savage “Crossbow” had never looked so good.  
“I’m going,” Sousuke stated after he switched on the external speaker. His eyes stayed glued to Nami’s worried face displayed on the screen. The grainy, rough video feed showed Nami turn and yell in the direction of the external microphone.  
“Be careful.”  
“Affirmative, do not worry.”  
“I’m not worried about you! I’m worried about my AS!”  
“Oh.”  
“Still-”, Nami hesitated and glanced down at her feet – her body language screamed uncertainty – and she looked back up at the camera. “Maybe it’s pointless even saying this – maybe kind of unreasonable too – but you’d better come back in one piece.”  
“That is my intention.”  
Something urgent flashed across Nami’s eyes, but the optical sensor blurred her facial expression too much to pick it up. However, the look was gone in an instant, and Nami gave a hesitant smile instead.  
 “All right. You are so treating us when this is over.”  
Sousuke couldn’t help but find that smile alluring. He was so tempted to just abandon his quest that very moment and return to Namsak with her. The idea had such a strong appeal. In fact, he was suddenly seized by the strong impulse to climb down from his AS and take her into his arms and just hold her tight.  
Why was it, regardless of his intentions, this doubt kept surfacing in his mind again and again?  
Is it too late to turn back? To stop taking such dangerous risks altogether? To live freely and happily and easily with Nami, and to enjoy each day in Namsak with her… Is it so wrong to want to live that way?  
“What’s wrong?” 
“… nothing.”  
He was being foolish.  
Why is this happening now? What should I do? As these troubling thoughts bubbled to the surface, Sousuke suddenly remembered the reason why he was there in the first place, and an 
unspeakable guilt settled into his conscience. He remembered the hardship he had went through with the person who had first made him feel – and then had made him care.  
The human heart is a very strange thing, he thought, and shook off the lingering sting of regret and guilt.  
“I will do what it takes.” Sousuke said firmly, and began to run.  
After about 100 meters he looked back. Nami and the others were still watching him go. Sousuke gave them a casual waive and ran toward the appointed area.  
The terrain of the Arena was intense by no small means.  
Every step the savage took rattled the AS’ frame and disturbed the dried mud, kicking dust into the air. Bushes and trees had to be pushed aside in order for Sousuke to go due northwest.  
Sousuke checked each individual system as he piloted the white Savage.  
The systems he hadn’t used in this unit yet took priority in his analysis. He checked out the optical sensors again and the newly installed Firearm Control System. Even though he didn’t have any firearms yet. In this situation, compared to the equipment he had during his time with Mithril, this AS seemed pretty pathetic–  
But this was how they all started out in the beginning.  
The situation wasn’t too bad though. It wasn’t the first time Sousuke had embarked into such a scenario, but at those times his AS and equipment were in a far worse state than what he currently had. So he wasn’t going to complain.  
Sousuke glanced at the digital map out of the corner of his eye; it indicated that he had arrived at his destination.  
He could see the ruins of an old temple.  
Vines as thick as people were twisted and weaved over, through, and among the collapsed parts of the temple. It was so intertwined with the remains that – if Sousuke didn’t know any better – he’d think that nature itself had brought the temple to ruin. Sousuke glanced off to the side and, placed beside a statue of a god that was destroyed in a recent battle, he spotted a 37 mm AS rifle.  
A BK-540.  
A standard firearm for ASes, which kind of resembled an AK assault rifle that humans used. Beside the rifle were two prepared rifle magazines and two HEAT hammers for close proximity combat.  
“Welcome Crossbow, to the Real Arena.”  
A voice came over the radio. It was the Chief.  
“Those there are your weapons. Use them well.”  
Using the communication equipment, Sousuke tried to locate the dispatch source of the radio wave the Chief was using. He tried the old style infrared sensor too. After all, he had no idea where the Chief and his goons were. Unfortunately the super broadband sonar that would have made the search conveniently easy was a luxury only available to him in Mithril issued ASes.  
Searching the area – before or during the match – for the location of the Chief and his VIP guest was improbable. He would have to wait until afterwards. First, he had to defeat his opponent.  
Sousuke brought the Savage down to one knee and picked up the weapons and magazines.  
“Thanks for the welcome,” he muttered, and calmly attached the newly acquired equipment to the AS’ hip and back. “Where is my opponent?”  
“He’s right in front of you. The pilot is laughing at you.”  
“…?”  
Besides the movement of some small animals, Sousuke couldn’t sense anything in the ruins except for himself and his Savage.  
The Savage was kneeling on the ancient paved ground and there was nothing in front of him.  
According to the optical and infrared sensors nothing was there.  
Wait–  
He probably wouldn’t have even noticed if he was inside an AS cockpit with a complete direct venting system. But the old Savage was different. The distorted armor left gaps and holes where outside air snuck in.  
He realized what was there only because the ion smell that tickled his nose was so familiar. It was so familiar it was nostalgic.  
The atmosphere shimmered.  
“!!” 
 With astounding speed, Sousuke moved the Savage and jumped back.  
The scream of metal.  
From out of thin air, a huge sharp blade swung in an arch at incredible speed and just grazed the Savage’s armor chest plate.  
That was–  
A monomolecular cutter.  
As he pivoted out of the way, Sousuke readied his rifle and aimed at the space where the enemy had briefly appeared.  
There was nothing there, but suddenly a gust of wind kicked up dirt, and something jumped high into the sky. Thanks to his experience and technical skill, Sousuke was able to track its movement with his eyes. Even though it should have, the jumping power of the enemy didn’t surprise Sousuke.  
It landed on the remains of the temple, which was on the verge of collapsing. It looked like it used to be the foundation for the main hall of the Buddhist temple.  
Second generation ASes like the Savage and the Bushnell couldn’t do something like that. It didn’t matter what level of skill the pilot had. They could not fly or jump like that.  
Then, what was the enemy that landed on that temple? What on earth could make such a surprise attack and still not be seen? Sousuke knew what.  
“You know what it is, don’t you?” the Chief asked over the radio.  
On top of the temple – that house of Gods that had been deteriorating over a hundred years – the air shimmered with a dancing phosphorescence. A veil of pale blue light rippled and parted like a curtain, and an AS appeared on the other side.  
A slim gray figure stood silhouetted in the moonlight.  
A head strongly resembling the helmet a fighter plane pilot would wear.  
The graceful unhurried movement flowed and hid power that reminded one of a leopard or a bird of prey.  
Even though he knew what it felt like to pilot one, and had been through so many terrible battles with one, it felt like he was seeing some other-worldly being. It was like Sousuke was seeing it for the very first time. 
 “M9…?” 
It had been more than obvious to Sousuke – before he even decided to battle in this match – that the opponent he would face would be relentless… but this? This was completely merciless.  
The enemy was an M9. A M9 Gernsback, the next generation model of Arm Slave.  
It was the latest model and Sousuke had used one time and time again when he had been with Mithril. Sousuke knew better than anyone the important, extraordinary specifications, and the advanced equipment used by that machine.  
And he was confronting it with an old-fashioned Savage. Don’t get him wrong, Nami had done everything she could to prepare this Savage and she did a good job. But the truth was, this unit was inferior to the M9 in every aspect of performance.  
Like power, for example.  
The engine output type of this Savage was 880 Kw – about 1200 horsepower. Making it – power wise – equal to a tank or ten modern cars.  
It was considerable power, but nothing compared to the M9 he was facing off against which had an output of 2500 horsepower. The M9’s engine – a cold nuclear fusion generator made by Ross & Hambleton Inc – was called the “APR-2500” and had a kilowatt conversion of roughly 3300 kw. It was so extraordinary, powerful and expensive, that the M9 was on a level far beyond that of any land combat weapon, and closer to that of a fighter jet.  
In other words, the M9’s smart and delicate appearance was misleading. It didn’t belay the fact that it was far superior to any tank or armored car.  
To top it off it only weighed 7-8% of the Savage’s weight. Needless to say, when Sousuke compared its weight vs. its power, the motility was more than a little concerning. After all, the M9 was the result of several generations of scientists and electricians carrying shared knowledge of the AS in their minds and advancing it. Sousuke and his colleagues never would have defeated the countless number of Savages during Mithril missions if it wasn’t for their AS’ superior control. At first, the M9’s performance was overwhelmingly different. It would defeat opponents so 
effortlessly. It was necessary to use the M9 for the delicate missions like “Isolated hostage recovery.” If it wasn’t for the highly efficient M9s Mithril had, the SRT never could have pulled off the impossible military tactics they had, and returned successful.  
And right now, this was just a simple one-on-one fight.  
The odds weren’t looking too good. The surrounding area most likely wouldn’t hinder the M9 at all. Plus, ammo didn’t need to be preserved; there was no need to be concerned about stray shots, and there was no time limit.  
But –  
Is this the answer? Was I right?  
A feeling similar to relief washed over Sousuke.  
What were the chances that he’d happen to encounter one of the most state-of-the-art machines in the world in a place like this? No matter how Sousuke looked at it, it was now certain that there was an organization with limitless financial power looming in the shadows behind the Chief. When he first drifted into Namsak, Sousuke hadn’t been completely confident in his lead and had wondered if participating in the showy arena matches was even worth it. So this was an unexpected but welcome result.  
Right, this was no coincidence.  
Sousuke knew who the enemy was, who was hiding behind the Chief – pulling the strings like a puppet master. The only people who knew about him and Mithril’s crushing defeat were elite members of Amalgam.  
Sousuke had been anticipating some kind of retaliation when he had so boldly refused to use an alias. The danger in doing so was big but the effect was obvious and expected – and the enemy had answered his silent challenge with this M9. But Sousuke suspected that their real motive behind letting him fight 
the M9 was probably to gauge his reaction and get a feel for his background.  
Or was it some kind of game?  
“Surprised?” The Chief asked over the radio, “From what I’ve heard, you know how to pilot that machine. From the time you were with Mithril.”  
“So you know,” Sousuke muttered, without showing the slightest sign of unrest.  
“Playing such a flashy role in the Arena, what did you expect? You didn’t even use an alias. You always dominated the competition in town, but that got boring after a while. So I’m giving you this precious opportunity to battle this M9… well, I don’t really expect you to come out on top. But it’s the thought that counts, right?”  
Sousuke’s mind was busy pondering the origins of this M9 when the Chiefs voice saying, “…in town” it got him considering something else. In town.  
The Chief hadn’t said or hinted at anything when Sousuke had been held at the police station. Had the Chief already known about Sousuke’s past when they were in the interrogation room? No, he’d found out about Sousuke and Mithril afterwards.  
Then, in Amalgam, the man’s a small fry.  
That much was obvious. But then, how did he know who Sousuke was? Someone who knew about “Sousuke Sagara’s” past would have to have connections to a high-class intelligence network. So did that mean the chief was important enough to get access to that information after all?  
Sousuke didn’t know, but he decided to test it, “Tonight’s guests will be entertained.”  
“That’s right. By all means, fight to your heart’s content.” On the other side of the radio, beneath the crackling noise, the 
Chief laughed. “But… if you obediently tell me whom you’re working for, I can tell your opponent to go easy on you.” 
“Unfortunately, I’m working alone.”  
“Then it’s ok for you to die.”  
The connection was cut, and everything fell silent.  
The M9 on the monitor moved, and the battle began.  
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
<Incoming> 
Like a hungry hunting dog, ordered by its master to “go at it” the M9 swung with its monomolecular cutter spinning in its hand after pulling it from the scabbard on its hip. 
It played like a drama, but the 3rd generation AS was not so easy to anticipate. The enemy continued to move with the rifle at the hard point of its back, aiming the muzzle towards Sousuke. 
Sousuke’s Savage, with rifle in hand, headed towards the enemy unit. He shook the unit towards the left side. There was no surviving path aside from the left. He knew it very well. 
Both of them moved and fired. 
The two blazing and thundering roars tore the stillness of the ruins at night. 
The M9 leapt in the night sky, easily evading Sousuke’s shot. 
-No, in terms of accuracy, they used evasive actions just before Sousuke’s rifle discharged. Even if it was the M9, it couldn’t move faster than a bullet. Of course this was true of the Savage too. Even making evasive actions first the movement of the old unit, in proportion to the M9, was heavy and dull. 
A shell grazed the right shoulder armor. 
“.....!!” 
That was dangerous. If he had been a few milliseconds slower, it would have hit the cockpit situated in the chest. One way or another in order to surpass the first bullet of the enemy, the Savage first had to make a leaping action. Then the movement of the unit fell to the left. 
The AS wiggled vertically, different from an ordinary vehicle, and had already placed itself in a standing position. 
 
 
Jumping recklessly, entrusting the unit to gravity, the Savage was more agile than the original specs. 
And then it maneuvered to the left side. 
Looking from the enemy’s standpoint, Sousuke would be moving to the right. The M9, with the rifle maintained in its right hand, had both hands in firing position. In order to set the Savage in its sight, both arms needed to move in order to see the right side of its body from the unit. 
When an AS moves its extremities from the centerline of its body to the exterior there is a weak point. The movement can be compared to the centerline of the human body. (Usually it’s not much of a problem, as it’s a small weak point on a strong system). 
This was one way the AS’ model followed the human body. 
Even though ASes are superb machines, they are not designed like the revolving turrets controlled by tanks. Their construction makes motions outside of the body slightly slower and more inaccurate. Especially when holding a heavy rifle. The “extreme weight” is greater, that is the most striking difference. 
A human holding a 3kg barbell or a plastic bottle filled with water, waving their arms sharply left and right would not be able to stop suddenly. This was the same for an AS. 
Even if it was the newest M9, since it had the left and right arms of a “human”, the fundamentals of engineering and construction could not run away from this problem. In other words, following the chosen movement of Sousuke’s Savage was an unpleasant movement for the M9. After all, he’d been piloting it harshly. In pestering the enemy pilot, Sousuke was thoroughly knowledgeable. 
And then after the landing, what would happen would happen. 
He was running in front with a low profile. Thinking of the terrain and obstacles, and then the positional relation, he moved to take up a good firing position. 
He was also looking out for being fired at. 
Even if the M9 was more bulletproof than the Savage, it would not be difficult damage it with its own rifle. If it took a 37mm shell, in the end even for an M9, at the very least its basic functions would deteriorate. Similar to an armored vehicle, the thickness of the M9’s armor varied---the rear armor was weaker than the front armor. 
That was why the enemy kept on moving to cover his back.  
Then… 
Sousuke, controlling his limbs skillfully, made a clean turn, plunging the unit from the walls of the ruins on the left side.  Lowering his position like that, he ran around the obstacles. 
To the enemy this was an annoying unit. 
Continuing like that, it was obvious to aim for the Savage, with a solid left turn he obliquely exposed the rear armor. 
Splashing the dry mud, the M9 landed on the ground, suspended in the direction it had initially run. It changed its posture to a light step, trying to judge the next moment it moved--- 
Letting the unit loose, Sousuke positioned the gun barrel from the crevice of the crumbling ruins, firing three shots. He used the Master Arm of the cockpit for manual firing.  The Firing Control system of this unit was nothing to be counted on. 
He missed. 
The three discharges from the 37mm shells, 2 meters from the left and rear of the enemy M9, hit the wall of the ruins.  Splinters from the projectiles scattering and dust flew around and firing sounds echoed from the surrounding mountains. 
Aiming is tough after all. 
He smacked his lips. If the hit had been successful he would have been satisfied, that was the level of his shooting.  He continued to pressure his opponent, inviting the enemy pilot to present an opportunity. 
“!” 
The M9 returned fire.  It maneuvered in the intervals of the succession of shots to take a better position.  
Impact. 
The Savage hid inside the stone wall. Countless crushed stones smashed in the surroundings, striking violently on the armor of the Savage. 
An alarm sounded. 
A number of warning devices flickered. 
Firstly, the cooling unit was not functioning. The power of the left arm and transmission system had an indication of “oil pressure declining”. There was no fire in the power system.  Somehow, he knew that it was not a fatal injury. 
Letting go of the stick, he manually performed the Damage Control from the switch panel.  Engine Management.  Controlling hydraulics.  He picked up the smell of diesel.  There was no fire. There was no failure in the gauge. 
His fingers acted mostly on reflex, moving automatically to strike the switches.  If he had been in an M9 the AI would have worked it out in an instant.  Ingrained in the long experience of piloting, he was accurate and quick in operation. 
Sousuke, carrying the damage control with one hand, fired a feint to take evasive actions, getting away from the successive attacks of the enemy. This action could not be imitated by ordinary soldiers.  If it were new recruits, they would stop and take out the user’s manual, trying this or that to regulate the system. 
How do you move without hindrance? 
It was indicated in the display that the unit’s control system of the left arm’s power would be inefficient in 120 seconds, but this calculation couldn’t be trusted.  Sousuke knew it well. Since technical experts had no knowledge of actual combat, that was as good as a random number. 
With his own experience and the unit’s current status, taking into consideration the tactics that were chosen, Sousuke was roughly calculating. 
The longest was 15 minutes.  The shortest was 8 minutes. 
Until then, do not ask the impossible. 
But until then, would he be able to take advantage of the opportunity the M9 put out....? 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
“It’s started” Nami, waiting in the outskirts of Munamera village, murmured. They were far from the battlefield, but she knew her Savage and Sousuke had entered into a battle. The roaring gunfire and flames illuminated the mountains. 
The girl, and her maintenance crew surrounding her, was still standing with the policemen, carbine guns at hand. 
There were 5 of them. Even if the police did a handstand, her group still couldn’t disobey them. 
Everyone in the maintenance crew was murmuring. 
“It started, that means...we don’t know about that” 
“Let’s get closer and look” 
“Idiot! You wanna get hit with stray bullets!?” 
Even with the current situation, they were still carefree. Only the maintenance crew’s leader, Ash, was grumbling with a worried face. 
“-there’s a bad premonition- that’s why I am against it-this mood is bad.   No matter how much the guarantee was-” 
“Ash, don’t complain” Nami said with an irritated voice. 
“Well, but, I have a bad feeling, really-” 
The sullen “policeman” with a rifle patrolled by, they started whispering. 
“You know about Sousuke’s skills right? He’ll come back like nothing happened” 
“Ah. No. that’s not what I’m talking about” 
One of the policeman, who had the insignia of a sergeant pulled out a wireless radio, and started to exchange short messages. 
“Yes Chief.” 
“What about the girl?” 
“Roger.” 
“We’re dealing with her.” 
The sergeant, after speaking the words, stared at Nami and Ash, who were continuing with bitter faces. 
“It’s like this. This feeling....” 
“It’s movement.” 
The police sergeant cut off the wireless radio and walked over to interrupt them. 
“Woman. You come with me. The other one get in that van.” 
“Eh? why....” 
“Hurry!” 
“Wa..wait!” 
Rudely grabbing her arm, Nami was tugged into the nearby patrol car.  Ash and the maintenance members were pushed by gunpoint to get in the black van. 
“Nami-” 
“Don’t worry! I’ll contact you later-” 
“Don’t be slow” 
She was alone with the police sergeant. The Patrol car that Nami got in went away from there, leaving a cloud of smoke. 
The van that Ash and the others got into was going on the opposite direction of Nami’s patrol car. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
The Chief and the others that watched the “game” on the “grandstand”, the name of the ruins-turned-battlefield 2 kilometers away in the mountain range. 
The building they were in had a construct that was similar to a pill-box enclosed in a semi-basement. The wall of the front face consisted of a few meters of concrete and armor.  Even in the small window for watching the sports game massively towering bulletproof glass was inlayed. If, by any chance, a stray bullet flew to this place, it gave the VIPs a sense of safety. 
Differing from a real pill-box, compared to the rugged exterior wall the interior wall was extravagant. 
The floor was carpeted. The ceiling was composed of good illuminating materials. There were gladiators from roman times drawn on the wall with picture realism. The sofa was also kind of high class; it looked like a first class lounge. 
On the many establishments there was a large LCD. On it were many projected angles of the battle between the Savage and M9. 
“Geez-” 
The man spying on the battle through the small window with binoculars shrugged his shoulders. 
“-I thought of it as a narrow business. And then this auspiciously appears” 
“Mister Kurama, do you know the existence of the individual?” the Chief asked comfortably, sitting on the sofa. 
“That’s not it.  Actually we’ve met nonchalantly only a few months ago.” The man called Kurama murmured apathetically. 
He was large built and generous, with short trimmed hair, and small circular sunglass.  Even in front of live ammunition it was like they had the appearance of watching a boring soccer match. 
“A few minutes.  I thought that would be plenty of time. I think the boy soldier will fall.” 
“That kid is from Mithril, and also one of their elite team, in addition he has fought with Gauron a number of times.” 
“Gauron? Who is that?” 
“You don’t know?” 
“No. I don’t know.” 
The Chief mumbled and smile innocently.  
Kurama muttered a little Japanese, “The country side is carefree huh-” 
“Huh?” 
“No. Never mind.” 
Kurama returned to watching the grandstand, observing the battle between the M9 and Savage. 
From their position they could clearly see the two units.  Sagara Sousuke’s white Savage made use of the terrain and obstacles, and looked like he was somehow evading the fierce attacks of the M9 with efficiency in the distance. 
If you looked at proximity, it looked like he just kept running away, immediately having the fate of being the prey but- 
“He’s good” Kurama sighed with cynicism. “With the kind of skill he has in the white unit, his opponent might not manage” 
“Haha. Even if it’s white, a Savage is a Savage” 
“It’s not that it’s white. But that M9. Does he know that the operator is Sagara?” 
“No. I didn’t let him know.” 
“He might be killed.” 
After Kurama said that, the Chief’s nose snorted with a pooh. 
“Impossible.  It’s not possible.  With and old model Savage?  Even if he had known about it, he won’t take it easy on Sagara.” 
“That’s right…” 
Oh well. 
Anyway that M9 also came from the spoils of war. They couldn’t expose the fact that they had it to the world. Those who saw it were dealt with.  If by chance it was damaged, the data collection for the project had been accumulated. 
Also, the Chief’s confidence was understandable.  No matter how much he tried, there was no reason the Savage could win over the M9.  The results would come anyway. 
How unfortunate, Sagara Sousuke. You came all the way here. Well, it was a nice sensation. 
Then the telephone inside rang.  The Chief had a short conversation in the local language, and immediately hung up. 
“What’s the matter?” 
“It’s the dealing with that Savage’s team.” 
The Chief plastered on a warped smile. 
“You’re going to deal with them accurately?” 
“Yes. The maintenance members are headed to the neighborhood of the pig farm.  And that female owner is... we’ll be playing with her for a while. Ufufufu” 
“Either way it’s a hobby you can be proud of.” 
“How unfortunate.  Generally speaking of the guys dealing, it’s good to boast about taking the owner.  If it interests you, I’ll tell you a tale of bravery.” 
“No, I’ll pass” 
“As you wish.  First the ankle-” 
“I said stop.” 
The Chief said nothing after that. 
This sadistic pervert.  Aren’t you the appropriate one to go to the pig farm? 
He looked away from the Chief’s fat belly. 
Kurama took out a carrot stick from a cigarette case. He put it in his mouth, frustrated by the yearning of Tobacco. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
They thought they were being sent back to Namsak, but Ash and the maintenance crew were being brought to a farm in the outskirts of Munamera village. In less than 2 minutes, the car reached the neighborhood. 
No. 
Getting out of the van, they understood.  This was the pig farm.  Being brought to a place like this, exactly what did they plan to do? 
“Hey cop. This-” 
“Walk.  Towards there.” 
He was poked again by the carbine gun.  Unable to resist, Ash and the others were taken into the storehouse. 
Their noses filled with the smell of something fishy. 
Solid feed formed a pile in the crude small cabin.  In the middle of the feed pile was a big grinding machine.  Solid feed 
entered from above, and at the bottom, powdered feed was being spit out, transported via conveyer belt to the adjacent pigsty.  
“Wha-” 
As expect of Ash and the others, they were able to guess the policemen’s intentions. 
Killing them, and using that grinder to clean up the mess. 
“Form a line over there.” 
“You’ve gotta be kidding!?” 
“I said form a line.” 
“Stop it! Hey, hey, no matter how much-” 
The man hit Ash with the butt of the gun in the temple. 
“Uh...!” 
“Don’t make us work.  Even I don’t want to be in this stinking place; I want to get out of here.” 
“You’re serious!?” 
“Help!” 
Ash was dragged on his knees, the maintenance members were begging for their lives. 
But the policeman, with cold hearted eyes, looks down on them with a faint smile. 
“It’s a pity. Well, it’s just your bad luck.  I’ll let you at least pray.  Well, give up and form a line” 
With that, the men were being put into the yard. 
“There is no need for that” 
A thin and tall white man with a little pretty Y-shirt and slacks walked in. He was a guy in glasses who looked intellectual but weak. 
“...Master Lemon?” 
It was Michael Lemon, the journalist who was supposed to be arrested in the detention cell. 
He had changed from his usual cowardly way, Lemon was completely calm. This was the first time they had seen Lemon with a composed atmosphere. 
“Wh...why are you here? You were supposed to be in jail-” 
“It’s alright.  I freed myself.” Lemon murmured with a smile. The flabbergasted policemen turned and aimed their carbine guns at him. 
“I don’t know what happened but, don’t be an idiot. Why don’t you become feed for the pigs as well?” 
“I’m sorry.” 
Lemon did not budge at all, with one single word, muttered “Kill” 
In the next moment- 
The leader of the policeman was hit in the head with a rifle bullet. Scattering his brain and blood, the policeman died instantly. 
“......!” 
At the same time coming from the window, men in black uniforms flew in the feed slop.  Their sub-machine gun were attached to sub-lasers.  Without giving the policemen time to react, they fired quickly. 
Barely three seconds had passed. 
Ash and the others timidly opened their eyes and looked around. Not one policeman remained without a shot in the head. 
“Eh...” 
The men in uniform, moving cautiously aimed their guns. 
“Hii....he..help” 
“Don’t worry.  Don’t worry” 
Ash reflexively cowered. Lemon walked over and tapped his shoulders.  Even with the completely armed men surrounding him, he relaxed the tension immediately. He seemed to have cursed, but none of them were fluent in French. 
“That was dangerous, Monsieur” one of the men in a mask said.   
Ash blankly said, “Master Lemon, exactly what is going on?” 
“Apparently, this is.” 
Lemon, with a sigh, helped Ash up. 
“Saying I was a journalist was a lie. Not knowing anything about ASes, that’s absolutely true.  These guys are my comrades. Though I can’t say the details.” 
 
 
He walked over the mouth of the feeding slope. Towering in the distant mountains, intermittent flashes of gunfire in the direction of the “Arena” could be seen. 
Lemon muttered, “Sousuke seems to be close to his goal. Probably the same as ours.” 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
The sound of an explosion.  Gunfire.  The roar of an engine. 
A flare cut the darkness, the head of the Savage flew off.  The Shadow of the M9 danced in midair, drawing near at full speed. 
“....” 
Sousuke made the unit strike back, aiming the rifle at the enemy.  But- 
I won’t make it. 
He decided in an instant.  He leaned forward at full power to evade. The M9 had excellent aim while in mid air.  
He couldn’t win fair and square. 
Fire rained overhead. With skillful steps the unit moved to the front, to the rear, to the left, to the right, evading the enemy’s bullets with difficulty. He moved the Savage to its mobility limit. 
The M9 jumped overhead of the Savage, landing on the pavement. 
Without a moment’s delay Sousuke fired. 
The M9, with its light body bent to avoid the shot, triggered various parts of the armor to activate the ECS.  A faint bluish light surged, and suddenly the form disappeared into the dark night. 
Will it finally end? 
Sousuke smacked his lips.  This Savage was not equipped with an ECCS- an anti ECS sensor.  There was a 1st generation 
optical infrared sensor and meager radar. That radar was showing its age and wouldn’t budge.  In other words, there was no way to detect a transparent enemy. 
He would be killed here. 
Sousuke made the unit jump back, taking refuge by backing up inside the towering shrine.  If he didn’t get away, he would be caught in the fire of the M9... 
A flash.  An Impact. 
The chest armor was shot.  It seems that the angle was shallow.  The chest armor was a sturdy mold, one way or another it rejected the enemy shell.  The damage was slight.  But the shock was transmitted to the cockpit, making Sousuke’s head dizzy. 
That was why he couldn’t stop.  He stepped backwards like that, getting inside the temple in order to guard his back. 
To enshrine the 10 odd meter height of the giant God Statue, the height of the relic’s ceiling was enough for an AS to get inside. Between many towering pillars the moonlight shone from a hole in the ceiling. 
Sousuke made his unit go into the deepest part of the temple, changing the magazine of the rifle. This was the last magazine. His other weapons were the two sets of HEAT hammers equipped on his back.  The first damage he took had made the hydraulics in the left arm decline to a dangerous level. Will it hold for one more minute? That’s how it was. 
...Will I gamble? 
Sousuke decided immediately.  There couldn’t be even one second of hesitation. 
Aiming at the left side entrance of the temple, he fired the rifle. 
Five shots, six shots. The pillar was smashed up. Furthermore, a number of stone pillars were shot and destroyed in 
the same manner. Taking care to pay attention to the reduction of the bullet count- he stopped with one shot remaining. 
Inside the large place of worship, flat dust clouds floated about.  Even if the enemy used its ECS, he would be able to grasp its position. 
Only silence. 
Immediately, the M9 rushed into the temple.  He moved directly in front with the speed of an arrow.  The ECS was cancelled.  The pilot had judged that it would not be effective because of the dust.  He was a good pilot whole heartedly. 
Sousuke fired the last shot. The M9 shook to evade, with its own rifle aiming at the Savage. 
“......!” 
He missed, as expected.  Faster than the enemy, Sousuke pulled out the HEAT Hammer. 
HEAT Hammer.  As the name denotes, it has an explosive press that is used against a strong tank. It’s a hammer type of melee weapon. It’s disposable as it is only useable once.  It explodes when hitting the enemy, and that energy goes through the armor, destroying the interior. 
Sousuke used that HEAT Hammer. Instead of him, the enemy hit the stone pillars immediately. 
Explosion. 
The stone pillars collapse instantly.  It had destroyed multiple pillars, disrupting the balance that supported the ceilings of the temple. With one hit of the HEAT Hammer the limit of the temple was reached. 
There was a thundering roar.  The ceiling, falling with the walls, poured a hundred tons of rock down. 
The two units in the place of worship had no place to run to. They were being crushed by the collapsing ceiling and walls. 
They were crushed with no interruption. The appearance of the enemy unit in the monitor, and the dust and rubble disappeared with a twinkling of the eye. The unit shook violently, all the warning device and display were flickering. The machinery positioning device shook bit by bit, informing Sousuke of his unit’s upright position, and its fall to flat on its face. Aside from that, the person who lied buried in the collapsed temple was unknown. 
The cave-in ended.  The Echoing roar vanished, the stillness of the night returned. With difficulty the movement of the diesel engine continued to churn. Only the creaking sound of the heavy frame and armor remained. 
“.....” 
The unit was buried alive.  The field of vision in the monitor was totally black.  The freedom of the cool air couldn’t be heard. The engine and hydraulic system’s temperature was rising very fast.  There was no time to be slow.  Sousuke manually operated all the torque controls for the joints: lowering the reaction speed and in return increasing the maximum strength.  It was similar to changing gears in an automobile. 
Shifting the limbs, he slowly raised his position. 
Even while being pressed with mountains of rubble weighing tons, Sousuke’s Savage managed to crawl out into the night sky. A crack here and there in the armor and broken construction materials were scattered all over. The screen was covered by a cloud of dust. 
Where’s the enemy? 
A rough cleaning apparatus washed off the dust clinging to the Optical sensor. Sousuke was searching for the enemy unit.  The M9 couldn’t be seen. It must still have been struggling under the 
rubble.  There was no doubt he would eventually crawl out, receiving suitable damage along the way. 
Just as planned. 
The completely electronic M9 was not like the Savage which was powered by hydraulics.  Just like humans, contracting the muscles enabled it to move the joints.  Because it had no hydraulics system, the M9 had lightweight and high mobility operation, but on the other hand it had a weak side in that it couldn’t operate outside its standard load.  To be able to move while having a tremendous weight being pushed down on it- that kind of situation was very rare- and so the Savage, who used the hydraulic drive, had an advantage against the M9.  No matter how high the engine output, the problem was the structure of the drive system of that output. 
In addition, there was a difference in the construction of the fuselage. 
Compared to the M9 that had a complicated joint construction, the Savage was straightforwardly simple.  The Savage’s body had a strong stress point like that on oval egg, while the M9 had a flexible abdomen capable of bending in all directions. With regards to enduring bullets, the M9 had the advantage in the difference of armor materials but, in terms of the solid construction of the unit’s entire frame, the old Savage model had a winning point against the M9. 
Sousuke had gambled on the toughness of the Savage’s characteristics. 
It was by no means a tough model.  But somehow, while broken and thoroughly overdoing it, it would still operate.  That was the RK-91/92 series Savage’s strongest point.  Through the hot and humid, sand and dust, crude fuel and oil, a haphazard load, and many small damages, it kept going. Withstanding this and that 
on the battlefield, it was a tool of a pro that silently continued to battle- that was the true value of this best seller unit. 
To Sousuke, who had pieced together this unit from the AS control manual, it was not unreasonable for him to initially hate Mithril’s Arbalest. Being delighted with the incorporation of advance functions in the “test type” was like a new recruit pretending to be a hero. 
Sousuke checked his unit’s condition. 
The hydraulic system in the left part of his body was declining.  No matter how much he stood the engine temperature wouldn’t go down.  The pitch of the balancer was also strange.  There was a strange noise erupting from the hip joint to the frame.  
But Sousuke uttered his satisfaction. 
“It’s a good unit.” 
Finally the M9 stirred from the rubble, crawling in front of his eyes. 
It appeared to respond suitably. 
 
 
Sousuke controlled the Savage, casually seizing the M9’s head. He took out his last HEAT Hammer, and mercilessly struck the generator on the M9’s abdomen. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
He had accurately destroyed the power section, making sure that the M9 would not be able to function, Kurama sounded a small sigh. 
“hmph...” 
He was unsatisfied, but gave his approval. 
Indeed, an impressive guy, to be able to win in that junk. 
He had encountered many different AS pilots, and had never before seen someone win with that kind of unit going up against such an overwhelmingly advantageous enemy. 
With that calmness.  Highly calculating. 
Sagara Sousuke’s piloting skills and actual battle experience was not merely the level of a half hearted regular army man.  Amalgam had need of such outstanding men--- 
Well, inviting him is useless. 
After what happened in Shun On he didn’t think that he could make his opponent, who had made it this far, obediently follow orders.  Even if he used the girl that Mr. Silver had as bait, the arrangement would have had no loyalty.  As soon as the girl was secured Sagara Sousuke would mobilize as they had seen in the previous battle. He would definitely go against Amalgam. 
As a result, he had to be killed. 
Kurama glanced by accident at the Chief’s face.  He hadn’t expected that Sousuke would be able to defeat the M9. Unable to hide his confusion, he uttered “absurd” and “what is that guy”. 
“Well, what are you going to do?” 
At what Kurama said, the Chief’s eyes looked like he woke up from a dream. 
“He’s informed of the situation here.  He’s coming here full force with the intent to kill you.” 
 


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