Chapter 20 - For That Handful Of Silver Coins (3)

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Cold. Calm.

It is a virtue that cannot be emphasized a hundred times for anyone living in Wasteland. Doubt is a virtue; it is wise to shun suspicious information since there is no time for regrets in this harsh land.

‘_There is no need to rush. When out of the safe zone, it is best for one not to divulge in any special or uncertain missions. In any case, my goal is to pass through Area 45 and meet the trader. Taking more risks will only bring me loss.’_

“Kehehe. So? Does it have a nice taste? Do you think the glorious era you had dreamed of more than a hundred times in dreams will remain as it is?”

However, even if the bait is big, this is just too much.

Immediately after World War III, the panic room of the wealthy, sealed in virtually new condition, was only glanced at when there were not many scavengers.

‘_With this calm and….’_

“… the size? Exactly how many hours have passed since it was found?”

“There’s no clear information yet. It has been about six hours since it was found… and I’ve only started to scan the lid, and it has been a great hit.”

“Great hit…”

“30 suits for orbital mission 2050, with preservation device too.”

“Ah!”

I was so shocked that I exclaimed.

‘_C-calm down! Calm down! This isn’t to a level that I can be shaken! Ah, no!’_

“Uh, ahem!… if there was such a huge thing there, wouldn’t the scavengers have already robbed it?”

“Um? Ah, no. There are a lot of mutations within. Maybe they all moved in at the start of World War III waited inside for things to settle down, and something must have gone wrong as they couldn’t come out.”

Gulp.

Be patient. Do not shake. Patience. This is NO big deal.

No, this is a BIG deal, but this is RISKY. The good things must have already been robbed, and just some old—

“I know a little about those structures, but when rich people build panic rooms for long periods of hiding, they never go in alone. They use bodyguards to protect them from the chaotic outsider environment or mishap. The protective clothing on the first floor was probably prepared for them, so the underground shelter is at least 30 to 7,800 coins at most?”

No, I cannot stand it anymore. It is a what? Neatly preserved shelter?

Tuk

Ah, sorry, my friend. I failed to catch you today.1

“The entrance? What are the trends in large groups like Dome or Raptor Society? How big and what kind of—”

“Woah! Calm down, man. There is an order to things, right?”

The short man took off the dirty bandage around the right hand, took the glove off underneath it, and wiped the sweaty hand to his collar.

“Vex, the ones around call me Vex. The situation is like this: I was looking for a colleague in the area, but then you caught my eye. That three-way point is a place I use often.”

“… you knew who I was, so you waited here? What would you have done if I was a sentry guard from Dome?”

“Kihehe!”

Vex laughed.

“Your acting is bad, man. Well, it is better to get rid of unnecessary misunderstandings right away. Are you someone who travels alone?”

“…”

“You don’t have to answer it. A movement that checks your position and exposure points with each step. It is a habit developed by lone travelers with no backup and being as vigilant as you prove it. The map earlier, normal people would never do it. It is proof that it has been quite a while since you are alone.”

“…you are sharp.”

“Kihe! Nothing too difficult. That is how I live!”

“But going in alone doesn’t guarantee that you aren’t an enemy.”

“Oh my! Living alone in this era means a lot. These are dangerous times, right? The weak gather around the strong, and the weaker dies. The fact that you survive alone without belonging to a group means that you are fine. And not belonging to a group means you do not want to be bound by rules or have personal circumstances for it. Either way, it means that you are someone who lives with a brain and can be talked to. Kihe!”

“… so you chose me?”

“Right. Well, when it comes to risk, there is no end to it, but where in the world is a risk-free option? We ought to handle it all. Since you are from the military, planning a strategy is easy, and you have skills. I like that. How about going hunting together?”

“…”

There was a brief conflict, but the trouble was short-lived. Now that the risk of 2.4 million is already approaching, if the money can be made with some risk, then it would be nice.

I unbuckled my wristband and held out my hand.

I cannot reveal my real name since we just met. No, I should not share my nickname as well. If it turns out that he knows about professor2 and me being the same, someone could trace the path back to the shelter. Broadcasters are the number one prey for scavengers. Name… it would be better to name something else strong, right?

I said without much thought, “Hanged Man. Nice to meet you.”

“Kehe, my comrade’s naming skill is terrible.”

Tuk.

The temporary alliance was concluded. The first hand I held after a long time, um… was more unpleasant than expected. And irritating.


After agreeing to team up, Vex took the lead, saying that there was a good place he knew, and contrary to the dwarf structure, his movements were agile, making it hard for me to follow.

“But, uh… Hanged Man, you are a lucky one.”

“Ugh, I have been wondering for a while. Is this a new way to speak, or is this a new scavenger cool-kid vibe?”

It had bothered me since before that this middle-aged man called Vex was acting strange. He speaks weird stuff, and the words he would say were things that annoyed me.

“Tch. You might not know since you lived in the Wasteland for too long. You must never get a chance to speak to anyone.”

“Well…”

‘_Master!’_

‘_I am your Master!’_

‘_Hehehe, human!’_

‘_It is Master!’_

No. There is no way he can get things done.

“As I lived with blood on my hands every day and without speaking, only the delusions increased in my mind. At one point, words couldn’t keep up with my head, my head was down, but my mouth didn’t stop. So I continued, and the words just keep coming out.”

Um. Such a fun mental illness; I have one, too… comrade point -1

“Then isn’t it dangerous? Are you taking any medications?”

“You speak weird, man. Who around here hasn’t gone crazy in this place? Everyone survives in their own way.”

Vex giggled as he sprinted over the wall in the dead end. No matter how he looked, he wasn’t that good.

“Where did you serve?”

“Uh? Kiheheh! Earlier, when I asked, you gave me the cold shoulder!”

“You were enemy back then. Now we are comrades.”

“Hehe! Um, well. I hate to say that I am some proud person, but when our comrade who is fortunate asks should I answer?”

“Fortunate? Me?”

“Yes! You met the golden opportunity that every scavenger in the world would dream of! What is this if not you being fortunate!”

Well. If one comes out on the road to do something because they didn’t want to die in debt because of an AI’s crazy impulse, maybe your impression of luck will change.

Woong!

Vex used the electricity wire, which wasn’t working, to climb up a three-story window at once and roll up the cloth around the wrist as he said, “I am in Allied 3rd Airborne Division. It was called Gong 3. Did you know? Hepburn?”

“it has been less than three minutes since I said ‘Hanged Man.’”

“My memory isn’t that good. Just let whatever I call pass.”

Professor climbed up the rugged exterior of the building to reach Vex and sensed that the tattoo shown earlier was familiar.

“If you are in the 3rd… then the operation to retake Tarell Ground..?”

“Oh! You know? Even if I collected and condensed my entire life as a beggar, today has to be the best day! Could we have fought on the same battlefield? Hepburn, where were you… huh?”

“Um… it was 14.”

Professor hesitated but then decided to let him know. He thought it would be good to build quality time and be familiar as they work together.

Thud!

But, Vex, who entered the abandoned building, suddenly turned.

“Finally, have my ears lost their function? 14? 14? Like from Special Operations Forces?”

I nodded.

Vex, babbling like ‘I cannot believe this,’ got up and reached out to me.

Chak!

‘He is fast.’

I reacted—no, I thought I reacted quickly, but Vex had already held my wrist before I knew it.

“Tht—tttt—that! Thing! Engraved on the body, which doesn’t get erased!”

“Tattoo?”

“Yes! Tattoo! Show it to me! You won’t say it isn’t there, right?”

‘… _is it really okay to move with this one? Why does it feel like his mind is more unstable as we continue to talk?’_

He is skilled indeed, and from what I noticed about his condition, he isn’t in manic depression…

O looked at Vex holding my wrist with a questioning look, so I unbuckled my suit and showed the tattoo I had on the back of my shoulder.

It was just small and simple: a small arrow built inside a thin circle. It means ‘Kill everything except the one inside.’

14 is a Special Operations Forces known as a Special Annihilation Operations Unit, which was a marksmen unit.

“Uh… ahh… 14… it is 14… you really are….”

Checking the tattoo, Vex trembled and mumbled like a madman and began to walk around the building at high speed, picking up and moving things. Most of them looked like waste, seemingly moving around.

“That… uh? Are you fine?”

“These crazy amazing things are going to get me wrong today….”

“Vex…?”

“If I can touch it, the day might be small.”

‘_Shall I just abandon him?’_

A scavenger who is a former soldier who occasionally spits out weird words and has mood swings.

No matter how I looked at Vex, this man wasn’t a reliable colleague.


As the journey with Vex continued, Gyosu pulled out a telescope from the backpack and looked outside.

“1, 2, 3… 4, Vex, he must have lied.”

Not the people but the flags, which Gyosu counted.

“The red thorn flag…those are the jerks of Tura. The Wanderer must have come since the distance is close. Benny… is nowhere to be seen. No raptors. Also… that flag? Was it the Rolling Corps? I thought it was wiped out. It is my first time seeing such flags-”

“Um! Didn’t you know Area 45 is where new scavengers are born in the blink of an eye?”

“Kuak!”

Gyosu was startled at the sound next to him. When he turned, he saw Vex next to him, looking out the window covering his face from the sun.

“I apologize. When things don’t go as planned, I tend to be a little… confused.”

“If said a little… I think you get confused and shaken a lot. Do you dance with a Molotov cocktail in both hands?”

“No! This is just… a gift box for a plan which went awry… it melts my heart to see my plans move to a place I have chosen for myself.”

‘_His words are weirder than before?’_

An odd thing, it is hard to understand, but still, I could guess what it meant. It sounded like it was meant to calm the annoyance caused by the mess up in his plan.

“What was your plan?”

“Uh…um…”

Vex wiggled his hand and hesitated, and then sighed.

“To throw you in as bait and tried to get in.”

“Thought so.”

Right, I thought he was being too cooperative from the start. Still, he was trusted because he was a soldier who fought on the same battlefield, but I still had a lot to learn; I shouldn’t trust people.

Seeing the number of scavengers gathered, it seemed like this was a wrong turn of events. Gyosu folded the telescope and put them back as he got up.

“W-where are you going, Hepburn?!”

“Where do you think? I will go my way. It was a pleasure meeting you, comrade. You helped me get here quickly, so I will forget the fact that you tried to deceive me.”

As I stood up, Vex began to groan.

“W-wait! I—no, I—I—I changed the plan!”

“It would be better for you to simply give up now. Do you plan to grab anything worth the money and come out of that group? First of all, you already deceived me once. It is a bit off to ask someone who almost got stabbed in their back to work. Let’s end it here.”

I did feel a lot of regret for leaving many things and possibilities, but I turned away. I didn’t try to turn back as Vex approached like a ghost and held my wrist.

“Let go.”

“… I’m not letting go.”

“Vex. Let’s separate here. We haven’t done any harm to each other, right? Separating like this is a happy thing for both.”

“Ah, no, Hepburn. If things go like this, I will be in trouble.”

Vex continued to clench around my hand.

‘_From the very start, he is…!’_

Gyosu pulled his arm, which Vex had grabbed, and bent forward, as if pushing against the opposite arm, to repress Vex from the neck and chest.

“I did see you act quickly since before, but there is a difference between you and me in terms of weight, right? It won’t work. God! Why are you so obsessed with me?!”

“Kuaak! Eukk!”

Vex struggled to breathe as the hand was being used to clench his throat to get him to let go.

“Fourteen!!!!”

For a moment, Gyosu retreated without realizing it. Vex, who was holding the arm, was howling now!

“Right!! I am broke! I am in debt! I cannot pay it back in this lifetime! If I let you go like this, I will not be organized! If I do not do anything, I will not be organized at all! Aaahhhh!!!”

What he meant to say was still vague, but it could be understood.

“Debts? You aren’t organized?”

“5 years! I only have 5 years left! I don’t know why, but you smelled similar to them, so I drew you in without knowing! If I let you go, I would die! Hepburn! Please! I will not lie anymore. Please, one more chance is all I ask! Neve again, will I..!”

‘… _obsessive compulsive.’_

I saw this often on the battlefield. The guy who cannot sleep unless the wooden spears are all cut down and put them at the entrance of the barracks or the one who falls into panic if he doesn’t want the socks he locked. What Vex is displaying now is worse than that.

“AAAHHHH! 14… 14…!!! Please! Please!!”

‘_His object of obsession is 14… is the 14th unit? Man, I am sick of this.’_

If he was completely insane, I would have punched a hole in the head and left, but with him crying like this and his hands not leaving mine, it felt like I was tied.

‘_This guy… I could push him away and take a better position.’_

When I decide to kill him, I will pull the sword and release the pressure. It wasn’t at a level where he could be subdued quickly. But using a gun will bring the attention of the scavengers around here would gather, and that will be bothersome.

Gyosu finally released his arm, holding Vex down.

“uhh… Hepburn, I was the faster one in the 3rd unit. I will be useful to you. Please help me out now. I want to get out of here too. Please. Just let me pay the debt of the—”

“… one after another. Damn it, it is because the number of crazy people worldwide is increasing everywhere. Everywhere I go, I get entangled with the crazy ones….”

It is a problem to let this guy go out. And better to find and clear any traces as it was clear this guy intended to follow me to my house.

‘… _is there anything special?’_

Gyosu picked up Vex’s scarf, which had fallen to the ground during the struggle, swung it around his hand, and moved to him.

“Hanged Man?”

“… uh?”

“Call me Hanged Man and not Hepburn, then I will forgive you.”

Tears welled up in Vex’s eyes, who looked at Gyosu in disbelief.

“uhhhh—uhhhhhh—Hephang…Hep… uhh….”

Vex buried his face in the scarf thrown to him and wept for a long time.

  1. I think he’s like saying this to the trader he should meet ↩️

  2. his Community username ↩️

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