Chapter 22:

Chapter 22: A New Situation


“I must say, Slum Boy, I’m still surprised! To think we were on the same page this whole time!” Lulu sat across from Nyk with a smile on her face, unbothered by the rough terrain they were traveling across.

When Nyk asked Lulu if he could join Mysha and the others on the Bounty Hunt, he expected her to turn it down. But to his surprise, she had already been planning to send him out to begin with. And now here they were.

It was different from his previous Scavenging explorations. Usually, he changed into his suit before leaving the base, but Lulu hadn’t said a word about that. She’d just taken him to the truck that morning without even stopping to pick it up.

Another thing that had changed was their method of transport. They weren’t riding in “Number 5”, Lulu had brought him to a truck that was nearly twice the size, with better armor and a large “8” emblazoned on the roof. “Number 8: Mobile Artillery Command Office, or MACO. And unlike the last truck, it was loaded with weapons.

The inside of the carrier was filled floor to ceiling with boxes ranging from large to “towering”. The largest of all took up the full front wall of the trailer. It made Nyk feel even smaller than usual.

“H-How much longer?” He asked, trying to sound casual about it. He had no idea what Lulu was thinking behind that serene smile.

As if answering his question, Aud’s voice crackled from the front.

“Milady, I see the other vehicles in the distance. It’s time.”

“Excellent, Aud!” Lulu chirped, rising from her seat. She turned to Nyk. “Come. Let’s get you suited up.”

“What?! B-But… you left the Synchro Suit back in the base!”

A wicked grin crossed her face.

“Slum Boy… did you think I only had one suit?”

She turned and pulled the tarp off the large box, revealing it wasn’t a box at all. Nyk gasped in disbelief.

“B-But… but this…”

If the first Synchro Suit boosted Nyk to over six feet of height, this added another foot to that, easy. And most of that was in the extra bulk. Thick armor plating covered every surface, with suspension systems in place on the legs that Nyk figured were necessary to even keep it standing. The color scheme had changed as well, with a deep shade of red added to the black and silver. And most striking of all was the firepower. There were no rifles. No submachine guns. Hanging from the waist of the suit were two six-barreled miniguns, with a third mounted above the suit’s right shoulder with a targeting sensor attached. Long belts fed into all three from a massive pack on the suit’s back, and those were just what he could see on the surface.

“Number 0-1: Assault Demolisher,” Lulu proudly declared. “Where your first suit was designed for all-purpose Scavenging activities, this model is designed solely with combat in mind. Loaded with every heavy ordinance I could get my hands on, and enough firepower to blast that giant snake you fought into soup.”

Realization dawned on him. “This is why you had me go through all that training this past week?”

“Exactly. With this bad boy, that Bounty Sentinel won’t know what hit ‘im.”

Mysha hopped out of her truck and looked at the Bounty Sentinels approaching on the horizon. They would be here in about half an hour, maybe less. In the distance, other bands of Scavengers were gathered together, preparing to fight their own battles. Her team would be teaming up with another group, led by Dorem.

“Hey there, Mysha. Glad to be working with you again.” Dorem stepped out of his jeep to greet her, tipping the brim of his hat. His team had made some upgrades to the vehicle since the last time she’d seen them, adding a massive mounted M61-40 Vulcan to the roof.

“Pleasure to be working with you, as well,” Mysha smiled.

“No word from Wolf? Pity. I’d have thought he’d be all up for this,” Dorem grinned.

At that moment, a massive cargo truck rolled over the dune, coming to a stop not far from them. Mysha’s first guess was that it was a supply truck from the corporate government, but that was before the back opened up and the person inside stepped out.

“Wheeeew,” Doren whistled. “Might fine suit you got on there! Looks like you’re ready for a party!”

Mysha grinned. “Now that’s what I call an upgrade.”

Nyk approached the two of them, his new frame towering over the two by as much as they would dwarf him normally.

“Those are some nice guns you got there,” Mysha added. The rest of her team got out to see what the commotion was, as did Dorem’s gang.

“If we’re hunting Bounty Sentinels, I’d like to be prepared this time.”

Mysha raised her eyebrow. “…I’d say you succeeded.”

“What else you got in that truck?” Dorem asked curiously. “Party favors for the rest of us?”

“Not at all.”

Nyk whirled around in shock. Aud had stepped out of the truck and walked towards them, but she wasn’t alone.

Lulu?! For the first time, Lulu had come out of hiding, and she was having quite an effect.

Women like Lulu didn’t step out into the wasteland. They didn’t even leave the city. But in the light of the morning sun she stood with a regal smile in the silver sand, on display for all to see.

“Well, good morning, miss,” Dorem said, tipping his hat. He knew Wolf had connections to large corporations, and anyone with eyes could see that this girl was someone special indeed. The daughter of a CEO, perhaps, or an executive’s mistress. Those stood out as the only logical choices for a woman as finely dressed and flawless as her.

Of course, no one guessed at all that she was, in fact, running the company herself.

Aud greeted Dorem in Lulu’s stead. “Milady would like to thank you all for your assistance here today, as well as for your understanding of the fact that she cannot speak to you at this time. You may refer to her as ‘Milady’ if you wish, but we request that anything you would like to ask her be directed through me.” She smiled politely. “My name is Aud, and it is a pleasure to meet you all again.”

Lulu smiled as politely as Aud, but the fact that she didn’t see fit to give her name or even speak to the other Scavengers made her position towards them crystal clear.

If anyone had a complaint, they kept it to themselves. Because that was simply the power that her very existence demanded. It really sunk in for Nyk just the level of status he was dealing with here.

“So what now, then?” Dorem asked, glancing to Mysha and Wolf. “The Sentinel we’re after’ll be here soon enough, should we come up with our plan of attack?”

Mysha nodded. “Before that, though, there’s another issue that we should address. Dividing the bounty.”

Dorem’s smile disappeared. “Well, right to business then, red. I can respect that.”

The Bounty Sentinel they were hunting today was named Bufon Barrager, a massive, hulking toad-like Sentinel. While the snake Nyk had defeated was technically larger due to its length, this one stood nearly as tall as a building, with its clawed feet the size of cars. Because of its threat level and the fact that it was advancing towards the city, the Collection Office had issued a bounty of 1,200,000 silvs. An incredible sum of money.

Nyk was shocked when he’d heard, but then Lulu explained that compared to the cost of all firepower it would take to suppress the creature, it wasn’t that much money at all.

But still. 1,200,000 silvs. Nyk couldn’t even imagine what he would buy if he had that much money. And yet it was still just a drop in the bucket compared to what he owed Lulu.

Of course, he wouldn’t be getting all the reward. What the two groups were discussing right now was how they’d split it among the eight of them; these kinds of negotiations were commonplace among veteran Scavengers, and Nyk listened closely to pick up as many tricks as he could.

“So, how do you figure we divide it up, then?” Dorem asked, stroking his chin. “I’m a pretty bashful guy. So don’t go saying something flashy like ‘whoever lands the finishing blow collects the whole bounty’ because I don’t go in for that sort of thing.”

“Not at all,” Mysha assured him with a smile. “In fact, as this is a standard Bounty collection, the standard method should work fine, wouldn’t you agree?”

Dorem nodded thoughtfully. “Even split, works for me.”

When it came to hunting Bounty Sentinels, it was rare that a Scavenger, or even a team of Scavengers, could defeat one singlehandedly. Most were handled just like this, with several groups teaming up together to handle the kills. When that happened, it was difficult to judge who contributed what, and thus figuring out what price each member “deserved” out of the bounty was next to impossible; to avoid such disputes, it was often agreed that the bounty be divided equally, though of course, that could still be negotiated beforehand.

Nyk struggled to keep up, but they were dealing with numbers too high for him to count. If he could do the math, though, he would know that with the agreement to split the bounty eight ways, each Scavenger would be walking away with 150,000 silvs in their pocket.

But before they could agree, Aud interrupted.

“Pardon me, but I’m afraid that arrangement doesn’t work out for us.” Her smile never wavered as the two Scavengers turned to her, surprised.

“Oh?” Dorem asked, intrigued.

“With that method, Mysha’s team, consisting of four members, will be walking away with 600,000 silvs, that is to say, half of the bounty. And your group, Dorem, will be leaving with 450,000. Which leaves Wolf with only 150,000. We do not see that as an acceptable reimbursement for the expenses we’ve invested in this hunt, so we would politely request a change in distribution, please.”

“It’s a fair distribution,” Mysha coldly replied. “Our group has more members, and thus will be using more firepower. It makes sense that each person be compensated equally.”

Aud didn’t back down. “What ‘sense’ it makes is not significant to us. It is a matter of degree. There are expenditures to consider, after all.”

“What?!” Axel exploded. “You think that because you’ve sunk all that money into your boy’s fancy suit, that means he deserves more of the reward?! Ridiculous!” He turned and glared at Nyk. “Everyone I know’s always talking about how great you are, but to me it looks like you’re a money-grubbing Shiny using his corporate ties to buy his way to success.”

Oof. It hurt even more because he was right. Nyk winced.

“Axel,” Mysha snapped, glaring at him. An outburst like that wasn’t tolerated at negotiations. She turned back to Aud, her expression even.

“So tell me, what distribution were you thinking of?”

Aud smiled.

“A third.”

Nyk was shocked by the audacity. The other two groups exploded.

“A third?!” Axel roared. “Ridiculous!”

Dorem just burst out laughing at the absurdity, while Mysha tried to keep calm. Aud was serene, her calm smile showing just how serious she was about this.

“A third,” she said again. “One third for each group. I believe that would be fair.”

Mysha shook her head in disbelief.

Dorem, on the other hand, stared thoughtfully at Aud and stroked his beard. With the usual division, he could expect 150,000. But with what she was proposing, his cut would drop… though not by much. 400,000 split three ways wasn’t much less than 150,000. Unlike Mysha’s group, who would have lost 50,000 apiece from this arrangement, those were numbers he could live with. But he wasn’t that charitable of a man. Janys and Rory left negotiations to him because they trusted him to get the best deal for them he could. He had his pride as his team’s leader to consider here.

“That distribution is out of the question,” Mysha coldly replied. Dorem had to agree with her.

“I see, that’s a shame,” Aud said, her smile not wavering even slightly. “In that case, it would appear that an equal distribution is the only logical course of action, correct?”

“Looks that way,” Dorem agreed.

“Yeah,” Mysha nodded.

“Excellent. Then it shall be 1,200,000 silvs divided ten ways, agreed?” Aud asked.

“Huh!?” Both Mysha and Dorem were startled by that response.

“How do you figure that?” Mysha demanded.

“The reward is split between all contributing members equally, correct? Milady and I were content to remain on the sidelines with our support and allow Wolf to collect the reward, but it appears we have no other choice but to consider ourselves in the headcount as well, I’m sure you understand.” She tilted her head to the side. “Unless of course you would like to reconsider splitting the bounty into thirds?”

Dorem’s face darkened and he did some quick calculations. 120,000 silvs for each of them would be less than a third of the bounty.

“Our side will agree with the third,” he said, nodding to Aud. Mysha frowned.

But it was Axel who lost his cool again. “Why should you get anything?” He demanded, glaring at Aud and Lulu. “Are you planning on stepping into the fight yourself? Is that little lady of yours gonna pick up a gun, then?”

Nyk flinched a little as Axel approached, but Aud wasn’t intimidated.

“I see. So you’re claiming that you are able to perfectly account for how much each person contributes to the hunt, and how much they deserve to be compensated for it, is that so?” Aud asked. “Milady and I will be providing support and equipment to Wolf. In what sense is that contributing less to this mission than, say, those among you who will be driving trucks to get close to the Sentinel while others fire at it?”

Axel didn’t have a response, but Mysha did.

“If you’ll contribute to the battle I won’t deny you your fair share of the reward,” she agreed. “But can you promise that your contribution will be significant?”

Dorem didn’t like the way this was going. “I’m not for splitting the bounty evenly,” he growled. “Thirds. It’s fair.”

Mysha’s group was the only one taking a loss if they chose thirds over even distribution and everyone knew it. She glared at her fellow Scavenger and thought about what she should say in response.

Then Aud clapped her hands together.

“It seems that further discussion on this point will only lead to animosity, and decrease our effectiveness as a group, wouldn’t you agree? With that in mind, I’m willing to amend our current position. Milady and I will remove ourselves from consideration towards the bounty and advocate equal distribution between the eight of you on one condition.”

Neither Mysha nor Dorem liked the sound of that.

“What condition?” Mysha asked.

“All Scavenging rights to the remains will be relinquished to us. In return, you may divide the bounty however you wish after we take our 150,000. Is that an appropriate deal?”

It was a shocking suggestion, and one that finally made all the pieces fall into place for Nyk. While he’d been unable to follow the conversation between the three of them, it was finally starting to make sense. That was why Lulu had left the trailer for the first time, and why Aud had pushed her negotiation so strongly. Mysha and Dorem knew it too, what she’d been aiming for the entire time were the Scavenging rights to whatever was left of the Sentinel when they killed it.

Bounty Sentinels were stronger than normal Sentinels, and their technology was more advanced. It wasn’t uncommon for the value of materials scavenged from the remains to be worth far more than the bounty itself when sold through the proper channels.

But at the same time, that came with risk. Bounty Sentinels were hard to kill. None of them could be sure how much firepower it would take to bring the thing down- chances were, there would hardly be anything left TO Scavenge by the end of it.

Agreeing to Aud’s deal was like placing a gamble on that outcome, Dorem realized that. And he was usually too bashful for wagers like this. If he gambled and lost, he’d be out a big stake from the fight. But if he won, he’d get a bigger piece of the pie for nothing. He looked over at Mysha and saw the same thoughts flashing through her head.

In the end, though, neither one could find a reason to say no. For the sake of good relations ahead, they agreed.