Introduction to the Survival Theory - Chapter 26
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“I really wanted to express my gratitude to you.”
The curly-haired brunette visiting me out of nowhere started with a thank you first.
Unlike our first encounter, she didn’t stutter nor act like a naïve fool.
I had no idea what she was thanking me for, but we were already in each other’s debt, anyway. No reason to reject her words of gratitude, in that case.
“I’m withdrawing, you see.”
When I wordlessly nodded, she showed me her wrist no longer burdened by a terminal, then informed me of her withdrawal from the tournament.
This woman, who got dragged around like some slave by the ginger kid and his gang, probably had no reason to stick around anymore now that they were dead.
Only then did I notice that she wasn’t wearing her glasses.
More importantly, though, I couldn’t spot the sense of powerlessness and despair that used to dominate her eyes hidden behind the lenses.
She seemed to have become a totally new person as if she had finally found the catalyst to turn her life around.
I was about to say something, perhaps to find out what her name was. But a wave of dry awkwardness rushed in to strangle my voice and dried my lips.
I probably would not have any further business with a former Participant who had already withdrawn from the tournament.
She was freed from walking the precarious line of life-or-death, her fate now guiding her towards a calmer horizon. She’d get to live a life where we would never meet again.
…I don’t need to know her name, in that case.
Just think of this encounter as a flitting breeze passing me by. Yeah.
“It’s Sophia. That’s my name.”
When I slowly closed my lips again, she quickly brought up her name with a clear enunciation to engrave it forever in my memory. It was as if she had been waiting for this moment.
Sophia, is it?
A name that seemed a little forgettable, yet like a wildflower blooming on a lonely roadside somewhere, a name that I’d recall every now and then.
A thick wave of longing slowly crept up on me without my consent, causing our silence to extend even further.
“…Please win, Victor.”
Even though I didn’t say a word to her, Sophia didn’t look sad or displeased. She even left some words of encouragement, telling me to win the upcoming match.
She didn’t seem to have any lingering regrets.
Sophia flashed a tired-looking grin at me, then turned around to leave. Her figure silently walked away down the corridor.
I didn’t feel anything too special.
The current me was a rumbling volcano of venomous drive and hatred yet she still prayed for my success in the Survival Game, which had become my reality.
The lights in the corridor went out one by one after she walked past. I silently closed the door shut.
The moment the door was shut, though, the memories of times I lived through in the frozen mountainside scattered away into the ether like some simmering haze.
The surviving people would leave, while the surviving Participants would remain.
I stood on this crossroad, knowing that the time to get ready for a mad dash forward was about to repeat itself once more.
While guiding me to the reception area, the tournament employee incessantly ran her mouth to strongly ‘recommend’ what I should do.
Wear nice-looking clothes, act politely at all times, never talk back no matter what, etc, etc…
The employee was a Second-Class Citizen from birth, so she believed that an Operator hailing from a First-Class family was an existence fully deserving of such a treatment.
Since I, too, didn’t want to cause any unnecessary problems, I simply nodded away in silence while letting all her recommendations slip out the other ear. Eventually, we reached the reception area.
The first thing I noticed was a huge table, then luxurious chairs.
The chandelier hanging from the ceiling was sparkling beautifully away despite the meeting taking place in the morning. I even detected a faint scent of lavender in the air.
We were now inside this overly flashy reception room but the tournament employee was fidgeting around even more as if she felt uncomfortable about something.
And when the time came, she stopped chewing on her lips to tell me something else. “I must go now, but please, I beg of you not to forget what I told you just now. Do you understand, sir?”
This meeting wasn’t something I wanted in the first place. But I wasn’t stupid enough to openly express my dissatisfaction right now, either.
I sighed, then nodded to signal that she could leave already. The employee looked even more anxious, her feet about to stomp on the floor. In the end, though, she hurriedly left the room.
The weighty sound of the door closing heralded the uncomfortable silence to fill up the reception room.
Soon, the silence was broken by the distant rhythmic sounds of heels knocking on the floor. I turned my head just in time to see.
The reception room’s door was flung open.
First to enter was a bodyguard emitting a dangerous aura, followed by a tall woman kitted out in a black business suit.
Her hair was bright yellow, while her eyes were as blue as they came.
Right that moment, I knew she was the First-Class Citizen… no, the Operator who selected me.
The bodyguard wearing the pitch-black sunglasses smartly pulled out one of the chairs for her.
She settled down as if this was an everyday occurrence for her, then wordlessly crossed her legs while locking her piercing gaze on me.
Even though she wore no discernible make-up, her face was incredibly stunning.
But I maintained my silence since such a thing didn’t matter to me one way or the other.
The woman glared straight at my face while I wordlessly held her gaze.
The awkward and uncomfortable silence with not a single word exchanged continued on for a good while.
It seemed that the blonde woman didn’t plan on extending our staring contest any further, however. Without a prompt, she suddenly asked me a question.
“Why were you so desperate during the matches?”
She didn’t bother to ask for my name nor introduce herself first like how normal people would act. Instead, she chose to throw out a question that happened to be all-encompassing and razor-focused at the same time.
While frowning a little at this rather unexpected line of questioning, I began thinking about how to answer her.
As an Operator, her role was to be my partner during all the upcoming matches. We needed to be in perfect sync to ensure my survival.
But my plan was to kill the Führer and his son. Obviously, I couldn’t tell her the whole truth, now could I?
If I did, she might tell on me even before I could finish planning my assassination.
I closed my eyes and pondered my answer for about one minute or so, before finally coming up with a reply.
“Because I have to win.”
I had a destiny that needed to be fulfilled no matter what – to avenge her death.
Even if I was destined to die during the act of my vengeance, I must first win the tournament to climb up that far.
Hatred was the energy source making me move, while my rage towards my enemies served as my motivation.
My life’s goal.
The reason why I still lived.
That’s right, that task was something I simply had to do – like how humans needed to breathe.
She muttered, “…Right. Because you have to win.”
Only then did I recall the tournament employee telling me to speak very courteously to the Operator.
But the woman didn’t seem offended by my curt response and started laughing softly, instead. Then she quietly mulled over my reply over and over again.
It was almost as if she sympathized with what I said. But I couldn’t read her emotions from her expression.
Eventually, though, I did discover her competitive spirit getting hotter and hotter on her face and in her eyes.
She finally addressed me again.
“Abigail. That’s my name.”
The privileged few of the First-Class Citizens were known to be extremely arrogant. They hated the very idea of lower classes calling them by their names.
As such, I shouldn’t be allowed to refer to her as anything but ‘Operator’.
However, she didn’t seem to give a damn about my status as a Third-Class Citizen and told me her name without any reservation.
She confidently stood up and extended her hand in my direction.
The bodyguard was caught off guard, getting visibly flustered right now.
Although I didn’t show it, even I was as shocked as the bodyguard.
The moment the rumour of me being a Third-Class Citizen began circulating, all Second-Class bastards instantly changed their attitude towards me. So how bad would it be with those occupying the top of the pyramid, the First-Class?
I came here with a singular goal of surviving this situation somehow, even if that meant I’d get slapped around and stepped on.
But this woman… Never mind contempt or ridicule, she was studying me with a child-like intrigue, instead.
I finally broke my uncomfortable silence.
After saying my name out loud, I imitated what people used to do before the great war by shaking her offered hand. With this, we established a human-to-human connection.
Her hand was warmer than I thought.
The handshaking eventually ended, and I tried to pull back my hand, but then she suddenly gripped me even harder.
“Victor. I must become an Operator who stands proudly next to a victor.”
The heat level in her hand went past ‘warm’ and into the raging inferno. And I could feel it being transmitted to my own palm.
Abigail mouthed those words in a hushed murmur while gripping my hand hard.
Like me, who needed to win for the sake of my vengeance, she needed to become an Operator who had tasted victory.
It was at that moment that I noticed the faint trace of madness bubbling away in her irises hidden beyond her long eyelashes.
I shook my hand again, and she let me go with a bright smile.
Our first meeting ended there.
Participants were given a month until the start of the final preliminary.
Unlike what happened in the training centre, the management didn’t issue any special guidelines this time.
Participants could do anything they wanted – train for the whole day long or go waste everything they had in the casino if that’s what they wanted. I wasn’t sure why such a facility was even present, though.
Somewhat predictably, most of the prospects couldn’t win against the open temptation. They were still young, after all.
It had been two days already since we were allowed inside the mixed-sex residential area. Yet the only people present in the general training area were bored-looking tournament employees.
This was in stark contrast to the entertainment district overflowing with Participants.
I decided to head straight to the training complex as soon as my meeting with Abigail ended. While feeling a bit weirded out by this emptiness, I finished tying the laces of my track shoes.
I only took a cursory look at the general training complex but even so, the scale of this place seemed to be far beyond my wildest imagination.
The residential area supposedly rivalled a city in scope. As if to prove this rumour, the scale of this training complex was about the same as the entirety of the training centre, the one they made us stay in before the Selection Match.
With how big it was, it’d be easier to find what was lacking in the complex rather than what was provided.
As soon as I stepped inside the massive training complex, though, I fell into a deep pool of thoughts almost right away.
The physical abilities I acquired during my military days should be considered ‘perfect’. More than enough to earn my trust, in other words.
But the time passing me by like an unstoppable tide dulled my senses and physical stats. Those weren’t something I could get back in a day or two.
My physical training started during my rehabilitation from the gunshot wound. I even utilised the facilities offered by the training centre to their full extent to get back in shape.
Maybe I should be grateful for the regeneration drug they have injected me with for my improved rate of recovery since my physical stats seemed to have returned to a more-or-less passable level rather quickly.
And now, I began sensing that it’s time to go beyond the basic training regime and start with a slightly more multi-dimensional training.
In that case, I should focus on training for the unknown in preparation for actual combat, and then polish my weapons proficiency since I’d have to use a variety of weapons in the arena.
“Wow, aren’t you a hard worker?”
After I finished organising my thoughts, I picked up the training manual and got ready to move. But then, someone lightly slapped me on the back and addressed me out of the blue.
That was a familiar-enough voice, spoken in a familiar-enough friendly tone.
I quickly turned my head to look, only to spot Abigail with her arms across her chest, standing there staring at me with a grin. She swapped out her expensive-looking business suit to a more comfortable-looking attire.
She unhesitantly left the room when our meeting concluded, so I was under the impression that she went back home or something.
But I was sorely mistaken, as it turned out. Abigail came straight to the training area with her bodyguard in tow.
Operators were famed for being experts in all sorts of fields. They received professional training since their birth, so this was hardly a surprise.
Their purpose was to serve as accomplished tacticians and tutors to all the Participants, after all.
Even a blind fool could tell that she was here to instruct me.
The thing was, though, I’ve been doing everything by myself since the very beginning. Right now, my mind was working overtime to come up with a polite way to decline her ‘guidance’.
If I carelessly say something, the bodyguard behind her might start rampaging around, accusing me of losing my sanity or some such.
Then again, I wasn’t blessed with a silver tongue capable of carefully beating around the bush, either.
Really, now. I’d much prefer going another round with that damn brown bear instead of this.
Still feeling the weight of this uncomfortable situation, one of my brows furrowed slightly just as my lips tried to open.
“Why are you minding me? Weren’t you planning to train by yourself?”
I really thought long and hard about what to say.
But even before I could say anything, Abigail seemed to have read my mind first and began smirking.
Maybe she wasn’t even planning to instruct me in the first place, judging by how easily she stepped out of the way.
I tried to read her eccentric behaviour but gave up eventually and began walking ahead towards the training area’s interior.
The funny thing was, though, she didn’t stick to her cool-sounding declaration of letting me do what I wanted and trudged right behind me with her bodyguard in tow.
It wasn’t all that difficult to tell from her actions that she planned to observe my training regime.
I groaned deeply before asking her. “…May I ask why you are following me, miss?”
“What’s up with the cringe polite question? Relax and talk like a normal person like earlier.”
“Hey, you. Why are you looking at me like I’m a weirdo?”
Honestly, I would have ignored her if I could.
But Abigail’s unpredictable personality and her actions were more than disruptive enough to scatter my focus into the passing breeze.
While I was walking around to check out the training area’s facilities, she rambled on nonstop about what’s more suitable for where and what types of training would be better for me.
If she behaved over the top all the time, then it would’ve been easier for me to handle her, but this woman… She constantly tormented me by deftly dancing in and around the line of what’s acceptable.
“Hey, hey! How about that one?”
I tried my best to dodge her nagging-like rambling by quickly walking ahead to the various facilities of the training area. But she closed in without me noticing it and began slapping my back to draw my attention.
Abigail implied earlier that she’d not bother me, yet here she was, doing her absolute best to bother me.
But, at least right now, I had no choice but to turn my head in the direction she was pointing at.
That’s because the facility I’ve been looking for ever since entering the training area was right over there.
[Combat Simulation Hall]
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