Auto Hunting - Chapter 86
It was a spring day, just before dawn.
The day had not yet even begun. However…
Wow, wow, wow-!
An alarm rang out, signaling the appearance of a crack. Everyone who heard it took out their phones and began preparing for evacuation.
“Didn’t one open around here just the other day?”
“Oh, I have a lot of work to be done, but what can I do…?”
Even while complaining about the inconvenience, the citizens continued calmly preparing for evacuation.
Everyone knew the drill. They had been doing it for years.
There was a system in place for everyone to follow, as soon as the alarm shut off.
For the young ones, it was hard to remember a time without cracks. They had been part of their entire lives.
However, the difference this time was the people’s attitude. They seemed to have forgotten the urgency that came with the warning.
From the time an alarm rang out, there were about five or six hours before the crack would open. In that time, one or two control centers would be erected on the outskirts of the operation area.
Evacuation personnel guided the citizens.
Vehicles carrying hunters began to arrive.
“Have they sent the briefing yet?” a hunter from Team Bunkers mumbled.
“Then I’ll close my eyes for a while… it’s too early.”
“Sure. While we’re waiting.” His team leader nodded. “Set an alarm and take a break. It’s not even projected to be a big crack.”
The other team members agreed. Then they began taking sleeping bags out of their luggage.
Some made do with chairs or tables installed in the control center. It was a ridiculous way to act. Just hours from now, a dangerous crack would occur. Even if the briefing hadn’t arrived yet, the hunters shouldn’t be relaxing. They should have been spending their time doing other things, like checking their equipment.
If other teams witnessed Team Bunkers’ behavior, no one batted an eye.
It wasn’t because Bunkers was an influential team. They were a typical group, with members averaging around the Bronze and Silver level. The reason no one found their attitude alarming was…
“Oops, I forgot my earplugs.”
“I’ll lend you mine.”
They weren’t the only hunters sleeping.
Half of the hunters waiting in the control center were wearing eyepatches and earplugs. Those from the larger teams went back to their dedicated vehicles and slept in their seats. Even those who weren’t sleeping weren’t doing anything productive. Instead, they were rushing to eat the lunch boxes they had ordered.
One of the hunters settled himself down. He was Kim Ji-woo, a hunter from Bunkers with five years of experience.
“Ugh,” he moaned, with his eyes closed.
The side of his body was covered with a bandage. It was wet with fresh blood.
“Are you okay?” a concerned teammate asked him.
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“Yeah, it’s alright.”
With the help of his teammate, Kim Ji-woo changed his bandages, not forgetting to disinfect the wound before wrapping it up again.
“Will you be able to join the operation?”
“Of course,” Kim Ji-woo smiled. Then he leaned back on his seat.
Before going to sleep, he took out his phone. Looking at his messages, he realized they were all phone calls from other team members, or briefing messages.
It was his third operation this week.
On his mobile browsing app, the last article he read was still up.
-Large-scale organizations protest against the Special Defense Agency’s “compulsory operations.” Is it a reasonable protest, or a lack of motivation?-
Kim Ji-woo swore reflexively. He wasn’t the swearing type, but what kind of hunter wouldn’t get upset by the Special Defense Agency’s orders?
-Looking at the statistical data accumulated over the past five years, crack appearances have increased in frequency…-
It had been an ongoing problem for a long time.
National defense agencies had been constantly seeking countermeasures.
However, before they could find an answer, crack appearances had increased more in the last few months. To be precise, they were 1.52 times higher compared to six months ago.
At first glance, it seemed like an insignificant figure; even more so in the eyes of civilians. It was not as alarming as a 2x or 3x increase.
However, being ignored was the fact that, six months ago, crack appearances were at an all-time high.
Kim Ji-woo grabbed his side as he felt another stab of pain. He was hurt enough that, had he been an ordinary citizen, he would have been confined to a hospital.
Of course, being a CE holder, he would normally be able to recover by eating well and getting enough rest. Unfortunately, due to the increased number of cracks, he couldn’t do either of those things. Even without injuries, hunting was an act that risked one’s life.
Also, he felt tired. Stressed and exhausted. These factors could lead to duller movements and decision making during the hunt.
It would all add up to accidents and death. Actually, it already had.
-Last month’s casualties are “close to three digits”…-
The accumulating fatigue, the increased injuries, and the shortage of personnel had begun to create a vicious cycle. Now, if a hunter took a day off, it could only mean one of three things:
First, they were badly injured.
Second, they were dead.
Or third, they belonged to an organization with the power and wealth to provide them a fake medical certificate.
For hunters like Kim Ji-woo, who belonged to smaller organizations, as long as their limbs were all intact, they were required to join the operation.
Kim Ji-woo was in his fifth year. With his excellent skills, he was at the top of the Silver-ranked hunters, almost approaching Gold status.
Now, he was being called on again, before his wound had fully healed.
He put his cell phone away and closed his eyes. Suddenly…
He opened his eyes. Everyone was already busy moving inside the vehicle.
“What happened? Did the rift open earlier than expected?” He was confused.
“What? No! Look at the time!” his team leader yelled out.
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Kim Ji-woo looked at his watch. He was shocked.
He’d thought he had only closed his eyes for a moment, but almost six hours had already passed.
The team leader shook his head.
“Ji-woo, you are resting from this operation.”
“What? My name has already been listed…”
“I’ll take care of it. We could call a substitute. Or you can come with us but stay outside the operation area. I underestimated your condition. You need to rest for at least two more days.”
“No.” Kim Ji-woo’s voice was firm. “Let me go, Team Leader.”
He tried to stand up, but the team leader stopped him.
“Ji-woo, as I said-”
“I know it’s a matter of safety for the other team members. But, so far, I’m still at a level where I can stay upright. I don’t want to have someone else do my job.”
The team leader fell silent. Then, after a few moments, he nodded.
As a team leader, he was ashamed that he needed Kim Ji-woo, even in this condition. The other team members weren’t in perfect condition either.
Kim Ji-woo would help them greatly, even if he was injured.
“I’m sorry,” the team leader sighed.
“No, it’s okay,” Kim Ji-woo assured him.
The other team members were watching them. They all had the same tired expression.
The team leader considered for a moment. Then he clapped his hands.
“Everyone! Let’s work hard! After this operation, I will give you a week off at any cost!”
“Yeah!” It was a short cheer, but it energized the fatigued members for a moment. Meanwhile, as Kim Ji-woo checked his equipment, he was mumbling to himself.
“I am a hunter. I am a hunter… I am a hunter.”
It was one of the reasons Kim Jo-woo had insisted on joining the operation. More than the fines or the poor reputation that might hit him if he skipped the hunt.
‘I have no choice,’ he thought.
There was only one reason why the government seemed desperate for the presence of hunters. It was because they couldn’t help it. Fortunately, no civilian damage had occurred yet. But still, anxiety was spreading through the population. Perhaps they were no longer safe.
‘To keep them safe and make them feel so,’ Kim Ji-woo thought, ‘isn’t that the duty of a hunter?’
He closed his eyes as their vehicle drove toward their operation area. He wasn’t trying to sleep now. He was thinking of someone.
‘I haven’t met you. I won’t be able to meet you.’
However, he was the hunter who inspired him more than anyone else.
A year ago, when he first heard of the guy, Kim Ji-woo had thought he was just some newcomer who was overrated and overhyped. However, in the end, like the other young hunters, Kim Ji-woo was influenced by his outstanding skill and confident attitude that some considered to be cheeky.
He was thrilled, rather than envious, when Yoo-seong went to China.
He idolized Yoo-seong, even before he captured one of the Four Perils, or contributed to the Shanghai Shock. It wasn’t just Oh Yoo-seong’s wealth and fame that Kim Ji-woo wanted to emulate.
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Yoo-seong presented him with the ideal course and direction to follow.
‘What an amazing person,’ Kim Ji-woo had sighed.
Then, news broke out that Yoo-seong had not returned from a Chinese Dive.
Like all Koreans, even those outside the hunting industry, Kim Ji-woo raised his voice.
It can’t be.
‘Oh Yoo-seong couldn’t die.’
However, all those cries went unheard.
Oh Yoo-seong didn’t return.
Half a year had passed. Still, Oh Yoo-seong wasn’t completely gone. He had left his mark on young hunters like Kim Ji-woo.
‘No,’ Kim Ji-woo thought. ‘Every hunter, regardless of age, must strive to be like Yoo-seong.’
Perhaps the current situation was proof enough: regardless of the exhaustion that they experienced, there were a surprisingly small number of hunters who skipped operations.
‘It’s not all about money and career,’ Kim Ji-woo was sure.
The reverberation of a long, ringing magnetic field interrupted his thoughts. At that moment, tension passed across the faces of the hunters.
“Crack opened!” someone yelled out.
They all looked out the window. Sure enough, the crack was opening.
It was twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled time. More than that, it seemed larger than had been predicted.
“Is this really a Typhoon-class crack? Looking at its size, isn’t it almost a Storm-class?” a newcomer asked.
The seniors didn’t answer right away. Everyone’s head was filled with the consequences they were about to face.
Kim Ji-woo’s phone buzzed. It was a new briefing message.
-Crack scale currently appears to be a Storm-class
-Hunters must continue to their designated locations.
“Fuck it!” the team leader yelled.
were contained in his expression.
A Storm-class crack required double the number of personnel for a Typhoon-class crack.
The rush team and the center team were almost at their designated locations.
How long would it take for reinforcements to come and provide emergency assistance? An hour? Two hours? By then, the hunters would be wiped out.
“They have to buy us some time,” the team leader mumbled.
Perhaps the army would be dispatched. It was the only way. Otherwise, a tragedy the scale of the Shanghai Shock would befall Seoul.
The team leader raised his eyes.
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There were black dots gradually falling to the ground.
No one spoke. Every hunter, not just those in the Bunker’s vehicle, was preparing for death.
And so, the day had begun.