I gave Katarina a look, asking her what to do. She leaned over to me.
“You got us into this. You get us out.” She muttered.
Now, she didn’t want to be in control? Just great! After a few tense moments of silence, I gave a nod and moved to follow the woman. Katarina followed right behind me. She moved as she always did, with the feeling of a tightened spring ready to snap. Only two of the guards followed us, so the pressure was slightly less. At least, that’s what I tried to tell myself.
To get my mind off the sudden shift in mood, I examined the woman I was following. She had short brown hair in a sort of bull cut. She looked a fair amount prettier than any of the women down in the rink, with tanned skin and bright hazel eyes. However, she also had this way of looking straight ahead as if she wasn’t focused on anything. Her back was rigid like she moved my rote. The thing that drew my eyes the most was a large collar wrapped around her neck. There was some kind of computer device on the back, but it was covered with a silver panel.
The location we headed turned out to be an elevator, which seemed to lead to the VIP box the mayor was waiting in. When I looked up at his glass room, he was no longer standing and overseeing the Rink. He had moved away in the back where I couldn’t see from my angle. Once all five of us had boarded the elevator, the woman lifted her hand.
This was the first time I realized that she had a perco on her hand. She pulled out a small cable from the top of the perco and plugged it into a box on the elevator. Only then did a certain light turn from red to green, and the door closed. She then pulled the cord out and it instantly retracted into her device. I instinctively touched my own, wondering if it had a similar cord. The woman noticed me touching my wrist and put a smile on her face that didn’t touch her eyes at all.
“You are a colonist, yes? I was once a colonist as well.”
“Once?” I asked.
Katarina elbowed me. “She’s a slave, idiot!”
I already had guessed that! I didn’t mean it that way.
Her smile didn’t flicker. “It is okay. I didn’t have the same luck that you did. When I left the colony, I was taken by slavers shortly after.”
“Why did you leave?” I asked, causing Katarina to shoot me an even angrier glare.
“Why do any of us leave?” She sighed. “To see what else is out there.”
“…” I didn’t know what to say to that.
I wasn’t even really a colonist. I just looked like one. She had my sympathies. Those raiders would have made me just like her. It was luck that I had made it this far if one could even say I was far at all.
We didn’t wait in silence, as the door opened shortly after she was done talking. I took a step out into the lounge, and could instantly feel the difference between the mayor and his people. The floor was carpeted, the furniture was nice, and the room was cooly air-conditioned. For the first time since I had been to this world, I breathed clean air free of decay or death. The merchant had said this place had air conditioning, but it was a bit stuffy down there. It turned out the majority of the air conditioning was directed to this office specifically, and they only got whatever else.
My eyes ended up landing on the same suited man from before. He was a tall man with short, black hair and a smile on his face.
“Come in.” He spoke more like an order. “Take a seat.”
“I prefer to stand,” Katarina responded, causing his smile to slip slightly.
“I’ll sit.” I declared, immediately taking a seat on the desk across from him. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, honorable mayor.”
“Heh.” He let out a laugh. “You might want to put a chain on your girlfriend. Well, at least one of you understands proper respect.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” She muttered angrily, causing the watching guards to stroke their weapons menacingly.
“Ah… why has such an important figure called us here?” I said to take attention off of her attitude.
I was beginning to think it’d have been better if I traveled up here without her. I wasn’t sure if she’d allow me to do that though. Thankfully, he took the bait and a smile returned to his face.
“I noticed that you seem to want to sell some high-quality food and water here. Of course, The Rink welcomes trade. I have to admit, even watching from a distance, I’m curious about this food of yours that is both fresh and free of radiation, not to mention this so-called healthy water.”
“If you’re looking for a sample…” I began.
“No… no… that won’t be necessary.” He shook his head. “The reason I called you up here isn’t because of the trade agreement. Rather, it is because of the Perco on your wrist.”
My hand once again reached to the Perco, and I shot Katarina a look. I had attempted to hide it at first, but Katarina said not to bother. If anything, a Perco was like a ‘do not shoot’ sign, and would only do someone like me a favor. Since I had more value alive, even raiders would avoid killing me. She told me the ones who had taken us earlier probably would have killed me on the spot if I didn’t have the Perco on, as guys weren’t worth capturing usually. However, now my exposed Perco seemed to get us in trouble.
“Your Perco isn’t a 3000.” The mayor continued when he noticed me being sufficiently perturbed. “Dina, show him yours.”
The slave girl stepped forward and held her arm out. It was a Perco not much different from my own.
“What of it?” I asked, confirming nothing.
“See, it lacks any silver color, and also, the edges aren’t as rounded as yours.” He explained. “If I had to guess, you have Perco 7000, correct?”
“A 7000!” Katarina shot a look to me in surprise.
The mayor’s eyes narrowed as he looked between the two of us suspiciously. I quickly realized what the problem was. If we were fellow colonists and lovers, then there was no way she wouldn’t have known my Perco was a 7000.
“She and I met in the wasteland,” I admitted. “We had both been captured by raiders and escaped together.”
There was no use lying when the truth was acceptable. The man nodded slowly, the suspicion disappearing. I didn’t confirm whether I had the 7000 or not. I had the 9000, which was supposedly some experimental one that never reached the market. Just who was that guy who I had fell on?
After a moment, the mayor continued. “It is okay if you don’t confirm anything. The Perco 7000 was only distributed to special VIPs and employees of Allco. Not only were they built with superior parts, but that has many additional functions that the normal 3000 series doesn’t. I don’t know how you obtained such a valuable Perco, but I am interested in your assistance because of it.”
“What is that?” I asked, surprised a bit by where the direction went.
“As you may have heard, as good as this location is, we are close to many threats. We’re only on the edge of the city, so it’s not as bad as downtown. However, I would like to secure our position even more.” He took a slow breath. “I’ve recently confirmed that there is a deactivated security bot only six streets over. I want you to recover it for me.”
“Why me?” I demanded.
“One of the unique features of a Perco 7000 is that it can force a factory reset on all Allco devices. It’s very useful for employees.”
“Seriously!” Katarina perked up, and when she noticed my confused expression she leaned over and whispered. “A factory reset could, for example, wipe out the code on a safe or a door lock.”
“Or remove the ownership of a security bot.” The mayor finished. “That’s what I want you to do.”
I thought about it for a moment before responding. “Why would you ask me to do this? I heard you have someone who can hack it.”
He winced slightly. “It’s true, I have someone who can get into it. However, his price is exorbitant, and it may take him weeks. Furthermore, the bot weighs nearly a thousand pounds, making it difficult to bring back. I’ve been contemplating for weeks what to do about it.”
“That security bot I could set to work for me. Heck, it would be beneficial to use for my mercantile business. I could just run off with it! It would be a greater wealth than I would get from you.”
“If you’re asking what is in it for you, then I’ll apply the stick and the honey.” He frowned. “First off, this favor I’m asking you is a requirement if you wish to sell anything within the Rink.
“You heard me. If you don’t do this action, I will kick you out of the Rink.”
“You can’t just…”
Katarina grabbed my arm, and when I looked back, I saw a surprisingly sympathetic face which was slightly bitter as well. “I’m afraid he can. He rules The Rink. Anyone who dissents would be kicked out, and that’s virtually death. Between some food or their only lifeline, no one down there will stand up for us.”
I closed my mouth with a click.
“Good to see you’re seeing some sense.” He grinned.
She glanced at him, and then pulled out her gun and aimed it at his head. “Now, tell me the whole story of what you’re trying to send us into or I’ll blow off your head.”