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“Put it down!” The guards surged forward, holding much larger rifles on both of us.

I had my hands up, as they surged forward, but the two people who hadn’t moved were Katarina and the mayor. How did she even get the gun in? We left them outside, and that guy thoroughly patted her down!

The mayor smiled once again, then slowly reached over and grabbed a bottle. Katarina watched unmoving as he poured a glass. Only when he finished taking a sip did he finally speak.

“You’re much too rash, my dear. This is the wasteland. You’re like to get yourself killed.”

“You’re trying to get us killed!” She shot back. “I want to know what the catch is.”

He let out a sigh and lifted his hand. With a gesture, the two men who were only a foot away with their guns trained on Katarina backed away. He took another sip.

“I wasn’t trying to deceive you. I just hadn’t gotten to that yet.” He responded glumly. “There is a troop of bandits who set up shop where the security bot is located. They call themselves the Bling.”

“Trying to get us killed!” She spat.

“Any challenge would naturally have rewards.”

“Rewards?” I cut in before Katarina could talk, sounding just as angry. “You want to deny me access to your settlement, just so you can reward me to give it back. On top of that, you want me to do the tantamount to a suicide mission? Come on, Katarina, we’ll find another settlement that values our goods.”

I was extremely upset. Even Katarina seemed surprised by my reaction. She lowered her gun and moved as if to follow me.

“Although it is true that I won’t let you sell anything unless you do this for me, I didn’t say I wouldn’t offer some honey as well.”

I stopped, sighed, and glanced back. “Try me.”

“I have a turret. It’s only a gen 1. It’s similarly locked, but it didn’t offer anything a guy with a gun couldn’t, so I never found it worth hacking.”

“A turret? We could take the security droid at that point!” Katarina replied with a disgusted look.

“Very well… aghh… I didn’t want to offer this, but I also have a Smart Rifle.” He looked reluctant, but also like he had planned this offer from the beginning.

Although I didn’t react, Katarina nearly jumped at the name. “You lie!”

“I don’t. It’s similarly locked and useless to me. But once again, someone who can factory reset the security droid can handle this. Besides, you wouldn’t want the security droid anyway. You don’t have a fusion generator. We can have the droid plugged in with a cable, but you’d be forced to use crystals. I doubt you have enough to keep that thing running non-stop!”

I stopped to think about it a bit, but noticed just a bit of anxiousness in his look, I realized that his position required obtaining that bot. After all, the rumors going through The Rink were that he was going to have it soon. If he didn’t come through, even the mayor could end up losing some respect and power from his people. He needed this deal to go through, or he never would have stood for Katarina putting a gun in his face.

“What else?” I crossed my arms.

He made an ugly face, but after a moment he reached down and touched something on his belt. There was a sudden wobbly look like his entire body was covered in heatwaves. It lasted for only a brief second before he put some kind of clunky box on the table.

“This is my personal shield. This is the last thing I will offer you!” He spat, looking just a bit irritated now.

“A personal shield!” My eyes widened as I came to realize what that meant.

“Hmph… it only has the charge to block one bullet. One. Then you have to refill it with ten large crystals. It isn’t cheap. Plus, a single volley from an automatic and you’d be just as dead. Similarly, it’s useless against energy weapons. It’ll block a sniper bullet or a stray handgun bullet. It’s useless to me. Everyone who would want me dead already knew I had such a thing and would use an alternative means.” He explained.

Katarina blushed slightly. It was no wonder he didn’t show any fear toward the gun she had. Had she shot, the bullet would have bounced off him, and then both of us would have died for nothing. I found myself wanting this technology. Getting shot was my biggest worry here, so a shield that blocked that would make me feel much better. It was like having a second chance. However, that was only if we succeeded, and that seemed unlikely.

“Even so… a suicidal mission is suicidal.” I responded helplessly.

“I’m not saying the job is easy.” He responded, “But if you can sneak in and reach the security bot and activate it, it would have no struggle dealing with a group of bandits with ease. All I’m asking you to do is flip a switch when you think about it.”

“I see…” It was certainly more than flipping a switch, but he made his point.

“Are we in agreement?” He demanded, pulling the device back to him.

“So, we get you the security droid, and we get the rifle, the turret, the shield, and rights to sell our food?”

He put on a grin. “You won’t need to sell your food. I’ll buy it all personally. Five large crystals per can, and three per health water. That’s more than any of them down there will offer you. You finish this task, and I’ll buy any food and water off you now and in the future. I guarantee my coffers are much deeper than the riffraff down there. I can also help you connect with others in the wasteland.”

“Others?” I asked curiously.

“I have many connections. The Slavers, the Maple Street Gang, Twin Elms, I even know someone from the Technocracy. If you need anything, I can work out an introductory meeting. Without it, believe me, you’d be asked to do much more. Trust must be earned in the wasteland, even for simple business transactions.” He explained, finally standing and holding out his hand. “So, how about it? What will it be?”

“Then, I guess we’ll accept,” I said, although I still felt uneasy about the risk involved.

I took a glance at Katarina to see what she thought, and her expression was icy and gave nothing away. At least, her finger was no longer on the gun trigger.

“The Bling are based out of a jewelry store. They’re located just eight blocks east of here. We typically watch the area to the west and the south, which means they’ve been a threat that has even managed to affect our commerce. They’ve been a thorn in our side for a while now. Part of the reason I’m being so generous is that wiping them out will also take the pressure off of us.”

Generous? That’s not exactly what I would call it. I guess the value of human life was low in the wasteland. Whether it was worth it, that was for every person to decide themselves. For me, it was my mother on the line. Yeah, I’d say it was worth it. At the very least, I still had a day left in this wasteland, and this was a means to that end.

“Wait… did you say jewelry store?” I realized he had said something else of interest.

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s why they call themselves the Bling. They tend to wear a bunch of gaudy ornamentation. You can’t mistake a Bling from a mile away. Why? Are you looking to find something nice for your girlfriend?”

“She’s not…” I stopped before I started sounding like her. “I had considered finding some jewelry for some personal reasons.”

I kept the words extremely vague, and even Katarina gave me a strange and slightly suspicious look.

As for the mayor, he shrugged. “I don’t care. I only need the security droid, and for the Bling to be… displaced. Gold and diamonds have no value to me. You may take whatever you’d like. You may be able to find people willing to buy the guns and ammo, but I assure you no one in The Rink will be interested in jewelry. You colonists are strange people.”

“Not even colonists value gold at this point.” Katarina snorted, but when she caught the eyes of everyone present, her cheeks turned slightly pink. “Or so I heard…”

“Then, we will be on our way.”

“Good luck, and be safe.” When I gave him a look he held up his hands. “Believe it or not, I see a very profitable and mutually beneficially friendship in our future. I only hope you don’t disappoint me.”

I gave a slow nod and then turned to leave. Katarina turned and followed.

As we passed the armed body guards, she took the gun and casually slipped it into the empty holster of one of the men. We all realized at the same time that she must have pickpocketed it from the guy while we were in the elevator. Since he had a two-handed rifle he was using in his hands, he hadn’t even noticed the gun she was using was his until that moment. The man made a flustered noise as the mayor shot him a deathly stare.

We were escorted back out and given back our weapons… okay, her weapons. The door closed and clicked behind us, and I had a feeling that unless I came back with the droid in tow, there was no way I’d be entering the Rink again. I noticed at this point that two turrets were hanging from the ledge under the door. I hadn’t noticed them on the way in. If we made any moves to try to get in, those things would fill us full of lead. I did not doubt that. I shivered as I was once again reminded about how dangerous this world truly was. Death was literally around every corner.


I stopped and turned to Katarina, surprised she used my name. Usually, she just called me an idiot. She had her head down and looked somewhat reluctant to speak.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I… um… wanted to let you know… you didn’t do badly in there.” She spoke hesitantly like she was pulling teeth. “The way you were able to sell stuff and talk to people like that was admirable. I never imagined you’d be able to talk him out of so much stuff, just for taking out a bandit camp.”

“Just?” She was saying that like bandits were easy.

“I’m just saying… you’re not completely useless.”

“Uh… thank you?”

It sort of seemed like a compliment, but her reluctance wasn’t selling her case at all. She only nodded in response, walking past me with quickened steps.

“Um… by the way, what is a smart rifle?”

I figured it was some kind of computerized rifle, but the way he reluctantly gave it away, even when it was useless to him, and the way Katarina looked excited, I thought it might have some great value.

Katarina nearly tripped walking past me. She spun around and glared.

“You didn’t know what a smart rifle is? You negotiated without knowing the worth of it?”

“I mean…”

True… I didn’t know the value of any of it. However, I’d rather take stuff than not take stuff, and if he held it in value, then I reckoned it had value.

“I-I-Idiot!” She spun around and stormed away, seeming quite agitated again.

I was back to Idiot. With a sigh, I started following Katarina back into the wasteland.

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