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“Kill her.” Katarina stated.

“What?” I let out a noise of shock.

With RegenX coursing through her body, the swelling in Katarina’s face had already gone down substantially. She had her hand on the wall, using it to support herself while the pair of us stood in front of a small girl on the ground. On the way upstairs, I had remembered she was there. We needed to do something with her before we could call it a night.

The girl was still on the ground, curled up and sitting in the corner. She hadn’t said a word to either of us and barely seemed to acknowledge that her former masters were dead. With the device on her neck, which looked familiar to the one on the girl I met at the Rink, it was obvious she was a slave. However, that was as far as the comparison went. That girl looked healthy, and while not happy, and least accepting in her current place.

This girl was thin, beaten, and straggly. She was malnourished and poorly taken care of. She stunk and was covered in filth. Some of that filth was hers, while some of it may have come from the bandits. It was abundantly clear that she had been through a significant degree of trauma. I felt really bad for her.

“She’s a slave,” Katarina explained in a bitter voice. “There is no future for her. It’s best if you put her out of her misery now.”

“How can you say that?” I demanded, feeling a bit angry at Katarina’s callousness.

Just as I was starting to see some of Katarina’s human side, she suddenly threw this on me.

“She’s been raped, abused, broken. You can’t imagine the torment that those men put her through. Look at her, you can see it in her eyes. Death would be a mercy.” She said.

“Even if you say that…” I didn’t feel satisfied with that answer.

She was still alive. That meant that there was the potential for the future.

“She’s got a slave collar on. Likely, the bandits raided a trade caravan and captured her. They don’t own her, they were just using her.”

“What about it?’

“The slavers recall any slave who no longer has an owner. Only they know the code to remove the collars. So, even if you let her live, you’d only be returning her to a life of slavery.” Katarina shrugged. “You could trade her for some coin, but given her current shape, she won’t be worth much. She’s broken goods. They’ll probably just shoot her once she returns.”

Despite Katarina having casually mentioned killing this woman multiple times, she didn’t even blink at our words.

“Do you understand English?” I asked.

“She understands you!” Katarina snapped bitterly. “What part of broken don’t you seem to get, Idiot!”

I kneeled and reached out to her. The woman recoiled from my hands. I hesitated, but then touched my Perco and injected her neck with RegenX.

“What are you doing? Idiot! You just pumped chemicals into her more expensive than she is! Do you know how expensive RegenX is? Even the Chemist at the Rink lacks the tools to produce it!”

“Oh well, it’s done now,” I responded flippantly, causing Katarina to sniff and cross her arms.

I only had two doses of Regen X left, but I couldn’t regret any of the times I used it. Katarina seemed to be thinking about the money, but I wasn’t sure that mattered to me all that much. I reached out to touch her collar. This time, she didn’t back away, not that she had any room to do so.

“There is no point. Even a 7000 can’t unlock a slave collar.” Katarina explained. “The Slavers created the slave collars themselves based on a technology designed for prisoners. It only looks like an Allco product. The slavers are the only ones that hold the key. There are a few hackers out there that know how to break into those things, but I hear it’s a 50/50 whether they succeed or cause the slave’s head to explode.”

So, the Perco wouldn’t work. I supposed that made sense. I was wondering why slave collars existed in a world like my own. I guess that prisoners had these kinds of collars to keep them under control, and after the fall, someone modified them to keep slaves. I hesitated for a moment, but still plugged in my Perco in the end. I heard Katarina make an irritated sound behind me, but I tried to ignore her.

The familiar text popped up, but it was all greyed out. Deactivate, Change User, and Factory reset was all unclickable. That was when it landed on Master Code. Master Code appeared to be some kind of update that introduced complete control of all Allco products. Would it work? I licked my lips. If I was wrong, there was a possibility that she lost her head. Closing one eye, I clicked the button. The familiar loading bar appeared, filled up, and disappeared without any fanfare.

I was just about to close it out disappointed when I noticed that the other buttons were no longer greyed out. It was a success! The Master Code must have been hardwired into all of Allco’s products. It was a truly dangerous thing. Just what was the guy thinking who developed this? Weren’t they afraid some hacker would stumble upon it and gain complete control of all Allco products?

I had the option to Deactivate, but I hesitated on that one. If this girl was truly broken, setting her free now might cause more problems than solutions. After hesitating for a moment, I clicked Change User, and then set it for myself. For a second, the light on the side turned red, and then went back to green. For that second, I was afraid of a boom, and let out a breath of relief when that didn’t happen.

“What did you do?” Katarina, who saw the color changed, demanded in confusion.

“It’s nothing.” I pulled out the dongle and let it slide back into the Perco. “It’s dark. We should take a nap.

She looked at me suspiciously, but she didn’t ask questions.

I ordered the girl to go upstairs with us, but she didn’t move.

“It doesn’t work that way, Idiot.” Katarina sighed. “The collar is merely a tracker and a deterrent. You can cause her pain or kill her if she tries to escape. That’s it.”

So, it wasn’t like some magical slave mark where she had to follow my every order. No wonder they said a broken slave was worthless. Looking at the unmoving girl still curled up in a corner, I thought about how I’d get her to join us upstairs. I just didn’t trust her alone down here. Rather, I was worried the security bot might suddenly notice and shoot her.

Coming up with an idea, I went into my bag and pulled out a meal replacement bar. Cracking it open, I pulled out a piece and then held it out for the girl. She stared at it dead-eyed. Slowly, I brought it up to her mouth, pushing the piece of bar into her mouth forcefully. Once it touched her tongue, her eyes suddenly widened in shock. She started to chew the small piece frantically, followed by a swallow that sounded painful.

I nodded and held the bar up toward her. Her eyes landed on it as if nothing else in the world mattered. Then, I began to slowly back away. After a few moments, she took a step forward, half crawling on the floor, as she followed my hand. Ever so slowly, she followed me up the stairway. I noticed Katarina staring at the bar and drooling in almost the same way. With a sigh, I tossed her one as well. Her cheeks blushed, but she didn’t hesitate to open it and devour the bar.

It was nearly thirty minutes before I got everyone upstairs, and by the end, night had settled on the wasteland. I could occasionally hear the screeches of unnamable creatures.

“Keep the lights off, or you may attract something,” Katarina warned.

We found filthy mattresses on the ground in one of the rooms. I got the slave settled into one of the mattresses. As for Katarina, she flopped down on another, not caring about how dirty and broken it was.

“A mattress? Lucky!” She said in a pleased voice.

Just being able to sleep on something other than the dirty floor seemed to be an advantage in the wasteland. I decided to count my blessings, using my clean blanket and laying it over the cleanest looking mattress before I finally settled down for the night. With her wounds still healing, Katarina quickly went off to sleep. The slave only managed to eat half the bar before she hid the rest. Then, she passed out as well.

That left me as the only one awake. The last time I had slept the night in the wasteland, the building had been sealed tight. This building was a lot draftier and had various holes in it. I could hear the sounds outside much more vividly. Even with the robot downstairs, it was difficult to feel safe. It was a long time before I was finally able to drift off to sleep. Just one more day. Just one more day, I’d have the medicine, and I’d be done with this crazy world. 

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