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I found Kiera. Unlike Katarina’s room, which was large and had a couch and light through a sealed window, Kiera’s sleeping location was a closet even smaller than the one I had my mirror inside. She was curled up in a fetal position and rocking back and forth. Her floor had been cleaned, but there were no sheets, blankets, or anything else to lay on. She was lying on the floor.

“Kiera,” I said, kneeling next to her.

Kiera unfurled, dropping her head and remaining in a bow. “M-master…”

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” I said helplessly.

“Master… will be leaving after today?”

“I will.”

“Won’t be coming back?” She looked up to see my face and then dropped her head again. “Mistress said as much.”

“How old are you, Kiera?”

“As old as Master desires.”

“That’s not the answer I want.”

“S-sorry…” She kept her head down, and just when I was about to give up. “F-fifteen.”

She was only two years younger than me. Katarina, on the other hand, might be a year or two older. Yet, the difference between all three of us was different. Katarina was callous and rough. Kiera was meek and terrified. What did that make me?

“Idiot…” I repeated the words Katarina called me so often.

“M-master?” She looked up again.

“If you feel the need to punish yourself, come to me,” I said. “That’s an order. If you do anything to punish yourself except through me, I’ll… I’ll… be very angry! I’ll immediately remove the slave collar and you can be on your own!”

That threat sounded stupid as soon as it came out of my mouth, so I was surprised when she acted so violently. Her entire body shook and then she cried out.

“No!”

“Then… do as I order.”

“Th-then… please punish me.” She demanded.

“Fine… stand up.”

“Y-yes!” She stood up almost eagerly.

Taking a deep breath, I turned her around and then swatted her bottom once. I didn’t hold back at all. I used a strong single stroke, with slapped against her rump with a clap. She even cried out.

“There, punishment is given,” I responded.

She looked back and blinked. “I-is that all?”

“Are you mocking my punishments!”

“N-no! Master’s punishments are grand!”

“Did it hurt?”

“K-kind of?”

“Then you were punished. Try not to be punished again. It displeases me to punish you!”

I felt ridiculous. I had promised if I ever had a kid I’d never hit them, but here I was spanking a girl only two years younger than me and giving her a verbal lashing. What was worse, is her mood seemed to be improving!

“Y-yes, Master!”

Trying not to think about the feel of her bottom on my hand, I instead focused on packing up all the supplies. I wanted to leave Kiera behind, but after taking one look at her, I knew I had to bring her along. At least she’d carry one of the backpacks for me, even if it looked like cruelty when I watched her small form carrying such a heavy pack. I had too much food to hide in ammo boxes now. If we were caught, it would probably result in anarchy.

We met back up with Katarina who had finished whatever she was doing. She was dressed to go, and even had the smart rifle in her hands.

“Let’s go.” She said.

The journey to the rink went a little quieter and quicker this time. It was no wonder that Katarina liked to wake up and move early in the morning. It seemed like many of the other creatures of the wasteland were more active in the evenings and at night. We still needed to hide twice, but we finally were back at the Rink. Although my interest was purely on receiving my drugs, the mayor had an escort waiting for us as soon as we entered.

“The mayor has requested your presence.” The slave girl from before stated.

Kiera seemed to watch the other girl with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity. It seemed like she saw other slaves as something to compare herself to. In that regard, this woman was probably an ideal slave. Kiera was once again not allowed to join us, however. She walked to the side and sat down in a corner. She was around the security by the entrance so she probably wouldn’t be harassed. She still watched the pair of us anxiously as we were brought straight to the elevator.

“What is the mayor’s name, by the way?” I asked her as the elevator lifted.

“Mayor.”

“I… see…” The mayor only went by his title, or maybe he was named Mayor, “What about your name?”

“Slave.”

My mouth twitched, but I decided it wasn’t worth saying anything more. Katarina was leaning against the wall with a bored expression. They had let her keep her weapons on her, which I assumed was a means of showing us respect. The guards still looked uneasy around her and made sure to remain on the other side of the elevator while checking their gun holsters frequently. The man who had been pickpocketed the first time was no longer among them. By the look of their worry, his fate couldn’t have been a pleasant one.

As soon as we entered the familiar air-conditioned room, I noticed another man in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. He looked like the kind of guy you’d run into on a golf course, not in the apocalypse. He wore sunglasses as well, but they were yellow-tinged, and you could see his eyes.

“Mr. Daniel, please come in and sit down.”

I was about to correct him with my last name, but then I remembered that he was just called the mayor. On that note, Katarina had never offered a last name either. Perhaps, in this world, last names didn’t have much meaning anymore. I nodded politely and then sat in the chair he had gestured to. It was pretty comfortable, and I was starting to think I should ask him where to find furniture which I could bring back to the girls. No! I wasn’t staying there. I needed to stop thinking like this was a long-term thing.

“The man sitting here is named Mr. West. He’s a local slave trader. I told you that I would help network you.”

“You’re one of those slaver scum?” Katarina took a step forward, causing the bodyguards to all to raise their weapons on her.

The man himself raised a hand, stopping the men. “No, her question is fair. If you’re asking if we’re part of those Slaver’s Market who purchase unlucky wastelanders and colonists captured by greedy raiders, then the answer is no. My group falls under the Syndicate.”

Katarina frowned and furrowed her brow, “I haven’t heard of them.”

“The Syndicate isn’t a part of Argos City. You could call us a branch of the main organization. Then again, I imagine that Mr. Daniel here could say the same?”

I nodded. “I come from a wealthy and isolated settlement. We’re not a colony, but we managed to avoid the fallout of the apocalypse by sealing ourselves underground. We have plenty of things not available in the wasteland, and vice versa. I’ve come to set up trade negotiations.”

Katarina shot me a look of shock. Of course, this was all a lie that I had prepared after thinking about it for some time. It made sense. I was the contact, and if I died, then the food would no longer be imported. That should offer me some safety. I came to make trades in the wasteland, that was my story. After hearing this so-called Syndicate doing the same, it was the perfect opportunity to test out this backstory.

“I thought as much.” Mr. West nodded, while the mayor remained elusive in his expression.

“What is it that you’re looking for?” I finally asked.

He smiled and stood up, walking over to the window while swirling what seemed to be a glass of whiskey. “The mayor here has offered me a gift of some of the fresh food you have provided. I was naturally very intrigued by it. It’s the freshest, cleanest food I have tasted, and the Syndicate is a wealthy organization.”

“What kind of organization is the Syndicate?” I asked suspiciously.

“We dabble in many things. Trade. Gambling. Sex. Mostly, we’re a military outfit. We provide guns for hire. People pay us, and we keep them safe. We’re the government without a government. No taxes, just one on one exchange. The more you can pay, the more protection we’ll offer.”

“I see…”

“The Syndicate could help you protect your tradelines. We’d also be able to provide you with workers. I see you have a slave out there.” He was looking down at Kiera on the other side of the rink. “I can get you more.”

“I will think about it.”

“That is all I ask.” He turned away from the window and set his empty glass on a counter. “In that case, I’ll take my leave. The mayor knows how to contact me. Just leave him a message if you’ve made your decision.”

He entered the elevator and disappeared a moment later and I turned to the mayor.

“What are your thoughts?”

The mayor seemed surprised I turned to him. “My thoughts?”

“I’ve already agreed to sell food to you. I’m not looking to step on toes here.”

The mayor looked startled for the first time since I had seen him, and then let out a laugh. “Concern over your prior agreements. I must say, I haven’t seen this level of integrity often. Since you asked an honest question and showed concern for me, I will be honest with you. The Syndicate is too powerful, and so I didn’t say anything. If they wanted to set up a deal with you that cut me out, there is little I could do.

“I only agreed to see them in the first place because they are the only way the Rink could grow. I honestly expected a big organization like them to not be all that concerned about food. He may think there is something else you can provide.”

“I see…”

“I have a feeling that no matter your choice, you’ll be working with them shortly. They’ve only shown up to Argos a month ago, but I’m already starting to hear about them everywhere. They seem to want to take over the city.”

“Thank you. I will consider what you said. Ah… in the future, I may be sending someone to deliver goods rather than sending them myself.”

“Very well. I understand as well as anyone that time is money.”

I traded with him, showing him all of the food we had. This time, I ended up with 426 large crystals. On the one hand, I brought a lot more food. On the other hand, I didn’t have the guns we sold before.

The two of us went back down the elevator. I had only one thing on my mind. I went straight to the chemist. As soon as he saw me, a look on his face like he didn’t want to see me caused my expression to sink.

“What is it?” I demanded.

“Now… don’t go blaming me!” He said, raising his hands.

“What happened?”

“The shipment with the ingredients on it never arrived! No ingredients, no medicine!”

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