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A flash of anger and frustration flooded through me. Before I realized what I was doing, I had grabbed the man by his coat and shoved him against the table.

“What the hell do you mean by that?” I snarled.

“Daniel!” Katarina gasped in shock.

A few guards started heading in our direction, but I didn’t let off on the guy’s coat at all. If anything, I grabbed it tighter.

“Get your hands off me! I’m a chemist! Do you want me to blacklist you? I can make it so you won’t be able to get a drug from anyone in Argos City!” He hissed.

I pulled out the phase knife from my pocket and flipped it on before bringing it to his cheek. “And I can make sure you don’t make anything for anyone in Argos city ever again!”

His eyes flashed with fear for the first time, and his previously insolent grin faded slightly.

“Daniel, is there a problem?” I looked to see the mayor’s slave standing there, but I had heard the mayor’s voice.

“I paid this man for a product. He promised to deliver it. Is this as good as the Rink is for its word?” I responded.

However, the anger I had felt was starting to fade, and I was beginning to think I made a big mistake. There were nearly a dozen men with their guns trained on us. After working so hard to form a working relationship with the Rink, I had suddenly blown it all away in a single act of anger.

“Chemist?” The voice came from the girl’s slave collar, but her eyes moved straight to the chemist like she was talking for the mayor.

“It’s not my fault! The last shipment never arrived! It got hit by bandits or something! Kick this man out or… or… or… I’ll report it to the chemists!”

“Don’t push your luck, chemist!” The mayor’s voice sounded suddenly angry, and the slave gave an angry look as if to accentuate that. “It’s known that no other settlement will take you! You have no skills except for making psychedelic drugs and narcotics. Don’t give me a reason to have you replaced.”

“Eh… You…” He bit his tongue and then lowered his head. “Yes, mayor.”

“Daniel. Let go of the man. Let us work this out. I believe that I have a solution that you may be interested in.”

I relaxed my grip, having already expelled most of my anger. I apologized, but the guy only harrumphed and turned away. I sighed and then followed after the slave. As I passed Katarina, she leaned over.

“You’re surprising sometimes,” she whispered.

I had to agree. Now that the heat was leaving me, I couldn’t even believe I had done that. If my rashness somehow prevented me from getting that medication, I’d never be able to forgive myself.

The location that the slave led us turned out to be a small alcove that was closed. The slave unlocked and opened the alcove, revealing a computer terminal.

“Daniel, your interface, please.”

“Wh- ah… here…” I quickly realized she was talking about the connector that I plugged into things.

She took it from me and then plugged it into the terminal. “I will be uploading your Perco with a current map of Argos City. It will include the locations of most settlements, as well as areas known to be hostile.”

“I see.”

I saw a loading bar appear on my Perco. It loaded slower than the Master Code, but faster than the factory reset. I seriously considered just clicking the Master Code to see what would happen, but I had no clue what would happen and I didn’t want to destroy whatever relationship we still had. At the very least, they hadn’t kicked us out of the Rink yet, and there still seemed to be a chance at getting the medication.

“Normally, I would charge for this kind of information. You can consider it a gift for our continued relationship.” The mayor’s voice continued to emit from the slave’s collar. “Now, bring out your map.”

I did as he asked, causing the map to appear as a 3D image. Interestingly enough, the same image showed no matter which angle I looked at it. Rather than being a three-dimensional display, it was a two-dimensional display that appeared the same no matter what angle you looked at it from. As a result, all four of us saw the same screen. The slave reached out and drew a line, going through several streets before stopping at a building distinctly labeled the Rink.

“This is the merchant path between us and Twin Elms. Twin Elms is the largest settlement in Argos City. It’s located in the north. A gated community was converted into a settlement. They have farms and water. A nice place to live as long as you don’t mind biting weather, and a sacrifice of safety. They’re also the only connection we have to the Maple Street Gang. They have several running factories. If you need mass production, they’re the only place equipped to do it.”

“What does this have to do with the medicine?”

“Right here…” The slave pointed to a spot along the trail.

To the right of the line he indicated, there was a red area about two buildings over. “This is the closest the merchant line gets to the mutant population. That is Beast area. Other than mutant animals, beasts and grunts are the least friendly to humans.”

“They eat us,” Katarina responded sourly.

“Yes, well, I’ve heard there are a handful of friendly beast colonies, but not in Argos City.”

“What are Beasts like?” I asked.

“Range in color from black, brown, grey, or green. Large, hairless, muscular, protruding brow, lower tusks. Imagine a muscular man, mixed with a hairless bulldog and just a splash of a walrus.” Katarina explained.

“So… they look like orcs?”

“Like what?” Katarina frowned.

“You’re a learned man. I haven’t met many men who read the archives all that much.” The mayor sounded impressed. “Tolkien, right?”

“Ah… y-yeah… Tolkien, Lord of the Rings.” I nodded.

Katarina only looked confused, and the slave’s expression didn’t change despite her master’s pleased voice. In truth, I hadn’t read the books, but who didn’t know what an orc looked like? If I remembered correctly, Lord of the Rings was written after the war, but before this timeline deviated. It seemed like with World War 3, the fantasy genre never really developed down the Tolkien path, and things like elves and orcs were just a piece of pre-apocalyptic pop-culture.

“Anyway, the point is that the Beasts were likely the ones to ransack the merchants. They’ve been growing bolder recently and spreading past their borders. That’s why I was so eager to take the pressure off from raiders and get that security drone functional.”

“You want us to attack the Beasts?’

“Ridiculous! Those things are three times harder to kill than a raider!” Katarina snarled. “You’re asking for our death!”

“Beasts are stronger and more difficult to kill, but they are also dumber.” The mayor said. “Once again, this is a plan I’ve had for a while, but I’ve needed someone with your… ahem… ability.”

The slave didn’t need to glance at my Perco for me to know what he was talking about.

“I believe the building right here was taken over by the mutants.” He pointed to a building right next to the pathway. “This is where they launched their attack.”

“This is suicide,” Katarina growled.

“I’m not asking you to do anything you didn’t do last time.” He explained. “Sneak in and reached the security room. This time, you have a map of the hospital, so getting to that room should be easy. As I said, mutants are dumb, so tricking them and getting past is as easy as throwing a stone.”

“What does the security room get us?” I asked.

“This building was a hospital before the outbreak. Once things went south, it was filled with security measures to protect the people working on a cure. You get control of the security room, and you get control of all the turrets and security droids. You’ll be able to open and seal any door in the complex. Trapping and picking off the mutants would be a cinch.”

“There is no proof that they have the ingredients I need. They might not have been the ones to take them. They might have burned them, eaten them, taken them away.”

“It won’t matter…” he shook his head. “Didn’t I say? This is a hospital. The ingredients are sealed inside. I’d have ransacked the place years ago except…”

I looked down at my Perco again. “You need to factory reset and take over the security system to unlock any of the doors.”

He nodded. “If you take the hospital, it’ll be the biggest score Argos city has seen in three decades.”

“And what do you want out of it?” I asked bitterly. “The security droids? The turrets?”

He shook his head. “Didn’t I just point it out? That hospital separates the mutants from our main resource line through Argos. The Syndicate wants to charge us for that protection, but if you free that hospital and set the security to patrol, the mutants wouldn’t dare make a move again for at least a decade. It will make our lines safe again, and it’ll slow down the Syndicate’s takeover.”

I blinked. “I’m confused. I thought you wanted to work with the Syndicate.”

“I have no choice but to work with the Syndicate, but that doesn’t make us friends. They want to conquer Argos city. They want to make the Rink their loyal subjects and force us to pay for protection. They’re thugs. I demand better. My people demand better. With your help, we could take Argos city for ourselves!”

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