“You don’t have to make your decision now regarding these thoughts of mine.” The mayor’s voice sighed. “However, I have a feeling you’ll be going to the hospital anyway?”
I made a fist, shaking slightly. I was working through my mind if there was some other solution. Katarina seemed to pick up on my thoughts and thus began speaking.
“As much as I hate to admit it, this is our best shot right now. If the Rink didn’t work out, Twin Elms is the only other place we could reach without too much danger.” Katarina admitted. “And if the Twin Elms route is no longer secure, then we don’t even have that option. Of course, I can get us out of the city, but that might take days, even weeks. However, even that has risks.”
As she spoke, she gave me a side glance. If what she was suggesting was what I thought, she was saying she take the mirror out of the city. However, I didn’t have that kind of time, and if the mirror broke, it would all be over. As much as I hated to admit it, our current position was about as secure as we will get.
“Then, it seems like we’re in this together,” I finally said.
“I won’t be sending you alone this time. This job is too important. I’ve hired a team of specialists.” The mayor declared. “I contacted them over the radio. They’ll be here tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow!” I protested.
“We don’t want to be traveling at night. They see better than us at night.” Katarina said.
“I’m sorry, it’s the best I can do. However, these are skilled mercs. They’ll keep you safe and get the job done. Naturally, any supplies you acquire, I’ll pay crystal for. Crystal is the only thing the Rink has in excess. One advantage of being in such a busy area of the city, plenty of mutant attacks.”
“That’s it, then?”
“Believe it or not, there is an inn over there.” The slavegirl pointed and the mayor’s voice went on. “You can stay the night. I’ve even permitted for your slave to enter the area to attend you. I… I suppose there is one more item I can give you. Consider this payment in advance.”
He sounded extremely hesitant, but the slave girl gave nothing away as she reached into her pocket and pulled out something and handed it to me. I didn’t know what it was as I turned it around in my hands. Katarina was curiously looking over my shoulder when she suddenly let out a gasp.
“It’s a stealthco?”
“A stealthco… an active camouflage device.” She explained. “It wraps a person in a layer of bending light making them difficult to see. They lost the ability to make them since the war. They’re only one-time use though, and they don’t last that long.”
“Only five minutes.” The mayor’s voice cut in. “Although you’re only half right about one-time use. Theoretically, this is another Perco Mod, although I suppose you could say it was intended to use with a Perarmor. The limitation comes in the special chemical that triggers the camouflage. It can’t be safely produced in the wasteland, and stores of it are gone. As is the case, this Stealthco had two charges.
I plugged it into my 2nd spare mod. Instantly, Stealthco information started to flow across the screen. I could activate it with just a few pushes of the button. It was as easy as using the RegenX and RadR. I had felt those were technically mods too but were so common they were built into the current model, rather than given an external port.
“Don’t expect any other gifts from me!” the mayor suddenly said, sounding somewhat moody. “Those two mods were all I inherited from him. Now, I give them to you in the hopes that you can help me fulfill the dream he and I once… ahem… nevermind that. You know what else to do.”
His voice suddenly cut out, and the slave nodded as if accepting his command. “If you are done, Master would like me to take your measurements. He has dedicated the compositor tonight to create a set of armor for you.”
“You always surprise me in the things you don’t know.” Katarina sighed. “A compositor takes raw materials and assembles them to create something new.
“Isn’t that a 3D printer?”
“I’ve never heard of this. Can a 3D printer create bullets, armor, and guns?”
“Ah… that depends.”
“Then, you can consider them similar.”
“I see… but I’m much more curious why the mayor is taking such good care of me now.” I asked, looking at the slave.
Usually, she ignored my inquiries, but this time, she turned to me. “Master’s brother once had a Perco 7000. They once had grand plans, but he… passed away.”
“I’m sorry.” I suddenly felt bad for sounding nosy. “I didn’t know.”
“He has great hopes for you. So, please… do not let Master down.” She bowed, and for a bit, I started to think that maybe this mayor wasn’t all bad.
In truth, he had been very generous since I came here. That’s mostly because I had something he wanted, but he had been nothing but honest to me as well. He had a sort of authoritarian vibe with his office overlooking the Rink and the seemingly brutal rules he expected his people to follow, but I was starting to think these were normal expectations of the wasteland. I looked up at his box, but his blinds were closed and it was anyone’s guess what he was doing at the moment.
“He’s investing in me hoping I pay him back in dividends,” I responded. “I will do everything in my power to live up to that trust.”
A small smile formed on her lips for just a moment before it went away. She stood back up and then gestured for us to follow. While my body was being measured, Keira was escorted over as well. The marketplace wasn’t so large, so we naturally had drawn notice every time we entered. However, now that we had buddied up with the mayor, and even been defended by him after insulting a chemist, it was clear in the looks of the other wastelanders that my status had risen substantially.
By now, it seemed that everyone in the Rink knew I had a Perco 7000. At least, that’s why I thought I had heard the name whispered at least a dozen times in my passing. When people looked at me, they looked on with excitement, envy, and just a bit of jealousy.
The slave offered to measure and print armor for Katarina as well, but she refused. She said it was too constricting. As for Kiera, that offer wasn’t on the table. At the end of it all, she was still just a slave. I suggested leaving her there while we went to the hospital, but the way she teared up, I didn’t dare make that decision. I wasn’t suited to be anyone’s master.
“Your room.” The slave finally took us to the inn.
They were small huts that went up the bleachers. They appeared to be made of wood fragments gathered from who knew where. Each one took a level, with the seat of the bleacher acting as the bed. The room we were offered was only about a space of 6 ft by 6 ft. At least it gave some privacy. Technically, we were already indoors, so that was all that was needed. I then realized that it was the only room we were being offered. I was expected to sleep in this space with two women.
“Master should have the bench.” Kiera insisted.
“Whatever, I prefer the bottom anyway.” Katarina threw down her backpack and immediately lay down on the dirty floor.
Kiera picked the side laying on the upper floor. With a gulp, I turned away.
“Ah… I’m still a bit wired. The market is still open, so I think I’ll take a look.”
Katarina only gave me a single look before covering her eyes with a pillow. “Don’t wander around and don’t stay up too late. In the wasteland, safe sleep is a commodity.”
I nodded. Kiera looked like she wanted to follow, but I held up my hand and gestured for her to stay. Then, I walked back down the bleachers. The man who watched the inn didn’t glance up from his display. He had some kind of a wrinkled-up magazine in his hands. I wondered if there were any other guests.
I ended up walking through the market for a bit. Upon seeing and smelling what was offered as food, I started to gain an understanding of why they were so excited to see my food. There was some kind of bug that was cooked. You could buy their individual legs or the body.
“You see this blackness? You have to cook them to the point they’re burnt if you want to eat them and survive.” A shopkeeper said.
This was the slogan he was using to try to sell it for people. He told me a certain voice that the guy on the other side of the market undercooked his, which meant it had a high degree of radiation. I wasn’t sure cooking had anything to do with radiation, but I declined either way. I also found rat, some kind of sludge-like gruel, and a tough-looking cornhusk that didn’t seem to have corn.
“It’s chewy,” he said, biting off a piece with his remaining teeth, chewing it for a moment, and then spitting.
I was looking for things I could sell. I still didn’t see any technology that looked like I could use to make a profit. First of all, I didn’t know how to sell technology back home. It’d require more research. Secondly, I had no clue how any of this stuff worked. Explaining how I developed it would be impossible, let alone how to replicate it. Even if it was something feasible, like a laser cutter, it would probably create more trouble than it was worth just explaining its existence.
I also wasn’t a criminal, so I wasn’t going to use the Perco’s hacking ability to steal money or do something nefarious. I wouldn’t be against setting up some kind of fake identity to do business, but it still took contacts and knowledge that I didn’t possess yet.
Just as I was about to give up, I noticed the chemist from earlier. He closed earlier than anyone else. That was probably normal. It seemed like chemists got away with a lot in this world. He looked somewhat suspicious, so I tried to keep an eye on him. I saw him speak to a man. They exchanged envelopes and both went separate ways. The chemist started to head toward the residential area, while the strange man left the Rink.
I had grown anxious for a moment, so I had to remind myself that the guy sold drugs. What he had done looked nothing less than a trade deal. It wasn’t like the Rink provided all that much privacy, and he hadn’t even made much an attempt to hide. I didn’t sneak after him so much as carefully watch him from the corner of my eye as I looked at a linen shop.
With a sigh, I returned to the inn. Katarina and Kiera were already asleep, although I had a feeling that when it came to Katarina, that was a relative statement. I lay down facing the other direction and fitfully went to sleep. I couldn’t even think something like ‘just one more day.’ I had an uneasy feeling that there was no escaping the apocalypse. This was my life from now on.