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The next morning, I awoke to a familiar knee in the ribs. The three of us got up and left the so-called inn. It had been an extremely long and uncomfortable night. I woke to just about any unfamiliar noise, and they were all unfamiliar. I heard screeching in the night, as well as gunfire. Some of it sounded like it came from just outside this building. It looked like this place was attacked by something every night, and this was considered a secure and safe place, according to Katarina. I would hate to hear what she considered unsafe.

The slave girl was waiting for us as we headed down the bleachers, and we were then led to the receiving area. Five people were lazing around the entrance. Every single one of them appeared to carry an arsenal as impressive as Katarina’s. No, that was an understatement. These guys were loaded to the teeth. There were four men and one woman. They wore fatigues, but I couldn’t say they were part of any military I recognized. The camouflage was mostly in black and brown colors.

A tall man with a muscular body and about three day’s growth on his face stepped forward. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and was one of the first attractive men I had seen in the apocalypse. I wondered if that meant that he was a colonist, but I thought it’d be rude to ask. Katarina didn’t seem impressed and only glowered at him as he shot us both a smile. His teeth were clean and straight, and if it wasn’t for the large rifle in his hands, I would have found him completely non threatening.

“Bonjour, it looks like you are the ones we were hired to protect?” He asked.

His voice had a distinct French accent that some women might find sexy.

“Correct.” The mayor’s voice came over the slave girl’s collar once again.

He was back to the stern voice he usually had. The emotion that got into his voice the previous night was nowhere to be seen.

“Ah… Mayor, is it? I usually like to see the men who pay me.” He leaned forward, speaking straight to the slave girl’s neck like she wasn’t even there.

“Then, consider me seen.” The slave girl gestured to the skybox, where the mayor stood with his arms crossed.

“I see…” The man scratched his fuzz. “Well, I suppose I have. In that case, it is the Eastside Hospital you have your sights on, Oui?”

“That is correct. You are to protect Mr. Daniel and his companions. Once the security system is under his control, you’ll help them clear out the hospital, in every sense of the meaning.”

“An impressive score, to be sure.” He nodded and then glanced over at me. “Mr. Daniel, yes? I am Jacques. This is the Perry Mercenary Group.”

“What is a French mercenary group doing here?” I asked.

“We’re not French,” One of the other men, a large, hairy man with a bald head and a full beard answered.

“He likes to talk that way.” The girl rolled her eyes. “He thinks it gets him the ladies.”

She wasn’t as pretty as Katarina and had a smaller chest as well. Her hair was dark and flat and she didn’t have Katarina’s legs or butt. Katarina barely looked at her, but I sensed a bit of hostility from her when she looked at Katarina. Maybe I imagined that.

“Merde! If you’re going to tell everyone the second, we meet, why do I even bother!” He snorted, but then leaned toward me. “It doesn’t get me the ladies, though. As for you, I don’t meet a cultured man like yourself every day who can recognize an accent. Where do you fare from?”

“An unofficial colony, more or less.” I fed him the lie. “You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

“You might be surprised.” He looked at me carefully for a bit. “I’ve heard a lot.”

“I’m Punk.” Another guy, a bit younger, took a step forward. “I’m the guy with the Perco. I see you have one as well.”

He showed his Perco openly, but when he glanced at mine I instinctive pulled my sleeve over it. He smiled anyway with an awkward shrug.

“She’s named Darling. Then there is Truck, Snipe, and Crib. Ah… that’s not our born names, but that’s what we go by.”

“Yes…Punk… merci, Punk.” Jacques seemed annoyed that he had been interrupted.

Truck was the large hairy man. Snipe had a pair of goggles and a face mask on. True to his name, he was holding a rifle with a long-distance scope on it. As for Crib, he had darker skin and a Caribbean appearance to him, possibly Cuban or Dominican Republic. He was the only one who wasn’t carrying a weapon, although he had a large backpack that went up over his head. I had a feeling that the backpack contained his weapon. That’d put him in the heavy weapon category.

“As you can see, we have every skill you can see. Punk is a hacker. He only has a 3000, but he can break into anything if you give him enough time. Snipe can take out anything in five-hundred yards. Crib can bring the firepower. He’s a demolitions expert as well. Of course, we have Truck, who can bench 500 pounds if needed, so whether it be carrying supplies or bashing in skulls, he’s your man. Of course, last but not least, Darling is there for our more… flexible needs. Together, we make up the Perry Mercenary Group. We’re small but effective. Successfully completing over one hundred and twelve missions to date-”

As he introduced each again, they nodded or sneered, even though Punk had already introduced them once. I supposed knowing what they could do was important as well.

“Yes, yes… your reputation proceeds you. This is why I’m paying you so well.” The mayor’s voice interrupted him. “Just get the mission done.”

I stepped forward as Jacques was frowning at the collar. “I’m Daniel, this is Katarina, and this is my slave Kiera.”

I kept the introductions very simple.

“If you wish for the hospital to be taken, you don’t need to send child colonists to do it. My team is more than enough.” Jacques suddenly said to the collar.

“Call me a colonist again!” Katarina lifted her smart rifle at Jacques.

Although Jacques didn’t move, all four of his teammates had a gun on her just as quickly.

“You said yourself that without a Perco 7000, it’d be nearly impossible to hack the security completely and that some doors could only be accessed with explosives that would threaten to destroy the contents inside. Besides, if you could have done it on your own, you would have already. Everyone in the wasteland would have if they had the ability.”

“I did say nearly impossible, that doesn’t mean impossible,” Jacques said, and then shrugged, waving his hand and causing the rest of his people to lower their weapons. “Merde, you’re the boss. Keeping la petite prince here alive is our job? Fine! We’ll do as you ask.”

“I’ll be keeping him safe.” Katarina lowered her gun. “You just need to stay out of our way and carry the heavy stuff.”

“I like her,” Jacques said, smiling. “Of course, Madame, as you command.”

“Let’s get moving,” I spoke up. “I want to be back as soon as possible.”

“Then, after you.”

He made a grand gesture, bowing as he spread his hand out. I glanced at Katarina and Kiera once and then walked out the door. I brought up the map in the Perco and selected the hospital. If cars were a thing, it’d be about a fifteen-minute drive. As is, I was looking at half a day’s travel. It was Saturday now, and I was no closer to getting those cancer drugs.

As I walked out, I saw the security droid. It seems to have a circuit along two sides of the building. There was a long cable that came out from the building and plugged into the back of the droid. If a smarter creature ever attacked, it could try to take out that cable. However, the security droid could run on crystals too, so anyone who got close enough to cut the thick cable would still have a security droid to take care of. In other words, it was suicide.

We walked out for about three blocks before Katarina and the team stopped. I was ahead, so I ended up taking a few steps forward before Katarina hissed at me.

“We need to hide!” She hissed.

“Hmph! Hide, she says.” Jacques scoffed. “And here I thought you were tough.”

Katarina glared at the team, but they did not attempt to hide. A moment later, there was a growling noise, and five things jumped out over a gated ally and into the street. They looked like dogs, except they were hairless and had bulging eyes. They were also extremely thick and muscular, like if a muscle builder was mixed with a dog. Their eyes gleamed red, and as soon as they saw the team, they started running forward.

“Well, Perry group, tell Argos city how we play,” Jacques spoke in a relaxed voice.

Each member pulled out a different weapon. Snipe had his scoped rifle, while Darling had two handguns akimbo style. The others had rifles, except for Crib, who stood aside disinterestedly. It only took them from the time to kneel and ready their weapon and they were already firing. The creatures were no slower, already 2/3rds of the way to their prey by the time the shooting began. It only lasted for a few seconds. Each shot hit the head like they were professional marksmen, and the monsters all fell within feet of their targets. As soon as they hit the ground, the mercenaries had already put up their weapons and started cutting open the creatures. The crystals were in their hands, and the whole exchange had lasted less than a minute.

While I was watching in stunned silence, Jacques approached me and gave a smile. “Let’s move on. The gunfire scares away many things in the wasteland, while it attracts others. Personally, I don’t want to be around when the things gunfire attracts appears.”

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