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“So, these are the ones that have chosen to be slaves?” I asked.

Red let out a small cough. “As I’ve explained before, we’re a free people. Although we will wear the collars out of necessity, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t refer to them as slaves.”

As she had said, those lined up looked slightly uncomfortable after I had spoken those words. There were five men: bald, tattooed, with angry expressions on their faces that looked extremely intimidating. The women were a mixed bag. One was short and surprisingly fat, another was old, a third was rather mother-like, while the final was perhaps in her teens, although she had a few scars and didn’t look a tenth as beautiful as Katarina, or even Kiera.

“I apologize. I misspoke.” I responded as I looked over at the recruits. “But I only count nine.”

“I will be the tenth.” Red declared, stepping forward and raising her chin defiantly.

“You?” I raised an eyebrow. “You’re a bit too scary looking to be a service representative.”

“Really?” She touched the slight red fuzz on the top of her head with a pout. “But I was even growing it out? Oh well, no matter. I will naturally service you in any way you desire.”

Although the glance Red shot me was suggestive, Katarina didn’t have to give me an accusatory look. She was so confusing. First, she told me I was free to date other women, then she got jealous of Red and angry when I kissed Kiera. She was giving me mixed signals. It was at the point where I still wasn’t sure where I stood with her. Since the moment she had entered the room behind Red, rather than looking happy to see me, she had been scowling.

Part of the reason I told her my secret was because I wanted to bring us closer together. I was worried it might have the opposite effect. Knowing that I was literally from another world and that I could transfer over and not come back, I imagined that could be scary.

“That won’t be necessary.” I cleared my throat. “I suppose I could make you the manager. You’ll make sure the inventory out on the lot remains stocked. If you see trouble, you can report it to the security, and if there are problem customers, you can try diplomacy to resolve it before calling in the guns. In that respect, I suppose you’ll work directly under Katarina.”

That seemed like a solution that would make everyone happy. Katarina’s place in charge would be solidified, and I didn’t have to put her in any danger. The market was going to be set up in the courtyard where the bandit tents had once rested. Katarina could survey the market from the relative safety of our building, but having someone on the ground level would help too. Red could be out among the riffraff and relay any issues she discovered to Katarina. Meanwhile, the guards would stand at protection.

I also only had five armed guards. There were an additional four who would likely protect the building on the right where the Dragon Claw survivors took up residence. If I counted Fire Raven, that was another four. They’d remain in the main building, protecting our inventory. The building on the right, and the museum would be unwatched except for a turret or two. Cecelia could immediately let me know if there was a censor breach, but that still left a hole in our security. In short, I needed more people. I needed more for selling, and I needed more for protecting.

“I’ve been under a few men, but I’ve never been under a woman before.” Red smirked. “How interesting.”

“I thought you said you were a virgin?” I frowned.

“What does my virginity have to do with work? Oh my, is Daniel’s mind thinking of such things? Well, you are still young. If that’s all you can think about, perhaps I will have to…”

“That’s enough!” Katarina stepped in. “We don’t need you running your mouth. If you do your job, that will be sufficient.”

Red didn’t look particularly taken aback at being interrupted while I was still wondering why Katarina was in such a foul mood.

“I’ll do as I’m asked, as agreed,” Red responded, thankfully reading the room and pulling back her playfulness.  

I nodded, deciding to just get on with and address the rest of the room. “From this moment onward, you will all be considered employees of Ascension. If you wish to leave, these collars can be removed after an official dismissal process. However, until a time where we renegotiate, ten must remain collared and employed, and if not, then all of you will need to leave.”

As I was giving this order, Kiera walked down the stairway. Her wounds were looking better, and she moved easily now. I could see a slight tensing in her temples, which concerned me that she might be pushing herself. She had ten collars in her hand as I had instructed by text. Before they touched any of my supplies, these ten would be enslaved and given a list of orders so that I didn’t have to worry about betrayal.

Well, there was still the risk that the rest of their group would act up, but with only four men, I didn’t feel they would be much of a threat. No one else could remove collars like I did, and I hoped that holding 1/3rd of their number hostage was enough to gain compliance. I still didn’t trust them, but if I didn’t take this risk, then it would be Kiera and Katarina down in the market selling stuff at the risk of their lives. That was something I couldn’t allow.

Kiera handed me the slave collars, but as she did so her eyes didn’t meet mine, and there was a slight red tinge to her cheeks. “Master.”

Was that why Katarina was mad at me? Things were strange between me and Kiera. I shouldn’t have just suddenly kissed her. I just let the idea of having two women get to my head, and suddenly I was acting like a buffoon. I took the slave collars, but I couldn’t get Kiera to give me a good look.

As Kiera stepped away shyly, I approached the group of nine. They tensed as I pulled out the first slave collars. Well, it wasn’t like I didn’t understand. Who wanted an explosive attached to their neck? They could die with the click of a button, and there was nothing that could stop me from demanding anything from them.

Just as I was about to approach the first man, I thought it better to get the men collared before the women. However, a person stepped forward in front of me, brandishing their neck. That person was none other than Red.

“Me first.” She responded, her expression serious.

I nodded and then put the collar around her neck. I plugged it into my Perco, where I set it to my control, including adding the Master code. With the master code in the collar, even if someone could steal a slave, bring them to the slavers, who then hacked it and gave it to them. I’d still have control over the collar and the person wearing it.

I’d also be able to track the people wearing them or deactivate them if I wanted. From what I understood, the collars read brainwaves. If someone violated orders given to them, their brain reacted in a way that triggered the collar and caused punishment. This forced them to fall in line. Otherwise, I could activate the collar to cause pain or cause it to explode, taking their head with it. The collars were scary. What happened if one malfunctioned? What if someone just tripped, and the collar caught on something? Would it think they were trying to remove it and then take their head? Definitely scary.

I had considered removing the explosive element of the collars. I had discussed it with Cecelia, who had convinced me it’d be a mistake. If I lost my biggest deterrent, I’d be asking for people to cheat me. That’s what she said. I agreed with her.

Once the collar was on Red and active, she let out a long breath, and the others behind her seemed to calm down a bit. Did they think I would blow off her head or something? I didn’t get it, but I went from person to person and put their collar on. Like that, the number of slaves under my control went up to ten. It was eleven if Cecelia was counted on that.

I’m sorry, they were my employees. If I could trust people in this world, then I wouldn’t need slave collars, but since I couldn’t, this was the cost.

“Alright, we got ten crates. Let’s get set up. The market opens tomorrow morning.”

We still had a lot of work to do. This was going to be a busy weekend.

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