“No one.” My voice croaked as I looked out over the market. “Absolutely no one.”
I had woken up early in the morning. Katarina was nice to me this morning, but now Raven was keeping her distance. I was still coping with the idea that Raven was a girl. It was kind of obvious now that I thought about it. If you looked past the piercings and the spiked hair, she didn’t have a feminine body. Her voice was higher than a normal guy’s voice. I had convinced myself it was a combination of the harshness of the wasteland and lack of nourishment.
It was a bit annoying that the others had known and had said nothing. I also didn’t know why Raven hadn’t corrected me when I had called her a guy. She said it had to do with trust though. In the wasteland, a woman would be enslaved and turned into a sex slave. It ended up being more than many could bear.
That morning, I had found Hunter and Husk and asked them directly about it. Husk explained just a small bit of Raven’s history before Hunter shut him up and told me that if I wanted to know more, I should just speak to her myself. All I got was that she was the daughter of a wealthy Wastelander. Her dad’s place was attacked by raiders, and all three of them were captured. They were originally guards from her dad’s homestead, having a job similar to how I was using them now, food and shelter in exchange for protection.
They dressed her as a boy and maintained the charade to keep the raiders from raping her. They were captured, and the three of them eventually impressed the raider camp and became raiders themselves. Later, she had felt pity for Feather who was a sex slave, so she freed her and let her join her group. She also fell for Payne, who had just been using her. That was all I had learned, but it was enough that I had a better understanding of how things came out that way.
“I’m sorry, Daniel.” Katarina sighed. “It’s too hard to change years of mistrust and habits so easily.”
Once everything had been set up, I had waited for raiders to filter in with things to trade. What I had found was absolutely nothing. A few groups had appeared at a distance, but after watching us through binoculars, they had turned away and left without getting remotely close. Other than that, the only sight was the saleswomen, now dressed in uniforms I had brought along with the supplies, a simple one-piece blue jumpsuit, as they lounged around with nothing to do.
I had hoped things were just starting slowly, and people would come later, but lunch came. The girls left their shops to go eat, and then returned to being bored. The idea of a lunch break was novel to them, and at first, they seemed resistant to the idea. Food couldn’t be wasted on snacking in the middle of the day. Eating before sleep was the best option to minimize the pang of hunger in your stomach, or so they said. Even after convincing them, I suspected most held onto their lunch rations for later, and instead took drugs.
I wasn’t going to force the issue of recreational drug use just yet. Once I was successfully weaning Raven and her group off drugs, I could work on the rest of the staff. At the moment, they were experienced druggies, and the people they were dealing with were druggies. That meant their interactions wouldn’t be any different than they ever were between two rival raider groups that chose to initiate trading.
Time continued, and it was soon time to close up. All of the food that had sat out there would need to be brought back in. I had been sitting in a folding chair, watching over my marketplace alongside Katarina. Kiera had remained nearby at attendance, but her behavior was still a bit distant. Lilith sat at my feet, curled up and content to spend her days lounging around under the dusty sun while her meals were provided for her. I had nearly gotten to the point of dozing off in my chair when there was a sudden shout.
“Shit!” Katarina cursed.
My eyes snapped open and I stood up, grabbing the binoculars around my neck and looking out. I could see creatures racing out from the architecture to the far side of us, coming straight for the courtyard. The shopkeepers did as we told them to, immediately retreating into the Dragon’s Claw base. The men who were their protectors took our guns and immediately found positions of defense. The first to shoot were the turrets, gunning down the first of the creatures to get within range.
As more of them came and they got closer, I could make out their features. They looked like desiccated corpses, running at full speed in rags that were so filthy any discernible feature of the clothing had long degraded away. These were supposedly the first creatures to come out of the apocalypse. Essentially, it was like the undead had reason up. I could imagine the fear and panic as those things ran through the streets leaping on people and eating them.
Although the aim of the turrets was much better thanks to the guidance of Cecelia, we still didn’t have very many. I had dedicated most to protecting the building we resided in, so the marketplace only had three. Of those three, two were facing the sides so they could attack those on the edge of the marketplace and on, and only one was facing the marketplace directly, a deterrent for anyone who might cause trouble. It was perhaps this turret that kept people from approaching.
In general, one wouldn’t feel comfortable standing in front of an automated turret. They didn’t know how I had programmed the turrets so they didn’t attack people. Everyone who had known about Cecelia was on my team or dead. This was information I wasn’t even willing to share with the Dragon’s Claw. Perhaps, they believed it was the collars that protected them from turret fire. Anyone else would feel like they were having a gun pointed at their head the entire time they were shopping. It was an unfortunate consequence of remaining safe.
Despite Cecelia’s best efforts, more and more ferals appeared, and they eventually overtook the first two turrets. The men lifted their weapons and began shooting as well. A few ferals managed to avoid getting hit, and they immediately leaped onto the first table of food. They managed to start grabbing food and eating it like they were starving. From what I would be told, even if they were engorged, or had a hole in their stomach where the food fell right out, they would keep eating and keep eating until everything was gone.
Since the zombies didn’t appear to be interested in the people nearly as much as the food, the men were able to move forward and execute them one after another from a safe distance. Once the last zombie was confirmed dead, the saleswomen came out into a market that had been torn apart.
“How are the turrets?” I asked Cecelia.
“They have begun their regeneration cycle. They are around 70%.”
Naturally, even futuristic turrets still required ammo. These guys could regenerate ammo just like the smart gun. They could also hold a lot more than the smart gun. However, there were limits to them. That run had about 30 ferals in it, and it cost them 30% of their ammo reservoir.
“How long to recover?”
So, they regenerated about 10% of their ammo per hour, and three turrets were able to take care of 100 ferals before ammo runs out. Well, thirty was already enough to get past our current barrier. I projected that another thirty, a total of sixty, would have been enough to decimate the market and allow them to reach this building. This wasn’t all bad. I did learn something I didn’t know before.
Frowning slightly, I waited to confirm the battle was over and then I left my perch and went down to the ground floor to assess the damage. At this point, the market was closed without a single sale. Half of the food had been ruined, either being dumped on the floor, eaten, or even bled on. Well, the raiders probably wouldn’t care about any of that, but I did. I watched as the girls picked up what was left and took it inside. Tomorrow, we would try again.
“The food was left covered, correct? Was there a smell I didn’t account for?” I asked as I surveyed the scene.
Katarina stood up after checking on one of the corpses and then shook her head. “No, this was deliberate.”
“Someone gathered these ferals and then released them so that they’d attack this place.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Ferals usually have certain similarities with each other, a kind of pack order. Ferals nearby wear similar outfits and look similar. These guys are too varied in appearance.” She explained.
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“It means that someone was testing our defenses. They wanted to find out how weak we are. They’re planning to attack us.”
“Should we prepare?”
“No… they’re not done yet. They’ll be sending bigger waves, and trying other options. They’ll be probing us more in the future.” Katarina declared, looking up at me. “This is only going to get worse.”