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Katarina left me shortly after revealing that she came from the Nove colony. I didn’t really know what to say. I told her that if things picked up, we could look into it. At the very least, we could trade for additional information. I understood that the only reason Katarina had been willing to tell me that much was likely because I had opened up and told her about my true relationship with the mirror and my teleportation ability. I showed her some trust, and she responded in kind.

It was clear that this was already something weighing heavily on her mind. What I thought was her being angry at me turned out to be her being worried about the colony. As for why she was no longer a part of the colony, especially given that it seemed to be her father in charge, I didn’t have the answer, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to quiz her on it.

“We have a long day tomorrow,” Katarina had said. “ Just think about it.”

I did think about it, tossing and turning up until I finally fell off to sleep. I awoke in the morning to the sound of gunfire. I had not slept well and had even considered returning to my world so I could be in a more comfortable bed. No, that probably wouldn’t have helped either. By the time I forced myself up, my body aching all over, the gunfire had stopped.

“Report, Cecelia…”

“Another attack, this one attempted to send the ferals through the former building of the Cock and Balls,” Cecelia explained. “Many of the ferals became lost, so they came at a much slower rate and were able to be picked off rather easily. The guards are currently doing a sweep of the building now, and will lock down whatever street-side entrances they might have used.”

One of the reasons I didn’t panic during the firefights was the presence of Cecelia. She kept her eyes on the situation so I didn’t have to. Her eyes were limited. She could only see what the turrets saw, but that still put her eyes in a half dozen different places across our complex. Of course, the more our mysterious enemy pressured us, the more I began to feel like the turrets were insufficient.

I heard a loud knock, and the door opened without waiting for me to answer, Husk, poking his head in. “Someone’s arrived.”

“What’s the point of knocking if you don’t wait?” I asked.

“All of the women are accounted for.” He responded, cocking his head. “What would I be at risk of seeing?”

I opened my mouth, but then I shut it again. Some of them would even have sex out in the open, so expecting them to understand privacy was a waste of time. Without one of the girls in there with me, he didn’t see any reason I’d want privacy. In the future, I’d need to get a lock, I decided.

“I know the ferals attacked.” I changed what I was going to say.

“It’s not the ferals. It’s not an attack. They’re coming from the museum. The leader asked for you.”

“Me?” I blinked, finally standing up.

I had slept in my clothing the night before. It wasn’t unusual to wear what you were going to use the next day in the apocalypse. You never knew when you might be woken up and have to run in the middle of the night. You could easily lose everything, and ending up in nothing but pajamas could mean death. The night that Katarina came to me wearing something more provocative was truly a rarity in the Wasteland.

I followed Husk out of the room. I presumed he was the one to fetch me only because Raven was still angry at me for the previous night. I confirmed this when I saw her waiting at the makeshift crosswalk that led from our main headquarters into the museum. She was leaning against a wall with her arms crossed. She not longer had her hair up in a mohawk, and instead was wearing it down, covering half of her head. The other half had started to grow back, but there was only a bit of hair, giving it a stylistic look I had some women recently wear even back home. She did look a bit more like a girl, now that I was looking at her with that in mind.

As soon as she saw us coming, she turned without a word and remained ahead, leading the way into the main room. As soon as I came out to the hallway overlooking the main showroom of the museum, I could see a group of people. They were standing in the middle of the room. Hunter and Feather each had a gun on them, but they remained as cool and collected as possible. Still, as soon as the leader looked up at me, a look of relief appeared on his face. Of course, I immediately recognized the group.

“You’re that caravan!” I cried out.

A few weeks prior, a caravan had come to our place, sent over from the rink to get a feel for whether we were worth trading with. They were the ones who had sent us to the museum,

I had encouraged them to return, but then our base was ransacked and I had almost completely forgotten about them. I had been meaning to send people up to the Rink, but that was easier said than done. The only trained people I could send were raiders, and raiders would be shot on sight. As for Katarina, I had considered sending her, even with a few raiders a guard, but I found I wasn’t willing to send her there alone and risk her, not after she was captured last time.

“Daniel!” The man waved his hand. “We came by your place last week only to see your former place ransacked. I had given you all up for dead, but then we had heard some whispers about some kind of food market opening in the south, and I had to give it one last try. We discovered the message you left at your old place redirecting us here. When I recommended you to the museum, I never expected you to relocate here, not to have such… um… company.”

He tried to make a pleasant smile, but Raven sneered at him, and Feather looked them up and down like she wanted to turn them into a meal.

“We haven’t relocated here, but this seemed like the safest place for… supply exchanges.”

I had ordered them to leave a message at our old place just in case someone came from the Rink looking for us. I didn’t want to send them into raider territory, nor did I want them to be seen by raiders. This was a convenient backdoor spot that allowed me to bring in and remove supplies without being seen, and it seemed a fitting place as any to meet people without the risk of raiders noticing.

That said, if raiders were releasing Ferals through the other buildings from the street, they might have been watching the museum too. If that was the case, then the caravan could be in danger just meeting with us.

“Um… we have a lot to talk about.” I gave Raven a look, and she shot me one back before huffing and leaving.

A few minutes later, some of the slaves came in, bringing the chairs and table that I had used to negotiate with Red. They also brought some bottles of water, which I thought was a nice touch. I had offhandedly mentioned to Red that free samples were a great way to conduct business. She was a smart woman and must have seen the caravan as our best chance to turn around our poor return.

As I entered the museum, I had gotten a good peek at the courtyard bazaar. It had been set up again, but it had changed shape a bit, the girls positioning things so they were closer to the main building and could escape to safety quicker. Everyone was closer together, and the supplies which had been diminished since the previous day were less spread out and left in things that could be quickly grabbed. They were prepared for future attacks and didn’t want to risk losing more supplies.

They didn’t have the mentality that I had. I didn’t care at all about keeping the supplies I had. If I couldn’t sell anything, they were useless to me. Either way, I decided to let Katarina and Red decide how they wanted to run that side of things. The place was still empty, after all, so it didn’t hurt anything.

The merchant was startled to see raiders in slave collars, and he was even more startled to see me set up a trading area with the snap of a finger. He was well aware of the value of even the water I casually handed him and seemed reluctant to open it and drink it himself. His guards, on the other hand, were all too happy to crack open and drink some. The raiders on my side watched them slightly predatorily, clearly not liking giving something for nothing, but they listened to Red, those collars made sure of it, and the men were so delighted after a long trek to receive freshwater that they didn’t even mind the looks.

“This… is certainly an impressive operation you have here.” He responded, finally taking a sip from the bottle, his eyes creasing in pleasure.

“You don’t know the half of it,” I responded as I sat down in the chair, and gestured for him to do the same. “We have a lot to discuss.”

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