“When you said you wanted to trade, I never imagined you had such ambitious plans.” The merchant declared, leaning back in his fair with his hands on the back of his head.
I had just been explaining my problems and needs to the merchant. I didn’t give him the whole story around how I ended up here with several raiders working under me, but I gave him a very truncated version. I left out the particularly iffy parts, which mostly just sounds like I single-handed bribed a group of raiders into becoming my slaves with the promise of food, and then the rest of them scattered.
“Well, I haven’t been having much luck so far. You’re the first guests we’ve received since we opened up shop this week. I also should warn you that the raiders may be looking to attack anyone who is working with us. You might need to be especially wary while leaving this place, Ummm… I’m sorry, I never caught your name.”
“I appreciate your honesty by telling me all of this.” The merchant responded. “Trust is something difficult to acquire in the wasteland. It’s something that usually can’t be bought with money. This is why I was so surprised to see so many errr… people who have thrown themselves in with you. Usually, I avoid trading names with those I don’t know if I’ll have future business with, but in this case, you may call me Tom.”
“Alright, Tom.” I couldn’t be certain if even that was his real name, but it wasn’t really important to me. “Now that you understand the situation, let’s get to business.”
He gave a thoughtful nod. “I have given your situation some thought, and I do believe that if you want this bazaar of yours to take off, I see that you’re going to need to solve three things.”
He held up three fingers as he spoke, and I leaned forward with some interest. “Oh? What’s that?”
“The first problem I see is location. You’re not adjacent to any living centers. That means anyone who wanted to shop would need to arrive here. That is an extremely dangerous journey to make, possibly more dangerous than to go hunting for food.”
“How so?” I frowned.
“This is the wasteland, and the most dangerous thing in the wasteland are people. There is nothing more dangerous to a traveler than for people to know where his route is. This is why merchants like me must travel with security, and we assume quite a lot of risk onto ourselves making this journey. Every time we leave the safety of our homes, we have to be prepared for the possibility of never returning. Not everyone has such a desire. It’s been proven time and again that people would rather remain stuck in their homes where they could starve to death than taking on such a risk. Your bazaar would need to had a draw far greater than ”
“This leads me to the second problem I see, security. Most merchants like myself survive by traveling light. We don’t make as much money, but we also are more trouble than we are worth. I only carry a week of supplies, and we’re able to flee with half of the supplies on our backs. Few are willing to risk death for just a single week of meals. This is usually fine because each of my journeys only takes a day, so we arrive at a new location every week, stock up on goods for the next location, and then travel there. Every place is visited once a week, and in reality, I’m moving nearly two months of supplies while never carrying more than I half to. The reason I’m explaining this to you is that your operation appears to already have barely enough to protect yourself, and the bigger you get, the bigger your bullseye will be. I’m surprised this place hasn’t been attacked already.”
“Ah… about that…” I coughed awkwardly.
“Well, it’s not just about keeping this place safe. You also need to consider the safety of everyone who comes to shop here. Remember how the Rink sent you to that hospital that was overflowing with Beast mutants?”
“Right, they said that the hospital’s security system would keep a barrier between the beast’s nest and the merchant path,” I recalled.
I had once considered relocating to that hospital. It seemed like a great spot right on a merchant path. After all, that security was far better than I had even here. However, it was right next to a Beast nest, and while they wouldn’t attack automated robots with anything to gain, they might attack Katarina and Kiera for some fresh meat if we remained there too long, never mind if I wanted to expand my operations. Since I didn’t have the power to wipe out their nest, I had to give up on the location.
“Well, that was only one way the Rink ensured that merchants would continue to keep them supplied with goods. You have to guarantee that a merchant will be able to come and leave safely without being attacked. No one would go to a place that was suicidal, no matter how much wealth they thought they could earn. That will come with supplies to give you, and leave with supplies you give them. Those are both situations where someone could easily attack them. Your warning to me is appreciated, but no other caravans will come out here to dodge raider attacks.”
I could immediately see my mistake. I was treating this like a normal world. Since all of those raiders had lived nearby under Ascension, I had it in my mind that they wouldn’t be afraid to come. I had considered that a certain raider group was intentionally targeting me, but what I hadn’t considered was that it could be all of them. It was just as likely that they all wanted a shot at my supplies, and they were just waiting for some idiot to come and buy something so they could jump them.
I shook my head. “I guess I had seen it more like individuals coming to shop.”
It never occurred to me just how much civility had to exist in the world for a place like Walmart or a grocery store to exist. I thought it’d be just a matter of asking for stuff and giving stuff, and I’d be instantly wealthy, but it didn’t seem like making money would be that easy.
“Individuals would be at the greatest risk. No one would risk being seen in a bazaar alone. And if you assume individuals can’t come, then you’re mostly going to see caravans merchant groups. Yet, the more caravans that come, the more obvious your location will become like a hub for supplies. What I’m saying is that your need for security will explode exponentially the more popular you become. No one will expect you to guarantee their entire safety, but you’ll need to guarantee at least a moderate to low risk of being attacked on multiple different routes if you want to earn any patrons. The only way I can see you getting around this is more personnel. No number of robots or turrets can replace people on the ground.”
I bit my lip, feeling a bit of bitterness. I was quickly realizing just how naïve I had been. Tom, if that was his real name, really was a good person. He didn’t have to explain any of this to me. There might be a lot of ways he could exploit me with this information, and yet he was offering it freely. I realized he was deliberately offering me some trust because I had shown him some. Thus, I was carefully listening to what he had to say.
“What about the third thing?” I finally asked.
“The third thing is knowledge. Who are you trading with? What are the safest routes? This isn’t just knowledge you need to know, but the knowledge that everyone else needs to know as well. As of right now, there are only the slightest hints of something going on down here. Raiders don’t mix with Wastelanders so much, and unless they are drunk, it’s unlikely they are going to spill any information they could use to their advantage. I imagine the only reason I’ve even heard this much is exactly because someone was hoping to lure a caravan out here to attack.”
“You are in danger.” I jerked up.
He chuckled. “We’re always in danger, and I must say that reaction of yours is exactly why I feel like putting my neck out for you just a little bit more. It’s rare to see good men in the Wasteland, so I hope for your success. That’s why I’m offering you my expertise right now.”
“What do you recommend?” I asked.
“I’ve thought of a single method that could potentially solve nearly all of your problems at once.”
“What’s that?” I leaned forward again.
“If someone wants to become known in the wasteland, this can only be done with a big move. The biggest movers are the ones that people talk about. The flashier your actions, the more you’ll be noticed. You need to show the wasteland that you have the financial backing necessary to go big. You’re not going to obtain that even if you clear out my inventory a dozen times over.”
“You need to make a purchase… and extremely large purchase, one so large that it becomes the talk of the entire city.”
“I thought you said that making a purchase would paint a bull’s eye on my back. Wouldn’t anyone be eagerly looking to rob me?”
“That’s why what you buy needs to be something no one would be able to steal.” He grinned. “Something that would increase your security, while also giving you the ability to improve your location.”
“What can give me all of that?” I demanded.
“It depends… how much do you have to trade.”
“As much as I need,” I responded.
“Slaves… you need to buy a lot of slaves.”