“The auction is going to be incredible.” One man sighed. “I just wish I had the money to afford me a pretty girl.”
“The only pretty girl who would go for you is a slave!” A friend nearby retorted, causing the other men to break into a laugh.
The man shrugged. “He’s not wrong! Why… what I wouldn’t give for a pretty girl who waits on me and rub my feet. I’d treat her real nice! I’d never let her go starving!”
“You got to starve them once in a while, that way they don’t grow too belligerent.”
“Hey now, I didn’t say I wouldn’t give them a strong hand now and then when they stepped out of line.”
I was on the other side of the bar, not even a part of this conversation. So, why did I feel like I had holes being bored into my back from the stairs of the two beautiful women on either side of me? One of them was actually in a slave collar, but rather than put them in line, I had a feeling I’d be eating my own shoe if I even suggested they rub my feet.
Those dreamers on the other side of the room were as different from me as could be. Most of them were much older, with dried, wrinkled skin and numerous scars over their bodies. The wasteland had not been kind to them, and whether it was boils, a bulbous nose that looked like it might be partially mutated, or an extruded chin… they were not pretty people in the slightest. Since entering the town, we had kept our hoods down and our ears to the ground, listening for any information that we could find regarding the slavers up north.
It turned out that wasn’t a hard piece of information to obtain. Everyone in the settlement of Route 67 was talking about the slaver’s auction. I had been to a slaver’s auction once before. The raiders held a weakly one as they exchanged people they had captured while they were off raiding the wasteland. This was supposed to be a bit different though because it was being launched by the slavers themselves. Slavers were a far larger group, and no matter which camp they were a part of, there was a qualitative leap in slave quality, at least that’s what I heard.
In Argos city, finding a person with a Perco or a fresh colonist like Katarina was near impossible. That’s why their sales had seemingly been so special. However, in a slaver’s auction, skilled people could be found all of the time. Considering that was exactly why we had come, I felt particularly lucky to have made the move now.
That said, the auction wouldn’t be occurring until tomorrow, and that meant one more day my sister remained in the clutches of Cock and balls. I knew I wouldn’t be able to raise an army and save her overnight, but it still left me feeling extremely anxious.
“I hope your source is coming with a lot of supplies,” Red spoke up, shaking me out of my worry for a brief moment.
“Why is that?”
“This auction is looking to be a big thing. There are going to be a lot of sales, and high demand means expensive.” Red explained.
“I haven’t heard of it…” I responded.
“Well, you don’t exactly have a radio person keeping track of frequencies.” Red shrugged. “Your little base has been quite segregated from the normal information network. I’m surprised that that merchant didn’t mention it.”
“They’re honest people,” Katarina spoke up. “They wouldn’t do business in people, so they wouldn’t seek out such information.”
“Why kind of people are the kind that buys slaves in mass?” I asked.
“Raiders, certain mutants like to keep human slaves, larger organizations…”
“The syndicate,” I muttered to myself.
“Nothing, just thinking out loud.”
“Daniel, we should get a room for the night. It’d be better if we headed up with the crowds in the morning.” Katarina explained.
“Will we even be able to get a room? If this is such a big event…”
“We will… they’d have jacked the price up during an event like this,” Katarina said, and when I looked at her she shrugged. “You said money isn’t an issue.”
“It isn’t,” I responded. “Fine, we’ll go up in the morning. However, what about you?”
Katarina blinked. “What about me?”
“Don’t you need to find out about your colony?”
“Katarina’s expression seemed to turn colder. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Really, I haven’t heard anything about them… this slaver’s auction is the main-”
“Daniel…” Red touched my shoulder, and I turned to her. “Usually, if people aren’t talking about one thing, and are talking about another, there is a reason. There would be a reason that they are having a slaver’s auction right now…”
“You don’t me… the colony fell and everyone was enslaved?” I spoke a bit louder than I intended.
“That is the most likely what happened.” Red spoke more quietly.”
“The colony probably survived.” Katarina sighed. “Our colony was set up in a way where we had such a process called a culling.”
“As the population grew too much, we’d expel a large group of them, and the survivors would rebuild the population. There is a culling every ten years. The slavers much have gotten wind of this, and the so-called siege was to capture all of those during the culling. I should have guessed this was the case earlier. Our colony doesn’t rely on external supplies enough to truly be affected by trade blocking.”
“That’s their own fault. Father could have called off the culling, but he decided to throw his own people out to the rapid wolves anyway. There was probably an agreement. The colony continues to produce fresh colony beauties, and every ten years the slavers get a payday.”
“Even if that isn’t the case, there was never anything we could do about it.”
“Were… were you part of the culling?”
“No…” She responded. “I was kicked out for other reasons.”
The expression on her face seemed to say that she wasn’t going to give me any more information. I decided it was best not to talk. We were also getting a few more looks than I wanted to attract, so I took Katarina on her offer and we went to find a vacancy. We were lucky to find that there was one left, the price was only three cans of food and two purified water. I quickly paid for it, and the woman appeared dumbfounded when I handed it to her.
“You should have negotiated!” Red hissed as we got the keys and headed back up. “That’s a week of food you just paid for a single night. Even she wasn’t expecting you to accept that.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I shook my hands. “What’s done is done.”
She was right about one thing though. I couldn’t just pay the asking price when it came to the auction. I had gone overboard at the previous auction because I had been determined to win Kiera, and the result had been me in a cell for two nights being tortured. Money didn’t buy everything in this world, and I couldn’t just expect to throw my money around and get what I wanted. This world didn’t work like that. Even when it came to food and survival, people didn’t always act like how you’d expect.
“A single bed.” Even though I didn’t negotiate, I wasn’t expecting them to shaft us with a room the size of a closet with a single bed on it.
There were three of us! Was the person blind?
“I have a slave collar, so they didn’t consider me, and then that would just leave you and her as a couple.” Red shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Katarina responded. “We’ll still need one of us to be up to stand guard.”
“Stand guard?” I blinked. “Aren’t we safe?”
“Safe from monsters and mutants? Debatable.” Katarina shrugged. “As for someone sneaking in and robbing us in the middle of the night, that could easily happen in one of these hobbles. Unless you can pull out a turret controlled by Cecelia to leave at the door, I wouldn’t feel safe without a guard. These roadside hovel settlements can be more dangerous than the wastelands in some respects.”
It turned out that buying a room didn’t even afford us any peace. People were the real villain or something like that. Despite Red stating she didn’t mind being seen as a slave, she had flopped down into the bed and seemed to pass out asleep before anyone could say anything. Whether she was just pretending so we left her the bed or she genuinely fell asleep that quickly, I couldn’t tell. I considered using my dimensional travel and returning to my bed, but I had currently left Kiera there, and leaving her to wander around my room was already awkward enough.
That wasn’t the real reason I wouldn’t return though. The real reason came down to my sister. Hazel was pulled through the mirror and she was in this world. As long as she remained in this world, I would remain here as well. I knew I might as well be an unimaginable distance away, but I felt closer to her this way. I would save my sister. I had to.