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“This price is ludicrous.” Red growled angrily. “We could sell food outside for ten times that amount.”

“If you’d like to set up shop and sell your goods, renting a booth will cost… ten large crystals. It is up to you to supply the shot and make the exchanges.”

“Come on… we can exchange food directly for slaves in the majority of circumstances.” Katarina tried to turn me away.

“Majority…” I held up my hand, stopping them from pulling me off. “But not every circumstance. I don’t want to be left without crystals.”

“You know how valuable food is. This place is a joke!”  She glared at the robot, who only stared back without expression.

She looked like she wanted to spit on him, but considering all of the nearby turrets, even she had a good enough sense not to start trouble.

“When do the slave auctions open?” I asked the robot.

“Although slave trading will occur all week, the biggest auction will be in the evening.” It responded chipperly.

It seemed like not every slave necessarily needed to go through an auction. Some of them were just priced by their owners to sell in their own shops.

“Alright, you say you go by weight? What about quality?”

“All food must be consumable. Food must meet a minimum caloric energy amount, radiation level, and toxin level. If food exceeds these amounts, it will not be counted.”

“What about water?”

“Food and water are separated before measuring and both weights are considered.”

“What do you mean by separated?”

“A condenserall is used. The water content is removed from the food for long-term storage.”

“Removed… like freeze-dried?”

“In the condensing process, both the food and the water are conserved.” The robot responded.

“Larger places like Slaver’s guilds rarely worry about food being edible anymore.” Katarina sighed. “They only care about the calories. The food is all turned into pills anyway.”

“I see… so that’s why the cost is so low…” I said out loud, thinking about the way they handled food.

I had thought about such things as just mixing food and water to make a gruel, but it wouldn’t matter to them if you did such a thing. The parts would be separated, and then you’d get just as much money for the stock as you would for the liquid put into it. In that case, the cheapest thing I could sell was obvious. Water!

“I need to use the restroom.” I suddenly declared.

“Huh?” Katarina blinked, while the robot just continued to stare on with a vacant smile on its face.

“Is there someplace I can go, privately?” I asked Katarina, giving her a look.

“Yeah, they have toilets.” Red declared, slapping my back. “They have some over there.”

Even in the apocalypse, it seemed like restroom signs existed. I immediately dived into the restroom and found a stall, closed and locked it. The place was extremely gross. The toilets were holes in the ground and had nothing approaching functional plumbing. The smell was also pretty bad.

“Cecelia, take me back to my world.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, this is just a quick trip, trust me.”

I appeared in my bedroom once again. I looked around to see that Kiera was not there. I had thought she might run and jump at me the first chance she saw me. I had left her there the previous day. I realized that my room had been completely cleaned. The bed was made, my clothing was all refolded and put away, and the room smelled faintly of flowers. I went to the door, and I could hear something that sounded like the sizzling of a stove, and the humming of a woman working at it. Kiera had certainly made herself comfortable!

For some reason, the thought of her being in this house, acting a bit like a wife, and the fact we were alone caused me to feel extremely shy. I realized I didn’t want to see her at the moment. It contrasted too much with my current worries over my sister. It was a strange feeling, like that I didn’t deserve to be around Kiera until my sister was safe.

With that in my mind, I found myself opening my window and climbing out. The old me would have been terrified by doing this, but my strength and perception were great now, and it didn’t feel too difficult to scale down a few stories to the floor. I jumped down and landed with a thud. I knew where I was looking. Right across from us was a bunch of trashcans. I grabbed one that didn’t have any trash in it and pulled it out. I made sure it had wheels though.

I went to the side of the building where there was an old garden hose, and then I rinsed out the trashcan a few times. I realized I probably didn’t even need to do that. This probably was well above their toxin levels. Ah well, I had some principles. I quickly filled up the trashcan. I filled up a 55-gallon jug in about ten minutes and then put the lid on.

“Alright, return.”

A moment later, I was back in the stall. I carefully opened it and then did my best to roll out the trashcan. As I did so, the water sloshed back and forth, making it somewhat difficult. The wheels were grinding too. I did my best to pull it out of the bathroom. Once the girls saw me coming, they gave me a hand.

“What the heck is this?” Red demanded, but when she felt the sloshing. “Water? What did you… where did you…?”

“It’s none of your business.” I shot back.

Katarina gave me a side look but didn’t say anything. There was no helping being suspicious at this point. However, I was just going to go with it. My sister had been taken, and I wasn’t going to pull punches just because I wanted to remain mysterious. I rolled the trashcan carefully up to the robot. I immediately patted the lid.

“I’ve got water here.”

“Very well, please pour contents into a slot.”

“Pour… ah… I see…”

They cared so little about the quality of what you put in, they had some kind of garbage chute it all went down. It just opened up into some black chamber. Well, I hoped it was able to handle this load. I positioned myself with the other two girls, and we pulled the lid off before tilting it.

As we battled with the trashcan, this certainly caught the eyes of others who were entering the mall complex or were nearby for other currency transactions. A rush of water came out, and we probably lost a fair amount on the ground. We continued to upturn the liquid, causing it to all pore into the basin.

“Thank you for your donation… condensing…. Please be patient.” Some machine in the back of the robot made various noises, and after a bit, there was a ding. “You have donated 416 pounds of material. Dispensing 41 large crystals, and 6 small crystals.

Compared to the level I had made at the rink, this was still chunk change, but that had been considerably less in terms of weight. Considering this had been basically free tap water for me, I still felt extremely happy about this transaction. I considered doing a second round for more, but we had earned too many eyes. It wasn’t that this much water was impossible to acquire in the wasteland. A community wouldn’t be able to survive without at least a hundred times this amount.  The shocking this was how I was able to transport it all here.

Transporting water in the Wasteland was one of the most difficult things. It couldn’t be done through the pipes because the risk of contamination was simply too great. A lot of the reason the Wasteland was the wasteland happened to be because of sources of water supply. For a colony to exist, it either needed to be in a position where it could get clean water or make clean water. It could not exist otherwise, because there was no way to import it in the quantities necessary. That was unless you were the Slave traders and had a lot of money to throw around.

“I’d like to rent a booth to sell my goods too.” I declared.

This caused the two girl’s surprise. They both turned to me this time.

“Daniel, do you think this is a good idea?” Katarina spoke first.

“I think if I depend entirely on the auction, we’re going to find ourselves wanting,” I stated.

“You mean… you want to do direct trades?” Katarina asked.

The biggest mistake I had made when I started my bazaar was that I didn’t know anyone. My name hadn’t spread, and no one knew who I was. If I just came in and bought a bunch of slaves, I couldn’t guarantee that anything would change. The one thing I needed wasn’t money, and it wasn’t even people. The real thing I needed was connections.

“It’s time to start making agreements.” I declared.

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