Katarina had returned to the shop red-faced some time later. When she saw Red, she let out a sigh of relief, and then she did something I never expected to see from Katarina. She lowered her head and apologized.
“I tried to get help for her, and I was unable to do so. Those damn slavers didn’t even care. They said slaves are their master’s responsibility to protect and maintain, and if violence occurs, their security would handle it.”
“Katarina…” I held out my hand, finding her off behavior more uncomfortable than endearing. “It’s fine. It turns out the security did handle it.”
I decided it wasn’t worth explaining the story, either the reality or what appeared to have happened. We had left the courtyard without anyone stopping us, and once the robots came out to clear up the dead bodies and pull away the injured, it was like nothing had ever happened. In some ways, this world could be convenient.
“R-really?” Katarina looked up suspiciously.
At that moment she looked rather adorable. I smiled at her.
“Good, then why are you being such an idiot?” She reached out smacked me on the head. “Walking around by yourself! This place is dangerous!”
“Ow! Why?” I cried, grabbing my head. “You guys didn’t come back. I was worried.”
“We would have gotten it handled… eventually.” She responded, crossing her arms stubbornly.
That was more like the Katarina I knew. I let out a sigh. I hadn’t noticed it much before this point, but since she knew that I came from another world, she might be more worried about me traveling alone. She had been staying close by my side ever since we left the Ascension headquarters, and
“Well, I for one appreciate Master coming to help me.” Red piped in.
“That’s in the past now.” Katarina shrugged. “Did you bring the supplies?”
Red gave a pout as I responded. “Yeah, they’re in the back.”
For the next hour, we spent our time setting up the storefront. We were burning sunlight, and from the walk to this place and everything else, we found ourselves open around roughly 10 am according to my Perco. I finally opened the doors. Once we were open, I carefully handed Katarina half of the large crystals I had earned from the water earlier.
“What is this for?” She asked.
“While we’re selling things…” I pulled a list from my inventory and then handed it to you. “I need you to look for some things. Jeri could use various drugs. We’ll also need guns and bullets to equip the spies. Go ahead and get anything you need. Don’t worry about transportation. I’ll get that done. When you run out of money, we should have made some more.”
I wasn’t a fool. I knew I couldn’t just buy an army of slaves and throw them at a raider camp. I had to equip them with weapons and provide clothing. Furthermore, Jeri needed a constant stream of supplies. When I had time, I’d look for equivalents in my world, but in the meantime, since we’re there, I’d take any ingredients, including the already made meds directly. I found I only trusted Jeri’s skilled hands, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t injected things into my body made by someone else before. We also needed to find recipes for new drugs. Jeri had the skill, but she could only make what she had the recipe for.
After she left, I sat and waited for the incoming rush of people. Perhaps I had built my expectations up a bit too high. I had thought people would come flooding in, but that regrettably didn’t happen. I started to notice that we had very little traffic near us. Since we were so late in renting our storefront, ours was in a rather out of place area down a back hallway. Very few people walked down this particular wing, and it seemed more geared toward shady businesses that I probably didn’t even want to know about.
None of those that did pass even glanced our way, seeming like they were on their missions. As for our food, the cleanest, most radiation-free food in the Wasteland that anyone would kill to eat, it all sat on the shelves ignored by the population only a block away.
“Master, should I go and drum up some business?” Red asked.
“Drum up business?”
“I think Master will find that I am very good at selling myself to people.” As if to punctuate that, she leaned forward, showing an ample amount of bosom.
I quickly looked away, willing myself not to blush. “That is what I’m concerned about.”
She blinked but ended up shrugging and slouching back down, looking like she was half-asleep. It was true that Red was pretty, although her shaved head and tattoos gave her a very exotic appearance. If she tried to attract people to come to the store, she was just as likely to get into another situation as she did in the courtyard earlier. I wasn’t looking to have to take more lives today. I just wanted to sell my stuff. However, the key problem was that I needed to attract people.
It was almost noon, and we hadn’t had a single customer. Katarina would probably be back expecting more money too, and if I didn’t have any more crystals, it’d become a cog in this machine that might even affect my ability to buy slaves and save my sister. My stomach growled, and I realized I was hungry. Well, it was lunchtime. I reached out for a can from one of the shelves to quickly eat, and that’s when a thought came to me.
I immediately jumped to my feet, causing Red to rouse from her nearly comatose state. I started looking around the room frantically, snatching supplies off of the shelves, looking for various items that would work. Once I had them all, I moved my chair to the front of the store and then with a wave of my hand, pulled out my portable cooking stove, pots, and spices that I kept in my digitizer. Since we were traveling, it made a lot of sense to have the capacity to cook on the go, so this propane stove and grill did wonders.
I got the heat going, and then dumped several bottles of water in. Then, I began tossing in ingredients and spices. I also laid out some meat. It was canned meat, not fresh, but it would still sizzle on a grill. In short order, I had various foods cooking. The smoke and vapor rose into the air, and the fragrant smell brought Red to my side. She was staring at my cooking like it was ambrosia, nearly drooling.
“Stop drooling in the pot!” I pulled her back just in time.
“S-sorry, Master!” She cried. “You can cook food? You’re cooking food?”
“Is that so odd? Don’t your woman cook in the Dragon’s Claw?”
“Well… I mean… kind of…” She blushed. “It’s not like we have spices or a lot of supplies. We typically only eat one thing at a time. One can, one meal. The pleasure of warming it up is the most we usually do unless we’ve lucked out and killed some big mutant beast. Then, we make a spitroast and it becomes a big celebration. However, half of us come down with radiation sickness after…”
“You know… you’ve had all the food I gave you guys for nearly a week now.”
“Such pleasantries are only temporary!” She responded. “We stockpile it for safekeeping. We’ve barely touched anything you have given us. How could we? That was supposed to be stuff sold for money.”
The more Red talked about such a pitiful life, I once again wondered how she came out looking as good as she did on that diet. I hadn’t known that they had just been squirreling away the food. It seemed like a lukewarm can of green beans was considered a wife’s home cooking in this world.
On the trip here, I hadn’t spent any time cooking. It was too soon after finding out about Hazel. I hadn’t been in the mood to eat much, so I had only eaten a few meal replacement bars. Those were a food type I didn’t give to anyone else or sell, as explaining how such a complicated product was made in this world was too difficult. That’s why most of my food was simply cans of vegetables, fruits, or meat.
The meats and vegetables were all being tossed into what would be a stew now, and while this was a subpar stew for me made of cheap canned ingredients, for the people of the wasteland, this was the equivalent of a rare treat they might only experience once in their lives. As the smells made their way down the hallways, I saw our first customer walk in. He was sniffing anxiously, clearly following the smell back to the source. When he saw me sitting there, camping out in the middle of a store as I cooked, he froze for a moment.
“Welcome,” Red said.
It took her speaking to snap him out of his daze. “Th-that food… it’s for sale?”
“Yes… all the ingredients here are for sale. If you want…”
“No… I mean that stew! I’ll give you 5 small crys- no! One large crystal for a bowl.”
“I’ll give you two large crystals!” A woman walked up from behind him, immediately crying out.
“Three crystals.” Another person shouted.
More and more people were crowding in. None of them seemed remotely interested in the canned food. The canned food was an unknown. What I was cooking in front of me was something else entirely.
“I-I’m sorry… I don’t have enough bowls.”
“You can use mine! Give me a free bowl, and I’ll give you my bowls…”
“You leech! Trying to get a bowl for a bowl? How is that legit? Cheapskate.”
“No, you shut up!”
More and more people were showing up, and it was very quickly becoming a crown outside. People were chatting, inquiring, yelling, and arguing. However, the topic of discussion was extremely clear. They were hungry, and they had crystals to spend.
“Red…” I muttered.
“Yes, Master?” She asked.
“We need to get some bowls.”