Each item didn’t seem to be brought through the crowd, but instead it raised up from under the ground. There was some kind of underground staging area. A small platform behind the woman would fall, and when it raised back up, there would be some item on display. After she explained what it was and showed it, as the appearance wasn’t always obvious, the bidding would begin. The winner would be instructed to go provide payment, and then the item was lowered and the next one came up a minute later after a brief teasing introduction.
The first few items didn’t interest me at all. There was a machine that created nutrients. It was similar to the slave’s separation machine, except rather than separate water and nutrients, it instead just created an edible porridge. Just about anything could be tossed in, and what was tossed in would alter the taste, but nothing that came out looked appetizing in the slightest.
The next was a lot of ten Allgrit. I was extremely tempted by it. I had never encountered any Allgrit up until that point. I had injected myself with an Allmighty and several Allgility, but I still could afford to have better smarts, stamina, and sense. Well, at least that’s what they called them from 5s… or 6 depending on who you were asking. In the end, as the price take exceeded 1000 large crystals, I decided to pass.
I had a ton of slaves to potentially buy, so I couldn’t waste my money on whimsical things. In my mind, the 900 large crystals I had were all I was willing to spend on items. After that, the rest of my food supply would be exchanged for slaves. Even if I had to run to the grocery market with my black card, I would buy enough that I could afford the army I needed.
The auction continued. There were lots of food, some sensor devices, a Perco mod that shot out an electrical discharge like a stun gun, a water condenser, and even a fusion generator like we had recently obtained. One item was called a terraformer, and it was said to be able to restore the irradiated earth to fertile ground and allow plants to grow again. Such an item required decades and a near-constant supply of power. Few people in the wasteland cared to bid on that one.
“The next item for auction is something you’ve all fantasized about owning. It’s one of the few things that can instantly make a useless person valuable. This is none other than a Perco 3000!” She gestured as an item raised from the floor. “This item is unpaired and operational!”
The crowd started to murmur excitedly as they contemplated the Perco. It wasn’t something that particularly mattered to me. I already had a Perco, and I even had someone else who also earned a Perco. Sure, it would be nice to put it on someone else’s wrist. In that respect, I’d be able to bring someone else back to my world too. Maybe, I could bring Katarina back with me. I wondered how she’d react to a normal world where she could take it easy.
However, I could take any Perco. Using the Master Code, I didn’t need to find a special Perco or use some complex hack that risked destroying the Perco as much as unlocking it. All I needed to do was plug it in and gain access. In that respect, I would be happy with even used Percos. Unfortunately, there weren’t very many available. I had come to learn that since most people couldn’t use them, they harvested them for the fusion battery. It could be used to power other things, so most Perco’s that were unpaired were subsequently sold and destroyed for parts.
I was ignoring it as the bidding started until I felt a buzzing on my wrist. I carefully used the girls to cover me as I discreetly checked my own Perco. I wasn’t the only person in the crowd to have one, but it was better to not be too obvious with things that could put a target on my head. I was useful with a functional Perco attached to my hand, but seeing as lives are cheap in the wasteland, someone would even kill me just for the fusion battery if given the chance.
Bid on the Perco.
The message was given to me by Cecelia. As an artificial intelligence, she could often remain silent for days at a time unless I addressed her. She had no desire to speak or have conversations. The way she perceived time was different from me. That’s why I was a bit surprised by the sudden message. Glancing around, I quickly typed in a response.
I was an artificial intelligence for a military installation. I recognize the markings on that Perco. It was a military-grade Perco. She replied.
I didn’t want to sound obtuse, but I already had a superior Perco. That wasn’t even the 7000. It was a base model Perco, and the bidding had already gone past my 900 large crystal limit.
The military Perco would have been pre-loaded with military-grade information. It might have additional hidden military alcoves positions like the one I was found in.
“That…” I spoke out loud, causing Katarina to glance back at me before I subtly shook my head.
We had destroyed the previous base, but the contents of it would have been enough to equip a small army. I happened to be building a small army, so finding another base would make taking out the Cock and Balls an easy move. I finally started to pay attention, only to realize the bidding was reaching the end.
“3,540 large crystals! Going once…” The woman declared.
A person from Cock and Balls raised their marker. “4,000!”
The sudden bid caused a great deal of murmuring. The bidding had already slowed, and just near the end, they had suddenly increased it up nearly 500 large crystals. I could almost grimace when I saw the familiar insignia. Marsh wasn’t there and I didn’t recognize the other guys. That didn’t mean they might not recognize me, or even the women next to me. Of all the people I had to bid against, why did it have to be them?
I was quickly working through the math in my head. My goal was to save my sister. That was always my intent. Everything I had done since then had been aiming for that goal. The more I spent on other crap, the less likely I’d be able to get slaves. However, the slave army was merely an idea. I had seen mech suits. A single one was practically an army capable of overwhelming all of the raider clans, let alone one. If that Perco could lead us to even one suit, it’d be enough to forcefully take her back, and then I wouldn’t even need to put anyone else’s life on the line. Heck, if there were two, I could throw the Perco on Katarina and we’d be unstoppable.
“4,500!” I finally yelled out.
Red and Katarina nearly jumped when I cried out next to them without warning. I felt my money quickly draining away. There was no guarantee this Perco would have anything on it. Then again, there was no guarantee that a hundred slaves with guns would be able to take out a raider clan either. If I saw it that way, this almost felt like the better bet.
Eyes ended up coming my direction, and the one from the Cock and Balls who had previously bid shot me a scathing look.
“4,600!” He cried out.
“5,000!” I upped the amount.
The muttering around me grew. I had not bid on a single thing yet and had mostly gone ignored. I could hear a few whispering.
“Who’s this guy?”
“I bet he can’t even afford it. He’s just looking for death.”
“Doesn’t he realize they are from a notorious raider clan? He’s likely to get killed on the way back to Argos.”
A few others at least recognized my face. “Isn’t that the guy with the restaurant?”
“If he has more food like that, it’s no wonder he can afford that kind of money.”
The man from Cock and Ball tilted his head as one of the others whispered something to him. After a moment, he gave a nod.
“5,500!” He declared.
“8,000!” I yelled.
“Daniel!” Katarina hissed. “I know we have the money, but this…”
“8,000 just for a Perco? That’s madness!”
“Even a Perco is only worth a third of that. Plus, he’s making an enemy of the Cock and Balls.”
Even the woman on the stage seemed shocked for a moment. Her mouth opened and closed a few times. Finally, she gave a nod.
The people from Cock and Ball glared at me, but I made sure not to look back, instead of keeping my focus on the auctioneer.
“Going twice… Sold to number 4632!” She pointed in my direction.
I let out a breath.
“I hope you know what you’re doing…” Red muttered.
I hoped I did as well. I didn’t pay much attention to the next couple of auctions. My heart was beating fast after betting so much money. These were far more large crystals than I had ever sold before. I had no clue if the food I had would inevitably cover it all.
“That concludes the material portion of this auction.” The woman finally declared. “Now, we’ll be moving on to the exciting part of the evening. That is the slave auction!”
“Can you even afford any slaves after that?” Katarina muttered.
“We’ll see…” I responded, knowing that I had to find some way to make it work.
If I had to take a trashcan of water back and forth a thousand times until the crystals were met, I would.
“Before I get into the first bid of the evening, I’ve been told we have a special showing for you. You will be shown the final bid of the evening first as a teaser for what is to come.” The woman’s smile began to look mysterious. “We have a special slave. It’s a woman, untouched by the radiation. Healthy. Beautiful.”
“A colonist?” Someone asked.
“No…” She shook her head. “This person came… from pre-virus!”
These words caused the group to explode in sounds of disbelief and protest. However, the woman snapped her finger, and the stage began to rise. A form in a cryogenic chamber was being lifted from the ground. A person was placed in a metallic coffin with a window in the front. An icy fog came off of the chamber, giving it a theatrical appearance as it rose. The table was slowly slanted up, showing the face of the person frozen within. When I finally was able to make out that face, the rest of the world just melted away. It was my sister. It was Hazel.