It was well within Randidly’s power to make a metal that was better than this Erickson Steel, as Foreman Davey called it. He explained to Randidly, privately, that once you had obtained preliminary citizenship you had access to an electronic market of sorts, and could put metals you created up directly for sale.
Currently, he was sending the test piece of Erickson Steel off to a lab for some testing but had already sold the other 7 ingots, to a friend of his. Based on the pleased face that Foreman Davey was making, he made a bit of a tidy profit too.
Randidly perhaps could have kept up his word that he would not leave the factory until he had enough money to buy the preliminary citizenship, but ultimately caution won out. Rising so fast so quickly would likely get him noticed. Aside from that, he likely would still use this part of the factory to make his own metal for his drones, unless there was a large number of high-quality materials available for cheap. Besides, Foreman Davey was establishing his steel as a product already, there was no need to rush. The money would come.
So after another two days of work, and selling 40 more ingots to Foreman Davey, Randidly left the factory and wandered into a nearby “mining town” that had sprung up near the factory. Zone 1 took construction much more seriously that Zone 32, and there were already condos springs up, with prices of hundreds of dollars a month in rent.
Randidly eyed them dutifully. Sure, they were rather nice, but…
Walking past the condos, Randidly reached the part of town where most of the normal steel workers lived and spent time. Here, the rent was somewhere between 40 and 70, which was still a large expense, but it was much more in line with the money they were making right now. Each and every bit of steel they made was a struggle, especially in the beginning while their Skill Levels were rising.
Considering that, the money they spent on learning information about metal recipes and Skills, Randidly wondered how they would ever make enough money to afford preliminary citizenship. They probably wouldn’t for a long time; that was likely the point.
Randidly walked into a bar, following the smell of half decent food. He could have made his own, of course, but he had been seen talking with Foreman Davey while the other man had a pleased expression. The workers would likely be curious. That curiosity might turn into something more sinister if he allowed it to fester. Although it went against his nature, it was in his best interest to approach other people.
There was another big positive about coming out to socialize a bit, of course. His entire purpose here was to gather information. For all that his perfectionist tendencies drove him to improve himself and his metal making process, that was no reason to lose sight of that goal. If he did not look, he would not find the Creature.
Not that the Creature would be lurking around a steel town, but it was probably best to put his ear to the ground as soon as possible.
No sooner had he sat down than a man walked over toward Randidly and joined him at the bar.
“Heya, youngin, I’ll be brief,” The man said, carefully eyeing Randidly. The man was balding with a thick patch of stubble on his face, but his hands were active and strong. “There are other ways to access the markets than Foreman Davey. I’ve seen the steel you made, its good stuff. But we can never get out of the factory if we don’t help each other. If you need help or want to get a fairer price for your steel, come ask for Ricky Stain at the high rises. We will get you situated right.”
The man clapped Randidly on the shoulder, using more force than was necessary. When Randidly didn’t budge in the slightest, the man’s eyes widened, and he walked away, a hint of fear in his face. Randidly called the bartender over and ordered a beer.
One drink and he grimaced again. Jesus Christ, even in liquor Donnyton was an order of magnitude above this Zone? Or perhaps their strengths were just in different areas. Some of these luxury items weren’t considered necessary by the AI that ran this place and therefore wasn’t emphasized. Either way, it was something of a disappointment and made his stay in this social setting all the more disappointing.
Still, he had come, and been approached, so that was probably enough, right? But Randidly was slightly curious as to how this Ricky Stain made money if he offered a better price than Foreman Davey. It was something worth paying attention to if nothing else. Perhaps all was not as peaceful as expected within the factory. And in a post System world, disgruntled workers were a hell of a lot more dangerous.
Just as Randidly was about to rise, the door opened, revealing a young woman with a shock of orange hair. Her cheeks were smudged with soot, outting the fact that she had been working in the factory, and long hours by the look of her. With a sigh, she collapsed into a seat three down from Randidly.
Without even being asked, the bartender brought the woman over a drink.
‘A regular then,’ Randidly thought, regarding the girl curiously. Eventually, Randidly thought enough time had passed for him to leave without it seeming to have been caused by the girl’s arrival, Randidly made to stand but was stopped at the door slammed open again. A man in a military uniform walked through the doors and looked around. Spotting the woman, he strode confidently over.
“I submitted the report, as we agreed. We should have word from Ghost within a few weeks.” The man said, speaking overly loudly to the woman. Randidly sighed and settled back down, sipping his bitter drink. This was the type that liked the attention he received from exposing his connection with Ghost, it seemed.
The young woman straightened, her eyes bright. “A few weeks? Isn’t Ghost a computer? Why is it taking so long?!?”
Blinking, the man seemed to falter. Randidly readjusted his assessment. A coward, too, then.
“There are… there are channels,” The man said stubbornly. “This is an official process. I was able to-”
“Just leave,” The woman said dismissively, dropping her head to the bar. “Trusting you was a mistake. You probably lied about even seeing my brother.”
The military man’s hands clenched into fists. Again, Randidly moved his needle on the man; he had temper problems.
“Don’t you dare sully my good name!” The man announced to the unamused tavern, puffing out his chest. “I risked my career to help you, and I’ll not have-”
“Pah,” The woman spat at the man’s feet. His face went red.
Being only three seats over from the woman, Randidly was very close to the yelling and was becoming annoyed. They were only about a meter away from him. Aside from Randidly and the bartender, there was also a group of three men farther along the bar. They looked at the military man as he entered, then went straight to ignoring them.
On the opposite side of the room, two men in cloaks were sitting at a low table, talking quietly. Since the young woman came in, the shorter of the two seemed transfixed, staring at her.
“You’ll regret that,” The man hissed, and he raised his hands above his head, producing a long taser baton. The man leaned back and put it over his head, preparing to bring it down in a crushing blow towards the young woman.
Which of course, threw the end of the taser back in Randidly’s direction. The fucking thing was about to hit Randidly’s head as the man performed a ridiculous windup for the blow. Over some spit.
Shaking his head, Randidly reached up and grabbed the taser so he wasn’t poked with it. The electricity discharged harmlessly through his body, not even causing the twitch. The military man tugged. Randidly couldn’t see his face but assumed it was at this point that the man realized that something was going wrong with his strange burst of anger.
And at that moment, the shorter hooded figure appeared before the military man, kicking the guy in the chest, smashing him… towards Randidly.
A vein in Randidly’s temple throbbed.
His hand blurred as he pressed his palm against the military man’s back. The powerful force of the kick was slowly bled of as Randidly’s hand slowed his rapid speed, and then Randidly pressed him to the side, so he skidded off to the side diagonally, not slamming into Randidly. And based upon the speed the man was flying backward, he would likely have been gravely injured if he had just smashed into the bar with that force.
Rushing over and kicking had knocked back the hood of the cloak, revealing a handsome man with curling golden hair. His eyes widened in shock as saw the military man twist in some profound way, skidding to the side out of his kick.
The golden-haired man’s eyes narrowed. “Who…. who are you? There are not many men who can dodge my kick like that.”
The military man snorted, and then turned and confidently walked out of the bar with his chest held high.
Randidly sighed. Yup, just a coward.