Getting back to the Sanctuary we went through the regular security routines. Our IDs as 'Legalized Bounty Hunters' for the Sancuary afforded us with some special privileges which granted us a speedy entrance. The security might sound lax but remember that the zombies weren't contagious so there was really no need to be overly cautious.
Well, if people had known about my neural implant things might have been different. Them having been partly the cause of this 'zombification' and with 'The Phage' still being out there people would naturally keep a good distance to anyone still having a neural implant. That is why I don't advertise the matter (again not paranoid, just common sense). I haven't even told my team about it but I am sure they wonder sometimes how I get ahold of my info. If they suspect anything or are worried they haven't mentioned it.
While in my reverie Izzy had taken us through the main gate and further in, to the parking garage. After parking Izzy and Nebu gathered up our weapons and headed towards the weapons storage to drop them off. "Don't forget the receipt!" I called after them which received a grunt from Nebu in response. That was good enough for me.
Me, Wiley and Blade headed towards the DropBox Room to drop off our Bounty for the reward. Only one of us was allowed entry to the DropBox Room so as team leader I entered carrying the package. The inside of the DropBox Room is very Spartan-like. The only items are a single computer, a conveyor belt, a printer and a big red button on the wall. I flocked on the screen of the computer and filled in the Bounty ID number. It is the number identifying which Bounty I was claiming. The ID number I had gotten off the bulletin board in the Bounty Offices. This is normally to ensure the anonymity of the client but in this case the council had gone public with the request to encourage participation. A request from the council always had a good reward and could be counted upon to fulfill the agreement.
After enter the ID number the computer prompted me to input my 'Passkey'. The passkey is like a personal password for you computer that no one else knows about. It is what I need later to claim the Bounty and security conscious that I am I make sure to have a unique passkey for every Bounty. I filled out my string of numbers and pressed enter. The printer immediately started up and printed me a label with the Bounty ID number on it together with my passkey. I pasted it on the package and put the package on the conveyor belt. I pressed the button on the wall and the conveyor belt started up. It transported our package through the wall and off into whoever handled the packages.
The entire Bounty system is something of a really nifty design, created by the ruling council (with inputs from yours truly). When helping to design it I actually took a lot of ideas from DeepOnion which has features like DeepSend and Stealth Addresses which I use to protect my identity during my online dealings. The system ensures that the Bounty Hunter (normally) never knows the identity of the person making the request and the submitter never knows who performs the bounty work. This avoids unnecessary grudges to develop and reduces internal competition between bounty hunters, since if you don't know who to be mad at, why even bother?!
After dropping off the Bounty we all went our separate ways, Wiley and Izzy most likely went back to their place, Nebu to his workshop and Blade to whatever place was serving bear at this time. We had set up a rendezvous for the next day to split the spoils, giving time to the office to processes the Bounty.
It meant waiting another day before I could get ahold of my steak but I wasn't worried, this request was backed by the council after all. Without anything else left to do I set off back home to my humble abode for some rest and maybe celebrate a good days work with a bag of chips and coke. After the apocalypse it is the small things that matter!
I was abruptly woken up the next day by a hammering on my front door and it took me some time to register what was going on. I have friends but no one really that would show-up unannounced in the morning like this. Wary and a little curious I got dressed and went to check what was going on. Waiting at the door was a middle-aged couple (maybe in their late 50s). The man was tall (half a head taller than me) and had the body build of someone used to manual labor, smith or farmer I am thinking, but his eyes had a kind of weariness to them. The woman was petite, at least compared to the man, had a slim build and kind eyes with which she was studying me with (taking my measure?).
After a moment of silence the woman took the lead, "Mr. Ebenezar isn't it, mind if we come in for a while?". I nod slightly in response and gesture them towards the couch to sit down still curious as to what they are doing here. "Tea, ok?!" I ask while I shut the door behind them and go into the kitchen to put prepare it. My curiosity is no excuse to ignore the rules of hospitality and offer some beverages to my guests.
"Tea sounds good" I hear from the living room. I lean back in and ask "Jasmine or elderberry?". The couple looks at each other in that silent communication that is developed over long years together, "Jasmin will be fine" the woman answers. Seems like, of the two of them, she has chosen to take the lead on whatever this is. With the tea getting ready I sit down in the chair next to them and motion them to start.
"My name is Janice and this is my husband Paul, we live over in the West District and have a request that we would like to discuss with you" says Janice. Interesting tidbit of information, the West District is the 'wealthy' part of Sanctuary. That must mean that they got some important skills that is of good use for the community, my bet is on Paul being a smith which is a highly sought after skill these days.
"What kind of a request?" I prompt, already having a really good guess. In a community this small word gets around and, even for someone like me, keeping your line of work a complete secret is an impossibility.
"We would like to hire you in your capacity as a Bounty Hunter, there is a certain assignment we would like to offer you" which is exactly in line with what I was expecting her to say.
"There is a normal process for this, just file a Bounty request with the office and they will put it up on the board" I say even though I know that they are already aware of this and here because of some other circumstance. Still I hold on to hope that I might convince them to leave me alone, I don't like dealing directly with people.
"We did that, even put up a hefty reward, but it has been over a week and no one has taken on the assignment. You have a reputation for helping people and out daughter is in dire need of your help!"
A reputation?! I shouldn't have a reputation; I actually strive hard to NOT have any reputation in this community. Have I helped some people out?! Sure, I have done some assignments outside of the official bounty board when I felt the reward was good enough. Information can sometimes be an extremely good reward but that isn't something that the office takes as collateral for a bounty request so I have been known to dabble.
But helping people?! I mean there have been a couple occasions where we have gotten people out of a few tough scrapes, but all those have been official bounty requests and done anonymously. I guess the ones we got out safely might have talked, it is kind of hard to stay completely anonymous from the bounty itself. Hmm, a flaw in the system?! That is something to consider for later, now I needed to get back on track.
Before I can fully collect my thought Janice presses her point. "There is no one else we can turn to. She is stuck in New York, she, a bunch of kids and other teachers are stuck in an underground shelter and have been since the Outbreak. Supplies are running low and they will have no choice but to leave. They won't make it without help!"
My mind was spinning, people alive in New York and have been there since the Outbreak?! That sounded like wishful thinking. New York was a high-tech hub before the Outbreak and 99% of the population there had neural implants on pretty much all of them turned into walking zombies that day. The chance that people, alive people, were still around in the city were pretty much zero.
My head sagged a bit while I said, "If your daughter was in New York during the Outbreak there is no chance that she is alive, she is either a zombie or..." I left the words hanging since no one wants to hear that their loved one might have been eaten. The shelter idea didn't sound plausible, a bunch of people stuck inside a confined space for that wouldn't last that long. Now that I think about it I remember seeing the Bounty request on the board but I hadn't even glanced at the reward since, New York! No one would willingly go to New York.
Janice almost jumped up from the sofa "Our daughter is alive! We have been in contact with her since the Outbreak which is how we know about the shelter and the other survivors, 12 in total, eight of them kids. We can't go ourselves and believe us that we would have. But we have her daughter, Lucy, our grand-child to take care of. She was visiting for the weekend while Tina and her class were on a trip to New York when the Outbreak happened. We couldn’t risk leaving Lucy here all alone, in case something happens; we are all she has left!" She said it with such force that I could see there being no doubt in her mind about this and the truth of her words.
Tears had started streaming from her eyes, and I could detect a quiver in her shoulders. I couldn't hold her eyes for long so I casually tried to look away.
It is something in me that makes it so I can't stand to see a woman cry, it is something basic and immediately makes me want to do something about it. So I started thinking, if there was someone alive in New York, and they had access to outside communications i should be able to find some trace of that out on the net.
If you are stuck like that then I am sure you are posting everywhere you can to try and get someone’s attention. But if no one is looking then it is hard to get noticed. I reached out with my implant to access the net looking for key words: "New York", "Shelter", "Teacher" and "Kids". It didn't take long to get a bunch of hits, so many hits in fact that I wondered how I had missed it before.
On pretty much every known message board out there I could find a thread created by someone called "Titania" asking for help saying they were stuck in a secure bunker/shelter in New York with a bunch of kids. There were even pictures of them down there, all twelve with concrete walls around. I had read the bounty request and dismissed it, hearing about it and seeing their pictures shouldn't change anything but it did.
It was going to be hard turning away now and I was not sure I wanted to. I must have fallen quite for a while when I was 'browsing the web' and I heard Janice say "Mr Ebenezar?!". People can't see when I access the web through my implant and they must have thought I was spacing out or something.
Janice was sitting back down and had wiped away the tears, Paul was sitting next to her with his head a bit lowered. He didn't expect any help and was just trying to be there for his wife. That more than anything decided it for me, he was trying to be there for his wife like no one was there for his daughter. They couldn't leave to help and they needed someone to step up.
"I believe you, but New York is far away and convincing anyone to go there will require more than pleading words". I wasn't being greedy, I couldn't do this on my own and it would be a hard sell to my team. I would need some really good incentives with which to convince them.
I could notice her regaining her steel, "Paul here owns a smithy (I knew it!) and can barter for almost any resources you might want. Name you price!" She said it with steel in her voice but I could detect the hope it held. Paul still didn't look convinced but he looked up to meet my eyes.
Time to take the plunge, "I only have access to one vehicle, we would need two more for the eventual extraction and enough ammo for a small army. Added to this we need enough gas to get to New York and back with three vehicles in total. All this would need to be paid up front and in good faith." I take a short pause, making sure they understood, before continuing "Upon successful completion the reward shall contain gas resources, equal to the amount paid up front, and three months food rations, the good stuff, for each team member. The contract shall be signed and agreed with the Bounty Office".
This was pretty much a fortune and even though the husband might be a smith I wasn't sure that they would be able to yes to these terms. But this was the least I would need to convince the rest. I might have gone a bit too far by promising my services before checking with my team. But I also knew them, deep down they would want to help.
Hell, Izzy and Wiley were two people I had picked up while on a bounty request in Nebraska. A few weeks later they had looked me up and asked to join my team, I think they wanted to help other people in the same situation they had been in.
Paul shocked me by speaking up for the first time, "You would really try to get her out of there?", he said while looking straight at me. I kept his stare for a while, showing I was serious, and nodded. "Then you have a deal. By when do you need the supplies?"
"We should be ready to move in three days" I answered him. He nodded back indicating that he would have the supplies ready. As they went out the door Janice turned to me and mouthed a silent 'Thank you' before following Paul down the street.
I suddenly remember the tea I put on when they arrived, I didn’t even remember to offer them any. Somehow that seemed like a minor detail and a long time ago. I pick up my vintage DeepOnion mug with the DogLover logo (a classic) and pour me a cup. A lot of prep-work was going to keep me busy in the next few days. So much for my planned R&R, and tomorrow's meeting with the rest of the gang was going to be an interesting experience. Blade was going to have a fit but since I was fairly sure that the rest of them would be on board he wouldn’t want to be left out of the action.
Guess we were going to New York!