I come to trade

The sentry kept his army gun levelled at me as I held my hands where he could see them.

"Trade what?"

"I need to see your commanding officer. I'm sure he will be interested in my offer."

I expected him to make a videocall, but instead while keeping an eye on me he tapped out a message on some kind of primitive communication device. It was electrical in nature, using wires, but not electronic. A few minutes later two more uniformed men came to escort me into the camp.

They insisted on taking my shotgun, and promised I'd get it back. I didn't really have much choice but to trust them.

The commander was the sort of person I knew Cath had in mind. He was confident, disciplined, and conveyed an air of authority with every word he spoke. I found it easy to exercise deference to him as Benny had advised.

"So you come seeking to trade. What is your proposal?"

"Yes, sir. My associate is an experienced distiller. He has sent me with a sample for your evaluation."

Carefully, making no sudden movements, I withdrew a half-liter flask from my jacket.

"We're camped nearby and wish to be on good terms with Blue Army."

The commander took the flask.

"You manufactured this here?"

"Bottled just two days ago, sir."

"If this is any good, it could be quite useful. In moderation, at times of quiet, a little R and R is always beneficial."

"I've had a bit myself, sir, and I think it's as good as anything Bringer ever made."

"Bringer's one weakness is food, since its vast experience doesn't include our own sense of taste."

He opened the flask and poured a few milliliters into a cup, which he handed to me.

"No offense, but I'd like to see you drink it first."

"Of course."

I tossed back my sample, and when I didn't keel over dead he tipped the bottle and took a generous slug. I watched nervously, but then a smile spread across his face and he nodded.

"I know you have an associate, because nobody your age could possibly have learned this craft this well. I don't suppose you'd tell us where your camp is? We could offer you protection."

"My associate prefers that we stay hidden."

"Probably wise. Some men would kill for this. I'll take half your output, and supply all of your grain. You can trade the rest of your output for your other needs, or drink it yourself for all I care. Is this an acceptable offer?"

"Very acceptable, sir."

It was at the good end of what Benny had told me to expect.


"I expected as much, sir."

"Very good. You may go now."

"Sir, there's an acquaintance of mine in your camp. I was wondering if I could see her?"

"Who is it, son?"

"Cath HU twelve mark one-sixteen Diego."

"We don't go with all that unit-mark shit in here, but I know who you're talking about. That's our cryptographer."

"Yes sir, that was her field of study."

"Well now it's her occupation. If you want to refer to her, she's Lieutenant Cath."

"I'll remember, sir."

An officer escorted me to her tent. She was surrounded by notebooks.

"Walt?" she exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I told you I couldn't live without you."

"Yes, but... don't tell me you joined the war at the last minute? What are you doing?"

"I found a gig. I'm trading alcohol. In fact, I just cut a pretty good deal with your commander."

"And where are you getting alcohol in the Zone?"

"A friend of mine is making it."

"Well, that's certainly a surprise. Speaking of my commander, not to disappoint you but I have a serious crush on him."

I made a brave little smile.

"It doesn't surprise me. But as long as we're both here, I can hope."

"Well, I'm glad to see you again and hope you do well out here, but you're still not my type."

"Could we be friends, at least? Just talk some when I'm out here? I get kind of depressed when I'm away from you."

"Sure. As long as you don't mind hearing how much I want to get into Commander Scott's pants."