Author: skinninator2
The snow crunched under Dack’s boots, his breath billowing out between his chattering teeth. Even bundled in his thick bear skin parka, the northern winter pierced through him, chilling his very bones. Despite the cold, the Briar black market was as crowded as ever, this winter had been the worst one in years and the ration cuts were taking their toll. A line from Arno’s beef stand wound snakelike between dozens of other stalls. His prices were the cheapest because he sold leftover scraps, bones, feet and any bit of meat that didn’t make the cut, but Dack wasn’t here for that. He made his way past a stand of deer jerky and spotted his goal; Margret the baker crouched near her clay oven to stay warm, mixing the contents of a bowl. She worked on one of the dairy farms but had taken up baking to make some extra trade on the side. Dack walked over to her stand and said

“Morning Margret, something smells good” She looked up, giving him a toothy grin,

“Dack! Lovely to see you, just put some buns in the oven. What can I do you for?”

“Got any cakes? It’s Rosa’s birthday, can’t go over empty handed.” She chuckled before standing up, the joints in her knees popping.

“Sure thing hon, got just the thing,” She pulled a wooden container from near the oven and opened it “Made a nice wildberry cake just this last night, I started paying some kids in cookies to fetch berries for me, quite a deal if you ask me.” Dack took a deep sniff of the cake, letting the sweet aroma fill his nostrils before asking

“Looks amazing as usual Margret, what are you looking for it?”

“Well, actually, it’s lucky you came today, I actually need a two-way radio and I know you can get me one.” Her grin had turned slightly mischievous.

“What in goddesses name does a woman like you need a two-way radio?” Dack asked in surprise. Margret chuckled before saying,

“It’s nothing crazy dearie, I just met a new smuggler friend from across the lake who can deliver me maple syrup. No more relying on honey rations. They got whole farms of it apparently! Just need a way to coordinate drops.”

“I don’t know Margret, I’d have to steal one out of a scout pack or something, I’d say it’s a bit more valuable than a cake?” Margret rolled her eyes in mock indignation before laughing,

“Oh I know that dearie, tell you what, I’ll throw in a few loaves, plus my smuggler friend can get you nearly anything, for the right price obviously. You just let me know what you want and we’ll work it out, that sound good?” Dack, pondered for a second. Getting caught stealing would wind him up working in Penance mines instantly, but on the other hand having a dedicated outside smuggler was a pretty valuable connection. He could probably bribe Helga down in logistics to look the other way for him to swipe a radio so he nodded and said.

“Alright Margret, you got a deal.”

“Lovely, let me grab you your loaves.”

* * *

Dack hurried down the street towards the East Side Village. He always found it odd whenever he came back to visit despite having spent his childhood here. The clean, neatly spaced houses and the trimmed lawns all felt surreal after his time in the West side. He didn’t belong here anymore and his old neighbors made that pretty clear. They weren’t rude to his face but conversations with them had certainly become a lot stiffer than he remembered. Regardless his family would be glad to see him, most of them anyway. His father and his sisters were always a treat but his mother always seemed to have to force that smile just a little.
He was so lost in thought that he collided with a woman walking the opposite way, dropping his cake box.

“Ow watch where you’re going asshole!”

“Shit! I’m sorry!” Hastily picking up the box and opening it to see if the cake was damaged, he looked to see who he had walked into. It was a woman, probably in her thirties though she looked younger than that. She had been reading a binder of documents which was probably why she hadn’t seen him either. It’s contents had spilled on the sidewalk and she was gathering them up. Dack knelt down to help still apologizing. When they had picked up all the contents they stood up and looked at each other.

“Do I know you?” The woman said. Dack didn’t recognize her so he shook his head.

“Sorry, don’t think so.” She contemplated him for a second, before saying

“No I think I do, you’re in the Legion right?” He was slightly taken aback but nodded

“Yeah, I’m wall patrol.”

“Right, right I remember now, I saw you at your graduation, I was helping fix some network drives at the academy and stuck around to
watch. Didn’t recognize you without your fancy dress blues. I’m Cassandra, Cassie for short.” She stuck out her hand and Dack shook it.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Dack.” he said. She nodded, her eyes still fixed on him.

“Must be nice.” She said,

“What is?”

“Being Barren, no one to give a shit whether or not you have kids, none of that motherly mumbo jumbo, and the only thing they expect from you is to do your job.” Dack stared at her, unsure of how to respond. He had never met a Human who was envious of the Barren, it was almost always the other way around.

“Do you not want kids?” He asked, she shrugged and said

“I had them, they were Barren so I didn’t even get to keep them, decided it wasn’t worth my time. Hell I’d leave and join you guys if I didn’t have it so nice over here. Anyways, I gotta run, nice meeting you Dack, I’ll see you around.” With that she brushed past him and headed down the street, leaving Dack staring after her.