Chapter 4:

Chapter 4: The Job


Nyk followed Lulu down a long hallway. Everything was so bright and clean, not at all like the buildings in the slums.

“Um… Lulu…”

“Please say ‘excuse me’, Slum Boy, it’s the polite way of asking for someone’s attention,” Lulu answered without looking back.

“O-Oh, sorry… Excuse me, Lulu…”


“Why… Why do I have to wear these clothes?”

Nyk had felt embarrassed being in front of a woman without any clothes on, but he felt even worse about the outfit he was wearing now.

It was a dress. Black and frilly and so wide it was almost impossible to walk in. It was all he could do to keep from tearing it off of him.

“Because that’s what I desire to see you in, of course.”

“But… But I’m a boy! Err, a man! This is a dress! Don’t you have-“

“I don’t care what you ‘are’, Slum Boy. You’re mine. And if it pleases me to see you in a dress, then I will put you in a dress. Understand?”

“Y-Yes…” He hung his head, his face burning with shame.

“You should be grateful. That dress is worth more than all the rags you’ve ever worn in your life,” she added.

He couldn’t argue. The fact that it felt better than anything else he’d ever worn made it sting even more. She’d said it was made of something called ‘silk’, and it was softer than he’d ever imagined.

“Is this… how you want me to repay my debt?” He asked quietly. “By… by wearing these… these clothes?”

“Hmm? Oh, my, no, that’s just for my own personal taste.”

She stopped and turned to face him, wickedness shining in her blue eyes.

“No… what I want from you… is your body.” Her lips pulled back in a smirk, and she ran her tongue across them. Nyk felt his blood run cold.

In his short life, he had been propositioned more times than he wanted to count. From people who thought he was a girl, to even people who knew he was a boy but didn’t care. The offers ranged from suggestions that he should get a job working the brothels to lurid and crude requests of wretched things for a fistful of silvs.

It had always turned his stomach and now was no exception, even from a woman as beautiful as this.

Lulu reached out to him and stroked his cheek gently. “Oh, don’t get me wrong,” she softly crooned. “I don’t mean like that. I have no interest in that dirty thing between your legs… and while I’m certain I could make quite a fair amount off some of my more… discerning business associates… that wouldn’t even begin to repay the debt you owe me.”

He swallowed.

“Th-Then… what do you want from me?”

Her eyes twinkled. “That answer is right through this door.”

She turned and placed her hand against the wall, and a panel slid open to reveal a room of immense size.

Nyk was in awe. He had no idea rooms could even be this big! None of the Towers’ chambers he’d seen could even compare! You could fit an entire block of stores in here, easily, and it looked like Lulu had tried.

Everywhere he looked he saw fortune. Large trucks, sand skimmers, mounted gun turrets, and those were just the beginning. There were things he couldn’t begin to describe, were they vehicles? Or weapons, of some sort? They came in countless shapes and colors, with the only commonality between them all were the numbers emblazoned on them.

“What… What is this?” He asked breathlessly.

“This…” Lulu said with a flourish, “…is my showroom. All my masterpieces, put on display, ready and waiting for the day they’re used.”

“Wait, you… you made all this?” It was unthinkable. He’d imagined these wonders of technology were the result of countless Scavenging excavations into the Towers. Such fancy machinery, he assumed, could only have come from the ancient world.

This woman would have him believe they were the fruit of one mind?

“Milady is a mechanical genius.”

Nyk nearly jumped out of his dress. Had Aud always been standing behind him?!

“Ah, Aud! You’ve brought the tea. Excellent. I was just explaining to the Slum Boy all about how he was going to repay his debt to me.”

Aud set the tray down on a nearby table and began to pour a strange liquid from a large colored pot. Whatever it was, it was piping hot and smelled…

He didn’t recognize the aroma, but it made him desperately thirsty.

“Would you like some?” Lulu asked, sitting and taking a cup, lifting it to her lips.

“What is it?”

She raised her eyebrow and took a sip. “They don’t even have tea in the slums? My, how tragic. In that case, I insist, please.”

It took some doing to sit down in a dress, but he managed to do it. Aud poured some of the liquid into a cup for him. It was brown, like the water in the slums, but he could see right through it. He peered through the steam and held it up to his lips like Lulu had.

“Blow on it first,” she gently urged him. He did, and then took a sip. He nearly dropped the cup.

“What… that’s-!” He set the cup down and held his mouth, unable to believe what he was tasting. The flavor was indescribable, bitter like medicine and yet…

“…So how was it?” She grinned.

“It’s… hot,” he said, unable to believe that a drink so hot could taste so nice. “It’s hot… but good, how?”

“I find tea is best served hot,” Lulu replied, taking another sip. “Have as much as you like, we have plenty.”

His manners forgotten, Nyk greedily drained the cup, ignoring the burning in his throat. The pain was nothing compared to how amazing it tasted, he had to have more! The second it was empty he reached for the pot the was the source of the wondrous drink, but Aud grabbed his hand. Her grip was like iron.

“You would be wise not to behave so discourteously in front of milady,” Aud coldly warned him, and he gulped, suddenly realizing where he was an who he was with.


“Oh, let him be, Aud, it’s adorable!” Lulu smiled. “Like a happy little puppy. Would you like more tea, little puppy?” She asked, running her fingers through her hair. “Yes you would, wouldn’t you? Oochie-coochie-coo!”

She was looking down on him, even worse than Axel had. But he couldn’t say anything back to her, and part of him didn’t want to. If it meant getting more of that amazing tea, he would put up with being treated like a dog for a little bit.

“So you see?” Lulu said, leaning back in her seat. “Belonging to me won’t be without its benefits. You like tea? I can get you a bathtub full of it. Soda? Fine wine? Anything your heart could desire can be all yours, my little Slum Boy. Do your job well, and I’ll give you delicacies you could only dream of, and pleasures beyond your wildest imagination.”

Nyk gulped. There had to be a catch. “And… if I don’t?”

She shrugged. “Then you’ll be dead, and I find the notion of that rather grim, don’t you? I’d rather think positively!”

“But… you haven’t even told me what it is you want me to do!”

“Oh, that? Simple. I want you to Scavenge for me.”

“Scavenge… for you?”

In all the confusion, it had completely slipped his mind before now that he’d first encountered this woman in the Tower. The two of them had rescued him, so they were no stranger to the wasteland.

But what would a lady from the city (because that was what she was, Nyk was certain of that now) be doing in a place like that?

“It’s a common enough thing, I hear,” Lulu shrugged. “Scavengers with a debt work as private contractors for their creditor, repaying them with services rendered. Oh, excuse me, a ‘private contractor is’-“

“I know,” he said quickly. “You want me to Scavenge only for you, and bring back whatever I find to you.”

Slightly surprised, a smile spread across her lips and she leaned back in her chair. “It seems you understand quite well.”

Nyk understood it alright. But there was something he still didn’t understand.

“Why me?” He asked. “You saw what happened. I could barely kill one Sentinel! I’m weak, and pathetic, and useless, you had to rescue me!”

It hurt his pride to say it, but he had to confront reality. Axel had been completely right. He had been nothing but a worthless burden on their team, and had nearly gotten himself killed for it. Maybe he’d even gotten them killed. He hoped that wasn’t the case, he hoped that Mysha was okay.

But even if she was, he’d let her down. He’d let them all down.

“So why would you ever want someone like me?”

Lulu smiled. It wasn’t a comforting smile.

“Because it has to be you,” she said. “Come with me.”

She rose from her seat and he followed after her. She led him through the rows of machinery to a cleared-out section of the room.

There, suspended by wires over a large platform, was something Nyk could only describe as a man made of metal. Not a cyborg, though, maybe a full-on auton? It looked like a suit of armor with its smooth body made of shiny black metal. White lines broke across it, accentuating the features, and a large “0” was emblazoned on the breastplate in gold.

“What is that thing? Is it a person?”

Lulu laughed and shook her head. “No, not exactly. You’re looking at Number 0: Synchro Suit. A special prototype combat armor designed for individual specialized use in Scavenging operations by Volstgalph Industries.”

There were a lot of words he didn’t understand, but from what he could make out…

“Wait… this is… Volstgalph Industries? How do you have a weapon from there?! Who are you?”

She smirked. “Oh? I believe I already introduced myself, did I not? My name is Luna Lugh, CEO and Board Chair of Volstgalph Industries. A pleasure to meet you, Slum Boy.”

He was shocked. He knew she was rich, but a corporate executive? In the same room as he was?

“I-I… I didn’t, I…”

“My, they always react like that, don’t they?” She sighed.

“Milady, awareness of your status is essential,” Aud reminded her.

“Yes, I know, but it’s so cute to see people get so flustered like that…” She walked up to Nyk and patted him on the head.

“Do you understand now, Slum Boy? You’re the official property of Volstgalph Industries. To repay your debt, I will have you be the test pilot of Number 0, so we can analyze how it operates under combat situations.”

Nyk began to lose the feeling in his legs. “You… You mean… you want me to wear that, and…”

“And go on Scavenging Excavations for the benefit of Volstgalph Industries, exactly!” Lulu cheerfully replied with a clap. “And with any luck, you might even make it out alive!”