Pixie waited at the edge of The Pit for the new Takers she’d contracted over the LifeLines forums to scramble up the entrance ladder. Sarge had joined the slingers on the clearance crew while the gate was opening. He’d said he wanted to avoid any ill-will from folks mad at damn Takers bringing more casualties down on the enclave. Pixie hated how that never was a consideration when a trade caravan unexpectedly showed up. But it was real. And Sarge’s cut of the bounty from all his shifts over the past month had paid for their rent on the old apartment. Which meant they had been able to hold the space for these new guys and set them up with rent for another month. It’d been a reasonably sweet lure.
The second of the new guys finished climbing up the ladder and Jones dropped the cover. Pixie watched the first one up the ladder watching the whole gate setup; they gave a slight nod when the pipe behind Pixie stopped ringing after Jones dropped the plate. Pixie heard The Pit shutter ratcheting down; the crew was taking it slow. Apparently some extra casualties in The Pit was worth not having them banging on the metal. Pixie took a quick look back; the crowd was thin enough that the Latent melee crew on the first floor shelves were in no danger. Cleanup would probably go another 20 minutes though before anyone belayed down to pull cards.
The two guys approaching across the catwalk were a study in contrasts. The one closer to her was Caucasian, weathered, tall, lanky, and honestly looked like an awkward red-haired stork — all whipcord muscle and knobby joints. Damn he was tall, probably had three or four inches on Sarge, who wasn’t exactly short. The quiver across the new guy's back was full up of a mixture of metallic and wooden arrows, and he carried a compound bow in his right hand. Interesting, a left-handed shooter. That one must be Yew.
The second one, had to be Oak, was more average on height (still put him half a foot up on Pixie…), stout, and otherwise kinda shapeless under a bunch of bulky clothes. Dude was either Latino or tanned damn easily, but was definitely spending most of his time outdoors. The edges of the shield strapped across his back were visible above his shoulders and down somewhere around mid-thigh, while the machete strapped to his waist looked reasonably clean. The lack of a sheath was worrying.
Honestly the two of them looked like refugees from the Society of Creative Anachronism, and not the kind that focused on the role-play or historical accuracy. Probably explained the five-years and counting of survival though.
Pixie extended her left hand to shake; her right arm still had another couple weeks in a sling before Doc or Sarge (or her) would be not-pissed about using it. Handshakes as a greeting were dying out of casual use, but the Taker community was hanging on to it. Right up until they ran into a Latent.
“Pixie,” she said, shaking the archer’s hand.
“Yew,” he replied in a surprisingly deep baritone, “and my friend here is Oak.”
Oak gave a lazy half wave. “How's the shoulder?”
“I'll be good in a couple weeks, but no reason we can't get y'all settled in here and planning a job in the meantime.”
“Indeed. I was under the impression there was a fourth in this venture?” Yew asked with a cocked eyebrow.
Pixie pointed across The Pit, to the far side. “Sarge is on gate duty just now. He’ll join us on this tour once The Pit is clear. Shall we?”
The two of them trailed after her as she steered them towards the most important landmark in enclave for a Taker to know — the doctor's clinic.
“How’s guard duty work, y'all get to keep the bounty off your kills?” Oak asked.
“No, most of that's part of the enclave coffers.” Pixie said, simultaneously gesturing at the doc’s clinic. When both of them nodded, she headed toward ls the stairs up. “Working a shift gets you community credit and a cut of the bounty that's only good for paying for enclave services. We–”
“Community credit? What sort of politics we walked into here?” That was Yew.
Pixie paused on the landing halfway up to the third floor. “The enclave had a page on LifeLines going over this… Thought y'all would have read that before showing up.”
“Sure,” Oak said with a bit of an annoyed look at Yew, “but hearing the locals’ take is always more in-depth.”
Pixie shrugged.”Alright, why don't I show y'all the apartment and then we grab some seats in the cafeteria. Might as well be comfortable if I'm talking politics.”
About 15 minutes later, Oak and Yew had left their weapons and backpacks in the little cell apartment that were now theirs. There'd been some good natured bickering over the merits of splitting the pallet bed in two versus continuously fighting over who's turn it was to be the big spoon until one of them got their own place. Now, all three of them settled in to benches around a table in the back corner of the cafeteria.
“So, community credit?” Yew pulled a chunk of wood and a small knife out of a belt pouch.
“The enclave's tried to centralize what’s more efficient to centralize and ‘legalized’ enforced civic involvement by gamifying it all.”
“Oh bugger,” Yew muttered.
“So, infrastructure like the gate—”
“The one we came up or that pit contraption thing?” Oak was watching her intently; Pixie had the feeling he was the thinker of the two.
“They're both considered parts of ‘the gate’. Besides that, infrastructure includes the whole building (so there's the rent part), water catchment up on the roof, the grow rooms, solar power, and the cafeteria. Pay in once a month and you've got three meals a day sorted out.”
“The cafeteria?” One of the permanent staff, Miya, had brought over a tray and slipped it under Yew's hands as he carved; she was glaring at him now.
Pixie gave Miya a ‘sorry’ look before addressing Yew again. “Cooking in large batches for lots of people is a lot more efficient.” Miya flounced off, and Oak gave Yew a light slap to the back of the head.
“Yeah, but how's the taste?” Yew asked, glaring himself at Oak, before starting to carve around the scrape he'd accidentally added. “And how's that work with folks like us gone so often?”
“Pretty good actually, and the staff issue out trail rations to us. Or anyone going on a trade caravan run. The doc's clinic is also enclave run, although that's only covered if you're injured on enclave business.”
“So gate duty…”
“Plus any time we’re hired directly by the council and accidents on the job for the water, power, and botany folks.”
“There's been a push recently to expand medical care to everyone,” Sarge said, sitting down beside Pixie, “along the general lines of a public health crises being expensive at best and enclave ending at worst. Plus the whole ‘healthy people are more productive’ argument.”
“Not much for moral arguments around here, I take it,” Oak said with an arched eyebrow.
“More like we're all such hippy liberals we agree we should,” Pixie said, turning sideways to angle her back towards Sarge, “we’re just arguing over priorities, what order to put them in, and having enough bounty to do it right. Proponents want to do it now. Opponents want to push to expand into the other tower on the campus first, in order to expand our agriculture to increase exports and immigration. Their justification du jour is then we'd have a better economic base and the money to do healthcare better.” Pixie gave a one-armed shrug she'd had too much practice with over the last month. “Same folks have been pushing to expand since day three.”
“Don't forget the school funding folks,” Sarge said, scooting closer to Pixie and starting to work at the knots in her right shoulder. “Or the ones who want to restart the buffalo drives to expand the grimecloth industry.”
“Do I even fucking want to know?” Yew asked.
“Not until the council managed to attract a dog trainer or canine team, no, probably not,” Sarge drawled.
“Okay… So what does any of that have to do with community credit?” Oak asked, gesturing vaguely towards the kitchen.
“Other than possibly expanding what's covered under community credits,” Pixie interjected. “It's a gamified labor tax basically. Everyone has to earn so much community credit a week, which you get by working at an enclave basic service. Technically complex stuff, direct service stuff, dangerous shit, and horrifically boring crap earn more credits per hour.”
“Yes, there's a bounty to credit conversion rate, and yes, you can donate credits to another person.”
“Banking credits from week to week is a) capped and b) seriously stigmatized.”
“As Takers, we only need the proportion of the monthly credits we’re in the enclave for.”
“Unless on a council job. That just covers it.”
“How's it work with kids?” Oak asked.
“Gradually increasing requirements as they get older, severe restrictions on accepting donations. There's also talk of reforming the system to better give folks a break when they're sick. If only to keep ’em from getting everyone else sick. But that's gotten tired up in the medical care for all debate.”
“Sounds like a lot of bureaucracy.”
Pixie shrugged under Sarge's hands. “The administration work is strictly average on the credits per hour scale, doesn't directly contribute, and got socially pegged as ‘for them lain or used up so much this is all that's left to contribute.’ I think we've got one full-time granny on the job, with two part-timers and whoever’s coming off the sick list. Council itself is only part-time too. Initially thought they'd make it uncredited, then someone pointed out that only rich folks could afford to do that, so again, it's average on the credits. Wrote that into the governing docs too. It's not perfect, but we're all bumping along.”
“Oh, factions,” Sarge said, moving to work on the muscles lower down. “We had a couple Triage assholes try to make inroads in here a couple months ago. Got run off ‘cause of how the gate works, but Black Math is getting more popular because of it. So, council jobs might start getting a little more… dangerous.”
“More than we were planning?”
“Maybe I should explain what a buffalo drive is…”