The man walking over to Arthur’s group with a small smile had just finished his own business with an attendant. Arthur gave him a flat look. He wasn’t trying for unwelcoming; he was just tired and wanting to crash at his new residence. As it stood, getting through the town would be a pain and a half, even if he could make use of the main thoroughfares now.
The scruffy-looking newcomer did not hesitate. A mix of Caucasian and Indian or Malay, Arthur presumed. The man’s khaki pants and many-pocketed safari shirt was torn down one side and stained with traces of old blood. A bandage showed beneath the opening. He carried, surprisingly, a pair of guns slung under both armpits in shoulder holsters and a large knife that might as well be a short sword along one hip.
The pistols—semi-automatic types, as far as Arthur could tell—were a surprise to see in the Tower. They worked quite well, but the problem of having sufficient ammunition was a major problem even in countries like the United States with their gun-crazed culture. Since bullet supplies were only available via individuals entering the Tower, it was mostly only Guilds that could keep a supply chain, allowing their people to use these modern weapons all the way up a Tower.
In Advanced Towers, certain cultivation techniques were powerful and fast enough to supplant guns. But those techniques were also locked behind guild memberships, never mind the energy costs of using such techniques.
And, of course, there were also significant legal constraints about owning a licensed firearm in Malaysia. Realistically, only the army, the police, security guards, and criminals owned them, and of those, the last three barely even knew how to fire their weapons. He’d heard of more than one security guard company handing a shotgun to their employees with empty shells, just so that they’d look intimidating while they sat outside jewelry stores.
Which is why the presence of those two guns were a real surprise. Assuming they were real.
“They’re real,” the man said, his voice surprisingly deep. Arthur jerked, surprised to hear his own thoughts echoed. “Everyone always wonders.”
It took a moment for Arthur to realise that the man’s accent was not a Malaysian one but American. Deep South American, that is, the kind of places that if you believed Hollywood had rednecks and cowboys and horses galore. Also, racism, Christianity and hatred of anyone not falling into their narrow definition of ‘normal’.
“Not where I grew up. You can call me Rick.” A hand was shoved forward, the smile widening a little. The name, the guns in shoulder holsters, the khaki and the floppy hairstyle. It all came together, into an image of an old school movie about a mummy and a sexy librarian.
Arthur shook the man’s hand, letting his spear prop against his shoulder as he did so. If the man wanted to cosplay, that was his problem. It didn’t suggest the most sensible of mentalities, but then again, they were pitting their lives against an alien artifact in vague hopes of power. Sanity was in short supply in the Tower, really.
“Arthur.” Releasing the man’s hand, Arthur cocked an eyebrow. “What are you doing here, then?”
“My parents came back a few years ago for work. I chose to tag along,” Rick said, smiling. “I heard the Tower here is easier, and since it’s geared towards people who don’t have guns . . .” He shrugged.
“Cheating your way up?”
“You’re not trying if you’re not cheating, eh?”
“Some people might take offense at such views.”
“And do you?” Rick searched Arthur’s face as he asked, eyes narrowed a little. That same easy smile still on his lips.
“Who am I? Your father?” Arthur snorted. “Climb the Tower however you need. Just, you know, don’t shoot me by accident.”
“Good. Then I’m part of your Clan?” Rick said.
“That wasn’t an invitation,” Arthur replied, letting his gaze roam over the man. “I don’t know you. And while I can boot you out later, I’m not sure why I’d add you just because you said so.”
Rick grinned, put his thumbs into his belt, and puffed his chest out a little. “I can think of two good reasons.” Arthur’s gaze dropped to the guns, and the man continued, “One, I’ve got guns. And that’s a big advantage in this Tower, I’ll tell you.”
“Noisy. Brings even more trouble lah,” Jan muttered, who had overheard their conversation and dragged Su Mei over with her. The girl had shouldered her backpack on and was looking curiously between the two men.
“Killing fields. Great for core collection!” Rick replied. “And secondly, I can pay you. Over and above whatever taxes you might have.”
“Really.” Arthur perked up. “Now that does sound interesting.”
“I thought so.”
A quick understanding of the man before him was growing. Rich kid, probably someone connected enough to have the license to carry not just one but two guns. Having someone like that in their clan could be really useful. Assuming he could be trusted and wasn’t an ass who threw his weight around just because he was richer than the rest of them.
“Alright. Let’s talk.” Arthur scanned the surroundings, but none of the other Tower climbers were looking to talk to him. The others merely went about their own business. “Elsewhere though.”
“Of course.” Rick took a step back, leaving Arthur to look at Jan and Su Mei.
“Done. You can now do it anytime,” Jan whispered to Su Mei, keeping her voice lower so as not to attract any attention.
A single raised eyebrow and a nod from Su Mei confirmed her agreement, making him wonder what had been said between the two. Still, he could ask or he could just get it done, and he knew which way he leaned towards. Micro-managing was never his style.
Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure he had a style. Su Mei brightened up as details of clan acknowledgement flickered through her interface, and Arthur mused about his past and managing people.
Planning to be a Tower climber, working as an odd-jobs person, running errands—mostly deliveries—and the occasional cage fight were not the kind of resume one built to become a manager or clan leader. He had never really worked with others before, never had to train or deal with them. Sure, he’d been “managed” but mostly by AI apps that tracked his various metrics from delivery times to customer satisfaction levels. In fact, even those few people who found themselves with better jobs were mostly managed in that way, their actual managers too busy doing their own work, trying to hit their own quotas so as not to get fired by an impersonal HR AI.
Funny to think that perhaps the people who might have the best skills at dealing with people on a daily basis were those in the underworld. Most of them refused to use AI tech, refused to download or make use of a variety of apps that made everyday life easier. Too easy to track, too easy to tap into. So they did things the old-fashioned way.
All of which meant that when he pushed a clan invitation via the internal Tower system to Su Mei, he had a little bit of a concern about how the hell he was going to manage the organization he was technically in charge of.