“You aren’t going to do anything?” Corinne asked.
“What did you expect?”
“These people need help. They can’t fight what’s happening to them, but they would if they could. And you can do something, but you won’t.”
“We don’t know the full situation,” Jayson replied.
“Yes we do. He’s controlling these people by rationing water.”
“You can’t prove that,” Jayson asserted.
“Look around you. People are dying."
"He recognized my armor. He thinks I'm here to check in on him for someone. I can use that to my advantage if he's willing to get me off planet without question."
"Are you such a coward that you would rather accept an olive branch from an abuser than stand up for the weak? He thinks you serve Darius Gray and that you are a part of the plan to hurt these people. Who knows? Maybe you are. You seem more than willing to let them suffer.”
Jayson felt his neck prickle. “That’s enough.”
Corinne fell silent for a few minutes, but he could hear the telltale whir of computer processors loading information. She was searching for something.
“Turn left here,” Corinne said suddenly. Jayson hesitated, and then obeyed. Her words were clipped in anger. “Now make a right, and enter the bar at the end of the road.”
“Where are you taking me?” Jayson asked, but he followed her directions.
“That man in the booth at the back. He was mayor of this city years ago; before Warren violently murdered his family to take control. Now he leads an underground resistance group trying to fight back.” Images flashed across Jayson’s screen, verifying everything Corinne said, including pictures of a dead family. “His name is Quinton. Go ask him about his daughter and what they did to her before they killed her.”
Jayson winced as the last images were displayed. A little girl sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood. She couldn’t have been over five…who could do that to a child…
“Do you even have a plan? You're playing with fire,” Jayson said.
“I’m asking you to help. You can’t just sit back and let this continue.”
“I arrived yesterday, and before that this planet didn’t even exist to me. It’s not my fight.”
“Then make it your fight. At least hear the man out.”
There was no reply, and after debating with himself Jayson walked to the booth. The man didn’t move as he sat down.
“I’m not looking for company,” Quinton muttered gruffly. He was drinking a whisky sour, light on the sour.
“I don’t care. Tell me what’s happening here. On this world,” Jayson said, taking his helmet off and setting it on the table. The man looked up this time. He was old, especially around the eyes. His skin resembled shoe leather. Had to be late fifties, and he carried the signs of declining health.
“Direct. I appreciate that. You’re an outsider, so I’ll tell you one time. Leave it alone.”
“Why aren’t the water purifiers being used?”
“If you don’t already know, then it’s not worth saying.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
The man stared at him. “Why?”
“Why do you need to hear anything, if you already know how bad things are?”
Jayson didn’t reply. There was a long pause, then the man sighed: “You’ve made a mistake coming here. Warren will know we spoke, so no matter what happens next you need protection.” He hesitated. “Warren Smith uses the water generators to force everyone under his control. Twelve thousand died in the last four months, so everyone is scared.”
Quinton leaned in, conspiratorial. “I have a plan, though. You look competent. If you help us in capturing and defending a warehouse, I can sneak the equipment out and back into the city. We’ll weaken Warren’s regime and show his lies. In a few years, the resistance will be strong enough to force Smith out of power.”
“Twelve thousand dead in four months?” Jayson echoed softly. “How many men are in Warren’s regime?”
Quinton misunderstood. “That’s the best part. Not many are still loyal to him. He uses brutality and a heavy fist to keep them in line.”
“So if he dies the people will get water.”
“Yes. But we can’t touch him. He has over thirty guards with him at all times…”
Jayson sighed and rubbed his temples.
“…if we can get at least some of the equipment on the street for people—”
“And he kills children?”
Quinton hesitated at the reference. “What happened to Aliza is my burden to bear. I messed up. Trusted the wrong people. That is not why I formed the resistance. We need to stand up to him. With you, we might stand a chance of taking a warehouse. Will you help us?”
Jayson shook his head. “No.”
The man’s countenance fell, and he seemed to age thirty years in those few seconds. “You won’t help us.”
“Oh, I’ll help,” Jayson corrected. “I just can’t afford months.” He stood from the table. “Which men in Smith’s regime are completely loyal?”
The man’s face shifted from confusion to fear. “You aren’t serious…?”
“The ones with blue arm bands. They are also the only ones in powered armor, to keep others in check. The rest are in it to feed their families.”
Jayson nodded and patted the man on the shoulder as he passed. “I’m coming with you. This is my fight,” Quinton said.
Jayson stopped in the doorway and put his helmet back on. He turned to face the old man.
“If you try to follow me, you will be the first person I shoot,” he said, then disappeared into the street.
He started down the road, backtracking to the administrative building.
A frail woman sang softly as she hung her clothes in an alley.
A mangy cat hissed at him from a window.
“You don’t have a gun. How were you going to shoot Quinton exactly?”
“He isn’t following, is he?”
“Nope…so…uh…what are we doing?” Corrine asked, her tone mildly accusatory.
“What do you think?”
“I was just hoping you’d join the resistance…maybe write a petition. Start a committee. This seems kind of reckless.”
“You pushed me to this.”
“But I didn’t think you’d actually do it! Shouldn’t you take a little time and think this through?”
Jayson fell silent as he walked. He thought over the details of the building. Ralph led him inside, but left Jayson’s rifle in the Jeep parked out front. The six guards in armor would pose a threat, but he doubted they had real combat training. They were thugs hired to seem intimidating, not real soldiers. None of them understood how dangerous their jobs really were.
Jayson knew surprise would be on his side. Warren wasn’t used to anyone challenging his authority. He maintained control through fear and intimidation: he would never see this coming.
Jayson didn’t slow as he neared the front door. One of the guards moved to intercept, but Jayson ignored him and continued to the Jeep.
“Stop…wait…hey, wait!” the man said, holding a hand out. Jayson waited in front of him, holding his hands up calmly. His voice came out of the speakers on the side of the helmet, modulated and baritone:
“In the next few minutes, people will die. How many depends on how willing they are to die for their jobs. I’m a trained killer capable of mass murder, and you’re a glorified doorman with a pistol. I’ll kill whoever stands in my way. So ask yourself what is more important: putting your life on the line for a minimum wage job or going home to see your wife and kids.”
The guard hesitated, and Jayson calmly reached into the backseat of the Jeep and removed his rifle. The guard made no move to stop him. The bullet counter on the side showed a full clip.
He looked back at the guard. The man’s hand was shaking on the gun holstered at his hip. “Made up your mind?”
The guard stepped out of Jayson’s way. Jayson nodded at the man and walked past. “Don’t let anyone else come inside.”
Jayson took a steadying breath and went into the building.
The training for Warren’s guards was even less than Jayson expected. There were at least thirty people in the lobby, and all eyes popped up as he entered. He still got six shots off before anyone reacted. Four power armored guards fell to the floor and the other two stumbled against the walls, clipped.
Someone clicked the alarm and he heard bleating from the ceiling. The other eleven guards without armbands scrambled for cover or weapons. The civilians hit the ground screaming. Jayson sprinted across the room, waiting until the last second before activating his cloak.
The armor shimmered and disappeared. Jayson dove to the ground in a roll, coming to his feet several meters ahead and to the left. He stayed crouched and rushed for the stairs as the guards opened fire. Confused, they shot randomly, nowhere close to hitting their target.
Jayson reached the stairs and bounded up the first five steps before his cloak wore off. The shooting redirected to chase him up to the second level, and he felt his armor nicked in the left leg, but nothing passed through. He rounded the corner to the next stairway and rushed up, snapping open a compartment by his waist and grabbing out two flash bang grenades.
They wouldn’t affect armored guards. The dampening systems were too good on even entry level armor. But they would wreak havoc on unarmored soldiers and civilians.
Still in stride up the second set of stairs he activated the grenades and flung them behind him. They bounced off the wall and down to the ground level. He heard shouts and screams, followed by the concussion of grenades, and then nothing except for the bleating alarms.
This was turning out to be easier than expected. He rushed down the twenty meter hallway to Warren’s office. The door was closed, but he’d have no trouble barreling his way through:
“Watch out!” Corinne screamed in his helmet at the last second, only steps away.
The door flung open in front of him and he heard the whirring sound of a mini-gun cranking. Ralph stood there in the opening with Jayson in his sights, lips cocked in a half smile.
Jayson was less than three meters from the barrel of the gun, still in mid-stride. As his foot landed he threw himself forward and left. He was aiming for the wall beside Ralph to get out of line of sight.
But it wouldn’t be enough. The gun was prepped to fire, and he’d have at least half a second exposed to its point-blank brutality.
He cursed his carelessness and closed his eyes, certain he would be hit by at least a few rounds.
The hydraulic powered leg pushed off the ground with more force than it should have. Jayson realized Corinne was assisting his jump. He hit the wall by the office door—hard—just before the mini-gun went off. He collapsed to his side on the floor. The high caliber bullets ripped the flimsy wall above him to shreds and he rolled away from Warren's office.
Flimsy pieces of wall showered down on him as he crawled. The staccato concussion of shots became his reality. He couldn’t use his cloak again yet. He needed to get out of sight before Warren stepped into the hallway.
He rolled to his feet and ducked into another office two doors farther down.
Jayson stepped inside the room just as Ralph rounded the corner. No target in sight, the heavy gun ceased firing. Jayson put his back against the wall beside the door and held perfectly still, panting lightly into his helmet. His heart was racing and the world was spinning.
He needed perfect silence. If he couldn’t hear Ralph’s footsteps he would die. He refused to breath, listening to the amplified sounds passing through his helmet speakers.
There was nothing at first, then the slightest creak as a board bent under his pursuer’s footstep from just outside.
Jayson timed his movement until Ralph was stepping into the office. He exploded into motion, catching a barrel of the heavy gun with his left hand and pushing it away from his body. With his right hand he raised his own rifle and twisted his body, aiming directly into Ralph’s face.
They faced off for several seconds, Ralph a look of shock and terror on his face and Jayson hesitating to take the shot. “What the…?” Ralph muttered.
Jayson waited a second longer, then pulled the trigger. Ralph’s body collapsed to the ground, and the heavy gun fell next to him.
“That would have been the perfect time to say something cool,” Corinne whispered.
“I couldn’t think of anything,” he replied.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something clever to edit in before I post this to the intranet.”
“Nothing. We’ll talk about it later,” Corinne replied.
Jayson shook his head and walked back to Warren’s office. The door was demolished, along with half the wall. Warren stood by the back of the room, staring out the bay window at the city below. “What do you want? I have money. I can get anything. Do anything. Just name it.”
Warren turned to face him, the slightest hint of relief evident. “Anything.”
Jayson took his helmet off, walking alongside Warren and staring out the window. “How good are you at flying?”