Quinton stood with his gathered resistance fighters in awe, watching the administrative building fall apart in front of them. Suddenly the shooting stopped, and everyone waited in breathless anticipation.
Hundreds of people were drawn by the gunshots and explosions, and the guards and civilians inside the building had joined the crowd as well.
Several were disoriented as they staggered out of the office, clutching heads or cupping ears. He could hardly believe what was happening, and no one—not even Warren’s men—were willing to intervene. Everyone was a spectator of this five minute war at the heart of their city.
But who won?
The unspoken question was answered a few seconds as the glass shattered on a third story window. Something hurtled to the ground. It hit with a sickeningly wet thud, and Quinton realized it was Warren. Utter silence enveloped the crowd.
A minute after the body hit, the front door opened and the outsider walked out. His helmet was on and he appeared unscathed.
He moved slowly toward Quinton. The crowd parted, leaving Quinton alone in the street as the man walked over.
“Get the situation under control now or there will be more bloodshed,” the man said, then turned to the crowd. “I declare this man to be in complete and unquestionable control of the city. He will have plenty of water for everyone soon.”
Quinton couldn’t reply, could only nod. The man nodded back at Quinton then headed down the road. “Take those warehouses, before the rest can reorganize. This is your city now.”
“For years we prayed for a day like this. How can we repay you?” Quinton asked finally. The man hesitated for a second then walked away without reply. Quinton watched him disappear down a street corner.
Laughter, first painful and then joyous, bubbled inside of him.
Water. We’ll have water by the end of today.
He turned back to the milling guards out front of the administrative building.
“Gather them up,” Quinton said to his resistance soldiers, gesturing toward Warren’s men. “I’ll have a talk with them while we get the water purifiers out of storage.”
“You didn’t ask for a reward?”
“I was going to ask if he could get me off this rock, but he has enough problems to deal with,” Jayson replied.
They were halfway across Warrens’ Ridge in a small bar. A glass of aged scotch rested on the table in front of him. His leg was throbbing from the impact of the bullet and his armor had a dent on it, but it was only a glancing wound. He would patch it later and reseal the knick.
The news feeds were running stories to cover recent events, but no one could decide exactly what had transpired. There were conflicting mentions of a lunatic, some discussions about large scale murder in the Administration Office, and a dissertation about the possibility of newfound freedoms.
But all of the stories were replaced within hours by what the people really cared about: fresh water would be in abundance within days. No more rationing. “I don’t have enough money to pay for travel, but I’ll think of something.”
“Ten minutes ago, two-hundred thousand credits were deposited in your bank account.”
Jayson only sighed and took another drink of his scotch. “At least that means I can get off this goddamn planet.”
“That’s a lot of money. Any chance on you buying me a necklace?”
“You don’t have a neck.”
“Oh I see. Right for the throat, huh?”
“You don’t have a throat either.”
“I’ll look around, and see if I can book a flight tomorrow? Where do you want to go?”
Jayson smiled slightly and rubbed a hand across his face. “Home.”
Jayson realized something was wrong when he tried to leave the bar. He made it into the street and down a side alley before the drug kicked in. His vision was swimming and he felt sick to his stomach. Again? He leaned over and stuck his finger down his throat. His gag reflex kicked in and he emptied the contents of his stomach onto the dusty street. He staggered against the wall, trying to keep his footing.
“Shit,” he murmured, wiping his mouth. His legs felt like rubber. “This is…this is not good…”
He hit the ground, hard, landing on his face. Dust clung to his sweaty chin as he drew in short ragged breaths.
He tried to roll over. It was no use. He might as well have been a turtle.
Cloth brushed up against his face. He tried opening his eyes, but they were so heavy. He managed to determine that the cloth was black, but his mind was foggy. Who the hell are you…?
He was so tired.
Have to stay awake…
But he was too far gone. His eyes slipped closed. The world disappeared.
Jayson felt a rolling tickle on his skin, drawing him out of his sleep. Raindrops, he realized as one ran down his face. He blinked his eyes open, trying to sort through his scattered memories. I was in…a bar…on…Mali?
He groaned as things pieced together. He sat up and looked around, rubbing the back of his neck. He was lying near the edge of a cliff some hundred meters in the air. Sprawled out in the valley below him was a forested landscape reaching for the horizon. Scanning the other direction all he could see were more trees.
Away to his left several kilometers away he saw a towering structure rising into the sky: a cylindrical mounted platform. Pipes ran from it to the planet’s surface. Some sort of mining operation.
More raindrops splashed against his skin. The rain was gradually intensifying and very soon the skies would open up. His suit of armor, freshly cleaned, was neatly stacked next to him on the ground. Jayson sighed and stood up, running a hand through his stubby hair.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”