Author: Rick Tobin

Joshua Vergiften shuddered, strapped within his tired, bruised ship plummeting through heavy cloud cover over colony UW26, an indistinct recent colonial outreach from Earth’s solar system. His goal: fresh provisions and clean water from a source he had never strategically poisoned–his primary assignment. Most of his water source contamination on less inhabited spheres occurred remotely by drone missile strikes from low orbit. He’d lost tolerance for monitoring alien life collapsing near his defensive strike zones.

GERD retreated down his esophagus, stopping burning in his mouth and nasal passages. His waste leaked into his suit, reminding him to hit sonic showers before disembarking among people probably intolerant of his solitary traveling habits. Reentries were messy, especially after a long haul outside planetary gravity.

“Bring me something strong, whatever you have local.” Joshua let his credits scan under fluorescence reader lights striking his ‘visiting’ clothes in a crowded bar full of tired farmers, miners and several techies out whore hunting.

“All we got–UW ale. Makes you batshit crazy, stranger, like all of us.” His shabby bartender turned to retrieve brew, dragging his ragged sleeves over concrete surfaces decorated from knife fights and broken nose stains.

“And who is that thing?” Joshua asked, looking at the hind parts of a woman of some kind, kneeling, covered in dowdy rags, with her brown hair pulled up away from her shoulders into a bun so the frazzled ends wouldn’t reach the scouring she gave the bar floor, or from falling into her scrubbing bucket.

“Ah,” replied the barkeep, returning with brown fluids spewing foam over a metal cup. “That’s one we ignore. She cleans the place up and stays to herself. Her folks didn’t make it through the landings; lost quite a few, years back. She’s nothing special, trust me, but we were ordered to tolerate her and leave her be. Never found much useful work for her.”

When the woman turned, Josh skipped a breath, almost forgetting how horrible his drink tasted. Whatever he felt, she did too. She dropped her scrub brush and stared at him, mouth agape. Josh rose from his stool, walking swiftly to the kneeling woman’s side, lifting her small, fragile frame nearly off her feet.

“I can’t believe it.” He paused, carefully thinking of what to say. “Don’t be afraid, but in my lonely travels through this region, I have dreamed of you…exactly you…those dark eyes and upturned nose. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to…”

“No,” she interrupted. “I’m not frightened. I’ve waited for you since I was a child. I could see you, in the stars, alone. It helped me through my isolation. You’re the well poisoner–protector from alien invasions. You destroy their water. Humans need your protection but they fear you. I don’t fear you. I’m modified to protect this colony. I carry diseases that kill only aliens, but these colonists don’t know, except for the elite. Let’s leave this place, this planet, please.”

There was no hesitation…no wondering. As they exited the bar door, into darkness, he introduced himself. “I’m Josh. And you?”

“They call me Mary.”