The settlement was ragged, more than half of it's solar panels were destroyed from the elements and only one of the five water catchers were still visibly functional. Regardless, the fact that one was still up and running was all the encouragement Sten needed to suggest an encounter.
"I still don't think it's a good idea." Said Palmer, who was laying behind an automatic weapon that faced the rear of their hasty observation post.
"Honestly Palm, you never think it's a good idea." Jocelyn quipped, "You'd rather we starve and die of thirst than get into a little argument."
Palmer shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Last time we had one of them arguments someone ended up getting shot."
"Well, sometimes people need shootin'." Sten said, lowering the binoculars from his face and taking a look at the settlement with his bare eyes. "At least the right people got shot." he continued.
Palmer squinted in contemplation "Who's the right people?"
Jocelyn laughed under her breath. "Not us?" she said sarcastically.
"That's right." Sten agreed before crawling back from the crest of the hill they were on.
Ajay popped the cylinder of his revolver back into place and pulled the twig from his mouth. "If things go according to plan, no shootin' will have to happen."
Palmer laughed. "Are you kidding me? You're usually the first to pull the trigger."
Sten cocked an eyebrow. "Actually I reckon Ajay usually throws grenades first. I tend to be the first one to pull the trigger."
"If people needs shootin'." Ajay added confidently.
Sten nodded, "Correct."
"Now how's about we get our asses down there so we can bask in this hydrogen-oxygen glory." Ajay said, returning his revolver to its holster.
"Fine by me." Sten replied as he walked past the others and made his way down the hill.
Jocelyn cocked her head to the side, "Hey why don't we just go down the hill toward the settlement instead of going through the valley?"
Sten stopped and turned around. "Because if they're the shootin' type, I don't want to be seen 'till I can shoot back proper. Right now I don't have no boomstick that can reach three kilometers."
Ajay frowned, "And if we had such a 'boomstick' ?" he said, making quotation gestures with his fingers.
"Then I reckon I'd stay up here while your sorry asses went down to figure out if they're the shootin' type." Sten said, smiling wryly before turning and continuing down the hill.
Palmer got up from the ground, hefting the machine gun after he had risen. "I'm glad we have no boomstick."
"I would have to agree." Ajay said, spitting the twig from his mouth.
The landscape was flat and barren. A yellow dust dominated the panorama as even the slightest of wind picked up the top soil and hurtled it into the air. Before them, the decrepit settlement lay strategically in a shallow valley, protecting it slightly from the harsh winds of this barely habbitable planet. Sten and his crew had spent too long travelling its bleak surface. They were in search for a way to return to space after crash landing here several months prior.
Ajay kicked a stone as he walked. "Damnit, there ain't anything here but rocks and dirt."
"Some people make money off of dirt." Palmer added as he walked in front of him.
Ajay laughed. "Now how the hell do you figure that pencil neck?"
"Well, everybody wants something. Somewhere out there, someone wants dirt, and if you've got dirt they'll buy it off you."
"Some people want dirt?" Ajay asked in near disgust. "Some people are crazy."
Palmer smiled, "Ajay, I'd say you're a prime example that some people are crazy."
"Palm-fuck, I'd say if you like where your brains are sittin' at the moment you'd best stop tryin' to make me look like a fool."
"Who said I was trying?" Palmer said, still smiling.
"That's right!" Ajay replied, "You weren't, and best not be."
"What's so damn funny bitch? What're you laughin' at?"
"Nothing Ajay, nothing at all." She said, brushing a lock of black hair from her face.
Sten turned around. "Alright, stow it, we're gettin' near the settlement."
"Gotcha boss." Ajay said, picking a twig from one of the small bushes that periodically spotted the landscape. He stuck the twig in his mouth and began chewing as they walked on.
"Alright Palmer, you best do your thing with that tongue of yours." Sten said as they turned a corner in the shallow valley and the settlement came into view.
"Will do." he said, passing off the machine gun to Ajay. "Here you go."
"You didn't scratch her did ya?" Ajay asked, visually insepcting the gun.
"No Ajay, I didn't."
"Alright. I trust ya, just this once."
Palmer shook his head and walked up past Sten.
"Now you remember who's rightfully in charge of this... " he turned and looked at Jocelyn who was pulling hair from the back of her neck and looking at its ends, then to Ajay who was practically field stripping the machine gun as he searched for any damage. He then turned to Palmer, a man of meager proportions. "... this... thing that we are."
"Right, you're the boss."
Sten turned and walked away in depression as he mubbled under his breath "Yeah... right, the boss."
Palmer turned toward the settlement and began to walk. The others followed closely behind.
They weren't twenty feet from where they had stopped when settlers came from their ragged camps and began making their way out in the small valley to meet the foresome.
"Here they come." Palmer said to Sten out of the corner of his mouth so that they wouldn't see him conferring.
"Just keep it movin' Palm. You're doin' fine."
"I haven't even done anything yet!" He said nervously.
"Just don't act like such a boob when we're there." Jocelyn added.
Palmer rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
One of the settlers seemed to be in charge as he turned back to the others, his hands raised, speaking to them.
Unfortunately Palmer couldn't hear what was being said over the wind and the sand brushing the skin off his face.
After a brief moment of speaking to the crowd, the man turned and came toward Palmer.
"What do you want?" he asked abrutply.
"Sir, we're just looking for some water to aid us in our travel."
"Where you headed, there ain't nothin' here worth a damn."
"I'm sure that's not entirely true, you're here aren't you?"
"We've got our reasons, it has nothin' to do with wealth, and ain't your business either. What will you trade for water?"
"Well, we figured that since your machine will produce water for free, that we could have it for free. We really have nothing to offer."
"Boy, that ain't what I wanted to hear, now get lost."
Palmer turned to Sten who was giving him a wide eyed stare, gesturing frantically that he continue negotiating.
Palmer turned back to the man who was halfway turned around. "Sir, listen, we're not here to cause trouble, but we aren't leaving without water."
One man from the group in the rear moved forward as the old man signaled him, a shotgun in hand.
The leader turned to face Palmer. "Are you threatenin' my peoples?"
"Look, we don't want to shoot anybody-"
At that moment Palmer watched as the armed man stopped in his tracks, spinning around from the bullet that just ripped through his left shoulder.
Sten had drawn his pistol and fired at the man as he walked up to Palmer's position. He walked right past Palmer and stuck the pistol directly into the mans face. "Listen you old coot. I tried bein' all civil n' shit with my friend verbal here, but obviously you need a bit of practical motivation to aid you in this particularly difficult decison. Now give us some fuckin' water before I lay hell's fiery waste on to this shit pile you call home. Ya hear?"
"I wonder if that guy can tell Sten's out of ammo." Jocelyn asked.
Ajay pushed the twig to the corner of his mouth to speak. "I don't know hun, but I'm sure he'd just as quickly stick the whole darn thing up his sphincter if he had to."
Jocelyn turned to Ajay in disgust. "What kind of parents did you have?"
Ajay turned to her, the twig dancing around between his teeth.
"Nevermind." she said, looking away. "I don't want to know."
Sten turned to Palmer. "Now disarm that casualty." He said, pointing eagerly toward the shotgun with his head.
"Right." Palmer moved to the man who was writhing in pain on the ground and awkwardly pulled the shotgun from his grasp. He turned and looked at Sten with it in his hands.
"Well? Get your ass over here!"
Palmer walked up to Sten who took the shotgun.
He put the pistol away and checked the shotgun for rounds by pulling slightly on the pump. "This thing ain't even loaded!"
"We... we have no ammunition left Sir, please, don't kill us." The old man said, now sitting in the dirt, having fallen over from fear of being shot.
"Hell coot, I'd love to but that'd mean I'd have to get my hands dirty and that's just not my style." Sten said as he walked past the old man and into the village, signalling the others to follow.
As Ajay passed the man he gave him a glare like no other and at that moment Sten turned around "But it is his style." he said nodding to Ajay " Ajay, he moves, break him. Got it?"
"Palmer, you're crowd control, get these shitbags outta my way."
"Will do." Palmer said, moving toward the crowd of settlers who were obviously in shock from the situation.
"Joss, you check for other crap we might need, I'll make sure we get some water."
"Yessir" she replied, heading off into the tattered homes, built with alluminum frames and plastic tarps that had been ripped and repaired countless times.
Sten came up to the water collection machine and eagerly climbed it's rusted rafters to the control panel. He dusted off the display with his sleeve and punched in the default codes to get into it's operating system. After looking over a few diagrams and production sheets he smiled brightly. "Lady and gents, we've got ourselves some mighty fine H20! Yeehaw!'
Jocelyn came running from around the corner, a massive smile on her face.
As Sten jumped off the machine she wrapped her arms around him, kissing him on the lips.
"Damn woman, It's only water." He said, unimpressed.
"No, it's not." she said, taking him by the hand. "Come with me!"
She tugged him around a corner and through a home before entering a small cavernous basement that was roofed with steel sheeting. Inside it was dark, and it took a few moments before Sten's eyes could adjust.
When they did, his eyes widened. "Holy jesus titty fuckin' christ." Before him lay a shuttlecraft, in somewhat disrepair, but nothing Sten and Jocelyn couldn't get working. "I can't believe it."
"I know! We're finally getting off this rock!" She said laughing and hugging Sten. "I'm almost excited enough to take you to bed!" There was an awkward silence. "Well... almost." She said, letting him go.
Sten backed away, "I'll... go tell the others."
"Right!, I'll start workin' on her!"
"You do that. I'll... be back." With that said, Sten left from the way he had come in, leaving Jocelyn to fiddle with the machine and figure out what needed repairing. There would be much work to do, which meant something unfortunate for the settlers.
"Staying here?" The old man said. "I... I don't know if that's a good idea."
"How's about the shape of your legs, you think' makin' 'em like the letter z would be a good idea?"
"Look." Palmer interjected, "We're not all that bad."
"You shot my husband!" A cry came from the crowd.
"Yeah, there's that." Palmer retracted.
"And you're stealing our shuttle!"
"And there's that." He said again, sighing.
"You threatened sodomy!"
Palmer turned in confusion, "What?"
"Err, that mighta' been said in a bit of haste." Ajay said.
"Look. The point is, we're staying and there's nothing you can do about that so you'll just have to deal with it until we're gone. Simple as that."
"I'm not agreeing to this." The man said, still sitting on the ground shaking in fear.
Sten cocked his head to the side. "You really don't have to. I didn't agree to being stuck on this hunk of shit. I didn't agree to havin' to deal with scum like yourselves. I didn't agree to no sodomy-"
Palmer put his hands up. "Alright, enough with the sodomy. There's no sodomy!"
"Just know old man, that we'll be out of your hair in no time. As soon as we can get your bucket of bolts runnin' like a purring cat from San Butincharo."
"I don't even know where that is." The old man said nervously
"Neither do I, it's not the point. The point is. We'll be out of your hair sooner if you cooperate."
"Alright, we'll cooperate, just stop threatining us."
"Done. Ajay, let the man go."
"I ain't never put a finger on the fella to begin with."
"Well, you know what I mean, stop threatning ass rapage and the like."
"Hey I already explained myself on that count!"
Palmer sighed and walked away as Sten and Ajay's conversation became a jumble of words that he didn't care to deceipher.
The sun began to set on the deserts horzion. Although a new born hope from their recent find has put the foresome in an uneasy truce, there would be far greater obstacles to overcome ahead.