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Publisher Greenwillow Books
Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy/Science Fiction, Children's Books/General, Children's Books/People & Places, Children's Books/Literature, Teens/Literature & Fiction, Teens/Science Fiction & Fantasy, Teens/Social Issues, Teens/General
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When the dust settled, Toni V took his goggles off for a moment and rubbed his eyes. It was only midmorning and already the heat was fierce. The Demolition Crew in the plaza had stripped down to vests and shorts, with shirts twisted around their waists. They had regular water stops. This wasn't one of them.
The Supervisor's voice rumbled over the site. "Hey! Toni V! Shirking's for losers!"
Embarrassed, Toni V clicked the safety to off and hunched his shoulders, ready to drill again. There was an instant dust cloud. That's why he didn't see that he'd hit something until it was too late. He clicked the safety and pulled the drill free, sending a signal to the Supervisor that it was a genuine obstacle.
The Supervisor shrugged, resigned. There was over half a city to rebuild, and they expected him to get results from a new crew made up of kids and tired old-timers. As if he didn't have enough to deal with, bullying stonemasons, Dumpster haulers, and that half-brain bozo who was late again with the water delivery!
Glad the Supervisor was distracted by problems of his own, Toni V crouched low at the edge of the chasm he'd been drilling since sunup. He was way down below the concrete crust and through to the packed earth underneath. The drilling was hard work, even in this part of the plaza, where there had once been grass and trees. A few dead roots still snarled up the hole just below the concrete, but that wasn't what the drill had hit. It was something metal, but not a water pipe or underground cables - printouts showed that nothing like that went under this part of the plaza.
With one gloved hand Toni V swept the muck away. He smiled. It was just a water can after all - the sort of thing you could pick up at any general store. He leaned into the chasm and began clearing away soil and dust. Too bad it wasn't antique or something like that. There was a guy on the last job who'd turned up a whole rubbish pit full of stuff chucked away by the first settlers on the planet, and he'd earned a fortune selling on the black market. Dealers paid silly money for anything old - not something Toni V could understand. Who wanted old when you could have new? Unfortunately, this water can with drill marks down the side was just new junk and completely valueless.
He finally managed to loosen it, and with one hand on the edge of the cleft to steady himself, he pulled the can up. This wasn't so hard - it had a handle on the lid, and it wasn't heavy.
It wasn't empty either. Toni V knew perfectly well what an empty can felt like. He'd lived through the drought - the Big Dry - the one where the kids on every block had to go and buy water from a dealer, then lug it home again. For months they'd all been rationed to one short bath a day, which was horrible - nothing more than a gill-wetting.
He gave the can a little shake. It didn't slosh about, so it couldn't have liquid in it. Too bad - a couple of quarts over his hot back would have been Bliss. Still, the can was pretty battered-looking. Perhaps it had been underground for a while, in which case it could be swarming with parasites. Yep - he checked the lid, and the filter seal had curled up at the edges, showing that it was way past its "sell by" date. Unusable. Best throw it in the Dumpster and get on with the job.
Rubbing one arm over his sweaty face, Toni V loped over the plaza to the collection of pink-and-blue Dumpsters. Three of them were full already - the diggers had scooped up great gobfuls of concrete and soil. The fourth Dumpster was at the far end of the row, near the shade of a flowering cimarron tree. Lush cimarron buds had swelled open at dawn every morning that month, furling closed again at twilight with a cloud of dusky perfume. Toni V stared up at the big yellow petals, suddenly homesick. There had been a cimarron tree right outside his old home in City Three, and he'd sniffed up its scent every summer morning before class. Out of all the big cities, Three had suffered the least damage during the war, and it had already been repaired. This was good, only it meant that Toni V hadn't seen his family in a very long time: Work on the other cities was now stretching into years, not months. Funny how so short a war could have such long-lasting effects.
Up in the cimarron trees, the sawri birds noticed Toni V watching. They stared right back, red beaks opening and closing as they cawed soundlessly. Toni V was almost hypnotized. What did they think about the churned-up earth and torn mosaics? Did they remember how it all looked before? He shook his head. The heat must be getting to him. None of the other guys wasted time staring at birds and thinking about other things. Thinking about other things was shirking, and shirking was for losers.
He was just about to lob the water can straight into the Dumpster when curiosity got the better of him. There was definitely something inside the can. Probably not the sort of thing a demolition guy was supposed to be interested in. He glanced around. No one was looking. There was nothing to see anyway. He hadn't done anything wrong. He straightened up and looked back at the Dumpster.
If he threw the can away, he'd never know what was inside.
Why should he care what was inside?
It might be valuable.
His grip tightened on the handle, then loosened. If it was valuable, he'd definitely have to hand it over to the Supervisor, then there'd be all the Rules and Regulations to follow.
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