"As the world's water supply crisis continues to escalate, the U.S. government raises the reward for a real solution. Amateur inventors worldwide are racing to--" James turned off the TV; he'd already heard it online anyway. He called out to his wife, Alice, "I'm going out shopping, love."
"Not this again! You know we're low on water, we won't be able to survive soon." He could hear the resignation in her voice towards the end.
"Trust me, I'll win that reward, and we'll never have to go thirsty again!"
"Alright hun...be careful though, don't spend too much."
"I won't." He said, grabbing the keys and a bottle. She said this every time...but he knew he could do it. And he had to provide for his soon expanding family. He gave her a peck on the cheek, "I love you."
"I love you too." She smiled faintly.
Once outside, the heat was excruciating, and not many people were out. At least the walk to the hardware store wasn't too far.
The inside of the hardware store wasn't too much better, but Jack sighed in relief when he stepped inside. At least there were a couple of fans on the ceiling, spinning at maximum speed. He started making his way around the store, picking up the pieces and tools he needed, and greeting the shopkeeper.
"Hey Ralph, how goes it?"
"Mornin' James, business is good of course with the news. I guess you're here for the same reason as everyone else?"
"Yep, but I've got a really good lead right now, for a pure water extraction and recycling combination."
"Well, good luck!"
A young man, just out of his teenage years, butted into the conversation, "What a boring idea! I'm eliminating the need to drink water at all, so we'll only need it for growing."
James and Ralph just ignored him: people like him came in to brag all the time, but no-one had claimed the reward yet, so it was obvious they just enjoyed bragging to start conversation.
"No, really!" The young man exclaimed, "I've finished testing on mice, and I only have to change a few things to make it work on humans. You watch, the name Mike Archer will be big news!"
James held out his hand, "Well, good luck kid."
"...Thanks." He replied, obviously disappointed. He ignored the hand and stalked off to browse another section.
James rolled his eyes at Ralph, "Anyway, just these ones thanks."
"Alright, that'll be 800mL."
The next few days, though they passed in a blur for James, were long and painful for his wife. Alice's usually happy days, spent sharing the house-work with her husband while chatting about his ideas, her plans for the future, and the regular day-to-day things, had been replaced. Now he was back in his "dungeon" - his design room in the basement - it had been years since he'd spent most of his days down there, and Alice had forgotten how hard those times were, when she'd only see James for mealtimes, and the occasional sleep.
While she was usually happy to have an inventor for a husband, living comfortably off royalty cheques while both of them could stay at home, this was too much! She barely seemed to have a husband now, and it was the worst timing, when they were getting ready for their first child!
Alice made her decision: she stormed up to the basement door and slammed it open.
"James! At least come and spend one night with me!" Alice was fuming - red-cheeked and with buzzing in her ears..'Buzzing...not a good sign,' she thought.
She continued in a softer voice, "I'll still do all the work on the kid's room, just take a lazy night off and relax with me..."
'Damn,' thought James, 'guilt tripped'
"Alright love, I'm coming up." He replied.
Alice exhaled deeply and smiled, "...Thank god. I really didn't want to have to fight with you."
"Me either; you always win!" He joked, grinning back wearily at her.
James climbed the steps, hugging Alice when he reached the top.
A few minutes later, they were sitting together on the couch with microwave meals (she must have really meant a lazy night) and watching an old horror movie. Alice relaxed against James' shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around her.
"I'm sorry for not spending time with you , love"
Alice didn't reply; she was staring off into nowhere.
"Hey, something up?"
She shook herself out of it and looked at James' worried face, "Sorry, hun," she replied, "Do you hear a buzzing noise? I noticed it earlier and it hasn't stopped."
He cocked his head, "Now that you mention it, I do..sounds like a low-flying plane or something." He walked outside and looked up, coughing slightly at a tickle in his throat. Alice followed a step behind him.
A small red crop-duster plane flew dangerously low overhead, seeming to barely clear some rooftops. As they stared incredulously, James recognised the name on the side: M. Archer Inventions. It was the kid from the hardware store! 'What's he up to?' he thought. He breathed in a fine, tasteless mist that he hadn't noticed until then; 'At least it's not pesticide.'
"Come inside," he said to Alice, "We don't want to inhale too much of that."
As they stepped inside, they noticed a news anchor had replaced the zombies on screen.
"--bring you this important news update. Pharmacuetical company BioPlus has just announced a press-conference tomorrow morning, to announce a solution to the water crisis. As the news spreads, amateur inventors are rushing release on their ideas, some showing directly to the government--"
Alice turned the T.V. off and hugged her husband.
"Oh, dear...I'm so sorry..." She buried herself in his chest, tears hanging in her eyes.
"Why for?" he replied, "Now we won't need to worry! We won't need to worry about where our kids are going to get their next drink, and those royalties will still keep us going for a while if we play it safe." He smiled and patted her back.
"Really?" she sniffed, and looked up at him.
"Really." He moved to kiss her and held her close. "Everything will be alright." he said, and was sure of it.
Morning found sunlight streaming onto James and Alice, who were still on the couch from the night before. They had fallen asleep in front of the T.V the night before, having turned it on again soon after the news update.
"Welcome to the 7 O'Clock morning news. Country-wide chaos has spread after last night's claim by BioPlus, that they had the solution to the water crisis. It was announced early this morning that the claim was a hoax, created by a few unhappy workers wanting to damage the company's reputation.
The claim caused a lot more damage than that though, as some rogue inventors released their untested 'fixes' on the general public. Some of these fixes have had no effect, others causing adverse effects, and some may even be working; the extent of the damage so far is unknown.--"
James' eyelids flickered as the sunlight warmed his face, and as he listened, he realised he wasn't even thirsty; he hadn't even had a drink the night before.
'Maybe...Maybe it worked'
But it was too early to think, he was tired...he decided to close his eyes for just a little while longer.
Alice's never even opened.