The lightbulb’s filament glowed softly red, then suddenly flared to life in a flash of light.
The girl sat bolt-upright in bed, her hair a mess, fumbling for her glasses. The bed had an old rusted frame and an even older mattress. On the mattress sat a small wooden box with two lightbulbs screwed into the top and wires coming out the sides. The bulb on the left was shining brightly.
Left. That meant north.
By now the girl had found her glasses and scrambled from her bed. It was dark, save for the glowing lightbulb. The heat rifle was leaning against the corner of the room and she lifted it, scooping a fully charged clip from a table as she moved to the door.
She slid the clip into the base of the rifle, took a breath, pushed open the door and stepped outside.
It was the robot.
The girl smiled as she saw the little machine making its way past her house. Its solitary wheel had become tangled in the wires that had triggered the alarm in her home. The girl stretched and looked around. It was morning and the sky was light although the sun had not yet risen.
The girl had obviously constructed the little house herself. The structure was a confusing mix of stone, metal and fabric, all jumbled together in a loving and haphazard way. The girl had come across a rundown little stone hut several years ago and had since augmented it with any scraps she could find. There was no shortage of building material to be had if you knew where to look.
The girl pulled the wire down and around the robot’s wheel as it passed, freeing it from tangled mess. The robot ignored her and she watched as it rolled away. The girl twisted her mouth to the side, an internal debate going on in her mind. She turned and looked at her home, then back towards the robot who was starting to climb the next hill. Finally, she rolled her eyes and with an exasperated sigh dashed back into the little house.
She emerged several minutes later with a backpack, several bags of supplies and her gun. She dumped all this unceremoniously into the back of the tub and climbed in herself. She starting the motor and hauled the handlebars to the right as the vehicle shook to life, directing it after the little robot.
She quickly caught up to the robot and slowed to match its speed, following it. It was not very interesting. The robot continued in its perfectly straight line, occasionally getting tangled in bushes or running into trees. Once it actually toppled end over end down a steep embankment. The girl had pulled her vehicle to the edge of the hill and peered down, only to see that the little robot had already wobbled back to its wheel and was rolling away.
For the most part, though, the girl simply sat on the edge of her tub with one hand on the handlebars and watched the scenery slowly move past.
As it grew dark, the girl decided to set up camp. Since she didn’t want to lose the robot in the night, she drove a stake into the ground and tied the robot to the stake. The robot did not like this at all and angrily ground away against the rope all night, leaning so far forward it was almost touching the ground as it pulled. They had stopped next to a small stream and the girl lit a fire and cooked dinner. She sat wrapped in a blanket, leaning up against the tub, watching the fire slowly die down.
When the girl woke in the morning she found the robot had worn a hole in the ground with its wheel and was still obstinately fighting against the rope. She undid the poor robot and let it roll away as she cleaned up her camp and made ready for the day’s travel.
The second day continued on much as the first although towards the middle of the afternoon the girl seemed to grow concerned with something. Every few minutes she would glance upwards and frown at the clear sky above her.
The landscape was growing more rugged. Gone were the gently rolling hills and scrub brush. The girl was now following the robot through small bluffs and the plant life was growing thicker. The bushes were emerging from their huddled clumps and even the occasional tree could be spotted standing obstinately against a hill or in a small canyon.
Indeed, it appeared as if the land had suddenly grown agitated, breaking from the smooth pattern of hills into a patchwork of small cliffs. The grass still did its best to grow over everything, but the steep slopes proved too much for it and the rich brown dirt was left exposed along the sides of the larger hills.
It was on top of one of these larger hills that the girl first saw the man.
He was old and weather-beaten. His clothes were loose fitting, functional and all dulled to a similar earthy color by years of use. He wore black knee pads under shorts with enormous baggy pockets in the front. He had a large shirt rolled up at the sleeves and a heavy vest covered in pockets. His skin was the same earthy color as his clothes and he had no hair to speak of. When he noticed the girl he waved and she turned away from the robot’s path and approached the hill he was standing on.
He patted down his pockets, searching in each one until he finally found a pad of yellow paper and a pencil. He held up one finger asking her to wait and quickly wrote on the pad, holding it towards her when he was done. She had to squint to read what it said from the bottom of the hill.
‘There’s a bad storm coming.’
The girl nodded and pulled out her own notebook, resting it on the hood of her vehicle and writing a response.
‘Do you have shelter?’
The man flipped to another page, wrote out a response and pointing out over the girl’s head.
‘Yes, meet me over the hill.’