It was night and the storm had arrived. The same wind that had danced through the grass the day before now tore across the landscape in a frenzy. Waves of rain followed, carried by the wind, beating the grass flat. The branches of trees whipped back and forth, occasionally shining white in the darkness, illuminated by flashes of lightning.
A very square shed stood in the rain, shaking with the force of the storm that nature was hurling against it. The rain struck the walls and roof so hard that when the lightning broke the night, the shed appeared to be encased in a halo of water. It was to this shed that the girl had been led by the man. Inside the shed was a metal hatch covering a ladder with rungs cut into the dirt. At the bottom of the ladder was a surprisingly inviting basement.
There were three rooms. A kitchen, a bedroom and a living room, all carved from the earth. Wooden beams supported the ceiling and thick sheets of insulation were tied across every dirt surface. Colorful blankets lay on the bed and the living room had a tired, but comfortable looking couch set against the wall. Decorations adorned every available surface, and, worthless as most of them appeared to be, they had been lovingly arranged throughout the basement. There was also a large whiteboard attached to one of the walls in the living room.
The old man and the girl had arrived at the shed just as it was getting dark. The wind had picked up and they only had time to tie the robot to its stake before the rain started.
The man had prepared dinner, nothing extravagant, but better food than the girl was accustomed to. They’d taken turns writing on the white board while they ate. The man started, taking one of the dry erase markers and writing, “I’m Alan.”
The girl wrote back, “I’m Kappy.”
“Sorry about the noise. I haven’t had a chance to soundproof this place.”
Kappy made a dismissive gesture. She didn’t mind.
Alan erased his previous sentence and wrote, “What are you doing?”
“I’m following this robot,” wrote Kappy.
“There was a crawler following it. I figured something that could interest those things must be worth following.”
A look of concern passed across Alan’s face, but he nodded, agreeing with her. Then he stood up and wrote on the board, “My son is heading to Taggen tomorrow. You seem to be heading in the same direction. He could travel with you. There’s safety in numbers.”
Kappy thought about this for a moment, then wrote, “I have never been known to turn down a traveling companion. Thank you.”
She didn’t look as if she was entirely happy about the situation however.
The following morning was bright and clear. The storm had passed, and, aside from the mud and wet flattened grass, there was no trace of the violence from the night before. Alan climbed up the metal rungs of the ladder and pushed the shed door open. Kappy followed, stretching as she walked out into the early morning sunlight. Her boots sank slightly in the mud outside and everything smelled fresh and new.
A young man on a fat, old tractor was grinding his way over the grass towards them, leaving two wide brown ruts of mud in his wake. He stopped on the road a little ways from the shed and climbed off the tractor. He was dressed similarly to Alan, but with his own added flare. Baggy, camo patterned shorts, a black t-shirt and thick heavy shin-guards, painted alternately in yellow and black diagonal stripes like a hazard sign. He had dirty blonde hair that was long on top and buzzed into stripes along the sides.
He had of course seen Kappy as soon as she left the shed, but was pretending not to notice her. He had taken his automatic rifle from the back of the tractor and was now casually examining it as they approached, no doubt hoping to impress her. Kappy sighed inwardly. The boy was looking down into the barrel of his gun.
Kappy pulled out her notepad and quickly scribbled out a sentence, holding it up to the boy.
“What are you doing?”
The boy pulled out his own pad of paper and wrote back.
“My gun’s jammed.”
The boy then stuck his finger down the barrel of the gun, feeling for an obstruction. Exasperated, Kappy wrote, “You’re going to shoot yourself.”
The boy looked annoyed that his possession of such an impressive firearm had not sufficiently impressed this girl and shoved the gun into his belt. He held up his own notebook.
“I’ll be fine. Who are you?”
Kappy had her arms crossed and was looking annoyed by this point so Alan quickly wrote on his own pad of paper in response to his son’s question, “Kappy. I thought you two could travel together.”
The boy looked Kappy up and down before finally writing, “Whatever. Get your stuff. I’m leaving.”
Kappy sighed and walked over to where the robot had been tied. The boy hadn’t even introduced himself. The robot was looking annoyed as well. It was forlornly trying to roll out of the muddy hole it had dug in the rain during the night. The tire had sunk nearly half its length into the earth.
Kappy was in the process of untying the rope from the stake when she was distracted by the robot. She noticed again the three buttons on the back of the robot. She reached out and pushed one. Nothing seemed to happen, but Kappy knelt there frozen, a pensive expression crossing her face, as though she were intently listening to something.
She was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice that the boy had walked up next to her. She glanced up surprised. He had written another sentence.
“My dad said you’re following this robot?”
Kappy paused for a minute, then wrote, “I think it’s from the Rust Init. I want to protect it.”
The boy was already writing, but suddenly paused and glanced at what Kappy had written again. His forehead wrinkled in thought. Then he gave Kappy another quick look and finished writing. His first sentence had been crossed out and instead the boy had written, “Are you sure? I’ve never heard of them recovering a probe.”
Kappy shrugged and finished untying the robot, lifting it from the hole it had dug. The robot tried to hurry off down the road, apparently hoping to make up for lost time, but Kappy held it in place by its rope and pulled it back to the shed.
The boy and Alan had begun hauling bags and boxes from the shed over to the boy’s tractor, piling the goods onto the back and tying them in place with a rope. Obviously, the boy was going to be trading in Taggen. It had been nearly dark when Kappy had arrived the night before, but as she looked around she could see that these fields were cultivated. A fence ran next to the road and the plants in the field were growing in neat rows. It was all too common for the poorest members of society to move their lives out into these fields. No one else wanted to live here.
At last the tractor was loaded and the boy started off, followed by Kappy in her tub. Alan waved as they left and watched as they disappeared down the road.
The boy was holding his notebook out to Kappy once again and she squinted at it, trying to read what he had written.
“You should drive behind me in case of bandits.”
The girl rolled her eyes. It was going to be a long trip to Taggen.