The boy was still shaking several miles later. He couldn’t help himself. The fear was gone, but his body was pumped so full of adrenaline that the shaking remained. He’d seen gun fights before, but never anything like that.
The girl, Kappy, hadn’t written anything after the mocking note, but had obviously taken his position as leader. This was a status change he normally would have argued against furiously, but not after what he’d seen her do to those bandits. In fact, all his resentment from the previous day had disappeared, replaced with respect bordering on awe and a burning curiosity.
He had so many questions. How had Kappy been in the perfect spot to protect him on the road? Had she known about the ambush beforehand? What was she even doing on the hill in the first place?
Another hour passed and he suddenly realized that they might be closer to Taggen than he had thought. There was some sort of small animal scrabbling in the weeds by the road which turned out to be a small rabbit. It poked its head above the weeds and curiously stared at the approaching robot. It sniffed, wiggled its nose, and took two slow hops towards the road before it turned and dashed madly into the undergrowth.
Animals of any sort meant they were finally nearing civilization. On a hunch, the boy loosened one of his earplugs. Everything seemed ok, so after a moment he removed it completely, wincing slightly. He took a deep breath and yelled, “KAPPY!”
Kappy turned around in her tub and stared at him then yelled something back. He could see her mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words. He shook his head and she shrugged and turned around again.
After another hour he tried a second time. It was definitely quieter now and he could easily pick out the low rumble of his tractor. He yelled again, “KAPPY!”
“WHAT?” she yelled back.
He smiled, “I CAN HEAR YOU!” he gestured to his ears.
She raised a sarcastic eyebrow looking about as enthusiastic as she might have if a pet cat had given her a dead mouse as a present.
The boy wasn’t deterred. They could talk now and he wanted answers so the next time Kappy had to stop to drag her robot out of the bushes he pulled alongside her tub and waited. She glanced at him as she climbed back into the tub, but didn’t say anything.
“Hey!” he said as they started down the road again.
“What?” she asked.
“What happened back there?”
“I saved your life.”
“But how did you know that those men were there?”
“I heard them,” she said simply.
“No you didn’t… what?” said the boy, confused.
“I heard them,” she said again.
“You couldn’t have heard anything back there. Nobody can.”
Kappy looked at him, “I can,” she gestured towards her ears, “No earplugs.”
The boy wasn’t sure if this was true. She had so much hair he wouldn’t have noticed if she had earplugs or not.
“So… you can actually hear in… back there? In the fields?”
“Anywhere in the fields?”
The boy threw his arms wide, “HOW?”
Kappy glared at him, “Oh, shut up.” the tub chugged away from the tractor and the boy had to step on the gas to catch up.
She didn’t look at him.
“Thanks for saving my life.”
She frowned, “And?”
“And I’m sorry for being a jerk to you.”
Kappy looked at him again, still frowning, “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Miles. I’m Kappy.”
“Please tell me what you mean. How can you hear in the fields?”
Kappy sighed, “I don’t know Miles. It’s just something I can do. I was born in the fields. My mother lived there.”
“Could she hear?”
“No. Just me. She didn’t understand how I knew things like I did. Things I couldn’t see.”
“Because you could… hear them?”
Kappy shook her head, “I don’t know how it works, but it’s more like seeing than hearing.”
Miles looked completely confused now, “What?”
“My mother said it was echolocation. Like a bat,” this obviously went over Miles’ head, so Kappy tried again,
“You know how if you hear a door close behind you, you don’t need to see the door to know what’s going on? You might never have seen the door, but if you hear it, you know roughly how far away it is, how heavy it is… things like that. You form a picture of the door in your head.”
Miles nodded slowly, “Yeah I guess…”
“Well, I think that’s what I do. All this noise is like a giant map in my head. That’s how I saw those men. I knew how many there were, where they were, and the fact that they were holding guns. I could see them and the hill that would give me the best view of the road. From there it was simply a matter of picking them off back to front. It’s not like they could hear each other and heat rifles have no muzzle flash so… no risk unless you did something stupid. Which you didn’t. So good job.”
Miles wasn’t sure he quite believed Kappy, but couldn’t think of any other explanation. “So… you can see everything right now.”
“Yes. It’s clearer the closer I am though.”
“So what’s around the next corner?”
“There’s a tree growing in the middle of the road,” she said without hesitating.
Miles actually remembered the tree from his previous trips to Taggen. “You’ve probably been on this road before.”
“Yes,” said Kappy, “but there’s also a bird sitting in one of the top branches.”
Miles rubbed the back of his head, but didn’t say anything else until they rounded the corner. The robot didn’t handle the curve in the road very well so once again Kappy had to stop and disentangle her traveling companion. Miles looked at the tree which was growing out of some boulders that had fallen into the road. The trunk was withered and bent, the branches mostly bare except for a few sad leaves desperately trying to prove that the tree was still alive. And sure enough, there at the top sat a solitary black bird, head turned to watch the travelers below.
“Why do you wear glasses?” Miles asked Kappy as she dragged the robot back into the road.
“I’m nearly blind without them,” said Kappy shrugging. She let go of the robot and watched it roll away before climbing back into her tub, “Nearly blind with them actually.”
Miles thought about all this. He’d never known of anyone being able to hear in the fields. That was the reason no one but the very desperate lived there. It was unbearably loud without protection.
“Wait, Kappy! Can you see what’s making all the noise?” the thought had suddenly occurred to him.
Kappy looked Miles, “You’re not the first person to ask me that.”
She shook her head, “No… no, I cannot. I can tell where noise is coming from, but the sound stops before I can see what’s making it.”
“The sound stops?”
“Yes… There’s a dome, several miles wide that’s completely dark to me. The sound is coming from inside though. I just have no idea what’s making it.”
Kappy nodded, “We’ve made it to Taggen by the way.”
Miles looked up. He’d been completely distracted by their conversation, but there, down the road in front of them was the familiar white wall of Taggen.