Miles was still vibrating with excitement on top of his tractor half an hour later.
“I can’t believe they would just try and take the robot! Just… take him! That’s not something those people should be doing. They would have kept him there, too. They don’t care where he’s going. I can’t believe them! Can you believe they’d just try and take him, Kappy?”
Kappy had stopped responding some time ago and Miles continued, “Well, we showed them. They should have known better than to try and take your robot from us. I can’t believe they’d try to take him.”
Kappy turned around in her seat and fixed her eyes on Miles, “Miles… stop talking.”
“But you didn’t expect that? That they’d just try and take him?”
“Of course I expected it. People always steal when they can. I’m only surprised by how badly they wanted the robot.”
“Why do you think they wanted him so bad?”
Kappy shrugged, “Same reason I’m following him I suppose. Curiosity.”
“They shouldn’t have tried to take him from us.”
“Probably not, but depending how important this information is to the Rust Initiative it might have been for the best to let the mayor of a town handle returning the probe to them. We’re just a couple kids after all.”
“We’re better than any of them would have been!”
Kappy raised an eyebrow at Miles, “Are we?”
“The mayor probably would have just locked the robot up somewhere and forgot about him.”
“Yes, he might have.”
“I can’t believe they tried to take him!”
Kappy’s eyes moved over Mile’s tractor, still heaped with produce and a look of concern passed across her face, “I’m sorry you weren’t able to sell anything.”
Miles waved away her apology at once, “No Kappy, it’s ok. Protecting your robot is much more important. There’s nothing here that’ll go bad for a long time, I’ll just sell it all at the next town.”
Kappy turned around and watched the robot, trying to gauge its direction. They’d left the road and were following the robot as he made his way across an open field. “If he stays on this line we’ll pass close to Hustle River. I’m going to avoid towns from now on, but you could sell everything there.”
She missed the look of disappointment that flashed across Mile’s face, “Right,” he said. “Yeah… that’d be good. It’s uh… we’ll be there by late afternoon…”
Kappy nodded and they continued on in silence. Miles didn’t feel like talking anymore.
In all honesty, it was quite a stretch calling Hustle River a city, but it was certainly the largest town this far east. It sat on the edge of a wide and dirty river and the numerous docks that lined the edge of the water did a fairly brisk trade in goods and merchandise. The docks always stood in varying stages of disarray depending on the number of boats that had arrived that day. The logging industry was booming upriver and at any given time one or two rafts made from lashed together lumber could be seen inching their way past the town.
Foot traffic was less common, but even so Kappy saw a number of vehicles on the road in the distance as they approached the town. Most were horses and carts, but there was still the occasional motor vehicle reminiscent of her tub or Miles’ tractor.
As they neared the turn to Hustle River they noticed someone traveling towards the city from the opposite direction. As the figure approached they saw that it was a stocky, red faced man on foot carrying a massive bulky backpack that completely overshadowed him. The stranger stared in fascination at the little group and gave a little bow to all three, almost over balancing and toppling forward into the dirt road.
“Good afternoon robot! Good afternoon sir! Good afternoon lady!” His face was wide and round, quite similar in shape to a gourd or a pumpkin. His mouth curved up when he smiled almost forming a complete circle with his eyes which curved down.
Both Miles and Kappy nodded, but didn’t say anything as they turned off the main road, following the direction of an arrow on an old sign welcoming travelers to Hustle River. The little man turned as well and walked quickly to catch up with Kappy’s tub.
“Might I buy your robot?”
“He’s not for sale!” said Miles loudly.
“Alright, alright, not much place to keep him anyway I suppose. Would you like to buy some things from me instead?”
“We’re not interested. Thank you,” said Kappy.
“You’re a peddler?” asked Miles. “What are you selling?”
The man beamed, “A little bit of everything, a bit of everything. Would you like to look?”
“Sure,” said Miles.
“I’m not stopping,” said Kappy.
“Please Kappy? Just a quick look. My dad always said it doesn’t hurt to look and it’s the polite thing to do.”
The little man beamed, “Your father is quite right! After all, you never know when you might need help from one of us traveling peddlers.”
Kappy snorted. “No, I do quite alright on my own. Don’t waste time with his junk, Miles.”
“I just want to take a quick look, I’ll catch up!” said Miles. He watched Kappy as she continued down the road, but she didn’t look back.
“I’m sorry, she didn’t mean to call your stuff junk,” said Miles as the man expertly swung the massive pack he was carrying off his shoulders.
“Quite all right, quite all right,” said the man as he flicked spindly legs out from under his pack. He carefully balanced the massive pack on top of the legs before throwing open compartment after compartment. It was quite a marvel of engineering and unfolded and expanded in all directions. Miles was more impressed with the spectacle of the ingenious pack than its contents, but politely looked over everything and bought a small knife. By the time he was finished Kappy had disappeared. Miles started his again tractor and continued on. The vendor remained there, waiting for more foot traffic moving into the city.
Kappy meanwhile had continued down the road, but had stopped as soon as she was within sight of the city. She climbed out of the tub, running to catch up with the robot. Other than the faint voices of Miles and the peddler talking around the bend in the road, the only other noise came from insects droning through the long grass in the muggy heat. After making certain she wasn’t being watched, she pulled the robot into a little patch of trees next to the road and tied him to a trunk where the grass and low bushes would obscure him from the view of anyone traveling down the road. Satisfied the robot wasn’t going anywhere, she drove the rest of the way into the city.
Kappy spent an hour tracking down supplies for her trip. She had no idea how far she’d be going, but did know that the meager supplies she’d hurriedly packed into the tub as she left her house were not going to last much longer. Fortunately, it was a lazy afternoon and the vendors were in the mood to haggle. She didn’t end up paying too much for her supplies, even considering city prices.
Kappy returned to where she’d parked her tub, but instead of heading out of the city she made her way slowly along the dusty streets to one of the nicer areas of Hustle River. There were trees here, decorative trees planted on purpose, not randomly growing between the buildings. She drove on, past larger houses until she found herself on a quiet unassuming street on the far side of town. She pulled to a stop in front of a little shop painted bright white.
It was a candy shop, filled with delicacies shipped carefully from up the river. A small, rusty bell tinkled as she pushed the door open and a stooped old man with skin like cellophane looked up from his sweeping and greeted her.
Kappy had visited here for the first time when she was very young and her mother had let her buy one piece of candy. She’d taken ages deciding, but had finally settled on a bright blue sucker. It looked like deep water on a clear summer day and was wrapped in transparent paper that crinkled delightfully when unwrapped.
She rarely ventured this far from the Fields, but whenever chance brought her to Hustle River she couldn’t resist coming to this shop. It looked exactly the same as it had all those years ago and she always bought a blue sucker. She didn’t have quite the taste for sugar as she once had, but something about that blue color was irresistible.
She emerged from the shop a few minutes later with the hard candy in her mouth and a rare smile on her face, ready for the journey ahead. However, when she returned to the little grove of trees where the robot had been tied it was empty, save for waving branches and gently rustling leaves.