The squat little peddler surveyed the road from behind his haphazard table of merchandise like a king gazing over the kingdom from his castle wall. He turned and watched as the girl in the tub roared by in a cloud of dust. The tub compensated for its lack of speed with effort and enthusiasm and the sound of the motor pushed to its limit was deafening. The expression on the peddler’s red face didn’t change, but he watched with interest as the girl drove in a circle around the intersection, scanning the road in each direction, before rumbling back past the peddler on her way towards Hustle River.
“So you decided to sell your robot after all, did you?” he called casually after her.
The tub had no rubber and was on a dirt road, but was old enough to manage a good screech as it came to a stop. The momentum carried a cloud of dust across the girl’s face, painting her hair a shade lighter as she shot a glance back at the peddler.
“What?” she called to him, her voice dangerously low.
“You seemed fairly determined to retain possession of your robot when I inquired about its purchase. I was quite surprised to see that you’d sold it after all.”
“I didn’t sell it, what do you mean?” She maneuvered the tub around in the road as she spoke and made her way back to where the peddler stood innocently behind his mobile store. The man’s eyes squeezed into two happy crescent moons as he beamed up at her.
“Well, when I saw your robot being driven away I just assumed. Of course, I can’t say for certain that it was in fact your robot, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a robot like that before either and seeing two in one day would be quite a remarkable coincidence indeed.”
“Someone took it? Who? Which way did they go?”
The smile didn’t falter, “I’m sure I don’t know.”
“You just said you saw them! Tell me which way they went!”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll do quite alright on your own.” The man somehow managed to smile even wider. Kappy wouldn’t have been able to describe a pointed smile, but this man was managing one magnificently. Something boiled up inside Kappy and there was a long moment of silence as the smile and Kappy’s glare did battle with one another.
The man spoke first, “Might I interest you in some of my…”
Kappy interrupted, “Now you listen here, if you don’t tell me…”
The man interrupted right back, “I’m sorry miss, if you’re not looking to buy anything I’ll have to ask you to make way for my other customers.”
“There are no other customers!”
“I reserve the right to refuse service to…”
“Listen you stupid little man, if you don’t…”
“I’m sorry, but you’re being disruptive to…”
Kappy had enough and grabbed her rifle, leveling it at the peddler.
“You are going to tell me where my robot went,” she asked through gritted teeth.
Miles had just driven up on his tractor and he dove between the two, a shocked look on his face, “What on earth are you doing?!?”
“This man is being completely… frustrating!” Kappy shouted.
“Ah, hello sir! How has the knife been working for you?”
Miles turned between the two, “Its… uh… the knife’s fine. I’ve haven’t used it, but I’m sure it’s… what is going on?”
“The robot is gone, and this man knows who took it,” said Kappy, still gripping her rifle, “but he won’t tell me.”
“It’s gone? What do you mean? What happened to it?” said Miles, turning to Kappy in confusion.
“I didn’t want to bring it into the city, so I tied it up, but someone stole it.”
“You tied it up? Of course someone would take it! What were you thinking?”
“I didn’t tie it up in the open, you idiot, I hid it away from the road. No one could have seen it.”
“Why didn’t you just wait for me then? I could have watched it.”
“Listen, right now we need to find whoever took the robot and this man…”
Miles interrupted her, his voice as stern as he could make it, “Kappy… you are behaving very badly and you need to calm down. Go wait for me at the crossroad.”
“Kappy! Are you going to shoot this man?”
Kappy looked like she was about to protest, but after a long moment seemed change her mind and instead lowered her rifle and jammed her tub into gear. “I wasn’t actually going to shoot him,” she muttered as she drove off.
Miles let out a relieved breath as soon as she was gone and ran his hands through his hair. “I thought we were both going to get shot there for a minute,” he said, smiling at the merchant.
The peddler beamed at him, “Oh, I had things under control, don’t you worry.”
Kappy waited at the crossroads next to the sign with the arrow pointing back towards Hustle River. She glared fixedly at the peddler as he talked to Miles, but could hear nothing of what they were saying. Finally, with a wave goodbye to the peddler, Miles made his way to where Kappy was waiting.
“Well?” demanded Kappy.
“He said the robot was in the back of a truck,” explained Miles. “The doors at the back were open which was the only reason he saw. It was a big white truck with two men driving it. They came past maybe two hours ago and headed west.” Miles pointed down along the road.
“A big white truck?” asked Kappy. She hopped out of the tub and walked back and forth along the road, examining the dust and tracks. She crouched down looking closely at one set of tread marks and then got back into her tub and started down the road.
“Hey, wait!” Miles called, starting his tractor and following her. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think? I’m following that truck!”
“Well, wait for me!”
“What?” Kappy looked at Miles in surprise. “Why? You sold everything here.”
“You were about to shoot an innocent merchant!”
“I wouldn’t say innocent…” Kappy snarled, but Miles was glaring at her again and she continued in a more controlled tone, “besides, I said I wasn’t actually going to shoot him.” She seemed to think for a moment then added, “Probably.”
“Someone needs to keep an eye on you, you maniac.”
“I don’t need looking after! You remember who saved you from those bandits?”
“I’m talking about looking after everyone else! This isn’t the Fields, not everyone is out to kill you and you can’t just go around slaughtering people here.”
Kappy glared at him for another moment. She looked as if she was about to say something else, but once again changed her mind.
“Fine…” she said at last, “fine, but you keep quiet. I need to concentrate.”
“Concentrate on what?”
“I can’t hear that truck while you’re chattering away.”
“It went past hours ago! How can you still…” Miles voice trailed away. “Oh… right, you mean you can ‘hear’ the truck. With your… uh… your echolocation thing? Can you actually see the truck right now? In… in your mind?”
“Shut up, ok?”
The peddler waited until the two vehicles were out of sight, then lovingly put all his merchandise away, closed drawers, folded, latched, attached and collapsed the table until it once again resembled a backpack, then swung the entire load up onto his shoulders with a grunt. He swung his arms back and forth, patting some of the accumulated dust off his pack and clothes and started off, following the boy and the girl.