Traveling grew monotonous after the stack. Kappy and Miles drove until the sun set, camped, ate, slept and drove again when it got light. It was strange, but Kappy seemed different to Miles, although he wasn’t entirely sure what had changed. She still didn’t speak much, but her bad mood had gone and at times she even seemed almost pleasant. Whatever it was didn’t last long, however, and around midmorning her expression was replaced with one of concern. She began climbing out of her tub and stomping back and forth across the road with her eyes closed, her forehead knitted in concentration.
“Are you having trouble seeing?” asked Miles after the third time this happened.
“Yes…” said Kappy, climbing back into her truck. “It’s ok for now though… they’re staying on the road and the only city out here is Moughte. We just need to catch them before they get there.”
“How far away is that? I’ve only been there once,” said Miles.
“Two days,” said Kappy as she started down the road. “We’re gaining, but we might have to travel through the night to catch them.”
“How do you know the names of all these cities and towns if you live in the fields?” asked Miles, following her.
“My mom and I moved around a lot when I was younger.”
If Kappy heard him she didn’t answer.
Time stretched slowly by and the trees and fields blended together. Miles was absentmindedly watching Kappy as she sat on the edge of her tub when suddenly he saw her jump violently.
“What happened?” he asked, laughing.
“I’m not sure,” she said. She parked and got out, eyes closed.
“What do you mean you’re not sure?”
“There was something loud. Really loud.”
“What was it?”
She didn’t answer, but stood there, confusion, then worry, crossing her face in succession. At last she opened her eyes and looked at Miles. “The truck’s gone.”
“It’s gone? You mean you can’t see it?”
She shook her head, “No… that’s what I thought at first too… but… there’s something there… what’s left of the truck. I think it exploded.”
“Exploded?” asked Miles in shock.
Kappy nodded again then took a deep breath and grimaced. “Yeah. It’s gone.”
“Who did it? Can you see anyone? Is the robot there?”
“There doesn’t seem to be anything moving. At least not that I can tell.”
“How could it just blow up? Come on! We need to see what happened! How far is it?”
They continued on, neither voicing what was on both their minds, but each worrying that they might have followed a robot all this distance only to be rewarded with a chunk of melted metal. About an hour later they topped a hill and Kappy pointed towards the horizon. In the distance, far off on the road they were following, was a black smudge of smoke.
“Is that it?” asked Miles.
“Yes,” said Kappy.
Miles looked at Kappy and she shrugged and started down the hill.
The black cloud darkened and grew as they approached and they saw that the grass on one side of the road had caught fire. The wind was pulling the flames away towards the mountains. As they watched, the fire licked up a tree next to the road, consuming the dry leaves. Keeping an eye on the blaze in case the wind changed directions, Kappy and Miles made their way up the last stretch of road and arrived at the wreckage of the truck.
The front of the vehicle was still mostly intact, although the roof of the cab had been torn off and the glass was shattered onto the road. The back of the truck was a blackened mess, however. A smoldering axle and the remains of a wheel lay some distance away. Debris was strewn everywhere. Kappy got out of her tub and walked quickly to the cab. The driver sat slumped against his steering wheel, eyes staring at nothing, but the passenger door was open and Kappy moved around the cab to examine the dirt of the road.
“One of them survived,” she called to Miles. “He crawled off that way.” She pointed in the direction of the fire, where flames and smoke billowed up from the grass, moving across the field.
“Can you see him?” asked Miles, walking over and looking towards the fire.
Kappy shook her head and moved back to the smoking crater in the road.
“What happened?” asked Miles, “What could they have been carrying? Fuel?”
Kappy sniffed and examined the road, “I don’t think so,” she said at last. “It doesn’t seem right. This was some kind of explosive. Ammo maybe. I don’t know.” She turned in a circle, looking at all the mess around them, everything that was left of the truck. She frowned and turned again. There was nothing but the remains of the truck.
“Do you see any pieces of the robot?” she asked Miles.
“I don’t think I could tell the robot from the truck wreckage…”
“WelI, I think it’s pretty obvious that all the debris is one hundred percent truck. I don’t see anything that looks like it might have once been robot.”
Miles wandered around the blackened area of road, kicking at pieces of metal, “I guess so…”
“Doesn’t it make sense that we’d at least see some pieces of it?”
“What? You think it wasn’t in the truck anymore?”
Kappy closed her eyes tightly.
“Can you see anything?”
“Shh…” she hissed.
Then she smiled and turned slowly and raised her hand, pointing with one finger.
“There!” she opened her eyes and stared out into the grass.
“He’s there!” Kappy shouted and she ran back to her tub and turned it towards the field. “He’s heading into the fire!”
Miles quickly got onto the tractor and followed Kappy as she plowed through the thick grass, bouncing over hidden rocks and mounds of dirt. They passed into the blanket of smoke and Miles could hear the roar of the flames as they consumed the grass.
Miles coughed and covered his stinging eyes. He tried to shout Kappy’s name, but inhaled more smoke and the words were lost in a violent fit of coughing. He couldn’t see Kappy anymore or where he was going and he was suffocating, so he turned the tractor away from the noise of the fire and headed back towards the road. His lungs felt like they were filled with ash, but he finally made it to clearer air and looked behind him with watering eyes. Kappy was just emerging from the rolling black cloud a little ways away and she waved triumphantly when she saw him and pointed into the back of her tub.
“You got him?” Miles tried to shout, but only got about half the words out before he had to start coughing again. He gave up on speaking and headed back to the road to wait for Kappy.
“The little idiot, rolling towards the fire like that.” Kappy was still smiling when she got to the road. It was a foreign expression on her face, but Miles quite liked the effect. “He’s lucky we came along.”
Kappy climbed out of her tub and lifted the robot onto the road to have a look at him.
“He looks fine!” said Miles in shock.
“Not quite,” said Kappy crouching down behind the robot and holding it in place as it tried to roll away. There was a circular hole in the center of the robot’s back panel and the panel itself was charred. Kappy ran her finger around the hole.
“What is that?” asked Miles coming over.
Kappy didn’t say anything, but ran her hands up the panel, examining the rest of its surface. She looked up at Miles and grabbed his hand, pressing his fingers against the panel as well.
“What am I feeling for?” asked Miles, trying his best to focus on the panel and not the fact that Kappy was holding his hand.
“The seam. You can tell there are two other circles in this panel, they just haven’t been punched out yet.”
“What does that mean?”
Kappy pursed her lips and let go of Miles’ hand, “I think robot here blew up the truck.”
“What time is it?”
Miles shrugged, “Late afternoon… five maybe?”
“That’s about the time I tied him up. So he’s been stuck for… almost exactly two days.”
“What does that mean?”
“He might have a two day limit on being stuck.”
“Oh, so after two days he says to himself, ‘Well, I’m not going anywhere… might as well explode!’ That seems like a bit of an overreaction!”
“Well, what happens if he falls down a hole or gets tangled in something? It seems useful to be able to launch yourself out of trouble.”
“And the circles?”
“He can do it two more times.”
Miles jumped back, “Let him go then, Kappy!”
“Not until that fire burns past.”
“What if he explodes again though?”
“He’s not going to! It took two days this last time. We’ve tied him overnight before, remember? We’ll just be sure not to leave him stuck anywhere longer than that from now on.”
“Are you sure?” asked Miles, eyeing the robot with mistrust.
Kappy didn’t answer. She just crouched there, a happy expression on her face, watching the fire burn through the grass in the distance.
“Were you a good robot?” she said and patted the robot on the head. “Did you defend yourself from those mean men?”
Miles looked down at the girl as the light of the flames danced in her glasses and she held the robot that had just killed two people. “She’s a psychopath,” he thought to himself, “and I’d follow her anywhere.”