Kappy was lost and angry about it. She didn’t do well in cities. The cacophony of engines, voices and livestock jumbled together into a vibrating patchwork of color in her mind. She’d been trying to keep the jagged spires of a cathedral on her right, but they’d got turned around in this market. It’d been a mess of small shops and shouting people. It didn’t help that the ground floors of the buildings didn’t seem to be able to contain their upper stories and walls stuck out crazily, pressing in so closely above the road they nearly crowded out the sky. When Kappy and Miles had emerged from the maze of streets the cathedral was on their left.
Kappy swore under her breath and tried to concentrate with her eyes closed, while simultaneously filtering out the background roar of the city and ignore the impatient bumping of the robot under his tarp on the back of her legs. The tub rocked as a dirty cow bumped against it, driven by a short, sweaty farmer. Miles waited patiently, knowing better than to offer help or suggestions when Kappy was in this mood. He entertained himself by gazing out over the tops of the buildings, taking in the unique architecture of Moughte.
Moughte was built on the skeleton of the old city, blossoming and growing in surprising and fascinating ways. Like ants eating a corpse, the people who lived here had stripped away the metal of the old city while leaving the shape behind. Sky scrapers were dismantled, steel and iron removed floor by floor from the top down, replaced with wood beams and other material. This was impossible for all the buildings of course, and most had were much shorter than their predecessors. A few had even fallen, but this hadn’t stopped the city.
Miles could see a few streets down from them where a tower had fallen over sideways onto some parking structures. The damage had been repaired and the tower reinforced with wood and cement, finding new life in this horizontal position. One of the support pillars had a winding staircase rising around it and the building itself had been converted into apartment buildings, the floors and ceiling taking the place of walls and vice versa. Laundry was hung from lines and mixed with the power cables that stretched like a confused spider web over everything.
Miles looked back at Kappy and saw that she had removed her glasses and was massaging her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“Are you ok?”
She didn’t answer.
“Would it be better if we moved away from the market?”
She still didn’t say anything. Miles sighed.
“This isn’t as loud as it is on the plains…”
“That’s not the point!” Kappy snapped. “The plains are even… consistent… noise. Not this… mess.”
“Can’t we just ask directions? Someone from here will know how to get to the bridge.”
“Fine! Go ask for directions!” Kappy threw up her hands and climbed back into the tub, sitting on the rim with her arms folded.
Miles hadn’t expected much different, but at least she was letting him ask. There were a number of restaurants and bars lining the street. Miles picked the one that looked the least formidable and walked in.
The restaurant was dark, but the front of the store stood open to the street, letting in the light. Despite the crowd outside, only a few of the tables were occupied. A man with a square beard stood behind the bar, unpacking a crate of vegetables and watching a tv that had been set in the corner. Miles stared at the tv too. It was small and very boxy. A grainy black and white image flickered on the screen. There was no sound.
“How do you have a working tv?” asked Miles, approaching the bearded man.
“It’s not cheap, I’ll tell you that,” said the man. He gave Miles a cursory glance then went back to unpacking the crate. “If you’re not eating, clear out. I’m not having people in here to watch without buying anything. This is a business not a charity.”
“No, of course, I’m sorry, I was hoping you could give me directions though,” said Miles quickly.
“Not from here? Where are you trying to get to?”
“No we’re not. We’re just trying to get to the bridge.”
“It’s not far to the main road. I’ll draw you a map.” The man grabbed a napkin and pulled a pen from his pocket.
Miles leaned on the counter, watching the tv while the man drew.
“It runs on broadcasting right? Who’s sending the signal?”
“We are. Didn’t you see the transmit tower down the street?”
“There’s metal components though? The antenna at least?”
“There are. Like I said, expensive. We’ve got foundries to melt the old metal. It’s all regulated. I’m on a list along with every other metal user in town. There’s a boy that comes round every three weeks and takes the tv apart. I gotta replace out all that copper wiring and lead glass tubes and whatnot. The boy brings the new parts he’s got from the glass blower and the foundry. They make me keep a signed time record on the door or I get fined. Worth it though. I’m the only restaurant in this area with a tv.”
“And the rust?”
“They turned off most of the Stacks in town, so the metal we have lasts longer.”
“What?” Miles was shocked.
“It’s fine. We have the ravine. There’s less metal here than almost anywhere in the world. Any metal vehicles are regulated. You got the papers when you came in?”
“Yeah, the guards told us about the three-day limit.”
“They started doing it recently. Not sure it would work anywhere else, but the people here are obsessed with metal. It’s the only thing that made this city livable. You will be reported if you’re here longer than three days, trust me. What are you doing in Moughte?”
“Just passing through on our way West.”
“You didn’t come from Taggen did you?” The man suddenly sounded interested.
“We… yeah we passed through there on our way here.”
“Do you know what happened there? It seems like everyone who’s come from Taggen in the last two days has a different story. I’ve heard everything from Rust Operatives attacking the town to terrorists stealing from the mayor.”
Miles mouth felt dry all of a sudden. How was the man spending so much time on a stupid map? “I… I didn’t hear anything about that. When did it happen?”
The man didn’t look up. “Just a few days ago.”
“It must have been after we left then. We were in Hustle River by then.”
“Ah well. I was hoping you might have news. If you’re heading west you’ll be checked at the bridge. Whatever happened in Taggen there’s men checking all travelers heading that way.”
“Taggen’s mayor asked mayor Peele to help catch these guys. Apparently these terrorists also destroyed a truck on the road or something. All sorts of mess from what I understand.”
The man pushed the napkin across the bar to Miles.
Miles took it. “Thank you.” He said, already backing towards the door.
“Yeah, sure.” The man went back unloading his crate.
Miles hurriedly walked out of the restaurant and back into the bright street. Kappy was still sitting in the exact same position, arms crossed, expression stormy. Miles tried to hand her the map, but she just stared straight ahead, refusing to unfold her arms.
“Please take the map?”
“You’re the one who wanted to stop, so you can guide us out of here. Never-mind that I figured out which way to go while you were in there.”
“Kappy there’s something else.”
“They know we’re coming. The mayor from Taggen sent someone here and they’ve blocked off the bridge. They have men checking travelers heading west. The man in the restaurant didn’t know what they were looking for, but they’re sure to know our robot when they see him.”
“We’ll just keep him hidden.”
“You know that’s not going to work.”
“Then we’ll fight our way out!”
“No, Kappy… this isn’t a little town… apart from the fact you shouldn’t be killing police officers… this is a city, they have a police force… not two men on horses.”
Kappy moved to start the tub’s engine, but Miles grabbed her arm. “So! You’ll get us killed and they’ll take our robot!”
She shot him such an angry look that he instantly let go. He didn’t drop his gaze though. “Kappy! You have to promise me… promise you won’t just drive in there and shoot the people on the bridge. We can get past them some other way. Fighting our way out isn’t the solution this time.”
Kappy raised her head and took a deep breath. She was hot and frustrated and Miles knew he was pushing his luck, but he had to make her understand.
“Fine,” she said at last, drawing out the word to make sure Miles knew she was doing him a favor.
“No! Get going before I change my mind!”
Miles did as she said. He started his tractor and led Kappy through the winding streets with the help of what could have been a contender for the most detailed napkin map ever created. They were able to get onto a main road without any problems. Miles was extremely relieved as he couldn’t imagine what Kappy would have done if the map had gotten them lost again. Once they were on the main road Kappy took the lead and they moved with the crowd towards the edge of the city. The wide main road and towering buildings gave way to small shops and then houses while the street narrowed. Then they were on the last hill at the edge of the city looking down through the buildings to the bridge.
Miles thought the gorge looked like a child had taken a giant brown marker and drawn a jagged line across the landscape, claiming ownership of the far side. The city crept all the way up to the canyon, but the land beyond was almost completely untouched. Only the road and occasional farm building in the distance broke up the expanse of hills and trees that rose away to the mountains.
And sure enough, there was a backed-up line of trucks, people and other vehicles in the road leading to down to the bridge where a group of men were checking trunks and personal belongings. Miles could also see that they were waving anyone through who didn’t have a vehicle big enough to conceal the robot. They definitely knew what they were looking for.
“Now what Mr. Map?” Kappy asked.
“We need another way across.”
“That’s the only bridge.”
“For how long?”
“I said that… is… the… only…”
“For the entire ravine?” Miles interrupted.
“Yes… it grows shallower after miles and miles in each direction and eventually disappears, but there’s really not much out there so no need for other bridges.”
“Well… we need time to plan then.”
“We don’t have time! It’ll be dark soon.”
“Maybe the guards will leave at night.”
Kappy raised an eyebrow at Miles.
“Ok, ok… well… I’ll come up with something. Maybe we can hide the robot somewhere… buy a new vehicle and make him look like part of the engine or something?”
“I say we wait until the line shrinks and then…” Kappy sighted along an invisible gun.
“No… we’re not doing that… just give me some time, I’ll think of something.”
“And I said we don’t have…”
Miles interrupted her again. “I know what you said! But we do have time. We have three days if we need them. We’ll get some rooms for tonight and I’ll come up with a plan. This isn’t the plains. We have to do things my way or we’ll wind up on every wanted poster from here to Silver Lake.”
Kappy scowled, but didn’t say anything.
Miles couldn’t actually believe that he’d just won an argument with Kappy. He knew she didn’t agree with him, but just the same, it was probably the most reasonable she’d been the entire trip.
“This is such a waste of time.” Kappy muttered as she turned the tub around.
Miles followed, feeling worried. The ball was in his court and he needed a plan and a good one at that. He was the only thing that stood in the way of a bunch of dead police officers and potentially a dead Kappy. Although… he was really more worried about the officers.
He felt like he had a mountain lion on a leash. Sure, he could do his best to pull it in a certain direction as long as it tolerated him, but they both knew if the lion decided to eat someone the leash wasn’t going to do a thing.
Stubborn warrior woman. He thought protecting her was going to mean from other people, not herself.
He felt in his pocket for the piece of paper. It was a risk, but if he absolutely couldn’t come up with a plan to get across the bridge… maybe Pope could.