The robot had actually only killed one person. The other had regained consciousness next to the body of his partner and panicked, managing to get the door open before he’d collapsed. The back of his head felt wet when he touched it and he’d pulled himself into the grass, standing after a moment and making it some distance from the road before he passed out again. The flames had missed him as they chewed their way across the field and the travelers had come and gone with their robot without disturbing him.
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.
Kappy woke grumpy the next morning and her mood only grew darker as the morning wore on. It had rained the night before, not one of the intense thunderstorms that often blew from the plains, but a steady drizzle that had made the night miserable and the morning cold and uncomfortable. The rain stopped before the sun rose, but water still dripped from everything. Miles was tired and shivering and didn’t feel like talking, which was probably for the best considering Kappy’s mood.
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.
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 exited through the bead door of the gun shop and the blonde young man glanced after her before sidling up to the counter. He waited there, not eager to speak without being acknowledged. The man with long black hair pulled Kappy’s clip apart and examined the batteries. He spoke without looking up.
“You’re not supposed to come in here when I have customers.”
Taggen was a dry little town sitting in a protective hollow between two hills. It was an odd sort of place and quiet people lived there. The town was kept alive by farmers and what little produce they managed to coax from the ground in this harsh environment they sold here. The town had a number of little businesses and one or two small machine shops that helped procure parts for farming equipment or repaired anything the farmers couldn’t fix themselves.
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.
Taggen was two long days away. The road they were following cut its way through the landscape, winding around hills and down through canyons. As the hours passed the landscape continued to change. The trees lining the road were larger and healthier looking with less bare branches and more foliage.
It was night and the storm had arrived. The same wind that had danced through the grass the day before now tore across the landscape in a frenzy. Waves of rain followed, carried by the wind, beating the grass flat. The branches of trees whipped back and forth, occasionally shining white in the darkness, illuminated by flashes of lightning.