Robot Boy


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"You say the weight of the world
Has kept you from letting go
And you think compassion's a flaw
And you'll never let it show
And you're sure you've hurt in a way
That no one will ever know
But someday, the weight of the world
Will give you the strength to go"

--"Robot Boy" by Linkin Park

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Chapter 1

Robot Boy ~ Chapter 1

  Rain fell. Saxton could hear it pattering on the tin roof of the house where he and his mother lived. It made him smile, because he liked those little daily reminders that the universe was working the way that it was supposed to. If the water cycle was still intact, then everything else was likely to be all right.

  As the rainfall increased and the pattering grew louder, Saxton looked up from his work. He set down the pen he had made especially for letter writing and began to read over his work.

  Dear Mara…

  That was how the letter began and ended. For Mara was his best friend in the whole world. They had grown up together in the village; attended primary school together. And now they were both at secondary school in the same class. She was his world and he was hers. That was simply how it was.

  Now Mara was away on a hunting trip with her father. It was like a tradition in their family that the two of them would go out hunting together every year. This year was extra special, though. Mara and her father had been selected in a pool to hunt geese. The reason why there was a pool was because geese had been endangered for at least a hundred years.

  They had had to travel very far to a cabin in the woods where they were staying during the hunting trip. They would venture out into nature in the early morning and stay out hunting all day, only to return to the cabin at night. Saxton knew this because Mara had written him about the details of her trip.

  Saxton bit the end of his pen pensively and then began to write again, the end of his pen dragging across the rough surface of his recycled paper. His thoughts poured out for the next few minutes, and then he finally finished the letter. He signed his name, folded the paper neatly, and began to address it. He smiled to himself when he got to Mara’s last name: Archer.

  It had always been a kind of joke between them, her last name. Since her first name ended with the same letter that started her last name, he usually ended up blending them together and calling her Mararcher.

  He pooled some wax on the letter to seal it and then carried it over to the window to place it on the sill. Fer Biloc would pick it up in the morning when he came to get the post from houses in his row.

  Saxton picked up the candle he had been using as his light to write by and carried it over to the doorway to his mother’s bedroom. He nudged the door open with his foot and peeked in. He smiled when he saw the familiar shape of his mother, Miriam Orange, curled up in bed, fast asleep. He always thought that she looked so beautiful when she was sleeping.

  As quietly as he could, he pulled the door shut again and tiptoed to his room. It was a plain and sparsely furnished square of their apartment that was his, but he claimed it was plenty for him. Saxton liked the simple life, which was good because his mother wasn’t the wealthiest in the village, and especially not their row. In fact, their next-door neighbors – the Princetons – had an apartment twice the size of the Oranges. The Princeton boy that was the same age as Saxton probably had a bedroom at least three times the size of Saxton’s.

  Saxton laid down on his cot and closed his eyes. A slight humming began in his chest, and it lulled to sleep.

  In the morning, he was awakened by the human touch of his mother’s hand on his shoulder. His eyelids flicked open and his mouth turned up in a smile when he saw his mother looking down at him.

  She asked him how late he had stayed up the night before and he responded that it hadn’t been too late. But Miriam Orange knew better. She scolded him for breaking the rules and staying up past the bedtime that was assigned for secondary school students in their region.

  Saxton wasn’t a particularly disobedient boy. He just felt that there were things that needed to be done, and so he did them. He didn’t really consider sleep to be of any sort of importance. Even when he only got four hours of sleep, it didn’t seem to bother him as much as the other kids at school. The humming noise in his chest became a little louder when he it got to a certain time of night, but besides that, his body didn’t seem to react.

  His mother left the room to go make breakfast in the kitchen area while Saxton got up and moved about, getting ready to go to school. Miriam returned not long after with a plate of food for him. He politely accepted it, but the minute that she was gone, he pushed open the shutters of his window and set the plate down on the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which faithfully ran over to greet Saxton each morning.The dog’s name was Saturn, and he ran faster than any race horse – or so it seemed to Saxton.

  Saxton didn’t really like eating. When he was young, he tried it because he saw all of the other people doing it, but it didn’t bring him any sort of fulfillment. In fact, it made him feel strange inside. So he just didn’t eat. Whenever he heard stories of starving people in other villages, he ignored them because they made him feel different and he didn’t like feeling different.

  After waiting the amount of time it usually took his mother to eat a meal, Saxton grabbed his books, called goodbye to Miriam, and headed out the front door. He walked down the dirt road past all the other houses in his row. Eventually, he came across a cornfield, and took a shortcut through it. When Saxton and Mara had been young, they had figured out all the shortcuts to take them through the village to get from their houses to any other destination in about five minutes or less. Saxton never admitted it, but it was mostly because of him that the paths were so efficient. He was highly skilled in mathematics and logic, so it was only a matter of minutes before he could solve a problem.

  Mara had always been jealous of Saxton for this reason, so she often took credit for his solutions. However, all through the village Saxton was known for his special skills, so there was never a doubt that he was behind everything.

  When Saxton arrived at his secondary school, he went inside to his usual classroom and his usual desk and waited for Nance Bremen, the teacher, to commence the lesson.

  Saxton greatly enjoyed school, mostly because of how well he excelled. Nance Bremen had never had a favorite student before she had taught Saxton, but the moment that he first walked into the classroom and answered each question completely correct, this changed. She always smiled at him before she first spoke.

  She did this today – a day seemingly just like any other – and then began to teach the history of the downfall of mankind.

  It all started also on a day just like any other. The sky was blue, the birds – those winged creatures that used to fill the air and the trees – were singing, and life was going just as it should have been. And then the earth began to crumble, folding in on itself, as the destruction of its greatest resources had defiled it for so many hundreds of years. The sky turned red so that it seemed that the clouds were about to rain blood. People stopped what they were doing and stared up at the sky. They remained frozen in place as the majority of them were killed in the greatest disaster of mankind since that first betrayal in the garden. A great fire came down from the heavens and destroyed most of the animal and plant life. For the increasingly harmful pollution had so corrupted the atmosphere that a unique reaction took place and brought a temporary end to life. But all hope was not lost. The strongest of the strong were left standing in the aftermath of the storm on the now half collapsed planet Earth. They began to rebuild. Their homes were not the castles and temples of the civilization that preceded them, but the small enclosures of the wise and generous. The people had learned from their mistakes and now used only the bare minimum in order to survive. And now the people had a completely different mindset. Now they weren’t after acceptance and success as much, but more after fulfillment and improvement.

  Saxton had heard bits and pieces of the story growing up, and he’d always wanted to hear the whole thing in its entirety. Now that he had, he felt a weird sense of emptiness inside. It was like since he now knew the whole truth, he was no longer blind. He could understand the reasons behind everything that had happened to him – except for those unknown reasons, of course, of how he was set apart from his classmates. Saxton almost felt like he preferred not knowing the story, because now the stories of those people with castles and temples didn’t seem so glamorous anymore.

  When it was time for a break from his studies to go eat lunch, Saxton took his shortcut through the cornfield to go back home. Miriam was waiting for him, eager to hear about his morning. But today Saxton was quiet. He was lost in thought – something that Miriam had rarely seen before. Normally, Saxton was nearly bursting to share his attained knowledge with others. But it was a day unlike any other.

  Upon the students’ return, Nance Bremen resumed retelling the historical tale. The students practically sat on the edge of their seats, eager to hear more of the fascinating story.

  After the rebuilding of society, the generation that had been left behind began to marry and have children. Their children would then be expected to carry on the message of simplicity to the following generations. The children were essential for this reason. But their parents were even more important, since they began the process of perfecting the human race. The father and mother together were expected to teach their son or daughter the ways of the new world. If one of the parents was missing from the equation, there was a chance that the child would not be fit for the post-apocalyptic world, since their upbringing would have been stinted.

  Saxton sat upright in his chair and looked at his teacher with a quizzical eye. He was quite aware that he was one of the children she was talking about – one of those unfortunate children without two present parents. What did this mean for him?

  If the child did not have two parents –

  Saxton leapt up, no longer able to contain himself. His classmates looked up at him in surprise and Nance Bremen stopped her lecture abruptly, blinking at him. She told her students to be patient, and then took Saxton out into the hallway. He confessed to her that he had been paying very close attention to her, so that was not an issue. The issue was that her words had stirred something deep inside him, and he didn’t know what that something was. Nance Bremen then told him that she knew what he must be going through; she had seen other students who had suffered from the loss of a parent. Saxton admitted to her that he had never met his father, but his teacher was still so sympathetic that she sent him home straightaway. She didn’t want him to have to sit through the rest of the lecture.

  Miriam was surprised to see Saxton when he arrived home. She was in the middle of stitching up a shirt – she was the seamstress for their row – but she instantly set aside her work as soon as she saw him. Miriam sat her son down beside her and asked him what was on his mind. He told her how the lecture had affected him and asked her if she might know why.

  Miriam gave a long sigh and then told Saxton something she admitted she should have told him a long time ago.

  His father had not died from some disease, as she had led on previously. No, he had left of his own will. It had happened when Saxton was just five years old, so Miriam supposed that he remembered his father leaving and perhaps that was why he felt the way he did.

  Section went into his room to leave his mother to her work. He laid down on his cot and pondered for a while. What had his father been like? He wracked his brain, trying to see if he could remember anything about him, but it had been too long ago.

  At about five thirty, a bowl of soup was brought to his room by Miriam, and he poured its contents out the window as he did every night. His stomach was too weak for her cooking.

  He was still laying there when Fer Biloc slipped a letter onto Saxton’s windowsill with a tip of his hat. Saxton sat up and eagerly unfolded the paper. It was Mara’s response already, since the post system in their village was so fast.

  Mara had only written one sentence, which she then signed with an M: I’m coming back tomorrow.

  He smiled to himself, and then Saxton returned to his thoughts. By the time his mother was going to bed and he was expected to do the same, he had made up his mind what he was going to do.

  “I’m going to find my father.”

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Chapter 2

Robot Boy ~ Chapter 2

  The next morning, Saxton heard a knocking at his front door. He was delighted when he discovered Mara outside his door. She had only been gone for a few days, but he had missed her very much. She was his only friend.

  “Saxton!” she said, hugging him around the neck. “Guess what! We caught six!”

  “Six what?” he asked, for his mind was elsewhere.

  “Six geese, you silly goose! Pun intended, of course.”

  Saxton shrugged and stepped aside to let her come in. He didn’t really understand puns.

  He decided to cut to the chase.

  “Listen, I’ve got some news.” She sat down in the living room on their shabby sofa and looked up at him attentively. “Yesterday, Nance told us how the apocalypse came about and how the rebuilding began.”

  “Aw, man, I missed that?”

  “Yeah. And I had this weird feeling when she got to talking about kids that only have one parent. I talked to my mom, and it turns out that my father is alive.”

  Mara’s mouth fell open.

  “No way! I can’t believe it! Who is he?”

  “I don’t know. All I know is that he left when I was five. My plan is to find him.”

  “And how are you going to do that if you don’t know who he is?” she asked.

  “I’m going to leave and I’m going to hunt him down. And I’m not planning on telling Miriam, so don’t even think about it.”

  “I wasn’t thinking about it. What kind of best friend do you think I am?”

  She smiled at Saxton.

  “Well, this is probably goodbye, then. I’m leaving today. Right now, in fact.”

  “Saxton!” she exclaimed. “I’m surprised that you could be this stupid. You’ve always been the smartest person I’ve ever known.”

  Saxton blinked.

  “How am I being stupid?”

  “I’m coming with you, you crazy cat.”

  “I’m not a cat, nor am I crazy. And why do you think you’re coming with me?”

  “Because I’m a hunter, and you just said that you’re going to hunt your father down. You’ve never once hunted before in your life, so how do you expect to be successful this time?”

  Saxton seriously thought about that for a minute, but he couldn’t see anything wrong with the idea of Mara joining him on his mission.

  “All right. You can come.”

  “Yes!” Mara jumped up from the couch, pumping her fists into the air. “I knew you would agree. Besides, you would get lonely if you went by yourself.”

  “I never get lonely.”

  She punched him lightly in the arm.

  “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Everyone gets lonely. Now, what do we need to bring with us?”

  “… I wasn’t really going to bring anything.”

  “What? You at least need food, Saxton.”

  Saxton had known Mara since he was very young, but he had still managed to keep the secret that he didn’t eat food from her. She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the kitchen pantry with her to look for things they could bring. Miriam was outside gardening, so there was no chance that she would happen across their preparations.

  Mara told Saxton to go get a sack made of recycled materials from his room so that they could put things for the trip into it, while she rummaged through the stock of food in the house. In the end, they ended up with two bell peppers, four tomatoes, a loaf of bread, two sesame seed muffins, and a sealed container of soup. When Saxton came back to her with the sack, Mara stacked everything up neatly inside of it.

  “Do you think they will miss us at school?” she asked him.

  “I don’t really care.”

  It was true. Now all that he really cared about was finding his father, and he was set on that goal. Next, they went into Saxton’s bedroom to grab an extra blanket, some extra clothes, and a spare pair of shoes to stuff into a second sack.

  “Food, check. Clothes, check. What else do we need?”

  “Well… I can’t really think of anything. Shall we go?”

  “Of course not! We can’t go without matches, bandages, letter writing paper, some pens, and ink,” she said, as if she had been expecting him to name those things. But Saxton was too distracted by the idea of finding out who his father was. “Come on.”

  He followed her into his house’s storage room and watched her pile the items she had mentioned into the top of the clothes sack. Then she turned and smiled. She touched his shoulder with her hand.

  “We are ready to find your father, now, Saxton.”

  “That is really good news.”

  Saxton began walking towards the front door, but Mara caught his hand to stop him.

  “What?” he asked.

  “Don’t you want to say goodbye to anyone? Are you sure you just want to skip town?”


  She shrugged at his simple reply and followed him out of the house. Saxton peered cautiously around the corner of the house to make sure Miriam wouldn’t see them, but she was nowhere in sight. Most likely she was tending to the plants growing out back in their garden.

  “I guess the coast is clear,” Mara whispered.

  Saxton waved his hand at her and the two of them fast walked down the row. They passed through the gate at the end without a problem; the two stern guardians that usually watched it were always away in the morning for some reason. However, they did have to watch and make sure that no one in the village saw them on their way out, which was difficult because of the morning crowd of people on their way to work or school.

  As a woman named Rita and her young daughter Jen suddenly passed them, only Saxton with his fast reflexes could react fast enough to duck behind a building so they wouldn’t see him. Mara was then forced to act as naturally as she could.

  “Hello, Mara!” Rita said cheerfully.

  “Hello, Rita.” She looked exhausted as they exchanged pleasantries. “Listen, I’ve to go so that I won’t be late for school.”

  “Of course, dear. I just wanted to thank you for watching Jen for us. You’re the best child watcher we’ve come across.”

  “Great. Let me know if you ever need me to watch her again.”

  Mara walked away, looking over her shoulder until Rita and Jen were out of sight before joining Saxton on the other side of the building.

  “I don’t know you were a child watcher,” he said, looking at her in surprise.

  “Well, believe it or not, you don’t know everything about me, Saxton.”

  He was again surprised at the way she snapped at him, but not so that he was unable to catch up with her when she suddenly dashed off towards the gate to the village. It was going to be more challenging to get out of the village’s gate, since there were several guardians standing watch there. The two of them crouched behind a large tea cart in which a villager was selling tea. There were large carts all over the village where villagers could sell the items or services they specialized in. The tea cart was unusually large compared to the others, since there was only one tea vendor in the village, so Saxton and Mara were able to hide behind it very well.

  “You know what?” Saxton said, eyeing the guardians with frustration. “I know what we forgot: weapons.”

  Shocked, Mara looked at him with wide eyes.

  “Weapons? Saxton…you know that’s forbidden.”

  “Sure, that’s what they say, but I would’ve expected you of all people to understand. Your family members are hunters. Do you not call the tools you use weapons? Besides, anything can be a weapon. I read about in the book.”

  “Where did you find a book?”

  “In my mother’s bedroom. She kept it on her night table, and I always wondered what it said inside. So whenever she was out of the house, I read a bit.”

  “Do you remember what it was called?”

  “The… The Reach, I think. Yeah, The Reach.”

  “Sometimes I just envy you and your photographic memory,” Mara said, shaking her head. “I wonder why your mom kept it on her night table.” Mara looked thoughtful for a minute. “Maybe…it was your father’s book?”

  Saxton looked over at her, his interest peaked.

  “You really think so?”

  “I do. I believe this could be our very first clue. Come on, let’s just make a run for it. I think we could probably out run them.”

  “No!” Saxton said pulling her down when she started to get up. “I have a better idea that might just get us past them without getting caught.”

  “Go ahead, then.”

  Saxton reached into the clothes sack they had brought with them and pulled out one of his shirts. Mara watched curiously as he twisted it about into a certain shape. Then he placed a couple of stones that he’d noticed nearby into the bowl shape he had made out of the shirt.

  “Here, you’re more of the athletic type than I am,” he said, handing her the shirt. Then he whispered in her ear what he thought she should do.

  Her eyes widened in understanding and she stood slowly, winding the cloth bowl in her hands. Her upper arm muscles flexed as she stretched out the shirt and let go, releasing the stones inside. They flew through the air and fell down on the heads of the guardians at the gate, who fell stunned to the ground, as a result.

  “See?” Saxton said. “Weapons are useful. And not just for catching food, either.”

  Mara shrugged like she still disagreed with him.

  “Hey, speaking of food, I have an idea. I really don’t think that the village will need all six of the geese my father and I caught, since we caught a lot of other animals when we were on our trip, so maybe we could bring one with us. It might be useful to have a good source of protein. Who knows how long we will be gone.”

  “I like that idea. If you want, I could stay here and keep watch while you go and get the goose. That is, if you think you can carry it by yourself.”

  Mara shook with silent laughter.

  “Oh, Saxton. You crack me up. When my father and I came back from our hunting trip, I carried three geese and five rabbits just by myself.”

  She got up and walked away, looking around cautiously to make sure no one saw her. Saxton was left alone in his hiding place, but he kept his eyes trained on the fallen guardians by the gate and watched for any sign of movement. While he did this, Saxton refilled his makeshift sling shot with more stones that were within his reach just in case.

  Mara, who was extremely strong, returned a few minutes later with a tied up dead goose around her neck. She snuck back to Saxton by walking through the alleyways between and behind buildings. He stood up when she returned and Mara smiled at him.

  “Do you like my necklace?”

  “Not really,” Saxton said, but he couldn’t understand jokes. “Well, the guardians are still out cold. Are you ready to go?”

  “Yes, but…no.” Mara looked over her shoulder at the village. “How long do you think we’ll be gone?”

  “I don’t know. It could be anywhere from a couple days to…forever.”

  “Forever? Forever is a long time.”

  Then she picked up one of the sacks, Saxton picked up the other, she took his hand, and they walked out of the village where they had grown up together.

  They walked together in silence for a while, both deep in thought about their journey away from home. Neither of them has ever left the village before. The minute that they passed the last familiar landmark that they could have seen from inside the village, they looked at each other at the same time. Then they laughed.

  “This is so ridiculous,” Mara said, “leaving home. I mean, what are we even thinking?”

  “I know what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about finding out who my real father is. I can’t believe that my mother never told me. My whole life has basically been a lie.”

  “Is that why you don’t have any regrets about up and leaving her?”


  “Even after everything she’s done for you? Given you a home and food to eat. And she’s always loved you.”

  “Not enough to tell me who my real father is. That’s some kind of love, that is.”

  “Oh, Saxton…” Mara switched the sack she was carrying to her other arm so that she could put her right arm around his shoulders. “I’m so sorry.”

  “There’s nothing you could have done about it, so stop apologizing.”

  She gently removed her arm from around him.

  Suddenly, a gentle boom resounded in the distance, shaking the ground slightly beneath their feet. Mara lost her balance and fell to the ground. Saxton stopped walking at the same time and they looked at each other.

  “What was that?” Mara asked.

  “It sounded like…an explosion.”

  “But why would there be an explosion? There haven’t been any explosions for years now.”

  “Maybe someone made a mistake.”

  “Maybe,” she said, getting to her feet. Mara thought Saxton had meant a chemical mistake, but that wasn’t what he’d meant at all. “Let’s get out of here. If that was something, I don’t want to be anywhere near it.”

  She adjusted the goose that was hanging around her neck, gripped her sack with both hands, and then took off running across the barren land. Saxton blinked at her for a minute before following after her at a slightly slower speed.

  They ran side-by-side for a while, periodically glancing behind them to make sure nothing about their atmosphere had changed. After a while, something did change. A great wave of smoke was slowly spreading over the surface of the ground towards them. Mara stopped in her tracks for a minute and gaze wide-eyed at the moving substance.

  “Mara, come on!” Saxton hollered at her.

  She turned around and dashed after him with a frightened look. After another minute of running, she reached out and grasped his hand. They continued running for a while until Mara started having trouble breathing, and then they had to stop so she could catch her breath.

  The place they stopped was one of the few areas on the earth with some trees. Most trees had been destroyed, but you could still find a few. The trees were the healthiest, since the soil lacks nutrients, but it was at least a source for shade against the harsh sunlight of the early afternoon.

  Mara put a hand to the trunk of the tree and leaned on it while she gasped. Saxton looked at her with concern and then offered to get her lunch out of the food sack while she rested. Although Saxton seemed to her like quite the gentleman, his motive was purely selfish, as he wanted to avoid revealing to her the fact that he never ate anything.

  So Saxton took out one of the tomatoes, washed it in a nearby stream that he found (“Plants don’t grow very far from their water source,” a teacher once told him.), quartered it with the pocket knife that he always carried in his pocket, and brought it to Mara. She gratefully accepted it. When she asked if Saxton had eaten, he lied and said he had had a tomato when he was by the stream. He didn’t see any harm in lying.

  “We should cook that goose tonight, so that we don’t have to carry it anymore,” Mara said conversationally as they sat leaning against a tree.

  “You mean, so you don’t have to carry it.”

  Mara rolled her eyes. She was used to Saxton and how he talked literally all the time, but sometimes he could irritate her. It was usually when she was hungry.

  “If you want, I can keep watch while you get some shut eye. Since I’m still eating and everything.”

  Saxton looked up at the sun and then back at Mara with a confused look on his face.

  “It’s only an hour past midday. And I’m not even tired.”

  “I’m sorry,” Mara said with a shrug. “I just thought you might be tired, is all. We were running for a while, and I know you’re not the athletic type. And I’m assuming you want to go pretty far today after we finish with our break.”

  “Maybe I don’t run as fast as you, but that doesn’t mean I get as tired as you.”

  “Okay, okay. I didn’t mean to offend you, or anything.”

  “All I care about is finding my father.”

  “I can work with that.” Mara ate the third quarter of her tomato. “Tell me, what else do you remember from that book that was probably your father’s?”

  “The Reach? Well…” Saxton thought about it for a minute while Mara watched him and finished her tomato, licking the juice off of her fingers. “I remember this one passage that was about metallurgy.”


  “Yeah, there was a lot of that kind of thing in the book. I really enjoyed it, actually. I just can’t understand why my mom would keep it next to her bed. It doesn’t seem like anything she would be interested in. She’s a seamstress and a gardener.”

  “She obviously likes it for sentimental reasons,” Mara said. She moved onto her knees and started to close up the sacks to get ready to leave. “I’m sure she loved your father and was sorry when he left.”

  “But…she’s a seamstress and a gardener.”

  He still looked baffled. Mara shook her head.

  “You just don’t get it. Probably because you’re a boy.”

  “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

  “You’d be surprised how it has everything to do with everything.” She stood up, arranged the goose around her neck, and picked up one of the sacks. “So what was that passage about metallurgy?”

  Saxton stood up, picked up his sack, and rattled off, “ ‘Several metals combined make an alloy: the strongest of metals, since it adds an inferior metal with a precious metal. In my opinion, an alloy surpasses all other metals because of the fact that it combines inferior with precious. I have always seen it as a kind of metaphor, too. If you mix peppermint and chocolate – peppermint being inferior and chocolate being precious, obviously – you get chocolate mint. There aren’t very many things that are better than chocolate mints. But that’s a humorous example. Let me give you a few more examples.’ I won’t tell you the other examples, because they aren’t as interesting. I always liked that part. It’s just not very often that you pick up a book that discusses the combination of chocolate and peppermint.”

  Mara gazed at Saxton in amazement of his unique skill.

  “Wow. That’s an interesting piece of literature. I still can’t believe how cool you are. I know what peppermint is, but I’m not familiar with chocolate.”

  “It’s probably something from the Old World. Someday I hope to know more about the Old World.”

  “Yeah, that would be cool. Are you ready go?”


  They walked together for a while before Mara said, “So, I wonder if your father works with metals. Isn’t there…like, a place nearby where people work with metals?”

  “Vorro. The Place of the Smiths. I’ve always wanted to see it. I’ve looked at pictures and maps, but they’re never exactly like the real thing.”

  “How far is it from here?” Mara asked, positive that her friend would know.

  “About thirty kilometers. We could probably get there by nightfall.”

  “Yeah…” She stopped walking for a minute and frowned behind Saxton’s back. “We’re young.”

  Since Saxton hadn’t noticed her stop and had continued walking, Mara scurried to catch up.

  As it turned out, the two didn’t reach Vorro until about ten hours after midday, and that was only because of Mara’s swift pace and Saxton’s endurance. They arrived at the village’s gates and were startled by how tall and detailed the bronze poles were that joined together to prevent them from entering. They followed the gate upward with their eyes to rest on the pointed peaks. Behind the gate stood buildings much higher than the small cube apartments Saxton and Mara were used to in their village. They shone brilliantly with the moon reflecting off of them, not unlike the pointed sections of a king’s shiny crown.

  “Whoa,” they said the same time.

  A guardian suddenly appeared and put his hand around one of the gate’s poles, scrutinizing them and startling them at the same time.

  “Do you seek to gain passage to Vorro?” he asked them.

  “Erm, yes,” Mara said, taking charge. “We’re just travelers looking for a place to stay the night. And we’re also searching for someone.”

  “Oh, yeah? Who might that be?”

  “We don’t know his name,” said Saxton.

  “We just heard that he might be here,” Mara added.

  “And who told you that?”

  “The man we’re looking for.”

  The guardian cocked his head at Mara and put a hand on his waist.

  “Missy, are you trying to tell me that you were told by some stranger that he might live here?”

  “We weren’t told, exactly,” Saxton said. “We read his book.”

  The guardian straightened his posture and nodded understandingly.

  “Ah, so you’re looking for a professor. We have some of those around here.”

  “No, he’s not a professor.”

  Mara closed her eyes and put her head in her hands, because she had been afraid that Saxton would say that. The guardian narrowed his eyes at them and folded his arms across his chest.

  “He’s not a professor, and he’s written a book? Is this some kind of a joke? Are you trying to get yourselves thrown in jail?”

  “No! What he meant was –“

  “Yeah, yeah. Get out of here, kids. I don’t wanna see your faces creeping around.”

  “Yes, sir,” Mara said and pulled Saxton away with her before she could do or say something that would get them in more trouble. She pulled him away and pushed him up against a tree just out of sight of the gate. “What is wrong with you? Are you an idiot?”

  “You know I’m not. You heard me recite that passage from the book verbatim.”

  “Shut up!” she hissed. “Saxton, don’t you know that there haven’t been non-educational books written since the Old World was destroyed?”

  “But that book was educational! Neither of us knew about alloy or chocolate until after that book!”

  “Saxton…you have to be more careful. When I agreed to go on this trip with you, I didn’t plan on getting arrested.”

  “Okay. I’m sorry.”

  “I know you are. I didn’t mean to snap. I’m not really angry at you. I’m just tired.”

  “Well, then why don’t we stop right here to sleep, under this tree?”

  “That sounds like a great idea.”

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