As they left Leonard’s warehouse, Sharp turned towards the gate. “We gotta pick up some food in town,” Sharp said. “Tunnel, you hide those units well.”
Tunnel nodded. He seemed a little nervous, but Lasko figured that normal considering the large amount of units that they were holding. The three of them headed toward the giant black structure, pulling the floating cart with their just purchased merchandise.
Drawing closer to the outskirts of town, the sightings of people began to increase. There were a lot of kids, Lasko realized quickly. They were all over the place, some just loitering around, others searching through the garbage. Then it hit him. There weren’t any girls. The kids were all boys.
“Are these all holding kids?” Lasko asked Tunnel. Upon seeing the other children, Tunnel had become more and more withdrawn, as they got deeper into the urban area. The kid nodded silently.
“How come there aren’t any girls?” Lasko pressed. This time Tunnel didn’t say anything.
What’s going on with him? Lasko wondered. It was Sharp who answered instead. “There aren’t any holding girls in this hex. They split us up from before we can remember.” He pointed to the horizon, lined with distant mountains of trash. “You have to go the next hex over, either east or west, to see a girl that lives in the holdings.”
Finally, they arrived at a place where small shacks and shanties began to show up fairly frequently. They stopped in a small clearing, the Gate still a distance away.
“Wait for me here. I’ll be back with the food in a few minutes.” Sharp told Tunnel and Lasko. They nodded, and Sharp walked off deeper into the town, moving quickly out of sight.
Lasko looked around. He spotted only a single man sitting down, watching the holding kids running around.
He noticed that the man was wearing wrist guard with a familiar ornament. It was the same pale white opaque orb that decorated Sharp and Tunnel’s own belts.
He looked down at Tunnel’s waist. Yep, there it was, a simple milky white colored stone. Lasko was about to ask Tunnel about it, but then he stopped, noticing something different.
Tunnel was acting very timid, and otherwise completely out of character. He kept looking around nervously; it didn’t seem like he was in the mood to talk. But then Tunnel suddenly relaxed a bit, and pointed to the edge of the clearing.
“Lasko, look.” he murmured. Lasko turned in the direction the young boy was pointing. He discovered the object of attention right away. There was a large hulking figure. It stood, upright on two legs, with stocky mechanical legs and arms that hung to the ground, reminiscent of a gorilla.
What in the world is that? Lasko thought, shocked. Another robot? Some kind of war machine?
The large robot had a turret on one shoulder, and what looked to be a spotlight on the other. Glowing red eyes flickered, as the machine’s head turned back and forth, surveying the area. Its sharpened metal claws dragged on the ground, twitching occasionally, drawing scraggily lines in the dirt.
“What is that?” Lasko whispered to Tunnel. He was scared.
“That’s a drooler.” Tunnel said, his face seeming a bit more normal upon sight of the machine.
Lasko felt a bit sheepish; apparently there was nothing to be scared of. “Why do they call it a drooler?”
Just there was a weird squelching noise, and with a disgusting belch a flood of paleish fluid came pouring out of the robot’s orifices.
“Oh.” Lasko was grossed out. “Never mind, I think I get it.” Tunnel giggled.
Lasko watched as the robot stumped along, moving down a side street out of sight.
“So what does that thing do, anyway? Who does it belong to?”
“It belongs to Gate,” Tunnel said. “They walk around and patrol the city. It mostly stops people making trouble. They take care of the hex’s holding kids the most.”
“Is that so…” Lasko listened as the robot’s thumping steps moved out of earshot. “The hex… Do you know why they call it a hex?” Now that the angry Sharp wasn’t around, he might as well get as much information as he could get. Lasko also thought that it might be a good idea to get Tunnel’s mind off of whatever was bothering the poor boy earlier.
“Yeah. It’s because it’s a big hex.” Tunnel said simply.
Tunnel squatted on the ground, and began to draw a figure in the sandy, metallic dirt.
“See here?” He drew a large, six-sided, symmetrical polygon. And then he drew a few more around it, forming a honeycomb structure, each with a small rectangle in the center. “The gate is in the center of the hex. The other hexes each have their own gate.” Tunnel explained awkwardly.
“Wow.” Lasko blinked. “I understand.” He laughed. “It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?”
Tunnel smiled too. “Yup.” He opened his mouth to say something, but just then, a small object flew dangerously close by, hitting the ground nearby with a thump. It was a sharp lump of scrap metal, and if it had hit either one of them it probably would have caused at least a large slashing wound.
The two of them looked up to see a group of boys standing nearby. The leader of the pack, was a blond haired boy with a mean sneer on his face. He looked to be quite a few inches taller than Sharp; maybe older than him by a three or four years.
Upon seeing them, Tunnel gasped a little bit and stood up quickly. He pulled up a pen sized device from his belt and gripped it tightly. It activated swiftly, a wickedly thin blade appearing like magic.
“What do you want?” Tunnel stated seriously. It was obvious to Lasko that the usually friendly and open kid was trying hard to be intimidating. The man took a closer look at group of boys. Their scowls and the makeshift clubs that the boys were holding made it clear that they weren’t here to make friendly chit-chat.
“We should be asking you that question. We told you that little freaks wouldn’t be allowed on our scavenging turf,” the blond kid said menacingly.
“We… we ain’t on your turf,” Tunnel protested loudly. Lasko looked around at the few holding kids and adult that had been in the area. The smaller kids had all disappeared, while the man simply looked on with mild interest. It was clear that he wasn’t planning on intervening in the impending fight.
“This is our turf now,” the leader laughed mockingly. “We claimed it just a few days ago.”
“This is outside of town, Pusher,” Tunnel shouted. “Ain’t nobody can claim places not in town, stop making stuff up.” Tunnel’s voice wavered. He was trying his best to act tough, but he looked like he was going to cave in and start bawling any second.
Pusher’s smile disappeared. “What did you say to me, you little freak?” He stepped forward and raised the metal stick in his hand. The boys around him bristled immediately, raising their own weapons as well.
Tunnel took a step back, but Lasko stepped behind him, and put a hand on his shoulder. Tunnel looked up at Lasko, his face still scared. Lasko could tell that the young boy was on the verge of tears, but there was a glimmer of hope and relief in the boy’s eyes as he looked at Lasko. It was as if the boy was saying, help me!
Lasko pulled a multi-tool off of his own newly acquired utility-belt. He didn’t activate it; he didn’t know how to, but the action was enough to make the other boys pause in their tracks.
A fresh scowl appeared on Pusher’s face at the sudden introduction of a new factor. He hadn’t thought that the ranker and the little ‘freak’ were together.
“Where did this ranker come from?” he spit out.
“None of your business.” A flat, dangerous voice came from behind him. The boys turned and looked behind them to see Sharp standing there, his spear already out and lightly balanced in his hand. In his other arm he held a bag, filled with the purchases just made in the marketplace.
Upon sight of the black haired boy, the other boys quickly scrambled out of his range. Sharp gave the retreating boys a condescending smirk, before return his gaze to Pusher. “I thought that I heard your whining voice. Some things never change.”
Pusher’s face lost its confidence, even paled a little bit. He gritted his teeth. “Sharp, you better know something, I joined with Vance’s crew. So don’t be walking around like you own the place anymore.”
Paying no mind to Pusher, Sharp stepped forward, taking confident strides forward with ease. As he passed through the boys, they gripped their weapons tightly, but backed out of his way. Pusher was no different. The taller boy glared daggers at Sharp, but lacking the guts to make a move, let Sharp pass by unchallenged.
Sharp arrived at Tunnel’s and Lasko’s side, and Tunnel gave a visible sigh of relief. The small boy’s nervous expression relaxed, returning to his normal, playful mood. He stuck his tongue out at the group.
“Did you hear me, Sharp?” Pusher said angrily.
Sharp continued to ignore him. “You guys ready to go?” Sharp asked Lasko and Tunnel, pretending as if no one was there.
Pusher flushed red. He took a few steps forward and raised his club. “You piece of –”. In a flash, Sharp had flourished his spear, and the tip of the metal pointed straight at Pusher’s throat. Pusher froze. He gulped in shock; he hadn’t been able to avoid the spear movement.
“I don’t give a shit about Vance, and his dumb-ass crew.” Sharp said quietly. “But if I see you around my property again, I’ll slit your throat for sure.”
Pusher stepped back, rejoining his crew. The red-faced kid had only become more red-faced, but he didn’t say a word, only glaring daggers towards the odd trio.
Sharp turned and began to walk back the way they came. Tunnel hurriedly picked up the hover cart and continued happily after Sharp. Lasko followed, but no before taking the last threatening look over his sholder.
The oldest child, looked extremely upset, as the taller and older holding kids disappeared in the distance. Lasko shook his head. If Lasko guessed, he’d be pretty sure that this wasn’t the last time that they would hear from the angry Pusher.