Steel Defender is Book 2 in the Rusted Wasteland series. Click here to buy. I’m excited to share Block’s next adventure!
Block followed Nova outside into the daylight, adjusting his visual sensors to account for the bright rays that slowly warmed the surrounding forest. The school stood in a grassy clearing, and in the woods, among a shelter of trees, the camp’s occupants sheltered in tents. There were a few camper vans and small trailers that housed families with children, elderly, and sick people who needed more warmth than a nylon tent and sleeping bags could provide. The treetops provided coverage in case aerial drones passed over. One of the Hemlock engineers had figured out how to broadcast a jamming signal which effectively cast a dead zone around the camp. Any drones surveying the countryside would bypass the area. The camp had been spared from attacks by Mach X’s forces.
It was morning, and a few people surrounded small campfires. They cooked food or heated up water to wash clothes and fill the makeshift showers. Every able-bodied person at Hemlock had a job. Life at the camp differed from The Drake. There, humans had experienced every convenience—electricity, instant hot water, hundreds of channels of entertainment television, phones, and gadgets. But after the Uprising, life had changed drastically. Millions of lives had been lost in the fighting. Mach X’s forces had overtaken the large cities, leaving people to scramble for refuge. Hemlock was just one of many human survivor camps across the former U.S. Shane’s military background meant he could assemble and train fighters to defend themselves.
There were no luxuries at camp. The elementary school had no power. Water was heated by fire. A few scavenged generators fed the equipment they used: offline computers and radios to communicate with other human rebel camps.
Gone were the connected devices that hooked everyone up to MachNet, the communications network that had been created by Mach X and later manipulated to lock humans out and topple their infrastructure. People now communicated via walkie-talkie devices. “Good, old-fashioned tech,” Nova called it.
Block was the only robot intelligence at camp, and Shane only tolerated him because Nova insisted on it. Block would have been scrapped for his metal and Central Processing Unit if Shane had his way.
Nova and Block discreetly traveled a winding side path that veered away from the main gathering area where most people were cooking and going about their daily chores. After a minute, they ended up behind Helen’s trailer.
“Stay here.” Nova rounded the corner and rapped on the front door. After half a minute, she appeared and jerked her head. “Come on. Quickly.”
Block followed her up two small steps into the camper trailer where Helen and Wally lived. Nova shut the door behind them.
Helen sat beside Wally on the bed. The little girl was just over a year old and had changed in the scant two months since Block had last seen her.
Her face lit up when she saw him. “Bock!” she said and reached out her arms.
But Block hesitated. He glanced at Nova, waiting for permission. If he angered Nova, he was in trouble.
“Go on,” she said, nodding slightly.
“Hello, Helen,” he said.
Helen smoothed back her wavy red hair and arched a lone, dark eyebrow. She lifted Wally down to the floor, which caused the toddler to squeal, “Wheeee!” Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and pink pants, her plump little legs wobbled as she raced over, stumbled, then crawled to Block and wrapped her arms around his leg, pulling herself up to stand.
“Hello, little Wally.” Block bent over to peer at her.
“Bock, bock.” She giggled.
Helen fidgeted, seeming nervous.
“We’ll be gone in just a few minutes,” Nova said. “He just really wanted to see her.”
“Sure,” Helen said, but she kept her eyes glued on Wally.
Nova tugged the shade and glanced out the window.
Block gently peeled Wally’s arms from his leg and lowered himself down to kneel on the floor. The hydraulics behind his knees let out a small hiss.
Wally bobbed up and down, then leaned into his chest for a closer hug. Block wrapped his arms around her, noting her weight had increased by 2.3 pounds. He still accessed the log he’d kept of her weight, height and fecal matter from when they had traveled together. He supposed he didn’t really need to keep Wally’s log, but he enjoyed reviewing it from time to time.
“Ba wub you,” Wally said.
“Wow, she really wants to talk,” Nova said.
“What does that mean? What’s wub?” Block asked.
“Love,” Nova said, enunciating. “Little ones can’t pronounce words as well, so you have to try to decipher.”
Wally loved him? Nobody had ever said that to Block before. He didn’t even know how to respond. Nothing in his etiquette modules or housekeeping programming had ever trained him for such an event.
Wally pulled away, looked at Block, then curled one hand into a chubby fist. She knocked on his chest plate. “Knock, ock,” she said.
“That’s my torso. Tor-so,” he enunciated for her edification.
Nova burst out laughing. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s there?’”
Block was not computing. “Who is supposed to say that? Me?” He looked at Wally. “Who’s there?”
“My kack, bye-ba.” He didn’t understand one word of what she was saying.
Helen came over and crouched, smoothing back wisps of light brown hair sticking up from Wally’s head. “We’re just starting to learn knock-knock jokes.”
“Knock knock?” Block said. He would have to research the strange human expression later. Then he remembered the little gift he had for Wally. He opened his thigh compartment and removed the odd-looking square with the many colored tiles. “I have something for you.” He hid the cube inside his palms and then offered it to Wally.
She squealed and tried to open his palms with her soft, tiny little fingers. After five seconds, Block relented and revealed the object.
Wally stared at the cube, then grinned, looking up at Block.
“A Rubik’s Cube!” Nova said. “I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Where did you find it?”
“In the school,” Block said. “I was cleaning out an old desk and happened across it. I thought Wally might like it.”
“How does it work?” Helen asked.
“See, all the colors are scattered,” Nova said while Wally grabbed the cube, shook it, and pointed at the tiles. “You’re supposed to move all the same colors onto one side, on each side. It’s actually really hard.”
Wally furrowed her brows and studied the cube. She continued to poke at the tiles.
“She really seems to like it, Block. Good job,” Nova said.
“Thank you. I’ll try to find more little presents.”
The trailer sank a few inches as someone climbed the stairs, then banged on the door. “Nova? Are you in there?”
It was Shane.
END OF EXCERPT
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