Emilie was the leader. That was why she carried the stick. The five boys followed her past the broken buildings, through the long grass, towards their prize.
She had found the robot the day before. It lay hidden in the grass, the size of a small van. Constant exposure to the rain and sleet had turned its metal body orange with rust.
The boys stood behind her in a rough semicircle. Those with parents had told them stories about these machines. They had not lied about the robot’s big ears, big nose, big mouth, and massive hands and feet. Though they knew these additions were there purely to frighten them, it still worked.
But Emilie was not scared. She crept up to the robot’s side, and jammed her stick through a rust created hole into the robot’s innards. It’s eyes turned a muddy yellow. A few metal fingers flexed for the first time in years.
All the boys jumped back. Had they been on their own, most likely they would have scattered like a shoal of fish. But Emilie did not move. She wrenched out the stick, the end now dusted with golden flecks, and stared into the robot’s yellow eyes. Fifty years ago, they watched villages burn. Now only one offered vision. Emilie crouched down, and jabbed the robot once more with her stick, just below the jaw.
The stick made a dull clang against metal. Happy that it was solid enough, Emilie clambered onto the robot’s stomach. There was a creak from somewhere deep inside, and she worried it would all fall in, and she would fall into a pile of rotting, but still live wires. But soon the girl stood proud, looking over the long grass, and the huts that were now their home visible through the smog.
Emilie beat out a tune on the rusty panel in front of her. A tune from long ago. For the robot, this was beyond humiliation. Again it strained, but years of exposure and acid rain made resistance impossible. It’s legs were barely attached anymore. From deep inside the robot’s throat came a rusty growl. Once it would have been a roar that shattered eardrums, but now it petered out no louder than a broken trumpet.
The boys watched with interest. One of them bent down, and slipped a rock into his hand. Another reached up and touched the robot’s arm, feeling how cold the metal was. He climbed up to joined Emilie.
Soon the other boys followed. Those with shoes jumped up and down, and those without shoes enjoyed the roughness under their toes. Emilie looked at them, and knew they would be coming here a lot.
The robot viewed them with his one eye. He used to watch the birds, but the birds are all gone now.