They left the Silver Street market area and struck out along a path that followed a canal. Twenty minutes of walking in the dark ended at a fire-lit circle of about twenty tents, with a few electric lights adding glaring illumination to the scene. It looked like a graveyard for every type of technology made in the last century. Masses of wire, piles of circuit boards, computers, e-devices, even a few battered robots filled the tents to overflowing. It was not a comforting place for Droog.
Matty led the way through a greasy yellow door-flap and into a tent stuffed with robot parts. A bald man with blotchy skin sat behind a workbench.
“Hey Screws, we brought you a good one,” Matty said. “It works, but it won’t take commands. Plus, it seems attached to this kid.”
“Fortuned stars,” Screws said, coming around the bench and inspecting Droog. “It’s quite a calico little drob. Someone’s fixed it up pretty well. Is it owned?”
“Just some mudscrape,” Matty said casually. “What’ll you give for it?”
As the men were haggling about trades, Droog did a scan of the tent. Somewhere beneath the pile of derelict technology was a robot that was still activated.
Have you been here long? Droog asked through the robot universal communication.
183 days, the other robot replied. He took off my limbs to put on other robots. I must wait here in case he needs any of my other parts.
What is he like? It looks as if he will acquire me. The other robot sent him scan logs from the last 183 days, which Droog analyzed instantly. This man Screws was not a good person. Besides dismembering robots, he was also depraved towards humans. He ate human flesh. Droog knew from experience that humans considered this to be the worst thing in the world. It indicated a very evil person. He did not want Sean to be anywhere near someone like that.
Matty and his gang stayed for another half an hour before agreeing on a deal and leaving with their traded goods. Droog went and stood in front of Sean, who was lying on the floor, not moving. Screws came over and tried to go to Sean, but Droog blocked his way.
“I see, I see,” Screws said with a laugh. “Protective little watchdog, you is.” He picked up a round, black device connected to a wire and put it on Droog’s head. “Stay, boy.”
Droog tried to move, but he could not. Electricity was going through him, freezing his limbs and gears. He stood like a statue as Screws picked Sean up and put him on the workbench.
“You’re on death’s door, aren’t you kiddo,” he murmured. “I’d best get you dressed up now before you die and start spoiling.” He put a oily basin underneath the bench and then reached down and pulled out a large knife.
He was going to kill Sean, Droog realized. In the other robot’s scan logs, Screws had done this before to other people. He tried to overcome the device on his head but he remained frozen, like ice.
At that moment, the electric light went out and Droog was suddenly free. Through his infrared senses, he could see Screws blundering around in the dark, fumbling with the battery pack for the lights. Droog moved towards him, scanning and trying to find a way to take him down. There. The man had a tumor growing just behind his knee, well within Droog’s reach. He reached up and pushed his small steel hand into the tumor.
Screws screamed and fell to the ground, holding his knee. Now was Droog’s chance, but he could not reach Sean on the workbench. He pulled on the workbench, but it was solid. He could not rescue Sean on his own.
Droog knew that the probability of Edward being in the area was very small, but still he went outside and started scanning, looking for known voice patterns. A match came up, but it was not Edward: it was Blake, the man who had found Droog and brought him to Cambridge, before he had gone down to Free Frall and met Edward. Blake was in a tent on the far side of the clearing. Droog went to him, bumping into the back of his legs to get his attention.
Blake was tall and middle-aged and always wore heavy leather clothing. He turned around and looked at Droog, then smiled.
“Well, it’s 8134, the little Russian ‘Munculus, isn’t it?” Blake referred to all his robots by the end of their serial numbers. “I’m surprised to see you again. Who are you with?” Blake always talked to him normally, even though Droog could never respond in English. Droog went back to Screws’ tent and Blake followed. Screws was sitting in a chair, still holding his knee. The lights were on, flickering weakly.
“So it’s you, Screws,” Blake said. “Do you own this little bot?”
“Yeah, I just traded for him, but the scrygging drob attacked me. He’s twisted for this boy.”
Blake’s eyes flicked to Sean. “You hungry, Screws? Listen, I like this little bot. He’s too good to end up in a place like yours. I’ll trade you for him, and the boy.” Blake took out a bag of food and opened it. Inside was meat, vegetables and even real fruit.
“You Insiders make me sick,” Screws said. He spat on the ground. “Coming outside the walls to lord your wealth over us.” Still, his eyes could not stray away from the food.
“So, we have a deal?” Blake asked. They bargained for a few minutes before agreeing. Blake gave Screws the food and picked up Sean. They walked ten minutes to a bridge across the canal and the gates of Cambridge. The guards nodded at Blake as they passed through.
“Welcome home, 8134,” he said.