Authors: Kekla Magoon
and in memory of E. T.
The sign on the fence said BEWARE OF DOGS. Robyn scaled it anyway.
Dogs? As in
she thought, as she laced her fingers in the chain link, wedged the toes of her boots into the diamond-shaped spaces, and climbed.
That could be a problem.
There were plenty of problems tonight. For starters, the bare lightbulbs that hung at intervals along the fence had been recently changed to a higher wattage. The conical swaths of light they cast were larger and brighter than Robyn had ever seen. She had also spotted six different guards patrolling the inside perimeter of the enclosed lot. That was three times the usual. And they were packing. Long automatic rifles draped over their shoulders or held loosely at their sides by the necks.
None of it made any sense. The guards at the 410 Compound were usually unarmed, bottom-of-the-barrel in the brains department, and easy to evade. The 410 was
a simple refuse depositoryâa junkyard, basicallyâwith no need for such high security.
Unless something had changed.
Robyn gulped at the thought.
An hour ago, as she slipped out her bedroom window and dashed off into the night, this supply run had seemed like it would be no big deal. Scale the fence, stuff a few new gadgets into her backpackâwhatever she could find that appeared usefulâand climb back out again. She'd done it dozens of times before.
Normally, staying unseen was easy and fun. Dodging the guards was all part of the adventure. Now, scaling the fence, Robyn felt a hint of trepidation. Things were not as they ought to be. Had she missed something?
Robyn kept on climbing, though her mind ticked around the problems at hand:
And how many dogs, exactly?
The guys patrolling the fence looked more like soldiers than civilian security guards. Those big guns . . . What could be within the 410 that was worth protecting with so much firepower? Really valuable trash?
Not likely. These changes could mean Governor Crown was up to something new.
As if he hadn't done enough damage in Nott City already
, Dad would say. It was all he could talk about anymore. His government work took up all his time now, leaving no space for any of the things he and Robyn used to do together. He'd entirely stopped bringing home
interesting items for them to tinker with, the way he used to, so Robyn was forced to find her own sources of scrap.
Tonight she hoped to end her weeks-long quest for a better voltage adapter for her favorite circuit board. She wanted to improve the elaborate system of intruder alarms in her bedroom suite. She'd been working on it for ages. Next time Dad visited her room, he would see that Robyn didn't need his help to build something awesome. But he hadn't so much as tapped on her door in weeks.
She crept higher. Twelve feet up, she paused to study the coil of barbed wire crowning the fence. Moment of truth. Robyn glanced down at the roof of the parked office trailer inside the fenceâher landing surfaceâand drew a deep breath. She inverted her fingers' grip on the links, sucked in her stomach, and, drawing on years of gymnastics training, kicked off the fence and vaulted her legs over, releasing her hands at what she hoped was the opportune moment.
Almost. The barbed wire slashed her just-bought thrift-store jeans. “Dang it,” she murmured, fingering the long, jagged tear as she dropped into a crouch on the trailer top. The thick tail of her single braid coiled over her shoulder and fell against her arm. She flipped it out of the way.
Robyn balanced on the balls of her feet and the tips of her fingers, listening. Had the soft thump of her landing alerted the guards? From this vantage point, the entire lot looked perfectly still. And completely dark, apart from the glow from the bulbs at the fence and the high, pale moon. Still, Robyn could sense she wasn't alone.
The compound occupied a gravel patch the size of a couple of superstore parking lots. Several small tin-walled huts were scattered around. Large tanks of fuel for the garbage trucks filled one section of the compound. There was a recycling station, where trucks deposited cans and bottles all through the day, and an industrial trash compactor, which pressed mounds of refuse into neat, tight bales.
Piles of junk and scrap metal towered over the sloped tin roofs. Mounds of boxes and cases and crates, overflowing with a mix of trash and trinkets. Ropes and gears and batteries and old electronics. Broken things, forgotten things, useful things sometimes. You never knew what you might find.
In a clearing at the far side of the lot, dozens of garbage trucks and box trucks, forklifts and backhoes stood parked in rows, ready for duty. Robyn couldn't see them from here, but she knewâ
The pale wash of a flashlight crossed the gravel somewhere in Robyn's peripheral vision. She dropped to her stomach, pressing herself down and hopefully out of sight.
Through her thin black T-shirt, the top of the trailer felt cool against her stomach. She could smell the cigarettes the guards were smoking in the yard. Pungent. And close. She suppressed the need to cough as the wind brought another cloud of the smoke her way. From her flat position, she strained for a glimpse of the guards or to hear the faint crunch of footsteps on gravel. Nothing. She hoped the men weren't as close as they smelled.