by Kat Heckenbach -
Robynn walked behind Denton and Strand, her arms crossed and shoulders hunched, peeking between their heads. If she wasn’t so tall for her age, she’d be terrified of the two older boys. But she passed herself off as older so they wouldn’t bully her like the other kids. Instead, they took her in, treating her almost like an equal. Almost.
She glanced around, nervous. They shouldn’t be in this corridor—urchins didn’t even belong on this level, where the rich lived and didn’t want to be reminded of the poor and homeless. If anyone saw them they’d probably be accused, and convicted, of stealing—even without evidence.
She should just turn around, slip back to the lift and go down to their own level. Who cares what they have to show me…it can’t be that big a deal…
Denton and Strand stopped suddenly, and Robynn nearly slammed into Denton’s back.
“There he is.” Denton cocked his head slightly to the left where a man walked toward them. Robynn sucked in a breath and pushed against the wall behind the boys.
“You really think he’s a ’droid?” Strand whispered, face turned so Robynn saw his profile. His eyes were wide.
Denton nodded. “Gotta be.”
Robynn bit down on her lip. The man was getting close now—why weren’t they leaving? Her stomach twisted as she willed herself to meld into the metal wall.
And then she noticed…the man wasn’t even looking at them. He was only a couple of yards away. He should’ve been glaring at them, calling to have them hauled off. But he just stared forward, until he stepped up next to them.
The man turned slowly—stiffly—toward them. Robynn ducked her head behind the boys like a turtle pulling into its shell.
“Are you lost?” the man asked. There was something odd about his voice…
Robynn sucked on her lip. Could it be? Was Denton right?
“No, sir,” Denton said. “We’re just heading back to our rooms.”
The man’s head tilted to the side, and then he gave a courteous nod. “Well, then, get going.” He stared as if waiting for them to move. Robynn noticed he didn’t blink.
Denton and Strand looked at each other, their faces straining as if holding back laughter, and then they moved forward, exposing Robynn.
She froze. The boys kept walking farther away, but she couldn’t make her feet move, or make her gaze break from the man’s face.
He leaned in, hands on his knees, and whispered. “Don’t worry, I won’t report you. Get back to your level, though, before someone else sees you.” His lips curled into a friendly smile. “Oh, and I’d make some new friends. Those boys aren’t too bright. They wouldn’t know a ’droid if it hit them in the face.”
“So you’re not?” The words slipped out before Robynn could stop them, and she bit her lip again.
“Of course not. I heard them whispering halfway down the corridor…and I’m just having a little fun with it.” His eyes narrowed, and he patted her shoulder. “You believe me, right? Ever heard of a ‘droid with a sense of humor? It’s not exactly something you can install.” He winked and straightened up.
Robynn relaxed, and nodded at the man. Then she headed down the corridor toward the lift. She stopped and hit the button. The doors to the lift opened, but Robynn didn’t step inside. She gazed down the corridor where the man had been standing…where he’d spoken to her, and smiled, and winked…
…but not once had he blinked.