Ruby searched the skies for the Fixie. What had been the point of it? She recalled the words written on the post-it that was once on the box: This is it, man. The little blighter that's going to replace us all . What did that mean? All the doll did was grin at her and fly away. Was it supposed to fix things? If it was a doll that would replace a mechanic, it probably went off to find a car to repair.
As the sun set and the sky above turned to dusk, she spotted something soaring high above, circling in broad arcs. It wasn't the Fixie. It was too big to be a bird, unless it was a giant one.
A man and a little girl stood nearby, staring up at it the distant flying speck, speaking low in their own language. They tarried until the creature flew further out beyond their sight.
Torches and clay lanterns illuminated the village after dark. Four broad vessels with flickering flame surrounded the jail, keeping the prisoners within illuminated. Soon after sundown, A boy brought a tray laden with strips of cooked meat and raw vegetables like sweet turnip, along with a jug of water. He laid the tray outside the bars. "Dinner," he said.
"You speak English?" Mai asked, jumping forward to the bars.
The boy bolted backwards a pace, staring at Mai with fascination. He walked backwards towards others who stood around a growing bonfire at the center of the huts.
Mai stared down at the food.
"You think they poisoned it?" Ruby asked, taking a strip of meat.
"I don't know."
"If they wanted to poison us, they'd use those darts. Or they'd kill us by hand. There's not much we could do."
The meat was spicy and delicious, like nothing Ruby had ever eaten. She groaned with pleasure and took another.
At the bonfire, the gray-skinned villagers tapped out rhythms on broad drums. At first, it was a timid sound, the beat faltering, then steadying, then slowing to an erratic tap tap ta-tap. As Ruby and Mai ate, they watched as more of the grays took up the rhythm on smaller drums and a few tiny bells. The rhythm took on a life of its own, swelling into fierce cadences while other independent rhythms supported the main beat. Many of the smaller drummers followed a pattern that countered the overall beat, yet the dissonance seemed to support something behind the rhythm, something that curled around Ruby's senses and cast shimmering waves of gooseflesh up her limbs.
Ruby didn't realize she was standing. She didn't realize she swayed with the beat. As gray-skinned dancers leapt about the fire, casting silhouettes against the flames, Ruby danced as well. When she realized what she was doing, she faltered, surprised at the spell the rhythm had cast.
Mai stared up at her, aghast. The spell faded as embarrassment took hold. Ruby sat, looking away from the other girl.
Two of the villagers sang in a wailing harmony finding their own rhythm that complimented the rest. The tingling still chased up Ruby's spine, but she fought the urge to let the spell capture her again. She told herself it was not natural, what the music had done to her, but fighting it took all her will.
The music continued for nearly an hour. Mai tapped her fingers against a bar, but when she caught Ruby looking she stopped.
After the music died down, a woman brought two blankets. She laid them outside the bars. "Sleep." she said.
"But we don't belong here," Mai called after her. "We need to get back to our own..."
The woman made no acknowledgement of understanding. She left, leaving Mai cursing under her breath.
Ruby pulled a blanket in and wrapped it around herself. The villagers were wandering off to their homes now. The fire faded. Soon there was only one gray villager by the fire. Most of the torches around the camp had burned out. The lamps around the jail remained.
Ruby watched, her eyes glowing bleary as things wound down. Sleep would take her soon. Perhaps in the morning, they'd tell her why she was in jail.
She had just laid down when a fluttering buzz zipped above her. She sat up. The Fixie had returned, carrying a bundle of wires and parts in her arms. The doll dropped the items on the straw, searched around, found Ruby's jacket folded beside her, and zipped into the pocket. It emerged a second later carrying Ruby's phone.
The Fixie laid the phone on the straw, thrust a hand in the groove on the phone's edge, and yanked the back covering off.
"Hey!" Ruby exclaimed.
The Fixie continued. It jerked parts out of the phone, laying them in the straw. She had a tiny rag she used to dry drops of water off the parts. She pulled a metal rod out from inside her jacket. The Fixie pulled her goggles over her eyes, the rod ignited into a bright pinprick of light, and the Fixie went to work on the interior of the phone. The action mesmerized Ruby.
The light show soon ceased, and the Fixie pushed the rod back into her jacket and reassembled the phone. The doll snapped the phone back in place, flipped it over, and turned it on. A startup logo appeared.
"She fixed my phone," Ruby said.
Mai had been watching with fascination. When it was over and the Fixie flew back to admire her work, Mai said, "Not that it will do any good. There's no signal."
Ruby examined the phone. According to the display, she had full bars. "Yes, there is."
"What?" Mai snatched the phone out of her hand. "How in the hell?" She punched in a phone number..
"Who are you calling?" Ruby asked.
Mai put up a warning finger as she moved the phone to her ear. She looked hopeful for a moment, then her mouth fell into a scowl. "There's no answer."
"Is your grandfather even around anymore?"
"Yes. But there's no reason his phone would be on." Mai dropped the phone back into Ruby's hand.
Ruby tried her mother's number. The phone rang and rang.
As she waited, Mai waved a hand for the Fixie's attention. The Fixie turned towards her.
"So, you fix things?" Mai asked.
The Fixie saluted.
"But you can't talk?"
The Fixie frowned. She put a hand over her mouth and shrugged.
"Can you fix us a way out of here and back to our own camp?"
The Fixie shrugged again. It turned to Ruby and waited.
"What," Ruby asked, the phone still to her ear.
The Fixie put her hands behind her back and tapped one foot mid-air.
"Uh, yeah. Find us a way out of here," Ruby said.
The Fixie saluted and zipped away in the darkness.
"Well, that was useless," Mai said.
"Maybe it's getting supplies," Ruby suggested.
"Why didn't it cut the bars with that torch."
The phone rang twenty times before Ruby gave up. What had she expected? Her mother wasn't even in this world.
She checked her contacts. This amounted to five numbers: Her mother, Dennis, her high school advisor, the movie theater, and a number without a name. She knew who the last number belonged to. She'd added it to her contacts list a few minutes before the world went to hell.
She clicked on the number and waited as the phone rang. It continued to purr in her ear for at least ten rings. She was about to hang up when the ringing stopped with a click.
"Uh, hello?" Eddie's voice said.