The dog had stopped in front of a hole in the ground. Astro peered into the darkness. The hole looked really, really deep.
“Is this it?” he asked Trashcan. “Hello!”
His voice echoed back at him.
“This could be miles down,” Astro said. “This hole looks pretty—”
Trashcan bounded into Astro’s chest, pushing him down the hole.
“Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” Astro wailed.
Astro felt himself falling and falling once more. He was about to activate his jets when he came to a sudden stop.
Stunned, he tried to regain his bearings. He seemed to be caught in a net. He looked up and saw that the net was suspended from a tall crane.
The crane pulled him out of the hole and dumped him on the ground. Four grimy-looking kids ran up to him.
“Quick! Get the restraints on it. Hurry!” urged the oldest girl. She looked like she was about seventeen. Her spiky, black hair was streaked with purple. Her jeans were patched, and she wore a tank top over a T-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt. She had bright red sneakers on her feet.
Two young kids responded to her order and tried to untangle the net. The girl and boy looked like twins. Both had curly, brown hair. The little girl wore hers in two puffy ponytails on top of her head.
A teenage boy with shaggy, brown hair patted Trashcan on the back. “Good work, boy. Treat for ya!”
He tossed Trashcan a wrench, and the dog happily chewed on it like it was a bone.
The twins kept trying to get hold of Astro.
“Knock it off!” he warned.
All four kids jumped back and stared at him.
“That’s not a robot,” said the older girl.
“It’s a kid,” said the little boy.
Astro stared back at them. Should he tell them the truth?
“Uh, that’s right,” he said. “I’m ... I’m a kid like you.”
The teenage boy tried to wrestle his wrench back from Trashcan. “Hey, give it back, you stupid garbage eater.”
The oldest girl eyed Astro. She looked amused. “So where are you from, non-robot?”
“I’m from Metro City,” Astro replied.
The girl began to gush with fake excitement, like a starstruck teen. “Metro City?” She turned to her friends. “Can you believe it? He’s actually talking to me.”
“Are you feeling okay?” asked a bewildered Astro.
“Omigosh, he talked to me twice!” the girl gushed. “This is definitely going in my diary as the most exciting day of my life!”
“Okay, I get it,” Astro said. “You don’t like people from Metro City.”
The older boy got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Metro City. Robots waiting on you hand and foot. I’d love to visit, just for one day.”
“They wouldn’t let you in,” the girl said harshly. “They have a strict ‘No Losers from the Surface Allowed’ policy. Anyway, why would you want to go someplace where people think you’re garbage?”
Astro looked sad, remembering his dad.
The girl pulled a glowing cell phone from the rubble. “I mean, look at this! Can you believe someone just threw this away?”
The boy tried to touch it, but she whisked it from him. “Nu-uh! Finders keepers!”
She moved on, collecting bits and pieces of things and stuffing them into a sack.
“So what are you doing down here?” asked the boy.
“I don’t know yet,” Astro said. “Looking for something I guess ... somewhere.”
“Did you run away?” the youngest boy asked.
“Not exactly,” Astro answered carefully. “They sort of suggested I find a new place ... whatever that means.”
The little girl shook her head. “Dude, it means they kicked you out.”
The older girl called back to them. “Come on! Get with the program. We’ve got work to do.”
The three kids started filling their own sacks with scraps. Astro trailed after them.
“Hey, maybe I could come with you guys?” he asked.
“Sorry, we don’t need any more newbies,” the older girl said.
Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!
The sound of a siren roared through the scrap yard. The ground began to rumble, and Astro could hear the sound of a rumbling engine.
“This has got to be an earthquake,” he guessed.
“Nope! Wrong answer, Contestant Number Two!” the girl cried. She broke into a run. The others followed. Astro hesitated.
The girl looked behind her and saw that Astro wasn’t moving. “Ugh! Come on!” she said urgently.
The girl sounded serious. Astro looked behind them—there was nothing. But he ran anyway.
“What are we running from?” he shouted up ahead.
“The Scorpion Brothers!” the twins wailed.
Dirt began flying behind them. The ground broke open, and two terrifying metal claws emerged. Each claw grabbed one of the twins, dragging them out of sight.
“Widget! Sludge!” yelled the older girl. She looked behind her. “Oh no! The new kid’s roadkill!”
Astro wanted to keep his secret from the kids—but he couldn’t stand by while the twins were in danger. He tunneled through the ground until he reached them.
He pummeled the claws with two powerful punches. They released the twins. Astro grabbed one kid in each arm and flew back through the tunnel he had made.
When he reached the Surface, he set the twins down. They were completely dazed. Astro sat down beside them.
“What happened?‘ asked the little girl.
“I have no clue,” Astro lied. “At least we’re safe.”
The twins suddenly looked terrified.
“It’s okay,” Astro assured them. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
Two metal claws grabbed Astro from behind. Each claw was held by a scruffy-looking man dressed like a junkyard pirate. They carried Astro behind a scrap mound, away from Sludge and Widget.
“Looks like we got us a real live robot, Testo!” said one of the Scorpion Brothers.
“Whaddya mean ‘we,’ Ronnie? It’s mine!” Testo argued. He pulled Astro toward him.
“Finders keepers!” Ronnie whined.
“Your momma!” Testo shot back.
“She’s your momma, too!” Ronnie pointed out.
Astro had heard enough. “That’s it. You’re both grounded.”
Astro grabbed the end of each claw and powered up his jets, flying into the air. He swung the claws around and around. With all his might, he hurled the two brothers into a trash heap far across the scrap yard.
Astro flew back to the ground and walked back to Widget and Sludge. He found the other two kids fussing over them.
“You’re okay!” the older girl said, relieved.
“They got the new kid!” Widget said sadly.
Astro walked into view. He pretended to be out of breath.
“No, they didn‘t,” he said.
Widget and Sludge cheered. They ran up to Astro and gave him a big hug.
“So what happened to the Scorpion Brothers?” the older girl asked.
Astro pointed behind him. The two Scorpion Brothers were dangling from the top of a trash heap, hanging by their claws.
Astro shrugged. “I just turned off their magnets.”
“Magnets?” She sounded like she didn’t believe him.
The teenage boy held out his hand. “I’m Zane.”
“I’m Widget,” said the little girl.
“I’m Sludge,” said her brother. “I’m older than her.”
“By ninety seconds,” Widget quickly added.
“I’m Cora,” said the oldest girl. “What’s your name?”
“Er, it’s ... ” Astro wasn’t sure what to answer. Toby was part of him, but Toby
him. He was somebody else. Somebody new.
Before Astro could reply, three robots appeared, whisking him away.
The robots’ cry echoed behind them. “Viva la Roboto-lution!”
Cora shook her head. “What just happened?”
The three robots that carried off Astro were not exactly a scary-looking bunch. One was tall and thin, with skinny arms and legs. The other had a big, bulky body with a television set on his chest. The third was a walking mini refrigerator.
“Did you see the human’s faces?” asked the skinny one, in a British accent. “They were quaking in their capitalist boots!”
Astro gave his jets a quick blast, freeing himself. He landed in front of the three robots.
“Okay. What’s this about?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, brother. You’re safe,” assured the skinny bot.
The big bot spoke in a Russian accent. “You have been rescued by ... ”
All three saluted.
“THE ROBOT REVOLUTIONARY FRONT!” they shouted together.
“I’m Sparx, the brains,” said the skinny one.
“And I’m Robotsky, the muscle,” said the big one.
“And I’m Mike the Fridge,” said the third robot. “I’m the fridge.”
Astro looked around. He appeared to be in some kind of clubhouse hidden among the scrap heaps.
“You are now liberated!” Robotsky said. “Go ahead, comrade. Take your first step as a free robot.”
Astro took a step forward—into a puddle of oil.
“Feels different, doesn’t it?” Sparx asked.
“It feels wetter,” Astro replied.
Sparx eyed Astro up and down. “You look like a pretty advanced model if I might say so, brother.” He leaned in close, whispering, “Are you exempt from the laws of robotics?”
“Remind me?” Astro asked.
“A robot cannot harm a human, be the cause of any harm to a human, blah, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring,” Robotsky recited.
“Well, I don’t really want to harm anybody,” Astro replied.
Sparky frowned. “Lugnuts! The RRF is dedicated to freeing robot-kind from human slavery by
“And he means any means necessary,” added Mike the Fridge, sounding tough.
“Ruthless, we are,” Sparx said, nodding.
“Show him, comrade!” Robotsky urged.
Sparx rifled through the messy hideout and produced a thick file of papers.
“Dozens of angry letters to the editors of major newspapers,” Sparx said proudly. “We dared them to print them and they all refused. That’s how scared of us they are.”
“Wow,” Astro said. That didn’t sound too impressive to him, but he didn’t want to hurt their feelings.
“ ‘A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation,”’ Sparx quoted.
“Is that Lenin?” Robotsky asked.
“I thought it was McCartney,” Sparx replied.
Robotsky shook his barrel-shaped head. “No. McCartney’s the ‘Give War a Chance’ guy.”
Astro had no idea what these robots were talking about. The night was getting stranger and stranger.
“Well, I guess I’ll be going,” he said casually.
“What is your name, comrade?” Sparx asked.
“Er, Toby,” Astro replied. He still thought of himself as Toby. Dr. Tenma’s human son.
“That’s not much of a name,” Sparx said. “You want something with a bit more oomph to it.”
“Something like the Ice-Maker,” suggested Mike the Fridge.
“Or the Annihilator,” said Sparx.
“Or Doris,” offered Robotsky.
“Well, I guess I really will be going now,” Astro said, slowly backing away.
As he spoke, Robotsky shut off his power. Then he powered back up.
“What about Astro?” he said.
Astro kind of liked the sound of that, but Sparx was annoyed. “Oh, be quiet. If you can’t come up with a sensible suggestion then kindly mind your own business.”
Robotsky looked at the floor. “Sorry.”
“Think, think,” Sparx muttered. “Wait. I got it! ASTRO!”
“Oh, that’s marvelous, it is,” gushed Robotsky.
“It’s modern, a little space age—I love it!” Sparx decided.
Astro took another step back. “Okay, but I really gotta—”
“Tell Astro the plan!” Sparx said quickly.
The other two robots gasped.
“Tell him!” Sparx ordered.