by Jared Agard
After his brother’s death, Ian enters the War-bot Academy to get revenge. To stay enrolled, his hunk-of-junk robot must stay alive. #MG #SF
Dear PitProm Ladies and Lords,
Thanks so much for giving us this opportunity. Here's the pitch for my book, Rust-42.
Ian McCall hasn't thought about anything but revenge since the Watcher, a sentient robot, killed his brother. His path to vengeance leads him to the War-bot Academy. There's only one problem. Ian needs a bot to get in. No bot. No shot.
A man gifts his antique RT-42 to Ian so he can enter the Academy, but it is so old, how will Ian ever be able to compete?
The battle to be the best is heated, and any Bot Brawl at the Academy could be Ian’s last. As he and his robot, Rust, grow together toward vengeance, Ian makes decisions that put Rust at risk of becoming a murderous Sentient and hurtles the two of them into a mix of secrets, conspiracies, and murder.
Rust-42 is a middle grade science fiction novel complete at 60,000 words. It is a mash-up of action packed-bot brawls like Real Steel and an examination of human nature as experienced by a non-human, similar to I-Robot.
I’m Jared Agard, a middle school and high school art and film teacher. I've spent a lot of my career working as a Special Education Teacher and I've learned how hard it can be to turn reluctant readers into repeat-readers. I want to be a part of that movement. Rust-42 was written with this goal in mind.
Thanks so much for giving this a read. I've pasted the first ten pages below. Please let me know if you have any questions.
First Ten Pages of Manuscript:
Dew spattered up the side of my boot as I mashed down a spiky tuft of grass. With each step my shoulder muscles tensed until they felt like old rusty springs stretched to their breaking points.
The summer sun beat down on our backyard. It was only eight o’clock in the morning but it was already hot and humid. Drips trickled down the shed’s green door and gathered in the curls of peeling paint.
“Happy birthday,” Dad said.
Dad put his arm around me. I gritted my teeth.
The green shed had been empty for three years. It should stay empty.
“Go ahead. Open it up.” Dad folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe of our workshop, watching me. His bot sat inside, just past the open door, charging after a long week. Dad called him Rafter since he was a construction bot, squat and square. His long arms and stubby legs helped center his balance.
Not enough to prevent his latest accident, though.
About two months ago, Rafter sparked when he’d been working on a new high rise in the middle of Pride Haven. He fell twenty-five stories. Repairing him had been a big job. Big and expensive.
The money my parents had saved to buy a bot for my twelfth birthday became the Rafter Repair Fund, which stomped my chances of getting into the War-bot Academy. At the Academy, there was only one entrance requirement: You had to have your own robot.
No bot, no shot.
So, why did Dad have me standing in front of my older brother’s shed? To rub it all in? To remind me I’d never be able to go to the Academy? To remind me Chad and his bot had been killed?”
No. Not killed. Murdered.
“Well, go on Ian. Open it.”
It felt disrespectful to Chad, like I was spitting on his grave. Despite the nausea wadding up in my stomach, I took a step closer.
The air around the shed was drenched with the smell of old metal and congealed oil. I took a deep huff. I loved that smell.
“Your mom and I had some money saved for a rainy day. We still couldn’t buy you a bot, but we’re giving you the money for parts to fix up what’s in there.” Dad’s forehead wrinkled under his wide-brimmed straw hat: His serious look. “I know you don’t want to go into construction like me. I know you want to build bots yourself.”
My hopes rose exponentially.
I pulled the creaky door open and stepped into the dark. I could sense it in there. Big. It took up most of the space. The only robots that size were gladiators and demolition-bots. If Dad found me any GR or DM model, I’d make it so strong I’d be the talk of the War-bot Academy.
This was life changing.
“There’s a light switch on the right,” Dad said. I fumbled in the dark, trying to switch it on.My heart beat ridiculously loud. I couldn’t control my trembling hands. Finally, I found the switch.
Light blasted down from a dingy bulb hanging from a wire. My mouth dropped open. Not from excitement or amazement.
From disappointment. Eight feet of disappointment.
“Do you like it?” Dad asked.
I gulped, trying to find some way to reply. I’d never seen anything like it. Originally it’d been white, but years of grimy buildup had turned it a nasty shade of yellow-brown. Its head was dome-shaped with a black, triangular visor covering the front. Cylindrical shoulder slabs connected to bulky elbow joints. Thick forearms hung below. Ancient servos peeked out from every knuckle in the hands.
Dad beamed at the thing like it was an old friend. “This is a piece of history.”
“This is a piece of crap, Dad.”
“Come on, Ian. Take another look. It’s pretty solid.”
I stared at the slumped bot. All the gears were rusted over in a thick growth of flaky orange. A spider scampered across the dingy visor.
“Definitely prewar,” I sighed, “When was this thing built?”
“Way before the war. It’s an RT-42. RT’s were manufactured by Robotronics Corporation. They were multi-purpose bots to help around the house and do repairs.” Dad’s eyes were wide: His fake-excited look.
“It’s so… big.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Well, the brains and servos were bigger back then, so he had to be… uh… large. I got it from Mr. Rivera.”
“Crazy Mr. Rivera?” I massaged my forehead, trying to control my temper. Dad frowned.
“He’s not crazy. The war left a lot of us… confused. He found it in an abandoned bunker when we first moved into Pride Haven. Some of the engineers probably thought it’d become a collector’s item or something. Before the Sentients attacked they might’ve been right.”
“You paid money for this piece of junk, Dad?” I knew I shouldn’t take it out on him, but my insides felt like they were on fire, twisting and crumbling to ash. In Pride Haven, your bot pretty much determined your future. Over the last months, I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d never design war-bots or command a bot squad outside the city walls. I knew I wouldn’t be going to the Academy. I’d either be stuck with mining, farming, construction, or the army. My mom taught first grade, but there’s no way I’d work with those little monsters.
In that shed was a spark of hope. But sparks burn out fast.
Dad shrugged. “Actually, Mr. Rivera just gave it to me. He thought it might help you out.”
“I can’t bring this to the Academy. I’ll be the biggest joke on campus.”
“You can get it running. I’ve seen that magic you work with machines.”
“It’s not just getting it running. It needs updates and upgrades. The processor must be completely out of date. If the servos even work anymore, they’re too weak. This thing will never be able to compete.”
“It’s a start, Ian.”
I looked the ancient robot over again, brushing dust and cobwebs off the model number etched into the leg of the beast. “What about Initiation?”
My dad scratched at his chin. “You know, you don’t need to go to the War-bot Academy. There are lots of other schools. You could be a chef, or a– ”
“I’d rather die.”
Dad went silent. He knew I wasn’t kidding. He looked out toward the silhouette of the city wall. He cleared his throat.
“Initiation’s not for two months. If anyone can get this old bot ready for the Academy, it’s you. You’re the most gifted mechanic I’ve ever seen.”
Good old Dad. He still thought I was the best at everything. Most dads get over that when their sons turn seven or eight. Not mine. He was going to think I was a mega-genius-super-star for the rest of his life, or until I let him down so magnificently he wouldn’t be able to deny I was nothing more than normal. Maybe less.
I took a deep breath. The RT-42 was a little bit cool in a retro kind of way. I’d seen a man with an older model before. Not this old. He’d told me the chassis were tougher back then and all the extra size inside let him add tons of upgrades.
The problem was the brain. A decent brain would cost way more money than my dad had stored away. Without a good brain, I had no chance. My instructors would want to see my bot’s best moves and all mine would be able to do is make a sandwich.
“Do you need help getting it to the workshop?” Dad asked. “Mr. Rivera brought it over on a repair skiff.”
“No. I should be able to route power to its legs and have it walk over.”
“See? That’s what I’m talking about. Well, happy birthday, son.” Dad spun around and walked down the path back to our house. His steps seemed lighter, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He must’ve known what I was planning to do. Going to the Academy and repairing this bot would distract me for a while, but not forever.
The sun had completely risen over the western guard tower at the edge of our city. Our house was near the wall, which is why we had a backyard. Most people live as far away from the wall as they can.
I’d spent many hours imagining myself on that guard tower, a high-powered surge blaster aimed down at the Watcher, the sentient who killed my brother. I’d align the cross-hairs over his single green eye and then…
The metal gate to our backyard squealed. I turned to see Benjamin Berkley, AKA Benji, AKA my best friend.
“Ian! Best buddy! You guys have breakfast yet?”
“Not yet, Benji.”
“Oh. Then I might just stick around until you do.” Benji slapped his hands over his round belly. He was wearing grease-smudged overalls and had blobs of oil in his curly hair. He walked toward the shed as I dusted off an old power source I’d found in the workshop.
“Is your mom gonna make those biscuits I like? She usually does on Tuesdays.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Sometimes I wondered if Benji liked me or my mom’s cooking better.
“Whatcha you doing?”
“Cleaning up my birthday surprise,” I answered.
“Oh, I didn’t know it was your birthday.”
“Yup. If I can get this piece of junk running, I might even be going to the Academy with you.”
Benji moved to my left to get a better view of my present. A fluffy eyebrow rose over his wire-rimmed glasses.
“Sooooo, what you’re saying is there’s no way you’re going to the Academy.”
“Thanks for your optimism.”
“Sometimes you just gotta be real. I mean, what is that?”
My fists clenched. I took another deep breath. Great. I was already defensive of my bot, even though I had no right to be.
“It’s an RT-42.” I scraped an arm-length sheet of rust off of his leg. It dropped to the floor and broke into brownish-red dust.
“That is some ancient tech. I’ll bet that bot was invented right after the wheel.”
“Like you can talk. Your LSC’s old, too.
“Chopper’s old, but he’s not an antique like this thing.”
“Chopper? I thought his name was Lump of Scrap.” I waited for Benji’s explosion. He was defensive of his bot, too.
“Stop calling my bot Lump of Scrap! I finally decided on his permanent name. Call him Chopper.”
I snickered. “How’d you come up with that?”
“You know, ‘cause he used to chop grass, but now he chops Sentients. Karate chops!” Benji sliced the air with his hand and attempted a jump-kick but nearly fell down in the process.
“I doubt Chopper would even be able to chop grass anymore.”
“Well, since you call my LSC ‘Lump of Scrap,’ I’m going to call your RT ‘Rusty-trash,’” Benji said.
“Wow. Good one.”
He smiled as I swiped another flaky sheet off the knee joint.
“Or maybe I’ll just call him Rust. After you clean all that off him there’s not gonna be anything left.” Benji snorted at his own amazing wit.
I continued scraping. “For now, I’ve just got to get him Initiation-ready. If I get admitted to the Academy, I’ll have all sorts of tech to work with.”
“Garrick Michaels will be torqued if you show up at the Academy. I’ll bet he’s still mad you took down his mini-bot last year.”
“That was his dad’s mini-bot. No way Garrick did any of the work on that thing.”
“I hope you get ol’ Rusty working, just so I can see the look on Garrick’s stupid, little face.”
I let a smile slip. Garrick had wanted to win, and it’d been nice to see the spoiled brat denied of something. It may have been the first time he hadn’t gotten his way in his entire life.
I pried open a blackened hatch on the bot’s chest plate. “If the power core went sour before it was removed it could have corroded the wiring. The whole bot might be fried.”
Benji adjusted his glasses. “That would be expensive. You’d have to replace everything.”
“I don’t have the money to replace everything. If I can get juice flowing to the legs, I’ll know if it’s going to be fixable or not.”
“What if it’s not?”
“Then this is all for nothing, and I’ll be off to boot camp.” I clamped the cylindrical power source into place, just above the main power circuits for the legs. It looked tiny in the gaping hole left for the power core.
Benji paced the lawn behind me, his brow scrunched in thought. “You can’t go into the army. I know what you’re gonna do.”
“What’re you talking about?” I was back to work on the legs. Most of the second knee was cleared now. I jammed my scouring brush into the joint, breaking more dirt and rust loose.
“I know you’re still... well, you know.”
He was right. I knew. If my bot didn’t work I would join the army, without hesitation. After boot camp, twelve-year-olds were assigned to reconnaissance and equipment management. That would’ve given me access to everything I’d need to get revenge or die trying.
Probably die trying, though.
Maybe Benji had been the one who’d told my dad. Or maybe, as usual, I hadn’t done a very good job at masking what I was thinking about.
“Just need to attach the main power circuits to the power source now.” I dusted my hands off on my pants, leaving orange streaks up my jeans.
“Well, here goes. Wish me luck.”
I held my breath. So much rode on whatever would happen next. My whole life.
Benji put his hand on my shoulder.
“More than luck. You need a miracle.”
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