The sun was high in the sky, the day bright and the temperature stifling. It was midsummer and the small island of Rizabu was stuck in the middle of a heatwave. Most of the inhabitants were either taking a dip in the ocean to cool down or spending their time indoors and out of the midday sun. One person, however, had braved the heat and was currently struggling to climb over the piles of junk and refuge of the local dump located on the outskirts of his hometown.
Eustass Kid wandered through the towers of garbage, his bright red hair acting as a beacon as he walked past stinking, spoiled food and old clothing. The long crimson strands were held away from his face by a pair of oversized goggles, one of the lenses cracked from a street fight he’d been in a few weeks prior. The pale skin of the child’s arms and legs was protected from the sun’s rays by a thin long-sleeved t-shirt and ripped trousers, the material well-worn and threadbare. His shoes, too, were secondhand, but still managed to do a decent job of acting as a barrier between the sharp metal and broken glass underneath his feet.
Those who knew him wouldn’t be surprised to find Eustass in a junkyard and knee deep in scrap metal, as the child was an avid fan of robotics and machinery. Even at the tender age of eight, he had a fine-tuned skill for metalwork and design. He enjoyed creating marvels out of what other’s saw as rubbish, using his imagination to plan and create toys and machines that the townsfolk could only dream of.
Today, he was on a mission to find any materials he could salvage and use for parts on a robot he was building. This would be the seventh toy he’d constructed by hand, and he’d already given it the model name ‘Russo.’ It was a play on the words ‘rust’ and ‘rosso’, the latter being something he’d heard some foreign tourists murmuring as they perused a flower shop in town. Kid had figured out that it meant ‘red’ and thought that the name fit his creation perfectly. This wasn’t just because of its creator’s own crimson hair, but also because the majority of the metal he came across on the outskirts of the village had corroded thanks to the sea air.
Now, it would be really cool if he could find shiny red paint to use as a finish, but that kind of stuff was hard to come by and he rarely found it in enough quantities out in the dump.
A pity. He might have to steal it.
Eustass cursed as he stumbled on an old, flat tire, his well-worn shoes sliding over its surface and causing him to slip. He caught himself with one hand and struggled to scramble over the rubber, the material burning hot under his touch. He grunted at the tingling pain in his fingers from the minor burn, quickly hopping over the obstacle and landing feet first on the opposite side.
Regaining his balance he trudged on. Bits of rebar and shards of metal clacked and banged together at his feet as he passed, the noise jarring in the relative quiet of the junkyard. Eustass came to a stop and raised his hands to cover his eyes, protecting them from the sun’s glare. He turned around in a full circle, scanning the area to see if he could spot something of interest. He needed screws as well as a spring, since he wanted to give his robot a spring-loaded punch. He knew the idea was ambitious seeing as how he was working with whatever he could scrounge up, but he pushed forward all the same.
Not seeing anything particularly intriguing, Eustass chose a random direction and began his search. The sun beat down on the child’s head and face, sweat beading at his hairline and trickling down his cheeks. He wiped it away irritably as he moved from one stack of parts to another, squatting down to dig through any heaps that looked promising. His efforts proved worthwhile, the boy coming away from his hunt with a rusted spring, a handful of screws and washers, as well as three tops he’d pulled from tin cans. They seemed worthless, but in fact were easy to bend and mold however he wished, so Eustass would incorporate them into his robot as part of the exoskeleton.
Satisfied with his haul and needing to get out of the noon-day sun before his skin burned, Eustass tucked his bounty into his pockets. Sliding carefully down the haphazardly stacked pile of garbage he’d been rummaging through, the redhead landed soundly on his feet and raced back to his shack located in the poorer side of town.
He passed many people on his way to his run-down home, all of them destitute with hard eyes and grim faces. While a few held jobs in the local factory building household appliances, most were in-between jobs or preferred to work under the table. For them, it was better to risk getting caught by the authorities than to hand half your money to the government and have it end up in the hands of the Celestial Dragons.
Eustass scrunched his nose as he walked, imagining what these ‘dragons’ might look like. He’d never actually seen one, though he’d heard stories from those in the slums. The Celestial Dragons were ruthless and bloodthirsty, pig-headed and narcissistic. They cared only about themselves and their own well-being (which Eustass could understand and relate to, considering the life he led), and took what they wished from the lesser people of the world.
What would it be like to be one of them, he wondered? It would be fun to do what he wanted, when he wanted, while killing those who stood against him. However, how the Celestial Dragons gained the fearful respect of others didn’t sit right with Eustass. To be protected by the government and the navy – to have them do all of your dirty work for you – was pathetic and cowardly. Where was the fun in it all?
No, if he were to have that kind of power and reputation, he wanted it to have been earned. Eustass wanted to be respected and feared, but he wanted it to be by his own hand and actions, not from those of others.
His thoughts carried him all the way home, leaving Eustass to arrive at his house around one o’clock. The building was a glorified shed, its aluminum walls and roof rusted and old, but it kept him relatively cool in the summer and trapped the heat from his campfires in the winter. The door was made of the same material, with a sliding peephole cut into the metal near the bottom. For now he used it as a way to keep an eye on who came calling, but he figured that once he grew up he could repurpose the hole as a doggy door.
He’d have to get a dog first, but still - it was an idea.
A short gust of wind blew hot air into his face, forcing him to hurry inside to take cover from the blistering heat. Grabbing a key from his back pocket, Eustass unlocked the padlock he’d attached to the door and entered quickly, shutting it loudly behind him and relocking it from the inside. His eyes adjusted slowly to the dim light, the low visibility due to there being no windows and the only source of light coming from a tiny oil lamp he had pilfered from one of the ships in the harbor.
There wasn’t much furniture aside from a dilapidated table and a single chair, though he did keep a cardboard box that he used to store what little clothing he owned. There was a collection of sheets and pillows by the back wall that acted as a bed, as well as a tool chest, a tiny fire pit in the center of the room, a pot and spit for cooking, a single bowl, and a set of cutlery.
It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him.
People might think a young child would get lonely living on his own, but to be honest, Eustass didn’t mind it. He’d been by himself for almost as long as he could remember, his mother but a blink in his memory while he held no recollection of his father. It wasn’t unheard of for an orphan to be living alone in the slums, either, so no one batted an eye when they spotted him wandering about without supervision. He provided for himself, as well - spending most of his time stealing food from the local restaurants and surviving off what money he could swipe from tourists when they weren’t paying attention.
All in all, Eustass was proud of his skills and enjoyed the life he’d managed to piece together these last few years. As far as he was concerned, he was doing just fine.
Putting the key back in his pocket, the child settled on the pile of blankets he’d situated next to the lamp. Dumping his new treasures from his pants pocket, Eustass laid them out on the dirt in a neat line before him. Locating his tool chest nearby, he leaned over to grab hold of the handle on the top and dragged it to rest at side. Lifting the cover, Eustass turned the box so it faced the light and he could better see the contents inside.
Rifling through the collection of well-used tools, he pulled out the unfinished robot, the toy small enough to fit comfortably in his hands. Grinning as he studied its legs and left arm, Eustass envisioned what he had to do in order to complete it. All that was missing were the calves, feet, and the spring-loaded fist.
Confident that he could finish before bed, Eustass got to work. The child toiled until well past dinner time, sweating profusely from both concentration and the almost ever-present heat from outside. He bent the tin lids until they were the correct shape for the legs, feet, and fist, using a pair of tweezers and wire cutters to create the finer details. He attached the new pieces to the body of the robot with the screws and washers he’d found earlier, everything coming together nicely. Building a stopping mechanism for the fist proved to be a bit harder, the task taking some trial and error before Eustass was happy with the results.
Come nightfall he was putting the finishing touches on the robot’s arm, testing and recalibrating the punching apparatus until it was perfected. Excited at his accomplishment, Eustass jumped to his feet, stumbling around a bit while the blood flow returned to his legs. When he’d regained his balance, the redhead wandered around his home making his toy punch the walls, lamp, cooking pot, and any other surface that could withstand the awesome force of his robot’s fist.
It looked like ‘Russo’ was officially a success.
Unloading and reloading the mechanism with glee, Eustass didn’t stop until his grumbling belly reminded him that it was time to eat. With a gentle touch, the child stood his new toy next to his bed before making his way to his door, stretching out his sore back in the process. He decided to take a short trip into town to get some dinner before coming back to play with his robot until it was time for bed.
Eustass unlocked the door and exited his dilapidated home, swiftly locking it behind him. Starting up the path that led out of the slums and into the ritzier side of town, the redhead walked at an easy pace, smiling brightly. He ignored the odd looks he received, his mood too great to be soured by the disapproval of others. With a bounce in his step he continued on his way, happier than he’d been in a very long time.