2. Emily and Qbit

1

No matter how hard Emily tried, she could not open her eyes. It was as if heavy weights were attached to her eyelids. She couldn’t recall where she was or even what time of day it was. She tried to force herself to remember but nothing came to her.

She thought she could make out two people talking. It sounded as though they were somewhere close, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She felt a sense of urgency come over her. Her brain was telling her to wake up and open her eyes but it was soooo hard.

She lay there listening to the voices. They seemed a little louder and clearer now. She tilted her head a little to see if she could figure out where they were coming from. They sounded so close and… sort of familiar. Where had she heard them before? She lay there motionless trying to figure it out. Then it came to her.

“I know why I know those voices.” she said, feeling a little annoyed with herself. She heard them at the same time every day. “I’m such an idiot” she said out loud. It was the song she had set to make sure she didn’t sleep in too late. She reached over to the night stand and tapped the small screen on her watch, turning off the music.  She sat up, stretched her arms above her head and yawned.

“Man, I slept good”.

She yanked the sheet and blanket across her body and swung her feet out of bed and onto the floor. She felt for her slippers with her toes, found them, turned them in the right direction and slid them on. She got up, yawned again and made her way to the kitchen.

Emily didn’t see or hear her uncle anywhere. “He must have left already,” she thought. When she reached the fridge, she found a note, stuck with a magnet to the door. On it was written: Gone to work early. See you later. Cereal on the table. UD.    She looked toward the table and saw a box of her favorite cereal next to an empty bowl. She shuffled her slippered feet over and filled the bowl almost to the top, then, brought it with her to get some milk. With the skill of a teenager she managed to open the door with her foot, pull out the carton, open it, pour the perfect amount, re-capped it, and put it back without spilling a single drop or a toasted “O”. Satisfied with the results, she gave the door a slight push with her toe to close it.

She turned and walked towards the sunlit living room picking up a spoon from the table. She shoved a loaded spoonful into her mouth, spilling some milk from her mouth. Before she could get her face over the bowl, it dropped onto her t-shirt. “Darn it! I wanted to wear this today.” She looked down and saw that the wet spot was not that big, shrugged her shoulders and decided that it would dry, and no one would know the difference. She reached the front window, climbed onto the couch with her knees and leaned her elbows on the back of the couch, the whole time trying not to spill any more milk. It was another typical Florida day; sunny with a bright blue sky. She looked down into the courtyard of the building across the street. The sign on the low brick wall that surrounded it read “Arcadia School of Experiential Learning”.

It was a small one-story building that used to be a pre-school. It didn’t look that impressive and there wasn’t much of anything on the internet about it. There was a photo of Mr. Lee, the Headmaster, but he added to her apprehension with his stern features and unfriendly stare. However, Uncle Dave had assured her that he was an excellent teacher and the school was top notch.

 “I don’t know”, she thought.  Classes started later today, that’s when she would meet Mr. Lee, her teachers and the other girls. She was a little nervous about that. What if they’re all smarter than me? Or prettier? Or had more money? Would I fit in? The questions seemed endless. She tried not to think about it.

Finishing her cereal, she pushed herself up off the couch and headed back to the kitchen. She stopped to look at the calendar hanging from a nail on the wall. On the top portion there was a photo of the latest and greatest models of demolition robots standing in front of a partially collapsed building. Her uncle works for a company that uses the same type of bots, so that’s why he probably has the calendar in the first place. She put her bowl on the counter and carefully lifted it off the nail. There was a circle, drawn in black ink, around the fifteenth of August with the words pick up Emily airport and under that 9:30pm.

She remembered what an ordeal her flight from Minot to Miami had been and she hoped to never have to go through something like that again.  Her flight was scheduled to leave Minot International Airport in North Dakota at 1:15 but it was delayed for almost two hours because of heavy rain. When they were finally able to get into the air, their first stop, Denver, was uneventful but the second stop in Houston was delayed because of plane problems.  After having to get off the broken plane, the “new” plane finally arrived at Miami International at two in the morning instead of the scheduled 11:35.

After leaving the plane she had made her way down from the second level to the baggage claim on level one. She found the correct luggage carousel and had looked around for her uncle but hadn’t seen him. She remembered how the red warning light and horn on top of the carousel had come to life making her jump a little.  Everyone else from her flight had gathered around the base of the carousel. It was sort of like cattle moving towards a feeding trough. She hung back waiting for everyone else to get their bags. After a short while of people watching, she noticed her bag with a large pink ribbon slide down from the top of the carousel. She remembered how her Mom had insisted that she put it on so she could easily find it. She made a mental note to thank her because it actually worked. She wound her way to the carousel, picked up her bag and looked around to see if her uncle was there yet.

Something caught her eye over by the exit doors. It was her uncle, waving his arms wildly over his head. She had given him a giant smile, waved back, then trotted happily towards him..

Uncle Dave has always been her favorite uncle and she had not seen him for years. He had always been the “fun” uncle. Whenever the families got together he would take the kids to all the fun spots in Miami; Bayfront Park, the Biscayne Nature Center, and especially the Jungle Island zoological park. That was her favorite place. She especially loved the exotic animals and for some reason, whenever she was at the glass or behind a railing, the animals would always make their way over to her. They would stare at her and a feeling of, something like calm, would come over her. It’s hard to explain. She always felt some sort of special connection with animals wherever she went.

Once they were both able to get through the crowd they gave each other a big hug. He was just as happy to see her as she was to see him.

They made their way outside and over to the line of driverless taxis. As soon as they got close to the car the doors opened automatically. Her uncle put her bag into the trunk and they both got in. The doors closed behind them.

A pleasant voice asked them “Where to?”

Uncle Dave said, “124 Ne 14TH St., please.”

Their route, estimated time of arrival and cost flashed up on a screen mounted on the dash. The car pulled out slowly into the traffic and drove towards the airport exit. Ads for discount tickets to various “Fun and Family Friendly things to do in downtown Miami” would occasionally pop up on the screen. Her uncle had commented that someone needed to update the ads because some of the sites were no longer open. He explained to her how different things were now. A lot of people had left Miami because of the rising sea level and Biscayne Bay was no longer a bay but part of the Atlantic. Parts of downtown Miami were always flooded or flooded at high tide. People had been forced to leave their homes and many of the buildings lay abandoned.

They continued their catching up as the vehicle drove east on 395, took the NE 2nd Ave. exit and turned left at the end of the ramp. It made another left only three blocks away and pulled up in front of the Willard Hotel. Uncle Dave inserted his credit card into the slot at the base of the monitor, hit the appropriate keys and withdrew his card. He grabbed her bag out of the trunk. As the taxi drove off they both stood outside the building and gave it the once over. The hotel had recently been renovated to handle the influx of workers coming back to the city to help rebuild. Her uncle’s a foreman so he has one of the three larger apartments on the third floor.  The hotel, highlighted with touches of pastel blue and red, was remodeled to reflect the Art Deco style of old Miami.  They made their way up to his apartment, ordered a pizza and talked into the night. It wasn’t long before they were both too tired to continue their conversation. She had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

An old grandfather’s clock in the living room chimed bringing her back into the present. She hung the calendar back up on the nail and headed for the bathroom to get ready to go. She was going to visit him at his job and she didn’t want to be late.

2

Shading her eyes from the harsh glare of the sun, Emily looked back down at the note in her hand. She had found it by the front door of the apartment. In her uncle’s handwriting was written:

Meet me at 1650 North Biscayne Drive

She looked up at the weather-beaten letters above the entrance to the hotel. It said 1650 North Biscayne Drive.

“Check.”

at 10:30.

She looked at her wrist watch. Mickey Mouse’s oversized gloves said it was ten thirty give or take a couple of chubby fingers.

“Check.”

Meet you in the lobby.

She squinted to see further inside the darkened building and could see a sign that said, Lobby with an arrow pointing to further inside.

“Check.”

The last thing was; Don’t be late!

She rolled her eyes at that remark and made her way into the building.

The big hotel once had a great view of Biscayne Bay. It now sat empty at the water’s edge. It used to be an expensive hotel with a fancy lobby and twenty-one floors of rooms to choose from but, now, no one would ever consider spending their vacation here. It used to be a block in from the bay. At high tide this, and all the other buildings across the street, will have their parking garages and lobbies flooded with water. The only view from the empty rooms is that of the deserted hulks of buildings that have succumbed to the rising ocean waters.

Emily walked towards the check in desk and noticed the nail and screw holes. These were the empty reminders of framed artwork that had once graced the walls of the plush lobby. Anything that had any great value had already been stolen by vandals or removed by the demolition teams.

Her uncle’s company is doing the demo and renovation of this building.  When it’s all done it will house many of the city’s residents that have been displaced due to the flooding. She looked around to see if she could find her uncle but the only things working were the demolition robots, or “demo bots”. They’re all preprogramed to do various tasks and can communicate with each other wirelessly. They don’t talk with humans as this would be an unnecessary additional design expense. They can understand the human voice, but, just don’t talk. Any questions they have are displayed on a screen in their “chest” or sent via a text message to a human job coordinator. They all have artificial intelligence and can “learn” their jobs quickly without much human interaction.

She didn’t see her uncle anywhere. She double checked the time then tapped the phone icon on her watch and selected his cell phone number from her list of contacts.

He didn’t answer.

Maybe he’s caught up doing something unexpected and can’t get away right now. She remembered that he did mentioned something about most of the work taking place in the lower levels. Maybe the cell signal is being blocked by the mass of surrounding cement block and steel.

She looked around and saw a copy of the building’s renovation plans on a table underneath a framed drawing of flowers in a vase.  She thought it was odd that this piece remained even though all the other stuff was gone. It looked pretty good. When she reached the table, she took a closer look and saw that the drawing and the frame were drawn on the wall. “That’s cool”, she thought. She noticed a signature the lower right corner; Pliny. She didn’t recognize the name. “Hmm”. She reached out to gently rub her fingers along the frame, but, pulled her hand away quickly when she noticed that her fingers had smeared it. She looked at her hand to find there was something white on them. She rubbed her fingers together. It felt like chalk. “That’s odd. How could this have lasted all this time when everything else was so dirty or water logged?” She looked down at the table and saw flecks of something white all over the set of plans. She looked around to see if she could find a piece of chalk, but, instead found something lying on the floor. She picked it up and gave it a closer look. She recognized it. What was the name of it? Her parents had mentioned it when they were building their house back home. It was on the tip of her tongue. It began with a “D”, didn’t it? She suddenly remembered, Drywall that’s it. It was chalk like stuff sandwiched between two pieces of card board. She looked around and found a bigger piece resting against the wall. She could easily see that the one in her hand had been broken off from the larger one. She looked again at the piece in her hand and saw that the edges were all smooth. She looked from the chalk to the drawing and back to the chalk. “No way, she thought. Somebody used it to make this drawing. That is very cool!” She put the small piece in her pocket as a reminder to ask her uncle about the picture when she found him.

Focusing her attention back to the plans, she saw that the thick document was open to the floor she was currently on, so it was easy to find her exact position. Her parents had also shown her their plans and how to read them. She flipped through a couple of pages to find one titled Lower Levels. It shouldn’t be that hard to find him. She snapped a photo of the page with her watch and started off.

3

Emily found the hallway she needed over on the left-hand side of the lobby. So she stepped through the opening, swung her head to the right to make sure it was clear, then turned left and headed down the corridor. A row of lights, hanging from a wire, drooped from the ceiling. The bulbs weren’t that bright, so it made it kind of earie and she noticed it was also a bit too quiet.  Her body did a bit of a shiver. At least she could see to the end.

“It’s not like it goes on forever.”

At the end of the hallway was an intersection. She stuck her head in and looked to the right, the way she needed to go, and saw that it seemed to go on forever.

“Man, talked too soon.”  She went in and followed the line of dim bulbs hanging from the ceiling. “I hate to be the one who has to change these when they go out,” she thought.

A little further down she could make out something that looked like a sign hanging from the ceiling. It wasn’t lit and the bulbs kind of blocked it, but it looked like it said Stairs to Lower Level. She wanted to be sure she knew where she was, so she pulled up the photo of the plans on her watch. This time she projected the image onto the wall, trying to memorize it more precisely. She could see where she was and where she had to go, but, could she find her way back? She felt a little scared but decided she was going to be just fine.

When she reached the sign, it read exactly what she had thought it did. The arrow pointed down toward a set of grey metal doors.

“Here goes nothing,” she said to herself and reached forward to push through the doors when they suddenly opened away from her. Feeling startled, scared, and unbalanced, all at the same time, she fell through the doorway and into the waiting arms of something cold and un-moving.

4

The demo bot’s reaction to Emily falling through the door was much more composed than hers. Reacting quickly, it had backed away slightly, reached with its foot to keep the door from closing, and gently caught her in its arms.  Emily let out a scream and pushed herself away from the bot. It took Emily a second to catch her breath and make sure her heart had not literally jumped out of her chest.

“Oh my God, you scared me!”

The bot, still keeping the door from closing on Emily with his foot, straightened up and said, “Umm, how about thank you? Not for nothin’, but I just stopped you from falling down three flights of stairs!”

Not having a lot of experience around demo bots, Emily was completely taken back by the bot talking to her.

“You talk?” she said, looking at the blank screen on his chest for a response.

The bot replied with plenty of sarcasm, “Uh, duh?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Right, it’s just that, um, I didn’t think you could. You can talk?” She said, still looking at the blank screen.

The bot, noticing where she was staring, made a show of tilting his head down to look at his chest. “Jeez kid, why don’t you snap a picture? It’ll last longer.” He then pushed the door open all the way and skillfully made his way past her into the hallway. She heard him say as he passed, “Humans, always thinkin’ we need them to do stuff for us”

Emily was only able to reply with a meek “Sorry”.

Without turning to look at her, the bot continued down the hall and said, “Whateva”.

Emily, now completely embarrassed, said to herself “You’re such an idiot!” and headed down the stairs.

When she reached the next landing, she noticed another bot coming up the stairs. This one was holding a welding torch and was dripping with water. Determined not to repeat the mistakes she made with the other one she waited for it to reach her. Making sure to look into its eyes, she said, “Hello. Umm, I’m looking for David Cruz. Have you seen him?”

The bot stopped, looked at her, brought its hand up and tapped its finger on the screen in its chest. Words scrolled across the screen:

“Hola. Solo puedo comunicarme usando esta pantalla.”

Emily, trying to keep her composure, thought, “Okayyy, this one doesn’t look like it speaks. How the heck can you tell if they speak or don’t speak? Plus, it’s writing in Spanish. I don’t remember a lot of Spanish”. Her Mom’s words suddenly popped into her head, ‘Keep studying Spanish. You never know when you might need it”. She shook the thought from her head, looked the bot in the eye and said, All she could think to say was, “Hola?”

The bot, noticing Emily’s confused look, tapped again on its screen. The same words, still in the same language, scrolled across the screen. Only this time they came much slower, one at a time and in a larger font.

Hola. Solo – PUEDO – COMUNICARME –  USANDO –  ESTA – PANTELLA.”

All Emily could do was shrug her shoulders and say apologetically, “I still don’t understand”

The bot brought up its hand with one finger sticking up as if to say, “Hold on a minute.” It pointed back at the screen and this time a different language scrolled across.

“Nǐ hǎo, wǒ zhǐ néng yòng zhège píngmù jìnxíng gōutōng.”

It looked like Chinese. She shook her head no.

The finger went up again.

“مرحبًا ، لا يمكنني التواصل إلا باستخدام هذه الشاشة.”

Was that Arabic? She shook her head no.

The finger again and another language.

“Привет, я могу общаться только с помощью этого экрана”

“No.”

No finger this time, just a tap on the screen.

“Sawa, naweza kuwasiliana tu kutumia skrini hii”

“No”

Another tap.

Hello, Sorry I can only communicate with this screen.

She looked at the bot with a confused look on her face and said, “What?”

Tap.

“10001 0001 110001 0000 11111 101010”

Getting a little angry Emily said, “That’s binary! Binary? You know I don’t speak binary!” Finally, it dawned on her. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

The bot let out a laugh and said, “You should see the look on your face. I’m sorry, but, that’s priceless!”

Emily was about to explode but the bot put up its hands and said, “Hold on, hold on. I’m sorry, but I heard you talking to the other bot and I couldn’t resist. Really. I mean it.” Sensing Emily’s rising frustration the bot said, “Okay, Okay, Look, the last time I saw Mr. Cruz he was on the lowest level. I’m not sure if he’s still down there.”

At the mention of her uncle’s name, Emily was able to regain her composure. She managed a smile and said, “That was pretty good. I really fell for that.”

The bot put out its hand and said, “No hard feelings?”

Emily took its hand, laughed and said, “No. No hard feelings.”

Returning her smile, he said, “Be careful down there. There’s a lot of water. High tide is coming in.”

“Okay, Thanks”

The bot said, “See ya” and continued up the stairs. Emily swore she could still hear it laughing as its metal feet clanked on each stair.

5

When she reached the bottom, she found that the stairway ended and the only way to go was through an open doorway. She hoped to find her uncle on the other side, but, instead she found herself in a large, brilliantly lit, empty room. She stopped to take it all in. It was sort of like walking into a dream. The walls, the floor and even the high ceiling were painted a bright white. In the middle of the floor was a huge opening filled with sparkling, clear water. She slowly made her way over, careful not to make a sound and ruin the moment. The edge of the concrete floor was smooth and precise. It looked as though it had been cut with some sort of tool. The water gently rose and fell overflowing onto the concrete floor making small puddles.

She slowly walked to the edge of the pool. The water was amazingly clear. She could see all the way to the bottom. It looked deep, but not super deep.

In sharp contrast to the cleanliness of the room the hole was filled with varying levels of broken concrete and what looked like hotel furniture. She kneeled at the water’s edge to get a better view. Chairs, desks, and bed frames were scattered amongst the broken concrete.

Sargent Becca.

Emily jumped to her feet and quickly looked around expecting to find someone, but nobody was there. She had clearly heard someone say Sargent Becca! Where did it come from?

Emily carefully moved to another section of the pool keeping her eyes on the water and the room. She knelt again. She slowly brought her head close to the water half hoping she heard it again and half hoping she didn’t. Just as she got close to the surface…

Sargent Becca.

She jerked her head back again. Quickly checking the room. Where was it coming from and who is Sargent Becca? She shivered despite the warmth of the room. Turning her attention back to water she noticed something flash at the bottom of the pool. There was something down there that she hadn’t noticed before. It lay by what looked to be an opening to a tunnel that lead under the building.  She bent closer, waiting to hear that name again. It didn’t come this time. She was close enough to the water to see the outline of an object that was very different from everything else. It was weird. It kind of looked like a statue of a cat laying on its side. Too much of it was covered to really get a good look. Parts of it seemed to have a green patina almost as if was tarnished copper. What was it? She reached out and touched the surface of the water.

Keeper!

She yanked her hand out and looked around. Where was that coming from? Was it just in her head? There was no echo, so it must be. Was it coming from down there? She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. She shut her eyes and slowed her breathing.  An image of what looked like a metal robotic cat appeared. It sat on its hind legs and looked at her. Its metallic skin glowed. She thought it sounded as though it were purring.

Keeper Becca, you have come back for me.

She opened her eyes and knew she definitely needed to get down there for a closer look.

Looking around at the emptiness she realized that she was taking a risk.

“It should only take a minute or two,” she said out loud.

“Yup, but there’s nobody around if something goes wrong”, said a little voice in her head.

She looked back down through the clear water at the cat, it seemed to call to her.

“It’s not that far down and I’m a good swimmer”, she said, working up her confidence.

“I don’t know.” Said the voice.

Sucking on her lower lip she said, “Still, what if….”

“Oh, for goodness sake. Go for it!” she yelled, startling herself as her voice echoed.

She looked herself over, everything she wore was made from light and quick drying material. “A couple of minutes in the hot sun will dry me out pretty quick”, she thought. She decided to leave her shoes on because she didn’t like the look of all that sharp metal down there and she didn’t want to risk cutting her feet on anything while she swam.

She sat at the edge of the water and slowly lowered herself in. The water was nice and warm, it felt more like a bath tub than ocean water. She swam in place for a bit trying to get her heart rate down. She stuck her head under the water to see if should could still see the object. There it was, down by that big desk. She poked her head back out of the water, waited a second, took a deep breath, held it and dove down towards the object. It was about fifteen feet down, deeper than she originally thought but still close enough.

After a couple of kicks, she reached it. It was beautiful. It was a cat statue. It looked like a cheetah. She wondered if she could lift it. It looked heavy but, maybe it was hollow. She decided to go back up, get a gulp of fresh air and go back down. She swam up, her ears popping, then broke the surface and took a quick look around. Still nobody around. She felt a little twang of fear again but pushed it aside. She took a deep breath and dove back under kicking hard towards the big cat.

When she reached it, she gave the smooth surface a quick rub. It was cool to the touch. She moved to its head and gave it a tug, but it wouldn’t budge. She looked around to see if there was anything close by that she could use to get it out. There was a desk close by. “Maybe if I put my foot on the desk I could get more leverage,” she thought. She placed her feet on the top of the desk and grabbed the head. She pushed down against the desk and tried pulling up. Suddenly she felt the desk shift under her weight, its metal legs sliding on the slick concrete. She lost her balance. She kicked her feet hard to try and right herself, but her shoe caught on something sharp. She tried to pull loose but she couldn’t get her foot out of her shoe! Panic set in as she frantically tried to free her foot. “Why can’t I get my foot free?” She was going to drown.

“I shouldn’t have done this!”

She felt the pressure in her chest as lungs screamed for air.

“No, please, no!”

It’ll be alright. I have radioed for help.

She heard a splash in the water behind her and spun to see what it was. A huge, hulking figure was sinking rapidly through the water. It hit the bottom with a thud that she felt go through her. Darkness started to creep in at the edge of her field of vision. She watched motionless as the figure at the bottom stood. It was another bot, but it did not look like any of the others she had seen before. It was huge! It looked up at her, its eyes shining a bright white. It pushed off the bottom with its long slender legs. The last thing she remembered before blacking out was a huge hand with outstretched fingers moving rapidly toward her.

6

When Emily opened her eyes, she was lying at the water’s edge. She coughed a couple of times feeling a slight pain in her chest. The whiteness of the room made her think that, maybe, she had died, and this was heaven.  She looked around, and to her relief, saw no angels. The room was the same as she remembered. She brought her hands to her face and saw that they were wrinkled and shaking. She looked to her right. Sitting next to her, with its elbows resting on its knees was the giant bot who had rescued her. It was looking down at her.

All that she could think of to say was, “You saved me.”

“Yep”, answered the bot in a deep, resonating voice.

Emily took a second to get her breathing back to normal and her thoughts straightened out. She turned back toward the water and the image of her foot caught on the piece of metal flashed in her head.

“Thank you”, she said.

“You’re welcome.”

Emily pushed herself up, unconsciously mimicking the bots posture and another thought came to her. “You’re not like the other bots.” She suddenly remembered her issues with the bots on the stairway. “Not that it makes any difference or anything.”

“No, I’m not and no offense taken.”

“Well, thank you again. My name’s Emily”

“Nice to meet you, Emily. My name is Pliny.”

Why did she know that name?

He shifted his weight slightly extending his right hand towards her. She extended her hand, not really sure what to do with it because his hand was so much bigger than hers. He gently grasped her whole hand and shook it gently

She couldn’t help staring at him. She had never seen anything like him before. Her gaze went to his face and she noticed he had, what looked like a smile. His mouth was an opening covered by a metal piece that kind of looked like a lower jaw, but with no teeth. It was attached to the side of his head with some sort of hardware that allowed it to open and close.  He looked to be made entirely of metal. He had no ears and his eyes were round and glowing. There was something in his eye openings that seemed to open and close. This is what was giving her the impression that he was smiling. She had seen this sort of thing in an old camera her father had. What was it called? An iris? Yeah, I think it’s called an iris. It opens and closes to control the amount of light entering the lens.

He moved his head slightly and she realized she had been staring.

“Sorry about that”, she said.

“That’s okay.”

She looked away towards her feet and noticed she was missing her shoe. “My shoe.”

I’ll get it. You stay here”, said Pliny.

Before Emily could say anything, he got up. He drew his long slender legs up underneath him and pushed his body up with his long arms, his hands flat on the floor. The motion brought his head quickly towards her. Just when she thought he was going to clunk her in the head, he raised himself up. She watched as it seemed to take forever for him to stand all the way up. His head ended up being just a couple of feet from the ceiling.

“Wow” was the only thing Emily could say.

Pliny walked toward the pool of sparkling water and without hesitation, jumped into the water. The water surged over the edge towards her in a wave, like a miniature tsunami. It reached her and broke over her, soaking her completely. As his head sank below the surface he turned towards her. Emily swore she saw a smile on his face again as he disappeared below the water.

Still dripping, Emily moved closer to the water to see if she could see him down there. She couldn’t make anything out, so she bent down closer to the water and put her hands above her eyes to try and block out the glare. She thought she could just make out Pliny moving under the water but couldn’t really be sure. Suddenly, right next to her head, a shoe shot out from under the water. Attached to the shoe was his hand, then his arm and his head, a few feet away. Still half in the water, he tossed it so that it landed on the floor with a wet slap. She leapt back in surprise.

Grabbing onto the edge of the concrete floor with one hand, Pliny turned and reached back into the water. It looked like he was trying to pull something else out.  He seemed to have a hold of whatever it was, so he turned back toward her, pulling himself up and out of the water, and laid something at Emily’s feet. To Emily’s complete surprise, there lay the cat shaped sculpture!

“You got it! How did you know I was trying to get it? Oh man, it’s so cool! How did you know it was there?”

Pliny stood there for a moment dripping copious amounts of water onto the floor. He shrugged his shoulders, looked at her and after a moment said, “I’m going to have to answer that one at another time.” Avoiding her stare, he bent down on one knee and looked at the cat.

Emily gave him a confused look then, but she was too engrossed by the cat lying in front of her to give it another thought. She dropped to her knees to get a better look and ran her hands over a smooth section of its rump. It almost looked as if it was jointed and could move. She tried pushing on one of its legs, but it didn’t budge. She then tried to lift the whole sculpture, but it was way too heavy. She then noticed something that looked like a name plate on the left shoulder. She used her fingers to wipe off the dirt and grime that, over time, had completely covered the writing. As she wiped, individual letters started to appear. “An “A”, said Emily. As she rubbed harder more letters appeared. T, H, E, N, and an A again. “Athena, it spells Athena.”

Keeper, we are together again.  

Emily snapped her hands back like she had been electrocuted. She suddenly remembered the voice she had heard before.

“Everything okay?” asked Pliny.

“Did you hear that?” whispered Emily, expecting him to say no and afraid that he might think she was crazy.

“Yes.”

“You did?” Emily said with surprise. She was relieved and confused at the same time. “I heard it before, when I put my hand in the water and then again when my foot was caught. I remember now that when I was caught the voice said she was radioing for help. Then I saw you jump into the water.” Emily’s mind was racing. “Did… did she call you?”

“Not exactly. It seemed like it was a message to anyone. I was already in the room when I heard her priority call.”

“Priority call?”

“It’s a military term. Kind of like, “This is a very important message.”

“She said “we’re together again.”  What’s that mean, “Again?”

He shrugged his shoulders again and said, “I think you’re going to have to do some major work on her to find out what she’s all about.”

Looking back down to the cat she said, “So we can we keep her?”

Pliny just shrugged his shoulders. “Umm, I don’t think you have a choice.”

“What does that mean…?”

Pliny leaned forward and was about to explain when Uncle Dave came running into the room

“Emily! You’re okay!”

“Uncle Dave! She ran over to him and gave him a quick hug. You’ll never believe what happened! Look at what we found!” Before he could say anything she pulled him toward the cat.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” he said as he was almost dragged off his feet by Emily. Looking at Pliny then towards her he said, “I see you two have, met?”

Pliny and Emily looked at each other. Emily really didn’t want her uncle to know about her getting her foot caught so she quickly gave Pliny a please don’t tell him look hoping that he wouldn’t say anything. Pliny returned Emily’s gaze, and without looking at David said, “Looks that way.”

Uncle Dave, a little confused by the awkwardness of the moment, allowed himself to be pulled over to the cat.

“You found it”, he said.

Emily stopped dead in her tracks, turned around and said. “You know about her?” Her uncle looked at Pliny then at Emily and was just about to say something when Emily blurted out, “Wait a second, you two know each other?” Emily turned to look at Pliny and then back to her uncle, her face wrinkled with confusion.

Her uncle said, “Wellll…..”.

Getting a little annoyed that her uncle had not mentioned any of this before, she turned and gazed at Pliny. She stared for a second and then from out of nowhere remembered where she had seen his name before. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the piece of wallboard she had put in her pocket. “Have you been following me?” She threw him the piece and said, “It’s really good.”

Pliny caught it before it could hit the floor and said, “Yes, and umm, thank you”.

Looking down at the cat lying at floor she turned to her uncle and said, with some exhaustion in her voice, “Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

Her uncle put his hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eye and said, “Of course. But, not here. Let’s go somewhere a little more comfortable where we can get you dried off and have something to eat. Pliny, can you please bring Athena?”

Pliny picked up the heavy metal cat as if it was made from Paper Mache and threw it over his shoulder. Emily looked up at him and said again, “That drawing is very cool.”

Pliny just shrugged his shoulders

“You do that a lot you know”, Emily said, shrugging her shoulders to demonstrate what she meant.

Pliny said nothing, just shrugged his shoulders and turned for the door. Her uncle took her hand and together they followed Pliny. As they walked past the pool Emily noticed that the water was starting to overflow onto the floor. She asked out loud, “High tide?”

Before Dave or Pliny could answer the water started bubbling and rolling like hot water in a pot. Emily was getting concerned but Dave and Pliny seemed calm.

Pliny said, “Too early for that.”

Then Dave and Pliny looked at each as if they both had the same thought. In unison they said, “Uh oh.”

“She’s earlier than usual” said Pliny.

“Yep, let’s hope she’s in a good mood” said Dave.

Who’s early” asked Emily, growing more concerned.

“It’s more like a what than a who”, replied Pliny.

Emily opened her mouth to say something else but before she could get a word out the water roared out of the pool like a geyser. It had so much force behind it that it crashed into the ceiling and sprayed everywhere, drenching them head to toe. The noise was deafening. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the geyser stopped. Water seemed to hang in the air before it fell to the floor.

7

Wiping the water from her face, she noticed something else rising from the pool. It was a huge dark shape that paused just below the surface. Then, very slowly, it rose up from under the water.

Emily was mesmerized by the shape rising from the pool. She wanted to scream but all the air seemed to have emptied from her lungs. She couldn’t take her eyes off whatever it was. Instead of shutting down, her brain was working hard to figure it out. Images of what it might be flashed in her head.  She could make it out now, it was a head, a huge head, an alligator? No way an alligator could be this big. The whole head was out of the water now and its neck followed. It’s a dragon’s head! But, it doesn’t look right. She looked down at the neck. It kept coming. It’s so long, like what? Where has she seen pictures of this before. The Lock Ness monster! Yes, that’s it. Its a serpent, that’s what it is. Not a dragon, a sea serpent!

She looked back up to the head just as it reached the ceiling. It had to bend its neck to get all of itself into the room. Her uncle, slowly bent down to one knee, pulling Emily into the same position. “We can’t be sure if she is angry or not. Don’t look directly at it”, he whispered to her. Pliny, copying the movement of Uncle Dave, gently laid Athena in front of Emily.

A familiar voice said, “Keeper, do not be afraid. She means you no harm.”

Emily glanced down at Athena and said, “I’m not afraid.”

Looking back at the serpent, she watched as its long, slender body continued to ascend from the pool. Eventually, two legs, each with a set of nasty looking claws appeared and gripped the edge of the pool. Using its legs for additional leverage, it pulled more of its long, slender, scale covered body from the water. A third leg appeared, one of its rear legs, it also gripped the concrete. When it had a good purchase on the concrete it released its front claws allowing them to rise along with the rest of its body.

It paused for a second to allow the other rear leg time to join the other one. Staring at them from above, balanced on its rear legs, it opened its mouth slightly and let out a gentle hiss. Then slowly extended a beautiful plume of colorful feathers from its head. At the same time, it unfolded a pair of feathered wings, stretching them wide. They were just as beautiful as the head dress. Emily could not remember seeing something so big, so beautiful and so scary all at the same time. The feathers shimmered with the colors of an opal. For some reason the word “iridescent” popped into her head.

The dragon just stood there, looking at them. Emily couldn’t take her eyes off her. She thought, yes, it’s a her, Pliny said She’s early. Without warning, it shook the water from its head and wings, showering their soaked bodies with more water. Emily couldn’t help but smile. It slowly dropped its head and refolded its wings.

Emily was able to notice details that, in her fright, she had missed before. Its head was more of a combination of a bird and a dragon. It seemed to have a beak at the end of its long, tooth filled mouth.  What she thought was scales were a combination of scales and feathers. The scales started out thick along her body then slowly tapered becoming the quill of the feathers.

While keeping her head in the same position, she dropped her front legs to the floor. The claws made a loud click as they contacted the cement floor. Slowly she started to move around the room encircling the group. As she moved behind them, more of her body continued to slither from the pool.

“How big is she?” thought Emily.

Her head came back around to the front of the group and finally, her tail emerged from the, now calm, surface of the pool. Emily expected it to have another plume of feathers at the tip, but, instead, it ended bluntly. She almost felt disappointed. The serpent let out a rumble that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside, like it had been offended by Emily’s thought. It stopped, lowered its head and stared at Emily.

Emily stared back.

“Emily, don’t look at it!”, warned her uncle. She could feel his hand grip hers tighter.

Keeper, open your mind to her. Stand.

Her uncle must have heard the cat as well as he gripped her hand even harder. “No!”, he whispered. “We can’t be sure!”

Pliny replied, “She has to Dave. She needs to know.”

Emily looked at her uncle. She could see the conflict in his eyes. She knew he was torn between him keeping her safe and her need to know more. After a few more seconds, he came to a decision. He sighed, looked her in the eyes, gave her a slight nod and released her hand. She smiled at him, stood and turned back towards the great serpent. A calmness came over her. The dragon’s head dropped level with her head, they were eye to eye.

Emily expected to see anger and fear but instead she saw worry and longing.

“She’s looking for something. She needs my help.”

Emily brought her hand up slowly and placed her hand on the side of the dragon’s snout. She closed her eyes.

“I see her and another serpent. A larger one. We’re on a beach, by the water. There’s a woman in a military uniform and Athena is sitting at her feet. There’s a man as well. It looks like he is wearing a hat and has round glasses. He has his hand on Athena’s head, like he’s petting her. The woman and the man are both looking at the larger serpent, they seem to be communicating with it. The man is gesturing towards something to the right. The serpent turns to look at the where he is pointing then back to her. She’s his mate! They rub muzzles. The man walks in front of the larger one towards where he pointed. He keeps on walking like he’s leaving, but stops, turns and motions to the serpents, like he wants them to follow. He takes another step forward and…. He’s disappearing! Emily’s face is wrinkled with confusion. I can see one side of his body, but the other side is gone. It was like he stepped into an invisible hole or something. He doesn’t seem to be hurt. The larger serpent walks over to him and they both disappear into the hole. The smaller one starts to follow him, but something happens! There’s shouting from somewhere I can’t see. Gun shots? The woman falls to the ground. Athena runs toward where the shot came from. The serpent is confused, it runs toward where the other disappeared, but nothing happens, it doesn’t disappear. I can hear Athena barking and someone screaming. The serpent, my serpent, doesn’t know what to do, she can’t find the hole. She’s turning back and forth trying to find it but can’t! She’s so confused and scared! She doesn’t know what to do! She looks behind me, towards the water and breaks into a run past me and towards the sea.”

Emily opens her eyes, tears run down her cheeks. “I have to help her.”

The serpent pulled back her head and let out a gentle rumble as if she’s relieved to know that Emily can be trusted.

She switches her attention to Athena, still lying at Emily’s feet.  Gently picking her up with her front legs, she brings her close to her mouth and purses her lips like she’s about to give her a kiss. Instead, a veil of fine, transparent, blue flame gently blows across Athena’s head.

Emily, startled at first, watches as Athena’s eyes start to glow a dull yellow then slowly become a brilliant gold.

The serpent, with a look of motherly love in her eyes, gently blows the cleansing flame across Athena’s entire body. The years of dirt and tarnish are magically washed away and replaced with the shine of polished aluminum. Athena’s tail twitches and her legs stretch. She raises her head and looks into the serpent’s eyes. Emily can hear what sounds like a purr come from Athena. She turns to look at Emily.

Keeper Emily

Then very carefully, the serpent places Athena on the water-soaked floor. This time she can stand on her own. She moves to Emily’s side, sits, and looks up at her.

Emily puts her hand on her head and gently gives it a stroke.

The serpent raises herself on her hind legs. She unfolds her wings and displays her stunning plumage. Instead of a gentle rumble or hiss she lets out a roar that echoes through the room. It seems to be filled not with despair, but instead hope. In an instant she turns, and gracefully slides back into the pool with hardly a splash.

Emily turns to her uncle and says, “I think you’ve got some explaining to do.”

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