In Part 1, Maria, Curly and Lou had been blown clear of a collapsing cave. Lou and Curly were unhurt but Maria’s leg had been injured when it was pinned under a large rock during the cave-in.
Maria cringed with each step of her prosthetic leg. The pain had gotten worse, so bad, in fact, she thought she may have to stop. She adjusted Curly’s arm, which lay across her left shoulder and stared up at the stars, trying to focus her mind on something else.
Lou, on all fours, kept pace with her. The soft pads on the bottom of his feet allowed him to walk so quietly that it was as if his paws never touched the ground. Every now and then he glanced up at Maria, wondering if she was doing okay. He could sense that she was in pain, but he knew better than to ask.
Curly walked a few paces in front of them, his feet crunched loudly on the gravel that lined the pathway. He hummed a piece of music, loudly and out of tune. As he strode along, he would occasionally look to his hand, to make sure the carving of the llama was still there.
He turned back to Maria and Lou and said, “Come on you two lazy poke. We nearly there!”
Maria found herself really irritated by Curly’s lack of empathy. Here she was barely able to walk and he didn’t even notice! Adding to her frustration was an annoying beeping sound. She thought to herself, Where is that coming from?
“It’s your watch, your blood oxygen level is low.”
The voice snapped her brain back to attention. She suddenly realized she wasn’t walking anymore, but instead, was leaning up against a large rock. Lou was standing next to her. She stared at him for a second, trying to understand why she was so suddenly confused about everything. She looked at him and asked, “What?”
“I said, it’s the low blood oxygen alarm (he gently grabbed her arm and lifted it up to her face) on your watch that’s making the beeping.” He let her arm go and said, “You’re a mess, Mari. The pain in your leg and the thin air is making you disorientated…”
“No, it’s not…”
“You’re exhausted and your too stubborn to realize it. You know, the only way you’re going to make it home is to get on my back…”
“No!” Maria said quickly. “I can do it!”
Lou said softly, “You’re such a pain in the neck.” He stood up and wrapped a front leg around her back and under her shoulder taking some of the strain off her leg. “Come on, I promise I’ll let go when we get close to the observatory.”
Maria hesitated at first but found it really did help, but she wasn’t going to tell him that! She turned to him and said, “I can do it on my own ya’ know, you don’t have to always help me.”
She was too exhausted to hear Lou say, “I know Mari, but that’s what friends do.”
“We’re here!” yelled Curly as the group came over a slight rise in the path.
The observatory hotel was barely visible. It had been built into the hillside so it would blend into the landscape and not intrude upon it. All the outside lights were off, and the blackout curtains had been drawn including the one pulled over the atrium’s glass roof.
The first thought came to Maria was, We are sooo late, mom’s gonna kill us!
As promised, Lou gently lowered Maria to the ground when they reached the top of the paved ramp that led down to the observatory’s main doors.
She dropped Curly’s arm and leaned back against the handrail. Seeing Curly practically run down the ramp, she yelled, “Curly, slow down and wait up!”
Maria sighed loudly and adjusted her leg slightly, “He’s always got to be first. You know, he’s going to get us in trouble if he says anything about that rock and my leg.”
Lou looked at her and said, “He’s fine Mari, you worry too much. His AI needs to learn, that’s all.” He yelled down to Curly, “Hold on Curly, I’ll bring you your arm.”
Lou grabbed his arm and ran it down to him then came back up.
When he returned Maria was standing on her own and trying to brush the worst of the dirt off her clothes. She asked him, “Do I look okay?” She re-wrapped her ponytail.
Lou cocked his head to the side. “Uhhh, I hate to break it to you Mari, but you look like crap. We all do.”
She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and answered back, “Yeah, well I think she’ll never notice.” She gave him a fake smile and as she limped past him, she pointed at his nose and said, “By the way, Mr. Negativity, you’ve got something coming out of your nose.”
Lou looked down at his snout, wiped it with his paw then looked at it. “No, I don’t.”
Holding the handrail for support, she started down the ramp and without looking at him said, “Made you look.”
He shook his head and followed her down.
Curly pulled open the heavy wooden doors, and without waiting, ran in, and headed down another ramp that led to the main sitting area. Thankfully, it was carpeted so the noise coming from Curly’s arm as he dragged it along, was muffled
When Maria got inside, out of habit, she looked up at the drawn blackout curtains extended across the large glass roof. This was always the sign that her dad was probably up at the telescope already and her mom would be sitting in the lounge by the pool rewriting her notes from her days work.
Sure enough, when Maria peeked over the railing, there she was, sitting at the same table and in the same chair… she let out a deep sigh, she had hoped to get herself and Curly cleaned up before they ran into her.
She was jolted out of her thoughts by Curly yelling, “Mom! We found it!”
“Ohhh!” Maria banged her palm into her forehead and whispered loudly, “Curly! Shhhhh!”
Curly ran up to Mrs. Ruiz with the llama statue held in front of him but stopped short when she put her finger to her lips and said, “Shhh, remember this is a quiet place”
Curly, lowered his arm down, walked over and whispered excitedly, “Mom, we got it!” He handed her the statue.
“Oh, my goodness Curly, this is fantastic!” She patted him on the shoulder.
Lou had shape-shifted into a dog (who was well-liked by everyone at the facility, much to Maria’s distain) and caught up with Maria so they could walk over to her mom together.
Lou sat on his haunches next to her and said, “Hi, Mrs. R.”
Maria gave him a quick slap on his shoulder. “Lou! What is wrong with you?”
He turned and glared at her. “Hey, what did you do that for!”
She motioned with her head toward a woman working on her computer. “Shush, she’ll hear you! You’re a dog, remember?”
Lou looked over at the woman who, now, had her head buried in her laptop, then at Maria and said, “You’re such a grump!
“I don’t care, you have to be careful!”
He rolled his eyes, turned to her mom and said sarcastically, “Woof!”
Curly chuckled then turned to a smiling Mrs. Ruiz and put his hand on her shoulder. “Guess what Mom”
“Now we get to go to Arcadia!”
“That’s right Sweety, you do.” As she handed the llama back to him, she noticed how uncomfortable Maria looked.
Maria saw the way her mom was looking at her, she had on that what-did-you-do-now look on her face.
“What? It’s fine!”
“Uh, huh.” She turned back to Curly and noticed he had only one arm. She slid forward in her chair and noticed the other one on the floor. “Curly… what happened to your arm?”
Curly glanced quickly at Maria then bent down and picked it up. “Nothing.”
She replied, “Uh, huh.” She slid back in her chair, stared at Maria for a second, then reached over, closed her laptop and slid it into a worn leather bag that lay against her chair. She gathered her notes and slid them into the same bag.
The three of them watched silently.
She stood up and said to Maria, “Your father’s up at the telescope. Lou, I told your mom I would send you home after you had something to eat. So… why don’t you three go get cleaned up then meet me in the kitchen. I’ll warm something up.”
“Okay Mom,” Curly turned and headed out of the room.
Lou looked at her quickly and said, “Yes, Ma’am, thank you.” Then ran to catch up with Curly.
Maria gingerly pushed herself up out of the chair without saying a word.
Her mom asked, “What happened?”
Maria shifted her weight to her good leg. “Mom, stop! I’m fine. I can handle it.”
They stared at each other for a second then Maria asked quietly, “Can I go now…please?”
“Thank you.” Maria limped past her and headed for the hallway.
Her mom let her get to the door then said loudly, “You know your father’s going to kill you if you messed up that new leg.”
Maria’s head dropped forward as she continued to walk away.
After dinner, Lou headed home, and Maria took Curly to her bedroom slash workshop to work on his arm. Curly stood in front of a bookshelf that held the statues the trio had found. He gently stroked the head of the llama. “Mari, what will it be like?”
Maria had Curly’s arm up on the workbench. She was trying to pull out the broken pin that held the shoulder socket in place. Without looking up she said, “What will what be like, Bud?”
Curly walked over to stand next to her. “Arcadia”
She twisted and tugged with a pair of needle nose pliers until the pin pulled loose. “Finally.” She grabbed a rag and a can of WD40 and sprayed the whole assembly then wiped up the excess oil. “Well, I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
“Do you think I’ll like it?”
She opened a drawer in front of her and scrummaged through it then pulled out a new pin. She held it up so Curly could see. “This is it, the last one. I hope we can get our hands on some better ones when we get there. Can you hold this please?” In a well-practiced move, he took the pin and turned to one side so Maria could get to his shoulder.
She picked up his arm and laid it in her lap and spun her chair around. “I think you’re going to like it just fine. One of the other girls has a robot cat so, maybe you two will become friends.” She switched on a head mounted light and moved the top of his arm up into the shoulder socket. “Pin, please.”
Curly rotated his other arm up and over his back in a move that only he could do. The pin was now held right where Maria could get to it. He said, “Cat can be little. I hope I don’t hurt it.”
She scrunched down and directed the light into the socket then reached for the pin. This was the hard part. She could see to start the pin but after that she had to make sure everything was aligned by feel only. She straightened up and turned her head slightly. “Here goes.” The pin slid up into the small opening on the first try. “Wow, that went in easy. Now Curly, don’t move.” She grabbed a retaining clip off the bench and carefully fit it around the pin.
When it clicked into place she sat back, raised her arms and said, “Yes!”
“Thank you, Mari.”
“You’re welcome Bud. Why don’t you try it out to make sure it’s okay?”
Curly lifted his arm and rotated it three hundred and sixty degrees then squeezed his hand into a fist a couple of times then wiggled his fingers. “It good!”
She picked up the WD40 and put it into her toolbox. “Don’t worry about that cat, Curly. I think it’s actually pretty big. Like the size of a cheetah or something.”
Knowing what was coming next, Maria watched Curly’s left hand.
As he asked the question, “What the name of the cheetah, Mari?” his left hand was signing A-T-H-E-N-A.
Maria figured it was a sure sign his AI wanted to override the original programmed response. She answered, “It’s Athena.”
Curly paused for a second then said “Athena, I like that name.”
“Me too. Now how about we get you into your charging station, so you’ll be ready to go, bright and early in the morning.”
“Okay, Mari, time for bed.” He walked over to a small bed that she had made for him after he kept insisting that it was only fair that, if she had one, then he should have one too. It had a pillow and sheets that looked just like hers which he pulled back then climbed in. “Don’t forget the light.”
“I won’t.” She reached down and flicked on a Buzz Lightyear night light then reached for a coiled cable that hung from a hook next to the light. She plugged one end into the wall socket then lifted the sheet and plugged the other end into a socket built into the side of Curly’s foot.
“Good night, Mari.”
She re-covered his foot. “Good night, Curly, sleep tight.”
“Okay, and I won’t let the bed bug bite.”
She watched as a little green light mounted in his helmet switched to red then started to blink, indicating he was charging.
She stood next to him for a second. She hoped the decision to allow him to go to Arcadia with her and Lou was the right one. She was worried that he would become a handful and she might have to spend too much time watching over him. Plus, there was the issue of his batteries. How was she going to make sure she could keep them charged? She has extras but, would keeping them charged keep her away from studying or doing stuff with the other students? Plus, his plug is European style, what happens if the converter doesn’t work? Would it cause damage?
A knock at her door pulled her away from her worries. She said, “Come in!”
The door slowly opened, and her father’s head appeared around the door. “Hey Pumpkin, are you busy?”
“Dad! I thought you were up at the telescope.”
He stepped into the room and closed the door. “I am but I heard you guys found the last statue. I wanted to congratulate you and Curly.” He looked toward Curly’s bed. “Oop, too late, I see you already have him charging.” He came into the room and looked at him, “I can’t help but smile every time I see him in that bed. I can’t believe your mother made him those sheets.”
Maria said, “Hm”
He turned to her. “What’s up Bud? You look worried.”
“I don’t know… (she glanced at Curly) I was thinking about him going to Arcadia with us.” She added quickly, “We’re still going right?”
He went over to the shelf and picked up the llama. “That was the deal. All you guys had to do was find all the statues and stay in one piece.” He put the llama down and glanced at her leg resting up against the wall by her worktable. “Which you did, sort of.”
Maria dropped into the chair, folded her arms and spun away. After a second, she turned back. “What did mom say! She thinks I can’t do this!”
He picked up her prosthetic leg then sat on the edge of her bed. He ran his hand over the carbon fiber calf. “She’s worried that you’re pushing yourself too hard because you’re out to prove a point, which you are, by the way, which I can totally understand.” He laid the leg on the bed. “What happened out there, anyway?”
“It was another quake dad; they’re getting more and more frequent. I thought we had it pretty well timed out but this one…”
“‘This one what?”
She dropped her hands into her lap and looked down. “I panicked. The rock was on top of my leg, just like the other time. I couldn’t pull it out… I panicked.” She looked up at him, her eyes were wet with tears.
He stopped himself from reaching out to comfort her, instead he sat back and said, “That’s perfectly understandable. It must have been scary.”
“It was, but I think I’m more upset about my reaction. I should have remembered to hit the suction release and I could have pulled my thigh out. But no, I had to look like an idiot because Lou ended up having to lift the stupid rock off.”
Her father smiled, “Just like last time.”
Maria wiped her eyes with a tissue from a box on the worktable. “Exactly.”
“Ah, so this is more about being mad about Lou helping you than being scared of the situation?”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess so…if I had just pushed that release then he wouldn’t have had to do anything. It makes me feel, (she looked at her leg laying on the bed) like he feels like I can’t take care of myself.”
Her father pulled himself to the edge of the bed. “Let me ask you something. When Lou withdraws into himself because he feels self-conscious about smiling, you cover for him by trying to draw attention to yourself. Do you do that because you think Lou is silly for feeling self-conscious or do you do it because you can relate to how he feels and want to show him that it doesn’t matter and you’re there for him?”
“Well duh, dad, he did ask me that very same question and I told him I do it because I don’t want him to feel like it’s his fault.”
He got up off the bed and said, “Well, duh, Maria, then why don’t you ask him about how he feels instead of being unsure and feeling all sorry for yourself?” He went over to her, gave her a big bear hug, lifting her out of the chair.
Through clenched teeth she said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Her father let her go and she plopped back down into the chair.
“Okay then, (he kissed her on the forehead and walked to the door) I’ve got to get back to the telescope. I’ll see all of you in the morning and we can discuss what’s going to happen next.”
“Okay, night dad.”
He opened the door, stepped into the hallway and was about to close it when Maria yelled, “Wait!”
He popped his head back in. “Yesss.”
Maris said excitedly, “Can I let Qbit know we found the last statue? Please?”
“Of course, you can Pumpkin. Then after, why don’t you put your tools away and get some rest.”
“I will… thanks dad, you’re the best.”
He smiled and said, “I know.” He pulled his head back out then stuck it right back in and said, “And don’t think I didn’t notice those scratches in your leg. They better be buffed out by morning young lady.” He closed the door.
Maria’s shoulders dropped.