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Arcadia School of Experiential Learning
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 nightstand 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 the fridge to get some milk. Using her perfectly honed teenage skills, she managed to open the door with her foot, pull out the carton, open it, pour the perfect amount, re-cap it, and put it back without spilling a single drop of milk or a single toasted “O’s”. 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 an over loaded spoonful into her mouth. Physics easily won out as the moveable object (toasted “O’s”) and milk met an immovable object (her lips) fell from the spoon. Before she could get her face over the bowl, they 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 bent down to pick up the cereal, blew on the pieces then popped them into her mouth. When she reached the front window, she 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. Outside 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 from the outside and she hadn’t been able to find 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, the other teachers and the other Keepers. 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. She 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 eleven thirty-five.
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.
Chapter 10- It’s Not Like it Goes on Forever
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.
She looked at her wristwatch. Mickey Mouse’s oversized gloves said it was ten thirty give or take a couple of chubby fingers.
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.
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 mention 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, Tau. “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 waterlogged?” 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 cardboard. 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.
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.
Chapter 11- Not for Nothin’
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 finger this time, just a tap on the screen.
“Sawa, naweza kuwasiliana tu kutumia skrini hii”
Hello, Sorry I can only communicate with this screen.
She looked at the bot with a confused look on her face and said, “What?”
“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.”
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.
Chapter 12- Sargent Becca
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.
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…
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 led 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.
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 bathtub 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 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, dark, hulking figure was sinking rapidly through the water. It hit the bottom with a thud which she felt go through her chest. 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 then 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.