ARCH | Teen Ink

ARCH

March 12, 2019
By odinhellum, Oceanside, California
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odinhellum, Oceanside, California
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Author's note:

I made this story in a creative writing class at school, over a span of a month or two, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I decided to leave it at a cliff hanger due to my new ideas for a more interesting and thought out story. And, becuase this is my first time using this site, this is just me experimenting with somthing new.

The rain pounded against my tent, threatening to break through. I was somewhere california a few miles inland from old Los Angeles, where violent rains had manifested because of climate change. Good thing I thought to set up on the top of the hill, I thought. My tent was in a ruined house, mostly fortified from winds. Water levels at the bottom were covering the medium sized boulders, and would soon be reaching the branches of the lowest trees. I already lost my home to these freak storms, but I was able to come back after the water subsided to salvage a tent and some survival supplies. Once a week I have to make the pilgrimage to the city to buy food. At times like these, everyone needs food stamps, no matter how much money you have. This law was put in place to prevent people from losing their minds and buying massive amounts of food, leaving none for others. People earn their stamps many ways, like doing volunteer work for the rescue crews, or growing and selling food, which is always wanted. Overpopulation has caused worldwide hunger and starvation. Now the economy was so bad that very few people could even own a car, let alone pay for gas. I will never be able to get one, unless I steal one, which is how I get most my stuff. Tomorrow I would go salvaging again. By midday because of the thinned ozone layer, the sun would be at its full power. This time of year it would be even worse. I would use the Temp Seal suit I stole, so I don’t get burned alive. I fell asleep to the sound of thunder and rain.

I woke up, the sun blinding me. I scrambled for my Temp Seal suit, and put it on as quickly as I could. I flipped the visor to block out the sun, and stepped outside. I collapsed the tent and put it in the heat resistant storage container I keep hidden in the trunk of a dead tree. I looked around. The top of the hill, where I was, was completely dry already. The sun was only three fingers up from the horizon. Steam rose from the ground at the bottom, causing a thick layer of fog to form. It will be difficult to find my way back unless I place timed flares, which I have few of. I started down the hill, almost tripping over twisted roots and mud that hasn’t dried yet. I wove between dead trees and ditches, making it too the road. I planted a timed flare and set the timer for 12 hours. I should be back by that time. I usually follow the road to closed gas stations, but this time going straight into the woods on the other side looked more promising. I started that way. After about 2 hours of walking, and my feet beginning to hurt like crazy, I sat down on rock. The sun was high in the sky, beating down. The fog mostly dissipated by now, so was exposed to the suns dangerous heat. I lowered the temperature in my suit and began to walk again. More hours passed. Then I froze. I heard movement. If there are any hunters out here, they will not hesitate to capture me, or worse. I got behind the nearest tree, not peeking out again until I was sure I was safe. About 50 feet ahead of me was a chain link fence, topped with barbed wire, and decorated with signs such as “stay out” or “no trespassing”. I looked past the fence and saw small low buildings, clearly abandoned, but well fortified. The floods wouldn't be able to get inside. Another sign caught my eye. By the gate, in bold print, was the words “US army”. It’s a military outpost. This is the biggest find I have ever made. I Have to find a way in, I thought. Walked to the fence. The barbed wire would cut my suit to threads, and I would never make it back to the campsite. I took out my metal cutters, which I took everywhere, and tried to cut the lock on the gate. It wouldn’t work. I managed to cut the barbed wire, and carefully pulled it out of the way so I could climb over. I reached the top of the fence and jumped over, almost twisting my ankle in the process. Proud of myself, I walked to the nearest building, kicked in the door and looked around. A brown desk, old cabinets, and no windows or any openings greeted me. Not even air conditioning. Yet even though how airtight this room was, a half inch puddle of green water covered the floor. I began looking for anything of interest. I rummaged around through the rusting metal cabinets, but came up empty handed. I checked the desk, which only held a full magazine for a .9 millimeter. Even though I don’t have one, I pocketed them anyways, hoping it doesn’t don’t explode in the heat. I was about to leave when something caught my eye. It was a silver box, about the size of a backpack. I knew what it was before I even walked to it. There was a tag on it, labeled: Made in USA, 2097. That was about 30 years ago. What I was looking at was  an Autonomous Robotic Czar Hound, or ARCH. Here’s a short history lesson. Nicholas Czar was the inventor who made the first ARCH. He never intended for these to be weapons of war, but rather just company for his son, who was born unable to walk. He felt it would be insulting to his son to give him a biological creature, who can do something he can not do, so instead made the ARCH in his spare time. The AI in the first ARCH was the first to match human consciousness. Inside an ARCH, is an Alchemy Core. An Alchemy Core can change elements. They cost more than a space shuttle, and can only change organic matter. This allows the ARCH to eat like a regular dog, and grow and power itself. Some, could even reproduce. Only a few species of ARCH’s were given this, such as the husky, german shepherd, and greyhound. After his incredible works, Czar worked on making limbs, exo suits, and vital organs into robotic parts. He found out how to connect the mind of a person to the computer of a robotic limb, and then gave his son the ability to walk. He immortalized himself, and his son, then disappeared. The ARCH in front of me was one of the newer designs. I was surprised that the last scavenger didn’t find this one. I pressed the button on the back and it began to whirr, softly, then louder. It opened, and the face of a metal dog stared back. The rest of the ARCH was still forming, all the moving parts and shifting plates were coming into place. It growled at me. I quickly got a knife, and opened the plate on its head. It was a DNA sensor, allowing for it to sense me as its owner. But in case of it getting shut down and its memory erased, it would need a long term sample so that when it was reactivated it would not attack the owner. I pricked my finger and pressed the sensor. The ARCH’s eyes went green, then back to white. It was mine. I wiped the blood off on my suit. It stood up straight, its head reached about to my stomach. I saw that it was many shades of silver, now that I activated it. I only takes voice commands, as a regular hound would.

“Sit”, I told it. And it did. “Come”, I said gesturing to the door. I would have more time to admire it later, but it was getting dark. It ran alongside me to the gate. I hesitated when I reached the fence. The ARCH didn’t. It burst through the fence, leaving a gap large enough for two people to get through at the same time without touching each other or the gate. I ran after it.

We were halfway back when my ARCH halted. It stopped and turned around to me. Exhaust was pouring from its nostrils. It layed down and whined.

“What is it”, I asked the ARCH. I touched its head, then recoiled away, smoke coming from my glove. I cursed my stupidity. An ARCH overheats easily in normal weather. It must be a strong one to go as long as it did in heat like this. I thought about collapsing it. It wouldn’t get damaged, but if I was attacked, I would be nearly defenseless. I decided to collapse it and keep moving.

It was dark before I got back. The flare went off, a little too much to the right than I wanted. It’s red glow cast an eerie glow into the dark clouds that were forming. I redirected myself towards the flare and picked up the pace. It suddenly went out. That was odd. Timed flares usually last for 10 minutes. This only stayed lit for 3. I looked around the sky for anything responsible. Off in the horizon, were the last of the sun's rays were disappearing, a small object was looming closer. I kept my eyes on it until it was within earshot. It sounded like a mix between a helicopter rotor and a jet engine. I immediately understood what it was. It was a patrol drone. It’s spotlight swept across the ruined land as it grew ever closer. I didn’t know if it was searching for me or someone else yet, so I didn’t want to bolt and draw its attention. Civilian ownership of a military ARCH was strictly forbidden. The drone made a sharp turn to the left and descended at a rapid pace. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing it wasn’t looking for me, my breath sending steam into the air. I jumped, adrenaline surging into my veins. The rains should start any minute now! I activated the ARCH and threw it on the ground, its eyes glowing red sensing my elevated heart beat. I may not have time to make it to the hill, and the military camp was too far back. I considered climbing a tree, wondering if I could hang on all night until the flooding subsided. I decided not to. I my chances getting to my hill seemed far better. I booked through the woods, my ARCH at my heels. The cracking twigs and the squish sounds of moss beneath my boots became such a blur, that I didn’t notice that the rain started until I began splashing through puddles. I can see the ruined house that I camped at. Only 200 feet to go!, I thought. The rainwater has reached my knees by now, making running difficult. Reaching the foot of the hill, I began the uphill climb to the top. Usually I use the winding road on the other side, but I don’t have the time. Halfway up I stopped. The water shouldn’t get up here, so I was safe. My ARCH realized this too and relaxed, eyes going white. I turned around, looking at the surrounding water. My hill is now and island, the tips of trees poking out of the water like drowning people. I turned back, wondering what I would do next.

When I finally got back, expanded my tent, took off my Temp Suit, and crashed into my instamatress. When I woke, the sun was just appearing over the horizon. I pulled down the window flap, seeing that the clouds were long gone. I thought about the last day, hoping it wasn’t a dream. That was the luckiest find I ever made. I sat upright and rubbed the drowsiness out of my eyes. After turning on the light, I unzipped the tent and almost had a heart attack. Right outside was my ARCH. I jumped back, in a mixture of surprise and slight annoyance.

“Don’t scare me like that!”, I hissed. The metal dog put its chin on the ground between its paws and lifted its tail up, then yawned loudly. It sounded like a fog horn, creeping me out. I just dawned on me just how dangerous it is to have a weapon of this power. ARCH’s are virtually indestructible, and can kill a predator the size of a bear in seconds. Then I realized it wasn’t dangerous to me, only those foolish enough to attack me with it around. The silver plates of the ARCH glinted from my light. I admired how intricately it was designed. “What kind are you?”, I pondered out loud. I haven’t seen a dog in years, and even then I was awful with identifying species. It had a thick and long tail, a muscular torso , and deadly jaws. “Husky?” I asked hopefully. It growled, retracting the metal around its mouth to bare its razor sharp teeth. Lining the roof and bottom of its mouth were inward-facing saw blades. “Sorry”, I quickly said. It stopped growling. “What about german shepherd?”, I guessed. Its tail wagged quickly, splitting in two and back to one. “Yes!” I exclaimed. A german shepard! These are a reproducing species of ARCH, and one of the only one banned from war use. Why it was at that military outpost, I didn’t know. I went outside, eager to learn more about this creature I found. “So what can you do?”, I asked it. It turned toward the edge of the hill, looked back at me, and quickly nudged its head back. Oh, it wants me to follow, I thought. It ran down the hill and I followed after it. Getting to the receding water line, the ARCH sniffed out the place where I hid my boat. I forgot where I hid it last, and wasted valuable time trying to find it. “How’d you find that?”, I asked it. The ARCH ignored my question and barked at the boat, sending leaves flying and my ears ringing. “Okay, fine”, I said as I righted the boat. It was 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, and made of wood. It used to be a dark shade of red, but the paint has been eroded away. A small engine on the back allowed me to travel at slow speeds, but effortlessly. Before I lost it, I was planning on selling it at the black market, in the slums of old Los Angeles. But in this shape, it wasn’t going to make much money. I began pulling it up the hill, struggling to make it a few feet without having to stop and recollect my energy. I tried again. The ARCH sensed my intentions and pushed its head against the back, making my job exponentially easier. I got it up, slipping a few times, within an hour. I positioned the boat in front of the destroyed house. Old rusted buckets the held rainwater were collected on the cement porch. When I first discovered this place, the previous owner had left a lot behind. I stored them in the wine cellar of the house. I stepped through the ruined door and walked to the small metal hatch, unlocked it, and climbed down the metal ladder rungs. Before, I have considered just sleeping in the cellar, but was uncertain if I could get out again. The lock automatically engages when the hatch shuts, and there is no way to unlock it from the inside. If I get stuck in there, starvation and dehydration would kill me slowly. When I finished climbing to the bottom, I pulled out my flashlight and swept it around. I scrounged through the shelves, finding steel wool, heavy duty car soap, and rust remover. I pocketed these and climbed back out the ladder. After pushing myself from the cellar, I walked back to the boat. I put some soap in the steel wool and got to work. It took all day, and during that time, I had to stop and put on my Temp Seal suit. The rust remover cleaned up well. When I was done, the boat was perfect. My hands were raw from scrubbing, and the discolored dried paint flecked my arms. The boat gleamed a shade of tin. I stepped back and admired my work. This might make me enough money to rent an apartment in new Los Angeles for a little while, and scout out my next salvaging points. All the large cities have climate control, so people can enjoy the sunlight without being fried. I walked back to the shelter of the house. I kept a GPS hidden in my tent. Most of the satellites have been converted into planetary defenses, to protect the earth from meteors and space junk that has built up over the years. But some still work. I got to the tent and picked up the GPS tablet I kept next to my bed. I powered it on, which would take a few minutes. I went back outside, looking at the seemingly harmless rays of sunlight bursting from between the trees. The clouds in the distance were like pure white mountains. I got my Temp Suit on before the sun rose completely. A high pitched beep sound pulsed from the tent meaning that the GPS was done starting up. I went back to it, happy that it still works. My location blinked on the screen. I was only 7 miles from the wastes of old Los Angeles. I pressed a button on the side and spun the tablet on to the ground. A holographic image of the city sprang up, colorless. My route was shown by a line that was brighter than the rest, weaving between wrecked buildings and extinguished bonfires. My destination was the Los Angeles city hall. For years, and undiscovered natural cave was under most of the city. In the year 2046, sewer workers stumbled into it, drilling new water ways for rain to go. The cave underwent many refurbishings, including massive support columns, 2 more square miles of space, and a reactor. After the order for the evacuation of all coastal cities were given out, the cave was abandoned for decades. When scavengers came to the city, the cave became the biggest black market outlet in America. Law enforcement regularly tried to shut it down, but every time they were outsmarted by the clever minds of the dealers who resided there. One time, they tried to flood everyone out by breaking the dam that was set on the east side, holding water back from the lake that used to be death valley. But the people of the cave were ready for that. After building a massive turbine and new, makeshift waterways and canals, the flood that came was rerouted into the turbine, and then out into the ocean. After this, the cave was dubbed “Venice” because the only way to get from place to place now is the canals. This is the reason I wanted to sell the boat, because for others who live there it could be an indispensable tool, and would pay good money. I was a usual there, and was friends with all the guards. I searched the GPS for a transport business to get my cargo to get to Venice. One mile north from me is a rendezvous point for the carriers that usually take goods to and from different continents. These have more than enough carrying capacity to take several thousand pounds across vast distances, so the trip to Venice should be no problem. All I need to do is request to take me to the roof of the city hall, which then an improvised elevator would take me and my haul to the depths of Venice. I considered leaving my ARCH behind so I wouldn’t get jumped by some thugs trying to steal it, but then thought I should bring it along because i’ll probably get jumped anyways for the boat. I looked at my ARCH, who whined at me and then pointed its nose at the sun slowly rising in the distance. Understood that it wanted me to put my Temp Suit on, and obliged. After I did, the ARCH looked contented, like it saved me one again.

“Good job… boy”, I stuttered. I still hadn’t come up with a name for it, and it didn’t even occur to me until now. I decided to think of one on the way to the rendezvous. I gathered a pack and several other small items I planned on selling, including an “iphone” from the early 2010’s. I heard that people used to spend tons on these, even buying new ones every year for overpriced and identical versions that they thought would bring them happiness. Phenomena like this was the first domino in the fall of our earth. I put everything in the bag and slung it on my shoulder. After checking my direction, I made my way to the rendezvous, my soon to be named ARCH paced beside me.


After marching through decayed trees for a good amount of time, my stride began to be strained, as I realized I was going uphill. Almost there, I thought. Making it to the top, I looked around the clearing. There was not a single tree, and dark green grass covered the ground, except for the occasional mud hole. Operating hours for the transport business should have been started by now, but they were always late. Just then, a bird-like figure shimmered through the clouds above me. It seemed to be the size of a skateboard, but from this distance it was hard to tell. It was almost invisible, and it was a miracle my eye caught it. Before I could decide if it was dangerous or not, it dove at me, emitting a spine chilling screech like metal being torn apart. I dove out of the way, waiting for it to hit, but it never did. I heard a crash to my left. Shakily getting back up, I then looked for it. Sticking out of the ground was a scout drone, still twitching. It suicide bombed me!, I thought. Why? I walked over to it, adrenaline still surging through me. It bore no identifying marks, so it wasn’t government. Sticking out of the center engine, was a sliver spine. I turned toward the ARCH, astonished, who was still growling at the corpse of the drone. I didn’t know ARCH’s could shoot spines from itself. Ace thrower, I thought admiringly. Ace. That's your name. “Your name is Ace”, I told the ARCH. It nodded with approval, salivating black oil. I examined the scout drone once more. It was the size of my arm, covered in screens now blinking static. Two wings extended from the middle, still trying to flap. Scout drones modified for stealth would have wings instead of propellers to make less noise. On the nose was a camera, pointed right at me. I took the emergency power source from the drone and it stopped moving, the screens going dead. I decided to keep the drone, in hopes I could fix it. I didn’t know who sent the drone, but the whole time I was waiting for the carrier I was on edge. Finally, it arrived. It took up the whole clearing, the landing gear pressed into the ground. The thrusters emitting purple fire and black smoke burned away the grass under it. I had to cover my ears to keep them from bursting. The engines shut off and the fire subsided. A miniature climate control unit flipped on, and a sphere of clear and cool air under a force field spread from the ship. I took the helmet of my temp suit, the natural coolness refreshing me. The cockpit lowered on its rails, and a ramp extended down to the ground. Out stepped a short man, dark skinned, dressed in army fatigues. He had a scar running down his right arm. Hanging from his side was a handgun, and on his back was a machete. He called out in a thick australian accent, “There you are! We’ve been waiting for you!”.

“Actually I’ve been waiting for you, Oliver”, I said. “You’re never on time”.

“Yeah, well, we rarely get customers from this part, so we figured we had time”. His gaze turned to Ace. “My God, how did you get that!”, he exclaimed. Oliver had such an affinity for ARCH’s, that I once saw him cuddle one like a puppy. He has a literal pack of them that he either made himself, or bought in venice. In fact, trailing behind him was his guard ARCH, a bronze great dane of startling size. He named it “Leslie”.

“Lucky find”, I replied. He whistled a long, envious whistle.

“I wish me one of those”, Oliver said with his eyes crinkling around a smile. “So what’s new? Beside your trillion dollar war pet of course.”

“You know that boat I was gonna sell a while back? Ace here found it. In fact that’s why I'm here. I need transportation to Venice”.

“I hope you mean the cave. We don’t have enough fuel to get halfway across the world.”

“Yea”.

“Good. where’s the cargo? We have plenty of space”. I showed him the GPS, on which I saved the coordinates for the hill. A live satellite image of the hill showed up, and the boat glinted in the sunlight. “Nice”, he said. “Let’s head there now”. Oliver handed the GPS back and wheeled around to the carrier, Leslie growled at me and followed him. The climate began closing around the carrier, and I walked up the ramp with a bounce in my step. I entered the cockpit, met by the smell of cigarettes and brownies, the source of the latter probably from the onboard kitchen in the door behind the cockpit. A rearview mirror hung front and center on the windshield, even though the only thing Oliver could see in it is a close up view of the back bay. “Want to put your stuff in the guest room until we get to Venice? Should only take a few minutes, but based on your usual haul it’s got to be heavy. You know where it is, first room on the right. And there’s brownies in the kitchen.” I thanked him, and walked to the guest room. I left the brownies, because knowing Oliver they were probably drugged. The guest room consisted of a bunk, a sink, mirror, and toilet, and pantry, all in a 15’/15’ space. I put my bag on the mattress and sat down, facing the door. The room across from mine had a grey door, lined in black. With the ARCH symbol on it, I figure that’s where Oliver kept the rest of his pack. I got up and turned right, heading for the hangar. “Don’t break anything!” I heard Oliver call out from the cockpit. There wouldn’t be much to break. A buggy sat in a corner collecting dust, and a shipment of wooden boxes were strapped to the ground opposite from it. Suddenly we slowed, and I lost my balance. I got back up and hurried to the front of the carrier. We were hovering over the hill as Oliver slowly lowered us so the grabbers could lift the boat into the hold. Oliver pressed a button that closed all the doors, then opened the massive door in the back. This made sure nothing would get damaged by the heat, including us. The grabbers got a good grip on the boat, then slid on rails into the hangar, set the boat down gently, then back out. The grabbers then concealed themselves in hatches at the bottom of the ship. “Let’s go tie it down”, he told me after he closed the bay doors and opening all the other ones. We were greeted by a burst of hot air, and my mouth dried instantly. Oliver was similarly affected. “Sorry!”, Oliver said as he rushed to the temperature settings, and then to the fridge. He passed me a water and opened one himself, downing it in seconds. “Phew, let’s go tie that boat down”. I nodded and led the way.

“Careful”, I told him. “The boat is burning hot”. Oliver then took out a cigarette, pressed it to the metal, effectively lighting it.

“That’s hot”, Oliver said. Then he walked to a storage container, pried it open and took out what seemed to be a high tech water gun. It was pure black, had what appeared to be a coolant container sticking out of it, and many cords and tendrils leading from the core to different parts of it. “I call it the Freezer”, he said proudly. He pressed a bright red button on the side, walked to the boat, and told me to stand back. A jet of freezing air came from the barrel of the Freezer, cooling the boat slowly. After a few minutes and facefuls of steam, it was safe to touch. Oliver put the Freezer away and came back with ropes and hooks. We tied the boat down and went back to the front of the carrier. “We should get to Venice in 10 minutes, so don’t get comfortable”. I sat in the copilots seat and reclined in the seat, ignoring what Oliver said about not getting comfortable. Ace trotted over to me, its metal feet clicking against the floor. I could hear its gears whirring. I watched the scarred land pass below me, miles of rotting trees and abandoned houses. Old Los Angeles appeared over the skyline and was closing fast. Within the next few minutes we descended over a tan building, one of the few that have been maintained after the evacuation order. We lowered into the forcefield keeping the burning air out and opened the bay doors. After we untied the boat from the hangar, we let the claws do the work. I went outside and watched with Oliver as the claws lowered the boat on a cart on a massive elevator, ready to be taken into Venice. “Thank you, Oliver”, I said. I gave him the coordinates for the military outpost I found Ace at. “I didn’t check the rest of the site, so there may still be other ARCH’s there”. Oliver lit up. I reached into my pack to get payment for the ride, but Oliver stopped me.

“This one’s on me”, he said. I smiled and shook his hand.

“I hope to see you again”, I told him, and with that he left. I turned to the guards who were still securing the boat onto the cart, and then walked onto the elevator. Ace was hesitant to step on, sensing moving parts it thought it was a trap. I convinced Ace by telling it that the only people who would set the trap are on the elevator with me. Ace was convinced. The elevator ride to Venice would take use to the center of the cave, on a small island. I decided that I would put the boat up for auction, then go to the main restaurant and wait for the numbers to roll in. The restaurant is burrowed in the side of the cave, overlooking Venice. You have to take a modified ski lift to get in unless you are an employee, in which case you can get in from the surface, an entrance only known to those who work there. The elevator emerged from the roof of the cave, and a cascade of sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed me. The bustle of thin boats in the canals, the super bright lights hanging from the roof of the cave, just barely able to penetrate the darkness. I could smell strange foods and the feces of exotic animals. Venice is made like an onion. Instead of city grids, everything spreads from the center. The middle is a large island, dug under it is mostly vaults and banking. Just outside of the island is weaponry. Past that, animal trafficking. Past that robots and ARCH’s. Past that, is the drug circle, and past that, is the vehicles and drones. Sprinkled throughout every circle are places where you find get services of every kind, ranging from caricatures to mercenaries. On the outer circle, is housing for those who don’t own a storefront, which comes with an apartment. Half underground, half sticking out from the wall of the cave, the housing units are truly a sight to see. On the way down, I saw aerial transportation, for the rich few that don’t have to travel by boat. We eventually reached the bottom. The vehicle circle is a three and a half miles from the center. The guards helped me weave through the crowds of people to the docks. Ace growled and barked at anyone who got near, keeping me safe from behind. We reached the docks. The docks were mostly full, but there were a few open spots at the end of the pier. With difficulty, we found the strength to take the boat the rest of the way. We got to the first open spot, exhausted. The guards ditched me after that, so I had to slide the boat onto the ramp myself. Ace helped. After I got it on, I checked for fuel, and wasn’t surprised that it was empty. I told Ace to stay and protect the boat in case someone wanted to steal it, and then ran to the nearest fuel tent. I walked through rows and rows of gasoline, until I found the right size I needed. I took my selection to the self checkout line, swiped it, and deposited my currency. Today's currency is universal-literally. Diamond coins mined from the planet Uranus and Neptune are the main currency. The coins are the size of a half dollar, and the amount of money its worth is engraved on it, including famous presidents. People from the early 2000’s might have found it crazy that we use diamonds as currency, but diamonds cost less than gravel now. It’s just Neptune gravel. I think it’s weird that people back then wore ground up money around their neck. I put a fifty dollar coin in and waited for it to finish scanning the coin. Out came a receipt, which I promptly threw on the ground, and ran back the boat. Ace was unmoved, and the boat was untouched. I patted Ace’s head, and then refueled the boat. I hopped in after Ace, and pressed a button to lower the boat into the water. We sat in the water for a second while I pulled the cord to start the boat. It whirred to life, and I the walked to the front of the boat to the steering. I maneuvered the boat through the docks out into the circle of open water. There are “highways” in Venice on the north, east, south, and west points. These provide an unobstructed path through all circles. I steered the boat in the direction of the closest highway, the east one. The ride was relaxing. Some time ago, someone had either stocked Venice with fish or they had came with the flood the government had tried to flush everyone out. I always see the strangest fish in the waters of Venice. One I swear was 30 feet long. As I neared closer to the vehicle circle, I searched for a place to anchor. One spot caught my eye, because it was easily accessible and and nearly impossible to miss. I steered over to it, dropped my anchor, and scribbled on a piece of cardboard that was by the dock, the words: for sale. I also put my contact number. Ace hopped out and began pacing on the wooden deck, his claws making scratches that I hoped I wouldn’t get fined for. I looked for the nearest lift to the restaurant, and saw one only a block away. I locked the boat up and then satisfied, went to the lift. It was old and rickety, and probably unsafe. It was still probably a better option than the termite infested ladder that was built for those who couldn’t pay for a lift. I went to the lift and deposited one coin, then sat on the lift and buckled in. Ace jumped on, lowering the lift a whole foot. I waved to the operator and we began moving. The ride was smooth, and I enjoyed the view of Venice. The lift approached the restaurant, a neon sign advertising Julio's, the restaurant name. The lift carried me safely. I got off with Ace, relieved. Finding a seat, I sat down at a balcony table and looked over the stained menu. One option was deep fried squid, caught in Venice. The table had a built in screen, so I could access the bidding offers for the boat. One person had already offered $20,000 for it. That was more than I thought someone would pay. A waiter came over, dressed in an old suit, and was startled by Ace.

“Anything...I can get you sir?”, he asked from a good distance, eyeing the ARCH.

“A steak for the dog here, and i’ll get one too”. The waiter hurried away, seemingly relieved to be away from our presence. I looked out across the cave. It seemed impossible that this was undiscovered for so long. I looked back at Ace, and noticed it wasn’t there. I got up and looked around, and couldn’t see Ace anywhere.

“Ace!” I called. He didn’t come. I heard a bark in the distance. It sounded like it was coming from the circles. I rushed to the lift. I didn’t have time to pay, so I got a cloth napkin, put one side over the line, and wrapped my hands around it. I pushed off and began ziplining down at such a speed, my cheeks jiggled. I could see Ace below. He was running like a cheetah. I wondered what he was chasing. I got to the bottom and jumped of before my hands could get shredded by the machine. The napkin was on fire. Then I hit the ground running, following the sounds of Ace’s barking. I caught up with him. I ran into an alley, where Ace was standing before a cowering man. “What is it, Ace?” I questioned him. The man was guant, pale, and balding. He probably hadn’t seen the sun in years. He had bleeding cuts along his calves and back, probably warning cuts from Ace. “Back away, Ace”, I ordered him. The ARCH obeyed, and then jumped onto the brick alleyway wall like a frog to watch over, making sure the man made no move.

“Who are you?”, I questioned. He didn’t answer, and kept staring angrily at Ace. I grabbed him by his shirt and walked him to the dock, as if to throw him into the lake. The circle I was in probably hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and pollution swirled in its depths.This got his attention. He ripped his gaze from the ARCH and focused on me. He didn’t look me in the eyes before, but now that he did, I saw a madness in them. I shivered, and a feeling like ice falling down my back crept on me. He grinned a full three toothed grin. He reached for his pocket. “Stop!” I yelled. I then held him over the water. “Don’t do anything to make me drop you”, I said. He looked down at the water, and then at me. Being submerged in that would probably give him an extra leg or ear. Then he spoke.



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