Leah awoke with a start, in darkness. As her brown eyes adjusted to the surroundings, she realized that it wasn’t as dark as initially thought. She looked up at the hole in the ceiling, or what was the kitchen floor, and then looked about where she landed on top of the pile of softened wood, piles of cardboard boxes, a convenient sleeping bag, and other assorted junk. Her head suddenly registered hurting. As she winced, she tried to roll around in her collapsed cocoon of stuff. Leah’s back hurt, and something was jabbing her in the rear. It wasn’t entirely painful, as her bookbag had taken part of the brunt of her fall. It sort of felt like her books. As she extricated herself from the pile, it shifted without her holding it up, and further collapsed into a more restful state. Clouds of dust swirled around her as she looked about the slowly brightening gloom. A small picture window, high in the wall, provided the rest of the light she was going to use to get out of here. Leah lifted her feet carefully, shuffling slowly to make sure that she didn’t trip on anything. The smooth soles of her shoes slid easily on the dust-covered floor, making slow going a little tricky. Her ankle bumped a piece of wood. Her hands found the edge of a table. She doubled back to make a grab for her bag amongst the debris. Pulling it free caused more of the remains to settle. Now that her eyes had made their full adjustment, she could see that this place was definitely a basement, but it seemed to be the basement of someone who tinkered with electronics, gadgets, old computers, a vat of some translucent liquid, and several robotic arm-looking appendages with wires and tubes running along their lengths, tie-wrapped neatly with clearance to spare. The setup looked unused for awhile, but didn’t have nearly the layer of dust that covered the floor, and now up the sides of Leah’s flats and stockings. She surmised where the staircase up must be, tripping and stumbling through the gray dark to get to the railing. As she approached it finally, her face found a spider’s web strung across the railing and across the entrance up. Leah spit and waved her hands about in a random fashion to clear the air in front, feeling cobweb on her cheeks and hair, tying her fingers together slightly. She dusted her hand off on her skirt, which she now discovered was torn. Her mom was going to have a fit when she got home, this skirt was new, Leah thought. As her footsteps clomped onto the creaky steps upward, she looked back at the setup on the table in curiosity. That’s when she noticed that the computer’s ancient monitor was an old style Macintosh. The power light was on, but the screen was dark.
Her curiosity got the better of her and she retraced her steps back down, and shuffled over to the computer on the table. The keys and case were further yellowed with age, but as she placed her hands gently over the keyboard and pressed lightly, they still gave that satisfying old-time click. She had seen one of these in a neighbor’s garage sale once, but it didn’t work. This one however, held promise. Leah felt along the side of the monitor for the power button, felt along the bottom, and found the recess that held potential. She gave it a reverent push, and the monitor blinked to life.
On the computer screen was a bunch of gibberish. After she looked at it for a few more moments, it seemed to resemble logic. Code. BASIC. This was a program! But to what, she thought. She looked back along the table to the drives and small motors, slide tables, robotic arm and all of its small cables and a tube, now that she was closer. The tube ran up the back and down through the top. It was some sort of feed. Leah’s eyes traced the feed tube back to a much larger container on the table. The whole arm was over the translucent tub of liquid.
Leah had no idea how to restart the program, but in using the arrow keys, stepped up and down its length, looking for clues and commentary to identify what it was. She read things like ‘Material Feed’ and ‘Step Increment’ and ‘Laser On’ and ‘Laser Off’, those really intrigued her with a sideways glance at the apparatus, and a bunch of other comments such as ‘This section needs to be reworked’ or ‘With help from Bill at ANL’. It was incredibly fascinating. Leah thought different, her mind was always in the clouds, but at the same time, it was on the electronics in the Cloud. Technology intrigued her like nothing else in the world did. Sure, she was still fashionable – anyone looking at her would not have guessed that a well-dressed girl hid a ferocious geek side – but now, she was looking at her Holy Grail.
“Who are you and why are you here?” a man’s voice said quietly, but sternly, in the dark.
Leah’s heart stopped. A shiver went up, and back down her spine. This place was supposed to be empty. Someone lived here?
“Never mind who you are, actually. Just get out,” the voice answered itself, in a more demanding tone.
Leah turned around to see what it was attached to. She found a nearly six-foot man, unshaven, with quite an amount of beard, thinning hair, curling around his ears, graying along the temples and in the middle of his chin. He was average build, like a rectangle. His eyes though, were unmistakably sharp, clear, and angry. Leah looked into those eyes for a moment, and felt a flash of heat through her. She stammered, “I.. I’m sorry, I… I fell through y-your floor…”
“Which you had no reason to be in this house in the first place, girl! This is my house, you are trespassing,” the man’s voice rose in intensity and anger with each word, “and I’ll give you to the count of 5 to get out before I call police!” The man began counting. Leah tapped into her fear, and stumbled over cables in her desperate bid to get out before the count rose higher. She heard things shift and crash behind her as she fell forward, heard the man growl in increasing anger as he went to protect the things that were moving, leaving the staircase unguarded. She grabbed up her bookbag at the base of the stairs, ignored the remainder of the cobwebs, and took the flight as fast as she could scramble. Outside, she hit the unkempt lawn at full speed, bag and long dark hair trailing behind her, torn skirt flapping awkwardly in the chill autumn wind toward home.
The man looked at the damage that the young girl had caused in her bid for freedom, then in her descent from the kitchen, and sighed. That floor needed to be replaced anyway. He looked about at where she was in front of the computer. The girl was too young to understand any of what was on the screen, he thought. It had been so long since he was down there, tinkering away. The man sadly looked at the mess on the table, under the table, in the corner where Leah had landed. He spotted that one of the cardboard boxes that she landed on had broken open. Blinking through faded memory, he stepped over the junk between him and the box, and continued to open it up. He then counted what was inside, arranged in what once was a neat array of cubes. Two were missing. One he knew was in the machine behind him. The other, the man started to search for among the flattened area that Leah had occupied. After 10 minutes of searching, the man realized that it was indeed missing. That girl…