Dorrie couldn’t breathe. The only thing she felt was Image’s strong hold on her arm. She was being whipped through a colorful vortex made up of swirling images and hushed whispers.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to stay calm. After about thirty seconds, the churning began to slow. Dorrie could feel her stomach flopping around, and as they began to stop, a wave of dizziness racked through her body.
With a jolt, her feet slammed onto the ground. Streaks and traces of color were the only things left of the quaking journey, slowly thinning and fading away. In their tracks was a clear blue sky, dotted with a few clouds here and there.
Dorrie couldn’t stay on her feet. She collapsed to the ground with a thud, the world spinning.
Image was quite a different story. “C’mon, Dorrie!” she snapped, yanking Dorrie to her feet. “Get it together. This is where the search will begin.”
When she finally stopped seeing double, Dorrie looked around. The sun’s rays rained down on her skin, very similar to what she felt at the meadow. Her bare feet were half buried in scalding white sand, which was probably the smoothest she’d ever set foot on. A few meters ahead of her, waves crashed and fizzed at the shore. Seagulls exchanged cries in the distance, and the air was thick with sea salt.
“The beach?” she asked incredulously. “That’s where I begin my search?” Image shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”
Dorrie didn’t know what to do. She barely knew anything about this whole Key to Life business; how was she supposed to find a tiny key that could be anywhere in the world?
“What do I do now?” she asked weakly. Image gestured toward the water. “Maybe it’s in there,” she suggested. Dorrie was beginning to get a headache. “How am I supposed to search the entire world for this stupid little key? What’s the point?!” she spat.
“Well, Thollidimar made the system easier for you. In the place where the search begins, it is similar to where the search will end,” Image explained. Dorrie sighed. “So, I should just go wading into the ocean, looking for a key? That’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. There’s gotta be some other way.”
Image shrugged. “Sorry, Dorrie,” she said, the metallic edge in her voice cracking. She cleared her throat and began, “I’ve never done this before, so—”
“Look out!” Dorrie screamed. Image had just enough time to turn around, see the 20-foot tidal wave towering over them, and tear off her right sleeve.
Where the skin on her forearm was supposed to be, there was an array of buttons. In a flash, Image pressed a red button in the third row. Dorrie felt her clothes begin to transform; she looked down and, to her utter astonishment, saw that her clothes were identical to Image’s. All of this happened in about three seconds.
The wave was looming over them, taking its time. But there was nowhere to run; it was already too late. Image pressed one last button on her forearm, a silver one, and looked at Dorrie. In about half a second, both of them were enclosed in astronaut suits. “Whoops,” Dorrie heard Image murmur.
They both made eye contact for one last time before the wave came crashing down on them, smothering and thrashing them around.
* * *
Dorrie was being whipped about like a rag doll in the powerful waves, nearly loosing consciousness. The astronaut suit was probably the only thing that kept her alive.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the churning of the water began to slow. Dorrie broke through the surface, her arms flailing. When she looked around, her heart felt like it was encased in ice. All around her was just miles and miles of ocean. She couldn’t tell which way she’d come from.
“It’s no use,” she whispered. “I’m gonna die! Right when the search begins, I die. The end.” One tear ran down her cheek, which turned into many. “Image!” she shouted feebly, remembering her partner. But, as she expected, there was no answer. “Image, come on!” she cried, her voice wavering. “Where are you? Image!”
Still no answer.
Her arms were already beginning to tire. It was all she could do to keep herself hovering at the surface, her head barely peeking out of the waves.
No, she thought. I’m not going to give up. Image will be okay—I know she will. If I survived, she did too. There has to be some kind of tracking device in this suit, and when she gets herself together, she’ll find me.
Dorrie liked the sound of that.
I’m not giving up. I’m going to look for her.
With renewed enthusiasm, Dorrie began swimming toward where she thought the shore was. She knew she had quite a way to go, even if she was going the correct direction. But she knew Image would find her. She wouldn’t let Dorrie just die out here…would she?
* * *
Water is never good for robots—even for ones as advanced as Image. She was thrown onto an isolated island by the violent waves, not too far from where she started. She could see the beach she and Dorrie were just standing on just minutes ago in the distance.
Image peeled off the soaked suit and dragged herself under a palm tree. Her jet-black hair was plastered to her cold face, salty water dripping off of her skin.
“Great,” she said out loud. “Was this supposed to happen? Was I supposed to get separated from Dorrie and end up like the dude on Castaway?” She combed her fingers through her artificial hair distractedly.
“I wonder how Gavin and Morix are doing,” she muttered to herself. “They’ve got to have begun by now. I wonder if I can contact him…”
Image stretched her forearm out in front of her. To her disappointment, the glow around the buttons was missing. Even though she knew it wouldn’t work, she tried the Communicate button.
A small click, then nothing.
Image groaned. “How am I supposed to get in contact with Morix?” she complained. Then her eyes widened. “What about Dorrie?!” she breathed. “What if she’s…dead?”
She shook her head, blurring the image of Dorrie floating facedown in the water, rocking slightly in the gentle waves. “No. Dorrie’s alive. I can feel it,” she growled, clenching her teeth.
But Image sighed and slumped down against the trunk of the tree. “How am I supposed to do anything when the water freaking messed me up?!” she snarled.
Suddenly, with a jolt, she remembered something she’d been taught in class when she was about nine or ten.
Image’s head was resting on the cool metal of the desk, tuning out the voice of the TeachBot. Morix, who was sprawled out on the desk next to her, was snoring faintly.
The lesson was on something about troubleshooting.
Image snorted. Why on Earth would there be something wrong with a robot? They were perfection! Thollidimar was a genius, smarter than good ol’ Albert Einstein; there was no way he could have made a mistake.
But, sure enough, the TeachBot told the class, “There are several things that can go wrong with a robot. Never play around with water. Always be sure to have a full tank of energy. Never pull out or break the buttons implanted on your forearm. Always…”
Image’s eyelids drooped. The next thing she knew, Morix was jabbing his elbow into her side. She sat up a little too quickly; several of her Readers tumbled to the floor. The TeachBot was directed at her, its gray eyes staring straight into her soul.
“Yes, TeachBot?” Image asked politely, picking up her Readers. The TeachBot said in a mechanically distorted voice, “What should you do if you get water on yourself?”
Image found herself thinking that she was glad robots couldn’t blush. “I’m…I’m sorry, TeachBot…I don’t know,” she whispered, ashamed. The TeachBot bleeped, annoyed. “You should be paying more attention in class, Ms. Image.”
In front of the entire class, the TeachBot explained what to do when robots get water on them. Then she made Image stand up and repeat to everyone what she’d just said.
Image’s face lit up. Before then, she tried to push that memory out of her brain. But now, she was glad it happened. Eagerly, she set to work.