Chapter Eighteen: Arcadia

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The waiting room--or the orientation room, as they called it--was spotless. It was so clean it was shining. And not clean in the way that a hospital is clean. It wasn't clinical. It was bright and beaming like it was brand new.

A row of chairs lined the perimeter of the square space (not unlike a waiting room). There were two doors. One that led to processing, the place from which they came, and the other went somewhere unknown.

Miriam, Meredith, Dani, and Kai sat lined up closest to the familiar door. They were all quiet, uncertainty looming above them like a weighted blanket. The only movement in the room was Kai's shaking leg and the gentle rocking of a moving city.

The door on the opposite side of the room--an opaque sheet of glass with no visible handles--slid open. A woman emerged.

The way she held herself alone made it clear that she was in a position of power. Her clothes could only be described as the remnants of military fatigues. Her army green pants hung loose on her body, patched with scraps of unmatching fabric. Her jacket, printed with the crest of Arcadia on the left breast and signals of rank on the other, was unzipped, exposing a white tank top underneath. Her chestnut hair was tied in a loose bun.

She approached the four, heavy boots clunking on white tiled floor. "I'm Eleanor Morrison, head of the Recon and Rescue division of Arcadia. I apologize for the wait. They pulled me in to debrief on your case and I have to say—" she stood just feet in front of them. "I haven't heard a story quite like yours before. Welcome to Arcadia."

Kai wanted to answer. He wanted to say something, anything, but he was spending all his energy keeping himself grounded.

Her serious expression broke into a warm smile. "It's a lot to take in, I know. And after all you've been through to get here, I can't even imagine." She pulled a chair from the lineup to her left and sat down in front of them. "Usually orientation is done in much bigger groups, as you can see, but since you all boarded, uh, unconventionally, I don't mind giving you the rundown. Before we start, any questions?"

Miriam shook her head. "How—?" She gestured vaguely to the space around her.

"—are we a fully functioning, moving city?" Morrison finished. "Yeah, we get that one a lot. I'll run through a brief history lesson. The idea for Arcadia came long, long before it was ever even a stake in the ground. The world and how it came to be in the state it's in today, people saw it coming long before you or I were ever born and they knew they wouldn't be able to stop it. So they had the idea to create a community that would migrate constantly to keep up with the capriciousness of the world they created. It wasn't so far fetched. The ones who walked these plains did it for millennia.

"It was a fringe idea, of course. Safety is rarely profitable. It took a dedicated group of people a very long time to design and build Arcadia as we know it today: a fully self-sustainable, habitable city. She started small. Twenty years ago she wasn't anything more than a moving office building. But as times got worse, she had to expand quickly, and she did. Fifteen years ago we began picking up our first evacuees. Five years later is when word finally started to spread towards the coasts.

"We wanted to announce ourselves, we really did, but we didn't have the means to take all those affected by disaster. Despite that, Arcadia operates on one condition: we never turn anyone away. All those seeking refuge are worthy of it. So we laid low for a while out here in the Midwest until we had the size and space to take in more people.

"It wasn't until about a year ago that we were able to begin initiating wide-scale evacuations. We've spent years perfecting our methods, but obviously—" she looked Dani directly in the eye "—some people still get left behind. I'm truly sorry for that."

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