Jackie watched as Amelia slapped her hands ineffectively against the walls of the glass chamber. “Dr. Weber! What have you done?!!?” Amelia cried, staring in horror at the huffing cylinder inside and its strange copper and gold tubing.
“It’s too late, the simulation has begun.” Dr. Weber said. Jackie had a shock pistol trained on the woman, but she knew she wouldn’t shoot her. What was done was done, and stunning Dr. Weber now would stall an explanation. Dr. Weber seemed to sense this. She lowered her hands and strolled casually around the glass walls.
“This simulation will reveal the origins of Newburg. No one wanted us to research this, but I was determined to understand. Newburg doesn’t work like any Earth we’ve ever heard of. Every time I got close to the notion of space travel or even a simple geologic study, I was shut down. Anything beyond the cursory exploration of our planet by Drs. Bartholomew and Takahashi was discouraged and redirected. So I took matters into my own hands, and now no one can stop me from learning about Newburg’s genesis.” Dr. Weber stood in front of the odd machine and crossed her arms, daring Jackie to shoot her.
Jackie kept the shock pistol pointed at the woman’s chest. “So this is some cursed robot that sucks up children’s lives in order to give you a glimpse into Newburg’s history?”
Dr. Weber’s arms and jaws dropped in surprise. “What?!!? No!” She gestured emphatically to the machine behind her. “This is a quantum computer. Shamefully, it is the first one built in Newburg. The people in charge want the citizens of Newburg to Save The Worlds, but they’ve stopped our progress right here. How can we go forward if we don’t understand our own origins?”
Jackie lowered the shock pistol, examining the machine. “It’s a computer,” she said the fog beginning to lift. Amelia came around the glass-walled area to stand beside her. Dr. Weber nodded at both of them.
“Yes, it’s a quantum computer. It’s different than the computing system we use in Newburg. Instead of a single state, binary system of 1s and 0s, the quantum computer uses the undefined, quantum state of an object to create qubits of data. I’m tapping into the power of an object’s unknown and unobserved state of potentiality to process staggering amounts of information!” Dr. Weber said, her face bright with excitement and wonder.
Jackie shook her head, making her pig ears flop. “I understood about three words of what you just said. We’re not all geniuses, doc.”
“Clearly,” Dr. Weber said, disillusioned. “The point is, this computer can solve problems that would make even the most advanced supercomputer in Newburg melt in the effort. It will tell me how this planet was formed, and perhaps even where we are in the universe! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! The potential for quantum computing is yet to be explored, and what better place to start exploring it than Newburg!”
Jackie slowly ambled to the glass room, taking in the peculiar computer, and visualizing tiny, subatomic particles careening together in the large cylinder.
Amelia finally spoke. “But what are you doing with all the children?” Dr. Weber didn’t answer, but stared at her, puzzled.
“There are no children involved in your simulation are there?” Jackie asked, putting the pieces together.
“No! Why on earths would you think that?!!?” Dr. Weber replied, outraged.
“Because Jackie and I have been investigating the case of the missing children–“
“Not together,” Jackie interrupted her, snorting.
Amelia set her jaw but then continued. “The only suspicious activity reported lately has been pointing to you. Collecting strange equipment, rumors of a secret project, and now all these pictures of children in your lab, doctor!”
“I collected those items to build my computer! And these?” Dr. Weber strode toward the holographic picture display. “These are my sister’s grandchildren!”
“Your sister?” Amelia queried.
“Coooeey!” cried a cheerful voice from the lab’s open doorway. A stooped, older woman with wrinkled skin the same color as her powdery hair shambled into the room, a handbag hung in the crook of her arm.
“This is my eldest sister, Gertrude,” said Dr. Weber waving dismissively at the hunched woman. “She helps out in the lab.”
“Where is your lab assistant?” Jackie asked as Gertrude slowly approached the holographic picture display.
“Who, Katy?” Dr. Weber spat the name like it had a bad taste. “I had to fire Katy when she proved to be…untrustworthy.”
Gertrude finally reached the display of pictures. She reached out a knotted finger, gently touched one of the holographs, and flicked it out to hover over her com-ring. The 3-D image of a giggling, mocha-skinned toddler spun in the air. “This is my youngest grandson, Jamal,” she said with a wide grin. “But we have another one on the way in just a few months. Do either of you have children?”
Jackie ignored the absurd question preferring to check out the computer again. She placed her hands up to the cold glass noting how normal and human they looked compared to her swine-like reflection.
After a pause, Amelia answered. “No. I’m a R.A.N.CH. You know, Rockin’ Aunt No Children?” she said explaining the acronym. “But you should know that can be a very sensitive question to some women, Mrs. Umm. Mrs.?”
“Mrs. Blanton,” Gertrude answered, unperturbed.
“Mrs. Blanton!” Amelia said, shocked. “Wife of Dr. Frederick Blanton, the biochemist?”
“Yes, my husband was Dr. Blanton, bless his soul. He was my lab assistant, oh decades ago. I decided to have him take over my carbon capture utilization research so I could stay home and raise the children,” she said happily.
Jackie noticed Dr. Weber rolled her eyes at this statement.
“Carbon capture was your research? That’s incredible!” Amelia said, hugging her notebook.
Gertrude shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, someone would have discovered its uses eventually. It never truly inspired me. Gladys here is the one with the real drive for science.” Gertrude appraised Amelia for a moment. “You know, you might know my youngest son; he’s about your age. Kenneth Blanton? These are his children here.” She flicked another 3-D image over to her com-ring where she pointed to each child in a group of 6, naming and aging each.
Amelia feigned interest until Gertrude had gone through them all. Then she focused on Dr. Weber. “So you don’t know anything about the rash of missing children lately?”
Dr. Weber shook her head slowly. “Very regrettably, no. Now I must ask you to leave, ladies! You should not be in here potentially contaminating my lab in the first place.” She made a herding motion with her arms, and Jackie and Amelia gathered together near the door.
Amelia stopped before they could leave. “If you’re so concerned about people in your lab, why do you allow Gertrude here?”
Dr. Weber tsked. “I like to have her close. She has a knack for seeing the big picture if I become too focused,” she admitted haltingly. Then with more confidence, “Now please leave. It may take weeks, months even, but barring any more disturbances, when the simulation is complete, we will finally have a glimpse into the origins of Newburg!”
At that moment, an alert chimed from a nearby computer screen. “Oh it's finished,” she remarked casually. She continued to shoo the young women out the lab door. “Now we just have to let it process that massive amount of data…”
Another alert chimed. “Oh it’s finished.”
Ignoring Jackie and Amelia, Dr. Weber scrolled through the projected screen with a slender finger. Her eyes grew wide and her brow knit together as she read through the data. “This can’t be!” Amelia crept closer to the woman’s screen, but without turning Dr. Weber ordered, “Leave my lab this instant!”
Looking disappointed, Amelia gazed around the lab from the intensely engrossed Dr. Weber to Gertrude who was humming softly to herself and bustling about, tidying up the desk area. Amelia finally joined Jackie just outside the lab door before Jackie closed it with a grim expression on her face.
“I really want to stay and cover what Dr. Weber has learned,” Amelia said.
“Well that makes one of us,” Jackie said, turning abruptly and leaving Amelia in the dark hallway alone. Amelia trotted to catch up with her.
“You can’t tell me you aren’t the slightest bit curious about what that quantum computer found,” she said. She was nearly out of breath trying to keep up with Jackie’s quick pace.
“Not interested at all. I just hit a dead end in my case.” Jackie reached an exit door and waved her com-ring in front of it. It opened and she stepped through. “I’m off to Dead-Eye’s to order a Happy Go Plucky. Please, don’t join me.” She slammed the door shut in Amelia’s face and walked into the cool night air of Lower Newburg alone.
“I said, you can’t go in there! Dr. Weber, please. She is not to be disturbed!”
Dr. Weber burst through Mz. Bliss’s office door ahead of a frenzied Angelica. Gertrude tottered in behind them both. The administrative assistant apologized profusely saying, “I’m so sorry for the disruption, Mz. Bliss. She entered without my approval.”
Mz. Bliss took in Dr. Weber’s wild eyes and Gertrude’s pleasant smile before closing the budget report on the projected screen in front of her. “That’s quite alright, Angelica. It appears the doctors have urgent news. You may go now.” The assistant nodded her head once making her brown ponytail bounce. She left the room and closed the door quietly behind her.
“Were you planning on hiding this forever?” Dr. Weber demanded the instant they were alone.
“Hiding what?” Mz Bliss asked calmly.
“Hiding the fact that our planet is a patchwork of lands from different time periods all held together by an inexplicably dense amount of dark matter! It’s either that or the information I analyzed all night is incorrect, which I HIGHLY doubt.”
Mz. Bliss rose from her office chair and began to circle her desk toward Dr. Weber. “What do you know about dark matter, Dr. Weber?”
“I know that it shouldn’t be able to do this. It shouldn’t be able to interact with matter, only with gravity. It should be out there, free-floating in space, subtly influencing the shape of galaxies!” she said, gesturing to the Out There through the large window behind Mz. Bliss. “It should definitely not be contained in quantities this high. Just when were you going to tell us we were living on an implosion time bomb?!!? I demand a thorough scientific analysis of our world! Why have we been redirected around this subject for so many years?” Dr. Weber had her hands on her hips, and had she been biomechanically enhanced, she would have stared holes into Mz. Bliss’s skin.
Mz. Bliss knew this day would eventually come when the precise construction of Newburg would be called into question. Scientists were naturally curious, and these curious people made up half of Newburg’s citizenry. She knew this scientist in particular would cause a fuss unless her demands for knowledge were met. Perhaps she had the right to. Still, the less everyone knew the better off they would be.
Mz. Bliss leaned to a partial sit on her desk. She drew in a sharp breath and held it for a moment before speaking. “What most Earths know about dark matter is very little. What a few earths know about it—what I know—can be extremely dangerous. There is more to dark matter than science can explain.”
“Oh please,” Dr. Weber said in disgust, but Mz Bliss’ expression didn’t waver.
Gertrude—silent until now—said, “Gladys dear, you know that quantum physics depends heavily on the observer. And the observer can’t be completely controlled by scientific laws.” She smiled sweetly and adjusted her handbag on her arm.
Dr. Weber looked out the window again, disturbed. After a tense moment of silence, Gertrude piped up again. “Do you have any children, Mz. Bliss?” she asked with an excited smile.
“No,” Mz. Bliss stated.
“Oh.” Gertrude’s smile deflated and her gaze wandered around the room while Dr. Weber folded her arms over her chest seeming to mull over what to say next.
Gertrude picked up the brass nameplate resting on Mz. Bliss’s desk. “Mz. F. Bliss.” She read aloud. “What does the F stand for?”
“Felicity,” the stern woman answered matter of factly.
“Gertrude, if you would please focus!” Dr. Weber said through gritted teeth. She sighed and dropped her arms. “I want to know—whether it’s explained scientifically or not—how Newburg was formed and just why you think it’s safe for us to continue living here at all.”
Mz. Bliss cocked her head to the side, contemplating her next move. Ultimately, she pressed a button on her desk. “Yes, Mz. Bliss?” came a tinny voice through an unseen intercom.
“Angelica, please print a non-disclosure agreement. Also, please page Mr. Akua Igwe. We are in need of his services.”
Dr. Weber helped steady her older sister as she stepped over the threshold of the portal. “Oh! I haven’t done that in ages! Brings me back to when you and I first came to Newburg, Gladys. Portal travel is such a novel experience!” Gertrude said, blinking in wonder as she watched the portal shrink.
Akua Igwe, the man who opened the portal from Mz. Bliss’s office, beamed at Gertrude. “It never gets old, Dr. Blanton.” The four of them, Akua, Mz. Bliss, Gertrude, and Dr. Weber stood beneath a canopy of conifers. A sweet smell drifted from their branches as the cool autumn wind whooshed through their needles.
“Where are we?” asked Dr. Weber.
“We’re on Mt. Distant at the point which used to be the edge line,” Mz. Bliss answered. Dr. Weber brought out a silver, pen-like particle reader from her jacket pocket and waved it around.
She gasped. “The dark matter is concentrated here!”
“Yes, this is where two lands were joined—stitched together if you will—by dark matter. There will be a residual amount here before it settles in a few weeks,” Mz. Bliss said shooing an annoying insect away from her stoic face.
“Where two lands were… But how?” Dr. Weber asked, incredulous.
“Mr. Igwe, if you would demonstrate on a small scale.” Akua nodded with a smile. He then held his right hand palm out in front of him and snapped with this left hand. A new portal appeared and he stepped through. Dr. Weber and Gertrude peered through to see that the new portal led to a tropical looking place with blue ocean waves and swaying palm trees. The glowing circle then shrank, and Akua disappeared with it. The three women stood silent for a few minutes with only the sound of the wind and a distant bird filling the air between them.
The portal opened again, growing outward from the center until Akua stepped through holding a piece of what looked like lava rock. The portal closed behind him, and he held the fist-sized rock toward Gertrude asking, “Would you mind holding this please?” Delighted, Gertrude accepted the rock and giggled. Akua opened another portal, this time to a craggy desert landscape and returned with a piece of red sandstone about the size of his hand. “If you please, Dr. Blanton?” He asked holding his hand out to Gertrude again who placed the lava rock in his palm and tittered.
The tall man then crouched down over where Dr. Weber's particle reader had received the heaviest reading of dark matter particles and held the two different rocks in each hand. The rocks seemed to vibrate and then collided with each other as if a magnetic force was drawing them together before they fell to the ground.
“How on Earths?” Dr. Weber asked, picking up and examining the rocks that were now melded together, a smooth line in the middle where the red and the black met.
“Now, imagine this in a much grander scale,” Mz. Bliss said, opening her arms to the sky. “Hundreds of square miles of land moving through portals the size of small planets, and you have the genesis of Newburg. Each piece of land was chosen from different Earths just before their demise, rescued and stitched together. Recycled.”
Dr. Weber’s brows drew together. “So, when Newburg’s forest doubled in size overnight during that terrible storm, a portal had been opened to join another piece of forest here. Is that correct?”
Mz. Bliss nodded slowly.
“But how is the dark matter holding them together? This can’t be possible. They can’t be interacting with normal matter. How have you managed to condense it all? In these quantities, which will only grow over time, the gravitational force should cause them to implode!” Dr. Weber said, scouring the melded rock with her eyes.
Mz. Bliss nodded again walking closer. “Should. Yes. Dr. Blanton said it earlier, much of quantum physics is dependent upon the observer.”
“I’m observing it now, Mz. Bliss. It should be acting in a much different way,” Dr. Weber said angrily.
“Your observation isn’t the one that counts.” Mz. Bliss clasped her hands behind her back.
“Explain. Please.” Dr. Weber commanded crossing her arms over her chest.
“The sage community is involved. And now, I am at the limit of what I am legally allowed to divulge,” Mz Bliss stated.
Dr. Weber scoffed. “The sage community? Those buffoons—”
Mz. Bliss cut her off. “Those buffoons have been holding your world together for generations. This is the only way that Newburg, a place where the wisest people from different realities of Earth can exist and help better the lives of people everywhere. Where lifesaving remedies are created and tested on entire willing populations. Where advances in agriculture are stamping out starvation across planets. Where we’re learning not just to use our planet, but to work with it. A place where scientists learned the properties of dark matter and sages learned to harness those properties. All of this because the laws of physics and the laws of metaphysics are coming together much like the rock you hold in your hand.”
Dr. Weber clenched her jaw. Mz. Bliss took a breath and another step forward. “I trust you understand that in the wrong hands this knowledge could be disastrous for an entire planet of people. I trust you will keep this knowledge secret. I trust you are trustworthy.” She said looking Dr. Weber square in the eye.
Dr. Weber nodded. “Of course. You can rely on me. And on my sister.”
“Absolutely!” Gertrude said in a sing-song voice.
Mz. Bliss gestured to Akua who created another portal that led them back to the quiet formality of the parliamentarian’s office.
“And,” Mz. Bliss continued casually as if they hadn’t just traversed miles and miles in the blink of an eye, “if you prove untrustworthy, you both will be stripped of your degrees and any and all advances or discoveries you’ve made in the name of science will be reworked in the archives and accredited to other people,” said Mz. Bliss, coming to stand next to an uncomfortable-looking Akua. “I trust I’ve made myself clear?”
“Absolutely.” Dr. Weber gulped.
A light rap came from the office door, and Angelica entered the room. Mz. Bliss looked perturbed at the interruption. “Please forgive the intrusion, Mz. Bliss,” she said calmly but with panic in her eyes. “While you were gone, Chief Pearson called with an urgent matter about the Newburg Bank.”