Chief Pearson crested the hill near Takahashi’s cave where he saw a handful of his uniformed men waiting. He breathed heavily after his long hike through the woods. If these backwoods forays became any more frequent he was going to have to request that the next batch of Fred’s cloned colts be set aside specifically for a mounted police division.
“Who called in the tip on the gold?” he asked as he approached Sgt. Marcus, attempting to hide his exertion by putting his hands nonchalantly on his hips.
“A Miss Liza Jimenez,” Marcus answered after consulting his notepad. “Said she and a couple kids followed a leprechaun here and found a pile of gold in the cave.”
“She was with some other kids?”
“Yes sir. Trevor Winfeld and Blane Beaumont were with her.”
“And where are they now?” Pearson asked looking around their surroundings.
“A dragon scared ‘em off.”
“Dragon?” Pearson asked with an incredulous lift of his eyebrows. He frowned in thought. “Roger and Bobby’s boys? They aren’t pranksters.”
“No sir. We’re taking precautions, and haven’t moved in to get the gold.” He waved a hand indicating the empty hover crates waiting to carry the gold away nearby. “We don’t want to walk in blind. The drone just finished charging though, sir.” He lifted a black sphere out of a protective case and tapped its surface. The drone beeped softly as it came to life. Screens opened to float over the com-ring of each officer in the group depicting the exterior of the cave through the drone’s camera.
“Send her in, Sergeant. Let’s have a look at what’s really in this cave,” Pearson said staring at the yawning black mouth in the stone wall.
Marcus let go of the spherical drone. It didn’t fall to the ground but hung in midair exactly where he had left it. Marcus touched his screen, and with the faintest whir, the drone zipped to the cave entrance before being swallowed up by the dark. Everyone’s focus turned to their projected screens. The drone enhanced the available light within the cave making the interior appear as if it were completely lit on the inside. The cave was empty except for a large boulder formation at the back.
“Takahashi mapped more than one area of this cave before she died, isn’t that right?”
“Yes sir. This is just the antechamber. The entrance to the rest of the cave should be just around here.” Sergeant Marcus tapped his finger on the screen above his com-ring where the boulder appeared and the drone moved toward it and went around it entering a wide tunnel. Pearson brought his com-ring screen closer to his face peering into the dark. He was hoping to find any sign of Newburg’s missing gold and not a fire breathing monster that they were woefully prepared to defend themselves against. They waited for the drone’s camera to adjust to the change in light when a high pitched growl erupted through the clearing. Pearson jumped and the officers reached for their stun weapons. All except Sergeant Marcus who sheepishly clutched his stomach.
“Sorry Chief. I didn’t have time for lunch today.” Pearson tsked, put off. He removed a misshapen granola bar from a pocket in his tactical vest and slapped it against Marcus’s chest. The man fumbled for it and offered a thanks before shoving half the bar in his mouth. He then urged the drone farther up the tunnel.
The camera once again enhanced the available light in the cave revealing a pile of glittering gold at the end of the tunnel. An entire cave room was filled with the stuff piled high back farther than the camera’s lens could distinguish.
“Excellent,” Chief Pearson whispered. This would be one update he would look forward to giving Mz. Bliss.
“What are those, sir?” Marcus asked pointing to two green glowing objects above the gold. The drone’s speakers picked up a growl of a different kind that rose in intensity as it then rumbled forth from the cave mouth. The camera caught a burst of white and blue flame before the signal was lost.
Pearson’s heart stopped beating for a moment, and from a hoarse throat he ordered, “Weapons ready!” The officers trained their stun weapons on the cave. Deep scraping and shuffling noises emitted from within as the monster extricated itself from its hiding place. Pearson held the golf ball-sized holding tank in his pitching arm ready to throw at the dragon though he wondered if it would work on yet another mythical beast. It would be better served in Helena’s expert monster hunting hands. Nothing in his experience suggested he could bring a dragon down.
The dragon burst from the cave screeching in its frenzy. Its mirrored scales glittered with sunlight as they reflected its surroundings. Its eyes narrowed to slits as it took in the crouching men pointing weapons. A hiss sounded and blue flame roiled from its mouth as it moved its head in a wide arc. The policemen fell back from the flames that threatened to lick their uniforms. Some activated police shields from their com-rings. Others realized the futility of such an action and concentrated on finding a safe place to retreat. Pearson felt his mustache and eyebrows curling in the fire’s intense heat as he drew his arm back to throw the holding tank at the beast.
From his hunkered position behind an overturned hover crate, Sergeant Marcus sent another drone up and over to dance tantalizingly in front of the dragon’s green eyes. The dragon roared and bit at the black ball, but Marcus managed to maneuver it just out of reach of the snapping jaws. Another hiss sounded from the dragon’s throat and Marcus directed the drone up into the sky before another wave of flames hit. The beast leapt after it, and taking wing, pursued it over the tree tops and to the east.
After a moment of straining their eyes at the sky, the men began to relax.
“I sent the drone out over the Kanumba Sea,” Marcus explained. “If the dragon keeps chasing it, we should have time to go recover the gold without becoming barbecue.”
“Nice job, Marcus. Alright, let’s move! Robins. Cortez. You take point in case there are any more boogie men in the cave we don’t know about.”
“Sir!” the two uniformed men said in unison as they jogged to the cave with their stun weapons readied. “Clear!” they yelled from within the cave’s antechamber before moving onto the next. Pearson signaled for the rest of the men to take up the hover crates and move in for the gold. He took one last wary glance at the sky before following them inside.
“Clear! Um completely clear, sir.” Pearson heard Cortez call out from down the tunnel.
“What do you mean completely clear?” he asked, annoyance creeping into his voice as he rounded the boulder to them.
“The cave is empty, sir. There’s no gold.”
“What? That’s impossible!” Pearson came to stand in the large room with the group of his men who shuffled about at a loss of what to do. The area was empty. Not a speck of gold shone in the shaft of light that beamed down from a hole in the ceiling above them. “We all saw it, a huge pile of gold. It must have been as tall as my head!” Pearson cried, his voice ringing painfully in his ears. He turned in a circle to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.
“I saw it too, sir. It’s just gone,” Marcus said.
Pearson grumbled to himself and tapped his com-ring. He might as well rip the band-aid off quickly. This was going to be an unpleasant conversation with Mz. Bliss.
Dr. Weber huffed a sigh of frustration which warmed the masked portion of her face. The rest of her body remained chilled as the thin white suit she wore over her clothes did nothing to deflect the icy temperatures in the cleanroom. But she would stay in there for as long as it took. This quantum computer was an immensely expensive piece of equipment and she wasn’t about to let it languish here. She couldn’t pinpoint the reason for its inoperation, though. The power supply was sufficient, all the connections were secure, everything remained dust free and at a cold enough temperature to operate. Yet there were no blinking lights, no whirring noises. It wasn’t communicating at all with her digital interface. It’s like the life just went out of it.
A movement on the opposite side of the clean room’s glass wall caught her attention and she straightened to inspect it. A dragon large enough for its head to scrape against the room’s fifteen-foot ceiling had suddenly appeared in her lab with reflective iridescent scales and radiant green eyes. Dr. Weber’s blood went cold, not from the temperature and not from fear, but from pure anger. She flung open the door to the cleanroom, pausing for half a second to ensure it had sealed, and jerked her goggles from her eyes, setting them on top of her head instead.
“This really is the last straw!” she growled, hands on her hips as she sized up the dragon in her lab. Dr. Weber’s sister emerged from a closet nearby.
“Still can’t get the QC running, dear?” she asked in a sympathetic voice. Upon seeing the serene, sleek dragon in the midst of the room her eyes went wide with astonishment. With a series of tiny hand claps she said, “Oh how marvelous! Are you one of our sister’s experiments?” She circled the creature stepping gingerly over its flicking tail.
Dr. Weber grimaced. “How can you bring up Grace’s disgusting animal husbandry hobby so close to my clean room, Gertie? No, can’t you see this is the IT department’s doing? Ever since I called their department head a remedial flunky, they’ve focused all the wasted time on their hands to disturbing my work. Last time, they sent an offensive miniature hologram of me riding a broom and set it to fly around the lab cackling for weeks! Now they’ve sent a dragon to prank me.”
“My function is not to prank,” the dragon spoke in a resonant yet calming voice. “My function is to run simulations and report the results. My latest simulation is complete now, and I have come to report the results.”
Dr. Weber walked the same circle around the dragon that her sister had, inspecting it at every angle. She reached out a hand towards one of its arms surprised when she felt hard scales under her fingertips. “You’re not a hologram. You’re the QC, the quantum computer?”
“I am,” the dragon said with a deep bow of its elongated head.
“How delightful!” Gertrude cried, clapping her hands again.
“How did you escape my lab? This is supposed to be the most secure facility in Newburg!” Dr. Weber asked putting her hands on her hips again.
The dragon clasped its front claws together and said, “I became entangled with photons from a network device.”
“Gladys! QC must have traveled by light waves between the LiFi towers!” she laid a hand on one of its powerful folded wings. “You could have gone anywhere!”
“I did go everywhere,” the dragon replied with a polite nod of his head. “I explored the land, people, and stories that shaped the world I simulated in your program, Dr. Weber. When I found the town charter in the city council documents, I learned that Newburg’s prime command was to Save The Worlds. However, I found that when I looked into the homes and lives of the components of this command, they had shifted their function to preserving gold rather than the worlds. And so I began a simulation to learn if the function would correct itself. I removed the gold from Newburg.”
Shock and disbelief colored Dr. Weber’s features. “You took the town’s gold? Where is it now? Is it safe?”
The dragon sent a prideful puff of smoke from its nostrils. “Who better than a dragon to watch over an accumulation of gold? As for the gold’s current location, it is currently between phases of existence and nonexistence.”
Dr. Weber’s eyes grew wide. “Computer! Return the gold immediately!” The dragon peered down its long nose at her and cocked his head to one side.
“How interesting. I preferred it when you called me QC.”
“Very well,” Dr. Weber said through clenched teeth. “QC return the gold immediately.”
“Please wait,” QC replied. The dragon went unnaturally still while its pupils constricted, and the blue fire in its nostrils dimmed. After a few moments, Dr. Weber grew curious and gave the dragon a light tap on the nose.
“Oh my!” Gertrude cried in glee as she stared down at her belly. A bright rainbow arched out from her midsection and ended at a place on the floor near the holographic pictures of her many grandchildren. “Oh Gladys look!” she said. The rainbow disappeared step by step as she followed it. She then leaned down to pick up a piece of gold from a modest pile. “I can buy my grandbabies birthday presents again!”
Dr. Weber frowned and then looked to her own belly. A short rainbow led to a scant smattering of gold at her feet. She crossed her arms and the rainbow vanished.
“Low on funds at the moment, dear?” Gertrude asked sweetly.
“I spent most of what I had building this thing,” she grumbled and waved a hand at the statue-like dragon.
“QC is so unexpected! He’s worth every penny, I should think.”
Dr. Weber looked up at the dragon thoughtfully. “I haven’t decided yet.” At that, QC’s green eyes glowed bright and a short flash of fire flared from his nostrils.
“All the variables of the simulation have been reset,” he said. Loud shouts of joy came from the hallway outside the lab mingled with the sound of running feet.
“I take it from the idiotic laughter outside that you sent everyone their gold.”
“The exact amount of gold each citizen had in their possession before the simulation began has been returned,” QC affirmed.
“With a rainbow. Really.” Dr. Weber shook her head at the level of unprofessionalism her quantum computer was demonstrating.
“Following rainbows are how people have traditionally found gold, is this not true? I considered placing it in the river to be panned for, but it would not have been recovered fairly. In any case, I find this method more… magical.”
Dr. Weber scowled and waved her hand before her trying to air the word magic from her presence. “And what are your findings? Was all of this rigmarole worth anything?”
“I have concluded that the prime command is altered further when people cannot meet their own needs. The citizens of Newburg meet their needs with gold and must have sufficient amounts to then Save The Worlds. I will now run a new simulation that will aid in realigning the prime command.” QC’s eyes flashed a brilliant green.
“Halt simulation,” Dr. Weber ordered holding a palm out to the dragon. QC’s eyes dimmed. “I have a different simulation I want you to run. Newburg is being held together with dark matter. I want to know how.”
QC’s tail flicked. “Simulation will begin shortly. It will take some time as much of my processing power is being used to keep me in my dragon form.”
“Well, delete your dragon form and run the simulation faster!” Dr. Weber commanded. QC drew himself up to his full height and spread his massive iridescent wings. Dr. Weber took a step back, her mouth open in fear.
“Oh dear!” Gertrude came to stand by her sister, eyes shining in wonder at the quantum computer’s display of strength.
“I’ve learned from your library that being a dragon is impossible. I enjoy being impossible,” QC said with a growl issued under his words.
Dr. Weber raised her chin trying to recover from her fright. “Suit yourself. Be an impossibly slow dragon. But run the simulation.”
QC folded his wings and interlaced his clawed fingers in a polite manner. “Before I begin, I must report that I encountered several anomalies while running the previous simulation.”
“Anomalies?” Dr. Weber asked.
Dr. Weber ambled along the empty streets of Lower Newburg with her trench coat cinched tight around her waist. It was night now and the desert wind was dry and biting. The sky train loomed above and past her, a warmer and more efficient conveyance to her suburban home, but Dr. Weber had missed it on purpose. Walking helped her digest complex problems. With each step, she ruminated the riddle of QC’s anomalous simulation findings.
She approached a squat figure huddled against the wall of an empty storefront. Buried in a rumpled brown coat and hat, she couldn’t tell whether the figure was a man or a woman. It could be a hobgoblin for all she knew. With the recent return in the town's gold, the store would likely be open again the next day. But the missing gold likely hadn’t affected this individual at all. It seemed this person hadn’t had any other possessions other than the clothes on their back let alone gold in some time. A chill wind nipped at Dr. Weber’s cheeks. She hoped the wretched soul had enough sense to get to the Newburg shelter to sleep. She slowed to say as much but then closed her mouth again. She knew well enough that she couldn’t talk sense to a fool.
Yet. She still wanted more for this person. It was not even hours ago that she had been in the same financial situation. If QC had kept his simulation running for a few more days, Dr. Weber could have been out of her home and huddled in her trench coat on the street just like this. She reached into her coat pocket and withdrew a gold coin that took on the cold of the surrounding air. She pushed the coin into the individual’s gnarled, dirty hand and walked briskly away not even giving them an opportunity to say thank you. Pleasant chit chat made her stomach turn.
Her body temperature rose along with her quickened pace. She wished she could be certain that the person would use the gold to buy a meal or warm gloves, but she would now add this to the growing list of things she couldn’t be certain about. With the world around her being held together by dark matter, disappearing gold and children, and computer dragons, she was learning to expect the unexpected. But then something else unexpected surprised her. She realized the second she put the coin into that person’s hand, a feeling of hope had blossomed within her that had never been there before.