Did you hear what happened last chapter???
Qbit, The Professor and Pippy need to get themselves and Aura, the gryphon, off the island.
Back to the story…
“Can you see anything?” Qbit peered up into the tree and could just make out the Professor standing on one branch while holding herself up with her arm wrapped around another.
“Still a lot of smoke. I don’t see anybody, though. She started back down the tree. “Ya know, I didn’t expect to leave this life with a such a bang,” she yelled to him as she carefully retraced her original route, only backwards, this time. “Do you think it’s safe to try and make our way to Pippy?”
“I think so. I haven’t heard any sirens, so I guess they don’t have enough people left here to do anything about the fire. They’ll probably let it burn. They’re leaving anyway, so what do they care?”
Qbit lost sight of her, but by the sounds of grunts and groans getting closer to him, he guessed she was close. She suddenly appeared on a branch just above his head. “Here, take my hand,” he said, reaching up to her.
She grabbed hold, “Thank…you!” then jumped down, wrapping her other arm around his neck to steady her. “You look so healthy for being dead.”
Qbit replied, “Why thank you! And so, do you!”
She let go of him and wiped her hands on her pants. “My mom used to get so mad when I would come home with bark and sap all over my hands and clothes.” She looked back up into the tree and said, “It sure felt good to climb again.” She allowed herself to bask in the warm thoughts of the freedoms of being a child then turned back to Qbit and asked, “Are we ready to go?”
“Hold on a second, I’ve got to do something before we go.” He turned toward the burning tram and stretched his right arm out in front of him, his palm turned upward. Within seconds a stream of, what looked like a line of blowing glitter, made its way to his hand. It magically disappeared into his skin.
“That’s all that’s left of us, huh? Are we, um, damaged in any way?”
Qbit stayed motionless, waiting for all the particles to be absorbed. “Not in the least.”
“How come you didn’t tell me about all this before?” she said, motioning with her hand toward the vanishing particles.
“It’s complicated. It’s part of some other stuff that I found out that I could do.”
“Has this got anything to do with how fast you were able to get in front of me when we ran into Dr. Caruso?”
“Uh, yeah, more or less.”
“I don’t know if I should be angry that you kept it from me or sorry that I never really looked into your full potential as a quantum computer. I got so hung up with everything else that was happening.” She paused for a second, looking again at the particles streaming into his hand, “What’s that feel like?”
“I don’t really feel anything, it kinda tickles a bit, I guess.”
“It looks like CGI from out of a movie, it’s pretty cool.” She watched for a second more then asked, “So, each particle is independent?”
“Yep, they have everything they need to be a fully functional individual. However, I prefer them to work together. It makes for a better looking me.”
Her curiosity was getting the best of her, so she asked, “How many others can you be?” But, before he could answer she said, “How many can leave before something negative happens to you?” The Professor noticed a slight change in his demeanor.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“I’m sorry Q. I didn’t mean to ask so many questions.” She placed her hand under his. She watched as the last of the particles disappeared into his wrist. She dropped her hand and said, “I don’t know why I’ve waited until now. I should know the answers to all this…perhaps Pippy was right, I’m too self -absorbed.”
Qbit smiled, “Don’t feel bad Professor, it’s not your fault and besides if anyone’s self-absorbed, it would be me!” He lowered his hand then quickly brought it back up as a couple of tardy particles suddenly appeared. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here so we can meet up with Pippy and Aura, it’s going to get dark soon.”
The Professor, Qbit and Pippy all stood at the top of a small hill that overlooked the dock. The trees were dense enough so that no one could see them from below, at least that’s what they hoped. Pippy’s electric cart was parked behind them on an old trail, it smelled of burnt electric motors. Aura lay on the straw bedding in the same cage she had been in earlier.
At the base of the hill, rows of vehicles were parked in what looked like a staging area. A couple of people milled around but most were waiting a little further away on the dock. Several people looked to their phones then glanced out toward the horizon.
Qbit said, “It looks as though the ferry might be due soon. We better get moving.”
“My cart’s toast so we need to get a truck that’s big enough to carry all of us,” whispered Pippy. She pointed to the row of vehicles, “That one there, the green one looks good, plus it’s at the end of the line so it will be easy to move.”
“You mean the green Land Rover with the tan tarp covering the back?” asked the Professor.
“The one with the woman wearing earbuds and sitting on the tailgate?”
“Don’t you think she presents a bit of a problem?”
“Not at all.”
“I have training.”
Qbit asked, “Training? What kind of training?”
“The kind an animal handler needs when they’ve run out of options.” She started down the hill, keeping her center of gravity low and using the trees to control her speed.
“Um, should we be concerned?” asked Qbit. “I noticed she had a strange look in her eyes. Did you see it?”
“You mean, the one people in the movies get when they are about to take down the bad guys?”
“Yeah, that one.”
They watched as Pippy reached the bottom of the hill. She crouched down low and slowly made her way across the dirt road and to the Land Rover. She came at it from an angle so the woman would be less likely to see her. She made it easily to the vehicle, paused, then looked around to see if anyone had seen her. Both Qbit and the Professor did the same thing, straining their necks trying to see around the trees.
Pippy waited, crouched low at the side of the vehicle.
Qbit whispered, “It’s like waiting for a lion to pounce on a grazing gazelle.”
“It looks to me like she does this sort of thing all the time. I wonder where she got the training she was talking about?”
The professor whispered loudly, “Q, shut up!”
Pippy reached into her back pocket and pulled something out. The woman on the tailgate was rocking her head back and forth to the rhythm of the music. She had no idea Pippy was there.
“What was that! What did she reach into her pocket for? Holy crap, was that a knife?” The Professor was weaving her head back and forth trying to get a better view.
“I don’t know? It’s too hard to make it out”
“Don’t you have a zoom feature or something on those eyes of yours?”
Qbit looked at her and said, “A zoom feature? Really?”
“Yeah, I know, sorry, I got caught up in the moment.”
They watched as Pippy slowly stood up then froze. Her target had suddenly jumped off the tailgate…
“Oh, no!” cried Pippy.
…she threw her arms up high over her head and stretched, swaying her torso side to side and bending slightly back and forth. Luckily for Pippy she still had her back to her and didn’t turn around.
Pippy took advantage of her prey’s new position. She reached forward, using the bed of the truck to steady herself. Close enough now to grab her, she took one more step, making sure her feet were placed properly. Cat-like, she sprang forward and grabbed the woman around the waist with one arm and brought her other hand up to her mouth.
The woman had no idea what hit her, her earbuds flew from her head, a muffled scream barely made it through Pippy’s closed hand.
The Professor and Qbit were speechless, mesmerized by the scene unfolding just feet below them.
The woman struggled, fighting to pry Pippy’s arm from around her waist. Recognizing that her attacker was too strong, she tried yanking her hands away from her mouth. This didn’t work either. In a last-ditch effort, she bent forward quickly, pulling Pippy off balance. Pippy had to let go of her mouth in order to maintain her balance. Finding herself almost free, she twisted violently all the way around. She froze, a look of surprise on her face as she recognized who her assailant was.
Pippy still had her arm around the woman’s waist. She quickly swung up her other arm, her hand still clenched the item from her pocket She brought it up aiming for the woman’s face and…
“I can’t look!” screamed the Professor as she shut her eyes tightly.
…let the woman go.
“What the…? said Qbit suddenly.
The Professor opened one eye and said, “What? What happened?”
“She let her go!”
The look of fear on the woman changed to a look of recognition then anger. Pippy backed away laughing. The woman put one hand to her heart and pushed Pippy back with the other. The Professor and Qbit could just make out the woman say, “You ass, you scared the crap out of me!”
The Professor was elated, “Thank goodness! She knows her!”
“Well, that turned out to be anti-climactic. I thought they were going to be locked in some sort of life and death struggle for at least a little longer.”
They both watched as Pippy brought her hand up and showed her what was in it. The woman shook her head no, so she put it back into her pocket. They could see that they were both smiling until Pippy said something, then their expressions suddenly got serious.
“What happened? What did she just say?” whispered Qbit. “My bionic ears couldn’t make it out.”
The Professor reached out and punched him in the arm.
It looked like Pippy was doing all the talking. At one point she turned and pointed up the hill in their direction. The woman put her hand to her eyes and looked towards them then turned back to Pippy. Eventually, Pippy motioned toward the truck, the woman looked at it, paused, then reached into her front pocket and pulled out a set of keys. She handed them to Pippy then wrapped her arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. Pippy returned the hug just as strongly. They said something to each then separated. The woman turned around and bent down to pick up her fallen earbuds. She looked over her shoulder and waved to Pippy. She glanced up towards them, then disappeared amongst the other vehicles.
Pippy waited for her to get out of sight then walked over to the truck’s driver side, opened the door and jumped up into the seat. She fired up the engine, did a quick U-turn and drove up the road.
She rolled to a stop next to them and jumped out, slamming the door shut.
“Piece of cake,” she said to the both of them.
“We saw, pretty exciting. Just out of curiosity, Pippy,” said Qbit when he reached the side of the truck, “What was it that you showed her?”
“Oh, that. It was a five-dollar bill. I owed her for a tuna fish sandwich she bought me for lunch yesterday.”
“Do you think she’ll tell anyone?”
“I don’t see why, she buys me sandwiches all the time and never mentioned it to anyone.”
“No, no, I mean about the truck. Do you think she’ll tell anyone about that?”
“She won’t say anything.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“She’s my sister.”
With the Professor and Qbit’s help, Pippy was able to coax Aura out of her cage and into the back of the truck. They made sure she was comfortable then pulled the tarp over the back and attached it to the tailgate.
The professor asked Pippy, “I can’t help but wonder if everything is okay between you and your sister.”
“You don’t have to worry about her. She’s good. I told her I’d be back to get her. That’s not a problem, right?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“I’m good with that and I’m sure Q will be too.”
Pippy went to the driver’s door, pulled it open and said, “I’ll drive. I’m the only ones that knows the island.”
“I call shotgun!” yelled Qbit as he scrambled around to the other side.
“Oh brother,” mumbled the Professor as she climbed into the back seat.
Pippy climbed in and started the truck. She looked at the Professor through the rearview mirror and said, “I grabbed my tablet from the electric cart and threw it back there. If you want to take a look at it, you can. All the medical records for the animals and beasts are in there. Maybe you can find something I missed.”
“Great, you read my mind. Um, I’ll need the password unless you want to do it?” She started to hand her the tablet but Pippy said, “No, you can do it. It’s capital G, lower case o, d, z, i, l, l then the ‘at sign’.
The Professor typed it in then said, “Huh, Godzilla, what a coincidence.”
“Yeah, it’s the name of an old movie I used to watch. It’s about huge beast that gets zapped by radiation and rampages through Tokyo. It kinda reminded me of Aura.”
All the Professor could say was “Hmm.”
Pippy looked at Qbit and said, “Okay boss, what’s the plan?’
“Well, for starters, let’s get away from here before anyone sees us.”
“10-4 good buddy.” She put the truck in gear, a puff of black diesel smoke blew from the exhaust pipe as she found first gear and stepped on the gas pedal. “If we keep heading this way it will take us back to the main building. I don’t think we want to do that.”
“Nope, not a good idea.”
“There’s an old trail up ahead that does take us all the way around the entire complex. It’s a little rough, though.”
“How do you think Aura will handle it?”
She looked over shoulder and out the back window, “She should be okay. I gave her a sedative before I left the building. She seemed pretty comfortable, but I don’t think she’s going to last much longer.” She looked back at him, “I hope you have a good plan to get us out of here.”
“I do, but I have to tell you guys something first.” Qbit turned toward Pippy, putting his left arm across the back of her seat and looking back at the Professor. “Professor, you need to hear this too. Professor?”
She pulled her attention away from the tablet. “What? This is some fantastic data, Pippy.” She looked up and focused on Qbit and said, “Yeah, okay. What’s up?”
With a very serious face he continued, “From this point on, some things are going to get weird, but I need you two to do what I say, when I say it. You have to trust me. Do you both understand?”
Pippy took her gaze off of the road long enough to look back at the Professor through the rear-view mirror. She noticed a look of confusion on her face.
Qbit looked directly at the Professor, “Especially you, Professor.”
She looked him in the eyes, “Wow, Q. What’s going on? I’ve never seen you so serious before. You are serious, right?”
“Very,” he looked toward Pippy and said, “Pippy, please stop the truck for a second.”
The brakes made a slight squeaking noise as she slowed it to a stop.
“Professor, there are some things that I had to keep secret from you. Things that are so important that I had no other choice. Events have taken place in the past that needed to happen and if I had told you about them before, I ran the risk of altering their outcome. I apologize for that.”
She said, “For the love of Pete, Q.”
“The hardest part is that I have to tell you now and I’m afraid you’ll be really pissed.”
Pippy was confused. “Wait a minute, I understand you two have been together for a long time, but this sounds pretty serious. You said ‘relationship’ but you’re just a robot with a computer for a brain, right?”
Qbit sighed as if he got this question all the time, “It’s not easy to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”
Qbit gave her a look and with a rare hint of anger in his voice said, “I don’t think so.”
Pippy stabbed her finger in his direction and said, “Wait just a second, Honcho, I just got thrown together with you two, stole a truck that’s headed somewhere that I have no idea where, with a dying animal I care very much about. I think I have a right to know what the heck is going on.”
Qbit looked at the Professor. She said, “Don’t look at me, you’re the one that got all serious.”
“Okay, okay, fair enough.” He looked at Pippy and said, “Sorry and yes, I am a computer, a quantum computer but no, I’m not a robot. Are you familiar with quantum physics?”
“I’ve read some stuff. Didn’t understand much but I’ve got the basic idea. I think.”
He smiled and said, “Okay, I’ll go slow.”
“Thank you,” she said sarcastically, but returned the smile, easing the tension that had built between the two of them.
“So, one thing about quantum physics is it allows me to alter my physical structure. I’m actually made up of neutrinos.”
“They’re pretty tiny, how does that work?”
“I’ve got enough so when they group together, they can be big enough to actually see.”
“But, how can we see them?
“They alter their position, so they’ll reflect the surrounding light creating an illusion of a solid object.”
“But I can reach out and touch you. You feel solid plus you can push on other things. If you were just neutrinos reflecting light you wouldn’t be able to do those things.”
“I think it a combination of my dark matter and my ability to produce a magnetic field.”
“You ‘think’? You mean you’re not sure how you work?”
“Just being honest.”
“What happens in the dark?”
“What do mean?”
“If it’s dark, how do the neutrinos reflect the surrounding light if there isn’t any?”
“Wow, you sure you don’t know more than you’re letting on? Because these are really insightful questions!”
“What can I say, I’m a quick learner, answer please.”
“Yes ma’am, my center is a glowing mass of dark matter, they reflect that.”
“Dark glowing matter sounds counterintuitive, but I’m willing to let that slide considering the circumstances. What’s your natural state?”
Qbit switched to his natural state. Instead of the Professor’s lab assistant seating next to her, a stunning display of groups of neutrinos swirling around a glowing central mass hovered above the worn fabric of the passenger’s seat.
“Holy cow! I hate to admit this but you’re beautiful.” She stared at him for a second or two more. “However, I see why you prefer to look the other way!”
He switched back. “Yeah, it’s a lot easier for people to feel comfortable around. So, are we good?”
“Yes sir, for now, anyway.”
The Professor looked at him and said, “I’m stuck on the relationship part. Get back to that. How’s that going to be affected by ‘things that have taken place in the past’”
Uh oh. Here we go. “Let me explain…” Before he could say anything else, Pippy jumped in.
“Yeah! What did you mean by that? That’s kind of weird isn’t it? I mean, I like my tablet and all, but I don’t think I would ever think I had a ‘relationship’ with it.”
Qbit hung his head down in frustration. “Look, let me explain.”
She continued, “I mean you’re a swirling mass of particles…”
“Good Lord, will you stop for one minute!”
“…how would anyone develop a relationship with that?’
He switched into her sister and got serious again, “Do you think if you spent a lot of time with me, looking like this, day in and day out, through good times and bad… he looked at the Professor… having no one else you could call a friend or knew would be there for you, night or day, you might not start to see me differently?” He switched back.
The Professor said, “I’ve got friends.”
“I know, but, that part, I think, was more about me.”
Qbit and the professor looked at each other briefly then looked away. Neither one of them said anything. Pippy broke the tension. “I’m picking up some strange vibes, here.” She looked back and forth at both of them. “Shut the front door, I know what it is! You guys like each other!”
The Professor said with some hesitation in her voice, “What? No, it’s, um, not like that. Tell her Q.”
Qbit looked at her, opened his mouth to say something, stopped, then said, unconvincingly, “No, no, it’s not like that at all.”
The Professor shrank back into her seat.
Pippy said, “See, I told you! It is so that! The Professor and Qbit sitting in a tree, k, i, s, s, i, n, g! To think, I would have missed this if I had gone to that party!”
Qbit put his head in hand and said, “Sterling did say you like to tell it like it is. Are you always like this?”
She leaned back against the driver’s side door with a huge grin on her face, “Pretty much.”
The Professor leaned forward and said, seriously, “Look, we need to get back to why we’re here and what we’re doing right now. If you have something to tell us that’s going to get us out of here, then you better go ahead and do it. We’ll discuss the other stuff later.”
Qbit said, “Okay…you’re right, first things, first”
Pippy asked, “Can I get going again?”
“Yeah, sure.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small square shaped device. He swiped his hand over top of it and it unfolded, becoming a tablet-like device.
Pippy glanced at it as she drove, smiled and said with a touch of drama, “Oh my, that thing is so cute, I think I’m in love.”
Qbit ignored her and swiped his hand over it again. A screen flickered to life. He stared at for a second, looked around the outside of the truck then looked at the screen again. He pinched his pointer finger and thumb to zoom in and out. Seemingly satisfied he said to Pippy, “Okay. I see the trail you were talking about. It’s up ahead. Follow that for about half a mile. You’ll come to another trail that turns off to the left. There’s a lake on the right. We’ll follow that for a bit.”
“Okay, I think I know where you’re talking about.”
He looked back at the Professor. She had her head buried in Pippy’s tablet again.
He said to himself, “I am such an idiot! I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut.”