Did you read what happened on QKBP?
The gang had just made off with a vehicle and were headed away from the complex and, hopefully, to safety….
Now back to where we left off last time…
The smell of dry grass and dust drifted in through the open windows. They traveled the short distance to the turn-off in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Luckily, they hadn’t seen anyone else around.
“We should be close. It’s just up here,” said Qbit.
“There’s the lake,” said Qbit, pointing. Through a grove of pine trees, the small body of water he had seen on the map, came into view. The bright sunlight reflected off the tops of small ripples forced across the surface by a lazy, warm wind. “The road should be next. It’s up here somewhere on the left.” He was sitting up close to the windshield, trying to make out the road through the sun’s glare. He looked back down at the map, then up to the road.
In unison, Pippy and he said, “There it is!” She slowed the truck and turned onto a set of tracks barely visible in the tall grass.
“How far now?” she asked.
The Professor popped her head up to see where they were going, then dropped it again to concentrate on the tablet.
“About a mile up. Hopefully what little trail there is will be enough to get us all the way there.”
“It’s pretty rough, I don’t want to go to fast and end up banging Aura around.”
Pippy watched the trail carefully, trying to avoid any large rocks or washed-out areas. She occasionally snuck a glance in Qbit’s direction. He was constantly looking from his tablet in his lap to the scenery as it slowly went by.
She asked, “How does that thing work? Is it a map or what?”
“It’s a lot like a regular map app, only instead of ATMs and fast food places, this one tracks gates.”
“Yep. Openings to other places.”
“Openings, what do you mean, openings?” This came from the Professor, who had suddenly become interested in the conversation.
Pippy asked, “What do you mean ‘other places’? Like going through a wormhole to a different time or place?”
“Something like that.”
“Get out! No way!”
The Professor said, “You never told me any of this. How could you not tell me about gates into wormholes?”
Avoiding her question, he replied, “They’re not really wormholes, they’re threads.” Pippy cut him off, “Wait a second, I just remembered, I’ve heard something about that before.”
Q grew concerned, “Where? Where did you hear about it?”
Pippy was a little startled by his reaction, “I’m not sure. Maybe I’m wrong.”
“Gates are a very closely guarded secret. Not many people know about them, so I’m really surprised to hear you mention that you know something about them.”
“I don’t really know anything. I just thought I remember overhearing someone say something. Someone at the complex.”
“The complex? That’s not good. Do you remember where you heard it? It’s very important.”
“I think it was from two other people who work with the animals. I was passing by them as they ate lunch. I remember that they were huddled close together; I thought that was odd. That’s probably why I remember now. I heard them say something about travelling through a gate. That was it. I really didn’t think much of it because we have so many gates on the complex. It was the way they said it, very secretive, like they didn’t want anyone else to know.”
Qbit took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Hmm, I hope that’s all they were talking about. Please don’t tell anyone else about that, okay?”
The Professor spoke up again, “What about these threads? Where do they go to and how do they work? Are they faster than a transport?”
Pippy jumped in, “And, what do the gates look like? I’m sure they’re not made of wrought iron and just sitting there waiting to be opened.”
“Alright, alright, one question at a time.” The Professor and Pippy were staring at him in amazement. A sudden bump forced Pippy to glance back and forth between him and the road.
“It’s a little hard to describe because there really isn’t much to see. If you didn’t already know there was a gate there, you probably wouldn’t even notice it. It’s sort of like a shimmer in the air.” He made a wavy motion with his hands. “Sort of what you might see rising off a hot asphalt road.”
“What do you do when you get to the ‘shimmer’?” Pippy took one hand off the wheel and made the same shimmer motion with her right hand.
“Well, this goes back to your questions, Professor. The thing that make gates different from transports, is when you step on a transport it may take a long time to get to your destination. Step through a gate and travel is instantaneous.” There was a slight sparkle in his eyes when he said this.
Pippy’s eyes grew wide, “No way! You’re telling me you step into a gate…”
“…and when you step out you can be…what? How far?”
“They can be miles long to millions of miles, perhaps even light years long.”
“Amazing. What about time? How does that factor in?”
“Time does not change but with one exception. If you step through a gate then turn around and step back through again, there can be a time difference.”
“Can be? That doesn’t sound good,” said the Professor.
“Generally, there is no more than a few seconds, but I did hear about one person who did exactly that, and a full year had passed by.”
“A year? What happened to him?”
“I think he got fired for not showing up to work.”
“What? Get out of here. That didn’t happen,” said Pippy.
Qbit laughed, “I don’t know about the job part, but a full year had passed.”
The Professor asked, “How do you know that actually happened?”
“I heard it from a very reliable source.”
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“You’ll meet her.”
Pippy had a confused look on her face, “I’m getting a little stuck on a slight detail. You said travel is instantaneous. Let me get this straight, you pick up your foot and enter the gate. Then, when you put that same foot down…”
“…you’re somewhere else.”
“Right, I get that part. The part I’m stuck on is where are you between the time you lift your foot and the time it takes to put it down?”
“For that fraction of a second, you’re in the thread.”
Shifting herself closer to Qbit, the Professor asked, “Can you tell us more about them?”
“I’m nowhere near an expert; in fact, I’ve got very little experience, but here’s what I was told. Before our universe exploded in a ‘Big Bang’” (he made air quotes), “it was a mass of dense matter. The matter was inter-connected by hollow threads of anti-matter. When the bang part occurred, much of this type of matter was blown apart. However, some of the threads survived and to this day still connect us and objects throughout the universe. Just to be clear, maybe I should have said this earlier, but the threads aren’t like threads in a ‘needle and thread’ thread, they’re large enough to walk through standing up-right. The threads can connect two different places, or they can be attached at one end while the other end hangs free.” He paused and looked at both of them to see if they were following. “Are you with me?”
They both said, “Kinda.”
“Okay, picture a bunch of planets orbiting a sun somewhere out in space” he put his hand up, palm facing up, and a stream of glittering neutrinos flowed into the air just above his hand. They swirled together, eventually making what looked like a miniature solar system.
“That’s so cool,” whispered Pippy.
“A thread can hang from a planet…” He put his hands together and inserted them into the tiny solar system, then slowly pulled them apart. The image shifted into a closeup of two planets. “…Threads can hang from each planet…” Threads grew out of the two planets, dangling from different parts of each of them. “…Of course, some of these planets are close together and others are far apart…” He zoomed out quickly so that the whole universe was shown, then zoomed back in again to the original two…” These two orbit each other in an elliptical path…” The two planets started to spin and rotate around each other; the threads stood out straight. They almost looked the tentacles of an octopus “…Eventually a thread hanging from one planet will touch the other planet…” The small planets moved close to each other as they continued to rotate; threads on each planet brushed up against the surfaces of each other “…They can either slowly glide along the surface making them easy to follow or they can stick, making it a little harder to track…” One of the threads stuck to the surface, “… If it sticks, it will suddenly snap away…” The thread suddenly pulled away from the surface, “… You can never be sure exactly when that ‘snap’ will take place. Those are the tricky threads because once a thread snaps free, you can’t go back through the gate until the rotation of the planets brings the thread around again…” He zoomed into a thread “…The threads are hollow; when they touch, they form a flexible, tube-like structure with openings or ‘gates’ on each end; this is what we can travel through.”
The Professor asked, “That device you have in your lap, is that what you use to track them?”
“Exactly. When their existence was first discovered and people learned how to use them, beacons were placed at both ends of certain threads. The only way to hear those beacons is with a device like this.”
Pippy asked, “How many threads are there, and how exactly does that thing locate the beacons?”
“There are probably countless numbers of them out there. It turns out they emit a trace amount of radioactive black matter. These devices are designed to detect that matter.”
“Where did you get yours?”
“That I can’t tell you…yet.”
The Professor said, “You keep saying that.”
“There are things that you can’t tell us or can only tell us later. Like I said before, why so secretive? Why keep it from me, us?”
Qbit was about to say something then stopped himself. He looked outside, then back to the two of them. “Because if everyone knew about these gates, then the lives of Aura, her baby and all the creatures like them would be in far more danger than they are now. Everything you need to know and have the right to know will be answered in…” He looked at the tablet… “less than an hour. You’ve got to trust me. Okay?”
Pippy and the Professor looked at each other, then said, “Okay.”
They rode for a short a short while in silence, then Pippy turned to Qbit and said, “I have two more questions.”
“You said earlier there are threads that connect other places and us.”
“You don’t miss much, do you?” he replied.
“I’m a very good listener.”
“Really? I would never have guessed.”
“It’s the saying things I probably shouldn’t say that I need to work on.”
“I’m glad that you recognize the problem.”
“Asshole… oops, I’m so sorry; I should never have said that out loud. See, I told you I was working on it,” she replied with a huge dose of sarcasm.
The Professor laughed so loud that she actually snorted, which got them all laughing.
When they could finally contain themselves, the Professor said with tear-filled eyes, “What about the ‘connecting us’ part Pippy mentioned; what’s the story on that?”
Qbit looked a little unsure about how to continue, “Okay, this part is a little harder to prove but I’ve done some extensive research on it. It’s kind of something I want to believe in but I’m not sure if it’s something that actually exists.”
“Wow, this is sounding very deep and soulful. Should I pull over or something?”
“Very funny, just hear me out and you can decide for yourself if you want to believe it or not.” He took a deep breath then continued, “Pippy, our meeting you today was not purely coincidental. Professor, your creation of me and our work with the beasts is something that was also meant to be.” He paused, then asked them, “Have either of you ever heard of the ‘Red Thread’ theory?” They both shook their heads no. “Some people believe that the anti-matter that connected everything also connects us. Not to everything and everybody else, but to certain people or things. We are connected by a thread to everyone and everything that we are destined to meet during our lifetimes. If we hadn’t met now, eventually sometime, somewhere, somehow, we would have. There’s no way to avoid it and there’s no way to know who, what or when. It will just happen. Plus, the thread is unbreakable, so meeting these other people is inevitable. Which means that, perhaps, and this is a big perhaps, our meeting today, in these circumstances was predestined. I also believe that without the thread that connects us,” (he pointed to all three of them), “the beasts we created and protect will die. We all need each other, our connection, our thread, to make things right. Individually we couldn’t do it, but together we can.”
They were all silent for a second. The Professor was the first to speak. She looked Q in the eyes and said, “That was incredible, Q; I had no idea you could be so profound. I don’t know if I believe it or not, but I’m so very impressed with your obvious emotional tie to something so intangible.”
Pippy turned toward the two of them and broke the moment they were sharing by saying, “I think it’s a crock of crap, but it sure sounds pretty enough coming from a computer.”
They both rolled their eyes. The Professor leaned in to him and asked, “Are you sure there’s no way to cut a certain thread?” she nodded toward Pippy.
“Hey, Doc; I heard and saw that!”
Qbit smiled at the Professor then turned to Pippy and said, “Thanks, Pippy, I’ll take that as a compliment because that’s probably the only one I’m ever going to get from you.”
“Darn tootin’! And while you’ve been philosophizing, I had a profound thought of my own.”
Qbit said, “I know I’m going to regret asking but please, enlighten us with your cranial musings.”
“Say your uncle Harold leaves the house to go get a loaf of bread. He’s walking down the street, listening to the birds sing, when unbeknownst to him, he walks right into a gate and, poof, the next thing he knows he’s walking down the street surrounded by little green men with huge almond-shaped eyes and not a single bakery in sight.”
“That would never happen because he needs one of these in order to go through.” He picked up the tablet from his lap and waved it in the air.
“Does that mean we’re all going to get one?,” asked the Professor excitedly.
“Well, no, not yet.”
“Sorry, but for now, I need to identify, on this, who I want to go through with me.”
“Identify? Identify how?” asked Pippy. “Don’t tell me I have to pee in a cup or something.”
“That’s just gross, Pippy. No, all I need is some of your spit…and before you ask, you don’t need to spit in a cup either!”
He turned the tablet over and pushed on a little rectangular door. It slid open, exposing a small compartment. He reached in and took out two small strips of paper. He handed one to each of them and said, “Here, stick this under your tongue and get it nice and wet.” They did what he asked, then handed the paper back to him one at a time. He tapped on the screen a couple of times, then lifted the tablet and flipped it to both sides, looking for something, “I can never remember what side it’s on… here it is.” He took the strip from the Professor, then stuck it into the slot he had just found. After a second, the machine beeped; he took the paper out, then repeated the steps with Pippy’s paper strip. The tablet beeped again. He turned it over again, opened a different compartment and took out two small disk-shaped items. He stuck each into a different slot, tapped a button, then removed them. He handed one to each of them, “Okay, swallow it.”
The Professor took hers and without hesitation popped it into her mouth. “Nanobot markers, right?”
“Correct. The same we use with the beasts.”
Pippy looked at hers and said, “This better be gluten free” before she stuck it on her tongue and swallowed.
The tablet beeped again, a little differently this time. Qbit said, “We must be here.” Looking down at the screen and then up through the windshield, “Up there by those pine trees. Stop up there, as close to them as you can.” Pippy found a place where the limbs were high enough to fit the entire truck under. She cut the engine and they all climbed out and went around to the back of the truck. Pippy lowered the tailgate and pushed the cover up and over the canvas canopy. Pippy disappeared underneath for a second, then came back out, leading Aura on a short leather lead. It took all of them to get her onto the ground. Qbit said, “You guys wait here for a second. I’m going to make sure it’s here.” He walked over to a clearing just a few feet away. “There it is, over by that tree.”
The Professor glanced toward the gryphon. She looked worse. Her breathing was shallow, and she seemed to have a lot of trouble standing. Pippy noticed the genuine look of concern on the Professor’s face and said, “I’ve got something I can give her that should help. It won’t last very long, though.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a syringe, flicked off the cap, inverted the needle and squeezed enough liquid out to make sure there was no air bubble left in the tube. She stroked Aura’s neck and said, “There’s going to be a little sting.” She pushed some feathers out of the way then inserted the needle into the exposed skin. Aura seemed too weak to have any sort of reaction.
Qbit looked back to the group and said, “We are going to have to use a series of gates to get us where we need to be. They’re very close to each other…”
“How close?” asked Pippy. “She’s not going to make it if there is a lot of walking.”
“I’ve found a route that has gates that are almost right next to each other. The most we will have to move is a few steps.”
The group moved to a spot right next to the largest tree in the grove. There was an oval-shaped shimmer. Just like Qbit had said, ‘If you didn’t know it was there you could walk right by it.’
“I see what you mean about missing it.” Pippy handed the lead to the Professor then got up close to the gate. “What happens if I put my hand in there, then pull it out?
Qbit answered, “Try it.”
She slowly put her hand into the shimmering air. It disappeared. She quickly withdrew and brought it to her face, checking it all over.
“All five still there?”
“Yep, weird, though.”
“Okay. Are we ready to go?”
“What do we do? How do we know where to go?” asked the Professor nervously.
“Just follow me. The first gate will end in an alley between two office buildings. We’ll exit, get our bearings, then walk through the next gate, which should be about ten feet to the right. Let’s hope they’ve already picked up the trash. Ready?”
Pippy had taken the lead from the Professor. She looked at Aura and said, “Ready, girl?”
The Professor moved up closer to Qbit and said, “Let’s do this.”
“Alright, let’s go.” They all stepped into the gate in a single line and disappeared. The only noise in the clearing was the sound of the birds chirping and the gentle tick of the truck engine as the metal cooled.
“Okay, that went smoothly,” said Qbit as they stood in the empty alley.
The Professor looked behind her at the shimmer they had just come through. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t feel a thing.”
“We better keep moving,” said Pippy, “I’m not sure how much longer Aura can last.”
“This next one is going to be difficult.” Qbit rechecked the tablet. “It looks like it exits in the backyard of a house.” He turned toward them. “The next gate is in the same backyard, only a couple of steps away so we’re going to do, what I like to call, a run through.”
“You mean we’re going to try it here first?”
“No, I mean a literal run through. We’re going to run through this gate, not stop, then run straight into the other one.” He pointed deeper into the alley. “The next gate is there.”
Pippy strained to see the shimmer but couldn’t see anything in the dark shadows cast by the buildings. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure?”
“Yes, it’s there, trust me. You’re going to have to get Aura moving at least at a fast walk or slow trot into the gate and continue that into the other. Do you think she’s up to it?’
“I don’t think we have much choice. She’s going to have to be.” She adjusted the lead in her hand, looked at Qbit and said, “Okay, ready.”
“Okay, on three. One…”
“Wait!’ shouted Pippy, “What happens after we get through the third gate?”
“We’re home free. Somebody we can trust will be there to help. Okay?”
She looked at Aura then at Qbit, “Alright, if something goes wrong, I’m going to be very pissed. You don’t want to see me very pissed.”
Qbit smiled at her and said, “I have a strong feeling I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that! We’ll be fine, I promise.”
Pippy turned to Aura, “Almost home, girl; hang in there.” She turned, set her feet and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
“Okay, three, two, one, go!” Qbit ran up the alley and disappeared. The Professor was right behind him. Pippy pulled on Aura’s lead, but she wouldn’t move. “Come on, honey! We’ve got to go.” She pulled again; still she wouldn’t move. Pippy stopped and told herself to relax and breathe. She went to Aura and stroked her face, just above her beak, her favorite spot. “Honey, it’s going to be okay. I need you and your little one to go with me. Okay? I promise we are almost done, just a little further.” She set her feet again, looked her in the eye and said, “Ready?” Aura seemed to perk up a little. “Good girl. Now, let’s go.” She gently pulled the lead and this time Aura moved with her. “That’s a girl.” Pippy moved quicker and Aura continued to move with her. She got her up to a slow trot, looked forward toward the shimmer, held the lead a little tighter, closed her eyes and ran in.
They exited the gate right into the middle of a birthday party. A little girl’s eyes lit up as, suddenly, from out of nowhere, a beautiful creature appeared.
“Ooooohhhh, Daddy, thank you!
Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared.
“Awwwuh! No fair!”
Pippy had opened her eyes long enough to make out the third gate. Aura was still moving at a good clip, so she pushed on without breaking stride. Out of the corner of her eye she could make out a little girl’s face. She was smiling from ear to ear. She yelled, “Happy birthday, kid” as she pulled the tired gryphon through the shimmering air.
Her next step was onto a gravel driveway. She slid to a stop.
“You made it!” shouted the Professor. “We got worried when we didn’t see you behind us. What happened?”
Pippy went back to Aura to make sure she was all right, “I had to try to convince her that it was a good idea to trust a ranting, philosophical male computer. It took a little while.” She looked at Qbit and smiled, “Thanks.”
From behind a group of trees a man in a black suit and tie walked over to where he had seen them disappear. He knelt down and ran a hand over sets of footprints left in the dry dirt. He stood back up, brushed his hands off, then followed them until they suddenly disappeared.
“It must be here somewhere,” he said, barely above a whisper.
The man in the suit jumped up and spun around, “For the love of Merlin, don’t do that! You almost made me pee my pants!
The man just smiled.
“You need to start whistling when you walk or something.” He put his hand to his chest. “I think I just had a heart attack.”
“No such luck, Sterling.” He looked around and said, “Why did you drag me all the way out to the middle of nowhere? We better not miss the last ferry because of this.”
Sterling ignored his question and instead started walking around with his arms stretched out in front of him.
“What the heck are you doing?”
“It’s here somewhere.”
“A gate? What, like a wrought iron gate or something?”
“Not that kind of gate,” said Sterling angrily. “It’s an invisible gate!”
The other man raised his eye brows and said, “Invisible?”
“Yes, of course, invisible.” Pointing at the ground he continued, “Look at their tracks! One second they’re here and the next they disappear! Where else would they have gone but through an invisible gate!”
The man looked down, “The only tracks I see are yours all over the top of theirs.”
“Come on help me find it. It’s here, I know it!” Sterling continued to walk around in ever-widening circles.
The man looked at him and shook his head, “No, that’s okay. I’ll wait for you in the jeep. Don’t take too long; I have to get this thing back to Food Services before they notice it’s gone.”
Sterling took a couple of more steps forward, then stopped. He looked toward the sky, made a fist in both hands and stretched them up over his head and said quietly, “Filippa, my honey-haired lady, I’ll find you and make you mine!”
The man laughed and continued to walk back to the white vehicle. On the hood was a picture of a man with a huge watch on his wrist. “I really like that guy’s pizza,” he said to himself. He looked back over his shoulder and yelled, “Give it up, dude, she’s way out of your league!” He reached the driver’s side door, put his hand on the latch, then looked up again at Sterling. He was walking around with his arms wildly flinging everywhere. He shook his head, pulled the door open and, as he climbed in, said, “Wow, they really broke the mold when they made that guy.”