Dragon

Miriam English

He gradually awoke. He could hear low voices. When he opened his eyes he blurrily saw a bright room, mostly white, with some people moving about. As his eyes focussed he could see one person was near and the others further away. The closer one was speaking. He couldn't tell if the person was talking to him or to the others, and he only understood occasional words. "Eyes open (gibberish) up (gibberish) coming (gibberish) memory (gibberish) kick start (gibberish) ten (gibberish) killer hurts (gibberish)..."

He became afraid. These people and this strange room scared him. He couldn't remember how he came to be here. All he could remember was Jill, the little girl he'd been playing with. He would push her on the swings and the roundabout. He would build sandcastles in the sandpit with her. They would walk, holding hands in the meadow — rather, she would hold his big green fingers as he was unable to hold her little hands. She would pick dandelions and blow them. He remembered when he tried to blow one and the fire of his breath burned it to a cinder and Jill fell about laughing. He remembered laughing too, though mostly from embarrassment. He remembered the fun they had, she riding on his back, hanging onto his back-fins, while he galloped through the fields and forest and splashed through streams. He remembered when Jill found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest and asked him to lift it up to put it back. He remembered stretching up on tippy-toes to reach. But he couldn't remember how that all ended and he why he was here... or where here was. And he was becoming very scared.

* * *

James had completed the waking sequence and he saw face movement accompanied by a faint hissing sound from the pneumatics. "Eyes open, pneumatics operational. Parameters within specifications."

Abir, at the console on the other side of the large lab, answered, "Cerebrum powering up... emotional matrix coming online."

Frank, seated next to Abir, said, "Connection to memory fabrication, initialised. Hmmm... difficulties... Assisting with stimulus to specific memory 2AG44809."

Abir nodded, "Successful kickstart. Dominant frequency established."

James asked, "Calibrated?"

Abir answered, "Ten kilohertz."

James sighed and stepped back from the machine, then turned to face the others. "Excellent. A momentous occasion, gentlemen — I believe we've achieved the impossible. I'll call the General."

Just then the door opened and in strode an older man in uniform. "No need, I've been watching from the other room. You need to do more tests before celebrating though. What about coordination, offensive capability, and so on?"

James explained, "We've already tested all those things, in the earlier version, Sir. The only obstacle was consciousness. Abir's idea of contructing a network of memories was key. It worked. Without that we would have just had an expensive robot, unable to do anything unless told."

Abir added, "I gave it memories from my daughter's favorite cartoon, The Dragon and Jill"

The general dismissed that with an impatient wave of his hand. He said gruffly, "I don't care about the details. I just want to see the proof that it can do what we've paid you men a fortune to achieve."

James nodded, "Okay. It's listening to us right now, though comprehension is low. We haven't had time to give it a very big vocabulary." He spoke gently to the machine, "Wuffy, please stand."

The three-meter-long machine was resting on its belly and began to move uncertainly, hesitantly pulling its front legs in under itself, preparing to stand.

The General growled in disgust, "Wuffy?" then barked in his parade-ground voice, "Stand! Attention!"

The machine jumped as if hit and stood. It was as tall as a draught-horse. The body and neck were wide, matte black with hundreds of finger-thick shiny metal tubes connecting many parts. The legs and feet were proportioned like those of an elephant, but black surfaced and set with metal tubing too. The massive head was as thick as the neck and lacked a snout or ears. It had two swivel-mounted cameras set into cavities near the top of the head, and below that, at the front, a single nozzle protruded. The nozzle was as wide as a man's fist.

"Whoa, General," James made quelling motions with his hands toward the General, "Take it easy. It's a conscious entity and has just woken. It's disoriented."

"Nonsense!" he growled. "It's standing. I don't have all day. And what idiot calls an advanced weapon like this" he sneered, "Wuffy?"

Abir started to explain, "It's the name in the..." but trailed off as James shook his head.

James turned back to the machine, "Wuffy, please step forward."

The machine appeared reluctant, but took a single step forward.

The General nodded. "The area in front of it is the safe region, right? Command it to fire."

"We haven't added a command for that, yet, General. We felt it better to test incrementally."

"But you tested the firing mechanism last week. I read the report."

"Yes, Sir. But that was the unconscious prototype. We haven't given this one conscious operation of its firing system yet. It's all there, just not accessible to it."

The general's face reddened, as he held up a sheaf of papers he'd grabbed off James' desk "This project has had delay after delay. It's almost a year overrun and you get me in here to see the damn thing stand up and take a step?" He was yelling now, "Are you people retarded? A weapon is not a weapon unless it can fire!"

The General turned to the machine and throwing the papers at it, he bellowed, "I want results!"

* * *

Wuffy saw the men smiling and then another man walk briskly into the room too. He seemed to be angry and arguing with the other men.

One of the men asked Wuffy to stand up. He wasn't sure if he could. He knew had stood before, but couldn't remember how he did. He experimentally moved his legs in preparation to stand. Suddenly the angry man shouted something at him. It gave him a big fright and he jumped to his feet without realising it.

The men were talking again. The angry one said something and used his name in a way Wuffy didn't like. He was very scared of that man. The angry man started yelling very loudly. Wuffy took a step back, encountering the wall behind him, then the angry man threw something at him. Wuffy was terrified and tried to blow it way. As with the dandelion when playing with Jill, flame poured out. Not just a little, but a torrent. It turned the room into an inferno. For a second the men screamed and then there was just the roar of flames and a blaring siren.

Wuffy was panic-stricken. He turned away from the flames, banging into the wall and plunging through it. Outside was cool darkness. Wuffy wanted to get away from this unpleasant place as quickly as possible. He ran away from the buildings and through a flimsy wire fence taller than himself, away into the darkness. His run was more a fast walk, like an elephant's, but he moved at a very fast pace, covering a lot of ground quickly. Soon he was miles away and still running.

He was lost. He didn't recognise any of this. It looked a little like some of the happy fields he and Jill had romped through, but it was too flat. There were hills in the distance that looked more like those in his memories, so he ran toward them. When he reached them he felt safer, but still lost, so he kept going. He hid under trees when he heard a loud whoosh sound overhead, then kept running when it had passed. He ran all night. He was getting tired, but he kept running.

Eventually Wuffy noticed that the sky was growing lighter. He walked along a track out from behind a hill and saw, bright in the early dawn, some distant lights ahead, beyond a low rise. His first thought was to avoid them, but then he remembered Jill's house had lights like that. He was afraid that he might encounter more scary people, but wanted to find Jill. She would know what to do. Being tugged by opposing desires he circled the town, keeping to the darkness under the trees.

After some time of fretfully walking, keeping his distance from the town, he saw something that made his heart leap. There, further on, was what looked like the top of a swing seen over a fence. Wuffy hurried on hopefully. Gradually a roundabout, monkey-bars, swings, a tree-house came into view, and then he moaned in gratitude. He would have wept if he'd been able. There was Jill, playing in the sand-pit.

Poking his giant head out from the shrubbery, Wuffy looked left and right, just as the road rules say (though instead of looking for cars he was ensuring no scary people were around) then he ran up the dry creek bed toward the playground. When he reached the little park he slowed and ambled forward to the sand-pit. Jill looked up, puzzled. She looked a little different from before. She was wearing a different colored dress. It occurred to him that the strange men had made him look different too. In sudden fear that Jill wouldn't recognise him, he said softly, "Hello Jill. It's me, Wuffy."

"Wuffy?" Her face lit up in a big smile. "Wuffy! You're not green anymore. I'm glad you're here."

Wuffy felt dizzy with relief, "I'm glad I'm here too. Are you making sandcastles?"

"Yes. Let's make sandcastles," she laughed.

Wuffy sat in the sand-pit and with his enormous metal and carbon-fiber front paws, pushed sand into Jill's little bucket. Jill pressed it down with her little plastic spade and Wuffy upended it, pressing it firmly in place to make the first part of the sandcastle. This would be the best sandcastle they'd ever made.

-- END --