‘Is it real?’ I asked.
‘Ah.’ Professor Wilheim thrust his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. ‘That is an interesti-‘ A puzzled frown crossed his face. He withdrew his right hand from the pocket. He was now holding about two-thirds of a cheese salad baguette in his hand. He sniffed it, prodded it with a finger and took an experimental bite.
‘Is it real?’ I repeated.
The puzzled frown was back as Wilheim stared at the now slightly smaller baguette in his hand. ‘It tastes real.’
‘Not that… that.’ I pointed.
The dragon looked up at the sound of my voice. It was in the middle of removing the insides from the crispy outside of a well-roasted rat.
‘It depends on what you mean by real.’ The professor took another bite of the baguette. ‘I wondered what had happened to this. I assumed it could be another artefact.’ He looked over his glasses at the dragon, now busily swallowing the roasted rat. ‘Real, you say?’
‘We are not sure if that is a meaningful concept, not any longer.’ The professor popped the remaining piece of baguette into his mouth and chewed contentedly.
He considered the question for the moment.
Meanwhile the dragon expelled a roaring stream of flame at us. I took a step back, but the flameproof glass of the dragon’s cage seemed unaffected by the heat. The dragon glared at us. It was small about the size of a six-month-old Labrador puppy, but nowhere near as cute. Unless you liked highly flammable breath, scally leatherish skin and a petulant temper that wouldn’t be out of place on a professional tennis court.
‘You know about quantum physics, uncertainty, probability and all that?’ Wilheim was still watching the dragon.
‘Of course,’ I lied.
‘You could say that reality is a matter of just probability… in a sense, anyway.’ He paused. ‘It is just that since… since the… The Experiment that balance of probability has altered somewhat.’
The experiment was why I was here, of course. The various governments funding the experiment all wanted to know what had gone wrong, and – more importantly – whom they could blame for the series of somewhat unlikely events ever since the experimental machine was switched on, and – rather quickly – switched off again.
‘We believe,’ Wilheim said. ‘There was a leakage of probability from a damaged seal on the machine.’ He glared at me. ‘Shoddy workmanship.’
I nodded. ‘How long before this probability leak is cleaned up?’
‘Ah,’ he said again. ‘As I said before we are not really sure anymore what is real and what isn’t.’
‘That isn’t real.’ I pointed at the dragon. It replied with another blast of flame. This blast left a soot mark on the glass.
‘It looks very much as though it is… now. Real that is.’ The professor shrugged. ‘We had hoped it would fade away, merge back into the sea of possibility.’
‘You said that about the giant robots that attacked London.’
‘I know,’ he shook his head. ‘Was there much loss of life?’
‘They only attacked the Houses of Parliament, then powered down on the side of the Thames. They are still there, but we have no government now.’
‘So not all bad news, then?’ Wilheim smiled at me.
‘I suppose not.’