Jessop and Zack were always the first ones in after a detonation in the copper mine. Operations were normal until they found the golden surface of scale fossils. Ore had peeled away from one wall in a vague rhomboid shape at a slant.
“These are extremely well preserved,” said Jessop. He ran his fingertips over the three-inch scales.
“It’s pretty unusual,” said Zack. “I’ve never heard of a fossil permineralizing gold.”
Jessop called back through the tunnel. “Hey, Pepe. Go get the paleos.”
After an hour, Cecelia and Butch, barely kids in bluejeans and T-shirts, came down with one of the finer excavation kits. Zack brought them to the wall with the scales.
“You ever seen a fossil like this?” asked Jessop.
“Oh, no,” said Butch. “Just looking, that’s either a golden artifact or some of the best preserved dinosaur tissue ever discovered.”
“It’s a good find, then?” asked Zack. Jessop could tell he was hoping for the bonus. He liked to live paycheck-to-paycheck, even with four mouths to feed.
“It’s spectacular,” said Cecelia. “It’s more likely preserved scales. A gold statue at this level wouldn’t just predate civilization. It would predate homo sapiens sapiens.”
Zack looked at Jessop. “It’s a good find.”
Cecelia lodged a meter stick next to the scaly surface and took pictures. Butch brushed away excess dust and gravel.
The bottom half of the rhomboid had about a half-inch gap to the scales. “Be careful,” said Jessop. “It’s receding from the wall a little now.”
“It wasn’t like that before?” asked Butch.
Butch grabbed some calipers from his bag and measured the gap. He pried at one of the scales, and it lifted. “This isn’t metal.” He grinned broadly. “We have preserved dinosaur skin.”
“The gap is gone,” said Zack.
“Odd,” said Butch. “It must be shifting.”
He mixed some rubber latex and applied it to the surface, covering every part of the edge around it. When he peeled it off, the gap was back.
“Hm,” said Butch. “What does that mean?”
“It’s doing it by itself,” whispered Cecelia.
“What’s that?” asked Butch.
“It’s moving on its own,” she said.
“No way,” said Butch. “We’ve been jostling it around from this side. It’s got to have shifted.”
“Let’s set up some video and watch it for a while,” Cecelia said. She unfolded a tripod and set it on the cave floor, then set a tiny movie camera on top.
The miners and paleontologists watched for a while. The excitement of the find still gripped Jessop, so the scales held his rapt attention. Without touching it, the surface slowly receded from the wall, leaving a gap again about a half inch. Over the next few minutes, it closed up again.
“No,” said Butch. “This can’t be right.”
“It is right,” said Cecelia. “It’s breathing.”
“You’re watching it with your own eyes.”
“Excuse me,” said Jessop. “What could possibly be living this far under the ground? No dinosaur would survive that—unless Edgar Rice Burroughs’s earth’s core starts right here.”
“There’s only one possibility,” said Cecilia.
“Forget it,” said Butch. “It’s impossible.”
“And yet, we are faced with the facts.”
“What facts?” asked Jessop.
“She thinks we’ve found a live dragon,” said Butch.