Stories

The Ring, Part Six

I found a gold ring that transported me to a parallel world. My guide and I are being taken to Princeton to see a Professor Sebastian. (The story begins here)

* * *

Jessica was turning an interesting shade of purple. “You mean he’s… Look. Drop us off when we get to town. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do we want to see Professor Sebastian!”

Just then the car chugged out of the woods and I got my first view of Princeton. It was a sleepy little town right out of the early twentieth century, a cluster of wood and brick houses, each with a perfectly manicured lawn to set it back from broad streets lined with chestnut trees. Children played while adults went about their daily business tending gardens, doing laundry or just sitting on the porch eating sandwiches and sipping drinks.

The only thing out of place was a trio of eight-storey buildings in the distance. They were glass and steel towers right out of a modern city, gleaming in the noontime sun and reflecting the white fluffy clouds in the rectangular panes of their facing. One of the buildings had a spire that rose another four storeys with a platform or lookout tower of some sort on top.

“Stop the car! Now!”

“Can’t do that, ma’am,” the voice of our driver sounded cheery, “the Professor is expecting you.”

We suddenly sped up to fifteen as we coasted down a short hill. At the bottom another man in a suit jumped onto the running board. He was clean-shaven with a shock of red hair sticking out from under his fedora. In his hand, where I expected a gun, was a stunner.

Jessica was halfway out of her seat when he jabbed her. Her muscles tightened and she snarled. After a second jab she collapsed.

I glowered at red.

“Don’t try it,” he said.

I thought about running, but given her vehemence about this Professor guy I didn’t want to leave Jessica behind. I also understood that I couldn’t grab her and run, not if I was going to outrun this guy or our chauffeur. I went along for the ride.

As I suspected, we went straight for the tall buildings. As we got closer I could see they were set in a few areas of well-tended green space with paths and benches and a large fountain set in the center of the triangle. I could see about thirty people, men and women of college student age, going about their business on and around the lawn. A few glanced up as we approached, then returned to whatever they’d been doing.

We pulled down a ramp that led below one of the buildings. The garage-style door at the end of the ramp rose quietly at our approach.

Inside was a traditional parkade entry booth, with one exception. Standing inside was a shiny black robot. It was vaguely humanoid, made up of oval sections attached by metal bars, and fairly thin. The only features on its head were two glowing blue-white circles where eyes should be. When it spoke its eyes brightened and dimmed in time with the syllables.

“Good afternoon Mister Huxtable. What is your pleasure today?”

The man in front replied, “Special delivery for the Professor. Two anomalies popped in while I was trying to take out the cop.”

“Very good. I notice one is unconscious; shall I have a porter waiting?”

“Yeah, you do that.”

As we rolled between rows of parked cars red spoke up again. “Do we really need a porter, Vince? Those things give me the creeps.”

“Beats carrying her ourselves. Anyway, the girl threw a knife into my arm. I’d rather the next time she tries that it’s a robot that gets scratched.”

We pulled up to a set of double glass doors. There was another black robot waiting there. It went around to Jessica’s side and plucked her out of the seat, its arms under her back and thighs.

The driver opened the door for me. “Come on, Boy.”

“My name is Roger, not Boy.”

“She called you Boy.”

“She knows me.”

“All right, Roger,” he poured a tubful of disdain into my name, “You know the drill; nothing stupid and nobody gets hurt.” His companion flicked the switch on the stunner a couple of times for emphasis.

We were ushered into a seven-foot square elevator with mirrored walls. No matter which way I looked I could see the four of us (five with the robot) reflected into infinity. That combined with the motion was vaguely nauseating.

When the ride ended we stepped out into a penthouse office. The carpet was ash gray and the furniture the same glossy black as the robot. In addition to the rounded desk and eggshell chair there was a kidney-shaped table and accompanying rounded couches. The lighting was indirect and there were no adornments on the walls; one side of the room was composed of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the town.

A man about my height and build stood facing away from us, his hands clasped behind his back. His black hair came down to a jagged crop at shoulder level and he was wearing an amber jacket and matching trousers, the trousers holding a sharp crease down their entire length. He was muttering something to another black robot.

He turned, a half smile on his attractive caucasian features. He looked like a model, but I’d seen his face on television: Doctor David Sebastian, the US President’s science advisor and spokesman for the National Science Foundation. The de facto voice of technological progress in the western world.

“Welcome to this dimension, travelers. My name is Peter Sebastian and I am very pleased to see you. Even you, Miss Kim; you can stop feigning unconsciousness now.”

(Part Seven)