My Best Friend is a Prince from Another Worldby
Pt. I, Ch.2 : “…it still feels like it was just one of my wife’s eccentricities.”
Sat, May 16th, 1992
Manhattan, New York City, United States, Terra
A little more than a week later, Joel, his father Vince, and I ended up going to one of the Manhattan federal buildings. We were greeted by an older woman, who introduced herself as Special Agent Helen Delgado.
“You’re FBI?” I asked.
“Diplomatic Security Service, actually. We’ve got a room prepared; please follow me.”
The room turned out to be in the basement, a long table which had seen better days and a room-length mirror. A chalkboard sat at one end opposite the door, and a bored looking man in a suit sat at one end. “My colleague from the Foreign Service, Richard Hull.”
Once we got settled, Delgado continued: “We realize the circumstances are quite odd, and we appreciate your coming in today. Before we continue, we want to make clear that while no part of this briefing is classified, it is our strong recommendation that you do not speak to anyone else about this. Anything we say here would be officially denied by the government, and if we have to spend time debunking a ‘hoax’ that really limits our ability to help you.”
Joel and I nodded, and Joel’s father replied, “I understand. Who’d believe us? I’ve known a bit of this for nearly 20 years and it still feels like it was just one of my wife’s eccentricities.”
“If it weren’t for your late wife, Mr. Ross, we wouldn’t know what little we do,” said Delgado, “and it’s likely we wouldn’t have even our limited contact with the countries on the other side.”
“So here is what we do know: a little less than twenty years ago, your mother showed up in the gate’s old location. She had the luck to be found by some good people, but without friends or identification she came to the attention of my first predecessor. Initially, nobody believed her, but she indicated that the gate would re-open periodically, and when we left a guard there — sure enough, someone popped out and had a look around.
“The visitor was unarmed and introduced himself as one of the gate’s guardians — we think that may be a formal title — and said that he’d like to speak to someone in charge. Unfortunately, the gate remains open for less than a day at a time, roughly once every two weeks, so we had to wait for that. In the meanwhile, we learned all we could from your mother about the governments on the far side.
“When it reopened, we received our first official envoys — one from the guardians, and one from the government on the other side. They call themselves the Union of Feldaren and claim to be descended from people who came from our Earth or a very close parallel. The gate is located near their capital, but the guardians are independent of them and limit access. There are a huge number of parallel worlds, a few closely related to theirs or to our earth, and most very different. Only a few, ours included, have permanent anchors and open up on a periodic cycle — the others are, in essence, a one-way trip.
“We can’t confirm that they never sent anyone through to our side before we found it, but it’s been under guard since. They seemed happy to open relations and we’ve kept up a very limited and discreet trade.”
At this point Hull spoke up, “We have not, however, been able to send someone through to them — until now. Whatever the situation is --” he paused to check a note “-- in Obdrest — the leadership in Feldaren wants to keep them happy. After two decades of asking, we’ve been allowed to send an envoy through and will be getting some first-hand observations back when the gate next opens, and we’ve got more visitors on our side than we‘ve ever had at one time.”
“Let’s not be hasty,” said Delgado. “Hull here sees visions of opening a market of a few hundred million consumers to American goods, ignoring that you can only put so much through a gateway the size of a large doorway in a few hours. We’ve hosted their people under supervision a few times in the past, but I’m already concerned about our sending professional diplomats over there. If you accept their invitation, we’ll do what we can, but there’s very little we can do on the other side if you end up in danger.”
“What are they proposing for my son to do, Agent Delgado?”
“I think it’s best they explain it themselves, but as they’ve said, your son is believed to be the heir to the throne in Obdrest. Their desire is to have him complete his education there and to be ready to take the throne. Perhaps it’s time to introduce our other guests?” She tapped on the mirror, and she and Hull both moved to our side of the table.
Moments later, three very mismatched people walked into the room. The first fit Joel’s description of the Dormer, who’d spoken to him before — a blonde man in his early 20s, dressed with too much gold braid on a uniform that looked like he stepped out of a particularly Victorian PBS drama. The second was an older man in dark loose-fitting clothes that resembled a gi or pajamas; he was balding or perhaps tonsured. The last was an Asian woman, not so young as Dormer but probably still in her 20s, and the dark skirt suit she wore didn’t seem like it would have been out of place in an office in our world.
Delgado introduced them: “Carl, Count Dormer, two of you have already met,” at this he bowed slightly — “...and the other two are Brother Oliver, of the Guardians of the Gate, and Ambassador Matsumoto, representative of the Union of the Etciv.”
“Thank you, Agent Delgado,” said Matsumoto in unaccented English. “We appreciate your help in locating our ally’s lost child, and for the opportunity to speak with her family.” Turning to Joel and his father, “and we appreciate your being open to hearing what we had to say.”
“As Count Dormer has already told you, your mother Christina was a princess from the royal family of Obdrest. As the child of a younger prince, and with two older brothers and one younger, it was only a minor source of diplomatic friction when she disappeared through the gate. She was not seen as critical to the succession. In the intervening decades, a series of mishaps have befallen the Imperial family, and at this point as her child, Joel is the last person in a direct line for the throne.”
Here Brother Oliver spoke up: “I was not yet part of the brotherhood when the Princess was allowed to pass, but I am told that at the time she seemed legitimately facing what would have been a coerced marriage, and in fear for her life if she declined. She was given a humanitarian exception then; the interests of stability in both Obdrest and Feldaren compel us to make an exception now.”
Finally, Count Dormer spoke — his accent was faint, and unplaceable: “The age of majority in Obdrest is normally twenty, and as I understand it Prince Joel is in his sixteenth year, so even if the king passes sooner he could certainly wait to assume official duties. While it is inconceivable to me that he would not want to take his throne, both your diplomats and Legatus Matsumoto” — was that Latin? it seemed a bit odd to me — “have impressed upon me that to someone unused to the idea of our world, or of having a title, this may come as something of a shock.
“She made the suggestion to me that you and your family come through as a guest of the Union of Feldaren, and attend school there. Learn about our world, our nations. If you truly wish to return here, and do not wish not to take your rightful place, we are not barbarians — no one will force you, you can abdicate and the guardians will see to your return here.”
Matsumoto spoke again. “My government is prepared to guarantee your safety, and those of your government’s diplomats. Even so, we know relocating your schooling is a big step; if I may suggest, the gate opens for the better part of a day — I’d like to invite you and your family to see our capitol on one of the upcoming openings, and we can have you back here in Manhattan in time for a late dinner.”
Joel’s father looked very skeptical. “Joel has a comfortable life here, and mentions of mishaps in my late wife’s family are not at all encouraging. She did speak with some fondness of her schooling there — in your country, Ambassador, at least by my hazy memory of her stories.”
Dormer gave a proud smile. “Queen Sara Memorial Academy. I’m a recent graduate, and the Legatus graduated a few years before me”
She nodded. “The crown jewel of our education system, and it was the first school in our world to exclusively use modern English.”
Joel and I kind of boggled at that; oddly, neither of the State Department folks nor his dad showed any surprise. “Christine told me she learned English growing up, even though it wasn’t her first language,” said Joel. “She said something about a lot of folks coming through from yet another world like ours, something like in her grandfather’s childhood?”
“The event, yes,” said Matsumoto. “Before it, people came through to our world in small numbers and at an unpredictable pace. Enough had come through from various ‘Americas’ that we had some English-speaking population in Feldaren before the event. The event was different; some scientific experiment had gone awry on their side, in a world much more like yours.
“My great-grandparents came through with a group of more than a hundred thousand, mostly students and academics, and most of them Americans. Even for those who weren’t, English was very much their common language.”
She reached into her bag, and produced a hardcover textbook; it was labelled World History, 5th Edition. “With your permission,” and here she looked at Special Agent Delgado and Joel’s father, “I’d like to give this to Joel. I think it can answer his questions about our history in a great deal more depth than I can. In today’s trade crates, we’ve got another copy for your government, as well as some longer works and an encyclopedia.”
“You couldn’t find something more readable than that textbook?” asked Dormer.
Matsumoto chuckled. “We could have, but it’s a good textbook and most of the popular works assume a certain level of background knowledge. This one doesn’t, and it’s what a transfer student his age would be expected to know for entrance exams.”
Dormer shook his head again. “Surely the prince doesn’t need to take exams; we would sponsor him.”
“We didn’t talk about this in advance, but think about it, Count.” She looked over at Joel’s father, “If we were to convince you to allow your son to spend a year getting to know our world, I think you would want to keep things discreet. There’s no sense in making his potential future as King of Obdrest public. The fewer people know about that, the easier it is for both our security arrangements and his potential return here.”
Dormer looked a bit deflated. “I don’t like sneaking around, but it makes sense.”
“I’m sure I can get our ministry to sponsor him as a friend of the Senate without having to say why if he doesn’t pass, but I suspect he’ll have no trouble; it’s not like he needs to get a scholarship, and from what I’ve heard his high school is already a very selective one.”
“It isn’t a public school?” asked Joel’s father.
“The Academy is independent, but a portion of the class is there on scholarships either from its endowment or on public funds. Another portion are the children of, as you’d say, ‘VIPs,’ and the tuition is not significant for them. From what we’ve seen in trade, incomes tend to be lower on our side of the gate, but the tuition is generally within the means of our middle-class families.”
“Not that it would be necessary; as I said, there’s no expectation that Joel would need to win a scholarship, and I suspect we’re more likely to see some argument about whether we or the Obdresti treasury would get the honor of paying his expenses.” She glanced at Dormer.
“Yes,” he said, “I think not being able to pay the Prince’s expenses would lead to some offense on the part of my government. The king is already asking why I haven’t set up arrangements for allowance for his living expenses already.”
“Allowance?” Joel perked up.
“I’m fairly sure that he imagines you living in a crowded garret, and by tradition you should have a household and servants.”
“Like maids and a butler?” Joel asked.
“A bit more than that, but yes.”
I suppressed a chuckle. Joel’s family had a nicer than average house for our part of Queens, but that mostly amounted to being in a neighborhood new enough to have a one-car garage and central air. They had a spare bedroom which his dad used as a home office, but I’m not sure where they could have put servants.
Joel’s father had a lot of questions about the logistics of Joel possibly going to school there, and about his late wife’s life before she came through. They had a lot of answers for him about the logistics, and very few answers about her life. None of the three had known her; Brother Oliver had been a young man and not yet one of the guardians when she passed to our world and the other two had been small children. What Brother Oliver knew was passed on through his organization; the other two mostly from legend.
In the end, Joel’s father accepted the offer of a tour of their capitol and the school, to be arranged a few weeks later. On the way out, I asked Joel: “Hey, have you told anyone at school about this?”
“Not yet. How likely is anyone to believe me, anyway?”
“If you’re really thinking of going, you should at least tell Anne about it sooner rather than later.”
He grimaced a bit. “You two are closer than we are, but yeah, we’ve known each other a long time and hang out enough.”
I’d known Anne even longer than I’d known Joel — we’d started in kindergarten together, and had been two of a very few “smart kids” at an elementary school where that stood out in a less than positive way. While we weren’t as close anymore, she lived a few blocks from me — we took the subway home together often enough if she didn’t have practice and I didn’t need to ride my bike home. She had been bugging me about getting more exercise for years, and I’d started bicycling to school at her suggestion around the end of the prior year, occasionally at first and pretty regularly more recently. I’ve always been on the chubby side, but not as much as I’d once been.
Sat afternoon, May 16th, Imperial Year 2472 (Earth year 1992)
Queen Sara Memorial Academy, suburbs of Feldaren
Student council room, after meetings
Gwen Mallory shook her head, once again. “My mind is made up, Diane. I won’t run to replace you.”
Diane Cho was the student council President, an outgoing senior. “The school needs you, Gwen. I need... someone I can trust to look after things once I’m off in college.”
“The school needs a President who can give her all to the council,” said Gwen. “I’ve had too many other obligations this year as Vice President. You’ve been too polite to say it, but you’ve been doing more than your share because I’ve been going in different directions.”
Diane sighed. “I know you’re right, but I’d hoped to get you to commit here.”
“I really can’t, D,” said Gwen. “Acting is going to be a career for me, and I can’t abandon the fencing club entirely.”
“Speaking of acting, how did it go with that commercial you auditioned for?”
- California, USA
Bio: Amateur SF/fantasy writer. Professional computer geek. Something of a grouchy old man, but mostly harmless.