My Best Friend is a Prince from Another Worldby
Pt. I, Ch. 4A: “I told you we aren’t barbarians.”
Saturday, May 30th
Manhattan, New York City, United States, Terra and City of Feldaren, Union the Etciv
So here we were, outside the Federal Building once again, with a bigger crowd this time. Joel had beaten me there — on a Saturday morning, their taxi was faster than the subway — and he was there with his dad, his mom Laura, and his sister April. Or as he’d have put it, “step-mom” and “half-sister.” Joel and I had been friends for a couple years in elementary school, albeit not super-close — I was a year ahead of him in school back then. Then his family moved a couple miles farther out in Queens and he ended up at a different elementary school.
By the time we met again — both in 7th grade after I ended up a year behind in school — his mom had passed away, and he had a new two year old sister. She was a good kid, and going into first grade in the fall; for all that Joel seemed a bit distant from her or his step-mom, he got along with them better than I did with my folks, or my devil of a younger brother.
“Mark, are your parents OK with your coming along?” asked Joel’s dad.
I shrugged. “They signed the waiver. I don’t think they actually believe me about where it was, but when I mentioned it was to check out a school out of town, they seemed to like the idea.” My folks had stopped threatening to send me to boarding school whether I’d like it or not since my brother hit his teens and had his own discipline problems, but given how generic the liability release was, I’m pretty sure they thought I was just taking a trip up-state for the day.
After a few more minutes of small-talk, Count Dormer arrived, still early — this time dressed in a contemporary outfit rather than his masterpiece theater get-up. He looked a lot younger without it; not that much older than us. I’d heard from Joel that he’d been out to see Joel and his parents a few times. “Good morning, your highness.”
At 6:30 sharp, a security guard came out to get us, and escorted us inside to see Delgado and Hull. We took the elevator to the same basement conference room, and Delgado began explaining the day ahead of us. “Thank you for coming. As you’ve probably guessed, what they call the ‘anchor’ is located in a secure room in this building, so we’ll be departing from here. We’re expecting the gate to open shortly — it’s plus or minutes about 30 minutes and could be opening right now, or as late as 8 from what they told us last week — and to allow for an early closure we will have to be back no later than nine hours from when it opens. After all, with the exception of Hull here who will be staying, none of us particularly want to be cooling our heels there for a week or two.
“Their embassy has arranged transport from the gate to see both the capitol in downtown Feldaren and the school Joel would most likely be attending if you choose to go forward. If time permits we had a request for you to see the Obdresti embassy in the capitol, but right now the time looks unlikely to permit it.
“Right now we are the first civilians to be going through to their side, so” — and here she gave Joel and I a concerned glance — “I expect you to be on your best behavior. We don’t have any formal customs arrangements, but anything you bring back through will be inspected. Do you have any questions for us, while we wait for the gate to open?”
“What’s it like going through the gate?” asked Joel.
To this, Dormer replied: “Just like stepping into the next room — one moment I was there, and then I was here. While it’s open, you can hold a conversation between the two spaces.”
“Really? So do radio waves pass through?” I asked.
Dormer shrugged in reply, but Delgado was able to answer — “Yes. It’s been a useful source of information about their side, and before we moved the anchor to the sub-basement here, I’m sure it was for them as well.”
“You have radio?”
Dormer gave me a look. “I told you we weren’t barbarians. I don’t think many on our side of the gate realize how quickly we’re falling behind in technology, but at least in the big cities we’ve most of the same day to day comforts as here. His High – Joel –” and he looked a bit pained not to be so formal, “mentioned that you were something of a fan of computers — and we do have them, some built there, and some purchased through the gate.”
I meant to ask him whether they had trade with other technological worlds, but I didn’t have the chance — the door opened, and two people came through. The first, who we’d met, was Brother Oliver. The other, unfamiliar to me, looked like a fed — dark suit, a short non-nonsense haircut, very upright posture, and while he wasn’t a large man, he had a strength and intensity about him. Delgado introduced him as her colleague, Special Agent Thomas Morgan. He’d been there since the prior opening, looking into security arrangements both for our trip and for Hull, who would be staying behind with Morgan to begin the work on the ground for a diplomatic post.
They escorted us down the hall to a door we’d passed on the way in; for a “secure, undisclosed location,” it looked very innocuous. Inside was what looked like another conference room, this one empty except for stacked boxes and a large open space at one end. In that open space, on the floor, you could see a stone slab, mostly obscured by the gate itself — this must have been the “anchor.” The opening itself had hazy boundaries. There was a clear area about 7 feet tall and equally wide looking out into a well-lit room, with tall columns and several people. It had a hard bottom edge at the floor, but the top and sides had perhaps a foot of mist, and it was not clear if there was any depth to it — I wanted badly to peek around the back.
I didn’t get the chance; on the far side, Ambassador — Legatus — Matsumoto waved to us and said, “You can come through.” Morgan went through first, followed by Hull, and then Joel’s family. I was towards the end, with Delgado and Brother Oliver coming through last. It was very odd to step through to another world inconsequentially. I glanced up as I walked through, and there was just enough depth of mist above and to the sides of the opening to feel like a doorway, but the entire passage was two steps. In a couple of minutes, we had all gotten through.
The room we stepped into was nothing like the federal building basement; it was a bright, long space with large windows to either side and large double doors well ahead of us. Most of the surfaces looked like marble. The gate we’d just come through was set into one end of the room, with no visible empty space around it. A couple of large pillars stood ahead of us about halfway to the doors, standing up without reaching the ceiling, inscribed with some text in an alphabet I didn’t recognize. Wood crates were piled on one side of the room, and there were a handful of people in loose fitting, dark-colored clothes much like Brother Oliver’s. They had a fair range of hairstyles, so it seemed Oliver’s bare crown was some combination of age or genetics.
Standing directly in front of us was Legatus Matsumoto. “Welcome to Feldaren,” she said. Between herself and Special Agent Delgado, they made a full round of introductions.
From there, we were escorted outside; it was warmer than New York had been at this hour but still Spring weather. The building we’d come out of looked like a bank, or as if someone had made a modern attempt at Greek Revival. Around it were clustered a number of low one and two story buildings, none of which would have been out of place in an office park, and further out, small homes. Beyond that, though, a very solid-looking wall surrounded the place to a height of some of the second storey windows. A road, with rail tracks embedded, ran practically to the base of steps up to the building we’d come out of.
To the side of that, off the tracks, stood what looked like a trolley car. It was enclosed, appeared to be made of metal with large glass windows and was painted red with a golden dragon at one end. “If you’ll follow me,” Matsumoto said, and she started walking towards it.
Inside were two rows of pairs of padded seats, with more rows than our group would need. Joel sat with his sister, his folks together — the rest of us spread out with seats to ourselves. Two drivers sat at the front, and when we were all seated Brother Oliver stood up again and said — “I realize those of you from the other side won’t have ridden in a flying carriage before, but I understand aircraft are fairly common on your side. Just keep calm and enjoy the ride.” With that, the doors closed, and our vehicle began to float slowly skyward — straight up initially, and then at a height not much above the tallest buildings here, accelerating forwards over the wall.
Joel’s dad and mom looked more than a little scared, and Joel looked a little nervous. I’d always loved flying — even the loud little helicopter which had taken people up for rides to raise money for the volunteer fire department near my grandfather’s cottage one summer — and this was incredibly smooth and near silent. April, meanwhile, was leaning across Joel and looking out the window looking very happy — I think I heard her whisper “Coolest thing ever!”
We didn't start off very high — it was below what would have been the tallest buildings in Manhattan — but we passed over the walls, and outside it, large, triangular earthworks which reminded me of pictures of old Napoleonic or Civil War era fortifications. I really wish I’d brought a camera.
We sped up, rising slowly, roughly following the road and railroad. Oliver told us that the trip would take about half an hour, and that he’d let us know when there would be a view of downtown.
“How fast are we going?” I asked
Oliver took a moment to ask the drivers “About a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour, although we’ll slow down when we get nearer to the city. The movement is purely magical.”
That got a very surprised reaction from Joel’s parents, and the State Department folks. For me, though… once you had a magic gate between worlds, this didn’t seem all that odd. So about 70 kilometers to get there — that was what, 40 or 50 miles? Quite a way out of the city, even with cars and trucks — which we saw a few on the road, unfamiliar and blocky looking but recognizable for what they were.
Below us, scattered villages gave way to what looked more like suburbs — and the single tracked rail by the side of the road to double tracks with overhead wires. April spotted an airplane — two propellers, not especially large — and got very excited. Add another question about the technology and economics here to wonder about.
- California, USA
Bio: Amateur SF/fantasy writer. Professional computer geek. Something of a grouchy old man, but mostly harmless.