Chapter 19 Home Again?
When they returned to the castle they found Queen Nallah in the throne room holding court, such as it was, with Mayor Grass and a few of the populace. Mayor Grass and the crazy man really were the only people from the town who had never been to the giant realm. When the Anderson’s and the Carter girls came in, they waited respectfully for Queen Nallah to finish her business.
“Admiral Tock, you claim that the key to a strong defense is a strong navy. And what are your feelings, Admiral Dock?”
“Well, Your Majesty, it’s like this, see?” Dock spoke up, “A strong navy yes, of course a strong navy if we are going to survive in this topsy-turvy world we live in, but I think it’s counter-productive to have a navy and a merchant fleet separate. We have the vessels, they can be both navy and merchant fleet. We can have commerce to the far-flung reaches of the globe, build up our coffers, and they could still be called back in the case of defensive operations or war.”
“Would that satisfy you, Admiral Tock?”
Tock nodded and strokes his whiskers. “The kid has learned a few things while I was away, it would seem.”
“And your feelings, Mayor?”
The mayor was cleaned up from the day before, and a good meal had done much to restore his health. There was even a faint trace of color in his face. “That sounds good. Of course, right now we have to get back to manufacturing and agriculture. We have to figure out what the prevalent strengths of this new population is,” he sighed. “And without a merchant fleet, trade would be restricted to our closest neighbors.”
“Which reminds me,” Queen Nallah said, “we need envoys to our neighbors to let them know of recent events. No doubt the emperor’s spies and enforcement squads are still out there. If they find out from us that the emperor is no longer a threat, I bet our neighbors will take care of those little messes. General Mowbry,” she called Mowbry over, “find out who is from where, and see if how many would be willing to return as envoys of Tole.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” he bowed.
“Sir Dave and company,” Queen Nallah rose to greet them, “Would you like to eat first, or are you ready to go?”
“We’re ready to go,” Jen answered for the others, and they nodded.
“Fine,” Queen Nallah led the way downstairs to the dungeons, and they all slipped into the oubliette. Posing as a little hole in the floor, once through the hole there was a great chamber which appeared to extend beyond the castle walls. The walls were carved right from living stone, and along the farthest wall there was a great slab of marble, highly polished, and next to it a walking stick of knotty pine.
“I’m not sure about the stick,” Queen Nallah said. “But who knows what technology they employed. We do know for a fact that this is how they escaped from our realm.”
“Well, the slab is certainly large enough to accommodate a lot of people at one time,” Mr. Anderson agreed.
“Thank you for all of your help, getting us back, and convincing me to stay on as queen. We are now linked and inseparable, even though time and space keeps us apart. I trust you to return the rest of my people to me.” She put her arms around Mr. Anderson and gave him a brief hug, the craned her neck up and kissed him on the cheek.
“We will do all we can for you and your people, Your Majesty,” Mr. Anderson said. “And we will try to visit you next year, if possible.”
“You will always be welcome here,” Queen Nallah smiled. She then turned her attention to the children, and kissed each one. “Farewell, my dearest friends.”
Taking her cue from the queen, Julie turned and kissed Budrick on the cheek, then ran over and took her place next to her sister on the slab. Gina and Eric held hands, and Mr. Anderson pulled his wand out holding it in his right hand, then took the pine stick in his left. “Wands at the ready,” he said. “Is everyone ready to go home?” he glanced down at the children. He noticed how tall Eric seemed. When did have a growth spurt?
The children nodded and all commented that they were ready, and they held their wands in case they would be needed in the other realm. Gina had her wand in her left hand, because her right hand was otherwise occupied. Mr. Anderson pounded the stick onto the platform three times and the rock walls, the queen and her court all faded, dissolved, then were momentarily replaced with concrete walls, and computer banks. An alarm started to sound and an amber light began to flash.
It took Mr. Anderson a moment to realize that they were expected, but he did not see any immediate threat. “Quick, behind these computer banks,” he hissed, pushing the children toward the right.
“But the exit is over there,” Eric pointed to the left. “I see the sign.”
Under the blare of the alarm was the throb and hum of the computers, the air conditioners to keep the computer servers cool, some sort of large electric motor. A small voice came from somewhere above. “Going down,” they barely heard.
They squatted behind the computer banks, preparing to defend themselves. A small breeze started to circle, and he thought he saw little flashes of electricity. “Contain yourself, Julie,” Mr. Anderson whispered. Immediately the climate of the room returned to normal, cool for the most part, with a little heat radiating from the walls of computer banks.
“Sub-Basement Three,” the small voice said, this time louder, female and electronic. The exit door opened and an armed guard stepped out. Mr. Anderson could see him in the reflection of the alarm control glass on the wall. He was immediately followed by two service technicians, and they headed right for the alarm panel. As they got closer to the glass, Mr. Anderson read their name patches. There was a “Fred” and a “Don.”
“This is getting old,” the guard said.
“I keep telling them that they need to replace this old system,” technician Fred said.
Don pulled out a round key from his massive key ring and unlocked the alarm panel door. Mr. Anderson was now staring at their backsides. “You know the company is too cheap to do that,” Don said.
“Yeah,” Fred nodded. “I’ve also been telling them that I need a raise, but they don’t listen. I’d quit, but this seems to be the only game in town.”
“In the country, you mean,” the guard said. “They’ve bought out all of the other utilities. Remember there was a massive anti-trust lawsuit going on, and then the entire government changed and those mergers were allowed to go through. Nobody can compete.”
Fred pressed a button and the amber light quit flashing, and the blaring horn went silent.
“Another false alarm,” Don said. “Happens at least twice a month.”
“And will keep doing it until they replace this old equipment,” Fred repeated.
“I don’t even know why they have this room alarmed. The only people who ever come down here are the service technicians. You guys,” the guard corrected himself.
“I don’t know,” Don admitted. “There are a lot of strange policies at this company.”
“I think I deserve a coffee break,” Fred said. “Buy me a coffee?”
“Not until you pay me back for the last four cups,” Don said.
“On me,” the guard said, as they exited. They waited a minute until they heard the elevator voice say, “Going up,” and a little bell sounded, then the electric motor that operated the pulleys went into action.
“What did that mean?” Jen asked.
“It means we are in a basement of some sort, and that means we will have a lot of stairs to climb,” Mr. Anderson explained quietly.
They cautiously went through the exit door, where they found both the service elevator and the staircase, and Mr. Anderson opened the staircase door. “What if it’s locked when we get to the ground floor?” Eric whispered.
“There are regulations against that,” Mr. Anderson said. “Fire hazard.” He led the way up the concrete and steel staircase, slowly so as not to make much noise, nor to tire anyone out before they got to their destination.
“I don’t know why they didn’t have guards posted on the portal,” Jen said. “Does anyone else think that’s odd?”
“They have an alarm system, but I don’t think anyone knows why,” Gina offered.
“What if we are stopped going out?” Julie asked.
“We will just pretend that we are here on legitimate business,” Mr. Anderson said.
“Dressed like we are?” Eric whispered.
It was true that they were dressed in the latest fashion from Tole, but they might pass as flower children from the 1960’s, or even the 1560’s for that matter.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mr. Anderson assured them, now climbing above the basement and approaching the door to the lobby. “If we act confident, like we belong here, nobody will question us.”
“They might think we are a circus act,” Gina suggested.
“Or a rock band,” Jen smiled at the thought.
Mr. Anderson paused by the door to the lobby, until all of the children were right there, ready to go. Then he opened the door and they took their first steps. It was dazzling lobby full of gleaming chrome and polished marble. The chairs and benches were both plush and posh. A security guard was in a teak kiosk stationed in front of the main door to the street, and he was facing the street at all times. They could see the glow of his security camera monitors shining up on him from below the counter.
The windows on the street were a full three stories tall, and the glass doors were pretty expansive as well. A steady stream of people were walking in an out, some of those walking in made a beeline for the giant bank of elevators, others went straight to the polished marble staircase leading up to the mezzanine. “Stay with me,” Mr. Anderson whispered, and he kept walking to the doors. The security guard glanced up but said nothing.
Out on the street, they saw no cars. There were plenty of pedestrians, but there was not a single vehicle that they could recognize. A silent monorail stopped above them, and people were streaming in and out of the staircase leading to a subway system. Then they were very startled to see several spots where large autonomous drones landed, and doors opened on the sides and people stepped out. Each drone seemed to have a carrying capacity of four people. Once the people stepped out, the twenty or so lift rotors spun up again and the drones took off. A few people stood by some of these landing spots and got inside when the other passengers left, so as to fly to wherever their destinations might be. As many people and odd forms of transportation as there were, there was not enough noise in the city. There were no horns, no sounds of large transport. A delivery truck silently stopped right next to them and a large arm emerged from the side of box and dropped a pallet onto the sidewalk and rumbled away. A moment later the sidewalk sunk into the street taking the pallet to some internal destination.
“Where are we?” Jen asked.
“I’m not too worried about where we are, so much as when we are,” Mr. Anderson sighed. “We should be in the American Mid-West. But this does not look like anywhere I’ve ever been before.”
They looked around for a clue, and Gina looked up. “Hey, check out that billboard,” she pointed.
While their vantage point was skewed from being almost directly under it, they could see that the electronic billboard was actually a giant television screen, broadcasting news, sports results, lotto winners and advertisements in about equal proportions, a minute or so of each.
While they watched, an advertisement for the local energy company came on. While they watched all of miraculous technologies displayed, they were also able to read, “The future is now. Faircraft Incorporated, powering the twenty-first century.”
“Faircraft?” Eric asked. “I’ve never heard of that company.”
“Oh, yes we have,” Jen said. “That is what Queen Nallah would call talent. Faircraft.”
Mr. Anderson pointed. “And that’s the building we just came out of,” he said, pointing.
The children looked up and saw the name of the building prominently displayed in raised gold lettering twenty feet tall, “FAIRCRAFT.”
Mr. Anderson glanced back at the billboard, which was now displaying the lottery results. “Look at the date,” he said.
“We haven’t been gone for a month, we’ve been gone for ten years!” Jen wailed.
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