Friday, December 31, 2010

Earth-349: The Last Story, Prologue 3

Natalie Richards looked up from her desk when she heard a knock
at the door.  She stretched out an arm and opened it, and since
Richards was still widely known to the world as Doctor Fantastic, a
former member of the now-disbanded Fantastic Four, when she
stretched out an arm it really stretched. The door, some ten yards
away, opened, and Jane Arbogast entered. She'd already removed
and stowed her Iron Maiden armor, and like Richards was wearing
an AIM coverall, its beekeeper-style cowl thrown back.

Richards had spent her entire life surrounded by scientists and
intellectuals, and she knew that social awkwardness was something
of an occupational hazard, but until her previous visit, Iron Maiden
had always kept her armor on the entire time, even the helmet. That
had seemed a bit much, even to Richards.
Arbogast had been terribly nervous on her previous visit, but she
seemed a good deal more relaxed this time.

Richards finished what she was working on and rose from the desk
just as Arbogast got to within normal conversational distance. She
rose and extended a hand, and was glad to see that this time Arbogast
took it without hesitation.

"Good to see you again, Richards. Is Palmer here?"

"Not yet, and I was expecting her half an hour ago. Oh, well, you know
how she is: she can arrive via telephone at any moment, so naturally
she's always being delayed at the last minute."

"So, let's see your Museum of Many Worlds, shall we?"

Richards smiled. She admired Iron Maiden's direct, down-to-business
approach, presumably honed by running the day-to-day operations of the
worldwide company owned by her reclusive boss, Tony Stark.

Richards led Arbogast down a corridor to a large double door. It was after
six on a Sunday night, so there were few staff members around. Richards
punched a six-digit code into the latch and opened it. Lights came on
automatically all through the cavernous space.

"This was a dining room for the staff until we built a smaller and more
pleasant one, but it's just about perfect for a museum."

Much of the space was still empty, but Arbogast could see that the
museum's collection was already impressive, and included entire airplanes
and automobiles, as well as display cases containing everything from
furniture and clothed mannequins to coins, stamps and newspapers.
 The smaller cases had many drawers each, containing yet more artifacts
from parallel worlds.

Richards went up to one case which displayed an assortment of
newspapers and magazines that displayed unfamiliar celebrities,
unfamiliar fashions, unfamiliar sports and even unfamiliar plants and
animals. She opened one of its drawers and lifted out a newspaper, a copy
of the Pittsburgh Courier about a year old. The biggest headline read,
 Smaller ones indicated that the Indianapolis Clowns had defeated the
Newark Eagles in the third game of the World Series, that Harry
Belafonte had received his sixth Academy Award for Best Director,
and that Surgeon General "Torchy" Brown had begun a new national
campaign to wipe out syphilis.

"This is from Earth-319," Richards said, smiling. "The funny thing is,
you could read the entire paper without guessing what the biggest surprise
would be if you were to visit there."

Arbogast took the paper and carefully opened it.

"Something more interesting than the fact that the President's first name is
Paul rather than Kenneth, I take it."

Richards laughed.

No comments: