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It was the ultimate coup. Corey knew it. Not only had he scored a Jack the Ripper T-shirt— the exact thing his mother had sworn for three months that she would never, ever buy him— but now the whole family was about to ride Notting Hill Chase. Everyone knew it was the most amazing ride, not just in Gaslight, but in the entire Park. Two of his school buddies had been here on vacation last month, and neither one had been allowed on it. But Corey was determined. He’d noticed his parents were having a blast, despite themselves. Just as he’d known they would: after all, this was only the newest, best amusement park in the whole world. One by one, the little family rules had fallen away, until at last he’d tried for the Big Kahuna. An intensive half-hour of whining wore them down. And now, as the line ahead grew shorter and shorter, Corey knew he was home free.

He could see the ride was really fancy, even for here. They were in some kind of winding alley with old houses on either side. There was a faint chilly breeze, with a musty smell to it. Wonder how they faked that. Little flames burned atop iron lamplights. It was foggy, of course, like the rest of Gaslight. Now he could see the loading platform ahead. Two women clad in funny-looking hats and long dark dresses were helping a group of people into a low, topless carriage with big wooden wheels. The women closed the carriage and stepped back. It jolted forward, wheels turning in rhythm, and disappeared beneath a dark overhang as another empty carriage came up to take its place. Another group boarded, rolled forward out of sight; yet another empty carriage slid into position. Now it was his turn.

There was a scary moment when he thought he might be too short for the ride, but by drawing himself up with a herculean effort Corey raised the top of his head above the minimums bar. He quivered with excitement as one of the ladies ushered them up into the carriage. Immediately, he darted like a ferret for the forward seat, planting himself firmly upon it.

His father frowned. "Sure you want to sit there, skipper?"

Corey nodded vigorously. After all, this was what made the ride so scary. The carriage’s seats faced each other. That meant the two who sat in the front rode the ride backward.

"I don’t like this," his sister whined, taking a seat beside him.

He gave her a brutal, silencing jab. Why couldn’t he have had a cool big brother, like Roger Prescott had? Instead he was stuck with a wimpy sister who read horse books and thought video games were gross.

"Keep your arms and legs inside the barouche at all times, please," the lady said in that weird accent Corey supposed was English. He didn’t know what a broosh was, but it didn’t matter. He was riding Notting Hill, and nobody could stop him now.

The lady closed the door, and the lap bar came automatically into position across Corey’s chest. The carriage jerked, and his sister gave a small squeak of fear. Corey snorted.

As they began to move forward, he craned his neck over the side, looking first up, then down. His mother quickly reined him back, but not before he’d noticed that the carriage was on some sort of belt, cleverly concealed and almost invisible in the dimness, and that the wheels were just turning for show. It didn’t matter. The carriage trundled ahead into darkness and the sudden amplified clatter of horses hooves. Corey caught his breath, unable to suppress a grin of excitement as he felt the carriage begin to rise steeply. Now, out of the darkness, he could see the vague shape of a city spreading out around him: a thousand peaked roofs, winking and smoking in the night air; and, farther away, a cool-looking tower. He did not notice the tiny infrared camera concealed inside the upper room of the tower.


Forty feet below, Allan Presley watched the monitor disinterestedly, as the kid in the Jack-the-Ripper T-shirt rose up Alpha lift. That shirt had been the most popular seller in Gaslight the last four months running, even at twenty-nine bucks a pop. It was amazing, the way wallets flew open when people came here. Speaking of flying open, the kid’s jaw was dropping almost like a caricature: his head swiveling this way and that, leaving faint greenish heat trails in the infrared monitor as his car rose up above the sprawling rooflines of Victorian London. Of course, the kid had no idea he was ascending through a cylindrical projection screen, displaying a digital image beamed from two dozen cameras onto the fiber-optic lights of the cityscape. It was an illusion, like everything else. And at Utopia, illusion was everything.

Presley’s eyes flitted briefly toward the girl sitting next to the kid. Too young to be of interest. Besides, the parents were with them. He sighed.

At most of the first-line thrill rides in the park, cameras were strategically positioned at the final hair-raising descents, capturing the looks on the riders’ faces. By paying five dollars at the exit, you could buy an image of yourself, usually grinning maniacally or frozen in fear. But it had become an underground tradition among the more daring young women to bare their breasts to the camera. Of course, the resulting pictures never reached public view. But male members of the backstage crew were greatly entertained. They’d even come up with a term for the practice: meloning. Presley shook his head. The crew at the water flume in Boardwalk got a good twelve, fifteen eyefuls a day. Here in Gaslight, it was much less common, especially this early.

With another sigh, he put aside his copy of Virgil’s Georgics and quickly scanned the rest of the three dozen monitors arrayed along the control room wall. All quiet, as usual. Even though, by Utopia standards, the Chase was a relatively low-tech coaster, it still more or less ran itself. The most excitement Presley usually got was when some fool tried to clamber out of a car mid-ride. Even that had its established routine: the intrusion mats along the ridepath would activate; he’d alert the tower operator to stop the ride; then he’d send Dispatch to escort the guest away.

Presley’s eye wandered back to Camera Four. The kid was at the top of the ratchet hill now. In a second, what little light there was would go out, the car would head into the first drop, and the real fun would begin. He found himself watching the excitement painted on that little face— clear even through the ghostly infrared— and trying to remember the first time he’d ridden Notting Hill himself. Despite the countless thousands of rides he’d worked as foreman, there was still only one word to describe it: magic.

The console speaker crackled. "Hey, Elvis."

He didn’t answer. In America, being a white male with the last name of Presley carried unavoidable baggage. It was like having the last name of Hitler. Or Christ, maybe, assuming anybody had the balls to...

"Elvis, copy?"

He recognized the nasal voice of Cale, over on the Steeplechase attraction. "Yeah, yeah," Presley said into his mike.

"Any action over there?"

"Nope. Dead."

"Same here. Well, almost. Had five pukers this morning, boom, one after the other. You should have seen it, unloading looked like a war zone. They had to close down for ten minutes to let Sanitation clean up."

"Fascinating." There was a deep, visceral shudder in the Control Room as one of the carriages hurtled down the final vertical drop that ended the ride. Automatically, Presley glanced up at the bank of cameras as the carriage moved toward the unloading area. Dazed, happy faces.

"Let me know if you get anything good. One of the commissary chefs told me they expect a bunch of sororities to come through tonight. Maybe I’ll stop by after shift."

A warning light glowed red on the circuit panel before him. "Gotta go," Presley said to Cale. He snapped a button to speak with the tower operator. "I’m showing a safety dog failure at Turn Omega."

"Yeah, I see it," came the response. "Where the ’bots at?"

"Lubrication at the Ghost Pond."

"Okay. I’ll call Shop."

"Copy." Presley sat back and scanned the monitors again. Warning lights were always going off. The rides were so over-engineered with redundant safeties there was never cause for concern. Most were false alarms, anyway. The biggest danger was to the mechanics, who had to keep their fool heads and fingers out of the way of the cars when the rides were live.


Corey was clinging desperately to the lap bar, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He could feel gravity pressing against his chest, tugging irresistibly at his armpits, trying to lift him bodily from the car. At the top of the lift— so the storyboard went— their imaginary horses had been spooked by some ghostly apparition, and now the carriage was a runaway. He was surrounded by a pandemonium of noise: the clatter of the runaway carriage, the shrill neighing of panicked horses. And, above it all, the piercing, constant, gratifying shriek of his sister. He was having the time of his life.

Now they were racing through a series of amazingly realistic set-pieces as they sped down the cobbled hill: a deserted, spectral lake; a maze of dark narrow alleys; a dockscape of rotting piers and shade-haunted clipper ships. The carriage jerked upwards once, then twice, with gut-wrenching force. Corey clung tighter, for rumors of what awaited at the end of the ride had reached his ears: the carriage would ultimately careen over the side of the hill and hurtle straight down through black space.


"I’m at Dog 91. Checks out fine. Hey, Dave, do you know why, during a physical, the doc tells you to turn your head when he’s checking your johnson?"


Presley listened automatically to the mechanics’ chatter over the radio, barely paying attention. He swept the monitors, then dropped his gaze once again to Georgics. He’d been a Classics major at UCB, always meant to go on to graduate school, but now just couldn’t summon the energy to leave Utopia and go back to school. As it was, he was probably the only person in the entire state of Nevada who spoke Latin. Once he’d tried to use this as a pickup line. It hadn’t worked.

"...Well, somebody explained it to me. The doctors don’t want saliva spewed in their face when you cough."

"No shit. That’s it? And here I always thought there was some anatomical reason, because... hey, Christ, Dog 94 is burnt out."

Presley sat up, listening intently now.

"What do you mean, burnt out? It’s not a damn light bulb."

"Just what I said. It’s smoking, stinks like hell. Must have overloaded. Never seen anything like it, even in the simulator. Looks like Dog 95’s the same way..."

Presley leapt to his feet, chair spinning and rattling away behind him. He glanced toward the ride’s breakout diagram. Safety dogs 94 and 95 controlled the final vertical descent from Turn Omega.

This wasn’t good. Sure, the safeties would stop any traffic coming up. But he’d never heard of the dogs failing before, especially two in series, and he didn’t like it. He grabbed for the radio and the tower operator. "Frank, drop the plates. Shut it down."

"Already on it. But oh my God, a car’s just passing now..."

Presley’s trained eyes darted to the bank of monitors. What he saw turned the blood in his veins to ice.

A carriage was hurtling down the final descent of Notting Hill. But it was not the even, controlled descent he had witnessed so many times. The carriage was canted away from the vertical track, its detached undercarriage swinging horribly. The occupants were pressed against the lap bars, clutching at each other, the whites of their eyes and the pinks of their tongues pale green in the monitor wash. There was no audio feed but Presley could see they were screaming.

The carriage canted still farther as it picked up speed. Then there was a jarring wrench and one of the occupants tumbled forward. His small hands scrabbled frantically, but the G-forces were too strong; the hand slipped past the safety bar, past the adult hands that reached desperately for it, and as the rider cartwheeled toward the camera, hurtling down with appalling speed, Presley had just enough time to make out the Jack the Ripper stitching before the impact killed the visual feed.


UTOPIA is copyright © 2002 by Lincoln Child. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text, or any portion thereof, in any form.
UTOPIA is available in hardcover in the United States from Doubleday Books,, and in paperback from Fawcett Books.
Warning! This novel contains profanity and graphic violence.

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