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Andrew Warne, a brilliant robotics engineer whose  theories have recently come under fire, has been called back to Utopia, the cutting-edge theme park whose technology he helped design. Little knowing the real reason he's been asked to return is because of certain troubling problems that have surfaced with the park's robots, he has brought his daughter, Georgia, along with him.


Chapter 2: 8:10 AM

The Nexus was a broad, gracious space, framed in the same brushed metal and wood of the Transportation Center. Restaurants, shops, souvenir boutiques, and Guest Services lounges lined the walls to the left and right, stretching ahead for what seemed a limitless distance. Warne followed the others down the monorail offloading ramp, Georgia in tow, gazing about curiously. The ceiling was open to the glass dome far above, framing a huge cloudless sky that arced over the Nexus in a brilliant azure band. Before him, information kiosks and low, graceful fountains gleamed in the slanted bars of sunlight. Signs, large but discreet, directed visitors toward the park’s four Worlds: Camelot, Gaslight, Boardwalk, Callisto. The air was cool, a little moist, and full of muted sound—voices, the patter of water, some softer noise he couldn’t identify.

A group of youngish men and women were waiting at the base of the ramp. They wore identical white blazers, and carried identical folders. They looked, in fact, as if they could have all been related. Warne wondered, only half in jest, if there were height, weight, and age restrictions for Utopia employees. He dismissed the thought as he saw one of the women walking briskly toward him.

"Dr. Warne? I’m Amanda Freeman," the woman said, shaking his hand.

"So I see," Warne replied, nodding toward the nameplate affixed to her blazer lapel. He wondered how she had recognized him.

"I’ll be processing you into Utopia, giving you a brief orientation," she said. Her voice was pleasant, but almost as brisk as her walk. She nodded toward the small envelope he was carrying. A miniature bar code had been impact-printed along one edge. "May I have that?"

He handed it to her, and she tore it open, upending it into her palm. Out tumbled another stylized bird, this one in green. She affixed it to his jacket. "Please wear this pin while you’re with us."


"It identifies you as an external specialist. You have your passcard? Good. That and the pin will give you the backstage access you’ll need."

"Beats paying admission."

"Keep the passcard handy. You may be asked to show it from time to time. In fact, most crew working the Underground keep them clipped to their pockets. Is this your daughter?"

"Georgia, yes."

"I didn’t realize she was coming along. We’ll have to get her a pin, as well."

"Thank you."

"No problem. She can wait in Childcare Services while you’re processed. You can pick her up afterwards."

"Child care services?" Georgia asked, her voice steely with indignation.

Freeman smiled briefly again. "Actually, it’s the young adult division of Childcare Services. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised."

Georgia flashed Warne a dark look. "Dad, this better be good," she muttered. "I don’t do Legos."

Warne looked past her, toward the offloading ramp. The pyrotechnics specialist, Smythe, was walking purposefully down into the Nexus. Norman Pepper was talking animatedly with one of the white-blazered men. The two began moving away, Pepper rubbing his hands and smiling widely.

They dropped Georgia at the nearby Services desk, then proceeded down the central corridor of the Nexus.

"You’ve got a beautiful daughter," Freeman said as they walked.

"Thanks. But please don’t tell her that. She’s got a chip on her shoulder as it is."

"How was the monorail?"


"We like to bring visiting specialists in on the monorail their first day here. Gives them a better feel for what it is that paying guests experience. You’ll be given directions to employee parking as part of today’s orientation package. Much less scenic, naturally, but it shaves off fifteen minutes or so of travel time. Unless you’re staying on site?"

"No, we’re staying at the Luxor." Unlike most theme parks, Utopia was geared toward a full-immersion, single-day experience: there were no overnight accommodations for tourists. Warne had been told, however, that a small behind-the-scenes hotel existed: a first-class resort for celebrities, star performers, and VIPs, with more spartan quarters for visiting consultants, bands, and overnight staff.

"What’s with the clocks?" Warne asked as he struggled to keep up. He’d noticed that, although it was now quarter past eight, the digital clocks set into the towering walls of the Nexus read 0:45.

"Forty-five minutes to Zero Hour."


"Utopia is open 365 days a year, 9 AM to 9 PM. At closing, the clocks start a twelve hour countdown. Lets the cast and crew know how much time they have left until opening. Of course, there are no clocks in the Worlds themselves, but—"

"You mean it takes twelve hours to get the Park ready again?" Warne asked in disbelief.

"Lots to do," Freeman said, with another small smile. "Come on, we’ll take a short cut through Camelot."

She steered him toward a massive portal in the nearer wall. Above it, the word Camelot shone in Old English blackletter. This typeface was, so far, the only deviation Warne had seen from the rigidly-enforced design of the Nexus: even the doors to the bathrooms and the emergency exit signs were in the same reserved Art Deco typestyle.

Three white-jacketed attendants, standing outside the Camelot portal, smiled and nodded at Freeman. She steered Warne past them, through a forest of crowd rails and into a wide, empty queuing chamber. In the far wall stood half a dozen oversized sets of metal doors. On cue, one of the doors slid back and Freeman led the way into a cavernous, darkly-appointed elevator.

The doors closed again and that same silky female voice said, You are now entering Camelot. Enjoy your visit. There was a muffled metallic thud and the elevator came to life. Except, Warne noticed, it was neither ascending nor descending: it was moving forward horizontally.

"Is it a long way to the Park itself?" he asked.

"Actually, we’re not really moving," Freeman replied. "The car just gives the illusion of movement. Studies showed that guests find the Worlds easier to adjust to if they believe it takes a journey—however short—to reach them."

Then the doors on the far side slid open. For the second time in the last half hour, Warne felt himself stop in surprise.

Ahead lay a wide pavement of dark cobblestones. Quaint buildings— some with thatched roofs, others with peaked gambrels— lined both sides, stretching ahead to what looked from a distance like a large village square. Beyond the square, the cobbled road divided around the bailey of a castle, sand-colored and monolithic. Above its high crenelations flew a hundred multi-colored banners. In the distance, he could see more towers and the notched, cruel-looking face of a mountain rising above a grassy hill, snow swirling around its summit. Far overhead, the soaring curve of the dome gave an illusion of endless space. The air smelt of earth, and fresh-cropped grass, and summer.

Warne walked slowly forward, feeling a little like Dorothy, stepping out of her drab monochromatic farmhouse into Oz. Wait until Georgia sees this, he thought. Brilliant sunshine blanketed the entire scene, giving it a clean, lustrous edge. Park employees hurried quickly here and there over the cobbles, but not in the jacketed uniform he had seen elsewhere: here were men in particolored tights; women in flowing robes and wimples; a knight in armor, portable phone clasped to the side of his ponderous helmet. Only a small knot of white-blazered supervisors, with palmtop computers and two-way radios, and a crew member from Maintenance, hosing down the cobbles, broke the illusion.

"What do you think?" Freeman asked.

"It’s amazing," Warne replied honestly.

"Yes, it is." He turned and saw her smiling. "I love to watch people entering a World for the first time. Since I can’t go back and do it again myself, watching somebody else is the next best thing."

They made their way down the broad thoroughfare, Freeman pointing out attractions as they went. As they passed a bakery, a mortared window opened, releasing an irresistible aroma. Somewhere, a bard was tuning his lute, singing an ancient lay.

"The design philosophy of all four Worlds is the same," Freeman said. "Visitors first pass through a set-piece— in Camelot’s case, this village we’re in— that helps orient, set the mood. ‘Decompression,’ we call it. There are restaurants, shops, and concessions, of course, but mostly it’s a spot for the guests to just observe, get acclimated. Then, as you move deeper into the World, we start integrating the attractions— rides, live shows, holographic events, you name it— into the environment. It’s all seamless."

"I’ll say." Warne noticed that, except for the signboards of the shops and eateries, there were no modern signage anywhere: rest rooms and the cleverly-integrated information kiosks were indicated only by what appeared to be highly realistic holographic symbols.

"Scholars come here because this lane we’re passing through is a superbly detailed reconstruction of Newbold Saucy, an English village depopulated in the fourteenth century," Freeman said. "Guests come because Dragonspire is probably the second most thrilling roller-coaster in the park, after Scream Machine over in Boardwalk."

The castle loomed ahead of them as they approached the square. "An exact recreation of Caernarvon, in Wales," Freeman said. "With selective compression and forced perspective, of course."

"Forced perspective?"

"The upper stories aren’t full-sized, they’re smaller. They give an illusion of correct proportion, but are warmer, less intimidating. We use the technique throughout Utopia, on a variety of levels. For example, that mountain, there, is reduced in size to give the illusion of distance." She nodded through the open portcullis. "Anyway, inside this castle is where The Enchanted Prince is shown."

The troubadour’s song had long fallen behind them, but other noises came to Warne’s ears: birdsong, the patter of fountains, and the same softer noise he had heard in the Nexus. "What’s that sound I keep hearing?" he asked.

Freeman glanced at him. "You’re very observant. Our research specialists have done pioneering work in womb-feedback research. Once guests fill Camelot, the sound won’t be audible. But it will still be there."

Warne threw her a puzzled look.

"It’s the science of reproducing certain womblike effects— temperatures, ambient sounds— to foster a subliminal sense of tranquility. We have five patents pending on it. The Utopia Holding Company has over three hundred patents, you know. We license some to the chemical, medical, and electronics industries. Others remain proprietary."

Three of which were developed by me, Warne thought silently, allowing himself a little twinge of pride. He wondered if the woman knew the contribution he’d made to the day-to-day operation of the Park. Probably not, considering the way she was showing him around, talking to him like he was some assistant programmer. Once again, he found himself wondering why Sarah Boatwright had summoned him here so abruptly.

"This way," Freeman said, turning down a side alley.

A man in a violet cape and dark knee-breeches walked by, practicing his Middle English. Ahead, two burly Maintenance specialists walked by, carrying a large metal cage between them. Inside sat a small dragon, tail twitching, crimson scales shimmering in the sun. Warne stared. The damp nostrils flared as air passed through them. He could swear the thing’s yellow eyes gleamed as they fastened upon him.

"A mandrake, on its way for installation in Griffin Tower," Freeman said. "The Park’s still closed, that’s why they’re not traveling below. What is it, Dr. Warne?"

Warne was still staring after the dragon. "I’m just not used to seeing skin on them, that’s all," he muttered.

"Excuse me? Oh yes: that’s your field, isn’t it."

Warne licked his lips. The costumes, the dialect, the fanatical realism of the surroundings... He shook his head slowly.

"Can be a bit much when no guests are around to break the illusion, right?" Freeman’s voice was quieter, less brisk. "Let me guess. When you arrived, you thought the Nexus was spartan-looking, kind of drab."

Warne nodded.

"People often feel that way when they first enter Utopia. A guest once told me it reminded her of a billion-dollar airport terminal. Well, it was designed that way, and this is the reason." She waved her hand at the scene around them. "Sometimes the realism can get disorienting to guests. So the Nexus provides a neutral setting, a transition between the Worlds."

She turned toward a two-story half-timbered residence, lifting the iron latch of the front door. Warne followed her inside. To his surprise, the building was merely a shell, open to its roof. A plain gray door was set into the back wall, a finger-geometry scanner and a card reader beside it. Freeman stepped up to the scanner, placed her thumb in the mold. There was a snap, and the door sprang open. Beyond, Warne could see the cool green glow of flourescent light.

"Back to the real world," Freeman said. "Or as close as we get to it around here."

And she motioned him through the doorway.


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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