The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6)(14)


by Richelle Mead

Once we had our coffee, the drive passed uneventfully, with our only slowdown being summertime construction scattered along the highway. Honestly, it would have been a pleasant road trip, if not for the fact we were all still keyed up with worry and tension. I was worried Adrian might do something reckless back at Court. And, of course, I was worried about Jill. Eddie clearly was too, and rather than make him feel better, this new lead had only increased his agitation. He barely said two words to us the whole drive. We still made good time overall, rolling up to the Pittsburgh Robot Museum in late afternoon. A hand-painted sign declared that it was “world famous,” but none of us had ever heard of it. Judging from the empty parking lot, not many people had.

“We’re usually busier on weekends,” explained the attendant at the admission window. We bought three tickets and stepped inside.

“Please come in, please come in,” boomed a robot standing near the entrance. It didn’t move and had been patched with duct tape in a number of places. In its arms, it held a long, rectangular welcome sign.

The bulk of the museum was contained inside one large gallery that displayed a motley assortment of robots used in both entertainment and practical business applications. Most of the displays were static, but a few were animated, like a mini assembly line showing a robot that checked for manufacturing quality control. A conveyor belt on an endless loop sent ceramic mugs around and around past a boxy-looking device that paused and scanned each one, flashing either red or green lights, depending on whether it found a defect.

An adjacent room displayed “A History of Robotics” along its walls. It included mythological origins, like automatons that served the Greek god Hephaestus, which I thought was a nice touch. The bulk of the timeline focused on developments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and then ended with THE FUTURE: ???

I stared at those question marks a moment, thinking they might as well be a label for my own future. What did my life hold? Would I ever manage the college and world-travel dreams I’d harbored for so long? Or would my life be limited to a suite of rooms surrounded by vampires? Was being on the run the best outcome I could hope for?

“Sydney?”

Ms. Terwilliger’s voice drew me from the timeline room, and I returned to the main gallery. She and Eddie were standing by a huge glass display case featuring what looked like a metal dinosaur more than twice my height. I recognized it as the one from the flyer, beside which my name had been written. Ms. Terwilliger’s hand rested on the glass. “Can you feel this?” she asked me.

I placed my hand next to hers and waited. After several seconds, I sensed some kind of buzzing energy. Eddie imitated us but then shook his head. “I don’t feel anything,” he said.

“There’s an enchantment on this display,” Ms. Terwilliger explained, stepping back.

“Can you tell anything about it?” I asked. She was more sensitive to that sort of thing than I was. It was a skill that required practice.

“No. I need to open this case.”

There was a small metal lock on the glass case that either of us probably could have opened with a spell. From what I could tell, there was no other security or electronic alarm on this display or the others, and I honestly wasn’t surprised. Something told me this place didn’t have the budget for anything too high tech, ironically enough. As it was, it didn’t even have air conditioning, making it hot and stuffy inside with only a few screened windows to provide ventilation.

“Ah,” said the attendant, striding over to us. He’d probably grown bored at his post. “I see you’re admiring the Raptorbot.”

I glanced up at its metal teeth and red eyes. “It’s something else,” I said honestly.

“Are you fans of the movie?” he asked.

“What movie?” I asked.

“Raptorbot Rampage,” said the attendant.

“Yes,” said Eddie, almost reluctantly. Ms. Terwilliger and I turned to him in surprise. He flushed under our scrutiny. “What? It . . . well, it was kind of awesome. I saw it with Micah and Trey.”

The attendant nodded eagerly. “It’s about a scientist whose wife is dying of an incurable disease. Just before she dies, he builds this robot raptor and manages to transfer her soul into it. Only things go unexpectedly awry when she goes off on a rampant killing spree.”

“It couldn’t have been that unexpected,” I argued. “I mean, why did he build a dinosaur body for her? Why not something more human? Or at least a more friendly animal?”

“Because then there wouldn’t have been much of a movie,” said Eddie.

“There’s still got to be a plausible backstory . . .” I said.

A wry smile crossed Eddie’s features, and although the entire topic was absurd, I realized I’d hardly ever seen anything but a grim expression on his face since Jill had been taken. “I don’t think you can really sit down with a movie called Raptorbot Rampage and expect a plausible backstory,” he said.

The attendant looked offended. “What are you suggesting? It was a fine piece of film. When the sequel comes out, people will be lined up out the doors to see this exhibit!”

“Sequel?” Eddie and I asked in unison.

Ms. Terwilliger cleared her throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but how long are you open today?”

“Until five,” said the attendant, still looking put out that I wasn’t showing proper respect for the Raptorbot.

“Thank you,” she said. “I think we’ve seen all we need. It’s been an enjoyable visit. Let’s go, Sydney, Eddie.”

Puzzled over her actions, we followed her out but didn’t speak until we were in the car. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“We need to come back tonight, after they’re closed, and bust into that display.” She spoke in a prim and proper tone, not at all like she was suggesting breaking and entering. “I figured there was no point in sticking around and making ourselves more memorable.”

“We were probably his only customers today,” I remarked. “That’ll make us memorable—that and having someone who’s actually seen and liked Raptorbot Rampage.”

“Hey,” warned Eddie. “Don’t judge until you’ve watched it.”

We went into downtown Pittsburgh and booked a hotel, since presumably we’d be staying there overnight. A number of restaurants were within walking distance, and we found a nice place for dinner where we could almost pretend we were living a normal life. Even still, I could tell Eddie was restless. He offered to go on a walk with me after dinner, and for a moment, I was tempted. The historic part of downtown looked like it’d be fun to explore, and it was a perfect summer evening, warm and breezy. Then, I thought about the Alchemists finding me and locking me away again, forcing me to repeat their rhetoric and undergo their tortures. My chest grew tight, and I shook my head.