"That's one small step for … man, one giant leap for mankind." The young boy sat in front of the small television staring with wide-eyed wonder at the flickering image. That was the moment Mason Grant knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
Of course all his friends wanted to be astronauts, but not Mason. What had fascinated him most about man’s journey to the moon was how they got there; the mighty Saturn V rocket roaring into space, the intricate orbital opera of the capsule docking with the Lunar Module, and the slow motion descent of the Lunar Module to the moon’s surface. Without all those pieces working perfectly, those fateful words would have never been spoken. He wanted to be one of those who made it all possible; an engineer.
None of this was a surprise to Mason’s parents because his preoccupation with moving objects began when he was a baby. The only way to get him to sleep would be to give the mobile over his crib a gentle push to start it rotating. As a toddler, he spent hours knocking blocks to the floor or rolling a ball off a table staring at them intently until they came to a stop. To his parents, rockets and lunar landers just seemed to be the logical next step.
Over the course of time most childhood dreams fade away, but not Mason’s. Through hard work and perseverance, he not only became an engineer, but was hired by NASA after graduation. He’d not only realized his dream, but had actually exceeded it. As far as Mason was concerned, he’d achieved everything he could ever want.
He was dozing on the couch one Friday evening after work when a loud knock at the door awakened him. “Who could that be?” he muttered glancing at his watch and seeing it was nearly eleven. Slowly getting up from the couch, he trudged over to the door and peered through the peep hole. He saw a man with wispy white hair, thin white beard, and sparkling grey eyes.
The face looked familiar, but Mason couldn’t place it. “Who is it?” he called.
“Professor Anklin. Not sure if you remember me.”
Mason smiled. Professor Anklin was a hard man to forget. He’d given a series of guest lectures on the Theory of Relativity in one of Mason’s physics class. Mason had expected it to be boring, but was pleasantly surprised by the professor’s quirky manner and the way he explained things. Mason had even gone up afterwards to let Professor Anklin know how much he’d enjoyed the lectures.
However, Mason couldn’t help but wonder why Professor Anklin would suddenly show up at his apartment. Curious, he opened the door. “Professor Anklin?”
“Good to see you again Mr. Grant,” offered the professor good-naturedly as he stepped inside. Although it was the middle of July, he was carrying a heavy coat.
“Why the coat?” asked Mason before he could stop himself.
“Oh it gets rather cold where I come from,” answered the professor.
Mason gave a nervous laugh and gestured towards the couch. “Considering I only spoke with you for a few minutes, I’m surprised you even remember me.”
"A few minutes is all it takes to make a good impression Mr. Grant. I’m not easily impressed so I’ve kept track of you over the years," he answered while looking over the apartment. “Seems my opinion of you was correct. After all, NASA only hires the very best.”
“Thank you,” answered Mason, hesitating a moment before closing the door.
“You have a very nice apartment,” observed the professor. “How much would you say that couch weighs?”
Mason was beginning to wonder if it’d been a mistake to open the door. “The couch? I have no …”
His mouth dropped open and his voice trailed away as the couch slowly floated upward. His eyes grew wide as the couch came to rest on the ceiling.
“You look like you need to sit down,” observed Professor Anklin with a slight chuckle. He led Mason over to a chair. As Mason sat down, the couch floated downward until it gently settled on the floor. Once it had done so, the professor took a seat on it.
Professor Anklin leaned forward, his grey eyes fixed on Mason. “I modified its gravity.”
“That’s impossible,” whispered Mason.
Professor Anklin shook his head. “An engineer relies on data and observations Mr. Grant. You saw the couch float so how would you explain it?”
“In that case, perhaps you’d be willing to listen to my explanation.”
“First of all, I’m from a planet called Myscreth.”
The professor waited for Mason’s reaction. He stared blankly back at the professor and motioned for him to continue.
“It was once very much like Earth, though more technologically advanced. Several hundred years ago, our scientists discovered a genetic mutation which allowed people to modify scientific laws. Unfortunately, there were those who used this power for their own selfish ends and war engulfed Myscreth. Within a matter of weeks our civilization lay in ruins.”
The professor was quiet for a moment before continuing.
“After the war, most people wanted to destroy all information on using this ability,” continued the professor, his voice hoarse. “But it wasn't that simple. The very power which had destroyed our world was the only means of rebuilding it. Even after hundreds of years our society is only starting to recover."
Why the Professor had levitated his couch now made sense. This was the most unbelievable thing he’d ever heard, but he couldn’t deny what he’d seen.
“Why are you telling me all this?”
"After my world was nearly destroyed, a Council was formed to lead the rebuilding effort,” explained the professor in a quiet voice. “Only they are allowed to manipulate scientific laws. Because our population is still so small, it has been difficult to find suitable candidates for the Council. That's why I came to Earth."
Mason's head was spinning. "And you want me to be on this Council?"
“Do you know what impressed me about you when we met?” asked Professor Anklin.
“That you possess the ability to manipulate scientific laws.”
Mason slowly shook his head. “You just said all this happened on this Myscreth you claim to be from and now you’re saying I have this ability. How do you explain that?”
Professor Anklin looked over at Mason sharply. “Do you think I’m the only one of my people to have travelled to Earth? As war ravaged my world, some of my people were able to escape to Earth to start a new life. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.”
As he finished speaking, the professor leaned his head back and closed his eyes. It was several minutes before he spoke.
“I’m sorry Mason,” he declared, his eyes still closed. “Even today, my people struggle with the consequences of that long ago war.” Sitting up, he looked at Mason. “That’s why they need your help.”
Mason was struck by how much older Professor Anklin suddenly looked. His eyes had lost their sparkle and his body was hunched over as if under some heavy weight. It made no sense to Mason then or afterwards, but somehow he suddenly knew the professor was telling the truth.
Mason shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “How can you be so sure I have this ability you’re talking about?”
Professor Anklin sat up a little straighter as he answered. “Those who possess the ability to manipulate scientific laws can sense it in others.”
Mason looked at the floor unable to meet the professor’s gaze. “If you’ve kept an eye on me over the years, you know how hard I worked to get where I am. How could I just give all that up?”
Mason looked up in surprise as Professor Anklin chuckled. “Yes I have watched you over the years Mr. Grant and I’ve discovered two things about your character; you won’t back down from a challenge and possess a willingness to help others. I think once you fully understand what’s at stake, you’ll accept my invitation.”
Mason wasn’t so sure. “I’m willing to listen, but I can’t promise anything.”
“That’s all I can ask,” answered the professor. “I already told you how the war had destroyed our civilization, but it also made Myscreth a lifeless wasteland. The war’s destruction filled the atmosphere with smoke and debris causing temperatures to plummet. The survivors who remained on Myscreth crowded into twelve underground cities which had survived the war. Only the ability to manipulate scientific laws has allowed my people to survive.”
“But if you can travel to other planets, why do you stay?” questioned Mason.
“Because it’s our home,” explained the professor. “We look forward to a future when our world is again as it once was. As our population has increased, we’ve even begun to establish settlements near the equator where it’s warm enough to live. Without the Council, none of this would be possible.”
The professor paused and looked intently at Mason. “How many Council members do you think there are?”
Mason thought for a moment. “A hundred?”
Professor Anklin shook his head. “There’s only five with two candidates undergoing training. That’s all there is to satisfy the needs of an entire world. Do you think that’s more important than working for NASA?”
Mason nodded. How could he not, but he still wasn’t sure. “I need time to make a decision.”
“I’ll give you two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” exclaimed Mason. That’s not enough time and I still have so many questions.”
“Questions I can answer, but the time is non-negotiable. I’ve found a hard deadline forces people to make a choice. Besides, if you’re still undecided after two weeks, it probably means you’ve decided to stay.”
“So what happens if I agree to go?” asked Mason.
“Once the Council accepts you as a candidate, you’ll begin training.”
“So you’re saying I could give up everything,” declared Mason, “and I might not even be allowed to join this Council of yours.”
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “I wouldn’t be here unless I was certain you’d be accepted by the Council.”
“Does it matter that I’m not from Myscreth?”
“Considering there’s already a Council member from Earth, I’d say no.”
Mason tried to think of any other objections, but none came to mind.
Professor Anklin shook his head impatiently. “I’ve been doing this a long time Mr. Grant and I’ve never had a candidate fail to win the Council’s approval.”
"How long does the training take?"
"It varies depending on the person. It takes most people two to three years."
Mason nodded feeling sure he could finish it faster. “What’s the training like?”
“I won’t lie Mr. Grant,” answered the professor. “The training isn’t easy. It will push you to your limits mentally, physically, and emotionally. That’s the only way we can be sure someone is ready to be a Council member.”
“What does the Council do?”
“Whatever the people of Myscreth needs it to do to rebuild our world,” answered the professor getting up. “Now I don’t want to overwhelm you . . .”
“A little late for that,” muttered Mason.
“. . . so I’ll leave you to make your decision.”
Mason suddenly thought about his parents. "One last question, if I go with you, will I be allowed to visit Earth?"
Professor Anklin smiled. "Of course you will. We'd never prevent anyone from visiting their family. However, you must complete your training first."
Mason stood up. “But there’s so much more I need to know.”
“I’m sure that’s what you think,” replied the professor sternly. “However, I’ve told you everything that matters. You’ll be able to visit Earth, it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and you’ll be helping a people who desperately need it. If that isn’t enough information for you to consider, I see no need of returning.”
Mason considered the professor’s words. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”
Standing up, the professor put on his coat and slipped on a pair of heavy gloves.
“Are you going to your spaceship?” asked Mason excitedly as he got up. “Could I see it?”
“Oh I didn’t use a spaceship to get here,” laughed Professor Anklin good-naturedly. He pointed at a closet door. “Watch that door and you’ll see.”
Professor Anklin concentrated on the door and within a few minutes, a low humming sound could be heard as the door started to flash as if a purple strobe light were shining on it. However, the flashes only appeared on the door and increased in frequency until the door was a solid mass of bright, purple light.
Mason rubbed his eyes, but the purple light didn’t change. “How?” he mouthed soundlessly as he pointed at the light.
The professor smiled. “It turns out that if you properly manipulate the relativistic space curvature equation you can open a doorway between your world and mine. You might know it better as a wormhole.”
Professor Anklin walked over to the doorway and looked back at Mason. “I’ll be back in two weeks.” Stepping into the purple light, he disappeared.
Mason cautiously approached the still glowing doorway and stared into it, but could see nothing. Curious, he slowly extended a shaking hand towards the light, but quickly pulled it back. After a few minutes, the light faded away. Opening the door, he peered inside and found his closet exactly as he’d last seen it.
Walking over to the couch, Mason sat down and closed his eyes and tried to think. However, it did little good as the same arguments and counter arguments went through his mind again and again.
Could he really leave everything behind to help a people he didn’t even know? The only rational answer would have to be no. However, he couldn’t get the idea of travelling to another planet out of his mind. Plus the thought of helping to rebuild a ruined world intrigued him. What better challenge could an engineer ask for?
He was still sitting there as the apartment windows lightened with the first signs of dawn. Although exhausted, Mason knew he’d never fall asleep so he got up and walked to the bathroom where he splashed water on his face. “You look terrible,” he said to his reflection in the mirror. After what he’d seen last night, he half expected it to answer. He was relieved when it didn’t.
Not bothering to shower or shave, he headed to the kitchen and poured some cereal in a bowl. He grabbed the milk from the refrigerator, but when he turned back to the counter, the bowl was gone. A chill went down his spine as he looked over at the closet door. He opened the refrigerator to put the milk away and there was the bowl sitting next to where the milk had been.
“You’re an idiot,” Mason muttered to himself.
The rest of the day didn’t go any better. He tried reading to clear his mind, but ended up reading the same page multiple times as he forgot what he’d read. All watching television did was to give him a headache.
In desperation, he even considered flipping a coin. He couldn’t help but laugh at the idea. Thinking back to what Professor Anklin had said before he left, Mason began to wonder if being unable to make a decision was telling him to stay.
A frustrated and tired Mason finally crawled into bed and tried to sleep. At best he got a few minutes of dozing, but mostly he lay there staring up at the ceiling wrestling with his decision. By three in the morning, he’d had enough.
And so at four o’clock on a Sunday morning, Mason Grant was in an empty office building logging onto his work computer. All he wanted to do was get some work done and forget all about Professor Anklin. However, it wasn’t long before the work which had so excited him on Friday could no longer hold his attention. Mason pushed the keyboard away and closed his eyes.
That’s when he realized he really had no choice. The professor had shown him the impossible. If he didn’t accept his invitation, Mason would always wonder if he’d made a mistake.
Getting up, Mason walked around the empty office thinking about the people he’d worked with and what he’d accomplished there. He paused at the large bulletin board which listed upcoming projects. There were some he’d really been looking forward to working on. With a wistful smile and a nod, he headed back to his desk, grabbing a box on the way.
It took only a couple of minutes to remove his few personal belongings from the desk. Writing out his resignation took longer. On his way out of the office for the final time, Mason put his id badge and resignation letter on his boss’ desk.
Mason had never been one to procrastinate and acting on his decision was no exception. He planned to not only give the professor his answer when he returned, but also be ready to leave with him immediately. Most of the next week was spent cancelling accounts, ending his lease, selling or donating unneeded possessions, and arranging for everything else to go to his parents. As each item on his list was checked off, his sense of anticipation grew.
He saved the task he dreaded most for last; saying goodbye to his parents. After much thought, he decided to tell them that he’d volunteered to teach in a third world country. He hated the idea of lying to them, but it’d be better than having them think he’d lost his mind.
Mason spent four days with his parents. He’d hoped to wait to tell them, but when he showed up with his car packed with boxes they knew something was up. Seeing the worried expressions on their faces as he told them he was about to travel halfway across the world, Mason knew he’d made the right choice in not telling them about Myscreth.
However, his parents’ worries didn’t stop them from expressing how proud they were of what Mason was doing. He felt a bit proud of himself as well. He’d always been taught to help others, but going to Myscreth would be the first time Mason had truly sacrificed something that was important to him for someone else. Those four days made Mason realize even more how much he was going to miss his parents.
He returned to his apartment the evening before Professor Anklin’s expected return. It was empty of furniture except for a small cot and folding chair. On the kitchen counter sat a parka and a pair of gloves he’d gotten at an army surplus store. The parka was stained and a little snug, but in the middle of summer he’d been lucky to find it. The rest of his clothes were packed in a suitcase along with some books which he read to pass the time.
He’d hoped that reading would help him sleep, but the combination of anticipation and an uncomfortable cot resulted in nothing but tossing and turning. As night turned into morning, Mason walked over to the nearby donut shop where he often got breakfast. Seeing the donuts and smelling the coffee, Mason wondered what the food would be like on Myscreth. Doubting there’d be anything like what was before him, he splurged by getting four donuts and an extra-large coffee.
Back at his apartment, Mason had nothing left to do, but wait. He tried reading, but his attention went to the door every time he heard a sound outside. Each time he got up and looked through the peephole, but no one was there. As time passed, he found that he was looking at his watch more and more often. He even moved his chair over to a window overlooking the street below so he could watch for the professor.
Just as Mason began to wonder if Professor Anklin had changed his mind, there was a knock at the door. Rushing over, Mason didn’t even bother looking through the peephole before he opened the door.
There stood Professor Anklin holding a heavy jacket. “It’s good to see you again Mr. Grant,” he announced, stepping inside. Surveying the empty apartment, he smiled. “Well, it seems you’ve made your decision.”
Mason started putting on his jacket and gloves. “I have and I’m ready to go with you.”
“In that case Mr. Grant, let’s be on our way,” answered Professor Anklin, zipping up his jacket. He concentrated on the closet door and soon it hummed and was covered in the same bright purple light Mason had seen two weeks earlier. The professor stepped towards the purple light. “Okay Mason, follow me.” He stepped into the doorway and disappeared
Picking up his suitcase, Mason took one last look around the apartment and with a deep breath walked into the light.
- Parker T. Allan
An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing let's me share all the ideas floating around my mind. I hope my writing jump starts your imagination as so many books have done for me.
If you enjoy physics, check out https://physicswithcats.com/ for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.