Suddenly Mason’s body felt as if it had been liquefied and was flowing downhill. There was no fear or any other emotion, just an eerie calmness. Reaching what appeared to be level ground, his body returned to its’ normal form. The last thing he remembered was the sensation of falling.
As he regained consciousness, his first sight was a solid mass of grey clouds filling the sky. He felt hard, rough ground beneath him and could feel a strong cold wind. He turned to see the Professor kneeling beside him. “I’m sorry Mason, I’d forgotten how disorienting it can be to travel like this for the first time. How do you feel?”
Mason sat up. “I’m okay.”
Professor Anklin gestured at the surrounding landscape. “This, Mr. Grant, is Myscreth.”
Getting slowly to his feet, Mason was glad for his heavy jacket. They were surrounded by a barren landscape with no evidence of human habitation. The dull light filtering through the clouds washed out any color there might be. It was like looking at a black and white photograph. He started to wonder what he’d gotten himself into.
“Let’s get inside,” suggested Professor Anklin. “Follow me.”
Grabbing his suitcase, Mason hurried after the professor who headed towards a nearby cliff wall. Rocks and chunks of metal that may once have been a door partially blocked an opening, but there was ample room for the two of them to pass through.
Mason could feel welcoming, warm air as he stepped inside. Looking around, he saw that they were in a large man-made cavern that was illuminated by what seemed to be large electric lights on the ceiling. Looking around, he noticed piles of rubble and rusted metal throughout the cave.
Professor Anklin pointed towards the far end of the cave. “This way.” They approached a rough wooden door which to Mason seemed out of place. Next to it was a lighted button and above it an indicator was blinking.
“Where are we?”
Professor Anklin gestured around them. “This is Bendroff, our capital and home of the Council. It was once a military installation, and became a place of refuge during the war.” Mason detected a tone of sadness in his voice as he continued. “At one time, there were nearly a hundred such facilities throughout Myscreth, but only this and eleven others survived. They’re home to many of my people, with the remaining population living near the equator.”
Reaching the door, Professor Anklin pressed the button. “The underground cities are mostly self-sufficient, but as our population grows, we must expand our equatorial settlements to have the means to feed our people.”
Mason noticed the indicator above the door changing. When the indicator read “S” there was a beep. Professor Anklin opened the door and waved him inside. He could now see that it was an elevator. Closing the door behind them, Professor Anklin pressed a button and they slowly began to descend.
It was unlike any elevator Mason had ever seen. There were no interior doors and he could see solid rock and the occasional door pass as they descended. A breeze could be felt as air flowed through the open front of the elevator. Unsure how safe it was, he moved as far away from the opening as possible.
Noticing this, the professor pointed to the opening. “Unfortunately, we no longer have the means to repair all of our machinery and have been forced to improvise a bit.” He looked over and smiled. “I’m sure that as an engineer you can appreciate the challenge.”
The elevator finally came to a jerky stop at another door, this one metal, which Professor Anklin opened. Following him out of the elevator cautiously, Mason stared in amazement at a corridor that stretched out of sight in both directions. Like its floor, the walls and ceiling were stone.
Mason let out a low whistle. “How large is this place?”
“There are five underground levels, each of which covers about a square mile.” The immense scale of the place was beyond what Mason had ever thought possible. He couldn’t even conceive the technology that would have been required to achieve it. Myscreth had indeed been far more technologically advanced than Earth.
He turned slowly in a circle, trying to take in everything around him. “How many people live here?”
“We have nearly seventy thousand people living here now,” the professor answered as he started walking. Hurrying after him, Mason was struck by the hodgepodge of doors along the corridor. The doors varied in material from rough wood to smooth metal. No two were alike. The only commonality was that none of them were original. Looking closely at one, Mason noticed a slit in the wall that ran the height of the door.
He called after the professor, who’d continued walking seemingly unconcerned about Mason keeping up with him. “Did you have automatic doors?”
Stopping and looking back at Mason, he replied with resignation in his voice. “At one time we did.”
At the same instant, a young woman walking in the opposite direction stopped and bowed to Professor Anklin. “Welcome back, Counselor Anklin.”
Counselor Anklin smiled. “Thank you, it’s good to be home.
As the young woman passed Mason, she gave him a shy smile, but he hardly noticed. “Counselor Anklin?”
Counselor Anklin chuckled. “Ah yes, I guess I never did formally introduce myself. I’m Counselor Anklin and I’m responsible for finding and training all Council candidates.”
Mason kicked himself for not realizing it sooner. Professor Anklin had said it himself: only Council members were allowed to manipulate scientific laws. Therefore, it had to follow that he had to be a member of the Council. “It feels kind of strange since I got used to thinking of you as Professor Anklin.”
Counselor Anklin smiled. “Actually, I’ve grown quite fond of being called Professor, so feel free to call me Professor when we’re alone. However, when we’re with others it would be best if you addressed me as Counselor to minimize any misunderstandings.”
He resumed his brisk pace and Mason did his best to keep up while still taking in everything around him. As was the case with the doors, he noticed the light fixtures illuminating the corridor were also a mismatched collection. This seemed to be a running theme in everything he saw; they used whatever was available. If it’d taken hundreds of years just to get to this point, he couldn’t even imagine how severe the planet’s devastation had been.
Whenever they passed an intersecting corridor, Mason would stare down it to try to find its end. However, all of them stretched out of sight. He couldn’t help but think that it was like a giant maze that would take him months to learn his way around.
Everyone they encountered in the corridor would bow and greet Counselor Anklin. Mason was surprised at how enthusiastic they seemed. If he’d lost as much as they had, he couldn’t imagine being happy. He was about to ask about this when Counselor Anklin pointed at an opening in the corridor. “Let me show you something.”
Stepping through the opening, Mason found himself on a balcony that overlooked a large open area. Counselor Anklin pointed at the area below. “This is one of five underground farms which produce enough food for all the people of Bendroff.”
Looking over the balcony, Mason saw an area that had to be larger than twenty football fields filled with vegetation. It was illuminated by immense lights attached to towers around the fields. Throughout the area, he saw large numbers of men and women digging around the plants and gathering crops. The sight reminded him of colonial farming demonstrations his parents had taken him to as a child.
“Don’t you have any farming equipment?”
Counselor Anklin shook his head and sighed. “No. All our factories were destroyed during the war and we haven’t been able to rebuild them. The Myscreth of today is a pre-industrial society in many ways including farming.” He pointed to the corridor behind them. “The splendor around you is from our past.”
Without another word, Counselor Anklin headed back to the corridor, although his pace was noticeably slower than it had been. Reaching a dented and scuffed metal door, he opened it. “Well Mason, here we are. This is where you’ll be living during your training.”
They entered a room that was about twenty feet wide and thirty feet long. The walls were bare except for several mismatched bookcases lined up along one wall. Mason didn’t recognize any of the books they contained, but could tell that many of them had to do with science based on their titles. There also appeared to be some books on history. Near the center of the room were several large wooden tables that seemed to be cobbled together from old crates. A varying number of chairs surrounded each table, each appearing as patched together as the tables.
“This is the library where you’ll do most of your studying. The books here contain everything you’ll need to know regarding Myscrethian science and history.”
“Kind of small for a library.”
“It’s one of the largest left on Myscreth,” noted Counselor Anklin dryly as he walked towards a doorway on the other side of the room.
Feeling embarrassed, Mason followed in silence.
Before going through the doorway, Counselor Anklin pointed over at another room opposite the bookcases. “That’s the dining area.”
Continuing on they went down a narrow corridor with several doors on each side of it. Stopping at one near the end of the corridor, Counselor Anklin opened it and reaching inside flipped a switch illuminating the room. “Well Mr. Grant,” he announced cheerfully. “Home sweet home.”
Mason peered inside and saw a room that reminded him of ones he’d seen in old farmhouses. There was a roughhewn desk and dresser along with a very lumpy looking bed. Pointing back at the other doors he asked. “Is that when the others training to join the Council live?”
“Yes. You’ll meet them at dinner this evening. And tomorrow you’ll meet the rest of the Council for your interview.”
Mason still felt uneasy that someone other than Professor Anklin got to decide if he could stay. “You’re sure they’ll allow me to begin training?”
“You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” answered Counselor Anklin with a hint of impatience. He turned to leave. “I’d suggest getting some rest while you can,” he added with a quick smile as he walked away.
Mason walked into the room and dropped his suitcase on the floor and sat on the bed. Instead of the gentle hiss of soft foam or squeaking of springs, the mattress cracked as if filled with straw. This will definitely take getting used to, he thought to himself. Examining the dresser, he found that the drawers didn’t match and one seemed a bit small falling to the floor when he opened it.
A small bathroom was attached, which to Mason’s surprise was very much like an Earth bathroom, only smaller. The tub was about three quarters the size of a standard tub, but he figured he could squeeze into it. He looked at the small sink with trepidation, wondering if there would be running water. Turning the handle he was pleased to see a slow, but steady flow.
Staring at himself in the mirror, he was struck by how tired he looked. He cupped his hands under the faucet and splashed his face with refreshingly cold water.
Although Counselor Anklin had suggested getting some rest, he was too excited to sleep and set about unpacking his few belongings. The books he stacked on the desk and the clothes he stuffed into the dresser. As he finished unpacking, there was a knock at the door. He looked up from the dresser and called out. “Come in.”
A young woman opened the door. She was tall, with long blonde hair and brown eyes. Mason guessed she must be in her early twenties. She wore a loose fitting shirt and what looked like jeans. She didn’t speak to him, but at him. “I’ve been sent to inform you that dinner is ready.”
What struck Mason the most about her was her face. She was the first person he’d seen on Myscreth who actually looked sad. “Thank you, I’ll be right there.”
She nodded and closed the door behind her without saying another word.
Walking to the library, Mason went through the doorway Counselor Anklin had pointed out. The dining area was dominated by a table that at one time must have been quite beautiful. However, its surface was now marred which scratches and dents, and its finish had nearly worn away. Two cobbled together benches extending the length of the table provided ample seating.
Seated there were Counselor Anklin, another man, and to his surprise, the young woman who’d summoned him. It hadn’t occurred to him that she was one of the trainees. As for the other man seated at the table, he appeared older than Mason, with thinning black hair and a bemused expression. All three looked up at him when he entered.
Counselor Anklin called out. “Good of you to join us Mason. Let me introduce you to your fellow trainees.”
“This is Claridee,” began Counselor Anklin as Mason took a seat at the table. “She’s been with us almost a year now. Her specialty is structural mechanics.”
Claridee hardly looked at Mason as she gave a slight nod. Normally this would have bothered him, but he was too preoccupied with what Counselor Anklin meant by specialty.
“And here we have Gorwold,” continued Counselor Anklin, “who’s nearly ready to join the Council.”
Gorwold interrupted with a laugh. “After almost four years, I would certainly hope so.”
“As would I, Trainee Gorwold,” replied Counselor Anklin in a slightly annoyed tone. Turning back to Mason, he went on. “His area of expertise is thermodynamics.”
Four years! Thought Mason. What if it took him that long to complete his training? He tried not to think about it as he noticed the bowls of food on the table. None of them contained anything which looked familiar. The only thing he could be sure of was that they were all vegetables of some kind. Not wishing to be rude, he took a little of each dish. He took a bite of what he thought might be potatoes, but they tasted more like bananas. The other vegetables had similarly confounding flavors.
Counselor Anklin seemed to notice his confusion. “A bit different than what you’re used to, isn’t it?” he asked a little mischievously.
Not wishing appear impolite, especially in front of people he didn’t know, Mason just nodded.
Turning serious, Counselor Anklin continued. “Unfortunately, during the war, our animals and livestock were completely wiped out. That’s why our diet is now comprised entirely of vegetables.”
“So, Mason,” began Gorwold. “Counselor Anklin says you’re from Earth. What’s it like?”
Mason had to think before replying as he’d never had to explain Earth before. “Very different than what I’ve seen of Myscreth so far. It has bright blue skies, trees and oceans.”
“No clouds at all?” asked Gorwold excitedly.
“No, there’s usually some clouds, but not a lot except when it rains.”
Gorwold shook his head. “It must be incredible to see water falling from the sky.”
“Doesn’t it rain on Myscreth?” he asked, surprised by Gorwold’s reaction.
“No,” answered Counselor Anklin. “It’s much too cold. What little surface moisture that still exists is frozen in the soil. All our water comes from underground and is continually recycled.”
“But someday it will rain again on Myscreth,” said Gorwold.
“Yes,” agreed Councelor Anklin, “but I doubt very much any of us will see it.”
Gorwold half shook his head before stopping and looked over to Mason. “Aren’t you going to miss Earth?”
Mason thought for a moment before answering. “Yes, but what I’ll miss most is my parents.”
As Mason was saying this, he noticed Claridee look over at him. However, she quickly turned her gaze back to her plate.
He and Gorwold continued their conversation with small interjections from Counselor Anklin throughout dinner. Claridee left as soon as she’d finished eating. As the three men spoke, Mason remembered his question about specialties.
“What did you mean by the specialties of the other trainees?” Mason asked. “With your abilities, can’t you modify any scientific law?”
The Counselor shook his head. “No, it doesn’t work that way. Most who can manipulate scientific laws can only affect the laws of a single discipline.”
“But I saw you manipulate both dynamics and relativistic physics.”
“I’m the rare exception,” explained Counselor Anklin with a touch of pride. “There are rare cases of someone being capable of manipulating two scientific disciplines, but generally their abilities are less developed than someone who is only proficient in one.”
“So what specialties are there?”
Counselor Anklin looked over at Gorwold. “Perhaps you could answer Mason’s question.”
Gorwold smiled, seemingly happy to demonstrate his knowledge. “There’s dynamics, structural mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics, and relativistic physics.”
“Do you get to choose your specialty?”
Gorwold laughed. “Well I certainly didn’t.”
Counselor Anklin just shook his head and looked over at Gorwold. “Just as with many other talents, it’s something you’re born with.”
“So what’s my specialty?
Counselor Anklin chuckled. “You should know the answer to that. Think about which specialty means the most to you.”
It wasn’t a hard question for Mason to answer. “Dynamics.”
Counselor Anklin nodded. “Correct. To be able to manipulate scientific laws you must have a personal connection to them.”
By the time Mason returned to his room, he was exhausted. However, the rough mattress made falling asleep difficult as it was uncomfortable and made crinkling sounds whenever he moved. Even the cot would’ve been better than this, Mason thought to himself ruefully. After a while, he started to doze off, but was suddenly startled awake. Whatever filled the mattress was jabbing into him. In frustration, he covered the bed with all the blankets he could find and was at last able to fall asleep.
The sound of pounding woke him up. Mason looked around the dark room in a panic, forgetting for an instant where he was. “Time for breakfast Mason,” called a voice he recognized as Gorwold’s. “Okay,” Mason called back, remembering he was in Myscreth. The crunching of the mattress and a stem poking him as he got out of bed made that abundantly clear. Turning on the light, Mason got ready for the day ahead.
- 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.