Counselor Anklin and Gorwold were already in the dining room when Mason got there. “Good morning, Mason,” Gorwold called cheerfully, while Counselor Anklin’s thoughts seemed elsewhere. Soon, a young dark-haired girl, who Mason guessed couldn’t be older than thirteen, carried in a bowl of what looked like purple oatmeal. Placing it on the table, she turned and bowed to Counselor Anklin. “Good morning, Counselor Anklin,” she said in a shy voice.
Counselor Anklin didn’t immediately reply, but at last looked at the girl, a kind smile on his face. “Ah yes, good morning Eriline. Thank you.” She smiled, and after taking a quick glance at Mason, hurried from the room.
Gorwold watched Counselor Anklin, apparently waiting for him to serve himself. However, Counselor Anklin nodded. “You two go on ahead.” Seeming overjoyed, Gorwold spooned a generous helping of the ‘oatmeal’ into a bowl and passed it to Mason. Not quite sure what to expect, Mason took a small bite. Although it looked like oatmeal, its flavor was almost a cross between peanuts and broccoli.
Mason was almost halfway through his breakfast when Claridee rushed into the dining room. She hurriedly sat down and ladled a small amount of the breakfast dish into her bowl. When she’d finished, Counselor Anklin finally served himself, filling his bowl nearly to the top.
“Grestry is one of my favorites,” he happily announced as he started eating. “No one makes it like Eriline’s mother.”
While eating Counselor Anklin laid out the day’s activities. “Mason, your meeting with the Council is scheduled for right before lunch.” He looked over at Claridee. “Since Gorwold and I will be busy this morning, why don’t you show Mason around Bendroff?”
“Of course, Counselor Anklin,” she answered in a tone that didn’t disguise her lack of enthusiasm.
In spite of her attitude, Mason was excited for the chance to see more of the city.
After breakfast, Mason waited anxiously in the library for Claridee. Arriving, she barely looked at him. “Let’s go.”
The tour certainly wasn’t what Mason had expected. Claridee hardly spoke as she led him through the seemingly endless corridors of Bendroff. A quick “that’s where most of the workers live” or “these elevators lead to the surface” was all Mason got. The people who greeted them as they passed said more to Mason than she did. Frustrated by her silence, he tried to engage her in conversation, but she ignored his efforts.
Once they reached the farming area, Claridee’s attitude changed. She held up a leaf from a tall speckled plant. “This is a jerfrome plant which is used to make clothing.” She walked over and bent down by a patch of purple leaves. “This is brasturn, that’s what we had for breakfast this morning.”
She continued describing the plants as they walked. Seeing a group of farm workers digging around some of the plants, she went over and started helping them. Mason was surprised to not only see her smiling, but also happily talking with them. He wanted to walk over and get a better view of what they were doing, but felt that he’d be intruding. He had no idea how long he stood there watching them.
Suddenly Claridee got up and hastily said goodbye to the workers. “Come on or you’ll be late,” she called to Mason as she began quickly walking out of the fields. Her smile was now gone and the usual dour expression had returned to her face. Mason tried asking about what the farm workers had been doing, but she ignored him. When they got back to the trainees’ quarters, she disappeared down the hallway before Mason had a chance to thank her.
“Are you ready for your interview with the Council?” asked Counselor Anklin walking in from the dining room.
Mason took a deep breath. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Counselor Anklin cocked his head and studied him. “You’ll be fine. Just answer the Council’s questions honestly and remember that you want to be here.”
Mason nodded, not entirely convinced.
He silently followed Counselor Anklin to the Council chambers. Mason was surprised at how plain the entrance to the Council chambers looked. He’d envisioned something like a royal throne room with guards and a large ornate door covered in gold. Instead, there was a bench and a large wooden door just as beat up as all the others he’d seen.
The two of them entered the Council chambers and Mason’s expectations were again disappointed. It was nothing more than a small auditorium with one main aisle and rough wooden benches on either side. At the very front of the room was a platform which was about four feet high and like the benches was made of roughhewn wood. A small set of what passed for stairs on the left side allowed access.
On the platform was a large table and several sets of drawers. At the table sat four people. They watched in silence as Mason and Counselor Anklin approached. Mason’s heart was pounding so furiously he feared the Council would hear it. As they continued forward, he noticed a small podium in front of the platform. Counselor Anklin walked to the podium while gesturing for Mason to take a seat on one of the benches. Mason could feel the gaze of the Council members as he sat down.
“Members of the Council,” began Counselor Anklin. “I wish to introduce to you Mason Grant, a young man from Earth.” He nodded towards Mason who, remembering how everyone would bow to Counselor Anklin stood up and gave a slight bow before sitting back down. “I have found him to exhibit the abilities and strength of character that will make him a fine addition to the Council. His specialty is dynamics.”
Counselor Anklin began to introduce the members of the Council.
“First is Counselor Halrous, whose specialty is structural mechanics.”
A man who looked similar in age to Counselor Anklin rose from his seat, giving Mason an encouraging smile. He was a short, round man with slight tufts of white hair on the sides of his head.
Counselor Anklin then gestured toward the older of the two women seated at the table. “This is Counselor Janice who, like yourself is from Earth.” She was a woman of medium height whose dark hair was streaked with grey. “Her specialty is electrodynamics.” At the end of her introduction, she gave Mason a kind smile, revealing a multitude of laugh lines. He was relieved to see someone else from Earth.
Counselor Anklin then introduced the younger of the two women, who didn’t seem much older than Mason. “This is Counselor Tranlee, whose specialty is thermodynamics.” She had short red hair and bright green eyes. She didn’t stand, but gave a brusque nod. She radiated intensity and strength of purpose.
Counselor Anklin motioned toward a tall man with blonde hair and grey eyes “This person will be of special interest to you Mason, as his specialty is also dynamics. Allow me to introduce Counselor Proust.” The Counselor had a strong chiseled face that showed little emotion. He didn’t even bother acknowledging Mason, almost appearing to be bored.
Signaling for Mason to approach the podium, Counselor Anklin climbed the stairs to the platform and joined the other Counselors at the table. Standing there, Mason steeled himself to answer the Council’s questions as best he could. He barely had a chance to catch his breath before the blonde-haired Council member fired a question without warning.
“Why are you here?”
Mason’s confidence evaporated under the intense gaze of the five Council members.
“To help rebuild Myscreth,” stammered Mason.
Counselor Proust leaned forward and shook his head. “You don’t sound very sure of that.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure,” answered Mason with a hint of irritation in his voice.
Counselor Proust gave a slight smile. “It’s easy to say that now, but will you still feel that way once you’ve discovered how hard life is here on Myscreth. How does the Council know that you won’t go running back to Earth when you tire of your little adventure here?”
“I gave up everything I ever wanted to come here,” declared Mason forcefully. “If that doesn’t prove my commitment to being here then nothing will.”
Mason could see some of the other Counselor’s nodding.
It appeared Counselor Proust was about to respond when Counselor Janice interrupted him. “Counselor Proust, when I first came to Myscreth, there were those who questioned my commitment. But here I am twenty years later loyally serving Myscreth.” Mason detected a slight British accent in her voice.
His attention was drawn back by Counselor Proust’s icy reply. “Counselor Janice, while I applaud your long service on the Council, this isn’t about you.”
“Nor is it about you,” she retorted. “There are four other Council members who have a say in this matter.”
Counselor Halrous cleared his throat. “That’s right Proust, and I for one want to get some questions in.”
Counselor Proust gave a sweeping gesture. “By all means then.”
While the remainder of the interview process wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, Mason felt that it was fair. He was sent outside and waited on the bench, anxiously watching the door to the Council Chambers. After a while, he could no longer sit still and started pacing impatiently. As he paced, every perceived flaw in his answers raced through his mind. His confidence diminished with every passing moment until he was certain he’d be sent back to Earth.
He was so consumed by his thoughts that he didn’t hear the door to the Council chambers open. Looking up, he was shocked to see Counselor Anklin standing there, a grim look on his face.
“Mason, the Council has made their decision …”
Mason’s heart sank.
“… or should I say Trainee Mason.” Counselor Anklin finished, breaking into a broad smile.
For a moment Mason just stood there staring at Counselor Anklin. Finally the word Trainee registered in his mind and he could breathe again. Mason smiled. “I feel like I just ran a marathon. Is it always like that?”
“Sometimes, but what’s important is that you stood up for yourself and convinced them that you wanted to be here.”
“So when does my training start?” Mason asked excitedly.
“Let’s head over to the library and I’ll show you.”
The return trip to the trainees’ quarters was a blur as Mason wondered what his training would be like. Entering the library, Counselor Anklin walked over to the bookcases and pointed at a shelf of books. “You’ll start here.”
Mason felt deflated. Going over, he halfheartedly examined the shelf. It contained about thirty books. Some appeared to be falling apart, while others looked nearly brand new. Among the titles were Myscreth’s Greatest Empires, An Overview of Myscrethian Politics, and The Road to Unification.
“History books?” he asked, unable to hide the disappointment in his voice. He’d been looking forward to reading them, but at his leisure, not all at once.
“Yes, if you expect to join the Council, you should know Myscrethian history,” Counselor Anklin continued in a cheerful voice. “These books should provide a good overview.”
Mason just stared at the books in silence and selected what looked to be the shortest. “The Grastorline War,” he read aloud.
“That’s a good one,” enthused Counselor Anklin as he started to leave. Reaching the door he called back. “Be sure to pay careful attention to what you read because I’ll be testing you on it.”
Mason tucked the book under his arm and headed back to his room.
Over the next two weeks, Mason spent most of his time in the library reading. Although initially disappointed, he soon found himself so engrossed that sometimes he’d end up reading through the night. While he read, Claridee would often came into the library to study. Sometimes, there’d be smudges of dirt on her face telling Mason that she’d been down in the farming area.
Try as he might to engage her in conversation, he only got a cold look of annoyance in return. Finally, tired of the rejection, he gave up. “If she doesn’t want to talk to me,” he grumbled to himself, “why bother.”
On one occasion, Counselor Halrous joined Claridee in the library while she was studying. He was there for quite a while and seemed to do most of the talking, but Mason couldn’t make out what he was saying. However, at the end he could see Claridee half-heartedly nodding before getting up and walking away.
On his way out of the library, Counselor Halrous stopped by the table where Mason sat by a stack of books. “I see Anklin’s got you reading our collection of history books,” he observed with a chuckle.
“Not exactly the kind of training I was expecting,” answered Mason with a smile.
“I believe Janice said the same thing when Anklin had her do it.”
“Have there been any other Council member from other planets.”
“No, just Janice and hopefully someday yourself. Earth is the only planet we ever visitied and that was hundreds of years ago. Well at least until Anklin started traveling there.”
“So Counselor Anklin’s been visiting Earth for twenty years?” asked Mason.
Councelor Halrous shook his head. “Oh much longer than that. He took his first trip there just after he joined the Council. It was right after his …” His voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry Mason. Sometimes I get a bit carried away. There’s a meeting I need to attend so enjoy your reading.”
Before Mason could answer, Counselor Halrous had left the library.
When not reading, Mason headed out to explore Bendroff, eager to see more of it. However, he usually ended up getting lost and would sheepishly have to ask whoever he came across for help. He hoped that in time he’d be able to find his way around.
He wasn’t so sure he’d ever get used to his bed. The crunching sound it made when he moved, or a stem jabbing into him would wake him up several times each night. At one point, he even considered sleeping on the floor. However, by the time he neared the end of his reading assignment he was finally able to experience an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
As he read, Mason learned that Myscreth’s history was surprisingly similar to Earth’s. On both worlds a handful of civilizations had dominated the development of culture and science. From the remnants of these civilizations, nations developed and evolved, leading to conflicts and war. However, Myscreth had advanced technologically and socially well beyond Earth’s current state. Separate nations eventually ceased to exist.
There was one significant difference from Earth: for most of their history, the people of Myscreth had considered themselves to be alone in the universe. Due to its unusual location in space, the night sky of Myscreth was devoid of visible stars, planets, or even a moon. With nothing but the sun to draw their attention to the sky overhead, they had concentrated on the world around them. It wasn’t until late in their history that they’d discovered the existence of other worlds. Mason finally understand why so many people had chosen to remain on Myscreth even though it could barely support life; it’d been the only home they’d ever known.
Counselor Anklin wasn’t around much as Mason worked his way through the books. His Council duties, both in Bendroff and other parts of Myscreth, took up most of his time. However, he did occasionally check on Mason’s progress, questioning him about what he’d read. For the most part, Counselor Anklin seemed satisfied with his efforts, although once or twice he did suggest that Mason reread parts of some of the books.
Mason was in the library when he finished the last book. Slamming it shut, he sat back with a satisfied grin. Claridee gave him a look of annoyance, but quickly went back to her studying.
That night after dinner, Counselor Anklin and Mason sat in the library to discuss the next stage of his training.
“The first thing any Trainee needs to learn,” Counselor Anklin began, “is what it means to be a Council member. That’s why you’ll start accompanying Council members on their assignments throughout Myscreth.”
“That’s great,” exclaimed Mason. “I can’t wait to see more of Myscreth.”
Counselor Anklin continued. “I must warn you however, these aren’t pleasure trips, Mr. Grant. It will be a lot of hard work and very likely dangerous. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” answered Mason without hesitation.
Counselor Anklin smiled. “Very well then. Tomorrow you’ll be accompanying Counselor Janice, Claridee, and myself on a salvage mission to Dafrum.”
“Yes,” answered Counselor Anklin. “Almost every piece of electrical or mechanical equipment we have,” he gestured around the room, “has been scavenged from one of our ruined cities.”
Mason now realized why he’d seen so many mismatched items throughout Bendroff. “But wouldn’t everything have been collected by now?”
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “It’s a testament to how far we’ve fallen that there’s still ample equipment to salvage. In fact, there’s hundreds of cities we haven’t even surveyed yet.”
Mason remembered his arrival on Myscreth. “Will you be opening a doorway to get us there?”
Counselor Anklin grinned. “Still a little uneasy after last time?”
Mason looked down sheepishly. “A little.”
“You needn’t worry, we have too much equipment and people to travel that way. We’ll be taking a transport to reach the city.”
Mason smiled with relief.
Counselor Anklin turned serious. “One thing you need to understand, our sole purpose on this expedition is to aid the workers doing the actual salvage work. They’re the experts and will be in charge.”
“What will we be doing?”
“Whatever needs to be done,” answered Counselor Anklin. “That’s your first lesson; the Council was established to serve our people, not the other way around.”
Counselor Anklin stood up and stretched. “Good. Well it’s getting late, and we have a busy day tomorrow.”
Mason suddenly remembered his conversation with Counselor Halrous. “Can I ask you something?”
“Questions are always welcome, but answers aren’t guaranteed,” he answered, sitting back down with a smile.
“Counselor Halrous told me you were the first person from Myscreth to travel to Earth after hundreds of years, but wouldn’t tell me why.”
Counselor Anklin’s smile vanished.
Seeing Counselor Anklin’s reaction, Mason now regretted his curiosity. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “No apology needed. I went to Earth because I could no longer remain on Myscreth.”
It took Mason a moment to realize what he’d said. “But why?”
Counselor Anklin leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. “Before I became a candidate to join the Council, I was engaged to be married. I wanted to get married right away so Murlina could join me in Bendroff while I was training. However, she told me that it was more important for me to finish my training first so I could start helping our people.”
Counselor Anklin was quiet for a moment before continuing. “While I was training, Murlina joined a salvage crew to collect equipment from out ruined cities. Just a few weeks before I joined the Council, I received word that while on a mission she’d been killed.”
“I’m so sorry,” offered Mason.
Counselor Anklin nodded. “I blamed Myscreth for her death and wanted to get away. It took time to track down the records of the past journeys to Earth. When I had all the information I needed, I left Myscreth never intending to return.”
“Why’d you come back?”
Counselor Anklin gave a sad smile. “Murlina. I knew how disappointed she’d be in me for deserting Myscreth. Also, seeing Earth reminded me of how beautiful Myscreth had once been and could be again. Myscreth was my home and I had a responsibility to help rebuild it.”
As he finished speaking, Counselor Anklin stood up. “And as a candidate to join the Council, Mr. Grant, it’s now your responsibility as well. So get some sleep because we have a busy few days ahead of us.”
After Counselor Anklin left, Mason looked through the bookcases as he remembered a book which contained an overview of Myscreth’s major cities. After a bit of rummaging, he finally found it. He carefully turned the brittle pages until he found the section on Dafrum.
Dafrum: Sixth largest city with a population of 36 million people. Primary industries are robotics and electrical manufacturing. Best known as the location where the Treaty of Frestline was signed, ending Myscreth’s last war and bringing about the unification of Myscreth. A monument at the center of the city commemorates this event …
A small picture was included, showing gleaming towers that appeared to Mason to stretch nearly a mile into a bright blue sky. Putting the book back, he felt sad that he’d now see nothing more than the city’s ruins.
- Parker T. Allan
An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing lets 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.