Chapter Four: Lighter Than Air


The next morning, Mason was awakened by a loud banging on his door. “What is it?” he called out groggily.

“Counselor Anklin says you need to get up,” called an irritated voice that he immediately recognized as Claridee’s.

“Okay,” he called out into the dark room. Hearing her walk away he muttered to himself. “Most annoying alarm clock ever.”

He immediately regretted the comment. He could understand Claridee’s frustration since she often had to wake him up. This was due to the one aspect of Myscrethian life Mason still hadn’t gotten used to: the lack of clocks. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t worn a watch and felt lost without it. In fact, he’d worn his watch when coming to Myscreth, but soon put it aside as he grew tired of trying to explain what it was to people.

Time increments such as hours and minutes weren’t used on Myscreth. Instead, events would be either referenced to meals or vague durations of time such as “awhile” or “shortly”. What puzzled him most was that somehow people on Myscreth managed to maintain a set schedule.

When he’d asked Counselor Anklin about this, he’d answered with a good-natured laugh.

“Janice had the same issue. Myscrethians are born with a strong internal sense of time, which tells us when to wake up or when various events need to take place. Don’t worry though, Janice eventually acclimated and I’m sure you will too.”

Mason hoped he’d get used to it soon or there was no telling what Claridee might do.

After quickly getting washed and dressed, Mason hurried to the dining room leaving his jacket and gloves in the library. Walking in, he saw that Counselor Anklin, Claridee, and Gorwold were nearly done with breakfast.

“Hurry up and eat Mason,” declared Counselor Anklin. “With all the work ahead of us, we likely won’t be eating again until dinner.”

Mason quickly grabbed a bowl and ladled a little bit from each serving dish from the table into it. Mixing it all together, he started wolfing it down, noticing too late that it tasted like chocolate covered mushrooms. Even so, he continued eating, albeit a bit more slowly. Finally, having satisfied his hunger, he looked up to see he was alone in the dining room.

Would they leave without me? Came the panicked thought as he rushed into the library.

He was relieved to see Counselor Anklin and Claridee waiting for him. Mason threw on his jacket as they left the library.

Counselor Anklin and Claridee walked quickly with Mason struggling to keep up. He was glad for the chance to rest when they finally reached an elevator. It still seemed strange to him to see the wall passing by as the elevator ascended, but at least he could now ride in them without fear.

They got off the elevator in a large building which was open at the far end. Mason guessed that it must be a hanger of some kind. Looking around though, he didn’t see any aircraft, only what looked like portable trailers in various stages of construction. The low din of voices, interspersed with an occasional shout, echoed around them.

Mason noticed crates and large wooden panels being wheeled outside. As they walked, Counselor Anklin called out greetings. “Hurline, good to see you. Thristurn, how’s the family?” As they passed, workers stopped what they were doing and bowed to Counselor Anklin. Claridee paid no attention to the people around them. She just silently marched along, staring straight ahead.

Stepping outside, Mason was struck by a blast of bitterly cold air. He zipped his jacket tighter and hurried after Counselor Anklin.

Outside the hanger was a large plain that Mason assumed to be landing field. He scanned the area, looking for aircraft, but only saw more of the portable trailers he’d seen inside. Each was about sixty feet long with a width and height of about twenty feet. A large door on the side of one of the trailers was open, and the crates and panels were being wheeled into it.

“Where’s the transport?” he asked.

“Right in front of you,” Counselor Anklin replied, pointing at the structure that was being loaded.

Looking more closely, Mason noticed that at the top four corners of the trailer were struts, which had propellers attached to them.

“How can that possibly fly?” questioned Mason. “The propellers are too small and it doesn’t even have wings.”

Mason could see Claridee rolling her eyes.

Counselor Anklin hardly glanced at him as he answered. “Think about what you’ve seen and the abilities we possess, Mr. Grant. How do you think we get it off the ground?”

Mason looked more closely at the transport and thought there was something funny about the way it was sitting on the ground. Bending over to look underneath, he saw it wasn’t touching the ground at all, but was being held in place with ropes like a hot-air balloon. He turned to Counselor Anklin. “Is it floating?”

“Yes it is. Now tell me why.”

He thought back to the professor’s demonstration in his apartment. “Its gravity’s been modified?”

Counselor Anklin nodded. “Exactly. Much of the technology you know from Earth doesn’t apply here. We don’t have to worry about wings since we can get the transport ship off the ground using our abilities. The propellers are only needed to move the ship forward and to steer it. As you become more familiar with our ways, these things will become second nature to you.”

Mason didn’t have a chance to respond as Counselor Janice caught up with them. She smiled at the look of confusion of Mason’s face and looked over at Counselor Anklin. “I didn’t look like that, did I?” She asked with a laugh.

“Oh no, Janice. You’re look of confusion was far more pronounced.” He said with a chuckle.

As the four of them entered the transport, Mason was surprised to see how plain the interior was. The passenger section took about a third of the transport’s length and was nothing more than benches mounted to the floor. A single aisle ran to the back where several large cabinets were mounted. Between them was a door that he guessed went to the cargo section.

At the front of the transport Mason saw an opening which he assumed led to the cockpit. His friend Leslie was a pilot and he’d flown with her a few times. The sight of all the gauges and switches on the plane’s control panel had made him glad that she was the one flying the plane. Curious he looked inside and was surprised to find nothing more than a chair mounted in front of a panel with about a dozen levers and what looked like a compass.

Leaving the cockpit, he found an open window seat near the front. He figured it would give him a chance to see more of Myscreth on their way to Dafrum. He felt around for a seatbelt, but didn’t find one. “No need to worry about that,” observed Counselor Janice as she sat down next to him. “It’s not like we’re going to crash,” she added with a small laugh.

He was glad Counselor Janice had sat next to him. He’d been looking forward to speaking with her. “Thanks.”

Claridee was already seated in the row in front of them, and Counselor Anklin soon joined her. Mason watched as others came on board. He saw men and women varying in age from teenagers to the elderly. All seemed excited and happily conversed with those around them as they took their seats. A few people came rushing in as a voice outside could be heard calling. “Prepare to close doors!”

After everyone was onboard, the door was closed from the outside. Seeing that everyone was seated, Counselor Anklin slowly rose from his seat and the transport grew silent.

“I’m sure there’s no need to remind you of how much your efforts mean to our people. However, there have not been many expeditions to Dafrum, so I urge everyone to exercise extra caution. Counselor Janice, myself, and our two Council trainees are here to help in whatever way we can. As you are the experts in this type of work, we’ll let you to tell us how best we can aid you.”

A horn sounded outside. From his window, Mason could see men and women running around the transport, untying the ropes that held it in place. There was a slight vibration and a low hum as the propellers began spinning. Looking out the window, Mason saw the landing field falling away behind them.

The land below them was barren and unchanging except for the occasional remnants of what looked like buildings or roads. Above was a thick ceiling of clouds that almost looked close enough to touch. Only a dull grey light penetrated the clouds, making the land below seem even bleaker.

Counselor Janice turned to him. “Certainly a lot different than Earth, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “Is the whole planet this barren?”

She gave a sad smile. “Most of it. There’s only a thousand mile strip around the equator that has vegetation.”

They were near the cockpit and Mason was struck by how quiet it was. When he’d flown with Leslie, there was always the sound of air traffic control and weather reports on the radio. In thinking about it, he didn’t remember seeing anything that looked like a radio in the cockpit.

“Doesn’t the pilot have a radio?” he asked Counselor Janice.

She shook her head and pointed at the clouds overhead. “They not only block sunlight, but radio transmissions too. We have no direct person to person communication, but transports can deliver a letter anywhere on Myscreth within two days.”

“Like a flying Pony Express.”

Counselor Janice smiled. “That’s a good way to describe it.”

Mason was once again struck by the contradictions of Myscreth. They had flight, but no radio or phones. Mason gazed out the window for a while before looking over at Counselor Janice.

“How’d you meet Counselor Anklin?”

“He gave a seminar on quantum mechanics while I was in graduate school. Then after I’d gotten my doctorate, he just showed up at my flat one day.”

“What did you think when he told you he was from Myscreth?”

Counselor Janice answer with a laugh. “I would’ve told him he was crazy, but my dining table was sitting on the ceiling.”

“Well I did bring it back down before I left,” interrupted Counselor Anklin looking back at them.

“That you did Anklin,” agreed Counselor Janice

“So what convinced you come to Myscreth?”

Counselor Janice turned thoughtful. “When I was growing up, the idea of a woman going into engineering was laughed at. Even in college, I was ridiculed and looked down upon. So I worked harder and even got a doctorate hoping it would earn me respect. But very few places were willing to hire a female engineer and those that were only offered me junior engineering positions.” Sighing sadly, she continued. “Myscreth offered me an opportunity to fully utilize my abilities without regard to whether I was a man or woman.”

As the two of them spoke, Mason occasionally looked out the window and noticed something on the horizon. At first he thought it might be a mountain range, but as they drew closer, he decided it was too symmetrical to be a natural formation.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing out the window.

She leaned over and looked out. “That’s Dafrum.”

“It’s huge,” noted Mason, astonished by its size.

As they drew closer, he could make out remnants of buildings rising hundreds of feet into the air. Even now, hundreds of years after its destruction, smoke from smoldering fires still drifted into the sky. It was unrecognizable from the picture he’d seen.

Feeling himself being pushed against the bench, Mason looked out the window and noticed that the direction of the propellers had been reversed, causing the transport to slow down. As their forward motion stopped, the transport rocked slightly as the propellers rotated to push them towards the ground. A group of workers began putting on their jackets and retrieving rope, mallets, and stakes from one of the cabinets in the back.

There was a slight jolt as the transport touched down. The pilot called out in a loud voice, “Secure the transport!” The door was swung open and the workers who’d collected the rope, mallets, and stakes rushed outside. Mason watched through the window as people hurried around the transport, pounding stakes into the ground and tying off ropes. A cry of, “all secure,” was soon heard, and the propellers stopped rotating.

They’d arrived at Dafrum.

A note from parkertallan

Thanks for reading. I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions you might have.

About the author


Bio: 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 for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.

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