It was even colder than it’d been in Bendroff and Mason shivered as he left the transport. In the distance were the ruins of Dafrum, but he had little time to look at them as everyone immediately got to work setting up camp.
After a flat section of ground was cleared of debris, the wooden panels Mason had seen earlier were unloaded from the transport. He now realized that they were portions of a temporary building. Mason was handed a hammer and along with several other workers began pounding in the pegs which held the walls together.
Even more surprising was that the wall felt warm. It wasn’t residual warmth, but it felt as if the walls were actually generating heat. He scanned the wall and saw no evidence of any heating elements. “How could this be happening?” he wondered.
The work went quickly, and in a short while the walls for three buildings were in place. Mason smiled with pride as he looked at the building he’d helped build. He’d occasionally helped his father with some home construction projects, but never anything this large. Walking around it, he estimated that it was twenty feet square and about eight feet tall. The buildings had no windows and only a single door.
Noticing Counselor Janice sitting on a crate he saw an opportunity to ask about the walls. He walked over. “Counselor Janice?”
“Yes Mason, what is it?”
“What’s heating the walls?”
She smiled and gestured to the area around them. “Everything around us.”
Mason was confused. The air was bitterly cold. How could it possibly be heating the walls? “I don’t understand.”
“Seems to me that someone needs to take a refresher course on thermodynamics,” she replied matter of factly. “Unless it’s absolute zero, there’s always energy around us. The thermodynamic properties of the walls have been modified so they absorb any surrounding energy and emit it as heat.”
He’d never heard anything so fantastic. Unlimited energy without any machinery? He was beginning to understand the wonders that the manipulation of scientific laws made possible.
As Mason was speaking with Counselor Janice, additional wood panels were brought from the transport and placed on the ground by the buildings. As with the walls, Mason helped assemble these panels into a single section. When each section was completed, ropes were tied to each of their corners.
At first, Mason didn’t understand why this was being done, but then he saw Counselor Anklin walk over. Counselor Anklin concentrated and one of the wooden sections floated upward. Workers used the ropes to guide it into place over the walls, reminding Mason of the giant balloon characters he’d seen in parades. Once the roof was in position, Counselor Anklin again concentrated and the roof fell gently into place. This process was repeated for each building.
“Everyone take a short break,” called Counselor Janice. Mason was glad for the chance to rest as he’d never exerted himself so much in his life. He went to the transport along with most of the workers to escape the cold wind.
He saw Claridee sitting in the back by herself. Maybe she’ll be a little friendlier today, he thought sitting down on the bench in front of her. “Hi,” he said, but she paid no attention to him.
Several workers had remained outside and Mason noticed them carrying what looked like a trashcan on its side. They set it down on the ground not far from the transport. He was surprised to see wires running from the buildings being attached to it. “What’s that?” he asked Claridee.
“A generator,” she answered.
“Is that the only one?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“And it provides enough power for all the buildings?”
“But it’s so small.”
She shook her head. “Look, if you’re so interested, why don’t you go outside and find out for yourself.”
“I think I will,” muttered a frustrated Mason as he stomped out of the transport.
Seeing the generator up close, he was even more confused. There wasn’t even a motor to run it, only a small handle mounted to its center shaft. “Stand back!” called one of the workers after all the wires had been attached. Once everyone was clear, she grabbed the handle and rapidly pulled it down. There was a whirling sound as the generator started spinning and to Mason’s amazement, it didn’t stop. Impossible, he thought before remembering all the wonders he’d already seen on Myscreth.
Now the task of unloading the transport began in earnest. Cots, chests, lights, and heaters were moved into two of the buildings while tables, benches, and cooking supplies were moved into the third. Mason was struck by the strange combination of the old and the new. The cots and storage chest were made of rough wood, but there were electric lights and even an electric griddle for cooking.
As it grew dark, it became even colder. In spite of his thick jacket, Mason shivered. He was glad when they finally finished setting up camp so he could get inside. Removing his jacket and gloves, he leaned against one of the wall, fully enjoying the sensation of the heat defrosting his frigid limbs.
Once sufficiently warm, he sought out Counselor Anklin and found him sitting on his cot looking over some papers.
“What can I do for you Mason?” he asked.
Mason got right to the point. “What was done to the generator?”
Counselor Anklin leaned back on his cot and laughed.
“I’m glad to see that you’re not thinking everything you see is impossible anymore.” Mason tried to keep a straight face, not wanting to let on that had been his initial thought.
“After the war, the only habitable places left were the few remaining underground cities like Bendroff. In time, the fusion reactors that provided their electricity started to fail and couldn’t be repaired. A new power source had to be found.”
“How’d they’d figure it out?”
“Mostly trial and error. Initially the dynamic friction and moment equations were modified to allow the generator to keep running after it was started. However, this led to other issues such as the housing breaking and the generator getting too hot. Additional modifications were then made to increase the strength of the housing and to allow heat to dissipate more rapidly.”
“Sounds a lot like putting a puzzle together.”
“An excellent analogy,” agreed Counselor Anklin. “However, in this case scientific laws are the pieces. That’s why a member of the Council needs to understand not only their own area of science, but those of his fellow Counselors as well.”
Hearing the sound of footsteps, he turned to see Claridee approaching, irritation evident on her face. “We’re supposed to help serve dinner,” she announced to Mason before walking away.
“Well, you heard her,” declared Counselor Anklin. “Better get going.”
Mason quickly threw on his jacket and rushed over to the dining building. By the time he and Claridee had helped serve and clean up dinner, most everyone else was gone. Quite hungry due to the day’s exertions and small breakfast, Mason quickly dug into his plate of food. Looking up, he noticed Claridee picking at her food, appearing deep in thought.
“Aren’t you hungry Claridee?” he asked.
She looked up, exhaustion and sadness evident on her face. He was surprised when she answered.
“Oh, I’m not hungry, just tired.”
Mason continued eating.
“Was it easy to leave your family?” she asked in a low voice.
“No,” answered Mason remembering his final visit with his parents. “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss my parents until I said goodbye to them. How about you?”
Claridee looked as if she was about to say something, but got up from the table and started walking away. Mason was taken aback by her abrupt departure. “Are you okay?” he called, worried that he’d somehow offended her. She didn’t answer.
Lying on his cot that night, Mason could feel every muscle in his body starting to ache. All he wanted was to soak in a hot bath, but there was no chance of that here. He felt sure he’d never fall asleep.
The next thing he knew, he found himself being roughly shaken awake. Opening his eyes he saw Strislorn, who was in charge of food preparation for the camp, standing over him.
“Come on, Trainee Mason. You’re supposed to help serve breakfast this morning,” he said impatiently.
Mason sat up rubbing his eyes, wishing for more time to sleep. “Coming,” he mumbled. After putting on his shoes and throwing on his jacket, he trudged through the dark after Strislorn to the dining building. His body now ached even more than it had yesterday with each movement being a new experience in pain.
He saw Claridee already at work, stacking plates and setting out of pots of food. He called out a tentative “good morning.” Without a word, she headed off to another part of the kitchen.
As the group was eating breakfast, a short, stout woman with auburn hair, who Mason thought must be in her early thirties, stood up and loudly banged a wooden spoon on one of the tables. Counselor Anklin had told Mason her name was Klarene and that she was in charge of the expedition.
“Today we have two objectives,” she began in a gruff, no-nonsense tone. “The power station just north of us and an electronics factory to the northwest. I’ll be leading the team going to the power station. And Creslurn,” she pointed over at a large middle-aged man, “will be leading the other group.”
After breakfast, the two groups prepared to leave camp. Everyone was given a backpack which contained some dried fruit Mason didn’t recognize, water, rope, and a small wooden box. Taking the box out, Mason saw one end was open and there was a small t-shaped shaft sticking out the side. When he spun the shaft, a bright light shot out the open end and as with the generator, the shaft kept spinning.
Once everyone had their equipment, the two groups prepared to leave camp with Mason and Counselor Anklin joining Klarene’s group. The bitter cold was only made worse by a strong wind that blew in Mason’s face as he turned to face Dafrum. He pulled his hood tighter around his head and stamped his feet to keep warm.
Initially, they moved at a steady pace, but as they neared the power station, the ground became more uneven and larger sections of rubble impeded their progress. Several times, they were forced to go around what appeared to be portions of collapsed buildings. Mason trudged onward, breathing heavily while doing his best to keep pace with the group.
As they neared their destination, Mason stared at it in amazement. In the distance were the remnants of a dozen metallic towers. They must have once extended a thousand feet into the air, but were now only rusted husks. The building before them, although only three stories high, extended almost all the way to the city. Like the towers, most of building was now in ruins. However, even the small portion that remained was larger than any power plant he’d ever seen.
When they reached the building, Klarene called out. “We’ll take a short rest before going inside.”
A grateful Mason sat down on a piece of concrete sheltered from the wind and looked over the building they were about to enter. All the windows were broken and scorch marks could be seen along the outside walls. He shuddered to think what could have possibly caused so much damage. There wasn’t much time to contemplate this as Klarene soon called out. “Everyone over here.”
“The building is in worse shape than expected,” she declared. “I want everyone to be extra careful. No one is to go off on their own. We’re looking for the generator room, so watch for any signs indicating its’ location. Any questions?”
There were no questions and everyone seemed eager to get started. Having never done anything like this, Mason could feel his heart pounding. He tried to steady his nerves, but jumped when Klarene called out. “Let’s go!” and the group let out a roar of approval.
They entered the building through what Mason believed was once a loading dock, passing a truck buried under a pile of rubble. Much of the interior of the building had deteriorated over time and piles of debris were everywhere. Looking up, Mason could see open sky where portions of the upper stories had fallen in. As they walked, creaks and groans could be heard from the building around them as strong winds buffeted it.
Climbing over a pile of rubble, Mason cried out in alarm when his light flashed over the skeletal remains of a long dead worker.
Klarene spun around and shined her light at Mason. “What happened?”
He responded with embarrassment. “I’m okay, I just saw a body.”
She gave a small chuckle. “Well, when you’ve done this kind of work long enough, you get used to it.” The other workers joined in with good-natured laughter. Their reaction only made Mason realize how different Myscreth was from Earth.
Mason had no idea how long it was before someone at last called out. “Over here!”
There was a large door labeled “Generator Room” in faded letters. Klarene shined her light through a window in the door.
“I’ll make sure it’s safe,” she called out as she slowly opened the door and went inside. It wasn’t long before she returned. “Okay, let’s get to work.”
Everyone followed her inside. It was a large room and light filtered in from a gaping hole where a portion of the ceiling had collapsed. Looking around, Mason saw the walls were covered with electrical panels. Near the center of the room he saw four large metal generator housings that were rusted and dented, but still looked intact.
Looking around, Mason was struck at how technologically advanced Myscreth had been. However, no one else seemed to share his sentiments as they didn’t even pause before starting to rip apart the panels to get at the wiring.
While this was going on, Klarene called out. “Okay, now let’s get at those generators.”
In the flurry of activity around him, Mason felt lost, but tried to help as best he could. He brought tools over as they were needed and helped pack up whatever they were able to salvage. Everyone filled their packs with whatever would fit and placed larger items in a pile on the sleds they’d brought. Everyone worked quickly and it wasn’t long before all the useful electrical components had been collected and the housings of the generator units removed. The generators were about eight feet long and six feet in diameter. Klarene walked around them muttering to herself. “They should just fit through,” she declared. “We’ll go out the same way we came in.”
Workers attached ropes around the center of each generator. When they were secured, Counselor Anklin concentrated and the generators started to rise off the ground. Mason knew immediately that he had modified their gravity to make them easier to move. They rose off the ground like giant balloons until the ropes holding them became taut. Counselor Anklin went over to the sleds and in a moment, they too had floated upward.
Two workers held the ropes for each generator and guided them as the group made its way out of the building. Mason, along with the other workers, directed the sleds which were now piled high with electrical equipment. With all the additional baggage, the group’s pace was much slower than it had been on the way in.
When they finally got out of the building, Klarene called for another rest before heading back to camp. Coming over to Mason, she gave him a hard pat on the shoulder which made him wince with pain. “I wanted to let you know that you did a good job today.”
Mason rubbed his shoulder, feeling a little embarrassed. “Thank you, but I didn’t do as much as everyone else.”
She smiled. “That may be true, but from what I saw, you pushed yourself as hard as you could. That’s all anyone can ask for, especially in a Council member. If you remember that, you’ll do well.”
Mason felt himself blush. “Thanks.”
It was nearly dark by the time they started back to camp with their precious cargo. Those with free hands held up their lights to help everyone see, but it was still slow going. It had grown much colder so even with the wind at their backs, it was a miserable trek.
As they neared the camp, the sound of shouts and laughter could be heard. The other group was already there, busy loading equipment into the transport’s cargo section.
The generators were quickly carried into the transport where Counselor Anklin concentrated and they gently floated to the floor. The remaining equipment was then carried in.
Exhausted by the long day, no one gave any thought to eating. Each member of the expedition headed to their respective sleeping quarters, most falling on their beds without even bothering to undress, Mason included. In the brief time he was still awake, he remembered Klarene’s advice and thought to himself. Maybe I can do this.
- 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.