The expedition to Dafrum was the first of many for Mason. He found each one to be an eye-opening experience as he learned more about Myscreth and its people. It also made him wish he'd kept himself in better shape. On Myscreth you walked everywhere, often while carrying something heavy. However, in time, he found himself less tired and better able to keep up with everyone else.
In addition to the expeditions, Mason also studied different areas of science with members of the Council. He always looked forward to the structural mechanics lessons with Counselor Halrous. Although all business during the lesson, he’d always end with one of his funny stories. Mason’s favorites were the ones about when Counselor Anklin and Halrous were Trainees together.
Once Councelor Anklin walked into the library while Counselor Halrous was recounting one of those tales. He listened for a moment and shook his head. “That’s not how I remember it. As I recall, you were the one who accidently tripped Counselor Gruntlorn while he was carrying a platter of food.”
Counselor Halrous shook his head. “No, it was you, Anklin. I should know because I’m the one who ended up covered in brintleen soup.”
Counselor Anklin laughed. “Oh I remember now. You were quite a sight.”
“Haven’t been able to eat the stuff since,” complained Counselor Halrous. “And it used to be my favorite.”
His lessons with Counselors Janice and Tranlee weren’t nearly as entertaining. However, at least with Counselor Janice, they’d often chat about Earth when the lesson was complete. She had indeed grown up in England and had gone to Cambridge. Mason filled her in on everything that’d happened on Earth since she’d left. She didn’t seem impressed.
Counselor Tranlee would leave the moment the lesson was done. He’d tried several times to talk to her, but each time she seemed to have something else to do. He’d seen her being friendly with Claridee and Gorwold, yet it almost seemed as if she wanted to get away from him as soon as possible. He worried that maybe she was against him joining the Council.
Claridee still wouldn’t speak to him, but his friendship with Gorwold had grown. Although Gorwold was ten years older, Mason found that they had much in common. He was even busier than Mason, since he was undergoing the final tests required to join the Council. However, when time permitted, the two of them would sit in the library and talk about their respective worlds.
Gorwold was from Wartroth, one of the other underground cities. His father was a member of a salvage crew and his mother a transport pilot. Gorwold’s childhood had been nothing like Mason’s. By the time he was ten years old, he was already spending long days helping on his city's farm.
What Mason found even more surprising was that Gorwold expressed no bitterness about this. To him, it was just part of life on Myscreth. Everyone had to work if their society was to survive.
However, one day Mason found Gorwold sitting in the library, his usual smile missing. “Are you okay?” asked Mason sitting down beside him.
“Yes,” he answered. “I was just thinking about how long we’ve been working to rebuild Myscreth. There has to be a way to speed up the process.”
“I’m sure everyone feels that way,” agreed Mason, “but there’s only five Council members.”
“That’s the problem. If only there were more.”
“I’m sure Counselor Anklin is doing his best to find new candidates,” said Mason.
Gorwold gave a half-hearted nod and began walking away. “I’m sure he is.”
Remembering how Counselor Proust had treated him at his Council interview, Mason dreaded his first assignment working with him. The assignment was to help complete a road connecting two settlements in the equatorial region. Fortunately, Counselor Halrous was also coming along and it would provide Mason’s first look at Myscreth’s equatorial region.
Due to the distance from Bendroff to the equator, it took nearly an entire day to reach their destination. Mason sat near a window beside Counselor Halrous. The Counselor regaled him with tales of Myscreth's past throughout the trip. Counselor Proust sat a few rows in front of them and had made it clear that he wished to be left alone.
As they neared the equator, Mason noticed that the land below was no longer entirely barren. Here and there he saw small areas of color, similar to what he'd seen when flying over mountain ranges on Earth. The closer they came to the equator, the more vegetation Mason saw. It was still sparse compared to Earth, but in contrast to the barren landscape around Bendroff, it was a virtual garden. While there were no trees, there were small shrubs and tufts of ragged green grass.
It was late in the afternoon when they finally reached the settlement of Langtom. The settlement reminded Mason of a colonial town. He counted about thirty buildings, evenly distributed on either side of a single road. Farms surrounded Langtom on three sides, illuminating the dim landscape with their grow lights.
Most of the road to the nearby settlement of Wedikal had been completed, but there was a fifty foot section that was blocked by a ridge of rock. Counselors Proust and Halrous had been sent to remove the obstruction.
The transport landed on an area of flat ground not far from the settlement. As the transport touched down, men and women from the settlement quickly attached ropes to hold it in place. When the door was opened, Mason felt a breeze which was cold, but not bitterly so, reminding him of an early spring day. It was the first time he didn't need a heavy jacket when outside. The thick clouds hid the sun, but it was still brighter than anywhere else he'd been on Myscreth.
The two Counselors and Mason left the transport and were greeted by a small group. A man, who Mason assumed was in charge, stepped forward and he and the rest of his group bowed as the Counselor's approached. Counselor Halrous enthusiastically greeted the group, but Counselor Proust ignored them and looked around with a disinterested air.
Mason noticed some people from the settlement starting to unload equipment from the transport. He went over and started helping.
"Trainee Mason, come here!" called Counselor Proust sharply.
Mason handed the box he was holding to one of the workers and rushed over to Counselor Proust.
"Yes, Counselor Proust?"
"What are you doing?"
"I'm helping unload the equipment."
Counselor Proust looked at him contemptuously.
"Are you in training to be a worker or a member of the Council?"
"I'm training to be a member of the Council."
"Then leave the unloading to the workers and stay with Counselor Halrous and myself."
"Good," answered Counselor Proust before turning away.
Mason didn't understand why Counselor Proust was so upset; he'd always been instructed by Counselor Anklin to help out whenever possible. However, he did as he was told.
Entering the settlement, Mason expected to see people waiting to greet the Council members, but what few people were there seemed too busy to notice. Among them were young boys and girls carrying buckets to what looked like a well.
"Is there no running water?" he asked.
"This isn't Earth,” answered Counselor Proust in an irritated tone. “There are more important things than running water.”
"I was just surprised," sputtered Mason.
Counselor Proust ignored him.
They were led to guest quarters, which were located near the center of the community. It reminded Mason of the buildings they'd used in Dafrum, except the building was smaller and there were windows.
"We hope these quarters will be satisfactory," offered the settlement leader.
"I'm sure they will be," replied Counselor Halrous graciously.
"A meal had been prepared for you," the leader continued. "It will be sent shortly."
Counselor Halrous smiled. "Thank you for your hospitality. We look forward to it."
After bowing once again, the group left.
Mason followed the two Counselors inside. The windows didn't provide much light and he couldn't see much in the dim interior. However, when Counselor Halrous flipped a switch near the door, the room was illuminated in a clear white light. For an instant, this surprised Mason, but then he remembered how the generators modified by the Council made electrical power plentiful on Myscreth.
Looking around, Mason saw the floor was hard-packed dirt. The room was plainly furnished with only a table and some chairs. A door on the other side of the room led to a bedroom. It contained four beds and a small table. On the table was a bucket filled with water and a small basin.
Mason had hoped to explore Langtom, but before he had a chance the settlement leaders returned carrying several platters filled with food.
Counselor Halrous eagerly dug into each dish, suggesting different ones for Mason to try. Counselor Proust ate little and seemed irritated by Counselor Halrous’ running commentary. At the end of the meal the three men turned in. The long day and full stomach helped put Mason right to sleep.
However, sometime during the night he was awakened by what he thought was the sound of a door closing. Sitting up and looking around the room, he noticed that Counselor Proust’s bed was empty. “Must’ve gone for a walk,” muttered Mason to himself before laying back down and quickly falling back to sleep.
"Trainee Mason!" came a sharp voice rousing Mason from a deep sleep. Groggily, he opened his eyes and recognized the figure of Counselor Proust standing by his bed.
"Yes Counselor Proust," he replied with a yawn.
"See to the door," he barked.
Mason could now make out the sound of knocking coming from the outside door. He got to his feet and walked out of the bedroom to the front door. Opening it he saw a young woman with dark hair tied back in a ponytail holding a tray containing three bowls which had steam rising from them in the cold morning air.
She studied him before speaking. "I've brought breakfast for you and the Counselors," she announced.
He took the tray from her, but before he had a chance to say a word, she turned and started walking away. "Thank you," he called after her, but she showed no sign of hearing him.
He put the tray on the table and went to inform the Counselors that their breakfast had arrived. As they were finishing their meal, a group of workers arrived to take them to the section of road that was obstructed.
It was located about a mile and a half from the settlement. The workers carried a pallet filled with shovels and picks. In addition to the pallet, several people dragged a catapult on a small cart. It was about eight feet long and four feet wide. The cart also contained four metal balls, each of which was about one foot in diameter. Mason had noticed the catapult in the transport but had no idea of what it would be used for.
The ridge of rock blocking the road was about ten feet in height with shear walls that made climbing difficult. About fifty feet of rock would have to be removed to complete the road.
Mason accompanied the two Counselors as they went to examine the ridge. Counselor Proust looked over at him.
"Trainee Mason, how would you remove this rock on your world?"
He considered the question. "They'd most likely use dynamite to blow it up."
Counselor Proust laughed coldly.
"Do you hear that Halrous, people on Earth still use explosives. Trainee Mason, let us show you how we handle this little problem on Myscreth."
Counselor Halrous now concentrated on the wall. As they walked away from the rock, Mason whispered to him. "What'd you do?"
"I modified the stress-strain relationship and material failure criteria of the rock to make it more brittle," Counselor Halrous explained. "That will allow the rock to be smashed more easily and to break into smaller pieces."
Counselor Proust had the catapult brought forward and placed it on the ground in front of the rock wall. One of the metal balls was placed on the catapult. He turned to Mason.
"Trainee Mason, now tell me how you think we can destroy this rock."
He tried to think of all the laws of dynamics that might apply.
"Two things,” answered Mason feeling confident. “First, you can modify the gravity of the counter weight so it falls faster to apply more force to the catapult. Also, you can modify the force/acceleration relationship for the ball to maximize its velocity when it’s released.”
Counselor Proust shook his head and spoke in a condescending tone.
"I see you still have much to learn Trainee Mason. Did you even consider what modifications could be made to the ball after it’s been released? You need to reverse the force/acceleration relationship of the ball and modify the conversion of kinetic to potential energy so the ball will impart an even greater force into the rock."
Mason felt deflated. What made it worse was that he'd made this mistake in front of Counselor Proust. He'd already shown he wasn't sure about Mason being a suitable Council candidate, and this would only reinforce that opinion.
Everyone was ordered back from the rock wall as Counselor Proust prepared to launch the metal ball. As he concentrated, the counterweight started moving upward. Once at its highest point, it fell rapidly, launching the metal ball towards the rock at a high speed. Almost instantaneously there was a deafening roar and the entire fifty foot section of rock blocking the road disintegrated into a pile of rubble. As the dust settled, Mason could see Counselor Proust smiling with a look of satisfaction. Walking away he looked over at Mason.
"How does that compare to your Earth explosives?"
On the return trip from Langtom, Mason was miserable. He sat by himself staring at the landscape below. He now felt certain that Counselor Proust didn't approve of him joining the Council and probably never would.
Doubts started flooding his mind. What if the other Council members shared Counselor Proust's opinion? There was so much new information being thrown at him and he knew that it was only going to get tougher. What if he couldn't handle it?
The doubts made him wish he could talk to his parents. He tried to push these thoughts from his mind, but couldn't shake them.
“Do you know who’s the greatest teacher I ever met?”
Counselor Halrous sat down beside him.
“No,” answered Mason.
Mason looked down and nodded. “Then I learned quite a bit today.”
Counselor Halrous shook his head. “Let’s put it this way. Do you think you’ll ever forget what dynamic laws need to be modified for a catapult?”
“I doubt it.”
“Exactly. You’re a Trainee because you don’t know everything yet. Our job as Counselors is to teach you. It may not be a pleasant experience, but it’s necessary.”
Mason gave a grateful smile.
“Good. Now that that’s taken care of, let me tell you the story of Queen Prorline of the Nashpurl Empire …”
When Mason entered the trainees' quarters, Claridee was studying in the library. Walking to his quarters he was surprised to hear her call “Mason.”
Stopping, he turned around. She sat there looking down at her hands and twisting her fingers. Her face looked even sadder than usual. He walked over and sat down.
"I didn't want to bother you, but I needed someone to talk to." Her words came out in a rush and she avoided meeting his gaze.
"I grew up in the settlement of Wastrene," she began, still not looking at him. "Life was hard, but I was happy. Mostly because of my parents and my brother and sister." She seemed to perk up when she mentioned her family. "Like everyone else we were farmers and that's all I ever wanted to be. I saw myself getting married and eventually having my own family, just like my parents."
She paused and glanced over at Mason, her words coming more slowly.
"Counselor Anklin came to our settlement and I was shocked when he asked me to be a Trainee. I told him no, since I didn't want to leave my home and family. However, he was so insistent that I promised to reconsider and talk to my parents about it. I was sure they'd want me to stay." She wrung her hand tightly. "But they told me that I should go with him. They told me how important the Council was and that sometimes in life we have to sacrifice our personal desires for the benefit of others. That's why I'm here."
She paused, the only sound the nervous tapping of her foot. At last, she continued.
"I don't know what to do anymore. I thought I'd get used to being away from my family, but each day I only miss them more. I want to quit being a Trainee and go home."
Mason nodded. "I knew I'd miss my parents when I came here and thought it would lessen over time, but it doesn't. Even though they were worried about what I was doing, they still supported me and told me how proud they were. Remembering that only makes me love and miss them even more."
"Still, it doesn't make it any easier."
"No it doesn’t. Think of it this way: missing our families isn't a bad thing. After all we miss them because we love them and they're the ones who shaped our lives. We're here because of them. When your parents told you about sacrificing personal desires for the sake of others, they didn't mean only your sacrifice, but theirs as well."
A sudden look of comprehension spread across Claridee's face as she raised a hand to her mouth. Mason could see her eyes growing moist.
"I didn't realize ..." it was almost as if she was talking to herself before looking at him.
"All this time I've been thinking about how much I missed them, but I've never even stopped to think how much they must miss me."
They sat there for a time, each lost in their thoughts. "Your parents sound like wonderful people," offered Mason. "I'd like to hear more about them."
She gave him a grateful smile.
He had no idea how long they talked. However after a while, Claridee stood up.
"I'm sorry Mason, I didn't realize it was so late."
He stood up.
"It’s okay, I enjoyed learning more about your family."
When he reached his room, Mason closed the door behind him and smiled.
- 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.