Counselor Anklin ran over and began examining the wall.
“What are you doing?” asked Mason.
“I’ll explain later, right now we’ve got to find Claridee.”
Counselor Anklin stepped back “It looks like the doorway opened to a location about two miles west of the settlement.” He took a few steps back and starting concentrating.
“How do you know that?”
Ignoring Mason, he continued until the wall began to hum and glow with a flashing purple light. As the flashing stopped, Counselor Anklin stepped through with Mason close behind. They found themselves at the bottom of a small, barren hill. Listening carefully, the only thing Mason could hear was the wind. Counselor Anklin leaned over and whispered.
“Proust and his group should be around here somewhere. Be quiet and follow me.”
The two of them made their way up the hill, moving slowly so as not to be heard. At the top they crouched down and peered at the landscape below. There was a cart holding generators and other equipment, but no people. Mason’s heart sank, they were too late. Neither man spoke as they trudged down the hill. As he rounded the cart, Mason saw a figure laying on the ground, its long blond hair blowing in the wind.
“Claridee!” he cried, rushing over. Counselor Anklin quickly followed.
Kneeling beside her, Mason feared the worst. He was about to check her pulse when she opened her eyes and calmly asked.
“What took you two so long?”
He nearly collapsed with relief.
Claridee looked over to Counselor Anklin.
“Proust was here, but he just left. He didn’t want me following him, so he manipulated my clothing so it would be too heavy to move.” She scrunched up her face, looking uncomfortable. “If you could fix that, I’d really appreciate it.”
Counselor Anklin smiled. “I’d be delighted.”
In a moment, Claridee was able get to her feet.
“Thanks. It feels so good to move again.”
Mason was surprised at how much he wanted to wrap his arms around her.
“Are you sure you’re OK? Proust didn’t hurt you, did he?”
She shook her head. “Actually, he took great pains to make sure I was comfortable and that I had no trouble breathing while waiting for the two of you to arrive.”
“Did you see which way they went?” asked Counselor Anklin.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Mason, run to the top of the hill and scan the area for any signs of Proust,” ordered Counselor Anklin. “Claridee and I will look for tracks.”
Running to the top of the hill, Mason scanned the horizon, but saw nothing. Counselor Anklin and Claridee were still checking the ground when he returned.
“No trace of them. Any luck with the tracks?”
Counselor Anklin looked up from the ground. “Not a thing.”
“The wind seems to have wiped away any trace of them,” added Claridee.
Frustrated, the three of them sat by the cart in silence. Finally, Counselor Anklin turned to Claridee. “Can you tell us what happened?”
Claridee pushed her wind swept hair out of her face and nodded. “When I arrived here, I saw the woman, Proust, and his two workers. He ordered the workers to grab me, but told them to be careful not to hurt me. Then he just stared at me, I couldn’t tell if he was angry or pleased.”
She paused and Mason could see her shivering slightly. He wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or the memory of Proust.
“‘Claridee, my dear girl,’ he said, ‘it’s so good to see you. Unfortunately, there isn’t time for a proper reunion since I’m sure Anklin and Mason will be along shortly. You have nothing to fear from me, but I can’t have you following us.’” She rubbed her arms. “After what’d he’d done to you and Mason, I didn’t know if I could believe him.”
Mason could feel his anger at Proust growing.
“He had the workers put me on the ground and he modified the gravity of my clothing so I couldn’t move. He kept asking if I was comfortable and if I had any trouble breathing. It was kind of creepy. Then he had the audacity to say ‘I am sorry about this Claridee, but I can’t let anything stand in my way of saving Myscreth. As a true daughter of Myscreth, I’m sure you agree.’”
As Claridee recounted her response, there was anger in her voice.
“I told him what he was doing would destroy Myscreth, not save it and he laughed at me and said, ‘I see you’ve been listening to Anklin. Look at this equipment we’re providing our people. If we followed Anklin’s way, it would take months and who knows how many lives to acquire this. Tell me - how is this destroying Myscreth?’ I didn’t bother answering. Oh and that’s not even the best part. He asked for a favor from you Counselor Anklin. He wants you to take this equipment to Stranoff.”
Counselor Anklin gave a grim laugh. “Is there anything else?”
She rubbed her forehead as she thought. “No, I think that’s it. Proust and his group left, but I couldn’t see which way they went. A little while after that, you and Mason showed up.”
Counselor Anklin interjected abruptly. “Are you sure Proust mentioned me and Mason by name?”
Mason looked at Counselor Anklin. “What I don’t understand is why the young woman reacted the way she did when she saw Claridee.”
Counselor Anklin was slow in answering, almost as if his mind was elsewhere. When he finally responded it was in a brusque tone.
“Clearly Proust sent her into the settlement to make sure it would be safe. She was the perfect choice since she could escape quickly if there was trouble. As to why she reacted the way she did, I would think you could figure that out, since you were doing the same thing.”
Mason suddenly remembered the auras.
“When she saw Claridee’s aura she knew it wasn’t safe.”
Counselor Anklin nodded gruffly.
Mason had another question. “How’d you know where the door went?”
“Ah, another gap in your training.” Despite his sour mood, Counselor Anklin seemed unable to suppress a smile. “Even though you haven’t learned it yet, I was able to find Claridee by observing the modifications in relativistic physics that had been made on the wall.”
Mason turned to Claridee. “So that’s what you were doing back in the generator room.” He looked at the two of them feeling sheepish. “I feel like I’m constantly reminded of how much more I have to learn.”
“Good, that’s the attitude you need to have if you’re going to be a good student.” Counselor Anklin stood up and stretched. “Well, we’d better start back to Stranoff. I’m sure they’ll be very glad to get this equipment.”
Mason didn’t believe what he was hearing.
“You mean you’re still going to give the settlement this equipment even though you know it’s stolen?”
Counselor Anklin responded angrily. “And what would you have me do, just leave it here to rot?” He motioned at the cart. “It’s not like I can return it to Earth and Stranoff really needs this equipment.”
Mason was taken aback by the ferocity of his response.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…”
Counselor Anklin held up a hand.
“No Mason, I’m the one who needs to apologize. I’m just upset that Proust got away.” He put a hand on the cart. “You’re right of course, but under the circumstances what choice do we have. The equipment is here and people need it. Even considering the source of this equipment, there is no way I can withhold it from them.” He paused, looking up at the sky before finishing. “The reality is that we don’t always have the luxury of putting ethics ahead of survival here on Myscreth.”
The sadness in Counselor Anklin’s eyes as he spoke deeply touched Mason. The three of them silently started the trek back to the settlement with Counselor Anklin leading the way as Claridee and Mason pulled the cart behind them.
As they entered Stranoff, the joyous reception of the residents at the sight of the new equipment caused the three of them to temporarily forget their gloom. Counselor Anklin and Mason helped install the new generators while Claridee distributed the other equipment to the settlement’s residents. That evening, the settlement held a celebratory feast for them.
None of them were in the mood to celebrate, but Counselor Anklin insisted they attend. There was plenty to eat, but Mason ate little, distracted by his thoughts.
It was more than Proust’s escape and Counselor Anklin’s words that were on his mind, however. The terror he’d felt when Claridee disappeared and the elation of seeing her safe again was like nothing he’d ever felt before. His mind was in a jumble as he tried to figure it all out.
By the time the feast had ended, he’d come to a decision. Walking back to the guest quarters with Claridee after the feast, he cleared his throat and in halting voice asked. “Claridee, would you like to take a walk with me?” She smiled and nodded.
They walked in silence until he felt her slip her hand into his. He could feel his heart pounding and had to stop. He started to speak, but she squeezed his hand and whispered.
“Let’s just walk.”
They continued until reaching the farming area. The illumination of the grow lights caused their shadows to stretch behind them as they stood there looking out over the fields. Claridee spoke in a soft, dreamy voice.
“This is how I’d expected to spend my life, working the fields and raising a family. I used to wonder what my life would be like if Counselor Anklin hadn’t asked me to become a trainee.”
She turned to Mason and put her hands in his.
“But since I’ve met you, I don’t wonder anymore.”
She looked at him expectantly, the grow lights reflecting off her blond hair and highlighting her face. The sight dazzled him. After the events of the day, he now realized just how much she meant to him. He fought to get the words out.
“Claridee, seeing you disappear through that doorway today was the most terrifying experience of my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”
As he struggled to continue, she gently wrapped her arms around him, putting her head on his shoulder, and whispered.
“I feel the same way about you.”
Mason returned her embrace and before he knew what was happening, they kissed.
The next morning, they returned to Bendroff where Counselor Anklin briefed the Council on their trip.
“It’s clear now that Proust is trying to curry favor with our people by providing them the equipment we can’t,” he reported grimly.
“But where’s he getting this equipment?” asked Counselor Halrous.
“He’s stealing it from Earth.”
There was an audible gasp from Counselor Janice, but Mason saw no reaction from the other Council members. Counselor Tranlee shrugged. “At least he’s doing a service for our people. I don’t see the danger in that.”
Counselor Janice shot her an angry glance, but said nothing.
Counselor Anklin recounted the events which led them to wait for Proust in Stranoff. As he was finishing, Counselor Gorwold angrily interrupted. “And why wasn’t the Council informed of this opportunity?”
Counselor Anklin gave him a long, hard look, and Mason could see Counselor Gorwold cringe slightly. “I thought it best to minimize any additional activity in Stranoff so as to not scare Proust away.”
“Quite understandable,” commented Counselor Janice, giving Counselor Gorwold a look one might give while scolding a child. “Wouldn’t you agree, Counselor Gorwold?”
“Yes,” he muttered defensively.
Counselor Janice nodded. “Please continue. What happened in Stranoff?”
Counselor Anklin told of Mason’s discovery of the woman Proust had trained to manipulate relativistic physics and how she’d escaped. When he reported Claridee’s disappearance, the four Council members turned to stare at her.
Counselor Janice motioned for Claridee to come forward. “I think we need to hear what Trainee Claridee has to say.”
She walked slowly to the podium. Counselor Anklin leaned down and whispered something to her that Mason couldn’t hear. She gave a small smile and described her encounter with Proust.
“Did you notice anything else?” demanded Counselor Tranlee roughly when she’d finished.
“No, that’s everything,” answered Claridee seemingly taken aback.
Counselor Janice glared at Tranlee before addressing Claridee. “Thank you.” Claridee quickly returned to her seat.
The ensuing silence was abruptly broken by Counselor Tranlee. “Nothing I’ve heard today tells me that Proust represents a danger to Myscreth. Look at how he treated Trainee Claridee. And what else has he done? Only provide much needed equipment for our people. He may be misguided, but a danger,” she paused, looking at the other Council members. “I think not.”
“How can you possibly say that we’ve misjudged Proust?” shot back Counselor Anklin. “He’s broken our most important law and used his powers to attack Trainee Mason and myself. There’s no telling how the people that he’s trained will react to their new powers. Just because he’s getting equipment from Earth, all he’s done is forgiven?”
“Doesn’t Proust’s treatment of Trainee Claridee show that his true intent is to help Myscreth? Maybe his attack on you and Mason was just a mistake,” added Counselor Gorwold.
Counselor Anklin’s voice became progressively louder.
“A mistake, you say? Any trainee who made such a mistake would be removed from training immediately. No--it was a deliberate attack.”
Counselor Tranlee was about to speak again when Counselor Janice called out. “We have enough problems without fighting among ourselves. Proust has broken our laws and must be dealt with. Whatever his motives may be, it doesn’t matter.”
Counselor Anklin stood there for a moment with his eyes closed before addressing the Council in a calm voice.
“I’d like to apologize to the Council, and to Counselors Tranlee and Gorwold in particular, for my conduct. We’re all on edge, but that doesn’t excuse my actions.”
Counselor Tranlee was still angry as she spoke. “I’m also sorry for my conduct. I just think it’s a great loss for Myscreth to lose someone of Proust’s abilities.”
“It certainly wasn’t my intent to minimize what Proust has done,” added Counselor Gorwold. “I was just happy that no harm had come to Claridee.”
“Thank you,” replied Counselor Anklin with a small nod. “Now to the real reason we’re here, finding Proust. To do that we need information. I propose that we contact each of the equatorial settlements to discover if Proust has provided them with any equipment, and when it was provided.”
For a moment it appeared to Mason that Counselor Tranlee was about to disagree, but seemed to change her mind. “I think the Council should do as Counselor Anklin has suggested. I’m sure that having a better idea of Proust’s actives would be very helpful.”
The other Council members shook their heads in agreement.
After the meeting, Counselor Anklin and the two trainees returned to the library. Counselor Anklin pointed to a table far from the door. “Let’s sit over there. I have something I need to discuss with you.”
Once seated, Counselor Anklin spoke in a low voice. “Someone on the Council is helping Proust.”
Mason and Claridee stared at him in shock.
“How do you know?” asked Mason.
“There are several things. First, there is the fact that the generators’ thermodynamics were modified.”
“But couldn’t Proust have finished training someone to do that?” asked Claridee.
“According to his papers, Proust started training the two newest members within the last six months, not enough time for them to develop that ability.”
“What else?” asked Mason.
“Think about it; why else would Proust send someone to make sure it was safe to enter Stranoff? He had no reason to think we knew about his deliveries. Only someone on the Council could have told him of our suspicions. And Claridee, did you tell Proust that Mason and I were with you?”
She shook her head.
“Then how did he know that Mason and I would soon be there?”
“If that’s true,” speculated Claridee. “It would have to be either Counselor Tranlee or Gorwold since both can modify thermodynamics.”
“I can’t believe it would be Gorwold,” declared Mason.
“How can we know for sure?” asked Claridee.
“That’s why I asked for the information about Proust’s deliveries,” explained Counselor Anklin. “Gorwold only acquired his abilities two months ago. Therefore, if his deliveries began before that time, then Counselor Tranlee would have to be Proust’s accomplice.”
“But it could take a week to get that information,” declared Claridee. “What will we do until then?”
“Unfortunately, all we can do right now is wait,” he answered in a troubled tone. “In the meantime,” he continued, sounding more positive. “Mason and I have some training to attend to. After all, he still has a few gaps that need filling in.”
“Counselor Anklin,” Mason asked when they sat down in the training room, “will you teach me how to do what you did with the doorway?”
“Yes, I think it’s about time you learned that skill. It’s similar to how you observe whether people have the ability to modify scientific laws. However, you can only identify modifications corresponding to your own area of scientific specialization.”
He picked up a block from the table before continuing. “You must first visualize the object you wish to investigate. Then you need to concentrate on the object and merge it with itself.”
Mason was confused.
“Merge something with itself?”
Counselor Anklin nodded.
“Think of the object as a soft rubber ball. If you apply force to it, you’ll start to compress it, or in other words, merge it with itself. When you’ve visualized the object, try and compress it in your mind. This will reveal the modified scientific laws.”
“So if I were to do this to say, a transport, would it affect how it can float?”
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “No, this process only reveals what modifications have been made, it doesn’t actually affect the modifications in any way. Do you think you’re ready to give it a try?”
He went over everything in his mind and thought he understood what he needed to do. “Yes, I think I am.”
Counselor Anklin gave him a smile. “That’s the spirit.” He put the block down and concentrated on it.
“Okay, tell me what modifications I’ve made to the block.”
Mason concentrated on it, but it took him a few tries before he was successful. As the equations formed in his mind he called out the modifications he saw.
“The gravity was increased by a factor of two and the relationship between kinetic and potential energy was changed so potential energy now equals four times the kinetic energy.”
“That’s correct Mr. Grant. Well done. Let’s try a few more.”
The Counselor brought several more objects over to the table and concentrated on them. Mason was able to identify the modifications made to each of them.
“I’m impressed. You got every modification correct.”
He couldn’t help but feel a small swell of pride at having mastered this new ability so quickly.
Counselor Anklin gave a broad grin. “Well that’s one less gap to fill. Only a few hundred more.”
“A few hundred,” gasped Mason, all pride suddenly gone.
Counselor Anklin burst out laughing. “I’m only joking my boy. Don’t tell me recognizing a joke is another gap we need to fill.”
At first he felt a bit foolish, but seeing Counselor Anklin’s smile, couldn’t help but smile himself.
“I hope not,” replied Mason with a laugh. “I’ve already got enough catching up to do.”
The next week seemed to drag on as they anxiously awaited the reports from the equatorial settlements. The three of them were together in the library when word finally came that the transports had returned. Hurrying to the Council chambers, they found Counselor Janice alone reading through a stack of papers. She looked up as they entered.
“Proust has delivered equipment to fifteen different settlements,” she reported. “Most of the equipment was made up of generators, electric motors, and light bulbs.” Flipping through the papers she continued. “It looks like the deliveries started about three months ago.”
The three of them looked at one another. Based on this timing, Mason knew that they were all thinking the same thing, Counselor Tranlee had to be Proust’s accomplice.
- 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.