“We have to keep moving,” Counselor Anklin whispered to the others. “Once Proust gets over his initial shock, he’ll realize that we may still be here and start sending out search parties.”
“Are we heading back to Bendroff?” asked Claridee.
“No, now is not the time to retreat,” replied Counselor Anklin with conviction. “To stop Proust, we have to remove his remaining source of influence over our people: the equipment he’s stolen from Earth. Our objective is the cave.”
He paused, looking towards the cave. “But first, we need to put some distance between us and the settlement. We can’t risk using lights, so we’ll have to rely on whatever light comes from the settlement.” He pointed at some boulders about fifteen feet away. “Head for those boulders and keep low to the ground. Hopefully we won’t run into anyone, but if we do, we’ll have to try to immobilize them as best we can. It isn’t long till dawn, so let’s go.”
The others grabbed their packs and nodded. Counselor Anklin led them up the slope away from the settlement. Whenever possible, they used boulders or crevices for cover. When that wasn’t available, they crawled along the ground. To protect their hands and knees, they wrapped them in whatever extra clothing they hadn’t removed from their packs.
“I think we’re far enough away now,” declared Counselor Anklin after they’d reached a crevice about two hundred feet from the settlement.
Looking down at the settlement, Mason could see that it was now bustling with activity as several groups of people set out, their lanterns highlighting them in the darkness. Most were heading back towards the ruins, but some fanned out to the east and west of the settlement. To Mason’s dismay, one of the groups was heading in their direction.
“We’d better get going,” suggested Counselor Janice.
They started moving towards the cave trying their best to stay out of sight. With limited light progress was slow. As they moved, Mason kept looking back at the approaching group. “They’re getting closer,” he muttered.
Counselor Anklin halted the group when they reached some boulders that offered a good hiding place. “I don’t think we can outrun them. We may have no choice but to defend ourselves if they get too close.”
“Is there a way to distract them so they move away from us?” asked Counselor Janice.
Looking over the edge of the crevice, Mason noticed a stone about the size of his fist. Seeing it brought back memories of different movies and television shows where the hero would throw something to distract his pursuers. He’d always found this somewhat unbelievable, but couldn’t think of anything else.
“I have an idea,” he said in a low voice. “Everyone stay down.”
He concentrated on the stone and modified its dynamics so it would travel further and have more energy when it impacted the ground. He grabbed the stone. “Here goes nothing.”
In a singular motion he quickly rose to his feet and hurled the stone back towards the ruins before ducking back down. Soon he heard the satisfying sound of rubble loudly clattering down the slope, well behind their pursuers.
Cries of “over there!” emanated from the search party as they ran towards the source of the sound.
The trainees and Counselors immediately set out to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the search party. The sight of the lights of their pursuers growing dimmer filled everyone with a sense of relief. Finally, Counselor Anklin called out in a low voice. “We can rest here.”
Counselor Anklin patted Mason on the back. “That was good thinking.”
“I was surprised it worked.”
Counselor Anklin smiled. “What made it work was the modifications you made to the stone. You see, being able to manipulate scientific laws makes the impossible possible for good and for evil.”
They were now almost even with the cave. The area outside the cave was well lit and Claridee quickly scanned it with the binoculars.
“I see four guards,” she reported.
“How will we get past them?” asked Mason.
“Maybe a repeat of yesterday’s plan,” suggested Claridee. “I didn’t see anyone there who was at the building so we wouldn’t be recognized.”
“But what if you are?” cautioned Counselor Anklin.
Claridee looked down, unable to answer.
Counselor Anklin sighed. “Unfortunately, it’s a risk we’ll have to take.” He looked at the others. “Unless someone has a better plan.” He was met with silence.
“If nothing else, maybe I can provide a little insurance,” offered Counselor Janice. “Claridee, give me your light.”
She concentrated on it before handing it back to her.
“If there’s any trouble, turn on your light. However, be sure to shield your eyes when you do. Based on our experience with Thurold, I’m sure it will provide a suitable distraction.”
The two trainees nodded.
“The two of you work your way down to the cave,” advised Counselor Anklin. “Mason, when you get close, turn on your light and the two of you head straight for the guards. While their attention is on the two of you, Janice and I will move closer. Claridee, if there’s any trouble, turn on your light.”
“See you at the cave,” declared Mason in as confident a tone as he could muster. He and Claridee began their trek towards the cave, careful to not be seen. When they were about a hundred feet away from the cave he turned to her.
“Are you ready for this?”
“You’d better believe it,” she replied with a smile.
He squeezed her hand before turning on his light, and the two boldly walked towards the guards. Instantly, shouts of “who’s there?” could be heard coming from the guards as they converged on them.
“Anklin attacked our search party,” called Mason not bothering to hide the fear in his voice. “There was a bright light and everyone else vanished. Only Pollrine and I escaped.”
The guards eyed them suspiciously.
“Don’t you understand,” cried Claridee. “He’s right behind us. We have to get Counselor Proust.”
The guards looked at each other fearfully. “Maybe we’d better send for Counselor Proust,” suggested one.
“Your tricks won’t work this time Trainees Mason and Claridee,” called a man emerging from the cave. “
Klarth flashed an evil smile as he came into view. “The two of you will pay for your attack on me.” Turning to the guards he gleefully cried. “Seize them!”
“Now!” cried Claridee. She and Mason shielded their eyes as she turned on her light. Shouts of surprise erupted from Klarth and the guards. Even through his shielded eyes Mason could feel the intense brightness of the light. After a short time, Claridee turned it off.
They couldn’t help but smile at the scene before them. The four guards had tripped over one another as they backed away from the light and lay in a heap on the ground. Klarth stumbled around the entrance of the cave with his arms out in front of him, trying to find his way. However, their joy was short lived as shouts could now be heard coming from the settlement.
“We’d better get to the cave,” exclaimed Claridee.
However, before they could move, the ground beneath the four guards turned bright purple and began to hum. Suddenly, the guards were gone. Turning, the two trainees saw the two Counselors running towards them.
“Get inside!” yelled Counselor Anklin, pushing Mason and Claridee towards the entrance.
As they ran, Mason saw Counselor Janice concentrating on the lights mounted just outside the cave entrance. As she did so, they began to steadily increase in brightness while the lights along the path leading to the settlement dimmed and went out. Giving what looked like a satisfied nod, Counselor Janice ran to join them.
The ground beneath Klarth now began to hum and pulse with a purple light. He let out a terrified scream before disappearing. At the same instant, Counselor Janice reached them.
“Everyone get inside!” she ordered urgently.
As they were running inside, the ground shook and dust fell from the ceiling as the sound of two explosions could be heard.
“That should slow them down,” she declared.
“What’d you do?” asked Mason.
With a mischievous smile she replied. “I modified the lights outside the cave so they’d absorb all the electricity that entered them. That knocked out the electricity flowing to the settlement. Once enough electricity had built up, they exploded.”
Looking outside, Mason could see that the entrance to the cave was now partially blocked and the ground outside covered with rubble. In the settlement beyond, he saw nothing but darkness.
The lights in the cave weren’t affected and Mason marveled at what he saw. This was clearly no natural cave, as the floor and walls were smooth. Along one wall of the cave, he noticed crates inscribed with names of companies he instantly recognized. Here was the equipment that Proust had taken from Earth.
At the rear of the cave there was a deep chasm from which pieces of twisted metal and wiring protruded. Sections of fallen wall surrounded it, and Mason saw what looked like the remnants of an elevator shaft near the center. He was struck by how similar it was to the cave he walked through the first time he’d entered Bendroff. He let out a low whistle. “Counselor Halrous was right.”
“About what?” asked Claridee.
“There is an underground city here.”
Their conversation was interrupted as Counselor Anklin started issuing orders. “Claridee and Janice, keep watch at the front of the cave. Mason, help me manipulate the gravity of these crates.”
The two women rushed over to the front of the cave while Mason ran to the crates. He and Counselor Anklin started modifying them so they floated toward the ceiling.
“Why are we doing this?”
“If Proust gets in here, this might provide a useful distraction.” His tone was serious, but Mason thought he could detect a mischievous glint in his eye.
Once they finished, the four of them crouched just inside the cave entrance and watched for any movement outside. The sky had started to lighten and still no one had approached the cave.
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “Proust should have been here by now,” he said in a worried tone. “What could he …”
He was interrupted by a scream as Claridee flew up towards the ceiling.
“Claridee!” cried Mason as he jumped up to try and grab her.
“Everyone down!” commanded Counselor Anklin.
Instinctively Mason followed Counselor Anklin’s orders, diving behind the stone that had fallen around the cave entrance. He vaguely sensed that the two Counselors had done the same, but he couldn’t see them. From his hiding place, he tried to see Claridee, but the overhang of the cave entrance blocked his view.
“Claridee! Are you all right?” he called out, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
“Yes,” she replied faintly, sounding like she was having trouble breathing, “but I’m stuck to the ceiling.”
“We’ll get you down right away.”
“Oh? And how will you do that Trainee Mason?” A voice echoed from the back of the cave.
Mason felt a shiver of terror as he recognized Proust’s voice.
- 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.