Escape to wondrous worlds

Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk

Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk

The Manustream

Griffith held her personal assistant out to light the space before her. Although it was small enough to be strapped to her wrist, the PA gave out a great deal of light. It had been more than enough to light the way through the tunnel to the secret entrance of the Manustream’s room, but made no impact within.

She shone the light on the floor and began to walk towards the faint glow in the distance. She prayed the other councillors had already come up with a solution.

As she approached, she found them gathered around a waist height pedestal that supported a glass globe. Their impressively cut white and gold suits displayed official insignia on the lapels and shoulders and marked them as leaders. She looked down at her own suit, noting it was exactly the same as theirs, but feeling she didn’t really belong in it.

“I know it’s impossible, but still, it’s not working.” Watson said as Griffith approached.

“The Manustream’s broken?” she said.

“How do we know that it’s not working? It doesn’t look broken.” said Simpson, the only other female councillor.

“If it were working, Simpson, we’d have power. Wouldn’t we?” said Watson.

“Ah, but how do we know it’s the Manustream that gives us power?” said Jones.

“What do you mean, how do we know if it’s the Manustream that gives us power?” said Simpson. “It was created as an unending supply of power.”

Jones glared. “It doesn’t seem so unending to me,” he said. “Maybe this isn’t the Manustream.”

“Maybe we should send you to the psychiatric lockup,” said Simpson.

“This arguing isn’t getting us anywhere,” said Harrison.

The other three stopped arguing.

His grey hair brushed his shoulders as he glanced at each Councillor in turn. “Let’s look at the facts. Firstly: the city has no power. Secondly: for 1000 years we’ve relied upon the Manustream for power. Conclusion: the Manustream is broken.”

“So, if it’s broken, what do we do next?” Watson asked.

“Obvious, my dear Watson,” said Jones. “We fix it.”

A huge boom echoed through the room.

“What was that?” Griffith lifted her PA high in the air, a thrill running through her.

“The crowd outside must be trying to get in,” Simpson said, shrugging.

“Can they get in?” Griffith asked.

“No power. They’d have to break the doors down, and that’s unlikely.”

“You are sure they can’t get in? What if one of them found the secret entrance?” Griffith said.

Harrison placed a calming hand on her shoulder. “The only people who know of that entrance are the five of us.”

“And what of the ex-councillors? They’d know about it.”

Harrison gave her shoulder a squeeze then let go. “We have more important things to worry about. We have to get the Manustream working again.”

“Does anyone know how to fix it?” Watson asked.

“Someone must,” Jones said.

“Really? Who?” Watson said.

Before they could get into another argument, Harrison held his hands up, palms outward. “That’s the centre of our problem,” he said. “The Manustream was believed to be an endless source of power. I doubt anyone alive has given a thought to fixing it. Until now.”

“We could find another source of power,” Harrison said.

“How long would that take?” Simpson asked.

Grey eyebrows met in a frown. “Quite some time.”

The next boom was so loud all five turned to see if the door held.

“We need power now,” Jones said. “Listen to them.”

“Our ancestors survived for centuries without power,” Harrison said.

“That was thousands of years ago. We can’t survive without it now,” said Simpson.

Jones glanced at the door. “Listen to the crowd. It’s barely been an hour.”

Another boom. Griffith’s legs felt weak.

“What are we going to tell the citizens?” Watson asked.

“Civilisation as we know it will collapse,” said Simpson. “Riots, destruction. We can’t survive without power.”

“Then we need to find a way to fix the Manustream,” Harrison said.

Griffith stared at him. “But you just said we can’t.”

“We can’t, yet,” said Harrison. “We’ll have to learn.”

“How?”

“We’ll have to learn that too.”

“I don’t like this,” Griffith muttered. “I don’t like this at all.”

“We must look upon this as a challenge. I’m going to the library and look up all the information I can find on the Manustream. Perhaps a clue will arise from there.”

“Great idea, Harrison,” Watson said. “The library. You don’t build something without knowing how to fix it.”

“Not unless you intend for it to never stop,” Harrison said as he began walking toward the secret passage. They watched the glow from his PA move away and disappear.

“What do we do now?” Griffith asked. Another loud boom made her jump.

Jones shrugged. “Well, I’m going to find a new source of energy. Fire, that’s what the ancients used. I wonder how you make fire.” He turned and walked off, muttering to himself as the darkness swallowed him.

“Perhaps a person who is good at fixing other machines could work out how to fix this one,” Simpson said. “Worth a shot, anyway.” She walked around the globe and out.

Griffith and Watson stared at each other.

“Someone should stay here with the Manustream, in case it starts working again,” Watson said.

“I guess so,” Griffith said, unsure.

“Good, good, glad you agree,” Watson said. “See you later.” He ran into the darkness.

“Coward!” Griffith shouted after him. She began to follow, but stopped short of the secret door. Watson was correct. Someone should stay with the Manustream. She just didn’t know why it had to be her.

Metal groaned. Lifting her PA, she marched until she found the door. She studied it carefully. It did not appear to be damaged.

The crowd outside moved again, and a boom sent Griffith scrambling back. She walked back to the Manustream.

She stepped close and looked at it. A clear glass globe. Even if they did find how to fix it, chances were it would be impossibly complex.

“I didn’t want to be a councillor,” Griffith told the Manustream. The glass globe sat on its pedestal and mocked her with its nothingness. “Not like the others. I didn’t connive and cheat to get my position. No, I earned it with my service to the city. And which one of us is going to be the one who dies?”

Another sound, but different from the regular booms. A scraping sound. She walked in the direction the sound came from. The scraping stopped, and Griffith stopped. Then it began again. She continued to follow it.

Her PA shone on a wall, blank as all the walls in this place seemed to be. She moved closer. The secret door.

“Oh my stars. Someone’s coming in!” Griffith cried.

The people in the secret passage must have heard her, because the scraping became a thumping sound. Whoever was there was going to be in at any moment.

Griffith sat against the door and braced her featfeet on the floor. The people in the tunnel began to shout.

“Harrison. I need to get Harrison.” She lifted her personal assistant to her face. “Get me Councillor Harrison.”

Harrison’s voice came to her. “What do you want, Griffith?”

Griffith took a deep breath, determined not to sound panicked. “Watson just ran out and left me here, alone. The crowd outside is becoming very restless. The door is beginning to be stressed and there are people in the secret tunnel.”

“They won’t be able to get past the locking mechanism. You are perfectly safe within that room, Griffith,” Harrison said.

“But they are getting past the locking mechanism. They’ve almost done it. I’m sitting against the door. I need help.”

“Griffith, you’re an elected councillor. Deal with it.”

“I need help, Harrison.”

“Griffith, I have 2000 books to look through. The most optimistic estimate is that it will take me four days. I cannot help you.”

“Can’t the librarian do that?”

“There is no librarian.” She heard a thud. “Blasted book.”

“What do you mean, no librarian?”

“The library is fully automated. All run by computers. No power, no computers. I’m digging through the ancient archives.”

“But-”

“Griffith, have confidence. You’re an elected councillor. You can handle this. Oh, and don’t use your PA too much. Once the power runs out, you won’t be able to recharge it.” He closed the connection.

The door behind her shuddered.

She lifted her wrist again. “Get me Councillor Jones.” She breathed in once, twice, then Jones’s voice came to her.

“I’m busy, Griffith.”

“There’s people in the secret tunnel, Jones. Any moment now they’ll be in the room. You have to get back here and help me.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to find another sucker. I’m researching fire.”

With a snarl that shook her, Griffith closed the connection. Bloody sanctimonious prick. Just wait until I get out of here. If I get out of here. “Get me Councillor Simpson.” She told her PA.

In a moment, Simpson was talking. “Sorry, Griffith. Can’t help, far too busy.”

She heard Harrison’s voice in the background. “Are you at the library too?”

“Harrison can’t look through 2000 books alone.”

Griffith clearly heard the condescending tone in Simpson’s voice. “You’re supposed to be finding someone who can fix machines.”

“I can’t ask every person in Heliopolis, can I?”

Griffith winced as the door behind her shifted again. “Help me!I need help. People are breaking in.”

“Then deal with them. That’s why you were elected,” Simpson said, then she closed the connection.

“That is why you were elected.” Griffith mimicked. “It’s why you were too, you cow, but I don’t see you here.” She glared at her PA. “Get me Councillor Watson.”

It took longer for Watson’s voice to come through.

“Hello, Griffith, how are things going?”

“Things are going badly, you snake.” Griffith was rigid with the tension of holding the door closed. “Get back here now, or I’ll let all of Heliopolis know you’re a coward.”

“Steady on, old girl. You know I would be there if I could, but I’m doing something important.”

As Watson spoke, Griffith heard someone in the background call out for calm. “Where are you?”

“Oh, nowhere important, doing work, you know.”

Griffith clearly heard the person in the background call for all passengers to Cleopolis. “Are you at the airport?”

Watson sighed. “Don’t worry. Bloody system is fully automated. Needs power to take off. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Then you can bloody well get back here and help me out.” Griffith snarled, then turned off the PA. Her hands clenched and unclenched as she breathed deeply.

The door shifted again as the lock gave way. The people within forced it a hands-width. “Oh no.” She felt cold perspiration run down her side. She took a deep breath, then jumped to her feet and ran. The door crashed open. Putting her hand over the PA, she ran in a straight line, hopefully toward the Manustream.

“Hey, You! Come here. We want to speak with you,” a man yelled.

Griffith ran faster. She heard them coming after her.

“Hey!”

She collided with the pedestal and landed on her side. She lay there for a moment, panting, listening, waiting for the searchers to split up, put off by the silence.

“We want to speak with you.”

Griffith sat up, ignoring the pain in her hip where she’d hit the pedestal. Her hand touched something round, lying on the ground next to her.

“Oh my stars.” She whispered. She gently picked up the Manustream and held it in her lap. She looked it over carefully, and breathed a sigh of relief when she found it undamaged.

“You’re one of the councillors, right?”

She jumped, then glared accusingly at the light from her PA. She tried to take on an air of competence. “I am Councillor Griffith. How can I be of assistance?”

“You can get the bloody power back on, that’s what you can do.”

“Don’t you think I would if I could? Or did you gain the impression that I’m alone in the dark because I enjoy it?”

“Bloody councillors,” the man muttered. “Bloody useless, the lot of you. Well, show me where the machine is and I’ll fix it.”

Griffith held up the Manustream. He looked at it for some time, then looked at her. “Listen, lady, I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I’m not going to play it. Now, take me to where the power comes from so I can fix it.”

“This is where the power comes from.” Her hands cradled the globe carefully. “This is the Manustream, the source of our power for over 1000 years.”

“Bullshit.” The second man finally spoke. He was tall and muscular, large enough to do her a great deal of damage if he wanted to. “All you bloody politicians do is lie. Now, you are going to take me to the power machine, or so help me…” The clenching of his jaw and flexing of his fists convinced Griffith he meant business.

“I swear to you, this is the power machine. I’m not lying.” The last came out as a squeak as he loomed over her. “Tell me what I have to gain from lying.”

The two men looked at each other. She stood to continue the conversation from a slightly more equal footing. She put the Manustream on the pedestal. A soft glow appeared in the centre of it.

“Oh, God.” She said aloud. “What have I done?”

She backed away, the two men following her example.

The glow got brighter, forcing them to shade their eyes. It floated, higher and higher until it was half way to the roof. Then it stopped and began to spin on its axis.

“Wow,” Griffith whispered as she heard the door to the room open.

“Hey, the power’s back on,” A voice called out. Griffith turned to the crowd that stood in the now open doorway.

“We had a minor technical delay in restoring the power but as you can see, we have completed the task. You are now able to go about your business.” As she spoke, Griffith’s shoulders pulled back and her spine straightened.

The crowd dispersed, although they did so slowly as they all stoped to stare at the wonder of the Manustream in action. Eventually, Griffith was left alone in the room. She stared at the Manustream for some time.

“What did you do?”

Griffith turned and saw her four fellow council members standing there. She thought quickly. “I wanted a good look at it, so I picked it up. I turned it around a few times, then put it back down.”

“That’s all?” Simpson said.

“That’s all.”

“Wow,” said Watson.

“Well done, Griffith,” Harrison said.

Griffith stared at them, wondering what the effect would be if she vented all the anger and frustration she felt towards them. Then she sighed. It would achieve nothing. “Well, now we know what to do when it stops working again. We should note it in the city records, so future councillors will be prepared.”

“Good idea, Griffith. And since you showed such a cool head in solving the crisis, I vote that you be declared Heliopolis’ Minister of Energy. Everyone agree?” Harrison said.

They all nodded.

“Now, I vote for a hot lunch,” Watson said.

“Seconded,” Simpson said. “We deserve it, after all the hard work we’ve put in.”

“Agreed,” said Jones.

The three of them linked arms and began to walk away.

“Shouldn’t we debrief and discuss what we will do when this happens again?” Griffith said. “We need to have plans in place.”

“Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Don’t fuss. It won’t happen again in our lifetimes,” Watson said. “It’s an endless supply of energy, remember?”

“Hey! We had a major crisis here,.” Griffith called after them.

“Crisis is over, Griffith.” Harrison clapped her on the shoulder. “No need to worry.” “We should note it in the city records straight away.”

“Get your personal assistant to do it.” Harrison pointed to the machine on her wrist, then began to follow the other three councillors.

“Good idea.” She lifted her wrist to her face. “Assistant, did you record all the events of today?”

“Yes, councillor.”

“Good. Make sure they get stored in every official database. Next time the power goes out, we need to know what to do.”

“I can only store information in the electronic databases, councillor.”

“What other databases are there?” Griffith said as she caught up to the others. “I hope you all realise that you’re buying?”

http://csfg.wordpress.com/publications/machinations/

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