(!) Read Chapter 1 here.
Ten years later …
‘Your hands are floating along the keys, Josephine. You don’t have enough precision.’
Josephine was now a young woman of only 17, sitting up straight onto a dark mahogany stool. She was wearing a white linen, frilly dress, which swooped all the way down to her knees. She immediately corrected her technique, intently studying the music sheet. Mrs. Sylvia Prackson was reclined in a green velvet armchair, with her legs crossed and tapping the timing with her right foot.
The large grandfather clock on the other side of the broad living room struck 9 am. Rays of sunlight splashed round spots of red, green and yellow through the stained glass windows. Only one set of windows was transparent and they also served the purpose of a set of doors towards a rose garden.
Mrs. Prackson raised from her armchair and with rhythmic footsteps, matching the grandfather clock’s ticking sound, walked towards the garden windows. She lifted a long, wrinkled, white hand to pull a small rope, residing next to the windows. They opened smoothly with a slight clicking sound every 5 degrees.
Josephine, who had been playing solemnly until that very moment, suddenly stopped. She turned to see the tall, slim figure of her music teacher, soaked in sunlight. Mrs. Prackson was facing the garden with her left hand on her hip and her right arm folded against the rim of the door. Josephine admired her bright blue silk dress, shining in the sunlight as she half turned and said, ‘I didn’t say stop. You still have 4 bars left.’
As she said that, Sylvia stepped into the garden, grabbing a pair of metallic scissors from a little toolbox hung on the outside wall. Josephine finished playing the piece and then quickly turned again to see Mrs. Prackson returning with a small red rose. ‘Perfection!’ she exclaimed. ‘Behold a creature that knows nothing of praise, but still manages to attain the measurements of the golden mean.’
Mrs. Prackson walked to a round mahogany table, with stained glass motifs encrusted in its top. She gently placed the rose in a thin, clear glass vase, with a spherical bottom. Her long fingers brushed over the bright petals as she dropped a round pebble of salts in the vase. She watched as it dissolved with a light hiss in clouds of grey fumes. In a matter of seconds, the water was still again and Sylvia turned towards Josephine.
‘You must return by the time this rose withers, or else your talents too, shall wither. I have cut this rose from its source to show you how important it is to stay connected to a moving system of parts that work together. No more absences!’ she ended.
The living room door suddenly opened with the same clicking noise as the garden doors. Sylvia’s right arm was stretched towards it at a perfect 90 degree angle. Her chin was raised and fixed, while her brilliant green eyes were following Josephine out of the room. ‘Thank you Mrs. Prackson!’ she whispered mechanically as the front doors in the hall adjacent to the living room also opened.
She curtsied and walked away in a rhythmic fashion, slightly out of sync with the grandfather clock. ‘Same time next week then’, she uttered as the front doors were closing in front of her.
Josephine turned around to see Blossom Square in a frantic, but also organized state. School children were running around with large leather backpacks, with more books than their little bodies could handle. Their mothers and, occasionally fathers, would follow them with measured steps and composed features, without the slightest glimpse of remorse or surprize.
‘Good day miss Arundel, may I say that your complexion is most exquisite today!’, said a young man of impeccable posture as he beamed confidently towards Josephine.
‘Charming as always, my good Mr. Tickson’, she replied diplomatically. ‘I hope that my spirit will follow through with my flawless outward appearance.’
‘Do call me Richard, I believe our acquaintance has exceeded the allowed time for pointless formalities. See you in class!’ he concluded with a sharp nod and went on his way with an energetic trot, that reminded Josephine of the metronome on top of Mrs. Prackson’s piano.
The cherry tree, in the middle of the square she now stood in, shone of sap green and golden hues, as autumn was starting its long reign. A small group of children was forming a circle around it, while a tall, elegant lady was measuring the radius, with the help of a foldable ruler.
‘Not much progress since last year,’ she uttered briskly. Her name was Monica Mathews and was the local school’s most acclaimed geometry teacher. Monica followed Josephine’s weary walk for a while and sighed to herself. ‘The angular velocity is disproportionate to the global displacement field.’ she said to herself and then turned 180 degrees on her toes. ‘What else do we need to measure today, children?’
A little girl, dressed in a checkered uniform, thrust her arm up in the air. ‘Yes Caroline!’ ‘We need to count the number of trees along the Cosine river, to ensure enough support is provided for the river bank.’
‘Very well done Caroline! You’ve been reading ahead. Indeed children, everything must be counted, measured and analyzed. If we have the data, we have control over our lives.’ The children nodded and followed lady Mathews in what looked like a miniature army march. Their backpacks were bobbing up and down, in an attempt to balance the weight of the many books inside.
Josephine was walking slowly towards the school, which resided in the east part of town. Her gaze lifted from the ground where she had been projecting her thoughts, to see the school entrance sign: “Arundel School of Sciences.” and the motto “A man without knowledge is like a tree without roots.” The school bore her family name as Josephine’s ancestry was one of great mathematicians, physicists and chemists.
The first half of a normal school day consisted of theoretical lectures, while the second half was dedicated to practical experimentation. Josephine’s feet turned towards lecture hall 301, where her father, Frederick Arundel, was waiting for his students. His field of study was Sensory Physics, the physics of the five senses. Optical Acoustics was his speciality and where he spent most of his life researching and publishing for national journals of Applied Science.
‘Welcome Josephine! I see you decided to join us today. The forest did not tempt you to study its path distribution?’
‘Father, you don’t always have to be so formal.’ Josephine replied with a hard sigh, as she took her seat, at desk 14A, in the middle of the class.
Every number had an exact purpose in Arundel school, even in the classroom. The door number represented the advanced year and month the students were in. The seat number represented the current level of knowledge attained by the student. There were 10 years of study in the Arundel School: 4 for basic sciences, 3 for intermediate and 3 for advanced sciences.
Everyone was seated in respectful expectation. Professor Frederick was a very clear and confident speaker and knew all the most recent discoveries in his field. ‘A breakthrough has been made this week,’ he began, ‘Professor Gabriel Armitage from the Institute of Renewable energy in Brookcastle has created a perpetuum mobile.’
The class applauded in sync, creating a light echo around the classroom. ‘Since Valleycross is 30 miles away from Brookcastle, we are expecting to view a demonstration in the following month.’ he concluded with a slight sign of enthusiasm.
Frederick then turned on the spot and lifted a black board with acute precision. ‘Today we’ll be discussing how we can preserve and chanel the sounds we produce so that they can travel longer distances.’ His eyebrows broke into a realization and spoke more to himself than to his class. ‘With professor Armitage’s recent discovery, we will be able to apply the perpetuum mobile principles to sound propagation. Telephones will no longer be needed to communicate long distances.’
The alarm went off. Dark, grey clouds were cramming over the little village of Valleycross with urgency. The alarm sound was a combination of a thunder and a sharp ping sound that becomes irritating to one’s ear after a long period of time. Everyone rose without a word, almost like someone had shot them out of their seats at the same moment.
‘A storm is coming. The weather forecast was inaccurate today. I’ll have a word with the meteorology department as soon as possible. For now, please take your student cards and proceed to the emergency bunker on level -3 and wait there for instructions.’ Everyone turned 180 degrees, except Margaret Button, a plump, red haired girl with rosy cheeks and teary eyes. ‘I can’t find my student card’, she pleaded, visibly worried.
Frederick clenched his teeth slightly, but answered calmly. ‘You won’t find it in a rush. Head down with the others and we’ll see what we can do.’ He stomped his right foot twice to grab Margaret’s attention, who was still rummaging in her bag. She saw his left arm lift at a 90 degree angle towards the door, with a subdued, encouraging smile. Margaret wiped her tears quickly and jogged out of the room to join the others.
The bunker was a set of three underground floors, made of a corrosion free metal alloy. Each level was made for each of the school’s expertise levels, basic, intermediate and advanced. Students would travel between the different levels by using the large square lift in the middle of the school. It could carry up to 50 people and was powered by four furious pistons on each level. The lift walls were made of brass, with a door on each side. The school’s emblem, of a sparrow flying along the golden spiral, was encrusted in the door which faced the main entrance on the ground floor.
Floor three filled up the lift and waited patiently for it to descend. As soon as they got to level -3, the doors opened like a swift cut of the knife in all four directions. Students divided with staggering precision into four groups of equal number. Each group chose the closest exit from the lift and walked towards the empty, dark space in front of them. (…)