The Tangram Enigma
Months could have passed for all we knew. At least, that’s what it felt like crawling through a maze of tunnel systems with very little rest and no food to fill our stomachs. The walls closed in the deeper we went, and our bodies found it difficult to squeeze through the tiny gaps that kept popping up. The Governingmen had sent their entire force after us after Master Morfran blew up a part of the Ministry of Stuff and Things. He had rigged the boilers to explode as a way of escape. He swears he was always on our side and that he only blabbed to President Comfort because he was afraid someone else might have found out. In other words, he was trying to protect us. Natsuki and I found it hard to believe but if he did do it to protect us then we knew we were in his debt. And he was the one guiding us through these tunnels, so we couldn’t be too picky about his intentions.
“Quit your blabbering back there and keep moving before your legs fall off.”
Master Morfran stood by his instinctual sense of direction. He explained how he traversed these tunnels as a child, trying to flee radioactive cockroaches and snapping dirt worms. He’d been through it all, or so he said. But his confidence and determination to get us away from the Governingmen’s clutches was undeniable. I couldn’t even imagine what they were going to do to us if they caught us. It was too terrifying to even comprehend. It was the main driving force keeping me going.
“We’re not far now. Just another couple of turns.”
Master Morfran believed there is an ancient order deep within Plana Petram called the “Enders”. They sounded pretty dire, but I’d been assured they were quite wise and had an abundance of knowledge not even President Comfort and his cohorts had at their disposal. Natsuki backed up his claim as she recalled a memo with references to the “Enders”, a sizable threat. She said that they were never dealt with and all records of them were destroyed and anybody who would bring them up was made to disappear unexpectedly.
“Ah, for Goods sake!”
A dead end. A wall of dirt and muck.
“I swear it was right here. We took all the right turns… I think.”
I collapsed to my knees and punched the ground. Tears started to well up in my eyes and it annoyed me because I didn’t have the water to spare for such a moment. Master Morfran paced back and forth and examined the blocked passage. Nothing to him made any sense. He started to scratch at the wall and chip away pieces of dirt and rock. His fingers bled as he continued to burrow. But he wasn’t going anywhere fast. The earth proved too difficult to penetrate with bare hands. He too collapsed to the ground and slumped up against the muddy wall – defeated.
“I guess that’s all she voted, folks. I’m sorry. At least I lived a life. Sucks for you kids.”
Natsuki remained on her feet. She refused to give in to despair. It just wasn’t her style. She placed her hand on my head and it felt warm and comforting. She then moved to examine the dead end, grazing her fingers along the rim of the blocked passage. A sly grin rose on her chapped lips. She ran back to me and lifted me off the ground.
“When I was at my desk and I couldn’t find something I had a little trick to locate it.”
Master Morfran, inspired by the tone in Natsuki’s voice, climbed up from the ground and rubbed up against us. It was the first time I realised that none of us had showered but that Master Morfran was definitely smellier than either of us. But I was too intrigued and infatuated with Natsuki’s chapped lips moving that nothing could have spoilt what she was about to say.
“If something went missing the first thing I would do is look up. I had a terrible habit of leaving things on high shelves that I’d just look up and there it was.”
Natsuki looked up and our heads followed automatically. Above us was hatch with the word, “Dead End” inscribed. Except the A and D of the word DEAD was scratched out and an extra E, R, and S was engraved on the word END. When we read it aloud it was clear we had found them. We had found the “De Enders.”
On the other side of the hatch was a single room with a round table and four chairs. In each of the chairs there was skeletal remain. They had been dead for some time with no obvious cause of death. This was another disheartening blow for our morale. I was hoping, even if I didn’t fully believe in Master Morfran, to finally get some real answers. Not only answers, but a solution into our particular conundrum. Now where are we to go?
“You don’t look like Manly Men…”
A strange voice came from one of the skeletons. We approached cautiously and upon closer examination we discovered a strange glass lens in one of the eyes and a small speaker in the mouth. We leaned in and waited.
“What do Manly Men look like?”
I had to break the ice somehow. But it felt strange addressing a skeleton.
“Not you, anyway. Hold on, I’ll be out in a sec.”
The room shook and debris fell onto our heads. We thought the tunnel was about to cave in. But instead, a great steel door revealed itself behind the skeleton we had be conversing with. On the other side of the door was regular person, in regular clothing, if not irregular in manner. He smiled gleefully at us and threw his arms out wide for a hug. No one dared approach him. It wasn’t because we were afraid of ruining his well groomed attire after an extended period of crawling through muck. No, it was more of his over eagerness in his greeting. That, and we were still getting over the initial shock of finding a room full of corpses.
“It’s great to finally meet some live faces. It’s been far too long.”
The man before us was much older than me but somehow seemed younger. And I would consider myself quite young. But he had a way about himself that he seemed childlike. As if he wasn’t from this time at all. His grin never left his face. He just stared at us in pure awe and amazement.
“Please, grab a seat. Don’t mind the skeletons. Just put them on the ground. They won’t mind. I’m sure they’ll like to stretch their legs anyhow.”
We looked at each other and slowly took up his offer. We laid the skeletons on cold steel floor and sat down. Natsuki, always the brave one, spoke up first.
“Who are you?”
The man’s grin waned slightly. He reached into the back of his mind and pulled out an answer. But it was clear to us that he wasn’t convinced by his own memory.
“My name is Bob. Bob Robert. The third. I am the son of Rob Robert whose father was, Robert Robert, the astronomer that discovered the comet. That’s him there.”
Bob Robert pointed to the ground beside me. We didn’t know what to say yet we all had so many questions. But as if he read our mind he spurted out everything that plagued our thoughts. And he did so with the use of light and images which he called hollow projections.
“So, in the beginning when the world, which yes, was round and voluptuous, a comet was discovered by my dear late father, in which the entire population voted on the worst possible solution to stave off total annihilation. But, of course, it inevitably led to the destruction of the planet and pieces were scattered about the solar system. But my granddad, who wasn’t as dumb as the resounding populace, devised a plan. He built a space station with the help of some very wealthy benefactors. We’ll get back to them shortly. Keeping up so far?”
Our jaws were wide open. It could have been from the dehydration or lack of food and sleep, but in that moment I believe we were all in total disbelief.
“Anyway, they built this massive station made from seven different parts to make one whole part and surrounded each section with a sizeable land mass. It was supposed to be the Noah’s ark of its time. The called it the Tangram Station. So, when the comet impacted and blew up the planet the space station flew off into space with a chunk of the Earth’s population. It was supposed to be a whole new beginning and utopia, blah, blah, blah. You guys thirsty?”
Although we couldn’t get enough of his story our mouths jumped at the opportunity to quench our thirst. Bob gave each of us a small tin can and cracked the lid on top. The water fizzled and tickled our noses. But they tasted delicious.
“Now, where were we? Ah, yes. The money men. They funded the whole project so naturally they secured a place on the Tangram Station. But they weren’t satisfied with just getting a seat, they wanted the whole place for themselves. Over time they schemed and bribed and murdered their way to the top and overthrew my granddad and his people. They were forced to flee and hide out in the ducts and passageways.”
I don’t know what kind of water Bob gave us but suddenly I had a burst of energy. I could barely stay still. I needed to do something, anything to release this feeling.
“Easy on the coke, buddy. Your body will take a while to get used to the sugar.”
I had no idea what he was talking about but I suddenly felt the urge to rebel. Action was needed and it needed to happen right now.
“There was one thing that the Money Men, or Manly Men, as they now call themselves, didn’t know. Each section could only support so many people. But when they took over they forced everyone to the top to do their bidding. And now it is collapsing and losing power. If it’s not separated within the next while the whole station will fail.”
“What can we do to stop that from happening?”
Natsuki was now feeling the same burst of energy that surged through my body.
“I don’t know, exactly. Otherwise, I would have done it by now. You see, the Governingmen can’t announce it because they’ll have an uprising on their hands. If we were somehow able to tell the people the truth, then we could take down President Comfort and his regime. But that’s easier said than done. He has a tight grip on what people should and shouldn’t believe. Folks are too scared to oppose. They need solid evidence their lives are in danger.”
I listened and listened and as I listened I drifted off into my own thoughts. A plan formed in my head. A reckless, stupid, insane plot that could, not only bring down President Comfort and his cronies, but save the Tangram Station and all of its inhabitants. All I needed was a skeleton.
My heart thumped against my chest but my eyelids grew heavier. It must have been that coke drink from earlier. All the energy I possessed had somehow evaporated and drifted off into the cosmos. I should have taken another one for the road. It could have given me an extra little bit of encouragement I so desperately needed as I walked up to the front doors of the Ministry of Stuff and Things. This was my plan? My great idea? What the heck was I thinking?
Upon arriving at the gates I was met by several guards who surrounded me immediately. It wasn’t a surprise. While coming here I was greeted by my face on a Most After poster pasted on every wall, window and dog. I had expected to be recognised.
“Tell President Comfort I can fix the Tangram Station.”
They threw me in a tiny little cell with no window. I wasn’t dead yet. That was a good sign.
Adrenaline began to soar through my body. Some would call it fear and they wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s a heroic kind of fear. The type of fear you have when you’re about to do something amazing. Or something that will get you killed. I’m hoping for the former. And as I sat there, contemplating the potential success of my plan, I sensed a presence. Standing on the other side of the bars was President Comfort. He looked even more menacing than the first time we had met.
“You’ve had a busy week, haven’t you? Kidnapping a staff member of the Ministry. Destruction of Governing Men’s guards and property. Resisting arrest. Inciting rebellion. Spreading heresy. And now, saviour of Plana Petram and the Tangram Station? Tell me, how did you come by this information? Did you find Rob Robert and his stooges?”
“Rob is dead. But his grandson, Bob, lives.”
“I bet he’s as big an idiot as his grandfather. You know, I paid for this station. I funded the entire project. I saved humanity. That’s why I deserve to be on top. They wanted to let the people rule themselves. As if people are smart enough to do that. That’s what got us in this mess in the first place. People making the decision. Leaders not making the hard choices for them. Someone had to step up and carve a path to a new future.”
President Comfort drew in heavy breaths. His face turned red and his lips puffed out to gather more moisture from the air. Bob filled us in on his condition back at the De Enders hideout. President Comfort uses a machine meant for long distance space travel to preserve his life. He sleeps in it everynight to slow the aging process. But it seems time is catching up.
“Now, what do you know of fixing our little problem?”
I walked closer to the towering monster, tilted my head to meet his stare, filled my lungs with as much oxygen as possible and thought of the plan one final time.
“I don’t know how to do fix the station. I never did.”
He did not look pleased. He grabbed the bars with both hands and leaned his face closer.
“I wanted to know what you planned on doing about the problem. You’re our President after all. Shouldn’t you have a plan to help us?”
I stood my ground and didn’t even bash an eyelash. president Comfort licked his lips and cracked his jaw over and over in several different ways.
“Oh, I have a plan. You’re not going to like it, though. In fact, no one will. Well, except those lucky enough to be in my Ministry. We’re almost ready to leave for the land mass below this one. And once we’re safely secured we will jettison Plana Petram into space along with you and everyone else not worthy of our time.”
There it was. The most powerful man brought down by his own hubris. He didn’t have to blab his entire scheme to me. It would have been better for him if he hadn’t. But he did. It was kind of easy, actually. I knew he would act all superior but I had no idea he would give up everything.
I watched as his face grew worried as a long, hard earned grin lifted up my cheeks. The light from the cell gleaned off a glass lens in my right eye and President Comfort went from confused to terrified. The lens zoomed in as he backed away from the cell.
“It wasn’t easy, getting this thing in, but worth it. You just told the entire Plana Petram who you really are and they’re going to be pissed.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the coke or not, but something crazy hit me at that moment back at the hideout. How did Bob see and hear us when he was in another room? And what if we were to use that same trick to tell the people of Plana Petram the truth. It required the sacrifice of my eye, but I was more than willing to make it.
Bob got to work on how to distribute the signal. He had, what he called TV monitors, at his disposal. With the help of Master Morfran and Natsuki they strategically placed the TV’s around Plana Petram, using the tunnel system, while I distracted the guards and President Comfort. It was only a matter of getting him to incriminate himself and the rest should fall into place.
“We’ve got rioters at the gate!”
An alarm sounded and the guards rushed to thier positions. President Comfort took one last look at me and scurried away. I poked my head out of the bars and watched as he disappeared down the corridor. It was the last we’d ever see of him.
The guards quickly laid down their arms and surrendered when they realised the Manly Men abandoned them and fled in escape pods. Those pods, according to Bob, only have a week’s worth of oxygen. Who knows if we’ll ever see them again. But if they do return they’ll find things have changed quite a bit.
We left Plana Petram behind and released it into space. The section drifted off and soon we couldn’t see it anymore. A new governing body was set up by Natsuki who had the most experience of us all to handle such a task. And for the first time ever, Master Morfran was able to work on the surface. He maintained the water for all our horticultural needs.
Bob became our most popular celebrity. Once every full moon he’d regal us with his stories of the round earth and what life was like before and what people did for entertainment. It was fascinating to hear and at time, a little unbelievable. But who could question him?
I couldn’t get my old eye back. It’s not a problem. It’s pretty cool actually. But it does freak Natsuki out. I’ve gotten used to wearing a patch over it. Bob keeps yelling, “arrghhh” at me. I have no idea what it means. But for the first time in my life I feel happy. No more repression, no more Ministry of Stuff and Things, no more Manly Men, and most importantly, no more President Comfort. The people are motivated and gleeful. There’s talks of a new homeworld in the fastness of space. Imagine, a whole planet filled with people. It’d be the most miraculous thing in the universe. And if I don’t get to see it, then I’ll be happy knowing that my kids, or my kid’s kids, will one day walk the circumference of a real world.
Brian has an itch… A mighty big itch. But it is no ordinary itch, oh no. It’s an itch for storytelling. Brian creates for a living. He can not see himself doing anything else. He has spent the last ten years building a portfolio of work, producing short films, music videos, and short stories. Brian studied film and television in IADT Dun Laoghaire and since graduating in 2011 has been evolving and honing his skills ever since. He has won awards for his work, winning Best Student Film at the Kerry Film Festival ion 2011, and has showcased several other projects in numerous festivals across Ireland, including the Jameson International Film Festival and Cork Fastnet Film Festival, to name but a few. Keep up to date on his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/dunsterpictures and check out some of his work on Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/briandunster