Saturday, February 13, 2010

Can Science be Artistic? - part II

Here it is: the winning entry to the "Can Science be Artistic?" challenge, by the highly talented nuclear astrophysics PhD student Adam Tuff. Enjoy!

Breakout from WHeytinC PoiNt PrisOn

Oenn lay back on his bed in his cell and remembered a simpler life, bouncing around with his friends back in Old Red. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here. It seemed that once you arrived here, your past faded away and was forever lost. One thing Oenn was sure of was that it has been a downward spiral since he was dragged away from his home so long ago.

Now eighteen and stuck in this vicious cycle, Oenn’s life was on repeat, looping around and around again. “They say you’re only eighteen for two seconds” he said, “but to me, it seems like an eternity”.
“Shut your yap” came the voice from the bunk below. “You’re fifteen for one-hundred times longer”. Xyegon was younger, but like many he was not an unusual case. Countless more were like him, all coming down that same route, and ending up stuck here in Wheytinc Point for whatever reason. There were only two ways out of Wheytinc Point prison: you remained here until the end of your lifetime, or you broke out. The latter was the plan...the plan for tonight. They had heard on the grapevine they were bringing more gang members over from Old Red tonight. It was always pandemonium when a new batch of Alphas and Betas came in, and Xyegon had insisted that the ensuing chaos would provide a great cover for their getaway.

“There are said to be two old paths,” Xyegon had whispered to him time and time again in their cell. “No one knows if they still exist, because those who’ve taken them have never come back...and rightly so; who’d want to be cooped up here forever, right?” This was going to be the gamble they’d have to take if they ever wanted an opportunity to leave this place.
“There’ll be a huge ruckus with that bunch from Old Red. That’ll create so much heat, no one will notice that we’ve made a break for it.”
Oenn and Xyegon had been good friends from a young age back in Old Red. They’d lived an exciting life in the bustling heart, but had moved to the outskirts once things had gotten tough. It had been trouble since then, and the pull of the life that had led them to where they were now had been too strong. Growing up had been tough, both had come along in leaps and bounds, but somewhere along the line Xyegon had taken a different path to Oenn, and this had changed him. A change he hadn’t appreciated. There was something about Xyegon’s mannerism now that disturbed Oenn. He had become an odd fellow unlike...and still always looked for the easiest way out of situations. He never aimed high in life, and even now in Xyegon’s excited state there was something not quite right. Whatever happened tonight, he knew that he would not be sharing his life with Xyegon at Wheytinc Point much longer.

Indeed the arrival of the new inmates that night was nothing short of explosive, and the measures put in place could not hold the uprising. While the guards were overpowered and outnumbered, the prisoners of Wheytinc Point found themselves with the opportunity to make their escape. The biggest problem would be finding a way through the huge barrier that surrounded them; only a tiny handful of would-be escapers ever had the potential to make a getaway.
The doors to the cells swung open; indeed the riot had provided the catalyst for their escape, and the pair quickly made their way through the brawls to the top of the Prison complex, to the well-hidden tunnels that would take them beyond the barrier.
The bodies of the Alpha and Beta gang members lay scattered about the corridors of the prison, making it hazardous to run through without colliding with one of their decaying fallen brethren. Competition had always been fierce between the two gangs, now more than ever in this runaway riot. At the apex of the complex there was a undersized grill mounted low on the wall, that came off fairly easily as they heard it would, and they crawled rapidly through the narrow tunnel carved through the barrier wall by the countless others who had attempted to flee. After a relatively short distance they arrived at the junction and decided to part ways.
“We’ll have a better chance of escape if we take the different paths,” Oenn panted.
“Maybe I’ll see you on the outside then!” Xyegon said over his shoulder as he disappeared into the dark down the steep tunnel. Oenn quickly turned around and scrambled along the other passage. It was not long until he reached the dead end, and fumbled in the shadows for a tool to chip away at the remaining barrier. There were none. He picked up a loose rock and began chipping away at the barrier wall. After many frantic attacks upon the surface, it became apparent this was not going to be the means of his escape. Before Oenn could formulate another plan, he heard a crumbling and rupturing of rock, before a tremendous crash that echoed from back up the narrow excavation. Mustering the strength to scramble back to the fork in the road, he found a cloud of dust that hung in the air; it seemed to be denser down the passage Xyegon had gone. Sliding down the lower trail, he could not believe his eyes; the claustrophobic crawlspace opened up into a gargantuan cavern, well lit, and supported by carefully constructed beams. Stalagmites wound their way up to the ceiling forming marvellous pillars, and a small trickling stream meandered its way through the heart of the grotto. Across this stream and on the other side of the cavern, a gaping hole had opened from which emanated a shaft of light that illuminated the dull cave. Xyegon stood proudly at its entrance.

He turned to see Oenn and his glee turned to anger. “I told you to take the other path,” he shouted, “I told you!!! You’ve been holding me back my entire life, and you’ll just slow me down here, too!”
With that Xyegon began kicking away the two supports flanking either side of the newly formed opening. Both gave way, and a dull rumbling was followed by the crisp sound of a huge fissure forming in the ceiling. Xyegon jumped through, as pieces of cavern wall fell down behind him. Once the dust had cleared, the shining light had gone, and the exit was blocked. This had been the easiest escape route, and Xyegon had intended Oenn never to escape with him. That was it. The probability of Oenn getting an opportunity like this again was next to impossible.

The muffled whir of sirens sounded from somewhere beyond the caverns, and Oenn knew it would only be a matter of time before they found him. He jumped down into the stream and crouched behind a fallen boulder. Through the passage shone the dancing light movements of a flashlight, and a single guard fell through the breach into the cave. He brought his firearm to bear and carefully scanned the cavern, edging towards the stream. Oenn shunted around the boulder to remain in the shadow, but slipped causing a small subsidence on the bank of the stream. The guard swung around and saw Oenn. Racing around the boulder he slipped, a single shot rang out and ricocheted around the walls. The guard was flung down the stream into one of the pillars, which splintered upon impact. With a almighty groan, the pillar gave way, and slammed into the side of the cavern, creating a tidal wave that carried Oenn down the stream and under the wall where the stream flowed.

Oenn was flung down the torrent, with little he could do to control his direction. Occasionally the rapids would drop sharply, but they continued their path, winding endlessly onward. In an instant Oenn was blinded by light, and realised he was above ground. It wasn’t long until he became well aware of his location; he was in the River Point, which ran past Wheytinc Point to the north-east, and was beyond the barrier. In fact he’d completely bypassed the route Xyegon would have taken, and was now being carried far beyond the barrier. Even from this distance, Wheytinc Point was swarming with Betas – there would have been no opportunity for escape directly out of the barrier in that direction. But Oenn had broken out.

He did not know where it would take him...

If you'd like to learn more about Adam's research into waiting points in x-ray bursts, check out the group's webpage.


  1. Here's what I wrote in reply to the submission:
    "I love the way you've altered the names - not subtle (as you said), but very clever! Kudos for your creativity. Only a couple grammatical errors [edited in online version], mostly involving remembering the names of your characters! ... Awesome job."

  2. Thanks Kelly! It certainly took me back to the good old days of creative writing. My grammar is terrible as you already know anyway, and the names went through several changes (obviously missed some on re-reading!). Glad you enjoyed it!


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