Chapter XIII

Missing Sun

“Nothing is lost yet, nothing broken,
and yet the cold blue word is spoken;
say goodbye now to the Sun,
the days of love and leaves are done.”
– Robert Peter Tristram Coffin

A short story about a very dark future

My alarm clock on my desk blasted its incessant refrain, shocking me out of my slumber.  I got out of bed and went over to turn it off.  Sitting back down on my bed, I took a deep breath and ran my hand through my tousled curly hair.  Where was my other shoe? Glancing back up at the clock confirmed that I had been asleep for only a few minutes, but the effect those few minutes had on me felt like hours of restful sleep.  A rare commodity considering the multitude of assignments that I had to do for that week.  The apartment was still quiet and had a comforting warmth to it as sunlight streamed in through the shaded windows.  Both of my roommates had yet to return from being on campus and I took a moment to revel in the silence.  As I grabbed my backpack and headed out the door, I caught the clock on the microwave in the kitchen in my peripheral vision.  3:45 pm.  Good, I’ll be right on time for my class.

Walking onto the campus, I had my headphones and sunglasses on so that I could engage in my favorite activity: people watching.  My headphones allowed me to block out any of the sounds around me so that I could observe these people objectively.  The sunglasses helped to keep my subjects unaware of my observation.  Over the years, I had become quite adept at reading peoples’ personalities through their walk.  I walked with a quick and meaningful step towards my class as I watched others doing the same.  One can glean a lot of information by how a person walks to a destination.  There were the walk-and-talk people who loved to socialize and took forever to get anywhere.  They wanted the most time possible to talk with someone, even if no one was there.  Conversely, there were the anti-social people who walked along with their hands deep in their pockets, eyes to the ground watching their every step on the smooth concrete sidewalks.  They moved quickly, trying to limit the amount of time that they had to be outside, sometimes deftly weaving through a group of walk-and-talkers to get where they needed to go. 

Sometimes the walkers would be hard to classify.  Take for instance, the use of sidewalks.  Someone who was very efficient and linear would probably cut straight across the grass and sidewalks to take the shortest distance between the two points that they were traveling; yet, another very efficient and linear person might never step on the grass, taking every sidewalk and figuring out the quickest route using all right angles.  The same example applies to free spirits.  The ones who walk on the grass aren’t held down by rules and regulations that the sidewalks enforce, but there are also some who walk on the sidewalks to prevent erosion and destruction of the earth that they hold so dear.  At any rate, I had no more time to contemplate on the psychology of the human race as I was getting close to my destination. Damn, this was going to be a photo finish.

Despite my energizing nap, I still had trouble staying awake to the monotonous lecture of the professor.  The harsh fluorescent lights were cold and sterile and helped to illuminate the windowless room where the professor started drawing a diagram on the two-story chalkboard.  He was lecturing on the importance of the balance of inertia and gravity when dealing with trajectories of astral bodies.  Yawn.  From what I could pick up from his droning was that in order to keep a body in orbit, the gravity must constantly pull on the body due to the constant force of inertia trying to keep the body in its straight-line path.  He continued on his lecture mentioning that if the gravity source were to somehow be removed from existence, that the orbiting body would not feel this lack of gravity immediately.  Just like a pebble being dropped in a huge pond, the lack of gravity would emanate outwards from the absent source in a radial wave traveling at the speed of light until it hit the orbiting body, allowing the full force of inertia to take over.

I took a sideways glance at the clock on the wall to see how long this torture would last.  Taking a three hour class once a week sounded like a good idea at the time, but that would only work if the subject matter wasn’t so dry.  I settled back into my chair and rested my cheek on my left hand.  My eyelids began their fight against the weight upon them as they grew heavier by the second.  Then it happened.  It’s kind of hard to explain the sensation since there was no preconceived sense of motion.  If I were to give it an equivalent explanation, it would be like a mix between the feeling you get when you’re in a freight elevator going down towards the lobby from the 100th floor and the feeling of suspense when you’re at the top of the first hill of a roller coaster.  At any rate, it was over long before I had a chance to think about it.  I straightened up in my chair and looked around the room to see if anyone else noticed what just happened.  The professor obviously hadn’t as he was still babbling on about the gravity of another body being able to pull something into its orbit.  There were a few other people who weren’t passed out, drooling on their desks, that looked as concerned as I felt.  We all shrugged and went back to finding that comfortable spot in our chairs.  Still, I couldn’t shake the question of what could cause this short sensation of weightlessness.

At long last, the bell rang, relieving the class of its naptime.  The professor had definitely gone to town during his lecture drawing an enormous amount of diagrams all intertwined with circular objects, dotted lines and arrowed lines filling the expanse of the chalkboard.  Exiting the classroom, one of my friends from a few years back in the dorms stopped me.  “Hey Sam, you coming to that party on Friday?  Sid says there’s going to be lots of chicks there, and I know you’re always on the market.”  I smiled and had a short laugh.  “I might make an appearance, but don’t be trying to set me up again.  Remember what I said about that the last time!”  My friend’s brow furrowed as he remembered the incident.  “Yeah, sure.  I still have the scar you gave me.  Just remember that it starts at 9, OK?”  I turned to leave.  “Yeah, I got it.”

Making my way outside, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something really big just happened.  I began to walk back to my apartment in the darkness of the evening.  As I kept walking, certain observations began to gnaw at my mind.  The first observation had to do with the darkness.  Usually when I got out of that class, the sun had just set, so there was still some residual light to the ensuing dusk.  Also, we were heading into summer, so the sunset should be later each day, not earlier.  Then there was the matter of the moon.  I knew that the last few days it had been getting closer to being full.  As such, its rise time was just a little bit later than sunset.  When I finally arrived at my apartment, I examined the sky.  Usually at this point during my walk, the sun had set and the moon had risen, but that was not the case this time.  I swept my eyes across the sky, seeing more stars than I could have imagined were out there in the icy blackness of space.  Finally, I found the moon.  My gut started to tighten as I tried to think through what I was seeing.  Maybe it was because there were more stars out that I noticed it, because I’m not sure I would have found it otherwise.  Off over the eastern horizon was a large black spot right there in the sky.  There was no other explanation for that absence from the sky.  That black spot was the moon.

My mind raced as I thought of the possible reasons that would cause this phenomenon.  As I came to the realization of what had happened, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground.  I felt sick and panicked and full of adrenaline all bundled into sheer terror.  The words of my professor came echoing back into my head, swirling with thoughts of what I was to do next.  There was only one explanation that would fit all of my observations: the reason for the feeling of weightlessness in class, the reason for the early darkness, the reason for the moon blacking out part of the sky.  All these reasons were explained by one simple reality.

The sun was gone.

* * *

I walked along the artificially lit sidewalk, weaving through the few people who happened to also be out perusing the streets.  Light mixing in from various storefronts created strange shadows on the street.  I stopped at an electronics store and stood looking at the televisions in the window.  There was no sound, but I could tell exactly what the news anchor was talking about.  The graphic above his shoulder depicted a clear day with a dotted outline where the sun should be.  My God, had it really been five years?  Stock footage raced past showing the chaos and anarchy of that first year.  My focus shifted from the television to my reflection in the window.  I was wearing a dark colored parka with reflective tape covering the seams.  Even with the hood up over my head, I could see my face mixed in with the flashing images before me.  It had only been five years, but my face told the tale of the hardships that all of humanity had to endure.  My eyes were sunken, dark circles underneath their lifeless stare.  The skin of my face was pale and starting to show the wrinkles of extreme stress.  I let out a deep sigh, watching my breath swirl around into the night.  Turning back to my path, I headed on my way.

So many of these stores had changed since then.  Business was different now.  Multitudes of companies disappeared along with the sun.  We no longer had sunscreen or sunglasses.  Umbrellas and garden hoses no longer served any useful purpose.  The shipping and fishing industries had to trade in their boats for large sleds now that all of the earth’s water was ice. However, many companies thrived at this worldwide disaster.  Light bulbs and electric heaters were in high demand along with vitamin D supplements.  UV tanning beds were booked months in advance.  Hormel and Kellog’s made out like bandits with sales of their SPAM and Pop Tarts products reaching record high levels.  Despite trying to solve an energy crisis, consumption levels were at all time highs.  I kept thinking of the last 5 years as I left the business district.

I’m not sure whether it was fate or nostalgia, but for some reason I was drawn back to the college campus where I first realized the sun was missing.  I found a bench on the outskirts of what used to be the commons area and sat down.  Some old habits die hard as I began to people watch like I had used to.  There were less people that ventured out these days.  I smiled and chuckled a little bit at the irony.  There were no days, just an endless night.  We should have seen it coming.  There are no easy answers in life, and if there are, there’s always a catch.

Looking back, we know a little bit of why the sun disappeared that fateful day.  Nuclear energy had once again become the popular source of energy since the world’s petroleum industry was beginning to dry up.  Still, with the rise of nuclear energy, we couldn’t figure out what to do with the waste.  Here in the United States, we were just short of dumping everything in Wyoming and covering the whole state in concrete.  At the time, the best solution that we could come up with was to shoot the waste into the sun.  We figured that since it was essentially a large nuclear furnace that a little extra fuel wouldn’t hurt.  Maybe if we hadn’t done it all at once, then humanity wouldn’t have been doomed.  Unfortunately, the quick fix isn’t always the best fix.  We were never clear on the details, but the massive amounts of nuclear waste caused the sun to short out.  It didn’t evolve into a black hole or explode like a supernova, it just disappeared.  Humanity couldn’t escape the irony of the naming of that fateful spaceship:  Icarus.

As I sat and reminisced, I watched the people go about their business.  It was a little bit harder to pick out the personalities now with the areas lit by the streetlights being my only chance to observe these individuals.  Another added difficulty was the fact that everyone now walked around with their hands in their pockets and their heads down, focused on their path, their breath periodically emerging from their thick coats.  They all walked quickly and with purpose.  No one wanted to be outside longer than they had to.  The one distinguishing feature between different people that remained was the adherence to a sidewalk.  Not that walking off of the sidewalk really mattered.  There was no grass any more.  It had all died within the first year.  No sun, no photosynthesis.  Plus, the lack of a sun made weather non-existent.  There were no clouds, no rain, no snow, just nothing.  Nothing.

The unwritten law of the sidewalk used to be an ambiguous indicator now it easily separated the people into two groups.  Thinking back, both of those groups had to work together in order to keep society going.  The free spirits who cut across the dirt happened to be the only ones who knew how to effectively grow plants indoors.  However, the logical thinkers who adhered to the concrete path were more adept to living indoors and in darkness.  They both learned from each other and now we all could once again comfortably exist in this world.

As I sat on my bench, all the lights around me turned off.  I hit the light on my watch.  8:01 pm.  Curfew must be in effect.  8 am to 8pm.  Those were the only times that the power plants would be running.  If you needed more energy before or after that, you had to make it yourself by generator.  Some institutions, such as hospitals, ran their entire operation off of the power grid, which is why only the rich can afford to get any serious medical attention anymore.  I got up from my bench and looked skyward.

My eyes adjusted from the artificial lighting back to darkness.  Nothing blocked my view of the stars except the occasional mist of my breath.  Every night was different.  Lots of stars.  Different stars.  The earth was moving on a straight-line path towards nothingness.  The astrophysicists said that even if we were lucky enough to be traveling towards Proxima Centauri, we wouldn’t get there for another 40,000 years.  Also, the odds of re-establishing an orbit similar to the one that we had with the sun were highly weighted against humanity’s favor.  Too close to the star and we could all burn to death.  Too far and we’d remain the planet of ice we had become.  Turning on my headlamp, I headed home.

Back at my house, I kicked the generator a few times to get the ice off.  Yanking on the cord, the generator started up.  I headed inside and turned on the lights.  “Good evening, Samson Uricas.”  My heart jumped up into my throat and I slammed my body against the wall, trying to grab at anything I could use as a weapon.  Someone was in my house.  Someone who knew my full name.

He sat in my recliner in the corner of the room.  For some reason, he wore all white.  White coat, white shoes, white shirt, white shorts.  Wait a minute . . . shorts?  He also wore a pair of designer sunglasses.  Quite the strange man indeed.  As he got up from my recliner, I kept reaching for a weapon, but since I was frozen with fear, I couldn’t move any further to grab something.  “You should feel honored, Samson.  Not many people are going to have this chance.”  He stood right in front of me, my face caught in the reflection of his sunglasses.  “Your life is about to get much easier.”  Blackness.  

I awoke in the back seat of a car.  It was driving along a winding road at an unsafe speed.  The driver was exactly who I had expected.  That strange man who was in my apartment drove like a maniac, not that I could blame him, since his sunglasses were still on.  “I see you’ve regained consciousness, Samson.”  I sat up and rubbed my neck.  “Yeah, no thanks to you.  And could you please stop calling me Samson?  Just Sam will do.  So, what’re you going to do to me?  Kill me and dump my body in some canyon?”  He kept looking forward at the road and answered, “No, if my objective was to kill you, you wouldn’t have been able to turn on your lights at your house.”  That was an odd response.  “Sam, you’re going to help keep humanity around until we can see the light of a sun once more.”

“And what does kidnapping me have to do with saving humanity?”  He cleared his throat and began, “Since the day the sun disappeared, this planet has been doomed.  There are just not enough resources for all of humanity to continue to exist.  The only way that we can ensure that there will be people around when we regain orbit around a star is through utilizing the earth itself.  I’ll explain more when we get inside.”  The car came to a stop.

We both got out of the car and stood looking at the entrance to a cave, lit by the car’s headlights.  I spun around, trying to get some bearings.  “Where are we?”  “Wyoming.  We’re deep within Yellowstone National Park.”  He walked towards the cave.  “Come on, you’re dinner’s getting cold.”  I took a few large strides to catch up to him.  Inside the cave, it was obvious that it wasn’t natural.  This was dug out of the mountain.  We stopped at the end of the cave, the headlights of the car now faintly visible off in the distance.  On the floor was a hatch similar to one that you would see on a submarine.  The stranger spun the handle and opened the hatch.  We took the ladder down into the well-lit room.  

Unbelievable.  It looked like an upper class penthouse.  Walls lined with books, floors covered with a deep red carpet.  A fine mahogany table sat in the middle of the room with places set for four people.  The aroma of garlic bread and tomatoes wafted into the room.  Doors opened and three individuals emerged.  Two women and one man, each around my age.  The man spoke first, “So, Captain Random, is he the last one?”  The man in white put his hand on my back and said, “Yes.  Everyone, I’d like you to meet Samson Uricas, but you can call him Sam.  Now Sam, I’d like you to meet Martin, Stella and Marcy.”  Each of them waved at their respective names.  Stella, the tall blonde woman, headed towards the open kitchen and said, “Let’s get down to the detailed introductions during dinner, shall we?” We sat at the elaborate table and ate as the one identified as Captain Random continued to fill me in on the details of my new living arrangements.

“This underground facility is one of many that I have stationed around the world.  Each facility is exactly the same.  There are four levels, each one with a different purpose.  This top level is for living quarters and should be considered your home.  The next level down is for your food supply.  It’s pretty much a miniature farm with a full garden and a wide variety of edible animals.  Next is the Archive.  This is where I’ve stored all the information that you could ever need.  This is so that future generations will be informed of their past.  The last level is strictly maintenance.  Waste processing, thermal generators, stock rooms, and all the systems that are needed to run this facility.  The entire facility is completely sustainable and is powered off of the thermal energy of the earth.  It just so happens that this energy is much easier to access when closer to an area with volcanic activity.  This is why we’re in Yellowstone.”  

“You four are to keep the human race alive.  This facility should last long enough to sustain you and your offspring until the earth comes into orbit with another star.  You’re not going to be there when this happens, but my hope is that a few individuals will still be alive so as to start humanity over again.”  I sat eating my dinner, digesting the food and the information.  I leaned back in my chair, took a look around and thought to myself, “This’ll be an adjustment, but at any rate, I think I can put up with this for 40,000 years . . .

***

EPILOGUE:

I sat reading through the Encyclopedia Brittanica for probably the millionth time.  Flipping through the pages, I came across the article on Paris.  Capital of France, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, City of Lights.  The picture on the page showed the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up with innumerable lights.  That’s all it was to me: a picture.  There were so many things I hadn’t seen.  So many questions, never any answers.

“Adam, honey?  The ventilation alarm is going off again.”  My wife’s voice pierced my daydreaming as I got up out of the ragged chair.  I came out of the dim confines of my room into the living area.  Grabbing a jacket, I headed to the hatch.  As always, it took a little bit of elbow grease to get it open.  The shock of cold air was getting easier to deal with each time.  Maybe I was getting used to it, but I figured it was probably the heating system losing its power.  I’d probably need to recharge it soon.  Resealing the hatch, I turned on my headlamp and made my way to the mouth of the cave.  Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a small ice axe.  A few taps on the sheet of ice opened up the mouth of the cave once again.

As I walked out to the vents, I thought about the last week.  We lost contact with another facility.  Maybe another fatal system failure.  Could have been another volcanic intervention.  Probably another collapse due to earthquakes.  A few weeks ago I almost lost my footing as the ground beneath me heaved.  It almost felt like an earthquake, but it felt more like when I would land after jumping down the hatch.  Was that heaving of the earth a sign that our volcano about ready to erupt?  I stopped walking and thought about how many were left.  Two, maybe three.  The future looked bleak.

Arriving at the vents, I saw that they were once again caked in ice.  Where was all this ice coming from?  Was the volcano getting warmer in preparation for something?  I chipped away at the ice until I could hear the whoosh of air leaving the facility into this icy exterior.  Grunting as I got back to my feet, I turned towards the cave once again.  That’s when I noticed something strange.  The silhouettes that framed the starry sky had some more depth to them.  Also, there were fewer stars visible.  The amount of stars was decreasing at an alarming rate.  I started to panic.  What was causing the stars to disappear?  Was this the same thing that happened tens of thousands of years ago?  My eyes began to strain as the last stars disappeared.  The sky began to fade from blackness.  It became lighter and lighter, revealing more of the landscape around me.

Blinding.  From one edge of the sky came a light brighter than any I had seen in the facility.  I covered my closed eyes with my hand and grabbed at the rope that lined my path.  Slowly blinking, letting my eyes adjust to the enormous amount of light around me, I was astonished at what I saw.  I was standing in a huge valley, surrounded by mountains, each one a brilliant white, covered in sparkling ice and snow.  The sky was no longer black, but a light blue.  No stars could be seen.  I kept looking around at my surroundings, amazed that I could finally see the outside world.  My face felt warm as I walked back towards the cave and towards the light.  This lack of darkness was still very surprising to me, but for some reason, it gave me a sense of hope. 

Note: This is the most recent addition to my college novel, and probably my last. In fact, there are only two posts left  for this short series unless I find the initiative to finish off the unfinished chapter I started long ago. This particular piece was written for a “Science in Literature” class I took in college, which was essentially reading Sci-fi and discussing it. In fact, this was my final for that class: write a science fiction short story. As this is the most recent piece of fiction that I have written, it is safe to assume that my NaNoWriMo novel should look something similar to this in style.

Advertisements

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mom on August 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I like!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: