3 comments

Science Fiction Coming of Age Fiction

Micah laid out his surface suit. It was in near perfect condition, having been worn only a few times by its previous owner, and only once by Micah in the days leading up to today. Like most kids his age, he only had one surface suit. It was specifically for the sunrise, and offered only moderate protection against the rays of the sun. It wasn’t often that he went up to the surface, and the last time he went he hadn’t needed to protect himself from any radiation at all. Today would be different though, because today was Dawn Day. Today, Micah would feel the sun on his skin for the first time in his life. Today, Micah was going to do the Sun Run.

He might have convinced his parents to let him do the Sun Run last Dawn Day. He was certainly old enough, as many of his classmates would be participating with one or both of their parents. Some had even done it the year before that. He knew his father was eager to do the run with him. Like most people on New Escon, Micah’s father worked the Walton cobalt mines. Miners had no need to work the planet’s surface, and with their 12 hour shifts and only one day off per fortnight, they had little opportunity to surface recreationally, either. On Dawn Day, however, the Walton Interplanetary Mineral Extraction Corporation shut down mining production to give their workers the rare chance to see the sun rise and walk on the planet’s crust. Even with the one day vacation, however, someone still had to run the water pipes to keep the mines from flooding. One hundred and ninety two days ago on the last Dawn Day it was Micah’s father’s turn to run the pipes. 

Before he donned his surface suit, Micah grabbed a bottle of sun lotion and began applying it all over his body. After he had finished rubbing the white cream everywhere he could reach, he called his mother to help apply the rest of it on the areas that he couldn’t get to himself. He didn’t need to worry about his feet, as those would be covered by boots. His ears, neck, and face were coated generously though, just to be safe. 

“Go grab the zinc powder from your father“ his mother said after she’d given him a once over to ensure that no part of his skin was unprotected. For this step, Micah stood in the bathtub to try to contain the powdery explosion. In a moment, his whole body had been coated with a fine silvery sheen, and he looked a metalic, well lubricated mess.

“Perfect” his mother said. “Now get your suit on, we’ll be leaving soon!”

Micah put his surface suit on quickly, snapped the gloves onto the ends of his sleeves, and grabbed his helmet before walking out of his room to join his parents. His mother and father had also dressed out. There was no sun cream on his mother, as she would stay in her daytime surface suit. Piloting rovers had given his mother plenty of time on the surface; the illuminated sky held no real wonders for her anymore. She had done the Sun Run in her youth, and she assured Micah that she never needed to feel that cold again. Micah’s father, however, had the same silvery sheen on his face that Micah did. For people like his father who spent all their days below ground in the mine shafts, the Sun Run was a momentous occasion.

In the days leading up to this holiday, their borough had been buzzing with excitement and preparation. The miners had been working 14 hour days instead of their usual 12 in preparation for their day off. Micah’s class had been learning about the relatively unique rotation and orbit of New Escon in a quasi-tidal lock with their sun, and about the inventive ways that the WIMEC had used terraforming to make New Escon habitable for their employees and their families. His class had even been up to the surface on a field trip two days before. 

The time leading up to Dawn Day gave the sky on the surface a unique glow. While the entirety of the heavens had been pitch black for almost 90 days straight before, they were now able to see through the all glass viewing platform that the sky glowed a faint purple color to the east. Only a few of the eastern stars were viewable, and their teacher let them know that the brightest of them was actually another planet. At the horizon, there was even a very thin deep red line.

“In two days, the sun will be visible just between those two mountains there.” His teacher had said. “Since it will be partially obscured by New Escon’s geography and low enough in the horizon that it has to travel through a lot of our atmosphere, it will be safe for skin to be exposed to its rays for short periods of time. This is of course assuming that UV filtering lotion and zinc powder are applied.”

The same rules about UV radiation would be true at sunset as well, Micah knew, but the dramatically high temperatures of dusk made it impossible to be on the surface unprotected. Only one day in every 192 could the sun touch your skin, and now Micah would finally be allowed to feel it.

“Ready?” his father asked him.

Micah grabbed his brand new sunglasses, zipped them up in his surface suit’s breast pocket, picked up the O2 pack that was lying by the front door, slung it across his back, and exclaimed a confident “Ready!”

To reach the surface from their burrow home was a big event. First, to get out of their immediate area, they had to take an elevator down to the middle level of their neighborhood. From there they were able to take a tram to the central plaza. On most days this was a painless endeavor, but on Dawn Day, they were forced to wait for 6 trams to come and go before one of the cars had space enough to fit them inside. Once at the central plaza, there was a row of elevators that could take you to the upper borough level, where you could then get out and take one of several much larger elevators capable of carrying hundreds of people the two plus kilometers up to the surface at one time. It was at this upper borough that the longest lines were forming, but since Micah’s mother routinely worked in the rover garage on the surface, they were able to skip it entirely, taking the smaller but much faster employee elevator instead.

As the elevator doors closed behind them, Micah began to pace. They had about a 12 minute ride to get to the surface, and the elevator cabin pressure would be slowly decreasing as they rose in elevation. 

“What does it feel like?” Micah asked his dad.

“What was that, buddy?” His dad replied, working his jaw to try and pop his ears.

“The sun. What does it feel like?” Micah repeated a little more loudly.

“Well…” His father said. “You’re going to be cold, more than anything. It’s been warming up the past couple of days, but even then it can be hard to feel any of the sun rays on your skin when you’re standing out there in -30°.”

“It’s always warm under the UV lamps at school.” Micah said.

“It is.” His mother injected. “But that’s underground. It will be almost a full day before it gets warm outside. In two days it will start getting really uncomfortably hot, of course. And by then obviously you can’t be out without a daytime surface suit. Trust me, Micah, it’s better to do it in the cold.”

The rest of their elevator ride, Micah’s father eagerly re-lived stories from his first Sun Run, and gave pieces of advice about what to expect. When the elevator doors finally opened, Micah ran across the lobby to stare through the floor to ceiling windows. The sky today looked completely different from how it had been two days ago on his class field trip. The sky was brightly glowing all the way to the west now, and the east was lit up with colors he had never seen before, even on a different Dawn Day.

“How long until the sunrise?” Micah asked eagerly.

“We’ve got just under an hour.” She replied. 

“And that’s where we’ll be running to!” Exclaimed Micah to his father, pointing at the New Escon flagpole in the distance.

“Running AROUND, Micah.” His father said sternly. “Don’t you try to get in the middle and touch it, you’ll get trampled”

“Yeah, I know.” Micah said. “Come on, I want to go outside!”

They all snapped their helmets and O2 packs on as his mother led them out through the employee exit, waiting impatiently in the opaque decompression chamber for the doors to open and finally admit them to the surface. Micah’s parents walked along the road toward the gathering crowd, but Micah ran through the dirt, kicking up little piles of dust as he went along. 

The biggest part of the crowd had gathered outside the lobby of the public elevators where up to forty people at a time were being admitted onto the surface. There were at least 10 different oxygen pack refueling stations at different locations, and several large tents erected to provide shade for the people waiting to re-enter the elevator lobby after the sunrise. There was even a large medical tent that looked to be crowded already with helmetless people puking from altitude sickness. A large group had started forming on the WIMEC landing pad where the Sun Run would begin, and a set of speakers near the starting line roared warnings about the dangers of radiation burns for anyone who tried to participate in the Sun Run without proper protective lotions and powders.

Micah thought he could almost see the white of the sun creeping over the horizon as he urged his father forward. He thought that the first rays of the sun might already be touching the top of the flagpole half a kilometer away. They found the sign in tables at the back of the landing pad, and as soon as Micah scrawled his name on the line, they hurried to find a spot to rest their things.

“Come behind this wall, Micah!” his father said through his radio, pointing to a 5 foot tall brick barrier running south off the eastern side of the pad. “This will be perfect! Your mom can watch our stuff when we run, and this way we have a landmark so we’ll know exactly where to come back to.” 

“You’ll be thankful for that,” His mother smiled. “You’re really going to be missing the warmth of that suit by the end of this run!”

As Micah pulled out his sunglasses to get them ready for his face, a bell rang to announce that they had only 3 minutes until sunrise.

“Start decompressing now so it’s not as big of a shock when you take your suit off!” His father urged, and Micah jumped to obey.

With two minutes to go, Micah’s suit was fully decompressed. After he disconnected the oxygen pack, he began breathing the thin air of the surface warmed up by his suit. He handed his mother his sunglasses to hold until he could take his helmet off, and began to unsnap the buckles that held his gloves and boots onto the ends of his sleeves and pant legs. He undid the buckles that kept his helmet on as well, and re-attached his O2 pack to a portable face mask that he promptly laid against the wall. A bell rang to give them the one minute warning. Making sure that the tint was lowered over his mask, he looked around the edge of the wall. Thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten. Five. Three. Two. One.

A chorus of bells rang as the first rays of light touched the ground, and everyone around them began to jump and cheer. 

“Are you ready, Micah?” His father shouted over the din.

Micah was grinning so hard that he couldn’t speak, and instead nodded his head viciously. Diving back behind the wall, Micah and his father twisted off their helmets. Immediately, the freezing air coarsed over his entire body, and his breath caught in his throat. Forcing himself to move quickly, Micah pulled off his gloves, struggling to suck in air to his lungs that were seemingly frozen still. Before he could lose dexterity in his fingers to the frost, he released the clasps holding his surface suit around his torso, and shimmied out of the thing. With great difficulty, he pulled his feet out of the boots and through the ankle of his pants, freeing his legs entirely. He almost fell over in the process, but was able to recover and shove his feet back into the boots one at a time. Micah almost ran out from behind the wall in his haste to get the Sun Run started, but his mother grabbed him first, shoved his sunglasses onto his face, and tossed him his O2 pack. He slipped the mask over his face. Micah looked over at his father who was smiling down at him, ready. 

His father extended his hand, and Micah grabbed it tight, grateful for the warmth. After a deep breath, Micah stepped into the sun.

March 22, 2022 03:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

3 comments

Philipe Nicolini
02:15 May 02, 2022

Chien gets away with this style in Tower of Babylon...because he has a crazy goal in the few paragraphs of a 60 page novella. "It takes 4 months to reach the top of the tower"... He adds new motivations which create the problem...1) people must live on a tower when it is several miles high...just to continue to build the tower. 2) above the tower is a "vault" that the miners must climb to..(see it?)(why would a miner climb to a vault several miles in the air). Chien has a technical background. He can teach me linguistics or ancient minin...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Philipe Nicolini
02:07 May 02, 2022

To take you at your word..(honest feedback requested in your bio)....stopped by sunsuit. Reread, not engaged..realized function of sunsuit...read another 4 para...the original idea soon mimicked other _running genre_. "In two days the sun will be visible..." This might be your lead and hook. Is mother memory of sun run strong enough? No. Father a miner who needs light? Maybe. You have a situation.. but keep hurting pace with setting. Drink a beer and give an emotional or philosophical appeal to your reader as to why we also can be compelled...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tanja Riley
04:38 Apr 13, 2022

Very good interpretation of the prompt! I liked how it was an exercise in worldbuilding even though the word count was limited. It's hard to present details of a different world in a short story and not a novel and yet you pulled it off. Loved your descriptions too, they seem to be one of the strong points of your writing style!

Reply

Show 0 replies