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Science Fiction Drama Fantasy

I'm twenty-four Ventura years old. Less than fourteen of your Earth years. I have never left my planet. I have never kissed anyone. And I have never seen the stars.


Ventura is not a large planet. You may have seen its name in the manufacturing information on the back of your electronic devices. Or maybe, you haven’t. Maybe you have no idea which star system it belongs to, or in which sector of the Milky Way it is.


Ventura's business is mining. We mine pink silver, black silver, and yellow silver. Or what you might know as neodymium, lanthanum, and europium. Our mines supply these rare-earth metals that run all the comms, weapons, and AI, from here to the other edge of the galaxy.


As my alph says, Ventura may not be a glittering jewel, like Earth— with its forests and oceans, but at least it's not absurdly ugly, like Amara— with its volcanic sludge mountains that look like piles of feces.


There are two million of us on Ventura. Only about as many people as there are in some of Earth’s minor townships. Or so I’ve been told.  We live on the surface of the planet, under air-filtering domes. Four hundred of them. We only leave the domes to go underground to the mines. I've heard nothing like that exists on Earth because your air is so pure that you don't need to be kept safe from it.


During the day, our planet shines pink, grey, and yellow. The twin suns Ra and San are bright patches in an expansive grey cloud. We have only one cloud.


The Veil.


Stretched to the horizon, reflecting the colors on the surface. Sometimes dark pink, with flashes of white, sometimes a ruddy brown with smears of bright yellow.


When Ra-set and San-set coincide every twenty-one days, and we get a dark-night.

You know how on Earth, you can look up at the stars and see shapes like scorpions, cups, and archers? Well, we see them in the Veil. Except the shapes are constantly changing.


Our mining machines are always running, so the ground hums like a neverending lullaby. Mining dust and gas rise up from the smokestacks outside the domes. I like to watch the luminous plumes dissolve into the expanse of the Veil far above.


The Veil has been held in place above us for more than a century. The force-field controls are housed at the top of each of the domes. I once snuck up there. It was full of ancient machinery, with humming engines and analog dials.


You might wonder why we would want toxic gases hanging around our planet when we could be pumping them into space.


The problem is that Ventura has an ice-core, unlike your Earth's molten one. Even with our two suns to warm the surface, it gets cold underground. The cloud layer traps heat and keeps our underground mines from freezing.


So you see, the Veil is a blessing. Scripture tells us, And the Veil shall give you life and protect you from the miseries of that which is not holy.


But my alph says the Veil hides the universe. And that on Earth, and even on Amara, when the dark-night sky is cloudless and clear, you can see a million billion shining stars.



*************



My alph— my alpha parent— was assigned to me at birth. I live with my alpha and beta parent, along with five thousand other family units in my dome. I hear Earth parents beget and raise their own offspring, with no training or qualifications. Sounds a little impractical and chaotic, if you ask me.


One evening, in our dome commons, after the band finishes a set, and we are done dancing, the conversation moves to galactic politics.


My alph says that we live like we do— scared and poor— because we cannot see beyond the Veil. Our imagination is limited because we cannot see the stars.


Some of my dome-folk frown at her. They say that’s dangerous talk—Earth doesn’t pay us to look at the stars.


But some others whisper that it may be true. We are only Earth's laborers, not Earth's citizens.


My beta pipes up and asks how long can we go on like this. If we mine any deeper we are going to destroy this planet.


Destroy? We must trust that Earth has a plan for us, they say. Besides, we have to continue our work. You're only as good as your last sweat.


My alph explodes with anger. Nobody from Earth has come here in sixty years, except to collect the ore. Earth doesn't care. We are just another planet to strip to the core and discard.


She skips dinner and retires to our quarters, her face clouded and her hands clenched, burning with some fierce fire.


One afternoon, on her way back from the mines, my alph stops at the mycelium bay, where my beta and I tend to an acre of high-grade nutritional fungi. Usually, she can catch us without any of the other dome-folk around. My beta sends me on some errand and I walk away, pretending not to notice that he's helping her smuggle out a crate of freeze-dried ration meal. This continues to happen every week for almost a year.


My best friend tells me that her alpha, who works in a neighboring food processing unit, was smuggling out food to last them weeks, even months. From what we can gather, many of our friends know dome-folk who have been rerouting rations without authorization. Stocking up. For something.



*************


One day, my alph arrives when I'm on my break. I move to get my beta but she shakes her head. She kneels before me, her dark eyes more serious than I have ever seen them. She tells me I need to do something for her. Something important. When the time is right. I promise to do it.


That night, our dome commons is tense. There is no music or dancing. People are whispering and arguing. They don’t make eye-contact with each other.


My alph stands up on a table, and there’s a hush. Her voice is clear and loud.


She says, this dark-night, we will see the stars. And the stars shall sing.


The stars shall sing.


A chant slowly goes up around the dome. The stars shall sing. The stars shall sing. 


Suddenly, there is a commotion. My beta grips my hand as if afraid I would be snatched. Some dome-folk are yelling that we cannot rebel against Earth and that we should know our place. That if we do this, if we burn our bridges, we will starve, we are as good as dead.


Some other folk shout back. Ventura is our home. We have everything we need right here. We don't need Earth. This is our planet.


Everyone suddenly goes quiet. There is an eerie silence. The ground beneath us is still. No rumbling, no vibrations, not a pebble stirring. 


The mines are quiet.

For the first time in over a hundred years.


I run to our dome's control tower, weaving through the crowd. The dome's power and force-field have been on auto-control for as long as anyone can remember. There is nobody there to stop me. The ancient security barrier is made to keep out larger hands than mine. I squeeze my arm through, ignoring the painful crush against my shoulder. I switch the mains off, exactly as instructed by my alph.


The power to our dome goes out. Far above us, the force-field holding up this corner of the Veil has also collapsed.


I see neighboring domes blinking into darkness. All the way to the horizon. It’s a dark-night— both suns have set.


My eyes adjust to the darkness as I stare up at the sky. For the first time in my life, the Veil is colorless. There are no lights on the surface to reflect. But it is faintly luminous, trying as it is, to hide the universe behind it.


I hear the singing before I see anything. It starts as a swooshing wind, turns into a low moan, and then pitches higher and higher.


The immense cloud rolls and roils and breaks into smaller clouds. The dust starts settling around the domes. Most of the gasses in the Veil, I imagine, are escaping out of the atmosphere towards the distant stars.


The whole sky whistles and blows a hundred notes together, sometimes loud, sometimes whispering. It’s distressing, and yet, oddly melodious. Unlike anything I have ever heard before.


The Veil is coming down.


The stars are singing.



*************



It's been a year since the Veil came down.


Our clouds are small and broken, and the air is now breathable. We go outside the domes and tan under the suns.


We star-gaze all dark-night till sunrise.

We see familiar shapes every night.


The mines are frozen, but we don't care. The Veil is the blessing that keeps on giving. That's not just scripture. The phosphorus-rich dust from the Veil has settled over the planet. Under our two suns, we grow chlorophyll food aplenty. It's a nice change from the fungi.


We are no longer Earth's laborers. We are Venturans.




July 18, 2020 18:12

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2 comments

Nandan Prasad
15:20 Jul 26, 2020

This is a wonderful story and I won't be surprised if it wins! A great, great concept. Wonderful narration in an imaginative wake. Overall, very well-written! Also, please do check out my stories if it is not too much trouble. Thanks and good luck

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India Moon
18:24 Jul 26, 2020

Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, I would love to check your work out!

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