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Science Fiction

Light harvesting is a dangerous occupation. You have to be fit, fast, and completely fearless—some might even say insane. I never had a choice; it’s all I’ve known.

Out here in the Shadow Rim, a place of eternal twilight, you either survive, or you don’t. It’s cold and dark, even during the daytime hours, so we have to farm light. That’s my role. I check the light farms and bring back energy cubes so that we can survive out here on the Rim. Danger lies in the light. When the Light Stalkers invaded our planet a few years ago, they quickly seized control, dominating the light-side with ruthless efficiency. They lie in wait for the unsuspecting. Fortunately for me, I suspect everything.

The round trip out and back takes about thirty days, give or take. If you encounter a pack of Stalkers, it could take longer, or if the weather is favourable, it could take less. However, the weather is never favourable and there are always Stalkers.

I meticulously load my Auto-Cat, ensuring it carries a supply of food rations to last thirty days and enough water to endure forty. If I’m gone longer than that, then I’m dead. There’s no water beyond the darkness, as the relentless heat of the perpetual day sears it away.

Apparently, the further north you go, the more the water hangs in the air, but I’ve never believed that. Who’s ever heard of water in the air? Everyone knows you have to farm water from the ice fields in the south and trek it across the vast, icy tundra that exists in the deepest darkness, lit only by the stars. Those farmers are some of the toughest, most rugged people I’ve ever met.

With the Cat loaded and ready, I head out toward the light horizon. My eyes strain as I search ahead in the gloom, looking for any hint of danger. And out beyond the Shadow Rim, it’s always dangerous.

After two days driving in the dark and frigid conditions, I’m beginning to feel concerned. I’ve harvested light for thirty-two years and I have never experienced such total darkness. Usually, the farther north I travel, the more distinct day and night becomes. However, on this trip, I’ve yet to see the full sunshine. I check my meters. Perhaps I’ve inadvertently gone in the wrong direction, and am travelling parallel to the shadow line rather than at right angles with it. It’s not like there are roads out here to follow. Usually my sense of direction is more accurate than any device, having travelled this route countless times before.

According to the guidance systems, I’m correct, and I’m heading directly north. It’s very strange, I should have hit daylight fields by now. But in every direction I look, the dusky shadows stretch endlessly.

Over the next ridge, I spot the solar arrays of Light Farm One. It’s the closest to the Rim, and the safest. LF1 doesn’t get many hours of sunlight though, and its production capacity is the lowest of all three of my farms. As I pull the Cat alongside the Harvest Centre, I run a critical eye over the solar arrays, their huge panels like giant sails on ancient boats facing north to catch the sunlight. Usually, as they heat up, they burn away the debris that gathers on their surface in a self-cleaning cycle, but each panel is covered in a fine layer of dust and detritus. Something has gone wrong.

With a worried frown, I plug into the mainframe and access the onboard SEM. The data it generates can’t be correct. The Solar Energy Meter is reading a negative output, meaning the system hasn’t even produced enough energy to cover its own functions. Shit.

Of course I’d heard the enviro-scientists as they argued about the potential impact of Global Tilting, and their predictions of gloom and doom as the Earth’s axis tilts ever so slightly each year towards the sun. I’d never paid much heed to their dire warnings. There’s nothing I can do about it, so why worry? As I scan my solar array, I recall their words. Without a significant axial tilt, there is no day or night. Therefore, all the farms along the Shadow Rim that rely upon the sun’s visibility for at least part of the day will fall into permanent shadow, causing a solar drought.

My stomach drops as I survey my farm, all the investments I’ve made in the infrastructure and the prime land it’s built upon. If the farm is no longer productive, then it’s all worthless. I can’t even sell it.

Resolutely, I return to my Auto-Cat and pray that the second and third farms are faring better. They’re farther out, closer to the sunlit side of the planet, and therefore more dangerous.

As I approach LF2, I’m greeted by the same level of inactivity and negative production, and so with grim determination, I press on toward LF3. This farm is a shared venture with Borrin, my best mate, and his wife, Liliana. I’d never have been able to afford the price of real estate this far out without them going halves with me. Due to its extreme remoteness, LF3 is very close to perpetual solar day, and is my highest energy producing farm, maintaining profitability even with the split. Having a partner has its advantages, as we alternate trips to this distant location, halving the time spent on the lengthy commute. Although it’s not my turn to harvest LF3, the losses at the first two farms compel me to see with my own eyes that at least one farm is still fully operational.

As the fumes hit me, I realise the darkness is no longer natural. The sky is shrouded in dense smoke. The Auto-Cat’s air filter fails against the stench of seared mechanics, leaving an acrid taste in my mouth. Horror sets in as I exit the vehicle to survey the smoldering ruin of LF3. Every solar array is destroyed in a mass of twisted and molten metal. Barely able to breathe, I survey the damage. I’ve read about solar overload—anyone who owns a light farm has—but I’ve never before witnessed its aftermath. Harvesting light is a complex process, requiring regular energy collection to prevent the mainframe frying, causing massive destruction as it rebounds through the array.

Shit! Where was Borrin? Why didn’t he collect the harvest?

I scan the area, uncertain as to what I’m looking for—perhaps a hint that something remains, a glimmer of hope in the darkness. That’s when I spot Borrin’s Auto-Cat, and my stomach sinks. Around the Cat, I see footprints—six-toed footprints. 

Light Stalkers.

With such dense smoke cover I’m certain that no Light Stalkers linger nearby, so I stagger through the smoke laden icy wind. Before I reach the Cat, I see them—two empty husks, once human, now devoid of moisture. My stomach churns as I gag and retch, realising the desiccated corpses are Borrin and his wife. Scanning the ground, I search for a third body. Where is the child? Over the wail of the wind, a faint sound reaches me—a soft whimper.

When I release the door to Borrin’s Cat, two liquid blue eyes set in a dirty tear-streaked face peer listlessly at me. I can’t believe the child is alive. I'll never understand why the Stalkers killed the parents but spared the child.

“Hey,” I say, trying to make my voice as gentle and soft as I can, but I’m a man who’s not used to children. I can’t even remember the kid’s name. Can he understand me? He looks about two or three. Do children that age speak?

“Uncle Herric?” Apparently they do, and the boy has no difficulty identifying me. Strange, I’ve hardly ever seen him.

“What’s your name, buddy?” I ask.

“Lillin.”

“Well, Lil, it looks like it’s just you and me.”

The boy doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t demand to know where his parents are. He just nods once, like a wise old man.

As the harsh wind whips at my clothing, I stand staring at the ruins of my life one last time. The skeletal remnants of the solar array reaches its twisted fingers to the sky, like a poor man’s desperate plea. There’s nothing left here, or anywhere, and I am, for the first time in my life, cut adrift. I’ve nothing to rebuild with, nowhere to start again, and going back to the Rim with no income or resources means starving in the streets. The sheer weight of that terror nearly unmans me.

Beside me, Lil sniffles once, his little nose red with cold, but his eyes are dry. He didn’t cry as I lowered what was left of his parents into the cold, hard earth. He made no sound as the first shovel of dirt hit their bodies. In fact, after greeting me, the lad has barely uttered another sound. So it’s with some surprise that I feel his tiny hand touch mine and clasp it tightly. Both of us lost something precious today. We’ve lost our past forever. 

I turn my back on what was, no need to get maudlin. With no income I can’t go back into the shadows, but it costs nothing to live in the light. I look over at Borrin’s Auto-Cat. It’s bigger than mine and stocked for a family. I suppose, since I’m the only ‘family’ the kid has, it makes sense for us both to use the larger Cat. Without allowing myself a moments regret, I transfer my stuff and we head out, leaving LF3 behind. Leaving everything behind. There’s not much point in me returning to the Shadow Rim. I’ve got nothing, lost everything in the solar drought. For now, I’m reinventing myself, going rogue, and if I take down a few of those blasted Light Stalkers along the way, then that’s a bonus.

I’m heading beyond the darkness because my way forward is not backward. I might be crazy, but Lil and me, we’re heading towards the light.

January 17, 2024 12:14

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29 comments

Kayden Solace
23:47 Jan 18, 2024

I like the twist on the theme. For an experiment with sci-fi, you're really good! As an avid sci-fi reader, this could totally become a book with a little polishing. I love the technology in these stories, especially the self-cleaning solar panels. Your world building is exceptional for so few words.

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Michelle Oliver
23:54 Jan 18, 2024

Thanks for your encouragement Kayden. I am surprised by how much I enjoyed writing this sci-fi story (stories) and you never know where they might lead me, although Im not sure I’d have the ability to sustain it for a whole novel. Maybe one day.

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Jan 18, 2024

A prequel, an origin story (two, actually, looks like) and some extra world building that expands the scope of things. For the initial stories, I was wondering what the rest of the world looked like. It almost seemed all that remained of humanity was in those subway tunnels, but here we see that people eke out existences all over the globe - which makes sense. I also like that the world-ending catastrophe isn't static, and that it's still affecting people and forcing change, like scuttling the solar farms. It makes it seem like the setting...

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Michelle Oliver
21:54 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you again for reading both stories this week. I’m quite surprised by how much I enjoyed writing the sci-fi genre. The world is so big, there are so many stories here.

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Jonathan Page
01:03 Jan 18, 2024

Great immersive read! You've created a captivating world! Keep heading towards the light.

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Michelle Oliver
01:31 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you. It’s a new genre for me, so I’m happy that you enjoyed it.

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Claire Trbovic
21:09 Jan 17, 2024

Yesssssss! Ah so good! And little Lillin, such a great back story, I am so invested in this series Michelle!!

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Michelle Oliver
23:21 Jan 17, 2024

Thank you. We’ll have to see where it goes

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Mary Bendickson
19:28 Jan 17, 2024

Ah, a prequel? You are so good at what you do. You a still a winner with me whether you enter the contest or not.

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Michelle Oliver
23:22 Jan 17, 2024

Thank you. I’m not sure I’ll enter these ones though,

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Story Time
06:46 Feb 01, 2024

I felt pulled into this world immediately. You have a way of taking the reader along at exactly the pace you want them to go. It's such a thrill reading your work.

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Michelle Oliver
07:45 Feb 01, 2024

Thank you for the lovely comment, you’ve made my day!

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Alexis Araneta
04:39 Jan 22, 2024

Admittedly, sci-fi is not a genre I usually go for, but this was written with so much detail and excellent world-building, that it was engaging even for me. Great job !

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Michelle Oliver
05:30 Jan 22, 2024

Thank you. Sci-fi is not a genre I tend to write in either, so I’m happy it worked.

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Ellen Neuborne
22:50 Jan 21, 2024

Engaging sci fi adventure. This was fun to read.

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Michelle Oliver
23:31 Jan 21, 2024

Thank you for reading it.

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Jack Kimball
21:03 Jan 21, 2024

Excellent read along the ‘Mars’ line of science and drama. But it’s all about character at the same time. Will the MC become a parent to the child? Why is Lil wise? Lots of questions to answer in what is essentially an intro. Great job Michelle. Do more sci fi! Jack

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Michelle Oliver
23:30 Jan 21, 2024

Thank you Jack. I enjoyed writing it, and I might do something larger with this idea.

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David Sweet
22:42 Jan 20, 2024

As a fan of sci-fi, I enjoyed this story immensely! Over the course of this short story you have done an excellent job of world building. It's great to jump into the human aspect of the story than to get bogged down in technical issues. You have done a wonderful job creating that balance. It's nice to have discovered you here on Reedsy. I look forward to reading some of your other work.

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Michelle Oliver
01:24 Jan 21, 2024

Thank you David. I enjoyed writing this story, so I’m glad that you enjoyed reading. Thanks for the feedback.

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Tammie Williams
12:37 Jan 19, 2024

Love it. I want more!

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Michelle Oliver
13:42 Jan 19, 2024

Thank you Tammie. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Not sure if you’ve seen the next two stories on my page.

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Hi, Michelle! I see there's another installment of the Light Stalkers series. Hooray! [When the Light stalkers invaded our planet] You forgot to capitalize {Stalkers} this time. [Apparently, the further north you go, the more the water hangs in the air, but I’ve never believed that. Who’s ever heard of water in the air? Everyone knows you have to farm water from the ice fields in the south and trek it across the vast, icy tundra that exists in the deepest darkness, lit only by the stars. Those farmers are some of the toughest, most rugged ...

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Michelle Oliver
22:03 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you so much! I feel like you’re my personal editor and I’m so grateful. There is a whole history in my head and you picked it up from this story, which makes me so happy. As for where it’s going, I’m not sure yet. Maybe I’ll find out soon. Thank you, I’m off to edit now.

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Trudy Jas
18:12 Jan 18, 2024

More, please. May we have some more? I just know I'm gonna fall in love with Uncle Herric and Lillin. Already halfway there. p.s. Who's the handsome lab in the picture?

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Michelle Oliver
21:44 Jan 18, 2024

Thanks for reading it. I’m glad you enjoyed the stories enough to want more. The handsome lab is my baby. His name is Baloo.

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Brendan Sanders
09:02 Jan 18, 2024

That was absolutely incredible! I was hooked in the first paragraph! I'm excited to see if you continue the story as I'm curious what happens to your characters! Looking forward to it. ☺️

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Michelle Oliver
09:32 Jan 18, 2024

Thanks Brendan. I’m not sure if you read the others too. This is the third one in my sci-fi experiment with these characters.

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Brendan Sanders
04:17 Jan 19, 2024

There's more!? Jumping on it immediately! ☺️

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