Black Sun [Short Story]

On a lava planet in the outer systems, a father has to choose the priorities in his life.
[Short Story, 7 pages, 2234 words]

Audio Version on YouTube

Black Sun  

The car whirred up as he was pushing it into the 5th gear. He was driving over the asphalt roads that were several hundred meters above the red-brownish ground of gravel and rocks, forming large canyons and cliffs. It was an extraordinary view, but he was used to it. He drove over it every day.

His navigation system pinged, and he took the next exit. He slowly descended to the small street below. He had gotten sick of this planet. The surface glowing red from the lava below, and the light blue sky never changing color. It was always daytime here, as the planet was fixed in rotation around the sun.

He was now on ground level, but he had to descend deeper. He had to inspect the generators that were placed in the lava fields of the planet. Once he drove below the surface crust, the lighting changed into a dark glowing red. He put on his protective glasses.

He had studied physics in one of the best universities of the system, only to end up on some lava planet. Working a high risk, average pay job. And the company he worked for seemed to send him to a worse planet every single year.

He parked the car near the steaming metal facilities and grabbed his bag of gear. He had been a bodybuilder, so the daily handling of heavy tools and mechs had never bothered him. And if he should ever lose limbs on the job, he would get high-quality mechanical ones from his insurance. At least one positive from working this deadly job.

The manager was already waiting for him in his mech suit. Just as the people who worked in the lava fields, his skin was covered in black spots. Burnings and radiation fucked up everyone’s skin down here. He had gotten lucky. All these years working this inspection job, he only had few spots on his arms and legs. He also only had to inject anti-radiation medicine once after every inspection. The people who worked here had to do it every few hours. Before the companies were paying for injection ports, they had to inject needles. After several months of working here, their legs and arms were full of scars.

He got into the mech suit waiting for him, threw his bag beside him in the small storage container, and walked with the manager towards the fields. The generators were a few hundred meters into the area. As he walked above the lava, he got reminded of why he hated this job.

It had been sucking the life out of him: seeing people getting burns or burning to death in front of his eyes, having to amputee before the radioactive lava particles would spread to the main organs, people decaying in the fields because they forgot to use their anti-radiation medicine. It felt like war, and it had robbed him of his emotions. Every day brought up memories. And all of this to power the mining factories on the planet. He had lived on planets like these for over two decades now, and the isolated and hostile environment was something he was used to.

But the worst part of all of this; he could not enjoy the time with his daughter. She had been living with him since her mother had died three years ago. They had a good relationship, but he did not want her to become as detached as he had gotten. Changing their home every year had left her with fewer and fewer friends and connections to the rest of the system. He teared up from the gases as he plugged his scanner into the generator. She had turned 13 a few weeks ago, but she behaved as mature and responsible as if she was in her mid-20s. She had to grow up quickly after her mother had died from radiation poisoning. He could still not forgive himself for not being there for both of them. Instead of searching for a job where they could have stayed together, he had been egoistic and took the promotion. It had brought him out here.

“It’s only for a year” he had told her. But then the next job came around; another year on another planet. Far away while she was pregnant, he had not prioritized his life and had to face the consequences. They got divorced when their daughter had turned three. Seeing each other two weeks every year was just not enough.

He got back into his mech suit and started walking towards the next generator. He passed one of the lava drilling sites. The men working on it greeted him. They had lost their hair, and all of them had at least one limb replaced.

Was this really what he wanted? Where would he be in a few years? On another planet, even further out in the system? The planets would change, but the structure would remain the same. A hostile world with bare infrastructure solely focused on mining materials. Small housing blocks near docking stations, shit food, and slow internet. What had he traded his life for? They were happy in the outer systems. Their planet had a proper atmosphere, a day and night cycle, and good infrastructure. Millions were living on it. It felt like home.

The sweat was dripping down his face, and he opened a bottle of water. The last thing he needed was getting roasted alive in this heat. The remaining generator was further out into the fields. The manager had already pinged him why he was taking so long. He started to hurry.

What was his priority in life now? His job? His Income? His daughter? What did he want from his life? He could not continue doing this job forever. People working in the fields usually died in their 50s. He was 36 and already gotten his fair share of radiation. What was it that he valued the most? What gave him the most joy?

The generator showed horrible calibration on his scanner. At first he did not notice, then immediately pinged the manager to enable an emergency shut down. The generator could overheat any moment and blow up the entire factory. The manager started to argue with him instead of following his orders. The generator had not been calibrated in months, and the offset was melting the inner core of the generator. It would need to be replaced entirely. The manager started to get even angrier and refused to shut down the generator.

He was sick of it. He sent out an emergency broadcast to all the people in proximity of the blast area and his boss and management. Then he started to run back to the entrance of the facility. It was not the first time this had happened. In his 24 years, he had to evacuate six times. Three times the generator had blown. Nobody had died on his watch, but amputations and severe injuries were common. The explosion of the generator would spit lava across the entire factory and possibly even make the other generators explode. If the other generators would melt, the whole planet could become unstable due to its incredibly fluid core.

He had passed the drilling site. The men working there had received his ping, but also a ping from the manager. It was a false alarm, and they should continue their work. Once they saw him sprinting away from the generator, they dropped their gear and ran for their lives.

It was clear to him why the managers never wanted to stop the generators. It was incredibly profitable for them. Losing a generator for just a day would already bring their losses into the millions.

He jumped out of the mech suit and into his car. The wheels screamed up as he raced to the highway. He was the last person on site. Everyone else was already gone. Even the manager had disappeared but had left all the generators running. He could turn them off manually, but that would take hours, and he would need to order the equipment from a trading station, which would take days. The manager, however, was able to turn them off with a simple voice command.

He pinged the manager and the higher-ups of the company responsible for the site. If they did not shut it down now, it could blow up half the planet. The inner core was almost entirely fluid and would start to break the outer crust after the explosion.

No answer.

He waited for a minute, then pinged his daughter Gina. She had just gotten groceries and was about to cook dinner. He sent her the emergency passphrase.

She grabbed the two large bags from the wardrobe and placed them next to the door. Then she quickly ran through the apartment and collected everything important that was not in the bags yet. They had planned and rehearsed it several times. She was done after just a minute. She grabbed the bags and ran with them to the other side of the housing complex. Once she reached the docking station, she bought two one-way tickets and got into the small pod that had opened for her. She pinged him.

The car he had gotten from the company was being pushed to its limits. It sounded like it was about to set on fire at any moment. He had never driven any car as fast in his life. The street and ground below were only visible as a blur. He arrived two minutes after she had pinged him. He hit the brakes so hard that one of the back tires blew out from the heat. He stopped just a few meters before the entrance to the docking station. There was nothing in the car that he needed, so he left it behind and started running.

She saw him entering the building and started the docking sequence. He got into the pod a moment later, and they took off. They got pressed into their chairs as they accelerated into the sky. They would reach the outer transit station in about six hours. Once they left the atmosphere and entered space, he began to relax. She was smiling at him.

“That was the most exciting thing we ever did together.”

She started to giggle, and he had to laugh.

After a while, he received a ping from the company. They wanted him to shut down the generators manually. Instead, he broke his NDA contract and sent out an emergency broadcast across the entire planet. Only 351 people were registered on the planet, but most of them worked in the outer orbit, managing the transfer of mined materials.

He was getting several pings back. The men from the lava fields had already evacuated most of the people. Only a handful was still on their way to a docking station. He was relieved. Then another ping from his company informed him about the breach of his NDA agreements and his contract’s termination.

He did not care. He had learned his lesson; his daughter was his priority. He wanted her to have a better life than he had given her so far. And that would mean that he had to change.

Once they arrived at the transit station, they were greeted by many friendly faces. They thanked him for his quick reaction. They knew about the NDA agreements in his contract because they all had them. Most of them would continue their work on a different planet, but for some, it was an opportunity to start a life somewhere else.

Some of the men started to shout. They were standing on the glass windows, the planet in view. The generators had just exploded, and the outer crust of the planet started to rip into several pieces. Large fire clouds were erupting once the crust crushed into the core of the planet. It was a proper spectacle that went on for hours.

The next day it was all over the news feed, and some of them mentioned a brave man who had broken his NDA agreements to warn and evacuate everyone from the planet. That was not the entire story, but he had to smile at the thought of the backlash the managers of the company would get after this disaster.

They left the station two days later in the direction of New Terra. New Terra was Earth but with fewer oceans and more forests and jungles. He still had contacts there from his old days and knew his way around.

While in transit, he received several pings from news agencies and even job offers from several NGO’s. Somehow his ID had been leaked. But he did not mind. He felt relieved and excited about the change that was happening. Until now, he had never noticed how much of a burden his job had become.

He observed the stars slowly passing by the windows while his daughter was sleeping on his lap.