Megalomania

“We are in a world where you have to pay for sun light. This is when you believe that capitalism can’t get any worse,” Tom says.

I look at him and his SunMaster tanning bulbs, which he has just bought for his tanning bed. We leave the store and look at the artificial atmosphere above us, simulating dark grey clouds. It’s as if the sky was a giant flat TV. But to me it’s just another day in England – nothing special, except that it’s very hot for September.

“You don’t handle it well, do you?” I ask Tom. “Think of the Scandinavians.”

“Ha, I feel for them!”

“The less people the better it is for the world.”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

We are on the way to his place to kill some time, play video games. That way you won’t even think about outside. When staring at the clouds I can’t really tell where the sun is. Being a winter person I have no problem with daylight on cloudy days at all. My skin has always absorbed the sunlight well, even through the clouds. All these people, Tom included, are overreacting. They would swallow numerous vitamin pills every day to make sure they don’t have any deficiencies.

“Don’t you realize that they want the suicide rates to go up?” I say.

Tom doesn’t understand, and I don’t think he ever will. He is a smart kid, an engineer to-be and happy enough despite the clouds above us. It’s the panic of others that make him go with the flow.

“My uncle is making big money at his funeral home…” he says.

“I assume that cremation is a must these days, eh?”

“Yeah.”

There are a lot of cemeteries here and the government plans to either get rid of them or build on them. We have already survived the period of the Purge, but all the rich people in the government will always have more in store to wipe out the poor. There is a resistance group that is mostly active at night. Some of them are often seen with Guy Fawkes masks, and people refer to them as, “What is left of Anonymous”. They are not criminals, not in my eyes anyway, as they feed the poor. However, they did light up fireworks with an attempt to destroy the screen in the sky. A couple of them were caught, and we never knew what the government did to them.

We find Tom’s mum on the sun bed and his little sister Lily in front of the TV, watching an old animal documentary on the discovery channel. As soon as the African sun rises on the screen she approaches the TV and touches it. As far as I know she has never been in the sun. Ever since the price has gone up to £100 per minute, Tom’s parents have stopped paying for the sun, and we all used to complain how the train fare would go up each year, but that was nothing compared to this.

“Thomas? Is that you?” his mum shouts from under the sunbed.

“Yeah. Jamie’s here, too.”

His mum shouts hello and Lily jumps up running towards me. “Jamie!”

She always insists on me holding her up when we greet. Sometimes I wonder if she loves me more than her own brother. Before Tom and I enter his room his mum comes after us. Her tan looks terrible, as if she has overdone a roast for thirty minutes.

“Did you get my bulbs, hun?”

He passes them to her upon which she kisses him on the cheek.

“Cheers, darling,” she says, sees Lily and then takes her off me. “Sweetheart, it’s your turn.” I see a pout in Lily’s face. She obviously finds her own mum ugly.

“I don’t want to. I can’t move in there!”

“It’s only for two minutes. You want to look tanned and pretty for grandma later, don’t you?”

“Yes, but in the real sun,” the little girl says.

 

After sunset you will often see the real sky. At night-time everything feels a lot more real. If it’s not naturally cloudy they will sometimes let you see the moon, the stars, even Orion’s belt. But there has been no sign of them in weeks.

However, on my way home I spot the moon, which appears to be blood-shot red. It doesn’t strike me as an eclipse. Something looks different. For an early Autumn night, it feels unpleasantly warm, too.

“The sun is dying,” a voice says.

I suddenly notice a bloke in a hoodie standing next to me. He’s half a head smaller than I am, his long blonde hair covered under his hood.

“What?” I say.

I notice a few more people around us. A couple of them are leaning against a pole, another one is playing coin toss. They’re all wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

“What is the value of money if there is no more sun?” he says and looks at me.

The dim street lamps throw a mysterious light on him. I can’t tell if his eyes are blue or grey.

“What do you mean, what’s going on with the sun?”

“You heard him,” a female voice says. I turn around and see a frowning girl holding a Fawkes mask in her hand.

“Oi, guys! Night watch!” one of the masked boys says.

The next thing I know we’re running three blocks down the street, away from the approaching sirens.

“This way,” Blondie says and we turn left into a dead-end street with the others. One is going crazy, shouting and bending the rear mirrors of expensive cars as we’re running.

“Stop it, Mitch, you fucking idiot!” the girl says.

It’s dark, but judging by the shape of the houses around us we’re in a quiet residential area. We gather behind a bush and Blondie throws some LED light on the ground. One of the boys is lifting up a manhole cover. I watch one climb down after the other. The girl looks at me briefly before she disappears in the hole. Blondie is next in line. He points the light at me and says: “What are you waiting for, Jamie?”

 

I don’t know why I end up going with them. Usually I am not scared of the Night watch; they have never stopped me for anything.

“You don’t look comfortable, my friend,” says Blondie at the bottom of the ladder, his hood no longer covering up his head. Everyone has his or her headlight on. He looks young, but it could also be his height. He and the others lead me through a tunnel. At the far end I see a lighted area.

So this group is what is left of Anonymous: three hackers and a bunch of wannabe rebels. Their workstation is a huge cave with a high ceiling. The computer guys are in the far corners with large monitors in front of them, one is showing a computerized version of our sun, which is blood red.

“The scientists have been lying to us,” Blondie says. “Our sun doesn’t have billions of years, its hydrogen supply, has, in fact, run out.”

He touches the screen to show the current position of the swollen red sun and our solar system. I spot Earth right away.

“Wait a second…” I say, “Where are Mercury and Venus?”

He sighs. “Well, at this point the helium phase has already taken place…”

“…and our sister planets have already been swallowed by the sun,” one of the hacker guys says.

I find myself walking back and forth, not believing a word they say. I don’t understand how they can remain so calm.

The hacker guy says, “The expanding sun wasn’t supposed to reach Earth’s orbit for several million years. But all this is happening now. Coronal mass ejections are evaporating the oceans and soon we will be molten.”

“Isn’t it your guys’ job to warn everyone?” I ask.

“Oh we will. And now is the time, because there is no time,” Blondie says.

They show me the world map on the screen, highlighting the House of Parliament in London, the White House in Washington DC and other major government locations in Europe and Asia.

“This is what we will tell the world: The rich is planning to leave Earth, however, without us.”

The screen is showing large spaceships and someone has been filming them.

“Someone in the government works for you guys?” I say.

“It’s not just someone…” Blondie says and presses a button on his remote.

I can’t believe my eyes when I see Tom on the other screen. He looks solemn.

“Hi lads, are we ready?”

“Tom?”

“Yes, Jamie. Listen, we don’t have much time. My mum is at work. Lily is at my gran’s. We are showing the world the state of the sun, that way our army will grow and we can stop the government from determining our future, although there might be none…”

“Army? You mean chaos. Tom, we have to talk to the government.”

Tom laughs and so does everyone else. “Don’t be daft, Jamie. I knew that you’d say that, that’s why we included you last. It’s already happening…”

The screen changes to news outlining the government’s plan to gather the rich in spaceships to leave Earth before the sun touches our atmosphere. When that happens the Earth’s magnetic fields will no longer protect us from solar flares. They are also leaking secret NASA videos of the dying sun, which has already expanded into a red giant. It has already lost a lot of mass and heat through stellar winds, and yet it’s still hot enough to eliminate the oceans and turn Earth into lava. The Pacific Ocean is already evaporating and most the Eastern part of Asia and Australia is no longer.

“The world is listening,” Tom says as his picture comes back on, “And it’s only a matter of minutes until the government will locate me and take me away. But you guys have all the access codes. You will break into headquarters and eliminate the fake sky for good.”

“But Tom, they will condemn you for treason!” I say.

“Jamie, Jamie,” he shakes his head. “Listen, I only have one job for you. You have to get Lily for me and have her join you guys. Otherwise they will sell her to paedophiles. There is nothing more I can do. Once they take me they will go to my grandma’s house next.”

The hacker guys are busy typing away and keeping an eye out on what is happening in the streets. Where Tom is we hear the sound of sirens in the background.

“For fuck’s sake, Jamie! What are you waiting for?” he says. “Sophie, go with him. And the rest of you know what to do.”

“What the fuck, Tom, why can’t I go with them!” says Sophie.

Tom remains silent for two seconds and then I see a smile in his face. “No one is leaving Earth today.”

And like that he disconnects himself. Blondie turns around and just says: “Go! Go! Now!”

Sophie and I begin to run back to the tunnel where we came from.

 

There are people running down the main roads; I hear sirens from a distance and Sophie sobbing behind me as we head down the street. She slows down and covers her mouth with her hand. I put my arm around her, telling her to speed up.

People are rioting like they did in 2011: smashing windows with sledgehammers, setting cars on fire and looting local shops.

The television sky is flickering and pixelating, and we hear static grainy noises above us. They must have turned the fake cloudy sky back on. We weren’t supposed to see the red moon to start with. We are only a couple of hours before dawn.

“We’re going to burn, we’re going to burn…” I hear Sophie mumble.

Outside my grandma’s town house I see a black car taking off. Some hooded street kids are throwing rocks at the car and begin chasing it down the street. The house door is unlocked, and we walk into a mess: Broken photograph frames, knocked over table and chairs and broken cupboards and plates.

“Lily!” I shout.

I search the rooms, walk-in closets and cellar.

“Jamie!” Sophie shouts from the back door. I take the door through to the backyard and see Sophie holding Lily in her arms.

As soon as Lily sees me, she comes running and crying. “I want to see mummy, Jamie!”

I lift her up and look at Sophie.

“She was under the porch,” she says. Her lips are trembling as if she is about to cry. Before she sheds a tear a static white noise pierces through our ears and we crouch down to the ground, pressing our palms against our ears. We look up and see that our sky has lost signal. A few seconds later the dead channel disappears and above us we see the clear pink sky.

“Oh my God…” Sophie stutters, pointing her finger east.

I look at the sun, because I remember doing so as a kid. I would have blinded myself if it hadn’t been my parents covering up my eyes. Eventually they bought me some solar eclipse glasses and I would be wearing them for most of the day every day. I’m a Leo and, thus, ruled by the sun. The sun is not a planet, but a star – uninhabitable, unapproachable and unpredictable. The only way to look at her was through a pair of dark shades. It was the only way to be close to her. I would pray to her, talk to her, do anything to draw her closer to my orbit. Staring at her used to give me energy and hope to go through the day.

And then the government blocked our view. I thought I had lost all hope.

I don’t need protection to look at her now. She is dying – but the radiance of her beautiful face is dispelling all my fears. There is a giant lava ball breaking through our atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field will soon be non-existent. I watch magnetic filaments burst from her surface; something I never thought I would see.

Lily is gripping tightly at my shirt while staring at the red giant with her mouth wide open. As Sophie comes closer I put my other arm around her.

No one is leaving Earth today.

by Paula Deckard (c) 2017

Inspired by Neuromancer’s opening sentence.

 

For S.D.

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