THE SUN SHONE ON VENUS
ONE SECOND after, Margot could feel the air change, hear the silence as the rain stopped in Venera City, the capital of Venus, for the first time in seven years. For that second, her heart leapt – and she forgot where she was, forgot what her classmates had done. The scientists hadn't lied. The sun was there, warm and golden as she remembered. It was right outside, waiting.
ONE MINUTE after, Margot was throwing herself bodily against the bolted closet door, screaming for someone to let her out. Every moment that passed was another moment of sunlight lost, another moment of the warmth and joy that she longed for – ached for – denied.
Tears ran down her face, making her hands damp and smell of salt and the hateful rain. She knew she was forgotten. Her classmates had locked her in as a cruel prank, and then the sun came out and they forgot her. It wasn't fair. She wanted to see the sun more than anyone. She remembered it and she understood what it meant as the other children couldn't. She had waited for this day, for this hour, since she had set foot on Venus with her parents five years ago. She wanted so much, so terribly much.
If she couldn't get out of the closet, it would be another seven years before the rains stopped again, an impossible length of time. She couldn't survive that long without seeing the sun. She would get rain sickness. She would go mad.
Margot pounded against the door, sobbing so hard she couldn't breathe. Her fingers stung from the force of her blows.
No one came.
ONE HOUR after, they opened the door. Her classmates stood there, silent and fearful. Margot stepped out of the closet slowly, and did not run to the window slit to search the sky for any remaining rays of sunlight. In the closet, she had already heard the downpour begin again and knew all hope of seeing the sun was gone.
Hatred burned in her toward the other children, their eyes still bright and dazzled, cheeks pink from being outside, from running and laughing in that precious hour of sunlight. They understood now what they had done to her, knew what it was they had denied her. They shrank away from Margot as she approached them, the victim of their unspeakable crime. They had forgotten her, and their thoughtlessness had cost Margot everything. Her hands were wet – they felt so numb, she didn't realize the nails were torn and bleeding.
Then the teacher walked into the room. Her eyes widened and her face went white. The blissful, golden smile that had been on her face evaporated in an instant. "Margot!"
Her teacher hadn't noticed Margot's absence. Her teacher had forgotten her too.
ONE DAY (TERRESTRIAL) after, Margot was at home, in bed. "She's in shock," everyone kept saying.
There seemed to be many, many people in the small house where Margot lived with her mother and father, though no one was allowed into Margot's room. Most of them were doctors and people from the hospital, but her school's headmaster, Mr. Prentiss, was there too. She recognized his voice through the door.
Mr. Prentiss was telling her mother that Margot's teacher had been sacked for negligence, and there was to be an official inquiry into how the entire teaching staff conducted themselves. People would be punished for what had happened to Margot, and the school would pay for whatever treatments or counseling was deemed necessary. However, they would not pay for a trip back to Earth for Margot to see the sun again. The sum of money necessary for that was simply too astronomical.
"We'll send her back ourselves," her mother said. "We never should have taken her with us. Venus is too cruel for a child like Margot."
She exhaled slowly in relief, and her body uncurled slightly under the blankets. They would send her back to Earth. She never had to go back to that school or that class. She would leave this cold, damp, dark, awful planet and never come back. She would see Ohio and the flowers and the sky again. She would see the sun.
"Everything will be all right," she whispered to herself. She closed her eyes tightly and pretended that she was a hundred million miles away. "You'll be all right, Margot."
ONE WEEK (TERRESTRIAL) after, she was still in bed. Her hands didn't hurt very much anymore, though some of the bandages itched.
Margot was allowed visitors, but only one or two at a time. Many different doctors still came every day, and now there were psychiatrists and therapists and counselors and people from the government too. Margot's father had thrown out some professor because she was only interested in writing a paper about Margot's case, and was very rude and disagreeable.
Some of Margot's classmates also came to see her, all wearing the same fearful, haunted expressions. They were always accompanied by their parents, who did all the talking and apologizing, leaving Margot and the unlucky child to stare at each other in stony silence while the adults awkwardly tried to hold a conversation for them. Margot didn't like these visits and said so, but her parents refused to turn the children away.
However, Margot did like the sun lamps they brought her, one after another, until she had a great heap of them in the corner of her room. There were far too many to light all at once, but Margot put five of them on top of her dresser. If she squinted her eyes, she could imagine the five golden bulbs were one great big, yellow one. A miniature sun all her own.
ONE MONTH (TERRESTRIAL) after, Margot suffered another blow. Her mother collapsed one morning in the laboratory, and the doctors said that she had early stage Atropos disease. With treatment she would get better, but the medicines were very expensive, because they couldn't be synthesized on Venus. No one had to tell Margot that there would be no money to send her back to Earth.
Margot was so miserable at the thought of staying on Venus, she wanted to curl up and die, but she didn't say anything to her father. And the psychiatrists and the therapists wouldn't say anything to him either if she didn't want them to. Those were the rules. If her father worried too much he was going to make himself sick too. So Margot pretended she was fine, even though she wasn't. And she nodded and played dumb when the adults talked about sending her back to Earth soon, even though Margot knew they were lying.
On one of the days that she didn't have an appointment or a session or a visit, Margot went down to her mother's workshop in the basement. She liked it there because she couldn't hear the rain, but it was cold and dimly lit. Margot took three of the sun lamps with her, and spent the afternoon tinkering with them. She took one apart and put it back together again. Then she removed the shades from the lamps so the bulbs were exposed, and put all the wires into a single circuit, connecting them together so she could turn all of them on and off at once. She ran back upstairs for more sun lamps, carrying them back to the lab three and four at a time. She used some leftover wire to make herself a roughly spherical framework, and attached the individual bulbs so they all radiated outward from the center, like a dandelion puff, with the wires forming a long stem coming out from underneath.
When she had twenty bulbs connected together, and she was finished with the wiring, Margot heaved the whole contraption up on an empty work table. Then she flipped the switch, and all the bulbs lit up like Christmas, a dazzling ball of white-gold light that made every shadow in the room disappear in an instant. Margot's triumph lasted all of three seconds before there was a violent sparking sound, and the whole laboratory went dark. There was a shout from her father, two stories above her.
Margot had blown out the electrical system for the whole house and ruined all but two of her new sun lamps.
But for a few hours, she'd forgotten she was miserable.
ONE YEAR (TERRESTRIAL) after, Margot was visiting Dr. Chadha. Of all the psychologists and doctors she had met, Margot liked her best. Dr. Chadha had warm, brown skin and dark eyes, and she made Margot cups of steaming hot chocolate when they had their talks. Sometimes afterwards, Margot would play with Dr. Chadha's daughter, Rumi, who had already turned eleven, but was still shorter than Margot.
"I saw your mother at the hospital today." Dr. Chadha set her teacup down on the tray she'd placed across her desk, and Margot carefully did the same with her mug. "She told me you received a scholarship to a private school on Earth. Congratulations, Margot. Does this mean I'll have to say goodbye to you in a few months?"
Margot shook her head. "No. My parents can't send me back to Earth yet, so I'll have to use virtual correspondence to attend classes. But the headmaster said I can do an accelerated curriculum if I want. Since my test scores are high enough for the secondary mathematics and science classes, I can skip the preliminary work and go straight into prep for university courses."
Her parents had laughed when Margot spoke of her plans, but Dr. Chadha only nodded. She always took Margot seriously. "That sounds very ambitious. I know you're a very smart girl, Margot, but I'm worried that you might be rushing into things."
"I'm not in a rush," Margot lied. "There's a boy younger than me who got into Shanghai University last year. And you only need to be twelve before you can apply at the universities on Venus. I checked."
"Yes, I'm sure you did."
ONE CLIMATE INTERVAL (VENUSIAN) after, Margot saw the sun for the first time in twelve years.
She was out on the roof of Venera University's Mathematics building with the other students. Her father and mother and Dr. Chadha had insisted on being there with her, just make sure she didn't miss the big moment this time. Margot took her own precautions. She arranged to miss all of her classes that day, and climbed up on the roof a full six hours before the sun was due to appear. The wait wasn't so bad, really. Knowing that the torrential rain and inky darkness were finite on this day made them more bearable. And Margot had been waiting for such a long time already.
When the skies cleared and the sun appeared at last, Margot was so overcome that she was shaking. She felt like she'd gone deaf, with no thundering storm perpetually raging overhead. She felt like she'd gone blind, suddenly faced with an unfamiliar world bathed in brilliant light. Instinctively, Margot raised her hand over her forehead to shield her eyes, and was taken aback at how pale she was, even in comparison to the other students and her own parents, who were hovering anxiously nearby.
Margot looked at them. She really looked at her parents for the first time in a very long time. In the sunlight, everything was so much clearer.
For the next hour she walked and she ran and she reveled in the light, with everyone else in Venera City. She did her best to take in everything she could and to remember - the way buildings looked like chalk and lime, the way parents' stood in the open air, and above all the glorious, glorious sun. And suddenly Margot's head was full of plans. She was due to graduate in two years, with a double degree in physics and molecular engineering. Then she would apply to a government laboratory to sponsor her doctorate studies. She would specialize in applied particle physics, and try to find a mentor who knew something about alternative energy studies.
It was only as the sky was darkening again that Margot noticed Rumi, Dr. Chadha's daughter. Margot hadn't seen her old playmate in ages, not since she had started at the University. Rumi was as tall as her mother now, with the same beautiful skin and dark hair. Her eyes were brighter, though, her smile more radiant. Margot ran up to greet her, ignoring the shiver that ran down the back of her neck as the first rumbles of distant thunder signaled the coming rain.
The last rays of sunlight faded from view, but Rumi's face brightened when she saw Margot.
ONE DECADE (TERRESTRIAL) after, Margot was nineteen years old. She was young and unproven, but the science behind her proposal was sound.
"It's the same fusion core that's used in our power reactors, except I've engineered the reaction so that the radiance field is miniaturized and can be contained in a simple synthetic containment unit without the usual shielding." The screen behind Margot displayed a steady stream of data for the benefit of the seated audience.
"Why remove the shielding?" someone called out from the back of the lecture hall.
Margot answered without hesitation. "Miniaturization removes 98% of the radiation, but will maximize the light and heat being generated by the core. It'll have ten times the output of a standard sun lamp bulb the same size."
"That's a hell of a lot of trouble to go through to upgrade a sun lamp, Miss Vallon." She could identify the speaker now. It was a young man named Michael from one of her engineering classes. She could hear the smirk in his voice. He talked too much, but he was smart enough to get away with it.
Margot put a different set of schematics up on the screen, labeled SOLAR ORB. "While the core can be compressed to that size, it doesn't necessarily need to be. We could produce the same rate of incandescence on a much larger scale. And placed in the proper structure, say a dome of the appropriate scale, we could match the level of solar saturation found on Earth." She paused, trying to keep her voice steady. "We could make our own sun and our own sunlight. Inside the dome, we could have a summer day, right here in Venera City."
A hush fell over the room, and then there were murmurs in the crowd. Cautious, but excited. A woman in the second row was standing, peering intently at Margot's schematics through thick glasses. The murmurs grew louder.
Margot's heart was pounding in her chest. She could do it, she realized. It was going to take years and years of effort and heartache, but she'd showed them it was possible, and now all she had to do was follow through. The goal was within her reach. She could almost see it.
If Margot couldn't go to the sun, she was going to bring the sun to Venus.
ONE DECADE (TERRESTRIAL) before, Michael fretted over the plans, pacing across the empty classroom floor in agitation. "Fifteen feet high? A hundred feet in diameter? Margot, you have to compromise on something!"
"Those are the necessary - listen to me!" Margot scurried to catch up to Michael as he changed direction abruptly, halfway across the room again. She hated it when he paced. "Those are the necessary dimensions in order to maximize the output of the incandescence panels. If we use a parabola that's any smaller, the saturation level drops by 30%."
"Well, it's not practical to have the orb suspended anyway." Michael paused when he reached the far wall, turning to confront her again. "If you could only concede to Mikkelson's proposal, or Suzuki's," he pleaded.
"Then we would have a glorified floor lamp." Margot retorted. "I can't believe I'm hearing this from you! You know the math. The orb has to be overhead or else the effect is completely spoiled."
Michael frowned at her and pointed at the data screen illuminated behind them. His frame was rigid with frustration. "The only way we can achieve the height you propose is with antigravity, which means the costs will be astronomical."
"Well that's completely appropriate, considering what we're trying to do."
"This is crazy, Margot." He shook his head violently, bangs sliding over his eyes. He needed a haircut. "I'm serious. Earth Dome will never approve your budget."
"They will." She crossed her arms resolutely, chin jutting forward. "We'll convince them."
Michael made an exasperated sound, but before he could say anything there was a knock at the door.
"Margot?" It was Rumi, peering into the classroom.
The tension broke. "I need coffee," Michael declared. He grinned at Rumi as he walked past her. "Watch out. She's on the warpath today." Margot glared at his retreating back.
"Congratulations on the research grant." Rumi put her purse and textpad down on one of the desks, and watched Margot gather up her papers. "I hear you're going to build a prototype."
"Sure. If Michael and I ever agree on what it's a prototype for." Margot slapped the pile of papers down on the work table with a thwap. She looked up at Rumi. "How was class?"
"Fine. Full of stuff an actual practicing physician doesn't ever really use." She shrugged. She was still watching Margot, head inclined thoughtfully. "You know, you could use all that research money to go back to Earth. Change your name and disappear when you got there. Even if they caught you, the expense to extradite you back to Venus would be prohibitive."
"That's not enough anymore." Margot adjusted the data screen, bringing the blueprints into sharper focus. "I want everyone on Venus to see the sun again."
ONE CLIMATE INTERVAL (VENUSIAN) before, the first small scale demonstration took place in Margot's laboratory, which had once been her mother's workshop. The prototype was tiny, hardly bigger than Margot's fist, but it shone with a strong, unwavering golden light, and hovered above their cupped hands. Someone nicknamed it "the bauble," and then someone else shortened it to "Bob." The name stuck.
Michael was nervous, having three major industrialists and a scattering of politicians in such close proximity. Even the mayor of Venera City, Amadeo Santiago, was there with his son, a little boy named Tycho. He was about six years old.
"Who invited the kid?" Michael muttered darkly.
Margot didn't blink. "I did."
Little Tycho was laughing and clapping his hands, his face aglow as Bob floated over his head. Mayor Santiago lifted the boy up in his arms for a closer look. The attention of the crowd was focused on Tycho, on his reaction to the light and warmth being generated by the prototype. The boy repeatedly tried to catch the orb, but the antigravity kept it safely out of his grasp. Every near miss elicited oohs and aaahs and gentle laughter from the sympathetic grown-ups around him.
Margot lowered her voice and moved in a little closer to Michael. "Santiago's son suffers from chronic rain sickness. There are significant medical and therapeutic uses for our technology as well as those recreational benefits you and Matthias keep going on about. I wanted them to see that firsthand."
"Smart move," Michael conceded, nodding toward the crowd. "They're eating it up."
"Dr. Vallon!" Suddenly, Margot found the attention of the room had shifted. The mayor was coming towards her, his son perched on his shoulders. Margot immediately looked for Bob, and spotted him back in his docking station, being fussed over by one of the technicians. Her first thought was to excuse herself and see what was the problem was, but Mayor Santiago put himself directly in her path, his free hand outstretched.
Michael elbowed her, and Margot shook his hand. "Thank you so much for coming, Sir," she said quickly. Her voice sounded awkward in her ears. Margot usually left the public relations to Michael or one of the others on the team.
Santiago shook her hand vigorously. "It's remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. I haven't seen my son react to anything like that in years."
Tycho stared down at Margot for a moment with large, round eyes. Then he lost interest and looked back toward Bob's flickering glow. Mayor Santiago was still shaking Margot's hand, a little too hard. She tried to extricate herself. "I - er. We're very grateful for your support."
The mayor released her, composed again in an instant. But when he spoke, the excitement in his voice was clear. "I'll go to Earth Dome myself. You'll have the money for your sun, Dr. Vallon."
ONE YEAR (TERRESTRIAL) before, construction was going well on the Sun Dome. Officially, it was the Herschel-Patel-Esposito Solar Dome Mark I, but everyone called it the Sun Dome. Margot didn't care what the name was as long as they were building it to her specifications. She came every day to talk with the architects and the engineers, and inspect the work. She didn't need to be there officially. Michael or Zuti or one of the others could have easily taken care of the minor day-to-day details. Margot knew there had been complaints that she was micromanaging, but she didn't care. They'd have to lock her up to keep her away.
Rumi drove Margot out to the site most days, on her way to Venera General Hospital. Margot would find her own way back. Sometimes she got a ride with one of the construction teams on their supply runs. Sometimes she walked the two miles of sodden road back to the perimeter wall of the city, and caught a transport from there. At some point, Margot had stopped being afraid of the rain and the dark. She just thought of the Sun Dome, and everything else seemed to be of secondary importance.
Rumi didn't like it. "You're going to get carried off one of these days by the Venusians. I don't care what the politicians back at Earth Dome say. They're still attacking our supply convoys out on the Fringes. I've seen some of the wounded who have been brought in. It's terrible."
"Two miles from the city isn't the Fringes," Margot countered. They were having dinner in the hospital canteen during one of Rumi's breaks. Margot had gotten into the habit of stopping by on her way home, for the lentil stew and the company. "And Venusians haven't been spotted that close to the city walls in ages. There isn't even a proper jungle in the Sector anymore, with all the expansion going on."
"Two miles is plenty. With all the activity, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they got curious and came around to get a better look at what you're building out there. And then where will you be?" She pointed her fork at Margot.
"I'd like to meet a Venusian." Margot mused, secretly enjoying Rumi's irritation. "I wonder what they think of the sun."
ONE MONTH (TERRESTRIAL) before, Margot had screwed up. Her precious solar orb was in pieces around her, and she was feverishly trying to rewire all the components into yet another configuration to try to and compensate for the broken power regulator. She'd left the fabrication of the faulty piece to Matthias, and she hadn't properly compared figures with him during the crunch, when they were trying to get everything finalized. As a result the regulator had not only been cast in the wrong alloy, but the dimensions of the fitting had been off. During the stress tests that morning, the whole thing had blown, frying half the circuitry for the orb and igniting a small fire in the testing lab.
Margot didn't notice the door open or close, but suddenly Rumi was standing on the opposite side of the workbench with a worried expression. Her hair was still wet from the rain. "Margot," she said. "You have to stop."
The words didn't really register, though Rumi's presence did. Margot looked up. "Is Michael out there? Tell him to get go borrow another generator from the Chemistry Department, will you?"
"Margot." Warm, brown hands were grasping her own. "Please come home with me. You can leave this until the morning. Nobody will touch anything, I promise."
"It can't wait." Margot pulled away, knots of anxiety tightening in her stomach. "We can't afford to lose any more time." Her head hurt and her fingers itched. She was glad to see Rumi, but at the same time Margot wished she'd picked a better day to visit. There was so much left to be done.
"What's the rush?" Rumi insisted. "So you'll delay the opening another week. It's not going to make a difference."
"We've delayed six weeks already!" Margot snapped at her. Suddenly, her frustrations were spilling over, clawing their way free from the frenzied maelstrom of her thoughts. "If we don't produce results, they're going to shut us down! We're going to lose the funding, and the damn University Board is going to - "
"That's not going to happen." Rumi's hands were resting on Margot's shoulders now. Her dark eyes were full of worry and concern. "Everyone has these setbacks. Projects this big get delayed all the time, and for a lot longer than six weeks. You need to rest or you're going to hurt yourself."
Rumi was being perfectly reasonable. And it was unbearable.
Margot pushed her away roughly and got up from her seat, almost tripping over the orb's central reactor unit. "You don't understand. I have to finish this. I have to make it work." She didn't know how else to explain. "I've lost too much time already."
"Margot - " Rumi was reaching for her again.
"Leave me alone!" she shrieked. A dark, angry, claustrophobic feeling came over her. Margot's clenched hands were throbbing. "Get out!"
ONE WEEK (TERRESTRIAL) before, Michael said, "The new mayor wants the first prototype for the entryway of City Hall."
"Bob?" Margot looked up from her nanotubes and microcircuitry panels. "He can't have Bob. I already promised all our prototypes to the Therapy Center for the patients recovering from rain sickness."
"But it's the mayor."
"So what?" Margot shrugged dismissively. "Bob will be doing a lot more good in the hands of a sick child than he will floating over some reception desk. If the mayor doesn't like that, we can call up Senator Santiago to give him an earful from Earth Dome."
Michael was slowly nodding in agreement, but he was worried. Margot had known him long enough to tell that he was holding back so as not to upset her. It had been a rocky few weeks for everyone.
She relented. "I'll tell you what. We can let the mayor present Bob to the Therapy Center. That should be plenty of good publicity for him. And he can have the mock-up model of the Sun Dome we used for the last investors' presentation. With a new coat of paint, it'll look just as impressive."
There was relief in Michael's laughter. "You ought to be a politician, Margot Vallon."
The familiar teasing was oddly comforting. Margot smiled in spite of herself. "Save the flattery for your wife."
A moment later, there was a rustle of papers. "Hey, what's this?" Michael was holding up a yellow binder with the words SUN DOME PROJECT: SECOND CYCLE emblazoned on the front.
"Plans for mass replication." Margot tightened the last bolt on the new regulator. "If the first Sun Dome succeeds, I want them all over Venus. In order to meet the needs of Venera City alone, we'll need to get started on construction of a dozen more at least before the year is out."
Michael groaned. "Can we just worry about the first one for now?"
ONE DAY (TERRESTRIAL) before, Margot got off the last car of the transport, and found a group of people gathered at the far end of the platform, by the edge of the perimeter wall. They were looking at the Sun Dome in the distance, a bright glitter of gold in the cold, rain-darkened Venusian landscape. The coverings had been removed, and this was the first time the whole exterior was visible.
"What is it?" she heard a little girl behind her ask. "Mommy, what is it?"
"I don't know, Sweetie." The mother's voice was soothing. "It's a new building over there. See? It looks like a new Science Dome."
Other voices chimed in. "I hear it’s a greenhouse, or an energy plant."
"Look at the color of that dome. Maybe it's supposed to be like a lighthouse for the workers out in the Fringes. You could see that thing from a hundred miles away."
"I hope it's a new weapon we can use against the Venusians."
"No," Margot interjected quickly. "It's not a weapon. It can't be a weapon." She caught herself before saying more. The secrecy of the project was a condition for a good portion of the funds they were depending on. There were patents and contracts and other things still being sorted out. Soon, though, she could show everyone the Sun Dome. They were almost finished. Tomorrow, everyone would know.
"Mommy." The little girl's voice was whispered, urgent. "Mommy, can we go there?"
ONE HOUR before, the assembled throng of politicians, scientists, and other notable Venus colonists had arrived for the dedication of the Sun Dome, and were busy drinking the imported champagne and making small talk among themselves. Margot forced herself to mingle, to shake hands and say hello. These were her colleagues and investors, the people who had supported her and her work. They were here to see if they had gotten their money's worth, and Margot knew the stakes were high. Building the Dome was one thing, but keeping it open and operational was another.
"It certainly is beautiful, Dr. Vallon," a young man remarked to her. He was someone's husband or nephew, someone Margot knew she had met before, a long time ago. He was staring up at the apex of the Dome's interior, currently lit from below by a ring of sun lamps. The hexagonal incandescence panels glowed yellow and gold. "All lit up like that, I can see why they call it a Sun Dome. And I can't remember the last time I felt so warm."
"It'll feel even better when the solar orb is in place." The lamps were there for temporary illumination. They would be dimmed just before the orb went up, in order to provide what Michael called "proper dramatic effect."
Out of the corner of her eye, Margot saw the assembled sphere being wheeled to the center of the Dome, into position. It was covered by a white tarp, and the rest of the technical team was clustered around it, keeping it steady as it was moved. And then she saw Rumi standing with Michael, beckoning to her. For a moment, Margot thought something was wrong. But Rumi was smiling, excited.
She turned to the young man. "Please excuse me."
ONE MINUTE before, the uncovered orb was charging up slowly, steadily. It was at 40% power, already brighter than all the sun lamps in the room put together. Now 50%. The incandescence panels were beginning to fully ignite. The guests had fallen silent, some open-mouthed in awe, some shielding their eyes. Margot's parents were here, and her professors, and her teachers, and her hard-won friends. Everyone who mattered was here with her.
Margot was holding her breath. And then she heard herself say, "Activate antigravity."
ONE SECOND before, as the solar orb lifted from the floor of the Sun Dome and began its ascent, Rumi grabbed her hand and squeezed, and –
THE SUN SHONE ON VENUS.