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A Memory of Sun

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It was dark in the closet, and silent beyond. Margot knew that the other children had locked her in and gone away because she was different, because her memories of the sun were vivid while theirs were dim and uncertain. They disliked her because she barely spoke and didn't join in their games, and there was no place in their tightly circumscribed world for a washed-out frail-looking girl who was too quiet, who was other. With resignation, Margot realized that someone had to be Other, to be Outside, to remind the children that they were safely Inside. The others were one in their games and their songs and their ignorance of the sun, and if any of them felt guilty for locking her away, they would keep it to themselves, for fear of falling off the edge of Inside.

Margot's desperate pleas subsided into quiet sobbing. She'd been looking forward to these few precious hours of sunlight for years. She'd made a calendar for the wall in her room, months ago, and had been patiently ticking off the days. That morning, she'd talked about Sun Day so enthusiastically at breakfast that her mother had laughed with pleasure. There had been too much rain and too little laughter for all of them since they'd come to Venus.  

Too many minutes had passed. Margot realized the others weren’t going to come back and let her out in time to see the sun. To distract herself from despair, she reminded herself that Venus had not always been a place of perpetual rain. No one living remembered the time before the rains, but long ago, a handful of terraforming scientists had come in rocket ships and dug the first tunnels, safely away from the hot, toxic environment on the surface. Bit by bit, they'd changed the planet's atmosphere, and the rains and the settlers had come. After countless years of rain, the planet had become marginally habitable, but the terraformers still had many years of work ahead of them. Margot's father had once told her the settlers might see the sun on a daily basis in another fifty or sixty years.

“We could turn it off,” he'd said. “Or we could shorten the rain cycles, but the terraformers say that shortening the cycles would slow their work by decades. The Council has given priority to finishing the terraforming, so we only get a sliver of sun, while the next cycle is being set up.” The terraformers, widely respected and despised, worked hard to make Venus habitable for future generations, for the ones who would live only on the surface, in the sun. Simulation techs like Margot’s father, not quite so respected but not at all despised, worked hard to make the tunnels liveable for the generations who must endure the rain.

Margot’s tears gradually stopped as she sat there, trying to imagine what Venus would be like with a sun. Eventually, she heard the footsteps of the other children returning. After a minute, the closet door opened slowly, and a few children looked in at her. A girl tentatively said, “Sorry,” but Margot's silence was palpable and absolute, and the other children shrank back from her pitiless gaze. Now you know, she thought. Your apologies are worthless. You mean less than nothing to me. Now you know what it is to be Other, and Outside.

 

“Your teacher told me what happened today,” her mother said, as Margot picked at her dinner. “She says the other children will be punished.”

“It doesn't matter,” Margot said listlessly. “I missed it.” While her parents exchanged worried glances over her head, she made plans to create a new calendar. She would make one to last all the way until the next Sun Day, even though her parents planned to move back to Earth next year. She must not hope for too much: if she made a calendar counting the days until their return to Earth and the the trip were canceled, she would be devastated. I am devastated, she thought, but what else can I do except wait?

After dinner, her father said, “Come with me,” and took her to the workshop where he tinkered with private projects after hours. A few of the things he'd developed here had been installed in the public tunnels, for everyone's use.

“Not another simulation of the sun,” she said. “It's not the same, Dad.”

“No, it's not. About today...”

“I don't want to talk about today,” she said, turning her face away from him.

“You're a creature of the sun, child. If we'd known that, we never would have left Earth, bonus or no bonus. Your mother doesn't quite understand, but I think I do.”

“No, you don't,” she said quietly.

Her father sighed. “I grew up in southern Ohio, in a place that was very lush and green. When I was a bit older than you are now, my family moved to Colorado. Everyone else said it was beautiful, but it wasn't to me. I was starved for greenness, just as you've been starved for sunlight. My parents understood that, and we eventually moved again. When we did... when I saw proper greenness again... I couldn't look at it hard enough. It was the most wonderful day of my life. We’ll go back to Earth next year, but until then, you can have this,” he said, handing her a small, silver object.

“A hairband?” Margot said, turning it over and over in her hands. Gently she touched the tiny crystals embedded in its outer surface. “It's pretty, but why?” she said in puzzlement.

“Stars for your hair, and the sun in your pocket. Put it on, and take this,” he said, holding out a small, silver globe about an inch in diameter.

She put the hairband on and took the globe from her father. Almost immediately, she gasped in surprise and the globe slipped from her fingers. While holding the globe, she'd felt the glory of the sun, warm on her face. She pulled the hairband off, stared at it intently, and looked up to her father in wonder. “It's a simulation?”

Her father shook his head as he picked up the globe. “It's actually a memory, of sorts. It's a new perception field, but it's not programmed the way simulations are; you have to sample the real thing. I've been testing it for months, on small things, like food. Today, I was able to capture the sun when it came out. The perception field is in the headband, and this—” he said, holding up the globe, “contains the memory and a small power source. Whenever you touch the globe, the memory will be projected through the headband.

“We'll probably manufacture and distribute them to everyone, but for now, there are only two prototypes. One for you, and one to leave for Mr. Smithers after we've gone. If I show this to my boss now, he might not let me leave until we have a large-scale model installed in the tunnels, and that could take years.”

Margot put the headband back on, took the globe, and sighed with contentment. She could have the warmth and the glow of the sun in her pocket, any time she reached for it. And everyone else... they would have only their calendars and their memories of the sun, until her father's invention was installed everywhere or the terraformers finished their work, decades from now. Everyone else would be trapped in a closet, and she would be free.

They would have only rain and darkness. Margot thought hard for a few minutes, then said, “Have you bought the tickets yet?”

“To go back to Earth? No. We still need clearance from the Council.”

“Go ahead and show Mr. Smithers the other prototype. I can wait.”

“Are you sure, honey?  It really might take years, and this—” he said, gesturing at the globe.

“Will be enough,” she said firmly.

Margot’s father studied her face closely before nodding. “The others will appreciate your sacrifice.”

“They won’t,” she said, remembering the closet. If the other children found out about the globe, they would try to steal it or smash it. She would have to be careful. Perhaps it would be best to leave her globe, her precious tiny sun, safe in her room.

“But why?”

“Because I can,” she said, smiling more broadly than she had in years. “I have the sun in my pocket. I can do anything.”