“There is nothing quite like the moment when an idea strikes and you can whip out your notebook and favorite pen and scrawl away for an hour. I’ve been going nonstop for weeks now and was overjoyed to have time to write something other than my 30 page political manifesto. (*cries from post-paper-writing trauma*) Anyway, this little story ties together some concepts from my philosophical readings and my own random questions with what I like to imagine is a Ray Bradbury-esque twist. Let me know what you think!
The Same Sun
The view was spectacular. Almost enough to make one believe it had been painted, sculpted by some great cosmic artist rather than produced by blind nature with no talent but plenty of time.
So Atlas thought to himself as he sat among the spectators, his fellow elite of the Earth. Those elite who, seven years ago, had fled to Mars to escape after some unknown thing had taken a large portion of the population. It might have been a disease. Or a secret enemy. Nobody stuck around to investigate. All anyone remembered is that where one moment a man stood, the next he was gone. It had seemed so random; one janitor vanished, leaving a broom to fall unattended, while another continued mopping; one mother and child disappeared without a trace while another was left to rock her startled toddler; one surgeon asked for a scalpel and another turned to hand it to him only to find empty air.
The wealthy did not care to investigate, seeing no explanations in accordance with their unbending logic. But even their logic was subject to fear, so they fled as far as they could from earth, desperate to avoid catching (or perhaps, being caught by) what became known as “the sudden death.” Of course, nobody knew for certain that the victims died, but what else happened when one disappeared?
That was seven years ago now. Atlas and his partner, Eden, had fled along with the rest of their social class. With the vanishing of thousands followed so soon by the abandonment by the upper class, the oligarchies of earth fell into madness. Now, Atlas sat in a stadium with hundreds of others, staring through telescopic glasses out across the solar system at a single bluish orb floating like a lonely teardrop in a dark sea. Earth.
“Beautiful view, isn’t it,” Eden said, sauntering up behind him and laying a red-lacquered hand on his arm. Her other hand clutched a wine glass. It was so full that only its magnetic rim kept its iron-laced contents from spilling over and onto her blouse.
“Yeah,” Atlas shrugged. “It’s something else.”
The solar system spread itself before him, a mobile of multicolored planets. He himself perched on the red one: Mars. The Martian Colonies had been experimental for decades. Now, though, with such a rapid influx of investments from the wealthy in their eagerness to escape the sudden death, it became not only livable but luxurious. Seemingly overnight, the industrial Martian Colonies transformed into what some called “New Vegas” and others- poetic from the combined effects of the change in gravity and the influence of Martian wine- called “Paradise.”
From where he sat in the bleachers, Atlas scanned the planets and moons before him, shining gemstones set against the dark velvet of space. His eyes settled on the sapphire and topaz earth. He turned the dial on his glasses and zoomed in for a closer view of his native planet.
From afar, it was still beautiful. Almost enough to make him homesick for the greens of trees and of the sea near his home. Almost. When he got a closer look, the feeling faded. Brown, dusty, and swarming with ants who were really men. Rough with the pockmarks of mines and the sharp scars of city skylines. Turning around and peering over the rim of his glasses, Atlas feasted his eyes – thirsty and sore from the sight of decrepit earth – on the artificial Martian oasis behind him. Without having to crane his head, he could see the lights of cabarets, smell the aroma of wine and food, and hear the ever-blasting bass of the Night-and-Day clubs.
Yes, this was better.
“Quake number 333 has struck earth,” announced a bored voice over the broadcasters. “Anytime now, the pious-” he pronounced this word with an audible sneer “- of earth expect it to happen.”
Atlas’ mind flashed through months of news reports.
The gathering of the pious.
The judgement of the wicked.
The end of the world…
Well…the end of earth at least.
An involuntary shudder ran through Atlas. He felt Eden’s nails tense around his bicep. He had forgotten she was there.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Exactly,” she said, quirking what might have been a witty smile had she not already downed two glasses of wine. “Nothing.”
“What?” Atlas turned to her.
“Nothing. That’s what is going to happen. These people…the ‘faithful,’ the weak…they’ve been waiting and praying, counting signs and whispering that this thing they call ‘the Day’ is coming. But for what? Nothing. They’re hoping for paradise to come for them. Well, paradise is here!”
She threw out her arms as if to display to Atlas the splendors of Mars, her wine sloshing but stopping at the rim. She beamed, obviously proud of her quippy conclusion. She watched Atlas for a reaction, but, receiving none, lowered her arms and resumed her easy manner. She licked her lips as if savoring her own superiority along with the wine. Her sly mannerisms, usually so attractive, sent another shudder down Atlas’ spine.
“Then why are we watching?” he asked softly.
“If nothing is going to happen, why are we here, on Mars, watching like a crowd at a football match, to see what happens? Why pay and wait to watch nothing?”
“Well…” Eden bit her lip. Her confusion was over in an instant, though, and she was all smiles once more. “It will be fun to watch them run about in confusion with nothing happens. Like ants when their hill collapses. Too bad we don’t have a magnifying glass big enough to make them sizzle just a little.”
She laughed at herself.
Atlas stared at her, his eyes wide behind his glasses. She always became a bit morbid at night but this…he shook himself. He was being silly. He was being illogical. Nature was all he saw, not a beautiful design. And nothing was all that would happen, not some wondrous conclusion to the story of earth.
That was all.
“Reports of thunder are arising from every continent on Earth despite unusually clear skies,” drawled the voice of the broadcaster, sounding only slightly more interested in this new development.
The crowd barely paid any attention, but Atlas scanned Earth’s atmosphere. No signs of storms. Not even clouds over South America. And yet, the radio had said thunder?
“Suppose,” he faced Eden. His voice had come out too sharply. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Suppose something does happen. Suppose it happens.”
“Does it matter?” sighed Eden.
“Pretend it does.”
“Well,” she said, speaking as if to a child who had pestered her with too many questions already, “if something does happen, all the better for us! We have the best seats on Mars and are safe from anything on Earth.”
“That’s what they – the weak- claim is coming. Judgement.”
“So what? We are here. Judge the Earth? By all means! Makes a better show for us on Mars. I swear, Atlas, you’ve been in an odd mood all night. Want a sip?” She held out her nearly-empty cup.
“The cup of wrath shall be poured out,” Atlas murmured. He had heard someone say that once on Earth. He had laughed aloud at the time, but now something clenched inside his chest as he remembered the phrase.
“What? I swear…” Eden said again. “You are being awfully serious tonight. And not fun at all.”
She tossed aside the cup and folded her arms over her chest, pouting. Atlas ignored her. Something else caught his eye. Clouds were gathering in the sky over Earth in one large mass. A hurricane? No, it could not be. It was too mountainous.
In his odd, fanciful mood, Atlas thought briefly that the clouds looked exactly like a chariot, horses and all. He stared at them in wonder for a moment before, without warning, the sun burst from within them.
The sun was not on Earth. It was just over there, behind him, closer to Mars than to Earth. And yet…
A deafening sound reverberated through the air, so strong that he only knew Eden had gasped by her open mouth. He gripped the armrests of his chair and focused his glasses in on the scene before him, aghast.
The trumpets blasted again, shaking him to the depths of his soul. That is, to the depths of his body. He knew rationally that men were animals with no souls. But he did not have time to reflect upon this before another sound crescendoed with the trumpets, surrounding him- and Mars- as well as Earth, from all sides.
He was trembling and, though his vision was unsteady and spotted by the afterimage of that glorious, inexplicable sun, he saw that Eden was shaking beside him. In fact, Mars itself was shaking. They had watched dozens of Earthquakes from their safe, removed Paradise, through the lenses of telescopic glasses. But never, in the seven years since they had emigrated from Earth to Mars, had they felt their new planet – their world – quake beneath them.
The light of what could not possibly be the sun but could not be called otherwise became blinding. Atlas found that shutting his eyes did nothing against its radiance. He turned away. Behind him, he saw the lights of the cabaret flicker and go out. He watched as food carts, as if in slow motion, toppled and spilled their wares. He watched men stumble about, shocked at the magnificent and horrifying scene they had not expected to watch, let alone perform in. He saw women in ridiculous heels crumple to the ground, their men either letting them fall without noticing or going down with them and remaining on their knees, unable to rise.
Spiderweb cracks thickened and multiple across the gold-stoned street, spreading up over even the red stones of its buildings. The very sky seemed to crack as veins of that terrifying, wondrous light cut through the atmosphere of Mars like a sword, turning its rust-colored air blood red.
Atlas turned his face back toward Earth, but found the Sun instead. Its brilliance sent pain shooting through his skull. The thundering grew louder. It felt as if it were coming from within his own head. And then the thunder turned to the stampeding of horses. It had been horses all along, he realized, his logic forsaken. What use was logic now? His soul laughed bitterly at him, for he now knew without a doubt that he had a soul.
Another tremor shook the ground, yanking the chair out from under him and tossing him to his knees. He stayed down, no longer daring to stare into that all-consuming, burning, living light. He was a child who had tried too many times to look at the sun and he had finally learned.
Another trumpet blast sent his heart simultaneously up into his throat and down into his stomach. Ecstasy and agony fought in his chest and ended in a despair that could not even find relief in lament.
His mouth fell open and he felt sure he would be sick. But only a word fell out.
The light flashed. He dared not move. Another trumpet blast sounded. The thundering hooves of horses were upon him. He felt, rather than saw, Eden fall beside him and had just enough time to think that it was almost funny: Paradise crumbling behind him and Eden collapsing beside him.
He could not laugh, though. He could only think over and over that they had been wrong. It had happened.
The Day had dawned.
Mars was no escape.
It was a different planet, but they shared a Sun.
The Day dawned for both Mars and Earth.
Awe and horror filled him, every corner of his body and soul felt ready to explode with the sensation, yet instead poured out in another despairing gasp of “Holy.”
And then, the Day burst forth as the Son rose completely. It had happened and all that remained were fear and trembling: trembling souls on a trembling planet, in the midst of a light they were unable to bear.