sunburn

Near the end, he could feel her closer than ever.

Sherry was long gone, along with the unfortunate thousands of people who did not make it underground. And as the time passed, his guilt grew heavier and dragged him down the bottomless pit of self loathing, mercilessly clawing at his wretched heart. There was no early warning; once the news about the colony’s imminent annihilation were made public, no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to reach her in time. They forcibly dragged him to safety while he was screaming and kicking; fighting as the tears welled in his eyes. All he had was a bunch of excuses; all of them frail and weak just as he now was. The communication hubs were fried and the long corridors that served as the only link between the domes were packed with the panicked denizens. Some people, overcome by an irrational kind of greed, reached out to grab whatever they craved from anywhere they could put their hands on. Others turned mindlessly against each other, their despair turning into a frenzied rage. A few simply stood still and wept, their purpose and dreams snuffed by the terrible fate that awaited them.

The Antaeus IV Protectorate was burned to the ground, lost in a brilliant white blaze of plasma and supercharged particles. The system’s sun lashed out angrily at those few mere pebbles that circled around it in time and space. Yet one of them, insignificant though it seemed compared to the sheer vastness of space, hosted so much life. And most of that life was wasted away; the result or better put, the collateral damage of a vicious experiment that would yield immeasurable wealth for the Dominion. And so it did; in the aftermath, nobody back home cried about the poor souls sacrificed for a nation’s greed. The event was promptly silenced and the rapid influx of income allowed a small amount of wealth to be cleverly distributed to the masses, to distract them from the awful truth.

The mineral wealth of Antaeus IV was immense. And it’s vast majority came in the form of Antolium ore. Unrefined, it resembled some kind of basalt; albeit one that carried a unique set of properties that made it the most reliable and efficient source of energy mankind had ever seen. Unfortunately, to make this kind of energy usable a lengthy procedure of extraction and refinement that required enormous amounts of energy was needed. All the colony could do, and it truly was more than enough, was to extract the ore and complete the first refinement phase; cleaning the Antolium from the crudest of impurities. Then it was hauled into titanic freighters and sent for further processing. In the homeland’s vast facilities, the refined ore was converted into energized crystals through a dangerous fusion technique that elevated the element into it’s peak energy state. Half of the crystals’ potential was consumed in the process, yet the end product was more than enough to power a whole city for years. For more than a decade, the Antolium Crystals’ production was a rather slow and expensive procedure. Until Dr. Howard Thorne’s essay was published.

The “Multiple Inter-Resonance Principle”, as it was known amongst the scientific circles was a revolutionary piece of work. In short, it described an exceptionally original method of forcing particle vibrations. It then went on explaining in detail how this vibration can be forced on raw Antolium and under which circumstances it would cause the element’s molecules to resonate without external stimulation. In theory it would escalate to Antolium ore’s self-crystallization and energy level elevation that could be contained with little to no effort once it had begun. It wasn’t long till Howard got the chance to actually make his theories come true. He was soon on his way to the Antaeus IV facilities, with the promise of wealth and fame. Little did he know what impact his actions would have. His focus was divided into two precious things: His life’s work and the unyielding love he had for Sherry.

All that he had now was her memory. Her skin was soft like velvet; her long black curls felt as if his fingers were dancing on a stream of silk. But what he cherished more, was her almost unnatural warmth. It penetrated every fibre of his being. It filled his very soul with a light unlike anything else. A light brighter than the scorching rays of Antaeus’ sun that claimed the lives within. How much he craved to keep her close just once more. How he lingered and held tightly to those wonderful moments they’d shared together.

Their gazes had first met during the last transition phase from Earth to the distant Antaeus system. It was the most awkward of meetings, yet the memory always seemed to bring a smile to his lips; even now that bitterness had almost consumed him. He could remember their long walks from dome to dome, the precious nights they’d spent in each other’s arms. He could remember how she patiently listened at all these ideas that brimmed his head despite the fact that she did not understand a single word. Their love was brief; a collection of fleeting moments that were forced to end much too soon. Such is the price of conceit.

For in the depths of the facilities’ laboratories, a terrible idea was born and flourished. While casually observing the spectrum data from one of Antaeus’ regular solar flares, Dr. Thorne noticed something that would change history. The system’s sun seemed to radiate a very unique set of emission lines; their interaction and interrelation was the subject of many days’ calculations. His request for more equipment was met with an unusual enthusiasm, and drove him to stop questioning his employers and to sink further into the wonderful world of his research. The only thing that stole him away from that feverish set of fractals and patterns and that curious assembly of instruments and computers was Sherry’s wide smile and bright blue eyes. It was as if she gave him life anew, to go on and change the world; a few hours on her side were more than enough.

Till the day soon came and he reached a conclusion. The pride of achievement blinded him as he uttered the fateful suggestion. The solar flares were able to trigger the first stage of Antolium molecule resonation. From then on, the inter-resonance born of these emissions would lead to Antolium’s self-crystallization. That realization finally answered the question of why this precious element existed only in this place. Of course there were a couple of limitations. First and foremost, it was Antaeus IV unbreathable atmosphere that greatly attenuated those emission lines. And then, the energy needed was immense to overcome that obstacle and reach the core of Anteus’ IV vast Antolium reserves. For that discovery, he felt very proud of himself. It was the next part that plunged him into a world of guilt.

“If we forced the sun to create a flare so powerful that would penetrate the Antaeus’ IV atmosphere? We’d only need to dig a few holes, and guide those highly energized rays to an Antolium vein. Then the energy elevation would start on it’s own…”

And it took a couple of months for more equipment to arrive, more calculations from a team of highly skilled engineers and scientists to make it happen. And though everyone knew what that would mean for the colony, they all worked on towards the ultimate goal; annihilation of a population was the furthest away from their minds.

Because when the bombs hit, when the lenses set up in space focused the flare’s energy to a single point of impact, the atmosphere was not just pierced. It entirely immolated with a brilliant white flame that burned everything to the ground. Everything and everyone caught by that fire was instantly reduced to ash. The research teams, workers, technicians and administrative stuff were all taken underground to the facilities’ safety by Antaeus’ armed forces. Everyone else was not needed. And thus they were all consumed.

For the next many days, the ground shuddered. For the sun rays had successfully reached the raw Antolium and caused it to resonate. In the end, what once was an otherwise regular rocky planet, now hosted crystal mountains of pure energy. Yet every sunrise was lethal, as the angry sun had permanently changed from a glorious benefactor to a ruthless killer. Anyone caught outside when the sun appeared, was mercilessly burned. And those menacing rays were able to keep the Antolium energized and ready to be used.

A very fitting end for the one whose vanity was to blame. As he wore the environmental suit, he did not even flinch at the idea. After all these years he’d learned to cope; all emotion was drained from his heart, all expressions moulded into the cold mask that he wore every day. The constant buzz emitted by the energized planet didn’t bother him no more. His research was pointless, his work a tedious drudge and all his free time was spent on an endless staring match with the concrete walls of his cell; some of his colleagues even dared to call them homes. He almost punched the lid release button and a few gusts of pressurized gas later, the door opened. He was supposed to gather a sample from the nearest crystal formation, a routine extraction and a few measurement procedures. But he did not take the necessary tools with him. Instead, he walked into the warm night, never looking back again. It wasn’t long till the scorching star would take his own life too.

As he marched on to his demise, panting as the temperature rose he couldn’t help but struggle with those few memories that he cherished. “Where are you now my love?” he mused bitterly as he climbed the crystal formation, straying from his path. Curiously so, for he knew very well what fate he’d caused to the only real joy he ever had. Or at least he could guess as much.

And it was for the best, because the one he called Sherry, the one he loved and lost, wasn’t the one he knew. Sarah Parker was one of the Dominion’s agents. After her successful mission, she was honoured and retired and was now spending a life of luxury and pleasure on one of the exotic planets meant for vacation that dotted the far reaches of the milky way. For the hag had no feelings for him, though she never needed to lie to him. All she had to do is listen to his scientific ramblings for a little while. Howard’s senses, distracted by his all-engulfing research, were cunningly forced to believe in romance and love. All she had to do is keep him company and offer him her body and a few intense moments. It was more than enough to drive him where they wanted him. Despite his insight and intellect, Howard was oblivious to the truth. Love does that.

As the temperature rose dangerously he stopped, looking back at the scattered remains of the colony he’d helped destroy. In the distance the lethal corona was forming, filling the scorched and permanently cloudy sky with a multitude of colours. He took a deep breath and defiantly he stood to meet his end. A smile escaped him, for the heat reminded him of her warmth. How much he missed her warmth.

Revelling in the heat, in that strong reminiscence that was awakened, Howard met the vengeful sun that rose in all his glory. And with her image still vibrant in his mind, he burned.

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