SOLARPUNK: We Remain Under the Sun

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When Amilcar arrived, the plastic chairs had already been set up inside of the Eye.

Some of the neighbours were also there, helping out with the last preparations or just catching up amongst themselves. Amilcar assisted with laying out the cable from the solar engine and connecting everything up to the archivist’s data pad, all the while thinking of Ji-hyun, who would have been so much better at this than him.

In the moments before the community meeting started, when everyone took to their seats, Amilcar liked to take a moment to consider the space they were held in. The Eye was impressive: a circular structure made out of fifteen metre tall metal walls, and a diameter of about twenty. Amilcar knew that the Eye used to have a metal dome instead of being open. And he also knew that the Eye used to be a storage tank for oil, back when people still used it as fuel. He had seen some canisters of petroleum before — when he was very young.

He had trouble imagining the black, pungent fluid filling the entirety of the space he was in, and the thought made him a bit uneasy. He knew from the surroundings of the Eye that this tank had been but one of many – there used to be a creature of myriad eyes in this place. But today, not much hinted at its past if one didn’t know where to look, with Fonte’s inhabitants having painted the walls and put up fairy lights on the inside. Amilcar had lived in Fonte for most of his life. And yet, silently, he rehearsed what he was going to say to the group in his mind, how he was going to make the request for them to watch over his farm for a while, trying to ignore the leaden weight in the pit of his stomach. When the sun kissed the rim of the Eye, dipping half of its interior in sharp shadow, the archivist, now seated amongst them in the circle with a datapad in hand, started their gathering.

The mid-day sun had chased the last tendrils of salty fog away, so that the steep, ice plant-covered dune that Amilcar was climbing gave way to a clear azure sky. But today, he had no eyes for its beauty: he had been looking for the two copper-coloured walls in front of him. Rising from the sand, they framed a ramp seemingly descending into the ocean. In reality, however, at the edge of the cliff’s face, the ramp curved into a walkway that followed its vertical walls.

If there ever had been some sort of railing offering even the slightest protection from the precipice, it had long since been lost. Amilcar descended the ramp, then hugged the cliff walls, damp with the fine salty spray from the sea. There was not a lot of wind today, but still – he preferred to be careful. He followed the walkway and its soft downwards incline, and there it was. It never ceased to amaze him: the sudden opening in the face of the cliff, the raw rock giving way to a gigantic hall of smooth, polished surfaces dissected by sharp angles.

The walls were of glittering white stone, the likes of which Amilcar had never seen before. It’s as if the hall wanted to capture the light of the sun and keep it for itself. Twelve years ago, when Amilcar and Ji-hyun had first discovered this hidden hall, nothing in this strange space had made sense to them. Until Ji-hyun, climbing among the dunes above and around it, had found an alternate entrance, half-buried in the sand. It led to a control room for the old machines – large and cool, the boxes in it packed in neat rows, but its minute flashing lights offered little solace in the desolate and dusty darkness. They had come back the next day with Ji-hyun’s datapad and a backpack full of other tech paraphernalia that she had found during her travels. And within a few days, she had figured the place out. Amilcar would never forget that moment — when he arrived close to the hidden entrance in the dune, he saw Ji-hyun, sitting just outside of it, below an ice plant-covered overhang, datapad on her lap and encircled by a wreath of cables. She’d always said the control room made her uncomfortable, that she didn’t like being – and much less working – in that windowless, restricted space. When she saw Amilcar, she broke into a smile, as radiant as the sun that was missing on this overcast day, and she declared by way of greeting: “Amilcar, it’s a spaceport!”

After the meeting, Mondrágon was waiting for Amilcar outside of the Eye, face tilted towards the clear late afternoon sky. “Are you going to see Ji-hyun?” The archivist asked.

 “Yes”, Amilcar replied, smiling. “I found some new things in the old spaceport up on the hill overlooking Horseman’s Point I think she’d love to take a look at.” They started walking back to the nearby village together. “Do you want to tell me about them?” There were not many people who wanted to know about the artefacts Amilcar found in the ruins, but Mondrágon was one of the few who always did, and with genuine interest. Maybe this was why she was the archivist: her insatiable curiosity to know and understand more about the world, both past or present. Amilcar told her about his recent finds. There was the lozenge-shaped metal object he found in one of the cupboards in the kitchens, that hummed when held nearby a source of water. Or the long, translucent rope that started glowing when it became dark, with its tiny luminous dots. Finally, there was this gold-coloured thin disc with a hole in the middle, its surface full of grooves in regular intervals.

“Sanna and Niko will be fine on their own”, Mondrágon reassured him when they were approaching the crossroads where they would have to part ways. “And you will see, it will go by in a heartbeat. It always does. So try not to worry — we will be alright.”

“I know.” Amilcar looked out across the sun-bathed field of golden wheat to the single distant cork tree silhouette on the horizon. “I will be back before I know I’ve been gone.”

Most people from Fonte or the surrounding communities didn’t quite know how to feel about the old, derelict spaceport; this gaping hole in the cliff-side — luminous but empty. Amilcar however was old enough to remember the tales told inside the sun shelters about when humans had gone to space: they went in long, sleek ships, it had been said. Like a murder of crows against the sky. As a child, he had listened to these stories with stars in his eyes. And his favourite was the last one: the one about how one day, the humans had gone – and had never come back. Since then, Amilcar had been fascinated by this frivolous pursuit. After the first people started leaving the shelters, space exploration was the very last thing on everyone’s minds. When communities organised to move back into the cities and villages, they had to deal with procuring clean water and food, re-establishing supply lines, and distributing people with different skill sets evenly. This was how they had met, Amilcar and Ji-hyun – they had both accepted assignments in Fonte, where they needed someone with agricultural expertise as well as what used to be called a software engineer or, as Ji-hyun liked to call herself, “old machine interfacer”. Amilcar returned to the ruins on Horseman’s Point often – there were still things to be found, some useful, others whose purpose would perhaps forever remain a mystery. But he liked using this as a pretext to visit Ji-hyun.

On the morning of his departure and under an overcast, moody sky, Mondrágon was the last person to come by Amilcar’s farm to say goodbye. “All ready to go? Do you need anything from us for the journey?” They both stood outside, next to the community ground car that Amilcar was taking, which he had packed full with his finds for Ji-hyun and his travel supplies, as well as with all the gifts Fonte’s inhabitants had given him for her. “That’s very kind, but I’ve got everything I need. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Mondrágon peered inside the car’s window, pointedly not looking at him. “Amilcar, you be safe. And enjoy your time there. We will be fine, the farm will be fine, we have the other cars should we need them. And give Ji-hyun a kiss from me. And besides –” Now she stretched, and turned to him. “Niko said that it will rain today.”

“Rain? In April?”

“Times are changing, old man.” Mondrágon laughed, as only those who had spent all of their lives on the surface could. In Amilcar’s youth, most years had been long stretches of dry, dragged-out days under the merciless, scorching rays of Earth’s closest star. Like everyone else, he’d spent most of them inside the sun shelters, concrete-and-steel havens of blissful cool darkness.

“Good.” Amilcar replied, his gaze getting lost beyond the grey clouds. “It’s about time they did.”

Ji-hyun had left Fonte shortly after the news broke that people had managed to reactivate the builders in the old metropolises. What should have been an incredible advancement to help the rebuilding efforts on the surface, quickly turned into a perplexing issue – as the builders simply started to build nonsensical structures. They built tiny squares, all stacked on top of each other, clusters of tall, plain boxes with hardly any space between them. Nobody could make sense of it, and building resources were laborious to get a hold of – so the builders had to be deactivated again.

“They are just doing what they’ve been told to do”, Ji-hyun had said, sadness and determination tightening her voice. “They have to be retaught how to build.” And she had left, to reteach them how to build.

Amilcar had planned his journey with meticulous care, choosing a route that would keep him close to a number of emergency shelters, ranging from the official sun shelters to smaller refuges. He had also calculated that the trip would take him about four days, depending on meteorological conditions.

The beginning of Amilcar’s journey took him across the old industrial site where the Eye was located. The neighbouring communities had left the area with its network of looming, interconnected buildings, giant pipes and large asphalted squares mostly intact. This place always reminded Amilcar of other stories he’d heard as a child, how apparently there used to be tall, thin chimneys on top of which eternal flames burned night and day. He was glad when he left it behind.

It did rain later that day, just a little bit.

At night, Amilcar stopped at a mountain refuge, under a black sky that was clear again and full of stars. He thought again about the story with the eternal flames on top of the chimneys, and how from far away they must have looked like just another star in the sky. Another story came to his mind, about how before, people couldn’t see the stars from Earth anymore. Amilcar imagined that some of them must have shared his fascination with the void around them, that substitutes simply wouldn’t have been enough. He imagined that maybe that is why they left, to see the real thing for themselves. He understood this. He imagined that he would have done the same. For him, Earth’s closest star had also never been enough.

When, after three days, Amilcar reached the edge of the city, he didn’t immediately realise that he had. Around him, dappled light painted the forest floors and the narrow stretch of road ahead of him, as suddenly among the trees a clearing, and inside of it the unmistakable, bulky silhouette of a builder. Its limbs were constantly morphing to the rhythm of its work, its smooth bright carapace glinting in the sunlight. Amilcar saw the finished groundwork of a structure, and the builder stacking layer upon layer of what looked like clay to form walls in exceptional speed.

“Of course she’s done it”, Amilcar said to himself, incredulous but unsurprised, remembering the last time he’d come to visit Ji-hyun. He’d found her in one of the many warehouses where the builders were stored, in a small, dusty room with her nose millimeters away from the control interface of one of the machines. He had been worried then, about the dark half-moons under her eyes and the fact that she seemingly spent much of her time in small, dim rooms like these. But then she had detached the cable from the builders’ interface, closed the little hatch that kept it safe, giving it an additional, almost affectionate pat, and welcomed him: “Amilcar! You always come at exactly the right time. I was just done teaching this one.” And Amilcar had understood that in the end, it didn’t really matter if she did manage to fix them.

As Amilcar continued into the heart of the city, the forest gave way to grassy fields where buildings drew closer to each other, and the builders’ silhouettes stood like solitary trees against the cerulean sky. He left the ground car in one of the designated areas for them, a cracked asphalted square relic from before, and continued on foot.

Ji-hyun lived in the old city centre, where many of the buildings from before still stood, casting their shadows on the old machines and the people on the street walking by them, barely noticing them. Meanwhile, Amilcar couldn’t keep his eyes off them in wonder and bewilderment. They were also at work in the old high-rises, where he saw that they were

destroying most of their inner structures in an uncharacteristic racket. At first, Amilcar couldn’t fathom the reason, until he walked past a glass tower which had been entirely transformed into a giant hydroponic garden.

And then, before he knew it, Amilcar was there. The pear tree in front of her home was in full bloom, its green-and-white crown swaying softly in the breeze. Below, on a bed of petals, was Ji-hyun, her long hair a curtain of steel and glass. Sat amidst a circle of boxes, datapads, and screens, she looked up at Amilcar’s approach — cables radiating out from her like the rays of the sun in a child’s drawing.


  • Lynn Rosa André is a writer and artist from Luxembourg interested in exploring the edges of the human experience. Weaving together science(-fiction), ecology, and myth, she explores the beauty and terror of the cosmos through poetry, speculative fiction and visual arts.

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