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The Summer Light
Short Story by M.S. Arthadian | Science Fiction | S6 Contest 2022 Honorable Mention
From time to time, a tale of deep meaning makes its way to my thoughts. Most of them are long and drawn out, full of challenges that those Chosen face head on! However, the tale that lays claim to my mind at the current moment is one that I simply cannot shake.
It begins on a world within the Foundation Region of the CORE. About a young prime woman who has never seen the light of day. She’s never breathed air that wasn’t filled with dust and burned her lungs with each inhale.
Although she has never seen it, the myth of the radiant sky beckons for her to journey upward, out of her prison, beyond the metallic grime and ash that make up her shackled existence within The Shafts.
All she sees…
All she knows…is the life of a slave.
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It wasn’t until the mark of the Summer Light came that she witnessed a glimmer of hope. She and the rest of the slaves beneath her world’s surface watched as their shackles loosened enough to see what laid beyond the veil. The curtains had finally been lifted for them to see the reality of their world as the thick, metal door opened.
For but a moment, awe enraptured the slaves. Brilliant colors engulfed their retinas as a mysterious figure opened their minds to the realization of an existence filled with light. But as quickly as it came, so too did it fade.
The figure, known to the slaves as The Master, descended into The Shafts and brought with it another being, shackled and broken. Ever since she’d been born there hadn’t been a new slave. How old was she? She couldn’t know. Having no light prevented any concept of time. Then, as if in a blink, the light vanished, abandoning them in the pits of darkness.
Despite the brevity of the light’s presence, a spark of hope remained within her. She listened intently to the stories passed around by all the slaves, about how the world’s surface had seasons that came and went. How life was rich and abundant, flourishing across the surface as far as the eye could see. How a bright light shone over the course of months, heating the world with its source. How when that blinding light emerged it signified the day, and in its absence an innumerable blanket of smaller versions flickered into existence to announce the night. This season of light was known as Summer. A new light had been kindled within her, a light that burned ever brighter to illuminate a life not as a deprived slave, but of one bathed in freedom.
It was then that she knew what she was fighting for.
She felt her way to the elder slave, one that had witnessed the light before her birth. The Elder had guided them before, maybe he’d withheld information about the true nature of their existence.
“Elder, who is The Master?”
The Elder laid a hand upon her face, shook his head, and responded, “There is no light on them, just as there is no light on us.”
“If there is no light on The Master, why are they not in The Shafts?” This caused The Elder to notice her, to truly see her. A faint, almost imperceptible light in the darkness was forming, a source that should not… could not be quelled.
The Elder knelt to her in awe, “What do you wish to know?”
She smiled, a glimmer in her eyes, “I want to know the Summer Light. I want to live in the Summer Light!”
Together, they felt their way through the tunnels to the new slave to learn more. As they passed others toiling away with The Master’s tools, some stopped to listen, curious about the change in the air, the shift in her breathing that told them something was different.
The new slave was found shoveling grime out of a pit. She couldn’t explain it but she could see in the darkness; strange outlines forming on the surfaces of objects and people. She studied his face, which seemed broken on the inside, a shattered soul operating with zero light.
“Please forgive me, newcomer. I’ve never before seen the light. Not until your arrival, that is. Can you tell me more about it?”
The new slave glanced in her direction, spotting the glimmer in her eyes. He turned away from her.
“There is only darkness,” he said, and continued shoveling the grime out of the pit.
The new slave’s flippant attitude sparked a passion in The Elder, “Darkness is surely present all around us! But can you not see the light in her eyes? How can you ignore that which is clearly visible?”
“Light is the gateway to darkness!”
His words echoed down The Shafts. The other slaves watched as the new slave collapsed to his knees in apparent agony, “I too saw the light. I pursued it, not looking back at what I left. But The Master thrives in darkness. They pull you back in even after you’ve seen the colorful skies. That is why there is only darkness, because the light itself is but a trick, an illusion.”
“Is there no life beyond The Shafts?” she asked.
“Well, yes, but—”
“Then there is hope that this mere existence of toiling in the darkness is not our eternal fate.” The Elder interjected. The new slave could somehow see her nodding her head in affirmation, a soft glow emanating from around her. No. It emanated from her.
“The Master may use light as a trick, but they do not live in The Shafts. They have not seen our light.”
She stepped forward to embrace him. He fell into her arms. It was then that the slaves of The Shafts witnessed the birth of a new guiding light.
As her light spread across The Shafts, so too did the drive to live in the Summer Light. She and the rest of the slaves prepared for the next slave to arrive. With her light spreading, the passage of time became known thanks to The New Slave’s knowledge. The slaves devised a system in order to face The Master once they opened the pathway out of The Shafts.
Months passed without any sign of an incoming slave. Some feared it would be years or decades before another would arrive, much like before. She remained dedicated to keeping the light on in their eyes. It wasn’t easy, and at times the light began to fade even in herself. But hope could not be quelled so easily.
Upon the arrival of the sixth month, shifting could be heard above them. Was it time?
After living for so long in utter darkness, the slaves’ ears had been attuned to slight reverberations within The Shafts. It had become a way of sensing each other’s emotions, a way of communicating without sight. She knew what the others were thinking, despite the otherwise suffocating silence that filled the tunnels. Held breath meant fear, and fear meant hope was under attack.
She stood taller, her shoulders squared. Her light was no longer a glimmer, but that of a rising sun, a sun only referenced in the myths they’d whispered to one another.
The ancient gears cracked and rotated into motion. The Master approached.
As the slaves prepared for The Shafts to open, she spoke to them one last time, “Even if the light does not shine on us, We are The Summer Light!”
The Shaft door burst open with blinding rays. The slaves waited for the signal to strike. Heavy, metallic steps descended toward them. The New Slave saw his former nightmare approaching the opening.
The vanguard of slaves swung their weapons at The Master, causing it to reel back in pain. Another order came from The New Slave, “Release the trap!”
The Elder severed a rope that held a thick net laced with sharpened rocks. It fell directly on top of The Master, and it screamed, “Zigeroff! Voi’kozo tahn!”
“Silence him!” The New Slave exclaimed as the slaves grabbed hold of its silky body. The Master was no prime like them. It couldn’t prevent the slaves from prying open its mouth and removing its tongue entirely. The scene was brutal and she cared not for the violence of it all.
The New Slave twirled his weapon, ready to take The Master’s life. Before he could, she grabbed his arm and pointed towards the light, its warmth radiating from the world above.
“Our life is out there. Let The Master suffer in darkness.”
Leering back at her, he saw a blaze shining within her eyes. Then, looking upon the rest of the slaves crowding around him, he realized their eyes burned with the same illumination. He lowered his weapon and joined them as they ascended out of darkness, out of The Shafts.
The slaves were no longer slaves for they had become the Summer Light.