Mountains of the Sun

Yellow molten lake surrounded by evergreens, before reddish mountains and a fierce orange sky
“Mountains of the Sun”, 8in x 8in, acrylic on canvas

The captain dropped us off a day’s march from the base camp, then pulled the ship away to a safe distance where it wouldn’t melt into a puddle of steel.

I closed my helmet and darkened my visor. “I’m thinking of every word for heat that I know.”

You checked your boots and gazed at the molten lake far ahead. “Blast furnace.” 

Yes, that works.

Two of the crew members followed along, lugging a silver-gray crate between them. We didn’t ask.

Our goal was yet another mountain, though I can’t recall why we signed up for this one. We were a long way from home.

“This will make a good journal entry, right?”

You ignored the question. “Watch out for that convection cell.” Your voice hissed with static in my earpiece.

Our silent companions were already veering away from the churning mass in our path. They knew about the turbulence below.

Deep in the core, the hammer of gravity forged pairs of primordial atoms into a new element, each crushing blow releasing a quantum-spark of creation that fought its way to the surface and blazed forth into the heavens.

Billions upon billions of sparks each second, which is why it was so hot. Sweat trickled down my back.

When we reached the lake, I was surprised to see it ringed by a green forest. “How can there be trees here?” 

“There’s plenty of light for photosynthesis.”

Well, yes. That’s all there is here — scorching light. “But trees?”

“From seedlings brought by the first expedition.” 

The one that failed. Now here we were to explore this ancient star reddening into solidity, a phenomenon still unexplained.

But not unexamined. While we paused, the crew members set up a waist-high tripod that shot a gleaming tube into the surface and grabbed a sample of white-hot plasma, which they sealed and thrust into the crate.

They were done in a minute, then stood looking at us, waiting.

I was thinking about the climb on the other side of the lake. You were stopping to take it all in. We had time enough to reach the camp, no worries about night falling upon us. The sun doesn’t set when it’s beneath our feet.

“What will it be like in the far future,” I asked, “if we could come back?”

You looked toward the horizon. “It’s an unchanging season here.”

Here where day never ends and light never dims. But even stars age and die, collapsing into darkness or exploding into the void. Yet this specimen of stellar evolution offered an alternative path not plotted in the life-cycle charts of the known suns.

Perhaps our theories required a slight revision. Perhaps we just needed to expand our concept of habitable worlds.

The trees gave me hope.

Natural Attraction

Yellow-pink flowers grow out of deep green stalks
“Natural Attraction”, 12in x 14in, acrylic on panel

The run-down store we had stumbled upon was run by elves, I was sure.

“No,” you said. “But they were a curious sort of folk.”

Why then did they have no maps, no scribbled signs with the price of flour, no newspapers or books? Elves are averse to the printed word, I think I heard somewhere. 

And how did they know about magical flowers?

“They didn’t say magical, but magnetic.”

“Of which there are no such things either.” But I wanted to see them anyway.

We had been on our way home from a journey to see mountains that did wondrous things, and were just passing through the secluded town. We didn’t intend to get waylaid by whimsical tales.

Still, we never know when adventure will call, so we delayed our return with this detour.

Now here we were, tramping through a meadow dense with wild greenery, following directions given by folk whose twinkling eyes I couldn’t quite trust.

A lodestone would have eased our task, if magnetic blooms were our goal. Just hold it out and let it lead the way.

“Haven’t got ’un,” the shopkeeper said, glancing aside with a smirk. “Mebbe next year. Come back then.” The other one silently chuckled.

See what I mean?

“This is the way,” you said, breaking into my thoughts. “I think we’re getting close. Yes, look.”

I looked. 

Electrically-charged blossoms of yellow and pink seemed to hover amid pulsing green stems. The air around them tingled. Anything metal caught in their field felt the tug of unseen attraction. Our buckles and clasps drew us in, pulled by the evident force.

“It’s true then.” This was worth seeking out.

We knelt and touched the petals. Not metallic themselves, yet not soft either. The smooth stalks buzzed faintly and smelled of ozone.

We devised experiments to test the shopkeeper’s tale.

We moved our compass around and sent the needle dancing. Measured how the force diminished by a factor of distance squared. Bent flowers close together and saw their petals splay apart as like repelled like, magnetically speaking.

We didn’t pick any flowers though. They seemed too precious, possibly unique. And I was afraid of getting shocked.

Satisfied with our brief diversion, we prepared to go. 

I don’t know how long we’d been gone when we finally got back to the road. My watch had stopped working.

Just Across the Lake

Three pyramid-shaped mountains with crackly horizontal striations stand by a blue lake
“Just Across the Lake”, 8in x 8in, acrylic on canvas

It seemed an ominous sign that we couldn’t track down one verified fact about the mountains we were hoping to find.

“They’re said to have been built like the pyramids,” you told me, quoting the old folk stories. “In layers and layers that were mangled and twisted by a curse cast upon them.”

“And the sky crackles the very stone.” A curious bit of lore I once overheard and never understood.

Well, what’s an expedition without a little mystery to ponder on the way? Especially these days when nothing escapes the scrutiny of probing thought and precise measures, which we call science.

No matter. We would eye the truth in a revealing light, if the sun obliged us. And we wouldn’t be stopped by the simple impediment of not knowing where we were going.

Wanderers and villagers we met along the road frowned at our question, furrowed brows to recall ancient tales, then vaguely gestured a direction. None agreed, and maybe no one knew.

Or maybe it was a fable. So much the better. 

Fables were our pursuit, so we hastened on and pieced together a mythic geography from the hints we gathered.

One day you were quiet, chin tucked into your parka as we crossed an empty grassland. Finally you stopped and looked north. Without a word we turned and headed that way.

It proved to be the missing fragment which completed our imagined map — a territory rough and wild, unmarked by roads or paths, unpopulated by any creature larger than rock-dwelling pikas. We sensed we were close and traveled all night, reaching the shore of a lake as the sun rose and lifted our hopes. 

Just across the lake, triangle peaks brightened in the early light, revealing their wind-ribboned stone and crackly patterns that had inspired those fanciful tales — of cursed kings and magic castles, heroic deeds and vile dragons — passed down the generations, never collected in any book. 

But the mountains were no less a wonder for being real.

“Fabulous,” was all you said. 

We were far along our journey home before I got the pun.