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.