Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

Athabasca was a town of gas and coal. No wind or solar were allowed. Local officials said the Lord would return by fire while windmills and solar panels could only mar the landscape. And fire in a town of coal and gas was, naturally, a lovely thing.

On a plain not far away, a group of officials who had arrived from afar, were testing what they called “Sol 2.” It was a secret, but they spoke about their project whenever they went for pie and coffee because they assumed Athabascans were too stupid to understand what their work was about.

They took but one simple precaution: when they spoke of Sol 2 they said the name in Greek. On paper, it looked like this:

Σολ 2

One day, over coffee and pie at the Antler Café in Athabasca, it occurred to one of the officials that the spoken Greek sounded pretty close to English. Henceforth, the group decided to refer to their project in Hindi, whose phonemes none of them could properly pronounce. Sol 2 in Hindi looked like this:

सोल 2

When it was ready, Sol 2 happened after midnight. The black sky became as bright as the noon day. On the surrounding plain, a treeless expanse as dry as fossils, the shifting dust burned like little galactic fires.

Workers on the overnight at the gas plant saw the flash through a window. Miners coming up from the coal seam also saw the conflagration and didn’t know what to think. A boss yelled at them to get back to work, but they punched him in the abdomen, stole his hip flask, and locked him in a supply shed.

An infernal gust reached across over the wide-open lands between Athabasca and Sol 2. This burning wind scorched the faces and hands of several coal miners. Passing around the flask, the victims toasted their vengeful God.

‘Even the Lord thinks our jobs are a sacrilege,’ one said, and the others agreed.

‘Poorly paid sacrilege,’ another muttered to muted laughter.

In the morning, the miners went home, and their wives shrugged at their wounds as just another workplace insult.

But the daughters and sons weren’t so dismissive. They looked at their fathers and knew better. Ask no questions, accept no answers, but keep seeking. More than one child had seen the flash while reading comics with a flashlight or listening to an interrupted radio program. They had felt the burning wind shake their homes and woke up to shingles littering their front yards. Walking in their neighborhoods, they found dead rodents and seared birds lying in the road.

No one blamed the coal mine or the gas plant. And the kids were smart enough to know that Athabasca officials were too unimportant to have had any hand in anything. Bolo tie wearing types who called themselves decisionmakers might posture and puff themselves out, but the only thing they ever did was carry out things bigger people in distant places wanted done but didn’t want to be held accountable for.

At the fairgrounds, the coal miner kids gathered. They looked at the wind scored grandstand, now embedded with bits of feather, fur, and silt, and discussed how the scale of what had happened was greater than Athabasca. They were good positivists after all, building their conclusions on the available evidence and taking steps to kick up further clues.

One girl, who had worked as a waitress at the Antler Café recalled seeing men in suits, without bolo ties, come in for coffee. They used funny sounding words and laughed a lot, making jokes, she was sure, at her town’s expense. She told her friends these were the men behind what had happened. She also understood that in Athabasca, things happened because greater forces were always at work.

That afternoon the group, numbering perhaps fifteen, appeared before the town hall. Any group of teens, no matter how few in number, was considered a mob in Athabasca, so a confrontation was inevitable. But more noteworthy than the mob was how they were dressed.

Two girls were dressed as windmills. They wore silver monochromatic clothes and held desk fan blades above their heads. Two boys held painted corkboards across their chests made to look like solar panels. The other eleven or so had covered themselves in coal ash. One boy had a kangaroo rat hanging from his neck. A girl had purchased fake blood capsules and fed them to her friends. They began to drool red streams down their chins.

A different girl tossed coal ash around like fairy dust. She danced in joyous circles and all of her peers cheered. Passersby stopped and gaped and waited for someone to come and lock the kids up.

But arrests weren’t to be because one boy, the one with the rat around his neck, was wearing a proximity suit. He set himself on fire. As he burned, the girl scattering ash continued to frolic and her peers kept cheering. Then the burning boy sat on the ground, unfastened the dead rodent from his neck, and held it up to the heavens. He said,

‘Oh, sun! You’re come at last. You’ll be happy to know how well we’ve prepared!’