Evelyn shed her hazmat suit and stepped from the rover’s isolation chamber. She immediately noticed the faraway look on Oliver’s face.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head before checking their robotic decontamination vessel’s control panel. “It’s nothing. Dawn was three minutes ago. Makes me feel nostalgic.”

“Now there’s an alien concept in our screwed-up world. At night, it’s almost dark, but the sky still has an orange glow. In the daytime, it gets somewhat brighter and a great deal hotter, but we never see the sun.”

She watched the Gamma decontamination team leader approach the isolation chamber where he’d don his hazmat suit. For the next four hours, he’d trudge through the hostile environment, babysitting the robots manipulating the black maws sucking up the toxic dust covering the barren ground. She’d drive the rover, constantly watching for hazards looming from the glooming.

She checked the controls as she waited for him to emerge from the isolation chamber. He appeared, giving her the thumbs up. She turned the lumbering rover in a broad arc and headed toward Contamination Station Gamma, her temporary home with Oliver and ten other conscripts.

Seven months venturing out every night from midnight to eight a.m. and lumbering for four hours at five kilometres per hour, only to turn and trundle back to the station for another four hours. Two hundred and thirteen days taken from her young life, and another one hundred and fifty-two to go before she could return to the domed ecosphere she called home.

The industrious robots sucked up the dust in a one-hundred-metre-wide swath. One hundred metres times forty kilometres times three rovers times two shifts yielded twenty-four square kilometres decontaminated per night. During her year of servitude, they’d cover eight thousand square kilometres after allowing for time they’d spend repositioning the station—twenty-five percent of the single valley they’d been assigned.

She saw nothing but the hopelessness of their task, while Oliver dreamed of the first morning he’d see the sun rise over the eastern horizon.

    5 1 vote
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    2 years ago

    We sense the power and beauty of the longed-for dawn through its absence in a strange, sterile environment. Very fine world-building and description. 

    Reply to  Alan Kemister
    2 years ago

    Being a Finalist is quite an honor. There were 140+ stories and 40 made the shortlist. From those 40 there were 9 finalists. From those 9 the 3 winners were selected. We think it’s helpful for writers to know how they placed in the different tiers!

    Eric Radcliffe
    Eric Radcliffe(@eric-radcliffe)
    2 years ago

    Hi Alan, I love the diversity of every writer here, and your gift of the novel is refreshing and very imaginative (with a little maths thrown in for good measure. ha, ha) I enjoyed this read very much. (are you an Astronaut Alan? Only joking)

    Zena Wilde
    Zena Wilde(@zena-wilde)
    2 years ago

    Really enjoyed reading this – I love sci-fi, and I want to know more about this world – fantastic world-building. Have you read/seen The Martian? It reminded me a lot of that book!

    Christer Norrlof
    Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
    2 years ago

    A rather detailed and technical description of what mandatory civil service might look like in a future. And, along with it, the different human aspects in such a service. One being bored, seeing herself as wasting her precious time, the other one nostalgic, dreaming and with a vision. Very insightful and clever writing, Alan. Congratulations!

    Andrew Carter
    Andrew Carter(@andrew-carter)
    2 years ago

    Hi Alan, this a very realistic piece and you drew the reader into the dawn theme artfully. Just recently, I entered into a short fiction competition and the theme was dystopian sci-fi. So, I was a little overwhelmed having only had a few fond memories of Dune, Gor, and of course, I’ll never forget the first Star Wars film I saw when I was sixteen. Mine too had an environmental focus and… Read more »

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