Under The Array: A Short Story
A solarpunk short story from an outpost on the edge of society.
This is kind of an interactive story. Music tends to add to immersion so feel free to play the songs in the story to get the vibes of the scenes. Or don’t. You do you my friend. This formatting looks better on a desktop.
The doors to the shipping container keep rusting, and the hinges I welded on are starting to crack and fail. Darcy says it’s because I learned to weld by watching videos online and didn’t bother to get help from someone who actually knew how to weld. But what the fuck, I needed to get two pieces of metal to stick together, as long as they stay stuck, who cares how perfect my weld beads are? Who cares about the slag that formed right above the joint. Especially when it was the only thing holding my front doors together.
A dust storm was starting to roll in from the western part of the state. We haven’t made it that far to start fixing the dead farm fields and the dust that gets kicked up when the jet stream decides to dip down to where we’re at. Slowly but surely we’re making our way out west to try and fix things, well I guess mitigate what’s happening. There really is no fixing hundreds of thousands of abandoned, bone dry farms kicking dust into the atmosphere. Only thing we can do is remediate the situation, mitigate the effects, and hope for the best. The dust was starting to sweep over the container and between the slag joints of the container home I’m in so it was time to get some headgear and goggles on. My roommate (or container mate? I don’t know the correct term), Moussa used to make fun of me for copying his style. His ancestors were people who lived in the desert and were used to dust storms like this. Everyone who wore traditional clothing had these headscarves with goggles and shit. I thought it looked cool and tried to copy Moussa a couple of times, though he had to come over and teach me how to properly tie the headwrap so dirt and dust didn’t encrust my eyes.
“Yo man, we have to keep the panels clean. Still got some light that will come through, need some more power to get the reactor cycle to finish. If the power drops and the reactor pauses, this batch will be fucked.” Moussa was underneath a bioreactor messing with some of the tubing that ran into the input fluid.
“Yeah, yeah I know. Once I get done with sweeping I’ll need to get the welder out and fix this fucking door. Think we will have enough power through the storm to get it going?”
Moussa just laughed and took a drag off a hash cartridge. This cart design was way better, printed it out of plastic bottles instead of that ABS or PLA shit. He passed me the cart while a billow of smoke poured from under the bioreactor.
“Hit it before you go out there. The dust messes with your vision, sweeping the panels in the storm will feel like a fucking sim. Hahaha. Who needs psychs when you got hash and dust storms!”. Moussa was a strange guy, which is why I liked living with him, a mix of a Tuareg revolutionary fighter and a psychonaut hopped up on DIY testosterone we were making in the lab rig out back.
“Before you leave, turn on the music. Think you have to install the package to run the speakers, the dependency list should be there. Make sure it’s connected to the lab dome, the repo should be locally on that network.” Moussa yelled half choking on another hit from the homemade hash pen.
The container we lived in was like any other shipping container, cramped and hot. Back in the day, idiots would want to build whole cities out of these things. Get homeless people off the street and shove them into shipping containers. Most people didn’t know these things were rectangular ovens and usually impossible to live in. Beggars can’t be choosers though, and I was used to traveling and living rough. Kinda hard to be working on panels and setting up the network nodes in dust storms and coming back to a clean and beautiful motorcoach like Darcy rides in. Pretty sure she stole it. She unlocks it with a small electronic gadget and not a key. Captured some poor suckers unlock code from his keypad, she came back to the coach, and sent the remote start code. Or at least that’s the story she tells, which I kinda believe her.
For the most part, our container was half bioreactor, a third sleeping and living quarters, and a third communications hub. We shared most of the info from here to the inter-camp network and then beamed that off an abandoned satellite comms station floating in space, back home. Which I missed compared to this hot, barren dirty place. But also this hot barren place had way better sunsets and my cacti grew better here than back home so, up’s and down’s I guess.
Got to the main terminal which was less computer than hunk of random shit we found and scrapped out of old burnt-out military and national guard trucks, info depots, and datacenters. Most of it ran off an ancient Rasberry Pi that we found. It ran off its own small solar panel and when the storms roll in, ran off old batteries.
Started to type out the commands to pull the repo from the lab dome.
moussa@sleeppod: $ git clone git+ssh://email@example.com/repos/music_shit moussa@sleeppod: $ pip install --no-index --find-links /home/damien/dependency_clone -r requirements.txt moussa@sleeppod: $ cd ~/music_shit moussa@sleeppod: $ sudo ./music_shit_install.sh moussa@sleeppod: $ ls muisc_network_play.py requirements.txt do_not_use.sh music_shit_install.sh config.json moussa@sleeppod: $ python music_network_play.py --help -L location <where ya want music> -h help <Really? There's one option> moussa@sleeppod: $ python music_network_play.py --random -L sleepod,lab,darcy,greenhouse,solar_array2
Python and Linux were absolutely ancient, but most of the older tech, small stuff, and trash computers used it and ran it. Moussa forgot I remembered his credentials, but he had an account with root privs and I really did not want to fix my own profile. Music started to play in the pod and the solar array. Moussa started loudly singing along. Though I still to this day have no idea what the fuck genre of music this is.
I cracked open the doors to the container and stepped out into the dust storm. Moussa was right, the swirling dust really did feel like being in some kind of psychedelic simulation or virtual world or something. Maybe I was just really high. It was dark but also light, but from where the door is, the shadows of the massive solar array blocks out most of the light. We parked our shipping container underneath solar array 2b, which was larger than the other ones like 3a or 1g. We came out here on a research mission and to help keep spreading the basis of our bioremediation efforts. Spreading across the western states and to set up these solar arrays for the hoards of climate refugees that would populate this soon-to-be metropolis. That is if we can get power to the fucking bioreactor to grow more of whatever the hell Moussa is making.
The climb up to the solar array panels was really hard in a dust storm with 60 mile an hour winds crashing me into the guard rails. The dust was sticking to the plastic rums of the array assembly. Which is an unfortunate byproduct that the engineers who made this out of recycled plastic back home overlooked. This specific mixture they used worked great in forested areas but produced way too much static when dust or sand ran over it. I could see in the frenzy haze of dirt, tiny lightning strikes from the static in the air. Cleaning the panels was easy but also a big pain in the ass when the robotic cleaning arm got jammed up with shit. Another oversight from the people back home, they don’t listen to Darcy enough when she sends back new 3D models for improvements in this environment and it shows. If the robotic arm got stuck you had to climb all the way to the top of the array, in a dust storm, and rappel down the safety railing to unjam the dumb robot cleaning arm. These solar panels are not like the old photovoltaic shits from the past. Cualli runs the greenhouse dome, and she would tell us stories about her grandfather working in the silicon mines, and how her grandmother died working in a lithium op. Solar panels used to be made from that stuff but now things are different. These panels don’t use any of that, and the batteries don’t use lithium save the ones we scrap from old cars. These are Schottky cells, well super upgraded ones. They run off mostly zinc antimonide which is better than silicon and easier to make in the field. We make everything we use, eat and drink on site. Electric 18 wheelers can’t handle the same weights as their old diesel counterparts. The major downside to these new panales is you can’t walk on em. Because of how they're constructed, so you have to do some crazy shit to get them clean if the robot fails.
Looking through the dust I could see the robot cleaning arm stuck about three-quarters of the way down. Ugh damn. Looks like I’m climbing up to the top. I hit Moussa up on a LoRa text, since only low-frequency radio would work up here with all the electrostatic.
Gotta climb the array, might be a while. Gonna hit the reflector sails, hope your reactor session dosn't drop.
I knew he got the message when one of my favorite songs my dad used to play back home came on the speakers, slightly silenced by the sound of the whipping wind.
The storm was getting stronger now, and the dirt was really getting in my boots now that I was like 50 feet in the air. I went to the control panel on the safety railing and punched the eject button for the reflective sails. During high wind and low light conditions, like the dust storm I am currently fighting, the reflector sails will reflect more infrared light to the panels in the spectrum they like. The heat of the wind also helped because the panels produced power from thermoelectric heat differentials and the huge reflector sails would help move light and heat back to the array.
After the sails deployed and caught the draft, I turned to climb the array stairs. To the beat of the music, I stomped my boots, trying not to fall to my death down below. The wind up here was even worse and I had to hit on the magnet switch in my boots to keep me attached to the metal stairway. Dirt swirling and scratching the lenses of my goggles, gathering in the folds on my headwrap that also covered my face. Ok finally made it to the top. The rappel system wasn’t up to safety code because it was built by two maniacs who normally ran bioreactors, but it worked at least in theory. I strapped into my safety harness which was a bunch of seatbelts scrapped from some gasoline cars and riveted together by Darcy’s shitty fabricator. It was a 20-foot drop from the top of the safety railing of the array to where the robot arm was.
I am also afraid of heights. Which is not the best phobia for someone who builds arrays, when I do have to come up here I always imagine back home instead of falling to my end. Imagine being near the river, not having to sweat and worry about dirt and sand in my mouth. Imagine laying in bed with Zain, looking out at the garden and the lights of the tram reflecting off the balcony.
Ok, 10 more feet until I reach it, and about five more minutes of magnetism left in the magboots.
Imagining eating at the commons with the cooking council, shooting the shit about what mushrooms grow the fastest, and what Frankenstein meat I had grown in the tissue culture vats. Fuck. I missed being around people, not out in the middle of nowhere building out infrastructure.
My foot hit the top of the robot. I noticed something weird, that stood out against the swirling sand and dirt. Lodged in the mechanism was a glowing beetle, wiggling its abdomen around. Its butt stuck between small wires. I reached in and pulled it out. I had never seen a bioluminescent insect outside of textbooks. I stood, well in actuality hung, in awe at the creature. It turned towards the empty expanse of the dust storm and flew off into the abyss.
The next thing I knew Cualli was standing over me and I was jolted awake by the smell of something absolutely god awful. I maintained the human composting machine and was used to bad smells but oh my god this was a million times worse. In my jolted state I looked around and saw Darcy gleaming (she usually has hardcore RBF and never smiles) along with Moussa just clapping and jumping around.
“Dude we fucking did it. Smells terrible right!? Oh my god it fucking worked, and since the reactor session finished we want you to plant it!” Moussa said while practically falling over with excitement.
I didn’t care what this was, I needed it away from my nose and pushed Cualli’s hand away. “Ugh what the fuck is that thing?”
Darcy chimed in “What Moussa and I have been working on. It’s a new kind of mycelium. Fast growing, self replicating. Allows for rapid plant communication and growth. The fucking ticket to people living out here and stopping the dust.”
Cualli brought me over to a large tray of barren dirt and dropped the foul-smelling blob in. She looked at me with excitement. “Check this shit out!”.
She produced a small packet of seeds and dropped them into the tray. She poured water onto the blacked mass of fungus, the water hissing while it hit the mass. It almost jumped and spread out quickly colonizing the dry substrate. She poured a tiny amount more and the mass doubled in size, enveloping the seeds she had dropped. Within a minute the seed germinated.
“This means we can regreen the western sectors. Quickly. We made it by splicing DNA from any mycelium we could find in this barren wasteland. It can breed alongside native species but can’t crossbreed with them, so we don’t impact the native ecosystem. It’s engineered for this specific local ecosystem. But we uploaded the docs to the sat comm so anyone on the network can fork the recipe and use it in their own bioreactors.” Darcy was on the verge of crying.
“We were thinking arrayicon, like agaricon but since we’re out here making arrays we thought it made sense. What do you think? We want consensus before we commit the name.” Moussa shouted from outside the greenhouse geodesic dome.
“I think it’s perfect.” Because it was perfect.
We took a slice of the specimen and some extra grain seeds with us outside the dome and into the planting field. The storm had cleared by now the sky was luminant, like the color of pink cotton candy.
Cualli handed me the fungus and I dropped the specimen in the dry dirt, then the seeds, and added water. Again the seeds germinated almost instantly.
“Amaranth, grows fast, makes more seeds, acts as a shade layer for the clover ground cover. In a week, this place will look like home.” Cualli looked down at the plants like a mother looking at her newborn child.
A slight glowing came from my peripheral vision, the bioluminescent beetle! It flew in quickly, hovered over the mass of now green mycelium, and landed on it. The glow quickly faded from the beetle and the mycelium took on the hue, then it too stopped glowing.
“Holy shit. It absorbs radiation!!”
Darcy, Cualli, and Moussa jumped into each other’s arms, swinging around in a circle.
“Did I pass out on the array from radiation poisoning?!” I never asked how I got down from the array.
“Eh you will be fine, we’ll get you to the medical council back home. Speaking of which, y’all wanna take a trip?” Darcy busted out her little black box that controlled the stolen mega coach RV thing.
“Got the drones back up to monitor how things are growing here. Moussa got the sequence for our new fungus friend, Cualli has the hyperseeding ready to drop when the crowd gets here, and thanks to you Damien, running water and sewage. Say our job out in the western sector is done for now baby!” Darcy punched my arm in a playful way.
I’m gonna miss this place. Spent many evenings looking at the sunset on the open horizon. Made a ton of mistakes, but also learned a lot. I know someone who lost everything is going to end up here. End up taking a shit watching the same sunset and wondering, “Who was the poor soul who lived out here and set this all up?”. Who knows, I might come back here. Set up an adobe house where my container rig sits right now, in the shadows, under the array.