A momentary burst of colour danced under the microscope as Stephen examined the silicone sample in the Petri dish. Opaque in its normal state, the silicone was still too thick for practical application, although Stephen’s enhanced vision could make out its varying hues. It was one of Anton’s inventions: a breathable outer later worn like a second skin. Surfacing in the harmful daylight sun had never been attempted before, and to do so would need something special. Stephen had not told Pierre or Elise—District Three’s elders—about the skin’s true purpose. Even Anton believed it was to be used for hunting during the daytime. Stephen had simply been vague about what he planned on hunting.
He turned the dial on the side of the microscope to increase magnification. The colours intensified and the striations in the silicone seemed to ripple.
Stephen’s laboratory was located in District Three, a network of tunnels deep below the streets of New London where the surface creatures lived. The plain, low-lit room carved out of rock had three long work-benches almost spanning its width. Two superiors worked at one of the benches, with a monitor, a microscope and laser scalpels; all items the Indigenes had stolen from the surface creatures. A missing screen or microscope was never enough to alert the surface creatures to a deeper security issue.
Stephen barely left the lab, as he continued on the experiments started by his parents and others who had died in the early land explosions. Emmanuel, a male Indigene forty years his senior, used one of the monitors to record temperature readings from the probes on the surface. Beside him was Noelle, a female Indigene in her seventieth year. The probes set in the soil recorded fluctuations between day and night time temperatures. Years ago, when the Indigenes had lived above ground, the daytime was dark and cool, and oxygen levels were low. Now, the atmosphere was too oxygen-rich, and days were dangerously bright, with temperatures reaching mid-twenties Celsius in full sun. Many had died when the first land explosions had rocked Exilon 5, but the subsequent atmospheric changes had killed even more Indigenes, including his parents; both keen scientists who were convinced the changes were temporary.
Too much direct sunlight was fatal to them. Their hairless, almost translucent skin and easily overheated bodies did not fare well in the new environment. They restricted surface activities to night-time; including hunting.
Emmanuel moved away from the monitor, cupping his mouth with his hand.
Temperatures always too high… We burn or implode, whichever comes first… But how to fix? Stay out of the sun! We have the tunnels.
His private thoughts bounced around Stephen’s mind, causing him to look up. Emmanuel glanced at him and waved his hand.
‘Don’t pay me any heed, Stephen. I must imagine the worst before I can figure out the solution.’
Noelle shook her head. If only you could multitask while you pontificate, Emmanuel.
Emmanuel placed his hands on Noelle’s shoulders, turning her slightly to face him, his eyes slightly wider than usual. ‘Isn’t that what I have you and Stephen for?’
He moved to the monitor on the third work-bench and rested his hands either side of the illegally procured screen.
‘There have been no wild temperature shifts on the planet for some time. Not since the clouds first began to dissipate. The fact that things are holding steady is not good for us.’ He straightened up and released a breath. ‘No matter how we analyse it, the data is conclusive. There’s no way to reverse the atmospheric changes without first eliminating the surface creatures and repairing the damage they’ve done.’