by George Salis
This planet’s surface is a churning ocean of lava, with tsunamis of melted iron, nickel, and other heavy elements orchestrated by a metallic moon. Scans reveal the ocean floor to be a mantle of silicate stone overlaying a metamorphic and sedimentary crust. Deeper still is a troposphere, ending in the center as an exosphere, a core of light gases that include hydrogen and helium. You determine that this earth is inside-out, with unknowing anthropoids living on the inner surface.
Before the Great Evaporation, in which the oceanic core of the earth was absorbed through the crust as a fine mist, the inhabitants were a subaqueous species, half fish and half human. With the waters reduced to lakes and rivers streaming across the inner surface, millions of the merhumans drowned in air, clutching their throats and puckering their cerulean lips, while the fortunate ones remained submerged in the residual H2O. With the passage of evolutionary time, the aquatic creatures gained terrestrial abilities, discovering a new version of the world formerly lost to them. The nonexistence of light made this self-enclosed system an earth in negative. Thus the inner surface was a fertile soil devoid of flora and explored by eyeless anthropoids. Sensitive hairs as translucent as glass enveloped their bodies and gave them the ability to see by physical sensation. A mere breeze would cause meteorological images to bloom in the brain, a simple touch would manifest an object as three-dimensional in the mind’s eye, and so they were able to charter the whole of their internal domain.
For nearly five thousand years they persisted by consuming protein mud that lined the lakes and rivers, until the first flora appeared, plants and algae that grew through scotosynthesis. The anthropoids then developed agriculture, fertilizing their crops with a potent distillation of darkness, which stimulated development to the point where plump stalks became entangled in the sky with those cultivated on the opposite sides of the earth. Planet tendons capable of feeding hundreds or more, a necessity in a prospering population.
The advent of science in their civilization coincided with the propagation of a plague that wilted most of their crops to ashen husks, the gray flakes swirling in the wind like snow in a globe. Experts of physics, botany, and other fields collaborated in response to the emergency and concluded that the plague must be starved, which would mean the destruction of the anthropoids’ primary food source. Therefore, they invented a plant that, although it would die in the dark, could feed on an eccentric electromagnetic radiation. Theoretical physicists called it “light.” To banish the plague without a doubt, and to ensure worldwide growth of the new plants, they enacted an ambitious plan. Just as their ancestors had forged the foundations of air-breathing through sacrifice and mutation, so would they begin the arduous process of light-seeing. This time, they possessed the aid of science and foresight. They edited DNA so that above the nostril, which was a crescent hole in the hirsute skin, they generated a concave patch of photosensitive cells that took up half of the face and all of the forehead. Furthermore, they deleted the genes that gave rise to the glassy hairs of the body in order to prevent stimuli from competing. When they had bred two generations of smooth anthropoids with nascent eyes, they performed the next step of their plan. The invention of the sun. And so the inner exosphere was set afire and with a radius of ten miles it illuminated all.
The presence of the sun catalyzed the evolution of their sight to where the sensitive patch morphed into a compound eye, glistening with necro-greens and plasmid purples. The synthetically-enhanced beings became the sacred caretakers of the blind, for it was discovered that the transparent hairs of their ancestors were inexplicably linked to the former darkness, and no amount of artificial shade was enough for them to salvage their sight-by-feel. To remedy this injustice, a system of feeding or famishing the fire was developed, so that they could turn the sun on and off at will. After a vote, it was determined that the sun would be on for ten hours then turned off for another ten, ad infinitum. On some occasions, the sun would be off for a week or more, as during the six-month mourning of the assassination of their leader. But this tradition was halted when the elderly eyeless anthropoids failed to return home amid dawn and were later seen scrounging in groups of three or four. Some claimed the more feral traits of the old ones’ personalities, traits still biding in the brains of the eyeful, had usurped control, while others said that a collective degeneration of the brain, due to age or a new disease, had stripped them of their higher faculties. The truth was revealed when a wandering group of seniors was found in a forsaken temple and captured. Between grunts they condemned in shrieking voices the world of unseeable light and used primordial purrs to express their longing for absolute darkness. It was decided that a system of underground homes and tunnels would be dug. Afterward, a farewell parade was held, wherein thousands cheered or wailed with grief as their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents descended into a new realm of soil and perpetual night.
Thereafter, the progress of inner-surface civilization was embodied in the system of communication and transportation connecting ground and sky. Although careful to avoid the sun’s fire, they had installed thick, knotted ropes that muscled messengers climbed to deliver packages and letters to the other sides, flipping at the halfway mark due to the major switch in gravity. Spacious baskets had been tied to the crisscrossing ropes at various intervals for resting or sleeping. Many citizens trained themselves to climb, too, for it was a cheaper way to travel, although dangerous, and usually resulted in fifty or so deaths a year, with some falls suspected to be suicides. Later, the Pigeon Express was established, in which birds were bred for their size until large enough to be mounted. Riders of the Pigeon Express could be seen diving and rising through the air in all directions. Eventually the climbing ropes rotted but were replaced by steel cables as support for a new innovation of travel. That is, massive elevators capable of containing a few hundred people. In these elevators the poor were amassed in claustrophobic seclusion from the rich, who relished in the pleasures of a movable mansion. Except for the near sideswipe of two elevators, the only tragedy that occurred was when an elevator rose to the halfway point and then fell up, brakes broken, crashing into the terrestrial sky of their destination, killing everyone on impact. Shortly after they invented a network of pneumatic tubes that could deliver people back and forth in a matter of seconds, a universal debate began to take shape, concerning, not the center of their world, but the outside of it, the beyond.
Due to their location, they knew nothing of outer space. The earth was their sky, trees and lakes and rivers their constellations. Geologists were the equivalent of astronomers. But when a study of seismic waves revealed an odd hollowness of indeterminable size beyond the density of the ground around them, theories arose. Most thought the universe was made of dirt, the omnipresent terra, and that the emptiness was due to the existence of other worlds, other spheres, possibly much larger or smaller than theirs, perhaps harboring alien life. The alternative claim was that the hollowness was a deceptive echo from the orbicular walls of an impervious crust, a cosmic depth limit calculated at 299,792,458 meters. Only a few scientists conjectured that the universe was mostly empty space, with soil as the exception.
In response to a proposed drilling project that would answer their insatiable questions, an old man and his disciples began to build a gargantuan ark in preparation for what he called the Great Inundation. He professed that to puncture so deeply into the skin of the great god Lutum would send forth floods of His bleeding wrath. Overall, opposition was in the minority and the drilling began, implementing a colossal vehicle with a bulky corkscrew mouth that was capable of ingesting dirt in great quantities and expelling it as an ultra-fine powder from a hole in the rear. It took only a couple miles for the drill to open up a subterranean metropolis populated by a humanoid species with centipede legs, thousands of them crawling across pillared buildings. Nothing of them was familiar but their eyeless heads, which reminded the inner surface population of tall tales their great-grandparents told them regarding relatives that lived underground and masticated clumps of darkness. Scientists began to study them but their underground realm was not the source of the detected cavity, the mysterious emptiness, and so they continued to drill much deeper. Increasing heat registered by instruments installed within the drill was interpreted differently: as the theorized spheres of other civilizations, glowing with the energies of industry; as globular crucibles of perpetual light, suns for the taking; or as an overheating of the drill itself, a misleading malfunction. Thus they drilled deeper and deeper until they fissured the surface of their inside-out earth, draining the lava ocean. “It’s the destined hemorrhage of the great god Lutum, His livid blood,” cried the old man as he stood on the deck of his ark and embraced the viscous rush of the blinding red ichor.
With time, the molten center of this earth will be pressurized into solid nickel and iron, preceded by a liquid outer core and a mantle, while the drained surface will flourish with flora and fauna in the presence of atmosphere-accumulated water, until an inversion of gravity will cause the boundaries between layers to become porous – and the process repeats.
George Salis is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below. After almost a decade, he has nearly finished his second novel, Morpholocal Echoes. He’s the winner of the Tom La Farge Award for Innovative Writing. He’s also the editor of The Collidescope, an online publication that celebrates innovative and neglected literature. His website is www.GeorgeSalis.com.