by C.A. Casey
future humans fight to escape the earth
|6:30 p.m. April 9, 5 billion AD
As usual, all was quiet in the city once known as Berkeley. The sounds of air traffic, pedestrians, and chirping birds had been nonexistent for seemingly countless millennia. Apart from the occasional wispy gusts, nothing was left to make noise. Derelict cars lay parked at odd angles, pushed and pulled over time by the rising sand dunes. Buildings creaked and groaned under the stress of a thousand years of disrepair and abandonment. Some might call this an apocalypse. But for one small character it was, simply, home.
Indigo climbed down from his perch on the roof of the Berkeley Observatory. Not that he knew what an observatory was, or what you were supposed to observe once you got there, but that wasn’t important right now. What mattered was that he had managed to scavenge the final component he needed to complete his prototype power cell. He had found it just in time too. The huge blood-red disc of the sun was beginning its descent into the depths of the distant horizon, and all Lumins knew it was dangerous to be out at night.
Lumins were, quite frankly, a bit of an enigma. They were roughly humanoid, each possessing a body about five inches tall and made from the purest form of hard light energy which made them glow like Christmas lights in the darkness. Their eyes glowed with solid colors that made any rainbow jealous with the spectrum they displayed. Most were even named after their eye color. Indigo, as his name suggested, had deep blue eyes and, according to Lumin custom, iridescent robes to match. His vibrant hair was almost electric violet-blue, which contrasted sharply with his brilliantly radiant, fair skin, creating an almost angelic aura around his body.
Indigo swung himself down from the roof of the building, sliding gently down the fire escape towards street level. Around his neck swung a miniature mp3 player from which came the soft reggae rhythms of Bob Marley’s “One Love”. Of course, Indigo had no idea that it was called reggae, who Bob Marley was or even what he looked like, but his music always brought the little Lumin peace on an otherwise hellishly sweltering day.
Waiting for Indigo on the street below was his ride home; a funny little three-wheeled machine powered by a clockwork engine. Indigo had discovered clockwork devices when he was a child, and had incorporated them into everything he wanted to power. All his life he had been inventing, and when he wasn’t doing that he was ripping an old, discarded piece of human equipment apart to see how it worked. He didn’t fancy himself an inventor - merely an “improver”. If it existed (which it almost always did in this day and age) he could find a way to make it better. And his clockwork vehicle was tangible evidence of that.
After turning the ignition (in this case the large clockwork key on the top of his car), Indigo began his half-hour drive across Berkeley to the Lumin village in San Francisco. As his car squeaked along, he observed the usual sights: the abandoned cars, the desolate spaceport, and the holographic signs that still screamed in big black letters “LATEST UPDATE: EARTH’S PRESIDENT APPROVES PLANS FOR MANDATORY GLOBAL EVACUATION. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. LASTING INDEFINITELY. GOD/SHAN-RU BE WITH US.
After what seemed like hours, Indigo reached the Old Collapsed Bridge. It was a massive red, rusty structure, stretching in segmented pieces across the mouth of the Pacific Desert towards San Francisco. Indigo had often wondered why the ancient civilization that built it chose to do so across dry, easily-navigatable ground that even the youngest Lumin could traverse. In fact, that was just one of many questions he had regarding that, long-gone culture. He knew they were called humans, and that at one point they had ruled the Earth as its dominant species. Apart from that he knew little else of them. People in his village said that the humans had built the large city of San Francisco ages ago, but Indigo found that hard to believe. Compared to a Lumin’s small stature and the size of the old buildings, these humans must have been gargantuan! In his opinion, nothing that big could be that intelligent.
At long last, Indigo reached the flat-topped building that his village was built on. He was lucky he had arrived when he did or the other Lumins on the rooftop above would have hauled up the rope elevator (which allowed them to reach street level) for the night. Upon reaching the top, he parked his ride just outside the village perimeter. He began to hear the familiar sounds of children laughing, adults conversing, and the whistling of wind through the large pinwheel his people used as a wind farm to power the village. Then came the sound he was so accustomed to hearing when he came home late.
“Indigo, where have you been, I was so worried!” Ah yes, that was the sound of his longtime best friend, Violet. Indigo had met her in a sandbox when they were five, and since then they had grown inseparable, symbiotic even. He could understand why she worried when he came back late; the outside world was crawling with unfathomable dangers lurking around every corner after the sun had made its exit. But there was something else about her fretting, something that seemed to be reserved only for him.
“OK, OK, Vi. Just relax! I’m fine as usual”, Indigo said laughingly as he tried to shake off her playful punching, “there isn’t a monster out there that would dare to take on Deep Blue here.”
“Maybe so”, she replied, her tone now more serious, “but you know Elder Crim doesn’t allow anyone out of this village after sundown. You almost missed last call for the elevator again! What if you had had to spend the night on the city streets and a stone crab or a mut had attacked you?” Indigo shuddered, his playful mood gone. He hated those abominable stone crabs, with their crimson, rock-encrusted shells and grinding, salivating jaws, strong enough to crush iron, or those horrible acid-spitting muts that resembled oversized termites. Since nothing grew in this day and age, the stone crabs and other monsters were always hungry and attacked anything that moved, especially at night when it was cooler and they were not easily seen.
“Look Vi”, Indigo retorted, “I’ve never been within five hundred feet of a stone crab, and I never will be. Elder Crim can take his juvenile campfire stories and stick them in the last place on Earth where the sun don’t shine. Hey, cut that out!” He had to duck to keep her hand from whapping him in the back of the head.
“Elder Crim has been the only one whose managed to keep us alive in this desolate litter box we live in and you know it”, Violet scolded, “and as far as your spotless stone crab record is concerned, one of these days you’re going to find yourself in a terrifying, unbeatable game of crab and mouse, and I just hope you survive long enough for me to find out I was right! You can’t keep doing this to me!”
For a moment, Indigo thought he heard her choke back a sob. “Do what to you?” he asked slowly.
“Just promise me you won’t stay out late again, ever” Violet replied, regaining her composure.
“Yeah sure”, Indigo said puzzled by her outburst.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home”, he said softly taking her hand.
“And on the way”, he added, “I’ll confide in you about what I’ve been working on the past few days. Trust me, it’ll change everything about the way we live.”
7:30 p.m. April 9, 5 billion AD
What Indigo had been working on was a new type of power cell that could trap and convert solar energy into electrical power. But it did more than just that. By absorbing the enormous amounts of positive ions the dying sun poured out, a single power cell would contain enough energy to equal fifty nuclear reactors, or enough energy to power the Lumin village for five hundred years. If Indigo pulled this off, it would mean the end of those silly pinwheel wind farms and desperately salvaging solar panels out of old calculators. Five generations of Lumin villagers would have perpetual electrical power, and when the charge ran out a recharging session would last only fifteen minutes!
“That would be excellent”, remarked Violet as they reached her doorstep, “but with that much power, you might be putting yourself in a dangerous situation. What would happen if there was an overload of a burnout? “
“Violet, I swear I’ve worked out all the glitches this time, it’s not going to be like one of my older inventions.” Indigo cringed, remembering some of the close calls he’d had in the past with power surges and the odd exploding toaster coil.
“All I’m saying is, if the good Lord–“. Indigo almost tuned Violet out. That was the only thing he didn’t like about Violet; this fixation she had about some ancient human deity that hadn’t been worshiped in thousands of years, and hadn’t been heard from in five billion years! She claimed she believed in God because He gave her hope and a reason to keep moving forward. Ha! All Indigo needed to satisfy that want was a soldering iron, an old broken machine, and Bob Marley! And what about Shan-Ru? He was the other deity the humans used to worship. Indigo drove past San Francisco’s Temple of Shan-Ru every day, and saw that giant sphinx-like head of his protruding from the top. What about him? What made Violet prefer one god when humans clearly used to believe there were two?
Indigo opened his mouth to interrupt her, but she put her finger on his lips and kept talking. “If the good Lord has something else in mind for your future, something greater and better for you, it will come to pass. He is the only one who will always do what’s best for you. Don’t you ever read those scriptures I gave you?”
Indigo shrugged off that question. He didn’t really feel like admitting to his best friend that he had a hard time believing in someone he couldn’t see, much less have the desire to read about him.
“Goodnight Vi”, Indigo mumbled sheepishly. “Oh, one more thing”, he quickly added, “I’m going to beta test my new power cell tomorrow, and I’d like to have witnesses. Come on over around noon, and tell Verde and Skye to come too.”
“Will do, babe”, Violet called out over her shoulder as she closed the door.
Indigo smiled quietly to himself, thinking about what it would mean to the Lumin people if his experiment went successfully. He went to sleep early that night, as he felt he would need a clear head for tomorrow’s demonstration. “Everyone is going to love me for this”, he thought to himself before closing his deep blue eyes and drifting off into oblivion.
8:00 am April 10, 5 billion AD
The huge, blood red disc of the sun rose extra bright and early over the Pacific Desert the next morning. As usual, it bathed half the sky with a deep red and the other half remained shrouded in darkness, with the glimmer of stars shining overhead. The Lumins had grown accustomed to this, and had chosen to build their village in a part of San Francisco that received the morning light first. Because the sun was so large (it occupied over a tenth of the horizon line), it never fully rose into the sky but instead hovered on the horizon for twenty-seven hours before sinking back down again, taking the red half of the sky with it. It got deathly cold at night, and each of the Lumins had insulated their little homes with anything that could trap heat; Indigo, however, had discovered that space heater coils, when charged with solar energy by day, made an excellent automatic heating system that kicked on as soon as it got too cold for his comfort.
At midday, when the sun had risen as high as it normally did on the horizon, there was a knock on Indigo’s door. Just as Indigo had requested, Violet had shown up for the experiment along with Verde and Skye, Indigo’s other best friends. Verde, as his name suggested, had eyes of a deep pine green. An avid musician, he was always thinking up lyrics and strumming out tunes on his homemade guitar and occasionally even practiced the ancient art of beat boxing. Skye was blue like Indigo, but a much lighter hue. Indigo used to joke that Skye was his “lighter half”, but that had stopped when they both reached adulthood. Skye loved adventure and claimed to have visited all of California, not that many believed him. He was also the only Lumin in the village who had ever tangled with a bull mut and emerged victorious, thanks to his switchblade-wielding skills.
“Come on in, all of you”, Indigo said warmly, ushering them inside. “I requested your company today for an important reason. If this new invention of mine is successful, it will revolutionize our way of life for generations to come”
“And if it isn’t successful?” Verde ventured.
“Then it’s back to the drawing board”, continued their host, “but I feel I’ve worked out every possible problem for this type of device.”
“And what exactly is this ‘device’ we came to see?” a skeptical Skye questioned, raising an eyebrow. Indigo said nothing, instead motioning for them to follow him to his workroom in the back. Once there, Indigo clapped twice to turn on the small incandescent Christmas bulbs on the ceiling. As he did, an object covered with a sheet became visible in the center of the room. Still saying nothing, Indigo ceremoniously yanked off the sheet, revealing a very strange sight.
Sitting on the floor under the sheet was a funny looking machine roughly the size of a 20th century cell phone. A large coil of copper wire made up the bulk of it, with a small plug-in port on the back half, which was connected to a light bulb at the far end of the room. Tangles of multicolored wiring trailed from the large copper-bound battery, wound through a circuit board, and eventually found themselves attached with soldering welds to what looked like a small satellite dish. It appeared to be made out of half a ping-pong ball, the concave inside covered with Mylar.
“Ok, end the suspense”, Violet said with a hint of sarcasm, “what is it supposed to be?” Indigo started to speak, only to realize that he hadn’t actually come up with a name for his machine. Thinking quickly, he mumbled the first thing that came into his head, which unfortunately happened to be “Jumpmaster 6000”. This, in turn, had the effect of rendering the entire room silent for no more than thirty seconds.
“Jumpmaster 6000?” Skye replied slowly and with emphasis.
“You know, like the Jumpmaster 5000, but new and improved”, said Indigo, desperately trying to play this off like he planned it.
“You’ve never invented a Jumpmaster 5000.”
“Alright, fine! I made it up just now! It doesn’t matter what we call it! What’s important is that fact that if this works, it can and will provide labor-free electrical energy to this entire community for generations on one charge session. This dish” Indigo said pointing to the halved ping-pong ball, “collects the positive ions that the sun radiates every day. A five second charging period would be enough to power this house for a year. Think how much power could be generated on a fifteen-minute charge, or even an hour! Now, I’ve already charged this thing up and the potential energy is sitting dormant in this copper coil. When I throw this switch, the power will leave the copper wire and travel through this cable into the light bulb at the far end of the room. If it works, the energy the Jumpmaster produces should be powerful enough to make said light bulb exhaust itself in only a few seconds. And that’s why I need you here, as witnesses.”
With that, Indigo threw the switch.
The overhead lights seemed to dim, and the observers felt the air start to tingle like it was alive. In an instant, the bulb at the far end of the room flared to life like a miniature star, and in a blinding flash, blew out taking the overhead lights with it. Only the glowing forms of the stunned and silenced Indigo, Violet, Verde and Skye remained to illuminate the room in awed silence.
After what seemed like a lifetime of quiet, a voice was heard. “Well”, Violet said with a mixture of shock and relief, “looks like it’s free power for everyone.”
1:15 p.m. April 24, 5 billion AD
For the next week, Indigo’s confidence was unstoppable. All he seemed capable of talking about was how cool this invention was and how he couldn’t wait to hook it up. His friends had had to learn to tolerate his gushing because they knew he was only trying to make their lives easier. But unbeknownst to everybody, Indigo’s life was about to make a sharp downhill plunge.
It wasn’t until two weeks of reveling in his accomplishment were complete that Indigo finally hit a wall. In the early afternoon of the twenty-forth of April, there was a knock on Indigo’s front door. Indigo had been in his workshop and hadn’t even had time to remove his safety goggles before he could answer it. He opened the door expecting to see a familiar face, but instead was greeted with the stolid, emotionless mug of one of Elder Crim’s personal attendants. Indigo was taken aback. Crim’s attendants weren’t supposed to leave the Elder’s compound, let alone visit ordinary people.
The attendant said nothing, but motioned for Indigo to follow him. When Indigo hesitated, the attendant motioned again, and when Indigo still remained motionless the attendant grabbed his hand.
Indigo was nothing short of terrified. A million questions raced through his mind. What had he done? What crime could he have committed that was so heinous it warranted a breach of Elder Crim’s protocol? The stolid-faced Lumin continued to drag Indigo along in silence; pulling him in a direction that Indigo was now certain led to the Elder’s compound. His little blue heart was pounding. What would happen when they got there? No Lumin had ever been known to break a law. Something must be very wrong.
Indigo dug his feet into the ground, desperately trying to keep himself from going through the front door of the compound. But the attendant shoved him through, and Indigo found himself in a dimly lit room. His eyes slowly adjusted, and he became aware of a seated red figure at the room’s end that he identified as the seldom-seen Elder Crim. The man’s long red beard was beginning to pink with age, and his ancient eyes were sunken into his head. When he began to speak, his jaws creaked and groaned with every painful movement.
“Sit down my boy,” Crim said with a cough, “no need to be shy.” Noticing the frightened look on Indigo’s face, he added, “You’re not in any sort of trouble, you know. We just need to clarify a few things.”
A mixture of relief and confusion swept over Indigo. So he had committed no crime. But what was so urgent that it required a personal visit to the Lumin supreme himself? Usually Crim relayed his orders through a messenger who spread it to the people of the village. Was Indigo about to receive news that he needed to relay to everyone?
“It’s come to my attention,” the Elder continued, “that you’ve devised some new way of creating limitless power without any form of work necessary. Am I right?” Indigo’s heart leaped to his throat. “Yes sir, that’s right”, he replied, secretly hoping Crim was going to praise his new invention. “Well you see…” The Elder’s voice seemed to trail off. “That is to say”, he continued, “we can’t allow it.”
Indigo’s heart dropped so low and so quickly that it seemed to punch a hole in his gut. “C-can’t allow what”, he stammered, scarcely believing what he was hearing. “Your, um, gizmo”, Crim continued, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to use it. We can’t really allow people to get power for free. It’s unethical.”
“Unethical?” Indigo retorted, his anger brewing.
“Yes. If nobody works for his or her power, it encourages sloth. If people start slacking about their daily duties then nothing gets done. And if nothing gets done, it’s only a matter of time before anarchy sets in.”
Indigo was speechless. How had they gone from a conversation about electrical power to anarchy? This was insane! Had their leader finally lost his marbles?
“With respect sir”, Indigo replied, stiffening his back, “I fail to see how a brand new “gizmo” designed to make life easier for people who have it hard enough already, could possibly destroy an entire civilization.”
“There’s no need to make a scene”, said Crim, “I’m simply telling you that if we are to survive on this hellish earth, we need to work for our luxuries. You of all people should know that hard work always pays off. That invention of yours couldn’t have been constructed in a night. Just take your gifts and apply them to something a little more practical is all I’m saying.” Indigo began to speak, but Crim put his hand up to silence him. “There is no more to discuss here. You may leave.”
Indigo walked back home crushed and heavy-hearted feeling that his future as a hero had ended before it began.
6:25 p.m. April 24, 5 billion AD
Violet’s worry was starting to increase. Indigo had been in a very bad mood since the early afternoon, but he refused to tell her why or even where he had been that day. She couldn’t understand why he had been a bubbling fountain of optimism for two weeks, and was now suddenly inconsolable. It just wasn’t like him. Whether his creations worked or not, he usually took an interest in what you were saying and could even be charming. She just had to find out what was wrong so she could try to be of some comfort to him.
Indigo, meanwhile, had barricaded himself inside his house, locked all the doors, and had even yanked down the metal window guards that were usually used as protection against sand storms. He had decided not to take apart his greatest invention just to spite Elder Crim, but even so, a tidal wave of hopelessness had washed over him. He was through. This was the end. Why should he keep creating when there was always someone to laugh in his face, or tell him what he was doing wasn’t ethical? Here, he had created something that could have helped hundreds of people just like him, only to find out it could destroy the very civilization it was meant to aid.
A knock on the window guard next to the bed he was lying in jerked him out of his self-pity. Irritated at the disturbance, he opened the window slightly and was about to explain to the person outside that a closed window means, “leave me alone”, when he heard the intruder’s voice.
“Indigo, please let me come in and find out what’s wrong. I’ve got something that might make you feel better.” The sound of Violet’s beautiful voice relaxed Indigo, if only slightly. Unless what she’s got is a vote of no-confidence in Crim’s case, I’m slamming the door, Indigo thought, shuffling groggily towards the front entrance.
He had to admit it was nice to see her wonderful smiling face on his doorstep. No matter what pessimistic mood he was in, Violet could always be counted on to be his silver lining. He motioned her inside, not speaking a word and invited her to sit down. “Now,” Violet began, setting down the backpack she had brought with her, “Would you care to tell me what happened today?”
“Nothing happened, Vi”, Indigo quietly lied, “Why does something always have to happen for a person’s mood to change?”
Violet cocked her head to one side, and Indigo realized what was about to happen: she was about to give him “the look”. It was the kind of look only a woman could use, and then only against a man. The kind of look that scanned your soul with x-rays that were sure to penetrate your lies whether or not you cracked first. And Indigo cracked first.
Breaking down, he told her everything, about how he had been dragged to the elder’s compound, how his dream had been shot down, and how he planned never to invent again. After listening carefully to his bawling, Violet spoke. And her response blew Indigo away.
“Would you look at yourself”, Violet exclaimed, her arms outstretched, “yesterday you couldn’t be stopped and now after one setback you’re all set to give up completely. And for what reason? Your invention worked! The problem here isn’t with you and your skills, it’s with someone who doesn’t believe in what you can do and what you’re capable of. You’re taking someone else’s criticism and beating yourself up with it when what you’ve done only had the best of intentions!”
“And what am I supposed to do, march over to the elder’s compound and give Crim a piece of me?” snapped Indigo, surprised at her reaction.
“No silly, I’m simply saying that it’s the opinion of just one person. Sure, he’s a very important person, but it’s not up to him to decide where you go from here. You’ll always have another chance to change things for the better. Here, have a look at this.”
Violet reached into her pack and pulled out what looked like an old micro disc of some sort, the kind you would record things on. Setting it in the center of the table they were at, she gently tapped its shiny black surface. Instantly, the room lit up with blue light and a set of holographic words began scrolling across the air above the table.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.” Puzzled, Indigo opened his mouth, but Violet shushed him and pointed to the hologram, which was now spelling out something new. “The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:19.”
“What’s a deer?” Indigo began, but she pointed to the hologram once more.
“This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9.”
“Alright, that’s encouraging, but who said all that?” Indigo asked of her.
“It’s from the Bible”, Violet replied smiling warmly at him, “It’s the book that Christian humans used to follow. Most Christians lived their whole lives by it, it gave them hope and a reason to always look on the bright side.”
Indigo was stunned. He had always assumed that Christianity was just a bunch of ancient rules set up to tell people how to live their lives. He had always shunned the idea of basing his life on some archaic belief system. But this almost made him feel…encouraged.
“The point is”, Violet continued, “God has a plan for your life. It may be what you’re expecting or it might not be, but it will always be great and it will always be what’s best for you. This God–my God–loves you so much, Indigo. He wants you to endure whatever obstacles you face, and with Him, you can’t fail. You faced a setback today. Now endure it so He can show you what he wants you to do next.”
There was a long pause as Indigo soaked in what she had said.
“Violet?” he asked finally.
“Where did you get that disc?”
Violet got up slowly and took his hand. “Come on, I’ll show you.” And with that, she led a now more confident Indigo out into the evening air.