by C.A. Casey
future humans fight to escape the earth
6:45 pm April 24, 5 billion AD
Violet carefully led Indigo down the darkening city streets of San Francisco, careful to avoid any dark shadowy corners. Stone crabs had been known to hide themselves in the shadows waiting for anything living to stray too close. Since the glowing bodies of Violet and Indigo stood out like a sore thumb in the waning daylight, they had to be extra cautious so as not to wander into a crab’s light-sensitive vision.
After walking for some time, Violet pointed to a large building in the distance, their apparent destination. It was very large and elegant, even after centuries of disrepair. Massive Ionic pillars shot upwards towards the roof, some damaged to the point of collapse, others worn down by years of sand and wind erosion. Large brass letters adorned the roof above the entrance and though they had become severely corroded and some were missing Indigo could still make out what they spelled:
SAN FRANCIS O PUBLIC L BRARY
“What’s a ‘L-brary?’ Indigo asked as Violet led him through the large front doors. “It’s called a ‘library’, and it’s a place of learning”, Violet replied, “Humans used data discs to record information, then put them in libraries for everyone to learn from.”
“What sort of information?”
“Any sort” continued Violet, “everything from music to science to works of imagination. People could even take these discs home for their whole family to enjoy. In fact”, Violet paused for a moment, “there was apparently a time in which they recorded information in something called ‘books’, but from what I’ve read that went of practice in the 51st century.”
Indigo looked around him. They were standing in a dimly lit rotunda of enormous proportions, even by Lumin standards. All around lay various vestiges of what might have once been the skeletons of monstrous creatures from the past. Another exhibit near the far wall of the rotunda was lined with a large array of machines so tall that the most recent editions almost scraped the ceiling. Having a soft spot in his heart for machines, Indigo broke away from Violet and approached one of the larger machines on display. When he reached out to touch this wonder from another era he had to jerk his hand back, for when his index finger was mere centimeter away from its surface, a voice–apparently a recording–came from nowhere.
“This one-thousandth scale model of a first generation matter/antimatter warp engine was instrumental in mankind’s earliest exploration and colonization of the solarrrrrrrrrr systemmmmmmm.”
The recording trailed off and vanished.
As a very startled Indigo began to wonder where all the memory discs were kept, he heard another voice from behind him–no, from around him–that wasn’t a recording.
“Good evening Violet. Who’s your blue friend?”
Indigo leaped straight into the air, at least as high as he was tall, and began to run for the door when Violet grabbed him. Indigo struggled in her grasp, but she gently pulled him back to where he had been standing before.
“Calm down Indigo, that’s just Face the curator. I brought you here to meet him.”
“Where is he?” whispered Indigo, “why can’t I see him? And why is his name Face?”
“You can’t see him because he’s literally the building we’re standing in. And as for his name, I think I’ll let him explain that.” With that, the ceiling of the domed rotunda began to glow with an electric blue light. Three pixilated blocks appeared on the glowing ceiling (which Indigo now realized was actually a giant screen) and slowly aligned themselves to form what could easily be mistaken for a pair of eyes and a mouth. The pattern flickered, adjusting itself, and Indigo could see now it really was a face, just a very basic one.
“Face this is my longtime best friend Indigo. I thought you might be able to teach him some of the secrets you’ve taught me over the years.”
Secrets? Years? Had Violet been sneaking over here for that long without anyone knowing? Indigo was shocked. “Violet, who is this guy?” he demanded of her.
“He’s the last of his kind” Violet replied sadly. She looked upwards to the face on the screen. “Face, I think it’s time Indigo knew the truth about our people, the Lumins. Just tell him what you told me, I’m sure he can take it.”
“Take what, what’s this all about?” questioned Indigo, but Violet motioned for him to listen to Face.
“I’m sure you’re aware”, Face began, “that several thousand years ago this planet, Earth, was home to a race of people called humans. These humans dominated the earth for millions of years, and survived many hardships. But by the year 5 million AD, they were becoming an endangered species. A new ice age had taken over the planet, and the newly evolved humans, or Numans, were forced to flee into space to ride out the bitter cold. The Numans looked very similar to their Old Human ancestors, save for an elongated head that housed a larger brain. Thanks to their amazing intelligence, they survived in space for thousands of years. When the ice age ended, they returned to Earth, only to find that sea levels had risen dramatically, and their home on land had shrunk considerably.”
Face pause a moment before continuing. “When it became apparent that there were too many Numans and not enough land mass to contain them, a quarter of the population agreed to download their consciousness’ into computers to save space creating a new human species, the Digiforms.”
“That’s what he is” Violet interjected, “he’s a digital human.”
“By the year 4,999,998,003 AD another race of humans had evolved”, continued Face. “These humans were called Vaporforms, which was fitting seeing as they were in fact clouds of mental energy. The Vaporforms traveled in floating glass globes kept aloft by their own telekinesis, and were the most intelligent humans to date.”
“Unfortunately”, continued Face, his mood darkening, “ a new problem arose that year.” With that, Face disappeared from the ceiling screen only to reappear projected in the air over a large table in the center of the room. “Come up here and I’ll show you what happened.”
Indigo was about to ask if Face hadn’t noticed that he and Violet were too short reach the table top, but Violet tugged on his arm. “It’s alright, Face can get us up there. He’s used to helping people get to things that are out of reach.” With that, a robotic claw descended from the ceiling, a claw that used to be used to help people get items off the tallest shelves.
“All aboard” Face said with a smile.
Violet and Indigo hopped on and were whisked upwards to the tabletop.
Once on top, Indigo looked around. It was a strange table, with a round glass plate at its center and a collection of small silvery discs around its edge. He picked one up. It appeared to be made of metal and was very light, but there was nothing to indicate a purpose to it.
“Spin it around on that glass plate” Violet told him, “it’s an inertia-powered memory cell. When you spin it, the inertia will cause it to play a holographic message. It’s how I learned what happened to the humans, go on try one.”
Indigo selected a disc at random and spun it on the glass plate. Slowly an image of an elongated head appeared above the table, a head that Indigo realized must belong to a Numan. “I am Dr. Joseph Marcum”, the head said, “and if you are watching this, you are the first to know of the plans that were approved this morning by the president of the United Earth. As you are already aware, the sun has been expanding at an alarming rate as it increases in age. It has virtually destroyed every plant species on Earth, and has nearly boiled away our oceans completely. We have tried to exist on Earth for as long as possible, but we now realize that our planet is beyond help.“ The doctor paused and lowered his head as if he was about to say something very difficult.
“Every citizen of Earth has twenty-four hours to make it to the nearest star port to catch a ship headed off world. You are to proceed to a designated Earth colony planet and are not to return to Earth or its solar system under any circumstances. God help us all.”
With that, the disc completed its final rotation and the hologram of Dr. Marcum vanished. Curious and saddened by what he had seen, Indigo picked another disc and spun it. The head of another Numan appeared, his face grave and serious.
“My name is of no importance”, the Numan stated, “the important thing you should know is that I am the last who remembers how each of us, man and woman, made their own decision. Most chose to flee the earth on massive starships, and start a new civilization in the galaxies beyond. A group of us, however, decided to take our chances and remain on our beloved ancestral world. Small as those chances might have been.” The disk wobbled and clanked flat on the table, causing the Numan to disappear.
“But what happened to them?” Indigo asked Face, “where did those humans go?” “Nowhere”, replied Face, “they never went extinct as they had been sure they would. I was the only Digiform who stayed behind, and I’m the only one who still remembers how they continued change, continued to evolve rapidly into something new, something that was perfectly suited to the harsh environment of the dying Earth. And you know something? To this day, not one of them remembers the proud and bountiful race they once belonged to. Until Violet showed up, I was certain they would never know the truth about their ancestors.”
Indigo was stumped. Was this machine-human mad? What was he driveling about?
“What’s he saying Vi?”
“Don’t you get it Indigo? They’re us and we’re them. The humans who stayed behind didn’t die, they evolved into Lumins. We are the last surviving remnants of the human race!”
And so that evening, Indigo came to understand the truth about his people, and the impending danger of the expanding, dying sun that sat on the horizon. It had continued to grow larger and larger as it died, burning and devouring everything in its path, and in a matter of months, Face told Indigo, it would expand to the point that it would swallow the Earth and take the last surviving human descendants with it.
April 25-May 1, 5 billion AD
For the next six days, Indigo practically lived in the library. He poured over volume after volume of data discs from every section of the library, trying to learn as much as he could about his human ancestors. He had, at first, found the idea of Lumins being descended from mankind completely ridiculous, but there seemed to be no other explanation, reasonable or otherwise, as to how the Lumins came to be. They couldn’t have come to earth from another planet–Lumins possessed no such technology. They surely couldn’t have existed alongside humans, of that Indigo was now certain. He had read and researched virtually the entire history of the human race and their world, from the dawn of the Cenozoic era to the founding of the Extragalactic Earth Colonies, and in all that time not one human had ever mentioned the existence of a five-inch race of people with bodies made of pure light. According to human history, Lumins didn’t exist.
Yet here they were, alive and well on a dying Earth, and not a single Numan, Digiform (apart from Face), or Vaporform was left. With all that ruled out, Indigo finally had to accept the truth.
And so he had stayed in that library day after day studying everything about human culture from Beethoven to basketball, skyscrapers to cell phones, trying anxiously to find a way to help his people survive the coming Armageddon. The sun was growing in size, he believed that now. From the discs, he had learned how it had swollen to such an extent that it had consumed the two closest planets Mercury and Venus, and was steadily growing closer to Earth. He had also learned how the sun had been fueled by hydrogen gas for billions of years, but now that hydrogen was running desperately low. According to science, when that happened it would balloon outward into a red giant star, swallowing the Earth and burning the rest of the inner solar system like one gigantic celestial barbecue.
Violet, Skye and Verde had come to visit Indigo in the library every day and catch up on what he had learned. Like Indigo, Verde and Skye initially had a hard time believing their ancestors were human, but through careful examination of the library’s content they had come to realize the same inconsistencies with the human timeline that Indigo discovered and they were won over.
It wasn’t until the morning of May the second that Indigo finally found what he reasoned was the best possible way to save the Lumins. He had been searching through some ancient recordings from Earth’s twentieth century when he stumbled upon a computer file marked APOLLO LUNAR PROJECT. It was from a point in time when humans were only just beginning to travel in space, and now they were trying to get someplace called the Moon. According to the Apollo project, the Moon was a kind of large rocky mass that was suspended in the sky above earth, but Indigo had never seen such a thing in the sky he saw every night. What really caught his attention, though, was the way the humans had planned to get there.
In those days, humans hadn’t used starships to travel through space. Instead, they relied on “rocket technology”, which relied on using a tremendous amount of downward thrust to propel a ship into space. Once the ship breached the atmosphere, smaller, lighter engines were used to carry it even farther. It was a long shot, but Indigo thought that maybe, just maybe, such technology could still be put to good use.
That afternoon, Indigo gathered his friends around one of the library’s many holo-screen terminals. “Guys”, he said, slipping a disc into the input slot, “I think I’ve figured out a way to get us all out of here and away from Earth in time. Take a look.” The holo-screen flared to life, and what his friends saw both intrigued and worried them: on the flickering screen were hand-drawn schematics for what looked like a bullet with wings, only much larger. A set of three large exhaust nozzles extended from the back of the machine, while the sleek narrow front of the ship was lacerated with a boomerang shaped window marked “bridge.” Other areas had been marked and designated as passenger compartments, and the space toward the back was labeled “engine room.”
“This”, Indigo stated proudly, “is our ticket off this desert waste. It’s a one-stage rocket designed primarily for passenger transport across long distances. It uses chemical fuel to propel it into orbit, and once there the engines switch over to electrical power.”
“An electric rocket?” Verde mused.
“Yes. It’s something I discovered while researching space travel in the twenty-first century. At first, electric rockets were used to propel unmanned probes out of the solar system, but by the middle of the twenty-first century it was being used to carry humans to Mars, then Jupiter. By the end of that century, electric rockets had become so powerful and advanced, they were carrying people past Pluto to the Kuiper Belt and beyond. Electricity takes longer to wear out than liquid fuel and can be replenished through sunlight, providing a ship with energy for years to come.”
“But can you build one,” Verde asked, “and what do we have that could possibly be powerful enough to provide energy to a thing like that?”
“I was hoping you’d ask”, said Indigo breaking into a smile. “Feast your eyes on this!”
3:12 p.m. May 2, 5 billion AD
Indigo was sure this would work. He could feel it. He and Face had spent the past three days figuring out how they could convert Indigo’s never-been-used Jumpmaster power cell into the ultimate rocket engine, the designs for which Indigo was now proudly showing his friends. The newly christened JumpEngine was actually a series of twelve Jumpmaster power cells neatly connected together in three sets of four. Indigo planned to have three large ion harvesting panels placed outside of the rocket, one panel for each set of power cells. With this configuration, the JumpEngine could continuously soak up positive ions from sunlight just as solar panels had done in the distant past.
“If this works, they’ll have to let me use my invention for the sake of our survival”, said a very satisfied Indigo.
“Are you sure you can build eleven more of those power cells Indigo? According to Face, we don’t exactly have all the time in the world to pull this off and leave” Skye said running his hand through his light blue hair, “and so far we’re the only ones who know about this danger. Suppose the other Lumins don’t believe us?”
“I’ve thought of that. I’m just not sure we alone can convince them. It’s not like we can drag them all down to this library and make them read what we have.”
“People have predicted the end of the world before” Face spoke up, “and most of them had quite a following before they were proven wrong.”
“But this time we know the world is ending. We just need proof beyond the information in this library”, said Violet.
Verde had a sudden thought. “You realize”, he said, “that if Elder Crim doesn’t believe all this we’re not going anywhere.”
Indigo’s fists tightened. “That rusty, red fart thinks he knows what’s best for all of us just because he’s been around so long”, he said, grinding his teeth, “well he doesn’t know everything. For once we know more about our past than he does, and if he chooses not to listen, the human race will die with us!”
Indigo expected Violet to try to whack him in the head like she had before, but it didn’t happen this time. The look on her face told Indigo that she was one hundred percent behind him on this.
“Face, you’ll need to come with us”, said Indigo, “I was able to fix your travel pod for you. Can you still get inside it?” Face nodded and shunted the data stream that was himself into the anti gravity travel pod that Digiforms used to move freely outside of computer terminals. The pod’s screen lit up with a small display of Face’s simplistic digital face, as he floated out the great front doors of the library with the others, headed for the Lumin village.
Skye motioned at Face. “Keep in mind, no other Lumins have ever seen a Digiform before. Just keep cool and follow our lead. And if they don’t believe us when we tell them we’re all human, just play back some of that information you showed us.”
“Very well then” Face replied nervously, wondering how people would react to seeing a face on a floating screen.
The five of them made their way up the ramp to the top of the building that the village was built on. Almost instantly, they began hearing gasps as the other Lumins began to notice the strange floating visitor they had brought with them. Indigo and Violet tried to reason with them, reassured them it was all right, but no one would listen. Then another voice thundered over all the increasing panic.
“What’s going on here? What is the meaning of all this noise?” Elder Crim shouted, pushing his way through the crowd towards Face and the others. “What on earth is that…that abominable thing you’ve brought into my village?”
“He is NOT a thing, he’s a human, he’s the last of his kind, and his name is Face”, Indigo retorted angrily. Seeing the intimidating look on Crim’s face, he added “sir.”
There was a long, silent pause amongst the crowd. Finally Crim spoke, “There are no more humans boy, they are extinct, wiped from the face of the earth. Their ways have long since been forgotten and they have left their world to us. And there will be no further foolishness from you.”
“But there’s more”, said Indigo defiantly, “the humans aren’t extinct and they never were. They’re us! When most of the humans left earth on huge spaceships thousands of years ago, a group of them refused to leave and stayed here in San Francisco. But instead of perishing as everyone else was sure they would, they evolved. They became us, beings made of pure hard light energy adapted to survive on this hellish planet. We’re the last of the human race!”
All around the group people burst in to laughter. “It’s too bad you don’t invent story books Indigo!” said one of the Lumins. Indigo was about to do something violent, when Elder Crim held up his hand to silence the crowd.
“Indigo, you should be ashamed! I’ve never heard so many lies come out of one little Lumin! There are no humans in my village and there never were. That race is long gone, ancient history! And as for him, that Digiform you had the nerve to bring into my village–“
A surprised murmur rippled through the crowd.
“Wait”, said Violet, cutting the elder off, “say that again? How did you know Face’s people were called Digiforms?”
Crim’s face changed from one of anger to one of fear. He tried to hide it, but Indigo had already noticed. So had everyone else.
Indigo narrowed his eyes. “You knew, didn’t you? You always knew we were descended from humans, but you decided to keep the truth to yourself? Thought it would be “unethical” if we knew who we really were, huh? Am I right? Answer me!”
“I–I only called him a Digiform because that’s what you called him” Crim said, quickly trying to cover up his unwitting confession.
“No he didn’t” said one of the onlookers, “Indigo called him a human, not a Digiform.”
“Tell the truth dammit!” Indigo was losing patience.
Crim, realizing there was no way to fool the crowd any longer, hung his head. “Yes. I knew we were human”, he mumbled.
Indigo leaned forward to the point that his face was just inches from that of the cowering elder. “So they can hear you,” he growled.
“Yes, alright, we are all human!” Crim shouted. “So I kept it to myself! It did no harm! We survived for years without needing to know our origins! What difference did it make?”
But the crowd was already starting to stir.
“What kind of leader keeps secrets about his people from his people?” a Lumin asked.
“What else does he know about us? That’s just plain creepy”, said another.
“That’s just plain dishonest”, another added.
Indigo spoke up. “Well, now that your little secret’s crawled out of the pit you buried it in, why don’t you tell them what’s going to happen in a few short months?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about boy”, Crim said, looking puzzled and worried.
“The hell you don’t” shouted Indigo, lunging at the old man. Violet grabbed Indigo and held him back. “Indigo, I think he’s serious. Let him go.”
“Tell us what?” a Lumin shouted from the crowd, “what’s going to happen in a few months?”
And so, Indigo spilled it. He told them about the expanding sun that had driven the other humans away, about how it had swallowed two other worlds already, and how earth was next in line. To his surprise, Crim began to laugh.
“Now that’s a good one”, he said jokingly, “you may have been telling the truth about the human race, but no one’s going to believe that pile of crab chips!”
“And what would it take for you to believe it?” Indigo glowered.
“A sign from the heavens, young one”, Crim replied confidently.
He had hardly finished that sentence when the sky above them split open with an earth-shattering crash.