Chapter 1: The Future Past
[Johannesburg, South Africa: 2320]
Isaac Pavarti squinted his eyes at the window emitting high pitched whistle. Parts of the electrical tape flapped where the adhesive wore thin. He stood from his chair and licked his thumb, preparing to rub his saliva over the edges in a last ditch effort to keep the sealant in pace. He paused there a moment, taking in what little grandeur he could see of the tiny world thirty stories below. Black smoke clouds floated by the high rise at a slow pace, fat and content, with the progress of ill will already beset the land under its shadows.
No living thing stirred in his view. Just machines running on autopilot, or worse, controlled by an alien artificial intelligence with unknown goals and no conscience. When they came, they found humanity and the Earth gift wrapped for them. Every weapon, vehicle, financial system, and medical record fell out of control of man and into control of otherworldly beings. They assimilated all of Earth’s technology at mind boggling speeds.
"Son, that's enough of a break. Time to get back to your studies," his father, Thomas Pavarti said behind him.
Isaac turned and picked up a worn bible off of a table with three legs and moved to the living room.
"No fight today?" Thomas asked from his recliner. Probably the nicest chair on the whole apartment floor.
"Paul is careful with his words. So far his sermons remain contradiction free." Isaac’s chair squeaked as he sat down. "Let's see if the streak continues."
Thomas stared back with his brown, hopeful eyes. The very eyes that engendered the trust of friends and strangers alike. Isaac pulled out his bookmark and flipped through a few passages, but his mind raced elsewhere. He glanced down at his his wrist, and the chip embedded by the aliens. Every living human had one. The aliens used it to summon individuals for manual labor or for execution, depending on who you asked. Isaac finished altering his last night.
"Isaac, what do you think we should teach our flock this Sunday?" Thomas asked.
"That if we wish really hard, the second coming may happen in our great grandkid’s lifetime."
"I'm serious," Thomas continued. "Our flock is facing some hard times right now, and they need a message of uplifting. Should we dive into the book of proverbs?"
"Whatever you want, dad." Isaac shut his bible and looked at the front door longingly.
"Isaac, you put up a good show at the services, but you're going to need to do more than that if you want to be protected from our enemies."
"What, I need to have faith?" Isaac asked.
"In a roundabout way, yes. But it helps that our captors have agreed to keep all ministers and their families protected, so long as they keep ministering."
"Well, there you go, you've got us both covered then."
"I won't be around forever. If you want to keep surviving, you need to take up-"
"Your congregation comes every week, they’re not ministering. Why aren't they dying off?"
Isaac's tracer alarm beeped, a fake summons. Thomas' face went white. Isaac could see his father play out a million scenarios in his head, trying to avoid the summons, and hope the aliens didn't come searching for him.
"What do you suppose they want you for?" Thomas' voice shook a little bit, but his face went firm. In the end, Isaac knew his father feared upsetting the status quo above all else. Running would lead to the certainty of death, and honoring the summons provided the greatest chance of survival.
"Probably just some routine check. It's been a long time since they replaced this." Isaac shook his arm around like he wore a defective watch. "I need to be going. Wouldn't want to make them upset."
"I'll lock up behind you." Thomas stood and walked to the door as Isaac unlocked each of the seven dead bolts.
Isaac finished opening the security process and stepped into the dark hallway beyond.
"You be careful now." Thomas placed a trembling hand on Isaac’s shoulder.
"Don't worry, Dad" Isaac gave him a casual salute. "I'll be back before supper."
Once free of the door, he stepped out into the hallway, and his father locked up behind him. The stairs were to his right. He turned left at a brisk walk.
In the dark, his feet kicked up against garbage, animal feces, and even a few people too tired or too dead to make it to a room. A few lights flickered from the ceiling, but the feeble illumination provided no more light to the hallway than the stars hidden behind thick clouds.
Seven doors down, Isaac stopped at an unmarked door. The numbers long ago faded, and the lock long ago corroded away. He let himself in.
This apartment was less furnished, but also less run down. Less than half of the carpet remained intact, if not stained, and a little slimy in places. Only a few small holes littered the walls. And, this apartment contained a large counter hiding a tipped over fridge.
He quietly shut the door and walked around the counter to the fridge. The motor no loner operated, but Isaac found another use for it.
The fridge door gave a soft squeak as he opened it, revealing a pristine black box with a lock at the top. With the key already in his hand, he unlocked the box. The bulk of the box contained of textbooks from various universities. On the right, another small container held a watch.
"Found a way to get away from your dad this afternoon, Pavarti?" Came a familiar voice from behind him.
Isaac smiled as he pulled out a book and turned to face Neicia. She stood a head shorter that himself, black hair, green eyes, and near perfect teeth. He grabbed her hand and pulled her in for a kiss.
Isaac savored the moment, and then broke the kiss. He pulled out an old physics text book and sat on the counter.
"Yup. I’ll probably find him dead from fright and stress when I get back though."
Neicia sat down next to him and put her arm around his waist and leaned into his shoulder. "You should be easier on your dad, he's trying to keep you safe."
"There is no safe," Isaac said as he flipped open the book. "Only the optimum chance of survival."
"Which he is giving you."
"He grew up when humanity was safe. The thing people feared the most back then was public speaking. It's different now. We have before us something incredibly dangerous, and no one knows how to deal with it, least of all him."
"Can't we try just giving them our water, see if that makes them go away?"
Isaac put his finger in a page and shut the book. "I keep telling you it would be impractical to steal our water. Plenty of that in space. No need to fight us for it."
"Then what do they want?"
"I'm not sure."
They sat in silence for a while. Isaac reopened his book and read while Neicia rubbed the back of his neck with her finger nails. After he'd read a few chapters, she grabbed a biology book and read with him.
Isaac reflected on his good fortune of the afternoon. Quality reading time with his favorite person in the world. Hours of quiet reflection time to study. Not much more he could ask for these days.
That's when his tracker alarm beeped again.
"Did you set it twice?" Neicia asked.
"No, I uh..." Isaac examined the red beeping tracker embedded in his arm. This wasn't his hack. It was a real summons from the aliens.