2136 — A Post Apocalyptic Novel

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CHAPTER 4

Not even the red dust in our lungs could shield us from what was coming.

I stood on the porch and watched the military vehicles stroll into town. The cloud of sand that they whipped up was nothing out of the ordinary for us grounders. No one even bothered tying their neckerchiefs around their mouths and eyes. They all stood like dusty statues as the Pavers circled their trucks and humvees around the center of the Market.

I looked up at Roxx. He was staring intensely at the scene unraveling before us.

“What do you think they want?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing good, I’m sure,” he said.

He was probably right. The only time we saw the Pavers was when they were bringing rations or gathering up more bodies to help with their own construction needs. We had no one to spare, and yet, they continued to ”recruit”people from each precinct to help them build abetter world. More like,Be our slaves until we wear you to the ground in the hot sun building our floating fortresses and we’ll do you the favor of taking you away from this death trap.And they would say it with a smile on their faces as if going with them was the better of the options. The other being, stay put and endure whatever happened.Your fate is your ownthey would say. If only that were true. I wasn’t buying it, and neither was anyone else. There used to be 13,000 of us. Now, only 2,300 remained. The rest either succumbed to the heat or died of radiation poisoning out in the scorch. The others were recruited. We never saw any of them again. They were probably dead or wishing they were by now.How did we ever get to this place? Didn’t we learn anything from the first slave trade and how that all turned out? Here we are doing it all over again, except this time, it’s all about what a machine says about you. My question was, who made the machine?

One of the Pavers jumped out of his humvee and slammed the door. I watched him as he scanned the crowd as if he was dissecting us with his eyes.If you’re searching for sympathy or empathy, you won’t find any hereI found myself thinking.You’ve made sure to strip us clean of that long ago. I couldn’t help it, I felt a hatred boiling to the surface. Was I wrong for feeling such resentment towards them? After all, what had they done to me directly other than supply minuscule rations once every two weeks and manipulate the people who had become my family? Oh right, and they killed my parents. Yeah, they’d never get me to forgive them for that.

“Do you know why we are here?” the Paver spoke.

The leather strap on my mask creaked as my fingers squeezed. But something about this Paver made me pause. He wore the standard grey uniform of the other Pavers; pants tucked in the boots laced all the way to the shin, arm guards along the forearms, and a section of the suit that clawed its way up and along the spine and nestled just under the cerebellum. It was high quality kevlar. I wasn’t sure what material they had used to mesh with the aramid chemicals that were used to make kevlar, but it was supposed to make the suit ten times stronger, and twice as flexible. It leeched its tightly knitted ringlets to the flesh and would only remove itself while undergoing a special procedure in the laboratory. So, if our situation wasn’t bad enough as it was with the fallout of nuclear and biological warfare killing everything in sight, and the deadly radiation streaming down from the sky to ensure your mortality was permanently etched in your mind, the Pavers were biologically enhanced super soldiers with these parasite suits. They called them TI-700′s.Tech Intelligence.I just called themLeeches. Their every move was recorded into an embedded memory chip under the first layer of skin just under the armpit. All data was uploaded once a week for analysis.Robots in the flesh. How could they say they were only suits if they permanently adhered to the spine and endoskeleton of its host? Like I said, the only way to remove one was in the laboratory through a special procedure. Catch my meaning? Only dead hosts were set free. Such is the brave new world we live in.What a future.

As the Paver paced in front of the humvee, my eyes lingered on the P57-Stun Gun strapped along his ankle, and the MissUp 488 on his hip. Each one could release 50,000 volts of electricity depending on the setting. There were three. And all three hurt like hell.

My ranting thoughts paused for air as he stopped his pacing a few feet away from me. Our eyes met briefly before I looked to the ground. Not sure why. Maybe I didn’t want him to see my rage? Or maybe I was just a coward like everyone else; afraid to resist the system and demand our rights.

He continued his pace along the buildings, meeting every Sifter’s and Metallic’s eyes with his own blue grey. Their cloudiness made him appear older than he was; mysterious. I found myself examining his every feature. His gait, his hand gestures, his physique, and his voice. Had I not known he was a Paver sent here to ensure our compliance to a debilitating system that kept us imprisoned within our own depravity, I could have come to love him.Who was I kidding?You can’t love someone for their voice. That’s lust or infatuation. His TI-700 did little to hide his muscular figure. I found myself admiring his arms as they flexed with every movement of his body.What’s wrong with me!The heat must have gotten to my head. Besides, we were from two different worlds. He worked forthem, and I was here. He was half man and half machine, I was...well, I was all human. There was no future for me other than the ground. The sand, the heat, and the radiation would be my lovers for the rest of my time on this earth. However long or short that may be.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. This was no time for fantasies.

“You alright?” I heard Roxx whisper to my side.

“Fine. Just a little lightheaded is all.”

I could feel his eyes on me, but didn’t look up afraid he would see me for what I was. See me going weak all for some false innate longing for companionship and love. My parents had it. Roxx and I had it, but it was different. There was no intimacy. He was just another father to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love him and he’s done so much for me. He took me in when my parents were killed and gave me gifts. My father had seen the potential in me, and so had Roxx. I didn’t become a botanist and microbiologist by chance. Roxx had something to do with that. All the books, materials, supplies, and equipment I had used to teach myself all came from him. He even had constructed me a small workstation and lab underneath one of the abandoned buildings near the fairgrounds. It was secluded and no one ever went there, except for me so there was no fear of anyone ever stumbling upon my secret place. Books were illegal now that the new law had been put into place. With the rest of the Divines having been lifted up into the sky, they assumed none remained, and thus, to ensure that no one else learned these valuable skills, they burned it all. That was a sad day I hear. I was too young to remember it. All I remembered was the black smoke rising into the sky.That was it.

He acquired themhe had said. That’s all the explanation he gave and I didn’t bother asking questions. I was older then and knew the world for what it was. Whether he had “acquired” them legally or illegally, I didn’t much care. I was just happy to have the reading material. My appetite for knowledge was unquenchable and I fed it incessantly. I learned quickly and soon was implementing basic experiments and cell engineering within my hold under the cracked pavement and fallen building. There was a basement underneath that was left unscarred by the bombs. It was dark, it was murky, and it was the perfect place to build my future. Funny, out of the pits of the earth shall rise a new hope. At least, I’d like to think the world’s fate rested in my hands. My father had told me so, but I never believed him. No one person could change anything. The system was too strong; the world too lost and deprived of resources and energy to resist.

My thoughts rushed back to the here and now as the Paver said, “We’ve heard a rumor that you’re holding illegal contraband.”

He looked into the crowd as if his eyes were mechanically enhanced too and allowed him to read people’s minds. As far as I knew, they weren’t. But then again, it’s kind of hard to stay up to date with all the new technological developments when you’re 10,000 feet below the new world.

I’ll call him the pacer if he didn’t stop moving. I felt my head spinning. And not because I hadn’t eaten for three days. The tightness in my abdomen grew just thinking about the last time I had a full meal. The red insignia on his collar caught my eye.Were those lions?The Pavers weren’t military, officially, but they sure resembled it. They had rank, they had orders, and they always followed them.From one set of pawns to another. Nothing’s changed.He’s what would be considered a Lieutenant in the old world army. The fact they had come three days earlier wasn’t what made my skin itch, nor the accusations about contraband, but his rank.Why had the government sent someone so high up in the system to our small abode? Were the items in Roxx’s shop that important? What were they hiding? What didn’t they want us to know?

We had nothing more to offer. Other precincts were doing far better than we were. It had been two months since we hit water. The Metallics had to dig two hundred feet before the liquid revealed itself, and even then, it had only lasted a few months. The well was already dry and the Metallics hadn’t been able to locate a new water source since. Yeah, we had the HydroBeta tablets to help compensate for the lack of water our bodies needed, but those water substitutes could only go so far before the body would start to shut down. No matter how good the supplement, the body always needs the real thing.

The streets were silent. Only the rush of sandy wind hitting the top panels of the Market was heard. No one answered. They all remained motionless and had it not been for the clear resentment each one of them held for the government and the Pavers who did their dirty work, they might have had blank stares. I kind of felt bad for the Pavers. They were just doing their job like the rest of us. No, not really. I’d be lying if I said I had any compassion for them. It was their fault after all that my parents were killed, why so many others had lost loved ones too. No, there was no place in my heart for them but hate. I crossed my hands across my chest and gave what I thought was my best scowl of contentment.

“You may not know me,” the Paver began. “But that’s not important. What’s important is that I’m here to help you.” He indicated to the other Pavers standing erect by the humvees, and the few who had set up perimeter around the crowd without anyone even realizing it.How in the world had they done that?“These are my men, and they are here to help you too.”

He placed both hands on his hips.

“All that I ask...”Here we go; what’s the catch?“Is that you cooperate,” he said. Our eyes met for the second time. I held his gaze until he turned to the others.

“The UOA(Union of Above, our new world government), has made me your acting Enoch for the surrounding seven precincts of Delta A.”

The UOA was the new world government that fancied itself a god. They named each of their Precinct Commanders Enoch for this reason. According to the Bible, the most widely controversial and life-changing of books to ever be written, and the one the new government made sure to eradicate from the planet first, Enoch was lifted up by God into heaven. He was one of two humans to have never died.

I liked our Enoch less and less.

“One of you went into the Fields and stole something that belongs to the UOA. Turn yourself in, and we will be lenient. But refuse, and you will be prosecuted to the government’s full extent. Death by hanging.”

He walked back towards his humvee, opened the door, and stepped up on the running board with his hand clenched around the handle along the door.

“Every day that passes that this individual does not turn himself in, we will reduce your ration by 1%. You have until noon tomorrow to bring me the information that I need.”

He spun his pointer finger in the air, and all the Pacers quickly loaded into their humvees and trucks and were gone just as quickly as they had arrived. We all stood paralyzed in the wake of their dust cloud.

I felt Roxx’s hand grip mine and give me a tug.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

But he silenced me with a raised hand as he led me away through the dust while no one else was looking. We went right past his shop and continued walking.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

But he charged on with a strong pace, not bothering to answer. I struggled to keep up before I saw the Ferris wheel looming like a tall broken grave up ahead.

Why were we going to the fairgrounds?There was nothing there but my small greenhouse and lab. Uncertainty crept its hand back into my rib cage as I followed Roxx.What was going on?

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