Excerpt for Beyond Extinction - Even the Concept of Truth is a Lie by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Even the concept of truth
is a lie


Copyright © 2018 John Keeble
On Edge Publishing, Cambridge, England

All rights reserved.


For Otis, a good friend who inspired the character Max in this novel


Special thanks to Dr Wayne Materi, a career molecular biologist and geneticist, for his invaluable help in matching plot needs with science. Wayne is also known as science fiction writer Paul Anlee, author of the Deplosion series. Literary, fact-based, and fast-paced, Deplosion explores themes in cosmology, philosophy, politics, religion, economics, AI, VR, nanotech, synbio, quantum reality, and beyond. The four-book series is available on Amazon: The Reality Thief; The Reality Incursion; The Reality Rebellions; The Reality Assertion.


My thanks, also, to a very special group of friends and fellow writers for their encouragement and kindness in reading and commenting on Extinction as I wrote it: Walter Panko, Elizabeth 'Kris' Fischer, Stephanie Shaw, Deborah Sperlak, Michelle Moore, Pam Duffield, Frances A Hogg, Jean McCord, Kathy McCullough, René Fedyna, Lesley Sudders, Sharon McIntosh, Eduardo Cervino, Tom Larsen, Dwight Greene, Su Terry, Robert Horowitz, Kristen Sawyer, Steve T Beardsley, Donal MacErlaine, Finn O'Gorman, J Cary Riggs, Jeremiah Reardon, Jeannie Alvin


Cover: Elizabeth Mackey (


We control the world by controlling realities

Chapter 1

A honey bee labors through the fragrant southwest English air, over the trimmed lawns of Dorset, lingers at the delphiniums to feast on the nectar, and flies on around a seventeenth-century cottage garlanded with hollyhocks and primroses.

Jack Janis feels her pass, follows her with his eyes and memories and fears and then absent-mindedly sips his second gin and tonic as he turns his attention back to his mediamat. He sits, as still as the lizard basking in the 107-degree sun by his pond, fragments of his life floating unbidden past his mind's eye.

"A natural bee," he says with wonder. A symbol of all that has been lost from our world.

Max, Jack's three-year-old golden retriever, is following his own trails with yelps and twitches as he sleeps in the shade of the sprawling horse chestnut tree. It is nearly noon and Jack half expects Alice Algafari to call in, as she said she might, to talk about the village's amateur dramatics troupe.

Today, for once, he is not in a writing mood, not up to the daily struggle, and instead he filters his thoughts into some kind of cohesion. He should be bitter about his losses, but he is wildly optimistic about his future. He has been robbed of his past but handed the means of a vibrant new life of ease and plenty – and time and resources for his writing. If it lasts in this changing world.

Jack is not yet forty, has two degrees in genetic destructionism, and an insatiable drive to delve into the unknown. Though he has an IQ in the top one percent of humans, he is unemployable in his field of expertise. The numan kids surpass him on every heading: education, IQ, work output, even employment cost. The numans – "new men" – are so like humans in some ways but so different in other ways that make them frighteningly more efficient. Where and how did they originate? How have they, in less than half a century, come to dominate the planet?

He shrugs off these disconcerting thoughts. Now that he is over the pain of being forced out of his job and his home by numan expansionism, he can see new doors opening here in quiet, pastoral Abbotsford. And no one ever expects a job or a home – or even a marriage – to last for life, do they?

"Hello Great Writer," he hears, feeling her hand briefly on his shoulder and seeing Max leap up from a deep sleep. Jack grabs Max by the collar and gets dragged off his seat towards Alice Algafari, looking entrancing and moving just out of range of Max's enthusiasm.

"What a lovely dog," she says, beaming at them both and unperturbed by Max. "I hope you don't mind me coming in to find you. I did buzz your phone but got 'Jack has left me in the kitchen. He's in the garden playing with his mediamat.'"

"Damn phone," Jack says while hanging on to Max. "It knows more about me than I do." He holds out his free hand, quickly drawing it back as he realizes it is covered in Max slobber. "Thanks for coming, Miss Algafari. I'm sorry I didn't hear you."

"It's a pleasure to be here. I'm always trying to encourage more support for The Players." She hesitates, still smiling, as he wrestles with the ebullient Max. "Why don't you let him go?" she says. "He can say hello to me and then he will settle down."

"Okay. If you are sure. Are you ready?" She laughs and nods, and he lets go. Max cannot believe his luck as he rushes at her and Jack cannot believe how quickly she has him calmed and under control.

"Amazing," he says as Max sits at her feet and twists his neck to gaze lovingly up at her gazing lovingly down at him. She's so lovely.

Alice, still Miss Algafari to him in socially correct Abbotsford, drew him into the Abbotsford Village Players a few months ago when he decided he needed to get out, join local organizations and start building a new social life. Everything about her reaches into his dreams: her enigmatic smile, from her sensuous lips to the warmth and kindness of her hazel eyes; her strong elegant hands, butterflies in the air as she emphasizes a point until landing, captivatingly, on the welcoming warmth of his bare arm. Her scent, too, enslaves his attention as soon as she moves anywhere near. And as much as he loves her fast mind, it is her slim body, always bright with life in simple human clothes, that tantalizes his senses. Even her height is perfect, at a couple of inches fewer than his six feet. I wonder what it would be like to kiss her lips.

They have found a few things in common – enough for him but maybe not enough for her. They are both in their late thirties, with similar education, but she has kept her job as a genetics researcher and analyst while he has been thrown on the science scrapheap. She always laughs at his jokes and he supports her view that The Players should try a pantomime for the christian winter festival at the end of the year – even if he did shy away from playing a lead part dressed as a woman.

She eases herself into the garden chair near Jack and Max claims his place between them. Mary, the house servant, trundles out with iced drinks and Alice takes one from the proffered tray. She sips it, pulls an impressed face. "This is good. Your servant met me at the gate. She said you were drinking gin and tonic, so I gave it a try. I'd never heard of it before."

"Bit old-fashioned. Like me. But refreshing on a hot day. In November, when the seasons switch, and it's not quite so hot, I'll introduce you to an old alternative – whiskey mac."

"I hope I'm still here to try it," she says.

"You're leaving Abbotsford?" He hopes she cannot hear his disappointment.

"I've got to go on a course. Not sure when or for how long. My boss – you remember Galen, he was at The Players' fundraiser – wants me to take a senior organizational role that means specific training."

Jack's smile fades and he looks away.

"This is so relaxing," she says, clearly in no hurry to talk about The Players, and that suits Jack perfectly. "You must love living in your cottage and this beautiful garden."

"I do. It's even nicer to have a guest to share it."

They realize, as their hands touch, that they have been stroking the ears on either side of Max's enormous, beautiful head. "This is his heaven," Jack says.

"Mine, too."

An hour and another gin and tonic later, after some friendly talk about how Jack can get more involved with The Players and about his efforts to grow edible bananas in his garden, Alice tells him, "I think I should go and let you get on with your writing."

"Why not stay for lunch? I've got a casserole in the oven. I bought a couple of bottles of imported Shiraz. We should test one. Just to make sure it's worth fifteen pounds a bottle."

"Fifteen?" she protests playfully. "Fifteen! It will taste like vinegar."

"No, it won't. It was a special sixtieth-anniversary offer at Perry's store. Same vineyard's Shiraz that they sold for fifteen pounds when they opened for business here in 2017 – today's bottle usually costs sixty pounds."

"I'll believe it when I taste it," she sniffs, a reprise of her upper-class wife role in The Players' spring offering.

"Great," he says.

"Is your kitchen a good cook?"

"Yes," he replies casually, as if he had not annoyed every appliance by slaving in the kitchen before she arrived. "My kitchen is an excellent cook, but I felt like cooking it myself today. Mary, the servant, is watching it while it cooks. In fact, they are all watching it – my kitchen is a cauldron of egos. The food chopper, the oven, the refrigerator, the dishwasher. They all want a say. And my damned phone always tries to get the last word."

He waits for her to stop laughing and adds, "Okay, let's go and see what we have all created." He gets up, and she takes her cue. They head for the door to the kitchen, Max with them. The door opens for them and Jack says politely, "Thank you, Hubert. Please remember Miss Algafari and let her enter whenever she wishes."

"Yes, sir. I hope you enjoy your meal, Miss Algafari. It seems to have kept my colleagues in the kitchen occupied all morning."

The aroma of cooking animal meat envelops them, Jack sniffing appreciatively, Alice taken aback.

"Pmeat or animal meat?" Alice asks hesitantly.

"Animal. Bought the last of what Perry's had."

"Thought it might be." She smiles, and he knows he has made the right choice.


At last, recognition. Mark Milner contemplates his future. He is only thirty-five years old and he is already a senior film editor at the Numan Broadcasting Corporation, formerly the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Mark is proud to still have work despite artificial intelligence replacing eighty percent of human jobs – education handled by AI "personal assistants," transport and production purged of humans and worker numans alike, even mass media writing and comment sanitized by digital origination and control. But Mark's skills are in demand. He still earns. He is not living on starvation-rate federation handouts while numans scoop all the cream.

Numans are clever. I'll give them that – but I don't believe their propaganda. No one knows where they came from, but they didn't just evolve from humans in Africa. They're not even black. In any event, I've learned to live with them. I can make a good life for Chrissy by doing things the numans can't do. I can add a human touch to their video editing.

Mark walks into the ultra-speed elevator and experiences that strange pseudo-gravity as it carries him from his floor, twenty-six levels below ground, to the bosses' eyrie thirty-two floors above ground. Numans think the gravity sensation is the same stationary, rocketing up or plummeting down. But to Mark, as one of the few humans still working for the NBC, it feels like being gripped in sticky rubber. Acceptable but not realistic.

His whole working life seems like that sometimes: acceptable but not realistic, until he remembers his valued position in this esteemed organization. Sometimes, it is no more than difference: numans are small, with slightly darker skin tones, eyes that flash with colored rimming on the irises. Occasionally they have shocking blond hair but usually it is dark. They always wear gowns sewn with symbols and patterns, and shoes that wrap around the feet as they are slipped on. Some even have communicator arrays latticed into their gowns' arms or shoulders. And they all have endless supplies of emoney. It will be different when I'm a team leader. I'll have money to spend on meals and drinks.

Mark hums happily to himself. He has known about his appointment with the NBC Numan Resources Assistant Director for the past eighteen hours but he has not told Chrissy. I'll confirm that I have the job, and the extra pay, and then tell her. It might make her a little happier with our life here.

He can do the job. I'll be a great team leader. I'm always popular. I can chat up anybody. Everyone likes my wavy hair, my sparkling blue eyes and my smile. He might not be tall or heavily built but many people, especially women, like the slight, charming type of man. I can dazzle the Assistant Director. The Mark Milner charm never fails.

The elevator stops and Mark steps out, adjusting his eyes to bright natural light. This light is not possible! We are at Stansted Drone Zone Media Park south of Cambridge in SubFedEngland. The air is never clear. It's either the smog from the human slums in London blanketing everything or storms raging in from the North Sea.

A numan receptionist catches his eye. He is rigidly self-contained, slim and coldly superior in his NBC uniform robe with its weave showing his rank, family affiliations and achievements – a typical support-staff numan. The numan film cutters are a lot easier to get on with; we are all the same down there.

"I'm—" he begins.

"Milner, from media editing," says the receptionist. "I know who you are and who ordered your appearance here. Follow me."

"The windows..." he tries to say as he trails after the numan.

"They are not windows," says the receptionist flatly. "They are the latest in surround-screen illumination which is being fitted in the above-ground levels where senior staff run the NBC."

Mark considers the gulf between the higher-level managers and the below-ground staff. That's reasonable enough. Top people always get the best of anything going. I expect they will catch up with us sooner or later.

The receptionist turns into a cul-de-sac of open media suites, each with its moveable floor screen. In the center, one suite dominates. A figure sits in front of a mediamat. The quality, cut and patterning of his robe mark him as very senior, the equivalent of a commander in the military or spookpolice. A wave of insecurity ripples through Mark. This is the Assistant Director; he probably is a commander in the spookpolice.

At the last moment, the receptionist shunts Mark into a suite in a crowded corner away from the Assistant Director. A numan official, a junior wearing a dreary robe, ignores Mark and carries on reviewing something on his mediamat miniscreen.

Mark shuffles awkwardly. He does not know whether he should stand or sit. And the receptionist has melted away as if he had never existed.

"Do you want me to sit, sir?" he asks.

"No. This will not take long, Milner."

"Yes, sir."

Mark waits, eyeing the immediate area and the surround-screen illumination. It's accurate enough: the drone zone view, Cambridge to the north, London smog to the southwest.

"Milner," says the official, his cold brown eyes on Mark.

"Yes, sir?"

"I have reviewed your application for team leader status. We have had our eyes on you since the BBC was reinvigorated as the NBC."

"I am delighted, thank you, sir. I've been doing my best to produce good results."

"Your re-editing of the educational documentary Natural World introduced serious political errors," says the official. "The censorship and public order departments complained to us. We intended the documentary to show the natural and inevitable process of dividing the world into federations governing themselves without controversy or conflict."

"Yes, sir, but..." protests Mark. My voice! I sound so weak!

"You said the World Council reorganization was politically motivated. In particular, you claimed the Numan Military High Command took control of independent states and regions and reorganized them as dependent federations answerable to the political control of the World Council and the military control of the Military High Command."

"But sir, that was the official definition in the BBC style book, which was still in use at that time," Mark says.

"In addition," continues the official, an executioner going about his business, "you recently claimed to have found errors in two immigration promotional videos. For example, you changed 'FedOz,' the correct NBC term, to 'Australia,' the unnatural and defunct term propagated by the BBC."

Mark, alarm rising in him, can see his error. He should not have changed FedOz. He had his doubts when he did it but... "Yes, sir, but I can explain," he says urgently. "I spent a lot of time – some of it my own time, after my other duties – and reported to my team leader in depth because the errors cast doubt on both videos. You see, they were not believable."

My team leader was content! He said he would take my report and the edited videos to his boss. He must have agreed. He likes me. He wouldn't do anything to damage my chances in the NBC.

"We read your report and evaluated your editing, which did not accord with our assessment of the videos. We disregarded your tampering and gave the videos to a numan editor who understood what he was seeing and who produced first-class edited films. Your team leader recommended him for promotion and his appointment will be announced later today."

"But sir..."

"Your job application reminded us of your presence, and the risk posed by letting you have access to our video editing. We have decided to terminate your employment as of this moment."

This can't be happening! There must be some mistake. My team leader was very content when I found the unbelievable propaganda. I was just making it more believable! "But sir, if I can..."

The receptionist, who had vanished only minutes earlier, is back at his side, gripping his elbow. The official glances at them and tells the receptionist, "Eject this human animal."

"No! You can't do that to me! There must be a mistake!" Mark looks around desperately, fearful and angry. No one looks up. The Assistant Director is drinking tea. Pressure, just short of pain, increases with the receptionist's grip on Mark's elbow and he allows himself to be led to the elevator. I'll go to my mediamat and appeal. This is not fair!

The elevator door opens and two security guards, burly and eager for opposition, reach out and drag Mark in. "I want to go to my work suite," he insists as he tries to free his arms, but they have him pinned. I must get free; I must escape!

"Ahhhh!" An excruciating pain shoots through him. His knees buckle and the guards catch his weight. Through the haze of shock, he tries to wriggle free but, having zapped him with their pacifier, the guards have his arms pinned tight and one is tugging and twisting his ear.

In a second, the elevator reaches the ground floor. The door, an old-style force field with projected decorations as facings, vanishes and the guards drag him towards the building's main entrance. Numans and the occasional human walk past as they casually avoid the drama. Despite the shock, the sacking and the pain, Mark is embarrassed by his humiliating ejection.

"Report to the spookpolice office for your neighborhood," snarls one of the guards. On the last word, they fling him with practiced ease onto the concourse in front of the building.

Mark lies there, stunned, half-expecting someone, maybe a colleague, to come by and help him to his feet. But life, tranquil and orderly, goes on around him as if he does not exist.

In a numan way, he does not exist. It is one thing to lose his job – that is bad enough – but it is something else to be sent to the spookpolice. That means my identity file has been marked as "subversive" and "unsuitable for employment."

He drags himself to his feet and trudges off towards his neighborhood and the spookpolice. I might as well get it over with.


Jack proudly ladles out the beef casserole and then offers Alice the almost unobtainable Jersey potatoes, fresh beans and carrots carefully arranged on a platter. The Shiraz spills into his Amazon crystal glasses as Alice smiles in anticipation.

She teasingly lifts her glass and sniffs. "Smells all right," she says mock doubtfully, then sips it. "Tastes all right too." She dazzles him with a smile, the glass raised. "To us and expensive wine sold cheaply."

"I'll drink to that – or anything else."

They eat silently, he savoring the casserole, she the Jersey potatoes. Jack looks up thoughtfully. "Last of the beef from the village," he tells her quietly. "Perry's is closing its animal meat counter in a reorganization of the store. The numans won't touch animal meat and the cost has forced our local humans into printing their own."

"I've noticed how few people are buying animal meat."

"Changing times, changing tastes."

"Maybe it's not so bad," she says, picking up his mood with a sad smile. "You said you go into Dorchester sometimes. You can buy there. Or you can get Google to deliver it. You could just buy the Amazon pmeat cartridges and print your own like almost everyone else in the village. I usually eat pmeat."

It's the future, I know. Soon only pmeat will be available to people like me. Rising sea levels have already taken the lowland areas around the country, much of it rich farming land. Food output has fallen everywhere and prices have risen faster than the sea. Almost all of East Anglia and eastern England, prime food growing areas, are under the North Sea. Only Ely Cathedral, high on its hill and long called The Ship of the Fens, is defying the waves while its medieval foundations melt away. And historic Cambridge... Maybe the new seawall will be enough to save some of it.

"I could buy my meat in Dorchester while it's available or I could print pmeat, but that's not the point, is it?" he says gently. "It's about our life here and how long it will last before we are crushed by people being forced off the coasts and the numans buying up everything. Our society, our way of life, is becoming extinct. The human race is becoming extinct. At the very least, we'll be moved on in a year or two."

"Moved on where?" she asks, more rhetorical than inquiring. "The numans are increasing their population exponentially with their two-wives, ten-children way of life. They say numans are popping up everywhere from Land's End to John o'Groats."

He had once tried to argue, during his time in Cambridge University intellectual circles, that numans had a domination gene that plays out in their population expansionism and their work concentration. He could see that, so why could the brightest and best in Cambridge not see it?

The latest reports on population changes point out that human fertility is in steep decline through pollution and poor nutrition. Most humans can no longer afford to eat adequately or bring up families: shortages, high prices, very little employment for humans after artificial intelligence replaced manual tasks and then thinking jobs. Health care discrimination. No education. Numans flooding areas. All the money in the world seems to be funneled into their needs.

"It's amazing that you and I survived and got educated, isn't it?" he says, knowing Alice would understand.

"How do you feel about it all, Jack?" It is the first time she has used his first name. Somehow it softens the bleakness he is feeling. "Humans seem to be lingering on the edge of... what was your word? Extinction?"

Damn, this is going in the wrong direction. I want her to see me as someone whose company she can enjoy, someone who is fun, someone with a future.

"How do I feel about it?" he brightens. "Great. I feel great. I'm ready to take on all-comers, anything. If our way of life changes, fine – who wants to become a boring old fart living in the same cage for the rest of our lives?"

Outside, a slight rumble disturbs the peace as a Google delivery vehicle goes by – in Jack's mind, a driverless electric van, as if anyone saw any other kind these days. He pours more red for Alice and then for himself. He can feel the earlier dose of Shiraz pleasantly dancing with the gin in his brain.

"Did you hear about the Harrisons?" she asks quietly, almost tentatively, gauging his spiking tension.

"Yes. Sold out to numans. Ed Harrison said the offer was so high they couldn't refuse. They're going to emigrate to a new life in FedOz. Though how much of FedOz is left after the rise in sea levels, I don't know."

"That's what I heard too. The new family is moving in when the sale goes through on the thirty-first. The father is going to work with us at the research center."

"How old is he? Twelve?" Jack fills it out with a laugh but the specter of bitterness is there, the joke that is no joke.

She reaches over impulsively, takes his hand. "Not quite that young. He is twenty-eight, and quite brilliant according to Galen. He got his first degree at sixteen, his second at eighteen and a third at twenty. His wives are pretty smart too but not smart enough to avoid having five children each by the time they were eighteen."

"A very clever man," Jack agrees, the pleasure of her touch distracting his fears of extinction. But, even so... Numans have the evolutionary edge on humans, like Homo sapiens had the edge on Neanderthals 30,000 years ago. It's just a matter of time.

His stress is showing but he wants her to know he is stable and, if anything develops between them, that she will always be able to rely on him. Not as family. Not as a colleague. Not as a member of his community. Not even in accord with some behavioral code. She can always count on him because of the way he feels, already, about her. Can she cope with that?

She gently disentangles her hand. "When we have finished our meal, I think we should walk Max," she says. "My old dog died and I miss walking him."

Max, sprawling patiently as he waits for his share of the meal, suddenly perks up. "Max!" says Alice. "You clever boy! You know what I'm saying!"


It is early evening. Max, his tail beating the air, forages among the bushes, the grasses and the field-edge flowers that grow in wild profusion in the monsoon season's heavy rainfall and sauna heat.

Alice and Jack saunter along, keeping an eye on him as the path winds between rolling hill-rice fields that were once covered in grass and filled with cattle for milking and slaughtering.

A cluster of robotic insects descends on the modified wildflowers that blaze unlikely colors and shapes along the field edges. Why would anyone want to redesign wildflowers? But he knows why. Because it is numan art and business. It's not all bad – they genetically re-engineered my horse chestnut and modified the English cottage flowers to survive in 120-degree temperatures.

A bee emerges from the tangle of flowers and Jack holds his breath as he tries to see if it is real. He pushes his grim thoughts aside. Tonight is for Alice. Let her see me as someone to enjoy.

"This is wonderful," says Jack, turning towards Alice, his hand brushing hers as they walk, comfortable together. He is delighted with how the day has gone.

"It is wonderful, isn't it?" she says simply. She has a way of synchronizing with him, sharing his emotions, understanding his ways of experiencing his human nature. Or am I imagining it because that's what I want?

They plan to walk for another half hour and then, with Max ready to rest, idle away a couple of hours in the Smugglers' riverside garden, snacking on traditional Dorset fare and drinking pints of Pickled Partridge beer. It is one of the few pubs left that sells alcohol – and then in only one small area, with the rest catering to alcohol-free numan tastes.

"Your numan recruit: what does Galen think about employing a numan? Is he the first?"

"I don't know," she answers. "Galen never says much. He has a very demanding job – nearly two hundred and sixty people work for the research center and he has to keep them all together as a team."

"Do you think he will take on more numans?"

"Numans are perfect for his needs," she says defensively. "They are smarter than humans. They think only about their tasks during working hours, so they get more done. They can be paid less because the United Gulf States World Bank subsidizes families for the first five years of employment."

Money is power. Power is survival. Lack of power is the track to death and extinction. "What is the United Gulf States World Bank?" asks Jack, keeping his eye on Max sniffing in the undergrowth. "The bank's name is everywhere but that's all. No location, no names for directors, no indication of where it gets its investment money. Just its name and endless forms for money grants and loans. All for numans; nothing for humans. I expect your finance people know the bank details if employees are subsidized."

"I know a little, Jack, but the bank and its money are not my responsibility. Director Galen has the only link to the bank."

"Alice, I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry. I'm just so frustrated with research dead ends and that's one of them."

"I can tell you what I know. The bank system was set up by the supercomputers before we isolated them and stopped them controlling us. The World Council controls the banking system now. It takes money from human sources and processes it to support numans."

"Why? Why not support numans and humans?"

"The function of the system seems to be to extract liquid wealth from humans and give it to numans to enable them to replace humans in work and home ownership. The bank also controls the expansion of electronic money but I have never seen how much is in circulation. The bank is a form of control: it requires numans to buy homes from humans, who usually take the money and go to FedOz. When the humans sign on for their FedOz immigration cruise, they have to deposit their money with the FedOz NewLife Bank. The United Gulf States World Bank owns the FedOz bank and so gets back the money it gave to numans to buy the human homes. It also gets any other cash assets owned by the humans – so it makes a gain on the investment funds it uses for numans. I don't know what happens when humans get to FedOz. How does that make you feel?"

Jack, a victim of this systematic asset stripping, nods. "Not good, but that's all in the past for me." He fights down the temptation to push for more information and raises a placating hand. She's what's important. I'll find out about the bank some other way. "Let's not talk about the numan-human question," he says. But he cannot let go of it and continues, "You know what happened to me in Cambridge?"

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve it, but it's the effect of market forces. It was the same in Oxford. That's why I took Galen's offer of a job here." She pauses, half-smiles at him. "It's such a nice evening. Let's not spoil it."

"No, I'm sorry. I get a bit intense sometimes. It's not just losing my career and where I lived." He stops talking, throws a stick for Max, buying a little time. "It's also the book I'm writing. I don't want just the cold facts... I'm..." He pauses, looks into her eyes, held by a moment that even Max cannot break. "I'm thinking myself into the minds and emotions of the human victims of the numan takeover. I'm trying to do the same with animals being destroyed to the point of extinction. It's emotionally draining. I feel the threat of extinction; I fear numans are deliberately using their two wives, ten children system to squeeze us out of existence."

"Like the populations of humans have squeezed every other animal out of existence?"

"Precisely! This is what I want to say in my book."

"I would like to read some of your book."

"That would be great. You can tell me what you think."

"I will be honest but kind," she says with mock solemnity, and they both laugh. Max joins in by jumping at her but she deftly deflects him, takes the stick and throws it a good ten yards.

"Nice throw," says Jack admiringly, though as much for her grace and shape as for her strength.

"I've had a lot of practice."

They fall into a comfortable silence, lulled by the pleasures of the walk.

"The increase in the numan population is staggering," says Alice thoughtfully, breaking the mood. "We get the figures at the Center and we can see the statistics organizations are only just beginning to get accurate data. I think it is shocking everyone – politicians, economists, and researchers like me."

She watches him as his stress spikes again. Is she testing me to see what happens to me under pressure?

"Are they finally solving the mystery of where the numans came from?" he asks her, not expecting an answer. "And how they achieved in fifty years what humans took 30,000 years to do. I'd love to take apart their DNA."

"We've done it at the Center: numans are ninety-six percent human, partly mutated. We are still working on the other four percent."

He tries to catch her eyes as she is speaking but she avoids it and follows Max. Is she telling me the truth? Why would she lie?

"On the number of numans," she says, "it looks like the earlier statistics failed to identify them as numans. They came out of Africa and many other sparsely populated areas, first as refugees and migrants and then in unstoppable waves. At first, they were listed as humans from their countries of origin rather than numans. It was only after numan culture developed that they were seen as one homogenous group. It was then—"

Suddenly, Jack's phone pings. "Jack, you are taking me out of signal range," it announces querulously. "Either turn back now or I'll be useless."

"No change there then," snipes Jack.

"Right, I'm going offline."

Jack sighs. That damned phone. He looks at the grinning Alice.

"Does your phone have a personality problem?" she asks.

"Forget him," says Jack. "Let's talk about numans. Do the new figures give a world total?" I shouldn't ask her but I need to know.

"Yes," she says quietly, watching him intently. "The latest Office of Statistics and Projections report is still to be finalized but there is a figure, not yet final, in the draft."

"Office of Statistics and Projections?"

"It's a closed network. Never named or quoted directly. The political people will garble a public statement from the final report and attribute it to one of their ministries."

Jack chews it over. He has never heard of the Office of Statistics and Projections despite months of research. And Alice is revealing fascinating data that probably should never be known beyond the very heart of the World Council's most trusted and powerful elite. Does she know how much trouble she could be in for revealing it?

"Are you sure you should be telling me this, Alice? If it's classified, it's a state crime to reveal it."

"And you could use it in your book, couldn't you?" she says, grinning.

"I could, but not at the expense of getting you hauled off by the spookpolice."

She smiles, a look of relief and pleasure crossing her face in the warm light of the setting sun. "It will be okay," she says. "I've talked it over with Galen and he has talked it over with his bosses. We want the figures to get out, in a deniable way. You will refuse to say where the figures came from and, if necessary, Galen can protect me."

"I've never heard of anyone being protected from the spookpolice. They just take people for re-education. They will come for me and I expect they will force the truth out of me."

"Are you frightened?"

He thinks of the men in midnight red coming for them both.

"No," he says, wondering where fear intersects with anticipation of loss. "But taking on the state is... well, it needs to be worth it. There will be no escape for me and I couldn't protect you for very long."

"But," she teases him, "your book publishing fees will be the lowest in history. Everyone will want to read your book without your needing to pay anyone to download it."

"True. But I'd rather have you here with me. The book can take care of itself." Oh no, I shouldn't have said that! I'm rushing her.

"You know, I think I'd rather be here with you and Max than being tortured by the spookpolice," she says.

He laughs. "Who controls the spookpolice? The World Council?" he says, changing the subject to something safer, expecting her to say she does not know.

"I don't know much about these things, but numan society is less transparent than it looks," she replies, hitting ground everyone avoids in public. "The three social levels – numan4 elites, numan2 workers, and humans – are publicly governed by the World Council and kept safe by the Military High Command. But secret government groups and bodies have enormous powers, I think. Galen says that beyond the World Council, there is a secret government making decisions in the shadows. One of those runs the spookpolice and even numan4 elites are frightened of them."

They fall silent. The evening is still. The air is cooler. Their footsteps fall softly, rhythmically on the ground. Jack is surprised, even moved by her trust in him. He smiles, and they walk on with Max by their side.

We are so good together. I wonder if she will stay the night.


The tension in Mark and Chrissy's living room can be cut with a video-editing scalpel. Going home is always a gamble. With Chrissy's unpredictable moods, anything can happen. Today, he needs her support but fears her fury.

"I know the situation is bad but at least we have a home! It's not much of a home but it's ours," Mark tells Chrissy, but she is red-faced and trembling. "It's a lot more than most humans can afford now. Someday, a rich numan will come along and buy it. We can emigrate and start a new life in FedOz. This could be the making of us."

They are both painfully aware that she had thrown in his face a dozen times that numanization of the BBC could cost him his job. Neither of them had foreseen his banishment from media work altogether.

"Chrissy, it could be worse! The spookpolice were a lot kinder than I expected – especially after I told them that the NBC guards used their pacifier on me. The spookpolice could've banned me from any work. As it is, they've only banned me from media work."

He studies her face apprehensively. She doesn't care what I have been through, what I am suffering. It's all about how it affects her.

They have been lucky so far with jobs, lucky to have been able to hang on to their one-bedroom terraced house in a rundown part of Thaxted, once a pretty village but now an ugly sprawl of drone zone workers' homes. At least no one can throw us out. He shivers with uncertainty. Until today, I thought no one could throw me out of my job. Life is so uncertain now.

"I told you, a year ago, that the numies would kick you out and give your job to one of their own," says Chrissy, on the edge of one of her onslaughts that have become part of Mark's life since they married six years ago.

"We need to think of the future, what we're—"

"Don't give me that crap!" she shouts. "That's your problem. You're always ready to think the best, expect the best, and trust anyone or anything that stops you having to fight for your rights."

"I just mean—"

"You just mean you'll arse-lick any little numie that can give you a job! Maybe you can clean numie lavatories or walk their dogs. You'll never get any work in media and that's the only skill you have."

"Chrissy, please! Let's stop and—"

"You stop, Mark! That's what you're good at. But I'm not going to stop. I'm not going to stop here. I'm not going to stop with you. I can get a good job in FedEurope somewhere. The numies aren't as strong there and the human men are real men, unlike you."

Mark wants to argue, but after the humiliation handed out by the NBC and spookpolice, he cannot find the words.

"Chrissy, please don't go!" he manages.

But he is talking to her back as she stomps up the stairs to their bedroom. The wardrobe doors bang open, the drawers slam, something is dragged across the floor, and finally she struggles down the stairs with two bags.

"I'm not coming back," she says. "I've taken three-quarters of the money we've been saving. I need it for fares and a new life."

"Okay, but—"

"And you are too much of a weak little numie lover to stop me."

"Chrissy, can we just—"

She ignores him as she drags her bags out of the front door, scraping one against the peeling paint, and disappears into the street.

Panic hits him. I've lost my job and her. Both in one day! I should have taken the easy way out and gone to FedOz years ago.

He stares into space, too paralyzed to move. All his friends have gone to FedOz or disappeared. His old lifestyle has gone with the numanization of the area. Even his brother Eric gave up and took his wife and kids to FedOz. He still talks to Eric on the public video link, but somehow it is unsatisfactory. It's not only what Eric says; it's how he says it. Eric was always a depressingly dour bloke. Now, when they speak, it sounds like he is on a constant high. There is too much "It's fantastic" rather than the usual defeatist "Well, what can you do?" And his constant invitations for Chrissy and Mark to join them. It's more like talking to an artificial intelligence sales machine than to Eric.

He sits for a long time, listening to the ticking clock. Finally, he gathers his strength, starts planning his campaign of action. A job. He must find work. He will have to pay to use the bus to Cambridge city – the numan-human detector lets numans ride free but insists on "cash only" from humans. While he is there, he might as well look at the latest FedOz emigration cruise offers. The deals seem to get better week by week. I can take the value of the house by depositing the sale cash in the FedOz NewLife Bank.


Chapter 2

Alice looks around Jack's kitchen. Mock old, not very new, dark oak and deep blue fabric, lived in with everyday scuffs and marks but clean and mostly tidy. She likes it. She likes the way that Jack is male-careless about mixing colors and styles and never getting anything perfectly straight. And the way Max's toys are left where he drops them. Maybe some flowers would make it more human.

Outside, yesterday's sun is a memory. A storm is blowing in, the black clouds invading from the south again and robbing the morning of light. Maybe Jack will let me borrow his car to get to my meeting with Galen. She really does not want one of the Center's vans picking her up here.

Jack is everything I need – and he is so handsome and strong. She laughs as a thought strikes her. He is everything that Galen would love to be: tall, muscly and good-looking. Jack's skin is perfect, like hers when she was young and creating her life.

She cannot say what attracts her the most: his deep brown eyes, clear of the iris rims of numans; his slow smile that devours her; or the thick black hair covering his head, body and arms – what Galen, jealous after failing to make himself taller, calls "animal fur." Whenever Jack is near, she feels that forbidden sexual tremor denied her since her youth. She loves Max, too. And they both love me!

She stops her thoughts abruptly. There is no time for this! Everything is running away with her time. Jack is showering. She has showered, found Max's food and fed him, and started breakfast for them. Garden chairs! They must get the garden chairs in before the storm.

A Google delivery van drops off bread "baked" minutes ago. Anyone could print their own but Google owns the patent, every bread, every country worldwide. At least the village has fought off the drone deliveries that wreck the peace almost everywhere else in Dorset.

"I've guessed at what you like for breakfast," she says as Jack emerges, ten years younger than the stressed version she found when she arrived yesterday.

"Anything. Whatever you're having," he replies as he sits at the table with her.


Galen's Director's Desk overlooks one of the gardens at the FedUK Genetics Research Center, a few miles from Jack's cottage and even closer to Abbotsford village center. He has a good view of wild orchids in the trees and flocks of bird-of-paradise blooms around the storm water run-offs. His dome is the biggest of five linked and set in a large complex with a water purification plant, electricity generator, a drone zone that is rarely used, a sewerage processing system and homes for employees. The whole area is enclosed by security fencing and guarded by a permanent detachment of troopers.

There is nothing on his Director's Desk, nothing to catch the light from the tall casement windows styled into a romanticized historic design. There is never anything on the desk and no one has ever seen him work there. His work, everyone knows, is done behind the closed doors of his office and secure laboratory suite.

Today he is using the Director's Chair, luxuriously padded, at the head of the sixteen-place conference table that dominates the room. That raises tensions in the four men and two women sitting silently as he dickers his fingers under his chin as if praying to Father Dick. His eyes are distant, and he shows no sign of starting the meeting.

In the silence, they all know something serious has happened. They know, too, that Ali, the Center's psychology geneticist and Galen's strong left arm, is on her way. Galen will wait for her. After the meeting, however serious, however long, they will eat in the domes' restaurant, and Galen and Ali will disappear into his private dining suite for several hours.

Galen can feel their tension. He is sorry to cause them stress but later they will realize that he must do it this way for everyone's sake. Most important of all, he must tell them just enough to increase their efficiency without giving away too much.

Problem: rapacious human exploitation of the environment and nonhuman animals has to be stopped. Human animals must be eradicated apart from a captive few in zoos. Answer: elimination.

Problem: numan2s used to squeeze humans to the point of extinction have replaced them as the all-consuming threat to the world. Answer: give numan2s DNA upgrades reducing reproduction to one offspring per female and reset longevity to forty years. We can regulate regional population densities to meet the service needs in each location.

Galen's mind hits a wall of spikes. The numan2 DNA upgrade is not ready. I need another month for dissection analyses and simulations. And now the numan2 population has become emotionally unstable worldwide. The World Council and the military halfwits expect me to solve the problem with a DNA infusion to reestablish control before we can begin an orderly cull of their numbers. If I can upgrade myself to numan6, it should be possible. But time is against me. It is against all of us!

Another problem is keeping the political intentions secret from Ali. He has difficulty calling her Ali, her cover name at the Center. She has always been "Balen" to him. And now, outside the Center, she is known by her human name, Alice.

She agrees that human extinction is inevitable but she will never accept billions of numan2s being culled. She is brilliant; she matches me, of course, in every way except she does not have the genes that power my higher intellect and ambition. I need to add a touch more aggression to her DNA. Then she will enjoy helping me destroy the numan2s.

Galen hears a car stop by his private door, the Director's Door that he and Ali use to avoid the security formalities.

"I apologize for being late," Ali says as she bursts in and dumps herself on her seat by his left hand. "I have no excuse."

"Perhaps we can start," says Galen, surveying the six pairs of eyes fixed on him and Ali. He scrutinizes the faces, willing their obedience and utter concentration.

Mike and Eddie are a central part of Ali's human research team covering The Players, the whist club, the men's book reading group and, star of the research show, the fluctuating network of dog walkers. Grace is making a name for herself on the parish council and bringing in invaluable data on the stress, aggression and – excellent data – emotional rollercoasters of victories and defeats among council members.

Galen is less familiar with the personalities of Patti, who monitors the social aspirations and intricate emotional networks of the village, and Reg, who mines worker-management hostility as a grunt manager at the slowly failing Frederick & Sons, the last surviving human company in the area.

Patti always avoids me if she can. It was a mistake letting Ali recruit her. She feels she owes Ali loyalty and only duty to me. I've not been content with Ali's design for her to fit into Abbotsford's human society. His reservations about Patti's physical appearance resurface as she faces him from along the table. Her long black hair is too thick, her skin is unhealthily pallid like most humans, and that works, but her piercing blue eyes are far too bright. And she is ridiculously tall for a female. As tall as me!

Galen knows the sixth person in the group well enough: Aleksi, a brilliant upgraded numan2 with a well-organized life and family. I'm glad I took him. He could be another me if he had more drive.

"Thank you for coming," Galen says, his customary politeness genuine, as if they had a choice.


Jack retreats to his study, Max ghosting behind him. The morning storm is working up to a frenzy and Alice has taken his car to get to her meeting. Jack and Max settle into their usual thinking places, Jack in the deepest of the armchairs and Max soon asleep within easy stroking distance. The mediamat, as ever, is close and running.

I can't delay any longer. Today is the day. Jack reaches for the pwood box where he stores the banya. The emotional pain of his first banya trip is still in him but he must go on. It's a risky street drug but it does what I need. Others might use it for emotional and physical pleasures but for him, it is a route into the minds and emotions of creatures hunted to extinction.

He tries to keep his mind off Alice. But she caresses her way into his thoughts as he relaxes for the banya ordeal ahead. Gradually, the banya box is forgotten – and he is back at Abbotsford's Mayflower Banqueting Hall for a dinner to raise funds for The Players.

He is sitting at the table with three other people and two untaken places. He is bored and waiting to get away when he senses a woman, her perfume an advance guard, taking the seat next to him. A companion, her husband or boyfriend maybe, takes the seat opposite her and levels his hitman eyes on Jack.

Jack nods and turns a polite smile towards the woman – a surprise hitting him like 40,000 volts wrapped in the softest velvet. He catches his breath, he cannot think. He can only gaze at her and utter a few trite words in her direction. "Hello," he says, "pleased to meet you."

"Hello, Jack," she replies, not at all trite. "I'm pleased to meet you too." How does she know my name? She turns her smile on the other three guests at the table, indicates her companion, and tells them, "Everyone, this is Galen. We don't see him much but he is a huge fan of the Abbotsford Village Theatre and The Players in particular."

This is enough for Galen to rise from social invisibility to real person status. Everyone wants to talk to him at once, to ask about his favorite production, which actor he remembers most.

Jack tears his mind off the woman and fixes his eyes on Galen. He is short – a lot shorter than the woman – and dark like the descendants of human miners in SubFedEngland's southwest. But there is nothing humble about him: no impression of scrabbling for a living, no lack of confidence amid this flock of theatrical peacocks. What he lacks in stature, he gains in an overwhelming charisma of power and authority. His jacket, in the latest human elite fashion, is the blue-black of the empty seas and engineered to disintegrate after seven days. His ice-white shirt is throttled with a light blue tie. But, more than his clothes, Galen shocks and fascinates: his short blond hair, jagged and aggressive, electrifies his dark skin; his eyes, walnut and as hard as charity; and his voice, a rumble of thunder. No wonder he can attract a woman like her.

"I saw your name on the list, Jack," Alice says. "Now I want to know more about you." A blue vein at her temple pulses gently, intriguingly, against her clear, slim features. Her soft, hazel eyes look into his as they both twist in their seats. He is aware of Galen watching them. Take care, Jack tells himself. Don't make a fool of yourself with another man's woman. Don't be the human animal that has no choice.

Jack gradually disengages from his conversation with Alice, a hopelessly unsuccessful effort to stop every sense in his body crying out for her, and looks at Galen, who is coldly studying him as if he is a specimen in a jar. "Are you thinking of joining the theatrical group?" he asks Galen, the first thought in his mind.

"No, not really," says Galen. "Ali asked me to help the fundraising."

"He's my boss and my friend. He has to do what I tell him," Alice says in a stage whisper to Jack, and then engages the others in bright, informed banter about the theater group and the hot issue of the moment – whether to do an end-of-the-year panto.

As the others grab the hot issue, she leans back towards Jack, who finds himself turning and leaning in too. Galen and caution are swamped by her closeness. She tells him, "You must join our troupe, Jack. We have auditions on Thursday evening. You must come."

Jack looks at her, alarmed and embarrassed by his reaction. He feels an emptiness fluttering around his full stomach, an irresistible urge to let his eyes feast upon her. This is the last thing he needs: this is a chapter straight out of his book – uncontrollable sexual obsessions making the human animal vulnerable to extinction.

"I would like that," his body voice says as all reason drains like a waterfall disappearing into the blackness of a subterranean mystery.

Jack's foray into the pleasant past ends abruptly. Outside his cottage, thunder explodes and rain hammers the windows. He wonders if Alice got to her office before the worst of the storm hit.

He pats Max, reassuring him, and reaches for the banya box.


"You are all aware of the growing numan2 crisis," Galen tells his researchers. "The World Council and Military High Command are losing control of numan2s everywhere."

No one blinks, no one moves, no one even breathes under the Director's scrutiny. The dull roar of rain lashes incessantly at the dome's ecocovering and windows. Galen has their attention, if only because he might fling a question at any of them.

"I am not interested in the future of humans but my research urgently needs to identify the genetic trigger points for numan2 instability. Those trigger points can be found in your human emotions research. Today, I am going to tell you about numan history and numan DNA animal rootstock. This will open your minds to analyses censored from your previous training."

I must get them to face up to the disturbing origins of their existence. I need them all, but any who cannot accept the facts will have to be replaced.


Jack slows his mind, groping for relaxation, gradually feeling the day seeping out of him, and he unthinkingly pulls forward a tray with his mediamat unrolled and ready for use. The mediamat is old and a clunky two millimeters thick – the image resolution is only enhanced ultra-high definition. It's enough. The real work will be in my brain.

He has just about cracked the intellectual, number-crunching skeleton of his book – Human Decline: The Report, The Warning is about extinction but, at this stage, the word is too strong to use in the title. It charts the first one hundred years of the Anthropocene Era, dealing with the way humans trashed the planet. It has the official world population statistics, which show two billion humans being squeezed out by ten billion numans.

Jack runs his finger down a list of nonhuman extinctions, the legacy of human dominance before the rise of the numans. "Soon it will be our turn," he says, immediately irritated when his phone asks, "Do you want me to record and file that, Jack?"

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