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A Human Race

by skyewriter 

Posted: 22 June 2014
Word Count: 9674
Summary: A young adults' dystopian novel

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33 000 years ago
Somewhere in Western Europe.
With fumbling and eager hands the Man scoops up his prize- a nest full of blue and white speckled eggs, still infused with their mother’s warmth. In his other hand, the Man holds the limp and broken corpse of the mother bird. He wants to eat the eggs right now, but he isn’t in his own territory- first safety, then food.
Glancing around him for enemies, he swings down with ease from his perch on a branch of the twisted tree, landing with a soft thump on the arid earth. Sand swirls around him in intricate patterns- obscuring his view of any approaching dangers.
 Safety. Then food.
The Man shambles quickly across the land, his gait half crouching, half running. The skin of his hands is as tough as leather and covered in calluses, so he feels nothing as he scrapes his knuckles along the rocks. His body is short in stature, but wide and powerfully built, and he is protected from the elements by the coarse dark hair that covers nearly all his body. Apart from his hair, all he wears is a rough loincloth of animal skin. He feels no fear either- yes, there are enemies to be found here, but they are weak- not like the fearsome warriors of his clan- and only to be feared in numbers.
He does not fear, but does not want to be disturbed with his prize. Neither does he want to take it back to his family, where he would have to share this treat.
Eventually the Man comes to a rocky outcrop, and he slows, seeming to decide that this is an acceptable resting place. He slumps on the ground and gleefully tears the head off the mother bird with his teeth, spits the beak out, and then rips and consumes the raw meat with his hands. Once finished, he turns his attention to the eggs. The first one he puts straight into his mouth and bites down- then grunts in anger, spitting out the bad tasting and sharp fragments of shell. The second one, he tries to open to reach the golden prize inside- but his rough hands simply crush the egg, the yolk running over his fingers. Shouting in anger, he is blind to his surroundings and does not hear the approach of the Other Man.
This second Man is like him but not like him- taller, thinner; he walks more upright, with measured and smoother steps. He wears a long tunic made of skins. There is fear in his eyes. However, he comes closer, tentatively, and reaches out for one of the eggs.
At first the shorter Man resists- they are his- but curiosity wins out, and he lets the Other Man take an egg. The Other Man turns it over in his slim fingers, then reaches into his tunic and produces a whittled wooden implement- sharp on one side, curved on the other. He uses the sharp end to pierce the egg, knocking away a section of shell, and then turns the tool round and dips the curved end into the gooey insides. He hands the egg back to the Man. The Man looks at the egg, then the Other Man, then back at the egg.
 The Other Man gestures- use the tool- use it to eat the egg. The Man picks up the tool, and sucks the egg off it. Greedily he dips it again, and again, until all is gone. Gradually a strange expression forms on his face, and then he lets out a guttural scream, and jumping on the Other Man, he uses the sharp end of the tool to stab him repeatedly in the eye until he lies still on the ground, blood soaking the sand red.
The Other Man was stupid. The Other Man was slow. The Other Man was weak. The Man grunts in satisfaction, and sits down to eat his eggs with the bloody spoon.
History will tell us that one of these Men is called Neanderthal, and one is called Homo sapiens. History tells us that only one of these races survives to create the modern world.
But in another world, things are different.
Chapter 1
The girl walks up the steps slowly, her arm through her father’s; her gaze only focused forward. She is dressed as if for a ritual sacrifice: Flower garland in her hair; white robes. White face.
The building in front of her is round, with classical features; pure white. Around the building are statues, flowers, fountains, a large courtyard. Birds fly between the trees. Water can be heard trickling somewhere.
She darts a look at the crowd gathered outside the courtyard, at their lascivious faces; at their gaping expressions. Looking at her feet is the better option and this is what she chooses. It is probably the only choice left to her.
Behind her the crowd murmur approvingly, shifting, an air of expectancy hanging about them. An old man spits, someone coughs, a toddler cries for attention; no-one gives it to him.
Her father leads her into the building and pats her on the arm, feeling the goosebumps raised on her skin, whispers into her ear and turns to leave. She starts up after him, her hand reaching out to his back, “Father!” He shrugs slightly, as if to get rid of an irritating fly. When he does not turn, she subsides onto the bench and her head drops.
The boy and his father arrive slightly afterwards, cheered by the crowd. He turns at the top of the steps, holds his left arm aloft, drinking in the throng, smiling. Turning back to the door of the building, he disappears from view. The crowd exhale and turn to each other, smiling and chatting.
Inside, the boy’s father speaks to him. “Do what is expected of you now. Use these next seven days well; if you fail, you have wasted an opportunity that many have fought for.” The father takes his leave, unwatched by the boy, who is now focused on a large wooden door to his left. It is shut, but begins to open as he approaches.
He strides quickly into the room, in which the girl now sits on a small platform in the corner, her robes gathered tightly about her. She does not look up at him. A hand-servant smoothes down her hair one more time and then departs.
He sits beside her. Her breathing is rapid and shallow. “You know what is expected of us,” he says. It is not a question. “It is an honour for you to be chosen.” He leans closer, trying to read her facial expression through the curtain of hair that hangs across her face. He is good at this, and can read the minutest shift in muscle; it is easier for him than reading words.
Why can’t she grasp what an honour this is? He has chosen her; she needs to comply. He takes hold of her trembling hand and pulls her towards him.
He is gentle but insistent.
Outside, the crowd begin to melt away. The entertainment is over for now.
Chapter 2
Geno thrust the bag into her face, leering. “Wan’ it do ya? Come on then, come and get it.” Yuna couldn’t ignore a challenge like that. If she did, it would raise a few eyebrows and anyone could read the disapproval in that body language. She lunged forward and kicked Geno hard in the shins, grabbing at the bag as she did so.  Geno responded with a slice behind Yuna’s knees, flooring her. She jumped up and ran at him, head-butting him hard in the Abs. “You little bitch!” said Geno breathlessly.
It was a relief for Yuna to act. Up to now, she’d been stood very still, not allowing herself even the tiniest twitch of facial muscles.  It was vital not to reveal anything about her bag, no feelings, nothing at all. She had watched it tossed around the classroom, passing from hands to outstretched hands; laughter and shouts of encouragement filling the air. Faces had turned her way, gauging her reaction. She had tried to manufacture a smile, but it hadn’t quite come.
Usually, it was the Homos who got such treatment, but every now and then, the lesser People, like Yuna, became the butt of Geno’s teasing.
Geno. The class bully and alpha male. He ran in a pack with his henchmen; wherever he was, so they were; always bullying, pushing, intimidating.
Yuna had followed the progress of her bag, still striving to be expressionless. No-one could know what was in that bag. If she showed she cared, they’d be on to her. There was something in there that she didn’t want them to see; didn’t want anyone to see.
People could read the smallest nuance of meaning from a twitch of a facial muscle, a shift of a shoulder.  It was odd and a bit scary how the Homos couldn’t, thought Yuna. Of course they were all words, words, words.  That Chenda would probably have been trying to reason with them by now. Pointless. Action was what counted.
She sank her teeth into Geno’s hand.
“You’ve pushed me too far now,” spat Geno. He grabbed her hair and reached out to hit her across the cheek, but stopped mid stroke as he noticed the Master, who had come in unnoticed.  The Master’s steely gaze passed over the scene in front of him.
Instead of scattering back to their desks, the pupils look enquiringly at him.  The Master paused, and then took the opportunity to teach in the way that all teachers, in any classroom, anywhere do: “Well done Yuna that head butt was a good move. Next time you need to get in just a little bit higher. That way you’ll bruise your opponent’s ribs and possibly wind them too.  Geno, if you’re going to hit around the face, use a flat hand or a properly balled fist, show some sense!”
As the pupils began to move to their desks and settle down, Yuna picked up her bag and joined them. That was close! The bag could burst open at any time and then she’d really be in trouble. Geno would make her life hell, and he knew all the tools for doing so. She wondered what the Homos would have done. She couldn’t make them out, they were so odd.
Ever since Yuna had been little, she’d known that the People and the Homos were different: the People, strong and focused on the useful skills like hunting and coming out on top; the Homos weak and bookish, not really concerned with winning.  Weird, she mused.
She abandoned her reverie as the Master brought her back to reality.
 “Right, face the ring now!”
The Homos straightened up, focused on the ring, while the People, who were shorter, stood up from their seats and jostled for position, effectively blocking the Homos’ view.
“Okay,” began the Master, “so today you’re going to be learning more about making use of those pecs. I want you all to show me where your pecs are.”
Grinning, the People clenched their fists and thrust out their chests to accentuate their pectoral muscles, flexing them at their friends and casting glances back at the Homos to see how they reacted. Yuna looked at the Homos too; how they avoided the People’s glances. Actually, she didn’t enjoy these displays either; although she knew the other girl People enjoyed them.
It helped them to choose.
Yuna focused on the ring, trying hard to follow the chart to which the master was pointing. She frowned in concentration, picking up her heavy plait and fiddling with the ends, a habit she’d had since first her hair grew long and one she was largely unaware of.
 “Now,” the Master continued, “the pectoral muscles are vital for hunting and fighting. On the screen, you can see some of our Three Crown Athletes displaying these. Something for us all to aim at.
Looking at the chart, you will see there are several types of resistance exercises that can be used to train these muscles, including bench pressing, push ups, flyes cable crossovers and dips. These need to be practiced regularly for maximum strength.
So, what I want you to do is to get into groups of two and practice bench-pressing in the ring. Go!”  
Yuna hesitated, she knew she needed to get as strong a partner as she could, but she’d always been picked late on when it came to sport and training. The shame of being stood there, awkwardly, hoping not to be last made her blush. She watched Geno and Jabari make their way to the ring; her friend Taz and that boy she fancied followed. Lucky Taz to get him!
The People and even most of the Homos trickled away, leaving just a few waiting uncertainly like her: if she was lucky, she might get Julius again. He’d had an injury recently, so wasn’t popular. If she was unlucky, she’d get Rufun. Last time he’d used it as an excuse to grope at her under the guise of a sporting grapple.
Still she hesitated.
More pairs moved quickly to the ring, chattering excitedly. Yuna realised that there were no People left. Oh no, not a Homo again! The teasing had been dreadful last time it had happened. She should have got on with it!
Scanning the last available choices, she realised that she was left with that stupid Homo who limped, a greasy short one who couldn’t train to save his life, or Chenda Bari, another hesitater like her.
Chapter 3
The small cupboard was a good place. It contained the targets and bows, and archery wasn’t until Thursday. For now, they would be safe.
Aquil, the class’s shortest Homo, peered through his glasses at his mate Uso. In the dim light of the cupboard, he could barely make out Uso’s dark eyes and finely pointed chin, his delicate, deerlike form.
“Can’t see to open it. Open the door a crack.”
Uso took the handle and gently eased the door until a small shaft of light entered the cupboard. Aquil prised the top off the bottle and poured the contents into his tankard. Virtus, the strength compound purchased from the bloke always hanging about the school gate, was, of course, completely illegal, but what if they could attain better muscles, like the Master or the Three Medal Athletes? It was surely worth the risk.
Aquil drank, then exploded into muffled snorts of laughter as a memory came to him.
 “Hey, did you see Geno’s face when I asked a question about religion today?”
“Yeah! He looked like a bewildered pig and resorted to picking his nose to cover up that he didn’t know what you were talking about!” Uso spluttered.
“Those People are sooo thick. He wants to watch how hard he picks his nose; he might put his finger through his skull”
Aquil and Uno sniggered as they shared the drink and the memory, relaxed and happy for the moment.
“Say that again, loser!”
The door to the archery cupboard was flung back hard.
 Geno and Jabari. The two meatiest, meanest People in the school. Both with thick heavy brow hair and thick rubbery lips that they now licked in anticipation of what was to come.
A whisper had reached Geno from the archery cupboard beyond the boys’ loos. Now that was worth tracking…
In Munasta, hunting skills were highly prized. The People crept up on prey like fog, maximising the control of their large bodies and tight muscles to reduce noise impact.
“You heard him. Say it again.” said Jabari.
Aquil and Uso looked up mutely, waiting for what must surely follow.
Geno and Jabari insinuated themselves at either side of the Homos, each using their Deltoid muscles to shove the boys back and forth.  Aquil fell, leaving Uso looking up at his assailants. 
“Why do you need to use violence? Does it make you feel more of a maaan?” Ventured Uso, managing to feign some bravado in spite of the cold dread seeping into his stomach. Strength was the only thing thugs like Geno understood;  maybe if he stood up for himself they would leave him alone this time.
“Listen to him, egghead!”
“At least I think about things. I saw you leering at Zala yesterday. You’re only interested in how muscular her thighs are.”  Uso continued, despite his shaking legs.
“You can jog on Homo! At least she admires my physique. Nobody’s gonna admire yours in a millennium” Geno growled, losing patience. Glancing back to enjoy the admiring glances of his classmate, he trapped Aquil in a headlock, crushing him against his chest.
“You say anything else about me and I’ll snap your neck like prey. Now, take it back. What are we: thick or brilliant?”
Unbidden , as he felt the pressure increase on his throat and his vision go starry, an image arose in Aquil’s mind of the tiny deer that was the prey in their last hunting lesson. Bloodied and trembling, barely alive, it had been held up as a trophy by Jabari before he dispatched it with one, lightning snap of its neck. Aquil remembered its brown, appealing eyes, filled with terror.
“Louder, I can’t hear you”, as he squeezed tighter.
“You’re bloody brilliant. Now let me go!”
“Say please”.
“Please, you’re hurting me!”
Geno relaxed the grip on Aquil’s neck slowly.
“Just watch it wimp, now scram!”
Aquil and Uso scrammed to their afternoon’s lessons. Quickly.
Geno followed them to the classroom and sat down with a thump. He folded his arms across his muscly chest, then unfolded them and examined them for flex.
“Hey, Jabs mate, d’you think my abductor muscles are thicker than the Masters?
“Get real”
Geno fell to brooding. It wasn’t fair. He worked out really hard in his lessons. He ignored the Homos and their pathetic reading; well at least, most of the time. What did they get out of that anyway? How could they learn to hunt and to be the strongest through books? Anyway, he was set to win the Mating comp this year for sure. His genes would reproduce with the strongest female. Now that was survival, man. His forearms were the best in the class, he was sure. If only he could attain the Three Crown Headband level of the celebs he’d seen on the screen: then he’d be something. Then Zala would look at him like the real Person he was.
Scanning around for some distraction from his brooding, he spotted Yuna.
Yuna was classically People: Tall, strong, and with large green eyes contrasting her golden skin. Only her nose did not conform, tilting upwards a little at the end as it did. Her thick brown hair hung in a rope down one side of her shoulder. She was quite sexy for a non-prime People, he supposed.
“I saw you this morning.” Geno challenged, “Doing bench presses with that Homo ain’t gonna improve nothing.”
“He’s called Chenda if you must know. Don’t you listen to anything?” Yuna spat back.
“I’d rather look”, leered Geno, casting his eyes up and down Yuna’s body as he got to his feet.
The heat spread up from her neck, gathering force across her chin and up her cheeks towards her large eyes. She ducked her head. She thought back to the training session with Chenda. It hadn’t been that bad! Not much use maybe, he was a bit pathetic, but…when she’d asked him to lift the weights on to her hands, he’d been a lot more gentle than the People boys could be; hadn’t just dumped it on her hands, hurting her wrists like they did. They’d almost smiled at each other-impossible though that sounded. Mind, he’d had a go at it after and was typical Homo. She’d had to support his forearms so he could lift even the smallest weights. The blush gathered force as she remembered the humiliation of working with a weakling.
Gotcha, thought Geno, reading the tightness in her brow accurately.
He moved in. He knew he was right in her personal space and he liked it. He pinned her against the wall with his chest, and looked into her eyes, his breath hot and meaty.
“Fancy me do ya? You’re way out of your league sweetheart. When I win the Mating comp, I’ll be looking for better genes than yours.” He took his fill of her curves and moved away, satisfied that he had won.
Yuna, seeking a distraction, any distraction, glanced across the classroom towards the window. Where that Homo Chenda stood looking at her. She couldn’t read his expression properly: was there sympathy in his face? Surely not; that could never be. She was a People after all. Homos didn’t understand People and People didn’t understand Homos. End of.
She gestured obscenely at him, hiding her confusion; turning back to the lesson.
 “Right class”, ventured the Master over the general racket in the classroom, “Get into your learning packs. I want the People over by the ring. Homos, you need to get your asses down to Remedials. You’ve got extra training with tapered staffs today. Hopefully we can get you up a level or two.  
People, Master Nuba is your celebrity trainer today. He’s got a Three Crown headband and seventy six offspring strengthening his line. You can aspire to that if you work really hard!”
The People looked at each other, grinning, while the Homos trooped out of the room, shoulders down.
Chapter 4
Chenda relived Yuna’s gesture in his mind’s eye as he marched down to Remedials; it was no more than you would expect from a People. And he thought they’d got on okay during bench-press training.
He ran his hand through his hair in perplexity. Sandy hair, the kind that People never had; spiky in places, over a freckly nose. His blue eyes, permanently bewildered, as if he was trying to puzzle out life’s miseries, stood out against his milky white skin.
He’d somehow expected better from Yuna. She had seemed a bit different. Just went to show, they were all as bad as one another.
Except they weren’t, were they? Chenda felt his parents’ influence kick in. They’d always tried to show him the third way. His Mum’s favourite quote was, ‘You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them’. Well, they’d be bloody big shoes if they belonged to a People. They’d probably stink too.
He thought back to last night, when he’d arrived home from school. His Dad was tucked into a corner of their tiny kitchen, trying to work.
“Chenda, come here my son.”
Chenda had walked across to his father’s makeshift desk: two planks that could be remover to allow access to the sink when needed.
“Don’t tell your Mum yet-she’s working. We’ve got another letter. It’s definite. We’re being moved.”
Chenda had cast a slight glance towards his parents’ bedroom where he knew his Mum would be sprawled awkwardly on the bed as she wrote her copy.
“I didn’t make my hunting quota last month after that injury. You know their policy: ‘The hardworking family will be rewarded.’” he mimicked.
Chenda did know, only too well. The Primes had decreed that everyone must provide for themselves and their family properly. No handouts.  Anyone failing to meet their quotas would have to make do with less. Trouble was, the quota kept going up.
The Homo’s Regional Primary of Ludi was hemmed in tight between the two Primaries assigned to People in that area. For as long as Chenda could remember, he had lived in one of the allocated residences here. Small, tunnel-like roads wound through the Primary, linking the rabble of homes and shanty huts. The only positive was the extra warmth created by such proximity. Straddling the mid-latitudes between 49–60 north, Munasta’s most constant temperature was never more than 10-15 degrees centigrade. The cool, moist air suited People very well; Homos always felt slightly cold, their muscles at a disadvantage.
Chenda knew that they lived in a relatively generous house for Homos. They had two bedrooms. Now, it looked like they would be reduced to one, or have to up their hunting quota. Chenda would be sleeping in the lounge in their new place.
“It’s fine Dad. That fold-out is really quite comfortable.”
“But where will you do your homework?”
“In the yard, Dad. The Masters don’t care anyway.”
“Don’t care?”
“Yeah Dad, don’t you remember when you were at school? All they’re interested in is People: who’s famous that they taught yonks ago, who’s going to win the Mating comp, who’ll become a Three medal athlete. They don’t care if Homos live or die!”
Chenda’s Dad had sighed and turned away. Chenda had known what he was thinking. As a journalist on the Homos most left-wing paper, he valued writing, research, reading and debate, not celebrity status. He just didn’t understand how the real world worked; and he obviously didn’t have a clue how hard things were at school. Parents never did.
With a slight jerk, Chenda snapped back to the present and realised that the Remedials Master was talking to him. Ducking instinctively, he mumbled, “Sorry Master, please can you repeat that?”
The Master paused before acting, drawing in his breath for attack. Then, quick as an arrow and just as deadly, he was in Chenda’s face; up against him like a slab of meat; his red face and sinewy neck screwed into an expression of disgust. “I said…what muscle group is used for staff throwing?” The question came from between gritted teeth, more violence than words.
The rest of the pack, tense, laughed their allegiance to him.
“No. Thought not.” Spying Geno walking past, he asked, “ Geno, let out early again? Muscle group for throwing? Any idea?”
“Latimus Dorsi, Master” Supplied Geno gleefully from the door, rippling his back as if in demonstration of the best specimen.

Chenda walked slowly back up to the main classroom to collect his backpack. Thankfully, today’s lessons were over. He had a whole sixteen hours to do whatever he wanted. To write, think,  listen to music.
’Cept his parents would be nagging about the music: Why must you listen to that racket Chenda? Why don’t you listen to some of the classic tribe stuff Chenda? Would no-one leave him alone?
He was the last back to the room and grabbed his bag hurriedly, anxious to chase his leisure hours. As he swung the bag onto his shoulder and turned, he glimpsed a body sitting in the kit room. A body of a People with its back to him. A female body, judging by the slighter build.
Chenda crept up to the glass door. Even Homos could creep up silently when they tried. Their small physique aided them.
What was she doing? She appeared to be bent over something. Dare he move any closer? If she saw him…
Laying his backpack carefully down, he eased closer and to one side of the girl’s back. From here, he could get a better view of the item that she had across her knees.
Surely not? She couldn’t be. No People did that voluntarily.
She was writing.
Chenda stared, unable to quite take in what he was seeing. In all his conscious memories, he couldn’t recall seeing a People choose to write.
A noise behind him. Coming in the classroom door was Andra, a People girl. Tall and athletic, she was one of the ones who’d given some of the Homos hell from time-to-time. Something unspecified and instinctive made him turn his body and cover what was revealed through the glass door of the kit room.
Andra, swinging her thick plait, glanced at him for a moment before grabbing her duelling case and swinging back out of the classroom. He wondered why she hadn’t read the fear in his facial muscles. They were so good at it. Luckily, as a Homo, he was probably beneath her notice when she had better things to do like going home.
Turning back to the glass door, he saw Yuna, her mouth open, her eyes large and fearful. She swung open the door and stared at him for a long moment.
Finally,  “You can’t tell. You mustn’t.” Yuna ordered.
“No…” he said, reduced to monosyllabic responses.
I can’t believe I’m so dumb, he thought. Shame crept over him as he struggled to find more words. No words, and him a Homo! He should be able to explain to a People!
She launched herself at him, her superior strength and size dropping him to the ground almost immediately. She sat astride his chest and pummelled him hard.
“What do you mean, ‘No’. ‘No’ you won’t tell, or ‘No’ you will?”
“Gerrof and I’ll tell you”, he spluttered, his chest constricted.
She continued to sit, weighing him up, as if uncertain how to proceed. What if she got off and he ran? She might not be able to catch him up. She couldn’t always be with him. He’d find an opportunity. There had to be another way.
“Look, Yuna isn’t it? Yuna, get off, and we’ll talk about it.”
She hesitated for a moment and then rolled slowly off, keeping her large eyes focussed on his facial expressions, his slightest move.
She put her back to the door.
“Okay, ‘talk’ if you must.” She conceded.
“You wouldn’t listen if I did.”
“Look, I want to write about our greatest sporting celebs. Discuss them, not copy them. I know, I know”, she sighed as Chenda looked incredulously at her. “We don’t; People don’t” she amended. “I just feel this need…I like feeling that I’ve battled against something, overcome it. When I write words, I’ve really achieved something. And I think I’m good at it.” She finished.
She raised her head and tried to jut her chin forward.
“Got a problem with that?”
 “Just what you’d expect from a Homo. Well just see you don’t tell, that’s all. If I hear so much as a whisper of this, I’ll know who’s responsible and you’ll regret it. Got it?
“Er, got it.”
Usually People could spot a lie. Perhaps she didn’t want to see the truth.
Chenda watched as Yuna slowly gathered her dignity up with her school bag and began to leave.
Chenda felt uncomfortable.
“Er, I could…help, y’know? My parents are both journalists, I could…”
Yuna shot round, hair flailing. “I said don’t tell anyone”, she demanded. “I’ll kill you if you do!”
Chapter 5
Uso glanced quickly into the mirror, raised his arms, tensed his muscles; sighed.  He registered the reflection of his cupboard behind him; the illegal compound, Virtus inside it beckoning to him. He hovered, uncertain whether to risk it, made a decision and left the room.
 In the tiny kitchen, he shimmied along the bench, edging his three sisters up to make space. He reached across for a ladle full of porridge.
“Don’t take it all Uso, your father is still to come.” his mother worried.
He nodded and began to swallow automatically, his gaze wandering around the rough plaster walls, the wooden shelves, the sheaves of herbs hanging from the rafters. The chopping board filled with roots and beans caught his eye and he stared at it for a moment, frowning: not vegetable stew again!
As his father came into the room, Uso doled out the small remains of porridge into his bowl. “There you go Dad.”
“Thanks son”, his father said, “now remember that whatever happens today, we will be proud of you if only you do your best. So do well, as well as you can, that’s all.”
“’Okay Dad”, said Uso. He knew what was expected of him: no Homo had ever been chosen for the Mating comp, but to compete was still a necessity; probably those People got a kick out of seeing Homos fail. He wondered if Aquil was feeling as nervous as he was this morning.
His friend was indeed nervous, and stood in front of the mirror breathing deeply and telling himself to be calm. It would be okay, sure it would, he would have Uso there after all. Then, in the mirror, he spotted the photo of his cousin and family, reversed and strangely unfamiliar.
Alex! That had been bad. He tried to banish the memory into the recesses of his mind but it fought its way forward, forcing Aquil to grab the photo and flop onto his tummy with it held in front of him. He searched Alexander’s image, looking for signs that he knew, that his fate was clear to him. Alex stared back at him, happy and oblivious, frozen in time.
Aquil placed the photo carefully back onto the shelf and walked briskly into the kitchen for his breakfast.
His mother looked at him. She knew what he had been thinking about. Trust her. A range of emotions flitted across her face, but she chose not to criticise what Aquil could clearly not help.
“Look son, he’d have wanted you to do well today, try to think about it like that.”
Aquil did, but found that it was easier to think about Chenda. An upsetting memory was at least not an agonising one. He hadn’t spoken to him since that day last week.
Chenda sat on his bed, looking into a small, handheld mirror. Those stupid freckles. If only he had money, he could buy that stuff he’d seen that lightened freckles. He’d look a lot better then. He’d heard that some Homos dyed their hair darker. That was pathetic. Who’d want to be dark like People anyway?
In the mirror behind him, he noticed his clarinet and, dropping the mirror, picked up the instrument.  Plangent sounds filled the little flat and took Chenda away from its cramped confines and the memory of his mother’s sobbing last night. She’s done nothing but cry since they’d got their final rehoming notice last week. It had come before Chenda left for school, and he had hovered behind his parents as they’d read out the content:
‘You have not met your hunting quota for three months. As you are aware, languishing on handouts is not acceptable. You are to be rehoused on the 28th day of resettlement month three. Any property you wish to take with you must be registered with the regional Primary at least seven days before removal.’
Nothing was said for a minute. Then, from his father: “Don’t worry Calli, I’ll have a word with my editor. He’ll sort something out.”
It had been that day when he’d met Aquil on the steps leading into school. He’d just been the one who was there, that was all.
“You alright Chend?” Aquil had queried, noting his pale face.
“Leave me alone!”
But he hadn’t. he’d carried on, “What’s wrong? Didn’t you do your homework?” Stupid kid, he didn’t have a clue!
Chenda hit him, hard. Just snapped. For once, Chenda had let his fists do the work of relieving his tension and left words for later, when he had to apologise.
“You’re not helping the situation son.” His father had sadly reminded him. As if he didn’t know!
Chenda put his clarinet down and went through to breakfast. His father looked up:
“There are many ways of doing well son, not just winning a physical contest. Do what you think is right and best today. You know losing is no shame amongst our families”
Chenda dropped his head. What was right and best? He thought back to the day he’d discovered that People, Yuna, writing. She wasn’t doing what was right was she? He wasn’t going to do what was right by her either. He was sick of the unfairness of everything, sick of being a Homo, sick of being second best, of not having money. He knew he’d been in a funny mood lately. He just couldn’t shake it off. It was alright for People like that Yuna, they had it all.
Yuna hovered uncertainly in front of her mirrored wardrobe. She reached out for her silver body-suit, and dropped it again. It was her best, and today she didn’t want to be noticed. She selected a red polo neck jumper and grey slacks, teaming it with a grey furry scarf.
That would do.
She went to shut the wardrobe door, but paused as she spotted her writing book reflected in the mirror, dropped on the floor last night when she fell asleep writing. She turned around and used her left foot to gently push it under the bed where no-one ever looked. You couldn’t be too careful.
She took the stairs noisily, two at a time, her hand flying over the smooth ebony of the banister, earning a reprimand from her mother who was preparing morning meat for Yuna’s father.
“Yuna! Sit down quietly now.”
Yuna sat obediently and waited for the lecture that today’s event was sure to generate.
Sure enough. Her mother turned to her, hands on hips.
“Now Yuna, you have the opportunity of being selected this year. You should sit up straight and show off your muscle definition. Anyone you fancy?”
“Yuna, I don’t think you understand the importance of this year. You need to do well if you want your genes to be selected.”
Yuna did understand, but she didn’t like. After all, Geno was in the selection process for the first time this year too.
Geno’s face echoed his happiness. Today was the great day, the first day of the selections. He stood in front of the full length mirror that reflected his home gym back at him, flexing his muscles and posing side-on. He ran through his practiced routine of stretches and shapes which he knew best showed off his sculpted figure, until he was content with how every pose looked. Taking a last glance, he headed to the kitchen to begin his day.
His mother stood in the spacious kitchen, in front of the flame, tossing a large steak around a charcoaled pan.
“Sit down son. I’ll serve you soon.”
Geno sat, but fiddled with his training bow until the steak landed on his platter with a slap. As he set to, his father began:
“Do well today son, we’re expecting this of you.”
“’kay” Geno replied, his jaws working hard. He knew just what was expected of him. It was an honour to be chosen for the Mating comp. It was more than just an honour. It was a guarantee of immortality.  And Geno reckoned he was a sure thing.
The Master stood in front of the boys; his physical strength underscored by the way he put his hands behind his back, throwing his chest into relief. He wanted to slug those stupid Homos, he surely did, but they’d get their comeuppance today, with the natural process of selection. They didn’t stand a chance, even in a running and endurance trial. They’d learn where they belonged pretty damn quick. Nature had it all sorted.
“Right,” He said, “let the selection process begin!”
Chapter 6
Yuna stopped writing and listened. Was that..? Yes, it was the Telegraphs. She knew there’d be news from this afternoon’s qualifying. It was awful to be a girl, just sent home to await news!
It was mandatory to listen to the Telegraphs.
She opened the window a little wider, the better to hear the words coming from the Telegraph stood in the street.
‘All citizens from Primo seven listen well. Main events: Primes dictate new hunting quotas; hunt scroungers languishing on others’ efforts for too long, say Primes; first stage Mating competition selection process complete.
In detail: Quotas for hunting are to be upped to new levels to reward those who work hard. Prime Jendo is quoted as saying, “Homos must stand on their own two feet”.’
Yuna zoned out as her thoughts drifted. Those Homos often did just sit back and wait for the People to provide. Look at Chenda’s family: all words and ‘thinking’; were into religion too! No wonder they didn’t have time for the serious things of life like hunting. Homos had to learn to focus, get up every morning early and establish a pattern of hard work.
‘…And in other news, the results of the Mating competition selection day, Pack one: Winner, Geno Scriven,’ Yuna, though not surprised, was fearful. He’d said he didn’t fancy her, but somehow she didn’t believe him. That expression in his eyes when he looked her way! ‘Runners up: Daylen Rigmor, Orios Dern Jabari Ritman…’ Yuna began to zone out: the usual line up. Suddenly, she was back and sharply focused: ‘And in a surprise result, Chenda Bari.’
Yuna’s hand flew to her cheek. Chenda? That Homo? She imagined him, pitted against the likes of Geno. What had driven him so hard? What had given him the fire to win? He was just a music-playing Homo. He didn’t even eat meat.
She threw herself onto her bed and laid, hands behind her head, eyes unfocussed trying to think. Like all People, Yuna was not given to reflection; not predisposed to imagine; nor allowed to daydream. She thought best when she could summon little pictures into her head, running in silent but colourful progress across her mind. She pictured Chenda playing his clarinet, talking words, words, words into the ear of his friend; she pictured him in his kit, racing against a stronger People. Why did this image seem as unsettling as the silence before a kill?
She, well, she could fight well, even if she wasn’t good at sports. She could compete against the others of her pack and hold her head up at the end. She valued strength, courage, loyalty, what?
She valued writing.
Who did that make her?
Who was Chenda?
What if he won the right to mate with her; share his seed with her?
A Homo? Something was not right.
Jumping off the bed with a thump that made her mother below look up at the ceiling and smile, she raced downstairs. “Mum, I’m off.”
“Where are you…?” chased her mother, but Yuna was gone.
Yuna made her way into the hunting range. Selecting a bow, she stepped up onto the platform. As the picture of the deer flashed by, she drew back her arm, and fired.
Chenda put both arms around his possessions and gathered them to his chest. His arms just about went around the clarinet and few books that he owned. The clothes and sports kit could wait for the next trip out to the transportation.
Closing the door of his small room, he walked into the kitchen. Blinded by his load, he knocked into his mother who was carrying a large box of pans.
“Oof, Chenda! Watch where you’re going.”
Apologising, he followed his mother out to the small relocation vehicle that had been allocated to them for the afternoon and lowered his possessions into it before taking the box off his mother. He pushed it backwards into the cart, making room for the last few items from the flat. As he dashed back to grab his clothes, he saw his father with a few straggler books and papers heading towards the front door.
“That it Dad?”
“I think so. Just lock the door behind you when you come.”
Chenda picked up his clothes and glanced around him. So much of his memory lay here. Pictures of his childhood shadowed back from the lighter square patches left on the walls. The new place would be okay, he supposed, but it wasn’t his childhood home. Still, a new start, a new life.
A new life that included taking part in the Mating comp.
Shivering, Chenda thought back to the conversation he’d had with his father yesterday evening after he’d won his place. He just knew what his parents’ reaction was going to be.
“Chenda,” said his father, “Think hard before you proceed any further. What is this competition about?” he queried rhetorically. “You get to choose a strong mate? What about family and friends and their advice? What about growing to love someone, being sure they’re suitable to join our network?”
Chenda was silent. What about his success, didn’t that mean anything to his father? He’d seen Geno’s’ father slap his son on the back, laughing and congratulating him, before he put an arm around his shoulder and walked away with him.
Where were Chenda’s congratulations?  He’d fought so hard to out-stride those People; think of the hours he’d spent training in endurance.
When the race began, he’d surprised himself by being amongst the first ten. Feeling a burst of elation, he’d begun to up his pace, stretching out his long legs. When Rambi had stuck out his foot and tripped Chenda, he’d thought it was over. Then Rambi had looked back to laugh and mock and missed his footing.
Time had begun to slow; what if he was in the first five to cross the line? Buzzing had filled his ears, a kind of white noise that cut everything else out and he had felt his body accelerate, as if independently of his mind.
Then that Daylen had slipped in the mud and fallen just before the finish line and suddenly the unreal had become real; the impossible had become possible. The backs of People became People behind him and he had panted, breathless across the finish line just in time. He’d fallen onto the grass, holding his sides, trying to get enough breath to laugh, or sob, he didn’t know which.
“Dad, you just don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “It’s a real honour to be selected. Everyone else’s parents are proud.”
“Every People’s parents are proud Chenda.”
“Come on Chenda!” called his father and Chenda pulled the door gently to and turned to his future.
Chenda, his father and Yuna are not the only ones to be unsettled by his selection. Rumours and gossip percolate through the communities of both Homos and People. The general opinion was that something needed to be done. Blood rose.
Chapter 7
A shadowy night, bloodily dark. A call shimmies in the air around Geno and he returns it, almost inaudibly. Several shapes merge into one as the boys meet. They scan the horizon before they speak. Nothing.
“Geno!” hisses Jabari, “I spotted a couple.”
“Down scent, off into that Homo compound.”
Taio chips in, “Yeah, they haven’t seen us yet.”
Geno speaks sharply to the hunting dog, restless at his side. “Alpha, hold!”
The hunting dogs are a valued and practical asset for the People, as close to them as a weapon. A hunting dog and its master are one. Housed in large kennels outside each home, they can be heard howling if the wind is streaming towards you as you pass. Geno, Jabari and Taio are close to receiving their first handling licence, allowing them to hunt with dogs without supervision.
The boys set off slowly, tracking, their dogs at their side, following a trajectory through the bushes outside the Homo compound. They circle around its perimeter, looking for the best point of entry.
Wary and soft on their feet, they continue to stalk.
Suddenly, “There they are”, hissed in the sharp, chilly air. The dogs transmit restlessness, but won’t go until their masters give the signal.
The boys peer into the darkness, scenting and measuring; aligning themselves just so before they make an appearance.
The small group of Homos stop talking. Just for a minute, Manveer think he has heard something. He lifts his head, listens side-on, tilts his head, tastes the air.
Nothing. Back to the group.
“What’s up Manny?” asks Aquil.
“Nothing.” responds Manveer. Nerves are natural; after all, there are stories.
Geno, Jabari, Taio and their dogs become one. They start their stealthy creep towards the group, taking it slow and cautious.
Nearer and nearer.
This time, Manveer knows.
“Fucks sake!” he yells. “Run.”
The Homos don’t wait to question. They just go. They are fast runners and can outpace People over a short distance due to their longer legs.
For a while, there is only sound and feeling: the dry crack of twigs, the rustle of leaves, the hot, fast panting of their lungs, their pounding hearts. Their vision is tunnelled, they feel the presences behind them in the muscles of their back that flinch and crawl expecting the first blow at any minute.
The People pursue steadily, measuring their stride, catching up slowly as the Homos become spent.
Finally, “Gotya!” pounces Jabari, grabbing at the back of Manveer’s jacket. Manveer twists and turns, but it is no good. Aquil and Uno glance back, a whole lifetime of uncertainty in their faces. If they stay, they can’t get help. If they go…
“Go.” shouts Manveer as he squirms in Jabari’s lock.
Hesitating for one more second, a heartbeat; then they flee.
“So, you little runt”, pants Geno, “thought you could get away?” He enjoys the moment of fear that flashes across Manveer’s face. Enjoys the moment before he acts.
“Hold him Jabs!” Jabari doesn’t need any telling. He has Manveer in a headlock, forcing him towards the ground and into his thick thighs.
Manveer tries not to yell his pain, grits his teeth. The boys close in. Jabari pulls him by his hair, forces him upwards, back against his chest to face Geno.
Geno leers into his face, spinning the thing out. “Fancy a little lesson do you? You always were hopeless at school. Well here’s one you’ll understand…” Geno grinned, before launching into him, striking and hacking, over and over. Hard to see in the darkness, but there is a flash of something harsh and steel. Manveer feels the slip of sharpness move twice across his cheek, too innocuous yet to feel what it really is. It’s only when the thick, salty taste meets his mouth that he knows he has been cut.
He renews his struggle, pointless as he suspects it is, wriggling and flexing his small body.
Geno steps back. “Now I am a reasonable man,” he begins, “I’m gonna give you a fighting chance.” He grins back at his mates. It is no such thing, but it’ll be more fun.
“We’ll give you a fifty metre head start. If you can outrun us and the dogs, you’re free.” He pauses to suck in the spittle that has begun to drool from the corners of his mouth as he speaks. The dogs shift, restlessly. Small noises come from them, connected to each other by instinct.
Manveer drops his head, draws a large, raggy breath, wipes the blood from his chin. He tries to listen for the footsteps of his rescuers, but all his senses are compromised into one adrenalin fuelled point of vision.
He lifts his chin up and looks Geno straight in the eye for a moment. Geno wriggles a little, but regains it: “Well?”
Manveer turns rapidly and shoots away, feeling the derision echoing around his shoulders. He doesn’t think. He runs.
Geno smirks at Jabari and Taio. They let the dogs go.
The dogs draw into streamlined shapes. At first, they are separate units, running, baying, slathering, but as they draw nearer, they merge into one, ready for the kill. Manveer doesn’t waste time looking behind, he can hear how close they are, can almost smell their aggression.
As the dogs close the distance, Geno calls to them. “Off. Leave!” He’s had his fun; enough for one night. But the dogs are oblivious, their baser instincts take over. They draw nearer and begin to circle around Manveer.
“I said leave!” commands Geno. No response.
Jabari joins him: “Ritter, Alpha, leave!” No response. The boys are reduced to watching as the scene plays out: unreal and detached from them.
Manveer turns to face the dogs. A yellow stain, hot and pungent trickles through his trouser leg.
The scent is the final signal for the dogs and they launch, working in opposition as they tear and pull, worry and bite. Manveer screams and draws his hands around his head; curls into a ball, but the dogs find the soft flesh of his back, his arms, his buttocks and continue their frenzy.
The People watch silently, uncertain as to what they have unleashed.
Finally, Manveer is still and moaning gently; small bubbling sounds come from a hole in his throat. The dogs respond at last to their masters’ signals. Unspeaking, the boys turn away. They track quickly back through the bushes and melt away.
 A sound: crashing and shouts. Aquila and Uso spring into the clearing with a group of grown Homos. They pause uncertainly; surely the noises they heard were here? “Manny, where are you mate? We’re here now, come on out.”
The other males take up their calls.
They begin to creep around, scanning the bushes, the tracks. Suddenly, Uso spots a dark heap in the leaves and, calling out, runs towards it.
But for Manveer it is too late.
Chapter 8
Manveer’s family home is only a few hundred yards from Chenda’s new home. As part of the movement known as Homo Underground, Chenda’s parents write about community issues; as neighbours, they do what any caring human would do and gather around the family at such a time.
Chenda’s father, Hadi ducks under the thick fur covering the entrance. He blinks and tries to adjust to the light, looking for Manveer’s mother in the crowd of people gathered in the small room. Calli follows directly behind him and Chenda trails in behind her. Why do they have to go? He won’t be able to do anything and it’ll be embarrassing. Nonetheless, a cold, shivering lump of shock still lodges just below his throat. It could have been him; it was a friend who died.
A small form on a wooden stool is leaning forward, hands tearing through its hair, small noises dragging out from it. It is wrapped in dark cloth. It is Manveer’s mother, Umaiza. Calli moves forward, her hand held out instinctively, but she does not touch the shape. She hovers and then squats before it.
“’Maiza…Maiza, we’re so….sorry.” Tears begin to flow and she cannot say more. Instead, she reaches out for Umaiza’s hand and pats it in a useless effort at comfort. The women shuffle a little closer together instinctively. Behind her, Calli hears Hadi choke something back and give a long, trembling sigh.
“Where is Gareth, Umaiza?” He asks gently.  Umaiza shakes her head slightly, and another woman replies for her:
“He’s gone to fetch…Manveer, from the hospital.” She nearly says ‘the body’ but stops herself in time.
Chenda feels as if he is all limbs. He hangs back, uncertain of what to do next. There is little space in the hut, and wherever he stands, he is in the way of someone. He moves slightly to the left, giving an apologetic smile as a man bearing a tray of tea emerges from behind the cloth that separates the kitchenette from the living area. Hands reach out to take the tea. It is something to do.
Chenda shifts, looks behind him, gives a tremulous smile to another Homo he knows from school, who is squatting awkwardly beside his parents. Chenda doesn’t have this comfort; his parents are busy. They move around the small room, bending their heads to hear the whispers of shock, patting hands, nodding, shaking their heads. Chenda stands, his hands in the way. Suddenly there is light in the room as the covering at the entrance is pushed to one side. Gareth and a small group of other men are at the door; Gareth carries a limp, covered form in his arms.
It is Manveer.
Umaiza raises her head, wails. She springs up, suddenly active: “My boy!” She moves towards the form and tugs at the cloth covering his face.
“No!” Says Gareth. He knows what is under there. He’s seen the blood, the ripped flesh, the frozen expression of his boy. His pain must not be hers. She looks into his face, her mind racing through all that ‘No’ means, and dissolves into a melting, shapeless agony. Someone supports her and takes her shoulders, guiding her back to her stool, shushing.
Chenda pushes his way out of the small room. Outside he draws in great gasps of fresh air, for once revelling in the cold.
Gareth lays the form tenderly onto a pair of planks suspended between two stools, put in place in anticipation of their need. As he does so, a small piece of the cloth in which the body is wrapped catches on his sleeve and a bloody wrist appears, flopping lazily down the side of the planks.
Hadi steps forward and tucks the wrist carefully back into the cloth. It is his job to find out why this happened. Until a picture begins to emerge, Hadi reasons, only whispers and instinct could hint at the truth. The important thing was to get that truth, not to win; justice, not revenge.
“Gareth my friend, do we know what happened?” Gareth emerges from deep in somewhere. He turns to contemplate Hadi. He scans those in the room, as if surprised that they are there, that there is anything beyond this bundle of cloth, this pain.
“No. No-one knows who or what.”
“But what about Aquil; Uso? They were with him?”
Aquil’s and Uso’s parents shift in their places. They relive the memory of the boys arriving home, screaming their urgency. They relive the moment when Manveer is found, dead. They can’t forget the moment when the Law Primes arrive, and the conversation between them, the orders, the threats.
They won’t be saying. Neither will the boys.
Outside, Chenda sits on a rock, staring at the woods.  Inside, the pain goes on. 

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