Chapter 1

Cape Town had fallen, and Tambamba had taken its place.

The coastal village sat where the South African city once stood. If there was an outside world, the inhabitants of this tiny settlement were blissfully unaware of it. Not that anyone had taken risks to find out, for that would require will-power, which was a rare commodity in these sterile times.

Perry Benson despised living in Tambamba. The voice recorder in his neck and the tracking device in his foot confined him to a life of monotony. He did not even choose where or how he travelled each day: every morning, he sat in a mechanical wheelchair that took him to work. This was the main reason, Perry suspected, that his belly was so rotund, and his cheeks were so chubby.

On one particular Tuesday, Perry twiddled his thumbs as the automated wheelchair carried him down the single track from his workplace to his assigned dwelling. He pushed back the straggly blond fringe hanging over his eyes and smiled back at his wife, Mabel, who sat in the wheelchair behind his.

‘That was wonderful, wasn’t it darling?’ said Mabel.

‘It certainly was,’ Perry lied.

‘All occupations under the Holy State of Borea hold equal importance, of course. But how lucky we both were to be randomly assigned as Eradicts for the rest of our lives.’

‘That’s right,’ agreed Perry, while silently wishing that the state had assigned him to a different occupation nine years ago. Even now, as his wheelchair arrived in Tambamba, his fingers were covered with blisters from the difficult hands-on nature of his work.

Dozens of houses outlined all four sides of the central village square. Each was an identical white pyramid with a black door at the front. These structures were arranged in several rows, stretching for kilometres back into the great coastal plains that surrounded Tambamba.

‘Hello, Janice!’ called Mabel, waving at a brunette woman across the village square.

‘Good evening, Mabel. Eradiction for you today?’

‘As always! We gladly do any job the Holy State of Borea assigns to us.’

Perry rolled his eyes, but thought of the voice recorder in his neck, and said: ‘It is our pleasure. Are you looking forward to attending Recreation Day tomorrow, Janice?’

‘Absolutely! I love celebrating the Holy State of Borea.’

‘Me too! We will see you then, Janice. Have a great evening.’

Perry waved as his wheelchair halted outside his house, on the outskirts of the village square. He rose from the vehicle and stood beside Mabel.

‘May we all remain loyal to the Holy State of Borea,’ they said in unison. The door opened in response to their voices. Mabel entered the house and rushed upstairs, but as Perry followed her inside, a scream echoed across Tambamba.

Perry halted, stunned by the unexplained noise, and looked across at the screaming woman. She pointed past the final row of houses at a second woman, standing in the grassland and stroking a wild zebra that had stopped to rest nearby.

Perry gulped to suppress his horror. Touching animals was forbidden by the government that controlled the entire planet: otherwise known as the Holy State of Borea.

‘Get away from there!’ boomed a man, arriving in the village square on a wheelchair behind the shrieking woman.

‘Yeah, stop touching that animal!’ cried Perry, surprising even himself with his sudden outburst. ‘What’s the matter with you?’

The woman looked up and laughed. She continued to pet the zebra as if nothing were amiss. How wrong she was. How could anyone be so brazen? Perry shook with fear as he glanced up at the late-evening sky and spotted a black aircraft making its way towards Tambamba. Currently, the vehicle was just a distant spot, but Perry knew that several Demiurge – the people who created and enforced the government’s laws – were inside. He sprinted inside his house and slammed the door behind him, before racing to the nearest window and looking out.

The aircraft landed in the wild grassland behind the village. The law-breaking woman peered over her shoulder as six Demiurge in black uniform emerged from the vehicle. They chased her as she sprinted away, still laughing, and raced past Perry’s window across the village square.

One of the figures launched a spear that connected with her arm. The woman collapsed; eyes widened as blood gushed from her arm. She writhed on the floor and looked up at Perry, standing in the nearest window, as the Demiurge surrounded her. Batons flailed as she shrieked and screamed, until her blood-covered body became limp on the cobbled ground.

The Demiurge carried the woman back to the aircraft, saluting the villagers waving from their windows.

‘Is everything all right, darling?’ said Mabel, appearing at the bottom of the stairs. Perry choked back a sob and stared at the pools of blood covering the ground outside.

‘Of course,’ said Perry, a tear glistening in his eye. ‘Everything’s fine.’