Sometime around 32 million B.C. eight very alien life-forms arrived on Earth to judge whether or not the planet might make a good colony. Upon their departure they took with them a number of samples of both flora and fauna with the intentions of carrying out more compatibility experiments once they got home.

Upon their return home they were confronted by the lifeless husk that had once been their planet. Everything they knew had apparently been destroyed in a nuclear war shortly after they had left.

Not having enough fuel to return to Earth again, they settled on a small peninsula. And although the radiation levels there were still high, they were livable. The eight survived the best they could, but after no more than twenty years they had died out.

Some of the samples they had brought back with them flourished, and as the radiation levels dropped in other parts of the world, both plant and animal life spread to reclaim it.

One such animal was the Hoplophoneus. On Earth it was the ancestor of the Smilodon. On this planet it was the ancestor of both the dominant life-forms that shared the planet.

As the early evening sun was disappearing slowly over the horizon in the country of Sanspar’s capital city of Tarr, young Eggshufont walked alongside his even younger sister Eggsiolama as they headed towards the center of the city. Eggsiolama moved quickly, trying to usher her brother. She was in a hurry to get where they were going. He was a lot more hesitant about the whole thing, trying to linger behind a little and delay their arrival.

‘We can head back home,’ he told her, almost imploring with her.

‘Our entire family would be hunted down and killed,’ she replied in no uncertain terms. ‘No one insults the Goddess like that. Besides, it’s a great honor to be chosen like this. You should be happy for me.’

‘I am,’ he replied, though he didn’t seem very sincere. ‘I am. It’s just that no one who goes in the Temple is ever seen again. Once you’re gone you’ll be gone, and already I find myself missing you.’ He paused for a few seconds and then added, ‘And why do they need so many servants, and why so often? Whenever that blasted moon dominates the skyline, they demand another servant. The Temple can’t possibly be big enough to house everyone that goes through those doors.’

‘Don’t,’ she replied. ‘You’re beginning to scare me.’

‘I’m already scared for you,’ was his reply.

Although there were four moons in the sky, there were thirteen nights scattered at regular intervals throughout the year on which the closest of them would actually appear big enough in the sky to hide the other three behind its bulk. Tonight was one of those nights. It effectively marked the beginning of the next month. It also marked the day of the lottery draw when the next servant of the Goddess would be randomly chosen from everyone that lived within the range of the city. There was no excuse. The selected candidate had to make an appearance at the gates of the Temple before the sun had fully disappeared beneath the horizon, or the lives of the other members of his or her immediate family could be forfeit. The definition of what constituted ‘immediate’ was up to those delivering the punishments. There had been many cases where the selected had been slightly late and the punishments had been waived, but it was never a good idea to take that sort of chance.

They turned the last corner and stared for a minute at the spectacle of the Temple. Although it was a relatively small building, it was very impressive and seemed to loom ominously at the very center of the city (though in truth it was a little bit off-center). It was surrounded by simple iron railings and closed circuit television cameras. According to legend, it had always been so, ever since it had been originally built close to seven thousand years ago. The precious metals, the gold, silver and platinum used to make the two prominent statues that stood in the gardens were real. The gemstones, rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds that accented the murals on either side and on the back of the Temple were real. And the bricks of hard, well-polished marble that had gone into the structure of the building itself were all real. No one in their right mind would dare to steal from the Goddess. There was actually a story of a man who had broken into the Temple garden and then approached the nearest statue with a mind to lop off an arm or maybe even the tail.  The story went that the Goddess herself had reached out her finger and struck him dead before he had taken two steps.

Milling about outside the gates of the Temple was a small crowd that had gathered, true believers in the Goddess. Many of them could be found here on every lottery night cheering the Goddess’ new servant across the threshold of the Temple and, in many cases, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Goddess herself as she opened the door to her new ward. As soon as Eggsiolama had turned that last corner, they started to cheer her, and one or two of them ran up to her and seemed to be trying to drag her towards the Temple.

Eggshufont stepped between them and brushed them off. He wondered how they could know that she was the latest ‘selected,’ as they were called. Perhaps it was because it was close to time. Or perhaps because all ‘selected’ had the same sort of haunted look as his sister now seemed to have.

‘We can still turn around, go back,’ he told her.

‘And what about our family?’ his sister asked him simply, though from her voice it would seem that leaving this place was exactly what she wanted to do.

‘We’ll go into hiding, all of us,’ Eggshufont replied.

‘They’d find us,’ she responded. ‘You know they’d be able to hunt us down; they always do. Besides, do you really want to spend the rest of your life in hiding? Not being able to show your face in public. Relying on the good faith of those you get to help you? And let’s face it. If even one member of our family was hurt by this, then we would have gained nothing. I couldn’t have that on my conscience.’

‘You’re my only sister,’ he insisted.

‘And I’ll miss you,’ she replied, and though she didn’t sound all that enthused now that she was so close to her destination, she added, ‘and being chosen is a great honor. Think well of me.’

‘I will, my sister,’ Eggshufont replied calmly. ‘I will.’

She entered the rearmost part of the crowd and made her way through slowly to the front, not looking round at her brother again. She exchanged greetings and gracefully accepted their congratulations, their cheers and their good wishes. She moved at a slow and yet determined pace. Though her heart might falter, she would reach her goal.

Eggshufont stayed at the back of the crowd and watched her go, forcing himself not to run after her and drag her back to the safety of their home. He watched her until she disappeared in the crowd. Then his attention moved to the Compare, the man standing at the very front of the crowd and facing them from the top of a small, slightly raised plinth. He had noticed the man before, of course, though he had been more interested in looking after his sister. In truth, Eggshufont had seen him on the television pretty much every week. He was here every time a new ‘selected’ was chosen. He felt his eyes narrow and his ears flatten at the sight of the man. A man whose job it was to escort the ‘selected’ beyond the gate and into the garden of the Temple. A man who, according to rumor, would be that one who set the death squads on the families of those who didn’t arrive. And he wasn’t even the same species as Eggshufont, his sister, or any of those in the crowd.

The Herbaht were of a totally different race, though supposedly they were related way back in the mists of time. But there were simply so many differences. Their ears were wrong for a start; then there were their noses, and even their stripes were all wrong, but what really capped it was their tails. They had long, flowing tails which they displayed through small, specially designed holes in their clothing. And yet his people worshipped them almost as much as they did the Gods. Everything of any importance was decided by members of the Herbaht race. Only the Herbaht could vote, and they only voted for Herbaht because only Herbaht were allowed to stand for election. The Herbaht dominated big business. It wasn’t illegal for one of Eggshufont’s race to start a business, but few of them ever made any real money because the Herbaht-run businesses weren’t willing to assist them. The big names and stars of stage, screen and radio were almost all Herbaht, and only in the last two hundred years had any non-Herbaht been able to get any decent parts. Yet the Herbaht as a race numbered less than one percent of the population of his own race. There were even rumors that the Goddess herself was really of the Herbaht race. It might explain a lot if she was. Had his sister failed to make her appointment with the Goddess this night, it would have been the Herbaht who would carry out the sentence on her family. The only reason he wasn’t willing to believe the claims was because the Goddess was immortal. That had been drummed into him from the earliest age. The Goddess was immortal, and the Herbaht were not.

He watched as his sister reached the Compare and climbed the plinth to meet with him. The Herbaht smiled almost too widely, and Eggshufont would have liked to have hit the man, had he been close enough. One of his race hitting a Herbaht would buy a year or more in prison, assuming he wasn’t simply executed for it. The two exchanged a few words. Their words were lost to the crowd, but they would be picked up by the microphone attached to the plinth and broadcast to the entire city…or at least to those watching on televisions or listening by radio.

Then the Temple gates slowly opened.

Eggshufont watched helplessly as his sister and the Herbaht descended from the plinth and walked together into the Temple garden. Once there, the Compare turned around and returned to the plinth, leaving Eggsiolama on her own. It was only a short walk to the main Temple doors, but it seemed to be an eternity for her brother, who watched as she walked solemnly past the ornamental statues: statues of Herbaht heroes, one of whom had founded the first church of the Goddess in this city seven thousand years or so ago. The other was a warrior who had put down a rebellion against the church about five thousand years previous. It hadn’t been much of a rebellion, really–the Herbaht had used laser weaponry and rockets; the rebels had used pitchforks and fists. But as a direct result of this rebellion, his people were greatly restricted in the technology they were allowed. Who could guess what sort of devices might be kept behind those huge, gold-inlaid marble doors. He watched as those doors slowly opened to admit the latest of the ‘selected’ and couldn’t help himself from trying to look beyond the doors into the darkness in the hope of catching a sight of the Goddess herself, the same way that so many of those that were in the crowd did month after month. He saw nothing. The Temple just beyond the doors was kept purposely dark.

Eggsiolama stepped nervously across the threshold into the Temple itself, and the large doors closed immediately behind her. At the same time the front gates closed, as if they did so together as part of a long-forgotten ceremony. Eggshufont’s sister was now a servant of the Goddess and would never be seen on this side of the walls of the Temple again.

The Temple in Tarr wasn’t the only Temple on the planet. Every major city and large town across the world had its own Temple, and everyone who wasn’t of the Herbaht race had to be registered somewhere for at least one monthly lottery, however far they might actually live from the nearest Temple. It was up to the ‘selected’ to reach the Temple by the deadline or pay the consequences. Few ever moved from one town to another because of the hassle in trying to get unregistered at one lottery and reregistered at another. Officials were only too keen to add new names to lotteries but hesitant to remove names until they had proof that the person moving was registered elsewhere, and this often meant being registered at two lotteries for a draw or two while the paperwork went through. Failure to be registered had its own penalties on par with being selected and not appearing. Then there was the other side–those few who made a habit of registering at as many lotteries as they could because they so desperately wanted to serve one of the Gods.

The month passed slowly for Eggshufont. It was true that he and his sister hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye about everything. Indeed, he and she had spent quite a few of their more tender years at loggerheads with each other over one thing or another. Nevertheless, she had been his sister, and he couldn’t reconcile the fact that now that she was a servant of the Goddess, he’d probably never see her again. In fact, unless he was chosen himself, she would be gone from his life for good.

He was still very young. He lived with his parents in their small house near the center of the city, but they were no help at all when he turned to them for comfort. Although they were full of pride for their daughter, all they had for him were accusations for even the smallest mistake whilst he performed his weekly chores. ‘How could you have done this? You’ll never be chosen like your sister was if we can’t even trust you to do things right. How can you expect the Goddess to want you for a servant?’ They conveniently forgot that who was chosen was arbitrarily done by the spin of a wheel.

Indeed, while Eggshufont mourned the loss of his sister, his friend and confidant, his parents seemed to have barely noticed that she was gone, other than to observe occasionally that her chores weren’t getting done. They would usually say this directly to Eggshufont as if they expected him to step in and do them for her while she was gone. They didn’t seem to mourn for their daughter at all, and why should they? Even though they might never see her again, she wasn’t dead and had instead received the highest of honors possible to one of her race, an honor that wasn’t even available to the Herbaht.

Eggshufont was alone in the house at the time of the next choosing. His parents had stayed in long enough to make sure that none of them were to be next ‘selected,’ and then they had gone out, celebrating the one-month anniversary of the servitude of their daughter to the Goddess. Eggshufont hadn’t intended to watch the ceremony itself. He had left the television on in the background for company and had intended to turn it off when the time came. Every station in the city would have its programs commandeered by the ceremony, so the only alternative was to turn the set off. But when the latest ‘selected’ arrived at the gates of the Temple, Eggshufont found that he was unable to drag himself away. It was like watching a road accident. He knew he should turn it off but just couldn’t bring himself to do so. 

This month’s selected, a middle-aged male by the name of Camshuhyt, moved slowly through the crowd in much the same way as Eggshufont’s sister had, bringing back memories of those events just one month previous. Camshuhyt was visibly shivering, and Eggshufont knew that the weather was quite mild at this time of the year. It wasn’t cold that was making him shiver.

‘Congratulations, Camshuhyt, on being the latest ‘selected’ of our lady of the city,’ the Herbaht on the plinth said as the scared figure joined him. ‘Is there anything you’d like to say to the men and women watching this program?’

‘I-I can’t think of anything,’ he replied softly. It was unusual for the ‘selected’ not to say something to the crowd. They had most of the day from when the lottery had named them, and many people made it a point to rehearse something for most of their lives just in case they should ever be chosen.

‘There are two golden rules you will be required to follow once you step across the threshold and into the Temple itself.’ These rules were repeated on the television every week; there wasn’t a person in the city who didn’t know them by heart. ‘Don’t speak to the Goddess unless the Goddess speaks to you first, and obey the Goddess in anything she asks you, no matter how demeaning the task might seem.’

Tears came to his eyes as Eggshufont remembered his sister walking through the Temple gates in much the same way that Camshuhyt was doing now. He walked slowly along the path towards the large and impressive-looking marble doors, stopping to admire the statues for a minute before heading on to the Temple itself. Then, before entering the Temple proper, he glanced back towards the gates. The desire to leave through them was written plainly in his eyes, but he must have remembered his family and turned back towards the Temple, hesitant yet determined. He stepped across the threshold into the Temple, and the great doors closed behind him.

  Tears flooded down Eggshufont’s cheeks as he thought more about his sister. Perhaps it was because he was so young that he was so impulsive, but he remembered that his father had an ancient firearm in a display case on the cabinet in his study. It was a single-shot affair; it would be no match against the weapons that were carried by the Goddess’ Herbaht servants, but he might be able to wipe that smile off the face of the Compare. He might even be able to put a bullet through the center of the Goddess’ head and show the world how immortal she really was.

He took the weapon out of its case, disobeying what his father had always told him: to leave the thing alone. He examined it closely; there was no reason the gun shouldn’t work, despite its age. Getting ammunition for it wouldn’t be a problem either, as there were five bullets in the case with the gun. They were ancient bullets, nearly as old as the gun. He didn’t know enough about weaponry for it to occur to him that the bullets might no longer work. He returned the gun to the display case, put the case back exactly where he had found it as demarked by the absence of dust, and then left his father’s study. There was a month to wait until the next selection. A month before he could carry out his plan. But when that day arrived, the entire world would learn his name: Eggshufont, the man who killed a Goddess. Perhaps they would make it easy for him. Perhaps they would draw his name in the next lottery.

He giggled to himself as he returned to the house’s main room, where the television had been left on and had now returned to its normal schedule. If he succeeded in his intent next month, they would have to add a new commandment for all new ‘selected,’ he thought to himself, One, don’t speak to the Goddess unless the Goddess speaks to you first. Two, obey the Goddess in anything she asks you, no matter how demeaning the task might seem. And three, do not kill the Goddess!

The moons performed their little dance in the heavens, and another month passed by. Eggshufont waited in until that day’s lottery had been drawn. He was still half hoping it might be he that got ‘selected.’ It would make his decision that much easier to go through with, as well as easier to carry out. He almost sighed with relief when the name pulled wasn’t he, but a female by the name of Lowsiobenno. That meant he had a little bit of time before the actual ceremony to consider whether or not he was really going to go through with it. He still had ample time to change his mind, but he loved his sister and he missed her greatly. Besides, the more he thought about the fact that he was living in perpetual fear that one day he too would be chosen to walk through those gates, the more he was sure he would end it tonight one way or another.

When the opportunity arose, he sneaked back into his father’s study. He took the pistol and its five pieces of ammunition out of the glass display case and hid the weapon beneath his shirt, holding it in place as he crept out of the study again.

A quick visit to his bedroom and he loaded the first of the bullets into the firearm and then taped the thing to his body so he wouldn’t have to physically hold it any longer. The tape and the weapon itself were both uncomfortable next to his skin, especially if he tried to sit, but it was a small price to pay to get the weapon out of the house past his mother and father.

Indeed, his mother seemed to suspect that something was up. It was obvious that she didn’t know what, because if she had she would probably have stopped him right there and then. She was, however, waiting at the front door as he approached it to leave. ‘Going somewhere?’ she asked in a tone that sounded accusing to him and almost made him think he had been discovered.

‘Out,’ he replied simply. ‘I fancy a walk. I need to get away from the television and the ceremony of the ‘selected.’’

‘You should watch the ceremony; it’s important to the relatives of those who are ‘selected’ that they’re known to the rest of us. How do you think we would feel if no one had shown any interest when your sister was chosen? I know you loved your sister–we all did, and we’re very proud of her–but you must get over her loss. It’s not as if she’s dead; she’s in the Temple now, doing her family proud, and that’s what you should be aspiring to.’

‘I do, mother, I do. I would have given anything to have my name up on the lottery board today. But it wasn’t, and I don’t think I can stand to watch the ceremony as another takes the place I wanted. I need a walk. Maybe I’ll end up taking a walk over to the Temple itself to pay my respects that way. If I’m in time, I might watch the ceremony there. I just can’t bring myself to watch it on the television.’

 ‘Be good,’ she told him and then stepped aside to allow him access to the door and the outside. ‘Your father and I should probably come along with you, but neither of us is really dressed for the occasion. You should have given us more notice; if you want to go again next month, let us know in advance and we’ll make a day of it.’

‘Okay, I will, I promise,’ Eggshufont replied. If everything went according to plan, he wouldn’t be around next month, but he wasn’t about to tell that to his mother. Instead he just opened the door and stepped out into the world.

When he had taken his sister to the ceremony two months previously, he had taken the family buggy and then spent any time he might have saved trying to find a place to park. This time he decided to walk. It wasn’t too far to the Temple, and it would give him the time he needed to go through the plan in his head a few times before he got there.

Once at the Temple, he mingled in with the crowd, exchanging greetings with many, some of whom he remembered seeing among the crowd on that fateful day he had brought his sister and who, he was surprised to discover, seemed to remember him from that day too. Slowly he made his way through the crowd towards the Temple gates and the Compare, who already stood waiting on the raised plinth, all the time trying his best not to appear as if he was trying to push forward.

The sun had actually set when Lowsiobenno showed, but it was at that twilight time when the Compare would be hard pressed to claim she had defaulted and would probably let the matter drop. Lowsiobenno didn’t look all that keen on making her way into the crowd and beyond. Indeed, she had been bought by two others, possibly her brothers, and by the look of it they had brought her by force and were still holding on to her by the arms and dragging her unsympathetically towards the crowd.

Her brothers, or whoever they were, released her at the very back of the crowd and then moved together as if acting as a living wall to prevent her from trying to head back that way.

She looked around herself as if lost at first. Perhaps she was considering the possibility of somehow getting away. But while she hesitated, those at the back of the crowd came to greet her and congratulate her and guide her through their numbers towards the Temple itself.

The two brothers looked a lot less stressed as Lowsiobenno was herded through the crowd. One of them took a moment to mop his forehead with a piece of cloth. They were probably relieved that they had gotten her this far; after all, if they were her brothers and she hadn’t made an appearance tonight, then all of them might have found their lives forfeit. Eggshufont noticed that they stayed at the back of the crowd in much the same way that he had when he had brought his sister two months previously. It was clear that they didn’t want to mingle with the rest of the crowd but still wanted to give their sister the moral support of their presence.

 Eggshufont offered to pat Lowsiobenno on the back as she approached, but she visibly moved out of the way. It was clear that every step she took was an effort. She was terrified of what awaited her in the Temple itself. As she passed, Eggshufont fell into step behind her, following her more closely than he wanted to as the crowd pressed in from all sides to congratulate her on her good fortune.

When Lowsiobenno climbed the plinth to the Compare, Eggshufont found himself at the very front of the crowd with no one to stop him now when the gates opened. The pistol was a single-shot affair and would take a few precious seconds to reload. He so wanted to wipe that smile off the Compare’s face, but he couldn’t help thinking that the delay in having to reload would cause him to miss the window for the Goddess. It would be a better move to go directly for the Goddess and forget Mister Herbaht, at least for now.

As he always did, the Compare descended from the plinth with the latest ‘selected’ and escorted her to the now-opening Temple gates. Eggshufont waited patiently yet eagerly. The main doors to the Temple always opened before the gates closed. If he made his move when those doors began to open, he ought to be able to get into the Temple before they had managed to close again, and that would be the end of the Goddess.

The Compare returned to the plinth and turned to look at the ‘selected’ with that sickening smile on his face, actually holding that far-too-long tail in one of his hands as if wanting to cuddle his own tail, something that Eggshufont hadn’t noticed before. No one else seemed to notice. Everyone was too busy watching the ‘selected’ as she walked through the garden and past the statues to the marble doors.

When the doors began to open, everything seemed as if it was moving in slow motion for Eggshufont as he started to run. It was too late to change his mind now. He was committed. As he ran he tried to free the pistol from where it was still stuck to his body beneath his many layers of clothing.

He was through the gates of the Temple with no problem. No one in the crowd seemed to be trying to follow him or stop him. Even the Compare seemed to have taken cover behind the plinth, maybe realizing that Eggshufont had murder in his green eyes.

Lowsiobenno looked around as if lost as Eggshufont entered the Temple gardens; maybe she feared that he was after her. She seemed to be frozen to the spot just outside the now wide open marble doors. The longer she remained paralyzed like that, the better Eggshufont’s chance of getting into the Temple itself.

An alarmed murmur began to find its way around the crowd. If the murmur had any meaning, though, it was lost to him by the sheer weight of numbers that it was coming from. Nevertheless, this noise, combined with a few shouts from people telling him not to do it, was pretty much the last thing he would ever hear in his life.

Before he had even reached the two gorgeous statues that stood on either side of the short path, a sudden flash of light shot from a small grill at the top of the Temple’s roof, and a moment later Eggshufont lay dead in the garden.

But that wasn’t the end of it. To those outside the Temple it must have seemed as if the Goddess had gone berserk. She was clearly angered by the attack on her Temple, and it soon became clear that just one death wasn’t going to be enough to sate her temper.

The crowd that had gathered in front of the Temple was still murmuring, but they were also beginning to disperse with the full intention of returning to their homes when the Temple’s roof-mounted weapons opened fire again and again and again. The crowd began to stampede as, one after another, they were cut down in quick succession. Very few of those in the crowd made it to any sort of cover. They had been the ones lucky enough to be on the very outskirts of the crowd and closest to the neighboring buildings. Everyone else in the crowd, including Lowsiobenno’s two brothers, was lying in the dirt mere seconds after Eggshufont had been killed.

Lowsiobenno survived the carnage. She had watched in shock as the crowd was slaughtered like animals. Then she entered the Temple itself, but she seemed to do so in a trance.

The Compare also survived. He had taken refuge behind the plinth, and if anything, the Goddess had avoided shooting at him. He was Herbaht, after all. When the slaughter was over, he climbed slowly to his feet again, shook his head slowly and descended from the plinth. A minute or two later he had retrieved the small television camera from the corpse of the cameraman and was headed for home. He would have his job cut out for him during the next month as he tried to twist what the viewers at home would have seen to make it appear as if the massacre had really been necessary.

Lowsiobenno was greeted just on the other side of the large marble doors by a male Herbaht who went by the name Mitshutosh. Almost before she could do anything he had injected her with a syringe. He said, ‘It’s a simple sedative; it won’t put you to sleep, but it will help to calm you after what you’ve just seen happen.’

 She felt a little dazed for a moment, and then the events outside the Temple seemed to fade into distant history. She looked at him strangely as he offered her his arm so he could escort her into the main part of the Temple. ‘Are you the Goddess?’ she asked, more than a little bit surprised and more bothered that he was Herbaht than because he was male.

‘No, no,’ Mitshutosh replied simply. ‘I am simply one of the Goddess’ other servants. I was sent to escort you to the Goddess herself.’

‘But you’re Herbaht,’ Lowsiobenno stated, her voice clear and calm as the drug took effect. ‘Herbaht aren’t included in the lottery.’

‘Herbaht are selected at birth personally by the God or Goddess,’ Mitshutosh responded, ‘and not by a random spin of a wheel. We are given different tasks than the kind you will receive. Although there are four Herbaht servants to the Goddess at any one time, only one of us is ever likely to be in the Temple. Our tasks usually take us outside the Temple walls and sometimes even the Temple grounds. Those gardens don’t maintain themselves, you know.’

‘I guess not,’ Lowsiobenno responded slowly.

‘Well, one of us is trained gardener; one, a cook; and another, myself, happens to be a driver, in case her holiness wishes to leave the Temple herself. Which she would do incognito, you understand; we must maintain the illusion that the Goddess is here at all times.’

‘Is she here now?’ Lowsiobenno asked.

‘Oh yes, she never misses the day of the lottery. None of us do,’ Mitshutosh replied with a smile. ‘She’s waiting for you in the main living quarters of the Temple.’

The main living quarters of the Temple looked like a small palace stateroom. The floor was an exquisite marble mosaic that unfortunately had gathered a few scuff marks since it was built. There was a comfortable-looking fireplace, a large wooden table and six wooden chairs, all inlaid with gemstones and gold filigree. There were also a couple of side tables with vases of flowers on them and a large glass-fronted display cabinet containing a very ancient-looking, yet heavily polished silver dinner service. On the nearest wall was a large picture frame. It dominated the entire wall top to bottom, yet seemed to be missing its picture.

On the largest of the walls in this room was a series of television screens, showing the viewer the various aspects of the city from any number of small cameras that had been secretly hidden about its streets, its shops and even in some of the newer houses. These seemed to allow the Goddess to keep very close tabs on her people. In front of this wall of screens sat a female Herbaht. She seemed to be glowering at one of the screens in particular, the one that currently showed the pile of dead bodies just outside the Temple.

The Goddess Mitsiocaler looked young, very young, much younger than Mitshutosh, yet when she spun around in her chair, she gazed at him with irritation and seemed to ignore Lowsiobenno altogether.

‘Did you have to do that?’ she asked with a hiss in her voice.

‘I had to make an example,’ he replied calmly. ‘You know what happened last time; the history books are filled with the stories of the rebellion. It’s even taught to the throwbacks. I just nipped it in the bud before it got any worse.’

‘Really,’ the Goddess responded, ‘I hope you’re right. I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I might have to punish you. Find some task outside of the Temple to perform while I decide whether or not I should have you replaced.’

‘But mother…’ Mitshutosh started.

‘She’s your mother?’ Lowsiobenno interrupted, surprised.

Mitshutosh glanced at Lowsiobenno and then walked away. He left the room out the same door they had entered, leaving Lowsiobenno alone with the Goddess.

‘He’s your son?’ she repeated.

‘He’s my son,’ Mitsiocaler responded with a comforting grin, ignoring the fact that Lowsiobenno had already broken one of the commandments she had been given before entering the Temple. ‘Nearly every Herbaht in the city is either my son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter or the children of the same or their children and so on.’

‘Please forgive me if I spoke out of turn, Goddess,’ Lowsiobenno suddenly uttered. ‘I guess I wasn’t ready for what you have told me. Do you have a task for me?’ She looked around herself at the lack of other servants of her race in the room. She loved the look of this room and didn’t really want to leave it, but she was now sure that when she was assigned something she wouldn’t be allowed back here again.

‘I need you to go and assist my daughter, Mitsiobon. She’s the cook. Return the way you came, look for a small door to your left and then follow the smells of cooking. You should be able to find her easily enough. By rights Mitshutosh should take you down there, but as you might have guessed, he’s currently in disgrace.’

She left the stateroom and followed the Goddess’ instructions down to the Temple’s kitchens, where she was surprised to find Mitsiobon alone. She had expected the place to be teeming with the servants of her own race; after all, one was ‘selected’ every month.

‘The Goddess sent me down here,’ Lowsiobenno told the cook as she entered the kitchens.

‘Of course she did, of course she did,’ the cook responded gaily. ‘So you are the latest to be ‘selected.’’

‘Chosen today for the honor of serving her holiness. I have to admit I’m surprised that no one else is here assisting you already. In fact, I’ve not seen another of my race since entering the Temple; where is everyone?’

Mitsiobon seemed to ignore the question, instead asking one of her own: ‘You are aware that the Goddess is immortal, aren’t you?’

‘I believe so,’ Lowsiobenno responded. ‘After all, she wouldn’t be a Goddess if she wasn’t.’

‘Indeed, indeed,’ Mitsiobon replied. She picked up a cleaver and started to hack away at some non-descript piece of meat on a table. ‘But she’s not naturally immortal, you know. Every so often someone is chosen from the non-immortal members of the Herbaht race to occupy some new Temple that has been built or to replace a God or Goddess that an accident has befallen. You see, they can live forever, but they can still die from unnatural causes. Anyway, those chosen to be Gods and Goddesses are given a special elixir, an elixir that can extend life indefinitely.’

‘With you so far,’ Lowsiobenno replied, unsure where this was leading or, indeed, why she was being told this.

‘You see, the elixir has a small problem: it’s not perfect by itself. Every month the God or Goddess needs to reinforce the effect of this elixir by ingesting a certain chemical. It works as a sort of booster for the elixir, if you like, and keeps it going for another month. If the deity should miss a month, then the power of the elixir is lost and he or she will age until the next booster is taken. It is said that if they go without the booster for five or more months, then all effect of the elixir is lost for good and they will eventually die of old age, just like the rest of us.’

‘Unless they get the elixir again,’ Lowsiobenno added.

‘Indeed,’ Mitsiobon replied. ‘It’s only a rumor though; I don’t know of anyone that’s actually done it.’

‘And so once a month she sends out for this booster and…’ she stopped, although dazed, as something about the monthly nature of the booster occurred to her.

‘The chemical in question is found in the mind of all creatures with any sort of brain. The best examples, though, are those that we might classify as intelligent creatures, those that develop a clear language.’

Lowsiobenno was frozen to the spot for a moment, unable to think properly. ‘I-I, er, can I…’ She took a deep breath. ‘C-can you remove this chemical without damaging the rest of me?’ She was shaking again; the idea that the door was right behind her and still open was a lost thought.

‘I can,’ the cook replied happily, ‘but that would still kill you, as you can’t live without the chemical any more than the Goddess could. Besides, she would prefer it if you were served to her as a proper meal.’

‘Cannibalism!’ Lowsiobenno stated in near panic. She was unable to move, and she began to feel as if her mind was actually crystallizing; just what had that drug done to her?

‘Not really,’ the cook responded. ‘You and she aren’t of the same race. To her you’re nothing more than a herd animal.’ And with that she threw the cleaver with an expertise born of experience, hitting Lowsiobenno directly in the forehead and killing her instantly.

Everything seemed to be going well for the Goddess. The Compare had done an excellent job of twisting the facts to match his story. ‘The crowd had been gearing up for an attack on the Temple itself. The Goddess obviously acted in self-defense.’ For most of the population of the city, that was enough, and everything went back to normal as they awaited the next lottery. Maybe the crowds that regularly gathered outside the Temple gates on these days and who were really little more than a nuisance would be a lot fewer in number when the next ‘selected’ was chosen.

In order to make everything work properly, the immediate families of those killed in the crowd that night also paid the ultimate price. Several Herbaht death squads moved about the city and began to visit the relatives of more than a thousand families, cutting them down ruthlessly to pay for the invented crimes of their kin. A few managed to make it into hiding, but they were very few in number, and the death squads continued to search for them day and night whilst their pictures were broadcast on every channel of the television, asking for people to volunteer their whereabouts.

The Goddess herself wasn’t involved in the orders. She couldn’t have brought herself to have given such orders, even though she knew they were necessary if the status quo was to be maintained. Instead she blamed Mitshutosh for all the deaths and demanded that he leave her service to head up the death squads personally. She would simply have to find another driver for when she next wanted to leave the confines of the Temple.

The problems started fairly soon afterwards when it was discovered that someone had actually made their own tape of the ceremony. Hunshubai was a great fan of the Goddess, believing her to be only capable of good things. He had spent a lot of money making tapes of the various ceremonies; it was a hobby of his, and he had been doing it for the last ten years: one hundred and twenty-seven ceremonies to date. He rarely bothered to watch them again; after all, virtually every ceremony was identical to every other ceremony. It had been partially because of this that they had been so sure no one would bother to tape it. But Hunshubai had them all–all from the last ten years, anyway. All so that the names of the ‘selected’ would be honored forever and would never be forgotten.

When he started to hear the official version of what had happened at the most recent ceremony, it came as a great surprise to him. The description was totally different from how he remembered it, and so he decided to watch it again. He was dumbfounded if he could see what they meant when they claimed that the crowd was on the verge of attacking the Temple; to him it looked as if they were moving to leave. Those on the edges of the crowd had actually been moving away from the Temple when it had fired upon them.

He watched it again and again. It certainly didn’t seem to be as the Goddess’ representatives were claiming, but maybe he was missing something they had caught. After three days of watching the tape through, he decided that whatever had happened to trigger the massacre was beyond him. He needed another pair of eyes. He made a copy of the tape and then delivered it to a friend of his with a simple note: ‘I cannot reconcile the events of the day with the reports we are hearing on the news. Please check this tape over and tell me where I am going wrong.

The friend, Nikshubose, watched the tape and couldn’t believe his eyes. It was definitely not the events that had been reported so clearly over the news time and again and which were still being reinforced nightly. Though a good friend of Hunshubai, Nikshubose wasn’t as big a fan of the Goddess, and watching the tape and listening to the spin that was being reported about the event simply made him angry.

Nikshubose made copy after copy of the tape and started to distribute them to his friends with a simple comment: ‘Judge for yourself.’

It took the death squads less than a week to trace the source of the tapes back to their origin. Both Nikshubose and Hunshubai were taken into custody and put to death on a charge of distributing subversive material shortly afterwards. But the damage had already been done: there were hundreds of tapes already in distribution, and the number was more than doubling every day. Copies began to move beyond the confines of the city to other towns and cities, the message changing slowly from ‘Judge for yourself,’ to ‘Can we trust them?

The whole thing came to a head eight days short of the next lottery. A Herbaht death squad was on the trail of a parcel of tapes leaving the city; they had planned to check the addresses both of where they were going and where they had come from. It seemed that the whole thing was a setup by a small group that included two of the relatives of those originally killed in the crowd and who until now had been in hiding. They ambushed the death squad and wiped them out to a man. What was worse for the Goddess, they took possession of weapons that until now she had always been very careful to keep them from.

Shortly afterwards, Herbaht began to turn up dead everywhere, including the Compare of the lottery show and the disgraced Mitshutosh who had started all this in the first place.

The day of the lottery came and went and no draw was made; no one was willing to make it. Mitsiocaler watched her screens as the city burned. She watched as the gangs of throwbacks stalked the streets in the way they wouldn’t have dared to a bare month ago. She watched as a group of well-armed Herbaht engaged one of the gangs in combat and slaughtered them mercilessly. The Herbaht still had better weapons, but they were greatly outnumbered. The Gods and Goddesses had always feared being usurped by one of their own race much more than those they had simply despised as throwbacks and had therefore kept the numbers of their own offspring to the barest minimum.

She watched as the same group of Herbaht found a second gang and slaughtered those in much the same way, only this time one of the throwbacks had a lucky shot and killed one of the Herbaht. She watched the group for a while, feeling her morale soar as with every encounter there was always the same outcome, and the group of Herbaht got bigger and bigger as those in hiding came out to help.

When she turned in for the night, it was with a feeling that everything was going to be all right after all. The Herbaht would continue to find the offending gangs of throwbacks and destroy them. The rebellion would be over tomorrow and all would be right with the world.

When she checked the screens the following day, though, there was no sign of the Herbaht anywhere. Lots of gangs still roamed the streets, but the Herbaht had vanished except for one or two bodies here and there, the numbers of which came nowhere close to how many she had seen roaming the streets last night. Perhaps they had left the city and were trying to make their way out into the perceived safety of the wilderness, away from all the death and destruction, but where did that leave her?

She checked the screens again. There were at least three different gangs of these throwbacks heading towards the Temple. She was lucky they weren’t already knocking down the marble doors.

She quickly activated the various weapons scattered about the Temple’s grounds and set them on automatic. They would attack anything that came within range with deadly effect. But that was all she could do, and though the weapons might be capable of taking out a small, badly-equipped army, there was still a danger that an organized mob might be able to find a way through.

‘Time to leave,’ she muttered to herself. The nearest of the gangs was too close. In fact, she could already hear some of the Temple’s weapons open up on them as she climbed off her chair. She didn’t have time to pack anything; there was no telling how long it would be before the throwbacks got past the Temple’s defenses, assuming they did so.

Instead she moved to the wall with the empty picture frame and pressed a few buttons.

The frame went blurry for a second, and then the image of her slightly younger sister’s Temple stateroom replaced the wall. Her sister lived in the neighboring city of Jay over a hundred miles distant, but the image was beautifully clear. Her sister Mitsioni turned in her chair at the sound of her screen activating. She sat at a bank of screens similar to those Mitsiocaler had in her Temple and had obviously been playing close attention to the situation in her own city. ‘I’m not sure this is a good time. My entire city is under martial law, but the throwbacks are on the rampage anyway.’

‘I am sorry, my sister,’ Mitsiocaler replied as calmly as she could, but her face belied her urgency. ‘I seek sanctuary, as my own Temple is under attack from gangs of throwbacks even as we speak. It can only be a matter of time before they get in.’

‘The way I hear it, all this is your fault anyway,’ Mitsioni commented dryly. ‘Why should I help you?’

‘You’re my sister!’ Mitsiocaler replied, unsure of what else she could say.

Mitsioni sighed heavily. ‘I’d probably receive a medal from the others if I just shot you down, but you are my sister. You’d better come on through.’

‘Thank you, my sister,’ Mitsiocaler replied, relaxing visibly. She hadn’t known what sort of greeting she might expect after everything that had happened, and she had half expected a much worse reception than that she’d received. Not wanting to leave the gateway open for any members of the mob that did manage to breach the walls of her Temple, she tapped in a simple code that would give her five seconds to get across the threshold before the code was scrambled and the gateway became unusable.

 ‘We don’t have a lot of time,’ Mitsioni told her as Mitsiocaler entered her sister’s Temple and before she was able to speak. ‘My city is burning; they even burn their own homes in their attempts to flush out members or our race. They are scum. We have treated them far too fairly in the past.’ Then she looked at her sister, a little surprised. ‘Are you all alone then?’

Mitsiocaler nodded with a bit of a sigh. ‘At least one of my servants is dead. Two others were outside the Temple doing whatever they could to keep my people together. I think most Herbaht in my city have left for the wilderness, and I don’t know if my servants were with them or not. I hope not. I’d hate to think they were so cowardly. The only one left in the Temple was the cook, and I wasn’t sure that I had the time to fetch her before the throwbacks got in. She’ll just have to cope for herself.’

‘Can’t be helped. Besides, it’s probably just as well,’ Mitsioni responded coldly. She glanced between the walls of screens and her sister as they talked, wanting to keep an eye on what was happening in the city but also wanting her sister to feel at least a little bit welcome. ‘Hatshulosk and I have an escape plan, and there isn’t a lot of room for anyone else. As it is, I’ve sent my own servants off into the city to aid with the defenses and to get them out of the way. That’s why I hesitated to invite you in, but I’m sure we can find room for a third. Food and space might be a bit tight, but when I explain to him that you are my sister, I’m sure he’ll agree.’

Mitsiocaler nodded simply. She felt a little out of place, as if she didn’t really belong and was in the way. ‘So what’s the plan?’

Mitsioni answered slowly, ‘You understand that before we decided on this course of action, I’d already been in contact with nearly everyone, trying to get some sort of advice and maybe some sort of cohesion between us. I had been hoping we might fight back, but no one seems willing to take orders from anyone else, and without proper leadership we’re bound to fail. Besides, it seems as if this thing has spread totally out of control. Everyone is having problems of some description, and already the Gods and Goddesses of many of the smaller cities have fallen.’

 ‘So, what about this escape plan?’ Mitsiocaler asked; she crossed the room slowly.

‘How well do you know Hatshulosk?’ Mitsioni asked her sister, turning in her chair to follow her across the room.

‘He’s kind of an eccentric, likes to look at the stars and has even made one or two trips to some of the closer ones in the belief that one of them might possibly be capable of supporting life. When he does, he usually leaves his city in turmoil because the lack of lottery draws has the people believing that their God had deserted them. I believe he actually needed to be re-injected with the elixir on one occasion because he had been away too long and a mere booster was no longer enough. But most of that’s hearsay.’

‘Some of it’s right,’ her sister replied. ‘Most of it, really, including the journey to a distant planet. Anyway, according to Hatshulosk, the planet he explored on that occasion had a very primitive form of intelligent life, but intelligent nevertheless and therefore capable of sustaining us in the same way the throwbacks have been doing here. The natives refer to themselves as human, and they do have the great advantage of looking very similar to us, except perhaps for our tails, our claws, our stripes and our eyes. But if we hide or disguise these features, we’ll be able to fit right in. Hatshulosk assures me we could pass one in the street and they wouldn’t notice anything funny about us, so long as we were properly disguised first, no surgery involved. I have to admit I’m more than a little excited at the idea.’

‘How do you mean primitive?’ Mitsiocaler rested her hand on the back of one of the gem-studded wooden chairs that surrounded the gold filigree table, in both cases almost identical to the ones Mitsiocaler had left behind. So similar because they were sisters, they had been elevated to the position of Goddesses together and their Temples had been built and equipped at almost exactly the same time.

‘Well, it was over a thousand years ago he went. Things might have changed slightly now, but apparently the human race were still slaughtering each other with swords and spears and wearing funny exoskeletons in an attempt to protect themselves from each other.’

‘And we hide out there until this all blows over?’ Mitsiocaler asked, only really half listening. A lot could happen in a thousand years. Indeed, had the throwbacks been allowed access to the same technology as the Herbaht, there could be no telling how much further technology might have gotten in the last thousand years on this planet alone.

‘We don’t really know if it ever will blow over,’ her sister replied. ‘Hatshulosk and I intend to settle on this planet, raise a few kids and basically take control of it. It revolves in much the same way ours does, is roughly the same size, and except for the fact that it only seems to have one moon there are virtually no differences. I think we’ll be fine there.’

‘You will have Hatshulosk; perhaps I should choose a male!’ Mitsiocaler suggested.

‘I’m sorry, my sister; as I told you, we’ll be stretching things to get you on board, and there really won’t be enough room for a fourth. Perhaps you can choose from the natives when we land!’

‘Choose a native? That’s a disgusting idea. Besides the fact that we’ll be eating the natives to survive, we simply wouldn’t be compatible with each other. Our genes would be totally alien.’ Mitsiocaler sat on one of the chairs and leaned forward a little to rest her arms on her knees. From her expression, it was clear that she was unhappy with the suggestion.

‘We’ll have plenty of time once we arrive, and there’s no saying we have to pick a mate immediately for you. There’ll be time to get used to the idea. After all, we’ll have to learn to speak their language first. Hatshulosk has some of the fundamentals from a thousand years ago, but it has probably changed a lot since then, assuming we even land in the same area as he did and thus encounter the same people and anything akin to the same language.’

‘So while you and Hatshulosk are colonizing this new world, I will slowly make my way through a selection of non-Herbaht partners, never having any children, no one to care for me, no one to guard me.’ Mitsiocaler was fast going off the idea. The alternative of staying and dying didn’t really appeal much either, but she was fast considering the idea of trying to form some sort of Herbaht resistance with the survivors from as many cities as possible. To go out in a blaze of glory rather than sitting around on some distant planet alone and unwanted.

‘It won’t be like that,’ her sister explained. ‘Firstly, we’ll take some of the immortal elixir with us so that your chosen partner will be just that for as long as you desire. Secondly, I managed to get ahold of five phials of a slightly different type of drug.’

‘Tell me.’ Mitsiocaler felt as if she wasn’t going to be all that impressed.

‘Well, you remember how Susioleh was fascinated by how D.N.A. and R.N.A. strands of various creatures worked, including those of us and the throwbacks.’

‘I remember she had some weird hobbies,’ Mitsiocaler replied.

‘Well, something she played with was trying to actually reprogram the D.N.A. of some of her subjects and, well, turn them into something else.’

‘Where are you going with this?’ Mitsiocaler commented.

‘A few of the throwbacks she experimented on actually became compatible with Herbaht. They didn’t grow tails or anything like that, but the physiognomy of the subjects changed markedly.’

‘So?’ Mitsiocaler sat back and folded her arms. She felt she knew where her sister was going with this, but she wanted it to be spelled out for her.

‘It’s possible it might work on the human creatures we encounter.’ 

 ‘Not sure I like the idea,’ Mitsiocaler replied, ‘but I suppose it’s better than nothing, and it’ll be good to have something to fall back on. Tell me, did she tell you how the new D.N.A. affected the host? Assuming it works?’ She idly scratched one of her legs with an extended claw.

‘She didn’t say,’ Mitsioni explained. ‘She never had any human subjects to experiment on. It’s quite likely that the drug will just kill the host. She did mention, though, that if it works on humans it’ll take about seven years for the D.N.A. to be fully altered to its new configuration.’

Slowly the conversation turned away from their future to their past and together they discussed things as they were a thousand, two thousand, even seven thousand years ago. They talked about their reactions when they found out they had been chosen to become Goddesses. Mitsioni discussed the many things she had done with Hatshulosk since he had become a good friend, though she denied they had had any children together yet. The small talk continued late into the evening, and then it was bed time.

Mitsiocaler had to spend that night in one of the servant’s beds because the master bedroom was her sister’s, but she didn’t mind too much. She hated to think what the throwbacks might have done to her own bed by now, and the idea of returning through the gateway for the chance of the good night’s sleep simply wasn’t a possibility. Besides, what if her sister decided to leave with Hatshulosk during her absence? The space craft was only a two-seater, after all; Mitsiocaler was effectively just in the way. It was thoughts like this that kept her awake half the night; she barely dared to close her eyes in case her sister should decide to sneak off.

It was early when Mitsiocaler reentered the stateroom the following day. Her sister was already up, though, staring at the riots in the city. In particular, she had her eye on one of her death squads, who were busy attacking the various gangs. She didn’t turn around in the chair when Mitsiocaler entered the room; she simply said, ‘My children are fighting with them; I hope they survive.’

‘When do we leave?’ Mitsiocaler asked drowsily. There was nothing left for her on this planet, and though the idea of finding a native mate repulsed her, she would simply have to cross that bridge when she came to it.

‘We should probably leave today,’ Mitsioni replied. ‘I’ll contact Hatshulosk quickly and let him know you’re coming, and then we can leave for the launch site.’

‘Sounds good,’ Mitsiocaler commented. ‘Are you packed?’ There were a lot of things she’d have liked to take from her own Temple, but there was no way she was going to risk going back now.

‘We don’t have room. The craft has enough food for two, which we’ll now need to share between the three of us. It’s a two-month journey, and without access to boosters, we will need to find some prey as soon as we arrive before the effects of the elixir wear off totally.’ As she spoke, Mitsioni made her way to the gateway. As the last words left her lips, she tuned the gateway in to Hatshulosk’s Temple.

 The sight was the last thing she had wanted to see: she counted no less than seven of the throwbacks in his main stateroom. They were destroying the furniture and setting small fires. Hatshulosk himself was dead, lying on his back across a gold inlaid marble table that Mitsioni had admired so much. His clothes had been ripped from his body and his tail cut off, currently being worn as a headband by one of the throwbacks.

Then one of the throwbacks caught a sight of her looking at them and approached quickly. Mitsioni, a tear in her eye, quickly turned off the gateway. ‘I guess it will be just two of us after all,’ she whispered.

‘Can you fly the thing?’ Mitsiocaler asked. She gulped in sorrow for her sister and couldn’t look her squarely in the face.

‘I’m not really sure we have the luxury of finding out,’ Mitsioni responded. ‘Oh, he showed me the basics and then told me the target planet is already programmed into its trajectory so we’ll find the place all right.’

‘Then I guess we’d better get what we need and go,’ Mitsiocaler suggested.

‘There are a couple of power pistols over there; get them and their energy packs. They won’t last us long, but they’ll give us a start. I’ll get the phials and the elixir, and then we should go,’ Mitsioni replied, tears flowing properly now.

Mitsiocaler fetched the weapons and rejoined her sister in front of the gateway. 

Before she tuned the gateway to the launch pad for the space craft, Mitsioni turned to face her sister once more. ‘Hatshulosk and I had made an agreement. Because there would only be the two of us eating human meat, we were sure that our children might think us strange, might even shun us. Now we both need native mates, and once they are injected with the elixir, they too will need regular doses of that same chemical. But that would still only be four. Things could get awkward for us there.’

‘So what do you suggest?’ her sister asked.

‘The plan was that we would teach our offspring that they all needed the human meat in order to survive. That way we wouldn’t be alone, we wouldn’t be shunned, and what’s more, we might even be able to teach our children to hunt and gather the food for us,’ Mitsioni replied.

‘I can see the reasoning behind it,’ Mitsiocaler responded, ‘and though I dislike the idea of lying to my children, I don’t see any real alternative. But that’s all in the future, and maybe we’ll come up with a solution in time. In the meantime, we probably should get going before the mobs either find us or locate the spacecraft.’

Mitsioni nodded her agreement, and in less than an hour the two were entering a low orbit and preparing to switch the onboard controls over to the autopilot so that it could take them to Earth.

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