BEFORE OUR STORY BEGINS...

Children of Time is out in paperback tomorrow and to celebrate, I’m going to take you on a journey from the world of tomorrow all the way to the distant, broken future where most of the book takes place: six slices of frozen time to bridge that gap. From a police interview room to a frozen world, from a derelict space station to the depths of interstellar space, these are the building blocks that make up the backstory.

Here's the first -- and you can read the rest at my blog, right here. For an exclusive extract of the finished novel, just click the cover.

* * * *

For Love of Humanity

“So, four years, you worked there.” Detective Mekkino Andersfal shook his head. “I get the impression this wasn’t just your way of saying you were owed a raise.”

Njall Toren stared straight ahead, no eye contact. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stated.

“They treat you badly, Njall?” Mekkino pressed, pacing behind the man. His partner, Ubbi, sat across the metal table from Toren, one eye closed, the other – the glass one – looking like it was peering into the man’s soul. As it might well be. They’d cautioned Toren about the recording, but how was he to know, really, when the recorder was inside a man’s skull?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Njall repeated.

Mekkino stopped behind the man’s chair and checked his tablet. Ubbi’s implant was keeping tabs on heart-rate, pupil dilation, microexpressions. A whole lot of tech to tell Mekkino what he knew already.

“All the cameras, the door locks, all the electronics at the auditorium, they went sky high, of course,” he said, pacing again. He liked to be expansive when he had a suspect bang to rights. “But you were a clever little terrorist, so you made sure you covered your tracks, changed the records so that it looked like you were never anywhere near. But maybe you weren’t so clever, because our tech boys found where you meddled. They say you covering your tracks left your fingerprints all over the system.” Obediently, Ubbi fed the latest forensics summary over, but Mekkino was on a roll and didn’t need it.

“I don’t know-“ Njall started, and the detective grabbed his chair and hauled it back, leaving the man bent over backwards, staring upside-down into Mekkino’s face.  And, of course police department chairs weren’t supposed to tilt like that, but an hour with a toolbox and a little ingenuity worked wonders.

“You know how many people were in there when your little toy went off, Njall?” he yelled into the prisoner’s face. “Of course you do! Four hundred and seven delegates, the best and the brightest, science ministers from across Europe, two Nobel Prize winners, not to mention three whole departments-worth of Reykjavik’s academic finest. They’ll be scraping IQ points off the walls for months.”

Ubbi coughed flatly, a sign that Mekkino was getting carried away. Ubbi did not hold with theatrics.

“Four hundred and seven people, and the whole world up in arms,” Mekkino spat, and slammed the chair forwards fast enough that Njall’s forehead bounced off the table.

“Not people,” the prisoner spat.

Ubbi’s organic eye opened, met Mekkino’s gaze, then closed again.

“Would you care to elaborate on that?”

Njall twisted round in the chair, pulling his restraints taut against the table. “You’re not one of them,” he got out. A line of blood was trickling down his forehead, which Mekkino was already writing up as ‘self-inflicted’. Ubbi’s headware recordings were malleable things.

“Who aren’t I one of, Njall?” he asked conversationally.

“You’re human, a real person. I can tell,” Njall insisted.

“How kind.”

“Not like him.” Njall bared his teeth at Ubbi’s overlarge glass eye, at the man’s slightly misshapen head where the implant rested beneath the skin.

A signal on the tablet: He must be NUN. We should send for the specialist task force.

Mekkino shook his head slightly. “People are people, Mr Toren.”

“You think that’s what they think?” Njall’s eyes were wide, spit flecking his lips. “Detective, you don’t get it. You know what they were doing in there? You know what I had to stop? They were stealing our future!”

“Right, well, unlucky for you we’re homicide, not theft.”

“Detective, there were people in there who make machines that think like people – but a thousand times faster. There were people who make talking abominations out of animals. There were people who weren’t human any more – they’d given themselves over to the machines. They don’t care about us, about the real humans. They’re making themselves faster, smarter than us. And one day they’ll come for us.”

“Is that right?” The rhetoric was depressingly familiar. Only last month that Thai bioengineer had been shot dead leaving his home, and then there was that singer, the one with the silver skin, who was stabbed… The anti-transhumanists were springing up all over the globe, children of fear and ignorance, fundamentalists, fanatics… except everyone said there were plenty of people in power who were quietly backing them, because when you were already at the top, sometimes you didn’t want the world changing too fast.

“They say they’re building a better future,” Njall was gabbling, “but it’s not for us. It’s not for anything you’d recognise as human. You know – the, the terraformers, the planets they’re working on?”

Mekkino nodded, already trying to word his report.

“You think those worlds are ours? For us to live on? No! That’s for them, for their filthy experiments, for their hybrid abortions, their talking dogs and their computer gods! Ourfuture, our inheritance, and they’re taking it away, detective! They’re taking it away from us! Non Ultra Natura, detective! No more than nature intended!”

“Speaking of taking people away.” Mekkino nodded to Ubbi, who signalled the officers outside. Time to hand Toren over to the Anti-NUN boys.

Njall’s rant stopped dead when the door opened and he looked from Mekkino to Ubbi with real agony in his eyes. “You can’t side with them forever,” he whispered. “They’ll overwrite you, they’ll dispossess your children. You have family, Detective?”

“None of your business.”

“What jobs will there be for them, when there are men like him who can do more?” Njall demanded, and then, just as Mekkino thought he was going off the deep end again, “When the next promotion comes round, why would they give it to you? You’re not a superman with a computer brain. How do you compete, Detective? How do any of us compete?”

The officers dragged him out, though he seemed quiet, now, almost defeated. Mekkino was left with Ubbi, trying to meet his human gaze but unable to avoid staring at his all-seeing glass eye.

***

The next morning the task force arrived, but Njall Toren was gone. Station records showed a transfer, but nothing matched up and the records had been hacked. Someone had come and taken him in the small hours.

“Friends in high places,” Ubbi speculated. “They always said the NUNs had connections, that it wasn’t just a cult of crazies.”

“You think they spirited him off to safety?”

The cyborg detective shrugged lopsidedly. “I think he knew things they didn’t want us finding out. Why, what were you thinking?”

“Maybe it was revenge. Maybe your people got to him first.”

Ubbi went still, looking at his partner with his head slightly tilted. “Would you care,” he said slowly, “to elaborate on that.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean…” But Mekkino’s words stuttered to silence in the face of that artificial gaze, that saw right through him and measured his every thought and fear.