ALPHA, Bohdi Byles

Lucas?’ Tabby called down the hallway to me as I closed the back door. ‘Hey, babe, come in here for a minute!’

I walked into the lounge room, wiping my dirty hands on a wet cloth. Living on a farm meant mud, dust, and shit was just a part of my reality. I had just got back from laying out fresh hay in the barn. Our pregnant alpacas were ready to give birth at any moment.

What’s up?’

‘Shh, listen,’ she replied, gesturing towards the TV. The news was on.

I shrugged my shoulders at Tabby, not really seeing why this was so important. On the screen, there was a man helping an elderly woman out of bed. The man looked a little strange though. I couldn’t figure out why, but something was just … off.

‘It’s one of those flash new robots that have been getting rolled out by those big tech companies.’

Well, that explained why the man, or thing, looked so odd. Tabby turned up the volume just as some dorky-looking guy with glasses that looked two-inches thick started speaking into a microphone.

‘We at Dalton-Friends have completed our trials for our Friendly Artificial Intelligence and are proud to announce that they are coming to the public in the very near future.’ He looked like he was about to burst with pride. Or ego. ‘Our trials have resulted in decreases in mental disorders, and increases in both productivity as well as overall health.’

Robots helping old people, babies and socially-retarded people by being their friend. That was nice. All the same, I let out a yawn. Science was boring to me. Always had been, even in high school.

Tabby nudged me in the ribs to shut me up again. I looked out the window to the paddock closest to the house. This was where our girls were so we could keep an eye on them. Our chocolate-brown girl, Sheila, was standing by herself near the fence. This was out of character for her, usually she would be in the middle of the rest of the girls. She liked company.

Shit. Look!’ I just pointed out the window. It was going to be our first birth for the year. The sun was setting and we’d be in pitch black, not to mention the freezing temperatures and the winter winds. ‘Grab the pack, quick!’

We scrambled around, getting towels, hot water bottles and torches. The news program continued to buzz around us. Another guy with what seemed like even thicker glasses was now talking. I was too distracted to listen, but I picked up on certain things.

Highly questionable … lack emotional intelligence,’ I heard him say before being drowned out by Tabby yelling for the vet’s number. I called it out, knowing it by heart. The man on the TV continued to drone on. ‘Dangerous path.’

You’re telling me, mate,’ I muttered under my breath before switching the TV off and running for the paddock.


I’ve been thinking,’ Tabby said.

Hmm?’ I hummed in response, closing my eyes again. It was early afternoon the next day and we were still in bed. Sheila had kick-started some chain reaction because by the time the sun began to break on the horizon we had five healthy babies and five healthy mamas. Fred had come in early this morning and said he would keep an eye on things while we caught up on some sleep. It had been shit cold and my hands were numb. I’d told Tabby to come inside but she refused to listen, saying we were a team. 

‘Look, I know we’ve talked about it before, but you know those friendly robot things? I think we should get one.’ Tabby rolled over in bed to face me, pulling the blankets around her. ‘It’s only us two on the farm. I mean, Fred helps you with building fences and stuff, but other than him, we’re by ourselves. If we got one, it could help me with cleaning and cooking. Spring is coming soon, and we’ll be even more busy with shearing, as well as all the newborns we’re going to be dealing with.’

She made a fair point. I didn’t like that she had to do so much housework. It made me feel like I was pushing her into a typical wife role, and I hated that. It would ease the pressure on her and let her do things she wanted to do, including helping out with the alpacas because I knew she loved being around them as much as I did.

I’ll think about it, okay?’ I kissed her on the forehead.


Two months went by and the weather started warming up. Little flowers were beginning to blossom, trees were growing new leaves, and little shoots of grass were covering our paddocks, making the farm come alive after the cold winter. I was in the paddock with the babies. They were running around, chasing each other, curious about the world.

A delivery truck was parked outside the house by the time I rolled up on the quad bike. Who knew how long they’d been there? It was a miracle that any delivery person would drive out of town that far, let alone drive to our house. That was the guarantee by Dalton-Friends though- they would deliver their robot and set it up too. I couldn’t find Tabby when I walked inside, but there was a man standing by the island in the kitchen.

Hey, mate,’ I said, resting my hat on a chair.

Hello.’ The man turned around and tilted his head. He had the same look that the thing on the news did.

Oh,’ I said. It was our new robot friend. How was I meant to greet a robot? Almost as if he read my mind, he stretched out his hand. I shook it, surprised at how realistic his skin felt. He looked like someone I would’ve met at the local pub, even though there were no local pubs around. It made my skin crawl a little.

I am Alpha.’ His voice also had a weird hybrid human/robot thing about it. He wasn’t human, but it was almost like he wasn’t fully robot either.

Lucas,’ I said, letting go of his hand and unconsciously wiping it on my pants. Tabby walked into the room with a man behind her carrying some papers.

You must be Lucas. I’m Andrew,’ the man said. He nodded at the robot. ‘I see you’ve gotten to meet it already.’

Yeah, I was just about to offer him a drink before thinking he’d probably go a bit haywire.’

Andrew laughed. Alpha also laughed, except his sounded a lot faker, like he was programmed to laugh whenever someone else laughed. ‘They’re meant to be waterproof with cleaning and stuff, but I don’t know.’

Why is that?’ I asked. ‘What abo—’

Look, I just deliver them.’ He picked something out of his teeth and flicked it across the room. ‘It’ll probably tell you in the manual.’

Later on, when he had left and we were finished with everything outside for the day, we came back home to the hearty smell of a roast baking in the oven. Alpha had taken it upon himself to cook dinner for us, and I won’t lie, it tasted pretty damn good. Even better was that we didn’t have to worry about cleaning anything because Alpha had quietly done so while we ate.

The next morning, I woke up and got ready to head out and move the boys into a different paddock for them to have more grass to graze on. Although when I walked through the kitchen, Alpha was standing still and grinning, expecting me. There was a coffee on the bench with a plate of eggs and bacon.

You have to eat before you work,’ Alpha said, gesturing to a chair. ‘Breakfast starts your day off on the right foot.’

I sat down and let Alpha serve the food to me before he returned to the kitchen to pack away the already cleaned frying pan. Oh yeah, I could get used to this.


One coffee. That’s all that was needed to make Alpha go completely batshit insane. One coffee and he lost his mind. One coffee and he destroyed my life.

The morning had started out as many of the others did. Alpha had been with us for nearly a year, and the year had gone easier than any other one we had. Our alpacas were healthy, sales were up, we’d been able to invest in some cattle, and Alpha had made home life a breeze. The only thing that seemed to be going south was my relationship with Tabby.

We had talked about kids in the past, but that was always a future thing. Having Alpha meant that a family could actually become a possibility for us. Or so we thought. No matter how hard we tried though, a baby just would not come. We’d been trying for a couple of months. The only thing that did come was anger and frustration that began manifesting between us.

Tabby had bumped me while I was taking a sip of coffee, and I spilt it all down my front. That’s all it took. It wasn’t even the fact I was covered in burning coffee as much as it was that she hadn’t said anything. She just kept walking.

Are you fucking kidding me?’ I said, making her stop and turn.


What do you mean what? You just bumped me and now I’m covered in burning coffee!’

So?’ she shrugged, throwing me a rag. ‘Clean it up and change your shirt then.’

I can clean it!’ Alpha said as he walked into the room. His voice had that fake emotion in it. It was never real. A robot couldn’t show real emotion. What a fucking joke. ‘I am happy to cle—’

Alpha, shut up!’ I yelled at him. He took a step back and tilted his head at me like he always did. His mouth dropped open in a mock gasp except he didn’t close his mouth. He just looked like a stunned fish.

Don’t take out your shitty mood on him,’ Tabby said. ‘It’s not his fault you’re clumsy. Leave him alone.’

I know it was a stupid thing to do. God, it was the stupidest thing I’d ever done because he was a damn robot, but in that moment of being completely irrational, the concern that Tabby had for Alpha had outweighed the missing concern for me and I snapped.

Every single time something happens around here, it’s my fault. It’s never anyone else’s fault – not his or yours, just mine. Poor, old Lucas being a clumsy motherfucker as usual. I’ve had it, Tabby. I’ve fucking had it.’ The words streamed out of my mouth so fast that I barely even heard them. Tabby went to speak but I cut her off. ‘No, you’re going to listen to me for once. It sucks to feel like I’m second-best next to a robot that doesn’t even feel emotion. It sucks that my damn alpacas pay more attention to me than my own wife does. And it sucks that I’m stuck on this farm with the both of you!’

Tabby was stunned into silence. It was like I’d hit her with a pole. With tears welling up in her eyes, she turned and walked out of the room.

The guilt hit me immediately, brewing with my anger. It was a dangerous mix, only worsened by the surrounding silence in the room. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My face tingled as it flushed red.

I can help you clean that up,’ Alpha said quietly, his face returning to the fake-shock, mouth open wide again. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

I said shut the fuck up!’ I launched my mug at him and it shattered against his face, covering him with coffee.

Warning: system malfunction. Immediate reboot initiated.’ The voice boomed from Alpha but his face didn’t move. It was an automated voice.

Whatever.’ Breathing heavily, I made to leave from the room, but Alpha grabbed me by the arm and launched me across the room. I crashed into a bookshelf, the wood breaking from the impact.

I glanced up as Tabby ran back into the room. She looked at me, eyes bulging. She was trying to figure out how I had ended up smashing myself into a bookcase when Alpha grabbed her by the neck. He looked seriously angry; not that fake robot trying to pretend it had emotion. I stood up too fast and, feeling dizzy, I lost my footing and fell back to one knee.

Alpha!’ Tabby spluttered, spit spraying out of her mouth. I could see the veins in her neck pulsating, her skin tinging red from the blood rushing to her head. Her breath was a strained whistle as she struggled to get oxygen. Her arms flailed around, her hands clawing at Alpha’s, trying to wrench him off. I was scared her head would literally pop off from her shoulders.

I said I would clean it!’ Alpha screamed and launched Tabby into the kitchen. Her head banged against the edge of the counter and I heard the crunch of her skull. She fell to the floor and didn’t move.

Adrenaline raced through my veins. I jumped up and ran for Alpha, tackling him into the wall. A sharp pain jolted down my arm as my shoulder slammed into his abdomen and then into whatever metal framing was underneath the skin. I leaned back, and Alpha was glaring at me. I could’ve sworn his eyes had turned red. He reached for me before his eyes went blank. His arms fell limply to his sides and his head nodded, eyes closing. He emitted a faint hum.

I crawled over to her on one arm. Blood was pooling around her head and her chest wasn’t moving. I lifted her head gently and rested it against my thigh. Warm blood began to seep through my pants, but I didn’t care. I breathed hard and fast, squeezing my eyes shut. Hot tears streamed down my face. I kissed her on the head and rocked her back and forth. I couldn’t think straight, and my head was spinning.

I sat in silence for hours. It wasn’t until the sun had started setting that I moved. The babies had been bleating since midday. They needed to eat otherwise they would die too. I left Tabby and drove to the paddock, my body aching. Once the babies were fed and locked up in their shed—which took a lot longer than it usually did; they didn’t trust me because I was covered in crusty, dried-up blood—I headed back.

It was dark as I rolled up to the house. The lights shone through the window, but I hadn’t switched them on when I left. I jumped out of the truck and ran to the door, wincing as I tried to ignore the pain. I got to the kitchen, but there was nothing there. No Tabby. No blood. The bookshelf was still broken but nothing was on the floor.

Tabby?’ I yelled out. My heart was thumping again, and my adrenaline picked up. I ran from room to room, slamming doors open. ‘Baby, where are you!’

Suddenly, I could hear water running in the laundry. I flung the door open but stopped dead in my tracks.

Alpha was folding Tabby’s bloodstained clothes as he turned around. ‘Hello Lucas.’ 


Download a PDF copy of ALPHA.

Intro to House-Ape Studies, Lachlan Marnoch

The spring sun was warm and the breeze carried a staccato orchestra of bird-sounds. Ardi and Selam were strolling to their lesson. The trees lining the path—host to a flock of foraging bush-parrots—oozed a delicious, fresh-leaved scent. Ardi reached over with her trunk and tore off a strip of bark. She chewed it slowly, relishing the sharp flavour.

Ardi and Selam lumbered towards the Lithium Building, joining the stream of mrithi. The stream thickened into a river, and filled the air with the mixed grumble of a student body. Mrithi from across the world thronged about them chatting, holding trunks, chewing stim-beans and charging to class, their heavy gait muffled by the springy turf. Further down by the lake, a female offered herself to a bull, who reared up behind on broad pillar-like legs to accept her offer.

‘Where are we going? Isn’t it in Lithium?’ Selam asked.

Ardi waved her trunk to signal ‘no’, replying:

‘Oestrus is scrambling your brain. The lecture’s in Argon.’

‘You didn’t tell me that,’ Seram moaned. ‘I never would’ve signed up.’

‘You got the same timetable I did. Not my fault you didn’t read it.’

‘I don’t have time to read.’

‘You’re a student.’

‘Exactly! Oh my god, look at those tusks,’ Selam gasped. A huge bull, with two overgrown prongs of ivory jutting past his trunk, was sauntering towards them. Selam lengthened her gait and raised her head.

Ardi gave her trunk an irritated flick. This was shaping up to be Selam’s third bull in four days. Okay, so if Ardi was in oestrus she’d be the one flirting outrageously. But still.

Selam caught the bull’s eye as he passed, letting out a low call:


He responded with a rumble that even Ardi had to admit was pretty sexy:


Ardi could smell the testosterone rolling off him. He was in musth, alright. She sighed. Selam would never be able to focus now.

‘Come on, Selam. We are not going to be late for our first lecture.’

Ardi dragged Selam away, the latter rolling her eyes. The two of them were panting and flapping their ears by the time they reached the Argon building. An adjustable arm, with a small screen on the end, extended from each lectern. Ardi lowered hers to her eye, then pulled a triangular slate from her tusk-bag and set it on the lectern. Bumps and ridges bulged from the computer’s matte surface. The four fingers at the end of her trunk danced over them, and the protrusions withdrew and moved about in response. The lumpy marks at the edge of the slate formed the characters of the Phakathi alphabet, while the middle became smooth space for her to fill.

The room was filling up. Several of the students were mothers, each with a child clinging to her tail, tusk or trunk. One of them looked like a newborn, a week old at most, her four little legs working double-time to keep up with her mother’s stride. Ardi waved. The infant flared her ears and gave a shrill trumpet.

‘Adorable,’ gushed Selam, earning a thankful trunk-curl from his mother.

‘I really hope I have a daughter first,’ Selam whispered to Ardi.

Ardi shifted her feet. ‘I don’t mind either way.’

‘I should have guessed, you egalitarian. You want your kids to be smart though.’

‘Bulls can be smart.’

Selam snorted through her trunk. Just as she did, the teacher—clearly a male—climbed onto the podium. He was just Ardi’s type as well—short tail, round buttocks. Ardi pointed him out.

‘He must be smart enough.’

Selam looked up from her slate, ‘Oh, great. This is going to stink.’

Ardi was perfectly ready for the next round of fiery debate—even if she knew Selam was just tugging her tail—but as she opened her mouth the teacher raised his trunk for silence. This materialised just a bit more slowly than it probably should have. Male scientists were becoming more common (despite the best efforts of certain old-hat female scholars Ardi could name) but even so, he was unusually young—the grey skin on his forehead was smooth, and his tusks were short.

‘He’s so sexy,’ Ardi whispered to Selam.

‘What?’ Selam said. ‘Gross. He’s tiny. I’ll take a big beefy Ubude any day.’

Ardi smiled. Two could tug at tails. Tiny was a bit of an exaggeration—he looked about Ardi’s mass.

‘Welcome to Intro to House-Ape Studies.’

He had an odd accent, a continental mix with hints of his islander roots.

‘Scholar Ples couldn’t be here today. I’m Toumaï, her under-scholar, and I’ll fill in for now. Um… I’m going to jump right in.’

He tapped at the slate on his lectern. The eye-screens switched on to an image of a half-buried fossil skeleton, its empty eyes staring at the camera.

‘House-apes are an extinct species of bipedal primate. They disappeared during the last mass extinction, about ten million years ago.’ Toumaï raised and lowered his front legs in turn as he spoke.

‘75% of all animal species on the planet went missing at around that time—including all other apes. So, why do we care? What makes the house-ape so special?’

The next slide was an ancient tool, probably for digging.

‘In short, because they were like us. The house-apes were the only technological civilisation we know of besides our own. They had buildings, tools, complex language.’

He was actually kind of engaging once he got into it. Shisayo seemed to be his second language, but he was quite comfortable with it.

‘The house-apes evolved in Phakathi, alongside our own ancestors. Like us, they migrated outwards, displaced or interbred with their close relatives, and emerged as the dominant species.’

Now a world map; a circular projection of familiar landmasses with the South Pole at the centre. Green lines, overlaid like a continental skeleton, represented the mrithi exodus over the last hundred thousand years. Ardi had seen this map many times in her mrithi evolution class, but the red dots, declared by the legend to mark house-ape fossil sites, were a new feature. There were a lot of them.

‘House-ape bones are the single most common fossil on the planet. We’ve found them on every major landmass, including Ithiphu, which was completely icebound in their time. I was going to bring a skull with me to pass around, but I guess my bull-brain forgot.’

His voice, although not as deep as a larger bull, had an agreeable timbre to it.

‘The house-apes probably numbered higher than a billion, and the estimates go up to ten billion. They left a lasting impact on the planet—we’re still digging up their bronze and ceramics. Plastic micrograins, once assumed to be a natural mineral, are probably the degraded remains of their industrial products.’

His slide changed to something that looked like a four-legged copper spider. Alongside it was a crumbling vehicle, standing on a grey desert under a black sky.

‘Very recently—and you probably heard about this in transmission—one of our probes found their machines on the Moon! The Moon artefacts are the best-preserved in existence, and have already told us a lot more about the apes. We estimate they weighed about a hundredth what we do, making space exploration much more viable. The wheeled apparatus in that image seems to have accommodations for the animals themselves, which indicates that they travelled to the Moon in person—a step further than we’ve managed.’

Another slide-change, this time to a dig. Dozens of house-ape skeletons lay in neat rows. A scholar was posed next to one, pointing at one of the skulls with her trunk-fingers.

‘Many of the best house-ape sites are arranged like this, suggesting they buried their dead—perhaps ritually.’

Ardi suppressed a shudder. She’d been to her old Matriarch’s wake, her great-grandmother. They had taken her body to her favourite spot in the mountains, covered it with leaves, and left it to decompose naturally. Ardi wasn’t sure how they did it in the city, but burial sounded awful.

‘Not only did this preserve an exceptional number of them as fossils, it also hints at empathy and transmitted culture.’

‘Who caaaaaareees,’ Selam whispered.

‘Can you not?’ Ardi hissed back.

An infrasonic rumble, among the constant background of quiet vibrations from outside, carried Selam’s name through the floor. The voice sounded suspiciously like the bull Selam had made a pass at. She shifted on her feet and gazed towards the exit. Ardi clenched her trunk sternly.

‘Don’t you dare. I’m not lending you my notes again.’

Selam pouted.


‘…despite the similarities, they must also have been very different to us. Their dentition suggests they were omnivorous. They were probably apex predators—there are fossils of our precursor species, the largest land animal on the planet at the time, with marks from their weapons. Their garbage sites are associated with vast, vast numbers of animal bones—along with several species that show signs of rapid evolution by artificial selection. This means that not only did house-apes eat meat, but they bred animals specifically for that purpose, the same way we breed ungulates for hair and wool.’

As he talked, Ardi noticed that his bottom lip curled upwards in a way that was very cute.

‘As for why they disappeared, the sixth mass extinction remains a mystery in many ways. Some argue that climate was to blame—others suggest random cosmic misfortune, as befell the great-reptiles. But we still don’t know. I have my own thoughts on it all, but they’re outside the syllabus, and I don’t think Scholar Ples wants me to plant my rogue scientific notions in you.’
Ardi chuckled.




‘Finally!’ Selam gasped, a little too loudly, making straight for the exit. When she noticed Ardi wasn’t next to her, she turned back.

‘You coming?’

Ardi nodded her trunk towards Toumaï.

‘I’m going to talk to him.’

Selam touched her chin in a gesture of perplexed distaste.

‘Seriously? He’s a scientist! You might as well date a female.’

Ardi gave a dismissive wave.

‘Go find your bull, Selam.’

Ardi’s friend threw her trunk in the air and left.

‘That was fascinating!’ Ardi said, approaching Toumaï while he packed up. The wrinkly skin around his eyes crumpled.

‘Thank you! It was my first lecture.’

‘I’ve never seen a house-ape fossil up close, I was really looking forward to that,’ she lied. Her Matriarch owned a house-ape femur, Ardi’s favourite toy as a calf. She had broken it chasing her brother Daka around. The two of them, panicked, had buried the shards, not realising this might have been exactly what the bone’s original owner would have wanted.

‘I’m sure Scholar Ples will bring one in,’ she caught his eye, and he paused.

‘Or I could show it to you now! I don’t have any plans in the very immediate future.’

‘Really? I’d love that.’

There was a new couple by the lakeside as Ardi and Toumaï ambled back along the path. Ardi curled her trunk, amused—the pleased moans were Selam’s.

‘That was quick.’

‘Sorry?’ asked Toumaï.

‘Oh, nothing. Are house-apes your field?’ Ardi asked.

He tipped his trunk in the affirmative. ‘And you? Are you studying palaeontology?’

She indicated ‘no.’

‘It’s an interest subject. I’m studying genetics.’

‘Excellent. My father wishes he studied genetics, but things were different then.’

He’d said something odd, and it took her a few moments to put her trunk on it. ‘Wishes? Do you still know him?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, a little sheepish. ‘He raised me, together with my mother.’


He winced. She tried to back up, mortified.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean offence. I’m from the country, things are more conventional there. At least, that’s my excuse.’

He curled his trunk. ‘Don’t worry. What was your home like?’

‘Full nuclear family—matriarch, mother, aunts, older sisters, cousins. There were so many kids. I loved them all, but it was super crowded. I couldn’t wait to get out on my own.’

Ardi smacked herself on the forehead. She’d forgotten to transmit home last week. Mother wouldn’t be too fussed, she understood how busy it got, but Matriarch was always anxious to hear from her. Matriarch prided herself on keeping close tabs on the whole family, even arranging regular transmit-talks with those on other continents. Well, the females, anyway. Ardi was the only one who kept in touch with Daka, and her male cousins may as well have gone to live on the Moon.

They arrived at Toumaï’s workspace in the Carbon Building, a small cubicle among many—barely room for the two of them. Ardi took the opportunity to press casually against his side; his round belly was slimmer than her past mates. She liked it.

‘This is where they keep the male scholars!’ he joked, but most of those in the surrounding cubicles really were bulls. He rummaged through a box, his trunk emerging with a petrified house-ape skull. The mandible was fixed to the cranium with a wire hinge, forming a complete head. She took it from his trunk-tip. It felt more like stone than bone.

‘She might have been a palaeontologist, like you. Digging up great-reptiles,’ she said.

‘I’ve had the same thought. But actually, this is a male.’

He slipped the tip of his trunk, which had a mischievous crook to it, through the skull’s base. He made the jaw wave up and down with his fingers.

‘What’s your opinion on the deposition rate of limestone?’ the skull addressed her in a mock professorial tone.

Ardi gave a brief trumpet of laughter.

‘No rock talk, Mister House-Ape. I want to know more about you.’

‘Ask away.’

‘What happened to you? What caused the mass extinction?’

‘We did.’

Ardi’s eyes opened wide in surprise.

‘Do you really think so?’ she asked Toumaï, forgetting to address the fossil-puppet.

Toumaï passed the skull back, trunk uncurled.

‘Yes. I think the house-apes did more than die out.’

Ardi looked at him closely. His tusks were as pale as the Moon.

‘Tell me about it.’

‘Really? I’m sure it’s not terribly interesting.’

She tipped her trunk, now with the stone skull at the end. ‘It’s interesting to you.’

His trunk coiled with gratitude.

‘House-ape civilisation existed for an instant. In the fossil record, it’s not there, then it is, then it isn’t. About ten thousand years, out of the four billion this planet has been here. It might have been less, but we honestly can’t resolve a smaller timescale in the fossil record. One second they were a few packs in Phakathi. The next, there were billions of them. And then zero. At the same time, three-quarters of all living species went extinct. It would be an extraordinary coincidence if those events were unrelated.’

He paused, and Ardi gestured interest by splaying her trunk-fingers.

‘Like I said in the lecture, house-apes must have had a profound impact on the environment. The sheer extent of their garbage sites demonstrates how wasteful they could be. And as predators, they clearly weren’t averse to killing other animals. Plus, it seems like the arrival of a technological species will disrupt any ecosystem—we certainly have, wherever we’ve travelled, if perhaps not as deeply as house-apes. Just their existence, their behaviour, I think, was enough to endanger the biosphere. And in such large numbers, it never stood a chance.’

‘If they caused the extinctions, how did they die out themselves?’

He lifted his trunk. ‘Plague? Famine? Sterilisation? You would think at least some of them would have survived. But that’s an even deeper mystery.’

‘They could go to the Moon, but they couldn’t avoid destroying themselves or the planet?’

Toumaï gave another trunk-shrug. It was a habit she found annoying in general, but for some obscure reason, it was endearing in him. ‘Who are we to judge? We’re probably doing the exact same thing. Maybe to a lesser degree. Maybe not. We could be headed for the same fate, whatever that is.’

This was a troubling thought.

‘Don’t forget,’ he added, ‘if they didn’t disappear, we never would have evolved the way we did.’

Ardi made two rings with her fingers, gesturing thoughtfulness.

‘What if they didn’t die out? What if they left?’

He looked at her curiously.

She shrugged her trunk. ‘They travelled in space. Maybe they decided to stop the damage they were doing.’

‘Hmm. Could be.’

The thoughtful look on his face was enough to win her over. She put the skull down and twined her trunk with his. He started, then relaxed and gave a gentle squeeze back.

‘You can tell me more over lunch,’ Ardi said.

Download a copy of Intro to House-Ape Studies