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The Last Years #2

The Successors must be vulnerable in some way or they would not have resorted to their stealth tactics. If they were, indeed, as all-powerful as they pretend, they would just have arrived on our planet quite openly, eliminated all possible competition at all levels, possibly down to the level of bacteria or even beyond, and got on with the business of thriving.
    I feel that their area of greatest vulnerability has to be their astonishing level of over-confidence. The Successors issue orders and demand instant access to information

"The feck's Sally?"
   The writer looked across at the adjacent work station and saw the craggy angles and bulges of the Feck-Monster instead of Sally Lee's more pleasantly rounded form. "She got kidnapped by Jill about five minutes ago," he volunteered.
   "The feck! To do what?"
    "Ms Day didn't think fit to take a creature of my lack of importance into her confidence." Explaining herself to the hacks in the newsroom was well beneath the editor-in-chief's executive assistant, sister-in-law and intermittent mistress.
   "Okay, you're it instead. You're down in the archives with Jackie for the rest of the afternoon."
   "Oh, right." The writer put on a bogus display of pleasure and willingness to oblige. "What about my assignments?"
   "There's nothing that can't wait till tomorrow. Is there?"
   "Hell, no. I'll get on down there right away."
   The Feck-Monster had a mild frown on his face as he stalked away. It was just starting to register at the edge of his consciousness that the writer had been suspiciously eager to spend an afternoon in the hell of the archive.

The Successors issue orders in their lordly fashion and demand instant access to information but do they ever wonder if the information returned is entirely accurate or whether their orders are being followed to the letter?
    Perhaps, in this area of doubt, humanity may find some small fragments of hope. Perhaps, by creatong doubts, we meay even dare to dream of victorys, small and insigifcaitn as they may be.

Two days later, on Friday morning, Pierson Day arrived at Sally Lee's work station as she was about to take her coat off.
   "Keep it on," he ordered. "Your turn for a morning with Jackie."
   Sally tried for her inscrutable expression but failed to set it in place completely. "Can I do my messages first?" she asked.
   "Don't take all day." Grinning to himself, the Feck-Monster moved away to spread more joy in the newsroom.
   The writer arrived at his work station as Sally, still wearing her stylish jacket, was reading the last of a token five messages.
   "Someone feeling cold?" the writer asked.
   "Someone not stopping here because she's about to spend a morning in purgatory. With Jackie?"
   "Oh, right. Do you think that job's ever going to be finished?"
   "I have my doubts," Sally said with a cynical smile.
   "Ah, Sally, I'm going to need your help again this morning." Jill Day, chief executive assistant to the editor-in-chief, arrived in a cloud of expensive scent. If she was wearing it, it had to be expensive. That was a Law of the Universe.
   "I'm just heading down to the archive," Sally told her. "Pierson's orders."
   "No problem. We'll send a substitute. Are you doing anything urgent, Marin?"
   "Everything I do is urgent," the writer replied. "It must be from the way people scream at me if it's late."
   "If anyone has any problems, refer them to me. Come on, Sally."
   Sally Lee smiled an apology at the writer, logged off her work station and followed the fragrant cloud. The writer turned his thoughts to putting his current effort into suspended animation after he had captured outstanding stray ideas.

You Have 1 New Message

Feeling awkward, the writer clicked on the OK button.

Something interesting going on?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer looked across the newsroom. Jeff Boon, the roving sports correspondent, was sitting at his usual work station, making one of his rare visits, and his radar was working at full blast.
    The writer clicked the Reply button and typed: 'Tjhe F#ck sent S@lly to the archive but JD's kidnapped her and sent me instead.'
    It was well known that the newspaper's management had taken the decision to monitor e-messages at an automatic-scan level to look for filth, racialism and other inappropriate forms of communication. Deliberate misspellings and adding symbols to words was a common way of fighting back.
    Happy with his message, the writer clicked the Send button.

You Have 1 New Message

The writer clicked on the OK button again.

If I getr the chance, I'll tell him about your #ffair with J#ckie and JD didn't have to twist your arm to get you to volunteer for #rchive duty.
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!
Tjhe F#ck sent S@lly to the archive but JD's kidnapped her and sent me instead.
M. Petronas
Obliteration to the masses!
Something interesting going on?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer looked in Boon's direction and pulled a face. Non-verbal communication methods across a gap of some 5 yards still had their place in the modern workplace, he felt.

Although it is a golden rule that relationships with work colleagues are not a good idea, given our present circumstances, i.e. hovering on the very brink of extinction, the consequences of a spectacular failure of such a relationship no longer have the sort of significance which they had in happier times.
    If the human race is one step from the plunge into extinction, a few moments of pleasure, and a couple of years of grief if it all goes horribly wrong, are neither here nor there. Perhaps this is the time to live boldly; for the human race will lie for a long, long time, forgotten in the dustbin of history.

On Tuesday of the following week, Friday's pageant was played out again just before people started to disappear for lunch. Pierson Day told Sally Lee that she was on archive duty that afternoon and then headed off to the pub.
    Concentrating on his work, the writer was just starting to think that it would be a good idea to get lost in a hurry when the air was filled with exotic perfume and Jill Day was there, playing musical people again.
    "Some of us have assignments," the writer said as a small act of rebellion.
    "Assignments that only you can do?" The tone of the question contained patience and sweetness in equal measure.
    "As long as I don't get it in the neck for skiving off and no one tells Pierson I've gone."
    "I'll sort Pierson out," Jill Day said, retaining patience and substituting weariness for sweetness.
    "By your command." The writer offered complete surrender as he had no other option.

Some of The Successors have female hosts but they are more difficult to spot. Identifying them is all a matter of degree. Human females tend to be aggressive and positively combative when they are confident of their authority. These qualities also apply to The Successors and they tend to become amplified in their human female hosts.
   It is my belief that while The Successors may not have formal gender divisions along the lines of human male and female, there are fundamentally different types of these new beings and they thrive on a measure of conflict.
   Whether or not this conflict is actual or ritual remains to be discovered. What is clear is that the 'female' types seem to take an inordinate delight in thwarting the business of the 'male' types at every turn. And the vice tends to be versa when the opportunity arises.
   Humanity may have some small hope if this conflict can be pushed to destructive levels but the extinction of the human race within the next three to five years seems more likely.

Jackie Sydenham had started to make the usual remarks about having to 'stop meeting like this' whenever the writer appeared in her realm. For his part, he was finding her company pleasant, and perhaps actually desirable, and the work was becoming less of a chore because he kept coming across interesting snippets in the older issues of local newspapers.
   Sneaking time to read bits and pieces broke up the awfulness of the business of cross-indexing and drawing them to Jackie's attention helped to slow down her relentless working pace. Talking over problems that she was having with her novel was another good way to deflect her from her mission to convert the printed word to electronic form.

You Have 1 New Message

Realizing that he had forgotten to tell the computer system to store his messages until he got back to his usual work station, the writer clicked the OK button, betting that the message was something totally trivial.

Thje F#ck is heading your way. I reckon some rotton s#d has told him about your #ffair with J#ck#e.
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer found something that required the expert's attention. Jackie's ergonomic swivelling chair was parked intimately close to his, and she was laughing at his pretended obtuseness, when the Feck-Monster entered the archive. The writer reacted to the interruption with a definite trace of guilt, seeking to confirm the Feck-Meister's suspicions.
   "I thought Sally was supposed to be working here?" Pierson Day said with a note of censure.
   "Jill had other ideas," the writer told him. "I thought she'd squared it with you?"
   The Feck-Monster grunted, telling the writer that the squaring process had involved just a e-message announcing a fait accompli. "If she tries to pull the same stunt tomorrow, you stay put and tell her to come and see me in person."
   "Right," the writer said with his usual energetic efficiency.
   "Milly on the cleaning staff reckons he has a certain manly charm," Jackie remarked when Pierson Day had stalked back up the stairs to the real world.
   "Milly needs her bloody head examined," the writer decided.
   "Or her eyes," laughed Jackie. "Okay, do you see what this is all about now?"
   "As ever, your explanation was a model of enlightenment."
   "Are you taking the mickey?"
   "The trouble with some women is that they can never accept a statement of fact at face value. They have to dig for some deeper meaning that isn't there."
   "And the trouble with some blokes is they won't take a woman seriously."
   "I can assure you, I view my trips down here with all seriousness," the writer told Jackie with clearly mock seriousness.

Occasionally, we can escape from the surveillance and make our plans in an area which offers temporary security, where the unexpected physical presence of one of The Successors is the only danger. Here, in our last refuge, we can

You Have 1 New Message

The writer clicked on the OK button with a sense of surrendering to his fate.

Tjhe F#ck is heading your way again. Didn't he catch you at it the first time?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

"Hey, have a look at this."
   The writer drew Jackie's attention to an amusing fragment of rural life from the immediate post-World War Two period. They had their heads together and they were laughing when Pierson Day arrived to ask the writer a question of detail which could have been handled better on the phone or by e-message.
   When the Feck-Monster had gone, the writer returned to his work with a feeling that his campaign of misdirection was going quite well, really.

Sally Lee spent two hours in the archive on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. Both times, Pierson Day seemed to be angling for a confrontation when he delivered the assignment. Both times, his namesake, Jill Day, failed to turn up to countermand his orders.
    The writer felt a certain sympathy for his colleague but it was tempered by the knowledge that Sally had to spend only two hours cross-indexing instead of a full morning or afternoon.
   On Friday, the Feck-Monster turned up in the middle of the morning to tell Sally that she would be down in the archive for another two hours after lunch. When Pierson Day had gone, the writer felt his colleague's accusing eyes on him.
   The writer had not been allowed near Jackie since Tuesday but he had happened to leave the building at the same time as her on Thursday and they had lunched together at her suggestion.
   The look that the Feck-Monster had given him after telling Sally her fate and before striding away to bring a little sunshine into someone else's life had suggested to the writer that Pierson Day's spies had been active the day before. Either that, or the Feck had his own, personal link to the building's security cameras.

Just after lunch, the writer became aware of a gathering concentration of Jill Day's exotic and expensive scent. He remained hunched over his keyboard, busily filling his monitor screen with words, but he let his attention span broaden.
   "Sally, I need you again this afternoon," Jill Day announced.
   "I'm supposed to be in the archive." Sally raised a small but easily solvable problem.
    "Oh, I'm sure someone else can fill in for you," Jill Day said with airy confidence.
    "Anyone who wants me to abandon this assignment has to square it with Pierson in person," the writer remarked.
    "Some men think they're the only person on the planet," Jill Day remarked in her most dismissive tone. "Trevor, I need you to fill in for Sally in the archive this afternoon. Be there at two-thirty."
    "But ..." protested Trevor Mercur.
    "But me no buts, be there," Jill Day told him in her most commanding tone.

A natural tendency to deviousness in humanity's Successors is amplified to an alarming degree when they occupy a female host. It is common knowledge that Rule Number One in counter-terrorism operations is kill the women first. I should suggest that this imperative is amplified greatly in the case of The Successors.

The writer remained a stranger to the archive during the early part of the next week but he had lunch with Jackie Sydenham on the Monday and the Wednesday. He spent his Tuesday ten minutes' walk from the Sentinel building, helping out the crime correspondent, the pretentious Trevor Mercur, who was preparing the printed version of the last rites for a local serial killer, who was expected to go down for life plus twenty-five years when the jury at the local crown court stopped freeloading at the taxpayer's expense in a posh hotel.
    On Thursday morning, the writer was surprised to find an e-message from the editor-in-chief among the messages which had accumulated mysteriously overnight. He was instructed to spend the entire day in the archive.
    The writer's first reaction was to suspect a wind-up. After all, an electronic message has no features characteristic of the supposed author; no handwriting, no fingerprints, no nothing. On the other hand, the message was there on the system, with eight others, and he had no reason to doubt its authenticity.
    As a routine precaution, the writer packed all of his messages into a single file and printed them out. That way, if anything electronic disappeared from the system as mysteriously as it had appeared, he had a laser-printed hard copy as proof that it had existed once.
    Except that his proof was nothing of the sort. A laser-printed document has no features characteristic of the supposed author; no handwriting, no fingerprints, no nothing.
    Life is tough all over and largely a matter of judgement, the writer told himself as he headed for the stairs down to Jackie Sydenham's realm.

Spreading disinformation is an obvious tactic to use in the war with our Successors but, like all of the others, it will serve only to postpone the inevitable rather than avert it.
    While we may be able to promote deadly conflict between members of our replacement species, it is beyond the bounds of credibility to suppose that we shall be able to inflict serious damage upon them.
    We are talking about flea bites on an object the size of the Sun rather than an elephant-size creature.

Jeff Boon was off interviewing some sporting hero that day and unavailable to deliver early warnings. Even so, the writer and Jackie were laughing their socks off over some item which she had found in an ancient edition of a long-dead rival to the Sentinel & Advertiser when the Feck-Monster descended to the archive on a spying mission.
    As if overwhelmed by a whole day of his company, Jackie insisted that they needed to have a 'posh lunch' and she invited the writer to a party at her place on Saturday night. The writer accepted her invitation in the certain knowledge that Pierson Day would leap to further wrong conclusions when the news leaked out to him.
    For the first time, he felt that he was striking back at the Feck-Monster. No longer just a target for his random ill-humour, the writer was yanking Pierson Day's crank. And it felt really good.

The human race is doomed. And yet, some of us refuse to accept that doom without a fight.
    Admittedly, the vast majority of our species will step into the cold, bleak night of extinction with no comprehension of what is happening rather than the why of the final act. But not all of us.
    We hopeless heroes know that we shall shed out last drops of blood fruitlessly, but it is in the nature of our species to shed them violently.

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