Chapter 1

"You're supposed to eat your sprouts, Robert." Mum scolded, peering over the top of her mobile. "Not use them for ten-pin bowling. And pick up those one's you dropped on the carpet. Now." With that order given, she promptly went back to texting her co-worker, Trish, about her doings at a hen night on Friday.

Ten year old Robert made a face. He was seated at the family dining table on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, which is the last place he wanted to be. Robert had decided to liven up another dull meal, by sculpting little bowling pins out of his mashed potatoes.

Robert ignored his mum, like he usually did. Carefully holding the end of the knife handle in one hand, he positioned two of his fingers behind the tip of the blade. Then, hauled back and flicked them hard. The knife slammed one of the spouts with the flat of his dinner knife. It slowly rolled along the short distance of the dinner plate, flattening the 'pins'.

"Yes!" He shouted, pumping a fist in the air.

"Quiet!" Admonished Robert's dad, without bothering to un-rivet his eyes from the late afternoon news on the portable television sitting on a nearby sideboard.

"Yeah. Shut up, rug rat. I'm trying to kill people here." Robert's teen aged older brother said. His voice was punctuated by the tinny electronic gunshots and screams of the hand held game he was playing, in between forkfuls of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

"No. You shut up, fart-brain." Robert retorted.

"OK. That's quite enough." His dad said, reluctantly tearing himself away from the weather report to frown at his two sons. "Now be quiet, both of you. The sports results are coming on. I can't hear myself think."

"Since when do you do that?" Tad Mumbled under his breath.

"Tad's dissing Daaaad!" Robert rhymed in a gleeful sing-song.

"Dissing?" Tad leaned over the table and glared at his little brother. "Who even says that, anymore? That's so nineties."

"Well, I'm not the one still stuck on Gangster Auto Theft II, when all my friends are playing Gangster V." Robert teased.

"Well maybe if Dad hadn't lost his job, I could get the latest game." Tad whinged.

"I told you dear," His mum intervened calmly, as her fingers deftly texted along another bit of gossip, "get a part-time job, and I'll buy it for you. You can pay me back out of your wages."

"Why should I be the one to work? I don't wanna' be stuck collecting shopping trolleys or washing dishes. I won't have time to hang with my mates, anymore." Tad continued whinging. "Why can't dad get another job? All he does is sit there in the pub all day, with his pints and his laptop, uploading his CV."

Interrupting herself mid-text, Tad's mum replied, "Yes, he does. And he also pays the bills. For the food you're eating, the clothes you're wearing and the roof over our heads. Although...there seem to be more unopened one's than usual. You have been paying the mortgage, haven't you, John?"

"Oh great. We're gonna' be sleeping rough and eating out of bins, soon." Tad remarked sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

Robert had nothing to say. He was preoccupied, trying to see if he could shove a Brussels sprout up his nose.

"That's ENOUGH!" Their father screamed, throwing his serviette to the carpet in anger. "I've bloody well had all I can stand from the lot of you. I'm sick of your moaning. And I'm going to do something about it! Right now!"

Launching himself out of his chair, John stormed out of the room. However, before he could cross over the threshold leading from the dining room to the lounge, he stopped in mid-stride. Likewise, all those at the dining table were frozen in place.

Out of nowhere a man appeared. His body hovered over the scene like a ghost.

The man was humanoid in appearance, tall and slender, with gray toned skin. His head was balding, with sparse, dark hair. His blue eyes were bright with intelligence. His lips were thin, and his nose consisted of two small slits. The man was dressed in a flashy red sparkling jumpsuit. He wore a fringed black satiny scarf around his neck and a wide black belt cinched about his waist. His image was slightly transparent, because he was appearing as a hologram inside the family's dining room.

"Greetings, comrades!" He bowed with a flourish. "Lahkrow, here with you again. We'll be back with tonight's episode of 'They're Only Human' in just a moment. We hoped you've been enjoying watching the antics of the Brown family. But now it's time to vote! So get out your tabutrons! We'll un-pause the humans as soon as the voting has ended and we've verified the results with an official representative from the Office of the Aegis. So stay tuned, fellow Mataran's!"

The scene shifted to to two words, which suddenly appeared in bold letters. At the top of the screen, on either side of it were the words: 'LIFE' and 'DEATH'. Below the words were sets of ever-changing numbers. The humans remained frozen in place as slowly, the numbers under 'death', began to increase.

The scene shifted once again to the man in the flashy red jumpsuit. "If you like what you've seen this week, we'll keep the Browns alive, and use your suggestions to see what will happen to them next. If you are bored with the action on your vid-screens, then we'll have a brand new set of humans to amuse you on our next programme."

The man dramatically brought his hand up to his forehead. "Ah! The Aegis' official is communicating to me the voting results!" He smiled, bowed formally. "Farewell, comrades. Enjoy the rest of the programme, and I will see you soon. He blew his unseen audience a big kiss and waved. "As the bovyboys say on the wild plains of Tarlan, garbotchko!"

The man blinked out of existence, and the Brown family began where it left off. John Brown strode off into the lounge.

"What's wrong with dad?" Robert asked, picking butter and sprout out of one nostril.

"He's just upset at not being able to find a job right off." His mum sighed. "With his experience, your father thought he'd find work within a few weeks. Didn't think it would be a six months gone. Neither did I, come to that."

"What's he gonna' do? Send us all to the naughty chair?" Tad smirked.

His mum opened her mouth to say something. Instead, she covered it with her hand, a shocked, frightened look on her face. It took a few seconds for her lips to form any words.

"Oh my God! John! What are you doing? No, you can'tó"

He scream was cut short by a loud pop. Followed by two more pops, in quick succession. Then, a few moments later, as a thin trail of gun smoke wafted through the dining room, there was a final pop.

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