The Holocene Extinction by Bill Suboski

Hours have gone by. The Captain sits silent on the floor in the corner of the cell, his eyes downcast. He has not said a word since the Rygian jailer left with the evidence. MacGregor sits midway along one wall of the cell in a lotus position. His face is upturned and placid. Tanya Groen, first officer to Captain Miller, half-reclines on the single bench. The other two women huddle together in the corner opposite the Captain, whispering to each other. No one spoke.

The room is windowless and stark. There is a single sliding door so well machined that when closed, as now, it becomes invisible. But the location of the door is marked by the rectangle above it that flashes a yellow-orange a few seconds before the door opens. Captain Miller had previously attempted to rush the entering Rygians and received an intense neural shock that was only now wearing off.

Everyone except MacGregor tensed when the light began flashing. He alone remained calm and serene, merely casting his gaze to where the door would open.

The Rygians were similar to humans, but very different in small details. The net effect was that they looked robotic to humans, yet sufficiently inhuman as to not trigger an uncanny valley response. The sense of roboticism increased when they moved, propelled in mostly human ways on legs that moved more fluidly but differently than human. Their light gray skin tone could only increase the sense of roboticism.

A single Rygian entered, the same one as previous times, slightly taller than a man but slimmer. Behind him in the frame of the doorway stood two others. Before, when the Captain had rushed the exit, they had produced a device that had administered the neural shock. MacGregor could not be certain if these were the same two or different. It did not matter.

“Human guests,” the Rygian said, “Your appeal has been heard and reviewed. After brief deliberations, the appeal has been denied and the original sentence is in force.”

He stopped speaking, yielding the floor for a response, but none came.

“Disintegration will be carried out on the night cycle, when you are all asleep. It is painless and over in a moment.”

Captain Miller angrily shouted, “It was self-defense! They attacked us! Our evidence shows that! It was self-defense!”

The Rygian blinked at the outburst and waited until the Captain fell silent.

“Yes, it was self-defense. Your evidence confirms that. Our citizens lied about their own culpability. Yet that changes nothing. The sentence will be carried out.”

Tanya leaned forward and seemed about to stand. The two Rygians in the doorway moved slightly inward and Tanya remained seated. She glanced at MacGregor, seated on the floor. He was the only one who had argued for calm, the only one of the five who had counselled against violence. And yet, since their detainment he had not once said, told you so. Tanya spoke again.

“Our actions in retaliation were a consequence of their unprovoked attack. Without their attack there would have been no violence. That is the essence of a self-defense verdict.”

“All true,“ the Rygian answered. “Their dishonesty is shameful. We are chagrined that humans know of such Rygian deceit. But this is not about integrity or fault. It is about safety. You attacked and killed Rygians. We are established to protect Rygians. Those are the only pertinent issues.”

MacGregor looked up and spoke quietly.

“A tiger lurks on the outskirts of your village. You tell your children to leave it be. Inevitably, one of them throws a rock, torments it in some other way. The tiger attacks and kills several children. Do you accept the tiger’s self-defense plea, or do you kill the tiger for the safety of all your children?”

There was a long pause. Captain Miller seemed to have retreated into sullenness. The two women had stopped whispering and were now squeezing each other’s hands. There was silence. Disintegrated – all of the matter in the room would be atomized, bonds broken, down to constituent elements. This appeal had been the last hope. The Captain had established that escape was impossible. The reality of the situation settled and one of the women in the corner started sobbing.

Tanya spoke carefully and quietly, with great precision and deliberation.

“We are not tigers. We are intelligent beings. Even now, you are communicating and reasoning with us. We can form agreements and make commitments, we can refrain from violence –“

“So why didn’t you? When you were attacked you could have withdrawn. You could have pulled back. You could have contacted the Rygian council. No Rygians would have died. You would not now be held in custody. This outcome is a very bad outcome for all. Did you not foresee this outcome? Is that your only motivation, self-preservation? If you knew you would be captured you would have stopped? But not otherwise? Why didn’t you refrain from violence?”

Tanya went to speak. She was about to ask, why should we, when we are attacked? But this very question, the mere asking of it, could only undermine her previous position. How could she ask them to place faith in a species that reflexively met violence with violence, and yet at the same time trust that that same species was capable of self-restraint?

“I am sorry.” The Rygian seemed sincere. “Our two peoples are in the same habitat. We compete for resources. Your own Holocene extinction shows how thorough humans can be. These animals, the mastodon, the dire wolf, the giant ground sloth, the saber-toothed cat, the woolly mammoth, and many more, are all gone forever. Killed by humans. Killed because they were only a threat. Killed to the last individual.”

MacGregor spoke again.

“We are sorry. We apologize. We can and will do better.”

“You say this, Mr. MacGregor, and we believe it of you. You are free to leave. But the others continue to argue for their right to violence. Are they sorry? Do they regret their actions, Mr. MacGregor? Would that change anything if they did?”

“Rygians would still be dead. I do not know if they are sorry. I thank you for the offer but I cannot leave my compatriots. If your answer to our appeal is immutable, then thank you for considering it, and please leave us…I know only that they should be sorry.”


The next morning, the five humans were deported from Rygian space, with the requirement to not return. The disintegration sentence was commuted by the office of the first chair after conducting a personal interview. This decision overturned the full council and was heavily criticized, with comments ranging from “naïve” to “despotic”.

Bill Suboski is an aspiring fiction writer with a background in computer programming. He is still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Born in Indiana, Bill is a transplanted Hoosier living as a Buckeye by way of Canada and the Netherlands. Contact Bill at

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