If the riddle of existence had an answer, would humans understand it?
World powers compete to control the genetics of intellect, and a man’s DNA holds a key piece of the puzzle. When research suggests how to harness brain evolution, a hunt ensues for a missing link―one that allows to design humans with skills that prodigies of old would have envied.
The reader is thrown into the thick of unfolding events as the world’s last monarchy crumbles and a baby is torn from its mother and forced into hiding. For the next twenty years he will grow up unaware of the pivotal role he shall play in the global pursuit for the unique traits he possesses.
Germline engineering and biological enhancement have become routine, and ancient doubts have emerged under new guises: Who are we? Is there a purpose to life? Why is there so much suffering? When faith and science fail to answer these questions, personal greed and national interest quickly fill the void. But gene selection is expensive, and many are excluded from its benefits. The stage is set for tribalism and social discontent on a scale without precedent, and those caught in the fray, whether by choice or by chance, must play roles not always to their liking in the struggle of all creatures against the arbitrariness of existence.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.76(d)|
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And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
— Exodus 2:3
The arrival of dawn brought no hope, nor did it herald any manner of reprieve. It merely bathed the desert sands in the deceptively soft, pinkish hue that had once led a Mycenaean poet to coin the world's first cliché. Beyond the vast windowpane, terraced gardens and a long fountain framed by flowerbeds stretched away towards a grove of palm trees. Behind it, the minarets of a mosque peeked over the palace walls, while in the distance a few lights dotted those portions of the valley that remained in the grip of twilight. The only movement on the grounds below was the sluggish gait of a gardener preparing for his daily chores. The scene, sleepy and restful, belied a world already falling to pieces over the horizon.
The town had so far managed to remain one of the rare corners of the world where palaces were still used as residences. But every institution that falls into disuse must perforce have one last instance, and this happened to be the place and time when monarchy, after centuries of decline, would finally become extinct.
It would not be without bloodshed.
A woman in her mid-twenties stood motionless in front of the window, holding a sleeping infant in her arms. Her eyes were lost in the distance, her stare desolate; her features haggard, sad, exquisite. The morning light poured into the room and through her nightgown, outlining a figure that would have aroused envy in women, desire in men, and disbelief in anyone who had ever given birth. She held the baby in a gentle, desperate embrace, as if she had found the child lifeless in its crib.
A soft knock came on the doorframe behind her.
Slowly, as if emerging from a trance, Anwaar turned around to face the maidservant she had summoned. "What news?" she asked.
"The eastern defenses have fallen," said the girl, barely a year younger than her mistress.
Strong, polished and resourceful — one of the few women in the realm with both a college education and full combat training — Nadia Karahan was the daughter of a Turkish woman who had served in the royal household and died young. She had lived in the royal family's shadow for longer than she could remember and had served the princess since the age of sixteen, first in Anwaar's retinue and then in her security detail, before becoming the newborn's nanny, a task undertaken of her own accord and with evident pleasure.
Anwaar once more let her gaze drift out the window. "So soon," she whispered. "They will be here before evening. And the King? Any chance of a truce?"
"None," said Nadia. "As Prince Nessim always says?I mean used to — oh, I'm so sorry ..." She brought a hand to her brow and flushed deeply.
Her mistress ignored the gaffe and remained deep in thought, making up her mind. It hardly mattered whether her father-in-law capitulated or stubbornly fought to the death — that much had been clear since the war had begun. She turned back towards the girl, this time with fierce determination. "I have lost my husband," she said, "but I have no intention of losing my son."
"Of course not, but surely they wouldn't?"
"Yes they would!" snapped Anwaar. "It's him they are after, don't you see? They will kill him, or worse, unless we prevent it. Unless you help me ..." Here she stopped, studying the young woman who stood deferentially before her, scrutinizing her expression, her lips, the blinking of her eyes, trying to find even the slightest hint of disloyalty, fully certain that she wouldn't. She had known girl from childhood, and now that Anwaar's fairy-tale life had turned to dust Nadia was the closest thing she had to a friend.
"Your highness, I would give my life to protect him! You know that I can never bear children. To me he is like?"
Anwaar raised a hand in an instinctive gesture to stop the sentence from ending. For an instant she looked hurt, her eyes stinging with jealous tears held back by the will to appear dignified. Nadia was her son's only hope. Smart and handsome, she spoke fluent English and held a dual nationality, a critical asset in times of war: where others would be stopped, a Turkish passport would slip through. Anwaar's mind was made up. She placed a hand under the infant's head and carefully lowered him into the maid's arms. Stepping back deliberately, her fists clenched tightly and something snapped deep inside her like a broken spring. Still, she held firm.
"Listen, Nadia, listen carefully. Have you checked the bank account that I opened online in your name?" The girl nodded once. "My wages were deposited punctually as you said."
"Yes, I wouldn't count on that after today. Anyway, it is domiciled so that no one can link it to me or to the royal purse. No one can touch it but you; no one but me knows that it even exists. Do you understand?" The young woman's eyes began to register fear. "Now," Anwaar continued, "I have made a deposit of a few million, in British currency. It's all I could gather, so you must make it last."
Nadia had heard the word million uttered often enough around the palace, but never in connection with her personal finances. She swallowed hard as she tried to grasp what was happening. "A man called Jafar will pick you up in twenty minutes by the west entrance. You have seen him before and will recognize his face. He is trustworthy and owes me a favor — the life of his father, no less. He believes you had a child out of wedlock and will escort you to the northern border, posing as your husband. Once across you will fly alone to London."
She moved to a nearby desk and picked up a data chip, which she handed to Nadia. "I pulled some strings to obtain a birth record: you have officially given birth to a son and no one will question you. Neither Jafar nor anyone must be told that the child you carry is mine. Get up — get up!" Anwaar commanded, her voice rising from whisper to bark upon seeing Nadia fall to her knees, eyes wide with fright, her head shaking in helpless denial. At her mistress' insistence she rose, using only the strength in her legs to stand up, so as not to disturb the precious burden she carried. "When things settle down," said Anwaar, "I will join you. In the meantime, you must stay in England with my cousin Dhuka — you remember Dhuka, yes? She has been forewarned of your arrival. A young woman and her child, I told her; a friend of mine in exile. You must act the part and let them treat you as a guest."
"But," the maid entreated, "why don't we all leave?"
"You know why."
She did indeed. Anwaar was traceable. She bore an identity beacon just like everyone in the royal family, newborns excepted. If she had it removed, it would emit a warning. Besides, no princess could remain anonymous for long. But if Anwaar stayed behind, everyone would assume mother and child to be together. She must have them believe that, for his sake. Nadia knew that arguing was pointless, but still she tried, out of fear and out of the vanishing hope that an overlooked option might present itself.
"What if things don't settle down?" she protested. "What if they — if you are ...?" She dared not complete the thought, but Anwaar was a step ahead, having worried about little else for days.
"If I am killed, you are to leave Dhuka's house and disappear — bring up the child as your own and never return here." Another person might have added please, but learning to entreat hadn't been part of Anwaar's upbringing. Instead, her eyes lost focus as she looked through Nadia into empty space. "I swear they will never capture me alive," she said defiantly. The young woman began objecting again but was cut short. "Leave now. Go!"
Trembling, Nadia back-stepped, hesitated and finally retreated. Anwaar made sure that she had left, walked across the room and quietly locked the door. Only then did she allow her mind to dissolve. Collapsing onto her bed, she dug her fingernails into the covers and, in one final act of sanity, managed to bury her face in a pillow as the first scream erupted from her lungs.
* * *
Not far from the main palace a young girl cowered against the wall of a mess hall. Shelling rocked the building to its foundation and a cloud of dust spewed out of a crack where the wall met the ceiling, coating the table and benches below with fine powder. The windows at the far end of the room lay in pieces on the floor. Still the structure held, and that explosion proved to be the last. Cautiously, Fatima removed the fingers she had been using to stop her ears, which rang with the high-pitched tinnitus familiar to veterans returning from the front. It seemed to come from inside her head and made her dizzy. Though she knew not how long it might last, she realized that her eardrums were intact, for she distinctly heard cries coming from a nearby courtyard. The wailing came not only from the women, but from men too. At thirteen she didn't understand the complexities of civil war, but if grown men were crying in terror it could only mean that the world was coming to an end.
She looked about her. Huddled nearby was Hamidah, the portly soft-spoken woman who was her surrogate mother. Further along the wall crouched two security guards from the royal staff, guns drawn. She knew them both well. The youngest she secretly admired: strong and dashing, his stern bearing concealed a generous heart and a witty sense of humor, which had often drawn a laugh — and a blush — from her. More than once she had felt a pang of jealousy when she caught him flirting with Nadia. The other guard she thoroughly disliked. An older woman would have recognized the sleazy, lewd stereotype, but Fatima merely knew that she didn't like the way he looked at her when no one was watching.
Like Nadia before her, Fatima had begun her training early under state tutelage. But while Nadia had been the upshot of happenstance, her clone was the product of choice, a decision by the royal family to beget themselves another Nadia. The two were sisters in name only. Hamidah had borne only Fatima — and this out of duty, although a maternal bond inevitably developed, which hadn't been discouraged. Nadia was the template and role model, but like other children born and bred for state purposes, she and Fatima had been raised apart. If her life had been austere and her childhood short, her lot was still meant to have been better than that of the average child in the kingdom.
But it was not to be. Fidgeting nervously, her fingers came into contact with the bracelet on her left wrist, a lovely bangle of sapphires and diamonds inlaid in platinum given to her by princess Anwaar. Nadia had chosen it, Fatima knew, because Nadia could naturally tell what the girl would like. It was little things like that, more than their shared features, which made them alike. A thought lit up in her mind.
"Maybe Nadia will come," she whispered to Hamidah. "She will protect us."
The woman shook her head sadly. "She's gone. No, not dead," she clarified when Fatima's jaw dropped, "just Gone — left this morning."
It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that is exactly what Fatima had been given. Her heart grew cold. For Nadia to forsake them — or the royal family — was beyond imagining. Hamidah must have misunderstood. Of course, people everywhere had been running away for days, but that was a cowardly act, one that Nadia couldn't possibly ... or could she?
Doubt began to fester in Fatima's mind as the yelling outside moved away from her vicinity and towards another part of the complex. Bursts of gunfire were heard, muffled by the concrete walls. The guards' bet had paid off as the building in which they hid was overlooked for the more attractive target of the central palace block. This meant they could sneak out through the back door of the compound. At a signal from the men, Hamidah stood up. She took Fatima by the hand and they all advanced towards the door that led to the kitchen. They scurried past ovens and counters, careful to avoid banging against any surface that might give them away. The older guard peeked out at the rear court: the coast was clear, so they made a dash for it. It was only thirty meters to the edge of the enclosure; they nearly made it.
The outer gate was closed, and although it took a mere five seconds to push back the bolt and slide the heavy door open, that was long enough for them to be spotted. The first to go down was the younger man, who held the rear. A burst of bullets hit the pavement a few feet to his right and traced an arc up into the gate, which rang out loudly with the impacts. Too late he turned to face their aggressors, and the rounds cut clean through his chest. Fatima, looking back, saw him fall without a sound before being nearly dragged off her feet by Hamidah's tug on her arm. Fatima couldn't believe how fast the plump woman could run.
The only exit route lay across the street, where two alleyways branched off, lined with storefronts and small buildings that might offer shelter. As they reached the far sidewalk the sound of sharp pelting reached her ears and Fatima saw a row of holes appear in the wall in front of her, showering plaster on the sidewalk. She kept running and began rounding the corner behind which the guard had disappeared. Then Hamidah's hand went limp in hers. Fatima stopped to look at the woman, who took a couple of inertial steps in the direction she'd been following, teetered for an instant, and crashed face-first onto the pavement. Her nose broke from the fall but she did not complain. Her eyes kept staring at the ground as a trickle of blood oozed from her half-open mouth.
"No! Nooooooooo!" Fatima shook her head vigorously, as if to dispel the stark reality she was witnessing. She stood there until an arm thrown around her waist lifted her into the air and carried her away from the spot.
"Let go! Put me down!" she yelled, to no avail.
They reached the front door of a private residence, unlocked and empty, obviously abandoned in a hurry. The guard dropped the girl and pulled her in behind him. "Now shut up," he said curtly, "or they will come and kill us."
Fatima quieted down, too overcome by shock to put up further protest. He led the way to the living quarters, which had a partial view of the administrative compound from which they had escaped, and of the palace walls further off. Entering what appeared to be the master bedroom he picked a chair and placed it in a spot safely away from the window but close enough to allow peering out while seated. He motioned Fatima to a nearby settee and pondered their situation. Those who had shot his colleague and Hamidah were unlikely to give pursuit for the time being. But the raid on the city raged unabated. An explosion sounded in the distance and smoke rose over the palace. That's it, he thought: there's no one left to defend. The man wasn't particularly bright, and the implications of this insight took a while to seep through his mind. By and by his eyes came to rest upon the uniform he wore and he sprang to his feet with renewed alarm. To be caught dressed like that meant certain death. Civilian clothes, he thought, there had to be clothes somewhere. "Stay here," he barked, and dashed into the dressing room to rummage through the owner's wardrobe. The first doors held women's dresses; he cursed aloud but was luckier on the second try.
Fatima sat with her knees curled up to her chin, shivering in the warm air, the realization dawning on her that she was friendless, homeless, and alone in an empty house with the person she distrusted most in the world. Why hadn't he been shot instead of Hamidah? And why had Nadia abandoned them all? Stunned beyond the point of tears, her eyes slowly took on the wild stare that betrays an imploding psyche.
The guard held out a shirt before him. The fit would be close enough. He then fetched a pair of trousers. Their owner had been overweight but it was nothing a belt wouldn't fix. Besides, he didn't want to appear too well dressed, for humble attire was held to be a virtue among the revolutionaries. He stripped to his underwear and held the trousers low, preparing to put his right leg in. That was the moment Fatima chose to bolt. She was able to tiptoe as far as the bedroom door without making a sound, but the bright daylight that poured through the window cast a shadow of her shape in his line of sight. He was upon her in an instant, pushing her brusquely back into the room. She tottered and tripped against the edge of the bed to fall heavily on the mattress.
"Do you want to die?" he demanded, eyes ablaze.
Fatima looked at him spitefully. "I don't care," she said, and tried to scurry away again. This time he grabbed her with both arms and hurled her back onto the bed, climbing on her and pinning her wrists to the cushions. "Are you out of your mind!?" he cried.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cognition"
Copyright © 2019 Jacques St-Malo.
Excerpted by permission of Ballista Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Sentience
Part Two: Attitude
Part Three: Will
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Charles Remington for Readers' Favorite Cognition is a high-powered political thriller centered around the concept of DNA manipulation, or germline engineering as it is also known - the ability to edit the DNA strands of an embryo to remove any undesirable traits and to improve or add the more desirable attributes such as looks, build, health and intelligence. Author Jacques St-Malo uses a broad sweep, employing a number of canvases to present his chronicle. These range from the US and Chinese presidential offices, along with their respective secret services, to Middle East terrorist organizations, companies involved in the business of germline engineering and some of the innocent individuals caught up in the increasingly violent struggle for control of the industry. Among the various scenarios, three characters hold prominence and carry the story along, adding a touch of humanity and perspective to a highly technical concept. Ethan is a boy smuggled out of his country during a bloody coup who is hunted because of his lineage; Valerie Taylor is the daughter of a billionaire tycoon involved in the germline engineering industry; Connor Dashaw is a normal Joe from the rough end of Chicago who becomes embroiled in the resulting political upheavals. Their stories weave an intricate thread through the narrative adding thrills, intrigue, excitement and a touch of romance to the storyline. Cognition is a masterly tale which uses the emerging science of germline engineering as its base, examining the possible repercussions and outcomes. The narrative displays Jacques St-Malo’s skill as an author and the depth of his knowledge on the subject he has chosen. The characters are well drawn, solid and believable, the locations beautifully described and the technicalities clearly explained. The storyline, although weighted with technical points and observations at times, manages to move along at a brisk pace. Cognition is an impressive piece of work. I do not hesitate to recommend it either as a thriller or to anyone wanting to look more deeply into the implications of this fascinating, but worrying, technology.
This story is amazing. I was completely engrossed in the story from the beginning and had difficulty putting this down. Thought-provoking is nearly an understatement. This is mind-blowing. I love this book. I cannot wait to see what else this guy has to write! I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (02/19) In “Cognition” by Jacques St-Malo, the exciting intrigue unfolds not too far into the future. It all begins, in the middle east, when the infant son of a deceased crown prince is sent into hiding with a trusted servant. The child’s mother sends him away to save him, because their kingdom, which is the last of its kind, is about to fall. The child and the servant are unaware of the secrets that surround his conception, but there are others who know the truth and are either opposed to his existence or will search for him so that they can access the key that he holds in his genes, for world dominance. Science plays a huge role in this suspenseful thriller. During this time the wealthy elite can conceive through in vitro fertilization, and for an extra price, they pay for germline manipulation. This is a process in which genes are deliberately modified. This creates huge ethical concerns because not only is this procedure done to remove potential genetic health disorders, but it is also used for aesthetic purposes such as determining skin color, height and eye color. It results in artificial chromosomes being implanted into human beings. In addition to ethical considerations, there are also concerns that illnesses can be created specifically to destroy people who match certain genetic criteria. Individuals created with this process make up less than two percent of the population, however, there are people who feel that these “extrasomatics,” are given unfair advantages limited to only those families that can afford it. In “Cognition,” a whole political party was created to try to defeat extrasomatics. Unfortunately, for the protagonist, he is not only targeted by this group, but also by different factions that are literally out for his blood. “Cognition” immediately captured my attention and I found myself unable to put this novel down. The characters are well developed and intriguing. I was impressed with the author’s ability to write in a manner that allows the story to flow effortlessly, despite the complexity of the plotline. His vivid descriptions bring the scenes to life. In my mind, I was able to clearly see everything as it was happening. The blend of politics, science, ethics and romance, creates the perfect thriller. This is not the novel for a reader who wants something light, rather it is the perfect novel for someone who is looking for a suspenseful thriller that is also unnervingly realistic. I highly recommend “Cognition” by Jacques St-Malo for that reader.