**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
The Starport’s commuter coach deposited her at a stop in portion of the Star City called ‘The Hills’, very close to Raven’s estate. Just as Chase promised the mansion was within a few dozen meters of the seventh stop.
She reached the front steps and approached the entrance. She knocked, and then stood nervously waiting for someone to respond. The exterior of the estate reminded her of a medieval castle. It was an authentic looking replica of late medieval European architecture covered with moss and ivy. Its dark eeriness intimidated her as much as the understanding of the wealth and power of anyone who could have afforded the construction expenses of such an imposing edifice. She wondered who this artist was, but even more she was curious to know why he wanted to see her.
Chase did not prepare her for anything like this. She was having multiple conflicting sensations of dread and eagerness. It confused and frustrated her. He could have warned her that Raven was wealthy and powerful. Otherwise the Colonial Authority would have never allowed him to take so much valuable space to build such a home for the occupancy of one person.
Her knock must have been ignored or it went unheard. She looked around. Nowhere was there a button for a door chime or intercom. However, there was a rope dangling nearby. She tugged on it, hearing the faint tingling of a bell mounted somewhere on the inside of door. Then, she stepped back continuing to study the detail work, the weathering of the stones of which it was apparently built. It had to have cost a fortune. Why would anyone go to such an elaborate extreme?
The stones were fabricated like so much of the world around it but looked as real as the pictures she had seen in library slides of the estates that once decorated the hilltops in central Europe.
Abruptly, the door unlocked and what appeared to be a middle-aged man opened it and greeted her, startling her a bit.
“Are you Raven?”
The man stood emotionless. “You must be Cristina. The Master is expecting you. He is in his study.” He paused to allow Cristina to step clear of the door swing, then closed and locked the door behind her. “Please, follow me.”
As she navigated the corridor from the foyer, she marveled at the paintings that adorned the walls. “Did he do these?” she asked.
“Some are his. Some are the works of his closest friends,” the servant replied.
“They’re very good.”
“The Master is without peer, except some of his friends rivaled him at times.” He opened the door to the study and announced her arrival. She stepped inside as an older gentleman stood up from his desk. But instead of walking he appeared to float toward her.
“Cristina, finally we meet. I recognize you from your publicity portfolio. I must say the pictures do the reality of you physical presence barely any justice.”
“I was prepared to meet a much older man.”
“You are too kind. I assure you I am as old as Chase has warned you.”
“Then, you are well preserved.”
“I suppose that I am. Please have a seat.” He directed his attention to the servant, “Dom, please bring us snacks and some coffee. I assume you drink coffee.”
“As you wish,” Dom bowed then left the room.
“I have never known anyone who could afford a servant.”
“Dom is a manufactured being.”
“He’s a cyborg?”
“For lacking a better term. Really, he is a DOMLIB. He is rare, a prototype and therefore he is more unique in that not all of his features were included in production models.”
“Why have I never heard of them?”
“They were available on Earth as servants for a few of the privileged in the Twenty-first Century. Their designed purpose was deep space exploration during the early attempts at colonization. They established thresholds in to and out of subspace to shorten travel times. Without their work, colonization efforts would have been delayed.”
“As spacecraft advanced the need for the thresholds diminished, although they are still used for heavy transports.”
“Yes, I figured the schools would still teach those half truths. The same Earth-based Corporation that designed the thresholds and the astralnav device that worked in conjunction with them also developed the technology for organic computers upon which the DOMLIB is based.”
“It was in their economic interest to use one while proliferating the other,” Cristina indicated that she understood the business concept of vertical integration. “Whatever became of the DOMLIBs?”
“There are some here and there. Most dwell on a planet a parsec from here. They began replicating themselves and their population grew. They became rebellious and at one point attacked some of the colonies closest to Earth, threatening the defenses of Earth as well,” Raven said as he floated over to a window and pulled back the heavy drapes letting light into the otherwise dimly lit room. He turned to appraise Cristina’s response, and then realized how foolish he was. She had just come from traveling by railcar between cities and must still be wearing protective lenses over her corneas. “That was a troublesome time to be alive,” he continued. “I think most humans would rather forget about DOMLIBs. That is why almost everything about EthosCorp is absent from the education you received in our schools.”
“You lived on Earth?”
“Yes,” he said without any immediately forthcoming elaboration.
Dom reentered the room to deliver a tray of fresh coffee to the corner of the desk, and then poured a cup of coffee for Cristina, after asking her in fluent Italian what amendments she desired.
Across the room, Raven let the drapes fall back to where they were and hovered near a rocking chair that was close to a simulated hearth fire. “I’m afraid I speak little Italian, but I understand that you speak some other languages.”
“Mi casa es su casa.”
“Gracias,” she thanked him in kind for his hospitality.
“Por lo nada.”
“Besides Spanish, what other languages do you speak?” She asked.
“English, of course. I know a little French, some German and I’m fluent in Russian. In fact, before the end of Dr. Pavlovich’s life I actually talked with him several times.”
“Uri Mikael Pavlovich, the astronomer?”
“The same. He was the most insufferably miserable man I’ve ever known. An arrogant asshole without peer. An ego unlike any other I have ever endured. That is high praise because I have suffered many. But he was also brilliant enough to justify most of his hubris. He refused to speak anything but Russian, although he understood English and at least four other languages that I know of.”
Cristina was still in awe. “That’s why he named this world Pravda.”
“This planet was his truth. It was his discovery and he suffered a lifetime to prove that it existed, that his detection through unorthodox methods was accurate. Now, I suppose his truth has become our truth.”
“You were a young man when you met him?”
“I don’t know about young, I was younger, of course. I was friends with many people from many lands, and so I picked up some words here and there.”
“How long were you on Earth?”
“From the time I was born until the time I left,” Raven replied with vagueness. Then noting her response, he added, “I see that surprises you.”
“It’s just that so few people have ever even been to Earth.”
“I have returned since first departing – of course, not in recent times since the restrictions and the general quarantine. The last time I was there it was quite uninhabitable. It is worse than this godforsaken world once was.”
“When I first came to Pravda, you could still see the poisons swirling the air like a mist or smoke just outside the domes. Even on cloudless days, the poisons were still there, blocking some of the sunlight.”
“I have seen the clouds over the oceans.”
“They are much rarer these times, but unlike The Colonial Authority would have us believe, they are not eliminated. That is why they tell you not to be outside of our wonderful protective domes without breathing filters. Most places on Earth you don’t even have that option. The air is so polluted with noxious gases that a human must wear a pressurized suit and breathe from a tank of compressed air.”
“The domes will be coming down soon.”
“Despite what the engineers are saying about the quality of the air outside, I don’t believe they are going to open the domes within the lifetime of anyone now alive. That is part of their conspiracy of silence,” Raven said. He took up the coffee Dom left for him on his desk and floated toward a wall of bookcases. “Come with me,” he said as he clicked a remote that he retrieved from his robe’s pocket.
One bookcase recessed into the wall and pivoted to one side, revealing a room with impressive electronics that not only controlled the interior environment of the estate but also linked to the outside world as evidenced from the monitors mounted to a wall. It was not a standard world viewer array. “You see, I have access to everything from here. My computers are linked to the Colonial Authority. It is one of the advantages of building here before the city was completed or the dome was finished. I purposely selected this lot. It was close enough to the track so I could tap into the communication systems and the network trunk. Dom took care of everything else.”
“Nothing happens that I do not know about. Mostly, it entertains me, but there are times that it has been of vital use. It is not always easy to understand what is truly going on in this world.”
“You came here very early on, then.”
“I was one of the very first residents of Star City, and so there were many benefits accorded to me that were not offered to others who came later. Also, this and a handful of buildings down closer to the station conform to a much stricter building code. They are sealed environments since the dome was not finished at the time of their construction.”
“You came here directly from Earth.”
“No, no my dear,” Raven shook his head. “Immediately before coming here I lived for many months in an overcrowded colony called Tahlyn, on Titan.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“For all their aspirations to make it into a new Earth, it is still a frozen world and probably will forever be only that.”
“I have heard that Earth was very beautiful.”
“Yes, and honestly in many ways it is still. For humans it is uninhabitable. However, it is an error to say there is no life there. There are many creatures living deep in the oceans. In a few areas there are some species of insects that have adapted to the contaminated environment. Most neglect to cite the contribution of volcanic eruptions in the catastrophic environmental damage. It was a source of considerable academic debate whether without the eruptions we could have pulled back from the brink of the horrendous ecological disaster.”
“I have never heard of it.”
“Obviously, we possess the technology to exist in hostile places. The question becomes at what expense. There was a choice at the time, whether to live under the oceans or expand the Luna research center for colonization and terraform Mars. It was debated for nearly a hundred years. Essentially, it came down to a question of expense. It was always cheaper to develop colonization for the oceans, until the volcanic eruptions figured into the equation. Then, transforming Titan seemed an attractive venture. Besides, the acid in the rains from the volcanic ash and sulfur that the massive eruptions released into the atmosphere, there was no acrylic at the time that was strong enough to be used in domes that might have been used to allow us to remain on the surface of Earth in sufficient numbers to continue the species.” He paused to sip from his coffee.
He cleared his throat, and then continued. “Even here for the first few decades the acid in the rains marred the finish on the domes. In fact, it was one of the selling points for Star City, which was built much later in the initial phase. The dome here is clear, and you can see all the stars.”
“In New Milan it is possible to see the moons but the stars are always obscured. When I was a child, I always believed it was the ambient light from the city at night that prevented seeing the stars.”
“Well, there is that too, but the domes of Haven and New Milan are not transparent at all,” Raven explained. “Once the acid in the rain had diminished to be rarely ever a problem, except for out at sea, the scientists applied acrylic scratch filler that makes the domes appear clear, but really and truly they aren’t. What marvelously clever people the Colonial Authority has working for them,” he said sarcastically. “I am sure that given time our gifted, overachieving scientists can appear to remedy most anything.”
Cristina studied one of the monitors for a few moments. “That’s my home.”
“So it is,” Raven glanced at the same monitor. “Is there anything in New Milan you’d like to see?”
“Not especially,” she turned back.
“It’s possible, any exterior view, and interior views of public buildings.”
“No, that’s okay. So were you part of the original colonization?”
“Me? No,” Raven smiled. “I have never got on too well with scientists, especially the ones here on Pravda.”
“Differing perspectives and also I find them socially inept. They bore me with their bromides about the better life that they will one day find through their acquisition of knowledge.”
“But you have to believe in the future.”
“I believe there is a future, but it will be without mankind as we know it. That is a fundamental difference I have with the scientists. They have an insane but deeply established belief in the ultimate triumph of man’s technology over nature. They are overly confident in their problem solving abilities.”
“But they have solved so many of the problems. The air outside the domes is much cleaner,” she pointed out.
“I am afraid that having seen what I have and lived through what I have endured I cannot share their optimism. They have infected you as well as many others, though. From my experience, faith in man’s abilities often proves to be false hope at best. Mankind will inevitably fail, becoming another extinct species whether by our own hand or through the vengeance of nature.”