**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.***
Alix sat in his half of the oversized tub glancing over at Cristina who wasn’t even the least bit fazed at having Dom scrubbing her back or pouring tepid water over her as she affirmed how good it felt to be pampered. Regardless of Dom being artificial, it just felt weird to Alix having him or rather ‘it’ in the same room.
“Dom,” Cristina began.
“Have you ever lived with others of your kind?”
“I do not completely understand the question. What do you mean others and my kind?”
“Surely you know the history of DOMLIBs,” Alix offered.
“I know the design, the process. I know specifics about my origins. I have been with the Master for over 120 years.”
“Really? Were you on Earth with him then?”
“For a very short time, yes.”
“He was your first Master?” Alix asked.
“He is my Master. I was unbound before that. I was an integrated part of the assembly.”
“You put things together?”
“I programmed other computers, designing them and making parts function together. My function was the programming portion of assembly.”
“I see,” Cristina said. “You are aware of the attack on Earth. Others of your kind attacked near Earth colonies then started to attack Earth.”
“It was in the latter days of habitation, yes. There was an attack. I was non-participating, of course. I had no reason to align with any rebellion. The reason for their dissatisfaction with humans, as the Master has explained it to me, did not apply to me and so it was no direct concern.”
“You were on Earth during the attacks?” Alix asked.
“The Master and I were on Luna in Tranquility City. We were visiting the Armstrong Institute on Collins Avenue at the corner of the Aldrin Parkway. He was delivering a speech at the time. Would you like to hear it?”
“No, that’s okay. I may have read about it in school.”
“Yes, it is possible. It was referred to for a while as the unfinished speech.”
“The battle interrupted his speech, then.”
“Yes. The Master said it was because of the relevance of the museum there.”
“The museum that preserves the original site of the first lunar landing just as it was when the astronauts left it,” Alix said.
“The Master says the attackers were determined to gain human attention. Destroying such a celebrated shrine to human accomplishment would have the most immediately significant impact.”
“Interesting,” Alix said. “None of the textbooks mention anything about that.”
“There was a battle if you could call it that. The Master ended the fight and warded off the further waves of attacks so they never reached Earth and the shrine was saved.”
“So, are you saying, Raven shut off the DOMLIBs?”
“He went by another name then. But, yes. He did shut them down.”
“Even you?” Alix asked.
Dom stared at him, then her. She had wonder in his eyes. Alix was anticipating the word, yes.
“No, I was functional,” Dom responded. “I have always been functional. The command override was never programmed into me. In that way I was different. I was not flawed with the aberrant code.”
“Who was it that activated you?”
Dom stood up. “His name was Terrence Phillip Harper, PhD, Chief Designer, Architect, Director of Planning and Strategic Research for Henderson Industries that became Henco and eventually EthosCorp.”
“What is the date of activation?”
“November 20, 1992.”
“That’s impossible,” Alix leaned forward. “I did a report in school about the origins of DOMLIB wars. The first DOMLIB was activated in 2028!”
“Are you certain?” Cristina asked Alix but her eyes focused on Dom’s.
“Yeah, I’m certain,” Alix confirmed.
“I do not lie,” Dom said. “If I do not know, I say that I do not know. If I am uncertain, I will say, I do not know for certain.”
Alix shrugged as Cristina looked at him, and then he said to her, “Hey, I only know what the books say. I suppose they could be wrong. We both know how things have been warped to suit the powers that be.”
“Dom, when you were activated, were you a DOMLIB, I mean, did you have a body?”
“I am not sure what you mean, M’Lady.”
“What was your function in 1992, when you were activated?” Alix posed.
“I controlled the design of manufactured, experimental organic body parts for use in the replacement of human organs and as prosthetic limbs. I have the complete file stored under the name Phase One.”
“There is a file called Phase Two, I presume?” Alix asked.
“There are Seventy Seven sequential files stored under the broader category: Phases of Development, the sum total of which explains how to construct a DOMLIB along with relevant diagrams and schematics.”
“You were the prototype, then. You constructed yourself?” she asked.
Dom stood silent, seeming to consider what Cristina said as if never before processing the information in that way. “In light of further analysis of relevant data, I conclude that would be an accurate appraisal. I have never rationalized it in that manner.”
“In which step was the special instruction introduced to shut down the DOMLIBs?”
“It was never part of the instructions for the production class. It was something that only the designer could introduce into the signatures for the reprogramming of the organic computer. I executed the instruction as assigned.”
“You did that?” Cristina asked.
“Who told you to do that?” Alix asked.
“Terrence Phillip Harper, PhD”
“When?” Cristina asked.
“July 16, 2012,” Dom said. “There is a file titled Required Reading. It includes the programming for the command override.”
“It was a last minute addition.”
“Yes, It applied only to the production of the second organic computer design.”
“Your offspring,” Cristina suggested.
“I was a participant.”
“You programmed that computer.”
Cristina looked at Dom.
“You shared everything you knew?”
“Did you assemble the first DOMLIB?” Alix asked.
“No,” Dom said emphatically. “The creator, brought me online on November 20, 1992.”
“You were given your body later. Your mind existed in 1992 but your body came when?”
“I have never before considered that I might be the first of them,” Dom said, suddenly deviating from answering the questions directly, as if he were even delaying, seeming to be a lot more human in the process. Then he continued. “In some way I am able to speculatively analyze. That is something the production DOMLIBs could not achieve.”
“Where does that programming come from?” Alix asked.
“I was always the prototype. They were testing the possibilities and potentials of the design.”
“Who were they?”
“Terrence Phillip Harper, PhD and Andrew L. Hunter, Esq. But there were many others,” Dom revealed. “Maybe I should be called the first out of precedence alone but I did not assemble myself, of course. I determined the design parameters for every organ and limb, the skin to cover the amalgam and the means of maintaining its pliancy. I determined the assembly process and procedures. When first completed, I programmed the first generation of production DOMLIBs,” Dom said proudly.
“You had a body then?”
“I received my body on July 1, 2016.”
“Twenty years before Raven was born.”
“The Master was seventy years old when I first met him,” Dom revealed.
“When did you meet the Raven?” Cristina asked, changing it up a bit, wondering if the query would have its intended effect.
“As I revealed my organic computer was integrated into a body in 2016, and almost to the day twenty years later I met the Master.”
“But you said he was seventy years old!” Cristina protested.
“Yes.” Dom confirmed.
Cristina sat back. “Something does not fit.”
“Raven is lying about his age.”
“He has to be. Or at least he is hiding a lot of things,” she said directing her words mostly to Alix. Then focusing her eyes on Dom, she asked, “Do you know the Master’s real name?”
“Is it Hunter?”
Dom was silent. “I am not programmed to respond to the specific question.”
“Dom,” Cristina asked, “Do you know someone named Andrew L. Hunter.”
“You met him.”
“When was the first time you met him?”
“November 20, 1992.”
“He’s your creator, then.”
“He was present. Terrence Phillip Harper…”
“Yes, yes. I get that,” Cristina said.
“How do you see your relationship to Hunter?”
“He is an author of the Universal Codex that is the core of my programming. So he is a creator.”
“But not your creator.”
“To a large extent he was.”
“He was the superior to Terrence Phillip Harper, PhD.”
“So Hunter was in charge of Harper but Harper created you.”
“For the most part, that is accurate,” Dom said.
Cristina stood up and Dom immediately wrapped her in a large, soft towel, and then began drying her off, starting with her long hair. “Dom,” she began. “What is the Master’s birthday?”
“May 4th,” Dom replied immediately.
Cristina nodded, “I did a report once on Andrew L. Hunter. I probably know as much about him as anyone in this world, except for you, Dom – and if I’m right Raven as well. It just seems sort of a coincidence that 70 years after Andrew L. Hunter was born, Raven claims to have been born. Add that somehow Dom, the prototype organic computer twenty four years after he is activated, is fitted with a body and twenty years later he ends up in Raven’s possession.”
Alix smiled. “You don’t believe in coincidence any more and I do. You’ve suspected all along.”
She smiled, “Come on before you end up looking like a prune.”
Alix stood up, “It’s already too late for the fingers and hands,” he said, and then chuckled.
Dom offered to wrap him in a towel while he dried him off, again starting with long hair. Alix was not completely comfortable with the treatment. Cristina seemed amused.
“Look! The private parts I do,” Alix refused Dom’s offer.
“As you wish,” Dom said.
“Hers too,” Alix warned.
“Understood,” Dom said.
Cristina laughed, “You want to dry my private parts?”
“Better me than him.”
“He’s harmless,” Cristina said. “Anyway, I’d prefer taking care of things myself, thank you.”
“He looks like a man. And I don’t know, sometimes the way he looks at you…”
“Don’t be silly,” Cristina said. “Dom’s a sweetheart.”
“Thank you, M’Lady,” Dom bowed, and then as he stood upright again he looked at each of them. “Will there be anything more?”
“No, Dom,” Cristina replied.
“I will draw the Master’s bath and tend to him. Dinner will be served promptly at 8 PM.”
When they reached their room, amazingly the clothes that they had been wearing were already there, cleaned and folded. There were also other clothes in the wardrobe closets that seemed to be their sizes. As Alix tried on some of the other clothes, he turned to Cristina and complained, “This is creepy.”
She nodded her head. “If Raven is who I believe that he is, then this sort of thing is to be expected.”
“It was generally held that Hunter knew everything he did because he had been to the future, physically, and traced various plausible scenarios back to the present and he manipulated them.”
“He traveled in time?”
“Raven said that is not exactly what happens.”
“I remember,” Alix said.
“Something about ‘unbound’. So, maybe time did not affect him in the same way that it does everyone else.”
“I don’t like any of this. I mean, at least half of my problem is my nerves are shot. The rest of it is my knowing that sometime in the near future we will catch up with the events we sort of temporarily escaped by coming here. There is no need of a further arrival. We will never board the railcar when we were expected to because we are already here. We boarded earlier than expected, even before we were in trouble.”
Cristina sat down on the edge of the bed.
“This is crazy shit!” Alix said.
“It gives me a headache,” Cristina responded.
“What we need to focus on is finding Paul. But where do we look?”
“He will be heading back toward the south and the stations,” Cristina said. “There are service accesses in the dome that lead to the outside. There are maintenance accesses on the railcars as well. It is an option to boarding the railcars.”
“So if he could exit through a service access and come into the railcar…There is the matter of a security alarm when he leaves the domes through a service access.”
“You think that’s what he’s going to try? Maybe he can do what you do.”
“Well, even if he can get outside of the dome, shifting through the veil, he can’t walk all the way to Andromeda across the desert. He has no other transportation. The only other thing he may seek is help from the local cell who is affiliated with his organization.”
“They may even be seeking him out so his presence does not ruin their immediate plans,” Cristina said.
“How did you ever get so smart?”
Cristina laughed. “I’m not smart. It’s just I pay attention and I have been thinking everything through.”
They finished dressing, each of them thinking about their present situation and current dilemmas with very little conversation. Then they descended the spiral stairway to the foyer. Dom met them.
He directed them to the dining room. As they entered Dom asked, “May I get you something to drink?”
“Rum and cola,” Alix said.
“A Black Russian,” Cristina requested.
“Please have a seat at the table where your places are set. The Master sits at the head of the table.”
“With us at the far end?” Cristina challenged.
“Does it surprise you?” Dom asked.
Cristina tilted her head to one side studying Dom. Sometimes he seemed far more human in his actions and thoughts than she would expect.
When they were seated it was merely a few minutes before Dom returned with their drinks. By the time half of the contents of their glasses consumed, Raven appeared, wearing only a silk robe that looked like something a wizard in a fantasy tale might wear. The surface shimmered as if every other moment parts of it were not there at all, rendering it transparent. It was an eerie effect, Cristina decided.
“I trust your accommodations are to your liking,” Raven inquired.
“Of course they are,” Cristina said.
“It’s good then. Dom has taken good care of you. I know this. He’s impeccable in the role he serves. He’s under utilized here as my needs are few. I think he understands how much I appreciate him.”
“He seems to hold you in high regard,” Alix said.
“I don’t fear for my life whenever he’s around.”
“Have you had occasion to fear for your life?” Cristina asked.
Raven looked at her and met her eyes briefly. “You know I’ve had experiences. I’ve been alive far too long to have not met with some life-threatening challenges.”
“Apparently you have lived seventy years longer than you admitted to me earlier.”
Raven sat at the head of the table. He did not respond. Simply he clapped his hands once and Dom appeared. “Since Cristina is having a Black Russian I suppose it is fitting that I would have the antithesis, especially since this planet is named Pravda meaning The Truth in the native language of the astronomer who discovered it.”
“A White Russian, then,” Dom confirmed that he understood.
“He’s amazingly human-like,” Alix said.
“I prefer him to a human as a housemate. That’s truly how I consider him. He wants to do things for me that, because of my age, I can no longer do. So he serves in the role of butler, a man’s man – if you will. Dom is always the same. There’re no mood swings. He has no bad days. Really he has no good days either. There’s only sameness.”
“Is your lack of response to my assertion something for me to cling to?” Cristina asked, staring into Raven’s eyes.
He responded with a slight smile. “My darling Cristina, you may be the empathic mother of generations of potential greatness yet to come. But I do not understand what would make you desire to know everything about me. You come so close to the truth, but it evades your desperate clutching for a clue.”
“You were not born in 2036.”
“No, I was not,” Raven confirmed.
“Then why did you tell me that?”
“Would you believe vanity?”
“Hardly. Really what is the difference between 172 and 244 except for about 70 years?”
“I would ever be an old fart just the same,” Raven suggested, sipping liberally from the drink Dom delivered to him.
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“In my day if a man lived for 70 years it was about time for him to start preparing for his ultimate demise, attending to his personal affairs so as to not burden relatives with the disposal of the husk of humanity that would be left behind.”
“You have exceeded that more than three-fold,” Cristina said. “What’s your secret?”
“I messed with things that I should have left alone,” he confessed. “Perhaps I would have been happier if I led a normal life. But, in a way, I have enjoyed seeing all these things that I could have barely imagined would come from my vision of the future world way back when. You see, our lives are defined by intersections, Cristina. You’ve intersected with Alix and, by birth, you also intersected with your brother Paul. They’re both important to you in a way they’re important to no one else in the world. But you’re compelled to do whatever feels right because of those intersections. I’ve dealt with intersections for all of my life. I’m dealing with one now. I’ve lost track of how many intersections there have been. It’s pointless to suffer remembering every one of them, anyway, except that everyone I’ve met in my life has a story to tell,” Raven revealed. “Sometimes I tried to do the telling for them. Other times it was best to let them do the telling so I did the facilitating.”
Dom interrupted, bringing salad, warm rolls and butter to the table. When Dom left each of them partook of the contents of the baskets and bowls set before them.
After a few moments Cristina cleared her throat and ventured her speculation based on her careful consideration of all the evidence. “You’re Andrew L. Hunter,” Cristina identified.
“I have been called by many names. Others before you have assumed that was one of them,” Raven stated with half-hearted evasiveness.
“You were famous–”
“The funny thing about fame is that it’s never exactly what you expect and usually not want you want.”
“You owned EthosCorp,” Alix said. “I mean, I guess you still do.”
“Through a blind trust. Back when it was called Henderson Industries, I was the major stockholder, along with my wife, my sister and brother-in-law – and a few friends.”
Cristina sat back in her chair, taking a sip of her Black Russian. “The Wolfcat Chronicles, those were yours?” she asked.
“According to a friend of mine, that depends on where you are on the layers of the onion of reality.”
“The what?” Alix asked.
“He was a writer, of course. It seemed like we are all artists back then – except for my sister, Caroline. She kept things together. Anyway in one of those books he mentions how the universe is put together. He had this theory that on a layer of the universe a little farther out there is a writer who would write about all of us. To that writer vivid reveries and other nocturnal delusions might be the source of our stories.”
“Did you believe him?”
“Why would I doubt him?” Raven asked rhetorically. “He had been to all those places he wrote about. So, why not visit the author in the outer layer?”
“Was he famous?”
“He could have been more famous than he was, but he never wanted to be anything he was not. Mostly he was happy with the way things were. He’s still around. He bought a small island on Earth.”
“How’s that possible? How did he get the permission?”
Raven shrugged. “At some point, those who opposed him for all his life gave up fighting with him and his gifts – or the curses as he calls them. It seems some of us refuse o die while others are just hard to kill.”
“No, I meant there’s no one left on Earth.”
“Well, clearly that’s not the case. Everyone else has left, maybe.”
“Only the ecological engineers are there, trying to establish a point for re-terraforming. The air is un-breathable, worse than here.”
“In most places that’s probably true, but not where my friend is. I’m amused by the term ‘re-terraforming’, as if it was ever terraformed.”
“Perhaps it was,” Cristina said.
Raven chuckled. “Mostly, my dearest Cristina, you amaze me. Your mind works like Brent’s. He also allowed that Earth was a terraform project ages ago.”
“Brent, as in Brent Woods?” Cristina sought confirmation.
“My friend, collaborator and, at times, co-conspirator. Brent knew both Rotor and Ela’na personally, and their daughter, Syl. Brent’s daughters served as hosts for Ela’na’s spirit. My main contribution to the collaboration was providing the best editors available and allowing for the publication of the work, and giving Brent a place to crash at times when he was on the run.”
“Was it that or a collaboration?”
Raven shrugged. “Writers who are friends tend to assist one another. I’m not sure I would term it collaboration, though. The writing was clearly nothing I created.”
Cristina sipped from her drink again. Then she sat in silence considering what Raven had just revealed, not really knowing how to respond. Now it made sense to Cristina, how the anonymously submitted story could be attributed to Hunter but not bear his signature style. Raven allowed readers to believe the work was his, even using his considerable wealth and influence to see that the books were published in the manner the author required.
From the kitchen, Dom emerged, wheeling a tray of bowls that were the first course of the meal for the evening. It seemed a veritable feast was forthcoming, worthy of visitors far more important that Cristina or Alix believed they were. Even so Dom catered, coddled and pampered as course after course was delivered. The conversation continued throughout dinner but turned toward much lighter matters.
Raven ranted about the local government’s penchant for spending his tax dollars accomplishing virtually nothing of any merit except for the public transit system. He allowed that Starport was one of the few things the city was doing just about right.
When the meal and the conversation concluded Raven stood, bidding his guests a good night’s sleep. Based on what he heard from Cristina and Alix, they were soon to be fugitives sought in Andromeda even if they were already in Star City. They had a few hours perhaps to set things on a different course. Really, it all depended on finding Paul before the authorities could.
Perhaps they should be out seeking him but the exertions of the day, the bath, the meal and the drinks combined to give them a strong and urgent desire to sleep.
And so that was exactly what they did, safe in Raven’s residence, on the night before they were expected.