**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.**
Every school-aged child learned the general history of not only mankind and the Earth but also the colonization and the process of terraforming, its origins and objectives. It was revised and sanitized to suit the Colonial Authority, but it was arguably accurate to an extent and a certain point of view. It was mainly boring material of the sort that children usually do not pay attention to anyway. Cristina had always questioned it, though. Ever interested, she had the desire and hunger to learn about her world and the origins of her kind.
It was while she was in school that she began to realize her differences. The process of discovery frightened her. She did not want to be different. She wanted to fit in. Withdrawing and becoming a loner, she began to write daily installments in her diary to account for every day in her life. Eventually, she began to compose poetry.
Despite her self-consciousness, self-doubt, introversion, and introspection she remained a good and attentive student in her studies. There were always questions to ask, things that she did not know. Once she became comfortable with an instructor, sometimes she would ask him or her questions. In the earliest years of her schooling, her instructors knew the answers, but as she grew older her questions became more sophisticated. The things she wanted to know required research, which often as not, her teachers assigned to her as extra credit projects.
Before his death, her father ensured that her education extended past what was considered adequate for the masses to which she belonged. She studied music, but also learned a great deal more about terraforming and the colonial law that had been applied to govern the process. Regardless of the separation of the colonial governments into semi-autonomous political entities, there were loose economic relationships with all of the other colonies. Subordination of each city was to the pseudo provincial government that answered to the Colonial Authority in lieu of a central government.
In the course of her extended studies at the University of New Milan she came across an account in an older text detailing the events of an early terraforming project, one that led directly to the enactment of tougher regulations to control the selection of candidate worlds to be terraformed.
From the outset there was an unwritten code of ethics established amongst the architects, engineers and technicians that no world that had any intelligent life or potential of developing intelligent life could be used for a terraforming project. To the best of anyone’s knowledge no indigenous life other than simple plants, bacteria or single cell organisms had ever been discovered on any of the colonial worlds. It seemed a valid enough precaution against harming the process of generating sentient life.
As she read on in the account, she was stunned. Never had any text or reference that she studied mentioned sterilization as the essential first step toward terraforming a planet. Why was it necessary? If the chosen world was already determined to be devoid of the processes that could produce sentient life, why kill everything that might be alive?
When Cristina asked her professor it was explained that it was a precaution. “It is the direct result of human paranoia about plagues and incurable diseases stemming from the epidemics of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. It was believed that without sterilization of a world, it might be possible to introduce viruses and bacteria into a terraform pattern that might lead to the unwitting mutation of a disease for which mankind would have no natural immunity.
“It has often been suggested that the decline in the fertility rate might be related to the sterilization of the colonial worlds prior to the beginning of a terraform project. But now it is clearly related to the complicated interactions of the magnetic fields of the planet and the replication processes of human DNA on a subatomic level.”
“What do you believe?”
“I believe they are wrong, but I hope they aren’t right.”
“But wouldn’t the DNA of all the animals that we have introduced into the colonial worlds be likewise affected?” Cristina asked her professor.
“There is something inherently distinct about human DNA. The forces that affect us seem to leave alone the other species we transplanted into the colonies from Earth,” she replied. “Some theologians have used this scientific discovery to suggest mankind was designed for Earth and only the Earth.”
“Well, they would. It is an ethnocentric response. But the obvious extension is why would we ever be able to develop the technology necessary to travel through space, colonize and terraform other worlds?”
“That is precisely the appropriate counter argument.”
Despite her studies, never before had the declining fertility rates concerned Cristina as much as now. There had always been assurances that the cause would be identified and the process reversed. Surely mankind had not colonized other worlds to delay extinction for a few more centuries.
She sat looking at the orb as she allowed it to roll around in her palm. She had a passing thought wondering if Alix had arrived at Blackbird’s residence on the far side of the domed city, close to the shadow of the mountains. She wondered how he would react in the presence of a Courier. She guessed that he might approach it a little differently, with pseudo-macho bravado. She could picture him pretending to be brave even though he was scared to death. She chuckled to herself as she held onto the mental image, and then she allowed her mind to continue its quest for her own truth.
Cristina thought about her city and the earliest times of the colony before the terraform project was very far along. The mountains shielded the dome of New Milan from the constant gale force winds and frequent sandstorms that were the direct result of the introduction of chemical agents that broke down the major concentrations of hazardous gases in the atmosphere. The detonations used to deliver the neutralizing agents saturated the poisonous clouds often changing the density of the air in an entire region. As a direct result vortices of intense turbulence were created especially over the oceans. Violent storms resulted, lashing and thrashing against the protective dome of the city. It had frightened her even though her father assured her that they were safe within the dome.
The prevalence and severity of storms had diminished over her lifetime. She took some comfort in that. As she continued her thoughts, she recalled how much the world had already changed within her lifetime.
When she was very young it seemed the vast world beyond the closet where she usually hid would never succumb to her will. Yet, now she was learning something very different about her relationship with the world. At one time she allowed that humans would determine the solution to the fertility dilemma, but now she heard otherwise. Perhaps she and the others possessing the attributes were the means of reversing the process, but then, what did she know? Still, maybe Hummingbird and Sparrow were wrong. Maybe it was the destiny of those with the attributes to save all of mankind.
She was startled when her apartment phone rang. She clicked the remote that found on the table before her and then spoke in a normal voice as the image of the caller appeared on the main world viewer monitor and his voice came over the speakers of the entertainment system, “Uh, is this Cristina without an ‘h’?”
“So, you do remember me? I wondered if you would.”
“I usually have a pretty good memory,” she said. “Anyway, it hasn’t been that long ago, a week or so, right?”
“How’d you get my number?”
“That would be telling.”
“It doesn’t matter much, I guess. But still, I’d like to know.”
“I just wanted to make contact with you. It took me a while, but I finally tracked down someone who knows you. And I got your number.”
“Who was it? Chase?”
“I promised not to tell.”
“Only Chase has this number, well he and the guys in the band, but they would never give the number out.”
“Trust me, there are others who know such things,” Paul revealed.
“I guess I’m flattered that you would go to all that trouble just to give me a call.”
“I had to. Your voice and face have haunted me ever since we met.”
“Uh, well, okay.”
“I have not been able to keep you out of my thoughts.”
“Uh, Paul this is rather awkward, isn’t it?”
“You misunderstand, perhaps. I’m not a stalker. So, don’t worry about that. You told me that you lived in New Milan and that is as much as I need to know for now. I had to speak to you again. We didn’t have any time to really talk on the morning we met.”
“It doesn’t matter about having my number as long as you don’t do crazy things like calling me all the time. Once in a while, it might be nice to talk. The next time I’m in Haven I’ll get you passes for the show, like I promised. You can bring a date with you, or a friend.”
“That would be great, but I’m not seeing anyone. I suppose I could bring an acquaintance, a neighbor perhaps. Really, I have no problem paying to see you and your band perform.”
“I don’t expect my friends to pay to get into my concerts,” she said. “Not if I know you’re coming.”
“Well, yeah that would be great. I would love seeing you perform, but mainly…I mean what’s important to me is knowing we’re friends.”
“That’s easy,” Cristina said. “I already think of you as a friend.”
“Thank you. That makes my day. I don’t socialize much. I was always kind of shy. Whenever I have tried to be social it comes off awkwardly.”
Cristina smiled. “I’m not a social person either, not really. So how did the fishing go?”
“Oh, that. It went very well. My uncle is very good at fishing with bang-sticks.”
“To me it has never seemed like that much of a challenge, although I admit I’d not be good at it.”
“It’s not as easy as people think,” Paul revealed. “There’s a definite trick to it.”
“Well, hardly anything is easy until you master it.”
“Is that what you do, fish every morning?”
“No, my uncle is semi-retired. I was visiting with him. He was a laborer for the Agricultural Ministry. Now all he wants to do is fish. I just go out with him sometimes, whenever I can. After college, he helped me get a position at the Ministry of the Interior here in Haven.”
“So you’re a bureaucrat?”
“I was. But you make it sound more distasteful than the reality of enduring the tedium.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that before our band had tour management I dealt with some of the ministries here in New Milan, getting permits for concerts and such. Those were not good experiences. Nothing was ever simple.”
“Well, when I worked for the Ministry of the Interior, it was relatively new. I’m a surveyor, among other skills. Mainly I worked outside the dome, establishing parcels. I understand they are now issuing special permits for people to file residency claims for land in our province.”
“That’s what the area outside of the dome is officially called, at least once it’s posted with border markers. Once the surveying mission was completed, The Colonial Authority established official borders for the cities around the middle of last year. That was when my job ended and my position with the Ministry came to a conclusion.”
“So, you’re not working?”
“Let’s say I am a freelancer, not to be confused with what my uncle calls me, a freeloader.”
“I would think the Authority would have found other work for you.”
“They made some offers, lower paying positions. It is part of their desire to scale back. They wish people to believe many things that aren’t totally true – for example, the updated projection on the atmospheric terraforming effort. You may have heard that the air outside of the domes will be breathable within five years.”
“I had heard something about that. Of course, I’ve not watched the news lately.”
“Well, I don’t know about things there in New Milan, but in Haven there is a full scale deception underway. Under the ruse of provincial authority we are granted sovereignty over the lands outside of our dome to the border of the Star City’s province to the west, Andromeda to the north and Vostok to the south. We are allowed a fifty thousand square kilometer provincial territory as mapped out in the original charters for each of the cities. I’m sure the Authority has issued the projection worldwide and is allowing the sale of land to those who want to farm or just live outside of the dome. They claim that after the domes are finally dismantled – a process they project will take about three local years to complete – all the land outside of the cities will be fully accessible. Tracks are to be laid for the establishment of highways for coaches and private long-range travel between cities may begin, although the initial routes to the other cities will follow the same courses as the railways. These were the projects I worked on before My position was curtailed, citing a change in overall direction.”
“Then what are they planning to do?”
“Apparently they seek to maintain the status quo. When I worked for the Ministry, I was a true believer. I thought these were exciting times to be alive,” Paul said. “I thought I was participating directly in the birth of our world as the permanent home for all of us. Then everything changed.”
“Why would they stop those programs? I mean, if we are that close to being free of the confinement of the domes…”
“As I understand it, there were miscalculations. They told us a good deal of adjustment must be made,” Paul said. “Unfortunately, my role was deemed no longer necessary. I’d measured the world enough for their immediate goals. Now they claim that people are not ready to live outside the domes. There’s a psychological affinity to the domes, associated with protection and security. At least that’s what the colonies that have been through the process have reported. Then, there’s the whole political process of having a common government over all the Provinces, drafting constitutions for when the Colonial Authority is officially dissolved. What was supposed to take five more years has now been drawn out to twenty or thirty more years. And in the meanwhile, the Colonial Authority continues to govern us, albeit without official mandate.”
“What do you mean?”
“By its charter, the Colonial Authority as a governing body must be dissolved,” Paul revealed. “Its legitimacy was intended to prevent corruption in the process of creating new autonomous provincial governments that would convene to create a constitutions and eventually form a central government.”
“I thought the Authority’s responsibility was to create a viable world.”
“Well, it also needed to create the political and economic structures to allow for autonomous government. Under the guidelines of the terraforming program, once the provinces are established, each is responsible to the others to negotiate fairly in trade and allow for travel until a central government can be established. The Colonial Authority was to provide for a body of government elected from the individual provinces to oversee a transition and write a constitution. They are currently in violation of their charter.”
“How can that be?”
“Who is there to say no to them? They draw their authority from a colonial oversight board seated on a planet in Earth’s solar system. In other words, they have the authority because there is no one controlling them, now.”
“You really understand this stuff.”
“Well, it’s what I did when I was excited about the future. But I’ve gone on enough, I think. I’m starting to bore you – I can tell.”
“No, it’s that I know so little about it, Paul. The way you explained it, it seems like something that everyone would want to know about.”
“No one cares, Cristina. We are programmed to be what we are taught, and we serve function at the whim and direction of the Colonial Authority. They numb our minds at a very early age and condition us to become what they need. They pacify us with nonsense for the sake of entertainment or satisfaction of our curiosity. It’s all distraction, to prevent anyone from discovering the truth about their corruption. It’s sad that they have seized power. We were on the verge of becoming an open completely terraformed world.”
“Perhaps it’s not too late.”
“When I worked for the Ministry, I was thinking of running for election to the constitutional convention delegation from Haven,” Paul said. “Maybe it was a pipe dream anyway. I’m not all that outgoing or popular. But now it’s a moot point. There will never be a convention, now.”
“I hope you are wrong, Paul. I think you’d make a wonderful delegate. You obviously have the knowledge and background. And you care.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence.”
“I guess I should let you go on about whatever I interrupted. I’m sending you my number capture so you can call me if you ever want to talk.”
“I’m glad you called. I feel like I learned a lot. I guess I’m like everyone else, I never think anything is wrong. As long as everything runs smoothly, who challenges authority?”
“When I was in college, I read a book by a man from the Twentieth Century named Andrew L. Hunter. In it he said a good government is one that is barely noticed while ensuring nothing ever seems to go wrong,” Paul said. “I guess as long as the Colonial Authority can maintain the illusion of competent administration, no one will challenge their power.”
“Stay in touch, Paul.”
“I will. You too.”
“I promise, I will,” Cristina replied. The screen that had shown his face faded to black and was immediately replaced by a preview of something on world viewer. The resonant click echoed from the lost audio connection of the terminated call.
She turned away thinking that she might be hungry enough to cook something from the freezer if anything in it was still edible after more than a year.
Having surveyed the frost covered contents and determined that most everything within was likely freezer burned, she resorted to freeze-dried meal packets stored in a cupboard. What the packages professed to be contained hardly seemed possible, but from her experience, once re-hydrated, they were edible.
She mused about an incident from the past that freeze-dried food brought to mind. Keith, the lead guitarist of her band had once told her that freeze-dried anything would survive longer than any concert tour, maybe rivaling the lifespan of a rock. At the time she was new to the band and had not understood his sense of humor.
She asked if he was suggesting rocks are alive? She felt stupid when he indicated he was trying to be funny. “When I’m worried or things seem to be going bad, I make a joke,” he explained. “I think most people do that. I mean, what do you do?”
“I’m Italian,” she had begun her response. “So whenever I’m worried or something is wrong, I make some pasta, and then everything is all right.”
As a result of their conversation, directly before going on tour she stocked up on anything that said freeze-dried, and of course she also bought enough pasta to take care of her needs until she found the time and energy to go shopping.
Whether Keith knew what he was talking about mattered little. When she returned home from tour, at least she had options. She could inject some water into the proper port in the protective bag and allow it to sit in the microwave under the ‘freeze-dried’ cycle for it to expand. Then wait for the contents to cook for however many minutes the package recommended. Or she could make pasta and after draining it, cover it in tomato sauce and grated cheese. For her immediate situation, she made a personal feast in relatively short order and then sat down at her dinette to consume it.
As she ate she watched News Central for New Milan on world viewer. What Paul had indicated was happening in Haven, New Milan was also announcing. Parcels of land outside the dome were being made available for sale to private ownership and would be zoned for residential, agricultural or commercial purposes. Following the report, the Colonial Authority’s announced updated projections on the atmosphere’s compliance with terraform standards.
Cristina sat back to listen. She didn’t know why she was so focused on the news, as it was now old. Paul had already told her more about it than she needed to know, more than the news was reporting. She sort of liked knowing something before the news reported it. Now she understood why Raven monitored everything, why he didn’t trust the Colonial Authority.
Even if the news service was reporting it all day, she knew something they did not, what they were not reporting. The knowing made her feel in control. She sort of liked that feeling. Not since before her meeting with Raven had she felt in control. If Paul was right, everything she believed she knew was illusion founded on lies and deception.
When she disposed of the spent food containers she returned to her seat at the dinette and held the orb out at arm’s length again, attempting without much initial success to replicate the exercise where the orb remained where it was while she removed her hand. Then, after several attempts, she remembered the entire sequence and replicated the event exactly. She stared at the orb and forced disbelief to override her perception. Instantly, she knew for certain that the orb was still in her palm, where it had always been. She felt it there. She did not have to look.
Then something unexpected happened. As if it was nighttime, the room became dark. It was not abjectly dark as it had been when Sparrow created his illusion. She turned to glance at a chronometer and suddenly sat back in the horror of realization that fourteen hours had skidded by in an instant that she had not perceived.
Immediately, upon her questioning what had happened in that lost time she felt the orb in her palm growing warmer and she held out her hand to open her palm. The glow of the orb was so intense that it pained her eyes to look in its direction. There was a reflection cast against the wall of her room. It drew her attention toward it because she had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful but also frightening.
With eyes closed tightly in an attempt to force the image from her presence she concentrated. When she opened her eyes again it was still night but the automated lights of her apartment were on as they well should be and so was world viewer which she had never turned off.
News Central reported the city of New Milan had been selected to host the upcoming Provincial meeting to discuss the latest revised terraforming timelines based on the findings of recent atmospheric compliance tests.
In other news, the sale of land outside the dome was progressing well, with the Ministry of the Interior reporting the issuance of 470 permits for agricultural development on the first day. However, the issuance of commercial and residential permits was being delayed because of the revised atmospheric compliance results. Since the farmland could be developed immediately, and the need for increased food production, the Colonial Authority was allowing waivers for agricultural development of the interior lands.
Cristina got up from her dinette table and sat down on her relatively vast, comfortable couch and flipped to a world information channel to see what news if any she had missed in the past few days. She watched for an hour or so then switched to view a play she had not seen for a while, but one she loved. She watched it until her eyes grew heavy with sleep as she stretched out on her couch. Then, thinking better of it she went to her closet and obtained a blanket for cover as she watched a bit more of the play before finally succumbing to her heavy eyelids and the ever alluring attraction of an extended visitation of the crimson curtails that gradually drew closed upon her perception of the world.
When she woke it was morning. She glanced at the chronometer to confirm that she’d slept for ten hours. She got up to immediately purge her bladder and then went to the kitchen to select something else freeze dried from her cupboard, promising herself she would go shopping later today.
On world viewer there was a different play on the entertainment channel. She had seen it before and did not like it that much, so she returned to the coach and immediately grabbed her remote. She changed the format of all the screens of the array, programming it to display a number of different sources. One of the news sources commanded her attention and so she brought it up on the primary screen, even sitting on the couch to watch it.
“In other news from other Provinces, former Haven Ministry of the Interior Associate Surveyor Paul Scalero pictured here was reported missing. Sources say the young man’s uncle John Scalero reported him missing late last night. Video records from the apartment indicate he has not been back at his residence for at least twenty-four hours. Local authorities are reviewing area security recordings and researching the last calls made from his residence for any clues that might help in the investigation. Anyone having information in the disappearance are asked to contact the Colonial Authority District One Office of Investigation on world viewer channel forty-three seventy-seven.”
Cristina began to key in the number on her remote, when her apartment’s videophone chimed and a man in uniform appeared in one of the preview monitors set to default for any incoming calls.
“I apologize if I awakened you, Ms. Salnero.”
“That’s okay. I was already up and about. Actually, I was just preparing to call.”
“About Mr. Scalero?”
“Yes, about Paul’s disappearance. Obviously, you know he called me.”
“Yes, we are looking for any clues. Since his uncle reported him missing, we’ve had very little to go on. Did he say anything to you, perhaps about going on a trip?”
“No. I don’t know Paul all that well. Our conversation was about our having met one another on the causeway sidewalk in Haven. I had gone out to watch the sunrise,” she explained. “On my way back, I met Paul and his uncle. His uncle was more annoyed than anything else. So, I really didn’t meet him. They were going out to fish with bang-sticks.”
“So you met and gave him your number?”
“Uh, no. His call last night came as quite a surprise. I never give my number out to anyone except the members of band I perform with and whoever is our tour manager. I believe my tour manager may have given him my number. He knew we met.”
“Who’s you tour manager?”
“Well we are off tour right now. But when we were there in Haven last week, it was Chase Littleton of Andromeda City.”
“Do you have his number?”
“Wait. I’ll forward it to you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that. It saves me the search query.”
“Look, even though I really don’t know Paul well, we had a long conversation. It was mostly about what he did with the provincial partitioning of land outside the domes. It was interesting. I never realized how much organization is involved in things, you know?”
“Did he say anything that you thought was strange?”
“Not really,” she said. “I mean he told me he used to work as a surveyor so he was outside the domes a lot. He told me a lot about that. Then he told me he was thinking of running for election as a delegate to the constitutional convention but that it looked like that would be delayed because of the atmospheric tests.”
Suddenly a number appeared on her screen, which she immediately saved. “I appreciate your information. If you think of anything else, regardless how bizarre, call me.”
“I really appreciate your cooperation.”
“I hope you find him soon. Maybe he went somewhere and got lost.”
“Well sometimes it is just that simple, but he has lived here for a very long time and should know the city well. So we are taking his disappearance seriously.”
“I would appreciate it if you could have him call me when you find him. I’m worried about him now. I mean, after our conversation I consider him a friend.”
“I understand. I’ll do that for you. I have the ID tag from the phone, Ms. Salerno.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Cristina. You have been most helpful.”