Monthly Archives: September 2011

Scene 4 – Probata

PROBATA

DEREK

“Derek, why is that cage big enough to hold a dog?”

I looked at Adam quizzically. I had mostly gotten over my little angst-fest over explaining the cultures; rat-hunting has always calmed me down. Silver and gold, I hadn’t done this in years. “Because we’re going to catch a rat, obviously. What’d you expect?”

He opened his mouth to speak, then paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “How big…exactly, are these rats you’re talking about?”

“Slightly smaller than this cage. That’s what…” I looked at the trap, gauging it. “…three feet long? Yeah, not including the tail.”

He stared at me. “Derek, rats aren’t supposed to be three feet long.”

“Hm? Oh yeah…” I knew that, of course. It was just hard to remember, like how you don’t always think about the fact that electricity is a relatively new invention. “Normal-size rats are extinct in Domina. Some fey gene tweaked a few, increased the size of whatever gland it is that controls size, and…voila.” I pointed to the creature that had just come sniffing around the corner. “A rat.”

It was actually a bit small for a rat, but Adam still jumped back a few feet. As expected, it was about the size of a small dog, but fat and well-fed. That was what startled him, I think. The smelly, dirty little thing probably weighed forty pounds or so. I set the cage carefully on the ground, door open.

“Now here’s what we’re going to do,” I whispered, careful not to startle the rodent. Adam seemed to have recovered from his initial shock, and was listening intently. “You pick up the trap and follow behind me. When I say so, set it on the ground—quietly. I’ll grab the rat and try and throw it in. Make sure it doesn’t escape.”

“I could grab it.”

“No, no, I have experience here. You just back me up; if we do this again, we can switch. Alright?” He nodded. “Good. Let’s go.”

We stalked forward as stealthily as possible. Having Adam carry the cage turned out to be a good move; he was much quieter than I would have been. My usual tactic had always been to get as close as I can before the rat noticed me, then run after it when it flees. This way, we might actually be able to catch it before it bolted.

While we weren’t quite that lucky, we did manage to get within about five feet before it noticed us. It glanced up from the pile of trash it was nosing through, locking my gaze with those beady little eyes.

Before it could flee, I leaped forward, tackling it with both arms. It squealed, hurting my eardrums, and thrashed violently. I barely managed to hold on to it; I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long. It wasn’t that it was strong so much as the fact that it was small enough to wriggle out of my arms.

But Adam quickly took his cue, coming forward with the open cage. I threw the rodent in headfirst. It didn’t work the first time, but with a few hard shoves we managed to get it inside and shut the door. The trap shook violently as it tried to escape.

“Well,” I said, smiling. “That was fun.” I offered my hand to my companion, panting on the ground. “Wanna try again?”

He laughed. “Maybe another time. I think this was enough for today.” He grasped my hand and pulled himself up. “We do still need to turn this in, however that works. And we should probably look at those scratches.”

I glanced at my arms. There were a few scratches from the rat that were starting to sting, but none were deep enough to bleed. “Nah, I’ll be fine. I’ve got a decent immune system buff for just this situation.” I pulled out my phone. “MC? We got the rat. Call our employer.”

“One moment,” she replied pleasantly. I hung up while I waited; it wouldn’t be an issue.

“So…you use the toy maker?” Adam asked nonchalantly. Or he tried, anyway. He was clearly interested in the whole thing.

I shrugged. “Just a couple buffs. The Immune+ one is probably the most common, everyone has some kind. Then I have the AT Tattoo, a muscle boost, and my eyes got fixed. I had an astigmatism.”

“Wait, back up. You said something about a tattoo?”

“Hm? Oh yeah.” I held up my palm so he could see it and concentrated. After a moment, the words ‘Hello Adam’ resolved themselves in shaky black font on my skin. I erased it with another thought. “It’s a cheap one, good for taking notes. Not much else.”

Adam, however, was mesmerized. “That’s really cool.”

I grinned. I didn’t say anything, but I had an idea. As expected, however, before I had a chance to do anything about it, my phone rang. Five simple beeps, nothing more. I flipped it open.

“MC? What’s the word?”

“Mister Ratko will meet you at the intersection of Abigail and Mechanus. Is that fine with you?”

I thought for a moment. “That’s…only five minutes from here.” And five minutes from there to where I wanted to go next. “That’s perfect. Tell him we’ll be there shortly.”

“Where are we off to?” Adam asked as I hung up. He had his foot planted firmly on the cage, where the rat still thrashed loudly inside.

“To meet our employer. It won’t take long.” I headed towards the rendezvous point. “C’mon, and be careful with that cage.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 4)

Sorry for the short scene. Nothing much going on here, but this really is something that people in the city do often. It’s an easy way to make money.

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Scene 3 – Monstrum

MONSTRUM

ADAM

“She had horns,” I said. I couldn’t get off that.

Derek looked pained. “Yes, she did. I didn’t know you were that…uh…I thought you knew a bit more about the city.”

“And fangs. And red eyes.”

“They’re all perfectly common here. Well, maybe not common, but you see them around.” He pointed somewhere; I didn’t look. “See, there’s another one.”

“And a tail.”

“Ah, yeah, that’s a new buff. Came out about two months ago. I hear it’s not very popular, though. Not useful, and it keeps hitting things.”

Something about that knocked me out of my fugue. “Wait, what do you mean not popular? It’s…optional?”

Derek sighed, sat down on a nearby bench, and put his face in his hands. I sat next to him, and after a minute he looked up.

“You’ve heard of the toy maker, right?”

I frowned. “That…gene mod thing, right? It can make muscle enhancements and stuff, make your bones stronger? I thought that was restricted to the military.”

“It…it’s not a gene mod.” He shook his head. “I never really paid attention to how it works, but it has something to do with using unrelated cells as seeds, and growing them into whatever you want, which can then be grafted with no possibility of rejection. Like stem cells without all the moral implications.” He sighed. “And yes, it is illegal. Very illegal. But this is where it was first invented, and Domina has never had a very good relationship with US law.”

“So…it gave her horns and a tail and…red eyes?”

“Yes, exactly. Well…” he frowned. This clearly wasn’t a subject he liked to talk about. I wasn’t sure exactly why, though. It seemed a sore point, and not because it was something he couldn’t adequately explain.

“You see, the toy maker can’t make complicated structures. They’re getting much better, but right now a tail—which is basically just one big muscle—is about the most complex they can make. But there are other things, engineered viruses that can make slower changes. Somehow the toy maker makes that easier, I’m not sure how.” He shrugged. “But that’s how the eyes are altered, or muscles and bones strengthened. Cosmetic changes, like Lily’s eyes, are easy. Those are called cosmos.”

I nodded, catching on. “But changes that have an actual benefit are called buffs, like her tail. Or the enhancements the military is keeping a hold of.”

“Right, exactly. And the general term is ‘toys,’ just so you know.” He sighed again. “You need to understand, Adam, Domina isn’t like other cities. Here, if you want to be a completely different person, it just costs a bit of money.” He nodded to someone on the street, wearing large goggles that seemed like they would be impossible to see out of. “That guy over there is a vampire—he had his eyes altered to allow him to see in the dark. But the downside is a pretty horrific light sensitivity.”

“Does he drink blood too?”

“Probably not. Fangs are common, but the buff to process blood is expensive, and rarely worth it. Most don’t bother any more.” He shook his head. “The thing about the toy maker…it just gives people more excuses to hate each other. The angels hate the vampires, the vampires hate the kemos, the kemos hate the demons, and everyone hates the fey. There’s no reason for it, they just…”

“Tell me about them,” I asked immediately. I could probably ask MC, but Derek clearly needed to talk about this, even though he didn’t want to. “What are these groups? Are they gangs? Why do they hate each other?” I had already seen a bunch; they were the ‘costumed’ people I had assumed were going to a festival. I made a mental note to punch Dale next time I saw him. This was not something you just forget to mention.

He waved his hand. “No, no I don’t know enough. I don’t pay enough attention to politics, I’d just end up giving you misleading information.”

I threw up my hands in frustration. Keeping his emotions bottled up wouldn’t help anyone. “I don’t need a history lesson. Just tell me what the average citizen of the city knows.”

“Okay, okay.” He sighed. “We’ll keep it simple. What you need to know. There are five cultures you need to know by sight. Everything else is secondary.

“First are the angels. They have eyes that give them incredible dayvision but virtually no nightvision. It’s a somewhat common buff, and popular among the military too. But the real distinguishing mark is the dayskin. Basically, they get phosphorescent bulbs implanted under their skin, and can act as flashlights.” He smiled sadly. “That was one of the first tricks the toy maker figured out.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Please don’t interrupt. The problem is that the dayskin isn’t really all that useful; it’s not terribly expensive, but it’s not cheap, and its hard to control. Especially when a good flashlight usually works just as well. So the only ones who get it are the ones who really, really hate vampires, and use it as a weapon against them. Blind them when they least expect it, then shoot them or stab them or whatever.

“The vampires I already explained. But they have a whole bunch of subcultures that I’m not going to get into. The point is: Black eyes means a vampire. Most of them aren’t bad people, but watch yourself anyway.

“Kemos have animal parts. Usually just the ears or fur, but they’ve been getting much more advanced in recent years. I saw a full-on humanoid crocodile the other day, scales and tail and everything. Part of the problem is that they’re vulnerable; they don’t identify as a culture, they identify as subcultures. Canes don’t associate with fels or vulps or laces.

“Giants are pretty much what they sound like. They mostly sprung out of construction workers who figured being bigger and stronger would get them better jobs. It worked pretty well.” He shrugged. “They’re mostly harmless, or at least no worse than any of the other cultures. Just don’t piss them off.

“Demons are like Lily. Mostly, they’re just people with red eyes and horns, but there are a few subcultures. One you’ll hear about a lot is the succubi.”

“Uh…”

“Yeah. Exactly what it sounds like. Oh, and incubi too. Obviously. But they’re not that bad. They’re a way too sexualized for my taste, but whatever. You want to have pansexual orgies in your nightclub, that’s fine with me. Just don’t expect me to show up.”

“But most of the city feels differently?”

“No, that’s not it…it’s…” he closed his eyes. “Malcanthet.”

“What?”

“The self-styled Queen of the Succubi. She got run out of the city five years ago. She wasn’t your normal succubus. Most of the others stayed the hell away from her, but she became the face of their culture regardless.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So a crazy girl decides she’s in charge of one little subculture. What’s the big deal?”

“Normally? Nothing. There are a few of those running around. Some moron calling himself Dracula tries to paint himself as Lord of the Night, the lupes have a Great Wolf trying to start a pack.” He gave me a level look. “What do you think the Queen of the Succubi would be like?”

“I guess…I mean…”

“She had a very well-deserved reputation for raping her opponents into submission.”

I blinked. “She…what?”

He looked away. “One of the big problems with rape is that it’s not normal torture. It’s more than just pain and humiliation. You can turn that off. The problem is that it also feels good. And while I’m not an expert by any means, mixing all those brain chemicals together causes…problems. Malcanthet raped her opponents until they didn’t remember why they ever stood against her.” He shrugged. “And I hear she used drugs when that didn’t work fast enough.”

I mused for a moment. “So she eventually had a harem of sex-slaves willing to die for her. That’s why she got run out.”

He looked pained. “You picked it up faster than I did. I couldn’t believe something like that could exist. Part of me still thinks it was an elaborate prank.”

“You’re a better person than me, I think,” I said quietly. I could think of the advantages of having a legion of slaves at my command. “But if she’s gone now—”

“Her taint remains,” he spat with surprising violence. “Every once in a while, one of her sleepers goes crazy. Not often. She’s by far the least threat left in the city. But it’s enough to bring up the old prejudices.” He let out a long breath. “And the succubi always defend themselves the same way. ‘If we’re so bad, what about the angels? They’re entire purpose is to kill people!’ Then the angels claim vampires aren’t people and we go through the whole cycle again…”

I remained silent. What do you say to that? For a long minute neither of us spoke, but eventually Derek broke the silence.

“Things are going to get better,” he whispered. I’m honestly not sure if he knew he was talking aloud. “I don’t care if I have to wrestle every daybreaker and nightstalker and hunter and titan to the ground with my bare hands. Things are going to get better.”

He looked up suddenly, a smile on his face. It wasn’t a real smile, not quite, but it had more truth to it than I expected.

“C’mon, enough sitting around,” he said, standing up. “We’ve got a rat to catch.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 3)

A little bit of important characterization for both Adam and Derek, but mostly this is for the summary of the toy maker and the cultures. And yes, I know Derek didn’t actually mention five cultures. That was deliberate.

Scene 2 – Missio

MISSIO

DEREK

My name is Derek Huntsman. I’ve lived in Domina City my entire life, with only my mom for company. I don’t have many friends—it’s not that I’m shy, I’m just…okay, maybe I’m a little shy, but I’m trying to change. Mostly the problem is that I spend all my time on rooftops I’m not supposed to be able to get to. Great views, but not very much company. When I come down, its for jobs.

Adam…he seemed to be a step in the right direction. As my roommate, I would be pretty much forced to socialize with him. If I could get him to make friends in turn, then we’d prop each other up. Which made me feel even worse for lying to him.

His friend, the one he was meant to room with, was dead. At best, he was lying mortally wounded in a hospital. I didn’t have any concrete details, but North Outer had a few big shootouts around the time Adam said he lost contact. I just didn’t have the heart to voice my suspicions.

He—Adam, I mean—was hard to place. More than anything else, he looked average. Average height, average build. A simple John Smith. But something about him seemed…I’m not sure. It was hard to place my finger on. Perhaps I was just imagining things.

He didn’t act special, that was for sure. As we walked through MC’s tour, every word she spoke seemed to surprise him more.

“Wait, wait, this is a job board? Like…”

“A place you pick up jobs. Yes.” He really did seem like a good guy, but seriously, how sheltered was he? “People post things they need done, with a reward and a hard end date. See, this one here.” I walked up to the board, a simple digital screen with a very heavy plastic layer for protection. I tapped the job I was looking at. It took a few seconds for the board to recognize the input, but it quickly brought the relevant details up. “Some guy needs a rat from the area for an experiment. Alive, of course.”

Adam stared. “He needs a…what?”

“A rat. You know—”

“I know what a rat is. I mean, why would he need one for an experiment?”

“Let’s find out.” I flipped out my phone. “MC? I want to accept job 45768 from the South Central job board.”

“Done,” MC’s fake voice responded smoothly, as the entry on the job board disappeared. “This job has an end date of noon tomorrow, and requires any live rat from the South Central district be delivered to Duke Ratko in the same district. He will arrange a meeting when you have completed the job.”

Ratko?” I asked, incredulous. “Is this a prank?”

“Ratko is Slavic, and means approximately war, or battle. It is a perfectly normal Serbian name.”

“Right, right, sorry. I shouldn’t make fun. Just tell me where the nearest trap shop is.”

“Around the corner to your right.”

“Thank you, MC.” I hung up and turned to Adam. “C’mon, it’s right over here.”

What is? The rat we’re supposed to catch?”

“No, no, you’ll see.” As MC said, there was a shop around the corner specializing in traps. It wasn’t much bigger than the cell phone store we had gone into earlier. But in this case, the shelves were lined with cages of varying sizes.

The clerk looked up; it was a girl I knew, Lily. Well, everyone knew Lily. Short little girl, just over five feet, with sand colored skin. She kept her black hair cut short and out of her face, where it framed her red eyes like a picture. As we walked in, she scratched her horns; short red devil horns, poking out from her hair. She smiled at us—she smiled at everyone, its just who she was—making her sharp fangs prominent.

“Hey there, Derek. You come by to say hi?” She nodded to Adam. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Adam Anders, my new roommate.” He immediately stepped forward and shook her hand. “We need a rat trap. Non-lethal, please. I’m showing him how the job board works.”

“Ooh,” she grinned. “Sounds fun.” She clicked through her phone. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any actual traps of the size you’re looking for. Just cages.” She looked at me with no hint of mischief in her eyes. “You’re going to have to wrestle it in by hand.”

I just smiled. “Sounds like a perfect first job. We’ll take it.”

She shrugged and went to retrieve a cage from the shelf. “Fine by me, just go to the hospital after. Don’t want you two starting a plague.” She checked her phone again. “That’ll be twenty bucks. Half back if you bring back the cage.”

I pulled a twenty from my wallet and handed it over. “I’ll pay this time,” I assured Adam. “But just so you know, generally we’d split it.”

He reached for his wallet. “Well I can—”

I waved my hand. “No, this is a freebie. I’m not going to make you pay for something that wasn’t your idea.” Lily handed me the receipt, and I picked up the cage. “Let’s go catch a rat.”

Adam nodded a goodbye to our clerk. “Have fun at your party.”

I stopped and stared; Lily blinked.

“What party?”

“Uh…” Adam seemed unsure of himself now. “The…costume party. I assume that’s why you’re dressed like that?”

Lily blinked again, then laughed out loud. “Oh, Derek, you didn’t tell me he was brand new.”

“Well, uh…” I scratched the back of my head, embarrassed. “I didn’t know he was that new…” I frowned. “Didn’t your friend tell you anything?”

Adam looked first at her, then at me. “What am I missing?”

Lily came around the counter and stood right in front of him. He wasn’t tall, but he may as well have been a giant next to her. “It’s all real, sweetie.” She bent her horns forward. “See? Touch ’em.”

He gingerly did as she bid, reaching out to touch her horns. He parted the hair where the horns connected to her skull, and jumped back about five feet.

“Those…those are…”

“Real, yes.” Lily stepped forward and smiled even wider, making her teeth even more obvious. I had enough experience with her to know she meant it to look cute, but it probably looked terrifying to poor Adam.

“Lily, maybe you should…”

“What?” She touched his cheek lightly…with her tail. “I like this one, Derek. He’s adorable.”

I frowned. “When did you get a tail?” She definitely hadn’t had that the last time I saw her. Adam seemed completely frozen.

“Hm? Oh, about two months ago. They’re a new one.” She cocked her head quizzically. “I thought I’ve seen you since then.”

“I thought so too.” I wanted to inquire more, but any longer and Adam would cause a scene. “I think we need to go, though.” I grabbed my roommate by the arm and headed out. “I’ll see you later, Lily.”

“I’ll be around,” she promised. “And make sure to bring your friend. I mean it.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 2)

Lily is one of my favorite characters, and will be an important supporting character throughout the entire series. She knows more about what’s going on in Domina than most people, so she’ll be serving as exposition a lot of the time.

Scene 1 – Initium

INITIUM

ADAM

My name is Adam Anders. My mother is Sophia Powers Anders, and my father Truman Anders. We are wealthy, Caucasian, and have few family members.

I am very boring.

I first came to Domina City when I was nineteen years old. I was starting college at Akamatsu University. A friend of mine, Dale Odell Abraham, convinced me it would be a good place to start, if only until I figured out what I was going to major in. I had only met him over the internet, but he was a good guy, and I was looking forward to rooming with him. We even had a couple of classes together.

There are a couple airports in the city, but not very many, and I didn’t want to waste money—especially since Dale insisted that I had to see the city by boat at least once.

It was a ten hour ride out from New York Harbor before we even saw the island. I don’t know if that’s a long time or not; the boat seemed fast, but it was my first time and the boat was old, so maybe I was wrong. Regardless, I have to admit that it was worth the wait.

The city was a circle a hundred miles wide, built on a great trash island only barely bigger. It shone like a dime on the water, surrounded by a hundred-foot tall wall. It was truly breathtaking; every moment the city grew as we inched closer and closer, like some giant creature ready to swallow me whole.

The actual dock was outside the wall, a couple hundred feet from one of the four gates into the city, one at each compass direction. There was a bus with a very bored driver ready to take us in—other than me, there were only five other passengers on the boat. It didn’t take long to load us all up. I only had a backpack with my clothes and laptop, so I just kept it with me.

I smelled cooking fish as I waited; glancing around, I saw a dozens of people were grilling their catches, right there on the docks. The barbecues weren’t even portable, they were bolted to the concrete. Apparently it was a common practice.

It took a few minutes to roll through the gates; whoever was in charge didn’t open them any larger than was strictly necessary, so the bus had to go very slowly to make sure it didn’t scrape the sides.

Inside the walls, the city looked much like a forest of steel and glass, with massive skyscrapers rising in every direction. To my surprise, as we traveled further into the city, it became clear that nearly every building was a skyscraper. The city was clearly built up rather than out. Many of them connected to each other, some with closed walkways and others with what appeared to be nothing more than mutual support beams.

I had entered the city from the west, but my stop was almost the very center. It took about three hours to get there, even though traffic wasn’t that bad, what with all the stops for the other passengers. Turns out I was the very last one.

I got off the bus quickly, nodded my thanks to the driver, and stood there while he drove off. That’s when I really started looking around.

I felt tiny. The skyscrapers hadn’t seemed as imposing when I was on the bus. I was like an ant in a lawn. But I just adjusted my pack and headed towards the college, which the bus driver had promised was just two blocks south.

I found it quickly; it was a large campus, surrounded by a short wall with many openings, more to mark it apart from the rest of the city than to actually keep anyone out. It had just as many tall buildings as the rest of Domina City—I guess I should have expected that.

I found a map pretty quickly, and followed it to my dorm. There weren’t that many people around, but those that were were slightly older than I would have thought; probably teachers and staff rather than students. A lot of them were in costume, like some of the other people I had seen on the way. I guess there was some kind of festival going on. Not really my concern.

My dorm building was easy to spot. It was separate and unconnected to the other buildings, and looked more like a hotel than a dorm. I expected some sort of orientation desk outside, but there was nothing of the sort. The doors were unlocked, however, and I entered without difficulty.

The lobby was a large room, with a small office with a window to the right, and couches and pool tables to the left. On the opposite wall were two elevators, the stairs, and the bathrooms. There was a woman in the office, no more than a year or two older than me. I assumed she was the Room Assistant.

“Oh, hello,” she said in an uninterested tone. “You one of the new students?”

“Uh…yeah.” I walked up to the counter. “Adam Anders. I should be in room 909.”

She clicked through a computer. “Okay, checks out. ID, please.”

I presented my driver’s license without complaint. She glanced at it, then at me, then handed it back.

“Alright, if you take the elevators up, take a left out of there, and your room should be on the right.” She handed me two pairs of keys, and a thick white plastic card. “Put this in your wallet. You’ll need it to get into the lobby or the elevators.”

I looked around the lobby…which I had gotten into easily. “Uh…”

“The lobby is unlocked today and tomorrow for new students. But starting Sunday, you’ll need that to get in. I’ll be pissed if you lose it and I have to open the door for you.”

“Right, thank you.” I put the card in my wallet as she suggested and pocketed the keys.

“Your roommate came through about an hour ago. I don’t know if he’s still there.”

“What? Oh, good. Thank you.” But she had already gone right back to ignoring me.

I headed towards the elevators and swiped my wallet—with the keycard inside—against the reader, which was where the call button normally would be. It only took a moment before the doors opened. I guess no one was using them at the moment. This was the first day to move in; maybe I was early. Still, at least Dale was here. He said he liked getting places early.

I piled in, careful to keep my oversized pack from hitting anything, and tapped the button for floor nine—floor nine out of forty. Sheesh.

It only took a couple minutes to reach my floor. As promised, my room was only a few feet away from the elevator. It was a long hallway, with the elevators in the middle in a small alcove with a couch. All I had to do was turn left, and my room was there, on the right side. I pulled out the keys and opened the door without difficulty.

There was someone there already, and he had claimed the left side of the room as his own. He hadn’t done much to it; there was a laptop on the desk and some clothes poking out of the drawers below the window, but little else. It took me a moment to notice that his bed was also made; the one on the right, my bed, was still a bare mattress.

The man himself was not Dale, the guy I had been talking to on video chat for the past few years. He was about average size, but dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans that showed off some pretty decent muscles. He probably played a sport, though I didn’t see any equipment laying around.

Other than that, he seemed normal. When I came in, he looked up from rearranging the three textbooks on the shelf above his bed. He ran his hand through his short blonde hair and grinned. He had a square jaw, like in an old comic book, and glittering blue eyes. I mean really blue. Like wow.

“You must be my roommate. I’m Derek.” He held out his hand to shake.

I took it, hesitantly, adjusting my massive backpack to a more comfortable position. “I’m Adam. I…think there’s been a mistake. I was set to room with a friend of mine, Dale.”

Derek shrugged, “I don’t know what to tell you. I was supposed to be on the first floor, but they reassigned me a couple days ago.” He grinned again. “My mom bowed out of helping when she found out I was on floor nine.” He sat down on his bed, freshly made. “If you call your friend, I’m sure we can run to the RA and sort everything out.”

Finally admitting defeat, I sighed and set my pack on my own bed. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with him for a week. I’m a little worried.”

“Hm,” my new roommate said noncommittally, frowning. “I’m sure it’s nothing. What part of the city are you two from? We can just go find him.”

“He’s from….North Outer? I think? I’m from New York.”

Derek gaped. “From…from outside Domina?”

“Yeah, so?” I shifted on the bare bed, uncomfortable under the look he was giving me. “What’s the big deal?” Dale and I hadn’t talked about his home much; he kept insisting it was just something I needed to see for myself. I think he was just trying to entice me to come here.

“What’s the…the big deal is that this city is a little different from what you’re used to. We need…we need…” he leaped off his bed. “We need to go out. Any other bags?”

I shook my head. “No, everything is in here.” I paused, remembering my first mistake. “Uh, except sheets. I need sheets.”

Derek waved his hand dismissively. “We’ll find a shop in a few minutes. C’mon, we’re leaving.” He headed towards the door. “Got your keys? Your phone?”

“Uh…” I rose to follow, patting my pockets. “Keys, yes. I don’t have a cell.”

“You…” Derek rolled his eyes. “Okay, that’s first on the list. You need a phone.”

I bristled slightly. I’ve always been defensive on not having a phone. Not having any friends I could meet offline meant that a phone was a bit superfluous. “I’ve never needed a phone before. Why should that change now?” I left out the fact that if I ever really needed one, I had always been able to ask my bodyguard. That…didn’t seem important.

He headed towards the elevator, me still following. “If you want any kind of social life in Domina, you need a cell phone. Trust me, it will become clear in a minute.” He pressed the button for the elevator. “As long as you’re not looking for anything fancy, we can probably get you one for free. We’ll find a shop in a second.”

The elevator dinged, and we entered. It was otherwise empty. Derek pressed the button for the first floor.

“So we’re heading for a mall, then? Or something?”

“No need,” he said, his eyes on the lights above the door indicating what floor we were on. “Central in general has lots of shops, and South Central has even more, for the students in the area. I’d be surprised if we had to go hundred yards before we find a cell phone store.”

We reached the first floor, and the doors opened. A girl loaded with clothes and linens tried to get in before we could exit; she apparently couldn’t see anything over the cloth in her arms. We squeezed past her.

“First, you need to understand how the districts are split up here. Did your friend explain that to you?” He nodded in greeting to our RA, who was sitting on the couch reading a magazine as she waited for more new students to show up.

“No. I mean, he mentioned he lived in North Outer, but other than that, nothing.”

“It’s very easy. There are three rings, Outer, Middle, and Central. They’re split by the eight directions. So you get twenty-four districts, like North Outer, North-west Middle, and South Central. Got it?”

It seemed a rhetorical question; he wasn’t paying attention to me now that we were outside, but was glancing around the street, looking for a store.

“Yeah, I got it.”

“Good.” He crossed the street—jaywalking, I noted—with me following again. Cars slowed to let us pass without so much as honking their horns.

The shop Derek had apparently selected had a large sign out front on one of those folding cards, rather than a neon one over the storefront. The sign proclaimed it to be ‘the Cell Store, open 24 hours.’ Nothing more.

The interior was, as promised, a small cell phone store. To the left, which was also the side with the register behind a counter, the wall was covered in cell phones of every make and model. A quick glance told me that the newer ones were closest to the door. The right wall was arranged similarly, but with accessories instead.

Derek wasted no time, and went straight to the boy behind the counter. And I do mean ‘boy’—I’d have been surprised if he was sixteen.

“Hi, we need a cheap phone. What do you recommend?”

The clerk looked at him stupidly, then at me, then he sighed. “Depends on what you’re looking for. You need a video camera?”

“I…” my roommate glanced over at me. “I’d say yes. How much?”

“Well, we’ve got a few free ones, but also this.” The boy pulled a box from under the counter, labeled with stats I didn’t understand. “It’s got an HD camera, waterproof, and some pretty good armor on it. Only ten bucks.”

I frowned. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. “What’s the catch?”

“Drinks power like a horse. You get about twenty hours before you need to recharge it—quite a bit less, depending on how much you use it.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

But Derek shook his head. “It is. Trust me on this. Okay, show us what else you got.”

We went through another two dozen phones like that. The clerk listed the pros and cons, I thought it sounded good, and Derek shot it down. Too short battery life. Not enough armor. No camera. Terrible reception. Not worth the price.

It took about twenty minutes to get out of there, despite the fact that we were the only ones in the store the entire time. I left with a small black flip-top, held vertically, with enough dense plastic armor that it felt like it weighed more than a pound.

But it was free, and it met Derek’s standards. Surprisingly, the monthly plan had taken all of thirty seconds; the clerk had pulled out a piece of paper, and I signed it in three places with no objections from my new friend. I was wary of how good a five dollar per month plan would be, but they both assured me it was perfect.

Back in the lobby of our dorm, Derek plopped down on the couch opposite of the RA.

“First, you need to get everything set up. Open it and press the button labeled ‘MC’ under the screen.

As he said, there was a small button, above the other ones that most phones have. I pressed it; Derek indicated I should hold my phone up to my ear, and I did.

“Hello,” a pleasant female voice, clearly computer generated, said. “My name is MC. Is this your first Domina cell phone?”

“Uh…” I turned to Derek. “It didn’t say what button to push.” He just smiled.

“Please speak to me as you would a normal person,” the voice replied smoothly. “Clearly we have not met before. My name is MC, and I am in charge of all communication in Domina City.”

“Uh…hello. So…you’re a real person?”

“Yes and no. The program you are speaking to now is not sapient, but simply an extremely clever help program I created. Please look at your screen.”

I did as the voice asked; in the upper-right corner of the cell screen, the letters ‘MC’ flashed five times, then disappeared. I put the phone to my ear again.

“When that symbol is present, you are speaking to the real MC. You can attempt to contact me at any time by simply pressing the MC button and asking to be connected. However, I am very busy, and I prioritize calls based on emergencies, so there will normally be a long wait. The programs will be able to help you with anything you need most of the time.”

“Uh…okay. I guess…I guess I need to set up my account. I think.”

“Alright then. I will begin by asking a few questions. Please answer honestly, but if there is something personal you do not wish to share, just say so, and we can move on.”

“Okay. Shoot.” I glanced at Derek; he seemed to think this whole thing was funny.

“First, what is your full name? We will come to nicknames in a moment.”

“Adam Anders.”

“No middle name?”

“Andrew.”

“Any nicknames you prefer to be called by?”

“No, Adam is fine.”

“Where were you born?”

“New York City. But I’ve lived in upstate New York my whole life.”

There was a long pause. “One moment,” the voice said.

I waited. And waited. And waited. I looked at Derek. “Does it normally take this long?”

He frowned. “No, it shouldn’t.” He glanced at the RA. “You ever heard of MC glitching?”

“Yes, but that’s not what this is.” She didn’t look up from her magazine. “You’ll see.”

“Hi, Adam Andrew Anders?” It was the same voice as before. But it was slightly…less robotic? I guess? More bubbly than anything, really.

“Yeah, you just—” I started, and looked at the screen. Sure enough, the ‘MC’ icon was glowing strongly. “Is this…the real MC?”

“Yeah, that’s me! Sorry, it’s been a slow day, and I set up my programs to flag me if a newb called. Is this really your first day in Domina?”

“Uh…yeah.” I really didn’t know what to make of this. Was the operator really allowed to just start talking to her customers like this? “Is that a problem?”

“Far from it! It’s so rare that I get to meet new people. What are you in the city for?”

“College, you know. Akamatsu University.”

“Ah, kay. The kids call it AU, by the way. But you really do seem interesting—why don’t I show you around the city?”

“I’m…” I looked at Derek again. He seemed surprised, but far from shocked. I guess this wasn’t quite as unusual as it seemed. “My roommate was actually going to show me around.”

“Ohh?” There was another pause on her end, much shorter this time. “Derek or Emily?”

I blinked. “What?”

“Oh, no, Emily would be your RA, right? So I guess you’re rooming with Derek.” Her tongue clicked in disapproval. “He’s just gonna end up showing you a bunch of those quiet places he likes to hide. Which is okay if you like hanging out on rooftops, but I have a feeling you’re looking for something more.”

“Wait, wait, back up, how’d you know who was sitting next to me?”

“You have GPS in your phones. Obviously. Oh, crap! Uh…do I have permission to track your phone’s GPS?”

She sounded genuinely contrite, but I wasn’t in a trusting mood. “I’m going to have to say no.”

“That’s okay,” she said, although she seemed a little hurt. “That’s my mistake. But I still want to show you around the city.”

“Can you really spare that much time? I mean, I don’t really know what your job entails—”

She laughed, a musical sound. “No, don’t be silly. I’ll have to spawn a program for you. But if you have any questions she can’t answer, she can connect you to me. I’d be happy to help. One second…” she paused. “Okay, we’ll start you right outside the dorms. And remember, the programs are pretty clever. Just talk to her like you would a real person.”

“Alright. And…” I didn’t really know what to say. I wasn’t used to this much attention. And just because I was from outside the city? “Thanks for the help. I honestly appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” she replied warmly. “Talk to you later.”

There was another pause, then her voice came back, more polite and robotic. “I am prepared to start your tour, Mister Anders. Would you like to begin?”

“One sec.” I took the phone away from mouth and turned to Derek. “I guess I’m gonna start a tour of the city, so it’s okay if you want to go back to the room.”

He waved his hand. “No, no, I’ll come with you. I can introduce you to some people along the way. Besides, I haven’t done the tour in years. Maybe she’s added something.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 1)

And so it begins. Not much to look at now, but it will get better, I promise. Right now, I’m just introducing MC. She’s not going to come up for a while, but she’s important, which is why I wanted to introduce her early. The next few updates will be about the city itself (from Adam and Derek’s perspectives) more than the characters themselves.

Oh, and Domina City means approximately “City of the Lady,” and refers to the Virgin Mary. A lot of the start up capital was provided by the Vatican, so they got to choose the name.