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.

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