They knew that their time on the planet they called home was drawing to a close. Their scientists had calculated the event several hundred years ago and so they were in a position to plan, research and decide what to do when the moment was upon them. Thanks to their advanced technology, they had been able to procure the necessary respite for their researchers. Some of the scientists even went as far as claiming that they could cope with X0-12113, the asteroid which, according to their reckoning, was going to destroy their world. Ever since the asteroid’s discovery a thousand years ago, the brightest and most competent minds had been working on potential solutions. While one group tried to discover means of annihilating X0-12113, or at least sufficiently diverting its trajectory to no longer pose a threat, other teams researched promising alternatives. One of them was to create a new home on a different planet.
A hundred years before the X0-12113’s anticipated entry into their solar system, the leading scientists had split into two factions. One argued that, based on their technological advancements, it was no longer necessary to leave. The other viewed the colonization of a safe new planet as the better option. Most of the population was extremely attached to the familiar surroundings and stayed despite the risk. Only a minority decided to venture forth towards new horizons.
The creators of the new civilization were proud that not only had they survived but also been instrumental in establishing the foundation for the new society. Owing to the difficult circumstances the world encountered, however, it took several centuries before the new type of society had stabilized and established itself. Naturally, as with all profound and radical changes, creating this new order initially also met with occasional pockets of resistance, but they were tracked with merciless determination and oppressed with extreme severity. Virtually every reminder of the old, bygone era was destroyed and erased from public sources and therefore from public awareness. But, as usual, the past couldn’t be completely obliterated and a small number of people managed to preserve the memory of earlier times so that some day it could be rediscovered by those searching for the lost history.
Camil was one of the most eminent scientists inside the field of reproduction. This was hardly surprising seeing that the former director of the institute had personally overseen his creation. It wasn’t unusual that the Patriarch in charge of a particular faculty produced a suitable heir for himself, also called Inherit, or had him produced. The Inherit would eventually become the Patriarch’s successor, to resume and preserve his work, thus ensuring continuity and that the previous incumbent’s work, after that office-holder had died or retired, would be equally well managed in public and private establishments by the new dignitary. Besides bestowing their genetic legacy, the Patriarchs trained their successors themselves, so that these were familiar with their mentors’ mindsets and principles from an early age on.
Although Camil had specialized in a different branch within his creator’s main field, there was still no doubt that he would one day assume the leadership of the medical institute. But until he would be in charge of running the entire establishment, he could concentrate completely on his specialist subject. His work over the last decade had further enhanced the institute’s prestige, thereby securing additional business even from far distant regions. By now Camil’s department had gained a reputation for being able to satisfy more or less any request – regardless how strange or unusual.
While Camil went through the previous week’s assignments and sorted them by degree of difficulty, Marnak, one of the scientists on his main team, approached him to place an envelope on his desk. The envelope consisted of special paper, which was basically a flexible data carrier that stored information as well as visually displaying it. Camil didn’t even glance at it; instead he kept on concentrating on the list in front of him.
“Aren’t you at all curious to know what’s inside?” Marnak tried to divert him from his work, emphasizing what he’d just said by picking the envelope up again and waving it in front of Camil’s face until his colleague leaned back in exasperation and looked up.
“Not really, but you seem to be,” Camil replied while grabbing the envelope and unfolding it. He had to enter a multi-digit authorization code and answer a secret question before he could read the message. By now, messages were usually only transmitted digitally and displayed directly in the recipient’s inbox, but in some circles a certain kind of nostalgia endured whereby they still delivered messages on tangible, paper-like data carriers.
As expected, the message was displayed in simulated handwriting and therefore partly illegible. Camil sighed. It annoyed him when time was wasted on such needless exercises, particularly if it was his own time. The note was an official invitation to an anniversary celebration - including an overnight stay in an exclusive hotel - by some wealthy industrialist who would dearly appreciate the opportunity to meet Camil seeing that he’d already heard so much about him. The host discreetly hinted that Camil would certainly not regret attending and that it would be worth it for the scientist and the institute.
Camil placed the digital paper in front of him on his desk and deliberated. The institute was financially independent and didn’t have to rely on ‘donations’. Its commissions paid well and it consequently didn’t need any rich benefactors to finance the research it deemed important. Only once or twice in the past had there been clients requesting something outside the institute’s current state of knowledge. In those cases the institute agreed to assemble a research team to try and satisfy the client’s request – provided that the institute, following an in-depth analysis, had reached the conclusion that the research would also be of in-house use. As soon as the client’s solvency had been established and he had committed himself to cover all expenses for the duration of the research, including downtime costs, the institute provided a team which devoted itself exclusively to the project.
Depending on the client’s age and the time required for the research, it was possible that results wouldn’t be delivered in time. As a safeguard against potential lawsuits, the contract therefore contained an explicit provision whereby the institute was guaranteed a minimum of 60 to 80 percent of the agreed fee even if the client died before the research was concluded or if he was unable to use the end result for other reasons. As such, the institute didn’t take any risks and the contractee couldn’t cancel the commission once he had accepted the conditions. As far as Camil was aware, the institute‘s financial independence had been attained through just such a contract that had yielded a small fortune which had accumulated ever since.
Marnak was still standing beside Camil, waiting for him to disclose the nature of the message, but Camil appeared to have forgotten about him and seemed lost in thought. Marnak was about to say something when Camil turned around to him.
“I’ve been invited to some big shot’s anniversary party,” Camil finally enlightened Marnak. For a moment, the two of them looked at each other without saying a word.
“And you’re not in the mood to put in an appearance,” Marnak added and Camil nodded.
“You’ve got it.”
Marnak shook his head. “I’m sure it would do you good to get out of here once in a while. A bit of sun and a change of scenery.”
The observation earned Marnak one of Camil’s typical looks underlined by a raised eyebrow and the rebuke: “The party won’t start until the evening and last into the night – hardly an occasion for sunlight. Besides, I dislike attending events like this, as you very well know. What if you go in my place?” he suggested.
Marnak laughed. “Sure, no problem. But you forgot that they invited you and not me. And seeing that you are the future director of the institute, and everyone even remotely informed knows your face, it’s highly unlikely that they could mistake me for you.”
Following a brief moment of the two of them silently staring at each other, Camil agreed: “You’re right, unfortunately.”
While Marnak was tall and athletic, Camil’s stature was more small-boned and slender. While Marnak had short, brown hair and gray-brown eyes, Camil’s silvery-white hair was long and his eyes were cognac-colored. While Marnak’s skin was tanned a golden brown, Camil’s skin was as pale as ivory. It was therefore completely out of the question that anyone who had ever seen a photo of Camil could believe him to be Marnak. It was basically highly unlikely that Camil could be mistaken for someone else – his appearance was altogether rather unusual.
Two weeks later Camil found himself at Rhonir’s anniversary party in a luxurious urban mansion with extensive gardens. In contrast to the institute and its surrounding village populated exclusively by staff, most of the people from other areas and social strata still resided in various cities. The cities were substantially less homogenous and structured than the villages attached to the leading institutes. But they, too, had a recognizable inherent order. Vagrants or beggars didn’t exist as each citizen was entitled to the basics according to his role within society. The respective city councils meticulously ensured that this underlying principle was actually adhered to. But it only applied to the male citizens, the Hom’ri. The female population, the Femera, had no basic rights.
Of course, the various strata were treated differently. A common worker was entitled to less than an industrial magnate, but nobody was homeless or had to fear for his existence. The Council of Nine, as the supreme government was called, was proud of having achieved such a well structured society. It ratified the efforts and principles they had followed and implemented over the years to create a truly advanced and balanced society – at least in their own view.
As Camil was escorted into the living area by a domestic staff member in a black suit, he was quite amazed by the sheer size of the room. More a hall than a conventional living room it stretched along the entire back of the house where it was bordered by a patio and then the gardens.
Camil briefly scanned those present. Without all these guests the room would feel empty and superfluous. With its entire ostentatious splendor, only large gatherings like this one gave it the right to exist. Camil hated such openly displayed power symbols. To him they seemed crude and archaic and he preferred more subtle methods of demonstrating knowledge, wisdom and status than a gigantic living room in an oversized mansion.
Although the servant had shown Camil into the room, he had then promptly left him to his own devices. Camil was just contemplating if he should go outside into the garden – perhaps it was quieter and less crowded out there – when an athletic-looking, elegantly dressed man approached him.
“I’m delighted that you managed to attend my intimate little party, Camil’ri,” Rhonir welcomed him.
Camil flashed him a vague smile; more out of politeness than the pleasure of taking his host’s extended hand. Rhonir’s handshake was confident, brief and firm, befitting a man who acted without unnecessary hesitation. His combed back hair was as dark as his vibrant eyes and his skin was naturally tanned.
“I’m honored to have been invited as our institute’s representative, Patron,” Camil replied with a formality that didn’t escape Rhonir.
“Even as the institute’s representative you should feel free to have a good time,“ the host remarked while carefully studying his guest. Camil briefly considered engaging in some trivial small talk, but since both of them knew he hadn’t been invited to simply enjoy himself, he decided to get straight to the point.
“I don’t doubt your qualities as a host, but I don’t expect you to distort the facts. I’m sure you invited me for a certain reason which doesn’t entail my personal enjoyment of your party.”
Rhonir was momentarily taken aback by Camil’s directness before he agreed: “As you wish, Camil’ri. Please follow me.”
With those words, he turned around and led the scientist back into the foyer and from there to the mansion’s upper story which housed the library. Up here it was much more peaceful than in the first floor study. After motioning Camil to be seated on the sofa and sitting down in one of the armchairs himself, Rhonir gestured the discretely waiting servant to fetch them some drinks before once again focusing his attention on Camil.
“As you already gathered, you were invited for a particular reason and it’s no coincidence that you were the institute member selected.” He paused briefly to give Camil a chance to respond, but continued when no reply was forthcoming.
“Your reputation and your credentials precede you, but, of course, you know all that. That’s why I chose you. I would like you to deal with a very specific request. An idea of mine I would like to see coming to fruition and for which I need a competent specialist – you.”
Camil listened to the ensuing explanations with a blank expression. Not once did he interrupt, and when Rhonir was finished Camil had only one question: “You are aware that commissions like yours carry no guarantee of being satisfied and that you’re not entitled to a refund?“
Rhonir nodded affirmatively. “Yes, I am fully aware of that,“ he replied unperturbed. “Believe me, I carefully consider the risks before deciding on a new project. I would hardly be as successful as I am if I wouldn’t.”
Camil didn’t comment on the last remark and merely informed Rhonir that, in that case, he had to submit a written request to the institute where, as Rhonir would surely know, the committee would decide whether to accept or reject the commission. If the decision was positive, Camil himself would agree to initiate the project. Rhonir shook his head after listening to the conditions.
“That’s not good enough for me. I’m shouldering the whole financial risk myself regardless of the project’s success or failure. I am prepared to allocate the required sum to your institute, but under one condition only: I want you to personally head the project and to actively participate in the research. I want you to be informed of every aspect at all times and to monitor the various options. You either agree to make this project your utmost priority or there won’t be a deal between the institute and me.”