Science Fiction



This book will launch on Dec 3, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

How far would you go to keep your dreams alive?

On the arid planet of Garadia floats Prominence City, an oasis of abundance and technological marvels. For Keidi and Artenz, life is good. Each day, they work hard to fulfill their role in sustaining Prominence. In return, they share an existence without worry or want, their every need attended to by the ruling corporations, their lives enhanced by a virtual reality accessible with a simple thought.

But when a dear friend of Keidi goes suddenly missing, their idyllic existence begins to crumble. And when they start asking questions—the wrong questions, questions that reveal cracks in Prominence’s perfect image—the powerful corporations of Prominence take notice.

Now, Keidi and Artenz must choose: do they stay in Prominence and risk the wrath of the corporations, or do they take their chances and run for the Lowlands, a bleak and mysterious place hidden beneath Prominence—if it even exists at all.

Missing Imagram

Artenz first awoke in the bio-sphere. As he surfaced from the depths of sleep, words appeared in the bottom right corner of his vision:

Brought to you by InfoSoft Corporation, a division of CGC.
Year 3.4k60 Season 05 Day 11 Hour 0600.
Welcome to the bio-sphere, Artenz Scherzel.

Everything was gray, with the type being a shade darker than the surroundings. Artenz wondered if anyone noticed the printed words anymore. Probably not—not consciously, anyway.

The words disappeared and blended into the background as the profile room built itself. This early in the morning, it loaded quickly.

The floor emerged first, covered with flashing panels: products on sale, deals on services, gadgets free to try, trials of a day. Each just a touch away, accessible before anything else appeared. All in black and white; the colors would load later.

The walls filled in next, forming an elongated rectangle, a simple reproduction of the relaxing room in their lodge. A blank elliptical window appeared on one of the walls. Shelves expanded from another surface, 10 centimeters wide, stacked from floor to ceiling. On a third wall, a large screen slid down from the ceiling.

In front of Artenz, a pole popped out of the floor, with a keyboard and a monitor hanging from it. The screen was an inert black.

A low chair materialized under Artenz. He enjoyed the momentary confusion as his brain tried to reconcile the fact that until now, he had been sitting on empty air.

Imagrams appeared on the shelves, one by one: silhouettes of friends and acquaintances, some asleep and lying down, others awake and moving around their allocated cells.

The large screen presented news of Prominence City and updates from the bio-sphere. This friend did this. That friend did that. A sunny day with passing clouds. Sections of the Plaza closed for the day due to construction. Tram 336 is 15 minutes late. The number of Promients reached 45 million. The visage of Rakkah, master manipulator of the Low Lands, large and scary. The old woman had finally been caught and was on trial.

A calendar emerged on the remaining wall, completely covering its surface. A circle for each day and in each circle, reminders in different shapes and colors.

All around, hue and tint bled across everything. The walls painted themselves a metallic blue, and the ceiling turned beige.

The elliptical window opened and showed the streets of Prominence City, the same view as the one from their lodge. It annoyed Artenz. His setting indicated that the window should present a clear blue sky, no buildings or tram-rail, no streets floating over streets and no walk-way. Yet every morning, the setting was ignored, as if it had never been changed, as if the program could not keep it in memory. This was one of the many unresolved issues of the bio-sphere, which would never be able to replace the real world, no matter how much some believed it eventually would.

Finally, on the monitor in front of Artenz, an action prompt appeared.


Artenz sat forward and looked at the monitor.

Welcome to the Data-sphere.
Load time 0.007012 seconds.
Year 3.4k60 Season 05 Day 11 Hour 0600.

The load had been extremely fast. As Artenz had observed before, the early hour helped. He looked around and noticed that his mind had once more missed a few elements. Even with the enhancements of his b-pad, his brain had not been quick enough to follow everything.

Today, he had missed the appearance of the rug. It covered most of the floor and hid the constant flux of publicity. Artenz had written the snippet of code a few months ago. Proud of himself, he had inserted it in Keidi’s profile room and shared it with Marti to do with as he pleased. The last time Artenz had visited Marti’s room, it had covered all of the floor area.

Artenz typed a command on the keyboard, and the window’s content transformed from the view of Prominence City into the blue sky he preferred.

That done, Artenz entered a second command, one he had entered almost daily for the past month.

His medical chart appeared, followed by Keidi’s.

He inhaled deeply to fight his growing anxiety, but it did not work. In the bio-sphere, there was no need to breathe.


The medical charts predicted that they had between 17.50 and 20.00 percent chance of a successful natural pregnancy during any given month. Keidi’s personal success percentage was at 30.00, excessively high.

She was 33 and Artenz was 37. Although this was not an excessive difference in age, his average was significantly lower. Between 5.00 and 10.00 percent only.

Had this information been true, their chances would have been good.

His sister had insisted on doing her own calculations. “The charts’ numbers are much too simple,” Detel said. “On top of being pure nonsense.”

Her calculations put their success rate closer to 2.13 percent, with Keidi at 3.00 percent and Artenz at 1.25. These numbers were even harder to believe. Yet Detel insisted 2.13 was extremely positive.

“What is the general average?” he had asked.

“My latest analysis put it around 0.34, but who can really say?”

Detel attributed Artenz’s low percentage to the presence of the tiny pad in his brain. The chip had been installed when he was 10 years of age, to the great displeasure of his parents.

“Pads are installed at birth,” Artenz had argued with Detel.

“Exactly,” she replied. “Which is why the two of you have better than average chances. No thanks to you, I have to say.”

Keidi had her pad inserted when she was 22. She regretted it and seldom used it. She preferred the first model, the wrist-pad, which was an actual flat screen worn on the forearm. The second model, the palm-pad, had nested in the inside of the hand and had constantly broken. The third model was a chip on the side of the neck.

Its name was terrible, but Artenz had to admit that it was an impressive device and that he was, for lack of a better word, addicted to it.

2.13 percent.

Despite Detel’s confidence, it did not seem promising.

“Better than the alternative,” said Keidi.

So, by pooling her technical skills with his coding abilities—and Marti’s—they had modified Keidi’s brain-pad to hide her health information—not hide, not exactly. The b-pad constantly monitored health signs, so it needed to receive something. The modifications meant that Keidi’s b-pad read falsified information.

If they were going to try natural birth, there was no reason to alarm the authorities.

For a year, they had monitored Keidi’s health signs, storing the information and using it to create new outputs mirroring the data collected.


It was like playing the lottery, which Artenz had never won. Almost everyone he knew had won a few credits here and there, but not him. He had not been optimistic that the natural birth could even be done. After all, they had been trying for close to two years now.

Artenz had not mentioned anything to Keidi, but in truth he’d felt relieved. He wanted a family but had not felt ready yet.

But three days ago, when he had gotten back to the lodge after his day at the office, Keidi had been sitting on the relaxing room floor with a picnic set up: red wool blanket, candles, a little feast, and the widest of smiles on her face…


Keidi was everything to him, and when she had proposed trying for a natural birth, Artenz had indulged her, never thinking it would work.

After all, it never did.

Or, now that he thought about it with a clear mind, it was not that natural birth never worked—it was that people never tried. The law was clear on the matter. By going this route, Keidi was declining medical assistance and support for both pregnancy and birth. On top of this, many organizations had policies of their own, stating they would not keep employees who selected natural birth. Some went as far as calling it immoral.

Given that Keidi was unmovable on the matter, the birth would have to be done in secret, with the help of a hired medic. Trust Detel to know someone who was willing to help in secrecy. Still, there was no doubt in Artenz’s mind that if the matter became known, he would lose his job.

The law did not discourage natural birth without cause. There was another number, another percentage, that was extremely important and that scared Artenz greatly.

This number had plagued him for the past three days. The number was 67.80 percent.

Out of any 10 newborns arriving via natural birth, seven were blanks.

The terrible number was imprinted in Artenz mind, especially now that he knew that Keidi was pregnant.

A blank baby would change everything. It meant that the secret birth would turn into a secret life.

If they decided to keep the baby.

Artenz hated thinking this way, but what kind of life could a blank baby have? And what about the parents? Still, even with all his doubts about being ready for fatherhood, a part of him could not help being excited.

A baby. A little boy.

His growing excitement was overshadowed by the thought that the baby could be blank. The possibility terrified him, which was why he needed to talk to Detel. The sooner, the better. This morning, to be exact.

His sister had said once that some numbers could be altered. He needed to know if that number—the 67.80—could be changed. He wanted it to go down, way down.


The fake blue sky danced in the elliptical window. It felt as if Artenz had been sitting for hours. He asked the monitor for the time.

Year 3.4k60 Season 05 Day 11 Hour 0601.

The number represented the actual time of the real world. Time passed more slowly in the bio-sphere due to the processing speed of the technological environment. You could spend 10 minutes in the bio-sphere with only a single minute expiring in Prominence City. Artenz believed the disparity could potentially be changed, as it was a property of the bio-sphere. Because the disparity was deeply ingrained in the environment, major reprogramming would most likely be required to make an adjustment. That was his hypothesis on the matter.

Artenz turned toward his friends-panel. It covered a full wall, the largest of his profile room. Not his choice. He didn’t even need half of the shelves available. Most were empty. The others had figurines, some transparent and dormant and others active and moving around in their cubicles.

On the center shelf was Keidi, her silhouette bundled on the floor in a cute curled-up position, sleeping.

Artenz closed his eyes while staying in the bio-sphere. He smiled as he felt the warmth of Keidi’s naked body cuddled against his in their bed, the sensation transcending from reality to his artificial room. He enjoyed the intimacy for a brief moment, then reopened his eyes, staying in the bio-sphere.

He looked at the shelf to Keidi’s right and was surprised to find it empty.

No imagram.

No Detel.

Quickly, Artenz looked up and down, browsing through the panel, making certain it had not been rearranged. That happened more often than it should, and certainly more often than Artenz would have liked.

The moderators simply chose to rearrange things now and then, maybe to force people to interact with their panel and their room. If only they would concentrate mainly on keeping an eye out for anomalies, instead of interfering. To Artenz, the whole thing was an idiosyncrasy more frustrating than anything else. He had tried to write a snippet of code to block updates to his wall. So far, all his attempts had failed, but it was only a question of time before he succeeded.

In this case, though, the order hadn’t changed.

Detel’s shelf was where it should be.

“Reload,” Artenz said.

The walls around blurred and crashed down, leaving an open-ended gray space. Artenz closed his eyes to dodge the dizziness. Even with his eyes closed, he saw the print.

Brought to you by InfoSoft Corporation, a division of CGC.
Year 3.4k60 Season 05 Day 11 Hour 0602.
Welcome to the bio-sphere, Artenz Scherzel.

He waited another moment, keeping his eyes closed while the load completed. When he finally opened them, the room was ready.

Only, this time, Detel’s shelf was not empty.

It was completely gone.

About the author

STEVE C. ESTON grew up in the province of New Brunswick in Canada. He is a manager in technology services for the federal government and lives in Fredericton with his wife Leigh, and their children. For information, excerpts, and free short stories, you can visit him at: view profile

Published on December 02, 2020

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Science Fiction

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