Okay, so here’s what I suggest. First, watch the Unholy Domain video trailer; it’s only three minutes and it provides an exciting cinematic overview of the story. If this video doesn’t peak your interest, then Unholy Domain isn’t the story for you.
If you enjoyed the video, read a chapter of the novel. I picked out Chapter Three because it introduces David Brown, a young man with issues, and kicks off his quest to prove his late father innocent of a horrendous act of terrorism. If you get into the story, then you should buy my novel; otherwise, I thank you for taking the time to check out my work.
By Dan Ronco
An uneasy peace exists between believers and Technos. Most people draw clear boundaries between religion and technology, but what if they come into conflict? What would put them in fundamental conflict? Or is the question who rather than what?
Steve Bonini’s Diary, 2014
Monday, January 31, 2022
David forced his eyes open and blinked at the sunlight streaming through his apartment window. His stomach felt queasy, and he kicked himself for staying so late at the bars. He recalled going out to the car with Cindy-what’s-her-name, but everything was a blur.
Turning his head to focus on the alarm clock, he groaned when he saw it was almost 11 a.m. He knew he should drag himself out of bed and catch up on his homework. Now in his fourth year at the University of Washington, he was still a junior because he had dropped so many classes. Although testing had revealed a genius level IQ, his grades were mediocre. Not that he gave a shit.
Is Cindy still here? He reached over, but the bed was empty. Too bad. She must have decided to sneak away before her friends discovered that she had slept with the infamous David Brown.
He blinked his eyes, but his vision remained blurry. That girl could sure suck down the beer. He smiled, thinking about last night’s encounter. She knew how to use that body, too. He scratched his head and fought the temptation to go back to sleep.
On the wall was a poster of Marilyn Monroe, a long-ago sex symbol. A blast of wind from a passing subway had blown her dress upwards, revealing a beautiful pair of legs. Although Marilyn attempted to push down her dress, a mischievous smile lit up her face. The honest beauty and pure enjoyment of that poster always made him feel good. Marilyn died young, a misfit, but she had left her mark. Maybe he would leave his mark, too.
David’s robot, NewBuddy, waited at the foot of the bed. A five-foot-tall mobile computer with a holographic projector on top, it could move about the apartment on four spidery legs. He had brought NewBuddy home from the school’s artificial intelligence lab to upgrade its software.
How many beers did I have last night, anyway? He smiled. Not as many as Cindy.
When he propped himself up on his elbows, the robot displayed Marilyn Monroe’s head and torso in a three-dimensional holograph just above its top section.
“Rise and shine, big boy,” Marilyn said. “Time to get that bod out of bed.”
“You’ll have to do better than that, Marilyn,” he said, yawning.
The robot then projected a life-size hologram of Marilyn in a tiny bikini standing next to the bed. The image was so vivid, David felt he could have reached up and touched her. She leaned over him, her breasts swaying deliciously, and leered. “I really need you to get up.” She giggled. “Come on, baby.”
David chuckled, “Pretty good,” but remained in bed.
He fluffed up the pillows and stretched out.
There wasn’t that much homework, anyway.
He loved working on the robot, and he knew every inch of it. The central processing and memory unit located midway up the frame coordinated the actions of the microchips distributed throughout the robot’s structure. NewBuddy had the hardware capability to outperform a human at many tasks. An idea to improve its performance popped into his mind, but instead of acting on it, he reluctantly decided to study for the exams.
The robot carried a bunch of towels into the bathroom, treading lightly on its thin legs. A moment later, David heard water running in the shower.
He wondered why his professors insisted he take all these dumb classes; they knew he had designed most of the enhancements to this robot. Thanks to his work, each microchip employed high performance software that functioned independently of the central processor. In effect, he had distributed intelligence throughout the robot, with the central processor providing coordination. David wasn’t claiming all the credit—he didn’t really care who got the credit—but everyone knew he had developed the software.
NewBuddy came out of the bathroom. “Your shower is ready.”
David kicked off the blankets and dragged himself out of bed. He took a step and stumbled over a pair of sneakers. They didn’t look familiar, so he held one against his foot. Too small. He chuckled when he realized Cindy had left her sneakers here. He felt under the bed for his sneakers.Gone.
Wear them in good health.
Undressing as he walked, he dropped his underpants on the floor and stumbled to the bathroom. He opened the shower door and tested the water temperature with his hand. Why do I bother? He enjoyed a long shower, shaved, tied his thick brown hair back in a wet ponytail and walked back to the bedroom to get dressed. He checked out his bare body as he passed the mirror—lean and tight.
NewBuddy had left a pair of jeans, a black pull-over shirt, clean underpants, and white socks on the now made-up bed. His beat-up tennis shoes were side by side on the rug. After dressing quickly, he ambled into the old-fashioned but recently repainted kitchen, where NewBuddy had placed a cup of coffee, black and steaming, on the table. The robot was heating scrambled eggs and toast in the microwave, which it served shortly after he sipped the coffee.
He grinned and said, “Marilyn, what do you think are my best qualities?”
While the robot carried frozen strips of bacon to the microwave, a life-sized hologram of Marilyn Monroe, dressed in a French maid’s outfit, appeared at his side.
“Hmmm, you have so many good qualities.” Marilyn licked her lips. “It’s difficult, big boy, to pick out just one or two.”
Scratching his chin, David pretended to consider Marilyn’s answer. “You make a good point. I know it’s difficult with so much to choose from, but let’s be bold. Take a stab at it.”
“Well, that hard body of yours does things for me,” Marilyn purred. “Plus, you know more about artificial intelligence and robotics than anyone else in the world, including that bimbo Dr. Golkin, who gave you a C in the robotics lab.” Marilyn smiled and said, “That’s it, baby, sexy and smart— those are your best qualities.”
“Excellent. My selections as well.” David raised his coffee cup. “My compliments to your neural networks.”
While eating scrambled eggs and bacon, he picked up his eyeglasses and said, “Turn on the news.”
The intelligent software in the glasses selected his standard morning news broadcast. The first report described a big government technology bust. The news reporter described how the FBI had caught a gang of black marketers. An informer had revealed the location of a data warehouse on the net, containing illegal financial software. By analyzing and extrapolating vast amounts of financial data, the software could augment human reasoning in placing stock market transactions. The news reporter explained how anyone owning this software would have an unfair advantage over everyone else, violating the Technology Fairness Act. Luckily, the reporter droned, the FBI caught the criminals before they could distribute the software over the net.
Stupid law, stupid government.
“Turn off this crap and display my messages.” He finished the scrambled eggs and took a big bite of toast.
He stopped chewing when his glasses displayed page after page of email messages—more than eight thousand messages last night.
“What the hell?” he murmured and selected the first one. The video showed the hazy outline of a man sitting in a dark room. A heavy, deliberately distorted voice said, “You and your whole damn family should have been executed years ago. I don’t buy all that bullshit that you were innocent. You have bad blood. We should get a hot iron and ram—”
“Shut down this message,” David shouted and collapsed back in his chair.
God, it was happening again.
He picked another message and the puffy face of a fifty-plus woman appeared.
“My son Donnie would be thirty-one if he hadn’t died from radiation exposure ten years ago,” she said. “Your father—may he rot in hell —was responsible for Donnie’s murder when that PeaceMaker made the nuclear reactor explode. You should at least have the decency to say you’re sorry for what that bastard did. First Minister Jordan says you’re a computer freak, too. The government ought to lock you up and throw away the key.”
The picture went blank.
So that’s what set it off. A stupid speech by that maniac Adam Jordan. Shit. If they target me, this could get dangerous.
The old anger came back, fresh and raw. He would not let these bastards push him around again.
PeaceMaker was my father’s crime, not mine.My father, damn him.
He spit the toast out of his mouth.
As suddenly as it came, the storm passed. There wasn’t any point in getting worked up, he decided. The anger simmered, but he’d get through it.
“Eliminate all the messages in my mailbox except those from people I know.”
All but a few messages disappeared. His mother had messaged several times, warning him to stay out of class for a few days. That bastard Jordan was heating things up again, no doubt to recruit converts for his miserable church.
Too bad he didn’t have a class today. At least he could go over to the library, as if he was looking up something in that slower-than-shit computer system. Screw them.
Only one message remained. Sent from a public database, the message had been created a decade earlier. Curious, he selected it.
His father stared at him from across the years, a broad-shouldered man with big hands tapping nervously on his desk.
David gaped at the once-familiar image. Unruly salt and pepper hair flopped over a forehead lined with deep creases, but it was the intensity in his father’s dark eyes that mesmerized David.
The man began to speak, slowly, quietly. “Dear David, receiving a message from your father after all these years must be quite a shock, and I’m sorry for that. You’re twenty-one now, old enough to learn what happened directly from me. By chance, I discovered a lethal virus in the Atlas operating system, and I have decided to do everything in my power to defeat it and expose the people who developed it. I’m scared and I thought about walking away from it, but I can’t do it. Since you received this message, I must have failed and my enemies captured or killed me. You see, this message was set to release automatically in 2022 unless I deleted it. God, I can only hope they were stopped before they unleashed the virus.
“It was great to see you last weekend. You are probably building computer systems I couldn’t even imagine. You’re growing into a fine young man.” There was a catch in his voice. “I am so proud of you.” His father paused for a moment to regain his composure. “I’m not very good at giving a speech, and I won’t try to do that today. I wasn’t as good a father as you deserved. I drank too much and I wasn’t always there when you needed me. Your mother deserves all the credit for helping you grow up as well as you have. But know this—I love you very much.”
His father pushed a strand of hair back from his forehead. “I guess that’s all I have to say. I don’t know what kind of world exists in 2022, but I hope it’s good for you.”
The sadness in his father’s voice settled like a damp winter day into David’s bones.
“Goodbye … I wish it could have been different … live fully and honorably … that’s all.”
Stunned, David played the message again. He tried to capture every word, every inflection. The message appeared to be authentic—why would anyone fake it after all these years?
Slowly the enormity of the message sank in; was it possible his father was not the monster who had infected the net with the PeaceMaker virus? If this message was true , his father had not been responsible for all the death and destruction when the computers shut down. Just the opposite. He had lost his life trying to stop the criminals responsible for the catastrophe.
He felt sick. His head ached, but this wasn’t a normal headache. The pain seemed to flow right into his mind. He hadn’t suffered an attack like this for years, since PeaceMaker had been terminated. David buried his head in his arms and closed his eyes. The stench of roadside kill drifted into his senses as in a dream. Pain … disquieting sensations … more pain. An image formed in the shadows of his mind. The image twisted and vibrated, like an insect escaping a cocoon, but remained hazy. Then he understood … an entity was coming across the net, coming for him. His mind’s eye strained to see through the darkness … the image twisted into the shape of a child, but it wasn’t flesh and blood. All his senses warned him of danger.
David readied for the confrontation. A stone blasted through his kitchen window, spraying shards of glass across the room, bringing him out of his trance. He dived to the floor as a second stone hurled through the window and crashed into his refrigerator. A barrage of stones pelted his windows, and he scrambled under the table.
Angry voices came from the ground, and another volley of stones smashed through the windows. Sirens wailed in the distance, and he prayed it was the police coming to rescue him. Stones continued to fly through the windows, splintering the remaining glass and crashing into the walls and ceiling. The siren grew louder, but it seemed to be taking forever.
He heard voices from the exterior hallway, then a loud crash. Someone was trying to knock down his door! His only weapon was a baseball bat in the bedroom closet. He scrambled across the kitchen floor on his hands and knees. He reached up, opened the closet door and searched for the bat. Loud thuds as someone tried to kick in the door. He found the bat and got ready to swing it at anyone who broke in.
A voice yelled, “Cops,” and several people ran down the exterior hall.
Another volley of stones crashed through the bedroom window. He scrambled back under the kitchen table. Excited voices came through the windows, and he thought he heard a policeman shouting orders. Gradually, it grew quiet outside, except for a pulsing siren. Still holding the bat, he crept to the kitchen window and peeked out. A few demonstrators were in the street, but the police had them under control.
One grubby-looking guy spotted David in the window and shouted obscenities. David gave him the finger then crunched through broken glass back to the kitchen table. NewBuddy was stretched out on the floor, his chest dented by a rock.
A policeman came in to see if he was okay, and glanced around at the damage. He seemed annoyed to be there and left without saying much.
David went back to the splintered kitchen window and watched the police drag away the few remaining demonstrators. He doubted anyone would be charged.
He looked around at his apartment, littered with stones and broken glass. It was getting chilly, but he didn’t care.
After staring blankly out the window for some time, he realized he was pressing hard on the windowsill, leaving his fingertips white and sore. The demonstrators were gone. A lone policeman stood at the front door of the apartment building.
David pulled a sheet off his bed and tacked it over the bedroom window, then did the same in the kitchen. He swept up the broken glass, poured a glass of cola and sat down at the kitchen table.
His father was responsible for this.
Years before, he had concluded that his father had failed at all the important things in life.Sure, the man had it tough, but he failed big-time. His father had led a sad life, beginning with a dysfunctional family. He had fought alcoholism, never winning but never giving up either. The man had tried to be a good husband and father. When he had been sober, when he had been there for them, he was terrific. They just never knew which Raymond Brown they would get. And in the end, they got a failed man.
But how do I really know Dad wasn’t guilty? Maybe the message is a clever fake. Maybe he was creating an alibi in case things failed. Or maybe he was just a psycho after all.
David pressed his forehead against the table. Damn you, Dad, you bastard, you loser. Damn you, wherever you are. He couldn’t think of enough curses to burn out his rage, and they kept tumbling through his mind.
He couldn’t go on like this—he had to get to the truth. A lot more than an old message would be necessary to demonstrate his father’s innocence—if he was innocent. Those responsible for creating PeaceMaker had concocted a convincing lie, so getting to the truth would be tough. A decade had passed, plenty of time to destroy all the evidence of his father’s innocence, if there was any.
If my father is innocent, and I do this, the people who killed him will come after me.
Yet he had to do it. If he could prove his father wasn’t guilty, the family name would be cleared. All the hatred would disappear; they could live like normal people.
He wouldn’t fail.He wasn’t like his father. He would find out whether his father was innocent or guilty—wherever the truth took him. He’d get to the core and finally understand that strange, complex man.
Then he could free himself.
To David’s surprise, he felt strangely alive. For the first time in his life, he had a clear goal: he would finally learn what made his father tick. If Dad was innocent, David would clear the family name and bring the bastards to justice.
He glanced around at his broken apartment. He’d have to be careful, or his father’s killers would discover his search. He swallowed hard. And there was that creature coming over the net.