Coffee and bacon.
The scent was heavy in the air. Damn, now the fresh bread smell. I was late.
I sat up, stretched, letting the smells permeate my brain and make my stomach rumble. I reached over and turned off the alarm clock and the scents quickly faded. Now I’d have to actually make some.
I slid out of bed, stretched languidly again then rubbed my eyes as the room lights brightened.
“Lower the light level,” I grumbled, as the house computer complied. “Save the half light settings for wakening, the default levels are too high.”
“Acknowledged,” came the too soothing computerized voice. “Will this be a permanent setting or just for this morning?”
I glanced down at the alarm clock to reset it for tomorrow and set the time, leaving the scent setting alone, the coffee and bacon worked better than the other morning scents. One of these days, I’d get a single scent clock instead of this fancier multi-cultural clock that had too many options for my tastes.
“Permanent,” I said, the last tendrils of my bad mood eluding me. “Oh, make the shower setting two degrees hotter and save that too. Oh, and start it in 10 minutes.”
I set about laying my uniform components on the bed for after the morning cleansing period. I glanced at the dark window and felt uneasy, low in my belly.
“Hey, um, about the view; can you make it a beachfront, Mediterranean resort, circa, 1890 BCE?”
The view window flickered on to a gorgeous blue ocean and sky with over dressed but elegant tourists frolicking on the sand and surf.
I couldn’t shake this knowing sense of unease when I couldn’t point to anything specifically unsettled. Life was good and who complained about life being too good?
Crazy people, malcontents, people who liked to do things the hardest way possible. What was the point of that? Same result but more work to achieve it? What good comes from that? Pointless filling of pointless time.
Clean up your body and maybe it will clean out the mess in your mind too. Into the cleansing room and back in the sleeping quarters to pull on my uniform in 15 minutes. Decadent for a workday; but at least I don’t have to commute to another community for work.
I run my hands through my hair and pull it back into a rough ponytail. I Put on my uniform cap and catch my reflection in the mirror as I head out the door. I glance at the cap making a straight line just above my brow and it makes me look more scowling than I prefer, so I give it a slight enough tilt to not be so formal, but not be exactly a jaunty tilt either.
I stepped out of my quarters and into the hallway. Commute to work over that instantly.
I glance around at my neighbors making their trek to the local commuter service. They’d get their breakfast on the train during their rides to their work communities. I don’t envy them, I’d rather not commute and have that time for my self, easier to have work and personal time than work, commute and personal time.
Still, I wondered what it would feel like to have to commute very workday to somewhere else and having actual scenery going by the windows.
A few people smiled and nodded to me, and I returned the greeting with a smile softening my face; while we waited for our respective turns in the elevator to the nearside.
I stepped out of the elevator pod, feeling a tingle of excitement as I stepped onto the nearside street, then stepped sideways to be out of the way of the next elevator pod, and I looked straight up to the dome above and my eye followed the convex curve to the centre of the overdome where the filtered sunlight shown through.
Today, the experience did quell my unease as it normally did. I took a deep breath and air and just held it. I could just taste the city on the air, temperate with modest humidity, faint lingering of ….. anticipation.
I shook my head and pinched the bridge of my nose, maybe I needed a vacation, the sameness was getting to me. Vegout was a serious workplace hazard, and I’d been having a bout of extended malaise; but, if I reported myself, I’d have to take another vacation.
I headed down the street and considered that maybe a change of venue would be better than a change of scenery. I glanced around the surround dome, today the Swiss Aps, dramatic peaks and stunning views.
The view just didn’t ring true with the temperate air, but no one else seemed bothered by the lack of cold air or wind sound. At least, I think that there would be wind in the high mountains, would you hear wind when there’s no trees at altitude for it to rustle in? Or was that just something that they added to fill out the ambient soundtrack of ancient audvids?
Shoving the question aside, I remembered that I was being re-assigned to a new unit today, and I desperate wanted to be assigned to the Outdome Patrol. It was silly and most other people found it boring, the same trees and ponds and environment surrounding Vancodome.
Why work outdome when it was the same day after day, and nothing ever happened out there, when you could work indome and have a different surrounding every day, even though very little happened indoors either.
It’s hard to serve and protect when there’s nothing to protect from, and the main service is lost pets or kids who wander back on their own or giving directions to the tourists.
I took a deep breath and held it for just a moment, my tongue twitching briefly, and I felt an uneasy twinge that something was missing from the air. Temperate, the same as it always was. But something was missing.
I took a hesitant step onto the walkway and shook it off, probably just nerves about getting my new assignment today. Maybe I would get the Outdome Patrol. A jaunty bounce took over my steps.
Outdome Patrol. Pinch me.
I had already suited up and was trying to not wait too eagerly at the airlock. The rest of the team was in various states of dress. I tried to stand still and rocked back and forth from the ball of my foot to my heel, with a little bounce on the ball every third rock.
My leg muscles vibrated, it seemed like energy was coming up the floor, through my legs, potential energy to power me forward. I had butterfly twinges in my stomach. I shook my arms to let excess energy spill out my fingertips.
“Relax kid,” came the gruff voice. “We’re not due out for another half hour. You’ll be too tired from that nervous energy to get halfway out.”
I looked at Patrol Captain Jareth; still in his under garments. I gave him a self deprecating smile and removed my helmet.
“Just excited, Sir.” I stood still in informal attention. “It’s my first time outdome. I’m excited, not nervous.”
Captain Jareth gave me a hard look up and down. “Excited? Most Patrollers think of outdome patrol as punishment, Corporal…?”
“Mitchell, Sir.” I supplied, “Corporal Kelly Mitchell.”
“You seem ….” Captain Jareth trailed off as he looked hard up and down me.
“Eager Sir?” I offered.
He nodded and a faint gleam glinted in his eyes. I was sure that he understood when his face softened and his shoulders relaxed.
“Finding Indome a little too routine?”
“Yes, Sir,” I said, the words more a sigh of relief than rote respect. I hesitated and studied him. He was tall and well formed, handsome in an unconscious, unstudied manner.
“Not that I mind routine, there’s a certain, comfort in it, sir,” I tried to give words to feelings that I had barely begun to understand myself; but was treading too close to being at risk of evaluation and being placed back on vacation status if I spoke too closely and freely. I held back and steeled myself and face.
Captain Jareth’s similarly stiffened and became the formidable caption of Outdome Patrol. “Why not do a gear check, you don’t want to be caught unprepared when you’re outdome.”
An excited wave flexed through my body, the energy and bounce returned as if it had never drained away. “Sir! Yes, Sir!” I barked, and raced to recheck my gear for the fifth time.
Airlock W-G1. I was standing in formation with 5 other patrollers and Captain Jareth. The air was metallic with a faint oil smell. Everyone else wore their helmets, but I breathed deeply. It was so different than the indome air. It was cooler and that metallic oil smell was so unusual and meant danger to me that it would become such an arousing odor so as to border on fetish; sex was never as good as when it was in an airlock.
Captain Jareth hit the exit button and the external airlock door opened.
The metallic air rushed outward and the green fresh air rushed in. I still held my helmet in my hand, as I drank my first fill of pungent outdome air.
Captain Jareth waved us out and grined large when he saw I was still not wearing my helmet.
“I’ve never seen a first timer go without helmet before, most veterans don’t.”
“I can’t imagine why sir.”
“The outdome air isn’t filtered, it’s overwhelming to most people.” Captain Jareth’s fingers briefly touched the release button on his own helmet, but didn’t depress it.
I inhaled a deep lungful of air, the loamy forest, the uneven temperature filling me in hollows that I didn’t know were empty inside me.
I became aware of the variety of sounds – actual wind, birds, and no machine drone, clanks or even regular tempos of walking.
I reached out a hand to the outside of the Outdome to steady myself. My shoulders curled forward and I stooped forward as my body spasmed just slightly with vague cramps.
“It’s a lot to take in at once, maybe you should put your helmet on, Corporal.” Captain Jareth said, “You’re no good on patrol if you faint from sensory overload.”
I straighten up and stretched myself wide, shoulders back, legs straight, arms outstretched, and shook off the sensations.
“If it’s okay Sir,” I said, “If regulations allows, I’d rather patrol without the helmet, I feel I can be more aware of my surroundings without it.”
Captain Jareth removed his helmet and placed it on a shelf, just inside the airlock.
“Regulations do allow it, but like I said, most vets keep their helmets.”
I placed my helmet beside his and stepped outdome again. The airlock door rolled back into place.
There was nothing between me and the outdome air, and instead of feeling small and afraid, I felt energized, excited, if I dared to say it, natural. It felt right in a way that indome air didn’t; despite the almost overwhelming smells and sounds.
I looked through the dome back to my home, it seemed small all of a sudden, as small as a dome of 250,762 permanent inhabitants can be, anyway. A larger of the moderately sized domecities, huge compared to the dometowns that dotted the landscape between domecities.
I heard a twig snap and spun to see Captain Jareth striding after the patrol team. I moved quickly to catch up, fighting hard against the urge to just stand and sway in the breeze and just drink in all the sights, sounds and smells of being outdome.
Outdome was always going to feel more home to me, than my indome home and I never imagined how far apart I truly was from the people indome. The only people that anyone was or knew of.
For the next few cycles, life was as good as I had ever known it to be. Outdome patrol was just what I needed to fit in, to be content and happy the way that everyone else was. Except that I was only ever really happy when I was outdome.
Captain Jareth didn’t usually leave his helmet on the shelf with mine, as it turned out, it made my fellow patrollers uncomfortable. It made me different again, so I started to wear my helmet when I was on patrol and only removed it when I was alone outdome, leaving the helmet to dangle from a belt clip.
It felt wrong …somehow… to be outdome with a helmet, but at the same time, I didn’t want to make my fellow patrollers uncomfortable. I needed to show that I could be part of the team, or face another evaluation and vacation again. Maybe even be mustered out of the Patrol ranks altogether, into another profession. I couldn’t stand that.
The conference room was strangely silent for all the Patrollers crammed into it. Breathing reverbed off the chamber walls, and faint schuffling of boots and chair legs across the floor. Sixty of us jammed into a room made for forty, making no conversation and less noise than we had a right to.
Captain Jareth gave me a wink across the room and I nodded and smiled back. No one knew why so many patrollers had been called in.
The Brass door slide open and every patroller stood as upright and at attention as was possible in the press of bodies. Commissioner Vargas entered the room, flanked by some other higher brass that I didn’t recognize and an administrator.
Commissioner Vargas looked grey and grim. Dark circles under her eyes and her uniform was unpressed, looked slept in if I didn’t know better.
Commissioner Vargas remained just inside the door, as if she would collapse against it at any moment, and needed the support of something solid nearby. I looked closer and realized that the Commissioner had not slept very long or comfortably in her uniform after all.
“We’re going to be doubling up Outdome Patrol, and this means calling in the indome Patrollers for outdome duty,” Commissioner Vargas barely uttered, but was clearly audible over the silent assembly. Commissioner Vargas continued, expecting no interruptions and receiving none.
“An outdome guide group has gone missing.”
The rest of what Commissioner Vargas said was lost in the sasps, confusion, shock bordering on outrage that followed this unthinkable statement.
The officers looked to Commissioner Vargas to quell the wave of sound, but she stood quietly, allowing the words and their significance sink in and the shock and denial fade away.
“An outdome guide group failed to re-dome at their scheduled return two hours ago. The Guide Company waited an hour and sent out two experienced guides to check the return path to verify a delayed return, and there wasn’t a trace.”
I felt a vibration on my wrist and looked down at my comscreen to see the guide group details. Trail map, profiles, even some of the tourist’s comchatter and images. How did a group that had retained contact gone missing? Worse, why was there a six hour window between their last communication traffic and the Outdome Patrol being notified of missing tourists? How do tourists go missing when they have an experienced guide and connected coms with them?
“You have all been selected for a search and rescue outdome mission, the details are being downloaded to your coms. Captains have the squad missions and parameters.”
Commissioner Vargas rubbed her eyes, she seemed to age a decade before our eyes.
“We are not a commercial dome, I don’t need to remind anyone of that, we are a tourist dome primarily, we can’t have tourists go missing. We have to find them, this is a rescue mission. Form on your captains in the quad and go find those tourists.”
The room emptied, quickly and orderly. I lingered a moment and watched indirectly as Commissioner Vargas slumped to a chair. I hurried to join my squad.