It was hot! Sedona felt the heat pressing on the protective covering of her tox-suit as she came to a dead stop. She held her breath, listening to the low menacing sound. What was that? There were vibrations coming through the soles of her boots as if something was moving underground. All senses on full alert, she clicked on the arm panels of her suit to test for thermal waves beneath her. And… nothing. Absolutely nothing. And now the sound or vibration was gone.
She knew she wasn’t imagining this. But she’d have to report why she stopped the patrol, and if the readouts showed nothing unusual again, she would be laughed at. Again.
Angry and frustrated, she did the unthinkable. She removed her helmet. It was only for a moment. She knew exposure to the toxic atmosphere was dangerous - extended exposure could mean internal damage and even death. But she needed to know. She took one tiny, tentative sniff.
“Oh yeah,” she thought, “the air here smells funny. Worse than usual.” Sedona was sure something weird was going on, but what?
Jamming the helmet back on her head, she re-latched her tox-suit and took a couple deep breaths of sweet, processed air. Hoping she hadn’t given herself a lethal dose of something nasty, she continued patrolling the sector of wasteland that was her assignment today. She berated herself as she walked, “Stupid, stupid, get yourself under control. There was no need to risk your lungs, just because you can’t take a little ribbing.” She shook her head in disgust.
By now, she was close to the ruins and she looked for signs of movement. Nothing. And yet … there was that irritating itch between her shoulder blades again. The same creepy sense she’d had the last two times she was out here, like she was being watched. Still uneasy, she turned her back on the rubble piled in mounds behind her. She had to complete a horizon check and being this far from the city was the only way to get the right trajectory.
After turning to look at the area behind her, one more time, just to be sure, she began the scan. Sedona blinked her right eye rapidly, triggering the long-range lens implant. Smoothly she swept her eyes from left to right, recording the wide view. There was a scout on the other side of the city who was doing the same thing and when their data was combined, they’d have a 360-degree view of the entire wasteland surrounding the dome, and of the sky as well. She blinked the lens away and took a long look at the city with her own eyes.
The gigantic dome reared up, overwhelming in its brilliance. Nearly covered with dark sun- catcher panels, the silvery grid of the dome was still visible and it glittered. There was a lower second ring of panels that started midway down the dome’s side. And an even lower third ring, itself surrounded by the high security wall. Over the centuries, the wall had done its job, protecting the city from both the sudden violent windstorms and from attack by the sub-humans. And the gigantic dome protected the city’s residents from extreme heat, radiation, and the poisonous air. It was a system that worked well,
Sudden beeping got Sedona’s attention. She turned off the suit’s alarm indicating she'd been out here long enough and walked the 20 paces to her trike. "Heading home" she said, giving a tired sigh.
When she slowed the trike to enter the West gate, she heard a shout and looked up. One of the roofers had slipped and was now dangling from his harness. A larger figure hanging on a nearby line, gracefully swung over to pull the roofer back onto the grid. There was a faint cheer from a few of the workers and Sedona grinned in response, hoping the man dangling on the line wasn’t her friend Jakarta.
Cleared to enter the gate, she left her trike in a stall to be cleaned and decontaminated. Then she opened one of the yellow-rimmed doors in the wide hallway and moved into the detox shower. Sedona slowly and carefully peeled off her suit, just as if she was stepping out of her own skin. She opened a panel in the side of the shower, revealing a shelf for her helmet and boots and a hangar for her suit. She closed the panel and her gear was whisked away, to have all the data downloaded and all her equipment cleaned and checked for leaks.
Now it was her turn. Hitting the big yellow button on the wall, she closed her eyes as a veritable soup of medicinal treatments was sprayed all over her skin. As the spray continued, she massaged it into her hair, and maneuvered various body parts around to get thorough coverage. It wasn’t unpleasant, but the odd smell of the meds lingered and she couldn’t wait to get home and get a real shower, one that smelled good. Next, she stood with her arms and feet wide apart while a range of lights scanned her for any problem areas. Finally, warm gentle air dried her off and she was cleared to leave the decon area. She opened the door on the opposite side of the wall, stepping through to pull on plain white pants and a simple tunic. Barefoot, she entered the data center for the patrols. She leaned over the console being monitored by another scout.
“Merida, it happened again today! I swear, there’s something going on out there that we’re just not seeing yet.”
The scout with shoulder-length hair swung around in her seat to look up at Sedona. She cocked her head and gave her a long considering look before answering. “If I didn’t know ever since we were children, I’d have to report you for having hallucinations. As it is, I don’t think you should make too big a deal about this. None of our scans are backing up your feelings.”
"I know, I know. We go by what the scanners tell us. But just think about it, we were chosen for this job because we do have strong sensitivities. So, wouldn't it be stupid for me to just ignore what I'm feeling?"
“No, I don’t think you should ignore it, just wait until something shows up to prove what you’re sensing. And in the meantime, be extra careful when you’re out there.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what else to do, I just hope the thing that shows up doesn’t look like a sub-human coming for me.”
Merida laughed at Sedona’s obvious exasperation. “I know you’ve tried talking to the other scouts about this and have gotten nowhere. But what about your patron? Would he listen?
“You mean Lundun? No…. I don’t think this is something I can talk to him about. Besides, he’s been really distracted lately. I think he’s dealing with some other issues.
The scout shrugged. "So, are you headed home now?"
"Yeah, I want to take another shower. A real one."
Merida chuckled. She shared her friend's opinion of the de-tox shower. "I'll check over your data as it comes in and will let you know right away if anything unusual shows up."
As she left the scouts’ office and stepped onto the main walkway, Sedona passed some orphans loading supplies into the service lift. She smiled and waved to 78, the orphan assigned to help at the scouts’ center. The walkway moved her smoothly through the wide passage, eventually reaching the central axis of the city. As she stepped off the walkway, turning right to reach her home, Sedona tipped her head back to admire the three tall buildings that anchored the central plaza. With glass panels twinkling in the filtered sunlight each tower represented one of the three city Administrators. Each Admin had their living quarters and command center in the penthouse – the very top of their tower. Tower One, the central tower, was the home of Lundun, Sedona's mentor and patron.
Touching her wrist implant to the door panel, Sedona stepped inside with a tired sigh. Suddenly, she had company when her cat, Snuggles, registered that she had arrived. Snuggles rolled around and around Sedona’s feet, the wheels in his tiny paws making soft humming noises that sounded like he was glad to have company. Sedona reached down and picked up the cat, rubbing his soft fur, feeling the cat’s warmth penetrate to her center. She took the humming cat over to the lounge area with her, stretching out onto one of the cushions as she idly rolled a chiming bell around for the cat to chase. Even while smiling at the cat, she felt the worry and frustration tightening her shoulders.
“A proper shower is what I need,” she said to Snuggles. Twenty minutes later, she stepped out of the shower pod, relaxed, invigorated, and smelling like lavender. One of the perks of her job was the premium model shower pod with multiple liquid or gel washes, and a wide array of mood-enhancing scents. The warm gel and lavender she had chosen soothed her taut nerves and she was now ready for the big meeting. As she dressed in clean leggings and two layers of tunics, she checked herself in the mirror. Her simple hairstyle, cut short to her ear on one side, and swinging along her jawline on the other, was an elegant style that emphasized her clear-cut features. It was also a signature style for scouts or roofers who spent time encased in head-to-toe tox-suits.
Like most of the city’s inhabitants, Sedona’s hair was dark and straight. Her skin tone was light like everyone else’s too. But her eyes … her eyes were strange. Instead of normal dark brown, her eyes were gray and had a slight tilt to them. She’d noticed people startle when they saw her for the first time and met those eyes. It used to make her self-conscious and certainly made her a target for teasing by her classmates. But she’d grown to like the odd color – it made her think of skies found in the ancient landscape paintings she admired. The color of the sky the way it used to be, long, long ago.
Snuggles got one last ruffle of his fur, then Sedona was on her way. Walking across the central plaza, she enjoyed the newest patterns in the tile floor that led to the big tower. As she was whisked up the lift, she thought about what she would say.
Ever since he had selected her for special training, two years before her pod’s graduation, Sedona had paid close attention to Lundun’s likes and dislikes. It was a big deal to be chosen for his patronage, and she did her best to make him feel he made the right choice. Although he did have other protégés under his wing, Sedona was almost always given preference. She did not to show off, but she could tell the attention she received really bothered her fellow student, Karachi. Despite the city’s strict taboo against emotional behavior, Karachi always found a way to belittle or torment Sedona and he had been like that all through childhood. Wrinkling her nose, she realized he might be at Lundun's office too.
“Oh well,” she shrugged. “I’ll just do my best and just stay far away from Karachi.”
The double doors slid open onto the penthouse lounge and she walked into the room, just as Lundun finished up a meeting. Sedona nodded to the few people she knew. Still others gathered near the antique cabinets set along the beige walls, or stood admiring the large paintings on loan from the museum.
Sedona's gaze lifted to the huge windows that looked over the city. And there was Karachi, casually leaning against a nearby wall, clearly waiting to speak with Lundun. He gave Sedona an evil glare, but quickly wiped his features smooth and expressionless so no one would notice. Was she supposed to see it and be upset? Or, was his reaction an un-intended slip-up? Sometimes the ferocity of his dislike worried her.
Lundun nodded to everyone as he closed the meeting and people began filtering out. As he spoke to the last few headed toward the door, Sedona was distracted by his elegant outfit and polite, calm attitude. There was something about his appearance and way of speaking that drew others to him. Idly, she wondered if that ability was one of the factors that led to his being trained as an administrator. Suddenly Sedona noticed tiny silver wings at his temples. That was something new and worrisome – was it a sign of aging? She felt a pang as she wondered how old her mentor was. Not many people in the city lived beyond 40 years.
Lundun caught Sedona’s glance and nodded to her, so she waited in the background for the room to clear. Karachi was one of the last to leave, throwing her another dark look when Lundun’s back was turned. Finally, Lundun turned to her, smiling.
“Do you have any good news for me?" he asked hopefully.
“Nothing specific yet, sir. But there did seem to be an increase of activity in the area. I have someone running data for me. I'll try to do my own searches for hot spots over the next few days."
"Good work, excellent. I knew I could count on you. Just keep me informed." He put his hand on Sedona's shoulder as he walked her to the door.
"Yes sir," she said. Sedona let out a relieved sigh as the door slid shut behind her. The report to Lundun went well. But how long would that last if she was unable to produce any wastrels to be trained?