Inside the garden it was more beautiful than I had imagined it would be. The warm breeze fluttering delicate leaves on the tall trees, the fresh scent of flowers blooming in all their colors, the green of the soft grass underfoot, the pure blue of the clear sky above and the warmth of the yellow sun embracing all.
I strolled for a while in the garden among the people of the Dome. Everyone seemed happy in their leisure, in their comely youth, quietly chatting among themselves enjoying the lovely landscape. I walked to a little rise and climbed it. From there I could look out over the beauty around me. I watched for Henry, but I could not make him out among the crowd. I felt he most likely thought he was in a dream, as I felt I was.
There was a bench there, and I sat on it. I thought maybe instead of feeling like an alien in an alien land, I could get used to this, to this Dome life after all, if it was all like this. Maybe Dirth was right. Maybe I could just disappear into it forever.
Then I noticed something I could not understand at first. Some people in their colorful robes were walking a little distance away. They approached a great tree and stopped to look at it. They all laughed a little, and began walking again, but they walked through the tree as if it was no obstacle! I could not believe my eyes at this. I must still be too awed by it all I thought to myself so that I could not trust my own vision.
I stood up and slowly walked to the tree. It was very tall, its trunk brown with rough bark. Its thick branches spread above me, the yellow sun dancing through its broad, green pretty leaves high overhead. As I hesitantly reached out to touch it, my hand passed right through its trunk as if through empty air!
I quickly pulled my hand back, then carefully reached out again. The tree was there, I could see it in all its wonder, but all the same it wasn’t there at all! A chill of fright passed through me and I felt a little dizzy. What was this? I looked around me. I nervously walked to a little grouping of flowers. I stooped down and slowly reached out to touch them. I grasped for one, but my hand grasped nothing! My fingers felt nothing but the palm of my hand. I reached down to feel the grass under me. I could feel it, but it didn’t feel like real grass. It felt stiff and artificial.
I turned and looked around me. People were still wandering about, sitting on the greenness of the grass or whatever it was, sitting on benches, chatting happily as though nothing unusual was happening. I stood and nervously looked for Henry, but he was no where to be seen. I couldn’t understand. Here was this beautiful garden around me, but nothing in it was real. Was this a dream? Was this Dome itself real, or was I dreaming it?
Suddenly I felt I had to get out, out of this dream garden. The entrance was behind me, I turned and walked quickly through it and out into the Dome itself. I looked back through the big double doors. I could see the garden within; all aglow in its beauty, but what was this beauty, this paradise?
I looked up to the balcony from which I came high in the distance. I thought I could see a figure there leaning against the balustrade peering out over the vast floor before him. I knew it was Dirth, watching. He was watching me, I was sure. Watching for the expression on my face, watching for my reaction, watching to see how this was affecting me.
Dirth knew the Dome and what I was to experience in it, but I was determined not to have this strange experience change me or surprise me with its mysteries. I would take it all in without dismay or alarm or disappointment. I would explore and experience all it had to offer, no matter how odd or unsettling.
Henry and me still had our plans, and what plans Dirth may have for us,well, we’d see about that.
I turned my gaze away from the balcony to the floor of the Dome around me. I now knew there was more to this than I thought. I was going to find out all I could. I had lost Henry for a while, but I was sure he’d soon come to his senses and figure stuff out for his self.
I wandered about some, threading myself through the crowd and walking around in empty spaces. The floor of the Dome was bright white and on the far away walls were balconies one on top of another way high up to the ceiling far above. The dome itself, high up, was a pale blue color, all smooth and kind of fuzzy looking.
I don’t know where the lighting came from; it was just bright inside, with different bright colors of the balconies shining down. It was pretty, really, everybody in colored robes, like mine and Henry’s.
I wondered what was going on in all these rooms behind the balconies, rooms I suspected like Dirth’s rooms. There was plenty of people on the floor itself, just wandering about it seemed, but probably more up there all around in those rooms above. Doing what?
I considered this a while, just standing, then I discovered I was hungry. Where do people eat, I wondered? So I walked over toward a wall and looked around. There was stores in the wall, all sorts. Some had clothes in them, some little things like you’d put on shelves. Others had stuff I didn’t know what they was, but people were in all them stores looking and taking things. I guessed you didn’t need money or barter to get stuff, just take what you wanted.
So I wandered some more until I came to this eating place. I went inside and there was tables all around with people sitting at them. I walked over and sat down at an empty table. Nobody seemed to notice me, so I looked around for a while. Then this guy walked up and asked what I wanted. He had this like empty look on his face. I looked up at him for a minute, then I said, “What have you got?” He didn’t say nothin’ to this, so I said, “Lunch”. He just walked away without saying anything.
So I waited again, and pretty soon he came back with a big plate of food. He set it down in front of me and walked away. Well, I figured I’d just eat and so I did. It was real good food, meat and vegetables, some I didn’t know what they were, and potatoes. Food like Dirth had given us. I finished it right quick, being real hunugry and all. Then the guy came back with a glass of water, I guessed, and sat that down. It wasn’t water, but whatever it was it was good to drink.
I sat back after I was done, satisfied, and looked around again. Everyone was eating and chatting to each other at the other tables. It was real nice in there, now that I had a good look-around. These people had it pretty easy, I thought. Easy lives. Eat how much you want, take whatever you liked, a nice room to go to that was yours. Friends to be with that didn’t cause no trouble. A clean life with not problems.
I was thinkin’ this over when pretty soon this guy came up and asked if he could sit down at the table I was sitting at, real polite. I said okay with me, and he sat down opposite. He looked like everybody else, so I thought maybe it’d be a good opportunity to ask him stuff, see what these people are like in conversation.
When he was all sat down and adjusted, first he looked at me close for a minute. It made me a little nervous to be stared at, but then he leaned back relaxed, like he wasn’t interested, and said, “Don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”
He said it casual, but it kind of scared me, what he said. Who was this guy, some kind of Law? Maybe he’d been following me around or something. Maybe I was acting peculiar and he noticed and came in to see who I was.
“Guess it’s hard to see everybody, there’s so many of us,” I said, easy, like what he said meant nothin’ to me neither.
He sat there and looked at me some more, though. “I guess so,” he said finally, and looked away. He looked back to me pretty quick like he was study’n me. “What’s your Origin Date?” he asked.
I didn’t know what that meant, so it put me on edge some. “What’s it to you?” I said kind of belligerent. As soon as I said it like that I knew I’d slipped up. I was too used to wise guys in the village asking too many questions. But I let it stand, as it was already out there.
“Oh, nothing,” he said and looked down at the table. “Just maybe sometimes some manage to evade The Calling, that’s all.” He looked up at me again. “It’s none of my business, of course. I’m just saying you should be a little careful, that’s all, your face, that is. It doesn’t quite fit, you know. Maybe you should pull your hood up.”
Then he said, a little friendlier, “I’m Coon, an Engineer, by the way.” He smiled a little and reached over the table to shake my hand. I shook it. Then he kind of sighed. “We engineers don’t bother too much about the Paratakes, so don’t worry.”
This guy Coon looked close at me again. “You’re something different, though, something I haven’t seen before. What Guild are you?”
I didn’t know what to say about that, either. I said, “No Guild you heard of, you’re just an Engineer.” I thought that might slip into his mind and shut him up, like I was some secret he shouldn’t know about.
“I see,” he said, like he was thinking it over. “Well, nobody knows everything, it’s a big world. There’s lots I don’t know, myself. It’s just, well. Best not to be too curious, only…”, his voice trailed off.
“Only what?” I asked, kind of tough. I thought maybe I could scare him into saying somethin’ I’d be interested in.
The guy Coon looked away again, though. Just then the same waiter guy came to the table, stupid like, and stood there. Coon looked up at him and said, “Lunch.” The guy walked off like before. Coon turned to me. “Maybe we’ll meet again, maybe not,” he said, mysterious like.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said and stood up. I just walked away without saying anything else. I didn’t want to get involved with this guy too much. I didn’t know enough yet to get too close to anyone. When I got back onto the Dome floor I was shaky a little. I thought I handled it okay, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want suspicious guys around me, so I walked kind of fast away from that eating place. I thought I’d go to the other side and see what’s there. Kind of get lost. I also wondered what Henry was doing and how he was getting along. I was a little worried about him. If either of us was to get into trouble it likely would be Henry, I figured.
I might have to go it alone, was my next idea. Who knew were Henry was by now? This was a big place and we could easy not find each other for a while. I supposed he’d end up back at Dirth’s. I had other plans.
I thought on the other side of the Dome I could find out new stuff, the Clerics and the Noncomformants would be there somewhere and other stuff I didn’t yet know about. I wanted to get away from these stupid Paratakes, anyway. They didn’t know nothin’, as Dirth said, and I figured they’d be useless to me. I had to find an edge somewhere, a dig where I could get in. I had to find out what was beneath all this so as to get a hold of somethin’. Somethin’ I could use for myself.
I wanted to stay away from Dirth, too. I didn’t trust him. I wanted to be on my own for a while.
As I walked away I looked back, but I didn’t see that guy Coon anywhere. Maybe I should’ve talked to him some more, but he scared me a little. I’d have to get over that, but I’d have to know more about how this place was set up. What to say and what not to say, how to answer questions.
I thought I’d look up these Noncomformants first. I knew what conform meant, and I thought these guys might be the right kind to help me figure stuff out. Dirth said they hung out at the Obliviate, whatever that was. All I knew was it was way on the other side, and that’s where I was headed for.