Harmony was a mere village of twenty thousand when the Enclosure Movement caught fire, a colony of successful artists hiding out in the cleaner, safer hills from the increasing violence and political polarization of the times. They Enclosed reluctantly and as a last resort, vowing to remain a haven for the inalienable freedoms of speech and belief, if not of movement. They weren’t the only small community to try doming without big-city resources, but their wealth and like-mindedness made them one of the few to succeed. Still, the irony of having to wall themselves in and others out in order to preserve these freedoms was not lost on them, for the Founders made sure that to enter Harmony, one must at least briefly go Outside.
They made their point.
Most domes are like Chicago: urban, fortified, with Tube transport to the airports accessed from Inside. Not so Harmony. Vacuum tubes bring imported supplies direct from the transfer network, but Harmony has allowed no passenger-tube connection to her residential dome. Material goods may travel fast and deep enough to be safe from Outsider tampering, but a human visitor must board a shuttle at an overworked air/rail terminal shared with Albany Dome and the Springfield industrial complex. This lethargic hover is little more than a rickety frame with windows. It lumbers between gray and smoking hills, drops sickeningly onto a broad oval tarmac, and spits you out into the open air.
You huddle among strangers at the bottom of the ramp. They’re mostly tourists on day visas, and you’re all stunned as the hover takes off and leaves you… Outside. Ahead the great curve of Harmony’s main dome looms like a rising planet, huge and blue-green and shimmering above a rolling gray horizon. I’d never seen a dome from the Outside before. How disconcerting that this dance of energies should look so fragile, as insubstantial as a soap bubble. And though its vastness makes it seem close, you must walk an entire half kilometer down a wide boulevard paved in amber granite before you reach the arched and columned safety of Harmony’s Gate.
You suffer an eternity walking down that boulevard.
Your dome-bred lungs constrict against air that smells like smoke and dirt, and leaves an aftertaste of metal on your tongue. Ingrained terrors of poisoned air catch at your throat. You wonder should you, could you, hold your breath until the Gate? You discover agoraphobia, which has nothing to do with marketplaces at all, but with the gasping need for a lid, a roof, of any kind, anything to shut out the vast, unending sky. The tourist brochures suggest it helps to bring a wide-brimmed hat.
Finally, should you conquer your panic sufficiently to maintain a dignified pace, or manage even to raise your glance from the solid, blessed ground to peer through the double lines of green-uniformed security guards, stern and anonymous behind their respirators, you come face-to-face, maybe for the first time in your life, with the understanding that there are actual people living outside the domes. Not the blurred shadows I tracked slow-moving beyond Chicago’s coarse-tuned force field, but walking, breathing humans camped along the boulevard in tents and board shacks and lean-tos, cuffing their ragged children not five feet away, stirring their pots of gray muck over dying coals, too weak and dispirited to do anything more terrifying than stare. They are short and scrawny and misshapen by filthy layers of domer cast-off clothing. Their masklike faces are too weather-roughened to be anything a domer might recognize as skin. They wear odd hoods and scarves and slant-brimmed hats, and thick gloves with the fingers torn away, but the thing you can’t avoid is the reflex hatred in their eyes, so confused with desperation it’s like they grab the heart right out of you and squeeze it dry.
But my story is not about the Outside, nor about the lies that are lived beneath the domes, at least not here, not at the beginning. What I need to tell is what Harmony was, since you know better than I what it is now. And so, we move on to my arrival, and one detail that seemed colorful but insignificant at the time.
Would it have made any difference if I had known?
I gained the Gate without incident and got in line. It was air lock eight, I remember. One lock said Citizens Only, nine said Visitors. I wondered at that, as I patted the pockets of my thin shirt for my precious apprentice visa. It was March, cold and raw Outside. The air made me sneeze. Many of the tourists wore coats and even gloves. I did not own a coat. Variable-climate technology was too recent and too expensive for the likes of Chicago.
I distracted myself from my coughing and shivering by studying the imposing facade of the Gate. Three tiers of classical arches connected tapered pillars of polished granite. The air locks were set inside the lower arches. Above the highest tier, a bas-relief crossed smooth salmon-colored stone. Big-boned women with serious eyes danced the width of the Gate, holding aloft thick books and paintbrushes, and playing strange musical instruments.
“Turpsish…” I struggled with the block-lettered inscription.
“Terpsichore! Calliope! Euterpe! Music in the very names, child!”
The tall figure beside me was robed and veiled in black, like Arab women in my ancient history video. A braceleted arm curled familiarly around mine. A dark-skinned hand pointed gracefully. “See them up there? Laughing Thalia and Melpomene, always so sad? And Erato… well, we know about her. And there’s noble Polyhymnia in the center. The Muse of Harmony, you know.”
“Of course,” I lied. The voice, deep and rhythmic, was a woman’s, and full of laughter. Her oval fingernails were bright turquoise-blue. I tried to peer without staring through her veil.
“Well, greet them, child! These poor ladies are so neglected!” She hugged my arm to her side and steered me back into the queue. She jingled and tinkled as she moved, faint melody and dissonance from beneath the soft folds of her robe. “Few visitors take the time with them. Too much haste to scurry back Inside.”
She seemed to want to share a laugh with me, but I felt that same haste myself and didn’t know why I should mock the tourists for it. She chattered gaily as we approached the airlock. Her energy and volubility made me chatter back. I am not a chatterer by nature, but she had my whole story by the time the six tourists ahead of us had cycled through the lock. Then she was sliding her papers and my own together through the vacuum slot to the green-coated immigration official in his plastic booth.
Her hand guided my shoulder. Her posture was suddenly slower, stooped. An old woman’s voice reassured the official from under the opaque black veil: “Delivering this young ‘un to be apprentice.”
He studied my papers quite carefully. He barely glanced at hers. When I passed muster, he nodded and cycled us through the lock together. I reclaimed my papers on the other side and entered into my new life on the arm of a magical stranger.
My first, relieved gulps of “proper” Inside air were an instant sense memory of my grandfather’s bedroom. My beloved grandfather: physically and spiritually broken by the horrors of the Dissolution, he hid himself away to spend every waking hour tending a scavenged zoo of houseplants. He groomed them, crooned to them, rotated them in turns into the light of his tiny window. I was allowed to visit but had to slip in quickly and shut the door, so that Grandpa’s precious “green air” did not escape. Because he told wonderful stories of Before, I forgave his obvious insanity. His generation often exhibited such damage. We kids knew that was the way things were.
And now, an entire dome filled with Grandpa’s green air, moist and sweet and earthy. How could I help but fall in love with it?
My tall companion drew me away from the Gate, still chattering. I was too bedazzled to answer. We faced a vast plaza, sun-drenched and warm. Outside it was March-gray. The pavement was an intricate floral swirl, yellow flowers chasing green and blue leaves across the square. Public eating places lined opposite sides, wide glass doors open to the square, umbrella-shaded tables spilling into the plaza like children’s toys. In Chicago, there might be a cafeteria every eight or ten blocks, but you really had to search for it. Here, the clatter of laughter and glassware was as gay as the flowerboxes trailing fuchsia and nasturtiums from the second-story terraces. Crowds strolled the square, plump with shopping bags, resplendent in bright, strange clothing. Men in ankle-length skirts or thigh-length shorts. Women in saris and kimonos. Clothing I’d seen only in pictures from Before and thought people didn’t wear anymore. The riot of color made my eyes brim and my fingers itch for pastel or crayon, as if it might be taken from me at any moment.
Past the blue-tiled café roofs, steep hillsides rose frothed in green. The plaza could be easily defended from above if the Gates were breached (which had surely occurred in the early days: I’d been taught no doming was ever accomplished without violence). At the far end of the square, a half-dozen graceful tiled arches framed the domestic Tube station.
I turned to my companion with a question, and promptly forgot it. Her black headcloth and veil had vanished. Her black robe had become a breathtaking blue. I stared, and her strong mahogany face glowed with mischief. The glass beads trimming her hundreds of tiny braids chimed and glittered as she laughed. “Now, child! How do I look?”
Her smile was ageless and dazzling. She was the most astonishing creature a poor innocent from Chicago could ever hope to meet on her first day in a new world.
She snatched up my hand and pulled me deeper into the crowd, glancing about as if looking for someone. In the shade of a red and white café awning, she let the front of her blue robe fall open and peeled back her draping sleeves. Rows and rows of bracelets circled her arms. Necklaces layered her dark neck and looped around her waist, bright against the silky black of her undergarment. Hoops and chains of beaten brass and wood and pale white bone, strands of blue glass and threaded opalescent shells, pendants of carved pink stone and semiprecious jewels, loops of dyed fiber and painted wood. I’d never seen such jewelry in all my life.
“Choose which you will have. For bringing me through the Gate.”
Had I done that?
She smiled at my puzzlement, that astonishing smile that made me stare again in wonder. “Quick, now. Choose. Before the Greens catch on to me. The merchants aren’t happy that the tourists prefer my wares to theirs.”
But a child of Chicago has not been taught to make such choices. “You tell me.”
She seemed surprised and obscurely pleased. Dancing high on her toes to be away, she didn’t just toss me an easy bauble from her visible store. Instead she searched an inner pocket, chittering and jangling with every move, and pulled out a length of braided leather, supple but plain. Three strands of subtly different browns strung with a single dark bead the size of a small walnut. The bead was faceted with tiny carvings. She circled my head with arms of sparkle and flash, and fastened her simple gift around my neck.
The twined leather lay soft against my skin. I touched the bead as it nestled into the hollow of my throat. “Thank you.”
“From Tuamatutetuamatu. Wear it honestly, child. There is power in it.” Her head snapped up. “Ah. Here they come.”
I turned, saw nothing but the crowds streaming in from the Gate. I turned back and my stranger was gone.