At The Biodome
By: Jim Bates

"Daddy, look." Matt pointed, excitedly. "What's that?"

Quinn smiled. It was good to see his five year old son so enthusiastic, but then again everyone who entered the Northwoods Biodome exhibit usually was. He read the sign out loud, "It says it's a Norway Pine. Used to be the state tree of Minnesota."

Matt contemplated for a moment, "A long time ago, right?"

"Right. A really long time."

Matt then spied something stuffed and displayed in a diorama and pointed, "It that a bird?"

"It is," Quinn replied, reading the sign. "It's a cardinal. Probably because it's red."

"Pretty."

A voice over the loud speaker caught their attention. "All those for the morning tour, line up under the sign to your right."

"That's us, son." Quinn took Matt's hand and they quickly made their way to where the line was forming. If they were late he'd pay by having a day knocked off his LifeLine. He was twenty–four years old and had already lost one–hundred and seventy– seven days; nearly half a year shortened from his life span. He wanted to see Matt live at least to be twenty so he'd have to be careful.

They made it to the line in time, slid their Identification cards into the reader and paused for authorization. When it came through they waited with the fifty or so other visitors for the tour to begin, a tour that would take them through a living replica of what it looked like in the northern region of the United States, nearly two hundred years earlier.

It made Quinn happy to see Matt so excited. So was he. This was their first trip together to the exhibit, a trip mandated for parents and five year old's by the Education Committee of the World Order. He was especially looking forward to being in a different environment than the relentlessly gray world they normally lived in. At least in the Biodome the air was clean and they didn't have to wear oxygen masks. They could even hear songbirds singing, though the birds were fake and the songs were digitalized.

"Years ago the world was like this," he said to Matt as the tour began.

"What happened?"

"It's complicated, but in a nutshell, gases like carbon dioxide increased in the atmosphere, the earth's temperature rose, the polar ice caps melted, and the land turned to desert. It happened fast. Only took about fifty years."

Matt looked concerned. "Were you alive then?"

"No. It was before my time. Your ancestors were, though."

"Ancestors?"

Oops. He'd slipped up. The World Order mandated a maximum life span of forty years, with days knocked off an individual's LifeLine for breaking any rule. No one made it to forty. There were no living ancestors.

"Um. I'll tell you about it later," Quinn said and pointed. "Look at that."

The tour, lead by an automated robot, was leaving a hardwood forest and heading toward a pond surrounded by reeds and cattails. Red–wing blackbirds were singing in the background. Actually, they were robotic replicas, but Quinn didn't have the heart to tell Matt. There'd be time for those kinds of discussions on another day.

After a walk through a replica tall grass prairie the tour ended with the robot thanking everyone. "Have a super day," it said.

The participants dutifully clapped (not wanting to get docked from their LifeLine) and prepared to leave. Quinn and Matt put on their oxygen masks and joined the crowd heading for the exit where a Transport Carrier was waiting to take them to their respective living areas; Quinn's a bunker–like apartment complex near the wind energy farm where he worked, Matt a dormitory for children. He was glad he'd had this time with his son. The World Order controlled every moment of their lives, from where people worked, to what time they slept, to when they saw the one child that married couples were allowed to have. The Order even controlled what was eaten since food was at a premium. In fact, there was talk of the Maximum Age being lowered from forty to thirty–nine. Not enough food, too many people. Planet earth was not getting any better.

When they were seated on the Carrier, Matt said to his dad, politely, "Thank you, Daddy for taking me. I had a really fun time."

Quinn smiled. He loved his son and he was glad he'd been able to spend time with him. Once a week wasn't often enough. "I had fun, too."

The first stop was the building were children Matt's age were kept. Quinn wanted to hug him but knew the World Order frowned upon signs of affection. After a brief hesitation, he thought, what the hell, why not? and grabbed Matt in a big bear hug, knowing the surveillance cameras would catch him and punish him accordingly, taking a day off his LifeLine. Too bad, he thought, holding his son tighter. Matt hugged him back. He felt his son's sweet breath on his neck and it made him smile. The hug was worth it.

Finally Matt squirmed away, giggling. "I'll see you next week, Daddy."

"Okay, son. The History Center, right?"

"Right."

"See you then. Bye, bye." Quinn waved.

The Transport Carrier then headed for the concrete building where Quinn and his wife lived. He watched the landscape passing by outside his window, featureless and grey with dust and ash everywhere. Relentlessly depressing. His mind drifted back to the exhibit he and Matt had seen. He loved the colors: the green trees and the blue pond. The red cardinal. Not the grey decay he and his wife and son lived in everyday. It'd be a week before he'd see Matt again and he was already looking forward to it. In fact, at that moment he made a fateful decision. When they got together next time he was going to hold his son again. Tight. No matter what the consequences. LifeLine be damned. It'd be worth it.

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