Venn Biter stood on his toes and peered out of the window of his garden-level apartment and softly cursed. The neon lights off Agrico Boulevard reflected the patter of the unceasing rainstorm, refracting their glow in so many changing angles that Venn could swear he could actually see the individual motes of the rainstorm fall through the sky like needles. But when the drops hit the ground, they became part of the same brown morass that trickled around the constant stream of pedestrian shoes and into the streets, a vast equanimity of grime.
"Jesus," he muttered, "happy fucking Inauguration Day."
He knew he was being dramatic. Since the National Inclemency Warning had been issued, it was scheduled rain for the rest of the week. Not like downtown Elysia needed it, and not like Biter's splitting headache needed it, but apparently the crops out in the boonies weren't growing fast enough. He'd remember that the next time he picked the tomatoes off his hoagie.
This is the life under the Dome, however, and Venn did his best to stay aware of it. Along with the ubiquitous, low-level annoyances of everyday life came the fairly massive privileges that led people under the dome in the first place: culture, commerce, society, and, most importantly, food. When the moon colony of Elysia was first built back in 2065, it was heralded as the first big move of the united world economy. Pantheon (the one tip of the hat to the past that was ever allowed in the new system) knew that, with the eradication of war and international competition, the economy would soon need a shot in the arm. Enter interspace competition, which would revive the old feeling of Manifest Destiny and European Imperialism without the messy hurt feelings of those evicted from their homes. The moon was empty, and Earth was full.
But the dome didn't pick up until after the event. A few farmers and survivalist nuts, people who wanted to be as far away from Pantheon's headquarters, but other than that, a dead zone. Then the Verge started gaining steam back on the home planet. Anti-Pantheon separatists, they began a systemic assault against the world government until, eventually, they gained enough power to orchestrate the event.
The event wasn't ever really discussed in history books up in the Dome. Something about chemicals, explosions, long term effects: the things you'd expect from something negative called "the event." But when you looked out the dome, when the angle was right, and saw the red haze drifting over the face of what used to be the blue-white marble of the Earth (if the photos can be believed), you knew it had be something big. Venn preferred not to know specifics.
But he knew his privilege now. As a member of one of the relatively few families to be chosen in the massive lottery that filled Elysium to bursting, Venn had lived his entire life, almost, without any real knowledge of life outside the controlled paradise of the dome. But while the official story was that Earth was still livable, that new colonies were being built, but that clean up back home was Pantheon's first priority, the evidence suggested otherwise. As official news reports were lurid with the high action of pursuit in tracking down the remaining Verge activists, viral videos sent through back channels of Conekt showed scenes of violence, famine, and worsening conditions. "Check your dome privilege" these videos would warn, in red letters, at the end of their footage. The same group kept releasing these videos. The group was entirely unknown. The message was profoundly troubling.
After moving out of his parents' house to better situate himself as a journalist downtown, Venn had become obsessed with these videos. It didn't help that the journalism business had slowed to a halt, that stories in Elysium, with its planned weather, perfectly timed sunrise and sunset, and wide access to the drugs and media that calmed the human passions of the contingent, were mostly of the dull, pro forma variety. The scoop he had today, for instance, would be dull fare even in his old town's Daily Shopper. "Pantheon President, Elysia Division, Accepts Office." This would be the headline, he knew: no names, for fear of corporate and private pressure upon the world government's employees; no photos of the woman or man to take the job; no real event beyond the shadowed blind covering the human body taking the oath through a voice modifier.
"We still need to see visual evidence of the sap willing to manage our city, even if we don't know anything about them," Venn mused aloud. "We're still just the same dumb animals that way."
He stirred himself from the window and began to go through his daily routine, to get ready for the assignment. "Baseball," he said in a slow measure, "Say, 2017, Philadelphia home park. Batting practice." The scene around Venn changed, the walls and floor of his apartment shifting to the scoped vista of the long-demolished Citizen's Bank Park. The ceiling shifted to blue and white pepperings of cloud, the blades of grass coming up from the red and white pinstriped uniform Venn now appeared to be wearing. It was a nice touch.
The bat that the hard light construct simulated had a literal heft. This, Venn remembered, as he slowly measured the shape of the bat between his strong hands, was a relatively new development. He tried to think about if it was better or worse that this all was feeling more real. What happens to reality when there's no distinction left to be made? The static behind his eyes whited out any sort of potential for developing these thoughts, however; too early, too rainy, too something. Baseball now.
Venn kept in shape, but the holograms did him a few favors in filling out the uniform. He looked, he realized, a lot like the old images he'd seen of the ballplayers from that era -- taller, leaner, and stronger than the old men of yore. The dusty black and white photographs of the '27 Yankees seemed impossible in comparison, like clay automatons created by management to perform the same task over and over. Their lumpy, smeared faces in the pictures suggested a human, fallible hand in their construction. Not so with Venn's image here: even his face was chiseled into the soft good looks of a shampoo ad, and his lithe frame seemed to promise aesthetic perfection as he swung at the pitches lofted to him by the hard light projections.
He could feel the resistance in the bat when he cranked his first BP home run. Again, this was new, he reminded himself. It hasn't always been like this.
His shoulder tweaked a bit as he missed a high fastball the computer threw him in the elevated levels of the practice sim. Was it actually a small strain for Venn? Or was this the hard light again? What was the difference?
When the computer coach told him to switch to fielding practice, Venn realized that the difference between the hard light and the world was that he actually had the ability to assert his preference onto the hard light. "Shit no," he called out, "I will not be running out grounders all morning, thanks. News."
The field of vision shifted again, abruptly. This used to be disorienting. Venn tried to call back the feeling. He couldn't. The field of vision was his apartment again, but there were screens, flat, dimensionless, floating around him, updating him with his preloaded news for the day. He manipulated the screens to bring the Conekt model closer. "Backdoor," he intoned, "V-B-i-t-e-r-2-3, pass P-H-L-3-0-9-0-1." The white Conekt interface quickly flashed black once, twice, three times, and then shifted to the pinkish hue of the backdoor server. Venn smiled; he always thought it wouldn't work.
But of course, it worked because Pantheon wanted it to work. Outlaw information, and information presses at the seams of your system, putting pressure on the edges and seeping through the vulnerabilities until a word is enough to destroy a global machine. But allow a backdoor, disavowed and discredited of course, and information can be vented. Give people a little power, and they'll feel like they have the world.
Venn felt this power, of course. It was a freedom apart from his anodyne compositions that came out occasionally in the Elyisa Dygest, and which paid his rent. It was real in the last possible way anything could be real: by way of its brutality. He skimmed the news clippings with varying interest, always on the lookout for the worst accounts of life "back home" on Earth. The ones that would get his blood boiling.
"27 Children Dead in Pantheon Purge"
"Red Mist Descends on Los Angeles Prime. All Media Blacked Out."
"Verge Demands Reparations, Promises Retaliation."
As he was halfway through an expose of the treatment of drones in today's modern military, a flash lit up the Conekt screen: "1 MESSAGE. SENDER UNKNOWN." Venn flinched, surprised.
"Open the message."
Red words on his screen, a scrambled line after SENDER, and a hunk of metal in Venn Biter's stomach. He read the message once, twice, three times. The metal kept tearing at his stomach lining.
"Check your dome privilege at the inauguration today, Biter. You will be the one to report on our doings."
The sleeping pill of an article he'd been writing in his head vanished. Venn took his third Smile-U-More of the day and sighed. He wished he wasn't in this damn city, in this damn dome, and in this damn situation.
He wished it was 2017, and he was playing right field for the Philadelphia Phillies.