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Rated: ASR · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2232330
Camping out under the stars isn't what it used to be . . .
(996 words)

Underwhelmed

It was a perfectly pitched tent, taut guy lines anchored with metal pegs, green and blue fabric unwrinkled, the doors zipped shut. At 250 feet under the surface of the sea.

“I don’t get it,” Jory said, shaking his head. “There’s no need for a tent. We don’t have rain, and it’s not like we’ll get cold. The lights always dim at 10 whether we’re inside or out. Can’t we just roll out the blankets and go to sleep?”

“But this is supposed to be camping,” Milla replied. “I want the kids to know what it was like for my grandma in Colorado.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jory conceded doubtfully. “But nothing’s like it used to be on the surface, Milla. What’s the use of pretending?”

“I really like this stained-glass campfire you rigged up,” he went on hurriedly, changing the subject to avoid their familiar old argument. “When you’re sitting down, it looks just as real as Tri-D. How do you get the flames to flicker like that? And the infrared heating element can actually roast marshmallows! With a little more development and marketing I bet you could sell a lot of these.”

Just like Jory,” Milla thought, with an artist’s disdain, “always looking to make an extra dollar. But I don’t see the point of having more money when there’s so little we can do with it.

The economy of the dome was tightly controlled with too many people, too few resources, and virtually no luxury items. Milla knew Jory was dreaming of an Antarctic vacation, but she was realistic enough to know it would never happen. Antarctica was way overcrowded and the resorts that catered to Domers were too expensive for a ‘Ponics tech to afford.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Climate change hadn’t developed gradually, as expected. It was actually quite rapid, with the ice caps and glaciers melting away even faster than scientists had predicted. Rising waters had inundated coastal areas and forced billions inland, but the biggest problem turned out to be stagnation of the world’s oceans.

The great circulatory ocean currents had slowed and then stopped when there was no longer any icy meltwater to sink to the bottom of the sea at the poles. Without cold water pushing to the equator in the deeps, there were no longer any surface currents to move heat toward the poles. The tropics became an empty and hellish desert devoid of life. Even the former temperate zones were often deadly during the summer months and just barely livable during the winter.

Solar heat was still trapped very efficiently by carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, but the north-south transport of that heat had largely ceased. Hot, cyclonic winds blew constantly along the equator and temperatures varied from deadly in the tropics to uncomfortable at the poles. A large group of wealthy elites had taken refuge in Antarctica, but even there, they were forced indoors or underground during the brutal summer months.

The lack of vegetation in the tropics meant that little greenhouse gas was being removed from the atmosphere. And vast fires that raged for decades in the desiccated jungles further accelerated the runaway greenhouse effect. As temperatures rose ever higher, the earth became a planet of stark contrast. Most of its water was locked up in tepid oceans choked with algae, and most of the land area was dry and barren. A few hundred million had relocated to Antarctica. Billions more had fled underground. And billions simply hadn’t survived.

Jory and Milla were third generation Domers, living precariously in a large undersea habitat, far enough down to be safe from storms and the deadly surface heat. Milla’s great-grandparents had been among the lucky few to win places in the Gates lottery. They’d moved into the second dome after it was completed in 2063. Milla's grandmother, sixteen at the time, never completely adjusted. She'd fascinated a young Milla with many wistful stories of how life used to be when Colorado was cool and green.

The hi-tech domes had been the last great project designed by Elon Musk and were funded by the Gates foundation. Millions had volunteered for the domes, although many more were unwilling to live life under a pressure that required a long and uncomfortable decompression process in order to make a return to the surface.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Milla stepped out of the tent as the dome lights began their brief imitation of dusk. She had an audio titled Forest Sounds in their portable player. She turned the volume up loud enough to mask the rumble of the pumps and the whoosh of the water circulating through the hydroponic vats. They were lucky that Jory had access to one of the few areas in the dome that had a measure of privacy.

She checked the curtains that she’d painted with scenes of trees from used-to-be Colorado. They hung on a semicircle of drapery rods facing the tent. Milla felt a small surge of pride; the perspective was quite good and the backdrop looked real when viewed across the artificial campfire. She looked up and thanked whoever had thought to put familiar star patterns on the underside of the dome.

As dusk became dark, the sound of crickets came up on the player. A great horned owl hooted and coyotes could be heard in the audio distance. Milla knew the realistic loop would repeat after 30 minutes, but hoped the kids wouldn’t notice.

“Okay, everybody come out and sit in front of the fire! Let’s sing some songs and roast those marshmallows!”

The kids had been watching Tri-D on their tablets while Milla prepared the campsite. Jory had been looking over an investment proposal that promised HUGE returns with LOW RISK! He sighed, putting down his tablet and picking up the old guitar he rarely played anymore.

“C’mon kids, let’s go join your mother. And be nice! She’s worked hard to give you a real camping trip.”

“Aww Dad,” they groaned in unison, “do we have to?”



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