Tricia Hearst was in a good mood after a satisfying session of retail therapy. She’d found the gas mask she wanted to filter the air particles polluting the Metrodome. Her breathing was already improving, and she hoped it’d help her chronic cough. This success sweetened her mood so much she didn’t mind checking out the mailbox.
Communications within the Metrodome were electronic. However, hard copies were used between the city-states. Her partner Rob had a Kanyen’kehà: ka penpal, Okwa: ri. Half the correspondence he sent to Rob was junk mail while the other times he sent care packages to them.
Tricia saw her reflection before she entered her home. She noted the beaded leather jacket Ohkwa: ri sent them the last time. It was hard to tell what pleased her the most about it. The fact it was so stylish or the fact it kept her warm. Though the gas mask she now wore marred the fashionable image she wanted to present.
Rob was looking at his terminal and screaming at the screen. “What’s the use of living in a dome if they keep gouging us!”
Tricia rolled her eyes, “We’re not moving out of the Metrodome to live in a tent city! Our life expectancy would decrease by decades.”
“The Metrodome uses our fears to get cocky and overcharge us!” He called up the heating bill on a wall panel.
Tricia looked at the invoice. The numbers made her wince. “But our property taxes pay for heating!”
“Not anymore. Now they’re separate. The property tax has stayed the same by the way.”
“Bastards!” She was too tired to do more than sigh.
“Did Okwa: ri’s letter come yet?”
She held up a properties for sale ad from Okwa: ri.
“Good! It’s here!”
“Is he selling tipis?”
“His ancestors were into kanohsas, not tipis,” Rob said.
The word “kanohsa” sparked Tricia’s interest. “What is a kanohsa?”
On a nearby wall panel, Rob called up a scan he’d made from one of Okwa: ri’s stills. It was a long rectangular glass dome with a rounded roof.
Tricia thought it must’ve been cleaned up digitally. No dome she knew of was that pristine or free from wear and tear. “How can that be a kanohsa? It’s made of glass. I didn’t think his people knew what glass was before First Contact.”
“Kanohsas used to be wooden longhouses. Now they use glass and steel in the same design on a city-state-wide scale.”
“They use? You make it sound like they still make new ones nowadays.” She laughed but it started a coughing fit. She wouldn’t put up with the abysmal air quality in the Metrodome if it were possible to move to a new dome.
“They do. The Kanyen’kehà: ka still have a union of ironworkers.” Rob brought up a scan of living Kanyen’kehà: ka. They were in sturdy clothes with hard hats, thick, hard boots, and a full large leather belt full of tools.
“The Kanyen’kehà: ka ironworkers construct their domes themselves instead of using construction robots.” Rob said. “The ironworkers passed their skills on throughout the last century.”
“What are ironworkers?” Tricia sniffed.
“Before there were robots, construction work had to be done by humans. Even those big skyscrapers needed human workers to raise them.”
Tricia gasped. “That doesn’t sound safe! No wonder their work got automated .”
“It wasn’t, which is why it paid so well, even though it was blue collar work. The Kanyen’kehà: ka ironworkers were the last holdouts after robots got introduced as a safety measure. Now they’re the only ones who do construction work. When the EMPs struck, the data outside the domes got corrupted. Yet the Kanyen’kehà: ka knew how to build, repair, and maintain domes without automated help. Their ironworker’s union’s gotten big. They’re expanding from local work to taking on contracts outside their territory.”
“Contracts?” Tricia frowned.
“Repairs, maintenance, expansions of old domes, and the construction of new domes. Okwa: ri offered to put me on the waiting list for housing in their model communities. I want to give Maurice an FYI, so he can inform the other council members.”
Tricia sighed. “He’ll say the ironworkers aren’t needed. We’ve got automated systems.” Though the malfunctions got worse every year.
“Which don’t work as good as advertised. At the least we could use the ironworkers to ‘expand our rafters.’ Use them to create proper housing for the tent city outside our walls.”
The mention of the tent city made Tricia bite her lip. Metrodome’s tent city was the closest thing it had to suburbs. It was secured by a guarded fence with buildings that provided basic amenities. Refugees, immigrants, and those displaced from condemned sectors of the dome lived there. The tent city was the best that the Metrodome council could do for them.
“I’m only one vote on the council,” Tricia pointed out. “You have to convince at least 100 more to get Maurice to move on your motion. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to pull things the way you want it! Maurice will ask ‘How do you know he didn’t use a graphic arts program to forge the picture? A good one could pretty up a cracked dome or make a virtual one.’ ”
Rob answered by blowing up a tiny spot in the corner that was the Better Business logo: their seal of approval. The picture was an accurate representation of the Kanyen’kehà: ka product. The datestamp was hard to duplicate and proved that the picture really showed a product for sale.
• • •
Tricia expected Rob to craft a cunning pitch, and he asked her to help him with the refreshments. She wasn’t sure where she stood on renovation contracts. She tried to sleep on it but the nightly creaks from the dome’s roof kept her awake. She was sure they had gotten louder since last year.
Tricia got out her mobile and did research on ironworking to use her insomnia constructively. She found papers on stress loads. They were full of jargon she couldn’t understand. All she knew was that the dome’s creaks alarmed her. The spate of quarantines made her wonder if her home district would be next. So far there hadn’t been fatalities but the pieces of falling debris kept getting bigger.
She hated the almost annual rise in property taxes and fees in her district as much as everyone else. However, she thought of them as a necessary evil. These Kanyen’kehà: ka ironworkers were an option worth investigating. She could support Rob on this pitch, even if she wouldn’t be surprised if Maurice turned it down.
• • •
“Do the Kanyen’kehà: ka have another cash crop venture?” Maurice asked as he sampled Rob’s refreshments.
Rob had opened up their living room for the latest meeting to help establish the mood. “I’m presenting kanohsas, Maurice.” The image of one formed on a wall panel. “These are being sold as prefabricated modules Kanyen’kehà: ka ironworkers assemble.”
Maurice shook his head. “The council doesn’t want to be liable for human construction workers.”
“They produce quality work.” Rob projected the results of various licensing bodies. They all passed the interdome certification board. “The ironworkers even have model communities.”
Maurice closed his eyes. “Do you know how hard my family worked to move into the Metrodome to escape the Badlands? My father found work inside the dome. They put him on a ten-year waiting list before they found housing for him and his family. You expect me to want to move out after the sacrifices he made? The Metrodome isn’t as good as it used to be but it’s still the best thing around.”
“We’re being overcharged for basic amenities and overtaxed. Do you think we should let fear of change blind us to better alternatives?” Rob said.
“So, you actually want to do this?” Maurice asked.
“Yes, I want to check it out. If it’s as good as I think it is, we should all move out of this unsafe structure.”
• • •
“What are you doing with that thing?” Tricia pointed to a gun Rob had put into a holster on his left leg.
“It’s mostly for hunting,” Rob said.
“Mostly?” Tricia shuddered.
Rob shrugged. “It’s also good for self-defense when you travel between city-states.”
Tricia gasped at this. “I don’t know you anymore!”
Rob shook his head. “I have to take this chance to see if there’s anything better than the Metrodome. I want to see Okwa: ri’s model community.”
Tricia was convinced she’d never see Rob again after he finished packing. She didn’t stop him, nor did she pack up her belongings herself. The Metrodome kept creaking at night.
The night before Rob would have gone, the creaking was the loudest it’d ever been. Then came a snap then a crash .
The alarm went off. Anyone who lived in the Metrodome recognized the code. This was an evacuation alert.
All of their home’s lights came on. Their wall panels came alive. The words announced over the speakers scrolled on the panels. “This is not a drill. Everyone is to leave the area immediately. This is an emergency evacuation. This zone is now a red zone. Anyone who remains in the area does so at their own risk.”
Tricia cried. “Everything we’ve worked for is gone. We’re in a red zone now.”
Rob took out her personal luggage. “The hotels and emergency housing will be crowded.”
Tricia sobbed as she looked at the sight of the devastation on her mobile. “We’ll be evacuated into the tent city.”
Rob looked at her and held up his tickets for the timeshare demonstration he was travelling to attend. “We don’t need to.”
Tricia bit her lip and there was a moment of silence, then a ding from her mobile. Rob had discontinued his service to prepare for his upcoming journey. She was the only one who had contact with the council. “It’s Maurice. The board called an emergency meeting. Bring your packet with you. They want you to tell them about the kanohsas.”
“Okwa: ri can tell them himself. He’s picking me up tomorrow.”
• • •
Much to Trish’s relief Okwa: ri came on time. She feared that he’d been running a long con on Rob. Though she counted on the kanohsas to solve their difficulties.
Okwa: ri had a rapt audience with the board. “I can show you a video of our open house.” He took out a tablet and showed a recently datestamped tour of a model home. It was clean and had amenities.
“What’s the neighbourhood like?” Maurice asked.
The video switched to a recording of the streets inside the kanohsa. They were empty but clean and in good repair with no signs of falling debris or fog from fine air particles.
“Let’s go!” The people said.
• • •
When Okwa: ri came back with a convoy of vehicles and armed guards, Tricia was relieved. There would be safety in numbers. A large share of the people in the tent city were used to travelling in the Badlands and would follow them. The ones that didn’t want to leave would take up residence in what was left of the Metrodome.
When the convoy approached their destination the kanohsa gleamed like a pretty bauble in the distance. Tricia sobbed when they made it past the gates into a model community with identical and new houses. There’d be enough houses for everyone in the Metrodome caravan.
Perhaps it was naive to expect perfection, but the kanohsa stood out like a beacon of civilization in a mad world. She was already breathing easier now that she was free from anxiety and the fine particles of pollution she’d been inhaling back in the Metrodome. She was already a satisfied customer of the Kanyen’kehà: ka and hoped she wouldn’t be the last. The world needed their skills.
Copyright © 2021 Cathy Smith
Cathy Smith is an aboriginal writer who lives on an Indian Reservation. She has also won an honourable mention from the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and is a co-winner of the 2016 Imagining indigenous Futurism Contest. You can follow her latest projects at WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.