Jack adjusted his tie in the mirror. He straightened the knot and then flattened it down against his dress shirt. He picked up his casual dress shoes and sat on the bed. He gave his shoes a slight rub to get the dust off them. He only wore these shoes when he went camping which was his favorite form of evening entertainment.
Jack was in his late 20s and he enjoyed camping because he liked to dress relaxed. Camping was a very informal source of entertainment on Earth. He didn't need to wear a suit or even a sport coat. No one cared if he didn't show up in his best shoes or nicest clothes. Camping was unlike going to a concert. Jack also liked camping because it was one of the least expensive amusement settings.
Jack grabbed his identification card. He always wore it around his neck and only took it off when he showered or had sex. He had just showered. He exited his 57th floor apartment. The door locked automatically behind him.
He pushed a button to call the apartment complex transport and waited. A man dressed in coat and tails and a woman clothed in a beautiful red dress were seated in the cylindrical car when the door opened for him. They cuddled up to each other as if they recently joined. He once joined with this woman a couple of years ago but he couldn't remember her name. Joining was always pleasurable but like anything some were better than others. She was very attractive which made Jack think perhaps she was a poor join otherwise he would remember her.
"Going out tonight?" Jack asked.
"To the observatory to see the sun, moon, and stars," the man said.
That explained their superb appearance. The observatory was a very fastidious and a very expensive evening. Jack attended once. To be plunged into darkness and then see the sun and the planets was amazing. It was so incredible that sometimes Jack didn't believe those things were really out there and instead it was all special effects.
The transport stopped on a couple of floors for more riders then finally stopped at Level 1 in the garage. The man and woman exited. The transport continued and at Level 3 Jack got off.
Jack took the moving sidewalk and stepped off where his float was parked. He waved his ID card over the door reader then placed his right thumb on the pad. The door light turned from red to green and he opened the door and entered his float. He backed out of his parking spot and slowly floated out of the garage. He entered the traffic flow and steadily climbed upward.
Jacked moved into a mid-range float current. His reservation was for a closer campground so he didn't need to go up to a higher level in the sky. He saw a couple of police floats far above him as they ensured personal floats stayed away from the upper regions of the protective shield. Jack was grateful he lived in a world where technology kept them away from the dangers of the outside world, yet his internal adventurous streak was the reason he liked camping because he got to view the scariness of what was out there.
Jack parked his float at the campground then entered the queue for admission. The robot clerk dressed in green clothes and a big hat scanned his ID card. His expenditure for this entertainment was now confirmed.
The room was almost full of guests when he entered. Jack found a space on the phony log bench. He adjusted his tie out of nervous habit. Two robot park rangers stood inertly and waited patiently for the showtime to arrive. Could a robot wait patiently? He often wondered such strange ideas.
Jack was filled with anticipation. Camping was always a fun performance. The smores that the robot attendants brought out were always delicious. The robot bear even managed to startle him sometimes because the program randomized the direction the creature came from.
It was only a minute before the show when Jack noticed a brunette girl in her mid-20s bustle into the campground. She was dressed most inappropriately. She wore shorts, sneakers, and a backpack. Jack pursed his lips. Didn't she know this was camping? Why wasn't she dressed for it? This was an event. You don't wear your at-home clothes at an entertainment venue.
"Ready?" said a robot ranger when it activated itself on the second the hour turned.
"Yes!" the guests yelled out enthusiastically.
The lights flickered and then stayed dim. There was the expected brief visual distortion and then Jack knew they were out there! The camping group was in a protective bubble - a force field out in the wilderness. It was always exciting! The guests could see out into the frightening outside world, but they didn't have to worry about the dangerous elements. You didn't get too cold and you didn't get dirty. The rangers provided your food. The tents you slept in only had small entertainment screens. It was fun to rough it in the wild.
A small breeze started but the temperature stayed the same. The sounds of birds were turned on. A holographic campfire was activated and heat came out of the floor vents onto the guests. It was never too warm since they didn't want to make the paying customers uncomfortable.
"The fire is so nice," a woman said to a man.
Jack looked out through the protective bubble. He could see they were situated in a large dirt field. In the distance in all directions were a few trees. Jack remembered how uneasy he felt the first time he went camping. It made him feel so unprotected and so vulnerable. Jack glanced around. There were three women and two guys with their heads down unwilling to look outside. Jack empathized with them.
"Do you want some real camping fun?" a voice whispered in Jack's ear.
Jack turned his head. It was the improperly dressed girl. She smiled at him.
"Be at the bathroom in ten minutes," she said. She disappeared behind the tents.
The ranger robots were about to start up the campfire songs. They were sort of fun. Jack enjoyed songs like, "Drive, drive, drive your float". It was sort of strange to sing about one's flying vehicle, but the tune was catchy. It was best not to think too deeply about such song lyrics. It was only camping after all.
He looked back at the tents. He debated whether to check out what was with this strange girl. He would have time to return before the smores were brought out. The girl was a pretty one. Who knew? Maybe she would be interested in a joining with him in his assigned tent.
Jack had difficulty finding the bathrooms. He heard the first campfire song winding down so he debated whether to return when he finally saw the bathrooms. He didn't see the girl at first, but when he did see her he stopped and was astonished. Her left arm was missing! She stood next to the bathroom which was up against the edge of the protective bubble. She smiled and pulled her arm out. Jack was curious to see her arm reappear.
"I didn't think you were going to come," she said. "I always end up going alone. I hoped maybe you were someone who could use a bigger camping experience."
"What is that?" Jack said pointing at where her arm was.
"It's a seam in the energy bubble," she said. "It leads to adventure."
"The wilderness. The outdoors."
"That's where we are."
"Hah!" she laughed. "Even the outdoors you see is enhanced. They filter out anything disturbing. You are seeing a projected outdoors. I don't know why they bother to project the bubble, but I'm glad they do so I can get out there." She saw Jack's incredulous face. "Sorry to destroy your mystery and fantasy but all the campgrounds do it. It's bad for profits if the campers get too scared."
She reached out her hand. "Come on."
"I don't know," Jack replied
"We'll be back before tent time."
Jack looked at this girl. "It's really the outdoors?"
What was it like to be in the real outdoors? "Can we get back?"
"I do this all the time," she said. "Come on. It's fun."
Jack stepped forward but he was still undecided.
"Thank you," she said with a big smile. She grabbed his wrist and pulled.
She slipped into the seam with Jack right behind her. Jack felt mild resistance around his body for just a moment.
Jack blinked and shielded his eyes.
"Is that the sun?" he said amazed.
"Can you believe there are now generations and generations of people who have never seen it with their own eyes?" she said.
"It's so... big!"
She smiled. Yes, photos did not do the sun justice. She heard the observatory dimmed its image of the sun to make it less imposing.
"I'm Tara," she introduced.
"Jack," he said. He tried to look at the sun but it was too bright. It was so... yellow.
"Follow me," Tara said.
Jack quickly realized Tara was perfectly dressed for this adventure. He kept slipping in his dress shoes as they went down a narrow path. His clothing was too restrictive while Tara could bend and turn in her shorts.
Jack couldn't believe all the trees. These were trees! These were what they looked like. They were incredible.
Tara looked at Jack gazing up at the tree. "Do you want to climb it?"
"I might fall," he said.
"I know. Risk. Isn't that great?"
A thought occurred to him. "Are there bears?" They were dangerous!
"Sometimes," Tara answered, "but you leave them alone and they'll leave you alone."
They came out of the trees and into a clearing.
"A river!" shouted Jack.
Tara smiled again. How could people live the way they do? She would be absolutely miserable if she hadn't discovered the seams in the energy bubbles that were put around camping vacations.
.... There is more of this story ...