What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
Traveling is a pretty big deal these days—the domes are still safe and all, but you can run into just about anything in the wastelands between them. John can count at least three different sub-genres of movies about how things can go wrong when you leave your own dome and try to get to someone else's. (It seems dumb that they're all so far apart, really. Rose and the history feeds both say it's because they were built around cities that were already there when people started to need the domes in the first place.)
But John is growing up! And he's been saving his money from his part-time job, and school is out for the summer, and after some Serious Man-to-Man Talk, his dad has agreed to let him take a trip, by himself, all the way down to Heat City to meet his best friend in real life. He's been talking with Dave for something like forever in internet years, some of it in video chats so he knows Dave isn't secretly a creepy old ax murderer dude, and they've sent each other presents for their birthdays a few times now (Dave swears his presents were ironic, but John believes the word he was looking for was "awesome"). So this year John is upping the ante and sending himself down to Heat City for Dave's birthday.
The trip from the Waterdome to Heat City takes three days by transit skiff, with a refueling stop at Mile High. Before the war apparently people would just fly, and that only took a few hours, maybe half a day at the worst. But now, between the leftover auto-targeting missile systems and the invaders' flying combat drones, traveling anywhere by air is outrageously dangerous. Even if John could somehow win the lottery and afford to hire a pilot, he's pretty sure his dad would never go for that. And honestly John wouldn't blame him. Much.
So he buys one of the few passenger spots on a regular transit skiff that makes the run south, carrying supplies from one dome to another. He packs his pajamas and his toothbrush and a few changes of clothes. He messages Dave approximately eighteen thousand times the day before he leaves (and Jade and Rose only slightly less than that) because this is so exciting he can't stand it.
The skiffport itself isn't very exciting. It's more sort of...dingy and bluh. Everything is made of plastic that looks like it was probably supposed to be white, but it's turned kind of grody nicotine brown in most places. The guys running the machines to load and unload cargo from the skiffs are grouchy. There's nobody hanging around who looks like a dashing roguish antihero or down-on-his-luck drifter with a heart of gold. It sort of looks like the trip part of this trip is shaping up to be less awesome than he hoped. Even the skiff itself looks kind of drab, this flattened tube painted in shades of brown that are probably meant to be camouflage but actually just look boring.
He gets to sit by the window in the skiff, at least! The windows are pretty tiny and the glass is really thick, because solar radiation levels outside the dome are awful and sadly just lead to cancer instead of super powers. But it's a window, and he'll be able to see bits of the wasteland as they skim through.
The skiff's engine has a quiet, whirring hum as it revs up. John sits on his hands to try to keep himself from fidgeting in excitement. It only sort of works. They slip through the airlock sequence, each door rumbling and shuddering to let them through, and then they pass the final one and dim filtered light spills through the window and they are outside the dome, which means they are in the wasteland. John might squeak a little. Only a little, though.
Staring out the window with his nose pressed to the glass remains cool for...a while! It's kind of amazing to see the way the wasteland just goes on like that, to see how quickly it starts and how total it is. Right near the Waterdome there's still a little bit of sludgy swampland, but by the time they've traveled even a couple of miles it's just crackly dry dirt and drifts of sand, with spindly trees and skeletons poking out of the ground sometimes. Super creepy. There's stuff that lives out there, though, even now. Jade sends him links to documentary videos and science articles all the time, stories about how animals are changing thanks to the radiation. It's kind of sad but also kind of really cool.
There's also supposed to be trolls, of course. Like, not a lot of them or anything. The official word from the government is that they were almost completely wiped out by the end of the war and the survivors don't have the numbers or the power to pose a threat anymore. And they had trouble with sunlight even before the war fried the rest of the ozone layer, so it's not likely John will see any of them. Which is probably for the best, and everything, but he's still a little sorry. Real live aliens! Out there somewhere!
Of course one of the genres of terrible-things-about-traveling movies is the one where the travelers get attacked by a stray band of hungry trolls, and almost everyone dies and sometimes there are some really icky sex bits. But that's just the movies! And the characters almost always start shooting right away instead of trying to talk first. In real life John thinks it could actually be pretty sweet.
When he gets bored with the view, he buys a snack out of the vending console on the skiff. It would be nice if there were other passengers, but making a trip this long is pretty rare. Someone else is supposed to come on board when they get to Mile High, but until then it's just John and the pilots, and he really shouldn't be bothering them—they take long shifts, keeping the skiff moving so it's not an easy target, and sleep when they're not actively piloting.
John signs into pesterchum and bothers his friends for a little while, until they get far enough from the dome that he keeps losing his connection. This is going to be such a long trip, with all the time he can't talk to them. Still, at least he has Nic Cage to keep him company! He made sure to load up his laptop with plenty of quality cinema before he left. He gets through National Treasure and the glory that is Face/Off, and puts the computer to sleep when he realizes he's nodding off at the beginning of Season of the Witch. Wouldn't want to miss any of the good parts.