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 1Before she has time to worry about it too much, though, a dim light appears from around a corner ahead.  The male guide puts a hand on Tashi's shoulder, and she has to bite back a startled exclamation as she steps to the side of the tunnel to let him pass.  Both of the masked guides brush past her, and step around the corner without a look back.  Even before she turns the corner herself, Tashi can hear a conversation starting.
 3"We've got Ms. Patel."
 7Then Tashi steps around the corner, eyes squinting in the sudden light from several bright bioelectric arrays, all positioned around the packed-earth walls of a small, crooked room.  The bioeletrics' water and feeding tubes are strung awkwardly along the walls, all stretching toward a small gap in one corner, right where the walls and ceiling meet.  From this, Tashi surmises that they are deep enough that this entire room is underground. 
 9She wonders what the room was originally used for.  Surely the Reintegration people don't have the wherewithal to dig out and create something like this by themselves, small and primitive as it is?  And the room is very small; with her two guides and herself, there are only six people there, and as it is Tashi has to wind in her rig's servo arm in order to squeeze in through the doorway.  
11Seated on stools around a small, makeshift table made of a slab of reconstituted wood thrown across some cinderblocks, are two women and a man.  Unlike the guides, these people are not wearing gas masks, just brightly-colored scarves pulled up over their mouths and noses, like people wear in the metropolises of Estados del Sol.  Tashi assumes that they are organizers or spokeswomen for the Reintegrators.
13"Ms. Patel," one of the women says, nodding politely at Tashi.  None of them rise from their stools, or reach out to clasp Tashi's hand.  "We were pleased to see that you chose to cover our protest, as we expected.  You have a reputation for being unafraid to venture into risky situations in pursuit of a good story."  The woman's voice is low and gravelly, as if she has some kind of throat condition. (Tashi once interviewed a woman from an obscure subculture that regularly burned certain plants and inhaled their smoke, for fun.  This woman's voice reminds her of that.) 
15Tashi limits herself to nodding.  She wants to know what these people are after, before she makes any particular comments.
17"We are all big admirers of your journalistic methods," the woman continues, "and we are here to offer you an opportunity that you may find it difficult to turn down.  Of course, you are free to do so, and free to leave if you so choose, but we ask that you hear our full proposal, first."
19Oh, for Gandhi's sake, Tashi thinks.  We all know that I'm going to interview you; let's get to it.  You really don't have to butter me up first.  Out loud, though, she only says, "I would love to hear it.  Please, continue."
21The woman who was speaking nods at the man across the table, obviously handing control over to him.  He straightens himself up in his chair, brushes his long, floppy hair out of his eyes, and says, "We are prepared to offer you an opportunity to enter the Shindi Yuga Dome, in person, and live among the residents of the Dome for five days, after which we will retrieve you."
23"What???"  Tashi's jaw drops.  This is not what she expected him to say, at all.  "That's impossible.  No one can enter the Dome, not even people from the Government, and come back out again.  It's strictly a one-way trip.  Stop messing around and tell me what you really want."
25"It's true," the man insists.  "I can't tell you how, for obvious reasons, but this is the deal that we're laying before you.  We can get you into the Shindi Yuga Dome, and we can get you back out again five days later.  While you're in there, you can interview and record and investigate to your heart's content, although of course you won't be able to 'cast live.  But imagine the stories that you'd have when you came out!"
27Tashi can imagine it very well – she's been imagining exactly that, ever since the Reintegration Movement started to appear on the political scene, back around the turn of the century.  Actual interviews with actual Domers, skintis... those still living with the Plague, and stubbornly clinging to the practices that perpetuated that Plague, all of these centuries later.  A completely separate society, living within the borders of their own.  She could eat what they ate, sleep where they slept, tour their houses, and most importantly, ask them tons and tons of questions.
29If that were possible, and Tashi was the first to do it, she would have her place in the journalistic pantheon pretty much secured forever.  Even if she went to jail afterward, forever, she thinks it would still be worth it.  She'd probably take that just to get a look inside, much less to go in with her rig.
31The male spokesperson continues.  "Naturally, given the risky nature of this endeavour, there are certain limitations.  First of all, you must agree not to reveal anything about this group, or about anything that you see here.  We know that you're currently not recording, and your GPS tracker won't work this far underground.  If you want to go, you must remove your rig and give it all to us to carry.  We will give it back to you when you get inside of the Dome."
33Tashi doesn't like that, not at all, but she supposes it makes sense.  If what these people are saying is actually true, which she still mostly does not believe, they'd be putting themselves at tremendous risk.  And of course, once the Government got wind of a successful Domer exfiltration, they would come down hard on everyone involved; there would be scanning and digging and increased security all around the Dome, until they found out how the escapee got out.
35Sending her is pretty much a one-shot opportunity for these people.  Tashi feels honored, and incredibly curious about why they chose her.
37"Secondly," the man continues, "if you go, you go alone, and you go now.  You disappear for five days, and come back with unprecedented knowledge.  No matter what you choose, we can't allow you to return to the surface and then come back to this place, so you're going to need to give us a yes or no right now.  If you say yes, Tarki and Zarah will take you further.  If you say no, they will escort you back the way you came."  All of the visible faces in the room are staring at Tashi intently, and she can even feel the gaze of the zieling through zir veil.
39Tashi swallows hard, and tries to think fast.  If they're telling the truth, it's tremendously risky, of course.  If she goes into the Dome with no research, no backup, no help from the outside, she'll be exposing herself to incredible dangers.  Anything could happen, and no one on the outside would have any way of knowing, if it did.
41On the other hand, this really is the chance of her journalistic lifetime.  The biggest adventure that Tashi can imagine; 'casters have put their lives on the line, and sometimes died, for less.  How could she possibly walk away from that?
43"Yes."  She doesn't even really know she's going to say it before she says it, but once she does it all makes sense.  "Yes," she repeats, "okay.  If you're telling the truth, if you have a way to get me into the Dome right now, then do it.  Take me in.  Let's go."  Her voice only breaks a little, on those last few words.  
45"I have just one question, though," she continues.  "Why?  Why pick me, specifically?  What do you hope to gain?"
47Her hosts continue to look at her intently, and for a long moment, there is silence.  Tashi shifts, feeling like an insect pinned beneath a child's microscope.  Finally, the gravel-voiced woman responds.
49"As we said," she croaks, "we respect your journalism, and think that you do your best to be fair.  Not unbiased, of course, but open-minded, and you always give your interview subjects a fair chance.  More importantly, a large part of the Citizenry believes that as well.  Furthermore, you know how to tell a story and create maximal impact.  We in the Reintegration Movement believe that you are uniquely suited to the task of conveying the harsh reality of life inside the Dome."
51"What do we hope to gain?  Sympathy, of course.  Right now most of the populace is blind and deluded, going about their daily lives without giving a single thought to the ongoing atrocity that is occurring in their midst.  Just because we've been wrongfully imprisoning the Domers for centuries, people think that makes it okay.  We believe that when you get into the Dome and see what it's actually like there, you will understand the Reintegration Movement.  And we believe that you will convey that attitude to your viewers, as well."
53"What if you're wrong?" Tashi asks.  "I refuse to promise anything about the content of my 'casting.  And I'll tell you straight up right now, no false pretenses – I'm a Citizen, and I don't support Reintegration."
55The expression on the lead spokeswoman's face does not change at all.  "We understand that.  We have a great deal of confidence that inside the Dome, you will see the rightness of our ways, and change your mind.  If not?"  The woman shrugs.  "We will have no way of knowing, will we, since your recordings won't be uploaded until you get out.  It's a risk that we're willing to take."
57"Alright," Tashi says.  "Just so you know that I'm nobody's mouthpiece, nor a tool of any movement."
59"We do.  That's part of why we picked you," the woman says.
61"Alright, then," Tashi repeats.  "It's settled.  Let's go."
63The man at the table nods to Tashi's two escorts.  "Tarkio and Zarah will assist you in your rig removal, and then they will take you to where you can get inside the Dome."  He pauses, and Tashi thinks he is done, but then he says, "Good luck.  All of our thoughts will be very much with you, these next five days."
65He's barely finished speaking when the zieling (Tarkio? Zarah?) is lifting the shouldercams out of Tashi's rig, and unplugging them from the data banks.  
67The game is on.