In the distant future, man can no longer survive the radiation of a rapidly expanding Sun. Special government agents called Imagers are sent on expeditions to measure the levels of radiation in different parts of the world.
This wasn't the first time Katia had been shipped off to the end of the world for work, and she was sure it wouldn't be the last either. She was used to packing her digital imaging machines into her slightly ragged suitcase. She was used to spending three or four weeks utterly alone in the wilderness - a wilderness that almost no one remembered anyway.
But this time, it seemed different. There was a growing pit in her stomach that threatened to overflow at any moment. She hadn't had a panic attack in a very, very long time, but she felt now like she had then. She had no reason to feel this way, she enjoyed her job and enjoyed being away from the complex buildings and maze like streets that made up most of the continent these days.
She herself was barely old enough to remember the old days, where there had still been green space in the city. But, she had vague flashes of memory every now and then that she was convinced were real, and not just dreams of her job mixing with her life here in her concrete box.
The green blinking light on the top of her Communicom was flickering faster now, which meant there was another message; a follow up to the assignment that had started this all-too-real panic attack. Relax, she told herself as she swiped her thumb across the screen so she could read the new message.
'Agent Monroe. In edition to plant and soil images we will require images of the local population of human-like beings that has been spotted, but not catalogued, by earlier expeditions'
For a brief moment Katia heard the 'I told you so' of her panic attack in the back of her mind as she read and re-read the message. There had to be some other explanation for this. There were barely any animals in the wilds these days, how could there possibly be any 'human-like' creatures living out there. The only reason she herself could spend such a long amount of time out there was due to rations and UV Light-resistant tents and clothing. The amount of radiation in the wild was enough to cook a person in less than an hour. No living creature (that she knew of anyway) could touch a blade of grass without exposing themselves to the possibility of radiation poisoning.
Just as she was about to phone her director and get to the bottom of what she was sure was a practical joke of some kind, a piercing sound rang throughout the flat. It was her Communicom again, only this time someone wanted to speak with her directly. She checked her hair quickly and answered in what she hoped was a neutral and calm voice. What she didn't expect was to see the Head of State looking back at her from the small hand-held screen. Never in the 10 years she had worked for the Imaging Department had she heard of the The Head calling a technician.
"Agent Monroe, thank you for answering. I promise I won't take up much of your time, I know that you are needed right away in the wilderness." the Head of State said in her usual matter-of-fact tone.
"Ma'am, I'm a little confused, I mean, it's an honour to speak directly to you. I just don't understand the last message I was sent." Katia fumbled over herself, trying to sound as professional as she could.
"I understand your confusion Agent. I won't lie, I am also just as confused by these rumours as you. However, there have been multiple expeditions who have mentioned these human-like creatures. Obviously, if there is a chance that we can return to the wilderness, we need hard proof before we start getting people's hopes up." the Head explained. "You won't be alone on this expedition. I know it goes against all protocol you have been trained to follow, but I believe its in your best interest to have a companion in this venture."
Katia was dumbstruck. A companion? The Head of State? Human-like creatures? Returning to the wilderness? She had never heard even a rumour about returning, her head was spinning and she knew that her previous panic attack wouldn't be alone for long. She knew that the Head of State was still speaking, and she was trying to listen to all the words she was speaking.
"Agent Monroe, you will be making a great contribution on this expedition, and I am assured that you are the right woman for the job. Good luck to you. I look forward to seeing your results when you return to us." the Head said and was gone from the Communicom screen before Katia had a chance to reply.
She stood in silence for a moment, letting all this new information sink in. Then she was up and packing her camping gear and protective clothing into a separate backpack, readying herself for her expedition. Though, she wasn't sure she was ever going to be completely ready. There wasn't any training on how to conduct herself with a companion on an expedition. But, there was nothing to be done about it now, she could only do what she had been trained to do and hope that all went well. She left her concrete apartment and headed for the departure point she had been given in her first message.
By the time the taxi dropped her at the helipad the sunlights were starting to come on. This meant that she would be arriving in the wilderness right at noon, the highest point of radiation during the day. She swiped her information card through the reader and checked in with the pilot who would be taking her to the launch site.
"Agent Monroe, nice to see you again. I have been told to inform you that your companion will be meeting you once you arrive in the wilderness. I wasn't aware that plants and soils were so dangerous." the pilot said to her as they boarded the helicopter.
She smiled but said nothing, mainly because she had no idea what to say. The ride to the launch site was the usual quiet affair, like there was nothing odd happening, though both of them knew differently. She unpacked her gear from the helicopter and headed for the AeroPod she would take the rest of the way to the wilderness. She attached her backpack and suitcase to their places in the pod, took her seat and strapped in. This was the part she hated most, the speed in which the AeroPod shot through the narrow cylinder always made her sick.
A mere 15 minutes later Katia's radiation proof suit was put to use as her AeroPod rocketed through the protective layer of flexi-glass and out into the blazing sun of the wilderness. This wasn't the sunlights of the city, this was the actual sun, bright and brilliant and slowly killing the planet. It was the reason they had retreated to their concrete cities so far under the ground in the first place.
As she stepped from her Aeropod onto the burnt grasses that surrounded it she saw her companion standing at attention, awaiting her arrival. She had never seen a companion up close, and he was much less intimidating than she had expected. In fact, he looked just like any other Imager in a sun-safe suit just like hers. She wasn't sure how this man, who was nothing like the childhood stories she had heard of companions, could keep her safe from whatever it was that the Head of State thought was out there.