Blue sky extends to the far horizons where wispy clouds cower like diffident pillows.
___Nyssa crosses arms and hugs her ribs. Glad she is to have worn a long-sleeved overall, for outside gusts pack more punch than soft breezes in the megadome. The crisp autumn air tastes wonderful, and she feels like a butterfly fresh from the cocoon, about to spread her wings.
___The glare off the westward ocean is too bright for naked eyes. She faces north and scans the floodplain beyond the escarpment. Copses of trees and rolling meadows give way to an estuary that welcomes runoff from the forested uplands beyond. Ashen-olive hues overwhelm the isolated patches of autumn colors.
___Tourist brochures have extolled majestic mountain skylines, but snakes of fog obscure the rock-gnarled summits. Wooded slopes are all there is to see.
___Above the tarmac of Montgolfier Aerodrome, dozens of gasbags float from droplines like gargantuan circus balloons. Nyssa stands with two-dozen septuagenarians who are mulling around in colorful overalls. The elders have furrowed wrinkles on melanin-darkened faces. They’re tourists down from the soups, she guesses. In any case, the entire group is waiting for a flight attendant or tour rep.
___The tourist faces are set in dignified boredom. Though not pleased by the delay, they don’t look distraught or anxious, simply resigned. They’re wearing a rainbow of colors, yet they haven’t thumbed noses at her plain-gray overall. Nyssa reckons her best shot is to hang alone or fit in as someone’s surrogate granddaughter.
Elder women are dressed to the nines. Short fringes of indigo-dyed hair are peeking from under their sun hats. They stand without prosthetic aids as if inured to earth’s fell gravity. A sudden gust prompts one woman to clutch her Panama hat for dear life. Its broad rim flip-flops between sun-bleached tan and underside brown.
Soupers pay through the nose to bring luggage down, so the hat has likely been “rented” here in Tsawwassen several times, judging by the upside fade. Nyssa hates to think how many times her own clothes have been worn before she bought them.
___A droopy-eyed graybeard shadowboxes the wind as he shuffles from foot to foot. The backside of his pea-green overall has a huge black imprint as if a sasquatch marched over him with mud-splotched feet.
“Is there non tour guide? Non flight attendant?” asks a haggard-faced bluehair. She stamps her foot for emphasis and pivots around, revealing an overall of flea-flicker pink with embroidered mandalas on its front and back. “When do we sit and ease our feet?” she prates in a florid French accent.
___“Patience is a virtue,” utters a deep male voice whose owner stands solemn and crag-faced.
___His gray-bulbous eyes convey a regal aura, and his orator’s voice envelops the entire group. White splotches poke-a-dot his charcoal overall. On closer scrutiny the splotches resolve to spiral galaxies. She assumes it’s the costume of a carnival wizard or madcap professor.
___He bares an upper row of crowned ivories. “The reason for our delay is simple. They want us chilled out. So when the tour begins, they’ll herd us like docile sheep to clover.”
___The wacky professor is clean-shaven and hairless on the visible scalp under his porkpie hat. A full-function chronocalculator plumps his wrist. Taller than Nyssa by two fists, he sports hoary eyebrows, cheerful wrinkles and a ski-jump nose. When she grins at his antics, he homes in like a housefly to fresh-baked pie.
___“Wonderful smile!” he declares. “Better by far than forlorn frowns. Though I’m old in the tooth, I know a marvel when it stands before my eyes. Your elegance dazzles me on every scale, and sends me in mad search of…” He pauses as if lost in the twilight zone. “Forgive my lack of worthy metaphors.”
___His bulbous owlish eyes standout like runway beacons. Too bad they’re hemmed with wire-frames hanging somewhat askew. His cheaters would crumple if worn inside a spacewalker’s helmet. Even earthsiders choose laser surgery over antique specs.
___The professor’s serenade has drawn stares from other passengers who assume she’s come under his sphere of influence. Nyssa dislikes the mistaken réclame, even if he baits her curiosity. And he does look familiar, though she can’t place who or where.
___“Call me Jan, a life scientist and meritorious researcher of Body Electric co-op. I concoct mends for brave souls whose luck has worn thin.” He bows with a chivalrous flare. “Oh beauteous sprite, tell me your name. Else I must fall on my sword.”
___Before she can form an answer, two heavyset dudes step in and grab his shoulders.
___“What?” asks a guy who has jug-handle ears. “Sword you say?”
___The professor returns a smug grin. “Only a figure of speech. My sword lies back at the castle.”
___“No time for jokes, Old Dad,” chides the other guy sporting a large reddish schnoz.
___He and his partner wear black overalls and police hardware bestride thick-leather belts.