No word is more frightening to a Citizen.
It is more than a death sentence. For someone who has never been outside the safety of the Dome, it is the cruelest form of death possible. In reality, only the worst offenders actually have the sentence carried out. Most convicted Citizens, upon hearing that sentence, completely break down and beg for a quick, merciful death, and as long as the crime was not too heinous, it is usually granted. Indeed, I think jurists tend to give the sentence of Exile quite a bit more often than they mean to, just because they enjoy seeing the spectacle.
I like to think my crimes were minor enough that had I given them that, they would commuted my sentence, too. But maybe that is just my pride. I certainly have struggled with that all my life. Maybe had I been less arrogant, I would never have been caught. No, even that's too boastful - I guess what I mean is they wouldn't have felt the need to make an example of me. No, even as my blood ran cold upon hearing the word "Exile", I steeled myself and refused to give them the satisfaction of breaking down and begging for mercy.
Of course, that was not the only factor. Unlike the vast majority of Citizens whose every breath from their first to their last was taken inside the City walls, I had experienced the outside. I had found a secret way in and out. Then again, I wouldn't have been able to commit my crimes had I stayed inside the city. Not that it really matters, I probably would have run into trouble eventually -- after all in school I was voted "too smart for his own good".
That's why everyone was surprised when I chose maintenance as a career path. Everyone expected I would go into research. I finally convinced them that I enjoyed tinkering with things, and naturally my competence scores were near perfect, so they were happy to have me. Very few people actually choose maintenance as a career; usually it is the only one they have passable competency.
Of course, they were right to be suspicious, because while I do enjoy working with my hands, that wasn't my primary motivation. Maintenance represented freedom. Most people are only authorized to go between their home and their work and the few public venues. Maintenance workers have access to every part of the City -- even those places that aren't monitored. Of course, you need to have a reason to be where you are, but as a maintenance worker, you get to see the entire City. That is how I stumbled upon the way out.
All maintenance workers enjoyed that same freedom of place, though I'm not sure all of them appreciated it. For me, though, there was an additional freedom: time. Since maintenance workers were all over the place, including areas that were unmonitored because no one else went there, security didn't even bother trying to keep track of us in real time. We just had to clock in and out, and long as we did the job we were supposed to in a reasonable amount of time, nobody bothered us. Of course, we did have supervisors who inspected our work after it was completed to make sure it was satisfactory. But as I said, maintenance generally didn't attract the best and the brightest, so I could get the jobs done in half what was considered a reasonable time, if not faster. Of course, when I was in an area that was monitored, I took my time. When no one was looking, I had time to explore.
Part 2: The Discovery