(This is a continuation of a previous short story. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you read Part 1 first.)
The group followed her through the entrance, everyone abuzz with wonder and amazement. Jack looked from side to side, seeing gates with trumpeting angels folded back behind the ten foot walls surrounding the entrance. Of course they made angelic gates, he thought unsurprised.
The entrance to Cloud City diverged into three paths, one to the left and right with a larger main path continuing down the middle towards a tall skyscraper in the distance. Although tightly compacted, everyone moved at once, following impromptu lanes of travel as if they were human vehicles.
The main road was littered with small shops and restaurants on either side, each with long lines of people making it difficult to make out which line was meant for which shop. It’s more like an amusement park than a city.
Olivia turned right as the tour group elbowed its way through the crowd to keep up, muttering slight apologies as they pushed past complete strangers. A few people broke off from the tour group, unable to resist the main road’s allure, while the rest followed their leader along the ten-foot wall to their right. As they made their way further and further away from the entrance, the wall started to shrink. Before long Jack was able to peer over the wall, seeing the natural clouds and blue skies surrounding Cloud City.
Hypnotized by the view, Jack was barely able to stop before running into the back of the group. Looking forward, he notices they’ve stopped at the entrance to a park with a large fountain in the middle and a checkered pattern of methodically placed trees that serve as sun umbrellas for numerous couples and families. He can see the wall next to them end into a large spire that clearly marks a corner of Cloud City as a second wall juts out from the left side, continuing to shape the city’s perimeter.
Olivia’s voice crackled to life in Jack’s right ear, “Welcome to Sky Park! This is just one of many parks scattered throughout Cloud City. Visitors will be able to find a park in every corner of the city upon its completion, each with a wondrous aerial view of New York City. At night the city lights create a beautiful display, it’s one of my favorite views in Cloud City.”
A hand shoots up from the group, grabbing Olivia’s attention and asking, “Is the city not complete? I thought construction was over.”
“Construction crews continue to expand the city every day.” Olivia answers. “The large building you probably saw when we came in serves as the city’s center,” she says while pointing off to the side of the group, causing everyone to turn and look at the distant, towering skyscraper. “When it’s finished, each corner will have a building just like this one,” she says, pointing to the nearby spire. “The center building, which is Atlas headquarters, and the corner buildings all have lights at the top to ward off incoming space flights.”
The inquisitive group member continues, “How much of the city is complete?”
“About three-fourths of Cloud City is fully built and operational. Later in the tour we’ll actually stop by and check-in on the construction crews so everyone can see the cloud-by-cloud creation process. For now, please follow me.”
Olivia turns and walks into the park, leading the group to the nearest unoccupied tree. “You’ve probably all noticed the CloudForm trees scattered about as we walked through Cloud City, but what you may not know is that they’re not just for decoration. How many people have visited the moon colony?”
Most of the tour group raise their hands in response. At least I’m not the only one, Jack thinks as he sees a couple other people with their hands down.
“Taking a cue from Mother Nature, all of the trees you see in Cloud City work like the atmospheric generators on the moon colony. They monitor the atmosphere around the city and work to mimic the same concentration of oxygen and level of barometric pressure you’d find at sea level. These trees ensure no one develops altitude sickness when they first arrive at Cloud City.”
It was Jack’s turn to speak up, “You do this without a dome or any way to contain the artificial atmosphere?”
“Yep, it’s easy to maintain without the need for enclosure because most of the atmosphere is already present. An Atlas engineer would be able to better explain how it all works. We might be able to ask one when we get to the construction area. Is everyone ready to continue?” The group nodded in agreement and once again began following Olivia.
Jack’s stomach growled. Pulling out his phone, he looks at the time. Yeah, I definitely need to eat something. Turning off the walkie-talkie and pulling the headphones off his head Jack pockets the device and looks around as the group pulls away.
The park was still crowded beyond his usual standards of comfort but not nearly as much as it was at the entrance. He started walking further into the city, thinking restaurants further in would be less crowded than the ones he saw at the entrance.
It didn’t take him long to find a sub shop with a reasonably short line. After purchasing an Italian sub he sat outside and enjoyed the city’s atmosphere while he refueled, watching people as they strolled past. Many people had the same look of awe and wonder Jack imagined he had while drinking in the incredulous sights of Cloud City, but many more had a look of irritation and exhaustion. It’s just like the “Happiest Place on Earth”, Jack thought with a small, knowing smirk.
Finishing his sandwich and eager to check out the construction area, Jack rejoined the throng of tourists and made his way towards the far end of the city. The shops and restaurants fell away in favor of office buildings and apartments as he got closer to the center. It actually looks like a real city, he thought as he passed by a small strip mall with a computer repair shop and dry cleaning service among a myriad of other small businesses.
About an hour later Jack made it to the construction area. The street he was following ended in a large blank area with hundreds of people lined along a waist-high barrier, preventing anyone from moving forward. The barrier seemingly stretched in either direction towards both of the perimeter walls, lined with people as far as Jack could see. Not wanting to join the elbow restrictive meat wall, Jack stood a bit behind some children who were standing on their toes to watch the construction effort.
The people beyond the barrier weren’t your average construction workers. They wore lab coats and goggles instead of steel-toed boots and hard hats and held cell phones and walkie-talkies instead of hammers and nail guns. Various groups of two to three workers littered the mostly flat white expanse they stood on, many standing along the edge of the expanse that clearly led to an open 10,000-foot drop.
As Jack looked on, a small cloudy platform rose along the edge of the expanse. The closest workers steadied the platform, setting it level to the floor under their feet before speaking into their respective communication devices. After a few moments one of the workers walked onto the recently raised platform and another appeared beside it.
Jacked watched a few more platforms get set into place before he pulled out his phone. Tapping on the clear rectangular device, he opened his email and read the message again:
“Dear Mr. Livingston,
The Atlas Company takes great pride in scouting young scientific talent to join its ranks and hereby cordially invites you to a job interview at Atlas Headquarters in Cloud City on May 3rd for the position of CloudForm Engineer.
You’ll find a Cloud City pass attached to this email along with a welcome pamphlet and scheduled time for your interview. The pass can be used to travel to and from Cloud City anytime during the week of May 3rd and we highly recommend visiting the city prior to your interview.
Tobias Linklater, Atlas CEO”
Jack thought it was a scam until he called number at the bottom of the email, confirming he was indeed going to meet with the Atlas CEO for a job interview. Now he was standing in Cloud City on May 2nd, still unsure of the email’s sincerity.
Sure, he had decent grades throughout school, but it wasn’t like he won the science fair – or even really participated beyond what was required. Why me? He looked up at the construction workers again. Do I really want to do this?
A deep voice rang out next to Jack, “You seem rather unimpressed.” Pocketing his phone as if he’d been caught doing something wrong, Jack turned to look at the man next to him. He was easily in his mid-to-late 30s and scruffy-looking, with uncombed hair and more than a five o’clock shadow’s worth of stubble along his neck and chin. He wore a suit undershirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows along with slacks and sneakers, as if he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to go jogging or to a business meeting.
“Nothing’s really impressive once you know how it works.” Jack replied.
The man raised a curious eyebrow, “You know how CloudForm works?”
“It all works using electrical charges. They build the material on the ground and charge it enough to let it rise to city. The guys out there basically catch it and sync it up with the rest of the clouds up here, causing the platforms to hover in the same place right next to each other.”
The man smiled while nodding in agreement. “You certainly know your stuff. Although most of the real work is done by the guys on the ground, building the CloudForm platforms and floating them up with such accuracy. I’m Seth by the way. I used to be an engineer for Atlas.” The main held out his hand in greeting.
“I’m Jack, nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Seth said as they shook hands for a moment.
“What do you mean by you used to be an engineer?” Jack asked.
“I’m on a sabbatical of sorts. Needed a rest after working on Cloud City for a few years.” Seth said, looking as if he were sizing Jack up. “If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you here?”
“Just checking it out for myself. The next scientific breakthrough and all.”
“It certainly is a major discovery,” nodded Seth.
“Have you been on the ground, sending the blocks up, or did you only work up here?”
Seth paused for a moment, before slowly responding, “No, I only worked up here in Cloud City.”
“Do all CloudForm engineers work up here?”
“Yep. In fact, living up here is mandatory for all Atlas Cloud City employees. I haven’t been on the ground since I started working here a few years ago.”
“What’s it like living up here? I could see the theme park bit getting old pretty fast.”
“You get used to it after a while. Most employees avoid the entrance and Main Street as much as possible. There are tourist and local areas just like Orlando or any other tourist town. Thinking about moving?”
“Nah, just curious.”
Seth nodded with a smile. “I understand. I’m actually feeling a little hungry and going to go grab a bite. It was nice to meet you Jack. I hope you enjoy your time here.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Jack responded, shaking Seth’s hand again before the older man walked away.
Feeling a little more reassured about his prospects, Jack watched the construction workers a bit longer before deciding to explore the city some more. Walking back onto the street that spit him out into the construction area, Jack turned down a small alleyway and walked along the city outskirts while trying to get a real glimpse of his potential future.
He continued to walk between alleyways, crossing main roads as he came across them until he found himself in what seemed like one of the least populated sections of the city. He walked out of another alley and onto a bigger road with no one in sight. The relative silence was nice, even if he could still hear the buzz of the crowds off in the distance.
Jack turned down the main road, walking towards the city’s center while looking for another alleyway to travel along. When he found one that would continue his path he turned down it to see a couple walking hand-in hand towards him while staring into each other’s eyes with big happy grins on their face, as if they were enjoying a honeymoon stroll. Jack decided to turn back and find another alley, not wanting to intrude on their moment, when the couple fell through the floor. The look of surprise forming on the couple’s face as they phased through the ground was completed by Jack’s slack-jawed look of shock and horror.
WHAT THE FUCK?!
Jack felt a hand roughly grab his left arm and pull him from the alleyway’s entrance just as he heard Seth say, “Follow me now!”