Notes from above the clouds

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The world demanded to be understood: that was Hatch Eyer's guiding philosophy. She'd dedicated her life - all twenty-seven years of it - to continually expanding her mind and her comprehension of what was around her. This had left her acutely aware that she was a viewing reality from the most limited perspective possible, while trapped within the Lagonian valley. They were all fish swimming in a bowl, back and forth, only able to see what was beyond through distortion and misinterpretation.

She scribbled thoughts into her notebook, which by now was dog-eared and damaged by repeatedly becoming damp and drying during their journey, while she sat on a stone bench on a terrace overlooking the city. Aviar was an impossible wonder that was becoming very gradually more possible the longer she stayed; it was a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered and hidden around the room, with a freshly discovered piece presenting itself every day. They'd allowed her full access to anything she wanted to see and anywhere she wanted to go, so her first expedition had been to the water reclamation reservoirs that hung below the mass of the city, extended down into the cloud layer on long, thick metal cables. Condensed water from the humidity was pumped back up to the city, where it fed into the waterways and parks and fountains. The ground far below was barren but the chunk of land that floated above was lush and green. Coupled with the uninterrupted sun, plants thrived and the city maintained a fresh, clear, bright atmosphere during the daylight hours, imbuing its inhabitants with an unusual optimism.

The terrace was on the edge of one of the parks, on a raised plateau that looked down onto markets and residential blocks. The city's design was mostly unfamiliar, with buildings arranged into a grid-like pattern to maximise the use of its limited space. Buildings were taller than any she'd seen in the valley, using verticality to compensate for the constraints on their horizontal capacity. On the outer edge of the floating island and atop additional, much smaller islands connected by bridges were fields of crops and some grazing animals: Aviar was as much a constrained ecosystem as Lagonia, though it felt precisely designed rather than sharing the valley's muddled, improvisational, don't-think-about-the-future approach to survival.

There were turbines mounted below the city, providing uplift, but they didn't begin to explain how it remained aloft, even taking into consideration the entirely different way that they used source. Their processing had gone down an entirely different route - more efficient, as necessitated by their far more limited reserves - and the way engines and propulsion worked in Aviar was still beyond Hatch's understanding. Factoring all that in, there was still a missing part of the equation: something she wasn't seeing, which would explain the numerous betrayals of physical laws.

Crunching of boots on gravel announced the approach of Stefan, who looked out past the balustrade to the view over the city.

"Strange to think that most of the people living down there will never get the chance to stand where we are now," he said, gesturing at the rows of tall residencies below. "And to think that I thought Lagonia had equality issues."

Hatch laughed as she put her notebook away. "At least the system here is based on some kind of logic. It has purpose. It's not just about wealth."

Stefan turned towards her, one eyebrow raised. "Really? That might not be how it got started, but as soon as you put some people up here-" he pointed behind her, at the shimmering towers clustered around the central spire "-and everyone else down there, it's only a matter of time."

"They don't really have money here, you know."

"I know," Stefan said, nodding. "That's why I can walk up to any market and get a free meal." He rubbed his fingers together. "The currency here is power, and hierarchy, and we seem to have arrived with a surprising amount of both."

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