“I figured I’d find you here.” Karin’s voice came from behind him. Emmen didn’t move. He could see her in his mind. Standing there looking out at the horizon. The last rays of sunlight illuminating her blue eyes. She’d be looking to the horizon, as always, while he gazed below. Wondering what adventures were there.
“You shouldn’t sit like that,” she chided, “If they find you, they will use it against you.”
He knew she was right, but he didn’t care. He liked hanging his feet off the edge of the city. To him, it was the closest to freedom he could get. The sun was creeping behind the mountains far below, and Emmen couldn’t help but let his gaze follow the enormous chain that pierced them. The chain was one of six that anchored the city. From the mountainside, the chain rose through the clouds and disappeared below his feet. Each link was the size of a house. Each chain a few thousand feet in length. Whoever built them was lost to the past. Their craft lost with them, along with the reason why everyone had to leave the surface.
The only way to leave Ouranos was to join a voyage, and the chances of joining were slim to nil. A voyage lasted a minimum of five years. The ships that came back only took on men to replace the ones lost during the trip. No one ever voluntarily stayed on Ouranos after becoming a voyager. Emmen had wanted to leave the city his entire life. He wanted to see the world below. He wanted to discover what his ancestors were afraid of.
“Hey,” Karin kicked him. He finally turned toward her and saw a guard in the market behind them. He quickly scooted away from the ledge and stood before the guard saw him.
“You have to quit daydreaming Emmen.”
“You never think of what it would be like down there?” He turned back to the edge. This time staying safely away from the railing.
“Why? There’s nothing down there but danger and death.”
“And animals, and insects, and a thousand types of plants. A million things we’ve never seen. Not to mention fresh water.”
“A million things that can kill you. Besides, there is fresh water here too.”
“Still fresh water,” she said, waiting for him to contradict her. He conceded. She was right, but he didn’t consider it fresh. It had to be gathered from storm clouds and brought back to the city. Then it was filtered and distributed.
The shadows of the mountains ascended to darken the city. Fires around the market lit the stalls in a soft glow. He made his way into the market. Karin followed.
“I’m going to regret this,” she said, “but a ship came in today.”
Emmen turned to her with eyes wide. “What? When?”
“About two hours ago. I’m surprised you didn’t see them.”
He took off toward the dock house. He ran through the market, nearly trampling a trio of old women, and dashed through the iron works. In less than five minutes, he’d ran halfway across the lower city and was standing before the docked ship. He surveyed it with eager eyes. A few men were still unloading a few crates from the hull.
Emmen walked into the dock house and looked for the ship-master. The crew was sitting at a long table. He looked them over. At one end of the table sat a burly man with a large beard finishing off a mug of ale. Emmen approached and sat at a recently vacated seat next him.
“How do I join this excellent crew?” he asked. The table hushed. Everyone at the long table looked toward him. The large man lowered his mug to the table and eyed him up and down. “Well?” Emmen urged.
The large man erupted in laughter and the crew followed suit. Emmen didn’t move. He knew his chances, but he had to take them anyway. The laughter finally subsided and the man looked at him again.
“Why do you want to join a voyage, boy?” A stink wafted through the beard and hit Emmen in the face. He fought back tears and tried to gather himself. He almost didn’t notice when the entire table got to their feet. They were all facing him, but he quickly realized they were looking past him.
He turned to see a well-groomed man with silver hair. “Captain.” Another hint of decay wafted his way as the burly man greeted the newcomer. Emmen stood as fast as he could.
“I believe my crewman asked you a question,” the captain said.
“I…. I want to see what’s down there,” he said.
“Because….” His mind raced through everything he wanted to see but couldn’t settle on a single, tangible word.
The captain lost interest and moved him aside to sit down where Emmen had been. The rest of the crew sat down and cautiously began drinking again.
“Because I can’t stay trapped on this suffocating rock any longer,” Emmen blurted out above the growing noise. Everything grew quite again.
“Hmm. A suffocating rock, huh?” The silver haired man said with his back still to Emmin. He nodded and the big man sighed and downed his ale. He slammed the mug on the table and stood, grabbed Emmen by the collar, and dragged him outside.
A week later, Emmen was on the surface. He was hungry, tired, covered in sweat and dirt and smelled horrid. His hands were covered in new callouses and he’d almost died twice, but his heart was smiling. He was where he wanted to be. Each day a chance. The next never guaranteed. He loved every second of it.
At night, sometimes, he’d look at a chain and follow it up to Ouranos. All those people crammed into one small island in the sky. He couldn’t understand how they wanted to live up there when the whole world waited below.