“Come on,” one of the other guys said, as they all started walking. It looked like we were walking towards the nearest hangar along the runway. All in all, there were eleven of us, and each of us were managing different containers. It seemed like mine was the smallest, and looking at what the others were carrying, I felt like they just gave it to me so I would feel useful. In some ways, I did, it made me feel like I had an immediate purpose, but beyond that, I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to make conversation.
“So,” I started. “What exactly are we carrying?”
“Not sure.” The man closest to me was quick to reply. “I think it’s equipment, looks like we’re going to pack it up for headquarters.”
“Headquarters?” I asked. “There’s another place like this?”
“Headquarters is on the other side of the skyland. We’re just going to put it on a cart and send it over.”
“Oh… And what am I supposed to do?”
“Put your box on the cart.” The man shrugged. I frowned. Now I really felt useless.
I decided to spend the rest of my time in silence, observing my surroundings. This airport was quite interesting. It wasn’t like any airport I’d been to in the past. There was no tower, and to be honest, it didn’t look like there was any form of monitoring station at all. I suppose it wasn’t absolutely necessary, considering the lack of planes. Looking back at the hangars, I didn’t see any other planes at all. It was almost as if the hangars were being used as unloading docks or warehouses, nothing more. The airport consisted of one long runway, spanning the entirety of the peninsula, and three wide hangars, nothing more.
As we walked into the first hangar, the guy at the front of the group set down whatever it was he was carrying, and walked ahead of everyone. Moments later, he was rolling a large bin towards us. It was very odd looking, it had six wheels, which I assume were for balance, but it looked like the wheels were retractable. I wasn’t quite sure what the reason was for this, but I suppose I was bound to figure it out soon enough. After a bit of heavy lifting and a few moments of reorganization, all of the boxes were in the cart, except mine. My mind had wandered elsewhere, until one of them basically took the box from my hands and placed it on top of the pile. Then, the guys scattered throughout the hangar.
I took the moment to look around. About 200 feet away stood my airplane, and I seriously contemplated running for it. I was considering how easy it would be to just sprint over, hop inside, and fly away. Of course, the plane was oriented away from the runway, so I’d have to power up and turn the thing around… I’d have no time to run any checks, but I mean, I just flew the plane, I could probably just start it and go. But would I be able to escape in time, or would they stop me?
Ugh, I missed my chance. There was already someone else walking towards the plane. I squinted my eyes and tried to get a better focus on him. Or… her! It was a woman! So there’s women on this island, too? Great! I wasn’t alone!
I guess whoever she was, she was tasked with dealing with my plane. I watched, grinning slightly as she struggled to get the door open. When it finally popped, she was clearly taken aback. I couldn’t help but giggle a little. She climbed into the plane, looking around curiously, before finally closing the door. She seemed genuinely curious about what she was dealing with, almost as if she hadn’t flown a plane in a long time. It wouldn’t surprise me either way, considering this place probably hasn’t had a plane land here in a while. At least since the last one got “stolen” from our airport about a year ago.
Aw, man. My airport. Altimus was likely going nuts trying to figure out where I disappeared to. Assuming they even figured it out yet. They probably lost the transponder when I entered the skyland airspace and assumed I went crazy. And I took their two million dollar plane with me. If I ever got off this floating rock, I was bound to see hell.
…If I managed to leave… The reality of my situation still hadn’t hit me yet. I was so excited to be on this mystery place, and so relieved that I wasn’t dead, that it never really fully hit me that I was told I wouldn’t ever leave this place. The one ticket I might have had to get out of here was turning around on the runway right in front of me.
“What the fuck is that plane doing?” Someone ran up to me. He looked at my face, seeing I was just as confused as he was, and bolted, just as quickly.
“Stop that fucking plane! It’s taking off!” He shouted, waving and pointing while running down the tarmac. My original assumptions about the woman in the plane were clearly wrong. Whoever she was, she wasn’t supposed to be taking my plane. It suddenly dawned on me, she was taking MY plane! How dare she!? A man holding a radio began shouting into it as he gained distance from me.
“Code red, code red! That plane is taking off!”
Angry that my own plane was being stolen, I offered my help in the only way I knew how.
“It was a girl! She jumped in!”
The guy took my information without even looking at me.
“Plane is leaving with one pilot, all cargo is off board!” he shouted. As I watched the plane pick up speed, rolling down the runway, other men from the other two hangars ran outside. Some of them had guns, and started shooting. There were speakers in the hangar. Other voices piped up on the radio.
“It’s fucking Yanora! She’s taking off!”
“Hold your fire! If that plane gets shot down, it’s going to look real fucking suspicious!”
“What do we do then? Let her leave?”
“Fuck if I know, maybe the shield will take her out.”
I crouched in fear, not knowing what to do. The gunfire was not coming in my direction, nor was it close to me, but I had never been in this kind of situation before. In any case, it dwindled until everyone stopped shooting, and the plane lifted off the ground. It stayed somewhat close to the runway, which I found very odd. Was the person flying the plane shot? It seemed strange that she would stay level with the many people around her that could shoot her.
Soon enough, she made it to the edge of the runway, and just like that, she dropped out of view. She intentionally dipped the plane below the… ground level? Is that what you would call it here? In any case, the men standing around threw their hands up in anger, and all turned away and started walking back to their hangars. Not fully comprehending the gravity of the situation, I looked around and tried to read the facial expressions of the people standing around me.
I eventually defaulted to visually exploring my immediate environment. For the most part, I was standing there, not really walking or moving in any way, just slowly rotating to look at different things around me. The view from here was compelling, if anything. Aside from the airport, I finally thought to look at the area it was attached to. The “circle” of the skyland, I guess. From where I was standing, I could see a large modern looking building which stretched as far to the left and right as I could look, seemingly not having an end. It seemed like it was just one building that encircled the center of the skyland. The building had doors side by side that also went all the way around, and people were walking in and out. Men, women, and older children. It was like they were entering and exiting apartments or something.
Only… it occurred to me that the doors were really close to each other. There were people who would walk in and out of a door that was five feet away from a door to its left or right, where other people were themselves entering or exiting. Were these all offices? Mini-apartments? Closets? It seemed so odd that there were so many doors packed side by side, and people were using different ones each time.
Every few minutes, there was a tram of some kind that would drive by from the left or the right, stop in front of the airport for about a minute, then just keep going. I assume this meant there were two railways running clockwise and counter-clockwise around the skyland. How efficient! It must be an extremely convenient method of travel.
Beyond the huge, possibly circular building, there was a tower… thing. Now, if the condos had me confused, that left me completely puzzled. I couldn’t exactly see the base of the tower, but the main structure had five, slowly rotating prongs jutting out from it. I’m not sure what the prongs, or beams, were meant for, but it looked like a futuristic radar or something. I looked up towards the sky directly above them. I suppose it might have something to do with the shields. Or maybe it’s the technology that keeps the skyland afloat? It was hard to tell just looking at it from the outside, especially as far away as I was.
It occurred to me that I’d been standing there for at least twenty minutes, my eyes wandering, and me being not so sure what to do. Was I supposed to be doing something? Or was I just expected to do nothing more than make sure I stayed on the skyland as a whole? Did I have a door somewhere that I was supposed to report to? I mean, I guess one just cleared up, if they needed a space for me. Whoever “Yanora” was even looked like she was about my size and shape, so I could probably find a decent change of clothes.
“Hey, former pilot, come here.” I looked behind me back at the warehouse. The man who I first talked to when I landed was standing around, which startled me, to say the least. How did he get there? I walked over, not really saying anything.
“Okay, so it looks like it’s high time we establish what you’re going to be doing here.”
“Can I ask some questions first?” I was ready to face my fate, or at least I thought, but I wanted to know what was going on.
“Sure,” the guy replied.
“Okay, for starters, what’s your name, so I know what to call you?”
“Ahh, right.” He laughed to himself. “I’m Kateko. English pronunciation only, please.”
“Kateko? What kind of name is that?”
“My assigned name. You have one too, actually.”
“Yeah, Anne.” I smirked. “I guess I was ‘assigned’ that at birth.”
“Ahh, it works different here. You’ve got a new name, approved by the board.”
My eyes widened. A new name?
“From now on, you’re known here as Zonoku.”
“Yes.” He seemed rather firm with the idea. Like I had no choice in the matter. And it seemed like I really had no choice in the matter. ‘Zonoku.’ What the hell kind of name is Zonoku?
“Any other questions?” He asked.
“Uhh, yeah. I guess I’ll just spit them out.”
“Go for it.”
“Who was that girl Yanora, what is she doing with my plane, what am I doing here, what are you and anyone else doing here, and most importantly, why can’t I leave?” Kateko smiled, and shook his head. He held his hand up, gesturing for me to start walking in the direction of the trams. I obliged, and he started.
“Well, Yanora is sort of a problem, but to be honest with you, I don’t know enough to get into that, nor do I know if I should.” I maintained a blank face, but I had a determined need for answers. “And as for the rest of that stuff, yes, I’m serious. You absolutely can not leave. For one, you literally can not leave, as you’ll fall to your death in the ocean below. For two, if you are caught trying to leave, we will stop you.”
“Stop me how?” I piped in.
“The guys with the guns, that’s how. Now let me explain everything else.” We walked up to the station platform, which really consisted of a slightly elevated bit of asphalt (or something similar) right in front of the rails. Behind me, I noticed someone else was pushing that large bin towards us. I wasn’t sure how he would get the bin on the tram, but it became clear. He rolled it in front of where the tram coming from another direction was expected to stop. Once in place, he pulled a barely visible lever, which exposed some wheels from underneath the bin that looked like they fit perfectly on the tracks. Then, the normal wheels meant for moving on standard pavement retracted, seating the bin directly on the tracks.
“That’s neat.” I said aloud, before Kateko could continue.
“What? Oh, the cargo thing? Yeah, makes things easy.”
Two tram cars pulled up from left and right on both rails at about the same time. I wasn’t sure if it was planned, or just coincidence, considering our track would have to be slightly longer all the way around the skyland, assuming they were two different tracks that went all the way around. We climbed into our train, which was apparently headed clockwise, and the man who was previously pushing the bin climbed onto the other. The trains were open air, and didn’t have any visible motor. I wondered what this place was like in the winter. I suppose if they could generate an invisible shield, they could probably control their climate. In any case, it felt like I was riding a roller coaster with no turns or loops. As we left, the other train moved in the other direction, pushing the cargo bin in front of it.
“Anyway, here’s the deal.” Kateko started. “You’re going to live here, you’ll have your own place, just for you. It’s kind of nice.” I listened intently, deciding to interrupt no more. “And yes, you have to stay here, for the rest of your life. That probably sounds scary, it probably sounds like a death sentence, but believe me, you’ll be fine here. We are a technologically advanced society, and we have everything you will need to live your life here. You probably see this now as an enclosed, remote, small, strange town. But in due time, you’ll learn to love it here.”
“As for what your purpose here will be, well, you’ll find out. For now, you’ll get a little while to explore all that the skyland has to offer, and ultimately, how you find yourself being helpful might come to you later. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, we will help.”
I interrupted. “But what about my life back home? Why would you just tear me away and expect me to suddenly live here? I mean, this place is somewhere I’ve never been, and I’m sure many people would kill for this experience, but how can you just expect to snatch me and keep me here permanently? This morning things were normal for me, I had a normal existence, and in the matter of a couple hours, my entire life up to this point has been for nothing.”
He silently nodded, and held his hand up, wanting to continue. “Yes. I understand this is a pretty big deal, but frankly, there’s nothing that can be done. Like you said, people would kill for this experience, and you’ll find out why soon enough.”
The train car approached another peninsula on the skyland, and began slowing down. As it stopped, Kateko looked at me. “Do you want a tour while we’re on our way?”
I half nodded. “Sure? I guess I’ll need to know my way around.”
“Okay, well, on this peninsula, we’ve got the school and medical facilities. You can attend any time for classes, or show up any time for a medical checkup. You never need to make any kind of appointment, and they’ll already have your name on file when you show up tomorrow.”
“Yes. You’ll need a full physical now that you are living here. It’s best you get it out of the way tomorrow, instead of putting it off until later.” I made a mental note.
“The school will really advance your mind, I strongly suggest you try it out.”
“I was sort of done with school once I got a job. I really don’t want to go back.”
“Believe me,” he seemed to press. “This school is unlike any you’ve ever experienced on the ground.” The train lurched forward, and we were on our way. From the position we were at, I had a full view of Altimus. It was so close, and yet, indefinitely far away. I had a hard time accepting the fact that I would see it likely every day, and yet I’d never be able to return. It would probably be best for me to spend most of my time on the other side of the skyland. At least then, I’d only see a vast sky and an endless ocean.
“So this is the entertainment district,” Kateko said, as we arrived to the next peninsula. “In here, there are endless possibilities of things to do.” It looked like a huge warehouse, and nothing more. On the front, there was a single door, and a basic-looking sign labelled Entertainment. I mean, I get it with the efficiency, but would it hurt to at least decorate?
“I hope it’s more exciting than your art budget.” I huffed.
“Yeah, that sign was never pretty, but it gets the job done. Believe me, when you check the place out, you’ll be surprised. All of your kind are.”
“Oh, right, yeah. There’s at least three or four of you guys here. Mainlanders who flew in on some mission and got stuck here.” My eyes lit up.
“Really? Can I meet them?” I was genuinely excited about this new knowledge.
“Yeah,” he said rather blankly. “You will soon enough, after you get settled in here. But like I was saying, endless possibilities, we have the technology. If you want to relax on a beach, we have it. If you want to go bowling, we have it. If you want to play laser tag, great! If you want to go laser bowling on a beach, then we can set it up for you.”
“What if I want to fly?” I asked. Kateko shrugged. “Yeah, you could do that. You won’t need a plane though.”
“You’ll see. Trust me, just… just wait until the tour is over.”
“You’re not going to fly me right off the edge of this island when the tour is over, are you?”
He laughed. “No, because like I said, you aren’t leaving the skyland. Believe me.”
We eventually arrived at the next stop. “This is where we train the military and perform most of our technology research,” Kateko continued. “They don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but I guess you could say military and technology are our main advances, so we just happen to have them on the same plot. As an outsider, you are unfortunately not permitted to join our military without approval from the board.”
I wasn’t really thinking I wanted to join their military, but it was interesting that they housed one nonetheless. On this peninsula, they had two buildings. One running along the left side, labeled “Training,” and one at the far end of the surface, labeled “Research and Development.” I only wondered what they were researching at this point, considering they already seemed far more advanced than anywhere I’d heard of before.
“So, I could walk into the school, or into the entertainment center, but am I allowed in there?”
“Yep. You’re allowed into any room that does not require a key.”
We continued moving. With four stops down, there was only one left to go. As we rumbled along, I looked back towards the center of the skyland, and took notice to the fact that even on the other side, there was still a line of doors stretching all the way around the building, with people occasionally entering or exiting them. No keys, no voice commands, and for that matter, no numbers on the doors. I wasn’t sure how these people knew which door was theirs. I figured now was a good a time as any to ask.
“So what’s with the doors everywhere? What are these places?” I inquired.
“Homes. You’ll get one too.” Kateko replied.
I sighed. These homes, looking about the size of a walk-in closet, were likely the only answer to housing a large number of people in a relatively small area. I imagine people here probably spent very little time at home, which is probably why Kateko was suggesting I’d enjoy spending my time at the education or recreation facilities. I was a little concerned with the idea. I enjoyed my shack on the mainland. It was small, but not nearly this small. Most importantly, it was mine. I lived alone, and I kind of preferred it. I feel like a house the size of the closet would force me to socialize. The thought! I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I feared socialization would be difficult considering I was an outsider here. Maybe the others who came from the mainland would have some advice for me.
“Alright, here’s the last stop on our tour, then we take you to your new home.”
I looked over, and noticed that there was only one large building at this particular peninsula. A large sign sat out front, simply reading ‘Administration,’ in drab, boring, letters. Not that it was any surprise to me, but I guess they even found a way to make an already bland word even more dull. It was almost like someone just took a stencil to a huge chunk of painted plywood, sprayed the word ‘administration’ on it, and then filled in all the blank spots left behind by the stencil sheet.
“This is where I work,” Kateko continued. “If you ever need me for whatever reason, I’m likely to be here if it’s work time.”
“What exactly do you do?” I asked.
“Well, for one, me taking you for a ride around the island is part of my job. But other than that, think of me like a human resources representative. I manage people here. I’ll get into it more later, but I really don’t think it is important for now.”
“So what else happens here? I mean, it seems like a huge building for ‘administration.’”
“Well, Zonoku, you’re right, it is a huge building.” He shrugged, “frankly though, it’s used for a lot more than paperwork and filing. We manage supplies, shipments, food, entertainment, housing, and pretty much anything else you can probably think of. If there’s something happening here, we’re involved in one way or another.”
I accepted his explanation, not sure if it would be worth prying more. As we waited for the train to get moving again, a stranger walked up and sat among us. Kateko sort of waved at the man, who replied in kind by half-smiling and raising his eyebrows slightly. It occurred to me that this wasn’t just any stranger, it was the man with the cargo ‘bin’ earlier. I guess he made his dropoff and was returning to the airport. Other than that, the rest of the stop was entirely uneventful. The train picked up speed, and we kept moving.
“So, your living arrangements have already been made. We’ll be arriving there shortly. Your place is near the airport, so we’ll be getting off there again. Fun tour, right?”
“Well, it’s not exactly a trip to a museum.” I replied. I was still torn between excitement and disappointment, and I wasn’t sure which emotion was winning. I guessed I’d just have to experience more.
“You’re going to like your place.” Kateko tried to reassure me. I couldn’t understand how I was going to enjoy living in an oversized shoe box.
We got to the airport stop, and Kateko hopped off the train. I sort of begrudgingly followed, shuffling my feet. Kateko beckoned me to follow him, smiling somewhat. I tried to be optimistic, and frankly, it’s not like I had anywhere else I could go, so I went along with him, as he started walking down the sidewalk along the doorways. The bin-guy walked off, crossing the ‘street’ and returning to the airport.
Kateko and I, however, walked clockwise towards the education platform. Kateko seemed confident in his stride, occasionally glancing at the doors lining the building to our right, but for the most part, he ignored all of them. After about two minutes and oh, I don’t know, twenty doors or so, he slowed to a stop, and abruptly turned right, gesturing at the door in front of him.
“Here’s your place.” He said. I looked at the door. It looked exactly like every other door around it. There were no numbers, markings, signs… I honestly had no idea why this door would be my door specifically. Was he just picking one at random? Was he just trying to act like he was clever, or something? I glanced around, and pointed at a door two houses down.
“What if I want that room?”
Kateko looked puzzled. He looked at the door, and back at me.
“Why would you want that door?” He asked aloud, not really expecting a response. “That door isn’t your door, that door belongs to someone else.”
“Well, what makes my room so special?” I asked, continuing to search for clues. “This one doesn’t have my name on it.”
“Uhh, because this room was assigned to you?” He seemed just as confused as I was, only for apparently the opposite reason. “Just try it out, alright?” I shook my head, and stepped forward, opening the door.
What I found behind the door confused me. I stepped inside to realize I was in a room much larger than the door originally implied. Much larger. The room was wide and long, with at least ten doors on each side. The dimensions of this room made no sense. The wall to my right upon entering was at least twenty feet away, but when I stepped back outside, the door adjacent to the one I was in front of was only five feet away. The same situation was also true with my left.
“This is the real secret to the skyland,” Kateko spoke before I really even had time to comprehend what I was looking at. “On the outside, a room may look as small as a refridgerator, but open the door, and it is as large as a mansion.” He set his hand on the door frame. “Each of the doors here leads to rooms that are even larger than this one.”
“How… I…” I had no idea how to even begin asking what it was that made this work. Before I could even try, Kateko continued, stepping around me into the room and walking towards one of the other doors.
“This one is yours,” he said, pointing to the fifth door on the right. “It’s a bit spacious, and you’re free to customize your house however you want.”
“My… house?” I asked, still lost.
“Yep. Your house. It works the same as this room.” He opened the door, and gestured me in. I walked inside, and found myself standing in a foyer. This wasn’t a house, this was a mansion.
“This is… this is mine?”
“Yep! Take a look around, have fun, go to sleep, and I’ll meet you here in the morning for the next stage in your induction here.”
“Wait,” I turned. “What if I need something?”
He stepped outside, “You can find anything you need in there. I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself. I’ll meet you here tomorrow.” With that, he closed the door. Once again, I was alone.
I looked around. I was standing in a foyer of some kind, which was barely decorated. It almost looked like this was intentional. There were wall shelves with nothing on them, there were hooks jutting out, with nothing hanging from them. I suppose that it was up to me to fill my new living space, but I wasn’t quite sure with what.
I stepped forward into the center of the house. Or at least, it looked like a small mansion from the inside, but it felt like it was part of an odd apartment complex. I mean, the door to this “area” was between dozens of other doors around it. But from inside, it felt like any other detached property. There was even natural-looking light coming from one of the rooms.
There was a room to my right and to my left, and there was a wide set of stairs directly ahead. Behind me, there were two closets on opposite sides of the entrance. I turned towards the room to the right. The natural light was apparently coming from a window, which didn’t make sense to me, considering the dimensions of the building, but it was as bright as any natural sunlight I’d ever seen. The room itself was a dining area, with a large table, surrounded by matching chairs. At the far end of the room, a kitchen, with a wide stove, serving island, sink, and some assorted appliances. It looked like the refridgerator was closet sized, but I didn’t bother to check inside.
I returned to the entryway, and looked over at the other room. On one end, there was a huge television. It looked like it was the size of a small billboard. Facing it were many very comfortable looking couches, and over on the other end of the room, there was yet another large table, surrounded by equally comfortable-looking couches. Another closet sat near the table, I assumed it was probably full of entertainment. I’d check later.
Having checked the main two downstairs rooms, I proceeded up the stairs to the second floor. I reached the top, stopped, and looked around. I could smell something distinct in the air, and I knew almost right away that there was a pool nearby. There were two doors to my left, and one wide opening to my right, which I assumed would contain a pool. And boy, was I right. I stepped into the room, and the pool was the size of a pool you’d find at a gym. I was floored. A pool… this big, just for me? How was this possible? Why was this necessary? I had so many questions, but I wasn’t sure whether they even mattered. I had a pool.
Behind me, the two doors were just as inviting as any other, so I opened one, and revealed a bedroom. The bedroom had a very large dresser, a TV on the wall, and a bed bigger than any I’d been able to afford before. It was probably the width of the entire room, and I wasn’t complaining. I hoped the pillows were comfortable.
Finally, I returned to the last door, opening it to reveal a master bathroom. The bathroom contained a jacuzzi-sized tub, a separate standing shower, a toilet, and a sink. I glanced at myself in the mirror above the sink.
I was smiling. I didn’t realize it before, but I was actually smiling. Before, I wasn’t sure if I was really happy with the situation I was in, whether I was happy to be here, or whether I was afraid. I’m pretty sure my own expression in the mirror gave me the answer. I was happy with the fact that I managed to survive a landing on the infamous skyland, I was happy that I was told I was staying, and now, I was happy to be given such a huge, luxurious living space.
I looked at my watch. It was only three PM, but I was exhausted. I think that the whole ordeal was more mentally exhausting than anything. I decided to take a nap. I could probably wake up later, and really take time to process the situation I was in.
I walked out of the bathroom, and back into the bedroom. I kicked off my shoes near the bed, not knowing where else to put them, and I fell forward onto the matress. Crawling forward, I gently placed my face upon one of the pillows. It was soft. I mean really soft. This was great. Everything was great. My life was great. How I could be so lucky was beyond me. I got to live in this luxury forever?
There had to be a catch…