Chapter 2: The Finders
Kylin wrung at her hands, taking a deep breath in. No need to let her overactive imagination get the best of her. She hated when the tendrils of her feelings seemed to consume her, strangling out her rationality and her common sense. It seemed to happen more recently these days, the days where it just seemed like she was doing the same old actions again and again.
When she tried to talk to her parents about it, she’d thought they would understand. After all, didn’t they feel the urge to explore, didn’t they feel trapped, like she did? But they didn’t understand. They tried their best to sympathize, but Kylin knew it was all a tirade for her sake. Even her school friends, the ones she would trade Down Below stories that would send shivers down anyone’s spines, laughed at her when she tried to express what she thought she wanted. When it got too much, when she revealed too much of her secrets, her old teacher was keen on the idea of sending her to the Oblicity. Luckily, it was resolved and nothing of the sort that intense happened. Kylin did learn something in that moment. Keeping her feelings safe deep within her was the only way to keep them safe.
She sighed, letting a sense of calm wash away her worries. Kylin pulled herself off of the ground, shaking her head.
“Time to get to work now, am I right? Second day, new me!”
Kylin turned around and surveyed the area. Various items floated around the bubble and in her line of sight. To the left of her stood a darkened barrier. Beyond that barrier was her parent’s room, which she ignored. A darkened wall or darkened bubble signified privacy, and all of Oblicity knew it was foolish to disregard another. If one did not wish to be bothered, the citizens respected that,and went on with their own tasks. Kylin turned her mind to the white and grey items drifting around. This is how most of the items were left if a person did not choose to secure them onto the floor. Larger items, such as furniture, were created from the bubble material instead. The area Kylin stood in was her family’s shared living space, so she could see the transparent family sofa, which was in need of a reshaping by the end of the month. She’d had to remember to remind her parents to find someone to fix the sofa later this week.
Finally, Kylin started to walk to a pile of floating tunics, trousers, dresses and other clothing. . Most of the clothing was either coloured a bright white or pale grey, but the attire she was looking for was different. Clothing for specific jobs was different depending on the job a person chose. Kylin batted through the clothing, ignoring her father’s light blue Oblicion work clothes and her mother’s pale green dress that all teachers were required to wear. A splotch of black caught Kylin’s eye, and she snatched the inky silky frock, pulling it over her body.
Bending down, Kylin skimmed off a bit of the ground, rolling the clear material in between her hands into a shimmering orb. By putting her face to the orb and peering through it, she could see her white hands, slightly shaking, on the other side.
She positioned her hands on the top and bottom of the orb, stretching and pulling at the sides until it reached about her height. She swiped the access moisture from the orb on her dress, and then sighed.
“I still have barely any idea how to do this again.” she murmured to herself, grabbing on to the orb once it began to slowly drift away.
Without flinching, Kylin submerged her entire body into the hollow orb. She only let out a quick gasp as a cold shiver whispered through her body.
“No matter how many times I do it, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that feeling. Not that I’ve done it that many times either, but whatever.” muttered Kylin, pulling herself into a sitting position inside the orb. The orb drifted aimlessly across the bubble home as Kylin settled herself, gently shaking when bumped against the walls of the bubble.
Kylin placed her hands against the inside of the clear orb and kept her knees locked together, just like her father had instructed her to do years ago.
“Now remember Kylin, when transporting yourself to other bubbles in an orb take care to lock your knees and firmly push in the direction you wish to go in with your arms. It is very important to keep your arms straight to stay stable. Now, in the Outside, make sure to be careful, because if you don’t there is a chance of the orb not working, and you dying. Luckily, you’re a smart girl, so I’ll know that you will stay safe!”
While she had this before, she was still shaky and cautious, not yet used to using the orbs enough to go to that many places. As a school child, her family signed up for adding their area on the daily school path, unlike some families. Due to this and the fact that she wasn’t a very social person, she had only used orbs during the school day for physical education exercise out Outside. Unfortunately, for her job, it was a vital part of doing it successfully.
The end of school in Oblicity marked the turning point in everyone’s lives. All citizens of age 18 had to choose a job they felt was best fit for them in a 1 month time period. If they didn’t the Oblicion would choose for them. The young adult would work 1 year as an apprentice to a more experienced worker before being certified. If the person decided that a job wasn’t right for them, they had the whole apprentice year to look for better choices. However, once the first year of their worker year was over, it was extremely hard to switch to a different job. If they disliked their job, nothing could be done about it, unless it was a special case.
Perhaps that was why her family and old classmates were so keen on persuading her to pick a different job choice before it was too late. When introduced to the jobs, Kylin was immediately drawn towards oblich gathering.
While Oblich Gatherer was its official title, many people dubbed them as the Finders. Even though these people collected the one and only food source of the city, most citizens looked down upon the Finders. They found it crazy that those people would willingly risk their lives doing grunt labor. In fact, even many of the Finders themself disliked their job. Oblich gathering was the usual job young adults were chosen to do by the Oblicion if they were still undecided by the 1 month time period.
So, when Kylin immediately decided to pick Oblich gathering as her main choice, naturally, her parents were shocked. Of course, they tried to stop her, but as stubborn as she was, it was no use. Today was her second day working as a Finder, and although she still was nervous, she also found the job exhilarating.
Once in the proper position in the orb, she took her arms and shoved her hands into the iridescent membrane in front of her. Kylin stumbled a bit as the orb suddenly lurched forward, but she kept her pose, keeping her arms straight out in front of her. As she gently placed her fingers on the orb, it stopped to a halt.
“Alright, to start moving, I push. To stop, do what I just did.. And to change directions, I just maneuver the orb in the direction I need to go. Just how the instructor taught it.... That sounds simple enough, right?” Kylin mumbled under her breath, hoping she didn’t forget anything as she tensed up her arms.
As Kylin pushed against the orb again, it swiftly began to accelerate forwards. A bead of sweat fell down her neck as the rapidly moving orb approached the wall of the bubble.
“This part feels even worse than entering an orb” Kylin whispered to herself, but remembering to close her eyes and hold on tightly as the orb passed right through the bubble’s wall with a slight squelching sound.
Kylin opened her eyes, sighing in relief as she realized the hardest part was over. She was now out of the bubble, and into the Outside. It felt much different being in a bubble then being in an orb. A bubble was for one much larger, being the majority location where the Oblicity Citizens lived. An orb, was more of a transport to get to places, and once exposed to open air, stuck tightly around a person’s body like a second skin.
The membrane of the orb, lay bare to the outside elements, slowly started to shrink down on itself, stopping only when it touched Kylin’s skin. When the process was complete, Kylin’s whole body, including her face was encased in a chilling yet breathable gel.
Kylin circled her arms around her body, exhilarated at the feel of being able to move without the boundaries of a bubble. For a while, Kylin just lay there, trying to soak up the strange sensation of feeling weightless in the air. Being in the Outside always felt this way, which was another reason she didn’t go Outside that much. Kylin was afraid that if she went Outside too much, she’d enjoy it enough that she would never want to come back to the refining bubbles. This was one of the secrets that she told no one, afraid she would be ridiculed for loving the Outside so much.
Below her neck she felt a recognizable sharp tingle on her skin. Looking down, she saw the pendant glow a bright red, even pulsing a bit. Each start of a new hour, all of Oblicity wearing the pendant felt the same smart prickle as a reminder. It didn’t cause enough pain to hurt, but it kept Oblicity on time.
“Oh no, it’s 9 already? I’m going to be late if I keep getting distracted!” Kylin blurted out, responding to the glowing pendant. She shook her arms and legs back and forth, stretching the orb suit to be flexible enough to move in comfortably. It was time to get going.
Kylin took both of her arms and pushed them outwards, while pressing her legs together and kicking them. She continued this motion, propelling forwards with each set of strokes. While she glided through the Outside, her eyes widened, searching for her assigned group of Finders.
It was quite easy to spot a Finder. All a person had to do was look for the workers dressed in all black in the Outside, collecting oblich that floated underneath, in between and above the bubble homes.
Kylin observed her city with awe, widening her eyes as she saw the whole of Oblictity laid out in front of her. While she could still see Oblicity from her bubble, it seemed brighter, more vibrant when in the midst of it. She felt small, almost insignificant under the entirety of her world when she was in the Outside. Kylin just couldn’t understand why she didn’t feel the same way at home, why she felt so trapped and a longing for something new.
Far as the eye could see were large, shimmering bubbles. Some were translucent, some were an opaque grey, and some were changing in a glance. Most bubbles were stationary, staying afloat in the same place, while others slowly drifted to their intended path. The people in the bubbles mainly wore white, yet the ones in a profession wore colored clothing. School children wore a light grey uniform, like Kylin’s sister. The Oblicion residence, of course, was the largest bubble and opaque, located in the direct middle of Oblicity. Throughout the bubbles was a white, thick goop that floated in small bits all over Oblicity.
However, Kylin felt it was a bit strange about the people . Or rather, the lack of people. Usually, at this time, when the sun was out and school was in session, some adults whose jobs didn’t start yet would go outside in an orb suit and enjoy People in black cloaks in the orb suits weaved in and out of the bubbles, picking up the goop and placing it in a black sack. That thick goop was Oblich, the only food source of Oblicity, and the crowds of people in black were the Finders.
Oblich was a bit of an interesting controversial topic. Many just ate their food, without caring for the labor that went into it. However, others shamed the Finders for doing such a career, forgetting how they were able to eat each day. While the job was hated by many, it still was a necessary ordeal.
Luckily, Kylin was paired with Owen, a father of 3 who seemed to genuinely care about his job. On her first day, he told her not to worry about getting judged, and joked around the whole time. By doing that, he left the atmosphere less tense and Kylin’s nervousness faded away.
“Now, Ms-What was ya name again?” Owen grinned, showing a crooked bright smile, full of shining white teeth.
“Ah, a nice name! Suits ya, in a way. So, Ms. Kylin, there will be times where people will pity ya for being a Finder. I’ve worked as one for 15 years and I still get treated like cra- ahem I get treated horrible. Even my three little girls laugh at me, and that can break my heart in a way. Ya just gotta keep on going. Just remember that ya are the one who is more important overall. Without people like us, they’d be dead.”
“Yep! Ya can always spit on the oblich at the end, if ya want.”
“Ha, ha, nope but it’s fun to imagine sometimes! Now I like to think of the first day of work as more of a welcome day by my standards. Feel free to just watch me now, and tomorrow I’ll go into the specifics. As ya can probably guess, this job is highly technical”, the man joked, raising his eyebrows.
“Ok!”, Kylin grinned at Owen, who smiled fondly back at her.
”Ya even remind me of my own daughter, a little bit.”, Owen murmured. When Kylin looked at him in confusion, he corrected himself, saying, “ya have got this crazy spark in your eyes - not in a bad way, or course not, but in a good way, ya know?”
“Anyways, I do suppose as ya mentor I should show ya along a bit. See, when you look for oblich, try to look for places with the least amount of people, even if the pile isn’t that much. It’s best to pretty much avoid interaction with the other Finders, heh, as most of them don’t really enjoy what they do, unlike us.”
They approached a pile of chunks of oblich floating across the sky. Kylin watched, eyes narrowed in concentration as Owen pulled down the bag that was slung over his shoulders. With careful precision, he hovered his hands over the floating pieces of oblich, before quickly snatching one out of the air. With the careful grace of one who did something a million times, he plopped the white object into the bag, shaking his hands off.
“Well, what did ya think?”, Owen asked, his face serious and grim, looking straight into Kylin’s eyes. They both could only wait a few seconds before giggling madly. Mr. Owen raised his head to the sky and guffawed, and Kylin had to cover her mouth to stop herself from laughing. “Tha- that-s it? That’s all you- all you do?”, Kylin managed to stutter out, trying to contain herself from full out screaming in laughter.
Dabbing tears off of the corners of his eyes, Owen stated, “Yeah, as ya saw, this isn’t a very, whatcha call it, high level job. All ya gotta do is pick the biggest and juuuciest,”, he paused, choking on a laugh, “and that’s basically it. Of course, there is a quota that the Oblicion tries to lay down, but it don’t really matter in the end. Sometimes it can get boring, but I do admit, it’s pretty fun to scurry around Outside, and testing yourself to get a certain amount before a time limit. Not that, I, uh have done that before. I’m very professional, ya see. But there are some times… when I have seen some, pretty outrageous stuff out here! One time I even saw the Oblicion with some crazy people, that didn’t even have the same features as us! In fact, I’d even go to say-” at this moment, Owen stopped, closed his mouth, and gulped.
“Ya, know what? Enough talking. Want to take a stab at this?”, he said, nervously chuckling and scratching the back of his hairless head.
Kylin was confused at first at the sudden change of topic, but instantly forgot about her confusion at the question.
“You bet! And I also bet that I’ll beat you!”, she replied, grinning at Owen. The man threw her a white bag made out of thin material, coated in the orb material. As she caught it, he answered back, “Here’s ya bag. We’ll meet up back here at this same place in 15 minutes, and the winner is the one who gets the most pieces. Make sure to check your pendant, because if you come a second late ya loose, got it?”, Owen grinned, slinging his bag over his shoulder, and watched as Kylin nodded in agreement and swam off in the opposite direction. After making sure she was safe and knew what she was doing, he took off, shouting, “I’ll beat ya, I just know it!”
Kylin couldn’t stop a smile spreading across her face. It was so fun to race against him, and look for the most pieces as quickly as she could. When the 15 minutes were over, she huffed over, face red with the unaccustomed exercise and the large bag she dragged along over her aching shoulders. Owen was already peacefully waiting there for her, his bag overflowing with Oblich, not even a bead of sweat dripping from his face. When she asked him how he had done it, he just smiled and told her she needed some practice. Kylin couldn’t wait for what they were going to do today.
She browsed along in her orb suit, searching for the familiar white stubbled, bald man’s smiling face. She approached a large oblich area swarming with black clothed workers.
“Uhm, does anyone know a man named Owen? I’m his apprentice. It’s my- it’s my second day.” she stumbled, watching the Finders look up from their task and stare at her. Some looked down and shook their heads, and others looked at Kylin with a sympathetic smile on their faces. “Typical new girl”, one even muttered, smirking at another worker, who grimaced at her and scooted away.
Gulping, she waited for a spoken response, fiddling with the hem of her orb encoated garb.No one said anything, at least directly at her, and when people looked up from their collecting they seemed confused why she still waited there, fiddling her thumbs.
Kylin found their behavior slightly uncomfortable, and she also couldn’t seem to spot her mentor, so she moved on to another group of Finders, who were throwing pieces of oblich at each other and cursing words so profane Kylin blinked in surprise. When they noticed her waiting there, they looked at her, sneering at her, leering at her. She couldn’t spot Mr. Owen was nowhere with them, not believed he would be in the company of such uncouth people, so she quickly left, nervously wiping her sweaty brow.
She visited a few more groups of Finders, some stopping to tell her kindly that they never seen a Mr. Owen before, some ignoring her entirely. The whole time she kept getting more and more exhausting moving all over Oblicity, looking for her mentor. She even stopped for a breather multiple times throughout, ignoring the pitiful and weirded out looks the other Finders gave her when they saw her bright red, sweating face.
On her way to another area of oblich, Kylin began to panic. What if she had somehow imagined Mr. Owen entirely? What if he was just an illusion, and she didn’t even have the job in the first place? Her train of thought ran rapidly through a series of overimaginitve theories and situations, and her heart raced both from exhaustion and a mix of creeping anxiety and fear. What if- no. She couldn’t get too panicked like she did last year. She had learned her lesson. Kylin stopped, taking a deep, shaky breath, and stretched out her arms. She looked around at Oblicity, calming herself as she watched and counted each bubble home that floated her way. After she had assuaged herself, she stuck her hands together, squishing the orb membrane between them, and mumbled her name to herself a couple of times.
When she had approached the group of Finders, they laughed at her, telling her to go bother some other person about “Owen.” It was like he didn’t even exist to them. This was one of the last places she tried to visit, and she just stayed there, fuming, trying to comprehend the information. Why wasn’t Owen anywhere? Didn’t he tell her to meet up in the area she had gone to in the beginning? Was he unwell? Was he ignoring her because she made a fool of herself yesterday?
Finally, in the midst of her mumbling to herself, a lady swam over to her, dressed not black like the other workers but in a rich baby blue, with a strike of golden yellow through her dress.. Kylin was surprised at herself for not noticing the lady sooner. As the lady approached her, Kylin stayed in place transfixed, shocked at the expression beheld on the older woman’s face. It was almost completely emotionless, and reading her face was nearly impossible. Her white hair was wrapped neatly in a tight bun, and a frightening white scar ran down one side of her lips. There was something smug in her eyes as well, that demanded complete, unchallenged respect.
“You’re Kylin.” stated the aged woman, saying it in a way that Kylin knew was not supposed to be a question, nor answered back to. Those words brought Kylin back to senses, and she stiffened her spine, alert.
“You came late. I was looking for you earlier.”
“Oh...I’m sorry, you see, it- it was my second day,and I had to pick up - I mean drop off my sister to school, and I don’t use orb suits that many- sorry, much, and- ” Kylin stammered, and lowered her gaze, suddenly afraid to look straight in the frightening/demanding woman’s eyes.
“Enough mumbling. Let’s get to the point here. Mr. Owen Davis is dead. You’ll be transferred to a new mentor soon. Hopefully they will teach you how to be more punctual than your last one. And how to talk to your superiors, that’s for sure. Follow me. Now.”
Without even bothering to wait for a reply, she turned her back to Kylin, leaving the area at an alarming speed. Kylin could feel the eyes and the glances of the Finders behind in front of her, so she followed the crone, scrambling to catch up.
Silently, she rubbed the pendant of her necklace for good luck.