Marina was swiftly becoming the most effective cloud catcher in her division.
For starters, she worked so fast that it was hard for anyone else to keep up with her. She navigated the jet pack like a bird takes to wings and could turn on a dime, a skill that took many people years to master. And she was just so thorough. When she vacuumed up a cloud, she'd get the whole thing, every last spindle and wisp.
It was incredible to watch her work, her division chief explained to management. She has what it takes to go far in the industry.
Marina was just glad to get the raise. Rent on her tiny apartment was already through the roof.
You've got it made, Jordan said, smacking her on the arm. All you've got to do is keep this up and they'll send you straight to the top.
Jordan laid his hands on the gunwale of the ferry and gazed out across the sky. The low hum of the ferry's engines buzzed over the whistling wind. They were gathering sunrise clouds today. The sun had only recently peeked over the horizon, casting gentle light that tinted the billowing clouds pink and purple. Far below the cloud harvesting ground, the lights of the city were blinking on and people began moving around. All the other cloud catchers on the ferry were sitting on the benches, adjusting their vacuum packs and eating granola bars while they rubbed sleep out of their eyes.
But the morning was Marina's favorite time, and she was wide awake.
I guess that's true, Marina said. I don't know. It seems a little too easy to me.
Jordan laughed. You call cloud gathering easy? Do you know how long I studied for the entrance exam? That was hard.
I just mean, it seems too simple, too straightforward, Marina said. You know, get job, do well, get to the top, sit there for years.
Doesn't sound too bad to me, Jordan said.
But if I was in management, I probably wouldn't be actually catching clouds, Marina said. That's the part I like.
All right, catchers. We've arrived at this morning's harvesting grounds, said the division chief's voice over the loudspeaker. Everybody get ready to deploy.
Marina fired her jet pack up as she jumped off the ferry. It was one of the best feelings, that sense of weightlessness that came just after she leapt into the air and just before the jet pack caught her. It was pure freedom.
She got to work right away, pointing her hose at cloud clusters and sucking them up. It was an art. She had to find the right angle, use the right speed. Too fast, and she'd break up the cloud. Too slow, and she'd leave behind chunks that were too deformed to be usable. There came a distinct feeling of satisfaction with clearing out a big cloud akin to what she felt after cleaning her whole apartment.
After a while, Marina set her jet pack to hover and paused to drink from the water hose dangling from her jet pack. She turned her eyes down and watched the city below. People were moving about now, going wherever they needed to go to do whatever they needed to do. Marina wondered what it would be like to stay up here for the rest of her life, to spend her days watching the world from far above while everyone else watched her work from below.
The sirens started blaring from the ferry.
A storm has formed to the east, the division chief's voice called. Everyone return to the ferry immediately while we call in the specialized team.
Marina turned around. Big, black clouds loomed on the horizon. The clouds piled up like a fancy women's hairdo. The clouds seemed to grow as they drifted closer. Lighting flashed from inside the cloud mass. Marina's skin prickled.
Marina, hurry up, Jordan called to her. We're going to have to move to a different harvesting ground.
But she was transfixed, staring at the storm with an open mouth. Of course she'd seen storms before, but this one was just so breathtaking.
Come on. We're running out of time.
Marina fired up her jet pack, but she didn't turn it around. She pushed forward.
Marina? Where are you going?
The storm was calling her. Marina wasn't sure why, but it pulled her toward it.
Marina! Come back! It's not safe!
She didn't listen. She pushed forward, into the storm, watching the lightning flash before her eyes.