The Illumination of Karen
Karen quickly stripped off her dressing robe and her nightclothes and threw them in the laundry basket. Three days in the same outfit really is on the verge of human decency, she mused. Reflecting further on this she stepped briskly into the bathroom. There she doused a towel in some water and rubbed herself down with it and a bar of soap. This alone gave her a delightful feeling of freshness.
Pants, trousers, brazier, long tunic, a shoulder strapped bag with some essentials, what else? Comb her hair? Yes. Keys? In her trouser pocket. Good! She put out some fresh food and water for Katarina and stepped out.
Emerging from the shadow of her own building and feeling the sun directly on her for the first time in a week or two, she stopped by a balustrade. There she raised her hands straight up and stretched her back vigorously. Then she leaned on the rail, looking out and down. Karen lived about 200 metres above ground. Below her she saw suspended streets, just like the one she was standing on, crisscrossing between the massive blocks of buildings that rose high up into the air all around her. It was a bit unusual for people of her economic standing to live so high up. But she had saved her money for 10 years to buy that little apartment, specifically for the view and amount of light it afforded her. During her childhood and youth, she had lived further down, at about 120 metres above ground. She had been outside the city a few times in her life, but never ever at, or even close to ground level within it. The elevation of the districts where people lived and worked was very much a reflection of social standing in Arcaport. The lower levels were dreaded ghettos in most parts of the metropolis.
There are people in Arcaport who never see the sun in all their lives. Because the only section of sky ever visible to them is a thin strip, far up between the cliff-like edifices. The bases of most buildings are enormous, each block in many ways a small city in itself. They are often home and workplace to several hundred inhabitants. Many of whom live out most of their lives in gloomy, crime-ridden hallways and street-canyons.
Inversely, up among the towering pinnacles of the elite, there are people who never set foot even on the elegantly flagged public promenades of the higher classes. Instead, they move only along penthouse halls and enclosed skyways spanning the width between lofty abodes for the entirety of their existence.
Karen set off along the streets, heading vaguely in the direction of a favourite park. After half an hour or so of walking, she reached it and sauntered blissfully on little paths and over lawns. There are many parks in Arcaport. By far the most of them are on rooftops or side terraces of buildings. Often, a park consists of several gardens on different buildings, interconnected by bridges and stairs. Large trees can be found on every level with the necessary amount of sunlight. This is possible, because it is not uncommon to fill two or three floors underneath these parks with soil for that purpose alone. Arcaport sprawls out over thousands of square kilometres of densely built-up city, so natural greenery is difficult to find for the average inhabitant. That is why great pains have been taken throughout the centuries to ensure the presence of such verdant oases.
At a park café, Karen took some lunch and pondered her situation a bit further. She felt better for this break in her work, but hardly closer to enlightenment on the subject of focus-projection. She had however been contemplating a somewhat daring plan of action ever since deciding to go out. Emboldened by her exercise and the good weather, she had now made up her mind to try it.
She would keep walking, first of all trying to get lost in an unknown part of the city. Even though she’d lived there her entire life, that would be no problem at all due to its size. Secondly, she would descend to a lower stratum of the city than she was used to. What she would do there she was not really clear on, and she didn’t consider that important. The plan was to expose herself to new impressions. Perhaps even provoke a feeling of uneasiness or even fear on account of the unfamiliar and somewhat dangerous environment. She hoped that this would trigger inspiration of some kind, because she had tried a similar tactic successfully before. On those other occasions though, she had gone on short holidays to the countryside, rather than expose herself to danger. Karen was not sure that this would work in her favour, or work at all, but she was willing to try it. Frankly, the prospect of adventure which this strategy held in promise, thrilled her just a little.
It took her a while to reach a part of the city where she had never been before. But towards four o’clock in the afternoon, she found herself walking on streets and down stairs which had hitherto remained unknown to her. She had walked in the direction of the sea, though as far as she knew, the coast was still several kilometres away. Now she only tried half-heartedly to maintain her heading. Gradually, she descended through the various levels and down into the semi-dusk created by the ever-narrowing space between buildings. Naturally, the architecture of the lower levels is older than higher up. The age of some of the building bases is unknown since there is no known record of their construction. As she came down towards the 90-metre level, Karen noted the extremely worn and rounded corners that marks almost every single surface there. It had been a long time since she had last moved down among these people, but she did not find the experience unsettling, at least not yet. So far it was just a little bit nostalgic. It was reminiscent of nervous excursions together with school friends long ago. At a time when they had begun to venture away from the safety of their parent’s ken.
Here on these levels live the working classes. They are the people who hold the old city together, and the servants to the higher classes. A very large portion of them work in transportation. A city as vast as Arcaport needs a huge and constant inflow of consumables, and that requires a large workforce. Many of those wares come via the sea and are then distributed throughout the city via underground channels. At least in the areas which lie towards the sea. From those channels they are then lifted up at designated distribution points with complex systems of elevators and cranes to all the levels above. It is a non-stop operation that shapes much of the daily life of Arcaport.
Karen passed by a few such places on her walk, observing the ant-like activity of the porters and engineers, and all the side businesses. Clustered along all ways leading to and from those points were kiosks, diners, pubs, cobblers, tailors and much more. She reflected on the fact that so much of the wares were used only to maintain the flow thereof.
She also noted, with interest, how there was a much greater diversity of species down here than higher up. The humans were still in great majority but there were few street scenes which did not contain at least some other element. The most common were the dwarves. That is not so strange considering that the closest city of a similar size to Arcaport is the dwarven mountain kingdom of Perbork. It is a four-day ride inland by train to Perbork, but there has been a lively commerce flowing between the two cities for centuries. It is not uncommon for dwarves to spend a few decades in Arcaport, were their superior craftsmanship is highly valued. Especially for maintaining the rock-like architecture of the lower levels.
Apart from the dwarves there were also Batrans, amphibious creatures originated from some of Magnama’s large atoll-archipelagos. Those she saw here had probably got stuck in the city while on shore-leave from the great transport-ships they usually crewed. Then there were Cimlons, often in small groups of 3-5 people. With their long prehensile tails, hand-like feet and prodigious climbing skills, they were much sought after to do external repair-work in such a vertical city.
Karen also spotted a few Lepids flying around. Although they often worked as entertainers in small performance groups, here they were clearly messengers. Being able to move directly between the towering sky-scrapers was of course of immense value in that line.
While traversing a rather quiet area, her attention was drawn to a narrow and long alley on her left. Although it was dark and should in reason have a forbidding aspect, it was actually attractive. There was no one in it as far as she could see but there were shop-signs sticking out into and over the street in profusion. Curious to see what kind of shops they were, she entered cautiously.
First, she saw a few drinking places, but they were narrow and shallow. Presumably, the refreshments they offered didn’t encourage lingering customers. Then there was an apothecary, a few boarding houses, a magic-charm-vendor and two massage parlours. Seeing as there was no obvious, immediate danger to her, Karen rather enjoyed the thrill of walking in such seedy environs. She briefly considered hanging around until nightfall to experience the place in its “proper light”. That did seem just a tad too risky, so she kept on walking. A few dozen steps further on though, something arrested her attention again. She found herself standing in front of one of the quaintest little book-shops she had ever seen. This was an irresistible attraction to Karen. Thus, having taken a moment to appreciate the delightful storefront, she entered.