“I don’t know if I can go on, Pastor. Sean was my soulmate. But now he’s gone. I know it’s easy to fall off one of these clouds and fall to the surface of our world. But Sean was careful. He always made sure his car was in tip-top shape and had plenty of energy stored in the system. He was always concerned about my safety. But now he’s gone.”  

 

     “As you know, I come from a dimension where cloud cities don’t exist. How exactly was he lost?” 

 

     “He told me he had seen lights below the cloud where he lived. I told him there are gas flares flaming all the time. But he told me they weren’t flares.”  

 

     “I’m not familiar with the story about the world below. Why is it the way it is?” 

 

     “For generations we have lived in these clouds. They were all formed by ionization generators that generate fields that ionize the air molecules and others that repel them to form a foundation for the buildings and the people that live and work in those buildings. This had to be done because the atmosphere below became too poisonous to allow life to exist.”  

 

     “Was it runaway air pollution? I know in my dimension we have suffered from severe air pollution in many places. But thanks to environmentalists and air quality legislation, we have cleaned up the atmosphere for decades. When did the atmosphere become so poisonous?” 

 

     “According to the history books, the first cloud city was Numeria. It was placed in the atmosphere over 500 years ago. It was put there long before the atmosphere became deadly.  People thought the founders of that city were a bit crazy. But eventually they discovered they needed more cloud cities because people began dying from breathing in the air down there. By then there were enough cloud cities to take care of most of the people that lived down there that hadn’t flown to other worlds or shifted to other dimensions.”  

 

     “Most of the people?” 

 

     “There were groups of people that thought they could make a go at living down there as long as they filtered the air and wore environmental suits when they were outside their homes.”  

 

     “I guess they all died out.”  

 

     “Most likely. Nobody has come up from the surface since the clouds went black centuries ago. Now Sean is down there. He’s……dead,” she said, choking back the tears.  

 

     “Was a rescue party sent down to try and save him?”  

 

     “It rarely happens. But yeah. Some drones were sent down. When they spotted the wreckage of his car down there along with the wreckage of dozens of other cars, they determined that he didn’t survive the plunge.” 

 

     “So they spotted a body inside?” 

 

     “Yeah. The canopy was broken which means the poisonous atmosphere entered the cockpit and killed him. I hope he didn’t suffer for long.”  

 

     “We can always pray for God’s mercy. Was he a believer?” 

 

     “You mean was he a God worshipper? I think he was. He used to talk about the times when he felt a presence in his life directing his actions.”  

 

     “If he was saved it was the Holy Spirit. Are you a believer?”  

 

     “I know it’s your job to share the teachings from your Bible with people in this world. But we have certain customs in this world that are a bit different from what you were brought up with.  We believe in life after death and an eternal destiny.” 

 

     “Do you believe in Hell?” 

 

     “If it’s a horrible place it is probably like the surface of this world. I would hate to spend eternity down there choking on poison.”  

 

     “Hell is much worse. It is totally dark and intense heat that lasts forever. Heaven, on the other hand, is an unbelievably wonderful place where the saints live forever. The closest thing to Heaven is one of the cloud cities like this one where we live and work. At least you can’t fall from Heaven to a hellish world like the one below. Maybe I should go down there to look–” 

 

      “That would be suicide. Don’t even joke about going down there,” she insisted.  

 

     After another several minutes of small talk, the woman left the pastor’s office and he went back to preparing his message for the upcoming Sunday. The day was called Frang and it happened every nine days. But it was the traditional day of rest for the nine-day week. He was thinking about having mid-week services like the ones he was used to back in Newgate, New York. But it might take another month of traditional Frang services before having church services either on Julin or Thanor.  

 

     That night, the pastor had a dream about being on the surface of the planet. For some reason, the air was breathable. The pastor looked around and saw row upon row of metal towers that were over 100 meters high. He heard a low hum coming from the towers and every now and then there was a discharge as one of the black clouds in the sky dipped down and touched the field.  

 

     “Hello, stranger,” said a man who was wearing overalls and wiping his hands on a dirty shop towel. He was walking out of a garage where half a dozen vehicles were lined up both inside and outside the building.  

 

     “I’m surprised to see you.”  

 

     “I bet you’re surprised to see anyone that isn’t a wrinkled up corpse down here.”  

 

     The man extended his right hand and said, “The name is Sean; Sean Westmore.”  

 

     The pastor gave him a strange look and asked him, “Do you know a woman named Shari?”  

 

     “You mean the one who claims we’re soulmates?” 

 

     “Yeah. Did you fake your death?”  

 

     “Let me explain. I needed a break from her to find myself.”  

 

     “Find yourself? How were you going to do that down here? I thought this was basically a dead world.”

 

     “I thought it was too until I saw the lights one night.”  

 

     “Your lady love said it was gas flares. Why did you think it wasn’t flares?”  

 

     “I’ve seen flares all my life. But the lights were different. They looked artificial. If they were, that meant there were people down here. I had to check them out.”  

 

     “Weren’t you afraid of the atmosphere?” 

 

     “Of course I was. That’s why I brought a rebreathing mask.” 

 

     “Rebreathing mask?”  

 

     “Yeah. When people go up to the higher clouds the air is thinner. People wear them up there until their lungs get used to the lower oxygen levels. A rebreather removes the carbon dioxide that you exhale and breaks it down into carbon and oxygen. It also has an electrostatic filter that protects the wearer from poison gas.”  

 

     “So you were in your car when the drones spotted  you.”  

 

     “That’s right. I landed a little harder than I was counting on. The field emitters are a total loss. The only vehicles that run down here can’t fly. I might be stuck down here for the rest of my life, for all I know.”  

 

     The pastor looked behind him and his stomach seemed to drop. His car was gone. That was when he woke up. His android mate that was lying beside him activated itself fully.  

 

     “What’s wrong, Frank?” 

 

     “I had a dream about someone named Sean. He was on the surface of the planet.” 

 

     “From the readings I’ve made, the atmosphere is poisonous. It was just a dream. You’re not thinking of doing something crazy like going down to see if the dream is based on reality are you?” 

 

     “Once I get my hands on a rebreathing mask I might just do that.”  

 

     She stared at him strangely before saying, “If you go down, I’ll need to accompany you in case there is trouble. I don’t want the human I’m assigned to to die.”  

 

     The next day, Frank bought a rebreathing mask in a city on another cloud and was tempted to dive down through the black clouds and see if a person could survive on the surface as what happened in his dream.  

 

 

     Will Pastor Frank find Sean alive on the surface as he had dreamed? Or was it just a dream? Maybe you will find out by completing the story? 

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