To the naked eye, The Cloud is exactly what you might think. It lingers high in the sky, floats there, moving around our world - morphing from stratus to cumulus to cumulonimbus, depending upon how far away from the surface it wants to be. It's not difficult to get to, you can take a plane. In fact, all it takes is one quick phone call, and it's been known to meet you half way. The inside, however, is … Well, it's something to behold.
Pristine white floor to ceiling walls, that curve into an oblong interior shape; seating and working structures that seem to materialize from the floor like magic, everything controlled with a simple touch of a wall panel or voice command; surrounding audio and video that immerse Cloud residents into a full 360 degree panoramic experience. Every type of communication system can be accessed from here; Cellular towers, Internet streams, Radio and Television broadcasts, and of course the Video Mapping Satellites.
Cloud residents are about 2000 in number, each busy with their daily routines. The Seven Regents, creators of The Cloud, manage its activities and keep everyone on task with the overarching Mission: to watch over the residents below, guiding everyone toward their purpose and everyone's ultimate goal… Freedom.
Lately, The Cloud seemed to be spending a lot of time hovering above Young America, Michigan. Margaret's hometown.
Og walked into his office, sat down and poised his hand above the all-call button. Og was not a patient man, by any means. But for this particular project, he secretly craved its success. He told himself that it wasn’t for the sake of his own ego, but for the lives of the people living below. Staying in one place this long was dangerous, yes, but he was convinced the tide would turn – with just a little more time… and the right people in place… However, his most recent Timeline Audit in Pennsylvania disturbed him greatly. And he needed the rest of his team to know about it.
Meetings in the Cloud were typically held monthly, and included the lead watchers of each continent, also known as Regents, as well as their personal staff. Luckily, the room was vast – located at the base of the vessel, and expanding its full length. Each group was required to wear their continent colors at all times during the meetings; as a sign of both homage and loyalty to the “children” of their respective lands. Indeed, each Regent took their role seriously, as serious as any Human parent might upon the birth of a child; with as much promise and hope for their happiness as they moved through the journey of Integration.
It was a very busy place, to be sure; replete with music and games, food and wine, dancing, and lively discussions of every current event. Cultures were honored here, traditions created and arguments settled according to the norms of discourse set forth and agreed upon by each disagreeing party. In the center of the Great Hall stood a platform, three steps high, with a nearly enclosed table around which each Regent sat during formal proceedings. An opening into the center of the circle had been created especially for presentations to the Regents. It was known as “Front and Center,” and held an almost mystical connotation, as some who had stood there, who’d been given the time and attention of the Regents, had been known to report that “time had stood still,” or that their “life was forever altered” etcetera, etcetera. It did not go unnoticed by the Regents, however, that the term “Front and Center” had trickled down into the population some time ago, albeit its connotations ended up being slightly different.
Og was not yet seated, busy chatting with residents, while keeping together his notes and precedents for guardianship and transfers of Ground Operants. Eros had not yet shown, which was typical for him and his cabal of hedonists, as they would frequently tender round the world, preferring the climate and pleasures of Africa to the oft complained about sterility of The Cloud.
Seris, Og’s most trusted confidante, is almost completely his opposite in personality and manner, but her honesty and dedication to Integration was refreshing, if not reliable. She was currently rousing the troops for today’s debate, a task Og had assigned days earlier, and one she was unquestioningly willing to carry out. One of many, in fact, that she had carried out for him, while he vainly tried to ignore her adoring acquiesces. In fact, her attentions over the United Kingdom have waned this last decade, as she had been supporting Og and Thunderbird with the Integration of the Americas. It was no small feat, to be sure, having spent the better part of the last two decades identifying and ironing out their socio-economic issues du jour. In the meantime, the U.K. has likely suffered as much as an abandoned infant might, with security and identity issues that keep the continent rolling from one end of a playground teeter totter, to the other, capitulating from side to side in an endless struggle for balance.
But neither Seris, nor Og seemed worried, because “Once the Americas go,” Og often noted, “so goes the rest of this world.”
The other Regents were busy mingling between and among their entourages; Thunderbird had brought in a Panamanian Folk Dance group, a lively, colorful bunch, that would most likely have dropped their sugar cane dancing sticks and run toward the exits in fear had any one of them realized where they really were – forty-five thousand feet in the air, dancing inside a morphing cloud.
Link was the quietest of all the Regents, attributed to the humility and simplicity of the Asian peoples for which he protected. Link took his job seriously, especially the protection part, choosing constant observation and what he called “social modifications” as a means to Integrate his populations. Like Og and Thunderbird, he also believed that as soon as the Americas were successful, so would be the rest of the world. That would be a grand day, indeed.
Vesta was the youngest Regent, having transferred in specifically to reinforce the importance of the female role, as well as family and relationships in Australian society. Integration had been especially difficult the past decade, however, Vesta was especially proud to record the election of Australia’s first female Prime Minister while on her watch. A success that, today, has been all but forgotten. Vesta is keenly aware of her rookie-status, with her attempts at minimizing the awkwardness only compounding her own feelings of inadequacy. For example, offering to assist Link with some of the most devastating effects on women in West Asia was, in her mind, met with a chilly tutorial:
“Surely, Vesta, you are aware that we cannot directly intervene with the transformation of our charges – they must learn about consequence for themselves.” It was a mistake Vesta would take care not to repeat.
The final Regent, AO, had the unfortunate luck of arriving to Earth first, yet not waking up until most of the others had already established themselves. Antarctica, it seemed, had put a kink in his ability to materialize into corporeal form. Once he had found the others, they did offer to find a solution to his problem, but by then AO had already found a very particular usefulness to his ethereal self: he had the ability to “borrow” any living form he wanted to. Only for short periods of time, of course. This “disability” as the others had labeled it, allowed him to gain perspectives he didn’t think were possible, and not just insights on race, class or gender – but world views from the standpoint of a Lion, or Bear, or even a Hummingbird. Not that you could find a Hummingbird in Antarctica, but certainly, his travels to every continent has reinforced to the Regency that giving a voice to the pre-supposed non-sentients living here on Earth is crucial to the Integration.
Og ended his conversation with one of the resident greeters, ascended the platform of the Great Hall and struck his gavel to its base.
The residents immediately dissipated, leaving only the Regents encircling the almost invisible conference table. Og slicked his blonde hair back after replacing the gavel. A gesture indicating both high anxiety and deep thought.
“We need to have a little discussion about 1950’s Pennsylvania. And today’s culture.”
To that, every Regent sat in his or her seat, with the exception of AO, who was, of course, relegated to embodying one of his teammates whenever he wanted to speak his piece.