Feature Article - Feathren Society
"Man consumed the Earth, and it fell into the void.
Along with many other things, little has been added or taken away from the kingdom for centuries. Worn rock is collected, condensed again, and reused. Waste and whatever can't be recycled is dropped into deep ocean waters (which of course only a select few are aware exist). Crops are collected from mountain farmers and stored for up to a year, and then replenished on the next orbit. And the population has remained essentially the same, always coming to a stabilization point after another city failed and its refugees became citizens at a surviving kingdom, after which they'd help make additions to their new home's available land. Strict population laws that can be enforced and rescinded at any time take at least a generation to show their full effect, but the feathrens feel as if they have nothing but time. Owned land is by far the greatest signifier of one's wealth. A family of three's apartment is usually about twenty square feet in the low wealth district, forty square feet in the middle class district, and sixty square feet or more in the high wealth district. Most houses in the lower and middle class islands have a single bedroom, shared by the entire family - a facet that further adds to the feathren communal nature.
The feathren family structure is a key part of the society. Marriage has many incentives, and while divorce is legal, it carries a number of fees and can be a long, tiresome process that rarely turns out well for either spouse. Divorces are fairly rare, however, with the highest number of cases in the wealthy district. Marriages are carefully planned, with a "matchmaking" service provided for aspiring couples at no cost that can help ensure good pairs. Every couple is always allowed to have a single child. If they have a second, they must give the child away, and it will be placed into an adoption pool. The parents are allowed to maintain a small connection with these "extra" children, but are rarely allowed to see them directly until they become adults. Couples and singles (after a lengthier process and waiting period)) can also adopt orphans and these extra children. Couples who live anywhere in the wealthy district, and in a few of the larger houses in the middle class district, can sometimes be allowed to adopt a second child from the pool if a suitable family cannot otherwise be found for those children. The same households that qualify for a second adopted child are also allowed to keep a second child in the rare event of twins being born. These uncommon examples are the only incidents in which there are families with siblings. Having a third child can also render a hefty fine in addition to the child being taken away. A fourth can equal prison time or other punishment, although this happens very rarely. In the very uncommon times when the population cap is lifted, siblings can become more common, but only for a generation. Most households remain in family lines for several generations, with the elderly moving out to a number of senior care centers on the islands. Once a child is thirteen, they enter the adult social system and can - and usually are expected to - begin working special, easier jobs. Lastly, feathrens only have a single name, which is determined by their parents' family letter and royal letter. The first letter in a name comes from the father, while the last (always a vowel) comes from the mother's name. All the letters in between are chosen by the parents to form an available, unused name.
Because of their small homes and their sense of community, feathrens typically do not spend that much time at home. There are several large public eating places on each island, where most feathrens eat dinner together every day. Most lunches and dinner, when it is had at home, are prepared with little to no heat, and consist of mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains. Young feathren children will usually stay in these houses until they molt for the first time, spending most of their days with early development study books. These flightless children only ever go outside when they are with their parents, and it is often only to eat, bathe, or go to school. Bathing is done mostly through moisture rooms, similar to a sauna, and in public bathhouses. Only about half of the middle class homes and all of the wealthy homes have their own moisture rooms. The public bathhouses also have a room or two where an actual bath is kept for full bathing, but due to the severe water constraints, feathrens can only use their "bath pass" once a month. The wealthy who own baths can also use theirs only about once a month per person, or face water usage fines. Another popular public spot for feathrens is the old honey loft, where specialty drinks are served. Basically taverns without the alcohol - something feathrens wouldn't waste their resources to use, anyway. Feathren houses are very well insulated to keep heat in and cold out, but few would be much warmer than human room temperature.
As one would expect, living at a height close to that of the Mt. Everest's summit comes with a set of challenges. While the kingdom has little weather to speak of, it is constantly bitterly cold and dry. To combat this, the feathren kingdom is designed to disperse what available heat there is throughout the kingdom - most of it coming from the zephyronite core. Large heating rods at various locations through the kingdom can also help keep warm air in. Except when bathing, feathrens will always keep on their thick, comfortable undervests, and when outside will always adorn their heavy, body-covering overcoats unless in flight. Feathrens have also evolved to naturally absorb more heat, and have a higher body temperature than humans. Most houses have at least one "moss wall" where moss is allowed to grow thick, providing both further insulation and valuable oxygen. Farming would be impossible without greenhouses, but feathrens have been using the technology since the development of the sky cities. The cold and dry climate also has one big benefit: it is cheap and easy to store and keep crops for extended periods of time.
Feathren politics are fairly simple, and the council and kings or queens have only made a few kingdom-altering decisions in recent times. The council serves under the king, and each member is elected or reelected every three years. Not every council member is challenged every election year, and even if they lose their position, they are allowed to run in the next election. Most council members serve for life, and it is not uncommon for them to come in and out of service, either from losing an election or stepping down for three years. The council is seven members strong. Every district is represented, including those on the farming island. The separate islands vote for this representative separately from the other three. One council members represents the military, with the final two members elected from the votes of all islands. With this system, it is possible to have three council members representing the lower wealth or any other district, including the military. These changes in the council often reflect the current ideology shared by the entire kingdom. The council makes the majority of the smaller decisions for the kingdom, including laws and changes in pay for workers. The king or queen is decided by bloodline. Royalty follows the same law everyone else does, and thus they only have one child at a time. Because of this, an heir is not always secured, and bloodlines have died out several times throughout history. In this event, a special election takes place with someone in the council being chosen by the public as the new royal bloodline. This hasn't happened in over three hundred years, however, and the Alveria bloodline has been one of the longest running in feathren history. The council can also decided to oust the current bloodline in extreme cases, but such a vote needs to be unanimous. The feathren court system uses a jury of twenty with people chosen from all detracts. They don't deliberate and most cases are over in a few days. While they don't have to be unanimous in their decision, a vast majority in either direction is needed to end a case. The judge will always have the final say, but will almost never go against the jury's decision.
Culturally, feathrens have always been fairly diverse. Upsets over progressive artwork is rare, and for the most part, anything goes and can be shown in the museum so long as the piece has obviously been made with effort. Metal work and sculpture are rarely seen as the material is typically reserved for use in the kingdom's infrastructure. Charcoal-style art is the most widely used, with some professional artists using paints, and a select few using the expensive process of photography. Writing is very common, although copies of books are few because of the expensive fibers and ink used in books. Because of the lack of copies, books are considered very prized objects, and abusing them in anyway is highly shunned upon. The most ancient feathren tradition rests with their shamans, who also uphold the small remnants of religion the featherns had ever developed, but had once ruled over the old empire. Shamans believe that the sky above them is full of gods, connected to the earth through the stars. Although they rarely try to spread such beliefs anymore, shamans are still valued for their historical wisdom and knowledge of healing herbs. There is also an opera house on the wealthy island, which usually has a show every night. There is a backlog of over a a hundred feathren plays, most of which have been performed at least once in the last decade.
The feathren military is divided into three large groups. The air force, which until the advent of powered flight was a small sector of feathrens specially trained in flying, the royal guard, which acts as the main police unit and protects the council and royalty, and the deathmen, a more unique group. The deathmen say little in public, and their main task is to retrieve the bodies of any feathrens that might fall off the kingdom; an effort to keep their existence a secret to the humans below. They can also act as undercover officers or interrogators. They are mostly feared by the public, although they actually have little influence on their daily lives. Because of their work, they see firsthand the truth about the world below, and are bound by oath to stay silent about it. The air force mostly patrols the outer reaches of the kingdom, keeping a living, moving boundary line for the city. During harvests, they will also aid mountain farmers. The royal guard is most often on foot, patrolling the streets and keeping the peace, with a few of the higher-ups acting as the bodyguards to council members, royalty, and certain nobles.
Those that know the humans still exist, something restricted to the council, royalty, the top officers of the air force, the deathmen, and a select few scientists and historians, know that one day, humans will likely discover the feathrens - or the other way around. While this event would be seen as a dangerous one for the kingdom, the feathrens are nevertheless at least moderately prepared for such a day. If you officially allowed to carry knowledge of the humans with you, then you are also obligated to learn and master at least one of their known languages. Higher-ups can be required to learn several. This is done so that the two people would at least be able to understand one another if they were to meet. What sort of diplomacy would happen from then on would be anyone's guess. But what are the odds that feathrens and humans would meet again anytime soon? Who knows. But it could happen for any reason. Maybe even from someone falling off of the kingdom, for example...
To summarize, the feathrens are an amazing people that have adapted to their environment amazingly well. Despite the harshness of such a place to live, they still manage to do just that - and with a functional structure and stable social environment, no less. Would humans be able to adapt to such a place if they visited it, or would that cold simply be too much for us? The feathrens have been high up in the sky for over a thousand years now, so perhaps the question of whether or not they could adapt to our world is a question just as worthy of asking. Whatever happens, despite their many struggles, the feathrens have managed to ensure that their people have survived up this point, and will likely continue doing so in the near future. They are just as adaptable and intelligent - maybe more so - than we humans are, and they have certainly earned their place in the sky.
(I would've loved to have this has my college thesis)