The sky is always dark in Ember. The only lights are attached to the buildings, and they're turned off between 9pm and 6am. When the lights are out, there is seriously no light anywhere. None at all. Creepy.
Obviously the lights are only supposed to go out at night, but every once in a while, they'll shut off in the daytime, leaving people stranded during their normal activities, unable to see a thing.
Normal activities, for kids, include going to school until they reach the age of twelve, when they graduate.
Sounds young, right? But that's just how it goes in Ember.
And speaking of which, the twenty-four students who are about to graduate from the Ember School are sitting in their classroom on Assignment Day.
Everyone's nervous. See, the job you're assigned is completely random, and some of them just plain stink. Plus, you have to keep yours for at least three years before you can ask for another one. So yeah, getting a plum position is pretty important.
Lina Mayfleet is one of the students. She's got long dark hair and is fidgety (probably thanks to the nervousness).
Doon Harrow is another student; he's got dark messy hair and a serious look on his face because with a name like Doon Harrow, you can't exactly be smirking now can you?
Both of them are wishing very hard that they get their dream jobs. Lina's picturing herself in a red messenger jacket, and simultaneously saying goodbye to the classroom, which is filled with books about the history of Ember.
Mayor Cole shows up to oversee Assignment Day. He makes a so-so speech, then has the students draw the names of jobs out of bags.
Lina's friend Lizzie draws Supply Depot clerk, which makes Lina feel bad for her because it's boring. Other kids make their choices, and finally Lina gets up.
She gets… Pipeworks laborer, ugh. That means she'll be stuck underground all the time, when Lina truly wants to run the streets of Ember as a Messenger.
Doon is the last to draw, and he gets Messenger. He's not happy about it, crumpling the paper and throwing it on the ground. Apparently that's a bit of a no-no in Ember, so the mayor reprimands him for bad behavior.
The mayor makes another boring speech about how everyone needs to do their part for Ember to prosper. But Doon ain't havin' it. So he says (loudly) that living conditions are getting worse. Bad move, kid.
Lina's confused by all this; life in Ember is the way it's always been, isn't it? Why get so upset?
As they all leave, Doon asks Lina if she wants to trade jobs. Overjoyed, she says absofreakinlutely.
Then she's confused: who'd wanna be down in the Pipeworks? Doon explains that he'd wanted electrician's helper, but the lucky kid who got it wouldn't trade. Pipeworks at least puts him close to the generator that powers the city, so he can investigate it.
Sure, whatever—all Lina cares about is getting to be a messenger: she loves to run, and now her job will be to run all over the city, delivering messages for people and exploring. Excellent.