One joule of energy is all that’s needed to lift a single piece of fruit exactly twenty centimetres into the air.
Her heart skipped as an executive limousine rolled into view.
Berry put her unfinished cereal bowl on the window ledge and added a large beaker of water to the wooden tub that housed a white lotus flower.
The bloom was incredible, with many curvaceous petals, fragrant and fertile.
She tried not to think that it would be dead by the time she got back.
She closed her laptop just as a series of instant pop-ups littered the screen.
Remember your true self.
Return to Mt. Hōrai.
Tengu is watching.
The messages went unseen, lost in the white noise of her IGM history amongst the thousands of competing chats, flirts, bribes, temptations and game threats.
She switched her Atari Shock avatar to player-safe mode and hoped there would be Wi-Fi on the flight.
Three travel bags were packed with last-minute essentials, grabbed at random from her clutter.
She was as ready as she could be.
Laptop in Crumpler bag.
Pineapple flavour Jujyfruit in her mouth.
Berry was about to leave her flat for the first time in months.
She floated down the stairs, having consumed enough sugar to lift two hundred and thirty-six million, six thousand and fifty-two pieces of fruit.
Outside, she found herself face to face with a woman wearing a black power dress and a blonde smile.
“I thought for a minute that you’d changed your mind?” she said.
Berry turned to push the door and check it was definitely closed.
“I’m Sarah Clarkson.”
Berry smiled, embarrassed, suspicious, or both.
They shook hands.
“This way, Miss Butler.” Sarah gestured to the car and the door automatically opened. “We have a busy schedule once we arrive. You may want to sleep.”
Berry wasn’t sure if she should explain that she hadn’t really slept in weeks. A man appeared. “Dr Finjoto?” she asked.
“Oh no, he’s not important. He’ll look after your bags.” Sarah looked at the three sacks filled with who-knows-what. “You like to travel with a lot of stuff, don’t you?”
“I don’t like to travel,” Berry replied.
The man reached for her laptop.
“I’ll keep this with me.” She clutched it to herself and avoided eye contact.
He bowed politely and put the rest of her bags in the limousine, returning to the driving seat without saying a word.
The street was quiet.
There were no cars or people.
Yellow streetlights reflected off the perfectly clean car bonnet.
“After you, Miss Butler, please?” gestured Sarah to the open door.
The car was impeccably clean and smelled of leather. There was a minibar, a bunch of glossies and a small TV screen mounted in the dashboard between the front seats.
Sarah used the rearview mirror to make eye contact.
“There’s a welcome pack on the table in front of you. I’d recommend that you read it. It has some background information on Dr Finjoto’s outstanding work.”
The front cover displayed a logo for The Foundation of New World Technologies.
“Help yourself to the bar. It’s all for you. Or we could stop for coffee, if you’d prefer?”
“I don’t need booze or caffeine, ta,” said Berry as she crunched on the Jujyfruit.
It occurred to her that no one knew where she was going. Even she didn’t know where she was going. More upsetting though, was the sudden realisation that she had no idea who she would tell.
The car pulled away and she felt her stomach lurch as a piece of her soul was left behind on the cold morning roadside.
There was a scurry of claws as Kitsune lifted her nose over the fence and pulled herself higher to sniff the air. “You!” she yowled, but the limousine was too far down the road. She cursed in annoyance and dropped to the dirt.
“There’s an iPhone in the seat locker. It’s yours for the duration of the contract.”
Berry slipped the phone into her bag.
She took a deep breath and remembered her motivation. Everything would be ok. She was going to be the first to play.
“It’s forty minutes to the airport. We’re fast-tracking, so I just need your passport.” Sarah caught her eye in the mirror.
“Your passport, please, Miss Butler? It’ll save us time when we get to border control.”
She handed over her passport and watched Sarah zip it into a black flight wallet.
“Ok. I’ll wake you when we get there.”
Berry sat back and watched the houses turn to motorway as they headed for the airport.
A gust of wind twisted damp leaves in a spiral in the exact spot where Kitsune had just disappeared.