A riveting science-fiction thriller by Renae Lucas-Hall

“As a big fan of sci-fi I found this futuristic book fascinating. It’s well written and I couldn’t put the book down. I read it from start to finish in one enjoyable sitting.” — Melissa M (Top 1,000 Amazon reviewer)

Chapter One

Our luggage finally appeared side-by-side on the revolving, oval-shaped baggage carousel at Haneda Airport. Oliver leaned forward and picked up both suitcases at the same time as soon as they arrived at arm’s length on the conveyer belt. I quickly checked both cases to make sure they were ours before I gave Oliver an affirmative nod. We turned and weaved our way past several groups of weary Japanese travellers as we walked towards the customs inspection area. I was hoping there would be no delays. We were both feeling tired, despite the fact the Japan Airlines Airbus Express from Heathrow had only taken seven hours to fly to Tokyo. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when we reached Customs and an airport official waved us on, indicating we could head straight out into the arrivals lobby.

We’d both been extremely busy for the past few weeks making all the arrangements for our six-month stint in Japan and we’d hardly slept at all for the last forty-eight hours. We were now running on a combination of nervous energy mixed with a strong dose of excitement and anticipation. We both knew the next few months would be full of unforgettable experiences. The idea of living in Tokyo was a dream come true for both of us!

‘Is someone from N.E.A.T. Incorporated waiting outside to take us to our new home?’ I asked Oliver as we walked briskly towards the arrivals area.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I don’t think it will be Ethan Johnston, the company president who interviewed me, but I was told someone would be here.’

We stepped out into the arrivals lobby and Oliver scanned the crowd on the left-hand side, looking for someone who might be connected to his new company. ‘I can’t believe it!’ said Oliver with a broad smile. ‘Hiro Suzuki is here.’

‘Who’s he?’ I asked with anticipation.

‘He’s the chairman of N.E.A.T. Incorporated.’

‘Gosh, we are getting the royal treatment! First-class seats on the Airbus Express and now the chairman is here to meet you. They must think you’re a very important employee Oliver!’

Hiro Suzuki came striding towards us confidently. He looked like a kind man with his sparkling eyes and his broad smile, and I thought he was very debonair in his expensive blue suit and tie. Oliver was wearing a navy suit with a grey turtleneck but I was looking very casual in just a pair of denim jeans and a plain white t-shirt under a silky grey gilet. I wished now I’d dressed up a little bit more for the occasion.

‘Welcome to Tokyo, Mr and Mrs Montgomery,’ said Hiro in perfect English with a slight American accent, as he handed Oliver his business card and bowed.

‘This really is an honour,’ said Oliver as he reciprocated the bow in keeping with the Japanese custom. Oliver accepted Hiro’s business card with both hands and looked at it for a couple of seconds before placing it in his wallet. My husband had bought an eBook on Japanese culture and customs as soon as he’d heard the good news that we would be moving to Tokyo. He was really keen to impress his new employers and I could see he was already making progress. Hiro seemed very pleased.

I’d also read as much as I could about the Japanese culture on the internet but I didn’t feel comfortable bowing, even to the chairman of my husband’s new company. I extended my right hand and hoped for the best as I forced my sweetest smile. ‘How do you do, Mr Suzuki? Please call me Poppy. Thank you so much for coming to the airport to meet us.’

‘It’s my pleasure, Poppy,’ replied Hiro as he shook my hand with a firm grip. ‘And it’s nice to finally meet you, Oliver! Ethan’s been telling me all about you, and I can assure you, it’s all positive. I’m not a big fan of old-fashioned formalities so please call me Hiro. We’re all on a first-name basis at N.E.A.T. Incorporated. I’ve really been looking forward to meeting you. You’re both going to make such an important contribution to the company.’

I’d read that Japanese people were very polite but I’d only been in Tokyo for five minutes and I’d already realized it would take some time for me to get used to this level of flattery and courtesy. ‘Oliver’s really looking forward to working for such a prestigious android company. I’m just here to support him. However, I do think this android business is very exciting,’ I said to Hiro.

‘We’re very proud of our new androids,’ Hiro replied.

I felt happy and quite relaxed as we stepped out of the airport and walked towards the car park. Oliver had explained to me on the plane that Tokyo was one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world. He’d told me, as we were eating out our in-flight meals, that Japan had phased out the use of nuclear energy and fossil fuels in many areas and the entire country now relied heavily on renewable energy. The air outside was fresh and clean and I took a deep breath. As I looked around me, I noticed the sky was a pale blue colour, the sun was warm and inviting, and a cool breeze felt very refreshing against my flushed cheeks, but I suddenly stopped in amazement as we passed a taxicab stand. I was surprised to see a shiny black egg-shaped object with short wings flying above us in the air. ‘I can’t believe it!’ I cried out, pointing to the sky. ‘It’s a flying car!’

We all stopped and peered upwards.

‘It’s a HyperFly,’ said Hiro. ‘They came on the market about eight months ago. Only seventy-five HyperFlys have been sold in Japan so far because they’re very expensive, but they should be available in the UK and several other countries by the end of next year. Do you like it?’

‘Do I like it?’ said Oliver. ‘I love it! It’s incredible.’

‘Well, you’ll be pleased to know the company’s HyperFly is in the park-and-fly just over here to take you to your new home,’ said Hiro as he guided us along a walkway that led to a glass cylindrical door. ‘Fortunately, the government has been preparing the infrastructure to accommodate these vehicles for some time now. We’ll be seeing a lot more of these HyperFlys in the sky in the next few years.’

Oliver and I were gobsmacked. We both felt completely overwhelmed as we waited in front of the frosted glass door in silence, not knowing what to expect. Hiro entered a six-digit code on a panel next to the door and in thirty seconds a cream-coloured HyperFly on two wheels with short wings on either side appeared. The glass panel in front of us slid down in the blink of an eye and disappeared into a narrow crack in the floor.

‘HyperFly open,’ said Hiro and instantly a scissor door on the flying car opened vertically in front of us. Inside, there were five luxurious cream leather sofa-style seats, three on one side and two on the other. There were also two illuminated control panels behind the seats on both sides.

Hiro placed our luggage inside and motioned for me to get in first. I sat on the left on the row of three seats, grinning from ear to ear. Oliver sat beside me with Hiro in front of us and, as we settled into our seats, the door of the HyperFly shut without a sound.

‘Cherry Blossom Homes in Odaiba at 1–12–28 Daiba, Minato-ku, via central Tokyo,’ said Hiro, giving a destination to the HyperFly. There was a slight humming sound as the power switched on and the wheels lifted off the ground and folded underneath the vehicle.

‘How does it fly and maintain balance?’ Oliver asked Hiro.

‘The HyperFly works on the principle of magnetic levitation or maglev,’ Hiro replied. ‘The Shinkansen bullet trains have been relying on the maglev principle for years. Electromagnetic liquid nitrogen acts as a superconductor to levitate the machine and propel it into the air. It does have ten-inch wings to help maintain stability, but there’s no propeller.’

‘I’m very impressed,’ said Oliver as the glass door opened on the other side of the cylindrical tower and we began moving at a very steady pace into the open air, building up speed gradually.

When I looked down I could see a group of people on the ground looking up at us in the air. Two small children were waving with their mother and I waved back at them. This is incredible! I thought to myself. The HyperFly was surprisingly comfortable and very steady. I felt like we were floating on a cloud as we zoomed out of the airport area and began flying over a stretch of water.

‘Your new home is just a couple of minutes away in Odaiba, but I’d like to take you on a short tour of Tokyo,’ said Hiro.

‘Wonderful!’ Oliver and I said in unison.

Two minutes later we were hovering over central Tokyo. Thousands of buildings, densely packed together, stretched for miles, as far as the eye could see, and my mouth fell open in awe. ‘Tokyo is so exciting!’ I said to Hiro. ‘I’m so happy to be here and so is Oliver, but can you tell me a little more about your personal androids? I can’t wait to see one.’

‘Of course, Poppy,’ said Hiro. ‘I love talking about one of my favourite subjects. Well, let’s see … the personal androids are very lifelike. We’ve worked very hard to make sure each android is state-of-the-art. At the moment they can only be purchased outright and you need to be very wealthy to be able to afford one, but it won’t be long before everyone will be able to lease their very own personal android. There are also all sorts of applications for people to buy and download so they can personalise their android, add features, and increase its knowledge base, but we’re currently developing a lot more apps, and that’s where Oliver comes in. I’m not sure what your husband has told you about his new position or the business, but Oliver will be submitting a proposal for what he believes European consumers may need and want from a personal android, now and in the future. Once that’s established, he’ll work with our technicians to develop new applications to meet those requirements. We’d also like him to help us firmly establish the business in the European marketplace.’

I was very proud of my husband, but I could also see why Hiro Suzuki was the chairman of the company. He was incredibly intelligent, definitely forward-thinking, and at the same time absolutely charming.

‘Hiro, if you’ve finished explaining the business to Poppy, I’d like to ask you a question,’ said Oliver.

‘Certainly,’ said Hiro. ‘What’s your question, Oliver?’

‘I’d love to learn how to fly a HyperFly while we’re living in Tokyo. Do you think that would be possible?’

‘Absolutely,’ replied Hiro. ‘I’ll make arrangements for you to have lessons with an English speaking instructor.’

‘That would be fantastic. Do you need to get a licence?’

‘The HyperFly is completely automated but you still need to get a permit licence so you know how to use the control panels properly,’ said Hiro. ‘It’s also important to learn how to operate the throttle and the four levers hidden behind the panel under your seat, in case of emergencies. There’s a gold release button for those levers beside your right knee, Oliver.’

‘Oh yes, I can see it,’ said my husband, pointing to the button next to his knee.

‘You must also get permission from ground control to fly at any given time and you must obey any advice given to you,’ continued Hiro. ‘It cannot fly below four hundred feet or higher than fifteen hundred feet unless it’s landing or taking off and there’s a two hundred feet difference in height between HyperFlys moving in opposite directions.’

‘And what stops it from flying into one of the surrounding buildings?’ I asked.

‘I’ll explain in a moment,’ said Hiro as he pushed a couple of buttons on the control panel. Instantly, a panel flipped open and three crystal tumbler glasses on a red lacquerware tray appeared, filled with a cloudy-looking soft drink. ‘You must be dehydrated after your flight. Would you like a glass of Calpis Soda?’

‘Yes, thank you,’ I replied, as my husband and I reached for a glass. ‘I’ve never tried Calpis Soda before, but it does look very refreshing.’

‘Kanpai!’ we all said in unison as we raised our glasses to toast the occasion.

Hiro looked like he was having a wonderful time. I could see he was very proud and more than happy to show off his amazing flying car. I felt relieved we were all getting along so well. It didn’t surprise me to see Hiro starting to relax and feel more comfortable in front of my husband. Oliver possessed a special gift — he could make almost anyone feel at ease in a short period of time, if he was so inclined. I looked at my husband and his confidence made me feel like we’d made the right decision to come and live in Tokyo.

I could see Oliver was already starting to get used to the good life as I watched him sitting back very comfortably in the plush leather seat of this flying car. He’d always been an early adopter and someone who loved to embrace new technology, so I wasn’t surprised he was completely at ease in the HyperFly. His new position working with robotics at N.E.A.T. Incorporated was the perfect job for him.

‘The HyperFly is extremely safe, Poppy, because every flight pattern is predetermined, but there are red lights on top of the vehicle as a safety precaution and every building and crane above forty-five metres in height must switch on warning lights fifteen minutes after sunset to avoid collisions,’ said Hiro as he took a sip of his Calpis Soda. ‘The HyperFly also has ultrasonic sensors that bounce sound waves off any obstacle and a warning bleep sounds if it flies too close to a building, but this rarely happens. It’s really only a necessary precaution if you have to fly it manually.’

We must have been very thirsty because the three of us finished our drinks within a minute. We placed our empty glasses on the tray and the shelf slid back into the wall panel.

‘Now, if you look to your left you can see Mount Fuji in the distance,’ said Hiro.

Oliver and I looked in the direction Hiro indicated and I saw Mount Fuji for the first time. I’d never realized it was such a beautiful sight.

‘I’d like to take a photo,’ I said, as I pulled my CrystalPhone out of my handbag and held it up to take a photograph of this famous mountain with the city of Tokyo in the foreground. ‘I’ll send it to my best friend in London. She’ll never believe I took this photo from a flying car!’

After I’d taken the photo, I sat back and enjoyed the experience as I looked to the left and the right at the views revealed by the floor-to-ceiling windows on each side of the HyperFly.

‘Is that the Tokyo Skytree?’ I asked, when I saw a tower I recognized.

‘Yes, you’re right Poppy,’ said Hiro. ‘The Tokyo Skytree opened to the public forty-eight years ago. It’s very high at 634 metres, but in a minute or two we’ll be flying past the new Tokyo Cloud. The Tokyo Cloud is a tiered pagoda with multiple eaves. It opened in 2058 and it’s currently the highest structure in the world at 1,020 metres. Get ready to wave at the people on the lower observation deck. We’re about to fly very close to it.’

The Tokyo Cloud was an architectural wonder. I couldn’t see the steeple at the top of the structure at the angle we were flying, but Hiro was right — at least a hundred people were at the window of the observation deck with their faces pressed up against the glass, halfway up the pagoda. They were waving and giving us the V-sign. I waved back, feeling very much like a VIP, travelling in such luxury and style.

You can read the rest of TOKYO 2060: WELCOME TO THE FUTURE by RENAE LUCAS-HALL on Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Sony eReader, and all other eBook formats.

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