“This way, Miss Chen,” George says to me with a slight bow of his head. I’m about to go around to the back of the car to grab my backpack, but he stops me. “You won’t need to lift anything on this trip,” he adds with a smile. I stand there awkwardly, empty-handed, as George grabs my stuff and leads me in the direction of the jet.
I make my way up the steps. At the top, two flight attendants dressed in impeccable uniforms give me dazzling smiles and a bow of their heads. “Mr. Tanaka welcomes you on board,” one of them says to me. I nod back, unsure what to say to that. Is Hideo being kept up-to-date on where I am right now? Does he know I’m boarding his plane at this very moment? My thoughts linger on the flight attendant’s words—until I turn to look at the inside of the jet.
Now I understand why the outside panels of the plane looked so translucent. The interior appears lined with glass panels, through which I can see the airport, runway, and sky. On second glance, the panels have the Henka Games logo carved subtly into the surface. Sleek lines of light rim the panels. I’ve only ever seen the inside of planes crammed with seats—but this one has a full-length leather couch at the far end, an actual bed embedded against each side, a full bathroom and shower, and a set of soft lounge chairs near the front. A glass of champagne and a plate of fresh fruit sit on the table separating the lounge chairs. I’m frozen for a moment, suddenly uneasy in the midst of this extravagance.
George sets my backpack in a back closet of the plane. Then he gives me a tip of his hat and a smile. “Have a lovely trip,” he says. “Enjoy the flight.” Before I can ask him what he means, he turns away and heads down the stairs to his car.
As the attendants seal the door, one of them invites me to make myself at home. I wander over to one of the lounge chairs, sink cautiously onto the soft leather, and inspect the armrests. Do these glass panels change, like the windows in the car I just rode in? I’m about to ask the attendant approaching me, but I’m interrupted when he hands me a pair of glasses. I recognize it instantly as the current generation of Warcross glasses that are being sold in stores—much more powerful than the old rentals I’ve been using up until now.
“For your enjoyment,” the attendant says, smiling at me. “And for a full flight experience.”
“Thanks.” I turn the glasses in my hands, admiring the solid-gold metal of the arms. My fingers stop above an elegant logo that says: Alexander McQueen for Henka Games. These are the luxury, limited-edition version of the glasses. Dad would have held his breath in delight.
I’m about to put them on when the plane starts to move forward. My eyes go to the glass panels on the sides and top of the aircraft. I can see straight through them to the tarmac, and I can even see the front landing gear. If I stare hard enough, it seems as if the seats were simply floating over the ground, with nothing separating us from the outside. The ground rushes by faster and faster. Above me is clear blue sky and it feels as if we’re going to be launched to our certain death.
Then the plane leaves the runway, and my body crushes slightly into the seat. Through the glass panels, the world below us falls away, and just like that—we’re airborne.
I don’t realize how hard I’m gripping my seat until the flight attendant taps me. I look up to see his relaxed smile. “No need to worry, miss,” he says over the hum of the engines. “This is one of the most advanced planes in the world. It’s supersonic. From here, we’ll travel to Tokyo in less than ten hours.” He nods down at my armrest, and when I follow his gaze, I see that my knuckles have turned completely white from my grip. I carefully let out a breath and loosen my fingers.
“Right,” I reply.
As we start to level out in altitude, the world disappears altogether into a blanket of clouds. The panels now change to opaque, leaving only two horizontal stripes of glass transparent to the outside.
The flight attendant tells me to put my glasses on. I do as he says. Immediately, I notice several differences between these and my old rental pair. The new glasses are lighter, for one, and fit more comfortably on my face. When I put them on, shading the world around me a tint darker, and plug their earphones into my ears, a female voice comes on.
“Welcome,” the voice says. The glasses turn completely black, blocking my surroundings out. “Please look to your left.”
When I do as it says, I see a red sphere materialize in the left field of my vision, hovering in the black space. A pleasant ding sounds.
“Confirmed. Please look to your right.”
The red sphere vanishes. I obey, and when I look to my right, there is a floating blue sphere. Another ding.
“Confirmed. Please look up.”
The blue sphere disappears, too. I look up and see a floating yellow sphere. Ding.
“Confirmed. Please look forward.”
In the darkness, a gray sphere appears, followed by a cube, a pyramid, and a cylinder. Again, the ding sounds, followed by a brief tingle along my temples.
“Please touch your forefinger and thumb together on both hands.”
I obey, and it runs through a quick series of tests for my movements.
“Thank you,” the voice says. “You are now calibrated.”
These new glasses have such a better system than the old ones. With this simple calibration, the glasses should now be able to know my brain’s preferences and variations enough to sync up everything in Warcross to me. I wonder idly whether my hacks will still work now.
The glasses lighten and turn clear, so that I can see the inside of the plane again. This time, a layer of virtual reality lies over my view, so that the flight attendants’ names hover over their heads. As I look on, transparent white text appears in the center of my vision.
Welcome on board Henka Games Private Jet
1,000 Pts. Daily Score: +1,000
Level 24 | N1,580
Then the text fades out, and a virtual video feed appears, displaying a young man sitting at a long table.
He turns to me and smiles. I’ve seen this man’s face enough times in interviews to recognize him right away—Kenn Edon, the creative director of Warcross and Hideo’s closest confidant. He sits on the official Warcross Committee, those who choose the teams and worlds that will appear in each year’s championship tournaments. Now he leans back, runs a hand through his golden hair, and offers me a smile. “Miss Chen!” he exclaims. I offer a weak wave of my hand in response.
He glances over his shoulder. “She’s on. Want a word?”
He’s talking to Hideo, I realize, and my heart leaps into my throat in panic at the thought that he might see me right now.
Hideo’s unmistakable voice answers from somewhere behind Kenn that I can’t see. “Not now,” he replies. “Give her my best.”
My moment of panic turns into a stab of disappointment. I shouldn’t be surprised—he must be busy. Kenn turns back to give me an apologetic nod. “You’ll have to excuse him,” he says. “If he seems a bit distant, I assure you it has little to do with his enthusiasm for you. Nothing can pull him away when he’s in the middle of working on something. He wants to thank you for coming here on such short notice.”
Kenn sounds like he’s used to apologizing for his boss. What is Hideo working on? Already, I’m trying to figure out what kind of new virtual reality they have installed in their headquarters. Kenn’s not wearing any glasses, for one. The fact that I can hear Hideo reply even though he’s not logged in or wearing glasses, or that I can see Kenn talking to me live like this, is definitely new tech. “Believe me,” I reply, glancing pointedly around the plane. “I’m not bothered.”
Kenn’s grin widens. “I can’t give you many details yet about why you’re coming here. That will be up to Hideo. He’s looking forward to meeting you.” Another wave of warmth washes over me. “But he has asked me to tell you a couple of things, to prepare you.”
I lean forward in my chair. “Yes?”
“We’ll have a team ready to take you to your hotel once you arrive.” He holds both hands up. “A few of your new fans may be gathered at the airport to greet you. But don’t worry. Your safety is our priority.”
I blink. I’d seen the list of articles that had popped up this morning, and there had been the crowd of journalists in front of our apartment. But in Tokyo, too? “Thanks,” I decide to say.
Kenn drums his fingers once on the table. I hear it. “After you arrive, you’ll have the night to rest. The following morning, you’ll come here to the Henka Games headquarters to meet Hideo. He’ll tell you everything you need to know about the draft.”
Kenn’s last words make me freeze. It’s such a crazy thought that at first I don’t know how to react. “Wait,” I say. “Hang on. Did you just say . . . the draft?”
“The draft to determine this year’s players in the official Warcross championships?” He winks, as if he’d been waiting for me to catch on. “Well, well, I guess I did. Congratulations.”
Every year, a month before the official games actually begin, there is the Wardraft—an event watched by pretty much anyone and everyone interested in Warcross. This is where the official Warcross teams select the players who will be on their teams for this year’s games. Everyone knows, of course, that the seasoned players will probably be selected again. Players like Asher and Jena, for example. But there are always a handful of wild cards thrown into the draft, amateur players nominated because they are so good at the game. Some of the wild cards then rise to become the regularly chosen players.