22ND SEPTEMBER 2132.
15.5 HOURS SINCE I LAST SAW DAY.
LEVEL INFINITY HOTEL LANDING PAD, ROSS CITY.
I step out of the plane and take in the gleaming whiteness of my surroundings. We have landed magnetically inside a glowing red ring atop a skyscraper, where the air is pure and refreshing. I’d imagined Antarctica, of all places, to greet me with a frosty rush of wind or a blinding glare from the sun reflected on a snowy landscape. But apparently, Ross City is not that place. Instead, I stand amid an urban jungle of glossy structures that stretch into the clouds, all interconnected by wide bridges that overlook the metropolitan buzz some 300 storeys below. Peering over the edge of the platform, I realise how nauseatingly high we are, and take a step backwards to steady myself. However, looking upwards is just as dizzying, as the city seems to be vertically infinite.
Before I can get lost in my thoughts of wonder, a pair of glasses is pressed into my palm, and I am told to wear them for the duration of the visit. They are slim and the frames are made from a lightweight metal; when I place them on my face, they feel almost invisible. I open my eyes to find a brighter, more vivid cityscape around me – but that is not the only difference. Every person in my periphery has their name and a numerical status floating above their head, like a simulation in a video game. I imagine what the numbers could represent and why they are needed here. Anden walks over and flashes me one of his effortless smiles, whilst asking me to rejoin the group: his number increases from zero to one. A smile = a point? Fascinating.
Lady Medina leads us along an extravagant ivory bridge, into the Level Infinity Hotel. With each step I take, rainbow-infused swirls formulate on the plush carpet under my feet. The hotel’s foyer is lined with projections of live footage from various parts of Ross City. One screen, showing young boys racing through a street on hoverboards, catches my attention. This right here is the future. No wonder the Republic needs their help.