Islands in the Sky

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          Kei was nine years old when he first visited the ground. For some reason he vividly remembers that morning being woken up by his nanny. She had seemed slightly upset. But she couldn't have known... could she? He remembered getting dressed, and rushing down the broad staircase that spiraled down towards the entry hall of their house, his steps cushioned by the thick red carpet every step of the way. He remembers the excitement he felt when he saw his father waiting in front of the two doormen standing ready to open each of the big wooden doors that framed the entrance. However, his father had only looked him coldly into his eyes. 'Today you will learn how the world works, son.' He hadn't understood what his father meant.

          The doormen had opened the door revealing their driveway in the sky, as his nanny back then liked to call it. A beautifully landscaped wide-open space above the clouds. Kei remembered the sunlight reflected on the big fountain in the middle. On the marble staircase leading up to the entrance had stood a group of bodyguards. Three men in black suits and white shirts, wearing black sunglasses, on either side. His father had stepped outside and the bodyguards had immediately fallen in step with him. 'Come,' his father had said while walking away. Kei had followed him. They had walked past the landscaping drones trimming the hedges in a monotonous buzz, and Kei had tried to ask his father what they were going to be doing. But it was in vain. His father had just walked towards the executive shuttle he used to use for business. The corporate Yotsubishi Corp. logo decorated on the side.

          He remembers the blue sunny sky turning gray as they passed through the clouds. Somehow, he couldn't see as far ahead anymore, the air now being hazy. The peacefulness of solitude in the sky rudely interrupted by a whirlpool of vehicles now surrounding them on all sides. The forest of dark buildings decorated by countless screens advertising all kinds of products. The moving image of a pretty girl in yukata holding a blue can of beer. Some cybernetics brand displaying its latest release. Instant loans for people with no jobs, pills promising to enhance performance, relief from exhaustion... the lower they went the more skin the models started to show. He remembers seeing their corporate logo on almost all of the advertisements. 'This is our legacy, son. One day, this will all be yours,' his father had said. Kei hadn't quite understood what he meant.

          They had landed on the ground, the bodyguards quickly jumping out securing the area

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          They had landed on the ground, the bodyguards quickly jumping out securing the area. Being alone in the cabin of the shuttle his father had told him: 'Kei, you'll have to do exactly as I tell you to do. Exactly.' Kei had promised he would. When they got out of the shuttle Kei had looked around. The stench and noise had assaulted his senses. Taking a moment to adjust, he saw they were in front of a building with a big bright Yotsubishi Banking logo on it, advertising loans. Dirty looking people forming a long line to the street-facing counter. A woman with long blonde hair, wearing high heels and a short dress with a deep v-cut was up next. There was no person manning the counter; instead a panel opened up and a multitude of devices started operating. A flash of light, and the woman's picture and profile now displaying on a screen. A red hue scanning the woman up and down. A number showing, but Kei couldn't make out how much. The woman saying 'acknowledge' out loud before sticking her arm in another panel that opened up to the side. Her face contracted in pain a moment later as she pulled out her arm rubbing it. Later Kei had found out that was for the injection of a chip implant used for 'compliance with the terms of the loan agreement'. It sounded pretty on paper; it was far from pretty in reality.

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