The Thousandth Floor

Page 25

Watt led the twins down a winding imaginary train track to the end of the hall. Their room was tiny, but still bigger than his: this used to be Watt’s room, actually, before they were born and he moved into the office nook. The dim light barely illuminated the bunk beds built into the wall. Watt had repeatedly tried to route more electricity to the twins, but it never seemed to be enough. He had a sinking suspicion that it was his fault, because of all the power-hungry hardware he’d set up in his room.

He helped the twins laser-clean their teeth and tucked them into bed. They didn’t have a room comp down here, of course, but Nadia did the best vitals check she could, watching the twins’ breathing and eye movement. When she’d confirmed they were asleep, Watt shut the door quietly and moved down the hallway to his makeshift bedroom.

He sank gratefully into his ergonomic swivel chair—which he’d lifted from an office space that was about to be foreclosed—and clicked on the high-def screen at his desk, which took up most of the room. His bed was shoved far to the corner, his clothes tucked on hoverbeams up near the ceiling. Nadia didn’t need the screen, of course, since she could project anything directly onto his contacts. But Watt still liked surfing the i-Net this way whenever possible. Even he thought it was weird sometimes, replacing your entire field of vision with the digital overlay.

He flipped through all the messages from the girls he’d met at Pulse last night, then closed out without answering any of them. Instead he logged into [email protected] Haus, his favorite dark-web site for postings of “data services” jobs.

Watt’s family always needed money. His parents had moved from Isfahad to New York the year before he was born, when the Tower was new and the whole world was excited about it: before Shanghai and Hong Kong and S?o Paulo all got their own thousand story megatowers. Watt knew his parents had immigrated for his sake, hoping he would have a chance at a better future.

It hadn’t turned out the way they’d hoped. Back in Iran, Watt’s dad had attended the top mechanical engineering school, and his mom had been studying as a doctor. But Rashid now worked repairing industrial coolant and sewage systems. Shirin had been forced to get a job as a caregiver at a nursing home, just so they could keep their apartment. They never complained, but Watt knew it wasn’t easy on them, working long days hammering machinery and dealing with crotchety old people, then coming downstairs to take care of the family. And no matter how hard they tried, money always seemed to be tight. Especially now that the twins were getting older.

Which was why Watt had started saving for college. Well, for MIT. Their microsystems engineering program was the best in the world—and Watt’s best shot at someday working on one of the few legal quants left, the ones owned by the UN and NASA. He wasn’t applying to any safety schools. His parents worried that his insistence was stubborn and overconfident, but Watt didn’t care; he knew he would get in. The real question was how he would pay for it. He’d been applying to scholarships, and had won a few small grants here and there, but nowhere near enough to pay for four years at an expensive private university.

So Watt had started making money a different way: by venturing to the darker part of the i-Net, and answering ads for what were euphemistically called “information services.” In other words, hacking. Together he and Nadia falsified employment records, changed students’ grades at various school systems, even broke into flicker accounts for people who thought their significant others were cheating. Only once did they try hacking a bank’s security system, and that ended almost immediately, when Nadia detected a virus hurtling toward them and shut herself off.

After that, Watt tried to steer clear of anything too illegal, except of course for the fact of Nadia’s existence. But he took on jobs whenever he could, depositing most of the proceeds in a savings account and giving the rest to his parents. They knew he was good with technology; when he told them the money came from tech support jobs online, they didn’t question it.

He scrolled idly through the [email protected] Haus requests, stifling a yawn. As usual, most were too absurd or too illegal for him to take on, but he flagged a few for later review. One in particular caught his eye, asking for information on a missing person. Those were usually easy jobs if the person was still in the country; Nadia had long ago hacked the national security-cam link, and could use facial recognition to find people in a matter of minutes. Curious, Watt read further, an eyebrow raised. It certainly was an unusual request.

The author of the post wanted information on someone who had been missing this past year, but who had since returned. I need to know where he’s been this whole time, and why he came home, the person requested. Sounded easy enough.

Watt immediately composed a reply, introducing himself as Nadia—the name he used for all his hacking jobs, because, well, why not?—and saying that he’d love to help. He leaned back, drumming his fingers on the armrests.

I might be interested, the person who’d written the post replied. But I need proof you can actually do what you say you can do.

Well, well. A newbie. Everyone who repeatedly posted on these forums knew enough about Watt to know he was a professional. He wondered who this person was. “Nadia, can you—”

“Yes,” Nadia answered, knowing his question before he even finished speaking, and hacking into the sender’s security to find the hardware address. “Got her. Here she is.”

On the screen appeared the girl’s feed profile. She was Watt’s age, and lived right here in the Tower, up on the 962nd floor.

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