The Thousandth Floor

Page 73

“I wondered who those were from!” Avery’s mom exclaimed. “I’ll add another ticket to our order. How do you know him, Avery?”

“I don’t, really. Atlas knows him, though,” she said pointedly. Atlas looked up, clearly confused. “Didn’t I see you talking to him at Eris’s?” Avery went on, still on the offensive. Let Atlas think she’d had eyes for Watt all night.

“Right. Watt! He’s a nice guy,” Atlas said, and turned back to his risotto.

“Well, I look forward to meeting him. It’s going to be a lovely evening.” Elizabeth smiled.

It’ll be something, Avery thought, wondering what exactly she’d gotten herself into.


WATT LEANED LAZILY on one elbow, bubbling in the answers to his honors American history midterm. Everyone around him had spent days cramming for this exam—he could practically hear the gears in their minds whirring as they scoured their brains for facts they didn’t know, their styluses faltering as they decided what guess to make. Poor suckers. They had to rely on their own flawed, human memory to pass this test. Unlike Watt.

Not even the tech-net surrounding the school—which rendered everyone else’s contacts and tablets useless—could affect Nadia; she was far too sophisticated. Currently she was flashing the answers to each question onto Watt’s eyes, even suggesting which ones he should miss on purpose. After all, he knew better than to get 100 percent on every exam he took.

Watt put his stylus down and looked out the window at the vertical garden that surrounded the school, ferns and succulents crawling over walls in an explosion of viridescence. “Two minutes remaining,” said the preceptor, Mrs. Keeley, with a shake of her overly hair-glued helmet of hair. There was a small shuffle of anxiety from the other twenty kids in the class, not that Watt could see them, thanks to the invisibility screens that separated everyone on test days. He just kept looking out the window.

If only Watt could find a way to prove that Atlas wasn’t hooking up with anyone. Ever since Leda’s message last week—that she would quadruple his pay if he could figure out who Atlas was seeing behind her back—he’d been working nonstop, tracking Atlas’s movements and cross-referencing them with every girl who could have possibly been there. So far, nothing. Watt had a feeling there was nothing to turn up, because Leda was being paranoid and crazy.

Especially because he now knew Leda was a recovering xenperheidren addict. He hadn’t done a deep dive into her past before, just pulled up her feeds that first day she hired him. Until the other day, when in a fit of frustration he’d asked Nadia to track everywhere Leda had been, ever. Nadia had been the one to discover Leda’s stint in rehab. Now Watt was even more convinced that Leda was wrong about Atlas—she was seeing things that weren’t even there.

He wondered what was going on with Avery lately too. He’d hoped that the flower arrangement he’d sent to her house would win her over, or at least spark a conversation, but all she’d done was send a polite thank-you flicker when she received it. It had been over a week since then, and he’d barely heard from her at all.

The bell rang signaling the end of class, eliciting a frantic tapping from the other students as they filled in the last bubbles before their school-issued tablets closed out of the exam. Watt just stretched his arms overhead in a lazy stretch. Depending on the grading of the essay, which Nadia had composed and he’d tweaked to sound more authentic, he should have scored somewhere between a 95 and a 98 on that midterm.

He slung his backpack over one shoulder and started out into the hallway. Girls stood at their lockers, conjuring up temporary mirrors with their beauty-wands and checking their hairstyles. The football team passed by in athletic gear, heading to the hoverbus that would take them to the practice field three floors down, in the Park Zone. Banners strung in the hallways changed from yellow to purple, alternately reading CONGRATS, JEFFERSON: HIGH SAT SCORES 3 YEARS RUNNING! and HOMECOMING DANCE: BUY YOUR TICKETS! A paper airplane, lifted on tiny microhovers, whizzed overhead as if by magic.

“Killer exam, huh?” Cynthia, an Asian girl with wide-set eyes and black bangs who’d been friends with Watt and Derrick since middle school, fell into step alongside him.

“Yeah, definitely.” They walked out the main double doors to stand in the broad paved area in front of school. Directly across the street was an Ifty stop, and an ice cream parlor that they’d cut class to go to countless times. Derrick was standing in the crowd of kids along the edge of the tech-net, all of them eagerly looking through their messages and feeds. He started over when he saw them.

“Hey, Cynthia,” Watt said suddenly, “can I ask your advice on something?”

“Absolutely not. I’ve told you before, don’t come to me with your girl stuff. Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I approve of what you do when I’m not around.” She raised an eyebrow, challenging.

“How did you know …” Watt fell silent as a flicker appeared on his contacts.

“I hear things,” Cynthia said.

Watt couldn’t believe it. The message was from none other than Avery. Hey, I hope you had a good weekend, it read. I was wondering, if you’re not busy Saturday, do you want to come to the University Club fall gala with me?

Watt couldn’t hide a smile of excitement. The flowers had worked after all. I’d love to, he replied, sending the message transcranially through Nadia.

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