The Thousandth Floor

Page 75

Watt settled in, finding his rhythm, his fingers flying across the touch screen as he manipulated pieces of invisible information, like pulling on the strings of a massive, intricate net. He and Nadia worked well together. Even as he made his way slowly and methodically through the hack, Watt could feel her there, a ghostly presence, like the light of a candle flickering just at the edge of his vision. He lost all sense of time and place, his entire being reduced to the string of numerics on the screen before him, waiting for the flash of intuition that would enable him to see a pattern, a blind spot, anything at all.

Eleven hours later, they got it.

“Yes!” Watt exclaimed with a stab of elation, realizing belatedly that he’d missed dinner, that it was practically morning by now. But it didn’t matter. Nadia had been trying to break into the Fullers’ security for weeks, and now they’d finally accomplished it. “You’ve got access to Atlas’s room comp now?” he asked Nadia.

“Yes. Do you want to look at the live feed?”

“Not really,” Watt admitted. He had no desire to watch whatever Atlas did, alone in his room. “But you can monitor it for me, right?”

“I will,” Nadia said simply.

Watt leaned back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head and closing his eyes with a contented sigh. “How much do you think Leda would pay, to see what you’re seeing?” he mused aloud.

“Well, right now Atlas is teeing up his Dreamweaver for the night, so it’s not that exciting,” Nadia told him.

“What’s on his Dreamweaver?” Watt asked, a little curious in spite of himself.

“Amazon rain forest visuals and sounds.”

“That’s kind of weird,” Watt said, thinking aloud. Unless …

“Do you still have a way into the State Department?” he asked. Nadia had slipped into their system dozens of times, for missing persons and police reports and even the aviation board once.

“Of course.”

“Let’s start running facial reg on all the South American satellite cams.” Maybe Atlas just happened to like rain-forest dreams, Watt thought, and this was all a waste of time.

Or maybe he would crack this Atlas thing once and for all.

He headed to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich, feeling almost hollow, his body aching a little from the hack. But it was a good tired. He’d almost forgotten how satisfying it felt to finish a complicated hack, like he’d scaled some intangible mountain, or conquered an impossible puzzle. He should do it more often.

“We’re a good team, you know, Nadia,” Watt said, spreading nut butter on a slice of bread. He was too tired and excited to even care that he was talking to himself in the kitchen.

“I know,” Nadia agreed, and it sounded like she was smiling.


“I’M HERE TO see Hiral Karadjan,” Rylin said clearly. She stepped up to the visitors’ counter at the Greycroft Correctional Facility up in Queens, where Hiral was being held until his trial, unless by some miracle his family could find the money for bail.

“That boy sure is popular,” the middle-aged guard said drily, and gestured for her to hold out her bag for inspection.

“Hiral? Really?” Rylin lifted up the satchel, packed with as many gifts as she was legally allowed to bring.

“You tell me. You’re the third one who’s come by today, and he only just got cleared for visitors.” The guard pursed his lips as he sorted through Rylin’s presents: shampoos, a package of Mrs. Karadjan’s shortbread cookies, even an old tablet with the i-Net disabled, preloaded with dozens of books and vids. “Okay. Walk over there for security check,” he added, and pointed her to the bioscanner, where her retina images were instantly recorded and her body mili-scanned for evidence of weapons. Finally, when the machine flashed green, a door ahead of her opened. “He’ll be in soon,” the guard told her, and turned back wearily to his tablet.

Rylin stepped into a bare, whitewashed room, empty except for four tables and chairs bolted to the ground. There was something funny about the walls; they almost glimmered, and Rylin wondered how solid they really were. Probably they were made of that polarizing glass that looked opaque on one side but clear on the other, so police could observe the inmates’ conversations. She took the chair at the middle table, farthest from the walls, and put her bag on its dinged metal surface.

Rylin shifted uncomfortably, trying to plan what she would say when Hiral walked in. It seemed unbearably cruel to break up with him when he was already at his lowest. But she couldn’t take any more of this, spending time with Cord when she hadn’t truly ended things with Hiral. She imagined this was how Hiral felt during his elevator repair jobs: hanging in a breathless state of suspension, where one wrong move could ruin everything.

The wall across from her slid open. Rylin looked up to see Hiral stumbling forward, his hands cuffed in front of him, two cylindrical security bots sliding alongside him on ghostly wheels. He was wearing a nauseating orange jumpsuit and regulation white sneakers, and his hair had been shaved in a buzz cut close to his scalp. Freed of his boyish curls, the planes of his face became more starkly visible. He looked harder, grimmer—he looked guilty, Rylin realized. Which he was.

“Hiral,” she said softly as he plopped into the seat opposite her. Magnetic cuffs retracted from the chair legs to circle his calves. “How are you holding up?”

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