The Thousandth Floor

Page 96

“I’m glad it didn’t work.”

“Of course it didn’t work.” Atlas smiled. “There’s no way it ever could.”


WATT HEADED HOME from the gym Sunday afternoon, taking a large sip of his painkiller protein shake, and winced at the soreness in his shoulders. It had been a particularly rough session with the boxing-bot, per his request. He’d hoped that if he punched the bot hard enough, he would forget the sting of Avery’s rejection. So far it hadn’t worked.

Watt had never answered the flicker Avery sent late last night. It sounded too much like a brush-off. Nadia, when he turned her back on, had suggested that he respond. But Watt was human and irrational, so he’d left it deliberately unanswered despite Nadia’s advice, his silence some kind of stupid prideful statement.

He stepped up to the 236th floor observation deck, full of recycled-water fountains and gimmicky ice-pop stands and screaming kids. There were more crowds up here than usual. He caught a glimpse of the sky through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and saw a roiling mass of storm clouds gathering.

I didn’t realize today was a rain day, Watt remarked to Nadia, moving closer. He’d loved rain days ever since he was a kid—the brightly colored dirigibles that rose into the air and released the hydrosulfates, the way moisture gathered around the exploding chemicals in perfectly symmetrical spirals, and then the satisfying hiss as the desired rain began to fall. Humans couldn’t control the weather on a global scale, of course, but they’d figured out localized methods of rain induction and prevention almost fifty years ago. Watt wondered what it had been like back when people were at the mercy of the weather: if they, too, thought rain was beautiful, or if they hated it because they couldn’t control it. Avery would know, he thought, then felt annoyed with himself for the thought.

“You’re welcome,” Nadia’s voice sounded in his eartennas.

Wait—you’re telling me this was you?

“You needed cheering up,” she said simply.

Sometimes I worry that I’m wasting your talents. Watt shook his head, smiling a little. Leave it to Nadia to hack the Metropolitan Weather Bureau just because a seventeen-year-old kid had gotten rejected by the girl he liked. But he was grateful.

Do you think Avery likes someone else? he asked Nadia as the first fat raindrops began to clatter against the skylight overhead. The edges of the Tower were lined with them, everywhere the building narrowed as the floors went up.

“I know she does.”

What do you mean, you know? Watt thought back, confused.

“Do you want me to tell you?”

Watt hesitated. Part of him was relieved that Avery’s rejection hadn’t actually been about him, that he hadn’t done anything to make her change her mind. But another part was angry with her for even asking him out at all, feeling the way she clearly felt about this other person. Of course Watt wanted to know who it was.

If he asked, though, he would be just as bad as Leda. And knowing wouldn’t change what had happened.

Thanks, Watt told Nadia, but I don’t want to know.

He held firm the rest of the walk home, through when he walked in the front door and Zahra and Amir jumped up excitedly, begging him to play games. He held firm all through dinner, and helping his parents clean up, and putting the twins to bed.

Yet he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Now that he knew that Nadia knew—that the message was literally inside his own brain—it was like an itch he felt desperate to scratch. Finally Watt’s willpower snapped. He retreated into his room and shut the door firmly behind him.

“Changed my mind,” he said aloud to Nadia. “I want to know.” He didn’t care that the knowledge wouldn’t be helpful, that it would probably just upset him even more. He needed to know whom Avery had chosen over him.

“I’m going to play you the room comp audio, from Atlas’s room,” Nadia told him. “This is from last night, after you left their apartment.”

“Okay.” Watt didn’t understand where this was going. Maybe Avery had told Atlas who she liked?

Watt frowned as he heard Atlas murmuring, and a moment later, a higher-pitched voice whispering. Okay, so he had a girl with him. Leda would want this, he realized. He could charge her a ton of money for it. He opened his mouth to tell Nadia to fast-forward to the part about Avery—

Watt’s fingers tightened around the edges of his chair. Oh god. He recognized that girl’s voice. And his anger dissolved into a sick nausea as he realized the truth.


LATER THAT WEEK, Rylin stood in the doorway of Cord’s room, steeling herself for what she was about to do. She’d done it once before, she reminded herself. But it had felt different then, back when Cord was just the asshole who’d hit on her after his party, not the boy who’d taken her to Paris and made her laugh—made her happy—despite everything else going on in her life. The boy she was falling for despite all her better judgment.

She thought of V, and the looming threat of Hiral in jail, and shivered with foreboding. She needed to do it now; Cord had just left for school—she’d heard the front door close behind him—and she wanted to get these and off-load them before he was home. Moving quickly, decisively, she slipped into the room and grabbed five Spokes from Cord’s hiding place, shoving them in her back jeans pocket. She walked out the door and halfway down the upstairs hallway—

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