The Thousandth Floor

Page 97

And ran straight into Cord.

“Hey there,” he said, grabbing her shoulders to steady her, “where are you headed in such a hurry?”

“I thought you left,” she said, then winced; that was an odd thing to say. She couldn’t stop thinking about the last time this had happened, when she’d kissed Cord to keep from being caught red-handed. But now he looked so trusting she didn’t even need to distract him.

“I’m headed back out,” he said, and she realized he was wearing jeans and a plain white shirt instead of his school uniform.

“You’re cutting again,” she realized aloud.

Cord looked at her closely, and for a single terrifying moment Rylin thought he had somehow figured out about the Spokes, but then he nodded as if coming to a decision. “Do you want to come?” he offered.

Rylin hesitated. The Spokes were burning a hole in her back pocket. “I don’t know,” she began—and stopped, seeing the imperceptible flash of hurt that crossed Cord’s face. “All right,” she amended. This was a terrible idea, going out with Cord when she was carrying so many packets. But this place clearly meant something to Cord.

“Trust me, you won’t regret it,” he said mysteriously, and grinned.

* * *

They deboarded the private copter and stepped out on the lawn of an abandoned-looking house in West Hampton. “What is this?” Rylin asked, her voice hushed, as Cord unlocked the front door. The copter’s blades began to whirl, stirring up the grass in slow concentric circles before it took off again. Rylin inhaled deeply, relishing all the scents of the world outside the Tower, soil and smoke and ocean. It was nice to leave sometimes.

“My dad owned this place,” Cord explained. “I didn’t even know about it until after they died. He left it to me in the will.”

He said it calmly, but Rylin’s heart went out to him. “Just you? Not Brice?” she couldn’t help asking.

“Yeah. I have no idea why. Maybe he thought I would appreciate it. Or that I needed it more, for some reason.” He paused, the door open, and gave Rylin a searching look. “You’re the first person I’ve ever brought here.”

“Thank you for sharing it with me,” she said quietly.

He led her into the house’s entry hall, where automatic lights flickered on, revealing a small, cozy living room and stairs leading up to a second floor. For a moment Rylin wondered if they were here on some kind of romantic getaway, but Cord was already walking through the kitchen and opening another door.

“Here it is,” he said in the most reverent tone she’d ever heard him use. High-beam lights flared overhead, illuminating a massive garage filled with at least a dozen cars.

Rylin walked inside, confused. Cars couldn’t be driven within the Tower itself, only hovers, which were owned by Building Services and operated through a central algorithm. Almost no one in the Tower owned an actual auto, except a few upper-floor families who kept them suspended in hydraulic garages. Even in the suburbs, Rylin knew, people rarely owned individual cars anymore; it was so much easier to pool money and go in on a shared ownership, or just pay a subscription ride service.

One car, out here in the Hamptons, Rylin might understand. But why did Cord have so many cars?

Cord grinned, seeing her uncertainty. “Go look closer,” he urged.

She ran her hands over the surface of the nearest one, sleek and red. Dust motes rose into the air. She realized that the car had a wheel, and a brake pedal—and was that an accelerator?

“Wait a minute,” Rylin said, as understanding dawned on her. These weren’t autocars. “Are they …?”

“Yeah,” Cord said proudly. “They’re old, really old. Driver-run, pre-autocar models. My dad left them all to me.” He looked fondly at the convertible Rylin was circling. “That one is almost eighty years old.”

“But where did they all come from?” Wasn’t this against the law?

“My dad collected them over the years. They’re hard to find, mainly because they’re illegal to drive, and insanely hard to get running again,” Cord said easily. “Plus they drive on fossil fuels, not electricity, and petroleum is expensive.”

“Why, though?” Rylin said bluntly.

Cord looked excited. “You’ve been in an autocar before, right?”

“Yeah, when we visited my grandparents in New Jersey, when I was little.” Rylin remembered how her mom had called the car on the tablet and it appeared moments later, another family crammed inside since they could only afford the “share ride” option. They’d typed the address into the screen on the car’s interior and off they went, driven by the highway system’s automated central computer.

“Well, this is nothing like those cars, with their built-in speed limits. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Rylin stayed where she was. “You’re telling me that you know how to operate that thing?” she asked, dubious. She wasn’t sure she wanted to climb into a huge, dangerous piece of machinery with Cord at the controls.

“It has safety belts. And yes, I do.”

But safety belts hadn’t saved the millions of people who died in car accidents every year, before driver-run cars were made illegal. She remembered that much from health class. “How did you learn to drive?” she asked, stalling.

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