The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(2)


by Katharine McGee

Beneath the deafening roar of the wind, Avery heard the rumbling of various machines on the roof around her, huddled under their weatherproof boxes or photovoltaic panels. Her bare feet were cold on the metal slabs of the platform. Steel supports arced from each corner, joining overhead to form the Tower’s iconic spire.

It was a clear night, no clouds in the air to dampen her eyelashes or bead into moisture on her skin. The stars glittered like crushed glass against the dark vastness of the night sky. If anyone knew she was up here, she’d be grounded for life. Exterior access over the 150th floor was forbidden; all the terraces above that level were protected from the high-speed winds by heavy panes of polyethylene glass.

Avery wondered if anyone had ever set foot up here besides her. There were safety railings along one side of the roof, presumably in case maintenance workers came up, but to her knowledge, no one ever had.

She’d never told Atlas. It was one of only two secrets she had kept from him. If he found out, he would make sure she didn’t come back, and Avery couldn’t bear the thought of giving this up. She loved it here—loved the wind battering her face and tangling her hair, bringing tears to her eyes, howling so loud that it drowned out her own wild thoughts.

She stepped closer to the edge, relishing the twist of vertigo in her stomach as she gazed out over the city, the monorails curving through the air below like fluorescent snakes. The horizon seemed impossibly far. She could see from the lights of New Jersey in the west to the streets of the Sprawl in the south, to Brooklyn in the east, and farther, the pewter gleam of the Atlantic.

And beneath her bare feet lay the biggest structure on earth, a whole world unto itself. How strange that there were millions of people below her at this very moment, eating, sleeping, dreaming, touching. Avery blinked, feeling suddenly and acutely alone. They were strangers, all of them, even the ones she knew. What did she care about them, or about herself, or about anything, really?

She leaned her elbows on the railing and shivered. One wrong move could send her over. Not for the first time, she wondered how it would feel, falling two and a half miles. She imagined it would be strangely peaceful, the feeling of weightlessness as she reached terminal velocity. And she’d be dead of a heart attack long before she hit the ground. Closing her eyes, she tilted forward, curling her silver-painted toes over the edge—just as the back of her eyelids lit up, her contacts registering an incoming ping.

She hesitated, a wave of guilty excitement crashing over her at the sight of his name. She’d done so well avoiding this all summer, distracting herself with the study abroad program in Florence, and more recently with Zay. But after a moment, Avery turned and clattered quickly back down the ladder.

“Hey,” she said breathlessly when she was back in the pantry, whispering even though there was no one around to hear. “You haven’t called for a while. Where are you?”

“Somewhere new. You’d love it here.” His voice in her ear sounded the same, warm and rich as always. “How’re things, Aves?”

And there it was: the reason Avery had to climb into a windstorm to escape her thoughts, the part of her engineering that had gone horribly wrong.

On the other end of the call was Atlas, her brother—and the reason she never wanted to kiss anyone else.

LEDA

AS THE COPTER crossed the East River into Manhattan, Leda Cole leaned forward, pressing her face against the flexiglass for a better look.

There was always something magical about this first glimpse of the city, especially now, with the windows of the upper floors blazing in the afternoon sun. Beneath the neochrome surface Leda caught flashes of color where the elevators shot past, the veins of the city pumping its lifeblood up and down. It was the same as ever, she thought, utterly modern and yet somehow timeless. Leda had seen countless pics of the old New York skyline, the one people always romanticized. But compared to the Tower she thought it looked jagged and ugly.

“Glad to be home?” her mom asked carefully, glancing at her from across the aisle. Leda gave a curt nod, not bothering to answer. She’d barely spoken to her parents since they’d picked her up from rehab earlier this morning. Or really, since the incident back in July that had sent her there.

“Can we order Miatza tonight? I’ve been craving a dodo burger for weeks,” her brother, Jamie, said, in a clear attempt to cheer her up. Leda ignored him. Jamie was only eleven months older, about to start his senior year, but he and Leda weren’t all that close. Probably because they were nothing alike.

With Jamie everything was simple and straightforward, and he never seemed to worry that much at all. He and Leda didn’t even look alike—where Leda was dark and spritely like their mom, Jamie’s skin was almost as pale as their dad’s, and despite Leda’s best efforts he always looked sloppy. Right now he was sporting a wiry beard that he’d apparently spent the summer growing.

“Whatever Leda wants,” Leda’s dad replied. Sure, because letting her choose their takeout would make up for everything.

“I don’t care.” Leda glanced down at her wrist. Two tiny puncture wounds, remnants of the monitor bracelet that had clung to her all summer, were the only evidence of her time at Silver Cove. Which had been located perversely far from the ocean, in central Nevada.

Not that Leda could really blame her parents. If she’d walked in on the scene they’d witnessed back in July, she would have sent her to rehab too. She’d been an utter mess when she arrived there: vicious and angry, hyped up on xenperheidren and who knew what else. It had taken a full day of what the other girls at Silver Cove called “happy juice”—a potent IV drip of sedatives and dopamine—before she even agreed to speak with the doctors.

As the drugs seeped slowly from Leda’s system, though, the acrid taste of her resentment had begun to fade. Shame flushed over her instead: a sticky, uncomfortable shame. She’d always promised herself that she would remain in control, that she wouldn’t be one of those pathetic addicts they showed in the health class holos at school. Yet there she was, with an IV drip taped into her vein.

“You okay?” one of the nurses had said, watching her expression.

Never let them see you cry, Leda had reminded herself, blinking back tears. “Of course,” she managed, her voice steady.

Eventually Leda did find a sort of peace at rehab: not with her worthless psych doctor, but in meditation. She spent almost every morning there, sitting cross-legged and repeating the mantras that Guru Vashmi intoned. May my actions be purposeful. I am my own greatest ally. I am enough in myself. Occasionally Leda would open her eyes and glance around through the lavender smoke at the other girls in the yoga tepee. They all had a haunted, hunted look about them, as if they’d been chased here and were too afraid to leave. I’m not like them, Leda had told herself, squaring her shoulders and closing her eyes again. She didn’t need the drugs, not the way those girls did.