Home > The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)

The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)
Author: Katharine McGee

PROLOGUE

IT WOULD BE several hours before the girl’s body was found.

It was late now; so late that it could once again be called early—that surreal, enchanted, twilight hour between the end of a party and the unfurling of a new day. The hour when reality grows dim and hazy at the edges, when nearly anything seems possible.

The girl floated facedown in the water. Above her stretched a towering city, dotted with light like fireflies, each pinprick an individual person, a fragile speck of life. The moon gazed over it all impassively, like the eye of an ancient god.

There was something deceptively peaceful about the scene. Water flowed around the girl in a serene dark sheet, making it seem that she was merely resting. The tendrils of her hair framed her face in a soft cloud. The folds of her dress clung determinedly to her legs, as if to protect her from the predawn chill. But the girl would never feel cold again.

Her arm was outstretched, as though she were reaching for someone she loved, or maybe to ward off some unspoken danger, or maybe even in regret over something she had done. The girl had certainly made enough mistakes in her too-short lifetime. But she couldn’t have known that they would all come crashing down around her tonight.

After all, no one goes to a party expecting to die.

MARIEL

Two months earlier

MARIEL VALCONSUELO SAT cross-legged on her quilted bedspread in her cramped bedroom on the Tower’s 103rd floor. There were countless people in every direction, separated from her by nothing but a few meters and a steel wall or two: her mother in the kitchen, the group of children running down the hallway, her neighbors next door, their voices low and heated as they fought yet again. But Mariel might as well have been alone on Manhattan right now, for all the attention she gave them.

She leaned forward, clutching her old stuffed bunny tight to her chest. The watery light of a poorly transmitted holo played across her face, illuminating her sloping nose and prominent jaw, and her dark eyes, now brimming with tears.

Before her flickered the image of a girl with red-gold hair and a piercing, gold-flecked gaze. A smile played around her lips, as if she knew a million secrets that no one could ever guess, which she probably did. In the corner of the image, a tiny white logo spelled out INTERNATIONAL TIMES OBITUARIES.

“Today we mourn the loss of Eris Dodd-Radson,” began the obituary’s voice-over—narrated by Eris’s favorite young actress. Mariel wondered what absurd sum Mr. Radson had paid for that. The actress’s tone was far too perky for the subject matter; she could just as easily have been discussing her favorite workout routine. “Eris was taken from us in a tragic accident. She was only seventeen.”

Tragic accident. That’s all you have to say when a young woman falls from the roof under suspicious circumstances? Eris’s parents probably just wanted people to know that Eris hadn’t jumped. As if anyone who’d met her could possibly think that.

Mariel had watched this obit video countless times since it came out last month. By now she knew the words by heart. Oh, she still hated it—the video was too slick, too carefully produced, and she knew most of it was a lie—but she had little else by which to remember Eris. So Mariel hugged her ratty old toy to her chest and kept on torturing herself, watching the video of her girlfriend who had died too young.

The holo shifted to video clips of Eris at different ages: a toddler, dancing in a magnalectric tutu that lit up a bright neon; a little girl on bright yellow skis, cutting down a mountain; a teenager, on vacation with her parents at a fabulous sun-drenched beach.

No one had ever given Mariel a tutu. The only times she’d been in snow were when she ventured out to the boroughs, or the public terraces down here on the lower floors. Her life was so drastically different from Eris’s, yet when they’d been together, none of that had seemed to matter at all.

“Eris is survived by her two beloved parents, Caroline Dodd and Everett Radson; as well as her aunt, Layne Arnold; uncle, Ted Arnold; cousins Matt and Sasha Arnold; and her paternal grandmother, Peggy Radson.” No mention of her girlfriend, Mariel Valconsuelo. And Mariel was the only one of that whole sorry lot—aside from Eris’s mom—who had truly loved her.

“The memorial service will be held this Tuesday, November first, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, on floor 947,” the holo actress went on, finally managing a slightly more somber tone.

Mariel had attended that service. She’d stood in the back of the church, holding a rosary, trying not to break out into a scream at the sight of the coffin near the altar. It was so unforgivingly final.

The vid swept to a candid shot of Eris on a bench at school, her legs crossed neatly under her plaid uniform skirt, her head tipped back in laughter. “Contributions in memory of Eris can be made to the Berkeley School’s new scholarship fund, the Eris Dodd-Radson Memorial Award, for underprivileged students with special qualifying circumstances.”

Qualifying circumstances. Mariel wondered if being in love with the dead scholarship honoree counted as a qualifying circumstance. God, she had half a mind to apply for the scholarship herself, just to prove how screwed up these people were beneath the gloss of their money and privilege. Eris would have found the scholarship laughable, given that she’d never shown even a slight interest in school. A prom drive would have been much more her style. There was nothing Eris loved more than a fun, sparkly dress, except maybe the shoes to match.

Mariel leaned forward and reached out a hand as if to touch the holo. The final few seconds of the obit were more footage of Eris laughing with her friends, that blonde named Avery and a few other girls whose names Mariel couldn’t remember. She loved this part of the vid, because Eris seemed so happy, yet she resented it because she wasn’t part of it.

The production company’s logo scrolled quickly across the final image, and then the holo dimmed.

There it was, the official story of Eris’s life, stamped with a damned International Times seal of approval, and Mariel was nowhere to be seen. She’d been quietly erased from the narrative, as if Eris had never even met her at all. A silent tear slid down her cheek at the thought.

Mariel was terrified of forgetting the only girl she’d ever loved. Already she’d woken up in the middle of the night, panicked that she could no longer visualize the exact way Eris’s mouth used to lift in a smile, or the eager snap of her fingers when she’d just thought of some new idea. It was why Mariel kept watching this vid. She couldn’t let go of her last link to Eris, forever.

She sank back into her pillows and began to recite a prayer.

Normally praying calmed Mariel, soothed the frayed edges of her mind. But today she felt scattered. Her thoughts kept jumping every which way, slippery and quick like hovers moving down an expressway, and she couldn’t pin down a single one of them.

Maybe she would read the Bible instead. She reached for her tablet and opened the text, clicking the blue wheel that would open a randomized verse—and blinked in shock at the location it spun her to. The book of Deuteronomy.

You shall not show pity: but rather demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, burn for burn, wound for wound … for this is the vengeance of the Lord …

Mariel leaned forward, her hands closing tight around the edges of the tablet.

Eris’s death wasn’t a drunken accident. She knew it with a primal, visceral certainty. Eris hadn’t even been drinking that night—she’d told Mariel that she needed to do something “to help out a friend,” as she’d put it—and then, for some inexplicable reason, she’d gone up to the roof above Avery Fuller’s apartment.

And Mariel never saw her again.

What had really happened in that cold, thin air, so impossibly high? Mariel knew there were ostensibly eyewitnesses, corroborating the official story that Eris was drunk and slipped off the edge to her death. But who were these eyewitnesses, anyway? One was surely Avery, but how many others were there?

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The phrase kept echoing in her mind like cymbals.

A fall for a fall, a voice inside her added.

LEDA

“WHAT ROOM SETTING would you prefer today, Leda?”

Leda Cole knew better than to roll her eyes. She just perched there, ramrod-straight on the taupe psychology couch, which she refused to lie back on no matter how many times Dr. Vanderstein invited her to. He was deluded if he thought reclining would encourage her to open up to him.

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