The elevator floor vibrated under Greyson’s feet where his eyes were directed, absent of thought, peering through the two rippled bullet holes to the shrinking street below.
Wind whipped at the broken glass walls as the elevator lifted him higher along the skyscraper. He faced the building opposite as he ascended past its roof, alone in the skyrocketing cage. His stomach sunk. Even after everything, his fear of heights pushed at his gut.
The rising elevator brought the city skyline into view; towering skyscrapers and their shorter siblings sprawled toward the horizon in every direction. The rising sun painted the arrays of windows in orange, yellow, and red as if setting them on fire. But Greyson knew the real fire had yet to come.
[You’re on your own to the roof, Orphan.] The soldier’s voice in his earpiece did nothing to ease his mind. Getting to the roof would only bring him closer to death. [You’re the last one. Make it count.]
“Roger,” he said, fighting off despair.
Above the sun, and at the edge of his eyesight, he finally discerned his approaching enemy. Though his stomach was already heaving, Greyson tapped the side of his goggles and zoomed in. His eyes registered what his heads-up-display confirmed.
He toggled radio channels. “Avery, if you hear me, you’re running out of time,” he spoke toward the panel of broken glass in front of him. His cloth gaiter was still caught on a jagged piece of the window, flapping in the wind.
[I know, I know!] she huffed through his earpiece.
Greyson took a deep breath. “I need it down in two minutes, or …”
[I’m going as fast as I c’ahn. I’ve got three people talking in my e’ah, and I don’t know who to listen to.]
Greyson gritted his teeth in frustration, biting his words, and turned toward the golden elevator doors. Tapping his goggles, he watched as the doors seemed to vanish into an infrared sea of blue and black. Beyond the doors he could make out the edges of the floors that rushed past one by one. Only heat vents glowed in bright red. He craned his neck toward the roof, but couldn’t make out any human shapes. He was alone. The last one in the skyscraper.
At least they had evacuated in time. Greyson clicked his goggles into normal mode and focused again on his approaching fate.
And then it hit him; he was actually going to do this. He was most likely going to die. Every moment the elevator hummed upward took him closer to that time. Hot fear prickled at his arms, pressing in on him as if he were in a furnace.
[Greyson?] chirped his earpiece.
Surprise slapped him. “Sydney?”
[Yeah, it’s me.]
He could sense the hesitation in her voice. There was fear, too. He knew what was coming. She would try to talk him out of it. Hold him back.
Her words weren’t what he expected. The elevator hummed another three floors up while he chose his words. The buildings below dwindled to a tiled floor of square roofs. Over the layer of fear blanketing him, it was comforting to hear her voice. Like she was there with him. He so wished she were.
“Been better,” he quipped, examining his wounds and gear.
He could hear her breathing, but there was no response. He took the moment to stare at the gaiter fluttering against the glass, trying to imagine Sydney at the tent headquarters, hunched over the microphone, watching the monitors and surrounded by soldiers.
Suddenly the elevator’s hum ceased, and the cage jerked to a stop. Greyson swung toward the doors and drew his slingshot as they opened, revealing the rooftop.
[About what you said…]
“Hold on!” he whispered, surveying the roof. The area was clear, except for an abandoned spotlight near the ledge. He took a cautious step beyond the doors, slingshot drawn. His body tensed, tight and painful, his shoulder and chest sending stabs of pain to his brain. But he ignored the pain and stepped further onto the roof, pointing left and right.
[Greyson?] Sydney whispered.
The wind swirled snowflakes as he ignored her and took long strides toward the building’s edge, closer to the spotlight that tilted toward the east. But as he got closer, he realized it wasn’t a spotlight.
“Sydney, now’s not the best time.” He gulped, eyeing the weapon, and then jerked around, suddenly afraid that he had missed someone.
[I need to say something before…] she began.
Clearing the rest of the roof, Greyson turned back to the orange horizon. He felt the panic pumping through his veins, shortening his breaths as he snapped open the silver suitcase and began changing into his wingsuit.
[Greyson, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I said. For doubting you. So I…I’m cheering for you. We all are here.]
He was surprised. His first response caught in his throat. While he thought of what to say, he zipped his suit.
“Yes. Thank you.”
Greyson pulled his goggles tight to his face and approached the ledge. He didn’t like what he saw. “Hold on, Syd.” He switched channels. “Avery, status?”
[I’m close,] Avery responded. [We’re connecting now.]
“Am I a go?”
[Maybe thirty seconds. Just hold on!]
Through his earpiece he heard men screaming and banging on a door. Avery’s heavy breathing. The clicks of the keyboard.
You can do it, Avery. Come on…
His eyes never strayed from the horizon beyond. He knew why the soldiers had left. They had known what was coming and had escaped. Even the army was running. Retreating.
And here he was, staring down his fate.
Sydney’s voice eased back into his ears. [Greyson.]
“What?” he muttered, leaning on the ledge, feeling as if gravity were tugging him over the side, toward the earth so far below. His heart pattered inside his chest as his gloved hands gripped the gritty concrete. “Don’t hold me back.” His chest heaved, trying to fight his emotion with a smile.
[I wouldn’t dare. But I dare you to stop this.] The pain scratched at her voice. [Hear me?]
He cleared a catch in his throat.
He sniffed and urged himself not to cry. “I hear you.”
[Good. I’ll leave you alone now. And I’m not saying goodbye.]
He looked into the sky and saw the tiny dots swooping closer like shooting stars, streaking toward him.
But he knew he was.
Then Avery’s voice pounded his ears. [We’re almost in, Greyson! I swea’h!]
He turned and jogged toward the elevator, just a few yards further from the ledge – not far enough for comfort, but just enough for a running start whenever he’d need to make his run. His heart pounded. His hands were sweating through his gloves. Shaking fingers secured his slingshot in its holster.
This is it. Once I jump, there’s no going back. This is my Rubicon.