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The city below is a mass of flickering lights. From a hundred stories up the dozens of lights are indistinct, just a long series of flashes in the darkness. At this height everything below seems trivial and immaterial. The school somewhere off in the distance, the police and the drones patrolling the empty streets, the dark streets themselves are meaningless.
Even his name is meaningless as he steels himself against the gusting winds that threaten to push him off the rooftop. There is only up here and down there. Everything else is just details at this point.
Jacob Jacobsen takes a deep breath and smiles into the chilling wind. His arms go out to his side and he feels – just for a moment – that he’s flying. He had no idea what it would be like up here. He’d heard people at school say they’ve been on the roof of this building or that building and the height was terrifying. They got vertigo and had to crawl back inside on their hands and knees.
That has not been Jacob’s experience. He’s over a thousand feet above the street right now and the view is exhilarating. This, he thinks, is what life is for: living. Not cowering inside of a schoolroom every time the skies open up or hiding from every bit of wind.
“Life should be lived, experienced, grappled with,” he says to no one in particular. “Life shouldn’t be safe.”
He stands on the outer wall of the building and lets his toes dangle off, relishing the beating of his heart and the adrenaline pumping into his veins. The winds eventually push him back onto the rooftop and he lands gracefully – if somewhat disappointedly.
The rooftop of the building is completely abandoned but there are still the tell-tale signs that people have to come up here once in a while: the eye-hooks in the floor that ropes can be attached to in case someone slips and falls and an abandoned ratchet wrench mean some maintenance team or other has to visit the rooftop. Jacob looks around the crushed gray rock covering the roof and wonders what it would be like to come up here every day. Come up and eat lunch and sit and watch everything.
Or at the very least, a thousand feet or so closer to Heaven.
He frowns as he thinks about Heaven then shakes his head and goes back to the edge. Down below him is the reality of his world, a world he desperately wants to leave. The world down there is fraught with mediocrity and imperiled by its own creeping fears. Up here, high above it all, he’s free. At least for a little while. But in the final analysis even a fleeting glimpse of freedom is better than never experiencing life at all.
“Well, world,” he whispers, “it’s time to live a little.”
He hopes his example will encourage other people in the same way the slow mob mentality inspired countless shootings and acts of terror. For that to happen, though, he needs exposure. Someone must see it happen otherwise this whole endeavor is for naught. He reaches into his vest and pulls out a road flare that he found in his dad’s garage. The big stick was marked with so many warnings he almost couldn’t tell what it was.
Jacob chuckles and tosses the flare end over end, marveling that something with so many warnings can be tossed around casually without bringing about the end of civilization. Months of preparation have gone into this night and it’s important that everything move according to plan. He gives the road flare one last toss. When he catches it, he pops the little plastic cap off and strikes the flare.
He holds the burning flare aloft like he’s bringing light to the darkness and then tosses the burning flare off the building. It tumbles down the side of the building, bouncing off the walls as the wind catches it. He watches for a moment before pulling the black balaclava over his face.
The effect is immediate. Within seconds of tossing the flare off the roof he hears the distinct buzzing of a drone. Jacob adjusts his backpack and waits patiently. The police are nothing if not predictable. The buzzing gets louder and spotlights peek up the side of the building.
The drone rises and scans the rooftop, seeking whoever or whatever tossed a flaming stick. Lasers spread out and track the surface of the building. Light crosses Jacob’s body, illuminating him and scanning his shape. When the hovering drone recognizes the shape of a human it tries to scan his face. Jacob’s eyes flash briefly, reflecting the lasers back at the scanners.
The lasers flick off and a mechanical voice says, “Please remain where you are, officers are on their way.”
“I’m not going anywhere, spud,” Jacob replies.
The drone doesn’t respond, but an exclamation point starts flashing on its nose.
Jacob takes a tentative step forward. The drone bobs in place. He takes another step and reaches out a hand. The drone backs away slowly and the exclamation point flashes faster.
“He was right,” Jacob whispers.
He backs away and the drone floats forward. It follows his movements but never gets close enough to touch. It seems content to sit and watch. Jacob steps sideways and the drone bobs along with him.
“Please remain where you are, officers are on their way,” it repeats.
“Not very clever, are you?” Jacob asks.
The drone keeps calmly flashing its exclamation point.
“Are they going to be long?”
Exclamation. Exclamation. Exclamation.
Jacob sighs. He’s a hundred floors up. Even if the police were in the building it’ll still take them some time to get to him. He bends and stretches his calves.
“Please remain calm,” the drone says. “Help is on the way.”
Jacob stands up straight and stretches. “Congratulations,” he says, “a new line.”
In addition to a new line the drone adapts its flashing message to include a sideways emoji of a happy face. ! 🙂 ! 🙂
Jacob assumes this means the drone is trying to placate him; to put him at ease. It’s hard to be at ease when a semi-intelligent ball of metal and plastic is hovering a few feet from him. Stories and urban legends of the little drones executing people flood his brain. So-and-so heard it from so-and-so who heard it from this girl that her friend totally swore a drone shot her bestie. But the little drone doesn’t appear to be armed. It looks kind of silly hovering there flashing exclamation points and lame attempts at cool emojis that no one has used for decades.
“I need to stretch,” Jacob says. “Please don’t ogle me.”
The drone remains still even as the wind gusts buffet Jacob’s hair.