Freedom was relative, I had learned. Freedom that was given to us was always confining, always with strings attached.
Freedom without those strings meant an immoral lifestyle, I had always believed. But now—how was something immoral if you did not define immoral the same way as the rest of the world did? What was moral? What was immoral?
Everything is relative, I realized, reveling in a heartbreak I could not fathom.
“There are few people like us, and I make sure they know it, who don’t need the helping hand of government,” Nicodemus said. He held up both of his hands and smiled. “Because our grip is just as strong, but entirely our own.”
I looked down slowly, my heart slowing in cold rhythm, when I realized my left hand was naked and alone clasping the ledge.
For a long second, I was mesmerized by the terror.
“Do you understand?” Nicodemus asked.
“No,” I said, fear and elation fighting for dominance in my chest. I couldn’t—I didn’t understand anything.
“If every person in this world, in this country alone, held on by themselves, they would consume each other or fall to their deaths. They are not our equals, not in our ability to be free of all control by our own skill and luck. We are the smartest, the wisest, the ones who can control our senses and desires into rational logic,” he said, words tearing holes into the very foundations of my being. “We do what we must because we must, do you understand? No death is for nothing, no heist is done in vain. Governments fear us not because we operate by different rules. They fear us because we don’t need their rules.”
Every breath hurt, but not worse than his words. “Make our own rules?” I asked, teeth chattering.
That was it? Was that all it took—to achieve freedom? Not sacrificing our true selves, our own morals—but by simply making them our own, no matter what the government thought?
We just took the blocks from their walls to build our own paradise on Earth.
“You make your own life,” Nicodemus said, fondness tender in his voice. He nodded his head toward the world beyond me. “Tell me that’s not beautiful.”
He meant for me to look, back at the dizzying heights I was currently at. Insane, illogical—I was compelled to comply.
My throat numb in the frigid air, I slowly bent back as far as I could go. My arm shook violently and almost instantly I wanted to cling back to the wall as I felt the openness of the air truly envelope my body.
But I took one more moment to stare out past my fear and I was faced with New Oxford’s night.
In that single moment, I forgot my hand. I forgot the strain on my body. I forgot the fear of falling. All I saw was the city, but beyond that, I saw…
I saw everything.
The lights of the cityscape were my stars, the blanket of darkness between them was my universe, but my sun—I was the sun. I was the glorious center of the entirety of my vision. I had no need for gravity or laws of nature. I was the sum, the total, the beginning, and the end.
I was the center of it all, because I was the one who was leaning out into oblivion. It was my hand that stopped my death. It was my strength, and mine alone, that kept me aloft. I was godless. I was a god. I was more powerful in that single, breathless moment that any man alive could ever hope to be.
In that single moment, I understood what Nicodemus was telling me. I understood the meaning of the Manigoldo. We were lawless not for the sense of doing what I wanted, when I wanted. I understood while hanging off the side of that building that it was gravity that was my only threat. It was nature. Not a man holding my hand to hold or release me.
We stole, we cheated, we harmed, we killed; we did all sorts of things made evil by man’s law.
But we were free. We were free from any and all limits imposed by that human hand. We were as free as the wind, as the very air, because we were above all the rest. We were without government, because no government, no law, could ever hope to hold us as securely as we held ourselves.
Unable to breathe, I choked back the rush of adrenaline, the rush of heartbreak that was born from the realization that after that moment, there was no going back. I had found what my empty heart had always wanted. I had found what was missing from my soul.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, tears streaking down my face and free-falling upwards to the ground below.