Inside Out Page 26

“Impossible.” He stared into the distance for a few moments. “What are the boy’s family names?”

“Narelle Ashon. Why?”

“He’s Jacob’s boy.” He peered at me. “You never asked me about your family.”

“The family you invented so I would help you?”

“I didn’t—”

“Doesn’t matter. Even if you were serious, from what I read of the uppers, no real family would abandon their child in the lower levels, so I have no desire to know anything about them.”

He put his hands up in defeat. “All right. Have it your way. We still need my port, though. Any ideas?”

“I make another attempt.” How remained the problem. Zippy worked but would tip Riley off again, and the lock was impossible to pop. Unless the Tech Nos had another useful device.

“Do it when Riley’s on shift.”

“Why?”

“He covered for you before and might do it again. Hopefully he’s sympathetic to our cause.”

Broken Man’s words reminded me of Riley’s note. He asked me to meet him. And to trust him. I did owe Riley one, and would meet him at hour fifty-eight. But trusting him was out of the question.

9

THE RECYCLING PLANT OCCUPIED THE ENTIRE II quadrant. Piles of discarded and broken items littered the space. Scrubs sorted the heaps of trash into smaller loads. Other scrubs moved around the plant’s machinery, feeding metal into the blast furnace, glass pieces into the kiln and thread into the looms. And, beyond the equipment, another set of workers crafted goods from the melted glass, from the sheets of metal and the bolts of cloth.

I wore the shapeless coveralls of the workers, blending in with ease. A few Pop Cops wandered around, and I practiced my cover story in my mind just in case.

Heat from the machines thickened the air, and a film of fine grit formed on my clothes and skin. A hot metallic smell dominated. I pushed through the noise and activity, looking for Logan and Anne-Jade.

The reason thick-soled boots were required for this area crunched under my feet, and I skirted piles of kitchen utensils and torn clothing. Nothing was wasted. Everything was recycled and reused. Human waste and food traveled to the waste-handling system to be turned into fertilizer for hydroponics. Water looped through the water-treatment plant and air blasted through a series of tanks and scrubbers.

Even people contributed when their life ended. Their lifeless bodies were sent to Chomper’s Lair—a room next to the solid-waste facility—to be transformed into…I wasn’t sure. Wild rumors and creative speculation circulated about the place. Not many scrubs were allowed in there—well, not alive anyway. A few called the room the Final Gateway.

My thoughts drifted to Cog. When a well-loved person died, scrubs would line the corridors to Chomper’s Lair to pay their respects. I yanked my morose thoughts away. They distracted from my mission.

Anne-Jade and Logan sorted a number of small circuit boards. I joined them. Anne-Jade shot me an annoyed look, but Logan smiled in welcome. In order to appear to be working, I moved items around.

“What are you doing here?” Anne-Jade asked. The words hissed.

“I need your help.”

She scanned the Pop Cops nearby. “Couldn’t you wait until our shift is over at sixty?”

“No, I work the even shifts.”

Logan leaned close. “Did Zippy help you?”

“Sort of.”

They waited, and I explained about the power drain being noticeable to the electrical systems manager.

“That is a problem. We will have to install a—”

“Not now.” Anne-Jade’s long golden hair swung as she shook her head in exasperation. “What do you need?” she asked me.

“I could use a new-and-improved Zippy and something to open locks.”

“Zippy’s it for now. If I had some time…” Logan stared into the distance, probably reassembling Zippy in his head.

“How much time?”

He shrugged. “A week.”

“Too long.” I considered. Since I knew where to find Broken Man’s port, I could reduce my time spent in Karla’s office and be gone by the time the spike registered. “What about the lock?”

Logan flashed me a bright smile. He pulled a narrow timer from his pocket and handed it to me. “I thought you would need this. Place it below the keypad and press the button. Instead of the time, the display will show the code for the lock in about three to four seconds.”

I marveled at the device. “How?”

“Do you really want to know?” Anne-Jade asked.

“No. This is wonderful.”

“Anything else?”

I hesitated. Broken Man had said it was impossible, but, with these two, impossible could be possible. “Do you have a device to access the uppers’ computer network?”

Anne-Jade and Logan exchanged a glance. Once again, she scanned the room before asking, “Like a port?”

I nodded.

Another significant look flashed between them. “That’s the ultimate goal of a Tech No,” Logan said. “I managed to hack into the uppers’ computer system about as far as I can go without one. All I need is a port to open the door, then I would own the system. Own it!”

“Has anyone achieved that goal?” I asked, wondering just how many Tech Nos there were.

“No, but…” He sought Anne-Jade’s permission. She waved him on, despite the strain lined on her face.

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