Inside Out Page 28

“Nor would we. You uppers think we’re filthy livestock bred for one purpose. To work.”

“I see the propaganda has worked. You believe the Pop Cops.”

I jumped to my feet. “I’m not like those sheep. I don’t listen to all that bull.”

“Really?” He raised one eyebrow in a mocking sneer. “Where did you acquire your vast knowledge of life in the upper levels?”

“In the care facility.”

“Which is run by the Pop Cops.” Smugness replaced his scorn.

I preferred the sneer. “So your purpose in inviting me here was to prove I’m an ignorant scrub?”

“No.” The word ground out as if it originated deep within him. He held up both hands in a stopping motion. “I’m trying to understand why you automatically assumed I’m a spoiled brat. And I wanted you to think about where you’ve gotten your information. It’s either from the Pop Cops or from the computer system, which is run by the Controllers. Both can’t be trusted.”

“Gee, thanks for that little nugget of advice. I wonder how I survived all these weeks without it.” I headed to the ladder. What a waste of time.

“Wait.” He grabbed my arm.

I yanked a screwdriver from my tool belt. He let go.

“Please listen,” he said to my back. “This isn’t going the way I thought it would. When my father asked why I was so interested in the scrubs, I told him—”

I rounded on him. “I knew this was a trap! Is your father waiting outside with a troop of Pop Cops?”

“No.” This time the word growled. Riley’s hands shook as if he fought to keep from grabbing me again. “I told him I wanted to help the scrubs, to do something…anything to ease their horrid living conditions.”

“Really?” Disbelief tainted my voice.

“Yes.” He practically shouted the word.

“Why?”

“Because of what you told me when you…er…visited last week. Before you dropped in, I thought scrubs were…” His arms moved in a vague all-encompassing gesture. “Were like your little device there, but bigger. We’re taught nothing more about scrubs than they clean and work. We’re threatened to be exiled to the lower levels if we do anything really bad. It’s implied that if we survived, the rest of our weeks would be filled with hard physical labor.” He held a hand up, stopping me from contradicting him. “Look. There are no pictures in our training computers. Truthfully, I hadn’t really thought about who lives in the lower levels at all. But there you stood, a real human being. My age, with…” He dropped his arms, slapping his hands against his legs. “Never mind, you wouldn’t believe me. My father said there was nothing I could do to help. He was right until Domotor went missing and I caught you in LC Karla’s office.”

“Caught?” I feigned innocence—all I could manage. His speech rolled around in my mind, and I couldn’t quite grasp the significance. “Don’t you mean found?”

“No. Caught. You didn’t see the petrified look on your face when you turned around. It was gone in an instant, but I’ll never forget it.” He smiled at the memory.

He could smile. He wouldn’t be fed to Chomper if caught. “Is there a point to all this? My work shift starts in an hour.”

“My father had told me about a few uppers who’d tried and failed to circumvent various security systems in the computer network long ago. Domotor was rumored to be trying again before his accident and banishment to the lower levels. When you showed up looking for Domotor’s port, I guessed you know where he is and you’re helping him.”

“Why would I care if Broken Man is trying to bypass computer systems?”

Riley stepped closer. “If the other upper families regain control of Inside, then we can make life in the lower levels better.”

I studied his expression for signs of deceit. Broken Man had said the upper families wouldn’t want to help. Or did he tell me that so I would focus all my energy on finding Gateway? Riley seemed sincere and he already knew most of it. How much worse could it be for him to know?

“You’re right. I’m here to fetch Broken…Domotor’s port.”

“You’ll let me help?”

He managed to downplay his triumph. Impressive. I nodded.

“I’m monitoring the electrical usage for level four during the next shift. I can’t disable the motion sensors because it would be recorded, but I can hide the spike from your device.” He glanced at the little cleaning troll. “Smoke was coming out of it before. Will it work?”

“Yes.” Logan had repaired Zippy before I left.

“Good. I wasn’t able to find the code for the lock. How do you plan to get into the evidence closet?”

“I have another…ah…device.”

He raised his eyebrows, inviting me to elaborate.

“It’s better you don’t know.”

“As long as it works fast,” he said. He slid his hand into a pocket.

I tensed, but relaxed when he withdrew a port. He handed it to me.

“What’s this for?” I examined the white interface. The size and shape mimicked three molars in a row, but underneath a square-shaped metal piece stuck out. Small numbers had been etched into the metal box. It was hollow except for a line of copper pins. I guessed the bottom piece was inserted into a person’s jawbone to anchor the port.

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