Inside Out Page 30

“It’ll take about forty to fifty hours,” Domotor said.

I groaned aloud.

“If I’m not careful, I’ll alert the system to my presence and we’ll be discovered.” He studied my face. “Trella, get a few hours’ sleep. You look terrible.”

I ignored his remark, but thought about Riley’s comment about circumventing computer systems. “Are you going to tell me your real agenda?”

He fidgeted in his chair. The ecstatic expression faded and wariness touched his eyes. I hadn’t given him the device.

“Are you really seeking Gateway’s location? Or was that my incentive for retrieving the disks and your port?”

“It’s complicated,” he said.

“Meaning a dumb scrub wouldn’t be able to understand?” My hand fisted around his port.

“No.” He pushed the hair from his eyes. The long blond strands hung loose. “Meaning you don’t know enough about the upper levels to realize that even if we find Gateway, we might not be able to unlock it without gaining control of key computer systems.”

“Do you even believe Gateway exists?”

“Yes, I do.” His gaze remained steady.

Damn. Either he was a good liar or he told the truth. “How do you gain control of the systems?”

“Through the computer network, but I need to find out who the real Controllers are.”

“You mean which Travas?”

“No. All the upper families think the admiral, vice admiral and captain, who are all Travas, are the Controllers. But I found a command flow chart in a forgotten file that put the Controllers above the admiral.”

“Then who are the Controllers?”

“No one knows. Not even the Travas. But I’ve overheard them speculating, and they believe the Controllers live Outside and send instructions through the computer. Sort of a divine influence.”

Shock rolled through me. The thought of people or even a divine being dictating what we did Inside from Outside was hard to grasp.

“Just because the Travas believe it doesn’t mean it is true.”

“Do they know what is Outside?”

“No. No one does. It’s all speculation. A few Travas think the divine presence lives in the computer network. Others think the computer itself has become intelligent.” He shrugged. “Knowledge of before was erased from the computer system thousands of weeks ago. Something has to be beyond our walls. The Controllers must know.”

I mulled over the information. “Gateway could just be a computer link to the Controllers, and not a physical exit.”

“It’s possible. And you’re holding our only chance to find out.”

I unfurled my fingers. His port rested in my palm. Cog’s life in exchange for this. No turning back now. I would stay the course until the end.

He snatched his port as a hungry man would grab food. Relief washed the worry from Domotor’s expression. He inspected the device and then inserted it into the gap on the right side of his lower jaw. I wheeled him over to the computer.

“Get some rest,” he said half-distracted. “You’re welcome to use my bed.”

A few hours remained in my shift, and I needed to put in an appearance. But I entered the kitchen first to inventory his food. Not much left. A few lonely bowls of casserole occupied the small refrigerator. More than thirty hours remained to the next assembly, and I doubted I could cough my way into the kitchen again. The prospect of standing in line multiple times for extra food seemed daunting.

I straightened the dishes and checked his bedroom. The clicks and taps from the keyboard followed me. His sheets hung to the floor and his blanket was a balled-up wad. Must be hard to make a bed when you couldn’t use your legs.

Pulling everything off, I remade the bed with clean linens. A mistake. The fresh sheets called to me. My body ached. My thoughts pushed through a numb fog. A sense of loss pressed between my shoulder blades. I settled on the edge of the bed and rested my head in my hands.

What had I expected? Give Domotor his port and voilà! Directions to Gateway would appear in a matter of minutes. Huffing in tired amusement, I admitted that, yes, I had been expecting instantaneous results despite all my efforts to believe Gateway didn’t exist and to not get my hopes up. I guess a part of me really desired a true exit to Outside. Now the possibility of a computer Gateway instead of a physical Gateway sucked all hope away.

I should be happy. Domotor’s discoveries would prove me right. Yet the possibility of the Controllers not living with us or even being a person caused a finger of fear to brush my spine.

Morbid thoughts circled and conversations replayed in my mind. To escape them, I laid down. I would rest a few minutes.

“Lousy son-of-a-Trava!” Domotor’s curses woke me from a dreamless sleep. Hours and not minutes had passed. So much for my shift. I hoped my supervisor hadn’t checked on me. I stretched and padded to the living area.

Domotor scowled at the computer monitor. He punched a few keys then slammed his fist on the table.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“New security systems have been installed.”

“And?”

“I might not be able to get around them.” He typed a few words. “The program is…odd. The Controllers aren’t usually this…creative. They stick to what they know and what has worked.”

“Perhaps your earlier forays into the system alarmed them?”

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