Inside Out Page 32

Yet my conviction faltered when I discovered what clogged the air shaft above the kitchen a few minutes past hour eighty. Food containers filled the duct. Enough food to feed me and Domotor for weeks.

I peered through the vent and watched the bustle of the kitchen scrubs. Pop Cops also kept an eye on them, but they had still managed to hide food despite the danger.

They counted on me. Again panic threatened to overwhelm me. If nothing changed in the lower levels, the scrubs would be disappointed and upset for risking the little comforts they had.

Shoving the confused terror into a deep corner of my mind, I concentrated on the task at hand—getting the food to Domotor’s hideout. With my makeshift skid and the troll’s help, I transported all the containers to the air shaft over his quarters then continued to work my shift.

The hours crept by. Each time I changed air ducts, I kept expecting to be arrested. When I encountered the first RATSS, I almost screamed. The thing focused its antennae on me.

“Name and birth week,” a mechanical voice ordered.

I answered.

“Noted. Continue working,” it said.

It drove away and my heart resumed beating. I was questioned by two more RATSS in two other shafts.

By the time hour ninety arrived, my muscles were so tight I could have climbed a vertical shaft without breaking a sweat. Grateful to be done, I returned the cleaning troll to his closet.

“There you are,” my supervisor said. Her eyebrows pinched together with annoyance and a red cuff hung from her fingers.

I bit down on a sarcastic reply. No sense upsetting her further.

“I waited for you at the end of your last shift, but you never showed. Where were you?”

My thoughts raced. “My cleaning device broke in the shaft and I had to repair it. Took me an extra hour to finish.” I hoped she hadn’t waited an hour.

She tapped the red cuff on her thigh. I kept my face neutral.

“Next time, leave it behind and check to see if I’m waiting. I’ve got Pop Cops breathing down my neck. They want to know if anyone misses a shift.”

“Yes, sir.” Calling her sir always mollified her.

As expected, her expression smoothed. “I wanted to let you know there will be a lot of RATSS in the pipes. The Pop Cops believe there’s evidence hidden in one of the air ducts.” She huffed in disbelief. “We’re supposed to work around them. Just try not to break any of the RATSS during your next shift.”

“Yes, sir.”

She checked my name off her list and left to find the next scrub. I waited for my pulse to calm before sliding into the heating ducts and heading toward Domotor’s room. The air shafts wouldn’t be safe for me to travel in for a while. And I hoped the RATSS hadn’t discovered the cache of food above Domotor’s hideout.

I entered his quarters through the vent. Domotor was slumped over his keyboard sleeping. Wasting no time, I transported the food containers from the air shaft to the refrigerator and freezer.

When I finished, Domotor straightened a bit in his chair, but he rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. His hair covered his expression.

Not able to wait anymore, I asked, “Any progress?”

His reply was muffled so I stepped closer and touched his shoulder. He dropped his arm and met my gaze. Hollowness lurked in his eyes.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We’re done.”

11

I UNDERSTOOD THE LOOK OF DEFEAT IN HIS FACE, BUT not the reason for it.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I hit a wall. The security system has been enhanced and I couldn’t bypass it.”

I ignored the tightness gripping my throat. “Is there another way?” The question squeaked out.

“No.”

“There has to be.” A whisper, all I could manage. My body felt as if it were trapped in a metal compactor. “There isn’t.” He rubbed a hand over his cheek as he stared into the distance. A combination of emotions crossed his face, but they moved too fast for me to decipher. “Unless…I follow Cog’s example and reveal myself to the Travas. They’ll know I have my port and where I am, but I could find the information we need before they get to me.”

I searched his expression. He was committed to sacrificing himself. Good to know. “You said ‘could find,’ does that mean the information is there to retrieve or you think it might be?”

“The information is there, but I can’t guarantee I’ll access it before the Controllers sever my link.”

Too big a risk right now. I thought about the problem. Even though I knew nothing about the computer and its security, I remembered a comment Logan had made about the uppers’ computer system.

“Wait until I return before you attempt to retrieve the information. I need to check a few things and report for the hundred-hour assembly.”

He agreed to wait and I hurried off. I had much to do in the hours remaining before assembly.

“Sure can,” Logan said. A delighted smile spread across his face.

“No,” Anne-Jade said at almost the same time.

Once again I had donned the shapeless overalls of the recycling-plant workers and joined the Tech Nos in sorting through a pile of clothing. We pulled buttons and cut zippers from the ruined garments before feeding them into Shredder. The device had a more technical name for how it recycled the threads, but the scrubs nicknamed everything.

“No as in he can’t do it?” I asked Anne-Jade.

“No as in I won’t let him. It’s too dangerous. He’ll be caught.”

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