Inside Out Page 37

Bluelight shone through the vent into Riley’s room. When I was certain it was empty, I dropped through the vent and onto the couch. The daylights turned on automatically and I jumped to my feet in surprise—it had never happened before.

I found the tiny motion detector. Its sensor was aimed at the couch, and the simple device had been wired to the light switch. Everything else appeared to be the same. The ladder leaned against a side wall, and the furniture remained in place. A moment passed and nothing happened. I checked under the couch. Zippy looked undisturbed in his hiding spot.

I relaxed. Riley had spent time fixing the place up. Wandering around the room, I found a few of his possessions. A broken keyboard with a tangle of wires streaming from under it, a chewed marker, a wipe board with a technical diagram of circuits drawn on it and a stuffed sheep. Not made with the skin of a real sheep, but the wool was genuinely fuzzy and soft, and the rest had been constructed of cloth. A child’s toy. And from its worn and threadbare appearance, I knew it was well loved.

I picked the sheep up and stroked its wool. The care facility had few toys for the children to share. Most of our time in the facility had been spent training for our future jobs. Cleaning trolls instead of dolls, and engines to take apart and repair. The Care Mothers evaluated us and decided our careers based on our aptitudes.

The memory of Cog racing Jacy to see who could rebuild an engine first caused me to smile. Cog loved to get his hands dirty and he probably would have gotten the maintenance job even if he hadn’t grown so big. My tendency to explore the ducts also made my Care Mother’s job easy in placing me. I didn’t have the patience to be a Care Mother or a gardener for hydroponics.

Computer time had dominated our learning hours. Teaching stories to read, mathematics to learn, our society’s customs and expectations, and a basic knowledge of the physical machinery and how our world worked had all been the main focus of learning. According to Riley, the information we learned had been Pop Cop propaganda. I wondered just how much was accurate.

A click sounded behind me. I spun, reaching for my tool belt. Riley slipped into the room and closed the door without making any more noise. He wore his headset and work uniform.

He raised an eyebrow at my defensive posture. “I see you found Sheepy.”

“Sheepy?” I replaced the toy. “That’s not a very original name.”

He shrugged. “I was three hundred weeks old when I got him and his mother as a present.”

“What’s her name?”

He grinned. “Mama Sheepy.”

I laughed.

“You do know how to smile and laugh,” he said. “I was beginning to worry.”

Sobering, I searched his expression. “Worry about what?”

“That you had no joy in your heart.”

What an odd statement. “What do you mean?” I demanded.

“I put myself at considerable risk helping you and it’s good to know you can…that you’re not…that you have…” He slapped his hands to his face and then dropped them as if in surrender. “I always say the wrong thing around you. Look, can we start over?”

“Over?”

“Yes. Over. Wipe the board clean.”

“But I would have to go back to hating you and not trusting you,” I said.

“Oh, well don’t do that.” He paused and chewed his lip. “Does that mean you like and trust me now?”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Trust?”

“The debate is ongoing.”

“You’re giving me squat. You know that, don’t you?”

I suppressed a grin, but couldn’t keep a straight face. “Yes.”

He shook his head. “Okay. We won’t wipe the board clean, but how about we ignore all our previous misconceptions and biases about each other and start as two regular people who don’t hate each other. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Great. Hi, I’m Riley Narelle Ashon and this is Sheepy Narelle Ashon.” He picked up his stuff toy and waved the sheep’s paw at me. Then he held out his hand to me. “And you are…?”

I grasped his hand, marveling at the feel of his smooth skin. “Trella Garrard Sanchia.”

12

THE NAME HAD POPPED FROM MY MOUTH WITHOUT thought. I was sure Riley’s shocked expression mirrored my own. He let go of my hand.

“How do you know?” he asked, recovering faster than I did.

I waved a hand as if I could erase my words from the air. No luck. They hung in the thick silence between us. I pulled my uniform away from my chest. The fabric peeled off my sweaty skin. Why was this room so hot?

He squinted at me, his demeanor stiff and cold. “Are you a spy?”

“No. Domotor told me the names, but I don’t care.”

“I see.” His tone implied otherwise.

“Look. I’m just a stupid scrub. Domotor wanted me to help him and he offered to give me information on my birth parents as a bribe. Except I don’t care who they are or why they abandoned me in the lower levels. I’m helping him for my friend Cog. End of discussion.”

Understanding lit his eyes and another emotion softened his posture. When I realized he pitied me, I crossed my arms over my chest to keep myself from punching Riley in the face.

“Since we already did a partial board-ectomy, let’s just move on. What do you say, Sheepy?” Riley pressed his nose against the sheep’s as if communicating with the stuffed toy telepathically. He pursed his lips and nodded. “Sheepy says he’s hungry.” He quirked a smile at me. “Sorry. Oh…wait.” Once again, Riley stared at his toy. “Sheepy also says he doesn’t believe you’re a stupid scrub. In fact, he thinks you’re quite smart and if you say otherwise, he’ll bite you on the leg.”

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