Inside Out Page 39

Stunned, I lost the ability to even form a reply. He was right—when he…Roddie had been kill-zapped, all I had worried about was my own skin. Karla had claimed he lied to her, but I didn’t know why he had lied.

Jacy answered my question before I could voice it. “Roddie told LC Karla Broken Man hid in the recycling plant to help Cog. When the Pop Cops discovered the ruse…well you know what Karla did. But Cog told Karla she had been too hasty in kill-zapping Roddie and he was in on the plan from the beginning.” Jacy leaned closer to me. “Karla didn’t want to believe the explanation. Too easy, she said. But her boss ordered her to close the case. So you…” He jabbed me in the shoulder with a stiff finger. “You are clear. Unless you do something stupid, you’re no longer a suspect.”

He grabbed his tray and stood. “I hope you’re worth the effort. I hope you manage to do something with all of this, because as a human being, you’re worthless.” Walking away with his cronies in tow, Jacy didn’t look back.

The seats at the table remained empty as I moved the food around my plate, building heaps and creating designs out of the cold vestiges of my casserole. The bell sounded for the new work shift, jarring me from my morbid thoughts.

I hurried to my assigned ducts and went through the motions. Insert cleaning troll, turn on and follow. Turn off troll, remove and lug to the next shaft. Gratitude to Cog for taking the heat off me warred with Jacy’s admonishments. Worthless might be the right word for me. Events had spun beyond my control. I relied on Logan and Riley to reach the next step.

I dragged the troll to the cleaning closet when my shift ended. Every muscle in my body ached and my head felt as if it were stuffed with wet towels. I wanted to find a warm spot and sleep, but Riley worked the odd-hour shift and I needed to climb to our room.

Our room. I stifled a laugh. Riley’s name, not mine for where we met. The trip was a hard slog. Bluelight from the room shone through the vents and, after checking for ambushes, I dropped to the couch. White daylights switched on. My tired brain connected the dots and linked the motion sensor with Riley’s precognitive knowledge of my arrival. Too bad. I liked his explanation better.

After scanning the room, the only change of note was the presence of Mama Sheepy. A twin of Sheepy except for her larger size. He rested in the space under her belly and between her legs, protected and safe. Mama Sheepy’s wool was flat in the middle as if she had been used as a pillow. An image of a young Riley with his black hair mussed, sleeping on Mama while clutching Sheepy formed in my head. I braced for a stab of jealousy, but I couldn’t produce the emotion. Instead, I kept the pleasant image in my mind as I carried the sheep family to the couch.

Squirming into a comfortable position, I waited for Riley. I played with the sheep. Not caring that I had lost it and gone soft. Not caring about Gateway. Not caring about what might happen the rest of the week. I enjoyed the moment.

“Trella.”

His voice pierced the bubble of my dream. Cold reality replaced the feelings of warmth and safety. I blinked awake. Luckily Riley hovered over me and not a Pop Cop. Falling asleep up here was deadly. I wanted to blame the couch, but knew my erratic snatches of sleep were to blame.

He straightened with a smile on his face. “Sheepy told me to let you alone, but I only have thirty minutes.”

His stuffed toys were still clutched in my hands. I sat and placed them on the cushion next to me. Riley settled on the opposite end. I smoothed my hair and wondered how long he had been here before waking me.

“I’ve been searching for a computer terminal, but every one up here is either in constant use or located in a populated area. The only option left is for you to use the terminal in my room.” He held up a hand, stopping my protests. “My father works even shifts. You can come during the next one.”

“What about the rest of your family?”

An odd half-flinch creased his face for a second. “He’s all I have, so no problem there.”

“What happens if the Controllers find out we used your computer?”

“As long as you don’t use my port, there is no way to prove I’m involved.”

“It’s still a big risk.”

“So is this.” Riley gestured to me and him.

“Good point.” I considered his offer. “Where is your suite located?”

“Sector E4.”

I waited for the number, but he stared at the wall as if making mental calculations. “What’s your—”

“Are you going to tell me why you need access to the computer?”

“No.”

“You still don’t trust me.” He stated it as a matter of fact, but his arm muscles bulged as he pressed his palms into his legs.

I looked at Sheepy and his mother lying between us. The information about the uppers circled in my mind. Coddled, pampered and privileged had been the line. Yet it missed the mark with Riley. “I trust you.”

“Then why won’t you confide in me?”

“Partly for damage control and for selfish reasons.”

“We’re not accepting cryptic and vague answers right now. More detail, please.”

“We?” I asked.

He pointed to the sheep. I couldn’t help smiling. Such a stupid little toy, yet I admitted he filled the missing gaps deep within me. Picking up Sheepy, I held him close to my face. He was easier to talk to than Riley. “Damage control is to minimize the number of people who could expose this whole adventure. The selfish reasons are mine. Eventually, I’ll be caught and fed to Chomper. I’m hoping to cause a lot of trouble before then, and I hope I can convince the Pop Cops you were just a dupe. Someone I used and who didn’t know what was going on. I’m already responsible for sending one person to Chomper and another…” I swallowed as a shudder of guilt and horror swept through me. “It’s only a matter of time before he is sent. Don’t you see, Sheepy? I don’t want anyone else to be recycled because of me.”

Prev Next