Inside Out Page 4

Only the uppers worried about bloodlines and maintaining family groups. And Population Control. They kept track of every person in Inside.

Garrard and Sanchia were two of the family names used in the upper levels.

Broken Man watched me. “That’s right, Trella,” he said. “Your father was from the Garrard line and your mother is a Sanchia. You were born with your father’s blue eyes until they changed them.” He paused a moment to let the information sink in. “You don’t quite fit. Not a purebred by upper standards, but quite the thoroughbred down here.”

2

“HOW DO YOU KNOW?” I ASKED.

“I told you I used to live in the upper levels. But if you want more information about your parents, you’ll have to get my disks first.” Broken Man leaned back in his chair with a pleased smirk.

I stepped toward him, planning to agree. A cold jab of logic halted my steps. I couldn’t believe I’d almost fallen for it. Why would I care about parents who left me to be raised by scrubs?

“You spout some bull about bloodlines and think I’ll get all teary eyed and desperate to find information about my parents. No deal.” I grabbed Cog’s arm and turned him to face me. “Stay away from this man. He’s dangerous.” Then I hurried to my cleaning assignment, before Cog could argue with me.

I tried not to think about Broken Man as I scrubbed the air duct, but following the circular cleaning brush with its humming vacuum was mindless work. The cleaning device looked like a hairy troll spinning and singing to himself. All I had to do was turn him on, make sure he didn’t break down and then turn him off at the end of the conduit.

Being slender and a little over one and a half meters tall made me the perfect candidate for this duty, but I also knew how to repair the troll if it broke. Thanks to Cog. He had taught me, and I was one of the few scrubs who carried a special tool belt. The black band was constructed of the same slippery material as my uniform. Each of its eight pockets contained a tool. The band held them and my flashlight snug against my waist. Regular tool belts wouldn’t work in the tight air shafts. The hanging tools would bang on the metal and impede my motion.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during my shift. I had plenty of time for the information Broken Man had told me to eat its way through the layers of my mind like acid sizzling through metal.

Devious, the way he had phrased his words. Your father was from the Garrard line. Past tense, meaning he was dead. Your mother is a Sanchia, implying she was still alive. Devious, except he had forgotten I had been raised as a scrub. Family lines meant nothing to me. Biological parents were the concern of the Pop Cops. I might have a fondness for my Care Mother (CM), but that was as far as it went. Broken Man was just trying to con me into his schemes. Give the Pop Cops a reason to recycle me.

The cleaning troll grunted as his motor strained. He had come to a bend. I gave him a little push, and the troll continued on his way. The angle of the air duct started to sharpen. I braced myself in the pipe, using my bare feet to climb behind the troll. The air shaft was one of the main trunk lines, servicing multiple levels of Inside. It cut between the levels and I could follow the troll up to level four if I could unlock the air filter between levels two and three.

Broken Man’s voice tapped into my mind. Information about Gateway might be on some disks hidden on level three. Might be. Most likely not. At least I would have proof the prophet was a fake to show Cog.

During my ten-hour shift of babysitting the troll, I kept changing my mind about whether or not to check Broken Man’s story. When the troll finished the last air duct on my schedule, I pulled him out and stored him in a cleaning closet.

Officially, I was off duty until hour forty. All scrubs had the same schedule. Ten hours off, ten hours on, with a break every five hours. There were no such things as vacations or holidays. Since one week equaled one hundred hours, we worked five shifts per week. Everything in Inside could be divided by the number ten. It made life simple so even the scrubs could understand. Work groups comprised ten scrubs. One CM for every ten children. Ten weeks equaled a deciweek, and a hundred weeks was called a centiweek. And so on. Although, a few old-timers called a centiweek a long year, but I had no idea what that meant.

The work shifts were also staggered so only half the scrubs worked at one time. It saved room in the barracks. I shared my bunk with another scrub I never saw. Not that I ever slept there anyway.

My shift ended on level two in Sector D, and I needed to make a decision. Below me were the rows and rows of bunks that filled Sectors D, E and F on both lower levels. From this location, it was just a matter of heading due east for two sectors, then up one level to search for Broken Man’s disks.

The uppers filled their two levels of housing sectors with roomy apartments and vast suites for the important officials.

Only certain loyal scrubs had authorization to clean and maintain the upper levels, and to deliver food and laundry. Not me. I had no desire to ingratiate myself to earn the Pop Cops’ trust. They rarely policed the ductwork with their sensors, believing in their filters and the passivity of the scrubs. I grinned. Except for a few of us, they were right.

Although I remembered the stories about when the Pop Cops had tried to place video cameras in the lower levels. Each and every one had disappeared. No witnesses came forward, and no evidence had been found. Eventually the cameras became another lost part of our world. Something we once had. Our computers have a whole list of things which met this criterion, but I didn’t care. No sense bemoaning what was gone. A waste of time. Better to worry about what weapons the Pop Cops could use now.

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