Inside Out Page 40

Silence stretched, but I kept my gaze on the sheep, avoiding Riley’s expression. I couldn’t face his censure.

“I didn’t know you were a Trava,” Riley said.

“What?” I glanced at him. His eyebrows hovered midway between his eyes and hairline in almost thoughtful surprise.

“The Trava family decides who is fed to Chomper. I hadn’t realized you were a part of them.”

“That’s too easy. I can’t blame them. The Travas set the rules and carry out the punishments. My actions caused another to break the rules.”

“Oh. So you forced this person?”

“No, but—”

“But what? I’m trying to understand how you’re responsible. Is the blame all yours? My father told me the Travas aren’t supposed to be setting the rules—that it should be a Committee of all the families. The rules themselves are suspect. And there is also a thing called free will. I had a choice back in Karla’s office. You never asked me not to tell. I decided to help you instead. Are you responsible for my extra duty? No. I am.”

“You can twist the argument any way.”

“Exactly. You can shoulder all the blame and become a martyr. Provided anyone knows what or who you’re martyring for. Or you can accept that some things are important enough to fight for and realize there will be sacrifices along the way.” He peered into my eyes. “I’ve assumed this is one of those important fights. An effort to regain some of the freedoms we all lost. I’m well aware of the danger, but am still committed to helping you. You trust me and I need to trust you. So let’s take it to the next step. Tell me why you need access to an upper computer.”

I debated. If I told him about Gateway, he might think I was delusional. Yet he risked his life for me. “We’re hoping to find a way to circumvent the Controllers’ security measures in the network so we can access a few files and retrieve critical information.”

“Which information?”

“About how the various mechanical systems are set up and how to alter them without letting the Controllers know.” So I omitted a few facts. At least I wasn’t lying.

He relaxed. “See? That wasn’t so hard.” He stood and pulled a stack of clothes from underneath the couch. “I’ve borrowed a training uniform for you.” Riley gestured for me to stand and held the uniform against me. “Looks like it will fit.”

His knuckles touched my shoulders and a ripple of warmth spread through my body.

Riley continued to study me. He tossed the uniform over one arm and reached for my hair. More than a few strands had escaped my braid. He smoothed them next to my face. “Leave your hair down. It makes you look younger.” His fingers brushed my jaw.

I suppress the sudden desire to press his hand against my cheek. “Younger?”

“You’re supposed to be a student.”

“We’ll be in your suite. Are you expecting visitors?”

“No. But there’s a chance someone might come, and I’d have a harder time explaining why two scrubs were in my room.”

“Good point.”

As he rummaged through the pile of clothes, I tugged the rest of my hair from the braid. Combing my fingers through it, I separated it into three sections.

“Don’t,” Riley said.

“Why?”

He didn’t answer. He pushed my hands away and drew my hair over my shoulders. Stepping back, he cocked his head as if contemplating. “You look so stern and serious with your hair tied back.” He gestured. “That’s more like the Trella I first met. But it’s not quite…right.” He mussed up my hair, pulling a few strands over my face. “Ah-ha! Perfect!”

I shot him a withering look.

His smile widened. “Even better. It’s like I’ve been transported back in time.”

“Ha. Ha. Funny,” I said in a flat tone. Sweeping the hair from my face, I tucked it behind my ears. “Do you have a disguise for my companion?” I asked, trying to return to the point of my visit.

“I didn’t know who you were bringing along, so I found a basic coverall worn by the maintenance workers. It’s one-size-fits-all and we’re used to seeing the crew with rolled up sleeves and pant legs.”

He handed me the clothes. The fabric on the student’s garment had the same coarse and durable weave as the jumpers worn by the lower kids in the care facility.

A pained expression crossed his face. “Break’s over. I’m in three-six-ninety-five in Sector E4. Will you be able to find it?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

I calculated how much time I needed to find Logan and lead him to level four. I hoped Anne-Jade would cover my shift again. “Around hour forty-two.”

“See you then.” He slipped from the room.

I waited a moment just in case an upper saw him leaving the room and investigated. Diving behind the couch probably wouldn’t be the best hiding place, but it was better than being caught halfway inside the air duct. After enough time elapsed, I set the ladder under the vent. But before I climbed, I snuggled Sheepy back in his protective spot under Mama Sheepy.

On my way to find Logan, one of Jacy’s guys bumped into me. He slipped me two listening devices without a word and ambled on his way. Laughter echoed through the hallways and people lingered in small groups, talking. The tension in the lower levels had eased.

After a few moments, I realized why. The number of Pop Cops patrolling the area had dropped to normal. As I hurried to Logan’s barrack, scrubs tried to catch my gaze. A few smiled at me with hope shining in their eyes and others cocked an eyebrow with a questioning look.

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