Inside Out Page 62

If my parents hadn’t abandoned me, would I be living in a similar room? Would I be happy? I imagined my life before the whole mess with Domotor. Would I trade that life for this? Yes. But trade my life now? No way.

As I stretched out on the bed, I worried I would be spoiled and unable to sleep in the vents after spending time here. For once, I decided to enjoy the moment.

Riley’s insistent voice roused me from a dreamless slumber.

“...need to speak with her.”

I stepped from the room feeling stronger and followed the voices to the doctor’s office. Riley sat on the edge of one of the armchairs, leaning forward as if ready to launch himself across the desk. He sprang to his feet as soon as he spotted me in the doorway.

“You are better. When I saw your note…” Riley glanced at the doctor.

“He thought your condition had worsened and you sought medical help.” A glint shone in her eyes. “He didn’t believe me.”

“Do you know how long it took her to trust me?” he asked the doctor. “I couldn’t imagine Ella risking so much for a shower.”

He had a point. Normally, I would be very suspicious of the doctor’s motives. But my regular instincts no longer felt right. All I thought I knew had been wrong.

“Not just a shower,” Doctor Lamont said, “but a bowl of my famous soup. And I’m sure she’s ready for another serving.” She winked at me as she left the room.

An awkward silence descended.

“I’m sorry you worried,” I said.

He smiled. “It’s not all bad. At least now I know to offer you a shower and soup if I need you to trust me again.”

With the tension broken, I settled into the other armchair. “You were talking about others when I first came in. Do you have any news?”

“They’re being difficult. The near miss before has convinced most of them it won’t work, but they’re willing to at least listen to you.” He paused in thought. “If the doctor is agreeable, I can have the others come to the infirmary at different times, complaining of a headache or something. You can talk to them here. It wouldn’t draw as much suspicion and we can still keep our room a secret.”

His plan made sense.

“And it avoids having the group members find out about each other, making it safer,” Riley added.

Domotor had done the same thing, yet four people had been recycled. Keeping the others ignorant sounded logical, and my initial reaction was to agree. But the notion clanged. The atmosphere of the upper levels mirrored what the Pop Cops tried to do to the lower levels. Keep to yourself. Trust no one. Report your fellow to gain favor. I fell for it. From my ease in traveling in plain sight, I knew the uppers had fallen for it, too.

And so had the scrubs. Before.

Before what?

My thoughts raced over the last four weeks. They had kept my secret despite enticements and threats from Lieutenant Commander Karla. The kitchen scrubs worked together to stow the food for Domotor in the air shaft. Jacy and his buddies. Logan and Anne-Jade. They never would have risked themselves before.

Before…Broken Man and the promise of Gateway. He gave them a reason to join together and risk themselves for another.

“No,” I said. “It will fail.”

“What do you mean?” Riley asked.

The doctor came in carrying a bowl of soup, but I had her full attention. I wondered how much she had heard or what she suspected.

I answered his question regardless of the doctor. “Keeping everyone separate won’t work. They all need to know who is in the group. They need to talk and make a connection.” I looked at the doctor. “Hear each other’s heartbeat, and know they’re all risking themselves for the same reason. It’s too easy to report a name. Or to give up when you don’t know who you’re letting down.” I glanced between Riley and Doctor Lamont, willing them to understand.

“She’s right,” the doctor said. “If you don’t hear a heartbeat, it’s easy to send the body to be recycled.”

“Full disclosure?” I could see Riley struggling with my complete reversal.

“Yes. And we can start with the doctor.” I turned to her. “You saved my life and performed surgery in a storeroom because Riley asked you to. Why?”

Taken aback, she frowned. “He’s the son of a friend.”

“You know him.”

“Right.” She relaxed a bit.

“But you don’t know me. You suspect I’m the missing scrub, so why not report me?”

“Again, for Riley.”

“But you offered me a shower and a bed.”

“Don’t forget the soup,” Riley said.

I shot him a look.

“What? I’m trying to help.” He feigned innocence.

“Yes, and soup. Why?” I asked her.

“Curiosity mostly. Your strength is remarkable. The fact that you’re up here instead of at the wrong end of a kill-zapper is impressive. I want to know why you’re here. And, I wanted to get to know the person Riley would risk his life for.”

“You wanted to hear my heartbeat?”

She smiled. “You’re going to overuse that analogy, aren’t you?”

“It works, though.”

“Yes, it does and, yes, you’re right.”

I drew in a breath. “If I ask you for more help, would you be willing?”

She considered. “It depends on what you need.”

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