Inside Out Page 69

I laughed at the humorous picture.

After I escorted Logan back to his barrack, I borrowed a few supplies from maintenance, filled my tool belt and headed to the Gap. With visions of blue ceilings and grass rugs filling my mind, I didn’t stop until I reached the outer wall near Quad G1—Gateway’s location.

I removed my new flashlight and shone it on the insulation. The thick yellow foam rippled on the wall, and I couldn’t see any marks indicating a doorway underneath. Starting at the southwest corner, I sprayed water from the floor to level two’s support beams and worked my way to the left. Made from vegetable starch, the biodegradable foam dissolved and dripped. It didn’t take long to realize two bottles of water wouldn’t be enough. One meter thick foam had been sprayed onto the wall.

When the bottles were empty, I pulled the insulation off. The bottom layers were brittle and easy to break apart with my new screwdriver. Logan had said Gateway would be between three to four meters from the corner. I planned to clear at least five meters.

The air around me cooled as I worked. My breath made clouds, but the cold felt good against my sweaty skin. Foam piled on the ground, and I reveled in the effort.

Bits of foam clung to my student’s uniform and hair. I stopped well past four meters. Panting in the icy air, I grabbed my light. The beam lit specks of floating insulation. My attention focused on the exposed wall as I swept the light across the surface.

Its appearance matched the interior walls—metal panels riveted together with support beams. No obvious doorway. I searched for a near-invisible hatch.

Nothing.

I drew in a deep breath. Once again, I scanned the wall, but this time I started from the corner and concentrated on each section in a systematic way.

Nothing.

Emotions soured, but I ignored them. We had coordinates and codes and pictures. I ripped another meter of insulation from the wall.

Nothing.

We had uppers willing to risk their lives and knew which colored buttons to use to return to Inside. Another meter piled on the floor. I choked on the dust, but pulled off another half meter convinced it would be here. It had to be. Otherwise, I would have made the worst mistake of my entire life. Believing before seeing. Another meter landed on the pile.

Nothing.

I lost track of how long I worked or of how many meters of wall I exposed or of how many times I scanned the wall. My body transformed into a machine with one task: find Gateway.

Eventually the fuel was depleted and the machine broke down. It was unable to complete its task. There was nothing to find.

20

I HAD NO RECOLLECTION OF LEAVING THE GAP, OR the trip back to Riley’s storeroom. My body felt insubstantial as if crushed into powder and reduced to a layer of dust to be sucked up by a cleaning troll.

Rooting under the couch, I pulled Zippy from his hiding place. Tufts of dust clung to his brushes. I hefted the troll, cradling his weight. The hunt for Gateway had been a whirlwind. A thrill of risks, and I had been swept up by the excitement. I had allowed myself to believe in something that didn’t exist. Gateway.

Cog. I’d already decided to lie and tell him we found Gateway. It would give him a moment of joy before Vinco played with him again and the Pop Cops recycled him.

I resisted the urge to hide in the pipes. Instead, I sat in the storeroom, savoring an ill humor with the hope I could build up an immunity to it and form another metal layer around my heart. The first one was ill-wrought and had cracked with ease.

“What happened?” Riley stood over me.

I stared at him in confusion.

“You were supposed to report back to the infirmary hours ago and tell us the content of those files.”

The files. I almost laughed. We’d been duped. Domotor had to be a Pop Cop spy.

“Riley, forget about the files. Gateway doesn’t exist. It’s all a big con. The Pop Cops planted those files and sent Broken Man here to see who they could get to fall for it. It’s just a matter of time before we are arrested.”

He rocked back on his heels as if slapped in the face. “Wait. You didn’t say you were going to Gateway.”

“Logan showed me a picture of Outside and I was…excited.” I could have substituted stupid, naive or brainless.

“Really? What did Outside look like?” Even knowing Gateway didn’t exist, Riley couldn’t contain the excitement in his voice.

“Doesn’t exist, remember? It was just a picture.”

He sat next to me on the couch. If he wondered why Zippy was in my lap, he didn’t show it. “Are you sure about Gateway? Were you at the right location?”

“I cleared at least six meters of insulation off the west Wall outside Quad G1. From the floor to the next level.”

“Those files are old. Perhaps the coordinates are wrong.”

“The age of the files is all part of the scheme.”

“What about Logan? Is he part of the ruse?”

If Domotor duped me with ease, so could the others. “I don’t know anymore. I guess those who don’t get arrested are in on it.” Karla and the Pop Cops must be enjoying the show. I wondered when they would spring their trap on us.

Riley wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. I sank against him, breathing in his warm scent.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Riley said. “You’re suspicious of everyone. Domotor would have had to be a heck of a liar to convince you to help him.”

“Deep down I wanted to believe. I probably saw what I wanted instead of the truth.”

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