Inside Out Page 81

“I thought it appropriate, considering what has happened.”

So much had happened, and Inside would no longer be the same. But the thought of Riley by my side sent a comforting pulse through my body.

“How do I accept?” I asked.

“You wear the necklace.”

I marveled at the detail of the sheep. “Are you sure? You don’t know everything about me—”

“I do know I felt as if my heart had been shredded when I found you in our storeroom, unconscious and bleeding. And leaving you with Vinco in the holding cells was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close. “We can take it slow. We have plenty of time.”

He kissed me. A sizzle traveled through me that didn’t stop when he drew back. My mouth tingled.

“Your answer?” he asked.

I kissed him, enjoying the sensation of happiness blooming inside me for the first time. Too soon, we parted.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Riley unhooked the clasp of the necklace. “Another one of our traditions is for me to make the pendant myself, but I had help from Logan and Anne-Jade.” He looped it around my neck then secured it, sweeping my hair out of the way.

I fingered the sheep. “Logan and Anne-Jade? Is it one of their gadgets?”

“Yes, but,” he hurriedly added, “it’s inactive. If you ever get into trouble and need help, you can squeeze the pendant and it will send a signal. We can trace the signal to your location and send reinforcements.”

I laughed. “Do you really think it’s necessary now?”

“I may not know everything about you, but I do know that if there is trouble, you’ll be in the middle of it.”

He stifled my squawk of protest with another kiss. After a while, I forgot to be mad.

The transition from the Travas controlling Inside to a more democratic method wasn’t smooth. Even though each family elected a representative and each scrub “family” had a person attending organization meetings, many uppers still viewed the scrubs with suspicion and the scrubs in turn made planning difficult with their distrust and bitterness.

I had hoped to avoid all the political wrangling, but, since I understood both sides, I attended all the meetings to smooth relations. Even so, we had a long way to go. Overcrowding remained a problem, and a few people resisted the change in their lifestyles. Violence erupted on occasion, and Anne-Jade organized a security detail with members of all the families to keep the peace.

Being able to walk the hallways of the upper levels without worry felt liberating. Domotor also enjoyed his freedom from the hideout. He was busy preaching to everyone to be patient and understanding. All the Travas had been incarcerated for now. The Committee would decide their eventual fate. Doctor Lamont had been confined, too.

It was week 147,007, and I had received a message to meet Logan in the Control Room at hour ten. He had been camped out there since the takeover, using the computers to harvest lost information.

He hunched over a keyboard, muttering and humming to himself. I touched his arm and he almost jumped from his seat.

“Don’t scare me like that,” he said, waving a hand in front of his face.

“I’m sorry. Should I have bowed and announced my presence first? Have they coronated you fleet admiral yet?”

“Go ahead and be sarcastic.” He swiveled back to the screen. “I’m not going to tell you—ow! Let go of my ear, I’ll tell you.”

I released his lobe. He rubbed it.

“Logan?”

“All right. I found the answers to those final three files and accessed the information. Outside is something called Outer Space. It’s an airless and pressureless environment unable to support life.”

Sorrow and guilt welled. If we just had waited, Cog wouldn’t be floating out there. “Thanks for the reminder.”

“Sorry. Ah…well, we are actually traveling through it. Seems it is so vast that it takes an incredibly long time to get from one planet to another.”

“Planet?”

“As far as I can tell, a planet is the real Outside.” He typed on the keyboard. The picture of the blue ceiling and greenery filled the computer’s screen. “This is our destination. We’ve been heading there for the past 147,000 weeks.”

“When are we scheduled to arrive?” But the answer popped into my mind. It’s the end and the beginning. What is it? I looked at Logan.

“Week one million,” we said together.

I groped for a chair. We had 853,000 weeks to go! My head spun as I sat. Eight thousand generations of people would be born, live and end in this metal cube before reaching the true Outside.

“There’s so much to learn about our past and why we’re here,” Logan said. “I’ve just scratched the surface. The Travas tried deleting all the files, but they were protected by the system’s safety guards and buried.”

“The system’s guards? What about the Controllers?”

Logan flipped his hand as if dismissing an underling. “No evidence of them. At least no indication that the Controllers are actual people. It’s the system’s operating parameters and fail-safes. Also certain directives have been programmed into it, which were set by the original designers.”

“What directives?”

“Like the one about our population. Once we reach Outside, the designers wanted to make sure we had enough people to survive. These directives couldn’t be changed or altered, so the Travas must have thought they were a divine message.” Logan chuckled. “Anyway, it’s amazing Domotor found those buried files, and was able to copy parts of them.”

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