Inside Out Page 13

Instinctively, I knew LC Karla wouldn’t give up her search for Broken Man. So I was screwed and destined to become fertilizer for hydroponics. What could I even hope to gain from this situation? I doubted finding Gateway would make everything rosy.

Longing for Outside to be a real place welled up from the tight corner of my heart where I had squashed it. The type of longing that could overwhelm me and reduce me to a mental case, chanting “a million weeks, a million weeks,” as I dashed through the plain hallways of Inside. Hallways so empty of character that if the sector and floor level hadn’t been painted on every wall, people would be lost for weeks and no one would miss them. Scrubs as empty of character as the walls. Because we all knew that hope and longing and desire were deadly to our peace of mind.

My involvement with this search for Gateway was to prove it didn’t exist. To show my heart it was wrong to long for change, forcing it to accept my life and focus my energies on finding the small joys Inside might have to offer. Joys that Cogon had already found. And yet, he had always been drawn to the prophets, seeking their stories about the rewards given for good deeds.

Unwanted thoughts swirled in my mind. The time spent at the assembly in the dining room followed by the interrogation by LC Karla had run well into my hour sixty to seventy shift. Five hours remained.

Forget it. I looped back to the dining room, hoping Karla and her goons were gone. A few Pop Cops lingered nearby—normal for this area.

As I stood in line for food, I could feel the tension pouring off the other scrubs. Taking a bowl of the leafy green slop, I found an empty chair. The meal failed to improve the mood of the room. When I stood, a scrub pushed me aside and sat in my seat. Typical.

Only the vision of Broken Man starving made me return to the food line. After a half-hour wait, I filled another bowl with the spinach casserole. By the time I reached the tables, most of the scrubs I had sat with were gone. I threaded my way through the dining room, pretending to search for a seat. Once I reached the back, I checked to see if any Pop Cops had noticed me, then slipped out the door. Taking food from the dining room was not uncommon, but since the Pop Cops searched for Broken Man, I knew carrying a bowl of food would draw immediate suspicion.

Sliding into the nearest heating vent, I pushed the casserole ahead of me as I crawled through the duct. The warm air flowing across my skin turned hotter as I drew closer to his room, but I stayed in the vent. The risk of being spotted outside his door was too great.

“Trella! Where the hell have you been?” Broken Man demanded as soon as I poked my head through the heating vent.

I didn’t answer him. Dripping with sweat, I rolled from the shaft and onto the ground.

Broken Man lay sprawled on the floor. Black streaks of grit striped his clothes.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You were gone so long, I had to use the bathroom.”

A man-sized, clean track on the floor from the chair to the bathroom. His present position made it clear getting into a chair was harder than sliding out.

I stood and helped him back into his seat. My assurance to Cogon that I would take care of Broken Man’s needs seemed foolhardy once I fully realized his physical limitations.

I handed him the food. As Broken Man shoveled the casserole, I realized the ear-aching noise of the Power plant was muted. Foam had been sprayed onto the walls, and, when I opened the door, a sheet of metal covered the entrance.

When he finished his meal, I took his bowl. The rank aroma of stale sweat filled my nose, and I coughed to cover my expression. From the way he wrinkled his face, I could tell I didn’t smell any better. Funny how people can stand their own stink, but not others. I explained to him what had happened since Cog had been here.

“The Lieutenant Commander was quite upset about your disappearance,” I said. “Do you know her?”

“Lieutenant Commander?” Broken Man tapped his spoon against his lower lip. “Which one?”

I blanched for a moment, envisioning an army of LCs patrolling the lower levels like clones. “Said her name was Trava.”

He huffed. “Trava is a family name. Almost all the Pop Cops are Travas.”

“Oh. Karla Trava. Why doesn’t she have another family name?”

“Travas don’t take on any other names. Not even the children who are born to a Trava and another family member. In fact, if you mate with a Trava you are then registered as a Trava.” He considered. “Unfortunately, I know Karla. You never did ask for more information about your biological parents.”

“I’ve been a little busy,” I said, my words laced with sarcasm. “Besides, you fed me a line of bull just to get me to help you.”

“Believe what you will, but watch out for this LC. She’s intelligent, cunning and intuitive. Her family is not only in charge of the Pop Cops, but work closely with the Controllers, as well. She’s well connected to all the powerful people.”

“Why worry about the Controllers? Aren’t they just in charge of the uppers?”

“They tell the Travas what to do. And the Travas make all the decisions for Inside. Every admiral is a Trava, and every time an upper links with the computer, a Trava knows. Every mechanical system running Inside has a Trava at the switch.”

“That’s the way it’s always been. Why do you make it sound as if it’s wrong?”

“It hasn’t always been this way. You scrubs know nothing of what goes on in the upper levels. Exactly what the Trava family wants.”

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