Inside Out Page 57

I needed to communicate with Karla somehow, and I really needed to find out what she knew and what she planned. Too bad I couldn’t crawl through the heating vents again and maybe listen—

Jacy’s device! I had planted one above Karla’s office. If I could pick up the audio signal, I could listen in. I ignored the fact I had no idea how to do it. My whole future depended on so many ifs and hopes and assumptions and possibilities that I would consider it impossible right now if I thought about it too much.

I decided to think positive and impart maximum damage.

My tool belt was close enough to reach with a minimal amount of bending. I removed the microphone. Jacy might regret his offer to help.

I flipped it on and said, “Jacy, I need your help again. Lieutenant Commander Karla is offering me a deal and I need you to be my negotiator. Tell Karla that I will turn myself in if she promises to free Cogon so he can return to work in the lower levels and promises she won’t recycle me. She won’t accept those terms and she’ll make a counteroffer. Tell her you’ll communicate with me and let her know in twenty hours. Drag the negotiations out as long as possible. I don’t care what the final terms are for me as long as Cogon stays alive and no one else is arrested. I’m trusting you.”

“You don’t care what the final terms are?” Riley asked. He closed the door and stood there holding a steaming bowl.

“No. As long as I cause problems and do maximum damage.” I wondered how much he had heard.

“What about your friends? Don’t you think they care?”

“But I would be helping them. And besides, it’s my decision.”

“Maybe they don’t want you to help them. Did you ever think of that? Did you think about how your decision impacts others? Those you leave behind to deal with the gaping hole in their existence?”

Riley’s agitation seemed excessive. He noticed my confusion. “I guess it must be a family thing. Something a scrub wouldn’t understand. Although I wouldn’t call me and my still-grieving father a family.”

I remembered. Riley wasn’t angry at me, but at his mother. Her name was on Domotor’s recycled list. “I know you miss your mother—”

“You don’t know. You’re a scrub. You don’t have a family.”

Now I was livid. “Of course I do. The scrubs are my family. I have a Care Mother. I shared her with nine brothers and sisters, but she loves us all. And I have Cog, who I will give myself to Karla in order to save.” My outburst surprised me, but not as much as the realization that I truly believed what I had said.

Riley couldn’t keep the smugness from his voice. “Your description of life in the lower levels is completely different from how you described it to me when we first met. Perhaps uppers and lowers have more in common than you first thought.” He tried to suppress a smirk and failed. “Come on, admit it.”

“Did you come for a reason? I’m supposed to be resting.”

He held the bowl up. “Admit it and I’ll give you this stew.” He blew over the top, sending a delicious smell my way.

“You’re obnoxious.”

“I’ve been called worse.” He swept the food under my nose.

“All right. All right. Maybe I judged the uppers too soon.”

“Nope. Not good enough for this wonderful meal. I want three words: I, was, wrong.” He held up three fingers and waggled them.

“You’re mean. I’m injured and need nourishment to recover.”

“The stew’s getting cold.”

“Fine. I was wrong. Happy?”

“Ecstatic.” He gave me the bowl and a smile.

At least he didn’t gloat. After scraping my spoon to retrieve the last bit, I decided the stew was worth my admission.

Riley hovered. I moved my legs so he could join me on the couch.

“You look better,” he said. “Your face isn’t as pale.”

“I have you to thank. You risked a lot by fetching the doctor.”

He shrugged. “Doctor Lamont is a friend of my father’s.” He pulled at a thread on the couch. “Considering the extent of your injury and blood loss, the doctor was amazed you made it up here.”

“You know how stubborn I can be. I wanted to warn you about Domotor. Once they break him, he’ll tell the Pop Cops about you and Logan.” I looked at the clock. Hour twenty-one. Plenty of time for Vinco’s knife to have done its job.

“They don’t have him yet,” Riley said.

I straightened, tugging my stitches. “What happened?”

“LC Karla knows he’s been using his port, but her computer experts can’t trace it back to an exact location. All she knows is he’s on level one. She’s been trying to search the entire level.”


He grinned. “The Pop Cops have been besieged with a run of bad luck. Malfunctioning equipment, missing tools, miscommunications and a broken water pipe.”

Jacy had heeded my request, which meant he’d warned Logan and probably received my most recent communication. I wondered if Logan was the reason for Karla’s computer woes. “How do you know about her troubles?”

“One of the metal cutters overheated and injured an ensign. Doctor Lamont treated him. Nice, chatty fellow.” He leaned forward. “Now we have a little time to find Gateway.”

“Yes. But we’ll need Logan and a bunch of uppers to help.”

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