Outside In

Page 9

We didn’t have a new Captain yet, but Logan came close. With his technical knowledge and familiarity with the computer systems, he had his fingers on the pulse of our world.

Since the rebellion, the uppers kept doing their jobs, monitoring the life-support systems. I realized the scrubs hadn’t. They didn’t want to clean and perform the mindless tasks anymore. I didn’t blame them, but those tasks were vital to our existence. How could we convince them?

I tucked Logan into bed. “Don’t leave until you’ve had a few hours of sleep. Do you understand?”

He gave me a tired salute. “Yes, sir.”

As I headed to the infirmary, I mulled over the problem of dividing up the work. No brilliant idea sprung to mind. I wondered how the people had done it before the Travas took control and separated us into uppers and lowers. Logan had discovered hidden files about the history of our world. Perhaps our ancestors had found a perfect balance. They must have had a system worked out. Once this crisis was over, perhaps Logan could cull this information from those files and show it to the Committee.

I stretched as far as I could, groping for the next hand-hold. It remained just out of my reach. Resting my sweaty forehead against the cool metal, I let the disappointment roll through me. At least I had gone an additional five meters higher than my previous climb. I would have to find another path to reach the top.

Sliding down the rope, I returned to the half-completed roof of level ten. Work on the new levels had ceased until the power plant repairs were finished. I was used to the sounds of construction and the bright daylights, so the Expanse felt desolate. I walked the perimeter of the completed section, shining my light over the metal wall, looking for another potential route to the Expanse’s ceiling.

Hank had suggested I use magnets to climb. A great idea, except I needed a way to hold on to the magnets, and they couldn’t be too strong or I wouldn’t be able to move them as I climbed. He offered to build me a set, but I couldn’t ask him now. Hank was one of the few who volunteered to help clean up the mess from the explosion and to repair the damage. Even though it’d been over a week, the work progressed at a slow pace.

When I found a promising place to climb, I marked the spot with paint. My shift started at hour ten and I needed to change. I hurried back to my room. Riley waited for me in the sitting area. He sat on the couch, but didn’t look relaxed as he rolled my earring/receiver between his finger and thumb.

“Forget something?” he asked.

“No. I left it here.” Wrong answer. I braced for the lecture.

“Out exploring without it?”

“It’s distracting.” I pointed to the transmitter pinned on my collar. “I can still call for help. And I have my pendant.” The necklace Riley had given me always hung around my neck. If I squeezed the little metal sheep, it would broadcast a signal, reporting my location.

“What if I or Logan needed your help?” He studied my expression. “Didn’t think of that, did you?”

“I’ll take it with me next time. Okay?” I held my hand out for the earring.

Riley dropped it into my palm. “Promise?”

I swallowed my retort. Riley’s overprotectiveness grated on my nerves at times. For more weeks than I could count, I had climbed all over Inside without any way to signal for help and without any trouble either. Cogon had warned me of the danger, but I had ignored him. Good thing, too. Without my knowledge of the ducts and my ability to travel through them, our rebellion wouldn’t have succeeded.

“I promise,” I said, rushing past him.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To change. I’m late.” I closed my door on his reply and switched the drab gray overalls the recycling workers wore for my skin-tight climbing clothes.

When I returned to the sitting area, Riley blocked my exit. “Late for what?”

I gestured to the ceiling. “My shift. I’m helping to repair the ductwork between levels three and four.”

His shoulders drooped. “Oh. I thought we could—”

“I’m done at hour sixteen. I’ll meet up with you later.” I slipped around him and waved.

“It’s always later, Trella.”

I rounded on him. “This is important.”

“And so is exploring and the Committee meetings before that, and—”

“I quit the Committee to spend more time with you. I wasn’t counting on an explosion. But I’ll remember to factor that in for the future.” I mimed writing on my palm. “Riley first, emergencies second. Got it.” I saluted him, rushed from the room and almost plowed into Lamont.

She said, “Trella, I need—”

“Find someone else,” I said. “I can only do so much.”

My anger cooled as I reported for work. I regretted my nasty comment to Riley. He had been putting in long hours, too. One of a few. The same handful of faces kept volunteering. Each time, they looked more and more exhausted.

During my shift, we fixed airshaft number fifteen. A small accomplishment, but that didn’t stop us from cheering.

After I organized the tools for the next group, I found Logan and his sister, Anne-Jade, arguing in the corridor near the power plant.

“...force them. I’m not a Pop Cop,” Anne-Jade said. Her dainty nose was identical to Logan’s as well as the light-brown color of her long hair. It hung past her shoulders in a shiny cascade.

The family resemblance was unmistakable, and I wondered if they were fraternal twins. They’ve always known they were related—a rarity among the scrubs—perhaps they knew who their parents were.