Tracking down Riley proved to be a challenge as well. I found him at his old work station, banging on the keyboard in irritation. He monitored electrical usage and since the power plant produced all the electricity in Inside, his station was located in the office next to the plant’s control room.
“Not now, Trella. I’m—”
“Busy. I know. I’m starting to understand how you felt when I attended back-to-back Committee meetings.”
My comment earned me a glance and a brief smile.
“This is critical. The computer…” He slammed a fist on the keys. “Damn it. There goes another one.”
“Has the network been compromised?” I peered over his shoulder.
“Sort of. Files are just disappearing as if they never existed.”
“Is that possible? I thought—”
“Lousy son of a Trava!”
White light filled the monitor. Without thought, I covered Riley’s eyes with my hands and dipped my head, blocking mine with my upper arm.
After a few seconds, Riley pulled my hands down. “It’s okay. I think.” A strange hitch cracked his voice.
I peeked. White still dominated the screen, but big black letters shone from the center. Squinting at them, I read: All access denied by order of the Controllers.
I BLINKED A FEW TIMES, BUT THE WORDS REMAINED ON the screen. All access denied by the Controllers. “Please tell me it’s a joke,” I said to Riley. “Or Logan’s idea of a sick prank.”
“Wish I could. But this is the third system that has disappeared.”
A dizzy weakness swept over me. “Critical systems?”
“I can’t stop it. Takia and a few others tried as well.”
“Does the Committee know?”
“Yep. They’ve been getting kicked out, too. Mostly informational systems and not mechanical or life systems.”
Good thing. “Can Logan bypass the Controllers?”
“I would think so. Why else would they have targeted him?” Riley swiveled around to face me. “We need to find who has hacked into the network.”
“I don’t know. I need to talk to Logan and maybe Anne-Jade. She might have a few ideas.” He rested his elbows on his legs and put his forehead into his hands. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“We reclaimed our freedom and we have all this room to spread out and grow. Yet some group is hijacking the net work and blowing holes in our world. Why? Why are they destroying when they could be building levels and using their computer knowledge to help Logan?”
I knelt down, pulled his arms away and met his gaze. “Because of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of the Committee’s decisions.”
“Fear can be a big motivator.” Riley tucked a loose strand of my hair behind my ear. “Did you think our new life would be like this when we were fighting the Pop Cops?”
“No. I thought we’d be lying on that big green carpet under that huge blue ceiling in Outside relaxing.”
He laughed, but sobered. “We won’t ever see the real Out side. We have to make the most of what we have Inside. We can’t let fear ruin it.”
“You’ve convinced me. Now you only need to convert nineteen thousand others,” I joked.
But he wasn’t amused. “No, Trella. You’re not convinced. If you were, we wouldn’t have half these problems.”
An icy chill zipped through me. “So I’m to blame for half of these new problems?” I kept my voice even despite my desire to scream at him.
“No.” He slid off the chair and knelt in front of me so we were eye to eye. “I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just you gave up too soon.”
“Gave up what?”
“Power. You handed it over to the Committee without thinking about how the Insiders would react.”
“The Committee members are Insiders. And they have more experience.”
“This is all new to everyone.”
I balled my hands into fists, tapping them against my thighs. “Yes, but they’re older and more knowledgeable. All I know is the internal structure of Inside. Good for moving around unseen and planting mics, but little else.” My knuckles knocked against my pants’ pockets. The discs inside jingled.
“Planting mics for whom?” Riley asked in concern.
Glad for the change of topic, I told him about Jacy’s request. I pulled a handful from my pocket. “Can you get the frequencies from them? Logan wants us to listen in too.”
“Where are you sticking them?”
I listed the areas Jacy requested. “But I’m not bugging the Control Room or Anne-Jade’s office. And I have extras to plant for us.”
Riley sat back on his heels as if bracing for bad news. “Why?”
Explaining Jacy’s theory of two groups, I speculated that one of the groups had to be connected to the Travas. “The Pop Cops had moles in the lower levels, spying on the scrubs. They could still be loyal. Perhaps by listening in, we can discover who sabotaged the power plant.”
He considered. “I doubt the network hackers worked in the lower levels. With the degree of complexity it needed, I believe there could only be a few suspects with that ability. And the people I’m thinking of are all uppers.”
His obvious sincerity didn’t stop my instant ire over his statement. “Logan broke into the network and reached the highest levels without a port. He’s not an upper so why are you assuming only they could sabotage the files?”