Inside Out Page 12

Oh, well. No sense wasting energy on what I shouldn’t have done. I had made my choice. I’d see it through and resign myself to whatever fate had in store for me.

Numbly, I watched as different scrubs pushed their way to talk to the LC. After two hours of waiting and sweating, the air in the room felt like a sauna and smelled like week-old dirty laundry.

The LC listened to the scrubs and inputted notes in her hand-puter until her communicator beeped. She pressed the device to her ear. Little tongues of red streaked up her cheeks as she listened. She gripped the knot of hair behind her head in a tight fist. Gesturing with curt motions, she issued orders to the other Pop Cops. They snapped to attention and marched from the room.

Turning on her microphone, she said, “Citizens, we have yet to locate the Broken Man, but we cannot keep you here any longer. Report back to your work areas or barracks. Anyone else with information is to see me at once.”

The Pop Cops opened only one door to let the scrubs out. I sighed. It would be another hour for me to reach fresh air.

When I finally arrived at the door, I was directed to one of the many Pop Cops in the hallway. They registered each of us in their black census recorders that kept track of the population. The LC stood nearby. She seemed tense as she talked rapidly into her communicator.

“Name, barrack and birth week?” the male ensign asked me.

“Trella. One-one-seven. 145,487,” I replied automatically. Identification was required every hundred hours. I calculated my exact age. I was 1,514 weeks old or fifteen point one four centiweeks or if I used the old-time measurement, I was seventeen point three years old.

He entered my data and waved me off. I was just about to slip past him when the LC grabbed my arm.

“Trella?”

Darts of fear raced through my shoulder and stabbed my heart. My thoughts scrambled as I stared at her violet eyes and angular features. I used all my energy to nod, keeping my face calm.

“Come with me,” she ordered.

She still had a firm grip on my arm; I had no choice but to accompany her along the corridor. Once we were far enough away from the noise of the Pop Cops, she stopped and released me. I glanced around, considering escape. The array of weapons hanging from her belt kept my feet planted.

“My sources tell me you spoke with the Broken Man around hour nineteen this week. Is this correct?” she asked.

Not trusting my voice, I nodded again. Those little laundry weasels. Scrubs complained about the Pop Cops and how they hated them and weren’t to be trusted, yet the first chance a scrub had to ingratiate themselves, they jumped. Granted, the offer was stellar, but I knew I’d never squeal on my fellow scrubs.

“Then why didn’t you come tell me?” she demanded.

“It didn’t seem important.”

A condescending smile twisted her lips. “I’ll decide what’s important. Tell me what you and—” she consulted her data screen “—Cogon talked about with Broken Man.”

Damn. She knew about Cog. Did they have him? I worried. It was common knowledge Cog had a weakness for the prophet-of-the-week so I went from there. “Cogon wanted me to meet this Broken Man. He said this new prophet had proof Gateway existed.”

I shrugged. “Cog’s my friend. I met the prophet in the laundry. He started spouting some crazy crap about using meditation to transport yourself through Gateway to Outside. Yet he didn’t have a shred of proof.”

“Yes. You scrubs seem to have a fascination with Gateway despite the facts.” The LC shook her head. “Go on.”

“I told Cog to stay away from him, that he could get in trouble. Then I reported to my work shift.” I shrugged again, hoping to appear nonchalant.

She studied my face. I feigned innocence.

“Have you talked to Broken Man or seen him since hour nineteen?”

“No.”

“If you hear anything or see anything, you’re to report it to me immediately. Understand?”

“Yes, Lieutenant Commander…?”

“Karla Trava. Report to your workstation.”

“Yes, sir.” I walked away. I felt her gaze drilling holes into my back. The desire to run, to jump into one of the ducts and hide pushed at my muscles. Instead, I kept a steady rhythm and only looked back as I turned the corner. Lieutenant Commander Karla met my glance with a thoughtful and lethal squint.

5

ONCE I WAS OUT OF LIEUTENANT COMMANDER KARLA’S toxic sight, I sighed with relief. It was short-lived. I had gotten off easy. Too easy. I had the feeling I was now in LC Karla’s crosshairs. A dangerous position to say the least.

The Pop Cops tended to be cocky in their dealings with the scrubs. Yes, they arrested and recycled without any backlash, but they seldom jumped to conclusions. They watched. They waited. They knew they could find a scrub without much effort, and they enjoyed seeing who else the bad scrub could draw into trouble.

That’s why I had always thought the prophets were Pop Cop spies. The prophets preached about Outside and the final reward for enduring the horrible living conditions just to see who believed and who remained a skeptic. The skeptics seem to vanish as if the Pop Cops sanded them out of the masses like rust spots, removing the defective genes from the general population.

I had been wrong about Broken Man being a spy. The Pop Cops wouldn’t be searching so hard for him if he were one of theirs. And now the Pop Cops had learned a person could disappear in the lower levels, which meant their flippant attitudes would change.

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