Inside Out Page 14

I really didn’t care what the uppers did or didn’t do. My throat burned from the heat and dust, and my short nap hadn’t been enough to fully revive me. “I need more sleep before my next shift.”

“I need more food,” Broken Man said. “I did some exploring. There’s a kitchen here, but no electricity.”

“I’ll turn on the juice, but it may take me a while to get you other supplies. I’ll see what I can do.”

Broken Man nodded even as he frowned at me. “I should get a few hours of sleep, too.”

I helped him into bed and felt a twinge of guilt as the black dust puffed from the mattress, causing him to choke. It would probably be another twenty hours before I could bring him food and help him shower.

The bedroom and bathroom were two small squares adjacent to each other. Both led out to the living area, another square which bordered the equally tiny kitchen. Inside was divided into rectangles and squares. The designers had to have been obsessive-compulsives, and I cursed them for their lack of imagination. Again.

Grabbing a couple of drinking glasses from the kitchen, I filled one with water. I set the glasses on the night table beside the bed. When Broken Man peered in confusion at the empty glass, I told him it was for urinating into so he wouldn’t have to drag himself to the bathroom. His face muscles drooped in sad understanding as I waved goodbye.

Reconnecting the electricity to the small apartment proved arduous. If I hadn’t been tired, it would have taken me half the time to find the connectors.

Finally, I found a quiet place to sleep in one of the heating shafts. As I drifted off, an odd thought touched my mind. Why was Inside always heated?

I awoke at hour seventy-nine. Clocks had been installed in every room and corridor of Inside so scrubs couldn’t use the excuse of not knowing the time. I had an hour until my next shift so I headed toward one of Sector F1’s washrooms. Peeling off my sweat-stiffened uniform, I stood under the shower’s warm water. Once I dried off and put on a clean uniform, I checked my tool belt, making sure all my tools were in the right spots and that my flashlight still worked. I never felt properly dressed until the familiar weight of my belt settled on my hips.

I fought my way through the corridors to my scheduled air shaft. On the way, I encountered Cog. He scraped paint chips from one of the corridor walls. Patches of rust sprinkled the metal. Another of Inside’s evils, rust was not tolerated and repainting remained a constant chore.

Glad to see him, I touched his arm. His honey-brown eyes slid in my direction. Tight lines of worry streaked across his sweaty face. Cog pulled the scraper from the wall.

“What’s going on?” he whispered. “Is everything okay with—you know?”

I nodded. “He’s fine.”

Cog pointed with his nose toward the two Pop Cops who hovered at the end of the hall. “They’re watching me.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Cogon winced. “The Pop Cops escorted me to their office for questioning about my little skirmish before they arrested Broken Man.”

I studied his face in concern but didn’t see any bruises. Understanding my look, Cog touched his ribs and winced again. This time in pain.

“They said I was their best suspect. They threatened to recycle me just for defending my prophet. Told me I might as well confess to killing their colleague, and tell them where Broken Man was hiding.” Cog clamped his teeth together as defiance flashed in his eyes. “I’d confess to murder, but I won’t give him up.”

“Why? You could negotiate and tell them where he is in exchange for not being fed to Chomper.”

He stared at me as if I had spoken gibberish. “He’s important, Trell. He can find Gateway.”

“He might have a location. Big difference, and one not worth being recycled for.”

“He knows. I can feel it.”

I huffed in annoyance. “Come on, Cog. You’re an intelligent man. How can you believe in Gateway without proof?”

“The disks—”

“Could be part of the ruse.”

He smiled. “Then why did you risk punishment to get them?”

“To prove Broken Man wrong.”

“Then go ahead, prove us wrong.” His confidence turned smug and he watched my expression with a knowing grin. “You can’t resist a challenge. It got you into all kinds of trouble in the care facility.”

“We’re not in the care facility anymore.” I tapped his bruised ribs, emphasizing my point. “The stakes are higher.”

“So is the reward.”

I shook my head. We had lapsed into the same old argument with no ending and we had talked too long. The Pop Cops headed our way. Their continued interest in Cogon meant he remained their primary suspect.

“Why did they let you go?” I asked.

“Two scrubs came forward while I was being questioned and claimed they saw Broken Man wrestle the Pop Cop for his weapon before the elevator doors closed.”

My breath locked in surprise. After a moment I asked, “Did you get their names?”

“Not yet. But I will.”

“Keep playing innocent,” I whispered to him as the Pop Cops came within earshot. Then in a louder voice I said, “And my cleaning device has been making weird noises.”

“I’ll let maintenance know,” Cog replied.

“Thanks.” I walked away.

Another twist. I sighed. Why would two people lie? Especially when the right information could make their lives a lot easier.

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