Inside Out Page 15

The questions would have to wait while I dealt with my supervisor. She paced the hallway in front of my cleaning troll’s storage area. A red cuff clenched in her long-fingered hands. She frowned at it.

“Trella,” she said with a snarl. “Going to show up for work this shift?”

I braced myself. What rotten luck. The supervisors checked to make sure each scrub assigned to them was at the proper work location about once a week. My bad luck to have her looking for me during my last shift. At least I hoped it was bad luck and not the directive of a certain lieutenant commander.

“Where were you?” she asked.

“Special assembly.” I glanced at the cuff. If she snapped it around my wrist, I would have to report to the Pop Cops for discipline. They would probably assign me to work in waste handling during my off hours. When I completed the punishment, the cuff would be removed. Until then, everyone would know I was in trouble.

She hissed in exasperation. “The assembly lasted two hours. You were missing for eight.” She pulled the cuff open.

“It took me almost two hours to get out of the dining room, and then I had to wait to speak with Lieutenant Commander Karla.”

The LC’s name elicited the desired effect. Her hand paused in midair and she shot me a white-faced look. Usually only ensigns and lieutenants policed the lower levels. LCs were as rare as a change in routine, and all the scrubs knew to keep their distance.

“Oh, well, in that case.” She lowered her arm, probably assuming time spent with a Pop Cop lieutenant commander was worse than working in waste handling.

I never thought I would use fear of the Pop Cops to my advantage, but I knew my supervisor wouldn’t check my story with the LC. Watching me pull out my cleaning troll and heft it into the air shaft, she stayed until I had climbed into the shaft to begin my shift.

While I followed my troll through the air ducts for the next ten hours, I planned the best way to gather supplies for Broken Man. My choices were limited. The only time I could take enough food from the kitchen to stock Broken Man’s refrigerator was when everyone was at the hundred-hour assembly. Problem was, my presence was required, too.

When the buzzer sounded for the assembly, I dutifully reported to the dining room and stood in line.

“Name, barrack and birth week?” the Pop Cop asked without even looking up.

I repeated my stats.

“Health changes?”

“No.”

“Blood test.” He pointed toward another Pop Cop.

Waiting in this line, I held my arms close to my stomach as a Pop Cop drew blood from a scrub’s wrist using a device we had nicknamed the vampire box after reading one of those mythical stories in the computer. The stories we had been allowed to access chronicled myths and legends of strange creatures like vampires and ghosts. They also mentioned things and animals we have never seen. When questioned, my Care Mother explained those items were no longer available.

I shuffled forward in line, dreading my turn. After you insert your arm in the vamp box, two prongs jabbed into the skin and sucked a couple drops of blood out through a tube and into a chamber where it was analyzed in an instant.

The Pop Cops checked for illegal substances, pregnancy and other health markers the scrubs didn’t really care about. Blood tests were done at random hundred-hour assemblies, but they were never more than six weeks apart. The Pop Cops had them scheduled in advance and, for a price, you could find out when the next test would be. A scrub named Jacy had a whole network of informers, and he always knew when the Pop Cops planned tests and inspections.

The next scrub to be checked was a woman. The ensign running the analyzer grabbed her arm. Before the woman could react, he clamped a bright yellow bracelet on her wrist. She was pregnant. Shock, fear and surprise warred on her face as she tried to cope with this new information.

“Eight week checkups required,” the ensign droned. “Schedule with the infirmary.”

The woman was waved on. She staggered toward the dining room with her other hand gripping the irremovable bracelet. Now the entire population of scrubs would know she was with child. She’d work her shifts until she gave birth, spend a week in the infirmary, hand her baby over to the care facility and then return to work. It felt more like a breeding program than a miracle of life. One of the many reasons I would never have a child.

I took my turn with the vamp box and wove my way through the dining room toward the kitchen, finding a seat as close to the kitchen doors as possible. LC Karla stood on one of the tables. A fire burned in her eyes as she barked orders to the Pop Cops around her. I wondered why she chose this location instead of the other two meeting areas. Perhaps she enjoyed standing on the table. Yeah, right, just like I enjoyed these assemblies.

Another buzz sounded, signaling all scrubs were in their designated locations.

Karla addressed the crowd. “Citizens, welcome to the end of the week celebration. Now begins week number 147,002.”

An old scrub sitting next to me chanted. “A million weeks! A million weeks! A million weeks!”

Another scrub leaned over to him and said, “Hush, old man, you’ll be lucky to see another two weeks. No one cares about the millionth week. We won’t be here.”

His companion laughed. “Just think,” said the second man, “in another seven thousand weeks or so, everyone in this room will be gone and there will be a whole new generation forced to listen to the same crap.”

They chuckled together as the old scrub squinted at them. In the minds of the scrubs, the millionth week had been blown to mythical proportions. Some prophesied that on week one million, our fuel and air would run out, ending all our lives. Others claimed we all go Outside. But when you considered the average life span of a citizen was sixty to seventy centiweeks, and there would be roughly a hundred and twenty-two generations of scrubs before the millionth week, it was hard to get too concerned.

Prev Next