Inside Out Page 21

Right now the row we occupied was half-empty. Most scrubs had finished their shift at hour thirty and were in the cafeteria.

“Why do you need her schedule?” Jacy’s dark brown bangs hung over his eyes. He studied me through the gaps.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does.” He straightened.

He had grown since our time together in the care facility. I tilted my head to meet his gaze. If he tried one of his old tricks, I already knew the location of the closest ceiling vent. The design of the bunks made it easy for me to scale them if I needed to escape.

“Lieutenant Commander Karla’s been causing a lot of trouble for us. I don’t want to upset her any further. In fact, she asked me about you.”

A stream of cold fear shot down my back. Jacy dealt with information. His group of five always knew where the Pop Cops were. They warned their clients of surprise inspections and raids. Even though the scrubs worked hard, they found time to engage in a number of illegal activities.

“What did you tell her?”

“I had a kill-zapper at my chest so my memories are a little fuzzy. Perhaps if you tell me why the LC’s interested in you, it’ll help me remember.”

His expression remained guarded and I guessed the bastard already knew but wanted to confirm his suspicions.

“You’ll live longer if you don’t know.” Ha. I managed to surprise him. “Are you going to tell me Karla’s schedule or not?”

“And what do I receive in exchange?”

Typical scrub. Nothing without a price. “I’ll act as a lookout for you. One time only.”

He laughed. “I have a ton of people willing to watch for us.”

“From air duct seventy-two?”

His smirk died. “You can get in there without an upper’s help?”

I nodded. Number seventy-two crossed over a few highly sensitive areas, including the Control Center and Pop Cop headquarters. The uppers didn’t want a disgruntled scrub near them. The two scrubs allowed in the shaft always had a Pop Cop escort.

Energized, he paced. “Can you install a microphone in seventy-two for me instead?”

“A mic is illegal. How did you—?” Tech Nos. I didn’t need to know more. “You want me to put it where the cleaning trolls won’t suck it up?”

“Yes!”

I considered. “It’s more dangerous than acting as lookout. It’s worth two requests—Karla’s schedule and what you told her about me.”

“Deal.”

His response was too quick. I should have negotiated for more.

“I’ll have her agenda in an hour.” His posture relaxed, but concern lingered in his eyes. “I told the LC the truth.”

My stomach felt as if I had fallen off a pipe. “And?”

He huffed. “Same old Trella, giving nothing away. Not even for your fellow care mate.”

“The mate who bullied and tormented me? I guess you would find it odd I don’t hold any fond feelings from our time together.”

He waved my comment away. “You were cold from the start. We had to bully and torment you just to get a reaction from you.” Jacy bent close and lowered his voice. “I told her all about it. How you escape into the ducts to be alone. No friends. No interest in associating with your fellow scrubs. But I neglected to inform her about your Queen of the Pipes title.”

“Why? It’s just a taunt.” Even Broken Man had heard about it.

“Really? You spend hours in the pipes. You must know every nook and cranny of Inside. If I searched for a missing prophet and had exhausted every known area, I would turn to the Queen of the Pipes for guidance.” He paused, giving me time to understand. “She already suspects you’re involved, telling her about your title would give her a reason to arrest you.”

“But you could have earned a better post.”

He shrugged. “I did it for old time’s sake. Besides, if you’re hiding Broken Man, that means you actually care for another person and there’s hope for you yet. Meet me here in one hour.” He strode away with his friends at his heels.

I spent the time sifting through all Jacy’s comments. He had been wrong about me. I’d had friends in the care facility after Cog left. Before I was picked on and teased—the victim of multiple pranks and nasty rumors. At least one or two girls. I just couldn’t remember their names.

When I matched LC Karla’s work schedule to mine, I found I would have a single two-hour window between hours thirty-eight and forty to search her office.

The heating ducts would be my best bet to enter Karla’s office. Low to the ground, the vents opened into every room in Inside. Although they were small, Zippy and I just fit. They also snaked between the rooms. One of the drawbacks to using the heating system was that there were no connections between levels. Since the Power plant spanned all four levels, each level had its very own network of ducts. The other limitation was the heating system couldn’t be accessed from the Gap.

I needed to ascend to the fourth level, then enter the heating system. Aiming for the abandoned storeroom, I hoped Riley wouldn’t be there. As I moved through the air shafts with Zippy tied to my tool belt, my thoughts turned to the young upper I had surprised.

Riley’s comments replayed in my mind. He used the storeroom to escape assignments and avoid having to pledge loyalty to the Travas. Perhaps his life wasn’t as easy as I had thought.

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