Inside Out Page 22

I slowed when I reached my destination. Peering through the air vent, I scanned the room below with care. The furniture had been rearranged again, but no one was there. The green and brown couch was now located right below the hole, and a metal stepladder leaned against the side wall. Riley must have moved it for me. I smiled, but then dismissed the notion. An upper caring about a scrub? No way. And I wouldn’t let myself believe it. Stick with the plan, I chanted under my breath.

Hanging from the air duct, I dropped onto the couch. I waited a moment. When no one rushed into the room, I slipped into the tight heating vent. Pressing Zippy’s on button, I counted to ten. He hummed and chugged along the duct as I pulled myself by my elbows and pushed with my feet.

I hoped any noise I made would be dismissed as the regular cleaning. Even if he didn’t work, having Zippy along would help my cover if I was caught.

By the time we drew near LC’s Karla’s office, sweat soaked my uniform and my arms ached. Switching Zippy to Neutral, I examined the room through the vent’s cover.

From my limited vantage point, a large desk dominated the space. I counted three computer monitors. On the wall opposite the vent hung a variety of weapons and handcuffs. My heart stuttered for a few beats, before settling into a fast pace.

Again, I waited and listened for sound. LC Karla was supposed to be off duty, but Jacy had warned me the schedule wasn’t completely reliable.

I wiped slick hands on my uniform, unscrewed the cover and pulled it slowly into the vent. According to Broken Man, the Pop Cops motion sensors would be in the four corners of the room for maximum coverage.

Nothing else left to do, I pushed Zippy through the opening and held my breath, preparing to flee. He rolled a couple feet and stopped. His hum transformed into a low chug. When the alarm failed to sound and no Pop Cops burst through the door, I eased from the vent.

I searched the desk and opened all the drawers as fast as possible. Karla’s office also contained a long worktable, a couch and a bench with chains and cuffs. A sudden vision of me secured to the bench while the LC questioned me jumped into my mind.

Shelves filled with RATSSs decorated another wall. I ignored their mechanical stare, yet prepared to dive back into the heating vent if one moved.

My desperation increased. No sign of Broken Man’s port anywhere. Closing my eyes for a moment, I drew in a few deep breaths. Think. Where would you put his port? I scanned the room once more. A gray closet in the corner drew my attention.

My joy when the closet’s door swung wide disappeared in a heartbeat. A metal mesh gate covered shelves filled with various items—evidence, probably—and was locked. A small keypad had been installed on the lock’s outer plate. None of the tools in my belt would be able to bypass the bolt. I would need a code to open the gate.

The third shelf down held a row of ports. Broken Man’s must be among them, sitting mere inches from me. So close.

“Don’t move,” a voice ordered from behind.

8

I CLOSED MY EYES AS A HOT FLUSH OF TERROR LIQUEFIED my muscles for an instant.

“Put your hands where I can see them. Slowly,” he ordered, but his voice squeaked a bit. Either from nerves or youth.

Perhaps I could talk my way out of this. I moved my hands to the side.

“Turn around. Slow.”

I faced him. My surprise transformed into suspicion. “Did you follow me?”

Riley lowered the stun gun. “No, I—What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing. Unless you’re Lieutenant Commander Karla’s assistant? Why didn’t you tell me you’re a Pop Cop?” My bold response seemed to have the desired effect as Riley struggled to answer questions I had no authority to ask.

“I’m not….I monitor the electrical system.” He gestured to his headset. “There was an electrical drain coming from here. I came to investigate.”

“All right then. Investigate.” I swept my hand, indicating the room. “I’m finished cleaning the ducts.” Picking up Zippy, I headed toward the open vent. The little troll was hot.

“Wait.” Riley stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He still held the gun, but he aimed it at the floor. “You’re not cleared to be on this level.” He glanced at the open evidence closet. “Why are you here?”

I dodged the question. “How do you know I’m not cleared?”

“I checked.”

“But you don’t know my name.” And unlikely to find it.

“I pulled up the approved list. Assuming your birth week is close to mine, I only found one scrub under sixteen hundred weeks old, but I forget his name.”

“I’m on special assignment this week. The records haven’t been updated yet.” The heat from Zippy grew intolerable. I dropped him by the vent and crouched to enter the duct.

“Stop or I’ll stun you.”

I looked over my shoulder. He pointed his gun at me. By the intensity radiating from his blue eyes, I knew he was serious. And he seemed taller than before. Why hadn’t I noticed his muscular build?

“You’re not going to tell me why you’re here, right?”

“Right,” I said.

He sidestepped to the closet, keeping his weapon trained on me. A quick glance at the shelves, then his focus returned. I met his gaze. He squinted as if his thoughts raced.

“There are weapons and devices free for the taking, but you stood here. You want a port. Except you wouldn’t be able to use it. No scrub can.”

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