Inside Out Page 23

Riley was smarter than I had thought. Too smart.

Hoping to throw him off, I said, “I was just curious, seeing what would be important enough to be locked away. I stopped in here to fix my cleaning device.” Zippy’s hum increased and small tendrils of smoke reached for the ceiling. Good boy.

“No. I’ve been learning about the lower levels. Being caught in the upper levels is bad enough, but to be found in Karla’s office…to risk your life…Wait. Something big is going on in the lower levels. Someone can’t be found.” His eyes unfocused as he followed the logic.

No time left. I spun Zippy. The metal burned my hand.

He snapped his fingers. “You want Domotor’s port!”

I switched Zippy off and raised my arm, triggering the motion sensors. A shrill clang pierced the air. Distracted by the noise, Riley sought the source. Without hesitation, I shoved Zippy into the vent and followed the troll, pushing him as fast as possible through the narrow space despite the heat searing my fingertips.

“Listen!” Riley shouted after me.

An odd request. I craned my neck to look back. His hand grabbed the vent’s cover and slammed it closed. After a few moments, the alarm cut off in midclang. Damn. I wanted the noise to mask my retreat. As I debated how much sound I was willing to risk, the rumble of many feet and the crash of a door reached me.

Reinforcements. Crap.

I had managed to crawl three meters from the vent. All the Pop Cops had to do was send one of Karla’s RATSS after me and I would be caught in no time.

“What’s going on here?” Karla demanded.

Her voice stopped my heart and I wondered, if she kill-zapped me, would it resume beating?

“Sensor malfunction, Lieutenant Commander,” Riley said.

“But the alarm—”

“My fault. I accidentally triggered it while repairing the device. I apologize for any inconvenience to you, sir.”

“Inconvenience! Your accident disrupted our meeting and woke every off-duty officer on level four. You’ll have to be reported. Name?”

“Riley Narelle Ashon.” His voice remained calm. Impressive, considering how terrifying Karla’s scrutiny could be.

“Narelle? What are you doing monitoring security systems?”

Good question. Only the Trava family had access to the security network.

“I’m with electrical, sir. When the device malfunctioned it sent a spike through my workstation and I came to investigate. I thought I could fix the sensor, sir.”

“You thought wrong. What’s your birth week?”

“It’s 145,414, sir.”

Ha. He was only seventy-three weeks older than me.

“You’re just out of training. How did you get assigned electrical?”

“It was my choice, sir.”

“Your choice? Oh. Top of your class. Well you obviously need more training. Report to Commander Vinco Trava for extra duty.”

Extra duty meant the dreaded red cuff and hard physical labor in the lower levels. The uppers were probably assigned a boring or mindless task nobody else wanted to do.

“Yes, sir,” Riley snapped.

After a few seconds of quiet, it dawned on me. Riley hadn’t reported me again. Even faced with a punishment, he still kept quiet. A strange sensation rolled through me—relief mixed with…I couldn’t name it. Odd.

“You’re dismissed, Mr. Ashon. Lieutenant Arno, your unit can return to their stations, but I want you to stay,” she ordered.

The shuffle of feet faded and the door clicked shut. I decided to wait. No sense alerting Karla to my presence. I wondered how long I would be stuck here.

“Where were we, Arno?” Karla asked.

“Discussing the situation below,” Arno said.

“Anything?”

“No. No one is talking. The scrubs are terrified. They’re ratting out their friends. We’ve uncovered more illegal activities this week than in the past thirty weeks. Caught a woman who was raising her own children. A whole family unit.”

“That’s new. What did Vinco do?”

“The kids were too old for the care facility. They would remember a mother and might band together. He sent them to Chomper, and the woman was assigned to the sheep breeders.”

He reported the demise of three children in a bored voice. Enraged, I wanted to strangle him.

“Harsh.” A hitch cracked her voice, but then she continued speaking without emotion. “But appropriate. It would be dangerous if the scrubs formed loyalties.” She paused. “You’ve increased the pressure to find Domotor and still no results?”

“Yes, sir.”

Domotor? Riley had mentioned his name, too.

“Cogon’s our best suspect, but he’s had dozens of scrubs vouch for him.” She paused.

Dozens? Wow. I knew he was well liked, but didn’t think so many would risk their lives for him.

“He knows something, I can feel it,” Karla said. “What about our informers? Have they heard any rumors?”

“No. Everyone’s keeping quiet. No speculation. No gossip. It’s as if Domotor never existed. Usually when a prophet disappears, there are rumblings of unease and talk of martyrs. This time nothing.”

Domotor must be Broken Man’s real name.

“What about the young girl…Trella?”

All of a sudden it felt as if the air shaft tightened around my body. I struggled to draw a breath.

“I had a few of my men ask about her,” Arno said. “Keeps to herself. No absences. No reprimands on her record. No friends except Cogon.”

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