Inside Out Page 24

“There’s an interesting connection. Arrest them both. Perhaps Cogon will be more informative if we threaten Trella’s life and vice versa. Put them each into an interrogation room. Inform Commander Vinco when they’re there.”

“Yes, sir.”

I had to warn Cog. He needed to disappear. But where could I hide the big man? With Broken Man? No. Cog had sealed his door.

Arno left the office, but Karla remained. No more time. Risking capture, I slid through the vent, pushing Zippy ahead. Cooler to the touch, the little troll had worked. I wondered if Logan and Anne-Jade had invented a device to open locks. I bit down on a laugh. I would be lucky to survive the next ten hours let alone make another attempt to steal Broken Man’s port.

I reached Riley’s storeroom. No sounds, but I paused for a few precious minutes before opening the vent’s cover. The place was empty. However, the ladder had been set up underneath the air shaft, and a wipe board rested on the couch. A note for me written on the surface.

It read “I’ve covered for you, now it’s your turn. Meet me here at hour fifty-eight.”

I erased the message with a corner of my sleeve. By hour fifty-eight, I would either be in custody or on the lam. It was doubtful I could meet him. A tweak of disappointment surprised me. I repeated my mantra. Never trust the uppers, the Pop Cops or the scrubs. It all boiled down to survival.

As I climbed the ladder I wondered, was survival enough?

“Shouldn’t you be in an air shaft working?” Cog asked. He was elbow deep in a piece of machinery in the Waste Handling Plant. Black goo smeared his coveralls and dripped onto the floor. A fetid stench fogged the air.

“The Pop Cops are coming to arrest you and me.”

He ceased tugging. “How do you know?”

“Overheard Lieutenant Commander Karla. They’re going to threaten to recycle me if you don’t tell them about Broken Man. You need to hide. Now.”

Instead of pulling his arms out, he resumed his work.

“Cog!”

“Hush a minute. I need to think.”

“I thought it out. We both hide and then…”

“What? We live like fugitives for the rest of our days? Or do we find Gateway and leave? Do you believe in Gateway, Trella?”

“I believe something is going on in the upper levels. I believe the Pop Cops are lying to us.”

“No kidding. You need to answer my question. Do you believe in Gateway?”

“It doesn’t matter. We need to get you somewhere safe first and then we’ll worry about the next step.”

Cogon grunted and pulled a wad of black cloth. “Contraband.” He unrolled the mass and a bottle fell. “Flushed through the waste system during a Pop Cop raid.”

“Cog!” My panic increased. He acted so casual.

“It does matter if you believe or not.”

“Why?”

“Because there is nowhere for me to hide. They’ll find me pretty quick and keep searching for you. I’m going to let them arrest me, and I’m going to confess to killing the Pop Cop on my own and clear your name. And I’m going to eventually tell them I hid Broken Man, sending them to various hiding spots. And when they don’t find him, I’ll confess to killing him, too, and dumping his body in a number of tanks and feeding bits of him to machines. Hopefully they’ll investigate each and every claim.”

I stared at Cog as my body numbed with horror.

“See, Trell? It does matter. Because for me to endure, I need to know you believe in Gateway and know you’re searching for it. To know I am helping by keeping the Pop Cops occupied while you find it.”

“But you’ll be fed to Chomper!”

“I don’t have a problem with that.”

“But I do.”

“It’s not your decision.”

“You think finding Gateway is more important than your life?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

“Why? Aren’t you happy with the status quo? You smile at everyone. You have a ton of friends.”

He held up his filthy foul-smelling hands. “This is the rest of my life. Nothing is going to change unless we do something. I’ve been waiting for the right circumstances. This is it.”

One of the maintenance scrubs hustled over. “Cog, a group of Pop Cops are looking for you. Want us to distract them?”

“No thanks. Go back to work.” Cogon met my gaze. An unanswered question still hovered between us.

“I don’t know if I believe in Gateway or not. But I won’t stop searching for it until I prove beyond a doubt it does or doesn’t exist. Will that help you?”

Shouts and loud voices reached us.

He smiled. “Yes. Now, shoo.” He waved me toward the heating vent. “Won’t help my story if you’re found in here with me.”

“What about the maintenance scrub?”

“He’ll cover for me.”

I raced for the vent and scrambled through. The Pop Cops must have been prepared for a fight. Surprise laced their voices when Cog agreed to go with them. Sure enough, the other scrub never mentioned me. He could have used the information in exchange for a better position. Proof of Cog’s uniqueness.

Lying in the warm duct, I felt truly alone for the first time in a long while.

If Cog was going to sacrifice himself, the least I could do was report to my work shift and pretend nothing had happened. Catching up on the three hours I’d missed, I toggled the troll to move faster, reminding me of Cog.

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