Inside Out Page 25

We had been care mates. My earliest memories involved a confusing array of new faces, being upset and longing. Even though Cog was two hundred and sixty-eight weeks older than me, he befriended me. Life in the noisy and chaotic facility was bearable with him. Then Cog had his fourteenth centiweek celebration and “graduated” from the care unit, leaving me.

I had known he would go, but I hadn’t been prepared for the devastation inside me. He visited and he was reachable, but his new life and friends kept him busy. The change from having him as my almost constant companion to seeing him for an hour every two weeks left me distraught and an easy target.

My other mates didn’t understand. Life in the pipes was preferable to being taunted by everyone. Once I had my celebration, I left the facility and Cog found me. I vowed not to get too close to him or anybody, fearing the return of pain. But Cog just wouldn’t give up. And now he was gone again.

I let the waves of anguish pound in my chest. Abandoned and alone. I rode my emotions as I would surf in a water pipe, allowing the force of the liquid to take control.

Eventually, I fought for control and won. I shoved the sadness deep within me, locked it down and focused on the present. My shift was over.

The cleaning troll slowed as it neared a turn. Access to a maintenance area was a few meters ahead. When we reached the area’s door, I stopped the troll and slid the panel wide. Wrestling with the awkward device, I stored the troll in a cleaning cabinet for the next scrub.

As I debated whether or not to travel through the pipes or main corridors, the door opened. Three Pop Cops entered the small room.

My heart desired immediate action, screaming for my legs to run. Logic forced my body to ignore the panicked commands. I gave the newcomers space and stepped closer to the access panel, planning to escape through the air shaft if needed.

A lieutenant eyed my work suit and bare feet. “Finishing your shift?” I recognized his voice from Karla’s office. Lieutenant Arno.

“Yes, sir.” I kept the quaver from my voice.

“You’re under arrest.”

The quaver dropped into my stomach. “Why, sir?”

“For lying to Lieutenant Commander Karla,” He snapped.

“Lying, sir?” Cog wouldn’t have given in so fast. Unless…My thoughts shied away from how horrible it would have to be for Cog to tell her about me.

“We know you’re involved with Broken Man’s disappearance despite what you said. You will tell us where he is.” His tone left little doubt.

The Pop Cop on his left pulled a pair of handcuffs from his belt. I gauged the distance to the panel, but hesitated. Running was the action of a guilty person and I—well, I was guilty, but I trusted Cog. It seemed too soon.

One of Arno’s gadgets beeped. He grabbed the black communicator. “Yes?”

The Pop Cops waited as he listened.

“Are you sure?” He shot me a nasty look. “All right. I’ll be there.” Replacing the device, he reported to his companions, “Looks like the little scrub is clean.” Then to me he said, “Your friend Cogon just confessed to killing my officer by himself. You’re free to go…for now.”

He strode from the room with the Pop Cops a step behind. When the door clicked shut, I sagged against the wall, letting the metal cool my hot skin. I didn’t linger long. My next shift started in ten hours and I had a promise to keep.

After a meal and a few hours of sleep, I aimed for Broken Man’s hideout. I hadn’t visited in over thirty hours, but at least he had enough food. When I slipped into the room, he sat at the computer terminal, looking well groomed for a man in hiding.

He smiled with relief. “Thank air you haven’t been caught.”

“Not yet.”

He sobered. “Will Cogon tell them where I am?”

“How do you know about Cog?” I glanced around. Was someone else coming here? The place appeared to be clean.

“The computer. I can access general information. When I saw Cogon’s shifts had been reassigned, I assumed he was arrested.”

“He was. But don’t worry about Cog ratting you out. He can be stubborn when he wants.” I explained Cog’s sacrifice to Broken Man.

He closed his eyes and pressed his hand over them. “A martyr. He will be remembered.”

My throat felt as if Zippy had lodged there. I swallowed, and focused on the ground. Broken Man’s chair legs had wheels. “Where did you get the chair?” I demanded.

He wiped his eyes and squinted at me. “Chair?”

“The wheels?”

“Oh. I made it. I found an old toolbox and a broken cart. With nothing else to do, I had plenty of time to rig this up.” He straightened in his chair, grinning slightly. “In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at helping myself. I can take a shower and pull myself into a chair. I guess my muscles are getting stronger.” His posture wilted a bit. “Trella, will you do me a favor?”

I stiffened. What more could he want? “Depends.”

“If you are caught, tell the Pop Cops where I am.”

“Why?”

“I’d rather be kill-zapped than starve until I expire.”

Good point. “I’ll make sure someone knows where to find you, Domotor,” I promised.

His defeated attitude changed into surprise. “How do you know my name?”

I related my adventures in LC Karla’s office. “Riley knows I wanted your port. We’ll have to find a way to access the computer without it.”

Prev Next