Inside Out Page 41

For the first time, I was the center of attention. Everyone watched me as if I were a bomb. Would I explode and cause a disaster or would I pop and cause a miracle? The pressure of their stares squeezed my chest until my lungs wheezed with the effort to draw a breath.

Pop Cop spies still worked among us. It amazed me that they hadn’t discovered my involvement. Perhaps Karla waited for me to make a mistake. Right now she had no evidence I was involved in Broken Man’s disappearance, but if she stalked me for a few weeks, she would eventually catch me breaking the rules. Hard to believe, but breathing became more difficult, and I wished for simpler weeks. My lonely life in the pipes seemed a distant and pleasant memory.

I met Logan and Anne-Jade as they entered the barrack. Odd-hour shifts had finished and even would begin soon.

Logan’s light brown eyes sparkled. “Time to play?”

Anne-Jade shot him a sour look.

“Meet me in corridor A2-5 in one hour,” I told him. “Anne-Jade, can you cover my shift?”

“Sure.” She met my gaze. “Please don’t let anything happen to him.”

“I’ll try.” My throat felt hot and dry.

“Hey,” Logan said. “I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.”

“Are you kidding?” Anne-Jade shot back. “If it wasn’t for me, you’d be late for everything. Too busy playing with your toys.”

I left. The sounds of their mock argument followed me from the barracks. One of Jacy’s men waited in the hallway. He fell into step beside me.

“Boss wants to see you,” he said.

“When?”

“Now.”

“I can’t. My shift’s starting. Tell him I’ll stop by later.”

He wrapped his strong fingers around my right elbow. “You’ll see him now.” He pulled me along.

I squawked in protest, but he stared straight ahead. Twice my size, I knew I couldn’t pry his grip off, but I could jab him with a screwdriver. My left hand closed on the tool.

“I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “It would…annoy me.”

Interesting choice of words. I rationalized my cowardice and decided to wait. After all, there was no sense making a scene.

Jacy held court in his corner of Sector D1’s barrack. At least six unhappy expressions turned to me as my companion delivered me to his boss. My worry switched from annoying the man clamped on my elbow to Jacy’s livid face.

“I knew it would happen eventually,” Jacy said. The muscles along his arms quivered and his eyes held a wild shine. “I just wasn’t…prepared.” He swallowed and his anger eased a bit.

“What happened?” I braced for the answer.

“I want to blame you, but I can’t.” He looked away.

My guard’s fingers dug into my skin and I yelped.

Jacy’s attention snapped back to me. This time grief lined his eyes. “Cogon’s been scheduled for execution.”

13

HIS WORDS SLICED THROUGH MY HEART, CUTTING IT into little pathetic pieces. I understood how he could feel unprepared. The knowledge that the Pop Cops would recycle Cog had been trapped deep within me and ignored. I planned to deal with it later or, better yet, hoped it would disappear altogether.

“When?” I asked.

“Hour ninety-nine. They plan to walk him down to Chomper’s Lair and kill-zap him there.” Outrage filled Jacy’s voice. “They figured it would be easier than lugging his body down there. The timing is so Lieutenant Commander Karla can use his execution to lecture us during the hundred-hour assembly on the consequences of disobeying the Pop Cops.”

I did the math. Fifty-eight hours left.

“If what you’re doing can help Cog, you’d better do it quick,” Jacy said.

“I can’t do anything with a broken arm.”

He nodded and the big guy released my elbow. I rubbed the joint and turned away.

“Trella,” Jacy called.

“What?” I almost growled at him.

“Let me know if you need anything. Anything at all.”

It was a generous offer, considering the last time we conversed he had called me worthless. “Got it.”

With my emotions spinning, I hurried to meet Logan. I walked right past my turn and had to stop. Distractions would be dangerous, and all our efforts would be for nothing if we were caught before accessing the computer. I squashed my fear and worries into a small metal box and dropped in the shattered remains of my heart for good measure. Locked with an obnoxiously big lock, I pushed the container into a far corner of my thoughts.

Focused and almost robotic, I marched toward corridor A2-5. Logan fidgeted and paced, trying to appear nonchalant, but failing miserably. At least he wasn’t chewing his nails.

I led him to the door of the maintenance room next to Quad A’s lift. While he watched the hall, I opened the door’s lock. Memories of Cog and I hiding Broken Man in a laundry bin in this room threatened to overwhelm me. I clamped down on the feeling. No emotions allowed. We slipped inside and locked the door.

Pushing the air vent open, I pulled out a bundle. “Here, put this on.” I handed Logan the coveralls Riley had given me. While he dressed, I donned the student’s uniform. The black jumper with silver piping along the pants and sleeves sagged around my waist, but I cinched it tight with the belt.

When he was ready, I climbed into the air shaft and helped Logan inside.

“It’s bigger than the heating vent,” he said.

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