Inside Out Page 55

There was no mistaking the feeble light or the rancid stench of the holding cells. I peered through the bars, searching for Cog. Nothing but empty cells until I reached the third vent.

Cog sat on the edge of the bunk. Old black and yellow bruises painted his face, and the swelling around his eyes was gone. Bleeding cuts crisscrossed his legs and torso. He hugged his arms tight to his chest as if trying to stanch the blood. He rocked either in agitation or pain.

I called his name.

Cog jumped to his feet and looked around. “No, Trell, you shouldn’t have!”

“Shouldn’t have what?”

He cocked his head.

“I’m down here. In the heating vent.”

He sagged back on the bunk. Keeping his voice low, he said, “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Sorry.” I hated to see him so frazzled. “Cog, what shouldn’t I have done?”

“I thought you had turned yourself in.”

“Why?”

He gestured toward the door. “They came asking more questions about you. They found out Broken Man is still alive and you’re involved.”

“I know. Broken Man tipped them off.”

“Really?”

“Yes. He used the computer, and then I was reprimanded for failing to finish my shift. Karla’s suspected me all along, so the reprimand gave her enough reason to try to arrest me.”

Cog smiled with glee. “That’s my Trella, hiding in the pipes.”

“You used to yell at me for it.”

“You should have seen her. Bright red, sputtering with rage and I swear I saw fire coming out of her nostrils. That was worth every cut from Vinco’s knife.” He grew serious. “She said you were injured. Are you all right?”

“Fine.” It was a good thing he couldn’t see me. I thought about his earlier comment. “Why did you think I turned myself in?”

“Karla asked me stuff like what you knew, where you might be and who you were working with. I couldn’t tell her anything. Then she said she would offer you a deal.” He stopped.

“What kind of deal?”

“I’ll only tell you if you promise not to take it.”

I connected the clues. He didn’t need to tell me Karla would offer to spare his life in exchange for me. “I’m not promising, Cog.”

“You have to. Otherwise everything I suffered through will be for nothing.”

“No, it wouldn’t. You gave us time and freedom. We found Gateway.”

He slid off the bunk and onto his knees as pure joy lit his face. “Did you open it?” The question was a reverent whisper.

“Not yet. I’ve been a little…busy.”

“All the more reason to not take Karla’s deal. You need to open it.”

“Why can’t I do both?”

“Not possible.”

“Yes, it is. I can stall for time.” But how much time? I needed to heal first if I planned to climb between levels. “Are you still scheduled for…” I couldn’t speak the words.

“No. My appointment with Chomper has been delayed until further notice. I guess if they recycle me, the LC wouldn’t have any bait for her trap.” A tired resignation colored the tone of his voice. “How are you going to stall for time?”

“Don’t worry about it. You just need to hold out for a little longer.”

He huffed. “You have no idea. Do you?”

My thoughts raced. Communication with the LC would have to be through a third party, which would be time consuming. “I can make a few unreasonable demands, and by the time we negotiate Gateway will be open. And then…” I couldn’t speculate any further.

“Everything changes,” Cog said.

17

THE TRIP BACK TO THE STOREROOM PROGRESSED AT a much slower pace. No longer driven by the need to speak to Cog, I tended to stop often and lay my cheek against the cool metal of the duct. The warm air flowing through the shaft didn’t help either. I dozed off a few times.

My sense of accomplishment on reaching the storeroom evaporated in an instant. Riley occupied the couch. I couldn’t call it sitting. Every muscle was so taut he appeared as if welded in place. His furious expression matched his posture.

I concentrated on pulling my body from the vent. My adventure ended on the ground in a painful and exhausted heap. Wondering how I would find the energy to endure the inevitable recriminations and questions from Riley, I rested my head on the floor.

Instead, he gathered me in his arms and carried me to the couch. “This is the second time I’ve had to pick you up. At least, this time you’re conscious.” He knelt and set me down with care. All signs of his anger had dissipated. “Good thing you don’t weigh much, either.” He fussed about, propping cushions.

I was half asleep when he said, “Let’s see what damage you’ve done.” He pulled back my uniform to expose my injury. “A pillow.” He shook his head as he peeled off the tape.

Blood soaked the underside of the pillow. I closed my eyes against the sudden queasiness in my stomach. He probed the cut and I hissed in pain.

“Amazing. You didn’t rip any stitches, but you need a new bandage.”

I peeked at him. His tone was matter-of-fact and he moved with confident efficiency as if he changed bandages all the time.

“It’s going to hurt.” He gloated.

“You need to work on your bedside manner,” I said.

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