Inside Out Page 7

“When?” I demanded.

“Just now.” Cog gestured down the hallway. “I tried to talk to them. Stop them. But…” He touched his forehead.

Figures. The Pop Cops knew a good beating was an effective way to warn a scrub. Give them trouble another time and a scrub is arrested and never seen again in the lower levels.

“How many?”

“Three to subdue me,” he said with a smile, “but only one took him away. He can’t do much from a wheelchair.”

“You could have been fed to Chomper,” I admonished him, but I was distracted.

“Could have, Trell. Doesn’t mean I would have. Besides, I would have felt terrible if I didn’t try to help.” He sighed. “I’m talking to a wall. You don’t care about anyone in this place.”

An old argument. My response would be how I cared about him, and he would claim I had a funny way of showing it. But not this time. “You’re right. So why do you bother with me? Why do you drag me to listen to every prophet?”

“It’s called hope. It’s called seeing the best in people despite the miserable conditions.” He grabbed the towel from me. His shoulders sagged as he covered his face with the bloody cloth. “Maybe you’re right and it’s all a lie.” He gestured to Broken Man’s dais.

The prophet hadn’t lied about the disks, but soon the Pop Cops would know about them, too. A plan raced along the circuits of my mind. “Which way did the Pop Cop take Broken Man?”

“Why?” Confusion pushed his thick eyebrows together.

“Just answer.”

“Toward Quad A1. Probably going to take him up the lift to level four.”

I had to hurry. “Cog, you better get to the infirmary. I need to go.”

“Go where?” He glanced at the clock. “Your shift doesn’t start for another two hours.”

“Not your concern,” I said, looking up at the ductwork. I quickened my pace, planning the best route to Quadrant A’s lift.

But Cogon trailed after me. “Why do you care which way he went?”

I ignored him.

“He must be right,” Cog called. His voice bright and strong again. Back to normal. “Broken Man’s right about Gateway. Why else would the Pop Cops take him?”

I just shook my head.

The corridor to Quad A1 teemed with scrubs and Pop Cops, hopefully delaying progress of the Pop Cop pushing the wheelchair. When I spotted an air vent, I climbed up the metal wall. Metal rivets on the walls were the perfect size for my toes and fingers. Once inside the air duct, I scurried through the horizontal tube, using my hands and feet while sliding on my belly.

The hum of the lift set every nerve in my body afire. If they were in the elevator, I was too late. Occasionally, I slowed to peer through the air vents, trying to spot Broken Man.

I grunted with frustration. A Pop Cop wheeled Broken Man into the open lift.

3

I HAD MERE SECONDS TO RESCUE BROKEN MAN. Good thing level one’s near-invisible hatch was next to the lift. I scrambled out of the air pipe and hunched my way over to the shaft. The elevator’s shaft was solid except for half-meter openings at each level’s Gap. If the lift passed level one’s, I would be too late.

Reaching the opening, I glanced inside. The lift remained on level one, but the doors hissed closed. I squeezed through and landed on the lift’s roof. I held still, listening as something scraped against the doors before they shut.

“Stop,” a voice ordered.

The lift began its ascent. I clutched a cable to keep from falling. Huddled on top, I regained my balance. Risking notice, I pried up the roof hatch just enough to see inside.

A meter below me, Broken Man slumped in his wheelchair, while a Pop Cop stood with his stunner pointed at Cog. The big oaf must have squeezed into the elevator to rescue his prophet, and now he was caught.

I altered my plan. Tracing wires, I found the electric feed into the elevator and fitted the white electrical wire between my rubber-handled pliers. I opened the emergency control panel on the roof, yelled, “Fire drill” and punched the stop button while cutting the wire. The lift jerked to a halt.

The occupants of the elevator were now in total darkness. I hoped Cog knew what to do. My call had warned him. As I lifted the hatch, a soft thud, a loud grunt and the unmistakable sizzle slap of the stun gun reached me.

“What’s going on?” Broken Man asked with a nervous tremor in his voice.

I sucked in my breath, biting my lip.

“We need to get out of here,” Cog replied.

Relief washed over me as my clenched muscles relaxed. I pulled the hatch wide open. It squeaked.

“Trella?” Cog asked.

“Hold on. I’ll get a light.” I fumbled for the flashlight on my belt as Broken Man repeated my name in shock.

I leaned through the open hatch, dangling upside down from my waist and held out my light. The Pop Cop lay on his side. His wide-eyed, lifeless gaze stared at nothing.

Cogon gaped at the Pop Cop’s weapon in his own hand in horror. “This is a stun gun,” he cried. “Why would it kill him?”

“What’s the setting?” I asked.

Cog just looked at me. His eyebrows pinched together, and confusion shone in his eyes.

“The intensity.” I tried again. “It’s on the side.”

Cog turned the weapon over. “Ten.”

“That’s why. It’s on the maximum setting. A ten blast could easily kill an average-sized man.” I still didn’t see understanding in Cog’s creased face. “You’re twice the Pop Cop’s size. I would have set the damn thing to ten, too, if I had to incapacitate you. Look, we don’t have time for this. We need to get Broken Man to a hiding place.”

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