Inside Out Page 72

With my heart slamming, I typed in the number code and hit the enter button. For a moment, nothing happened.

Then a horrible sucking noise sounded and Gateway’s door sunk in first before swinging to the side with a loud squeal of protest. Weak light emanated as a puff of stale air blew in our faces. We coughed.

Nothing jumped out. Water did not flood Inside. No unknown substance oozed through. No strange beings flew through. No voices called or cheered in welcome.

Only a small room waited within. I stepped in and flinched. Silence greeted me. I looked around. A light panel on the ceiling illuminated the empty, metal rectangle-shaped space, which had another Gateway. No screen was next to this new door, just a panel of oversize square keys lit from underneath with different colored lights. One red button remained unlit.

Cogon joined me. His face showed his disappointment until he spotted the other door. “Do you have another code?”

“No. Logan didn’t mention this little surprise. We couldn’t open all the files.” One of the keys glowed green. “But he did say green to open and red to close, perhaps that was for this part.” I pressed the green button. Nothing happened.

He stared at the lights. “Ten buttons with ten colors. Perhaps…” He pointed to the one on the far left. “This one is the number one. Assuming they’re in numerical order, you can try the code for the outside door.”

I pressed the first number/color and the light under it turned off. Then I inputted the rest of the numbers, noticing that none of the numbers repeated. Nothing except the remaining key lights turned off.

“Or maybe not,” Cog said.

After a few seconds, the lights returned.

“Perhaps the numbers are in descending order.” I tried again. Still nothing. “Or, the numbers start with zero and go to nine.”

This time all the numbers darkened—except the green one.

“Green to open,” Cog said, and pushed it.

The door behind us hissed closed. The green light pulsed. A sucking hydraulic noise sounded, but the other door remained shut. Cogon pushed on it to no avail.

I struggled to pull air into my lungs. No one knew the code to enter. We could be trapped in here. I felt light-headed and my insides bloated as if I had eaten too much.

Cog turned, leaning on the door. The panic on his face matched mine. He clamped his hands to the sides of his head as if holding his skull together.

Without a sound, the other Gateway opened. Pure black waited on the other side. A bone-killing cold reached us. White spots sparked from the blackness, but it was hard to know if they were real or not. Black and white spots swirled in my vision. My eyeballs felt as if they would burst.

My stomach dropped and spun as if I fell from a tall ladder. I glanced down to see my feet no longer touched the floor, but floated. Cog twisted and his body drifted past the door. He pointed.

The red key burned bright. Red to close. On the edge of unconsciousness, I reached for the button. But Cog was Outside. I needed to help him.

He gestured again, but I didn’t press it.

Cog threw his hammer. It sailed toward me as he somersaulted backward. Then the darkness claimed me.

21

I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SAID THAT I WENT TO A BETTER place. However, the skin-freezing cold woke me. Dumped onto the floor of the small room, I untangled my legs and stood. My skin felt stretched and saggy. I wanted to crawl under a heavy layer of blankets to press my body tight. Red fog tinted my vision.

The outer Gateway was closed, but the door to Inside was open. The panel of colored lights glowed brightly and I wanted to smash them into tiny bits. Cog wasn’t with me and I doubted he’d made it through the door in time.

No way could he survive in that airless, weightless…void. But I had to try. No living with myself unless I tried. I punched in the first few numbers.

“Stop!” a most unwelcome voice ordered.

I ignored Lieutenant Commander Karla, getting in another two numbers before she stunned me. A wall of energy slammed into my body. My last thought was of Cog.

The next time I woke, my situation hadn’t improved. Rows of black bars, the stench of unwashed bodies, excrement and fear and the hard metal bunk underneath me all clued me in. I was under arrest and incarcerated in the holding cells.

When Commander Vinco arrived with the LC at his heels, I wished I had floated away with Cog.

“Just so you don’t think you’ll be rescued by your scrub friends, we have secured the lower levels,” LC Karla said. Her lips flattened into a pleased smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Do you want to know how?”

“No.” The truth. The game had ended badly. Cog was gone. Outside didn’t exist. Nothing was left that Trella cared for. Ella, on the other hand, planned to keep her mouth shut.

“You’ve been rather busy these past four weeks.” Vinco sounded impressed. “A little scrub like you, causing so much trouble.” He tsked. “Finding the portal and opening it. Of course you paid a price. I’m going to miss my stubborn sturdy friend.” He pulled a knife from his belt. The edge gleamed in the sick yellow light.

My pulse reacted to the threat out of habit, but I remained in my reclined position.

“She had help,” Karla said. “She couldn’t have found the space around the levels, hidden Domotor, stolen from my office and stitched the knife wound on her hip by herself. She’s not that smart.”

“You underestimated me. Don’t feel too bad—it’s a common mistake.” I waved my hand in a dismissive gesture.

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