Inside Out Page 8

“Impossible,” Broken Man said. “Inside has no hiding place.” His face looked pale in the light.

I smiled at Broken Man’s regurgitation of Pop Cop propaganda, then pulled myself back onto the roof. Using my rubber-handled pliers again, I fixed the broken wire, restored the lights and accessed the lift’s controls.

“Push the button for level two,” I called.

When we reached level two, I opened the back doors. A maintenance room was located adjacent to the elevator shaft.

“Cog, wheel him out and take the Pop Cop, too.”

Cogon finally realized how dangerous it was to delay. Galvanized into action, he cleared everyone from the elevator.

“Leave them here, and get back on the lift,” I said through the roof’s hatch.

“He can’t stay here. It’ll be the first place they’ll look,” Cog said.

“I know, but he can’t travel through the corridors. We’ll have to camouflage him.”

“How?”

“Laundry bin.”

Understanding smoothed Cog’s face. He delivered the laundry to the upper levels, so it wouldn’t look out of place if he was seen pushing a bin.

With Cog as the sole occupant, I sent the lift back to level one, and again opened the back doors. This time the doors led to the laundry. Bins full of clean laundry filled the area by the lift. Cog grabbed one, waved to the working scrubs and pushed it into the elevator. I brought him back to level two.

“Stand in the doorway,” I said. Returning the controls to the panel inside the lift, I swung down. “Help me put the hatch back on.” I sat on Cog’s broad shoulders and replaced the cover.

We joined Broken Man in the maintenance room as the lift resumed its regular service. The bin was full of towels. We removed them and Cog lifted Broken Man into the bin.

Before we covered him, he asked, “My wheelchair?”

“It’s too big. We’ll have to leave it behind,” I said.

“Now what?” Cog asked as he finished arranging the towels.

“Take him down to Quad C1, but don’t use this lift.”

“To the Power plant?” Cog asked.

“Yes. I’ll meet you there.”

“What about the Pop Cop?”

“Leave him. Someone will find him.”

“And the stun gun?” he asked.

“Put it back in his belt. It’s too dangerous to keep.” The Pop Cops would be mad enough once they discover a fallen colleague, but it would be worse if they believed one of the scrubs was armed.

Kneeling beside the prone form, Cog shoved the weapon into the Pop Cop’s holder, but he paused. He closed the man’s eyes and smoothed his limbs to a more comfortable position—not that the Pop Cop would care. Cog rested a large hand on the man’s shoulder, bowed his head and whispered. Only the words sorry and journey were audible to me.

I suppressed the urge to hurry him, knowing Cog needed this time. When he finished, he stood and wheeled the bin from the room. I waited for a few minutes before climbing into the air shaft. I traveled to level one to assess the situation.

Walking through the corridors, I scanned faces. Level one appeared normal. So far, the Pop Cops hadn’t raised an alarm. I headed to Quad C1.

I pressed past some scrubs until I found a heating vent near the floor. After sliding inside, I replaced the vent cover and rested in the warm metal tube, catching my breath. The enormity of what I had just done slammed into me. My body shook as doubt and fear fought for control. With effort, I pushed the ugly thoughts away; I had no time for recriminations. Right now I navigated by instinct alone.

Propelled by the need to keep moving, I followed the heated air to its source. The Power plant in Quad C1 was Inside’s beating heart. It pumped out electricity and heat to keep us all alive. Encompassing all of Quadrant C on the first, second, third and fourth levels, the plant’s main controls were located on level four. Noise, excessive heat, dirt and fuel tanks filled level one, and hardly anyone worked in this area.

The air burned my lungs as I drew closer to the plant, forcing me to leave the vent. Sweat soaked my uniform, but a sudden chill gripped my spine when I couldn’t find Cogon and Broken Man anywhere near the plant.

My name sounded in the thick air and I spun in time to see Cogon waving me over. He had hidden behind one of the fuel tanks. Broken Man was propped up in the laundry bin.

“Now what?” Cog shouted over the chugging engines.

“There’s an abandoned controller’s room by the fuel-intake valve.” I pointed. “The door’s locked, but I can open it from the inside.”

Finding the air return duct crossing over the controller’s quarters, I had Cogon lift me up to it. I crawled through the duct until I found a vent into the controller’s room. I had discovered this small living space on one of my excursions. Thinking it was a perfect hideaway, I had proceeded to make it my own. It hadn’t taken me long to figure out why it had been empty. The intolerable noise from the plant, the oppressive heat and the fine coating of black grit covering everything had eventually driven me away despite the rarity of such a space.

As Cog wheeled Broken Man in, I cleaned the room as best as I could with the towels. Cog lifted the prophet into a chair. Dust puffed out from the cushions.

We stared at each other for a moment as the engines roared.

“We’re in trouble,” Cog yelled. “This isn’t going to work. They’ll find us.”

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