Inside Out Page 80

She dropped the kill-zapper—the upside of my taunt. And wrapped her hands around my neck—the downside.

“I’m going to feed you to Chomper myself,” she said, and then squeezed.

She cut off my air and I feared she would crush my windpipe. Groping for her belt, I found her stunner and pulled the trigger. A jolt ringed my neck, but her fingers kept the pressure on my throat. I dropped the stunner and pried them from my numb skin, I shoved her back into the admiral and they fell to the floor together.

Now I would go to Chomper happy.

I almost jumped a meter when Logan’s chuckle vibrated in my ear. “That must have felt good,” he said. “Wish I could have been there.”

Jacy added, “We have regained control of levels one and two.”

“Trell, stay with us,” Riley said. “Once Takia can open the Control Room door, we’ll send a rescue party.”

Distracted by their voices, I had lost track of events in the Control Room. After a quick scan, my mind raced to plan a way to delay the inevitable. The admiral’s red face failed to encourage me. Vinco helped him to his feet.

“Messy or not, silence the scrub,” the admiral ordered.

Vinco advanced on me with his knife in hand.

“Overconfidence, Commander, will be your downfall,” I said. Weak, but all I could come up with.

“And a sharp blade through your heart will be yours,” Vinco replied.

Why didn’t I hold on to Karla’s stunner? I thought fast. “Actually time is against me right now.”

“Time?”

The admiral answered. “She doesn’t have any left. Finish the job.”

Vinco raised the blade to slice my throat. Movement across the room caught my attention for a second.

“The admiral’s wrong,” I said. “What I meant by time was I didn’t think I had enough of it to distract you. But I did. So I guess I was wrong, too.”

Armed scrubs streamed into the room. Before the room erupted into chaos, a number of uppers had been stunned.

Vinco managed to dodge the initial blasts. With his knife still aimed at my throat, he lunged at me. I kicked him in the chest. Instead of cutting deep into the skin, his slash skimmed my neck.

Single-minded, he stepped closer. My back hit a wall, trapping me. He grinned with satisfaction as he pressed his blade under my chin. The steel bit into my jaw. Then strong arms yanked him from me and spun him around.

Riley gave him a mocking salute.

Vinco was amused. “Okay, boy. You first, then the scrub.” He pounced.

Riley twisted his h*ps to avoid the knife thrust and knocked Vinco’s arm aside with his hand. Vinco tried again and this time Riley grabbed Vinco’s wrist, pulled him off balance and pressed a palm to his elbow, forcing him to the ground.

“Thanks for all those lessons, Commander,” Riley said. “They’ve really paid off.”

After the takeover of the Control Room, events blurred together. Lack of sleep and the stress of the previous eighty hours caught up to me. With my body aching from Vinco’s attack, I blindly followed Riley back to the infirmary to have the cuts on my neck stitched. At this rate, I would use up all the thread.

The male doctor who had helped with Doreen was pressed into service while the others decided what to do with Doctor Lamont.

I woke hours later in the infirmary’s extra bedroom. Searching, I found the doctor bustling about the infirmary, tending the others wounded in the fight.

“Go back to bed, Ella,” he ordered.

I didn’t bother to correct him. Trella, Ella or Sadie—at this point I didn’t care. Instead I said, “Every bed is full. You’ll need my help.”

He scanned the room. “Nothing serious, thank air. And only a few Pop Cops were recycled. You need your rest. Once things settle down, it’s going to be…interesting around here.”

I shuffled back to my room, thinking my task was complete and I’d leave the others to figure out the rest.

The second time I woke, Riley sat on the edge of my bed. He beamed as if he knew something I didn’t.

“What?” I asked.

“You look much better.” He smoothed a strand of hair from my face.

“I’m sure you didn’t come here to tell me that.”

“No, but it’s nice to see. Especially after…you know…Vinco.”

I shuddered at the memory of his wicked knife. Touching the tender area on my throat, I remembered how it could have been worse. “Thanks for saving me.”

“Anytime.” He flashed me another overly bright smile.

I pushed to a sitting position. “Okay, Riley, tell me what’s going on.”

“I found my brother.”

“Wonderful. How—no, let me guess. You went to the lower levels with Mama Sheepy and found the man who still had Dada Sheepy.”

“Yep. The Sheepy family is whole again. His name is Blake and he works in the kitchen.” He beamed.

I squinted. “You have more news.”

This time, he shot me a nervous smile. “I was hoping—” he pulled a necklace from his pocket “—we could make a commitment.”

A brief pulse of fear shot through me. “You mean be mates?”

“No. At least, not yet. Our tradition is to give a gift as the first step. Sort of a symbol that we plan to see how well we get along.” He laid the necklace in my palm.

A silver pendant swung from a thin chain. “A sheep?” I asked.

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