Inside Out Page 9

“They’ll think I killed the Pop Cop. I’ll be recycled,” Broken Man said.

“You were going to be recycled anyway,” I said.

Broken Man jerked his head in shock.

“What did you think they would do after they interrogated you?” I asked.

“But what happened to you?” the prophet asked.

“Yeah, why are you here, Trella?”

Broken Man’s nose crinkled in confusion. He was either a good actor or genuinely flustered. Drowning in trouble and still unable to trust the blond-haired man, I hesitated. Cogon stepped toward me, a mixture of fear and anger twisting his face. An expression I had never seen on Cog. There was only one scrub I cared for in this whole metal world, and he wallowed in this predicament with me.

Damn. I pulled out the disks, spreading them in my hands like a fan. Cog’s mouth dropped open as though someone had slapped him.

Broken Man raked his fingers through his hair as understanding dawned. “But the Pop Cops didn’t know about the disks,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I used an untraceable port and covered my tracks for the file transfer. However, I wasn’t as clever with my other forays into the computer system and was caught. When they questioned me before my accident and exile, they hadn’t a clue about the hidden files.”

He glanced around the room. “Unless they suspected.”

“So the Pop Cops rigged your former quarters just in case,” I said.

“Why not just pick me up and ask?” Broken Man shuddered. The Pop Cops had a gruesome reputation.

“They knew where to find you. They knew you didn’t have the disks on you. Plus if they waited, they could see who you recruited to break the rules in order to help you.”

“That’s why you rescued him,” Cog said. “You started this whole mess by getting the disks.”

I bit down on my retort. In my mind, Cogon had started it when he introduced me to his prophet, but in fairness I had made the decision to retrieve the disks. “All right,” I said to Broken Man. “Cog and I’ll have to lay low for a while. Let’s hope no one spotted Cog entering the lift. You’ll have to hide here.”

“The scanners?” he asked.

“The power and heat coming off those engines plays havoc with their scanners. This room hasn’t been used for hundreds of weeks. Keep the door locked at all times.”

Cog rubbed a hand over his face. “I could put a blind in front of the door.”

“A blind?” I asked.

“It’s a thin sheet of metal. The maintenance crew uses them to cover holes and dents in the walls. If you match the rivets up right, no one can tell what’s behind the blind. I’ll do it during my next shift,” he said.

“Good. Make sure no one sees you. And when you’re done, keep far away from this room. I’ll take care of Broken Man.”

Cog nodded, pulled out a set of earplugs from his belt and handed them to Broken Man. “I’ll also bring some insulating foam to cut down the noise.”

The quarters had a bathroom, but I had to make sure the water was turned on. Our shifts started in a few minutes. “Can you take care of yourself for the next shift?” I asked the prophet.

“I’ll be fine for now,” he replied though his eyes looked a little wild. He held his hand out. “I’ll keep the disks.”

“No. If they find you, they find the disks. I’ll hide them,” I said. I stuffed the disks back into my belt. Broken Man pulled his hand away. His expression guarded.

Cog left through the door, and I locked it behind him. “I’ll be back after my shift with a few supplies.”

The prophet blinked at me, but said nothing as he pushed the green foam plugs into his ears.

I climbed into the vents and found the valves to turn on the water. Then I hurried to level two to report for work.

Ten hours seemed like an eternity as my thoughts dwelled on the need to hide the disks.

After my shift, I climbed to level four. This time I didn’t slip and I didn’t encounter any RATSS. Ultrasonic scanners and RATSS they might have, but I knew plenty of hiding places all over Inside where the electromagnetic currents scrambled ultrasonic waves. Spots that reflected a solid wall on their scanner displays. I stayed in those hidden areas as I traveled.

In the Gap on top of level four, I had hidden a small box where I kept my valuables. It was difficult to find and dangerous to reach. Perfect for hiding Broken Man’s disks.

My niche appeared untouched. Until now, I had stored only two items in this cabinet. I placed the disks next to the thread-picture of my Care Mother. Colored threads had been sewn onto a white handkerchief, and, from a distance, her face and kind eyes could be seen.

She understood my need to disappear in the pipes. Her support when Cog grew out of our group had made living bearable. I wondered what my CM would think about the trouble we were in now. Considering the problems my care mates and I had managed to cause during our stay, I imagined she would sigh with exasperation.

Imagining her frown, I smiled because, no matter how hard she had scowled, she couldn’t stifle the gleam in her eyes. The gleam that said she was proud of our inventiveness. The gleam that encouraged us during lessons to think for ourselves even while she taught us the standard Pop Cop propaganda.

It must have been difficult for her, getting a new child when one of the older kids reached the age of maturity and left. Our ages had ranged from newborn to fourteen centiweeks old.

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