Inside Out Page 20

Realization finally clicked, and my bad situation turned downright rotten. I groaned. “You’re Tech Nos.”

Working in the recycling quadrant, Tech Nos “rescued” certain discarded items from the upper levels. They played around with the illegal technology—illegal for scrubs to have—and made it better. The Pop Cops hunted and killed these Tech Nos as fast as they would disease-carrying vermin. It was amazing Logan and Anne-Jade were still alive.

“How do you…where do you…” I couldn’t finish. The recycling-plant workers were monitored, their bunks searched on a regular basis.

“We’re allowed to make toys and different supplies from the metal waste.” Logan twisted the key. “Most of our toys are delivered to the uppers for their children, but we keep a few special ones.”

With space at a premium, scrubs owned few possessions. “Where?”

“Here and there. A few stay with us. This little guy is my favorite right now, and if a Pop Cop asks about it, I just say I’m doing safety testing on it before sending it to the uppers.”

Impressive and scary. “How much did you hear?”

“The conversation you had with Broken Man and Cog,” Anne-Jade said, “and the rescue. But wherever you have hidden him, we can’t get a signal.”

At least they didn’t know about the port. “I still don’t think you can help me.”

“We’re assuming you’re going to need to enter a few secure locations in search of Gateway. We have other gadgets,” Anne-Jade said.

When I didn’t respond, she huffed in frustration. “How did you plan to get past the motion detectors?”

“With creative wiring.”

“No need. We’ve built an invisibility device,” Logan said with pride.

I couldn’t mask my disbelief. “You can make me invisible?”

“To the sensors. When you turn on our Not-There Machine, the sensors won’t detect your presence.”

Passion shone from Logan’s eyes, but I wasn’t a sucker. “You two are either working for the Pop Cops or delusional.” I stood to go.

“This isn’t proof enough?” Logan held the toy mouse up.

“Yes. Proof you’re working with the Pop Cops.”

Logan opened his mouth to speak, but Anne-Jade shot him a look. “Fine,” she said. “Think what you want, but you owe us one for covering for Cog.”

“I don’t—”

She ignored me. “In the supply closet in Sector H1 is a small cleaning device.”

“Anne-Jade, if she doesn’t trust us, we shouldn’t trust her,” Logan said.

She frowned at him. “Someone has to take the first step.” Returning her attention to me, she said, “Do you know the one?”

“Zippy?” He was a quarter of the size of the regular trolls, and made to fit into tight pipes.

“You have names for the cleaning devices, and you call us delusional?” She tapped her chest to emphasize her point. “If you hold down its…Zippy’s on button for ten seconds, it not only cleans dirt, but will suck up all evidence of your presence in a place where you shouldn’t be.”

I’d heard more believable fairy tales. “How can Zippy suck up the evidence?”

Logan perked up. “Motion detectors emit pulses—”

“She doesn’t need to hear a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo,” Anne-Jade snapped at him. “It comes down to trust, Trella. You take Zippy out for a spin, and then let us know what else we can do to help you.”

They wove through the crowded cafeteria, taking their “toy” with them. The harsh clamor of multiple voices seemed louder than before. I suffered the noise as long as I could before leaving the room and reporting for my next work shift.

My thoughts replayed the encounter with the Tech Nos. If I was found associating with them or using illegal technology, I would be kill-zapped in an instant. I didn’t doubt I would be caught. I just wanted to…What? Find Gateway first?

I chided myself for such mushy thoughts. The end result would probably be exposing the whole endeavor as a hoax. Instead of wasting time, I concentrated on the next task, letting no emotions cloud my judgment. If Zippy worked, then it would make retrieving Broken Man’s port a whole lot easier. And if it didn’t? Then I hoped I could outrun the Pop Cops again.

During my shift, I planned how best to approach LC Karla’s office. I overrode the speed control on the cleaning troll and increased the pace. If I finished all my scheduled ducts early, I could sleep for a few hours before sneaking to level four.

“What do you want to know?” Jacy asked in a low voice. The scrub leaned against a column of bunks, appearing relaxed, but tension rolled off him. Two of his buddies hovered nearby. They kept watch, ensuring our conversation wouldn’t be overheard by the Pop Cops. Bluelight lit the scrubs’ barrack in Sector D1, and the snores and heavy breathing of sleeping scrubs filled the room. The musty smell of dirty socks mixed with sleep-breath, creating a rank odor. No wonder I slept in the pipes.

“I need to know Lieutenant Commander Karla’s schedule,” I said.

We were in a poorly lit corner. Rows and rows of bunks, reaching from top to bottom filled the room. Three beds per column. One meter of headroom per bed. The wooden dividers between them contained two drawers. One for the possessions of the first shift scrub who slept there and the other for the second’s.

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