Inside Out Page 33

“We’re going to be discovered anyway. Might as well go out with style,” Logan said.

She scowled as Logan pouted, but by the tight set to Anne-Jade’s shoulders I knew she wouldn’t change her mind. A Pop Cop sauntered by and we concentrated on our work.

Her reaction didn’t make sense. They had covered for Cog and told me about Zippy. Why was this different? I ran a tattered shirt through my fingers. The steady plink of buttons dropping into a bucket and clack of zippers kept time with my thoughts.

The answer was right in front of me in the movement of their hands. They worked as one, progressing through the pile of clothes without any signs of communication. Anne-Jade wasn’t afraid he would be recycled, but that he would be recycled without her. They were a matched set.

I used logic. “If he doesn’t help, Broken Man will go after the information anyway. He’ll be arrested and interrogated, which will lead the Pop Cops to me and I’ll lead them to you.” I suppressed a shudder. The pain would have to be horrible for me to rat on them.

“Are you threatening me?” Anne-Jade thrust her scissors in my direction.

“No. I’m just stating the facts. We’ve come too far to back off now. If Broken Man’s efforts fail, then you and Logan will be recycled without causing any damage.”

Her arm dropped and she returned to cutting zippers. “When do you need him?”

“Right after assembly is over. Logan, meet me in the hallway outside the care facility.”

He flashed me a grin, but Anne-Jade kept her eyes on her work, ripping threads and seams with more force than needed. The sound of tearing cloth followed me as I left the plant.

I had a few more bits of unfinished business. Jacy’s listening devices needed to be installed. Air duct number seventy-two was located above the fourth level. It didn’t cross over Riley’s room. In fact, it supplied air to two areas only. The main control room in Quad G4 and the Pop Cops headquarters and holding cells in Quad A4. Extra filters had been installed and a few special scrubbers.

Remembering the gas hissing from the canisters in Domotor’s room, I guessed the extra precautions kept an enemy from sending airborne poisons through the vents.

The known ways into seventy-two were either through the vents in the actual rooms or at the air source. Since I doubted LC Karla would let me use her office to climb into the duct, I headed to the air plant in Quad I4. I could cut a hole into the shaft from the Gap, but the ducts weren’t labeled and the effort to figure it out would consume more time than I had available.

I wore the air workers’ plain white jumper, tucking my hair under the bump cap. The air filters and scrubbers were cleaned on a regular schedule. Between shifts only a few scrubs lingered to keep an eye on the equipment. I strode to a two-meter-high rectangular box as if I had an urgent purpose. A large air shaft entered the side of the container and another exited the other end. No one questioned me as I climbed the ladder to the top of the container and the access ports that allowed the scrubs to remove the filters, clean them and return them.

Lowering myself, I squeezed through the rows of filters. Soft and made of a cloth mesh, the bags trapped the dust particles in the air. A strong current pushed through the chamber. I tried hard not to damage the filters as I swam through them. On the intake side of the container, I climbed into the oversized trunk air shaft and followed it up to one of its branches—air shaft seventy-two.

Working my way through air filters and wire security screens, I reached the Pop Cops headquarters and placed a microphone near a vent.

I couldn’t resist making a side trip to the holding cells. Risky, yes, but there could be a way to rescue Cog, I rationalized. When the covers on the vents turned into solid bars, I knew I had reached my destination. Slowing, I moved with care. Only a slight whisper of fabric sounded.

Harsh daylight streamed from below. Armed Pop Cops occupied the room. Desks and chairs with handcuffs littered the space, appearing to be a processing area for the inmates. Double doors festooned with locks filled the back wall.

Farther along the shaft the light changed into a muted yellow. The smells of sweat, blood and fear created an acidic stew. Taking shallow breaths, I peered into the dank cells. Black bars caged tiny areas only big enough for a bed and toilet. Although, calling the metal slab a bed was being generous. Three cells lined each side of the room with a short corridor between them. Cog was the sole occupant.

His bulk filled the slab and his feet dangled off the end. In the sickly half light the raw and bleeding bruises on his face resembled rotten meat. His eyes were swollen shut and his breath rattled. I rested my forehead on the duct for a moment, trying to see past the fog of horror and guilt clouding my vision. Pressure built inside my skull and chest as if I would explode. I fought to muffle my sobs.

My fault. Retrieving those disks had been a lark. I didn’t believe in Gateway, didn’t care about the prophet. One mistake, letting the cover slip through my fingers, and Cog…I wanted to shy away from the vision, but I forced myself to face the image of Chomper crushing and pulping Cogon’s lifeless body, and to hear the sound of splintering bones and the wet smack of bodily fluids. I let the consequence of my actions burn into my mind.

No way to change the past, I could only hope to affect the future before I met the same fate. For Cogon, and in Logan’s words, I would inflict the maximum damage.

“Cog?” I whispered. When he didn’t stir, I cupped my hands around my mouth and called louder. After the fourth try, he moved his head.

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