Inside Out Page 35

“Anytime,” he said, winking.

LC Karla climbed onto a table to address the crowd. “Citizens, welcome to the end-of-the-week celebration. Now begins week number 147,003.” She scanned the scrubs. “I have good news. We have caught the man responsible for my officer’s untimely recycling, and we will find Broken Man soon. However, if you know of anyone who may have helped hide Broken Man, you are to tell me immediately. Rewards for accurate information may result in promotion to the upper levels.”

Absolute silence filled the room. All moisture evaporated from my mouth and gushed from my pores. I couldn’t help glancing at the man beside me. Why didn’t he raise his hand and tell the LC about lying for me? He didn’t move. No one did.

LC Karla’s body stiffened and she shook as if waves of pure anger pulsed off her. She glared at the crowd. “Fine, then you all will be interrogated. One at a time.”

She relinquished her tabletop position to the ensign on duty. As he read the weekly announcements, murmurs circled the room. But the whispers held a timbre of outrage.

The man leaned over. “She’s made a mistake.” He met my gaze. “Whatever you’re up to, do it quick. I think you’ll be first on her interrogation list.”

I listened to the rest of the ensign’s message without hearing a word he said. My thoughts tumbled in circles, ending at the same point. I stifled the desire to jump on a tabletop and shout to the scrubs, “Don’t get your hopes up!”

When the assembly was over, I bolted into the kitchen. Karla stood at the exit and I didn’t want to remind her about me. If she caught me later, I could say I had needed to start my cleaning shift. True to a point.

No Pop Cops had arrived yet, and the kitchen scrubs took my presence in stride, preparing food for the next meal. I could reach the air vent above the countertop, but would have difficulty getting inside. Scanning the kitchen, I searched for a stool to stand on.

A thud sounded behind me and I turned. On the counter rested a stepladder. The type with only a few rungs and used to reach into high cabinets. Without delay, I climbed on the counter and up the ladder.

“Thanks!” I called as I pulled myself into the air shaft. The ladder was gone by the time I closed the vent’s cover. I traveled through the shaft to the hallway outside the care facility in Sector H2. Once there, I glanced down. A stream of scrubs heading toward their work assignments flowed below me. I waited a few minutes then dropped down on the stragglers.

No curses. No taunts. I could get used to it. Although if I failed to help the scrubs, the verbal abuse would resume. I laughed. If I failed, the scrubs would be the least of my worries.

Logan paced the hallway, biting a nail. I scanned the hallway to make sure no Pop Cops lingered nearby. He stopped when he saw me. I pulled his hand down.

“Try not to look so nervous,” I said. “How do you manage to work on Zippy and the other technology without giving yourself away?”

“Anne-Jade. She has nerves of glass. It has to be pretty hot for her to melt.”

“We’ll be out of sight soon.” I guided him to a small door near the care facility. Taking his decoder from my tool belt, I whispered, “Keep an eye out.” Then I placed the device near the door’s lock, pressing the button.

“Anne-Jade? What are you doing here?” Logan asked.

I looked over my shoulder. Barefooted, Anne-Jade wore a skintight dark blue work uniform. Her thick hair had been wrestled into a single braid.

“I need Trella’s birth week and barrack number,” she said.

“Why?” Logan asked.

“Good idea,” I said, rattling off my stats. “I’m supposed to be in—”

“Shaft one eleven. Got it.” She hurried off.

I reviewed my cleaning schedule in my mind—two water pipes and a bunch of air ducts on level one. Nothing too challenging for her.

The decoder had finished. I unlocked the door and pulled Logan into a small storage room filled with stacks of linen diapers. Closing the door, I switched on my light. Situated under the shelves was a heating vent. My fellow scrubs didn’t bat an eye when I wormed into the heating system, but Logan’s presence would draw unwanted attention. I had thought ahead, remembering this closet. However I had failed to find a solution for missing my shift, hoping we would be done in time for me finish it. But Anne-Jade figured it out.

“Oh,” Logan said. His puzzled expression smoothed. “She’s pretending to be you so the Pop Cops won’t be suspicious. Smart!”

“So are you,” I said.

“Not that kind of smart.”

“There’s another kind?”

“Oh, yeah. I know the tech stuff, but she’s the one who disguises it. The Pop Cops walk by our stuff all the time and don’t know it’s there. She’s the one who figures out what we can take from the recycling plant and when. She’s the one who insisted we not tell the other Tech Nos about us.”

“That is smart,” I agreed. Pulling the vent cover down, I pointed. “Follow me, it’s not far. Close the vent when you’re through, and keep quiet. Voices carry in there.”

He nodded and then gnawed on a fingernail. I squirmed into the vent and moved ahead to give Logan room. My sore forearms protested. From all the time spent in the ducts, I would develop calluses on my elbows and wrists. How would I explain them to LC Karla?

The trip to Domotor’s room took twice as long as usual. Logan’s slight build fit into the shaft, but his arm muscles weren’t used to pulling his weight. When we finally entered the hideout, Domotor woke with a jerk. He had been sleeping on the couch. He pushed himself into a sitting position and studied Logan in alarm.

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