Inside Out Page 54


She turned.

“Thank you.”

Flashing me a smile, she left. The bluelights remained on, and I wondered why her motion hadn’t triggered the daylights. Perhaps Riley had turned off the sensor. Her comments about Riley as my young man made me laugh. Pain flared near my hip and I stopped.

I scanned the room for the fifth time. Nothing to do or see, I was alone with my thoughts. Funny how I had craved to be alone and now I wished for company. Wished to see Cog’s happy face. I had been avoiding the clock, keeping my gaze away. If I didn’t know the time, then Cog was still alive.

Instead, I reviewed my conversation with the doctor. This quest to find Gateway had started because I wanted to prove Broken Man wrong and save Cog the disappointment when his prophet disappeared without keeping his promises.

A simple task which had blown into a complicated mess, involving six—seven if I count the doctor—people. Actually, if I included Jacy and his group, the scrub who covered for me and the kitchen scrubs, I was well past twenty.

Not the actions of sheep at all. In fact, if I was honest with myself, I’d wanted to prove Broken Man wrong to save myself from hoping. To give myself permission to not care about the scrubs. So I could view them and treat them just like the Pop Cops did. As sheep.

Some Queen of the Pipes, I thought. I’d believed I was better than a mindless drone. But I was the mindless one, hiding away. Even now I referred to them as if I didn’t belong. I had completely fallen for the Pop Cop propaganda. The computers in the care facility listed all the wonderful things the uppers did and their wonderful lives. Being a scrub was undesirable and hard work, living in crowded conditions with no privacy and just being one of many. Undistinguishable.

The propaganda was crafted to make scrubs distance themselves from other scrubs so they wouldn’t be lumped into one universal category. Queen of the Pipes was better than being a scrub. I fell for it, but others hadn’t. Cog, for one. He remembered names and treated everyone as if they were special. Rat in waste management. He was proud of his work, despite his job being considered even beneath a scrub.

Shame over my behavior pulsed in my chest. I dug deeper into my motivations for pursuing the location of Gateway and my entire body cringed. I covered my eyes with my free hand, yet the darkness didn’t block the realization. Selfish. The word flashed in front of my eyes as if burned in the underside of my eyelids.

In my small metal heart, I’d wanted to find Gateway for me. So I could escape from being a scrub. I could try to rationalize it—my desire to help Cog was genuine—but my desire to help myself was stronger.

Disgust, self-loathing and guilt all rolled into a noxious mix, filling me until I acknowledged them and had wallowed in them for a while. Then I purged them. Gateway existed and the game wasn’t over yet.

Maximum damage.

Unflinching, I looked at the clock. Hour ninety-six. Cog was still alive. I had three hours to…What? I couldn’t even laugh without pain, and couldn’t count on Riley’s help. His shift lasted until hour hundred, and I assumed he would come straight here.

I scanned the room for ideas. My tool belt and bloodstained clothes lay tangled together in a heap by the desk. The tools were long gone, but I hoped the pouches still held Logan’s decoder device and Jacy’s microphone.

A small amount of liquid remained in the bag over my head. I wiggled into a sitting position, closing my eyes against a burst of pain and wave of dizziness. When my head stopped spinning, I examined my arm. My wrist had been turned to expose the underside of my arm. The top of the metal needle at the end of the tube had been taped to my skin on the opposite side of my elbow.

I pulled the tape off the tube. Each tug caused a pinching jab. When the tube was free, I tugged the needle out. Blood welled. Another round of dizziness claimed my attention for a few moments. Unwrapping the rest of the tape to remove the white board, I focused on the positive. There was less hair on the underside of my arm. If my wrist had been turned the other way, the sting from removing the tape would have been worse.

Once I was free, I paused to catch my breath before working the stiffness out of my arm. Bending over to retrieve my tool belt from the floor, I toppled. Bad idea. Daggers of pain robbed me of breath. On the upside, I landed near my tool belt. Sheer willpower kept me from passing out.

I found both Logan’s and Jacy’s devices close to the heating vent. My initial idea had been to bring Logan’s decoder to Cog. He could unlock his cell door and escape. Pure fantasy. If the air shaft vent in the cells had been barred, it stood to reason that the heating vents would also be secured. Plus where would he go?

But I could do one thing for him. Determined, I found the student’s uniform I had stashed under the couch. I wore nothing but a bandage under the robe. I wondered if Riley had helped the doctor. Heat flushed my face.

My line of thought wasn’t conducive to my mission so I concentrated on getting dressed. I taped a small pillow to my wound before donning the uniform. Ignoring the pain, I crawled over to the heating vent and opened it.

Amazingly, the pillow did a decent job of cushioning my injury as I slithered/crawled through the duct. However, my battered muscles protested each movement and dizziness plagued my efforts. I paused often, and set little goals for myself.

Just make it to the bend, I willed, and I celebrated each one with a rest before setting the next. I had no idea how long I spent traveling to the holding cells. All that mattered was reaching Cog before they led him down to Chomper.

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