didn’t bite, he cocked his head to one side. “You’re quiet, aren’t you? Most people want to hear about the guards, and whether there’s a way out … you haven’t asked yet.”
“I’m not interested in escaping. I just want to serve my time and be done.”
“We-ell, okay, Miss Straight-and-Narrow. I know you’re wondering, so I’ll tell you anyway: there are ways out in every direction, literally. Ain’t no fence, nothing separating the city from the outside world, once you leave the compound. But they have every inch under surveillance, and they watch our ankle trackers, and those drones are fast. They’re armed, and I’ve seen them shoot – they don’t miss. You try to make a run for it, you’ll just end up right back in here with a sore ass and a headache from the stun dart.”
“Inside the city’s under surveillance, too?”
Grip considered for a second. “I’ve seen cameras here and there, but not many. They don’t really care what goes on in the city. Don’t really much care what goes on in the compound for that matter, either. Just so long as the scrap trucks get filled on schedule.”
* * *
Breathing hard, Paisen completed her tenth circuit of the yard as the sun rose the following morning. She slowed to a walk, and then finished her exercise routine with a set of burpees before jogging to the cafeteria. Breakfast was just being set out – she picked up a bowl of what looked to be oatmeal and a small apple, and ate in silence, alone at the end of a long, metal table. Finished, she made her way back to the barracks area, where she packed a canvas duffel bag with a spare set of coveralls, a jacket, and her sleeping bag. Then she went back outside and sat on one of the benches, watching as other inmates walked between buildings, starting their own days. Grip came down twenty minutes later.
“Morning,” he yawned. “Did you eat already?”
“Yes,” Paisen told him impatiently.
“Well, the scrap’s not going anywhere, and I’m hungry, so let’s go back to the cafeteria,” Grip said. “We need to pick up some water and rations for the trip, anyway.”
After Grip had eaten, they filled a bag with ration bars and water, and made their way over to the decontamination shed. Inside, Grip led Paisen to a long row of vehicle bays, half of which were filled with well-worn hoversleds.
“Looks like somebody has Betty already checked out,” Grip complained. “We’ll take Tina, she’s pretty reliable.”
He stopped next to a rusted sled, and tapped on the vehicle’s control panel. It lit up dutifully, and the sled rose several inches off the ground.
“We ride?” Paisen asked, eyeing the sled’s cargo bed dubiously.
“Nope,” Grip replied, dumping his overnight bag on the sled. “We walk. Tina will follow us wherever we go, but she’s not much of a passenger vehicle.”
He walked out into the main decontamination area, and Paisen watched over her shoulder as the sled pulled out of its bay, pacing them as they walked. Several teams of inmates were at the decontamination stations near the warehouse’s entrance, soaked to the bone as they hosed down items on their sleds with power washers and chemical sprayers. As they finished cleaning scrap, Paisen saw them place it on a conveyor belt that scanned the items, then dropped them into the bed of a cargo truck.
Outside, the sun was starting to burn off some of the early morning haze. Grip stopped and pulled a pair of sunglasses out of a pocket.
“Found these on a scrap haul a couple weeks ago,” he said, smiling with pride. “Sorry, only got one pair.”
“I’m fine,” Paisen replied. Her implants had already adjusted for the higher light levels, but she squinted to hide that fact from Grip. “Where to?”
Grip turned to Tina’s control panel and called up a map of the city on his screen. “Been hearing good things about grid G14 around the chow hall.” A route appeared on the screen, and Grip oriented