“What a relief,” Addie said dryly. “Me and my baby maker are going to go over there and tell the others.”
I didn’t know whether to give her an exasperated look or laugh at that comment, and the edges of her mouth turned up in a smile when she caught both expressions on my face. I quickly wiped away my amusement as I turned to Micah.
“I’m surprised she survived at HARC,” Micah said, watching her walk away. “Doesn’t seem like she takes orders well.”
I shrugged. Addie had been at HARC for six years, so she must have done something right. And I couldn’t help thinking that maybe she was simply tired of taking orders. I certainly was.
Two Reboot kids ran around the fire pit, and Micah followed my gaze. He grinned. “Cool, isn’t it?”
“Weird,” I murmured. The girl Reboot was maybe four years old, and she shrieked as a shorter girl chased her dangerously close to the fire. No one seemed concerned by this, and I guessed it wouldn’t matter if both of them fell in and rolled around in the flames.
If Reboot babies were encouraged, it didn’t look like that many people were feeling inclined. I’d only seen the one baby last night and I’d only noticed one little boy, other than the two girls at the fire pit.
“Are there a lot of kids here?” I asked.
Micah headed in the direction of the food table, motioning for me to follow him. “No,” he said, eyes downcast as he handed me a bowl. “There were more, but they’re gone now.”
“Gone where?” I asked. A girl about my age shoveled oats into my bowl. Everyone was close to my age, actually. The makeup of the reservation was similar to HARC, with most Reboots falling between twelve and twenty. Where was everyone else? Shouldn’t there have been more people around Micah’s age? Or older?
He was silent until we sat down in the dirt. “We had more people about a year ago.” His voice was low.
“Where’d they go?” I gripped my spoon tighter.
“A group of fifty or so took off by themselves.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “Why?”
“You’ve noticed there aren’t a lot of older Reboots on the reservation?”
“We had a falling-out,” he replied. “The older generation wasn’t happy here, didn’t like the way I was running things, so they left. Most of the people with children decided to go with them. Thought they’d be safer away from here.”
“Do you know where they went?” The idea of a second safe community for Reboots was comforting, especially if this one didn’t work out.
“They all died,” Micah said, a pained expression crossing his face. “I tried to tell them it wasn’t safe, that our biggest advantage was our numbers and our weapons, but they went anyway. I found them a week later, on a hunt. It looked like HARC got to them.”
“Did they go south?” I asked, surprised.
“More, like, west,” Micah said, shielding his eyes with his hand as he gazed in the direction of the sun. “But HARC has ways of tracking and hunting people everywhere.”
I swallowed a bite of oats, a blip of fear running through me. If that was true, my backup plan of running off with Callum wasn’t looking so good.
“How did HARC get them?” I asked. “Weren’t they armed?”
“Barely. Our weapons are reservation weapons. I wasn’t handing them off to a group of people deserting us. They took what they had, but it wasn’t enough. From the looks of it, HARC sent in a lot of officers. More than they could fight off.”
It seemed like Micah had more than enough weapons to spare. I wondered if everyone at the reservation was okay with him sending Reboots away who were barely armed to defend themselves. “How many people are here now?” I asked.
“A little over a hundred. Maybe a hundred and fifteen. We were a hundred and twenty-seven yesterday before you guys got here, but I’m still waiting for an accurate count of how many we lost.” He jumped to his feet, clearing his throat. “You done? I’ll take you on that tour.”
I wanted to ask why exactly all those Reboots had left, but the way Micah had said they didn’t like the way he was running things made me doubt I would get a full answer. Maybe that was a better question for Riley, or one of the other Reboots here.
We dropped our bowls off to be washed and I followed him through the reservation. He pointed out areas where they made clothes and other necessities, like soap and furniture. They used one tent for school, and he said some of the younger Austin Reboots should start attending again. He was probably right. I’d managed to hold on to a lot of my education, but I’d received nothing after the age of twelve. Maybe a trip to that tent would be a good idea for me, too.
He led me outside and we walked to the edge of their expansive crops. They grew oats and wheat and beans, among other things. A large barn was one of the only permanent structures on the compound, and it was full of livestock.
I had to hand it to Micah. This place was organized and thriving under his command. I had the feeling that if HARC let him into the cities he would clean them up in less than a month and have everyone fed, clothed, and organized.
“Is there going to be enough food to feed everyone with a hundred extra people?” I asked as we started walking back toward the reservation. “I don’t know a lot about growing, but you already harvested everything from last season, right?”
He nodded. “It might be tight, but we’ll be okay. We’ve got some gardens on the reservation, too. I’m working on a plan to make sure everyone is taken care of. Plus we were still producing enough for the Reboots who left.”
He looked sad every time he talked about them, and I felt a spark of pity for him. It must have been a huge amount of pressure, taking care of so many Reboots while HARC was constantly trying to kill them.
“The hunting team should have been back by now,” Micah murmured as he stared at the sky. “They were scheduled to return this morning.”
“Are they usually back on time?”
“Yes, when Riley goes. You know him. He doesn’t deviate from the plan.”
That was true. He’d been an even stricter trainer than I was. He probably would have let Officer Mayer kill Callum without protest.
“Where are they?” I asked. “Can you go look for them?”
“Let’s go see if they got one of the shuttles running,” he said. “They went pretty far, about a hundred and thirty miles north, but it won’t take us long in a shuttle.”