“It’s a long story,” Jules interjected, giving me a sympathetic look. She gestured to the bikes. “What’s going on there?”
“Tire busted on one of them,” Riley said. “We were trying to patch it up well enough so we could all ride back. It’s not working out.” He peered behind me. “Is that a new shuttle?”
“Wren rides in style,” Jules said with a grin.
Micah knelt down next to the busted bike. “We can put this one in the shuttle. Two of you can ride the other one back.” He straightened, scanning the area. “Hunt didn’t produce anything this time?”
“Sorry, man, we couldn’t find them,” Riley said.
Micah pointed to the east with his shotgun. “I just saw them right over there. You’re losing your touch, friend.” He nodded his head at me. “Wren, with me. Jules and Kyle, follow on the south side.” He looked at Riley. “You guys stay here and watch the shuttle. Get that bike loaded.”
I took a step toward Micah and stopped as Riley wrapped his cool fingers around my wrist. Most of the happiness drained from his face, the blank look I knew so well plastered there instead.
“Maybe Wren could stay here?” Riley asked.
Micah rolled his eyes. “You’ll have plenty of time to catch up, I promise. I told her she could hunt.”
Riley’s gaze flicked to mine as he released my wrist and I frowned, confused. I couldn’t read the expression on his face. Was he . . . worried? I hadn’t seen him worried about me since he was my trainer.
“Let’s go!” Micah said. He winked at me. “It’ll be fun.”
I cast one more glance back at Riley as I followed Micah, but he just stared at me blankly. Weird. I was going to have to ask him what that was about when we got a moment alone.
We walked through crunchy dead grass, the trees sparse around us, and Micah adjusted the shotgun strapped to his back and clicked the safety off the handgun. A handgun seemed like a weird choice for hunting, but he knew more about it than I did.
“You ever think about revenge?” he asked after we’d been walking several minutes, his voice low. “On that human who killed you and your parents?”
“No. I’m sure HARC already caught him anyway. I don’t think he was subtle about killing us.”
“But if they didn’t? Would you go back and kill him?”
I shook my head. “I really don’t care. I don’t feel anything when I think about my death. Or even my parents’ death.” I looked at him quickly. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that last part. That would have horrified Callum.
But Micah nodded like he understood. “Yeah, your parents would have rejected you once you Rebooted anyway.”
I thought of the look on Callum’s mother’s face as she stared at her son. Micah was right about that. My parents could barely stand me as a human.
“I admire your ability to separate out your emotions like that,” he said, carefully stepping over a rock and offering me his hand to help me. I ignored it. “I’m not always good at that.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise, but he didn’t elaborate. I thought about what Callum had said to me once, about the numbers not mattering. Was I less emotional because I was a One-seventy-eight, or because I was just me?
The prospect of it being just me was worse.
We walked into a thick patch of trees, Micah leading the way. I could see a hint of the river in front of us, and Micah took in a breath as he stopped behind a tree trunk. He reached for his com.
“In position?” he whispered into it.
“In position,” Jules replied.
He tucked the com into his pocket. “Ready?” He nodded in approval at my handgun. “Adults get one in the head. Anyone who looks young enough to Reboot gets a few in the chest. Got it?”
Micah turned away, stepping out from behind the tree with the gun pointed straight ahead. My fingers crept to where my shirt covered my scars.
“Anyone who looks young enough to Reboot gets a few in the chest.”
We weren’t hunting animals.
The screams pierced the quiet and I jumped, almost accidentally firing a bullet into the air.
I stumbled out of the trees to see Micah taking wide strides toward a small band of humans, squeezing off shot after shot. They were running in every direction, splashing through the dirty water of the river as they tried to escape.
Jules and Kyle emerged from the trees opposite us, picking off the ones Micah missed.
There was no return fire. They weren’t armed.
My eyes flicked over the scene. Tents. A fire. Abandoned food. No sign of HARC gear. They were simply regular humans, living here.
“Wren!” Micah turned to me, a happy-crazed expression on his face. Was this the emotion he was talking about? Delight in killing people?
“Go for it!” he yelled.
I lowered my gun with a slight shake of my head. I wasn’t killing these unarmed humans.
I wasn’t that much of a monster.
Micah rolled his eyes in exasperation as he turned back toward the humans. There were only two left.
Maybe I should have saved them. Maybe I should have stepped in and attempted to take on these three over One-twenties by myself.
I didn’t. I stood there, frozen, as Micah shot the last two humans in the chest. The boy was so young I had to turn away. The other one, a girl, was probably about my age.
“Is there a problem?” Micah asked as he lowered his gun. He cocked an eyebrow at me. It was a challenge.
“They were unarmed,” I said, choking back the urge to yell it at him.
He walked to me. He didn’t seem mad. In fact, he looked sympathetic. He placed a hand on my arm and I shrugged it off.
“I know it’s weird at first,” he said softly. “But just because they weren’t armed right now doesn’t mean they wouldn’t kill us the first chance they got. Just because we made the first move doesn’t make it wrong.”
I wasn’t sure that logic made any sense. I’d have to run it by Callum later, because I could almost see Micah’s point.
He shoved his gun in his pocket and looked at me expectantly, but I didn’t know what he wanted me to say. I wasn’t going to agree with him. I wasn’t going to argue. Silence seemed the best course of action at this point.
“Let’s pack it up,” Micah said, turning away from me and heading toward the camp.
“They don’t have much,” Jules said with a sigh, yanking one of the sticks of a tent out of the ground.