“Jesus, Tony,” Riley said, letting out a breath. “You scared the crap out of us.”
Tony grinned. “Apologies. We didn’t need to use the tunnel this time.”
Desmond walked up behind him, also carrying fuel. My memories from our time with the rebels were still fuzzy, but I remembered that he hadn’t looked at me in the same way Tony did. Tony regarded me like I was still a seventeen-year-old human, not a Reboot.
“Oh, good,” Desmond said dryly. “They brought the one who tried to eat us.”
I winced. “Sorry about that.”
Micah chuckled, holstering his gun. He shook Tony’s hand, and I tried not to cringe at the entirely fake smile he was giving the human.
“Why didn’t you have to use the tunnel?” Jules asked suspiciously.
Tony beamed again. He was exceedingly happy about something, and I felt bad about having to crush him. I clenched my fist tighter around my letter.
“The fence is only half staffed most days now,” he said, nodding back to it. “HARC’s having a hell of a time controlling the population in Austin. They’ve got to keep a lot of officers inside.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, my eyes flicking to the skyline.
“The facility is still a mess,” Tony said. “They don’t have it running yet, which means no Reboots. They want to ship in some from Rosa and New Dallas, but it’s too risky to leave those cities with so few Reboots. They don’t even have enough staff. A good amount of officers quit after that night. They all think One-seventy-eight will be back and they don’t want anything to do with it.”
My eyebrows shot up. I’d thought releasing all the Reboots in Austin was only a temporary setback for HARC. I’d assumed they’d have Reboots back in the facility in twenty-four hours, minimum.
“There are no Reboots in Austin?” Riley asked. “At all?”
Tony made a zero sign with his hand. “None. People in the slums are hopping the wall to the rico. No one cares about curfew. We managed to get so many weapons in our raid, we’ve armed half the city.” He turned to Micah. “I think now’s the time.”
Micah rubbed a hand over his chin. “You may be right.”
I swallowed, looking from Tony to Micah.
“HARC’s had to divert officers from other facilities to cover Austin,” Tony said excitedly. “They’re all weaker right now. Wren’s already done it once, with barely any support. With her, you should be able to attack all four with no problem.”
A flash of irritation crossed Micah’s features and I pressed my lips together to hide a smirk. I loved how annoyed he was that Wren was the better Reboot. Better in so many ways, actually.
Micah twisted his face into a smile again and it struck me that Wren could have turned out like him. He was the second-highest number I’d ever heard of. He had similar skills and abilities and that same calm, cool demeanor. I wished she were with me, because I would have squeezed her hand and told her how much better she was than him.
“I think we’re probably looking at days,” Micah said. “Everyone is trained and ready and, thanks to you guys, we have enough fuel to get everyone there.”
I winced, which Desmond noticed, and a slight frown crossed his face. I was sort of glad I didn’t have to tell them the bad news in person. He might shoot me.
“I’ll radio tomorrow and let you know when we’re thinking,” Micah said. “Most likely day after tomorrow. We want to hit Rosa first, then the other three directly after. Keep the momentum going.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tony said, vigorously shaking his hand.
Riley and Jules grabbed the fuel and started to walk back the way we came. I quickly stepped forward as Tony began to turn away.
“Um, I wanted to say thank you.” I extended my hand, the letter pressed into my palm. “For helping Wren get me the antidote.”
“You’re welcome, son,” Tony said, taking my hand. His gaze darted down when he felt the paper and when he looked at me again some of the excitement had drained from his eyes.
I slowly dropped my hand and he quickly put his own in his pocket, the letter safely in his palm. “I hope I can return the favor someday,” I said quietly.
He nodded, and I turned around to see Micah watching me, his face expressionless. His eyes followed me and a flash of nervousness raced over me.
“Here,” Riley said, shoving a fuel container at me. I took it and picked up my pace to match his.
Micah took one of the containers from Jules, a smile creeping over his face. “It’s finally time.”
I TURNED AT THE SOUND OF A SHUTTLE, RELIEF FLOODING MY chest. It must have been almost dawn, and I hadn’t been able to sleep after my fight with Callum. Part of me knew he was well trained and fully capable of taking care of himself, but the other part of me was upset I hadn’t gone with him so I could make sure.
He pulled back the tent flap a couple minutes later and looked at me in surprise. “Hey,” he said softly as he crawled inside. “You’re awake.”
“Couldn’t sleep. Did it go okay?”
He nodded as he took his place next to me. “Fine. I gave Tony the note.” He studied me for a moment, his face serious, and I swallowed as I prepared for the worst.
He ran his hand beneath my hair and tilted my head up, planting a soft kiss on my lips, and I took in a surprised breath.
“I was thinking tonight that maybe it’s unfair for me to tell you how to feel,” he said quietly.
I pressed my hand to his chest, playing with the fabric of his shirt. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I kept quiet. Maybe it was unfair.
“And I like you because you’re funny and strong and different and—”
“Stop,” I said, ducking my head closer to his chest as my cheeks started burning.
“You’re the one who accused me of not liking who you are,” he said with a laugh. “I’m listing what I like.”
“I know. I regret it now.”
He chuckled as he put a hand under my chin and tilted my face to his. “Fine.” He kissed my cheek, then pulled away to look into my eyes.
“I don’t care about you killing people because you did it because you had to,” he said. “The first time you were presented with the opportunity to kill innocent people, you were horrified. You don’t give yourself enough credit. I was looking at Micah tonight, thinking you could have turned out like him. But you didn’t.” He smoothed my hair back. “Not at all.”