“Fence guards are firing!” George yelled, swerving us hard to the right.
I ran back to the pilot’s chair, peering over his shoulder in time to see him swing to miss a shot from the ground.
“Do you need us to return fire?” I asked, gripping the back of his chair tightly.
“Nope,” he said, increasing speed as we dove for the ground. “They weren’t expecting us. They’ve got no one in the air.”
I nodded as I scanned the sky, pointing to where I could see the top of the schoolhouse. “There. You should be able to land on the road.”
“Any chance of a soft landing? I’d like you to be able to pilot this thing out of here if you have to.”
He gave me a baffled look. “Are you kidding?”
I wasn’t sure which way to take that until he swooped lower to the ground and placed us very gently on the road in front of the schoolhouse. The area around us was deserted, quiet, the patchy grass in front of the schoolhouse giving way to the dirt road we were parked on. In the distance were the outline of houses and buildings, but there wasn’t a human in sight.
“Stay here, okay?” I said to George. “If things get really bad while I’m gone, you feel free to take off. Don’t wait for me.”
He nodded. “Got it.”
The shuttle door slid open and Beth stepped off with me, Riley right behind us. The second shuttle landed next to the first and the door opened. Isaac peered around the side, then motioned for the Reboots to follow him.
“I’m coming with you to Tony’s,” Riley said, sliding his gun from his waistband.
“I just told George to take off if things get bad here,” I said. “You’ll be stuck.”
“So will you.”
“I’m not leaving until I find Wren.”
He nodded, glancing at Beth. “You hear that? If you have to leave, don’t worry about us.”
I turned to the sky. No HARC shuttles yet and no one on the ground. If the humans had heard something, they weren’t investigating yet.
“Which way?” Riley asked.
I pointed. The directions were fuzzy in my head, but I remembered the general area. I knew what the house looked like.
I stole a glance over my shoulder as Riley and I took off running. The higher numbers had formed a line in front of the shuttles, weapons in hand but pointed at the ground. If they died or if something went wrong, that would be on me. Sure, I’d given them a choice, but it was my plan that put them here.
“They’ll be fine,” Riley said, tugging on my sleeve and making me face front again. “It’s a good plan, Callum.”
I wasn’t sure he meant that, but I gave him a tight smile anyway. I turned right on a familiar road and increased my pace until Riley and I were running top speed down the slum roads.
The sound of gunfire cut through the night as we turned onto Tony’s street. My chest tightened as I turned to look at the sky. Two sets of lights. HARC was coming.
Tony was already on his porch as we approached, a gun in his hand as he searched for the source of the commotion. Desmond ran out the door behind him, his eyes flashing with anger when he spotted us.
“Get away!” He jumped off the porch and strode across the lawn, gun pointed at my chest.
“We’re here to help,” I said, lifting my arms in surrender. Riley took a step forward and I quickly shook my head, motioning for him to stay put.
Tony walked closer to us, pushing Desmond’s gun down. His face wasn’t nearly as friendly as it had been last night.
“Is Micah here?” he asked, gesturing to the HARC shuttles in the sky.
“No. We left him at the reservation. The Reboots we brought want to help.”
Desmond snorted. “What a relief. Are we supposed to trust everything you say now?” He glared at Riley.
“I’m on your side here.” My voice rose as I looked between him and Tony. “And I brought the Reboots to do what you wanted.” I pointed in the direction of the schoolhouse. “They’re over there right now, fighting off HARC so you can take the city back.”
“Then where will they go?” Tony asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“There’s nowhere for us to go,” Riley said.
“We’ll stay,” I said with a nod. “I’m waiting for Wren and we’ll need human allies if we’re going to rescue Reboots in the facilities.”
“So you saving us is more like you occupying us,” Desmond spat.
I clenched my fists, trying to control my anger. Wren had said I was giving the humans too much credit. Maybe she was right. Maybe we should have left and let the humans solve their own problems.
“What do you expect?” I asked, trying to keep my voice controlled. “That we roll in, protect you, and then leave? We’re not here to serve you, we’re here as partners.”
An explosion lit up the sky and I instinctively ducked, as did Tony and Desmond.
“Reboots are at the schoolhouse,” I said. “Instructed to fight off HARC but to harm as few humans as possible.”
“What did you mean, you’re waiting for Wren?” Tony asked.
“Micah betrayed her and dumped her and Addie in bounty hunter territory,” I said. “You don’t happen to know anything about bounty hunters, do you?”
“No, they’re a whole different part of HARC. Mostly criminals given a second chance.” He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Addie, too? Leb’s going to kill me.”
“She’ll be fine,” I said tightly. “I’m sure the bounty hunters are no match for Wren.”
“And we need to deal with this first,” Riley said, pointing to where two more shuttles were flying in. “We could use some support.”
Tony and Desmond glanced at each other, and the anger started invading my chest again. I’d counted on them helping. I’d counted on them being grateful and accepting us and being happy to work together.
“We’ll see what we can do,” Tony said, which didn’t sound promising.
I whirled around, half expecting Tony to shout something more encouraging after he’d seen my angry face. But there was nothing but silence as I broke into a jog. Riley appeared beside me, and we turned to go back in the direction of the schoolhouse.
“You and Wren were right,” I said, glancing at him.
“I don’t know, that went better than I expected. They didn’t try to kill us.”