The sound of the door opening made my head pop up.
Someone was in the house.
I jumped to my feet and swung my backpack over my shoulder. Would my parents come back? Why hadn’t I considered that? HARC was gone; they could come back and reclaim their house if they wanted. Or had Wren found me? My heart soared for a moment, until I remembered that someone at the gate would have radioed to let me know. Everyone knew I was waiting for her.
I blinked at the sound of my younger brother’s voice from the front of the house. How did he know I was here?
Footsteps headed in my direction as I pulled open the bedroom door and strode into the hallway. David stopped short a few feet away, jumping when I emerged from my room.
“Hi,” he said.
It had only been a few weeks since I’d died, but he looked older, different even, than when I last saw him after tracking my parents down in the Austin slums with Wren. He was almost fourteen, but the dark circles under his eyes and tight expression on his face made him appear closer to my age.
“Hi,” I said hesitantly. I’d often pictured his face when I came to the door that night. My parents had been horrified, but David’s expression was more one of shock. I’d clung to the idea that maybe he didn’t hate me as much as they did, and I found that my hands were shaking now that I was faced with him again.
He swallowed, shifting from foot to foot. We’d been close before I left, friends even, and I’d never seen him nervous around me. I took a small step back, trying to hide my own nervousness.
“I talked to some of the Reboots in the slums,” he explained. “They said you’d come over to the city side. I figured you’d come here.”
I tightened one hand around the strap of my backpack. “Do Mom and Dad know you’re here?”
“No.” He shrugged and sort of laughed. “They’re holed up in the apartment. I snuck out. When I heard there were a bunch of Reboots in town I knew it was you.”
I cocked my head. “How’d you figure that?”
“Because you came to our place and then, like a day later, the whole city explodes and all the Reboots are gone. Then the city explodes again and all the Reboots are back.” He grinned. “You kinda bring trouble with you.”
“Hey, that first time wasn’t my fault. I was basically unconscious.” I smiled at his perplexed expression. “It’s a long story.” Relief started to wash over me, and I pushed back the sudden urge to hug him. We weren’t really the hugging type when I was a human, so now seemed like a weird time to start.
He nodded, clearing his throat. “You probably have a lot of stories, huh? You were at HARC?”
“What’s your number?”
I held up my bar code. “Twenty-two.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You’re, like, practically still human.”
I almost laughed, almost opened my mouth to tell him that was what all the Reboots thought, too, but I hesitated. Was I practically still human? I would have said yes last time I saw him, but now everything felt different. I’d killed someone and I’d been fully prepared to kill Micah, too. I hadn’t, but I certainly never threatened to kill anyone as a human. On the other hand, I wasn’t the monster my parents thought I was, either.
I shrugged, still not sure how to respond, and his gaze slid down to my waist, like he was noticing the two weapons there for the first time. “Mom and Dad feel bad about what happened. They just weren’t expecting . . .”
I started down the hall, walking past him into the living room. “It’s fine. Other people had warned me about what could happen if you drop in on your family. I should have listened.” I kept my face turned away from him, not wanting my expression to betray how much that had hurt.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” David said, following me as I headed for the front door. “We didn’t even know you Rebooted. Personally I’m glad you’re alive. I mean, again.”
A smile crossed my lips as I reached for the doorknob. “Mom and Dad are going to freak out when they realize you’re gone, you know.”
“Like I care.”
I opened the door and turned to him. He was thinner than last time I’d seen him. We’d rarely had enough to eat, but he looked worse now, and it occurred to me that I must look better. I’d gained some weight and muscle at HARC, faster than I would have if I were a human. I’d never considered it before, but maybe I was the lucky one.
“You should tell Mom and Dad to come back, reclaim the house,” I said. “You don’t want someone else moving in.”
“You could come tell them yourself.”
I stepped onto the porch. “I’ll pass on that.”
“I think they want to see you.”
“Then they can come see me. I’ll let you know where I’m staying in the slums.” I frowned as I headed to the auction sign in the front yard. “I should figure that out, I guess.” I threw the auction sign on the porch and glanced at David. I didn’t want him to go yet. I wanted to talk to him, to make sure he knew that even though I was different, I wasn’t a monster.
I jerked my head toward the street. “I’m doing some rounds, letting the humans on this side know where they can meet with people in the slums. Want to come? Sometimes people run away when they see a Reboot coming. Might be helpful to have a human along.”
He cocked his head. “Are you sure it’s because you’re a Reboot? It could just be your face.”
I smiled as I tried to hold back a laugh. “Do you want to come or not?”
“Yeah, all right.”
Two hours later, I headed back to the slum wall with David. There had been more people than I expected in the cities, ignoring HARC’s order and curious to find out what the Reboots were doing. Tony and the rebels had done a good job of spreading the word about their partnership with Wren and Addie, and the human attitude toward Reboots seemed to be more one of cautious hope than fear. Luckily the rebels hadn’t had time to explain about Micah, and I decided to keep it that way.
“Have you ever been shot?” David asked, continuing his endless stream of questions.
“Yes. A lot, actually.”
“Yes. And burned. And electrocuted. And I’ve had a lot of broken bones.”
“Electrocuted?” David asked, mouth hanging open.
“On the Rosa HARC fence. It wasn’t actually that bad. Getting burned is the worst, I think.”