“Thanks,” I said in between bites.
Gabe plopped down on the grass next to Riley and Addie. He squinted at David. “You made a bunch of them at Tony’s feel bad.”
David gave him a confused look as he took a big bite of his sandwich. “What’d I do?”
“Some of them have Reboot kids. Seeing you so relaxed about a Reboot family member made them feel guilty.”
“They should feel guilty,” I muttered. “But our parents did nothing but scream when they saw me last time, so they’re not alone.”
“They want to see you now,” David said, straightening and giving me a hopeful look. “They mentioned it again this morning.”
“Then they can come see me. I’ll be at the HARC facility down the street.”
David nodded, his face falling a little. I doubted my parents wanted to step foot inside a HARC facility, especially one taken over by Reboots. But I certainly wasn’t going to go out of my way to find them again.
“Personally, I’m glad I never knew my family,” Riley said. “All this parent stuff seems really stressful.”
I almost laughed but it died in my throat, pushed down by the rock of pain sitting in my chest.
“It’s going to be fine,” Addie said softly. “She’s going to be fine.”
I nodded as I resumed my pacing. “She is. She probably already burned New Dallas to the ground and doesn’t even need us to come get her.”
They all laughed and agreed and I tried to force a smile onto my face like I wasn’t worried.
“I’m going to feel guilty forever if she’s not okay,” Riley said quietly, after a long pause. He picked at the grass. “I knew Micah used to drop bad Reboots. I should have warned you guys.”
“Guilt isn’t going to help anyone,” Addie said. She looked pointedly at me. “Is it?”
I didn’t know if she was talking about my guilt for making Wren stay at the reservation, or my guilt about killing the human. It had all formed into one giant lump of awful in my chest.
“No,” I admitted. “Doesn’t mean it’s not still there.”
“But that’s good, right?” David looked up at me. “Before you came back, I thought Reboots didn’t feel guilt. It seems like good news that you still do.”
“True,” I said with a small smile. It was only a few days ago I’d wished away my guilt about killing that man, but David had a point. It would be worse without it.
“I like to harness guilt into kicking people’s asses,” Addie said.
David turned a worried look from me to Addie and scooted a little farther away from her. I bit back a laugh as Addie arched her eyebrow in amusement.
I glanced back at the shuttles, armed and prepared for takeoff. “I think that sounds like an excellent plan.”
My arms wouldn’t move. My legs wouldn’t move. I was on a hard table and I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t get to the meat.
I squinted in the bright light at the figures around me, snapped my teeth and thrashed against the metal holding my wrists.
Mumbled voices floated in the air, and a man came into sight. He was juicy meat, plushy meat, fatty meat.
I growled, lifting my head as far as it would go. Meat moved away.
The voices around me were louder, and the meat was holding my arms and legs. I flailed until the table began to wobble and the voices grew louder. Panic. I liked the panic. The panic made the meat smell better.
I wrenched one arm free and grabbed at the closest meat.
Everything went black.
I blinked, squinting at the blurry walls of my cell. My head was heavy and cold. My cheek was pressed to the freezing concrete.
I slapped my hands against the floor and started to push myself up, gasping as a wave of dizziness crashed over me. I was going to vomit.
No, I wasn’t. There was nothing in my stomach. I couldn’t.
The hunger was so intense, suddenly I could barely breathe. I felt sick, and hot, and cold, and confused. I blinked again and the bars of the cell came into focus. How long had I been in here?
I squeezed my eyes shut and collapsed on the ground again, not caring that it was freezing.
The door opened and I mustered the energy to glare at the guard who entered.
He tried to make me shuffle down the hallway in my chains, but I was weak and kept swerving into him. He made disgusted noises every time I touched him, so I fell entirely against him. He yelled and I ended up on the floor. It was not my most well-thought-out plan.
He shoved me along in front of him the rest of the way, and when we emerged from the elevator, Suzanna and Officer Mayer were waiting in front of the lab. Officer Mayer snorted as soon as he spotted me.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the long lab window. My hair was dirty and messy. I couldn’t make out my features very well, but my eyes looked dark and sunken in. I seemed smaller somehow, like I’d shrunk even more. That didn’t seem fair. I didn’t have any spare inches.
“Feeling better, I see,” Suzanna said as the guard hauled me onto the table. “I wasn’t sure that antidote would work.”
Was this better? When had she seen me last? Ever’s face flashed in front of me, that crazed, hungry look she’d had in the days before her death, and I winced as the humans began to shuffle around the room. I now understood her panic, her sobs when I told her what was happening to her. I don’t think I fully appreciated the terror she felt until this moment.
Suzanna stuck a needle in my arm and I glanced down to see my blood running into a bag. She poked a hole in my other arm and hooked a bag to that one, too.
“What happens if you drain a Reboot dry?” Officer Mayer asked.
“They pass out. They come back, though.” Her lip curled as she looked at me. “They always come back.”
“You don’t always come back, you know. Sometimes Reboots die for real.”
My head fell to the side as the memory edged into my brain, Riley’s voice as clear as the day he’d first said that to me, early in my Reboot training.
“Is this how you want to be in the field? Do you want everyone to see you as a pathetic little mess?” Riley had asked after I’d been shot on an assignment and was curled into a ball in the dirt, gasping for air.
“Up.” He pulled me to my feet by my collar. He was tall for a fourteen-year-old. I’d been surprised when he told me his age. The assignment was on the ground behind him, hands and feet bound.