Riley dumped the bullets out of the human’s gun and held them toward me. “You always take the bullets out of the gun before you go back to the shuttle. And you hold the gun by the barrel. If a guard sees you approaching holding a gun by the handle, they will shoot you.”
I whimpered, crossing my arms more firmly over my bloodstained shirt.
Riley sighed, lowering the gun and bullets. “Do you want to die? Again? For real this time?”
I just stared at him. Maybe I did. Maybe death was better than this.
“Because if you let them kill you, what does that say about you? Is that who you want to be?”
I’d swallowed, his words pulsing through my whole body. That wasn’t who I wanted to be.
“You can be the best,” he said. “You’re One-seventy-eight. Do you want to be the biggest disappointment, or the greatest success?”
I didn’t want to be a disappointment. I’d felt like one most of my life.
“I know it’s a lot of responsibility,” he said, his voice softer than usual. “And I know you’re really young. But life isn’t fair. Or Rebooting isn’t fair. Either way, it was the hand you were dealt. Your choice what to do with it.”
I took in a long slow breath. I’d decided I wanted that responsibility, the pressure of being the best. I’d let it consume me and I’d come out the other side as someone I was vaguely proud of. But now, I think I was only someone HARC could be proud of.
“Your choice what to do with it.”
Suzanna and Officer Mayer put their heads together, and I felt a sudden panic zip through my body. I didn’t want to die here. I didn’t want them to win. I didn’t want Callum to think that my choice had been only myself, and that I didn’t care what happened to the other Reboots or the humans who had helped us.
I didn’t want to be a mindless slave who did what they wanted without question. Who had run away the first chance she got and hadn’t wanted to try and help others still stuck in the same situation.
That wasn’t the choice I wanted to make. That wasn’t someone I could be proud of.
THE METAL OF THE SHUTTLE CLANGED UNDER MY BOOTS AS I stepped inside. The seats were already all taken, and Reboots piled in after me. We had about sixty, which was less than I had originally thought, but I couldn’t expect everyone to jump on board with saving Wren, even if we were freeing the New Dallas Reboots in the process.
As I leaned against the shuttle wall, I caught Tony’s eye. He stood outside next to Desmond, watching as the Reboots boarded. I’d thought Wren was wrong about how self-serving humans are, and now I felt incredibly dumb. I looked forward to telling her how right she was.
“Wait! Wait!” a voice called as the shuttle door began to close. Gabe darted inside, dressed in black clothes and armed. He nodded at me and I blinked.
“Gabe—” Tony stepped forward.
“You said when I joined you guys I made all my own decisions and accepted the consequences. Going with them is the right thing to do. I accept the consequences.”
Tony closed his mouth as defeat crossed his face. For a moment, I thought Gabe’s outburst would prompt a show of support from other humans. Desmond looked between the two of us, his brow furrowed in thought, the angry expression he’d been wearing since we arrived gone. But he said nothing as the door slid shut.
I gave Gabe a grateful look as we started to lift off the ground. “Thank you.”
He shrugged, bouncing a little from foot to foot. “It could have been me. I almost died of KDH a couple years ago. I don’t see staying human as anything more than luck. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal.”
“I’d say it’s bad luck you are human,” Addie said, a corner of her mouth turning up.
“Hey, maybe I’ll die tonight and I can give you an opinion about it tomorrow.”
Addie laughed. “And have you whine about the pain? Stick with me, all right? I’ll try to take any bullets for you.”
“That might be the nicest offer I’ve ever had from a girl.”
Addie blinked, pink spots appearing on her cheeks as Gabe grinned and started making his way across the shuttle, toward the pilot’s door.
“That was weird, right?” She looked at me expectantly.
“Uh, I don’t know, Addie.”
“I mean, a human flirting with a Reboot is weird.” She looked to me for confirmation but I just shook my head in amusement. She nodded, as if convincing herself. “It’s weird.”
I chuckled, then quickly wiped the smile off my face. I shouldn’t be laughing. I needed to focus on Wren. It could already be too late, and I couldn’t be laughing while she was dead.
Addie’s gaze slid to where Gabe was standing with Riley and Isaac. He was watching her, too. I gestured with my head for her to go and she paused for a second before slowly walking over.
I closed my eyes as I leaned my head back against the shuttle wall. “Focus,” Wren would say.
My brain didn’t want to focus. It wanted to panic and run through horrible scenarios. Being on this side of things sucked. I didn’t like being the one who was fine while Wren was captured. I didn’t like being the one the other Reboots looked to for a plan. I could see why she tried to avoid it.
I pushed my hands into my pockets and tried to listen to the hum of the shuttle instead of the shouting in my head. I kept my eyes closed as we flew, ignoring the conversations around me.
“Brace yourselves!” the shuttle pilot called about fifteen minutes later. “We’re approaching New Dallas.”
MY HEAD HURT WHEN I OPENED MY EYES. I GRIMACED, WONDERING if the headache was a side effect of the drugs, or if they’d done it on purpose. As my vision began to clear, the pain faded slightly, and I realized I was in the lab again. I hated how they could steal my time and I’d wake up with no idea where I was or how long I’d been there. If it weren’t for the growing hunger in my stomach (which wasn’t that bad yet, indicating it had only been two or three days), I would have had no idea how long I’d been a prisoner.
Officer Mayer drifted into the light and out again, and I heard Suzanna Palm talking from somewhere behind me.
I had a needle in my arm, and I squinted down at my blood running into a bag. There was a full bag next to it, and I was woozy.
“. . . eliminate her?” Officer Mayer’s voice was a whisper.