“Impressive, right?” Micah said with a grin.
There was a bit of nervous laughter and I took another quick glance around. It was certainly impressive. And maybe a little comforting. A long wooden table ran down the middle of the tent, its legs disappearing into the dirt. A large bed stood in the back right corner, and I wondered if this was where Micah lived. There were two fire pits surrounded by rocks on either side of the tent, with smoke holes cut out of the fabric above them.
“We don’t have time to do much of an introduction here,” Micah said. “HARC will be here soon, and they will likely bring the big guns this time.”
I jumped at the sudden outburst and turned to see several reservation Reboots standing behind us. Their penchant for yelling random noises was going to take some getting used to.
“I’m going to get you all weapons, do a very fast tour, and assign you a location.” He turned and started pulling guns off the shelf.
“This time,” Callum said quietly.
I looked up at him. “What?”
“He said ‘this time.’ Like HARC has come here before.”
“They’ve been here several times,” Micah said, holding a handgun out to me. “We always win.”
I took the gun, eyebrows raised. “Always?”
“Every time.” Micah offered a gun to Callum.
Callum glanced from the weapon to me and for a moment I thought he wasn’t going to take it. Guns were not Callum’s thing. I’d had to escape HARC with him because he refused to use one to kill an adult Reboot. HARC saw no point in keeping Reboots who didn’t follow orders.
But he took the gun from Micah without a word. I doubted he’d use it.
“Why would they come back if you always win?” I asked as he distributed the guns and extra ammo.
“They regroup, figure out what they learned, and try again. They’ve gotten smarter. It’s been almost a year since the last attack.” Micah strode out of the tent and we followed him. “That’s one of the reasons we don’t build many permanent structures.” He gestured at the tents. “The bombs will bring a lot of stuff down today.”
“The bombs?” Callum repeated.
“Yes. We’ll stop some of the shuttles in the air but expect some bombing.” Micah stopped near the fire pit and faced us. “All right. Shuttles coming in from the south. You’ll stay here with the second wave. Protect the reservation, don’t die. That’s all you gotta do. If you lose a body part in a bombing, don’t panic. We’ve got a bunch of kits to sew parts back on. Don’t take other people’s body parts. Unless you know the person is already dead, then have at it.”
Callum’s face twisted. “Seriously? We can just put our body parts back on?”
“Yes,” I said. “If you sew it on fast enough. It’s like when you have a broken bone. Get it back where it belongs and it’ll reconnect.”
“That’s disgusting.” He looked at me in horror. “Has that ever happened to you?”
“Yeah, I lost a few fingers on an assignment once. It’s not that big of a deal. Feels funny going back on, though.”
Callum winced, examining his own fingers.
Micah chuckled as he stopped in front of me. “Newbie?”
“Yes,” I replied. Sometimes I forgot that Callum had only been at HARC a few weeks before I figured out an escape to save his life. This last month or so felt more like a year.
“Does newbie want to stay here with the second wave? Because I’m going to put all the Austin Reboots in a third wave at the back of the reservation, except you guys. I don’t want to throw them into the fire and scare them their first day here.”
I hesitated, glancing at Callum. He’d be safer in the third wave. I’d be safer in the third wave, but I didn’t think anyone would appreciate that. The strong Reboots needed to be on the front lines. I met his eyes and he nodded at me like he understood.
“That’s fine,” he said to Micah. “I’ll go with the other Under-sixties.”
Callum started to walk away and I grabbed his hand, turning aside from Micah. “Use it if you have to, okay?” I said quietly, glancing down at his gun.
He nodded, but our definitions of “have to” were likely very different. He probably wouldn’t even take the safety off.
He squeezed my hand, his dark eyes soft when he looked down at me. “Be careful.”
I watched as he walked away, wishing I’d mentioned the whole fleeing idea. Maybe he would have gone for it.
“Wren, do you want to come with me?” Micah asked. He glanced at the other One-twenties. “You guys stay here.”
I took a quick look back at Beth. She was the highest number in the Austin facility, but had told me on the way here that she’d only Rebooted five months ago. She seemed comfortable stepping up as the voice of the Austin Reboots, but I wasn’t so sure how she felt about preparing them for battle. Her face was neutral, but she was frantically twisting a strand of hair around one finger.
“Okay with you to stay here in the second wave?” I asked quietly.
She swallowed, her expression unsure. “Yeah.”
A guy with dark hair stepped forward, his expression calm and reassuring. “We’ll catch them up on what’s going on.”
Beth nodded, gesturing for me to go, and I ran to catch up with Micah. I followed him out the reservation gate, glancing around at the first wave of Reboots. They were relaxed now, leaning against the wooden gate and chatting. The atmosphere was calm, yet still filled with anticipation. I’d always enjoyed the thrill of chasing and fighting, so I could almost understand how some of them seemed eager for the fight. Summoning up some excitement helped to take away the fear.
“How’d you do driving that shuttle?” Micah asked, stopping and squinting into the distance.
“Okay, except for the landing. Mine took a pretty good beating.”
“We’ll have someone else drive then. You and I are going to go up in a shuttle, and we’ll pick off as many in the air as we can before they get here.” He gave me an approving look. “Awesome idea, stealing some HARC shuttles to escape. How’d you do it?”
“We had help from the rebels. Tony and Desmond and some others. You know them, right?”
Micah laughed, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. “Yeah, I’ve known them a while. Helpful bunch.”