Maybe. I gave him a sharp look. “No.”
“But it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? That Reboots are just evolved humans? We found an immunity to the virus. A way not to die. I’ve heard theories the KDH virus is man-made and I think—”
“Twenty-two!” I snapped. HARC was wall-to-wall cameras. They heard and saw everything we did, and they didn’t tolerate that sort of talk. “Enough.”
“Can you please save the questions?” It came out more tired and sad than I had intended, and he looked at me in concern.
“Oh. Yeah, sure. I’m sorry.”
“I’m just tired,” I said. I didn’t owe him an explanation. I shouldn’t have said that.
“Sorry. I’ll be quiet.” His smile was small and sympathetic and something I couldn’t identify tickled my chest. Guilt? Is that what that was?
He was quiet the rest of the run, the only sounds his gasping for air. When we finished I nodded at him and walked away, to my quarters for clothes and then to the showers.
I pressed my clothes and towel to my chest as I shuffled into the steamy room, the sounds of laughter and grunting filling my ears. The showers were often rowdier after the arrival of a new batch of Reboots, and the party was in full swing this morning. Two female Reboots darted past me, one barely holding on to her towel as she screeched in excitement. A male Reboot held open a shower curtain and one of the girls slipped behind it with him.
The showers were for sex first. Bathing second.
They were not technically coed, but the boys’ shower was directly next door, and there was nothing but a curtain to separate the two rooms. Occasionally the guards came in and ushered all the boys out, but mostly they didn’t care. Reboots did almost everything they were told, except for this.
For a human, sex was connected to love. My mom wasn’t much for talking about anything that mattered, but I vaguely remembered the conversation. Sex and love went together.
Not here. The teenage hormones were still there, but the emotions were gone. The general attitude was that none of it mattered anymore. We weren’t even human.
The tile was slippery beneath my shoes, and I shuffled carefully past the closed curtains and ducked behind one at the end of the row, still fully clothed. That used to get weird looks, but now everyone knew. I didn’t flit around in a towel. I didn’t have any interest in sex. I certainly didn’t want to be gawked at like some freak.
A few of the girls had scars from their human death, but not like mine. I was dead for so long that by the time they got around to sewing up my three bullet holes, my body thought that’s what my skin was supposed to look like. The result was four permanent ugly silver staples holding my skin together in the middle of my chest, and two ragged scars shooting out in either direction. One stretched oddly over my left breast and had become even more misshapen as my br**sts grew.
No one needed to see my horribly mangled chest. Not that anyone had ever approached me for sex anyway.
No one wanted to touch a One-seventy-eight. Mangled or not.
EVER WAS PALE WHEN I RETURNED TO OUR QUARTERS JUST before dinner. I had been avoiding her, but now I found it difficult to tear my gaze away from her pasty skin and shaking hands. If she’d been a human I’d have thought she was sick.
She lifted her eyes to mine as I walked to my dresser to pull on a sweatshirt.
“Hey.” She tried to smile at me and I had to look away. She didn’t know. Shouldn’t she know?
They said not to say anything. It was an order.
I stopped in the doorway, pausing when she just sat on the bed, twisting the white sheets around her fingers.
“Are you coming?” I asked.
She looked up at me, a bigger smile on her face. She waited for me; I never waited for her. It appeared she liked it.
Her legs shook as she stood, and I wanted to ask if she was okay. Stupid question. She wasn’t. HARC did something to her.
We walked down the stairs to the cafeteria in silence. After we filled our trays I had the wild thought of going to sit with her. But she headed across the cafeteria, shoving a piece of steak in her mouth. I trudged to the One-twenties table.
I watched as Ever plunked down opposite Twenty-two, who looked up and smiled at me. It faded as he watched Ever desperately stuff meat in her mouth. He wrinkled his nose, looking from me to her, like, What’s wrong with her?
I had no idea.
He motioned for me to come over, but I certainly couldn’t do that.
Well, I could. It wasn’t a rule. But it would be odd.
Twenty-two patted the seat next to him and I frowned and shook my head. Ever turned to see who he was gesturing to, her eyes skipping down the One-twenties table. She laughed, and I turned to see the trainers all watching me, matching confused expressions on their faces.
Lissy opened her mouth and I stood, picking up my tray. I didn’t want more questions or more weird looks. There was no rule that I had to sit with them. I could sit wherever I wanted.
I strode across the cafeteria, dropping my tray on the table next to Ever. Twenty-two looked up at me, dark eyes sparkling.
“Oh, how nice to see you, Wren.”
Ever stared at me in amazement as I plopped down in the chair. I glanced over at Twenty-two’s tray to see nothing but an untouched piece of bread and a brownie.
“What is that?” I asked. “Did you already eat a real dinner?”
He looked down at the food. “No. I’m not very hungry. At least, I don’t think I am. It’s hard to tell.”
“You’ll be able to tell if you starve yourself too long,” I said. “It’s not fun.” Hunger signals for Reboots didn’t come as quickly as they did with humans, but when they did come, they were intense. Our bodies could survive without food indefinitely, but it was not appreciated. I’d barely eaten a thing my first few days at the facility and had woken up one day so weak and starving I’d practically had to crawl to the cafeteria.
“Clearly you’re hungry,” Twenty-two said to Ever with a laugh, pointing to her massive cheeks. It looked as though she’d tried to stuff every piece of meat on her plate in her mouth at once. She managed a weak smile as she swallowed.
I must have looked concerned, because she glanced down at her empty tray and then to me.
“I feel weird,” she said quietly, the distress coming through in her voice.
“Weird how?” I asked.
“Like really hungry. And sort of fuzzy.” She frowned. “I can’t be sick, right?”