Reboot

Author: P Hana

Page 12

   

Instead I awkwardly patted her back. She pressed her face into my shoulder and cried like a human.

“It’s . . . them,” she choked out. “They do something to us.”

“To who?” I asked.

“To the Under-sixties.” She took a deep breath and straightened. Her bright green eyes were tinged with red. “They started giving us shots and it makes us . . .”

She didn’t have to say it. I knew what it made them.

“I thought maybe I had slipped by because I was so close to sixty. They must have given me the shot in my sleep while you were on assignment,” she sniffled.

“Why would they do this?” I asked.

She shrugged, wiping at her nose. “We don’t know. It started a few weeks ago. Some people have said it makes them stronger, but others get all weird and hostile.”

Weird and hostile was an understatement.

“Fifty-one was starting to go off the deep end last week,” Ever continued. “But she said they gave her another shot and it made her all normal again. Everyone thinks they’re doing some sort of experiment on us.”

Everyone? Who was everyone? I’d never heard of this.

“We don’t talk about it with Over-sixties,” she said quietly, obviously noticing the look on my face. “We’re not supposed to. They tell the roommates they can’t say anything.” She tilted her head. “They ordered you not to tell me?”

“Yes.”

This brought on a fresh wave of tears, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. I thought she choked out a thank-you, but it was hard to tell.

I started to get up, but she grabbed my arm. “What did I do? Did I hurt you?”

“No. You screamed a lot. You attacked me. I broke both your legs several times last night. Sorry about that.”

She looked down at them. “Oh. That’s okay.”

“They gave you a shot the night before last, but they never came last night.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “That’s why you look so tired.” She wiped at her face with a corner of her towel. “What am I supposed to do?”

I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”

“What if I hurt you?”

“I’m stronger.”

She closed her eyes and nodded slightly, fresh tears running down her cheeks.

Apparently that hadn’t been a comforting thing to say.

SEVEN

TWENTY-TWO HIT THE MAT AND DID AS I HAD REQUESTED—he didn’t scream.

He pressed his face into the black plastic and his fists clenched the material of his shirt, but he didn’t cry. His afternoon had been littered with injuries, but he was doing a decent job of not screaming or crying.

I knelt down and pushed his pants leg up. The bone stuck out from the skin.

“In this case you have to shove it back in,” I said.

He moaned and shook his head.

“You have to. You’ve got to get the bone closer to where it’s supposed to be or it won’t heal right. Your skin is going to close up around the bone and then I’m going to have to slice the skin open again.”

“That is so gross,” he mumbled against the mat.

“Sit up.”

He slowly pushed himself to a sitting position, grimacing. The training teams around us had turned to stare. Across the room, Hugo was muffling a laugh with his hand.

“Just shove it back in.” I focused on Twenty-two again.

“That’s it?” he exclaimed. “Shove it in?”

“Give me your hand.” I held mine out.

He slipped his hand into mine. It was warm and not as perfect as I had imagined. I thought rich people must have soft hands free of any marks. They didn’t have to do hard manual labor like the people in the slums. I was certain Callum had never built a fence or worked a cotton farm in his life.

But his hands were rougher than mine, and when I turned his palm up I saw little scars on his fingers. The scars from human life never fade.

“Like this,” I said, placing his palm on the bone. I pushed it in, hard, and he clapped his other hand over his mouth to stop a scream.

He collapsed on the mat again, a soft whimper escaping his throat. I felt a pang of guilt. That guilt again. I didn’t know if I liked it.

I hadn’t meant to break his leg. It was a good learning experience, one he would have needed eventually anyway, but it had been an unfortunate side effect of him not moving as quickly as I’d told him to.

“You’re going to have to learn to move faster.” I think I had meant that as an apology. It didn’t come out right. “I mean, I didn’t—” Wait. I didn’t apologize to newbies. I was here to teach him. He needed to know how to pop his own bone back in.

He rolled over onto his back and looked at me in amusement. Well, amusement tinged with searing pain.

“If you apologize every time you hurt me, you won’t be doing much of anything else.”

A laugh bubbled up in my chest and I quickly turned away so he couldn’t see the smile on my face.

“Get up,” I said, jumping to my feet.

“My leg’s still broken.”

“I don’t care. Get up. If you just lie there in the field they’ll break your other leg and then you’re screwed.”

He unsteadily got to his feet. “Is it really that bad out there?” he asked, trying to keep all his weight on his good leg.

“It depends,” I said.

“On what?”

“Who it is. If you’re just extracting a sick person it’s fairly easy. If it’s a criminal with a big family you might get ambushed getting to them. Depends on how scared they are. If they’ve gotten cocky and think they can rebel.”

“What if they didn’t do it?”

“What?”

“Whatever crime we’re snatching them for. What if they didn’t do it?”

“They always say they didn’t do it. It’s our job to bring them in. HARC takes care of the rest.”

“They let them go if they’re innocent?” he asked.

I hesitated. As a Reboot, I was never informed of what happened to the humans I captured. As a girl living in the slums, I knew the truth. Once they took someone, he never came back.

“They’re sure of their guilt before they take them,” I said.

“How?”

“It’s not our concern.”

“Why not?” he asked. “We’re the ones catching all these people.”

“Our job ends there.”

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