Forty-three thrust his hand into his pocket. I saw only the flash of silver as he jumped up from his seat, but I knew it was a knife. The scream echoed across the shuttle as he ran for Leb, blade aimed at his chest.
I threw off my straps and shot to my feet. The officer’s eyes were wide, his hand nowhere near his gun yet. I dove in front of Leb as Forty-three thrust the knife at him. It slid into my stomach like it was a good piece of rare steak.
Forty-three pulled the blade out, red and shaking in his hand. I kicked his leg, easily grabbing the knife as he went down. He rolled onto his knees, sobs shaking his body. He would be eliminated for bringing a weapon onto the shuttle, so I could almost understand the tears.
Some officers might have killed him right away, but Leb was the type to let Officer Mayer deal out the more permanent punishments.
“Great,” Lissy muttered under her breath, making no move to help Forty-Three.
I wiped the blood dripping from the blade on my pants and held the knife out to Leb. He still sat there, the poor, slow human. He stared at me and I raised my eyebrows and held the knife a bit closer. He took it.
“Thank you,” he said quietly.
I frowned at that response. He lowered his head and I wished I’d nodded or said, “You’re welcome.” I hadn’t been expecting a thank-you. I wasn’t even sure why I’d done it. I supposed he was my favorite HARC officer, but that was a bit like having a favorite vegetable. They were all pretty uninteresting.
I went back to my seat, my hand drifting to my stomach. My shirt was soaked through with blood.
Twenty-two’s head was in his hands. I focused on the floor, glad I didn’t have to meet those panicked, horrified eyes again.
TWENTY-TWO SAT SLUMPED OVER HIS BREAKFAST, POKING AT the oats with his spoon. His hand rested against his cheek and his eyes drooped. His head was practically on the cafeteria table.
Ever and I sat down across from him, and she gave me a worried glance when she caught sight of his sullen expression. She looked somewhat better today. No growling last night. I actually slept.
“You all right?” Ever asked Twenty-two. I wished she hadn’t. He obviously wasn’t all right. The newbies rarely were after their first assignment.
“There’s no point,” he mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Ever asked.
Twenty-two looked up at me. “You’re wasting your time with me. You should have picked One-twenty-one. I’ll never be able to do this.”
Ever glanced from me to him, her eyebrows furrowed in concern. “It gets better,” she said. I could tell she was lying.
Twenty-two saw the lie as well. He frowned at her, then turned his head away, his dark eyes hard and angry.
“That guy shot you four times,” he said. “You didn’t even blink. It’s like it didn’t register with you.”
“I’ve been shot a lot. You adjust,” I said.
“You adjust. I can’t do that.”
“Her trainer shot her over and over,” Ever said quietly, and I stiffened. “She was scared, too, so he and the guards shot her until she wasn’t scared anymore.”
It was true, but I frowned at Ever for sharing. Bullets paralyzed me at first, reminded me of my human death, and my trainer found that unacceptable. He instructed the guards to shoot me until I became desensitized to it.
Some of the anger had fallen off Twenty-two’s face as he turned to me. “Who was your trainer?” he asked, disgust in every word. He shouldn’t have been disgusted. The only reason I was alive today was because I had a good trainer.
“One-fifty-seven. He died in the field a few months ago.” That was what Leb had told me, anyway. He’d been close to twenty years old.
“Shame I couldn’t meet that guy,” he muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The point is, it got better for her,” Ever said, ignoring my frown. “It’ll get better for you.”
“I don’t want it to get better. I don’t want to do it at all.” He reminded me of a three-year-old with his arms folded and his lips in a bit of a pout. It was almost cute.
“You don’t get a choice,” I said.
“I should. None of this is my fault. I didn’t ask to die and rise from the dead.”
My eyes darted around the room. I hoped the humans weren’t listening. That was the sort of thing they eliminated Reboots for.
“Pull it together,” I said, lowering my voice. “The first time is the hardest. You’ll adapt.”
“I won’t adapt. I don’t want to turn into some monster who enjoys hunting people.”
And then he gestured at me.
A knife sliced through my chest. I blinked, not sure what to make of the pain. His words echoed in my ears and it was suddenly hard to breathe.
Some monster who enjoys hunting people. I didn’t like the words, didn’t want him to think of me that way.
Since when did I care what my newbies thought of me?
“Why don’t you just piss off?” Ever’s voice, harsh and icy, made me look up. She glared at Twenty-two, gripping her fork like she was considering using it as a weapon.
He grabbed his tray and got to his feet. I stole a glance at him and saw confusion and surprise written all over his face. I wasn’t sure where either emotion came from. He opened his mouth, looked at Ever, and seemed to think better of it. He spun around and slunk away.
Ever exhaled, relaxing her grip on her fork. “That was crap. You know that, right? Utter crap.”
“What?” I was still having trouble gathering air into my lungs. His words kept spinning around my brain, taunting me.
“You’re not a monster who enjoys hunting people.”
I frowned. That assessment seemed fair. I could see his point.
I looked up at Ever and she put her hand over mine. “He’s wrong. Okay?”
I nodded, slipping my hand out from under hers. Her skin was warm, much warmer than mine, and it made the tightness in my chest worse.
“I still can’t believe you picked Callum,” she said, taking a bite of her oats.
“It’s a challenge, I suppose,” I said.
“But you always pick the highest number,” she said. “You always do things exactly the same.”
I lifted my eyes to hers to find her staring at me intently. She’d been giving me that look since our conversation in the shower. She didn’t seem sure what to make of me.
“He asked me to pick him.”