“That’s it? He asked, so you did it?”
“He needed me more.”
Her eyebrows lifted and she slowly smiled at me. “True.” She popped a piece of bacon in her mouth. “Plus he’s pretty cute when he’s not being an ass.”
“He’s . . .” I didn’t know where I was going with that. I couldn’t say not. That wasn’t true. Anyone could see he was cute. Anyone could see those eyes and that smile.
I felt warmth on my face. Was I blushing? I’d never had those kinds of thoughts about a boy.
Ever’s mouth dropped open. She’d been kidding about the “cute” thing. She clearly never expected me to agree. She burst out laughing, muffling it with her hand.
I shrugged, embarrassed to have given myself away. Embarrassed to have those feelings at all.
But it clearly pleased Ever. She looked happier than she had in days, and I returned her smile.
“Softie,” she teased under her breath.
I entered the gym to see Twenty-two standing in the corner by himself, his back to the other trainers and newbies. He still wore the same miserable expression.
I started at the flash of rage that shot through my body. The sight of him made my heart beat funny, sent prickles of anger rushing over my skin. What right did he have to be miserable, when he was the one calling me a monster? I wanted to shake him and scream at him that he had no right to judge me.
I wanted to bash his face in until he took it back.
He looked up as I stomped over, his expression softening just slightly.
“Shut it and get in position.”
He didn’t get in position. He stood rooted to his spot and reached out to touch me. I quickly stepped away.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Get your arms up!” I yelled so loudly he jumped. I didn’t like the tentative smile he was giving me.
He didn’t put his arms up, so I threw a hard fast punch straight into his face. He stumbled and fell on his butt.
“Get on your feet and put your arms up,” I said tightly. “Block the next one.”
He looked dazed, and blood trickled from his nose, but he stood up and stuck his arms in front of his face.
I purposefully threw punches he couldn’t block. Hard, fast, angry. My chest burned in a way I had never felt before. My throat ached from the growing lump.
He hit the mat for the tenth time, his face a barely recognizable bloody mess. He didn’t get up this time. He collapsed, breathing heavily.
“You’re right,” I said. “I should have picked One-twenty-one. But now I’m stuck with you, so I suggest you quit your whining and pull it together. There are no more choices, rich boy. This is it, forever. Get used to it.”
I whirled around and stormed out of the gym, the eyes of all the other trainers and newbies on me.
“Nice work, One-seventy-eight,” a guard said to me with a nod.
A sick feeling washed over me. I’d heard those words many times in my five years at HARC, but there was no pride or satisfaction on my part this time.
I made a sharp turn into the showers and rushed to a sink. I smeared Twenty-two’s blood on the faucet as I clumsily turned the knob.
The water ran red as it dripped from my fingers and I pressed my lips together and turned away. I’d never been squeamish at the sight of blood, but this was different. I saw his face in the red.
I washed my hands four times. When I finished I looked up at my reflection. I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked in the mirror. It had been years.
Human memories faded faster the younger a Reboot died. I remembered broad strokes of my life before the age of twelve, but the details were fuzzy. But I remembered my eyes. In my head my eyes were the same light blue they’d been before I died.
My reflection was different. The blue was bright, piercing, unnatural. Inhuman. I would have guessed my eyes would be scarier. Cold and emotionless. But they were . . . pretty? It seemed weird to describe myself that way. But my eyes were big and sad, and the deep blue color was actually kind of nice.
At first glance I was not intimidating. Cute, even. I was the shortest person in most rooms, often shorter than the thirteen-and fourteen-year-old newbies. A tuft of blond hair stuck out the end of my ponytail, hair I’d chopped off to just above my shoulders myself.
I wasn’t as scary-looking as I’d imagined. I barely looked scary at all, to be honest.
I certainly didn’t look like a monster who enjoyed hunting people.
THE NIGHT AIR WAS STILL AS I OPENED THE STAIRWELL DOOR and stepped onto the roof of the facility. The humans waited for me near the edge and I headed toward them, adjusting my helmet so it was straight on my head.
“I trust you, One-seventy-eight.” Officer Mayer put his hands on his wide hips and gave me a look like I was to respond to that.
“Thank you,” I said automatically. Officer Mayer told me he trusted me every time he saw me, as if trying to convince himself. I was the only Reboot to have regular contact with the commanding officer.
I doubted anyone was jealous.
I saw him often, as Rosa was the biggest facility and he kept an office here. I saw the woman standing next to him, Suzanna Palm, very rarely. She was the chairman of HARC, and I had no idea what it was she did, exactly, but her presence tonight couldn’t be a good thing.
“I trust you’ve been told this mission is confidential?” Suzanna asked. She was squinting at me in a way that felt disapproving. Perhaps she was just uncomfortable in her ridiculous heels. Or maybe those wild silver-streaked brown curls blowing all over the place annoyed her. They would have annoyed me.
I nodded as the shuttle landed on the roof. Officer Mayer stepped away as the door opened, giving me a look that was meant to be encouraging. I didn’t feel encouraged. The last thing I wanted to do tonight was go on a surprise solo mission. But I did have to admit that I hoped the assignment was a runner. I wouldn’t mind smashing a human’s face into the ground tonight.
A vision of Twenty-two’s bloody face flashed in front of my eyes and I pushed the image back. It wouldn’t stay away for long, though. All day I’d seen it and felt the heaviness in my chest. I wanted to tell my brain to stop being dumb. He’d been healed for hours; it wasn’t like I’d done any permanent damage.
Leb twisted his hands together as I entered the small shuttle, and he barely glanced at me. His palpable discomfort almost made me nervous. Officer Mayer’s solo assignments were rarely good, but Leb was usually the officer on duty for them. They “trusted” him, too, apparently.