We’d take only one shuttle tonight, so the prisoner would come back with us. I took one of the four small seats across from Leb and pulled the straps down my body, trying to ignore the anxious look on his face. I didn’t like that look. I focused on my assignment slip instead, which simply said, Milo, thirties, 5’10”-6’ brown hair. There was no mention of why I was bringing him in. They knew I wouldn’t ask.
Twenty-two’s comment about how we should know what the human had done to warrant capture ran through my head. I pushed it away. I could wonder about human crimes all I wanted, but HARC never gave out that information on solo missions.
We rode in silence over Rosa until the shuttle descended and settled on the ground. The door slid open to reveal the heart of the slums and I unhooked my straps, getting to my feet. A dirt road curved around tiny wooden houses, every one dark and silent, as it was past curfew.
We’d stopped very close to the assignment’s house. Officer Mayer didn’t take chances, didn’t enjoy the chase the way I did.
The house was just as run-down and sad as all the others, with one notable exception. The windows. Two square windows, at the front of the house, were covered by absolutely nothing. Anyone could walk right by and see everything he owned. Most houses in Rosa didn’t have windows, or if they did, they were small and blocked. Theft was rampant. Windows were an invitation.
This human was a total idiot.
I jumped out of the shuttle and jogged through the dirt to the front steps of the house. The boards creaked beneath my feet as I approached the door and stopped, tilting my head toward the house. It was silent, the only noise the rustle of leaves from the tree next door.
Knocking was not required on Officer Mayer’s special assignments, so I kicked the door as hard as I could and it swung open to reveal darkness.
I stepped inside, scanning to my left, where I could see the faint outline of a couch and a few chairs. A hallway lay just past the living room, but I saw no sign of life in the other rooms of the house. Perhaps I’d gotten lucky, and the human was a heavy sleeper.
My boots made the slightest sound against the wood as I crept past the couch and down the hallway. The first door on my left was open, a bathroom. The only other door was right across from it, and I pressed the tips of my fingers against it as I gripped the doorknob with my other hand. It squeaked as I turned it, and I winced at the sound.
I pushed the door open and squinted in the darkness at the bed in front of me. It was empty.
I caught a blur of motion out of the corner of my eye and I dug my fingers into either side of the doorframe. No windows in the bedroom. I had him trapped.
The light flipped on and I blinked, surprised. The human—Milo, I assumed—stood next to the bed in nothing but a T-shirt, a pair of boxers, and socks.
He was grinning.
I cocked my head to the side, confused by his reaction. His eyes flicked up and down my body and he smiled wider, gripping something in his hand. It was a metal tube, about two inches long.
“One-seventy-eight, cuff him!” Officer Mayer yelled through my com.
A horrible shrieking sound pierced my ear and I gasped and quickly pulled my com out. I rubbed my ear, frowning at Milo.
“Who’s your shuttle officer?” He rushed across the room toward me. I took a step back, lifting my arms to defend myself. He made an exasperated sound. “Would you stop it? I’m on your side.”
My side? Which side was that?
I turned at the sound of footsteps and Leb appeared from around the corner, his eyes wide and panicked. He looked from me to Milo and I quickly reached for my cuffs, unable to think of an explanation as to why I hadn’t already secured the assignment.
Milo held up a silver device to Leb and the officer’s face changed from panic to anger.
“Yours is down, too, right, Leb?” Milo asked.
I froze. The human knew Leb.
Leb opened his mouth, but then snapped it shut and turned to me. He was worried. Scared. Of me? Leb had never looked scared of me.
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “You took out all video and communications. Even on the shuttle.”
“Nice,” Milo said, dropping the device on his bed. “I would have appreciated a heads-up, you know.”
“I didn’t have time,” Leb said. “I got the assignment half an hour ago.”
Milo sighed. “That is smart of them, I guess. Want to make it up to me by letting me go? You can say I got away.”
“She doesn’t let people get away,” Leb said.
That was true. And why would Leb let him go?
“What the hell were you thinking?” Leb continued angrily. “They’re going to know why you shut down their communications. They’re going to kill her. And me, maybe.”
I blinked, dropping my com, and Leb gave me an apologetic look as I scooped it up. Why would they kill me? I’d followed orders.
“Get in the shuttle,” Leb said to Milo. “One-seventy-eight, cuff him.”
“What?” Milo exclaimed as I took a step toward him. “Come on, man, you can’t give me to them!”
“I don’t have a choice,” Leb said, gesturing for us to follow him. “If we don’t get on that shuttle now and get back to HARC they’ll kill me and her, and probably hunt you down in a few days anyway.”
“But . . .” Milo looked from me to Leb, his eyes flicking to the cuffs in my hand.
Milo darted into the hallway, pushing Leb out of the way. I grabbed for his waist, catching only a handful of shirt instead. He twisted out of my grasp and shot through the door, slipping on the floor in his socks.
“Oh yes, there’s a good idea, Milo,” Leb said dryly. “Run from One-seventy-eight.”
I raced into the living room and launched myself at Milo. We hit the floor together and he grunted and began squirming beneath me. I reached for my cuffs as he groped for the edge of the couch.
“Would you stop it?” Leb snapped, his boots appearing beside me. “Just let her cuff you.”
Milo groaned but stopped squirming long enough for me to snap the cuffs around his wrists. I hauled him up to his feet and he blew a few strands of hair out of his eyes as he twisted around to look at Leb.
“But I think—”
“Just shut up until we get in the shuttle,” Leb said, stopping at the doorway with his hand poised over the doorknob. “Got it?”
Milo nodded glumly and Leb pushed his way outside. The pilot was standing next to the shuttle door, his face curious.