“Everything’s fine,” Leb said to him as he slid open the door of the shuttle. “Let’s get back.”
The officer nodded and hopped into the driver’s seat, and I pointed for Milo to get inside. The human targets were locked in a separate compartment at the back of the shuttle, a way to safeguard the officer on duty. Milo walked through the small opening and I shut the door behind him.
I settled into my seat, my eyes on Leb. He was pointedly avoiding my gaze.
“Can you help me?” Milo started talking as fast as he could, forehead pressed to the glass compartment. “Maybe during transport. You could let me slip away when they ship me off to Austin, right?”
“Maybe,” Leb said.
“Or maybe even tonight. Do you know a way out? Do—”
“Would you give me a minute to think?” Leb frowned at him and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and running his hands into his dark hair.
Silence filled the shuttle, the only sound the hum of the engine. Milo’s eyes darted from me to Leb, his face curious.
“Does she talk?” Milo asked after several moments of silence.
Leb didn’t reply or make any move to indicate he’d heard him.
“Do you do a lot of solo missions with One-seventy-eight?” Milo asked. “Tony would have appreciated that detail. Have you explained things to her? Maybe she can help me. Or us, eventually.”
Leb lifted his head and glared at Milo. “Has there been any progress with Adina?”
“No. They lost three more rebels inside HARC last month in Austin alone and they’ve stopped getting Reboots out for now.”
The rebels. I’d heard whispers of them as a child. Humans in the slums banding together to stand against HARC, tear down the walls between the rico and the slums, and bring back a citizen-led government. A girl at school claimed her father was part of a team launching an assault on the Austin HARC facility. The whole family had gone missing a few days later.
My eyes widened and Leb caught sight of my expression. He let out a long sigh, muttering something to himself.
“What does that mean, they’ve stopped getting Reboots out for now?” I asked.
“Oh, come on,” Milo said, shooting Leb a look. “You really haven’t told her anything?”
“I am not helping you until you get Adina out, so I didn’t really see the point,” Leb said. “And now you’ve risked them eliminating her, so it doesn’t even matter.”
I wished Leb would stop saying that. The sick feeling in my stomach was starting to spread to my throat and I had to swallow the rising lump.
“Please,” Milo said, rolling his eyes. “They’re not going to do anything to their precious One-seventy-eight. They think she’s nothin’ but an empty shell anyway.” He grimaced. “Sorry, Tiny.”
“It’s Wren,” I said with a frown. Empty shell? I didn’t know about that. I wasn’t an emotional Under-sixty, but there was something in there.
I was pretty sure there was something in there.
“Listen to me,” Milo said, raising his voice so I could hear through the glass. “Reboots escape.”
That was ridiculous. I gave him a suspicious look, not sure what kind of game he was playing.
“They escape, and they’ve formed a reservation in northern Texas, not far from the border. The ones they tell you died in the field? But they mysteriously can’t find their bodies? They didn’t die.”
I hadn’t seen a body when my trainer died.
I turned to Leb, my eyes wide. “One-fifty-seven?” I asked.
“Yes. He escaped.” Leb shifted uncomfortably.
He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I was able to get my hands on a tracker locator and I got him out when he was on assignment.”
“Why would you do that?” Why would any human want to help a Reboot? We were mankind’s greatest enemy.
“Because they promised to help my daughter,” he said. “She’s a Reboot at the Austin facility and the rebels said if I helped get out a high number, someone HARC thought would never try to escape, they would break her out in return.” His eyes hardened and he glared at Milo. “They lied.”
“We did not lie!” Milo protested. “But we just lost three people and I’m sorry, but getting a Thirty-nine out isn’t our highest priority right now.”
“You help the higher numbers escape?” I asked. I still couldn’t understand why.
“We make the higher numbers a priority because they’re more useful to HARC. But we’ve gotten out lower numbers, too. It depends on who we can get to.”
“Why?” I asked incredulously.
“Because we can’t change anything with all of you working for HARC,” Milo said. “If we’re ever going to have a chance of getting rid of HARC, we need help. Like badass, trained-in-combat help. And we figured you all wouldn’t turn down the chance to escape.”
“But . . .” We weren’t human. And I didn’t want to break it to the guy, but if someone helped me escape I probably would just run away. I wasn’t sticking around to help a bunch of humans. I found it hard to believe there was a Reboot reservation at all, much less one allied with these human rebels.
“Or at the very least, they need you gone so they have a shot,” Leb said, like he could tell what I was thinking.
The shuttle began to descend, and Milo looked at Leb with wide eyes. “You can help me, right? You can get me out of this?”
“Maybe,” Leb said, running a hand down his face. “I can try to set something up for when you’re transferred to Austin. But they’ve got Suzanna Palm in Rosa tonight. You’re just going to have to tough it out through questioning for now.”
The color drained from Milo’s face, but he nodded. “But you can get me out later, right? Because—”
“I said I’d try,” Leb snapped. He turned to me. “They’re going to ask you what happened during the silence. You need to tell them the truth, sort of.”
I blinked, confused. All the humans had lost their minds.
“A version of the truth. Tell them Milo started ranting about the Reboot reservation and people escaping. Tell them he said One-fifty-seven escaped. And that he wanted to help you. Then tell them that you think he’s crazy. That even if he isn’t, you wouldn’t go. Do that thing where you look blank, like you have no feelings at all.”