“I think that’s just my face.”
“Fine. You have to give them something. They’re never going to believe he was just silent while your com malfunctioned.” He looked at me pleadingly. “But please don’t tell them about me or Adina. Can you just say I told you to remain silent? I have two other kids and my wife is gone. I can’t get caught.”
The shuttle jerked to a stop on the ground and I nodded. He didn’t look entirely convinced I wouldn’t rat him out.
“And you can’t tell any of the other Reboots about this,” Leb whispered, his words coming in a rush. “I can’t get any more of them out right now. I came this close to getting caught last time. I’m not risking it again.” He turned to glare at Milo. “Especially when certain people don’t keep their word.”
Milo glared right back as the door slid open to reveal Officer Mayer on the roof, his hands on his hips, anger radiating off his chubby body. Suzanna stood beside him, her anger controlled, if she felt any. She simply lifted her eyebrows at me. A corner of her mouth turned up as she regarded Milo.
I didn’t blame the human for wincing.
“Take him down to interrogation for Suzanna,” Officer Mayer barked to Leb, gesturing at Milo. “Then get down to the debriefing room and wait for me. You, come here!” He screamed the last sentence at me and I bolted out of the shuttle.
He grabbed me by the arm and hauled me down the stairs like I was a child who had run off. He didn’t let go until we reached his ninth-floor office, dropping my arm to shove his key in the lock.
He slammed the door behind him and whirled around to face me, his face so close I could smell his sour breath.
He screamed something at me. I had no idea what it was.
Really. All the humans had lost it.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand, sir.” I sounded calm.
He took a visible breath. “Why did you take your com out?” he asked through gritted teeth, gesturing to it, still clenched in my hand.
“It screeched in my ear. It’s malfunctioning.” I held it out to him. He batted my hand away and the little plastic device skidded across the tile floor and came to a stop underneath his long glass desk.
“And your camera?” Spit flew into my face as he talked and I resisted the urge to wipe my cheeks.
“I don’t know; is it not working?” I asked innocently.
“What happened in that house?”
“The criminal started ranting about a Reboot reservation. Spouting nonsense about wanting to rescue us all. The officer came in since he’d lost communication, and together we took the assignment to the shuttle.”
He wrapped a hand around his fist. I thought he might be preparing to punch me. “And?”
“He kept talking in the shuttle. He said One-fifty-seven didn’t die; he escaped.”
“And?” he growled.
“That’s all. The officer told me not to speak. The human continued yelling about a Reboot reservation.”
“Did he tell you where it was?”
“No.” Not exactly, anyway. Northern Texas wasn’t a thorough description. Everything north of us was a deserted wasteland, as far as I knew.
“Did he say they were going to help you escape?”
“Yes, he mentioned wanting to help me. But I think he was just crazy, sir.”
Officer Mayer squinted at me, his wheezing and gasping the only sound in the room for several seconds.
“You think he was crazy,” he said slowly.
“Reboots don’t escape. I’ve seen them try. They’re killed. Even if they did, there’s nowhere to go.”
“What about this Reboot reservation?”
“I find that hard to believe, sir.” Not a lie. I couldn’t picture it. How did they live? Where did they get food? Why would the humans just let them be?
He stared at me, searching my face for a lie.
“I didn’t know it would get so hairy. But I sent you because I trusted you.” He sucked in a ragged breath, taking a small step back. “These people . . . I know you can’t understand this, but we saved them. We are the only state that survived, because we closed our borders early and stopped all civilian travel. And these people think they can go wherever they want and do whatever they want to do. We made these rules for a reason! We protected them and these rebels”—he spat out the word—“think they’re on some sort of mission to save everyone. They’re killing us faster. Traveling between cities, breaking the laws! This place”—he gestured wildly around the room—“is meant to protect humans. That’s what you do. You know that, right?”
Protect was not the word I would use to describe what I did, but I could almost see his point. The humans chose to let the younger Reboots live so they could help clean up the cities. Weed out the criminals and the sick without the risk of becoming infected themselves and spreading the virus further.
“Yes,” I replied.
He stepped forward, so close to me that I wanted to slam my hands against his chest and launch him across the room. “I will be watching every move you make. You breathe one word of this to anyone and you’re dead. Understand?”
That sounded nothing like trust to me.
WHEN I RETURNED TO MY QUARTERS THAT NIGHT, I CRAWLED into bed and faced the wall. I thought there was a good chance Officer Mayer was watching me at that very minute, and I wasn’t sure my face didn’t betray the thoughts racing through my head.
It was ridiculous. HARC had planned the facilities to make that impossible. We were monitored constantly and surrounded by armed guards, our tracker locations were a secret, and every human in the cities was more than willing to turn us over to HARC if they spotted us.
Well, not every human, apparently.
I pulled my knees to my chest and frowned, trying to make sense of it. My initial gut reaction was that the rebels were setting us up. Helping Reboots escape with a story about a reservation, then killing them. But I couldn’t see the point of that. If they really wanted to get rid of Reboots, wouldn’t they just kill them while they were on assignments in the cities? Putting together an elaborate ruse to break them out of HARC first seemed dumb, even for a human.
But if they weren’t setting us up, if they really were helping us with the hope that we’d help them, then that was smart. It was rather optimistic on the humans’ part, to expect cooperation from Reboots, but it was a solid plan if they wanted to get rid of HARC.