“Hey,” I said, grabbing Hugo’s arm as he ran up the stairs. “Where is she?”
“She was headed for the cafeteria,” he said, eyebrows lowered as he surveyed me. “What’s wrong with you?”
I felt one of my kneecaps snap into place as it fully healed and I darted down the stairs, dragging the other leg.
“Where are you going?” Hugo yelled after me. “She’s killing guards; you’re gonna get shot!”
His warning faded as I raced through the seventh-floor door. Gunfire exploded in my ears and I looked from left to right frantically.
Two guards lay dead on the floor. Ever stood at the doorway of the cafeteria, a guard’s helmet on her head. Several bullets had dinged it and her white shirt was covered in blood.
A guard flew around the corner and Ever whirled to face him, gun aimed. She fired off a round straight into his chest before he could react. Her face was hard, her lips pursed, her eyes scanning the area for another threat.
But she was still herself.
She reached up and unhooked the helmet, letting it fall to the ground as she pressed her hand to the cafeteria door.
What was she doing? They’d kill her the minute she walked in.
Both my legs had healed and I took off running as she opened the door, trying to yell her name. My voice didn’t work.
“Wren!” I felt a tug on my arm and turned to see Callum’s worried face. I yanked my arm away and bolted after Ever as she stepped into the cafeteria.
“Wren, stop!” Callum’s footsteps followed me.
I burst through the door to see Ever climbing up on a table. She tossed aside the gun and made a gesture at the officers in the little room above the cafeteria like, What are you waiting for?
I ran for her, reaching out for her hand. “Ever, st—” My voice was lost in a barrage of gunshots.
I felt her blood splatter across my face.
Her head flew back.
And then I was on the ground, someone’s arms tight around me, his body shielding mine. I think he was talking, but his words sounded garbled in my ear. His scent was familiar.
“Clear the cafeteria.” The sound over the intercom made me jump, the dull human voice piercing the fog.
His arms left, but I couldn’t move.
Clear the cafeteria. I had to walk.
I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t move.
Callum grabbed me by the arms and pulled me to my feet. Cloth against my face, and I opened my eyes to see him using his shirt to wipe away Ever’s blood.
“Walk,” he said.
I blinked and attempted to put one foot in front of the other. I stumbled.
Callum wrapped an arm around my waist and held me against him, dragging me through the doors and out into the hallway.
He pulled me into the boys’ restroom and propped me up next to a sink, slowly slipping his arm from my waist. I leaned against the cool tile wall and closed my eyes, gripping the edge of the sink for support.
I felt something warm and wet on my face and neck and opened my eyes to see him cleaning me with a cloth.
“Are you wearing an undershirt?”
I couldn’t comprehend the strange question. I touched my shirt and my hand came away wet, red. I took in a sharp breath.
He lifted up my shirt in back to check when I didn’t respond. I was. Always.
He pulled off the black top shirt and threw it away, wiping my bloody fingers until they were clean. He tossed the cloth in the trash.
He reached for me and I pushed him away. I thought I might scream if he hugged me, held me close like Ever had a few minutes ago.
No screaming. That was my own rule.
He put his hands on my cheeks instead, making me look into his black eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, close to tears.
I should have been close to tears. Ever would have been. A human would have been bawling.
Crying was the normal thing to do. She deserved tears.
I shook his hands off, pressing my palm to my mouth to stop the scream building in my chest. I couldn’t break down in front of him.
I ran out of the bathroom, keeping my hand against my lips as I leaped up the stairs and headed for my quarters. I curled up on my mattress, pulling the covers over my face so I couldn’t see her empty bed.
But still, no tears came.
CALLUM AND I WERE GIVEN AN ASSIGNMENT THAT NIGHT.
I almost didn’t go. I wanted to crawl back into bed and wait to see if they’d take pity on me and assign a different Reboot to their stupid mission.
But I’d never seen any pity from HARC, and it didn’t seem right to desert Callum. So I pulled on my clothes, plunked my helmet on my head, and trudged across the facility.
HARC had found an adult Reboot living in Rosa and needed him brought in immediately. They didn’t give us specifics, but I suspected they’d use him for testing and then kill him. The hospitals made sure adults didn’t Reboot, but if one died in the city and Rebooted we had to go get him before he started killing people.
Lissy and Ninety-three met us on the roof. Four teenage Reboots for one adult. It was necessary.
“How’s he doing?” Lissy asked me, gesturing at Callum.
I blinked at her. I couldn’t speak. Everything around me felt fake, far away, like if I reached out to touch it my hand would fall straight through.
Lissy peered at me like I was a moron as the shuttle approached. I felt Callum’s hand on my arm and I turned to see a worried look on his face. He’d given me that look all day through training as I halfheartedly threw and dodged punches. He could have hit me multiple times, if he’d wanted to. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t stay in the moment.
The shuttle door slid open and we filed in, sitting when Leb gestured for us to do so. I buckled my strap and leaned back, letting my eyes close.
I took in a sharp breath and my eyes flew open at the sound of Ever’s voice. I almost expected her to be in the shuttle with me, her voice was so clear, but only Leb stared back at me.
He was standing right in front of me and I frowned at his closeness. Why wasn’t he in his seat?
“You all right there, One-seventy-eight?” he asked quietly.
Callum hovered next to me. The seats where Lissy and Ninety-three had been sitting were empty. We had landed.
Leb knelt down and unbuckled my strap for me. I slowly got to my feet, confused where the minutes had gone. Nothing made sense.
I staggered out of the shuttle, turning my gaze to the ground when I saw the annoyance on Lissy’s and Ninety-three’s faces.
Callum pulled out his map and pointed west. Lissy and Ninety-three turned to me for confirmation.