I had no idea.
Lissy frowned at me and peeked over Callum’s shoulder. She nodded and began walking west with Ninety-three. They’d dropped us on Main Street, and Lissy veered off the paved road and disappeared onto the dirt street behind a small house.
Callum laced his warm fingers through mine and I started to look down at them as we followed them. I caught myself just in time, snapping my head up before my camera recorded it. Officer Mayer would not approve.
“Is there anything I should know?” he asked, squeezing my hand. “About tonight?”
I didn’t know what he meant.
“Fighting an adult Reboot,” he prompted. He looked down at his assignment slip. “Gregor, adult Reboot.”
I felt an emotion pressing against my chest, and this time I knew exactly what it was. Guilt. I should have prepared him. I shouldn’t just stand there mutely listening to Ever’s voice in my head.
“He won’t run like a human; he will stay and fight if we approach him,” I said, my voice working for the first time all day. “In an adult, the Reboot causes insanity and extreme aggression. We’re ordered to capture if we can, kill if we have to. His strength will depend on whatever his human strength was, because he probably hasn’t been a Reboot long. But he will be quick. The Reboot reflexes kick in right away. Don’t try talking to him. You can’t reason with an adult Reboot. Whoever he was before is gone.”
“Why are the adults different?” he asked.
“They say it’s something to do with our brains not being fully formed. An adult brain can’t handle the Reboot the way a kid’s can.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. I think it’s more about change.”
“My parents always started screaming at each other when something changed. Like if we had to move or if HARC mandated another vaccine they couldn’t afford. But I always just went with it. I think we adapt better.”
A hint of a smile crossed his face. “That makes sense.”
Lissy stopped in front of a house with a crooked roof and sheets covering the two windows in front. I quickly dropped Callum’s hand as she turned. I missed the warmth right away, and I wanted her to point her camera in another direction so I could link my fingers through his again.
“You guys take the back,” she said. “We’ve got the front.”
I nodded and walked around, reaching for Callum’s hand again as soon as we were out of sight. He kept his face pointed straight ahead but tugged me closer, until my shoulder touched his arm.
I closed my eyes briefly, letting the tingles of warmth dance over my skin. I could see Ever in the darkness, feel her hand as it pressed into my back.
My eyes popped open as a tiny gasp escaped my mouth. Callum’s eyes were on mine now, full of concern, and I quickly looked away.
“Be prepared to fight,” I said, clearing my throat and trying to push Ever’s voice out of my head.
My hand was poised over the knob of the back door when I heard Lissy scream.
“One-seventy-eight!” Ninety-three yelled.
I took off with Callum close behind, rounding the corner to the front of the house in seconds.
Gregor was huge, so big that Lissy was a doll perched on his back, her arms around his thick neck. His eyes didn’t focus right, like all of the adult Reboots I’d seen, and his mouth hung open, even when he wasn’t growling. He brandished a large knife, wildly swinging it behind him at her.
Ninety-three lunged at him and Gregor whipped the knife in his direction.
I saw Ninety-three’s head snap back as the blade slid in, but I slapped my hands over my eyes before I had to watch him slump to the ground.
“Lissy, get—” Callum’s words cut off as I heard Lissy scream, then another thump.
Take your hands off your eyes.
My brain wouldn’t communicate with my body, wouldn’t do anything I said. I dug my fingers into my skin, trying to wrench my hands away, but I was frozen.
A grunt from Callum broke the spell. I dropped my hands to see him tear the knife from Gregor’s hand and hurl it as far as he could. Lissy and Ninety-three lay motionless on the ground, and Callum stumbled over the former as Gregor punched him across the jaw.
Callum’s eyes darted to me as he sprung to his feet, his expression clear.
My feet worked, even if the rest of me didn’t. I raced across the dirt, launching my foot into Gregor’s stomach. He barely stumbled, his dark Reboot eyes sparkling at the challenge of a fight.
I found I had that in common with adult Reboots. They seemed glad for a fight, eager to release the pent-up aggression and anger inside. I understood that. But tonight I couldn’t find that energy.
Gregor threw a punch. I ducked, but another immediately followed. He’d been trained in combat as a human.
His fist slammed against my cheek and I hit the ground with a grunt.
I wanted to get up faster, to bounce up and revel in the fire of a fight burning in my belly, but my limbs were lead, moving like I was a human.
I was only up on my knees when he kicked me again.
He lifted his foot for another one, but Callum launched himself at the bigger Reboot, taking them both down. He tried to pin him to the ground but Gregor grasped his shirt and tossed him across the lawn.
I managed to stand before Gregor made his way over to me, lifting my fists to protect myself. I had to be faster than him. He was stronger, so I had to be faster.
I scrambled behind him as he swung, giving him a solid kick in the ass. He hit his knees and I reached for my cuffs, relief flooding me.
I yanked one arm behind his back but he spun around and grabbed my ankle, sending my butt to the ground. His foot connected with my helmet, smashing the camera.
“One-seventy-eight!” Officer Mayer yelled in my ear. “We’ve lost visual on your camera.”
A pair of arms grabbed my waist, dragging me away as Gregor lunged for me. Callum darted around me and threw a punch directly into Gregor’s face.
“One-seventy-eight!” Officer Mayer yelled in my ear.
“He . . . he broke it,” I gasped, the world spinning a bit as I got up.
Callum turned at the sound of my voice and Gregor delivered a massive punch to his stomach, tugging viciously at Callum’s head. He succeeded in getting the helmet off, tossing it aside with a growl.
“One-seventy-eight! Get that helmet back on Twenty-two’s head! All we see is the ground!”
I raced for them, fighting back the urge to rip my com from my ear. I threw myself in between the two Reboots, breaking Gregor’s hold on Callum. I was messy, panicked, my eyes flying to my newbie to see if he was okay. I never saw the punches coming. Only felt the crack as he smashed my nose in.