But they’ll kill you.
I couldn’t say the words to him.
“I know what they might do to me,” he said softly. “I’m not killing anyone for them.”
I sprung out of my chair, not sure what I intended to do until I smacked his head. He lifted his arms to defend himself as I swung again, my rage at his stupidity burning a hole through my stomach.
I wanted to scream at him, to ask him how he could be so thoughtless when I had just lost her, but no words would come out of my mouth. My throat had tightened painfully.
“I’m sorry,” he said, trying to catch my hands as I halfheartedly hit him.
“One-seventy-eight,” Leb said. I felt his touch on my arms, pulling me backward, and I let him, my shoulders sagging.
“I’m sorry,” Callum repeated, his eyes big and pleading. “Don’t be mad. I just couldn’t.”
I turned away, watching as Leb sat down in his seat again with a sigh.
His gaze met mine and he took in a sharp breath, barely shaking his head.
He could tell what I was thinking.
I leaned down and put my hands on either side of Leb’s chair. He pressed himself into the wall.
“Can you help us?” I whispered.
“No,” he said automatically.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Callum leaning in, trying to hear us, so I shot him a look. He sank back into his chair.
“Can you help just him?”
“Please. They’re going to kill him.”
A frown crossed his face. “I’m sorry about that, but even if I wanted to help, I’d need some time. Time he doesn’t seem to have.”
“I think I can convince Officer Mayer to let him continue training. I’ll take the blame. Tell him I didn’t prepare him properly.”
“Then he’ll be fine.”
“No, he won’t,” I whispered. “How long do you think he has here, really? He’ll disobey again and they’ll eliminate him.” Or a human would kill him. Or HARC would start giving him shots.
Leb’s gaze turned to Callum for a moment. “I can’t. It’s too risky.”
“Please. I’ll do whatever you want. Name it.”
The deep frown on his face slipped as something crossed his eyes. I held my breath as he considered, but the frown returned and he dropped his eyes from mine.
“No.” He said it firmly as the shuttle hit the ground. “Get in your seat.”
Of course not. What did I have to trade, anyway? I could think of nothing a human would want from a Reboot.
I sat down as the shuttle door opened to reveal a furious Officer Mayer.
“Both of you, in my office. Now.”
OFFICER MAYER GLARED AT US FROM HIS DESK CHAIR, HIS face red.
“Sit,” he ordered, and we did. “You.” He looked at me. “That was the worst field assignment I’ve ever seen from you. I swear sometimes I thought you were just standing there watching.”
I swallowed, not sure what to say, as that was entirely accurate.
“You.” He turned to Callum. “You disobeyed a direct order and took your com out in the shuttle. Was there something you needed to say that you didn’t want us to hear?”
“No, I was just tired of you yelling at me,” Callum mumbled.
Officer Mayer slammed his fist on his desk. “You do not get to be tired! If I want to yell at you I will yell at you! Did your trainer not tell you to get in line? Did she not say that you were to follow all orders?”
“Yes,” Callum replied.
“Then why shouldn’t I eliminate you?”
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Callum said quietly.
“I did not ask you to kill a person; I asked you to kill a Reboot. A crazy Reboot who killed two of your friends. I would think you would be glad to do it.”
Callum shook his head.
“Then we should eliminate you.” He nodded his head, like it was decided, and I felt like someone had just put their hand around my throat.
“No, that isn’t—”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Officer Mayer snapped at me before turning back to Callum. “You were warned and you chose not to follow a direct command. I don’t see any improvement, and unfortunately there is no room here for Reboots who don’t perform well.”
“But he is better,” I said, ignoring the glare Officer Mayer gave me as I spoke out of turn again. “He was the one who completed the assignment tonight. If it weren’t for him I’d probably be dead and the assignment would have gotten away.”
Officer Mayer pressed his lips together, looking from me to Callum, and I felt a tiny spark of hope amid my panic.
“And I didn’t prepare him properly for a kill assignment,” I said.
“I’m not used to training such a low number. I didn’t realize he’d be so emotional about it.” The lie slid out of my mouth easily. Had I thought about it a little more, I would have known Callum wouldn’t be okay with killing. “It’s my fault.”
“You be quiet until you’re spoken to,” Officer Mayer snapped at Callum. He turned to me again. “Should I eliminate you instead?”
I swallowed, although that comment wasn’t entirely unexpected, considering I’d just told him I’d screwed up. “I think if we continue training, he’ll get better at following orders.”
“So you don’t think I should eliminate you, then.” Officer Mayer had the tiniest smile on his face, and I was struck by the sudden urge to smack it away. He was enjoying watching me squirm.
“I would rather you didn’t, sir.”
He let out a long, exaggerated sigh as he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked from me to Callum for several agonizing seconds, the only noise in the room the hum of his computer.
Finally, he waved his hand. “Fine. Twenty-two, go to your quarters. One-seventy-eight, stay a minute.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as Callum trudged out of the room. Officer Mayer stood up, gathering a few papers and his computer into his hands.
“I’m sending you two on a kill assignment as soon as we locate the other adult Reboot,” he said. “We’ve been tracking the other one for several days, so it shouldn’t be long. If Twenty-two refuses to perform the assignment again, you’ll eliminate him.”