“Dammit, Wren . . .” He let out a whoosh of air, putting his hands behind his head. “That’s not fair.”
“It’s the truth.”
“No. They won’t do it. You’re their precious One-seventy-eight. Officer Mayer will just yell and have someone else kill me.”
“I’m a Reboot like everyone else,” I said. “They’ll kill me if I start rebelling.”
“So either I kill this person or I’m responsible for your death. That’s great. Wonderful choice you’ve set up for me there.”
“I don’t want you to die.”
“Now you’re sucking up.” He tugged at my waist, trying to draw me closer. I let him, pressing my palm to his warm chest. “I just don’t want to be . . .”
“Me?” I guessed.
“No. I don’t want them to make me into that person. Into someone who kills.”
I had nothing to say to that, as I was already that person. I pressed my lips together and looked at him pleadingly.
“That look,” he moaned, putting his hands on my cheeks. “Don’t give me that look.”
“Will you do it? Please?”
He sighed and dropped his hands. “Do I have to decide now?”
“The assignment could come down any minute.”
“I . . . could try, I guess.” The defeat in his voice made my insides twist uncomfortably.
“Thank you.” I took a step back, an indication that I was ready for him to go.
“Right, I’ll let you shower.” He grabbed the edge of the curtain but paused, the humor back in his eyes. “Or I could stay.”
A little yelp escaped my mouth as I pulled my arms in and pressed them both against my chest. “I . . . um . . .” Yes. And no. I felt sick.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a chuckle, holding up his hands. “You look horrified. I was mostly kidding.”
“No, I’m not horrified,” I said, forcing myself to relax. He gave me one last smile before pulling back the curtain and hopping out.
An Under-sixty leaned over and peeked around the curtain before I could shut it. A small crowd had formed, and the girls all had funny smiles on their faces.
“Aw, we knew you’d break down eventually,” the Under-sixty said. “He’s really cute.”
I snapped the curtain closed and let out a long breath as I leaned my forehead against the cool tile.
I shouldn’t have stuttered and mumbled like that. I shouldn’t have looked horrified. I wanted to . . . well, I didn’t know if I wanted to strip down and shower with him, but I liked his arms around me. I thought I would have liked to kiss him. Although I couldn’t be sure, never having kissed anyone before.
Ever would have enjoyed this. She would have been thrilled if I had told her everything. Her eyes would have lit up with the hope I was a real person after all. She would have said something comforting and humanlike, although I had no idea what.
I missed her.
That evening, after dinner, I walked down the hallway, slowing as I spotted a human leaving my room. She caught my eye and pointed inside.
“Clothes drop-off,” she said, and quickly scurried away.
I looked at the neatly folded clothes on my bed in confusion. I’d had a clothes drop-off yesterday.
I grabbed a black sweatshirt off the top. It was way too big.
But there was a folded-up piece of paper beneath it.
I dropped the sweatshirt on the bed and held the paper close to my chest, turning away from my clear wall and unfolding it as discreetly as possible.
It was a map. A map of the five cities of Texas, with a route drawn in blue from Rosa to Austin. He’d drawn a circle around the intersection of Nelson and Holly in Rosa, a couple blocks from where the shuttle usually landed, and written the words meet me here. There was a star at the edge of the Rosa city line, directly in between two towers. Where we were supposed to exit the city, perhaps? The blue line stretched through the miles of trees between the two cities and stopped at the word tunnel scrawled near the edge of the rico side of Austin.
My breath caught in my chest and the map shook ever so slightly as I read the small words printed at the bottom.
THE KILL ASSIGNMENT CAME THE NEXT DAY.
They gave me a gun and told me to either give it to Callum to kill the Reboot, or use it on Callum myself. I hadn’t been given a gun to use in the field in a few months, and it felt cool and heavy against my hip.
I had the map in my pocket, even though I doubted Leb had managed to get his hands on a tracker locator in one day. I wouldn’t run without removing our trackers first. There was no point.
If Leb didn’t come through today, Callum had to perform the kill assignment.
Callum glanced down at the gun when I joined him on the roof. A cool breeze blew across us, bringing with it the stench of the slums, and I saw his nose wrinkle. From the smell or the sight of the gun, I didn’t know.
The shuttle hit the roof with a clunk and the door opened to reveal Paul inside. If Leb wasn’t on this assignment, maybe he had the tracker locator and was waiting for us at the meeting spot.
I couldn’t breathe. The air was gone and my chest hurt. This could be my last assignment. My last time in the shuttle. The last day at the place I’d called home for five years.
Paul gestured for us to sit and I stumbled on the way to my seat.
Callum was shaking as he strapped himself in. I wanted to tell him it was okay, that he wouldn’t have to perform the assignment, but I didn’t know that for sure.
The shuttle was silent as we rode to the slums. Paul dug into his pocket and produced four bullets as we landed, offering them to me.
“Take any unused ones out before boarding the shuttle,” he warned as I closed my fist around the bullets.
I nodded and followed Callum into the cool night air. His eyes were glued to the gun as I loaded the bullets. I didn’t want to tip off the HARC officers watching our video feed. They needed to believe we were following orders, for as long as possible.
I held the gun out to Callum, but his hands remained at his sides.
“Callum,” I said quietly.
He wrapped his fingers around the gun, holding it away from him like it was contaminated. His eyes met mine.
“I have to?” he asked, his voice strained.
No. “Yes.” I cleared my throat and jerked my head to the right. “Let’s go this way. It’s a shortcut.”
Callum frowned down at his map and the assignment slip, then looked up at me, mouth open to most likely tell me we were headed in the wrong direction. He quickly snapped it shut as understanding crossed his face and I turned away so HARC wouldn’t see the hope there.