I led him to the intersection of Holly and Nelson, whipping my head around to find Leb.
The night was quiet, nothing but the sound of wind in the trees and a few crickets as we stood in the middle of the dirt road surrounded by little tents.
Maybe he wasn’t coming tonight.
“Can I see the map?” I asked, to stall.
Callum handed it over and I pretended to look at the straight lines representing the streets of Rosa. I didn’t have long before the HARC officers watching me grew suspicious. I rarely needed to look at a map.
I stole another peek around but there was no one but me and Callum. I let out a long sigh.
“We should go that way,” I said, trying my best to keep the defeat out of my voice.
Callum’s face fell and he looked down at the gun in his hand. “So I have to shoot her in the head, right? To kill my own kind?” He glanced down at the assignment slip. “Danielle. I murder Danielle?”
I winced at the word choice and the anger dripping from every syllable. HARC surely heard it.
“Yes,” I replied. “Aim for the forehead, not the face. You want to destroy the brain. Two shots are best, to be safe.”
“And then what? I drag her back to the shuttle?”
“Or I will.” I turned away, unable to meet his accusing gaze. He might have been mostly mad at HARC, but there was plenty there for me as well. Would he ever be able to forgive me if I made him do this?
“I—” A high-pitched screeching in my ear interrupted me, and Callum and I both grimaced and pulled our coms out.
“What was that?” Callum asked, rubbing his ear. “Did our coms just go out?”
My eyes darted across the area, hope filling my chest so much it was difficult to breathe.
A man peeked around the edge of a tent, a broad figure in black. He rose from his knees and jogged to us, pushing the brim of his hat up as he stopped in front of me.
Leb. He held a knife with one hand and with the other pulled a black object out of his pocket, and Callum stepped forward, the gun half-raised to defend us. I shook my head at Callum and he slowly lowered it, eyes still glued to Leb’s knife.
“Stand still,” Leb said, lifting the black object to my chest. It was a small device about the size of his palm, and it lit up with a red light when he scanned it over my upper right arm.
“Take off your jacket,” he said.
“How’d you get it so fast?” I asked as I shook off my jacket.
“Getting it isn’t the problem,” he muttered. “It’s the shit storm that will erupt when they realize it’s gone that’s the problem.”
He lifted the knife and sliced a gash a few inches above my elbow, using the edge of the blade to knock a little metal device to the ground. I wrapped my fingers around the bloody wound. It wasn’t deep enough to be painful, but my fingers still shook as I clutched them to my skin.
I stared at the bloody silver tracker. Freedom. I could run now, and no one would know where I was. What I was doing. What I was saying.
Leb waved for Callum to come closer, but he just stood there, staring at the blood seeping out of my arm. He looked shocked, on the edge of happiness, like he couldn’t believe it was real.
“Would you hurry up?” Leb snapped, grabbing him by the arm and waving the locator over his body. “The shuttle officer is probably already on his way.”
Leb spun Callum around and ran the locator down his back until it turned red. He lifted his shirt and cut a short line across his back just under his shoulder blade. He grabbed the tracker and carefully set it on the ground.
Leb took off down the street, motioning for us to follow him. We ran two blocks, coming to a stop behind a dark house with an assortment of trash and broken toys in the backyard.
Leb shoved something into my hand and I looked down to see some papers, the locator, and a map of the Austin slums. I didn’t think I needed a map—I remembered it well enough—but he’d marked a particular spot in the middle of a residential area.
“Her name is Adina,” he said, tapping an envelope and a picture of a dark-haired Reboot below the map. “She’s on assignment Tuesday and Wednesday night. The shuttle usually lands at the end of Guadalupe Street. Give her that letter. I marked the rebels’ address on the map. If you get Adina, go there and they will tell you how to get to the reservation.”
“Fine,” I said, shoving everything into my back pocket. “Do you have any bullets? We only have four.”
He pulled his gun out and emptied about ten into my hand. “They’re militant about keeping this location secret from HARC. Go at night. Don’t call attention to yourselves.” He dropped the knife in my other hand. “Take that, too. Go.”
“Thank you,” I said as Leb turned to run. He gave me a slight nod over his shoulder before disappearing down an alley.
I was frozen. Leb had said go. Which way? Where? To some mythical Reboot reservation that probably didn’t even exist?
Panic gripped my chest as I realized what I’d done. I was in the slums, surrounded by humans, and I wasn’t going back to HARC.
I wasn’t going home.
“Wren.” I looked up to see Callum’s excited face peering at me. He broke the camera off my helmet, took my com from my clenched hand, and tossed them both on the ground. “I think we should run.”
I GRABBED CALLUM’S HAND AND WE WOVE THROUGH A DARK alleyway, breaking into a full sprint as we headed for an abandoned shelter. In the years after the war it was meant to help the humans get back on their feet. When the drug dealers and gangs took over Rosa, HARC boarded it up.
We were at the edge of Rosa, near the city line and in the heart of the slums. HARC was on the other side of town, past the fields, but it wouldn’t take them long to dispatch officers. In terms of hiding, this was not the best place. The houses were tiny and the tents on the next road over would provide even less cover.
An alarm pierced the silence and a spotlight swooped across the area. I scrambled to the back of a shack, pressing myself against the rickety wood. Callum did the same, his eyes on the sky as a shuttle spotlight surveyed the area. It moved down the street and he looked over at me.
“Should we keep going?” he whispered.
Yes. Maybe? I wasn’t sure. Almost every decision I’d made over the last five years wasn’t really mine. I knew the rules of HARC and I followed them.
The spotlight swung to us and Callum gripped my hand as we took off across the patchy grass surrounding the shack. I heard the bullets before several pierced my shoulders and bounced off my helmet.