“Maybe,” I said, holding back a grin. I glanced around and stood up to slowly peek into the open waste bin.
“Are you really looking for clothes in the trash?”
I held up a dirty paper bag. “We could make holes in this.”
“I think my wearing a paper-bag dress will actually attract more stares,” he said dryly.
I tossed it back and reached for my helmet, glancing around. I couldn’t see any humans, but I could hear the shuffle of a few of them nearby. We would need food eventually—my stomach was feeling a little empty—but my first concern was getting across the city before it got too crowded.
“No one has come over here recently?” I asked.
“No. I’ve heard officers occasionally, but not for a couple hours.”
“Thanks,” I said, leaning back against the wall and smiling at him. “For keeping watch.”
He brushed his fingers against my hair, running them down the ponytail. “Of course. You can sleep on me any time you want.”
His eyes were soft, different than I’d ever seen them, and I wanted to crawl into his lap immediately and take him up on that offer. When he leaned forward to kiss me I let him, just for a moment.
I pulled away and took a quick glance around, strapping my helmet on as I jumped up.
“Time for our morning run,” I said. “Maybe we can get to the other side of town without being spotted.”
He nodded as he got to his feet, and I wrapped my fingers around his wrist as we sprinted out from behind the trash bin and took off down the alleyway. We hit the dirt road and I let go of Callum to pump my arms as we cut away from the center of town, to the tents and the worst of the slums. My feet pounded the dirt, and I glanced over at Callum to see if he was okay.
He was gone.
I skidded to a stop, my breath coming in big gasps as I frantically whipped my head around. I took off back in the direction of the school, flying around the corner again.
There was nothing. Not even a human. Clothes flapped on the line in the backyard of a house next to me and I jogged away from the noise, straining to listen for a sign of him.
Panic surged up my chest with such force that I clapped my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming his name. Giving away my location was not the smart thing to do.
I closed my eyes and listened. I could hear people running, a few shouts, but nothing that sounded like Callum.
But humans shouting and running couldn’t be good, especially with a Reboot on the loose. I sprinted in the direction of the shouts, coming to a quick stop at the corner of a building when I realized it was HARC officers yelling orders at one another. I couldn’t see them but they were close, no more than a block or two away.
What if they’d already found him?
What would I do if I couldn’t find him? Just head to Austin without him and hope he made it by himself?
The idea was so ridiculous I almost laughed. I turned down a random street and broke into a run. I never would have escaped without him. I would have stayed in my little white cell, happily, numbly, until I died.
I wasn’t going anywhere without Callum.
I stopped in my tracks, all thoughts of staying hidden and safe flying from my brain.
I screamed his name so loudly my throat ached in protest. But I yelled again, listening desperately for a response.
The distant yell came from back toward the schoolhouse, and I took off at top speed, ignoring the gawking humans wandering out of their houses.
I recognized the sounds as I passed the schoolhouse and headed for the center of town. The hysteria, the angry shouts. I’d heard it before, when humans had caught themselves a Reboot.
I rounded a corner and spotted Callum running toward me as fast as he could. His battered pants flapped as he sprinted, his knees and thighs exposed and bloodied.
Behind him was a horde of angry townspeople. There were about fifteen of them, most of them without weapons, but they were being joined on all sides as humans ran out of their houses to see what the fuss was about. It wasn’t often they got to face a Reboot without HARC’s protection, and clearly they wanted to take advantage of it. They kicked up dirt as they ran, and the air was full of it, obscuring their faces and making some of them cough.
Callum had already taken a beating. His face was bruised, one of his arms bent at a funny angle, and I barreled toward him.
A boy about our age caught his uninjured arm and yanked him to the ground, but Callum kicked him in the chest so hard he flew to the other side of the road. If I hadn’t been focused on getting him to safety I might have smiled in pride at how quickly he reacted.
He scrambled to his feet, fending off a woman trying to bash his head with a baseball bat. Relief flooded his eyes as I surged forward and caught the bat, snatching it out of her grasp and tossing it as far as I could. A hand clamped down on my shoulder and I heard gasps from several humans as I landed flat on my back.
They all grabbed for me, yelling things that I couldn’t understand. A hand went for my neck and I snapped it, my eyes burning into the man’s. I kicked and grabbed the gun from my pants, their greedy little hands all trying to get to it so they could put a bullet in our brains.
Callum shoved aside a man directly in front of me and pulled me to my feet, dragging me out of their grasp. I whirled around, pointing the gun in their direction. A few backed off, hands raised in surrender, but most kept right on coming.
I only had a few bullets left, so I fired one shot into the leg of the human who looked the fastest and took off in the opposite direction with Callum.
“You’re monsters!” I heard a woman scream. “You’re soulless monsters!”
The humans were tiring, falling farther and farther behind as their inferior lungs and legs gave out. We flew down the streets, over the dirt roads, into the ugliest part of town. As we approached the old medical building I glanced behind us again and realized we had lost them for good.
I came to a stop next to the one-story building and pressed my hands against my thighs as I gasped for air.
“I’m sorry,” Callum said, leaning against the building as his chest heaved up and down. “I should have . . .” He shook his head with a little shrug.
I looked up at him, the anxiety from earlier setting in even though he was standing in front of me. I tried to hide my fear, to push back the sick feeling that kept resurfacing as it hit me that I’d come very close to losing him, but I must have failed, because he gave me a questioning, confused look. I dropped my eyes from his. I didn’t know how to put the sentence together, to tell him that I had been terrified of something happening to him. It sounded pathetic in my head. It would sound worse out loud.