“You should stay here,” I said. I didn’t want to take the chance of losing him again, and he was right. We’d found a pretty safe spot.
“I don’t think you’re actually listening to me,” he said with a hint of amusement.
“I’m listening; I’m just not responding.”
He shook his head, a smile twitching at his lips. “Fine. I’ll stay here. Try not to die.”
“If you have to move for any reason, come back as soon as you can. I’ll wait here for you.”
“And if you don’t come back?”
I paused, not sure. “I’ll come back.”
“Excellent Plan B.” He laughed, running a shaky hand over his face. I frowned and he looked at me curiously. “What?”
“Why are you shaking?”
“Oh.” He glanced down at himself. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m hungry.”
I dropped my eyes to his other hand, shaking in his lap. Panic swelled in my chest so suddenly I turned away so he couldn’t see my face.
I took a deep breath, determined not to freak him out. It could just be hunger. He’d been at HARC only a few weeks. They probably wouldn’t have started him on the shots yet.
They couldn’t have.
“I’ll try to get some food,” I said, digging my fingers into the dirt to hoist myself out of the hole.
“Don’t worry about it; I’m fine.”
I swung my legs over and got to my feet, turning to face him. He looked small, his bare chest dirty and bloodied, the skin of his long legs peeking through his torn pants in weird places.
“Maybe I can get you some clothes as well.”
“Sure. Grab me a book, too, while you’re out. Something funny.”
I thought he was serious, until a grin spread across his face. “Just come back, okay? I don’t need anything else.”
I smiled and nodded, letting out a whoosh of air as I turned my gaze back the way we’d come.
All the humans would be on the lookout for Reboots now. I looked down at my clothes. Even the ones who hadn’t seen me would immediately recognize the all-black clothing as Reboot attire.
I pulled my shirt over my head, turning away from Callum as I made sure my white undershirt covered my chest. It did. I passed the shirt down to him, took my helmet off, and removed my hair band, shaking my hair out in front of my eyes.
“Are you doing a striptease first? I’m on board with that.” Callum smiled up at me.
“I’m trying to blend in. Do I look human at all?”
“Just keep your eyes covered. That’s really the only difference between us and them.”
It wasn’t, but I nodded anyway and pulled my gun out of my pants, leaning down to hand it to him. “Only use that if you have to. There aren’t many bullets left.”
“Maybe you should keep it.”
I shook my head, stepping back from him as he tried to hand it to me. “At least fire it if you’re in trouble, okay?”
“And put my helmet on,” I said, tossing it to him.
“No, you should take it. It’s too small anyway.”
“It’s fine. I can’t wear it without drawing attention.” I nodded as he strapped it on. It sat too high on his head, but it would work well enough.
I took a few steps, making an effort to slow down and add a bounce to my step. Humans were more clumsy, disjointed, and haphazard, but I had to make an effort to conceal my stride. I glanced back at Callum and tried to return his smile. Sucking in a deep breath, I faced forward, head down.
I turned onto the paved street that separated the slums, ducking my head farther even though I didn’t see any humans. The houses grew sturdier and bigger as I headed back to the center of town.
I’d grabbed assignments out of several houses on this street. It was slightly less depressing during the day. I’d always thought of all the houses in Rosa as ugly crap piles, but they looked almost cute in the sunlight. They were mostly identical, little two-bedrooms with a tiny window in front, but a few of them had flowers in the yard or a garden off to the side.
I’d never noticed the gardens before.
Footsteps sounded on the pavement behind me, and I took a swift look back. It was just an old guy, swinging a bag as he walked.
I quickened my pace, my feet barely skimming the sidewalk until I remembered that would attract more attention. I slowed and shoved my hands in my pockets, letting my shoulders rise up to my ears.
“You look like a monkey when you do that.” My mother’s laughing voice filled my head.
“Stand up straight, Wren. Lift that pretty face. I don’t know where you got that face from, darlin’, but you don’t need to be hidin’ it.”
I closed my eyes as the old man passed me, my mother’s face filling the darkness. She’d been right; she wasn’t pretty. She was gaunt even before she slipped fully into her addiction, never possessing the full cheeks or round hips that earned other women appreciative looks.
I hit a cross street and glanced to my left. Humans scurried past, probably headed for their homes. Two officers appeared from behind a building, guns ready.
I darted to the other side of the brick building, peeking around to see the officers slowly surveying the street.
My hand instinctively went to my head to make sure my helmet was straight, but touched only my hair. Right. I left it with Callum.
One good shot from the officers and he’d be waiting forever.
I should have told him to go without me if I didn’t come back. Maybe he would anyway.
An odd nervous flutter crept into my chest, and I tried to push it down with a deep breath. So I didn’t have a helmet. I was still stronger and faster than these humans. I could take them down before they got a shot off.
I heard someone approaching and I took a deep breath before turning to look straight into the woman’s eyes. Her mouth formed an o as she backed away, and for a moment I was worried she wouldn’t scream.
But of course she did.
I raced to the other side of the building, pausing long enough to let the officers see where I was going. The woman took off as they pursued me.
I leaped out just as they rounded the corner, aiming my foot for the shorter officer’s neck. The other one lifted his gun and I slammed two punches into his face before he could pull the trigger. He hit the ground next to the other human with a grunt.
I leaned down, my fingers poised to snap his neck, when he held his hands up in surrender and frantically shook his head.