I paused, glancing at the other officer wheezing on his knees. I should kill them anyway. Surrender shouldn’t mean anything. I reached for his neck again, but stopped when he squeezed his eyes shut and looked away. It didn’t feel right with him just lying there like that.
I grabbed his chinstrap instead and unsnapped his helmet, yanking it off his head. I tucked it under my arm and grabbed their guns off the ground.
“Please,” he said quietly.
I frowned and straightened, shoving the guns into the back of my pants. “Give me your shirt.”
He looked at me strangely but unbuttoned his black shirt and held it out to me. I backed away slowly, my eyes fixed on them, but neither made a move to follow me.
I regretted my decision as soon as I disappeared behind the building and broke into a run. I should have killed them. They were probably on their coms now, telling the other officers my exact location.
I ran another block and crouched down against the side of a house, listening for the sounds of officers coming.
Nothing. If anything, it was quieter, as if the humans had all locked themselves away in their houses.
I straightened my legs and lifted my nose, searching for one more thing before I went back to Callum.
I didn’t want to risk returning to the shops at the center of town. Stealing from one of the houses was probably the best bet.
I pressed my ear to the house right next to me, but I could hear voices inside. I scurried across the lawn to the next one, and the next one, listening for silence.
The fourth house was quiet. I walked around back and leaned in to listen again, but still nothing. I yanked on the back door until the lock broke and it swung open. The tiny kitchen was deserted, but a loaf of bread sat on the wooden counter. I snatched it and checked the refrigerator, but there was no meat. I should have expected that. Most people in Rosa considered it a frivolous expense.
“Looking for somethin’?”
I jumped, pushing the door closed and aiming my gun at the young woman in front of me. Her eyes met mine calmly as I backed toward the door.
“Don’t scream,” I said. “I’m just going to take this and go.” I hugged the bread to my chest.
She held her hands up. “I’m not screamin’. But—”
I gestured for her to be quiet as the sounds of yelling and running drifted in from outside. Officers shouted orders at one another and I gripped the gun tighter, my eyes searching her face for a sign I should wrap my hands around her neck to stifle a scream.
She just stared at me.
The voices faded and I peeked out the door to see them scattering in all directions. I turned back to the woman.
“Will you keep quiet for a few minutes?” I asked.
“Will you leave me half that loaf? My kid will be hungry when he gets home from school. There’s not much else. You may have noticed.”
I lowered my gun, uncomfortable under her gaze. I wasn’t used to humans looking into my eyes, and her light eyes were locked on mine.
The guilt that pressed down on my chest was the worst I had ever felt, and I let out a sigh and put the loaf on the counter. I would have been thrilled to come home from school to find a loaf of bread on the counter. Although I think I was thrilled by any food at all as a kid.
The woman took a knife out of the drawer and held it over the bread, until I shook my head.
“It’s fine,” I said, pushing the door open. “Get your lock fixed; I broke it.”
She stared at me again, her face impossible to read. There wasn’t a trace of fear, or hostility, or anything, really. She just stared.
I turned to leave, tucking the gun in my pants.
“Kid, wait,” she said. She sliced off a generous piece of bread, wrapped it in a cloth, and handed it to me.
I slowly took it, holding it out for a moment to give her the opportunity to change her mind, but she didn’t.
“Thank you,” I said.
CALLUM LOOKED UP AT ME FROM THE HOLE, RELIEF AND JOY spreading across his face. He had one arm wrapped around his knees, my helmet sitting in the dirt beside him. I was so happy to see him I didn’t even bother to point out he should have been wearing it.
“You got it,” he said, looking at the helmet tucked under my arm with genuine surprise.
“Yes.” I jumped into the hole and handed it to him. “I took his shirt, too. Hopefully it doesn’t stink.”
He brought it up to his nose. “Nah, it’s fine.”
I held the bread out to him. “This is for you, too.”
He unwrapped it and looked at me in amazement. “Seriously? You’re scary good sometimes.”
“You can have it all; I’m not hungry,” I lied.
He frowned at me as he set it on the ground. “Don’t be ridiculous. We haven’t eaten since last night.” He put his arms through the shirt, leaving it unbuttoned as he split the bread in half and offered part to me.
“You take it; I’m fine for now,” I said as I slid down to the ground.
“Wren. Eat it. I am actually a little tough, you know. You don’t have to take care of me.”
The edge in his voice made me pause. “I didn’t mean—”
He cut me off with a kiss, which I returned, relieved I didn’t have to finish that sentence. He pressed the bread into my palm and I took it, smiling at him as he pulled away.
“Where’d you get it?” he asked as he took a bite.
“Just some house,” I mumbled. “Do you want to sleep for a while? I’ll keep watch.”
“Nah, I’m not tired,” he said, finishing his bread.
“But you didn’t sleep at all last night.”
“I don’t sleep all the time. I just can’t.”
“Ever didn’t sleep much,” I said, running my fingers through the dirt. “Is that common with the Under-sixties?”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard. I was sleeping more the last week or so, but I feel all awake again.”
“Do you feel okay?” I asked.
“I feel fine. They gave Ever the shots, didn’t they? The ones that make us crazy.”
I nodded, keeping my gaze on the dirt.
“What if . . .”
I looked up to see his face worried, anxious. “What if they gave them to you?” I guessed.
“They didn’t, that you know of?”
“No. But my roommate and I didn’t talk much. I don’t think he would have told me.”