“You feel all right, though?”
“Yes, except . . .” He looked down at his shaking hands.
“You’re probably just hungry. You never ate enough. And tired. You should try to sleep.”
“I guess. But if it’s not just that? Then what?”
“You’re out now,” I said with a confidence I didn’t feel. “They couldn’t have even given you that many shots. They’ll probably just wear off.”
He nodded, leaning back against the dirt. “Yeah. I’m sure it’s fine. I wasn’t there that long.”
He was trying to convince himself more than me, but I smiled and nodded. “Exactly.”
“I’ll try and sleep,” he said, closing his eyes. He cracked one open and held his arm out to me. “Want to come closer?”
“I can’t. One of us has to stay up and keep watch.”
“One cuddle. Maybe two. Fifteen, max.”
“Callum,” I said with a laugh. “Go to sleep.”
“All right,” he said with an exaggerated sigh, a smile twitching his lips.
When I poked my head out of the hole hours later, the night looked deceptively calm. A soft breeze blew across the field, rustling the few leaves left on the trees. It felt so nice I had a brief, wild thought of just lying back down beneath the trees with Callum.
He popped up next to me, glancing around. He had tried to sleep, or pretended to try, for quite a while, until he finally gave up and stared at the side of the ditch. It reminded me of Ever so much it became difficult to breathe. It felt like someone was standing on my chest.
I held the map out in front of us, pointing to the area where Leb had indicated we should make our escape.
“We’ll run through here,” I said, tracing the route with my finger. “I’m hoping we can get pretty close to the fence before the guards spot us. From there we’ll head into the trees and go north until we lose the humans. Then we’ll turn and go south.”
Callum nodded. “Got it.”
I pulled myself out of the hole and Callum did the same. The lights of the slums were ablaze as HARC officers continued to scour for us, but it was dark in the field.
I started in the direction of the city line and Callum followed. He took my hand as we walked, lacing his fingers through mine. We were a little slower than usual. My feet felt heavy and my stomach was growling for food. I was almost tempted to stop and find something, but I didn’t want to risk drawing HARC officers out this way again. We needed to get as close to the city line as possible without being noticed.
Callum seemed in better shape. He hadn’t mentioned being hungry, and when he glanced down at me he looked steady and calm.
“Do you know who shot you and your parents?” he asked.
“No. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
He paused, glancing over at me. “Do you miss your mom and dad?”
“I don’t know.” It was the only way to truthfully answer the question.
“You don’t know?”
“No. I don’t. I don’t remember much of them, and what I do isn’t great. But sometimes I feel . . . weird.”
“Weird like sad?”
“You wouldn’t want to see them again if you could?”
“Callum, you’ll never get me to say that’s a good idea. And no. I wouldn’t want to see them again.”
He was quiet for a few minutes as we made our way through the neighborhood, staying close to the backs of houses as we got closer to the city line.
“What did you do?” he asked. “As a human?”
“I was twelve. I went to school and worked.”
“Where did you work?”
“A pub. Washing dishes. A lot of kids wanted the job but they liked how small I was. I didn’t take up much space.”
“There weren’t age rules for working in the slums?” he asked.
“No. If you could do the job you could apply. They have age rules in the rico?”
“Sixteen. After graduation. The wealthy ones go on to trade school; the rest of us start working.”
I looked at him in surprise. “I thought you all went to trade school.”
“Nope. Too expensive.”
“What did you do, then?” I asked.
“I worked the fields.” He laughed at the stunned expression on my face. “What? Someone has to do it.”
“Well, yeah, but . . . I didn’t think it was the rico folks.”
“Who else?” he said with a shrug. “They won’t bring in workers from the slums for the food crops because of the risk of disease. They don’t want Reboots touching their food. HARC tried to bring them in a while back and people protested. They’re terrified of us.”
“They should be.”
The lights at the edge of town appeared and I stopped and checked the map. The houses had thinned out and then disappeared completely. There wasn’t much on the south side of Rosa. HARC was to the west, the worst part of the slums to the east. The trees were scarcer as well, leaving nothing but flat dirt dotted with grass in front of us. HARC had no doubt cleared it out so there would be no way to sneak out of the city. The whole area was lit up brighter than daylight.
“Leb didn’t give us an area with much cover,” I said, ducking behind a tree and gesturing for Callum to follow.
“I doubt any section has cover,” Callum said. He moved closer to me until both our bodies were hidden behind the tree trunk.
He was probably right, unfortunately. Leb had drawn the star directly in between two of the tall metal watchtowers, which he must have thought was the safest route. The watchtowers were spaced several hundred yards apart. I peeked out from behind our hiding spot to see an officer strolling up and down in front of the fence, a massive gun at his waist.
“Let’s just run,” he said. “What do we have to lose?” He took a step forward, like he was going to take off right away.
“Our heads,” I said in annoyance, tugging him back to me by the arm. “They’re going to have sharpshooters up there.”
“What else are we going to do?” He knocked on his helmet. “Besides, we have these.”
He was right, but I still felt a burst of irritation at his disregard for his own life. Again.
“Those helmets don’t hold up forever,” I said. “I didn’t save you from getting shot on the inside so you could die one day later out here. At least pretend that you care about dying.” I looked down at the map again. “This can’t be the best place. It seems so stupid.”