“Run?” I whispered to Callum, turning to face south.
He nodded in agreement, his eyes serious when they met mine, but a hint of a smile starting to form on his lips.
I let myself smile, too, just for a moment. And then we ran.
THE QUIET SWIRLED AROUND ME. I’D NEVER EXPERIENCED such quiet before. I knew the sounds of the city, or the sounds of the shuttles, or the sounds of Ever’s breathing as she tried to sleep, but this type of quiet was entirely foreign. I felt like an intruder in this world. We were still just outside Rosa, but I was on a new planet, one where there was nothing but Callum and a breeze blowing softly against my skin.
The trees provided solid cover, but the ground was uneven, littered with leaves and holes and fallen branches. I hopped and dodged and stumbled but my breathing steadied as I healed, matching Callum’s as our feet hit the ground.
The healing provided only momentary relief, and I slowed as my stomach turned over in protest. We’d only run about four miles, but my face was hot and my legs were unsteady. Callum glanced in my direction, his eyebrows knitting together. He slowed, pulling on my hand to stop me.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m just hungry, I think.” I hadn’t eaten a real meal in more than twenty-four hours, and my body did not appreciate the long run on so little fuel. My body didn’t appreciate so little fuel at all, actually. It was used to being fed well, and regularly, for the past five years.
I felt worse standing still, and I winced as I reached for my left shoulder. I could feel the hard lump just behind my shoulder, from a bullet lodged there. My skin had closed up over it.
I tried to push the pain away, but it was harder when I was weak. It throbbed, refusing to be ignored, and I frowned. How annoying.
“What?” Callum asked, reaching for my shoulder.
I shrugged him off, turning my face away. It was embarrassing for someone to be able to read the emotions on my face. I didn’t think anyone had ever been able to do that, even when I was a human.
“It’s nothing,” I mumbled. “There’s a bullet in there.”
He reached for me again, and I let him press his hand to my jacket, his fingers finding the spot. “Want me to get it out for you?”
I hesitated, glancing around. It was dark, deserted. We were still quite a ways from Austin and far enough outside of Rosa to have lost any shuttles or officers. A breeze tugged a few escaped strands of hair from my ponytail into my face, and I batted them away. “Maybe we should just keep going.”
Callum smirked as he held his hand out. “Just give me the knife.”
I pulled it from my pants and handed it over. I felt a little burst of relief that he hadn’t agreed to keep running. It was the last thing I wanted to do.
“Probably easiest if you sit,” he said as I shrugged off my jacket.
I glanced around one last time before slowly sliding down onto the dirt and crossing my legs. I closed my eyes briefly as everything in me collapsed in a heap of exhaustion. Callum’s fingers brushed my arms as he sat down behind me and I shivered at his touch. His fingers found the hole the bullet had made in my shirt and when he spoke I could feel his breath on my neck.
“You need to take this one off,” he said.
I pulled my arms through the shirtsleeves and let it hang around my neck over my undershirt.
“Um, do I just dig in there with the knife?” he asked, holding my shoulder steady with one hand.
“Yes. You don’t have to be careful. Quick would be best.”
“Okay.” He exhaled slowly and I felt the tip of the knife poke my skin. I shut my eyes as he pressed harder. It was easier to block out the pain with his breath on my neck and the warmth of him behind me.
The bullet hit the ground with a thud, and Callum set the knife to the side, his hands sliding down my arms. He leaned forward until his cheek brushed my face, the slight stubble tickling my skin. He laced his fingers through mine, turning his head so his lips brushed against my temple.
“That’s the grossest thing I’ve ever done,” he whispered, a trace of amusement in his voice.
I laughed and he squeezed my hand, his lips forming into a smile against my skin. I turned and our eyes met, then our lips for the briefest moment. He was the one who pulled away, the concerned look back on his face.
“Do you want to try to find food?” he asked. “You look exhausted.”
I scooted away from him, sticking my arms back into my shirt. “I’m fine. Let’s just keep going.”
He looked like he might argue, but when I pulled my jacket on and started walking he followed without a word. I briefly considered trying to catch an animal, but I saw none, and we couldn’t build a fire to cook it anyway. HARC might see the smoke.
It was different going without food as a Reboot. As a human, it had been uncomfortable, painful, consuming. The hunger took over until I could think of nothing else.
My mind was clearer as a Reboot. I could focus on other things, but the gnawing in my stomach was worse. It felt like a monster was eating me from the inside.
Food hadn’t occurred to me when I was planning our escape. I hadn’t considered so many things, like where we would sleep or find water and fresh clothes. In my panic to get Callum out I hadn’t stopped to think that maybe we would be worse off outside. Maybe HARC had been right, and they were doing us a kindness by sheltering us and feeding us. Yes, we were technically their slaves, but maybe that was better than what we would face out here.
I’m sorry. Ever’s voice rang through my ears, as clear as the day she’d died. She wouldn’t have been worse off on the outside. In fact, if I’d paid closer attention, if I’d worked harder to escape when I first discovered it was possible, she might still be alive.
I closed my eyes against the guilt pushing at my chest. She would have liked it out here, hungry or not.
“The reservation is that way, right?” Callum asked, pulling me from my thoughts. He was looking up at the black sky and pointing north.
“So all the HARC shuttles went in that direction. Do you think they know where it is?”
“Yes. That seems logical.”
“You really don’t think it’s there, do you?” he asked.
“No, I never did. If anything it’s probably just some Reboots running from place to place, hiding from HARC.” I sighed as his face dropped in disappointment. “I’m sorry. Is that the sort of thing I should lie about to make you feel better?”