The ceiling was supported by some sort of white wooden beams that looked less than sturdy. Other than that it was nothing but dirt underneath my fingers.
“What happens if this caves in?” Callum asked. “Are we just stuck in here buried alive forever?”
“Oh, good. Thanks for making me feel better about that.”
I wanted to turn around and smile at him, but the idea of the tunnel caving in and trapping us wasn’t that far-fetched. Perhaps as little movement as possible was the way to go. Besides, it was too dark for him to see it anyway.
I shuffled forward on my hands and knees, taking a deep breath in an effort to slow the rapid bursts of air coming from my lungs. Despite his words, Callum’s breathing was slow and steady, and when I closed my eyes and listened, it calmed me as well.
I crawled until my head bumped against something solid. I stopped, reaching out to touch it.
Was the tunnel sealed?
Callum ran into my feet and I felt him come to a stop as well. “What?”
“It’s blocked,” I said, pushing against the solid object. It was rough against my skin. “Maybe we should—”
The blockage moved before I could get out my cowardly words that we should forget this plan and Leb and Adina. I shoved it again and a streak of light appeared. It was two logs, most likely put there to hide the entrance.
I threw my shoulder against them until the top one fell to the ground with a thunk, and I was able to push the other one away. I squeezed out of the tunnel and sank onto the grass with a sigh. The air was chilly, the grass damp with dew beneath my fingers, but for once I didn’t mind the cold. I sucked a generous amount of the fresh air into my lungs.
There were no gunshots, no bombs, no yelling, just the cool morning air and the sounds of leaves rustling and crickets chirping. Escaping from Rosa was a faraway nightmare compared to the ease of our break-in to Austin.
Callum brushed off his clothes, then reached over and playfully mussed my hair, sending dirt flying. He smiled briefly at me, but his eyes were focused on something in the distance.
I turned. The tunnel had let us out on a hill, and it gave me a clear view of the rico part of Austin. I didn’t remember ever seeing it so clearly during my time in the slums.
It was small, probably somewhere between ten and fifteen square miles. It was the second Austin. The original was several miles south and, from what I’d been told, nothing but a pile of rubble. The Reboots had destroyed most human cities in the war.
I’d heard Austin called the best city in Texas. Judging by the other cities I’d seen, it seemed an accurate statement. It was nestled next to a lake, sparkling in the morning light. The buildings in the center of town were taller than those in Rosa, some ten or fifteen stories high.
A wide street ran up the center of town, beginning not far from the trees surrounding the lake and ending at a cute little round building. It was designed to replicate the original Austin’s capitol. Texas had no capitol, so I didn’t know what they did in the building now. Perhaps it was empty.
“Which way is your parents’ house?” I asked as I piled the logs back up in front of the hole.
“Past the capitol, down Lake Travis Boulevard,” he said, pointing to the wide street. His eyebrows lowered as he crossed his arms over his stomach.
“What?” I asked, getting to my feet and wiping my hands on my pants.
“I’m really . . .” He took in a deep breath as he pressed his hand into his stomach. “I’m really hungry, I think.”
He’d gone pale, and his hands were shaking worse than before. I swallowed, reaching for his hand.
“Your parents will have food, right?” My voice was steady, even though I was beginning to tremble myself. Ever had been famished in the cafeteria, shoving meat in her mouth as fast as possible.
Callum nodded. “They’ll have a little, probably.”
“Come on, maybe we can find something else on the way, too,” I said. The sun was getting higher in the sky, and we didn’t have long until the humans were everywhere.
He let me pull him down the hill and across the grass, the buzz of crickets fading as we neared the buildings. The only way to get to the other side of the capitol was through the city, since the HARC fence wasn’t far from the edge of town and I didn’t want to risk getting too close to it.
We crept along an alleyway behind the brick and wooden buildings. I glimpsed a few humans walking on the next street over and I quickened my pace, tugging on Callum’s hand. His eyes were downcast, his other fist pressed against his mouth.
“What is that?” His voice was muffled behind his fingers.
“That smell.” He stopped, leaning forward and pressing his hands into his thighs. He took in a deep breath and I stepped closer to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It smells like meat or something?”
I lifted my nose but all I could smell was fresh morning air and maybe a hint of grass or weeds.
He smells so good. Like . . . meat.
Ever’s words raced through my brain and I turned to the humans, dread trickling down my stomach.
He smelled the humans.
I grabbed his arm and he stood with a start, blinking at me.
“Let’s get you meat, then,” I said. “Where’s the nearest restaurant?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he turned to stare at the humans, his expression unreadable. “Remember when that kid tried to eat me?” he said softly.
“Or a butcher,” I said, ignoring him. “Or a grocery store. Are there any around here?”
“And then Ever acted like she was going to eat me, too. Remember? She was all weird and crazy.” He looked down at his hands.
My heart was beating too fast. I refused to answer these questions because then I’d have to admit that we should be scared of what HARC had done to him, and he already looked terrified.
“You won’t let me, right?” His words were quiet, his eyes bouncing between me and the humans.
I shook my head, too vigorously. “No. I won’t let you.”
He nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “There’s a restaurant up about a block. They have meat, I think.”
I looped my arm through his and we rushed along the block. Callum tucked his chin down, and he kept taking in deep gulps of air, trying to hold his breath as much as possible.
“That one,” he said, pointing to a slightly cracked wooden door behind a smelly Dumpster. The sound of dishes clanging and food sizzling drifted out through the opening, and I slipped the gun from my pants and flung the door open.