“Is it bad?”
The question could have meant several things, but Callum nodded.
“Yes. It’s bad.”
Eduardo’s breath fogged up the window as he blinked in horror. “Did you escape?”
“Yes. Do you know where my family went?”
“My mom said Tower Apartments.”
“Thank you,” Callum said, taking a step back.
“Wait,” Eduardo said, pushing the window up. Callum took another step backward. “What’s your number?”
“Twenty-two,” he said, holding his wrist up.
Eduardo snickered. “Aww, that’s precious.”
I laughed and Callum smiled at me.
“Who’s that?” Eduardo asked.
“Wren. One-seventy-eight. Don’t call her precious.”
“One-seventy-eight!” Eduardo exclaimed too loudly. “For the love of Texas!”
“Thank you,” Callum said as he pulled me to his side and we started to turn away.
“Wait, wait,” Eduardo called. We faced him again and he chewed at his lip nervously. “After you died my mom asked me what I would want if I got sick.”
“What you would want?” Callum repeated.
“Yeah, you know. If she should make sure.” He made a gun with his fingers and held it to his temple.
I’d heard of it. No one had ever asked my opinion on the matter, and I found I wasn’t sure what to say. I looked up at Callum to see a similar expression on his face. He lifted his eyebrows at me in question.
“No,” I said.
Eduardo looked at Callum for confirmation, and for a long beat I thought he might disagree.
“No,” he finally said. “Take your chances Rebooting.”
“Are you just saying that because your brain is all messed up now?” Eduardo asked.
“Maybe.” Callum shook his head in amusement and Eduardo grinned.
I gave Callum a baffled look as he laughed and turned away. I’d never witnessed such a friendly exchange between a human and a Reboot.
“Do you know where Tower Apartments are?” he asked, swinging an arm over my shoulders.
“I could probably get us to the general area.” I twisted around to look at Eduardo’s closed window. “He was your friend?”
“He wasn’t too scared of us.”
“Most kids are more terrified of Rebooting than the actual Reboots themselves.”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
We walked along the back of the neighborhood in silence. With every step my dread increased, the slum I had known beginning to take shape in my head.
As we approached the wall I stopped and stared. Someone had painted it, a beautiful mural of children playing and people running in the sunshine. I wanted to strangle the artist.
There were zero officers on this side of the wall. Who would want to sneak into the slums?
“Wren,” Callum said, gesturing for me to follow him.
“I’m scared.” The admission came out of my mouth before I could stop it.
He looked up at the wall. “Of going back?”
“Maybe it’s better than you remember.”
I drew myself up to my pathetic little height and took a deep breath. It wasn’t like I had a choice. I had to go.
“Let me check it out first,” I said. I hoisted myself up and peeked over. I saw nothing but grass until I looked to the left, and spotted an officer stationed several feet away. “Quietly,” I whispered to Callum.
I jumped down, my feet making a soft thud. The officer turned as Callum landed next to me. We took off, but only silence followed us. The officer was either a rebel or couldn’t be bothered to care about a couple of crazy kids sneaking into the slums from the rico.
It looked familiar. The center of the slums in the distance, the medical center looming to my right, the rows of shacks to my left.
It smelled like death. The pure air of the rico was gone, the scent of flowers and grass just a memory.
It felt like home. We were in the worst area of the slums, the part I had once lived in, and I squeezed my eyes shut when I recognized a large building full of little apartments.
“Are you trying to kill us?”
My foot caught on something and my face smacked into the dirt. I gasped, pushing the images of my parents out of my head.
“Wren,” Callum said, kneeling down next to me.
My breath escaped in short gasps, like I was a human. I struggled to my knees and pressed my hands into my thighs.
Why had I agreed to come here? Why had I done this to myself?
Callum scooped me up off the ground and carried me in his arms. I put my face in his chest and tried to slow my breathing, but it still came in gasps that rocked my body.
He ducked behind the medical building and gently set me down. I clutched my legs to my chest and he crouched in front of me, running his fingers into my hair.
“I don’t want to be here,” I whispered, burying my head in my knees in shame.
“I know.” He kept stroking my hair and it calmed me, my breathing slowing until my body stopped shaking.
“Tell me a good memory,” he said.
“There aren’t any.”
“There has to be at least one.”
“If there is I don’t remember it,” I said.
That seemed useless, but I shut my eyes and did it anyway. Nothing came except yelling and gunshots.
“My mom told me I looked like a monkey,” I finally said.
He looked at me in confusion. “Sorry?”
“She said when I slumped I looked like a monkey and I had a pretty face and I shouldn’t hide it.”
“You do have a pretty face,” he said with a little smile.
“So that’s sort of happy, I guess. It doesn’t make me feel bad, anyway.”
“What was she like?” Callum asked.
“I don’t know. I remember only bits and pieces of her.”
“More now?” he guessed.
“Maybe that means you miss her.”
“Maybe it means my subconscious is mean.”
He laughed, leaning forward to gently kiss my forehead.
“You miss your parents,” I said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes.” He looked almost ashamed.
“Let’s go find them, then,” I said with a sigh, slowly getting to my feet. “I need to get to Guadalupe Street to watch for shuttles soon. Adina’s supposed to be on assignment tonight.”