“Yeah. None of us really expected that reaction, though. We thought she’d fight back, attack us. When she didn’t and it came down to it, we couldn’t kill her. We’d heard rumors of Reboots up north, so we got her as far as we could and let her go. Asked her to talk to any Reboots she found about the possibility of them taking in any others we rescued. You know, see if they’d be willing to work with us. And they were.”
“Why couldn’t you kill her?” I asked. “HARC eliminates us all the time. Tony must have seen it.”
“I’m sure he has. But it’s different, when you’re sitting with a fifteen-year-old who doesn’t really seem all that different from you.” He shrugged. “I’ve always thought we were taking a terrible risk, freeing you, but it was the best of two shitty options. So here I am. Hoping you lot will be grateful enough to not come back and destroy us all.”
“If it helps, I have no interest in coming back to kill any of you.”
A hint of a smile crossed his face. “I appreciate that.”
“Des, stop it; they’re not murderers.” Tony put his hands on my shoulders and I jumped, almost dropping my spoon. It was weird he didn’t mind touching me.
I minded it, though, so I sidestepped his hands and frowned at him. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he just smiled at me. I glanced at Desmond again. Maybe he was the only sane one here.
“Wren, you want to come map this out again with me?” Tony asked. “I want to make sure my guys know where they’re going, but they’ll be following you.”
I nodded and joined him at the table, standing behind the humans while Tony again outlined the route we’d take to get inside. It was dark now, and he had to move a lamp closer to the table for us to see it.
“And then you’ll come out here,” Tony finished, running his finger through the HARC lobby. “Or wherever you want, I guess. After you release a hundred Reboots I think you can probably take your pick of exits.”
A smile tugged at the edges of my lips.
He had no idea.
I HUGGED MY ARMS AGAINST MY CHEST, SHIVERING IN THE cool night air as I stared up at HARC from the shelter of the trees that surrounded the building. It stood tall and black at the edge of the Austin slums—fifteen or twenty stories high. I’d never come out far enough to see it as a kid.
A group of about ten rebels stood several yards to my left, dressed in what looked like black HARC uniforms. They were fakes, but we were hoping no one would notice in the chaos, and the rebels would be able to get upstairs to steal the weapons and medicine HARC had been hoarding. It was a huge risk, and I could see the fear in their tight, blank expressions.
Callum grunted behind me and I looked down to see Tony and Addie tightening his ropes to a boulder. We’d dug a hole next to it, only a few feet deep, but enough to keep him hidden while we were inside. His legs were securely bound, the cloth around his mouth muffled his occasional growls, and he could barely move.
Addie replaced a couple of the tree branches over the hole as she and Tony crawled out of it. It was barely visible through the thick bushes, but I could see Callum’s dead eyes glinting as he looked up at us. He’d never come back.
I was terrified it was too late.
I turned away and walked a few feet until I could see the sky. The sun was just beginning to rise and the horizon was bathed in red and orange and blue.
“I went up north once when I was kid, just before the virus hit.” I closed my eyes as my mom’s voice filled my ears. “We drove for three days from Austin, and when we got there I remember looking up at the sky and wondering where the rest of it went. There’s more sky in Texas, darlin’. You ain’t ever gonna know anything else, but look up and appreciate it occasionally anyway.”
I opened my eyes, and they followed the streaks of color until they disappeared in the distance.
“Wren, let’s go. Desmond should have the power off in a few minutes,” Addie said.
I turned and took the helmet she held out to me. I secured it around my chin as Tony looked down at Callum.
“He should be fine there until you get back,” he said with a nod. “No one will be out here; they’ll be chasing y’all in the opposite direction.”
“Do you know how long it will take for the antidote to work?” I asked. “Will we be able to run right away?”
“Should be really fast. The lower the number, the faster it works, in my experience.” He paused, clearing his throat. “What do you want me to do with him if you don’t come back?”
I avoided looking at Callum. I needed to be focused, and every time I caught a glimpse of him I started to panic. “I’ll come back.” There were no other options.
He opened his mouth, seemed to think better of it, and gave me a sad smile. It was not the most encouraging expression. “Okay, hon.” He turned to join Gabe and Zeke with the other humans.
Addie and I headed closer to the chain-link fence that surrounded the HARC property. It wasn’t electrified, but we were to wait until after they shut off the power so the cameras wouldn’t catch us.
We stood in the shadows, the only sound the chirping of the crickets and the breeze blowing through the trees. My heart beat so loudly I was sure Addie could hear it, but she just stood there stoically, staring at the building and the one security guard in sight. I pushed away the screaming fear in my chest, pushed away the little nagging voice that was reminding me this was my only chance to save Callum. I didn’t need fear or doubt right now.
I just needed to focus.
The lights clicked off and I ran, the sound of boots hitting the grass all around me. I wrapped my fingers around the metal and jumped up, flying over and landing a few seconds before Addie. The humans trailed behind us.
I held my hand out as we approached the building and everyone behind me stopped. Pulling my tranq gun from my pants, I crept across the grass and onto the slab of concrete. My boot squeaked as I stepped forward and the officer on duty whirled around, mouth wide open as I squeezed the trigger.
The dart lodged in his chest. He took one step before his head began to droop, and I caught him as he fell, hauling him against the building in hopes that the camera wouldn’t spot him right away.
I grabbed the key and access card off the guard’s belt and stuck the key in the lock, throwing the door open and motioning for Addie to hurry. She darted through and I followed, holding it open for the rebels as well.