“That was dumb.” Everyone knew KDH was rampant in the slums. No one was getting treated for it there.
“Yeah, well, they were desperate. And they didn’t realize . . .”
“You only go to the hospital in the slums to die and be sorted.”
“Yes. How did you die?” he asked.
“I was shot,” I said. “Any other skills?”
“I don’t think so. Wait, how old were you when you died?”
“Twelve. We’re not talking about me.”
“Who would shoot a twelve-year-old?” he asked with the innocence that could only come from living his entire life inside walls where nothing bad happened.
“We’re not talking about me,” I repeated. What was the point, anyway? How would I explain a life of strung-out parents and dirty shacks and the fighting and screaming that came when they went too long without a fix? A rich kid would never understand.
“Newbies!” Manny called, motioning for them to join him by the gym door.
“We’re not starting now?” Twenty-two asked.
“No, you have more tests to do,” I said, gesturing to the medical personnel. “We’ll start tomorrow.”
He let out a sigh as he ran a hand down his face. “Seriously? More tests?”
He looked from me to the other newbies, who had already joined Manny. “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Twenty-two!” Manny yelled. “Move it!”
I gestured for him to go and he jogged across the gym and disappeared out the door. The trainers all stared at me as they filed past. Hugo and Lissy stopped in front of me, wearing matching confused expressions.
“What’s wrong with you?” Lissy asked. She had her hands on her hips, her eyebrows lowered.
“Is he special or something?” Hugo asked.
Lissy rolled her eyes. “Yeah. He’s real special, Hugo.”
I shrugged. “Maybe I can make him better.”
“Don’t count on it,” Lissy muttered. She stalked away. Hugo gave me another befuddled look, then followed her out.
I turned to go, my eyes catching Ever’s. She was smiling, her head cocked to the side, then she nodded as if to say, Good for you.
A SOUND WOKE ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
I blinked my eyes until the dream I’d been lost in faded, loosening the death grip I had on the sheets. I’d been in the corner of a tiny apartment, watching my parents yell at the people in the living room. In the dream, they were yelling about me. In reality, I’m not sure they had cared about me enough for that sort of attention.
I rolled over to see Ever crouching on her bed, her teeth bared as she let out a low growl. The noise grew louder as she rocked back and forth on the mattress.
“Ever,” I said, sitting up. Violation of the rules, but surely they would want someone to wake her up and stop the racket.
She turned to me. Her bright eyes showed no sign that she recognized me. In fact, she snarled.
“Ever,” I said again, tossing off my covers and placing my feet on the cold floor. I reached for her shoulder and her head whipped to me. She opened her mouth and her teeth scraped across the skin of my hand.
I snatched it away. What the hell was that?
I held my hand to my chest, my heart beating oddly. I was nervous, I think. I was rarely nervous.
My eyes darted to the hallway. Through the glass wall at the front of our cell I could see a guard approaching, his flashlight aimed in our direction. He stopped in front of our room and peered inside, reaching for his com. He turned away as he spoke into it and I looked back down at Ever, rocking on her bed and growling from deep within her throat. I wanted to press my hand to her mouth to stop the noise, to make the guard go away before Ever got into trouble.
I heard the pounding of footsteps and turned to see a scientist in a white lab coat running down the hall. I took in a sharp breath as I watched the scientist talk frantically to the guard, his bushy eyebrows lowered in worry as he watched Ever.
Humans didn’t worry about Reboots. They didn’t run to help them.
The scientist pulled a syringe from his pocket and my stomach turned over as I pieced together what was happening.
They’d done something to her, and now they’d realized they’d messed up. Messed her up.
Ever pounced out of bed with a height and speed I had never seen before, smashing her body against the wall. I gasped, stumbling back until my legs hit the bed.
She head butted the glass, a line of blood trickling down her face when she straightened. She bared her teeth at the humans and they both jumped away, the scientist almost dropping his syringe.
I turned my eyes to the guard yelling from the other side of the wall.
Ever began pounding her hand against the wall, a slow, rhythmic hammering.
Her face determined, she looked at the humans like she would rip their faces off if given half a second.
“I said subdue her, One-seventy-eight. Get her down on the ground.” The guard glared at me.
I slowly rose from my bed, clenching my hands into fists when I realized I was shaking.
I’m not scared.
I repeated it in my head. There was no reason to be scared of a Fifty-six. She couldn’t hurt me.
Or could she? I’d never seen a Reboot act this way. There wasn’t a hint of the Ever I knew in her.
I’m not scared.
I reached for her arm but she was too fast, darting across the room and jumping on top of her bed. She bounced from foot to foot on the mattress, looking at me as if she accepted my challenge.
“Ever, it’s fine,” I said.
What was wrong with her?
She launched herself off the bed and landed on me. I hit the ground hard, the back of my head knocking against the concrete. I blinked the dots of white out of my eyes as she slammed my wrists to the floor above my head and opened her mouth, bending low as though she wanted to take a chunk out of my neck.
I kicked my legs, knocking her off me, and she flew into the bed with a grunt. I leaped on top of her, pressing my body into her back as she thrashed and snarled.
The door unlocked with a click and slid open, the footsteps of the two humans echoing across the room.
“Keep her down,” the guard ordered.
I locked my teeth together, lowering my face closer to Ever’s shoulder so he couldn’t see the disgusted look I wanted to aim at him.
The scientist knelt down and plunged the syringe into her arm. His fingers shook.