What was that idiot doing? We didn’t need medicine.
“It will help her sleep,” he said, glancing at me. “She’s just having a nightmare.”
It wouldn’t help her sleep at all. Reboots processed everything too quickly. Her body would metabolize it before it even had a chance to work.
Ever went limp beneath me and I looked down at her in surprise. When I turned to the humans they both gave me their hard expressions, the ones that were supposed to scare me.
Hard to be scared of them when I could break their necks before they realized I was on my feet.
“You’re not to tell anyone about this,” the scientist said sternly. “Understand?”
No. I didn’t understand. What did they just give her?
What had they given her before?
What had they done to her?
The humans looked down at me for confirmation that I believed this ridiculous explanation.
Dumb Reboot—her brain doesn’t work right.
A guard said that to me once.
I nodded. “I understand.”
They left the room and the door closed behind them. I slid off Ever, studying her face. Her eyes were closed, her breathing deep and even.
Asleep. I’d rarely seen her sleep lately.
I gently rolled her over and picked her up under the arms, hauling her onto the bed. I scooted her legs under the comforter and pulled it over her body.
I climbed into my own bed, unable to stop staring at her.
I didn’t sleep. Instead I spent the night alternating between gazing at Ever and the ceiling. When she began to stir I rushed to get into my running clothes and bolted out the door, hiding my face when I thought I saw her roll over to look at me.
Twenty-two was waiting for me at the indoor track, his eyes on the other Reboots speeding around the room.
“Good morning,” he said brightly.
I just nodded, because it was not a good morning. I could think of nothing but Ever and her angry, vacant eyes. Would she be back to normal now? Would she even remember?
I was ordered not to say anything.
I had never disobeyed an order.
“Let’s go,” I said, stepping onto the black rubber. The indoor track was one of my least favorite parts of the HARC facility. It was a 400-meter ring with a guard in the middle, encased in a bulletproof plastic box. The windows could lower quickly to stop a fight with a bullet to the brain.
Destroy the brain. The only way to kill a Reboot.
The ugly lighting gave my pale skin a puke-green hue. Twenty-two’s olive skin looked mostly the same, almost nice, under the glow. I looked away, pushing aside thoughts of what my blond hair must look like in here.
Twenty-two could barely run a quarter mile without stopping, which did not bode well for him escaping angry humans chasing after him. Hopefully we’d avoid those for a while.
A few other Reboots were on the track with us, including Marie One-thirty-five, who looked over her shoulder with a laugh as she blew past us, her dark hair swinging. She was one of the fastest trainees I’d ever had.
“Let’s do two minutes of walking and one of running,” I said with a sigh as Twenty-two’s pace stuttered to an impossibly slow jog.
He nodded, taking in gulps of air. I had to admit, I wasn’t in the mood to run this morning. The break was welcome.
“Were you a good runner when you came here?” he asked when he’d caught his breath.
“I was fine. Better than you.”
“Well, that’s not difficult.” He smiled at me. “How old are you?”
“Me too. How long do we stay here? Is there an adult facility somewhere? I haven’t seen any older Reboots.”
“I don’t know.” I doubted it. As Reboots approached their twenties they stopped coming back from missions. Maybe they did transfer them to some other facility.
Maybe they didn’t.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Me too.” He smiled like we had something in common.
“We’re not from the same Austin,” I said tightly.
He frowned. “Sorry?”
“You’re from the rico. I’m from the slums. We’re not from the same Austin.” I had never seen the Austin rico beyond the lights I glimpsed over the wall that divided us from them, but I’d seen some of the other United Cities of Texas. New Dallas. Richards. Bonito (someone was being funny—it was anything but). A few hundred miles in the middle of Texas was all that was left of the large country my parents knew as children. HARC managed to save only Texas from the virus and the Reboot attacks that followed.
“Oh. I’ve never been to the Austin slums,” Twenty-two said. “I mean, except when my parents took me to the hospital. But I was too delusional at that point to remember. Do you think they’ll send me on an assignment there? I’d like to see my parents. And my brother. Have you seen your parents since you Rebooted?”
“My parents died when I did.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, his face turning serious. “They . . . they got shot, too?”
“Yes,” I said tightly, not interested in discussing my parents. “And you don’t want to see your parents. They don’t send Reboots to their hometown. It confuses people.”
“Do Reboots ever take off and go anyway?”
I frowned at him. “Of course not. Even if they wanted to, you’re outfitted with a tracker at the holding facility. They always know where you are.”
He held his arms out in front of him. “Where? I don’t remember that.”
“That’s the point. We don’t know where it is.”
“Oh,” he said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “But have you seen the other cities?”
“That’s good, right? We’d never get to see anything outside of Austin if we hadn’t Rebooted.”
“You’ll be working,” I said. Newbies always had questions about traveling to other cities. It was one of the only perks of becoming a Reboot—the occasional trips elsewhere for special assignments. HARC instituted a “no travel” policy years ago to stop the spread of the KDH virus, and it was still in place today. But his questions were too much this morning. They were making my head spin. “Pick up the pace,” I said, breaking into a jog.
He couldn’t talk while running, but when we slowed to a walk he opened his mouth with yet more questions.
“Do you believe in the evolution theory?”