“Reboot,” Wren said quietly.
I looked from her to the man. How could she tell from this distance? I couldn’t even see his eyes yet.
“The way he walks,” she clarified, off my confused expression.
I turned to the man. He walked quickly, but evenly, like he knew where he was going but he wasn’t going to panic about it. I didn’t see how any of that said “Reboot,” but I wasn’t a badass five-year veteran Reboot who could take down nine men by myself. So what did I know?
The Reboots around us slowed as the man got closer, and many of them were watching Wren. I lowered my hands, nudging her back, and she looked at me as I tilted my head toward the man.
“What?” She took a quick glance around at the other Reboots, then turned back to me with a slightly exasperated expression. “Am I elected to talk to him or something?”
I tried not to grin, but I failed. Wren was so oblivious sometimes to how other people saw her, interacted with her, looked up to her. She’d been elected to talk to him miles back, before we ever saw anyone.
“Go,” I said, giving her another gentle nudge on the back.
She sighed that “What do you people want from me?” sigh and I bit back a chuckle.
Wren stepped forward and the man stopped, lowering the gun slightly. He was in his mid to late twenties, but his eyes were calm and steady. He didn’t have any of the insanity of the adult Reboot I’d seen on an assignment in Rosa, meaning he must have Rebooted as a child or teenager.
Adults who Rebooted couldn’t handle the change, but if you were younger when you Rebooted, you could age normally without going crazy. Not that I’d ever had that theory confirmed until now, since I’d never encountered a Reboot who’d turned twenty. They all “mysteriously” disappeared from the HARC facilities before they reached that age. I suspected HARC either killed them or experimented on them. Wren and I were seventeen, so we would have had less than three years left if we hadn’t escaped.
“Hello,” the stranger said. He crossed his arms over his chest and cocked his head to one side. He scanned the crowd briefly and settled on Wren.
“Hi.” Wren glanced back at me for a moment before turning to the man. “Um . . . I’m Wren. One-seventy-eight.”
He had the same reaction as everyone else. His eyes widened. He stood up straighter. Wren’s number earned her extra respect, even here. The reaction bugged me every time. Like she didn’t matter without that number.
Wren lifted her wrist, and the man stepped closer to examine the number and bar code printed there. I closed my fingers over my own 22 and wished I could scrub both numbers off our arms. A higher number supposedly meant a Reboot was faster, stronger, less emotional, but I thought that was just a line HARC fed us that the Reboots bought into. We all used to be humans, before we died and came back to life as Reboots. I didn’t see why the number of minutes dead mattered so much.
“Micah,” the man said. “One-sixty-three.”
One-sixty-three seemed very high to me. Wren had been the highest number in the Rosa facility, but I didn’t think any of the other Reboots had been that close to her. A guy named Hugo was the closest and he was, what, One-fifty?
Micah held up his arm. His ink was more faded than Wren’s, and I couldn’t make out the numbers from this distance. But Wren tilted her head and stared at him blankly. She gave people that look when she didn’t want them to know what she was thinking. It worked.
“I see you brought a few friends,” Micah said, a smile spreading across his face.
“We . . .” She turned and found Addie in the crowd and pointed. “Me and Addie broke into the Austin facility and released all the Reboots.”
Addie unhooked her helmet, her dark hair blowing in the wind. She ducked her head behind the taller Reboot in front of her, like she didn’t want to be recognized for this feat. I couldn’t really blame her. She hadn’t really asked for any of this. Wren came to rescue her as part of a deal made with Addie’s father, Leb—one of the HARC officers at Rosa—in exchange for helping Wren and me escape. Addie had just gotten caught up in the whirlwind.
Micah’s smile disappeared. His face was expressionless, his mouth open a tiny bit. His eyes flicked over the crowd again.
“That”—he pointed—“is the entire Austin facility?”
“You released all of them?”
He stared a moment longer before taking a step closer to Wren. He put his hands on her face and I saw her body jolt. I resisted the urge to tell him only a dumbass would touch Wren without her permission. He’d discover that one for himself if she decided she didn’t like it.
His hands covered most of her cheeks as he gazed down at her. “You. Are my new favorite person.”
Yeah, get in line, dude.
Wren laughed and stepped away from his grasp. She tossed a look back in my direction like, “Really? You made me deal with this guy?” I grinned, stepping forward and offering her my hand. She slid her fingers between mine.
Micah stepped back to address the group. “Well, come on then. Welcome.”
A few cheers erupted, and people began talking excitedly all around us.
“We already took their trackers out,” Wren said to Micah. “Way back near Austin.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” he said with a chortle.
It didn’t? I frowned in confusion and saw a matching expression on Wren’s face, but Micah had already turned away to talk to a cluster of eager young Reboots. He began leading the way to the reservation and I started to follow, but I felt a tug on my hand as Wren stood her ground, watching the Reboots stream after Micah.
She was nervous, although it had taken me a while to learn what that particular expression looked like. She took in a small breath, her eyes darting over the scene in front of us.
“Everything okay?” I asked. I was nervous, too. When Wren was nervous, I was nervous.
“Yeah,” she said softly like it wasn’t. I knew she wasn’t as excited to go to the reservation as I was. She’d told me she would have stayed at HARC if it weren’t for me. I couldn’t begin to understand that, and it occurred to me for the first time that maybe she hadn’t just convinced herself she was happy as a HARC slave. Maybe she really was.
I wanted to think that she’d adjust and be happy here, too, but it was hard to say. I wasn’t even entirely sure what made Wren happy, besides beating people up. Of course, if I were as good at that as she was, it might make me pretty happy, too.