WREN WAS SILENT.
She stood completely still next to me, staring straight ahead with that look she got sometimes, like she was either happy or plotting to kill someone. Either way, I loved that look.
The other Reboots around us started jumping up and down and yelling in celebration, but Wren just stared. I followed her gaze.
The wooden sign must have been hammered deep into the orange earth, because it didn’t move even though the wind was brutal. The sign was at least a few years old, the words slightly faded. But still, I could make out every one:
ALL HUMANS TURN BACK
But “Reboot Territory” appeared to be nothing but flat, dry land and powerful, gusting wind. I was sort of bummed, to be honest. The Texas I knew was lush and hilly and green. This Texas was flat and orange. Who’d ever heard of orange dirt?
“It should be a couple miles that way!”
I turned at the sound of Addie’s voice. She brushed her long, dark hair out of her face as she studied the map to the reservation that the rebels had given us. She glanced back at the two crashed shuttles behind her, then turned and pointed straight ahead to empty space. The flat land gave way to a small hill in the distance, so perhaps there was something over there we couldn’t see yet. I certainly hoped so, otherwise Reboot territory was looking pretty pathetic.
Wren held out her hand and I laced my fingers through hers. I caught her eye and smiled and she attempted one in return, the way she did when her thoughts were elsewhere. A strand of blond hair escaped from her ponytail and she pushed it back, as usual not appearing to care where it landed or how messy her hair looked.
We started walking and the Reboots around us stole occasional glances at Wren. They all slowed until they were slightly behind us, letting her lead, but I didn’t think she noticed. I was pretty sure Wren was proud of her One-seventy-eight—her impressive number of minutes dead before the KDH virus caused her to Reboot—but she often seemed oblivious to the way people treated her because of it. Or maybe she was just so used to it that it didn’t faze her anymore.
Personally I would have been freaked out if everyone stared at me like that.
We walked in silence for almost half an hour as the Reboots behind us chattered, but now didn’t seem like the time for conversation. My stomach was in knots, my mind buzzing with what we were supposed to do if the reservation wasn’t here. How much fuel was left in those shuttles we just abandoned? Would Wren’s even work after that crash landing? It had only been hours since we escaped HARC. What if they were on their way to find us right now?
I held Wren’s hand tighter as we approached the hill. It wasn’t terribly steep, and we climbed to the top quickly.
I stopped, my breath catching in my throat.
If that was the reservation, then someone hadn’t explained it right. Someone should have piped up and said: “Oh, it’s not really a reservation. It’s more like a huge compound in the middle of some ugly orange dirt.”
They’d built a fence all the way around the compound, not unlike the HARC fences that surrounded the cities of Texas. Except this fence was made of wood and stretched at least fifteen feet high, hiding the interior from our view. Towers even taller than the fence were at either end, and there was a person standing at the top of both of them. The towers were simple wooden buildings that seemed to only function as lookouts. On each one, long blocks of wood crisscrossed in between the four beams of the tower, and a ladder ran up one side. At the top was a bare slab of wood with a roof, but it was open on all four sides.
Beyond the reservation was a lake and large patches of trees, and past that more flat, orange dirt. I couldn’t get over how big it was. That was a Reboot city? It had to be almost the size of Rosa.
Wren took in a sharp breath and quickly pulled her hand from mine. “They have guns,” she said, pointing. “Look at them. They all have guns.” She glanced around at the other Reboots. “Put your helmets on if you took them off. Raise your hands!”
I squinted at where she was pointing and took in a sharp breath. In front of the compound, lining the gate, was an army. There were maybe seventy-five or a hundred people, and it was impossible to tell if they were Reboot or human from this distance.
I tightened my helmet strap and raised my hands. “They could be humans, couldn’t they?” We had a hundred near-invincible Reboots, but if those were armed humans we could be in a lot of trouble. Only a shot to the head could kill a Reboot, but a few of us didn’t have helmets, and we hardly had any weapons at all. I swallowed as I looked at them again.
“They could.” She squinted as she raised her hands. “We’re too far to tell.”
If it turned out we escaped from HARC—the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation, which enslaved Reboots and made us do their dirty work—only to get killed by a bunch of humans living in the middle of nowhere, I was going to be pissed. If they killed me, I was coming back from the dead (again) to hunt down the human rebels who told us about this reservation.
“If they’re humans, let’s pick a state now,” I said in an attempt to stay calm.
Wren’s expression twisted into confusion. “A state?”
“Yeah, you know. Those things they used to have in the rest of the country. I vote for California. I’d like to see the ocean.”
She blinked at me, that “Are you being serious right now, Callum, we’re in the middle of a very tense situation” blink. But a corner of her mouth turned up. “I vote for North Carolina. We can go to Kill Devil Hills and see where the virus started.”
“That’s great, Wren. I pick the ocean and you pick the death state.”
“Doesn’t North Carolina have a beach? Wasn’t it on the water?”
I laughed. “Fine. Death state it is.”
She grinned at me, her bright blue eyes searching mine for a brief moment. I knew what she was looking for. I’d been cured of the drugs HARC gave us to make us better, more compliant Reboots, but instead just made us insane, flesh-craving monsters. It had only been a few hours since she’d given me the antidote, and she was watching to see if it didn’t work, if she’d have to stop me from killing and trying to eat someone again.
She hadn’t been fast enough in Austin.
I quickly dropped my gaze to the ground.
One of the men pulled away from the group and strode across the dirt, his black hair shiny in the morning sunlight. A gun swung from one of his hands and he had another tucked into the waist of his pants.