Never Fade Page 10

It was another hallway, but different than the ones I’d seen upstairs on the first level. The lights here weren’t as powerful and seemed set on a flickering loop. One look was all I needed to rear back, my heart climbing into my throat. This was Thurmond—this was a piece of what it had been to me. Rusted metal doors, solid cinder-block walls only broken up by small observation windows. But this was a prison with twelve doors instead of dozens, with twelve people instead of thousands. The rancid smells tinged with a hint of bleach, the barren walls and floors—the only difference was that the PSFs would have punished us if we’d tried banging against the doors the way the prisoners currently were. Muffled voices were begging to be let out, and I wondered, for the first time, if any of the soldiers had felt the way I did now—sick, like my skin was tightening over the top of my skull. I knew exactly when their faces found the windows and their bloodshot eyes followed us to the end of the hall.

Cate tapped her ID against the lock on the last door to the left, turning her face down into the shadows. The door popped open and she pushed it in, motioning toward the bare table and set of chairs. The hanging bulb was already on, swaying. I dug my heels into the tile, pulling away from her.

“What the hell is this?” I demanded.

“It’s all right,” she said, her voice low and soothing. “We use this wing to hold assets or rogue agents we’ve brought in to question.”

“You mean, interrogate them?” I said.

No, I thought, the realization blooming like black spots in my vision. Martin interrogated them. I’m going to interrogate them.

“I don’t…” I began. I don’t trust myself. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want any of this.

“I’ll be here with you the whole time,” Cate said. “Nothing will happen to you. Alban just wants to see what your skill level is, and this is one of the few ways we can show him.”

I almost laughed. Alban wanted to make sure he had made a good deal.

Cate shut the door and drew me into a seat at the metal table. I heard footsteps and started to rise, only to be guided back down. “It’ll just be a few minutes, Ruby, I promise.”

Why are you so surprised? I asked myself. I knew what the League was, what they were about. Cate told me once it had been founded to expose the truth about the kids in camps; funny, then, how far off-message they’d traveled. I’d been here for less than a half a day, and even I could see that in five years, all they’d managed to accomplish was turn a few kids into soldiers, capture and interrogate people, and bring down a few key buildings.

With the size and shape of the door’s window, I couldn’t see much more than Alban’s dark face when it appeared there, flanked by a half dozen other men. His voice filtered in through a crackling intercom. “Are we ready to proceed?”

Cate nodded, then stepped back, murmuring, “Just do as you’re asked, Ruby.”

That’s all I’ve ever done.

The door opened and three figures appeared. Two male agents, beyond fit in their green fatigues, and a small woman between them, who had to be dragged in and bound to the other chair with plastic ties. There was some kind of burlap hood over her head, and judging by the grunts and moans of protest, her mouth was gagged beneath it.

A prick of dread started at the base of my neck and slowly zigzagged its way down my spine.

“Hello, my dear.” Alban’s voice filtered through again. “I hope you’re well this evening.”

John Alban had been an adviser in President Gray’s cabinet until his own child, Alyssa, had been killed by IAAN. The way Cate explained it to me was that the guilt of it became too much for him; when he tried to take the truth—not the glossy, sugarcoated version of the camps—to the major newspapers, no one had been willing to run the story. Not when President Gray had wrangled an iron-fisted control over them. That was the legacy of the DC bombings: good men gone unheard and bad men taking every advantage.

His dark skin looked weathered by middle age, and the heavy bags beneath his wide eyes made his whole face sag. “It is a pleasure to have you here, of course. My advisers and I would very much like to see the extent of your abilities and how they might benefit our organization.”

I nodded, my tongue fixed to the top of my mouth.

“We believe this woman has been passing information to Gray’s men, sabotaging the operations we sent her out for his benefit. I would like you to explore her recent memories and tell me if this is true.”

He thought it was that easy, did he? A peek inside, and there are the answers. I squared my shoulders and gazed at him through the glass. I wanted him to know that I knew—that I was well aware of the fact he was standing behind that door for protection not from this woman but from me.

All I had to do was earn his trust, gain a tiny bit of freedom. And when the time was right, he’d regret ever giving me someone to practice my abilities on; he’d wake up one morning to find me gone, every trace of me erased from this hole in the ground. This was a waiting game for me. Once I confirmed the others were safe, I’d get myself out. Break the deal.

“You’ll have to give me a specific operation to look for,” I said, wondering if he could even hear me. “Otherwise we might be here all night.”

“I understand.” His voice crackled through. “It should go without saying that what you hear and see when you are on this hall is privileged information your peers will never have access to. Should we find that any of this intel is being shared, there will be…repercussions.”

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