Never Fade Page 115

“If she’s coming to get us, it’s probably because she thinks there isn’t a way for us to safely cross the border into California,” I lied, and hated myself for it. “She probably wants to fly in. I’m sure she’ll let you hitch a ride—”

“Don’t even bother finishing that sentence,” Liam said.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Chubs shouted over us, making a hard turn to the right. “Please, for the love of God, can we just be quiet and okay for five freaking minutes and remember that we are actually friends who care about one another and don’t want to wrap our hands around one another’s necks? Because that sounds really nice right about now!”

“Somehow,” Vida said after a long, uncomfortable, silent five minutes had passed, “this is worse.”

Liam must have agreed, because he reached over and knuckled the radio on, humming something under his breath as he scanned through the static, the Spanish chatter, the commercials, until he finally landed on a woman’s deep, even voice.

“—Children’s League issued this statement about the Christmas Summit—”

“Oh no you don’t,” Chubs said, reaching over to turn it off. “We’re not getting into this again.”

“No!” all three of us protested from the backseat. Jude practically mashed his face against the metal grate between him and the radio dial, and the instant Alban’s voice came pouring out of the speakers, Vida was right there with him.

“That’s—” Jude began in an excited voice.

“We do not believe that the peace Gray is trying to prescribe is in anyone’s interest but his own. If this false meeting of the minds is to take place, it will ruin the good work that common American citizens have done to rebuild the lives he shattered. We will not sit idly by while the truth is buried under heaps of his lies. The time to act is now, and we will.”

That was a nice little speech. Courtesy, I’m sure, of Frog Lips. The man wrote almost every single word that Alban forced out between his smiling teeth. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to see the old man’s bald head bent over his handwritten cue cards, the lights from the cameras giving his tissue-thin skin a blue glow.

“—when asked for a comment, the press secretary replied, ‘Every word out of a terrorist’s mouth is designed to sharpen the fear and uncertainty that still exists today. John Alban is speaking out now because he’s afraid Americans will no longer tolerate his violent acts and unpatriotic behavior when peace and order are restored.’”

“He’s not scared,” Vida hissed. “They’re the ones who should be terrified.”

Jude shushed her, waving his hands. “Can you turn it up?”

“I have Bob Newport, senior political adviser to Senator Joanne Freedmont of Oregon, on the line to discuss how the Federal Coalition will be approaching the Unity Summit—Bob, are you there?”

The line crackled with static, and for several seconds, only the low hum of the SUV’s wheels against the highway filled my ears.

“Hi, yes—Mary? Sorry about that. Our signal strength in California hasn’t—” His voice cut off, only to switch back in, sounding louder than before. “For the last few months.”

“The cell towers and satellites in California haven’t been all that reliable lately,” I explained to the boys in the front seat. “Alban thinks Gray is tampering with them.”

“Bob, before we lose you, can you tell us about the FC’s plans to approach this meeting? Can you give us a preview of the talking points Senator Freedmont and the others are hoping to bring to the table?”

“Sure. I can’t go into great detail”—the line wavered again but then bounced back—“definitely will be discussing the recognition of the Federal Coalition as a national party, and of course, we’ll be pushing for a series of elections next spring.”

Mary the newscaster let out a light laugh. “And how do you think the president will respond to your requests he cut his third term short?”

Bob had a fake laugh of his own. “We’ll have to see. The draft, of course, will also be a major discussion. We’d like to hear if the president has any plans in place to phase it out, specifically the Psi Special Forces program, which, I know, has been a major point of contention across the country—”

At that, all five of us shifted toward the glowing green radio display. Jude clutched at my arm. “Do you think…?” he whispered.

“Will you also be discussing the rehabilitation programs?” Mary smelled the slightest hint of blood, and now she had her nose to the ground, looking to follow the trail. “Recently there’s been a lack of information released about the status of the programs and the children who were entered into them. For instance, the government is no longer issuing letters updating registered parents on their child’s progress. Do you think this is a sign the program is about to undergo some kind of transformation?”

“They actually sent letters?” I asked. This was the first I’d heard of it.

“At the very beginning—just a short, your kid is making good progress, not causing problems printout,” Liam said. “Everyone got the same one.”

“Right now our focus is on discussing what plans we’d like to see President Gray enact to stimulate the economy and reopen talks with our former international partners.”

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