Never Fade Page 119

I can break the connection, I thought, letting my mind reach out for hers. But it was like a sheet of steel had melded around Vida’s thoughts—no matter how hard I threw myself against it, I was knocked back. Shut down.

“You’ve improved a great deal,” Clancy said. “But do you honestly think you could break my hold before I could have her fire?”

No, I thought, hoping my eyes would be enough to convey to Vida how sorry I was, that I hadn’t given up yet.

“How long have you been monitoring our Chatter’s link?” I asked, turning back to him.

“Take a guess, and then another, at when I actually started answering in Catherine Conner’s place.” He began drumming his fingers against the table, and Vida’s hand steadied, finger tightening on the trigger. I clenched my fists but took a seat across from him, not bothering to hide the revulsion on my face. “She’s very worried about all of you. To her credit, she figured out I wasn’t you faster than you figured out I wasn’t her. And, even better, she sent you to Nashville. I’m guessing you ran into that little poser while you were there. Did you take care of him?”

It took me a moment to realize he was talking about Knox.

“It must have killed you,” I said, “to know a lowly little Blue was parading around with the identity you built. Did you know he had one of your Reds?”

“I heard murmurs about it.” Clancy gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “I knew the Red was damaged, otherwise I would have gone and gotten him myself. He would have been incredibly useful to have around, but I don’t have the time to sit around and retrain that kid, to strip all of the mental conditioning and build it back up.”

“They destroyed him—you destroyed him,” I said. “By just suggesting the program to your father. That boy was…he was like an animal.”

“And what was the other option for them?” Clancy asked. “Would it have been better to let my father’s people murder all of them the way they did the Oranges? Is it better to out-monster the monster or to be quietly devoured?” He fingered the edges of his old paperback. “A good question from Nietzsche. I know my answer. Do you know yours?”

I didn’t know who Nietzsche was, and I didn’t particularly care, but I wasn’t about to let him derail the conversation.

“Tell me why you’re here,” I said. “Is it about the Reds again? Or are you finally bored with screwing people over? I bet it gets pretty lonely with only your ego for company.”

Clancy actually laughed. “I’ll be the first to admit my East River plan was childish. It completely lacked the sophistication it needed to be successful. I got ahead of myself, testing the waters before they were warm enough. No, I’m here now because I wanted to see you.”

Every joint in my body seemed to seize in the grip of cold dread.

His attack came at me like a knife in the dark; the strange, disconcerting feeling at the back of my skull was the only warning. But I was quick, too. It was just like what Instructor Johnson said—sometimes the only time an opponent has his guard down is when he’s mid-swing. So I went for it; I knew what I was doing now. I blocked his assault with one of my own, driving straight into the deep reaches of his mind.

Images and sensations flittered by, bursting like white hot flashes, changing every moment I seemed to get a grip on one. I focused on the one that kept coming up—a woman’s face framed by blond hair—and seized it, pulling it up to the front of his thoughts.

The scene slid down around me, shaky and discolored at first but growing stronger the longer I held it. With every breath a new detail would appear. The dark room wavered in my mind before a ring of stainless steel tables appeared. Just as quickly, those tables filled with glowing machines and intricate microscopes.

The woman was no longer a face but a whole person, and standing in the middle of it all. Though her face was calm, her hands were up in front of her in a pacifying way that made me think she was trying to calm someone down or defend herself.

The woman tripped on something behind her as she backed away, sending her stumbling to the ground. The glass scattered on the tile around her flared as it caught the light of a nearby fire. I leaned down over her, noticing the small spray of blood on the woman’s white lab coat, and her lips forming the words, Clancy, no, please Clancy—

I wasn’t sure how the two of us ended up on the ground, crawling away from each other with weak, shaking limbs. I heard Jude shouting my name from outside again, thundering his fists against the back door. I pressed a hand to my chest, like that would be enough to slow my heart’s galloping pace. Clancy couldn’t stop shaking his head—in disbelief, maybe, or to clear it. For a long, terrible moment, we did nothing but stare at each other.

“I’m assuming that’s Stewart out there, banging to be let in like the dog he is?” he asked finally.

“It’s not,” I said, clenching my jaw. “He’s gone. They left us here.”

Clancy’s eyes flicked over to Vida again, and I heard a whimper.

“I’m telling you the truth!” I said. “Do you think I’d willingly let him get tangled up in this mess? He’s gone. Gone.”

He stared at me, his eyes tracing the lines of my face with faint amusement and more than a little annoyance.

The restaurant’s side glass door shattered, blown out by some force I didn’t see. Clancy’s full attention whipped from me to Vida, anger flashing in his dark eyes. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder who was breaking in—my body was way ahead of my brain. I dove for Vida’s legs, knocking her to the ground and wrestling the gun out of her hand before Clancy could do anything.

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