Never Fade Page 12

Now there was no one left in the long white entry hall. The agents left a trail of celebratory noise behind them. It shrank with every step they took, until the only thing I could hear was my own breathing, and the only thing I could see was the empty space at the end of the hallway where Jude should have been.

“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” Vida said, stretching her arms over her head. “One day I won’t have to get my back realigned from his death grip. Adios, boo.”

I think some people used the nickname “boo” as a term of endearment. Vida used it to make you feel like one of those little dogs that have brains the size of thumbs, and piddle all over themselves when they get too excited.

I let her go without a word, heading left toward Cate and the other senior agent quarters to check in. Five minutes of fruitless knocking later, I ducked my head into the atrium to see if she was there. She’s probably with the others, I thought, scanning the near-empty space. And while I didn’t glimpse her white-blond hair at one of the tables, I did recognize the mop of reddish-brown curls parked in front of one of the TVs.

I wasn’t lucky enough to pull off a clean getaway—those two seconds of staring had been enough for him to register my gaze. Jude glanced down at his old plastic wristwatch and then back up at me again in horror.

“Roo!” he called, waving me over. “I’m so sorry! So sorry! I totally lost track of time. Did everything go okay? Did you just get back now? Where’s Vida? Is she—?”

I wasn’t a good enough person to say that no part of me wanted to turn and run out before he could come up and loop my arm through his, dragging me across the room with him.

It was only when I crossed the room that I noticed Nico was there, sitting at the opposite end of the table. One of the cement pillars had blocked the sight of him from the door, but it also didn’t help that the kid didn’t seem to be moving. At all. I followed his stony gaze down to the little device on the table. A Chatter.

It was the size of a phone and could easily have doubled for one if you weren’t casting too careful of an eye on it. They’d salvaged an older generation of phones—the kind with an actual keypad, rather than a sleek touchscreen. The new shells they’d created for them were oval and thin enough to slide into a back pocket or up a sleeve during a lesson.

A couple of the Greens had developed this little gem with the idea that agents could relay digital messages, photos, and short videos back home without needing to ditch burner phone after burner phone. The tech behind them was mostly a mystery to me, but I understood they communicated on some un-hackable network the Greens had developed. They could only be used to contact other Chatters on the network, and only then if you had the other Chatter’s secret PIN number. They were useless if you needed to send large images or video files longer than thirty seconds; Alban had rejected sending them out in the field for that reason, dismissing them as some bored kid’s project. As far as I knew, the Greens usually just used them now to chat with one another in HQ when they were in different training sessions or at night after lights out.

“—really come back? Did you get to meet the agent? Was he as badass as everyone says? Can we—?”

“What’s going on?” I asked, looking between Nico and the TV screen. They’d picked the one showing only local California weather and news.

It was like I’d sucked the words straight out of him. Jude tensed in that wide-eyed way of his before flashing the kind of smile that was trying too hard.

“What’s going on?” I repeated.

Jude swallowed, glancing at Nico before leaning down to my ear. His eyes were scanning the atrium like they were looking for dark corners that didn’t exist.

“They sent Blake Howard out on an Op,” he said. “We’re just…”

“Blake Howard? The Green kid from Team One?” The one who looked like you could take him out with one well-aimed sneeze?

Jude nodded, giving another nervous glance behind me. “I’m just…worried, you know? Nico is, too.”

Shocker. Nico was never one to pass up a good conspiracy theory, especially when it came to the League. Every agent was a double agent. Alban was actually working with Gray to bring down the Federal Coalition. Someone was poisoning our water supply with lead. I don’t know where he got it from or if it was just the way his brain was processing all of the information he was absorbing and he didn’t know how to shut it off.

“They must be trading him for something,” Nico said, gripping the Chatter. “For information? To get another agent back? That’s not so crazy, right? There are so many Greens here already. They hate having so many of us. They hate us.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. “Did the Op involve tech?” I asked.

“Well, yeah, but,” Jude said, “when have they ever sent out a Team One kid? They’re supposed to be for HQ use only.”

He wasn’t wrong. Vida called them the Squeakers, and the name had stuck with everyone. All Greens with supercharged logic and reasoning skills that the League put to use in deciphering codes and building computer viruses, creating these insane devices. They all had the same stumbling walk; Nico too. A weird half step where they dragged their feet against the tile, causing their sneakers to make these little squeaking noises. I’m sure they had picked it up from one another subconsciously; they were always moving in sync, just like the parts of a working machine should.

“He’s of age and he has the right skill set to help them,” I said. “I know for a fact the other Green teams are occupied this week. He might have been a last resort.”

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