Never Fade Page 126

“Right behind you,” Vida called, her heavy footsteps matching my pace. Somewhere behind us in the dark, the others were working their way down the doors, looking for prisoners—for Cole.

At the door, I crouched, releasing my grip on Clancy’s shirt and motioning for Jude to get behind me. Whether I actually drew it up from deep in my memory or it found it naturally, my training with the League had me propping the door open, scanning the hall with my gun in front of me before I so much as thought about stepping through.

My pulse pounded in my ears, jumping, jumping, jumping with my nerves as I stepped out into the hallway and pulled Jude after me.

Vida split with us as we came around the hallway’s curve and took the first set of stairs. One level, I thought. Fifth door on the right. She has the hard job here, not you. You have one level to go up; she has two to get to the surveillance room. One level, fifth door on the right.

There was a loud clatter to my left. I skidded to a stop, Jude crashing into my back. My heart was in my throat when I turned back to where Clancy stood a short distance ahead, fading into the dim light. I jogged to catch up to him, waving him forward.

We kept to the curve, heading around to the other staircase. Without the gentle hum of static in the computer room, it felt like the first I’d ever stepped foot in this place. Which was why, I guess, it was appropriate that the first unfriendly face we saw after we climbed the stairs and opened the door to the next level was one I didn’t recognize at all.

There were dozens of agents at the League’s headquarters in Georgia, even more at the one in Kansas. I should have known Jarvin and the others would bring in every sympathetic soul they could to help take Alban out.

I could smell the alcohol on him, the spice of whatever he had eaten for dinner that night. He must have been headed up to the agent quarters on the first level, but the sight of us was clearly enough to make him forget as much. His shaggy blond hair fell into his eyes as he jumped at our sudden appearance. The lazy, stupid smile on his face dropped to a scowl.

“What the hell are you doing out of bed?” he demanded, reaching for me. I was faster, whipping the butt of the gun across his face and yanking him back into the stairwell. Jude caught the door before it slammed shut, peeking out through a crack to watch the hall.

Slipping into a drunk mind was like sliding a spoon through pudding. The only challenge was trying to find what I was looking for in the tangle of thoughts, all of which seemed to wash into one another.

“Roo!” Jude whispered. “Let’s go!”

If the man’s memory was right, there were other agents on this floor, most of them in the infirmary, but one, for sure, stationed between the doors of the two sleeping rooms.

I dragged the agent off to the side of the stairs, narrowly avoiding where Clancy stood silently waiting. I tucked the man into a corner and relieved him of the knife he was carrying in his back pocket.

“Stay behind me,” I told Jude, my eyes on the way Clancy seemed to be fading in and out of the shadows. “The whole time.”

The power was still out, and the hallway was little more than a dark curtain we were trying to fight our way through. They used glow-in-the-dark tape along the edges of the floor and around the different door handles and lock pads, but the combined light was less than a fraction of what it would have been if I could have turned my flashlight on.

I counted the door handles as we moved. One, two, three…

This is actually going to work.

…four, five.

Please let this work.

The agent posted outside of the sleeping rooms—Agent Clarkson—wasn’t a stranger. She was tall, lanky, with dark features and a fondness for knife fighting that had gone uncontested for years. She’d been fighting so hard to be made a senior agent, her confidence had warped into desperation, and then, from there, a frustration that she could only ever take out on the ones below her: us. She was the opposite of Cate in so many ways that hadn’t mattered before now.

“Andrea,” I called softly. “Andrea?”

“Chelle?” she said. “It’s already time? I thought wake-up was at five?”

There was a flutter of movement about seven feet ahead, on my left. I couldn’t meet her eyes to trap her that way, but the moment I caught the whiff of detergent and the subtle shift of warm breath that stirred the air in front of me, I lashed an arm out, catching her across the chest.

Her gun clattered loudly against the floor, but her body was soft and silent as I pushed the image of her sitting and sinking into a deep sleep. She slumped against me, and I eased her down onto the floor.

Jude bolted past me, heading for the boys’ door. I took the handle of the girls’ door, the same I’d opened for months without a second thought, and stepped inside, pulling the door shut silently behind Clancy. I flicked on my flashlight.

“Up—” I started to say, shining it into the nearest bunk.

The room wasn’t large. It only needed to house twelve girls, though there’d always been an extra bunk bed crowding the right wall, on the off chance the League ever picked up another kid. The bunk Vida and I shared, in the back right corner, had been neatly made, the sheets stretched tightly over the mattress with Vida’s military-like precision. All of them were—Almost like…

Like there was no one left to sleep here.

Too late.

“Don’t say it,” I warned Clancy. “Not one damn word.”

He stared ahead at the empty bunks, a cold expression on his face, but he stayed silent.

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