Never Fade Page 128

“Did he ask you any questions about HQ recently?” I asked. “About particular files or people…?”

By the way Nico’s mouth seemed to twist, it was looking more and more likely that his loyalty to Clancy was going to win out over his alarm that Clancy had flat-out lied and brought us here despite the warning he’d given him.

“He gave me a list of words and people to look for,” Nico said. “There were a lot of them.… One of them pinged in the system a few weeks ago. An agent called Professor.”

I tensed. “Professor? You’re sure?”

“The agent was doing some kind of research at our Georgia base—it just suddenly popped up on the classified server a few weeks ago. I think he knew who it was because he wanted the base’s location.”

What had the adviser said when he came into Alban’s office all of those weeks back? Something about a situation in Georgia with Professor—and a project called Snowfall.

“What about stuff here at HQ?”

“He asked about the different tunnels and the blackouts…” Nico said slowly.

“What else?” I pressed. I was aware of the ticking clock, even if he wasn’t. “What about the blackouts?”

“He wanted to know if they shut off things like the lock pads or retinal locks—”

I turned on my heel, throwing Jude off me as I opened the door and bolted out into the hallway. Spots flashed in front of my eyes as they struggled to adjust again. I counted off the door handles as I ran. I kept to the outside curve, one eye always on the dark infirmary windows to my right. They’d drawn all the curtains. Not even the machine lights were bleeding through.

In fact, the only light on the entire second level seemed to be the flashlight Clancy clenched between his teeth as he riffled through the filing cabinets inside of Alban’s office.

All of the lock pads and retinal locks were on the backup power generator, and normally they would have been enough to keep even Clancy out, had they actually still been attached to the door. Someone had taken something—a crowbar, an ax, a small explosive—and blown them off that way.

I slid forward, nudging the door open farther as I slid my gun out of the waistband of my jeans.

Clancy made a small, triumphant noise as he ripped a bulging red folder free from where it had been trapped among a hundred others. He wasted no time flipping through the pages as he turned back around to Alban’s desk. Someone had flipped it onto its side as he or she ransacked the place. He used one of its wide, flat legs to lay the folder out and free up his hand to hold the flashlight. The look on his face was so painfully eager I felt a twinge of apprehension.

“Found what you were looking for?”

Clancy’s head shot up at the same moment his hand slid the folder back, off the desk, into a metal trash can. For a moment, anger fought with exasperation on his face, but Clancy settled on a devastating smile as he stared down the barrel of the gun.

“I did, but…don’t you have more important things to worry about?” His voice had taken on the quality of smoke. “Other people more important than me?”

He inclined his head toward the other end of Alban’s office, and even before I turned, the metallic scent of warm, sticky blood was everywhere. Just past my initial line of sight, I saw the two of them on the floor. Chubs had crumpled, curling in on himself the way a leaf would just before it fell from the tree in autumn. Liam was slumped over him, his face the color of ice. And he was looking at me, watching with unblinking eyes that had faded from a pale blue to a dull gray. His arm had been thrown out over Chubs, like he had tried to shield him, and now those same hands that had held my face so gently between them…they were in the pool of dark liquid gliding along the concrete floor.

The gun slipped out of my hand.

Clancy skirted around Alban’s desk, watching me with that same faint smile. He dropped what looked like a lighter into the trash can.

Not real. I forced the words through my mind. Not them. I forced myself to look again. Really look, no matter how horrifying the image was. Chubs’s glasses were gold instead of silver. Liam’s hair was longer than it was now—Clancy clearly hadn’t made as close of a study of the way his hair curled at the ends as I had.

It was a painfully close, near-flawless imitation. But it wasn’t them.

I let Clancy come up beside me and allowed him three seconds of thinking he’d be able to slip by me, distracted as I was by my own grief. He was murmuring something in low, husky tones. He was close enough now for me to feel his warm breath on my cheek—which meant he was also close enough for me to punch him in the throat.

I threw my mind at him in the same blow, drawing it down like a knife and shredding the image of Chubs and Liam he’d pushed there. Clancy stumbled out into the hallway, clutching his head, gasping for breath. The image of the woman in the white lab coat filtered through our connection again, but I forced myself to push it away for now. There was a line of smoke rising from the trash can; I tipped it over, scattering the burning pages onto the ground, stamping out the flames under my boot. If he wanted these pages gone, I wanted to see them.

“Dammit.” He was panting when I met him again in the hallway, heaving in a deep breath, falling to his knees. There was some thin, fraying line of connection between our minds. I seized it before it could snap completely, flooding his brain with the illusion of heat. I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I could hear him frantically slapping at his arms and legs—at the limbs his mind was telling him were burning down to the bone.

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