Never Fade Page 138

“Move, move, move,” he was telling us, shoving each kid and agent through the door. “Down to level three; we’re going out the way you came in. Follow Agent Kalb!”

I tried to count the heads as they passed, but it was too dark and the smoke was too thick. The whole structure shook, throwing me forward toward Liam, who was waiting for us at the door.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a rush of breath. “He grabbed me; I didn’t want to go—”

Cole took him by the collar and hauled him out into the hallway before us. It was clear they’d been aiming for the dead center of the building. We stumbled after, a line of us, trying to navigate through the concrete, flaming rubble, and the hissing, spitting steam pipes that had burst. Still, it was some small miracle it hadn’t been damaged the way the atrium had.

The stairwell down to level two was clogged with more smoke and steam. My shirt was drenched through with sweat. I started to strip my jacket off, automatically feeling for the flash drive that wasn’t there.

Cate, I thought. Where’s Cate? What’s happening to Cate?

I was thrown forward into Liam’s back with the next impact. One of the kids up ahead of us screamed, but all I could hear was Jude behind me, whispering, “Oh, God, oh my God,” over and over again. I don’t know what he was picturing in his head, but if it was anything like my image of being crushed under ten tons of cement and dirt, I was surprised he could even function at all, let alone keep moving forward.

The line slowed as we rounded down to the second level, clogging with some problem we couldn’t see. I slipped around Liam and grabbed Cole’s arm to get his attention.

“What about the people in the infirmary?”

“If they couldn’t get up and walk themselves out, we’re not doing it for them,” Cole said with a note of finality.

“What about Clancy?” I asked, though a part of me already knew the answer. “Did they let him out?”

“There was no time to clear the floor,” Cole said.

I glanced back over my shoulder, wishing I could see Liam’s face in the dark. I felt him instead, hands on my waist, gently pushing me forward. Then his voice was in my ear saying, “What would he do if it were you? Me?”

It didn’t make it any easier to swallow the bile in my throat. It was one thing to bring a person in as a prisoner, and another to sentence him to what was very likely death.

“Are you f**king kidding me?” Vida snarled as she and Chubs gripped a panicking Nico and kept him going. I could see Jude’s pale face behind them, looking on in horror.

“I’ll get him,” Nico said. “I can get him!”

“No!” Jude cried. “We have to stay together!”

The aftershock of the next explosion tossed us all to our knees. I smacked my head against the wall, spots bursting in front of my eyes. I hauled myself up and then we were all running down the steps, through the dark hall, jumping down into the interrogation block. Sections of the wall to my right were already partly collapsed.

“Stay right behind me,” Cole said, glancing back at us. “Come on, we need to be at the front.”

He was able to edge his way up through the line, but everyone was bottlenecking as they reached the door to the tunnel. I could only imagine what the response would have been if the six of us tried to cut to the front of the line and follow him.

We were finally close enough to see what the problem was. On the other side of the door, each kid and agent had to carefully climb over the pipes and cement that had been shaken free from the tunnel’s ceiling.

My blood was beating hard inside of my head, but my limbs felt hollow with panic as we waited, and waited, and waited for it to be our turn. Liam was bouncing on the balls of his feet, like he was gearing up to bolt forward at any moment.

Once we were at the door, I stopped and stepped aside to let the others go in front of me, but Liam was having none of it. He all but lifted me up and over the debris, then climbed over himself, his body the wall that kept me from turning back.

I heard Vida curse behind me and Chubs’s labored grunt. The tunnel felt hot and humid with so many bodies crammed into it. The blasts from above had collapsed sections of it, slowing our progress again and turning what had been a simple path into an obstacle course.

I felt the thundering vibrations before the sound of the crashes actually reached my ears. It was a series of four low bangs, each louder and worse than the next. Vida shouted something up to us I couldn’t hear over the vicious wave of noise that followed. My stomach, my heart, everything inside of me seemed to drop, like the tunnel had given out under me. The seconds passed at half their speed, giving me just enough time to turn away from the explosion that blew out through the door we’d just come through.

We threw ourselves to the ground as a blast of gray dust and chunks of cement and glass came shooting out of the doorway. The tunnel shook so hard, I was convinced it would cave in. The kids, the agents, everyone was shouting now, but I heard Cole’s voice amplified over everyone’s: “Move, move, move!”

But I couldn’t. I was only able to push myself up onto my knees, drag myself up using the wall. I could hear Vida and Chubs talking, complaining about the dark, how they couldn’t see each other.

“That was HQ,” I whispered. “Did it collapse?”

“I think so,” Liam said.

“The tunnel back in is totally blocked off now,” Chubs called up, coughing. The kids in front of us passed the news up through the line of people ahead of them. We heard the shock and tear-stained responses all the way from the back of the herd.

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