Never Fade Page 140

Liam and I sat down a small ways from the other kids, who were crying and hugging one another. It was enough for me that he was sitting next to me, that his shoulder was pressed against mine. I watched them, the tears streaming down their faces, and I wished I could have let myself break down, too—to clear out the twisting mass of terror still churning inside me.

But out here, my exhaustion numbed me. The sight of the everyday objects scattered nearby in the river quieted the thoughts racing through my head. The dust-covered cars in inches, the ground in feet. It gave way under us like playground sand. We were miles from downtown, but we were finding papers, an office chair, sunglasses, briefcases, and shoes that had been dropped and forgotten or blown out from nearby demolished buildings. The airstrike had left One Wilshire, the old skyscraper that housed the Federal Coalition, a burning black husk. I had seen it, just for a second, belching out rolling streams of smoke, turning entire city blocks dark.

And all Liam could say, over and over, was “Damn.”

I took a deep, steadying breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jude standing out from under the bridge, his eyes closed, his face turned up to the patch of sun that had broken through the smoke. I couldn’t bring myself to stand, but I pretended I was there, too. Tilting my head back, letting the warmth dry the sticky, wet clumps of my hair. Letting it burn away the taste of fear on my tongue. Pretending we were somewhere far away from here.

Liam stood as Chubs and Vida came toward us, their dark skin plastered with silvery dust. He hooked an arm around his friend’s neck, guiding him over to where I was waiting.

“We heard Cole talking to some of the other agents who got out of the tunnel first. They said every car and every phone they found was dead. Cole thinks it really was some kind of electromagnetic pulse. We just couldn’t tell because we were so far underground.”

That was one of the reasons Alban had insisted on building it so deep into the earth, for protection from that kind of thing. If Cole was right and they had set off an EMP, everything fell into place the way Alban had assured us it would. The detonation knocked out the power station supplying electricity to HQ, but the backup generator had kicked in, at least for a time.

I couldn’t believe Gray—or whoever was in charge—had gone this far—had fried every vehicle, computer, and TV, ensuring he’d be helpless. Defenseless.

“We can’t make contact with Cate,” Vida said.

“She’s all right,” I told her, hoping I didn’t sound as hopeless as I felt. The flash drive. Cate still has the flash drive. And if something had happened to Cate, then…

“The city…?”

“Swarming with soldiers, apparently,” Chubs said. “It’s not good.”

“Full-on invasion,” Vida said, dropping next to me. She pointed to where Nico was standing at the door leading down to the tunnel. He was staring down it, as if waiting for one last person to come through.

I rubbed my face with my hands, trying to clear away the image of Clancy Gray trapped down in the dark. That’s where he belongs, came the savage voice in my mind. He was the only reason we had come here in the first place—he’d lied and risked every one of our lives, and for what? So he could work out some kind of demented mommy issue?

I didn’t want to think of the dead, so I focused on the living. I kept my thoughts on the people beside me, the rare kindness life had shown in getting us out just before the whole structure collapsed. It didn’t feel real to me yet, but these kids were. Liam, his head bent toward his best friend, whispering, “We’ll stay with them until we figure out how to get out of the city.” Chubs nodding, visibly struggling not to cry. Vida lying back, her hands on her stomach, feeling its rise and fall with each deep breath she took.

And Jude—

I turned to my right, glancing around the circles of kids. And—there he was. The dark head of curls I was looking for was walking away, chattering excitedly with some other kid. Where the hell did he think he was going? He tilted his head back toward us, and was—

Not Jude.

Why did I think that? This kid, he looked nothing like him—he was one of the Greens, a good head shorter than him. Why did I think that was him? I had taken one quick glance at his hair, and it was like my mind had defaulted on memory.

Why would I ever think that?

Every muscle in my body, every joint, every ligament hardened to stone. I was shaking again with the effort to move, to spin around one last time. I tried to call out for him, but the sound came out like a gasp. I brought a hand up to the base of my throat, pressing hard to dislodge whatever nightmare I had just swallowed.

“Ruby?” Chubs said. “What’s wrong?”

“What?” Liam said, turning toward me. “What is it?”

“Where…” I began. “Where’s Jude?”

The boys shared a look, then turned to survey the kids themselves.

“Jude!” Vida called, looking around. “Judith! This isn’t funny!”

I didn’t see his face in the kids sitting around us, and the agents were making sure that no one left the cover of the bridge now. Faces were starting to turn toward us, including Cole’s.

“He came down, right?” I asked, my voice high with panic. “He was with you guys at the back, wasn’t he?”

Oh my God.

Vida’s brows drew sharply together. Some dark thought flickered over her face.

“Vida!” I grabbed the front of her sweatshirt. “When was the last time you talked to him? When was the last time you saw him?”

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