Never Fade Page 142

He’s lying. It wasn’t possible. I had seen him outside, looking up at the sky. I had heard him, seen him, felt him.

I felt myself rock forward, the instant before my knees went. Liam had a good enough grip on me to prevent me pitching forward, but he was exhausted, too, and it was amazing he was able to keep us upright at all.

“We have to go get him,” I said. “We can’t just… He can’t stay down there; he doesn’t like the dark; he can’t handle silence; he shouldn’t have to be alone—”

“Ruby,” Liam said gently. “There’s not going to be anything to get. And I think you know that.” I recoiled violently, trying to push back against him, against the reality. But that burst of energy was as quick to pass as it had been to come. The tears were hot on my cheeks; they mixed with the dirt, rolling over my lips, dripping off my chin. His hands came up to either side of my face, wiping them away, even as I felt his own drip against my hair.

“I c-cant,” I said, “I can’t—”

For the first time, I wondered if the reason he hadn’t wanted me to go wasn’t because he thought they wouldn’t find Jude but because he thought they would.

“He was alone,” I cried. “He didn’t have anyone with him—he must have been so scared. I told him we would stay together.”

My mind was fixed on Jude’s face, the way his ears stuck out from the sides of his head like they’d been mismatched with the rest of his body. What was the last thing I said to him? Stay close? Keep going? And what had he said back? All I could remember was his pale face in the faint light of Cole’s yellow glow stick.

Follow Leader. He had followed me out and I had led him to this. I had done this to him.

“Lee!” Chubs called, and again, louder, when neither of us moved. There was a plane flying low overhead, dropping a cloud of something that looked like red gas. Liam raised his arms, covering our heads as the wind blew it toward us and dropped thousands of fluttering sheets of paper.

The kids and agents left the safe cover of the bridge to try to catch one. I snatched a stray sheet as it winged past us. Liam leaned over my shoulder and I held it up for us to read it together.

Centered at the top of the page were the presidential seal, an American flag, and the insignia for the Department of Defense.

Following the assassination attempt by the disturbed Psi youth, President Gray was taken to an area hospital where doctors examined him. As he was wearing a Kevlar vest during the attack, he sustained only abdominal bruising and two fractured ribs. Once he was discharged from their care, he released the following statement:

“Today we received confirmation on two disturbing intelligence reports I had prayed were only hearsay. First, that the Federal Coalition and its supporters are in the pocket of the terrorist organization, the Children’s League, and, together, they have established a program that conditions your children—the same ones they have stolen away from the life-saving rehabilitation camps—to be soldiers. To fight and kill with a ferocity that is as inhuman as the abilities they possess. Seeing no other alternative, I immediately launched an airstrike against the seat of these organizations, Los Angeles.

“These were targeted attacks, designed to minimize the damage to civilians. Do not mourn the loss of these reprehensible human beings. There have been times, in the course of human history, that fire has been needed to burn out an insidious infection. These are such times. This is the only way for us to build our nation again, stronger than before.”

“He forgot the God Bless America part,” Liam muttered, crumpling the paper.

A gunshot fired behind us. I wheeled around, gripping Liam’s arm to force him behind me. The agents had formed a circle around something—someone—on the other embankment. The men and women who were armed had their weapons out. Aimed.

“Are you kidding me?” Liam breathed out behind me. Vida practically screamed in rage, running toward the cluster of agents faster than any of us could catch her.

Some of them knew to move out of the way as the Blue girl tore through their circle, but only Cole was dumb enough to try to keep her from tearing out Clancy Gray’s throat.

“How?” she howled as we wedged ourselves through the kids and agents, pushing our way to the front. “How?”

Clancy was filthy—covered in sewage and dust and blood that caked around his swollen nose and eyes. But even from where they’d pushed him onto his hands and knees, he managed to look smug. Defiant.

For the first time, I noticed the door open behind him. It was directly across from the exit we had taken, on the opposite embankment, hidden in the blind spot in one of the pillars, under a layer of bright graffiti.

Clancy let out a low, humorless laugh. “Through the drain in the boys’ showers.” His dark eyes met mine. “After I had to smash my way out of the closet.”

“Was that how you were planning to get out?” I demanded. “After you got what you needed from Alban’s office?”

Clancy shrugged, unbothered by the guns pointed in his face. “Didn’t know about that exit, did you?”

“Jesus,” one of the agents said. “This is…this is really the president’s kid?”

Clancy is alive, I thought, turning in to Liam’s side, and Jude is not. He tucked his arm around my neck, drawing me in closer. It didn’t make sense—it wasn’t possible.

“He’s our ticket out,” another said suddenly. “We trade him for safe passage! Come on, Stewart—uniforms are swarming the city, and we have no transport or way to contact the ranch. What other card do we have to play?”

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