Never Fade Page 39

“Get in the car,” I said to Jude, looking over my shoulder to where he stood, mouth agape. “We have a driver.”

The benefits of coercing someone to drive us were twofold: she couldn’t report the car stolen and phone in the plates, and, even better, she could pay tolls and get us waved through security stations set up at town borders by the National Guard or police. After taking two seconds to really think it through, I compelled her to take us to whatever was the nearest transportation hub. In a perfect world, Amtrak and all of its many lines would still have been around, but the economic crash did such a bang-up job exposing its many flaws, it lasted only a year before collapsing. Now the government ran two electric trains up and down to the major cities on the eastern seaboard each day, mostly to shuttle National Guardsmen, PSFs, and senators around. The Elite Express, they called it, and tickets were priced to match its name.

Train jumping would be a lot riskier than driving a car, but I couldn’t shake the nightmarish image of us having to stop and siphon gas every ten miles. It would eat away every valuable hour we needed. We could luck out and get a nearly empty train, at least for a few cities. If it looked too dangerous, or the train started to feel too crowded with unwanted eyes, we could always bail early. I had a way of making us disappear.

“Turn on the radio, please,” I said. “One of the news stations.”

Jude and I were crouched behind the two front seats, nestled in the hollow of space between them and the backseat. It was awkward to sit that way and still be reaching around to touch her to maintain the connection. I took a deep breath, slowly pulling my hand away, but focusing on that shimmering line of connection between our minds. Maybe this was how Clancy worked his way up to not needing a physical touch to establish a mental connection with a person—by letting go for a little longer each time.

The woman obeyed, and the speakers behind my head burst to life with the sound of a catchy commercial jingle. Amazing—they were still advertising pool supplies, even though a good portion of Americans had lost their homes.

She flipped through the channels, skipping over music and static until she reached a man’s droning voice.

“—the Unity Summit, as it is being called, will be held on neutral ground in Austin, Texas. The state’s governor, who recently denied allegations of aligning with the Federal Coalition in California, will moderate the talks between several key members of President Gray’s staff and the Coalition to see if common ground between the rival governments can be reached in time for the completion of the construction on the new Capitol building in Washington, DC, on Christmas day.

“President Gray had this to say about the possibly historic event.” The voice changed abruptly from the grave tone of the reporter to the silky, easy tone of a president. “After nearly a decade of tragedy and suffering, it is my sincerest hope that we can come together now and start making strides toward reunification. My advisers will be presenting economic stimulus plans over the course of the summit, including programs to jump-start the construction industry and return Americans to the homes they may have lost in economic calamity of recent years.”

Calamity. Right.

“Do you think Gray will finally give up the presidency if they agree to the terms?” Jude asked.

I shook my head. I didn’t know Gray personally, but I knew his son, Clancy. And if the son was anything like the father, Gray definitely had another motive for wanting this summit to happen. The last thing he would want is to lose control.

Clancy. I pinched the bridge of my nose, forcing the thought out.

The nearest Amtrak station ended up being the one in Providence, Rhode Island—an enormous concrete building that might have once been beautiful before the times and graffiti artists found it. I glanced at the clock that had been built into its lone tower’s face, but it either wasn’t working or it had been 11:32 for the past four minutes by the dashboard clock’s estimate. There were a few cars in the nearby parking lot, but at least three dozen people piled off a city bus that rumbled up to the drop-off lane.

I touched the woman’s shoulder, surprised to feel her jump. Her mind was very quiet now, as milky white as the sky outside. “We need you to buy us train tickets that’ll get us to North Carolina—as close to Wilmington as possible. Do you understand?”

The loose flesh on the woman’s cheeks quivered slightly as she nodded and unbuckled her seat belt. Jude and I watched her stagger her way through the new snow, heading for the automatic sliding doors. If this worked…

“Why are we trying to take the train?” Jude asked. “Isn’t that going to be dangerous?”

“It’ll be worth it,” I said. “It’ll take us twice as long to drive if we have to keep stopping for gas.”

“What if someone sees us or there are PSFs on the train?” he continued.

I pulled the knit cap off my head and threw it to him, along with the thick white scarf I had wrapped around my neck. When we were seated on the train, I’d be able to cover him up with my jacket, but until then…we would just have to find a dark corner.

The woman came back faster than I expected, her eyes on the ground, something white clutched in her hands. She opened the driver’s door and slid into the seat, letting in a breath of freezing air.

“Thank you,” I said when she handed me the tickets. Then, as Jude stepped outside, I added, “I’m really sorry about this.”

I only looked back at the car once as we headed into the station. I had told her to wait two minutes, then drive back to her house. The woman—maybe it was my tired eyes playing tricks on me or the whorls of snow between us—but when the headlights of a passing car flashed through her windshield, I swear I saw the gleam of tears on her cheeks.

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