Never Fade Page 40

She had been able to get us tickets to Fayetteville, North Carolina, which could have been clear on the other side of the state from Wilmington as far as I knew. Worse, the boarding time was listed as 7:45 A.M., a good ten hours away. It was too much time to kill, too much of an opportunity to be caught.

The inside of the station wasn’t nearly as ornate as the outside of it was. There was too much concrete for it to be truly beautiful. I found us a bench in a corner, facing a wall of unplugged arcade games, and we planted ourselves there and didn’t move, not for anything. The overnight trains came and went, feet shuffled behind us, the arrivals-and-departures board clicked and spun and beeped.

I was tired and hungry. There was a coffee cart still open by the ticket windows, the only thing standing between the clerks and sleep, but I didn’t have any money, and I wasn’t desperate enough to use my abilities on the poor guy stuck manning the cart.

Jude dozed against my shoulder. Every now and then, the automated announcer would come over the speakers with an update on the time or delayed trains. But the silent gaps between them seemed to grow longer with every hour that we waited, and I was beginning to regret the decision more and more. Somewhere around four o’clock, right when I was teetering at the edge of exhaustion, the doubts came storming in. By the time we got down there, I wondered, would Liam still be in North Carolina? He was resourceful when he needed to be. He could cover a huge amount of distance in the time we sat here—in the time it took us to get down there.

There had been cars in the parking lot. Maybe the smart thing to do was boost one of those and try avoiding the tollbooths and National Guard check stations set up around the bigger cities? No, because that would also mean being spotted by the thousands of highway cameras the government had installed for the exact purpose of looking for kids like us.

It wasn’t the whoosh of the sliding doors opening that snagged my attention but the heavy steps. Now and then a few people would drift in and out of the station, and a good number of homeless had been allowed to sleep in the heated space for the night, provided they took up a corner and not a bench. But this sounded like a good number of feet; the rubber soles of their shoes squeaked as they struck the tile. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the window clerk sit up straighter.

I just needed one glance over my shoulder to confirm it. Black uniforms.

I grabbed Jude and pulled him down off the bench with me, putting it between us and the dozen or so uniformed PSFs pooling in the center of the station.

“Holy crap,” Jude was whispering, “holy, holy crap.”

I put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him firmly planted next to me. I knew what he was thinking—the same questions were flashing through my mind. How did they find us? How did they know we would be here? How do we get out?

Well, the answer to the last question wasn’t to freak out and panic; in one of those rare, fleeting moments when I was grateful for the lessons the League had taught me, I took a deep, steadying breath and began to reassess the situation.

There were eleven uniformed PSFs taking their seats on the benches near one of the bus gates. Two were women, and both got up to check the monitors. Their hair was neatly braided or combed back, but the men’s looked freshly buzzed. More importantly, at their feet were eleven camo duffel bags, not guns.

A guy at the center of the group stood, laughing loudly as he made his way over to the vending machines. The others called after him with their orders of Doritos or gum or Pop-Tarts. They weren’t scanning the premises; they weren’t questioning the guy in the ticket booth. They were in uniform, but they weren’t on duty.

“They’re new recruits,” I told Jude. “Hey, look at me, not them. They’re taking one of the buses to go report for duty somewhere. They’re not looking for us—we just need to find a quiet place to sit until our train comes. Okay?”

I turned my back toward the soldiers, scanning our section of the open room for a door that might be unlocked or a hallway I hadn’t noticed before. I barely felt Jude stiffen again beside me, but I did feel him yank on my braid, turning my head back toward the sliding doors just as Vida led Barton and the rest of Beta Team into the building. All of them were in street clothes, eyeing the PSFs who hadn’t seemed to notice them at all.

What’s she doing here? What are any of them doing here? There was no way…no way they could have tracked us.…

“Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap,” Jude whispered, clutching at me. At least he understood the danger of being brought back to HQ. I didn’t have to explain again that Vida wasn’t here to help us. I looked around frantically from the arcade games, to the Amtrak kiosks, to the nearby women’s restroom. This was so much worse than even I could have imagined. Half of me just wanted to sit down and give in to the overwhelming urge to burst into full-on tears.

I didn’t stop to break down the plan to Jude, who looked near tears himself at whatever he had just seen. There really was no plan. I dragged him after me—literally dragged him—into the small family restroom.

The door squeaked as I pushed it open with my shoulder. There were no windows in the restroom, no vents big enough for us to climb out. There was one toilet, one sink, and no way out aside from the way we came in. I reached up and switched off the lights before flipping the lock over. No more than a second later, the door rattled as someone yanked on it.

I sat down on the floor and I drew my legs up against my chest, trying to steady my breathing. Jude collapsed down next to me. I pressed a single finger to my lips.

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