Never Fade Page 43

I knew I was being rude and irrational and all sorts of sour, but I kept my eyes fixed on the bus’s radio and frowned. Andy glanced down, following my gaze, then started to chuckle.

“You’re smart,” he said. “I guess you’d have to be in this day and age to be out wandering around. Oh—tollbooth coming up; better get down.”

I slipped down between the metal guard and the seat, adjusting the blanket over Jude’s sleeping form. Andy waved back to whomever had let him through.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Why are you helping us?” I asked.

Andy chuckled again. “Why do you think?”

“Honestly?” I said, leaning forward. “Because I think you want to turn us in for the reward money.”

The bus driver let out a low whistle at that. “That is a nice chunk of change, I will admit. Funny that the government can dig up the cash for that but can’t afford any sort of assistance for food.” He shook his head. “No, sweetheart, I have a job. I make do. I don’t need the guilty conscience or the blood money.”

“Then why?” I demanded.

Andy reached over with his left hand, plucking something off his dashboard. The tape around it peeled off without protest, like it was used to being lifted and then stuck back on. He held it out, waiting for me to take it.

A little boy smiled back at me from the glossy surface of the photo, dark hair gleaming. He looked ten, maybe twelve if even that. I recognized the muted colors of the backdrop behind him—a school portrait.

“That’s my grandson,” Andy explained. “His name is Michael. They took him from his school about four years ago. When I tried to contact the police about it, the government, the school, they wouldn’t tell me anything. Same for everyone. Couldn’t post about it online without my access being shut off. Couldn’t go on TV or write in to the papers because Gray was all over them, too. But some of the parents at his school, they said they overheard some PSFs talking about a place called Black Rock.”

I wiped the smudged fingerprints from the photo’s surface and handed it back to him.

“You’re right,” he said, “I’m not entirely selfless. I guess what I’m hoping is that maybe you can give me some information. Maybe you know what or where this Black Rock is and we can call it even?”

It was the pleading quality to his voice that did me in. I couldn’t detach it from the thought of my own grandmother, left wondering what had happened to me. My skin felt tight around my chest.

“I do. Black Rock is a camp in South Dakota.”

“South Dakota!” Andy sounded astonished. “All the way out there? You’re sure?”

I was more than sure. The League had a list of all fifteen camps the surviving Psi kids were divided among. Some were itty bitty—a couple dozen kids. Some were converted schools that could hold a few hundred. Then, you had camps like Black Rock and Thurmond that, because of their remote location, could hold thousands.

The South Dakota camp was of special interest to the League because of the rumors surrounding it. All new births from the time IAAN was officially recognized had to be registered in a special database. Those children were supposed to be brought into local doctors or scientists every month for tests, so they could chart any “abnormalities.” Any child that developed Psi abilities before the age of ten was put into a special study program run out of Black Rock. The other kids, if they survived IAAN and developed their abilities on the normal schedule, were forcibly picked up and brought to the “normal” rehab camps.

“They might have transferred him at some point,” I said. “Do you know what he is?”

“What do you mean, what he is?” Andy said, turning slightly. “He’s my grandson, that’s what he is!”

I only meant to find out if he was one of the dangerous ones—a Red or Orange like me. To see if there was a chance he had already been erased, permanently.

“These camps…” Andy began, shielding his eyes from the headlights of a passing truck. “You know what they do there? Have you seen one yourself?”

I glanced sideways at Jude. “Yeah.”

“And they let you out because they fixed you?” he asked, and the hope in his voice broke my heart. “You’re better now?”

“They can’t fix us,” I said. “All those kids they took aren’t doing anything other than working and waiting. I only got out because someone helped me escape.”

Andy nodded, like he had already suspected as much.

“These are terrible times,” he said after a long while. “And you’re right not to trust any of us. What we’ve done…what we allowed them to do to you, it’s a shameful thing. A shameful, shameful thing, and we’ll go to our graves knowing it. But I want you to know that for every person who would turn in a kid out of fear or for funds, there are hundreds and thousands more who fought tooth and nail to keep their families together.”

“I know.”

“It’s just…they were such bad times then, and the government kept saying—they kept going on about how if parents didn’t send the kids to go through the programs they would die like all of the others. Then it wasn’t a choice at all. They knew we couldn’t do anything to get them back, and it kills me. It kills me.”

“Did people really think the rehabilitation programs were going to work?” I asked. Jude shifted in his seat, trying to get more comfortable.

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