Never Fade Page 5

“Our objective is Prisoner 27,” I whispered, trying to phrase it in a way that would connect with her stupidly loyal sense of duty to the organization. “And I think that’s him. This is what Alban sent us for, and if he gets away, the whole Op is blown.”

“He—” Vida protested, then sucked back whatever word was on her lips. Her jaw clenched, but she gave me the tiniest of nods. “I’m not going down with your ass if you sink us. Just FYI.”

“It’ll all be my fault,” I said, “nothing against your record.” No blemish on her pristine Op history, no scarring the trust Alban and Cate had in her. It was a win-win situation for her—either she’d get the “glory” of a successful Op, or she’d get to watch me be punished and humiliated.

I kept my eyes on the scene in front of us. There were three soldiers—manageable with weapons, but in order to be really useful, I’d need to get close enough to touch them. That was the single, frustrating limit to my abilities I still hadn’t been able to break through, no matter how much practice the League forced on me.

The invisible fingers that lived inside my skull were tapping impatiently, as if disgusted they couldn’t break out on their own anymore.

I stared at the nearest soldier, trying to imagine the long snaking fingers grasping out, stretching across the tile, reaching his unguarded mind. Clancy could do this, I thought. He didn’t need to touch people to get a grip on their minds.

I swallowed a scream of frustration. We needed something else. A distraction, something that could—

Vida was built with a strong back and powerful limbs that made even her most dangerous acts seem graceful and easy. I watched her raise her gun, steady her aim.

“Abilities!” I hissed. “Vida, no guns; it’ll alert the others!”

She looked at me like she was watching my scrambled brains run out of my nose. Shooting them was a quick fix, we both were well aware of that, but if she missed and hit one of the prisoners, or if they started firing back…

Vida lifted her hand, blowing out a single irritated breath. Then she shoved her hands out through the air. The three National Guardsmen were picked up with such accuracy and strength that they were tossed halfway down the block, against the cars parked there. Because it wasn’t enough that Vida was physically the fastest or strongest or had the best aim out of all of us—she had to have the best control over her abilities, too.

I let the feeling part of my brain switch off. The most valuable skill the Children’s League taught me was to purge fear and replace it with something that was infinitely colder. Call it calm, call it focus, call it numb nerves—it came, even with blood singing in my veins as I ran toward the prisoners.

They smelled like vomit, blood, and human filth. So different from the clean, neat lines of the bunker and its bleach stench. My stomach heaved.

The closest prisoner huddled near the gutter, bound arms up over his head. His shirt hung in pieces off his shoulders, framing welts and burns and bruises that made his back look more like a plate of raw meat than flesh.

The man turned toward the sound of my feet, lifting his face from the safety of his arms. I ripped the hood off his head. I had stepped up with words of reassurance on my tongue, but the sight of him had disconnected my mouth from my brain. Blue eyes squinted at me under a scraggly mop of blond hair, but I couldn’t do anything, say anything, not when he leaned farther into the pale yellow streetlight.

“Move, dumbass!” Vida yelled. “What’s the holdup?”

I felt every ounce of blood leave my body in a single blow, fast and clean, like I had been shot straight through the heart. And suddenly I knew—I understood why Cate had originally fought so hard to get me reassigned to a different mission, why I had been told not to enter the bunker, why I hadn’t been given any information on the prisoner himself. Not a name, not a description, and certainly no warning.

Because the face I was looking at now was thinner, drawn, and battered, but it was one I knew—one that I—that I—

Not him, I thought, feeling the world shift sideways under my feet. Not him.

Seeing my reaction, he stood slowly, a rogue smile fighting past his grimace of pain. He struggled up to his feet and staggered toward me, looking torn, I thought, between relief and urgency. But the Southern lilt of his accent was as warm as ever, even if his voice was deeper, rougher, when he finally spoke.

“Do I…look as pretty as I feel?”

And I swear—I swear—I felt time slide out from under me.


HERE IS HOW YOU FIND the Children’s League: you don’t.

You don’t ask around, because no soul alive in Los Angeles would ever admit to the organization being there and give President Gray an itch to scratch. Having the Federal Coalition was already bad enough for business. The people who could tell you the way would only cough it up for a price that was too big for most to pay. There was no open door policy, no walk-ins. There were standing orders to dispose of anyone who so much as gave an agent a sidelong look.

The League found you. They brought you in, if you were valuable enough. If you’d fight. It was the first thing I learned sitting next to Cate on my way in—or at least the first real thought to solidify in my mind as our SUV zipped down the stretch of freeway, heading straight into the heart of the city.

Their primary base of operations—HQ, as everyone called it—was buried two stories beneath a functioning plastic bottle factory that kept limping along, doing its part to add to the congestion of the brown haze clinging to downtown Los Angeles’s warehouse district. Many of the League agents and senior officials “worked” for P & C Bottling, Inc. on paper.

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