Never Fade Page 73

He stared at me, clearly not comprehending this.

“The Chatter,” I repeated. Vida, oh so helpfully, poked him through the fence, directly between his unblinking eyes. “In the inside left pocket. Can you get it for me?”

“You… You want me…”

“Yes!” Vida and I both hissed.

He hesitated for a split second, then broke out into the biggest, goofiest grin I had seen in a long time.

“All right, cool!” he said. “Of course I can do that! Do you think I’m going to have to pick a lock, though? Because I never got that one door open at HQ when Instructor Biglow tried to teach me—Wait.” Jude looked from Vida’s face to mine, the bright eagerness in his eyes fading quickly with his smile. “Why are you guys in a cage?”

Very quickly, with as few interruptions from Jude as we could manage, I told him what happened.

“Which means you can’t go right now, okay?” I said. “You have to wait until tonight, when we’re doing the initiation.”

“What is it?” he asked. “Some kind of a fight?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You can do this. It’s simple. We’ll have most of the attention on us, so you just need to find the right moment to slip away. Then you need to contact Cate and have her put Nico on the search for a place we can hit for whatever medicine Chubs needs. Tell them we need it now and that it has to be close by. Can you remember that?”

“Okay.” Jude took a step back, bouncing on the balls of his feet. His face split again into another quick, nervous grin. “I’ll take care of everything.”

His hand instinctively went to the place where the solid lump of the compass should have been.

“Where is it?” I asked, startled.

“They took it. When they brought us in. It’s cool—it’s fine. I’ll find it. It’s probably in that room.”

“Are the others all right?” I asked. “Liam?”

“Umm…” He hesitated, biting his lip. “Not good. He won’t say it, but I think Chubs is really worried. He said if we don’t get medicine, there’s a good chance that he and the other kids could die. And I believe him. Roo, it’s bad. It’s really, really bad.”

I pressed my hand against my forehead, closing my eyes, trying to control the rise of bile in my throat. You had him right there, and you couldn’t stop him. Liam is going to die, and you couldn’t do anything. After everything, Liam is going to die, and it’s on you.

“Jude,” I said. I slipped a hand through one of the warped sections of woven metal, reaching for his shirt to bring him close again. He had a few inches on me, but I had a few years on him and a fair bit more experience when it came to slipping in and out of places unnoticed. “I know you can do this. I trust you. But if you think you’re about to get caught, ditch the Op, you hear me? We can figure out another way.”

“I got this, Roo,” he said, his voice thick with promise. “I won’t let you down.”

He backed away, flashing us a thumbs-up that all but proved to me he had no grasp on how serious the situation actually was. I let out a long breath, watching the evening steal him away in a cloud of white, the swirling paths of the snow altering their course to follow. He was moving fast, with so much unchecked energy, even the wind seemed to shift direction to catch his heel.

I knew he could do it; in training, a break-in was one of the very first simulations they put us through. And, honestly, the awful truth of it was that while the kid was about as sneaky as a pair of cymbals crashing to the ground, he was also the kind of person you wouldn’t necessarily notice was missing. Not from a crowd, at least not right away.

“Five minutes, max,” Vida said, leaning against the fence beside me. “That’s how long I give it before he gets his skinny ass caught and handed to him.”

“Then we’d better put on a good show,” I said, closing my eyes against the snow, “and give him a fighting chance.”

They came for us silently, emerging from the night’s cold, clammy hands like ghosts.

“Stop,” I muttered to Vida. The kids shoving us forward, six in all, evenly divided between girls and boys in their very best white, didn’t speak a word. The old linen sack slipped easily over my head, but Vida wasn’t about to let them dull a single one of her senses.

“It’s okay,” I coaxed, “stay with me here.”

Every limb and joint felt heavy and stiff; just walking sent a spike of pain through my shoulders and hips. We made a sharp turn back in the direction of the warehouse. I felt the water from the parking lot splash up over the tops of my heavy boots and grimaced. We’d be inside soon enough. At least it’d be dry.

But the metal door never groaned. It never opened.

Vida’s mind must have been guiding her along a similar line of thinking, because I heard her say, “Ruby?” once, a mumble as it rolled past her lips.

“Stay with me,” I said again, because what else could I say? It’ll be okay?

I remembered, when I was little, my dad used to take me to some of the high school sports games. Football mostly, sometimes baseball. He loved a good game—any game—but what I liked best was just watching him. Seeing his whole body turn to follow the path of an incredible pass, the grin that broke out when the baseball blew over the far fence. Dad knew the cheers for each team by heart.

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