Never Fade Page 76


She landed on her hip, sliding the last few feet of distance straight into the Red’s legs. He went down with an inhuman roar of protest that was only bounced back to him by the kids in white watching above us. I risked a look up.

Most of the garbage cans were still burning, as were patches of the cement where the lines of fire had collapsed. I stomped one out as I ran toward Vida.

Twitch surged up off the ground, throwing Vida off him with a fierce, pulsing hatred that filled the space between us. I got there to catch her before her burned back could slam into the ground. My vision blanked as her head made impact with my jaw, but I didn’t let us fall. I hauled her right back up onto her feet.

I had only ever sparred against Instructor Johnson once, and the “fight” had lasted all of fifteen seconds. It had been right at the beginning of my training, when he needed to “evaluate” my skill level. I walked with a limp for two weeks and had two hand-shaped bruises on my upper arms for twice as long.

Instructor Johnson would have wilted like a daisy under this Red.

Twitch was no longer twitching. His movements were sharp, precise, schooled—something in him had clicked. Vida and I danced away from him time and time again, twisting and bending to get out of the way of his fists sailing toward our faces.

And I had thought the kid looked scrawny.

“Come on, ladies!” Knox heckled. “This is so boring!”

I caught Vida’s arm before she could launch toward him again, pulling her back a few steps. Twitch didn’t follow immediately; instead, he kept to his half of the circle, pacing back and forth like a panther, military-issue boots squeaking underfoot.

It was the first time I had been able to think this entire fight. My body shook with exhaustion and pain. Think.

He hadn’t been in a rehab camp, not recently at least. Maybe never—but then, where had his gear come from? Twitch didn’t seem like he had enough independent thought to rob a National Guard station. In fact, save for the brief bursts of confusion on his face, it didn’t look like he had any independent thought at all. Which meant…

No way, I thought. It’s not possible.

But at this point, what wasn’t possible?

“Jamboree,” I gasped out to Vida.

She blinked. “No shit?”

Vida knew Operation Jamboree the way some kids know about ghost stories, from whispers and the darkest dreaming of her own imagination. President Gray’s secret army of trained Reds was common knowledge in the League; they’d been trying to leak information about it for months with no success. The whole thing, apparently, was too “preposterous” for the Federal Coalition to believe, and the Internet watchdogs snagged and blocked any reference to the project before word had a chance to bleed out to international papers.

What Vida didn’t know was that the original idea had wormed its way out of the most warped corner of Clancy’s mind. He had been the one to plant the idea in the president’s, and all of his advisers’, minds. Right up until the moment his father had finally realized what his son was doing, Clancy had played a key role in the Reds’ training program.

My whole jaw hurt from where Vida had nailed it, and my lip dripped with blood. I spat it out on the ground, swiping an arm over my eyes to clear the stinging sweat away. How had Clancy planned to control them? The Red was acting like his brain had been shattered by rage one minute, while the next he was a carefully trained soldier. He was clearly disoriented, not following anything other than his instincts—all of which looked like they had been reprogrammed to one setting: kill.

God, I thought, fury cutting swift and neat through my fear as I watched Twitch. God, what they did to those kids…

For years, I had been so sure the camp controllers and PSFs took the dangerous ones out to put them down. The knowledge had lived like a devil around my neck, his grip tightening and tightening to the point I couldn’t breathe when I thought about it. I had been so relieved when Clancy told me that wasn’t the case. But now…now I wondered if death wouldn’t have been the better deal after all. At least they wouldn’t be animals. This kid’s mind wasn’t even his own anymore.

“Hey, boo,” Vida said through gritted teeth. “We have to double-team him.”

“What good is that going to do?”

“He can create fire and control it, but look at how much concentration it takes him,” she said. “He stops the second you go for him, like his brain can’t handle both at once.”

She was right. For all the damage he could do, he was the same as any of us—using his abilities took effort and practice. But this kid was so damaged, his sense of reality had been warped—whether Clancy had done it through his influence or whoever was running Operation Jamboree had through conditioning, it was clear Twitch had been trained in such a way that when he saw someone, he knew to attack.

“Shut up and fight!” Knox yelled.

“Distract him,” Vida said. “I’ll end it.”

Knox only said we had to stay inside of the ring—he never said anything about what shape the ring itself had to be in.

The audience above cried out in alarm as I kicked the nearest can over. The smoldering remains of wood spilled out against the ground, but the fire that raced along the cold cement worked itself through in seconds. Twitch stopped mid-step, staring at the dying flames in confusion. By then, I was already on to the next can. I heard Vida’s low cry as she dove for the Red again.

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