Never Fade Page 2

The soldiers had pulled hoods down tight over the prisoners’ heads, then forced them down the stairs of the abandoned shop to the sliding silver door of the bunker hidden below.

After much of Washington, DC, had been destroyed by what President Gray claimed was a group of warped Psi kids, he had taken special care to build these so-called mini-fortresses across the east coast in case another emergency of that magnitude was to arise. Some were built beneath hotels, others into the sides of mountains, and some, like this one, were hidden in plain sight in small towns, under shops or government buildings. They were for Gray’s protection, the protection of his cabinet and important military officials, and, it appeared, to imprison “high-risk threats to national security.”

Including our own Prisoner 27, who seemed to be getting some special treatment.

His cell was at the end of a long hall, two stories down. It was a lonely room with a low, dark ceiling. The walls seemed to drip down around me, but the memory held steady. They kept his hood on but bound his feet to the metal chair in the center of the cell, in the halo of light from a single naked bulb.

I peeled away from the man’s mind, releasing both my physical and mental grip on him. He slid down the graffiti on the wall of the abandoned Laundromat, still in the clutches of his own brain’s fog. Removing the memory of my face and the men behind us in the alley was like plucking stones from the bottom of a clear, shallow pond.

“Two stories down, room Four B,” I said, turning back to Rob. We had a sketchy outline of the layout of the bunker but none of the small directional details—we weren’t blind, but we weren’t exactly killing it in the accuracy department. The basic layout for these bunkers was always about the same, though. A staircase or elevator that ran down one end of the structure and one long hall on each level stemming out from it.

He held up a gloved hand, cutting off the rest of my instructions and signaling to the team behind him. I fed him the code from the soldier’s memory: 6-8-9-9-9-9-* and stepped away, pulling Vida with me. She shoved me off into the nearest soldier, grunting.

I couldn’t see Rob’s eyes beneath his night-vision goggles as the green light flashed, but I didn’t need to in order to read his intentions. He hadn’t asked for us and certainly hadn’t wanted us tagging along when he—a former Army Ranger, as he loved to remind us—could easily have handled this with a few of his men. More than anything, I think he was furious he had to do this at all. It was League policy that if you were caught, you were disavowed. No one was coming for you.

If Alban wanted this agent back, he had a good reason for it.

The clock started the moment the door slid open. Fifteen minutes to get in, grab Prisoner 27, and get the hell out and away. Who knew if we even had that long, though? Rob was only estimating how long it would take for backup to arrive once the alarms were activated.

The doorway opened to the stairwell at the back of the bunker. It wound down, section by section, into the darkness, with only a few lights along the metal steps to guide us. I heard one of the men cut the wire of the security camera perched high above us, felt Vida’s hand shove me forward, but it took time—too much time—for my eyes to adjust. Traces of the Laundromat’s chemicals clung to the recycled dry air, burning my lungs.

Then, we were moving. Quickly, as silently as a group in heavy boots could be thundering down a flight of stairs.

My blood was thrumming in my ears as Vida and I reached the first landing. Six months of training wasn’t a long time, but it was long enough to teach me how to pull the familiar armor of focus tighter around my core.

Something hard slammed into my back, then something harder—a shoulder, a gun, then another, and more, until it was a steady enough rhythm that I had to press myself against the landing’s door into the bunker to avoid them. Vida let out a sharp noise as the last of the team blew past us. Only Rob stopped to acknowledge us. “Cover us until we’re through, then monitor the entrance. Right there. Do not leave your position.”

“We’re supposed to—” Vida began. I stepped in front of her, cutting her off. No, this wasn’t what the Op parameters had outlined, but it was better for us. There was no reason for either of us to follow them down into the bunker and potentially get ourselves killed. And she knew—it had been drilled into our skulls a million times—that tonight Rob was Leader. And the very first rule, the only one that mattered when you got to the moments between terrified heartbeats, was that you always, even in the face of fire or death or capture, always had to follow Leader.

Vida was at my back, close enough for me to feel her hot breath through the thick black knit of my ski mask. Close enough that the fury she was radiating cut through the freezing Philadelphia air. Vida always radiated a kind of bloodthirsty eagerness, even more so when Cate was Leader on an Op; the excitement of proving herself to our Minder always stripped away the better lessons of her training. This was a game to her, a challenge, to show off her perfect aim, her combat training, her sharply honed Blue abilities. To me, it was yet another perfect opportunity to get herself killed. At seventeen, Vida might have been the perfect trainee, the standard to which the League held the rest of their freak kids, but the one thing she had never been able to master was her own adrenaline.

“Don’t you ever touch me again, bitch,” Vida snarled, her voice low with fury. She started backing away to follow them down the stairs. “You are such a f**king coward that you’re going to take this lying down? You don’t care that he just disrespected us? You—”

The stairwell reared up under my feet, as if dragging in a deep breath only to let it explode back out. The shock of it seemed to slow time itself—I was up and off my feet, launched so hard into the door that I thought I felt it dent beneath my skull. Vida slammed onto the ground, covering her head, and it was only then that the roar of the concussion grenade reached us as it blew apart the entrance below.

The smoky heat was thick enough to get a stranglehold on me, but the disorientation was so much worse. My eyelids felt like they had been peeled and rubbed raw as I forced them open. A crimson light pulsed through the dark, pushing through the clouds of cement debris. The muffled throbbing in my ears—that wasn’t my heartbeat. That was the alarm.

Why had they used the grenade when they knew the code for that door would be the same as the one outside? There hadn’t been any gunfire—we were close enough that we would have heard the tact team engage them. Now everyone would know we were there—it didn’t make sense for a team of professionals.

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