Never Fade Page 2

“Prisoner 27.” As he repeated the words, his heavy mustache twitched. The hint of gray there made him look a lot older than he actually was. The assignment file we’d been given at HQ had included blurbs on all of the soldiers assigned to this bunker, including this one—Max Brommel. Age forty-one, originally from Cody, Wyoming. Moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a programming job, lost it when the economy tanked. A nice wife, currently out of work. Two kids.

Both dead.

A storm of murky images flooded every dark corner and crevice of his mind. I saw a dozen more men, all wearing the same light camo uniforms jumping out of the back of a van, and several more from the Humvees that had bookended the bigger vehicle—full of criminals, suspected terrorists, and, if the intel the Children’s League had received was correct, one of our top agents.

I watched, suddenly calm, as these same soldiers led one…two…no, three men off the back of the truck. They weren’t Psi Special Forces officers, or FBI, or CIA, and definitely not a SWAT or SEAL team, all of which probably could have crushed our small force in one swift blow. No, they were National Guard servicemen, drawn back into active duty by the terrible times; our intel had been right about that, at least.

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.

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