The glow from the screen changed abruptly from the electric blue and white of the news station. The set flashed red, drowning out even the color of Vida’s hair. “Oh, shit.”
The structure was almost unrecognizable, but the words running below it were clear enough: CHILDREN’S LEAGUE HEADQUARTERS DESTROYED.
“—reporting live from just outside of Colby, Kansas. Government officials have confirmed that drones were used to hit a warehouse believed to house the remnants of the Children’s League. Earlier this morning, faked photographs and documents were leaked to the press, and the organization claimed to—”
I didn’t stay to hear the rest. If they had sent drones to Colby, then what we were seeing really was Kansas HQ—and all of those agents, unless they’d abandoned it earlier in the day, were gone.
Cole was in the office with the door shut, but he’d left it unlocked. I slipped inside, finding him in the chair, his hand covering most of his face. At the sound of the door shutting again, he looked up, then switched the phone over to speaker.
“The guys said it was still burning when they got there.” Harry. “They picked up two survivors about a mile out of what was left of the structure, but can’t get any closer. I’m going to have them pull back and meet with us in Utah.”
“How did they escape?” I asked. How could anyone?
“Unclear. The connection was rotten and the survivors had completely lost it by the time our guys found them. The story we got was unreal.”
“What makes you say that?” Cole asked.
Static filled the room, filled my brain. It was only because of the murderous look on Cole’s face, the way the heat beneath his skin evaporated that last trace of softness in him, that I knew I hadn’t misheard Harry.
“The survivors,” Harry said. “They claim they were attacked by a unit of kids. They said they were Reds.”
“DO YOU BELIEVE IT?” I asked. “That Reds did this?”
Cole looked up at my question. “I wish like hell I knew. It just makes me want to—”
“Want to what?” I asked.
He stood suddenly, unable to stay seated, his hand spasming the whole time. “I need to tell you something before we go in and present our plan to the other kids.”
My hands twisted in my lap as I fought to keep my voice calm. “What is it?”
“I want us to go investigate and document the activities of a camp—Sawtooth, in Idaho. Clancy claims that it’s one of the facilities they use to train Reds.”
“And you believe him?” I asked, shaking my head. “Cole—”
“Yeah,” he said, “I do believe him—and not because he’s been working me over with his abilities. Because every piece of intel he’s given me up until now has panned out...and I might have promised I’d consider letting him go if he helped. Obviously not, but still. A good motivator.”
“Why, though?” I asked. “Why do we need to investigate it?”
“Senator Cruz told me she needs hard evidence of the army of Reds in order to spook the international community into action. I want to get it for her—at least try. If it’s a dead end, so be it. But tell me I have your support on this. I promise it won’t affect our Thurmond hit.”
My patience finally dissolved. “If you want to do this, you have to tell the others that you’re a Red. That’s the only way I’ll agree to support this.”
He reared back in surprise. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“We’ve been losing the support of the kids—I can feel it. They need to know once and for all that you do have our best interests at heart because you’re one of us.” I could hear my own exhaustion in my voice. “Hasn’t this gone on long enough?”
He opened his mouth, angry and clearly defensive, but closed it again, studying my face. After a long while, he said, “I’ll tell Liam. Start with him tonight. Then, depending on how that goes, I’ll tell the others. Is that reasonable?”
I could have cried, I was so relieved. “Yes. But you have to tell him before the meeting tonight.”
He waved me off, taking a seat. “Before that, I want to run through with you how I think we should get you back into Thurmond. Figured you might want to discuss that here, rather than in front of the others?”
I nodded. “I’ll tell them, but not until we’re all in agreement on the strategy. Are you still thinking you want to drop me in Virginia?”
“Yes,” he said. “The goal here is to get you in front of one skip tracer to start, while making sure you’re not overpowered from the get-go. We’ll call in a fake tip about a Green kid on the loose, and you’ll have to get into the skip tracer’s mind before he can run your face through the program. He’ll bring you into the nearest PSF base for your reward, and you’ll have him lead a PSF out to you so he can ‘officially’ test you and confirm you’re Green. You’re going to have to jump between the minds of every person you cross paths with—they can’t know the truth, otherwise you’ll never make it to Thurmond. The key is to control the total amount of people you come in contact with at any given time. Is that even doable?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling my spine stiffen with resolve. “It is.”
We assembled in the garage two hours later, sitting in a circle around the white crescent moon painted on the floor. I’d set up chairs for Cole, Senator Cruz, and Dr. Gray to sit in while we talked, but Cole walked up beside me with another, set it to the right of his, and gently pushed me down into the seat. I snuck a glance at him, trying to read how his conversation had gone, but his expression was carefully blank.
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