From the first night at HQ, I knew that the only way I’d be able to face myself in the future was if I tried, as hard as I could, to redirect the League’s resources into freeing the kids still in camps. Over the past months, I planned, sketched, and wrote down everything I remembered about Thurmond, from the way the PSFs patrolled, to when they rotated, to two camera blind spots we’d discovered.
It became an addiction in a way; every time I sat down, it was like being around the fire pit at East River, listening to Liam talk passionately about how we needed to be the ones to help ourselves and one another, that no organization would ever get past its own needs or image to help us. He was right, of course—that had become more than apparent to me over the last six months.
I believed him. Believed in him. But I had also thrown him off this path when we separated, and now I needed to be the one to continue down it.
“I understand, sir.”
“I’ve had copies made,” he said. “We’ll discuss it later at our senior staff meeting. I can’t make any promises, but after all of the hard work you’ve done for us these past few months, you—”
I had no idea where that sentence was headed, and I never would. Without bothering to knock, another one of the advisers, Horse Teeth, stuck his head of silver hair in and opened his mouth—only to close it again when he saw me sitting there. Frog Lips pushed himself off the wall he’d been leaning against and said simply, “Snowfall?”
Horse Teeth shook his head. “It’s what we were afraid of.”
“Damn,” Alban swore, standing again. “Is Professor alive?”
“Yes, but her work—”
All three sets of eyes were suddenly turned toward me, and I realized I should have left thirty seconds ago.
“I’ll be in the atrium,” I murmured, “if you still need me.”
Alban was the one to wave me off, but it was Frog Lips’s voice that followed me out of the office, carrying through the door as it shut behind me. “I never thought this was a good idea. We warned her!”
Curiosity kept me standing there, waiting for some kind of hint as to what they were talking about. The man was practically spitting with anger, the words pouring over his oversize lips in a torrent. I tried to remember the last time I had seen one of them so worked up, and couldn’t—Jude always joked they were part robot, programmed to do their tasks with the least amount of heart possible.
“She took precautions; it’s not all lost,” Alban said calmly. “Let it never be said that woman lets herself be blinded by love. Walk with me—Jarvin will be back and I need to loop him in. He might have to take a team to Georgia to salvage the mess there—”
I only needed to hear the footsteps approaching from the other side of the door to know I’d gotten what little information they’d be giving. I turned as a cluster of kids passed by me on their way to the atrium, letting myself be drawn toward the back of the crowd.
When I glanced back, Alban stood outside his office door, letting the advisers work their whispers into a buzz around his ears. He didn’t acknowledge me, but I felt his eyes follow me the whole way, like he couldn’t quite let me out of his sight.
A few hours later, I was still in the atrium. Still waiting for a convenient slot in Alban’s schedule for me to scramble someone’s brain. Nico had shown up a few minutes before and brought a sandwich over to me, but between the two of us, I’m not sure who was less interested in their dinner.
Snowfall. The League was careful to give code names to every agent and every Op. At this point, I knew HQ’s roster well enough to know that we didn’t have a “Professor” working out of Los Angeles. But Snowfall… My brain was turning the phrase over the way it would sound out a foreign word. Slowly. Methodically. I’d had access to names of classified missions and projects well above my security clearance in the League just by virtue of the dirty work I was doing for them downstairs, but that wasn’t one of them.
“Hey,” I said, glancing over to where Nico was staring at his laptop screen. “If I were to give you an Op name, would you be able to search the servers for it?”
“The classified servers?” he asked. Anything less secure was a waste of the Greens’ time and talents. “Sure. What’s the name?”
“Snowfall. I think the agent in charge is called Professor—it sounds like a woman who might have been working out of the Georgia headquarters.”
Nico looked like I had picked up my plastic tray and slammed it into his face.
“What?” I asked. “Have you heard of it?”
The agents sitting nearby had gotten up and left when I sat down, giving me my own private section of the round hall. I had glared at the loud table of Blues nearby until they left, too. So it was quiet enough for me to actually hear him swallow as he looked back down at his keyboard and then back up at me.
It also meant it was quiet enough to hear Jude’s panting as he came bursting through the atrium’s doors.
He bypassed the other tables of agents and kids and came straight toward us. Ignoring him wasn’t going to make him disappear—he was the rash that kept coming back, even after six different kinds of silent treatment.
“Hey,” Nico said, “what are you—”
I kept my eyes on my untouched sandwich, only looking up when he grabbed both of our arms and started to pull us out of our seats.
“Come with me,” he said in a tight voice. “Now.”
“I’m busy,” I muttered. “Go find Vida.”
“You have to come—” His voice was hard, low. I barely recognized it. “Right. Now.”
“Why?” I asked, refusing to look up.
“Blake Howard came back from his Op.”
“And I care because…?”
His fingers seemed to burn my skin. “He came back in a body bag.”
By the time we arrived at the entrance hall, the small crowd of spectators, senior agents, Alban, and his advisers were flocking down one level to the infirmary in a long line of drawn faces and furious whispered questions.
“You’re sure?” I asked Jude as we tailed the crowd. “Positive that’s what you saw?”
He gulped back a deep breath. This close, I saw the red rimming his eyelids, and I wondered if he had cried himself raw before coming to get me.