United We Spy (Page 20)

“It’s a prison, Zach. Keeping people in is kind of the idea.”

“But—”

“But what?” I asked him.

“But if we get caught, there’s no getting out. Maybe ever again.”

I thought about what Aunt Abby had told me in Rome, that we couldn’t be kids and adults at the same time—that we no longer got to have it both ways. People had already come for Zach. They already wanted me. If we did this it would be official. There’d be no turning back for any of us.

“Okay.” Bex rubbed her hands on her thighs, warming them as if in preparation for where we had to go and what we had to do. “We’re going.” It wasn’t an argument. It was an order. And none of us had the strength to defy her. “We’re going right now.”

Macey walked to a door off the kitchen, threw it open, and switched on the light. Instantly, fluorescents flickered to life, buzzing and glowing and illuminating a massive room filled with rows and rows of shelves covered in skis and down jackets and jumpsuits, cables and tents. Every rich-person toy in the world filled the massive room, and Macey smiled.

“What do we need?”

Chapter Twenty-three

Turns out sneaking up on a top secret government prison is far more time-consuming than being invited through the front door.

We left for Alaska the next morning and flew all day. I think the plane belonged to Blackthorne, but Zach didn’t explain, and I didn’t ask. I just sat in the row behind him while he flew and Bex copiloted. By the time we reached the mountains, she was certain she was certified. I, on the other hand, had had too many bad driver’s ed experiences to let her go solo anytime soon. Still, I didn’t have the strength to say otherwise.

Step two was a chopper into the forest. I recognized the pilot, a girl named Neha who had been a senior when we were seventh graders. But we didn’t exactly catch up. It wasn’t exactly the time. Even though it was only seven P.M., we flew under the cover of darkness to the base of a mountain.

And then we were gone, out of the chopper and into the snow. It swirled around us as Neha lifted off, her lights disappearing into a black sky filled with more stars than I had ever seen, leaving us alone in the wilderness with nothing but an uphill climb ahead.

Number of hours we climbed: 6

Number of times Liz fell down: 12

Number of times Liz almost dragged at least three of us down with her: 7

Number of times we said anything about it: 0

Number of moments when I had to wonder if we were making the biggest mistake of our lives: Every single one of them

“We’re here.”

The way Bex looked around the cave you would have thought it was the Ritz-Carlton. But, in truth, it was a narrow crevice with a dirt floor. Brush covered the entrance. Snow had blown inside, and ice collected in the corners. But it was home, at least for the time being, and I was content to squeeze inside and drop my pack.

“We can light a fire here. They won’t see the smoke through the trees, and there’s enough ventilation overhead that we don’t have to worry about suffocating.” Zach pointed up to the ceiling overhead. Cracks ran through the stone, and I could see strips of the starry sky.

“We should get some rest.” It was after midnight, and Bex dropped her pack on the ground. “Tomorrow, we have work to do.”

Judging from the aches in my back and the sweat in my boots, we’d already done plenty of work today, but I didn’t think it was the time to argue. Macey, however, disagreed.

“But—” she started.

Bex cut her off with a look.

“We won’t get Preston back by running off half-cocked with no plan, Macey. We get him back by being smart.”

“Being smart,” Macey repeated.

“Okay.” I unfurled my sleeping bag. “Now, get some sleep.”

As hard as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t. Macey was beside me, too still as she lay on her back, looking up through the cracks in the cave, staring at the stars. They were almost too bright. I wanted to turn them off.

Bex slept, and Liz, worn out as she was, crashed with her boots still on. I wondered where my mom and Mr. Solomon were. I wanted to know if they’d approve of what we were doing.

I saw a shadow move near the doorway, inching down the walls. So I pulled my sleeping bag around my shoulders and, silently as I could, I followed.

“Go to sleep, Gallagher Girl,” Zach said. He didn’t turn to face me. He just leaned against the cave’s entrance, staring at the mountain peak that loomed overhead. He stared so intently at it that I wondered if he had X-ray vision and was trying to see what lay inside. Or maybe he was just trying to see tomorrow.

“I can’t sleep,” I told him.

“You should try.”

“And you’re out here not taking your own advice because…” I didn’t try to finish. I just wrapped the sleeping bag around his shoulders and melted into his arms, rested the back of my head on his chest and leaned against him, staring up at the sky.

“I never knew there were this many stars.”

“I can’t see them,” he told me. His breath was warm on my neck, and he kissed the soft skin at the base of my hair. “I just see you.”

“That’s one of your cheesier lines,” I told him but didn’t move to make him stop.

“It’s the altitude,” he told me. “I don’t have enough oxygen in my brain.”

“I see.” I sighed as his kisses moved higher.

His arms grew tighter around my waist, and for the first time in hours, I wasn’t cold. I didn’t shiver. I was safe there in that moment and I wanted it to last forever. But it couldn’t. From the depths of the cave, I heard Liz coughing in her sleep.

“We shouldn’t have let her come,” I said.

“If it were up to me none of you would be here.” Zach stopped kissing me. He turned me to face him. “You know this is crazy, right?”

“Preston would do it for us,” I said.

“Would he?” I couldn’t tell if it was a rhetorical question or not until Zach said again, “Would he really?”

I shook my head and looked back at the top of the mountain. It was below zero, and I shivered even in my insulated clothing. I was half a world away from my summer vacation, but the memories I didn’t have were always there, coursing under the surface. No matter how many times I tried to claim them, they slipped away. The harder I tried, the faster they shot out of my reach, so I didn’t try to grab them then.

“I don’t know how to say it, Zach, but…last summer. I think he saved my life.”

“They may not come for him, Cammie. He’s probably safe in there. And…” Zach trailed off. Something in his face told me he didn’t want to finish. Something in my gut told me he had to.

“And what?”

“What if he’s supposed to be in there? What if Preston is dangerous?”

I pulled away. Maybe I had to look at him more squarely, or maybe it felt a little like I was temporarily touching a stranger.

“This is Preston we’re talking about, Zach. Dangerous isn’t the word I’d use to describe him.”

“And people are never more than they appear?”

“I can’t leave him in there,” I said. “Not if we might need him.”

“He’s Circle, Cammie. He’s the next generation.”

“He’s not.”

“He is,” Zach said. A cloud passed overhead, and a shadow crossed his face. “I know he is, because I am too.”

“No,” I said.

“You know what my earliest memory is?” he asked with a sad, quick laugh. “My mom used to sing me this song—about kings and knights and horsemen. All my life, I thought it was just a song—just something mothers sing to little boys. But it wasn’t, Cammie. It was about the government. Coups. Power. I wasn’t old enough to talk yet, and I was already learning who to hate, and how to burn them to the ground.”

“Mothers sing songs, Zach. It doesn’t mean—”

“I wonder what kinds of songs Preston’s father sang to him.” Zach raised his eyebrows. “I wonder if he’s lying in a cell humming them to himself right now.”

I should have said something—done something. He was in a dark place, there in the moonlight. But before I could say a word, Zach took a deep breath and looked up at the fortress. “I wonder if I should join him.”

“No,” I snapped and reached for Zach’s hand. “You don’t get to talk that way.”

“But—”

“But your mom and Dr. Steve were in my head ten weeks ago and you’re not afraid of me. So you don’t get to be afraid of yourself. Not now.”

“But—”

“Kiss me, Zach.” I pressed up against him, cold and alone. I didn’t want to fight. I wanted to be warm and safe again. “Kiss me.” I brushed my lips across his mouth, lightly at first, teasing. Tasting. And then his lips parted and the moment was over.

Neither of us was thinking about the past.

Chapter Twenty-four

I woke because I was freezing. I might have slept forever, there on that hard ground, had I not sensed that something was missing. Something was wrong.

Someone.

As quickly as I could, I pulled on my boots; but I didn’t bother calling out his name. Zach wasn’t in the cave, I knew it. He wasn’t outside gathering wood or securing our perimeter. I already knew where he was—what he was doing. And so I ran faster, out of the dry cave and into the snow. I pushed against trees and climbed over rocks, following the tracks, cursing that he hadn’t even woken me to say good-bye. And when I reached the tree line beneath the icy fortress overhead, I knew exactly what I was going to see:

A lone figure walking through the snow, hands held high above his head in surrender.

I thought about our plan, but also about what he’d said the night before—that maybe he belonged inside that prison too.

“Zach—” I wanted to yell, but in truth the word was nothing but a whisper. We were already out of time.

A door was sliding open on the mountain. Men in white jumpsuits carrying rifles were running down the icy banks, their sights never wavering from the person who was walking toward them, yelling, “I’m Zach Goode. And I’d like to turn myself in.”

One could say it was the cold light of morning that made me see things so differently. But at the top of the world in the middle of winter, there wasn’t that much light to begin with. An eerie gray filled the sky, and I couldn’t help myself; I glanced around, expecting Zach to be there, forgetting he was gone.

Covert Operations Report

Operatives McHenry, Baxter, Sutton, and Morgan joined Zachary Goode for a high-risk, potentially high-reward operation in the Alaskan arctic.

The Operatives also REALLY wished they’d packed extra socks.

By late afternoon, the sunlight was fleeting. Shadows spread across the glistening white plain that stretched between the line of trees where my roommates and I lay on our stomachs, looking up at the fortress above.