United We Spy (Page 21)
“It’s kind of beautiful,” Liz said, her gaze sweeping over the vista.
“It won’t be when that gets here.” Bex pointed to the horizon. Clouds churned, blocking our view of the distant peaks. I could imagine the swirling winds and blowing snow of the coming storm.
A hundred yards of open ground, just snow and ice and some of the most highly calibrated motion sensors and trip wires in the world, stood between us and the compound. Zach’s footsteps from that morning were barely visible, filled in by blowing snow.
“What’s the time?” Bex asked, even though we all knew the answer.
“Showtime.” I looked into the sky. A dark spot was on the horizon just ahead of the ominous clouds. I kept my gaze glued to the helicopter that was no doubt bringing agents to interrogate Zach inside the mountaintop fortress.
“Okay, Lizzie. Are you sure you’re okay staying here by yourself? It will be totally dark in an hour. If we’re not back by then, I guess…”
“Cam,” Liz started slowly, “if this takes more than one hour, then my being alone out here is the least of our problems. Now, go,” she said, and none of us had to be told twice.
The helicopter grew lower the closer it got to the prison, so we set off running across the open ground beneath the whirl of the spinning blades and the cover of the blowing snow. We’d bleached the gear we’d found in the safe house until everything was white, and we almost blended into the wilderness, bolting over rocks and across ice, up the steep cliffs to the very vent shaft I’d emerged from less than a week before.
On the side of the mountain, a massive door began to rise up out of the ground, opening to allow the helicopter to land inside the fortress.
“Door closing in four-three-two—” I started.
“The charges?” Bex asked Macey, who handed her a tiny pack of explosives that we attached to the grate the prison had secured over the airshaft.
She nodded. “Done.”
“Then, fire in the hole,” Bex said, and the three of us threw our hands over our heads as a subtle pop filled the air. Plumes of smoke and snow blew into the wind, but it was almost untraceable in the quickly coming darkness.
“Okay, Cam,” Bex told me. She shot a cable, sent it spiraling to the top of the shaft. “After you.”
I know air ducts and secret passageways. I’m not even a little bit claustrophobic or afraid of spiders. But the darkness that surrounded me then was unlike any that I had ever felt or seen.
I’d been there—in that very shaft—just days before. But then there had been fear and adrenaline. The first time I’d been running away. Now I was climbing toward. I don’t expect most people to understand the difference, but there is one. I didn’t just have to survive—I had to carry. And that made the climbing all the harder. There was time in that quiet place to think, to worry—a nagging, lingering voice that warned that maybe, just maybe we weren’t doing the right thing. Maybe we would be too late.
But then the shaft leveled off, and soon I was on my stomach, crawling through the hot air of the prison. Sweat beaded at my brow, but I crawled on until I was looking down through a small grate, staring at the same room of monitors I’d seen my last time there.
Then, on one of the screens, I saw him. Preston was lying on the concrete floor of his cell, motionless. And for a second I thought we were too late—that he was injured. Or worse.
But then I realized his feet were tucked beneath his bed. I watched as, slowly, he brought his chest off the floor. His fingers rested lightly behind his ears as he brought his right elbow to his left knee. Down again. Left elbow to right knee. Repeat.
Preston was working out.
Preston wasn’t giving up.
Also, Preston kind of looked like a hottie.
But that wasn’t the most important thing right then.
I craned my head and looked behind me. Macey couldn’t see the screen. She didn’t know what I was looking at, and I didn’t want to risk her seeing Preston and making a sound, getting careless.
Beneath us, a guard sat watching the monitors, completely ignorant of our presence.
“Guard Station A,” a scratchy voice said through a speaker in the room below. The guard reached for a microphone.
“Guard Station A reporting.”
“The interrogation team is here,” the voice said. “We’re ready for the boy.”
I watched the guard push a button. I heard a haunting sound, metal on metal as a door opened. And then, through the vent beneath me, I saw Zach walking down the hall.
His lip was swollen and his hands were bound. He wore the same kind of jumpsuit the ambassador had died in, and his feet were bare. The message was clear: You’re free to try to run away, but you’ll freeze to death before you make it.
The guard beneath me stepped into the hall, and that was all the opening I needed. As quickly and quietly as I could, I lowered myself into the office. There were buttons and switches, the same camera feeds that I’d seen my first time there. I walked through the tiny room, not making a noise. Bex and Macey followed.
I heard Zach’s voice say, “Well, hello. I remember you from this morning. I was hoping we would meet again.”
“Why’s that?” a guard said.
“So I could do this,” Zach told him. I stepped into the hall just in time to see Zach haul back and head-butt the guard, knocking him to the floor.
There was another guard with him, of course. I wondered which of the two men had split Zach’s lip, but it wasn’t the time to ask.
“Why, you—” guard number two started. He pushed Zach hard against the wall and drew his hand back to punch, but the hand never moved forward. The man whirled as if to question why.
“Hello there,” Bex said, and then she slapped him hard across the face. Not a punch. Not a kick. It was an old-fashioned slap, and the man looked almost amused for a moment before the strength slipped out of his limbs and he crumbled to the floor.
The other guard was struggling to his feet, but Macey was already on him, attaching yet another Napotine patch to the back of his neck.
“Is that all?” Bex asked.
“For now,” Zach said, then he looked at me. He smirked. “You’re late.”
I grabbed his hand. “Let’s go.”
I didn’t want to split up. I didn’t want to let him go, but being a spy is at least fifty percent doing unpleasant things, and Zach and I were the only ones who had any kind of home-court advantage.
In sixty seconds the people waiting on Zach would wonder why he hadn’t reached the interrogation rooms, which, if I remembered correctly, were just fifty yards away.
In a minute and a half they’d try—and fail—to get the guards on the radio. And, of course, at any time a patrol could sweep the corridor, a camera or sensor could tell someone that something wasn’t quite right. Time wasn’t on our side, in other words, so neither of us wasted a second arguing. We knew Preston was there, and we knew he was alive, and that was the only thing that any of us allowed to matter.
“Did you see him?” Macey asked Zach.
“No,” Zach said. “But I heard the guards talking. He’s down that way.”
“Okay,” I said. “Macey, you’re with me.”
And away we went, carefully moving down the branching corridor while Bex and Zach went the other way.
Most of the cells were empty.
In one I saw a sleeping man who weighed at least three hundred pounds.
In another I saw a woman with red hair. She watched me, silent, as if my presence in her window were completely routine.
“Here!” Macey said. She was reaching for the door, saying, “Preston!” But the door didn’t budge.
“Lizzie,” I said through the comms unit. “It’s cell seventeen.”
In a moment, I heard Liz say, “Accessing prison system and…”
“Any minute now,” Macey prompted.
“Open!” Liz yelled, proud of herself.
The door popped open, and Macey rushed inside.
“Preston, are you okay?” she asked, but Preston just stared at us as if he wasn’t quite sure whether or not he was losing his mind.
“Are you here to rescue me, or is this some freaky mind experiment?”
“Rescue,” I said with a nod.
Preston smiled. “Then let’s go.”
Macey took his hand and dragged him out of the cell. As soon as we stepped into the hall, a guard rounded the corner and Macey dropped to the ground, knocking the man’s feet out from beneath him. Another guard followed so closely behind that they became tangled together, falling. And I had the Napotine patches out and ready. Neither rose again.
Macey reached for Preston’s hand. “This way.” She started down the darkened corridor, but Preston held back.
“Is my dad down there?” he asked. Hope shone through his eyes, and I was certain he didn’t have a clue about his father’s fate. I knew because it was the same look I had been seeing in the mirror for years.
“We’ve got to go, Preston,” I told him and put my hand on his back.
“Is he meeting us outside?”
“Yeah,” I said, but Macey just looked at me. Her eyes were wide, and she shook her head, confused. She didn’t understand what I knew. That he might not be able to stand—much less run—if we told him the truth. He might lose the ability to think, much less follow orders. There were things we needed out of Preston still, and that meant Preston needed a lie.
“Come on,” I told him. “The others are waiting for us.” Then I pushed him out the door.
QUESTIONS I REALLY COULDN’T STOP ASKING MYSELF (EVEN THOUGH I REALLY, REALLY WANTED TO):
(A list by Cameron Morgan)
Exactly how many highly trained government operatives were in that building (and about to be chasing us)?
How were we supposed to tell Preston his father wasn’t waiting for us safely outside—that he wasn’t going to see his dad in a few minutes? That he was never going to see his dad ever again?
When had I become someone who could tell a lie like that?
Did I really want to go back to being someone who couldn’t?
We were only inside for fifteen minutes. Not a second more. And yet there, at the top of the world in the middle of winter, that was long enough for the sky to descend into black.
The wind was stronger too, colder. I knew the storm was upon us, because I felt the snow blowing against my face, white streaking through the darkness, and I knew we were almost out of time.
“It’s good to see you, Pres,” Bex said, taking his hand and pulling him from the entrance of the narrow shaft I’d found just days before. She handed him a pair of extra boots and a coat that matched the one Zach had already put on.
“You too, Bex.” Preston put his hands on his hips, out of breath already. It didn’t matter how many sit-ups he’d been doing, at that altitude, there was a limit to how far and how fast anyone could run.
“You okay?” Zach asked, and I kissed him—fast and hard, not needing it to linger, just so happy to see him free. Behind us, I could still hear the screaming sirens, the flash of the swirling lights.