United We Spy (Page 22)

“Let’s go,” I said.

The snow blew harder as we ran down the icy, steep incline.

I saw the main doors to the facility start to open, and I knew it was just a matter of minutes before that mountain would be swarming with guards. Zach and Bex must have known it too, because they sprinted off, not waiting while Macey and I dragged Preston along.

“Now?” Liz’s voice rang in my ear, and I looked at Macey, who nodded.

“Now,” I said.

“Fire in the hole!” Liz cried, and a split second later a charge ricocheted off the mountain. In the cold, thin air the sound echoed. A puff of smoke and snow blew up from the entrance of the facility, and the doors that had been opening stopped cold. No guards were coming out that way. At least not for a little while.

“Thank you, Dr. Fibs, for your lecture on the strategic placement of explosive charges,” Macey said. She looked at Preston, expecting him to appreciate a well-placed explosive charge when he saw one, but he was too cold. Too terrified. Besides, I forced myself to remember, Preston was never trained to be like us.

“Here.” I stripped off my hat and put it on his head. We’d come too far to lose Preston to hypothermia now.

“Cammie”—Preston’s lips trembled as he spoke—“where’s my dad?”

“He’ll meet us when we get there,” I told him.

“Get where?” Preston asked.

I honestly don’t know what I would have told him—what we could have said—but there wasn’t any time to say anything, because right then Zach and Bex came bursting around a massive arrangement of boulders, each of them behind the controls of a snowmobile that we’d planned to “borrow” from the facility.

“Come on!” Zach yelled, and neither Macey nor I had to be told twice.

We ran toward them. Macey and Preston hopped on behind Bex, squeezing together.

Liz was screaming in my ear, begging, “Please tell me you guys are clear?”

“Not yet,” I said and jumped on Zach’s snowmobile just as, overhead, there were cries from more guards, shadows moving in the blowing snow.

Zach turned, and in a flash we were flying down the mountain.

I wasn’t sure at first if it was the speed of the snowmobile or if the storm was just picking up, but the snow burned as it blew. My eyes stung, and I struggled to keep them open, so I didn’t try. I just buried my face against Zach’s shoulder, fighting against the cold.

“You okay?” Zach yelled and, numbly, I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me.

“Guys!” Liz’s voice was loud and clear in my ear. “You’re about to have company. Lots of company!”

I craned my head back and squinted, trying to see through the storm. There were headlights behind us. More snowmobiles. More guards. And guns. They would have lots of guns, and they wouldn’t aim to wound.

We weren’t in training anymore. The stakes and the bullets were real. It was only February, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were already on the far side of graduation.

“Guys…” Liz yelled again, impatience ringing through her voice, “are you clear?”

I glanced behind me one more time. We hadn’t gone as far as I’d liked. There was too little space between us and the top of that mountain, but a shot rang out then. Zach swerved. And I knew what the answer had to be.

“Go!” I yelled.

Through the comms unit, I heard Liz say one final time, “Fire in the hole!”

And then the explosion happened. Small at first. It wasn’t the size of the charge that mattered, Dr. Fibs had taught us. It was the placement. And Liz had placed that third round perfectly.

Looking back I saw the white plumes of snow fly up on the hillside. The men didn’t even really notice until the rumble began, a low moan that came too long after the charge itself to be a part of the initial blast.

No. This was something different. Not man-made. This was Mother Nature’s way of keeping people off her mountains.

At first, the snow shifted slowly, settling into place. But then it started to grow faster and faster, stronger and stronger, like a tide that swept between us and the men giving chase. Within moments, the mountain was moving—sliding. The avalanche grew and grew, opening like an abyss, cutting us off from the men who had no choice but to turn back. But the tide kept growing faster, threatening to overtake us too.

“Hold on,” Zach yelled. He stood, sending the snowmobile up a narrow, ramp-like rock, shooting us into the blowing snow and raging storm, catapulting us into the dark.

Chapter Twenty-six

The jump didn’t kill us. At least, my first thought was that we hadn’t died. But I didn’t let myself get too cocky about the situation. After all, we might have been off the mountain, but we were anything but out of the woods.

Covert Operations Report

The Operatives utilized a highly controversial, yet effective, exit strategy dubbed “the blow stuff up and run approach” by Operative Baxter.

Operative Sutton was quick to point out that blowing stuff up is perhaps her greatest gift.

Once they reached the bottom of the mountain the Operatives were able to make contact with their Emergency Extraction Team.

What the Operatives didn’t know was exactly who the Emergency Extraction Team might be.

“Are we sure about this?” I asked Zach, low and under my breath.

“I’m sure,” he said.

I’d never seen a night so black (much less at seven o’clock). But so far north in the middle of winter, the clear sky was like a blanket that couldn’t keep us warm. A crescent moon hung overhead, and I cursed its light beneath my breath. At that particular moment, darkness was our friend.

Bex leaned against a tree, her head listing to one side. I expected her to be up and pacing, securing our perimeter, cursing the ticking clock. But she sat perfectly still on the cold ground, waiting.

“Bex?” I asked. “You okay?”

“Right as rain, Chameleon.” She flashed me her trademark grin. “Just enjoying the scenery.”

Macey had her arm around Liz, who was shivering. Preston didn’t ask about his father again. Instead, he stared, wide-eyed, across the frozen waters of the lake, almost like we’d pulled him from a dream and he was tempted to go back to sleep. But Zach kept his eyes on the night sky, watching.

“What if we’re at the wrong rendezvous point?” I asked.

“We aren’t.”

“But—”

He pointed into the distance, and then I heard it: a low rumbling hum. It looked almost like a bird was flying low over the tree line, but it was too big for a bird.

The lights were off. The pilot was going on instruments and moonlight and sheer force of will as the small plane touched down on the snow-covered ice, gliding on skis toward us.

Zach turned to the group. “Let’s go.”

We hunched low and ran across the ice. Liz slid and fell, and Macey reached for her, half-carried her toward the plane.

“Okay, Zach,” I said as we got closer, “are you sure that we can trust this guy?”

“I don’t know,” a boy said, throwing open the plane’s side door and looking down. “Can you?”

“Grant?” I asked. He must have heard the uncertainty in my voice. It had been almost two years since I’d seen him, after all. I thought back to the semester when a small contingency of students from the Blackthorne Institute came to our school. It seemed like another lifetime, and I stood for a moment, paralyzed wondering exactly how we had gotten so far away from school dances and spying on boys.

Someone opened the copilot’s window. “Come on, Cammie.”

“Jonas?” Liz cried.

The boy winked. “We’re here to rescue you.”

The plane was small, but we all fit—even if just barely.

“Hang on,” Grant told us as he turned the plane on the ice and started building up steam. We bounced and rocked. The wind shifted, and it felt like we were going to topple over before we even took flight.

“It’s going to be close!” Jonas yelled when we finally left the ground and headed for the trees.

I could hear the skis scraping against the icy branches. The engines whined and the plane shook, but we kept climbing, rising steadily into the night.

And then the silence came.

We were officially off the grid and in the middle of nowhere. Avalanche or not, the prison guards were going to have a hard time finding us there, and I finally felt myself exhale.

“It’s good to see you, buddy.” Grant held out a hand, and Zach took it.

“Thanks for coming,” Zach told him. He slapped Jonas on the back. And I felt like I’d fallen into an alternate universe. One where Zach had…friends.

Neither Grant nor Jonas asked why we were in the middle of nowhere, desperate for a ride. They didn’t inquire as to why we had to fly low across the mountains, out of radar range. This was need-to-know at its finest. We weren’t going to lie to Grant and Jonas, and they weren’t going to lie to us; and we were all perfectly fine with that arrangement.

“Grant?” Bex asked after the plane leveled off. “Does this thing come with a first aid kit?” Her voice was softer than it should have been. Her eyes were glassy, and her skin was sallow.

“Why?” I looked at Bex just as she unzipped her heavy down jacket. Blood stained her shirt, spreading across her shoulder and dripping down her side.

“Sorry, Cam,” my best friend whispered. And then her eyelids fluttered and closed, and I felt my whole world descend into black.

Chapter Twenty-seven

You never know how you’re going to react to something. To anything. Tragedy, joy, heartache. They affect us all in different ways in different times and different places. There, a thousand feet in the air, I squinted against the dark stain that was spreading across my best friend’s body. I felt the sticky dampness of the blood and watched the way she crumpled, sliding off the plane’s narrow seat and onto the floor.

I think I might have yelled.

I think I might have screamed.

I think I might have cried.

But to tell you the truth, I’m not exactly sure what I did. I remember ripping off her shirt and staring at the blood.

“Light!” someone yelled, and soon there was a flashlight shining down on the small hole in Bex’s shoulder.

“Bex!” Zach yelled and dove for her. He held her head. “Wake up, Bex. Wake up. Wake up. Wake—”

Someone was crying. It might have been Liz. Or it might have been me. All I know is that Macey was beside me, a first aid kit in her hands. And I was reaching around Bex’s back, feeling the gooey wetness. A gaping hole.

“Exit wound,” I said. Zach pulled Bex into his arms and turned her around and I saw blood. So much blood. “That’s good. Isn’t that good?” I asked but no one really answered.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Liz was saying, rattling off facts. “Stop the bleeding. Clean the wound.”

I’d heard the words in every lecture on emergency medical procedures that the school doctor and Mr. Solomon had ever given, and yet, I didn’t really think about them. My hands were flying, moving, absent from my mind as I took the alcohol from Macey’s hand and poured it onto Bex’s shoulder. I was glad she was unconscious and didn’t have to feel the pain.