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The darkest minds, p.10
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       The Darkest Minds, p.10

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  Liam, our driver, was wearing a beat-up leather jacket, darker across the shoulders where the rain had soaked through. His hair was a light, ashy blond that stood on end when he ran a hand through it. Every now and then he would glance to the dark-skinned teen in the passenger seat, but it wasn’t until he cast a quick look into the rearview mirror that I saw his eyes were blue.

  “I can’t see out of the back window when you—” His words choked off as he did a double take.

  The minivan lurched to the right as he spun around in his seat and turned the wheel with him. The other kid let out a strangled noise as the car jerked to the right, toward the side of the road. The girl glanced back over her shoulder at me, her expression somewhere between surprise and exasperation.

  Liam slammed on the brakes. Both of the car’s other passengers gasped as their seat belts locked over their chests, but I had nothing holding me back from flying between the two middle seats. After what felt like a short eternity, but was likely only a hot second, the tires let off a long squeal of pain before the minivan quivered to a dead stop.

  Both boys were staring back at me, wearing two completely different expressions. Liam’s tanned face had gone porcelain pale, his mouth hanging open in an almost comical way. The other boy only glared at me through his thin, silver-framed glasses, his lips pursed in disapproval, the same way my mom’s used to when she found out I had stayed up past my bedtime. His ears, which were a touch too big for his head, stuck out from his skull; everything between them, from the wide expanse of his forehead down past the thin bridge of his nose to his full lips, seemed to darken in anger. For a split second I was afraid that he was a Red, because judging by the look in his eyes, he wanted nothing more than to burn me to a crisp.

  Boys. Why did it have to be boys?

  I peeled myself up off the carpets and bolted toward the side door. My fingers squeezed the door handle, but no matter how hard I pulled it, it didn’t budge.

  “Zu!” Liam cried, looking back and forth between us. She merely folded her hands in her lap, rubber gloves squeaking, and blinked at him innocently. Like she had no idea how they had come across the stowaway currently sprawled out by her feet.

  “We all agreed—no strays.” The other boy shook his head. “That’s why we didn’t take the kittens!”

  “Oh, for the love of…” Liam slumped down in his seat, pressing his face into his hands. “What were we going to do with a box of abandoned kittens?”

  “Maybe if that black heart of yours hadn’t been willing to leave them to starve, we could have found them new, loving homes.”

  Liam gave the other boy a look of pure amazement. “You’re never going to get over those cats, are you?”

  “They were innocent, defenseless kittens and you left them outside someone’s mailbox! A mailbox!”

  “Chubs,” Liam groaned. “Come on.”

  Chubs? That had to have been a joke. The kid was as skinny as a stick. Everything about him, from his nose to his fingers, was long and narrow.

  He leveled Liam with a withering stare. I don’t know what amazed me more, the fact that they were arguing about kittens, or that they’d managed to forget that I was in the car.

  “Excuse me!” I interrupted, slamming my palm against the window. “Can you please unlock the door?”

  That shut them up at least.

  When Liam finally turned back toward me, his expression was entirely different than before. He looked serious, but not altogether unhappy or suspicious. Which is a lot more than I could have said for myself if our situations had been reversed.

  “Are you the one they were looking for?” he asked. “Ruth?”

  “Ruby,” Chubs corrected.

  Liam waved his hand. “Right. Ruby.”

  “Just unlock the door, please!” I yanked at the handle again. “I made a mistake. This was a mistake! I was selfish, I know that, so you have to let me go before they catch up.”

  “Before who catches up? Skip tracers?” Liam asked. His eyes darted over me, from my haggard face down my forest green uniform to my mud-stained shoes. To the Psi number that had been written on their canvas toes in permanent marker. A look of horror flickered over his face. “Did you just come from a camp?”

  I felt Suzume—Zu’s—dark eyes on me, but I held Liam’s gaze and nodded. “The Children’s League broke me out.”

  “And you ran away from them?” Liam pressed. He looked back at Zu for confirmation. She nodded.

  “What does that have to do with anything?” Chubs interrupted. “You heard her—unlock the stupid door! We already have PSFs and skip tracers after us; we don’t need to add the League to the list! They probably think we took her, and if they put in the call that there are freaks roaming around in a beat-up black minivan…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish.

  “Hey,” Liam said, holding up a finger, “don’t talk about Black Betty that way.”

  “Oh, excuse me for hurting the feelings of a twenty-year-old minivan.”

  “He’s right,” I said. “I’m sorry, please—I don’t want any more trouble for you.”

  “You want to go back to them?” Liam was facing me again, his mouth set in a grim line. “Listen, it’s none of my business, Green, but you have the right to know that whatever lies they fed you probably aren’t true. They aren’t our angel network. They have their own agenda, and if they plucked you out of camp, it means they have a plan for you.”

  I shook my head. “You think I don’t know that?”

  “Okay,” he returned in a calm voice. “Then why are you in such a hurry to get back?”

  There was nothing judgmental or accusatory about the question, so why did I still feel like an idiot? Something hot and itchy bubbled up in my throat, drifting up until it settled behind my eyes. Oh God, the kid was looking at me with all the sympathy and pity required of someone watching a stray puppy being put down. I didn’t know if the emotion swelling inside me was anger or embarrassment, but I didn’t have time to sort it out.

  “No, but I can’t—I didn’t mean to drag you into—I mean, I did mean to, but…”

  I saw Zu move out of the corner of my eye, reaching for me. I jerked away, sucking in a harsh breath. A hurt expression crossed her face, staying long enough for me to feel guilty about it. She had been trying to help me—to be kind to me. She didn’t know what kind of monster she had saved.

  If she had, she would never have unlocked the door.

  “Do you want to go back to them?”

  Chubs was looking at Liam, and Liam was looking at me. He had caught me again with his eyes, and I hadn’t even realized it.

  “No,” I said, and it was the truth. “I don’t.”

  He didn’t say anything, only shifted the minivan out of park. The van rolled forward.

  What are you doing, Ruby? I willed my hand to reach for the door, but it seemed too far and my hand too heavy. Get out. Get out now.

  “Lee, don’t you dare,” Chubs began. “If the League comes after us…”

  “It’ll be okay,” Liam said. “We’re just taking her to the nearest bus station.”

  I blinked. That was more than even I was expecting. “You don’t have to.”

  Liam waved me off. “It’s fine. Sorry we can’t do more. Can’t risk it.”

  “Yes, you’re right,” Chubs said. “So explain to me why we aren’t taking her to one of the train stations, which are closer?”

  When I looked back up, Liam was studying me, his light eyebrows pulled tight together by some unspoken thought. I tried not to squirm under his gaze. “Remind me again—Ruby, right? I’m sure you’ve caught on by now, but I’m Liam, the lovely lady behind me is Suzume.”

  She smiled shyly. I turned and raised a brow in the direction of the other boy. “I’m guessing your name isn’t actually Chubs?”

  “No,” he sniffed. “Liam gave me that name at camp.”

  “He was a bit of a porker.” Liam had a small smile on his face. “Turns out field labor an
d a restricted diet are better than fat camp. Zu can back me up on this one.”

  But Zu wasn’t paying attention, not to any of us. She had pulled her hoodie up over her ears and twisted around in her seat so that she was staring over the top of it, out the back window. Her lips were parted, but she couldn’t bring the words to them. The color drained from her round face.

  “Zu?” Liam said. “What’s wrong?”

  She didn’t need to point. Even if we hadn’t seen the tan SUV speeding straight for us, it would have been impossible to miss the bullet that blew through the back window and shattered it.

  NINE

  THE SINGLE BULLET CUT A PATH straight down the center of the minivan, exiting out through the windshield. For a moment, none of us did anything but stare at the hole and the spreading spiderweb of cracks radiating out from it.

  “Holy sh—!” Liam threw the car into forward, slamming his foot down all the way on the gas. He seemed to have forgotten that we were in a Dodge Caravan and not a BMW, because it went from zero to sixty in what felt like thirty minutes. Black Betty’s body began to shake, rattling from more than just the holes and cracks in the road.

  I whirled around, searching for Rob’s SUV, but the car behind us was a bright red pickup truck, and the man leaning out of the passenger window of the truck, rifle in hand, was not Rob.

  “I told you!” Chubs yelled. “I told you they were skip tracers!”

  “Yes, you were right,” Liam yelled right back. “But could you try to be useful, too?”

  He jerked the car left, just as the man fired off another shot. It must have gone wide, because it never hit the car, not that I could tell. He fired again, and that bullet had far better luck; it slammed into Black Betty’s bumper. We felt the hit like a brick to the back; every single one of us let out a sharp gasp. In Chubs’s case, he moaned and crossed himself.

  Zu was slouched down in her seat, her chest pressed against her knees. Her hood hid her face, but it couldn’t mask the way her entire body shook. I put a hand on her back, holding her down.

  Another bang sounded behind us, but this time, it wasn’t a gunshot.

  “What in the…” Liam risked a look back over his shoulder. “Are you kidding me?”

  My heart fell like a stone into my stomach. The red truck jolted forward, and I saw the driver—a dark haired woman with glasses—tug the wheel to the side, trying to shake the truck free from the tan SUV that had rammed into it. I didn’t need to see who was driving it to know who that vehicle belonged to: Cate and Rob. But, then, who was in the pickup truck?

  “It is her!” Chubs cried. “I told you! She found us!”

  “Then who’s the guy with the gun?” Liam cried. “Her boyfriend?”

  The man who had fired at us turned his attention to taking out the SUV behind him, twisting around in the window. He lasted half a breath. A gunshot from the SUV clipped him in the chest and sent an explosive spray of blood into the air. The crack of the next bullet sent the shooter’s lifeless body sliding out of the passenger window of the truck. The driver—the woman—didn’t so much as look back at him.

  I watched the red truck finally break away from the SUV’s front bumper. With both of its back tires blown out, it swerved into the other lane, spinning out, until it came to a jolting stop on the shoulder of the highway.

  “That’s one,” I heard Liam say. I turned back, fully expecting to see Rob’s gun trained on me through the blown-out back windshield of our van. Only, Rob was behind the wheel.

  Cate was the one in the passenger seat, a rifle steady between her hands.

  “Please, just let me go,” I said, grabbing Liam’s shoulder. “I’ll go back with them. No one has to get hurt.”

  “Yes!” Chubs said. “Pull over, let her out!”

  “Both of you shut up!” Liam said, throwing Black Betty into the right lane and then back into the left. The SUV followed us, more than keeping up. I couldn’t tell if we had slowed down, or if they had somehow gunned it harder, because in the next breath, the SUV rammed into us, and not even the seat belts could keep us from jerking forward.

  Liam muttered something under his breath, which was lost in the sudden onslaught of heavy rain. He rolled down his window and threw a hand outside, as if to motion for the SUV to go around us.

  “Do something!” Chubs shouted, bracing his hands against the steering wheel.

  “I’m trying!” he said. “I can’t concentrate!”

  He’s trying to use his abilities. The realization crept up through my terror.

  The fat droplets splattering the window blurred the trees around us, but Liam didn’t bother with the wipers. If he had, he might have seen the other car blazing toward us from the opposite direction. Its horn screeched to life and woke Liam from his trance.

  The minivan swerved back into the right lane, narrowly missing a head-on collision with the sedan. If that little car hadn’t slammed on its brakes, the SUV would have plowed right into it, too. Both Zu and I whirled around just in time to see the SUV swerve back into the right lane. Rob managed to recover quickly, and they were speeding toward us again before we had a chance to catch our breaths.

  “Liam,” I begged. “Please, just pull over. I won’t let them do anything to you!”

  I don’t want to go back.

  I don’t want to go back.

  I don’t want to…

  I squeezed my eyes shut.

  “Green!’ Liam’s voice cut into my thoughts. “Can you drive?”

  “No—”

  “Can you see better than Chubs?”

  “Maybe, but—”

  “Great!” he said, reaching back for my arm. “Come on up to the captain’s seat.”

  He snorted, even as another bullet pinged against Black Betty’s metal skin. “Come on, it’s just like riding a bike. Right pedal is gas to go, left is brake, steer with wheel. That’s all you need to know.”

  “Wait!” But apparently, I didn’t get a say in the matter. He swerved back into the left lane just as the SUV came up for another tap. Instead of speeding up, his foot came down hard on the brake. Black Betty skidded to a halt, and the SUV blew right by us.

  It happened too fast for me to put up any kind of fight. He unsnapped his seat belt and pulled me toward the driver’s seat just as he stood from it. The car rolled forward on its own accord and I panicked, slamming my foot down on what I thought was the brake pedal. Black Betty leaped forward, and this time I was the one that screamed.

  “Brake is on the left!” Liam flew against the dashboard as the SUV recovered. I heard its tires scream as Rob turned the truck around and kicked up the speed. “Hit the gas!”

  “Why can’t he drive?” I asked in a strangled voice.

  Chubs pushed the passenger’s seat back far enough for him to climb over it into the back, and Liam took Chubs’s seat.

  “Because,” he said, rolling down the window, “he can barely see five feet in front of him. Trust me, you don’t want him to drive, darlin’. Now—hit the gas!”

  I did as I was told. The car sprung forward again, sending my heart up into my throat. The wheels spun against the wet asphalt.

  Liam was half hanging out of the window, half sitting on it. “Faster!” he said.

  The rain fell thick and heavy, but the SUV’s headlights pierced the mist as I drove the van straight toward them. We were going so fast that the steering wheel shook in my hands, jerking around like it had a life of its own. I bit back a frustrated scream and tried to let up on the gas, but Liam wasn’t having it.

  “No, keep going!”

  “Lee,” Chubs was hunched over in his seat. “This is insane—what are you doing?”

  He had been so quiet that I’d almost forgotten he was in the van. With the speedometer creeping past eighty, ninety, ninety-five, I wasn’t remembering much at all.

  And that’s when it went to hell.

  There was a horrible bang—a thousand times worse than the sound of a balloon exploding—and th
e van was spinning, the wheel dancing right out of my hands.

  “Straight!” Liam was shouting, “Straighten out!”

  “Sh—!” The wind was knocked out of my chest by my seat belt, but I fought against the natural turn of the wheel long enough to get us heading straight again. The car tilted back, leaving a trail of sparks on the road behind us. We were staring the SUV down again, making a second head-on pass at them.

  “Keep going toward them—don’t stop!” Liam yelled.

  But the tire, I thought, my hands strangling the steering wheel, the tire…

  Chubs had reached for Liam’s legs, steadying him before he could go flying out the window. “Let go!” he snapped. “I’m fine, I’ve got it now!”

  I didn’t know what Liam had meant by “it,” not until I looked up into the rearview mirror and saw the dark body of a tree come hurtling out of the woods, guided in front of the SUV, by nothing other than a flick of Liam’s hand.

  With his attention focused on the minivan barreling toward them, Rob didn’t have time to jerk the car out of the tree’s path. I spun my hands around the wheel blindly, until we were facing away from the wreckage. I heard the sound of shattering glass and crunching metal as Rob tried to veer, only to overcorrect. When I looked back in the side mirror, the SUV was on its side in a smoking heap. Beside it was the splintered body of a tree, still rolling to a stop after the collision.

  “What did you do?” I had to yell over the chatter of the wind and road. “I thought—”

  Chubs was the one to answer, his face ashen. “Now do you get it? They weren’t going to stop.”

  Liam slid back inside of the window, plopping down with a long sigh. His hair was standing up on all ends, dusted with leaves and little twigs.

  “Okay, Green,” he said, keeping his voice steady, “they blew the back tire out, so you’re driving on the rim. Just keep heading straight and start to slow down. Get off on the next ramp.”

  I clenched my jaw so hard that it ached.

 
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