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The darkest minds, p.14
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       The Darkest Minds, p.14

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  Every nerve in my body was singing, but I launched my elbow into the chest of the pickup truck driver. He fell back again, and I pulled the door shut and locked it. I only had a second to look back at Zu as I dove across Liam’s body, fist-first. I nailed Volkswagen in the glasses, knocking them off his face. Somewhere behind me, Pickup Truck had moved on to the sliding door, and this time he wasn’t empty-handed.

  Zu didn’t flinch as the rifle was pointed in her face—by the way she was moaning, her eyes scrunched up and her yellow gloves curled over her ears in agony, I don’t think she was seeing straight.

  I didn’t know what to do. My hands were on Liam, trying to shake him back into consciousness. His eyes flashed open, clear and so blue, but it was only for an instant. The megaphone was suddenly two inches from my face, and the White Noise sunk into my brain like an ax. My bones went to jelly. I didn’t register the fact I had fallen over Liam until I was there. The only thing louder than the White Noise, than the radio, than Chubs’s screams, was the sound of Liam’s heart racing.

  I squeezed my eyes shut again, my fingers curling into the soft leather of Liam’s coat. Half of me wanted to push away, put enough distance between us that I had no chance of sliding into his mind—but the other half of me, the desperate part, was already trying to push through, to anchor myself to him and will him to move. If I could hurt someone, shouldn’t that mean I could help them, too?

  Get up, I begged, get up, get up, get up, get up…

  There was a high-pitched wail, a sound that couldn’t have possibly come from a human. I forced my eyes open. Pickup Truck had his rifle in one hand and the collar of Zu’s shirt in the other, and he was tugging both in the direction of the truck. I tried to scream for her, even as I felt Volkswagen’s hands in my hair, yanking me up and out of the door. He let me hit the ground hard, the loose gravel cutting open my legs and palms.

  I rolled onto my side, trying to twist away from the PSF’s reach. From under Betty, I saw flutters of yellow dropping to the road like two small birds, and heard a door slam.

  “Stewart—confirm Psi number 42755 spotted—” Volkswagen wrenched the driver’s side door open again, pulling something bright orange from his pocket. I swiped at my eyes, trying to force the double image of him I was seeing back into one. The orange device in the PSF’s free hand was no bigger than a cell phone, easy enough to maneuver in front of Liam’s face from where it was pressed against the minivan’s steering wheel.

  Taking a swipe at the PSF’s ankle with my hand was pointless—he was so involved with whatever it was he was doing that he didn’t so much as notice.

  Liam! My mouth wasn’t moving, it wasn’t working. Liam!

  The orange device flashed, and a moment later, above even the wailing of the White Noise, I heard Volkswagen say, “That’s a positive ID on Liam Stewart.”

  Something hot and sharp cut through the air, billowing out under Betty like a stinging cloud of sand. I felt it rub up against my bare skin and had to turn my face away from the blinding light that came next—a flash burn that erased anything and everything that stood in its way. I heard Volkswagen cuss from above me, only to be drowned out by the sound of metal screeching against metal, glass exploding so hard, so fast, that tiny shards dropped like hail onto the ground in front of me.

  And then it was gone. The White Noise cut out sharply as something clattered to the ground and landed a short distance away. The megaphone.

  I stretched my arm out, hand groping for the megaphone’s handle. Volkswagen was screaming something that I couldn’t hear over the ringing in my ears, and I was too focused on getting the bullhorn to actually give a damn and listen. A hand wrapped around my bare ankle and tugged me back across the ground—but not before my fingers closed around the handle.

  “Get up, you piece of—!” There was a digital squeak, like an alarm, and the man immediately dropped my leg. “This is Larson, requesting immediate backup—”

  I pushed myself up on my knees with a grunt, then my feet. The man had his back turned to me one second too long, and when he finally realized his mistake and looked over his shoulder, he was rewarded with a face full of metal as I swung the megaphone.

  His radio clattered to the asphalt, and I kicked it out of his reach. Both of his hands went up, trying to shield his face from another hit, but I wasn’t going to go easy on him. I wasn’t going to let him take me back to Thurmond.

  My hand closed over his exposed forearm, and I yanked it, forcing him to look down at me. I watched his pupils shrink in his hazel eyes before blowing back out to their normal size. The man had a foot of height on me, but you never would have known by the way he dropped to his knees in front of me. He hadn’t even been able to catch his breath, let alone keep me from walking straight into his mind.

  Leave! I tried to say. My jaw was clenched, the muscles there seized as though the White Noise was still running through them like a current of pulsing electricity. Leave!

  I had never done this before, and there was no way to know if it would actually work—but what did I have to lose now? His memories flooded over me, wave after wave lapping at my brain, and all I could think was, I’m going to do this. It is going to work.

  Martin had said that he pushed feelings into people, but my abilities didn’t work that way, and they never had. I only saw images. I could only muddle, sort, and erase images.

  But I’d never tried to do anything else. I had never wanted to, before this moment. Because if I couldn’t help these kids, if I couldn’t save them, then what good was I? What point did I even have? Do it. Just do it.

  I imagined the man picking up his radio—every detail, from the way he would fumble for it without his glasses to the way his jeans would wrinkle. I imagined him canceling the request for backup. I imagined him walking down the rocky hill that kissed the edge of the road, into the wild.

  And when I released my fingers from his arm, one by one, that’s exactly what he did. He walked away, and each step brought a new jolt of shock. I had done that. Me.

  I turned to where black smoke spilled out over the road, coating the hill’s grass and hidden edges in a thick, ugly blanket. Then, I remembered.

  Zu.

  I could see the wreckage clearly now as I limped forward. The pickup truck, which at one point had been parked beside Betty, was now several hundred feet away, resting in the empty green field. The smaller silver Volkswagen was on its side in front of it, a heap of twisted metal that I barely recognized. It was smoking wildly, belching out thick smoke, as if it were only one small spark away from exploding.

  It rammed it, I realized. The truck rammed it out of the way.

  I followed the trail of tire marks and glass, but I only found Truck Driver. What was left of him.

  His body was tangled up in itself in the wild grass; I couldn’t tell where one limb began and the other ended. None of them seemed to be in their right place. His elbows stuck up from the ground like two broken wings. He had been rammed, too.

  Something cold and brittle wrapped itself around my chest, forcing me back out of the haze of smoke once I confirmed Zu wasn’t in either car. I waited until I cleared the heaviest of the smoke before falling to my knees and throwing up what little food I had in my stomach.

  It was only when I looked up that I finally saw her, sitting on the road just beside Betty, her back slumped forward, her head bowed, but alive—alive and safe. My mind clung to those two words as I tried calling for her again. Zu looked up, panting. As I stumbled closer, the smoke revealed her in pieces: bloodshot eyes, a cut on her forehead, tears streaming down her dirt-stained cheeks.

  My head throbbed in time with my heartbeat as I knelt down in front of her, and for several agonizing seconds, it was all that I could hear.

  “O…kay?” I asked, my mouth feeling like mush.

  Her teeth chattered as she nodded.

  “What…happened?” I squeezed out.

  Zu curled down on herself like she was trying to vanish
from my sight. Her yellow gloves were beside her on the ground, and her bare hands were still up and facing forward, as if she had only touched the truck a second before.

  I didn’t know what to say to get her to calm down—I didn’t even know how to calm myself down. This girl, this Yellow—she’d destroyed two vehicles and one life in a matter of seconds. And, by the looks of it, she’d done it with a single touch.

  But even knowing that, she was still Zu, and those hands? They were the ones that had pulled me to safety.

  I lifted her back into Betty with shaking arms. Zu was hot, well past the point of feeling feverish. Dropping her into the closest seat, I pressed my hands against her cheeks, but her eyes couldn’t focus on me. I was about to roll the door shut when she grabbed my wrist and pointed toward her gloves on the ground.

  “Got ’em,” I said. I tossed them to her, and then turned to confront a heavier load.

  Chubs was still passed out in the passenger seat, his body hanging out of the open door. The truck driver hadn’t been able to maneuver his long limbs farther than that, thank God—otherwise Chubs probably would have been in the grass with the driver. His limp sack of bones smacked against the door as I slammed it shut behind him.

  I tripped over the tips of my tennis shoes as I made my way around the front of the van. With a cloud of bright spots bleaching out my sight, I pulled the driver’s door open the rest of the way. Liam was also still out cold, and no amount of shaking was able to stir him up into consciousness. Zu began to whimper, her cries muffled as she pressed her face against her knees.

  “You’re okay, Zu,” I said. “We’re all okay. We’re gonna be fine.”

  I untangled Liam’s arms from the gray seat belt and half pushed, half rolled him off the driver’s seat. I wasn’t strong enough to deposit him into one of the back seats, not right then. So he ended up on the ground, wedged between the two front seats. With his face turned up toward me, I could see the muscles around his mouth twitch, every so often turning the corners of his lips up in an unnatural smile.

  I stared at the wheel, trying to bring to mind the right steps to getting the van to work. Trying to remember what Liam had done, what Cate had done, what my father used to do. Sixteen, and I couldn’t even figure out where the goddamn parking brake was, let alone if it was actually on.

  In the end, it didn’t matter. I could drive with it on or off, apparently, and all I really needed to know was that the right pedal was go, and the left was stop, and there really wasn’t a whole lot more to it than that.

  Betty tore through the thickest heart of the smoke, and chased it down the open road until we were finally, finally, finally free of the wreckage, and the air coming through the vents no longer carried the echo of the White Noise into our heads, or smell of smoke into our lungs.

  ELEVEN

  I GOT MAYBE TEN MILES BEFORE the boys began to rouse. With Zu still crying in the backseat and me having no idea where we had been headed in the first place, to say I was relieved was an understatement.

  “Holy crap,” Liam croaked. He pressed a hand against the side of his head and startled, sitting straight up. “Holy crap!”

  His face had been inches away from Chubs’s feet, so his hands went there first, yanking at them like he was making sure they were still attached to something. Chubs let out a low moan and said, “I think I’m going to be ill.”

  “Zu?” Liam crawled toward her, earning another yelp out of Chubs as he kicked his leg. “Zu? Did you—?”

  She only cried harder, burying her face in her gloves.

  “Oh my God, I’m sorry—I’m so sorry—I—” Liam sounded agonized, like his guts were being torn straight out of him. I watched him press his fist against his mouth, heard him try to clear his throat, but he couldn’t get another word out.

  “Zu,” I said, sounding strangely calm to my own ears. “Listen to me. You saved us. We wouldn’t have made it without you.”

  Liam’s head jerked around, as if just remembering I was there. I winced, but how could I be upset that he would check on his real friends first?

  I felt his eyes on the back of my neck as he worked his way back up to me. When he reached the driver’s seat, he collapsed into it, his face drawn and pale. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice rough. “What happened? How did you get us out?”

  “It was Zu,” I began, already well aware of the narrow line I’d have to walk between the truth and what I could actually tell them—both for myself and for Zu’s sake. I wasn’t sure how much she actually remembered from what happened, but I wasn’t about to confirm any of her fears. In the end, all I said was, “She sent one car crashing into the other. It knocked one of the guys out and sent the other one running.”

  “What was”—Chubs was having a hard time breathing—“that horrible noise?”

  I stared at him, my mouth trying to push the words past my disbelief. “You’ve never heard that before?”

  The boys both shook their heads. “Jesus,” Liam said, “that was like hearing a cat go through a blender while being electrocuted.”

  “You really didn’t have White Noise? Calm Control?” I demanded, surprised by the anger licking at my heart. What camp had these kids been in? Candy Land?

  “And you did?” Liam shook his head, probably trying to clear the ringing.

  “They used it at Thurmond to…disable us,” I explained. “When there were outbursts or problems. Keeps you from being able to think long enough to use your abilities.”

  “Why are you all right?” Chubs wheezed, half suspicious, half jealous.

  That was the question of the day, wasn’t it? My long, sordid history with the White Noise included several episodes of fainting, vomiting, and memory loss, not to mention my most recent experience with bleeding profusely out of my eyes and nose. I guess once you’d had a taste of the worst, pretty bad isn’t all that terrible. If it was their first time dealing with it, that would at least explain why they wilted like dead grass after only a few seconds.

  Liam was searching my face, and I wondered what he was seeing. All of it? I thought of how his jacket had felt against my cheek, the curve of his spine, and something calm and warm settled in my chest.

  “I’m used to it, I guess,” I said. “And Greens aren’t as affected as Blues and the others.” I remembered to add this. A truth and a lie.

  Liam offered to trade seats as soon as his face lost that familiar pinched look, and a healthy color began to return to his cheeks. The kid deserved a round of applause for how well he was hiding the tremors in his hands and legs from the others, but I had a trained eye. I recognized the nasty after-bites of the White Noise as the old friends they were. He needed a few more minutes.

  “Come on,” he said as the dashboard clock clicked off another minute. “You’ve done…” His voice trailed off.

  I looked down at him, only to realize he was looking at me—or, more accurately, my bony, busted knees. A moment later, after I returned my gaze to the road, I felt something warm hovering just above my leg and jerked away.

  “Ah—sorry,” Liam whispered, pulling his hand back. I watched the tips of his ears go a bright cherry red. “It’s just—you’re all cut up. Please, can we stop for a second? We should regroup. Figure out where we are.”

  But I didn’t want to just pull over alongside some random stretch of fence and pasture; I waited until we had found an old rest stop, complete with its red-brick colonial-style finish, and turned the van off the road and into the deserted parking lot.

  Chubs took the opportunity to try to empty the contents of his stomach onto the ground but accomplished little more than some enthusiastic dry heaving. Liam stood and patted his back. “Will you help Ruby when you’re done?”

  Chubs might have hated me, or wanted to scare me off, but he at least recognized I had played some small part in saving his skin. He didn’t say yes, though, only crossed his arms over his chest and blew out a long, martyred sigh.

  “Thanks,” Liam sai
d. “You’re the best, Mother Teresa.”

  He went out the sliding door behind my seat and made a beeline for the small cluster of silver water fountains that stood between him and the restroom entrances. Zu followed him out, bounding across the distance with a pink duffel bag in hand. By the time I turned my attention back to him, Chubs had collected himself enough to start poking and prodding me.

  “Easy!” I gasped when his finger brushed my elbow. He jabbed a finger against one of the overhead lights and it snapped on at his command. I finally saw that the skin from my elbow down to my wrist had been rubbed raw by the road.

  “Turn toward me.” Chubs looked like he was fighting with all the strength he had left in him not to roll his eyes at me. “Now, Green, before I grow a beard.”

  I twisted myself around so my legs were facing toward him in the passenger seat. Unsurprisingly, they looked just about as pretty as my arm did. Both knees were skinned and already scabbing over in places, but aside from a few stray scratches and bruises that had nothing to do with the attack, they were in much better shape than my hands.

  Chubs pulled what looked like a briefcase out from under his seat and popped the clasps on it open. I was only able to sneak a quick glance inside before he pulled out four white square packets and shut it again.

  “God, how did you even manage to do this?” he muttered as he ripped the first one open. I smelled the antiseptic and tried to squirm away.

  Chubs glowered at me from over the rims of his glasses. “If you’re going to make yourself at home, could you at least try to take better care of yourself? It’s hard enough as it is to keep the other two in one piece without you flinging yourself at danger, too.”

  “I didn’t fling—” I began, then thought better of it. “Sorry?”

  “Yeah, well,” he huffed. “Not as sorry as you’ll be if any of these cuts get infected.”

  He brought my right hand up close to his face in order to get a better look, and I tried not to wince as he began to swipe at it with one of the disinfecting wipes about as tenderly as a wolf shredding apart its dinner. The sting that followed snapped me out of the hazy, numb stupor I was falling into. Suddenly aware of his touch, I wrenched my hand away from his and took the cold wet cloth from his hand. It didn’t hurt any less when I cleaned the small bits of asphalt out myself.

 
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