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The darkest minds, p.2
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       The Darkest Minds, p.2

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  They began moving kids off the bus, one seat of four at a time. But I was still watching that kid, the way he seemed to cloud the air around him with silent, toxic fury. I don’t know if he felt me staring, or what, but the boy turned around and met my gaze. He nodded at me, like an encouragement. And when he smiled, it was around a mouthful of bloody teeth.

  I felt myself being hauled up and out of my seat, and almost before I realized what was happening, I was slipping down the wet bus steps and tumbling into the pouring rain. A different PSF lifted me off my knees and guided me in the direction of two other girls about my age. Their clothes clung to them like old skin, translucent and drooping.

  There were nearly twenty PSFs on the ground, swarming the neat small lines of kids. My feet had been completely swallowed by the mud, and I was shivering in my pajamas, but no one took notice, and no one came up to cut the plastic binding our hands. We waited, silently, tongues clamped between our teeth. I looked up to the clouds, turning my face to the pounding rain. It looked like the sky was falling, piece by piece.

  The last groups of four were being lifted off the bus and dropped onto the ground, including the boy with the broken face. He was the last one off, just behind a tall blond girl with a blank stare. I could barely make them out through the sheet of rain and the foggy bus windows, but I was sure I saw the boy lean forward and whisper something into the girl’s ear, just as she took the first step off the bus.

  She nodded, a quick jerk of her chin. The second her shoes touched the mud, she bolted to the right, ducking around the nearest PSF’s hands. One of the PSFs barked out a terrifying “Stop!” but she kept running, straight for the gates. With everyone’s attention turned toward her, no one thought to look back at the boy still on the bus—no one but me. He came slinking down the steps, the front of his white hooded sweatshirt stained with his own blood. The same PSF who had hit him before was now helping him down to the ground, as she had done for the rest of us. I watched her fingers close around his elbow and felt the echo of her grip on my own newly bruised skin; I watched him turn and say something to her, his face a mask of perfect calm.

  I watched the PSF let go of his arm, take her gun out of its holster, and, without a word—without even blinking—stick the barrel inside of her mouth and pull the trigger.

  I don’t know if I screamed aloud, or if the strangled sound had come from the woman waking up to what she was doing, two seconds too late to stop it. The image of her face—her slack jaw, her eyes bulging out of her skull, the ripple of suddenly loose skin—stayed burned into the air like a photonegative far longer than the explosion of pink, misty blood and clumps of hair against the bus.

  The kid standing next to me dropped into a dead faint, and then there wasn’t a single one of us that wasn’t screaming.

  The PSF hit the ground the exact same moment the girl was tackled into the mud. The rain washed the soldier’s blood down off the bus windows and yellow panels, stretching the bloated dark lines, drawing them out as they disappeared completely. It was that fast.

  The boy was looking only at us. “Run!” he yelled through his broken teeth. “What are you doing? Run—run!”

  And the first thing that went through my mind wasn’t What are you? or even Why?

  It was But I have nowhere else to go.

  He might as well have blown the entire bus up for the panic it caused. Some kids listened and tried to bolt for the fence, only to have their path blocked by the line of soldiers in black that seemed to pour out of the air. Most just stood there and screamed, and screamed, and screamed, the rain falling all around, the mud sucking their feet down firmly in place. A girl knocked me down to the ground with her shoulder as the other PSFs rushed for the boy, still standing in the bus doorway. The soldiers were yelling at us to sit on the ground, to stay frozen there. I did exactly as I was told.

  “Orange!” I heard one of them yell into his walkie-talkie. “We have a situation at the main gate. I need restraints for an Orange—”

  It wasn’t until after they had rounded us back up and had the boy with the broken face on the ground that I dared to look up. And that I began to wonder, dread tickling up my spine, if he was the only one who could do something like that. Or if everyone around me was there because they could cause someone to hurt themselves that way, too.

  Not me—the words blazed through my head—not me, they made a mistake, a mistake—

  I watched with a feeling of hollowness at the center of my chest as one of the soldiers took a can of spray paint in hand and painted an enormous orange X over the boy’s back. The boy had only stopped yelling because two PSFs had pulled a strange black mask down over the lower part of his face—like they were muzzling a dog.

  Tension beaded on my skin like sweat. They marched our lines through the camp toward the Infirmary for sorting. As we walked, we saw kids heading in the opposite direction, from a row of pathetic wood cabins. All of them were wearing white uniforms, with a different colored X marked on each of their backs and a number written in black above it. I saw five different colors in all—green, blue, yellow, orange, and red.

  The kids with the green and blue X’s were allowed to walk freely, their hands swinging at their sides. Those with a faint yellow X, or an orange or red one, were forced to fight through the mud with their hands and feet in metal cuffs, a long chain connecting them in a line. The ones marked with orange smears had the muzzlelike masks over their faces.

  We were hurried into the bright lights and dry air of what a torn paper sign had labeled INFIRMARY. The doctors and nurses lined the long hallway, watching us with frowns and shaking heads. The checkered tile floor became slick with rain and mud, and it took all of my concentration not to slip. My nose was filled with the smell of rubbing alcohol and fake lemon.

  We filed one by one up a dark cement staircase at the back of the first floor, which was filled with empty beds and limp white curtains. Not an Orange. Not a Red.

  I could feel my guts churning deep in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t stop seeing that woman’s face, right when she pulled the trigger, or the mass of her bloody hair that had landed near my feet. I couldn’t stop seeing my mom’s face, when she had locked me out in the garage. I couldn’t stop seeing Grams’s face.

  She’ll come, I thought. She’ll come. She’ll fix Mom and Dad and she will come to get me. She’ll come, she’ll come, she’ll come…

  Upstairs, they finally cut the plastic binding that tied our hands, and divided us again, sending half down to the right end of the freezing hallway and half to the left. Both sides looked exactly the same—no more than a few closed doors, and a small window at the very end. For a moment, I did nothing but watch the rain pelt that tiny, foggy pane of glass. Then, the door on the left swung open with a low whine, and the face of a plump, middle-aged man appeared. He cast one look in our direction before whispering something to the PSF at the head of the group. One by one, more doors opened, and more adults appeared. The only thing they had in common aside from their white coats was a shared look of suspicion.

  Without a single word of explanation, the PSFs began pulling and pushing kids toward each white coat and its associated office. The outburst of confused, distressed noises that erupted from the lines was shushed with a piercing buzzer. I fell back onto my heels, watching the doors shut one by one, wondering if I would ever see those kids again.

  What’s wrong with us? My head felt like it was full of wet sand as I looked over my shoulder. The boy with the broken face was nowhere, but his memory had chased me all the way through the camp. Did they bring us here because they thought we had Everhart’s Disease? Did they think we were going to die?

  How had that boy made the PSF do what she had done? What had he said to her?

  I felt a hand slide into mine as I stood there, trembling hard enough for my joints to hurt. The girl—the same one that had pulled me down to the mud outside—gave me a fierce look. Her dark blond hair was plastered against her skull, framing
a pink scar that curved between her top lip and nose. Her dark eyes flashed, and when she spoke, I saw that they had cut the wires on her braces but had left the metal nubs glued to her front teeth.

  “Don’t be scared,” she whispered. “Don’t let them see.”

  The handwritten label on the tag of her jacket said SAMANTHA DAHL. It stuck up against the back of her neck like an afterthought.

  We stood shoulder to shoulder, close enough that our linked fingers were hidden between the fabric of my pajama pants and her purple puffer jacket. They had picked her up on the way to school the same morning they had come for me. That had been a day ago, but I remembered seeing her dark eyes burning bright with hate at the back of the van they had locked us in. She hadn’t screamed as the others had.

  The kids who had disappeared through the doors now came back through them, clutching gray sweaters and shorts in their hands. Instead of falling back into our line, they were marched downstairs before anyone could think to get a word or questioning look in.

  They don’t look hurt. I could smell permanent marker and something that might have been rubbing alcohol, but no one was bleeding or crying.

  When it was finally the girl’s turn, the PSF at the head of the line forced us apart with a sharp jerk. I wanted to go in with her, to face whatever was behind the door. Anything had to be better than being alone again without anyone or anything to anchor myself to.

  My hands were shaking so badly that I had to cross my arms and grip my elbows to get them to stop. I stood at the front of the line, looking at the gleaming span of checkered tile between the PSF’s black boots and my mud-splattered toes. I was already tired down to my bones from the sleepless night before, and the scent of the soldier’s boot polish sent my head deeper into a fog.

  And then they called for me.

  I found myself in a dimly lit office, half the size of my cramped bedroom at home, with no memory of ever having walked into it.

  “Name?”

  I was looking at a cot and a strange, halo-shaped gray machine hanging over it.

  The white coat’s face appeared from behind the laptop on the table. He was a frail-looking man, whose thin silver glasses seemed to be in serious danger of sliding off his nose with every quick movement. His voice was unnaturally high, and he didn’t so much as say the word as squeak it. I pressed my back against the closed door, trying to put space between me, the man, and the machine.

  The white coat followed my gaze to the cot. “That’s a scanner. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

  I must not have looked convinced, because he continued. “Have you ever broken a bone or bumped your head? Do you know what a CT scan is?”

  It was the patience in his voice that drew me forward a step. I shook my head.

  “In a minute I’m going to have you lie down, and I’ll use that machine to check to make sure your head is all right. But first, you need to tell me your name.”

  Make sure your head is all right. How did he know—?

  “Your name,” he said, the words taking on a sudden edge.

  “Ruby,” I answered, and had to spell my last name for him.

  He began typing on the laptop, distracted for a moment. My eyes drifted back over to the machine, wondering how painful it would be for me to have the inside of my head inspected. Wondering if he could somehow see what I had done.

  “Damn, they’re getting lazy,” the white coat groused, more to himself than to me. “Didn’t they pre-classify you?”

  I had no idea what he was talking about.

  “When they picked you up, did they ask you questions?” he asked, standing. The room wasn’t large by any means. He was by my side in two steps, and I was in a full panic in two heartbeats. “Did your parents report your symptoms to the soldiers?”

  “Symptoms?” I squeezed out. “I don’t have any symptoms—I don’t have the—”

  He shook his head, looking more annoyed than anything else. “Calm down; you’re safe here. I’m not going to hurt you.” The white coat kept talking, his voice flat, something flickering in his eyes. The lines sounded practiced.

  “There are many different kinds of symptoms,” he explained, leaning down to look at me eye to eye. All I could see were his crooked front teeth and the dark circles rimming his eyes. His breath smelled like coffee and spearmint. “Many different kinds of…children. I’m going to take a picture of your brain, and it’ll help us put you with the others who are like you.”

  I shook my head. “I don’t have any symptoms! Grams is coming, she is, I swear—she’ll tell you, please!”

  “Tell me, sweetheart, are you very good at math and puzzles? Greens are incredibly smart and have astonishing memories.”

  My mind jumped back to the kids outside, to the colored X’s on the back of their shirts. Green, I thought. What had the other colors been? Red, Blue, Yellow, and—

  And Orange. Like the boy with the bloody mouth.

  “All right,” he said, taking a deep breath, “just lie back on that cot and we’ll get started. Now, please.”

  I didn’t move. Thoughts were rushing too quickly to my head. It was a struggle to even look at him.

  “Now,” he repeated, moving toward the machine. “Don’t make me call in one of the soldiers. They won’t be nearly as nice, believe me.” A screen on the side panel came alive with a single touch, and then the machine itself lit up. At the center of a gray circle was a bright white light, blinking as it set itself up for another test. It was breathing out hot air in sputters and whines that seemed to prick every pore on my body.

  All I could think was, He’ll know. He’ll know what I did to them.

  My back was flat against the door again, my hand blindly searching for the handle. Every single lecture my dad had ever given me about strangers seemed to be coming true. This was not a safe place. This man was not nice.

  I was shaking so hard, he might have thought I was going to faint. That, or he was going to force me onto the cot himself and hold me there until the machine came down and locked over me.

  I hadn’t been ready to run before, but I was now. As my fingers tightened on the door handle, I felt his hand push through my unruly mass of dark hair and seize the back of my neck. The shock of his freezing hand on my flushed skin made me flinch, but it was the explosion of pain at the base of my skull that made me cry out.

  He stared at me, unblinking, his eyes suddenly unfocused. But I was seeing everything—impossible things. Hands drumming on a car’s steering wheel, a woman in a black dress leaning forward to kiss me, a baseball flying toward my face out on a diamond, an endless stretch of green field, a hand running through a little girl’s hair… The images played out behind my closed eyes like an old home movie. The shapes of people and objects burned themselves into my retinas and stayed there, floating around behind my eyelids like hungry ghosts.

  Not mine, my mind screamed. These don’t belong to me.

  But how could they have been his? Each image—were they memories? Thoughts?

  Then I saw more. A boy, the same scanner machine above him flickering and smoking. Yellow. I felt my lips form the words, as if I had been there to say them. I saw a small red-haired girl from across a room much like this one; saw her lift a finger, and the table and laptop in front of her rise several inches from the ground. Blue—again, the man’s voice in my head. A boy holding a pencil between his hands, studying it with a terrifying intensity—the pencil bursting into flames. Red. Cards with pictures and numbers on them held up in front of a child’s face. Green.

  I squeezed my eyes shut, but I couldn’t pull back from the images that came next—the lines of marching, muzzled monsters. I was standing high above, looking down through rain-spattered glass, but I saw the handcuffs and the chains. I saw everything.

  I’m not one of them. Please, please, please…

  I fell, dropping to my knees, bracing my hands against the tile, trying to keep from being sick all over myself and the floor. The white coat’s h
and still gripped the back of my neck. “I’m Green,” I sobbed, the words half lost to the machine’s buzzing. The light had been bright before, but now it only amplified the pounding behind my eyes. I stared into his blank eyes, willing him to believe me. “I’m Green…please, please…”

  But I saw my mother’s face, the smile the boy with the broken mouth had given me, like he had recognized something of himself in me. I knew what I was.

  “Green…”

  I looked up at the sound of the voice that floated down to me. I stared, and he stared right back, his eyes unfocused. He was mumbling something now, his mouth full of mush, like he was chewing on the words.

  “I’m—”

  “Green,” he said, shaking his head. His voice sounded stronger. I was still on the floor when he went to shut down the machine, and so shocked when he sat back down at the desk that I actually forgot to cry. But it wasn’t until he picked up the green spray paint and drew that enormous X over the back of the uniform shirt and handed it to me that I remembered to start breathing.

  It’ll be okay, I told myself as I walked back down the cold hallway, down the steps, to the girls and men in uniforms waiting for me below. It wasn’t until that night, as I lay awake in my bunk, that I realized I would only ever have one chance to run—and I hadn’t taken it.

  THREE

  SAMANTHA—SAM—AND I were both assigned to Cabin 27, along with the rest of the girls from our bus that were classified as Green. Fourteen in all, though by the next day, there were twenty more. They capped the number at thirty a week later, and moved on to filling the next wooden structure along the camp’s perpetually soggy and trampled main trail.

  Bunks were assigned based on alphabetical order, which put Sam directly above me—a small mercy, seeing as the rest of the girls were nothing like her. They spent the first night either stunned into silence or sobbing. I didn’t have time for tears anymore. I had questions.

 
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