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The darkest minds, p.31
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       The Darkest Minds, p.31

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  “I get what you’re saying, Liv, but it would be a waste to miss this opportunity,” Clancy was saying. “We’re getting low on medical supplies, and Leda Corp has stopped running as many trucks up through our area.”

  “Are you going on another one of your trips?” she pressed. “Isn’t that when you usually pick up tips about shipments?”

  “Why do you ask?”

  “It’s just…you haven’t gone on one in almost a year,” Olivia said. “And you used to go all the time. I know we haven’t been hurting for supplies, but maybe if you met with your source…”

  “No,” Clancy said, with finality. “I can’t leave the camp anymore. It’s not safe.”

  The floorboards creaked. “Did something come up on the PSF scanner?” came Hayes’s gruff voice.

  “They heard about the fruit stunt, obviously,” Clancy said. “It would have been hard to miss, considering you mutilated that driver.”

  “Why d’ya have to say it like that?”

  “Because you should have just left him there like I told you to. I appreciate you wanting to spread the symbol, but couldn’t you have spray-painted it on the truck?”

  “Are you worried this’ll be bad for our image?” Olivia’s voice dripped annoyance.

  “Most people are going to have a hard enough time accepting that we’re not monsters, without reports about us maiming innocent people,” Clancy said. “So, please, keep spreading the black. Keep using the symbol. Just…try for some subtlety.”

  “Some what tea?” Hayes asked.

  “I’m sorry to cut our meeting short, but it seems like you both have things under control and I have someone waiting for me,” Clancy said. I pulled myself away from the door. “Liv, plan the hit. I’ll worry about our numbers.”

  I took a few steps back down the staircase, but it was pointless to pretend that I hadn’t been listening. The door opened, and the girl—Olivia—was the first to appear. She was tall and willowy, with legs for days and a tan that made her skin glow.

  I shook my head and turned to allow her and Hayes to squeeze by. Olivia was probably about my age, but she looked so much older. She looked like what I imagined twenty would feel like. When I looked up again, Clancy was leaning against the doorframe, grinning.

  “You came.” He waved me inside and guided me toward his desk. Sitting down in one of the chairs, I had a fleeting look at the other side of his room, where the curtain had been restrung.

  Clancy took his usual seat behind his desk, rocking the chair back as he smiled. “What made you change your mind?”

  “It’s…like you said,” I mumbled. “There are so few of us left.” And I want to know how I can be around the people I love and not be terrified of erasing myself.

  “I read on the League’s network that they weren’t able to find any other Oranges aside from you and Martin,” Clancy said. “Most of the Reds were killed, apparently. That puts us at the head of the pack.”

  “I guess,” I said. Another thought occurred to me. “How do you have access to the League’s network? And the PSFs?” I gestured around the room. “Any of this?”

  “I have friends everywhere,” Clancy said, simply. His fingers drummed against his desk. “And my father leaves me alone because he wouldn’t be able to stand the outrage if I expose the fact that there is no rehabilitation program, not for people like you and me.”

  “Me and you,” I repeated.

  Clancy ran a hand through his hair. “The first thing you need to understand, Ruby, is that we’re not like the others. Me and you…everyone classified as Orange. We’re different. Special. No—no, wait, I see you rolling your eyes, but you have to listen, okay? Because the second thing you have to understand, is that everyone—my father, the camp controllers, the scientists, the PSFs, the Children’s League—they’ve been lying to you this entire time. We’re special not because of what we are, but what they can’t make us into.”

  “You’re not making any sense,” I said.

  He stood up and came around the desk to sit next to me. “Would it help if I told you my story first?” My eyes flicked up to meet his. “If I do, you have to promise that it stays between us.”

  Keeping secrets. That, I could do.

  “All right,” he said, “give me your hand. I’m going to have to show you.”

  When I had slipped into other minds, there had always been a queasy feeling of sinking involved in it. More often than not, I found myself dropped in the middle of a swamp of dimly lit memories and unrestrained feelings with no map, no flashlight, and no easy way of finding the way out.

  But there was nothing frightening about Clancy’s mind. His memories were bright and crisp, full of blooming images and colors. It felt like he had taken my hand there, too, and was guiding me down a long hallway of windows into his past. We only stopped long enough for me to glance inside each of them.

  The office was plain, stuffed full of gunmetal gray filing cabinets, but little else. It could have been anywhere; the white paint was fresh enough that it bubbled on the wall. But I recognized the beginnings of crescent-shaped machine in the back corner and the man staring me down from across the card table serving as his desk. He was plump and balding at his hairline—and a permanent fixture in the Infirmary. I watched his lips move in a soundless explanation, my eyes drifting down to the crisp stack of papers on the desk in front of him. My eyes kept drifting down to his hand resting against the table, weighing down a sheet of once-folded paper that was trying to curl back in on itself. There at the top of it—the White House emblem. The words went into crystal focus, and I felt my eyes jump over them, drinking them in with disbelief. Dear Sirs, You may have my permission to run tests and experimental treatments on my son, Clancy James Beaumont Gray, provided these do not leave visible scars.

  The lights in the office grew brighter and brighter, bleaching out the memory. When they faded again, I was in a much different room in the Infirmary, this one all blue tiles and beeping monitors. No! I thought, trying to jerk free of the Velcro restraints that held me down against the metal table. I knew what this place was.

  The overhead lights were drawn down closer to my face by a gloved hand. At the corner of my vision, I saw the scientists and doctors in their white scrubs, setting up machines and computers around me. My jaw was clenched shut around the leather muzzle they had strapped to the back of my head, and hands kept my head still as wires and monitors were hooked up. I struggled again, twisting my neck far enough to catch sight of a table lined with scalpels and small drills; I saw my reflection in the nearby observation windows—young, pale with terror, a mirror image of the portraits that would later hang across the camp.

  The harsh light from above grew and swelled, eating the scene. When it faded, the memory had changed again. My eyes fell first on the hand I was shaking, then slid up to the unfocused eyes of the same scientist I had seen before. The men hovering around us all had that murky quality to their expressions—blank smiles, blanker eyes. I squared my shoulders, a small thrill of victory working its way through my center as I moved through the main gate to the waiting black car. The man in the suit that welcomed me in with a perfunctory pat on the shoulder wasn’t the president, but he appeared in nearly every memory that fired by next, ushering me onto stages in school auditoriums, outside domed state-capital buildings, in front of cameras at the centers of small towns. Each time, I would be handed the same set of note cards to read, be faced with the same expressions of hope and deep grief from the crowd. Always, my lips began to form the same words: My name is Clancy Gray, and I am here to tell you how the camp rehabilitation program saved my life.

  Another light, this time from a camera’s flash. When the shock of it faded, I was looking up into a face that was an older, weathered version of my own. The photographer flipped the monitor around for us to see the portrait, and I was no longer seeing myself as a boy, but a young man—fifteen, maybe even sixteen. As the photographer set up his equipment again, this time across
the room, I put a hand on the president’s back, guiding him around the couches, to the great dark wood desk. The rosebushes were scratching intently at the windows, but I directed his focus to the sheet of paper waiting there for him, and compelled him to pick up the pen. When he finished signing, he turned to me with an unfocused gaze and a numb, unknowing smile.

  Weeks must have passed, months, maybe even years—I felt the exhaustion creep through me, wrapping itself like a heavy chain around my center. It was dark now; I couldn’t place the time of night, though I saw that it was a hotel room, and not a particularly good one. I was staring up at the ceiling, half buried under the covers, when a figure seemed to peel itself out from the shadows of the closet. It was fast, almost too much for me to keep up with. A man in a black mask, the metallic gleam of a gun—I threw my covers off of me and kicked my leg out, sending the attacker stumbling back. The shot went off from his gun with a combustion of light and little sound. The smell of it scorched my nostrils.

  I was flipped onto my back, one of the man’s forearms braced against my neck, crushing the fragile rings of cartilage. My hands lashed out, hitting the rough carpet, the nightstand, and, finally his face. Not even the terror pulsing through every inch of me kept me from crashing into his mind.

  STOP! I felt my lips form the word, but I couldn’t hear myself. STOP!

  And the man did, with the blank look of someone whose skull had just been cracked open and exposed to freezing air. He sat back, his gun on the floor at his side.

  I was coughing and hacking, trying to bring air into my lungs, but I grabbed the gun and stuffed it into the waistband of my pajamas. I stopped long enough to grab my winter coat from where it had been thrown across the room’s desk chair, and then I was outside, in the hallway, staring at the place where a man should have been posted outside my door to guard me. And I knew, I knew what was going on. I knew what would happen to me if someone were to find me alive in the morning.

  I was running down the hotel’s stairs, out through the kitchens, out back past the Dumpsters and through the parking lot. Running, my chest on fire, hearing the sound of voices shouting after me, boots pounding on the pavement. Running for the trees, the darkness—

  “Ruby—Ruby!”

  I came back to myself in Clancy’s office bit by bit, with a headache severe enough that I had to put my face between my legs to avoid throwing up all over myself.

  “They tried to kill you,” I said, when I finally found my voice. “Who?”

  “Who do you think?” Clancy’s voice was dry. “That man was one of the Secret Service agents who were supposed to be guarding me.”

  “But that doesn’t make any sense,” I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead, squeezing my eyes shut against the dizziness. “If they were carting you around and using you to explain the rehab program, then why…?”

  “Because he figured out that I hadn’t been rehabbed at all,” he said. “My father, I mean. The only reason they let me out of Thurmond is because I made them think that I had been cured. But I got too ambitious. I tried to play my father by influencing him, and I got caught.” Clancy trailed off for a moment. “He was worried that the truth about the camps would get out, I’m sure, but he couldn’t just take me out of the public eye, not when he’d been the one to thrust me into it. No, I think in his mind, it was easier to just get rid of me altogether, before I could make trouble. I can only imagine what kind of spin he’d put on my murder to get back in the sympathetic graces of his fellow Americans.”

  I stared at him for a long while, speechless.

  How did you survive that life? I wanted to ask. How are you you, and not the monster they would have turned you into?

  “After I got out that night I met Hayes, and then Olivia, and then others. We found this place and went to work, and all the while my father couldn’t put a bounty out on me, not without exposing the truth about me and his rehab program. He had to make up some lie about me attending college, to get the press off his back.” Clancy smiled then. “So, you see, I did win in the end.”

  He rose from his chair, reaching out a hand. I took it without being conscious of it, feeling some calm wash over me as he squeezed my fingers. My head was silent. I felt myself lean forward.

  “When I heard your story, I knew I had to meet you. I had to make sure that you knew the truth about what was going on, so you wouldn’t be caught in the dark the way I was.”

  “The truth?” I looked up, startled. “What do you mean?”

  Clancy didn’t release my hand; he only sat on the edge of his desk in front of me. “The woman who broke you out of Thurmond—the League agent? What did she tell you about the White Noise they used that day?”

  “That the camp controllers had embedded a frequency in it that only Oranges, Reds, and Yellows could detect,” I said. He must have known about that—they used the same method to broadcast the location of the camp. “That they were trying to pick out any of the dangerous ones that were still hiding out.”

  Clancy released my hand and reached back to turn his laptop so it faced us. On the screen was a snapshot of my face on the morning they had brought us into camp, but the text beside it wasn’t my history.

  “Read the second paragraph aloud.”

  I looked up at him, confused, but did as he asked. “‘Camp Controller Harris discovered the discrepancy in the Calm Control at 05:23 the following morning, after noticing an underlying frequency that had been added without his consent.’” I paused, licking my dry lips. “‘Upon further investigation of the recording devices in the Mess Hall, he came to the conclusion that the outbreak of violence there that resulted in the use of the Calm Control at approximately 11:42 was directly provoked by undercover operatives from the terrorist group the Children’s League. He believes these same operatives planted an identification frequency in the Calm Control. Psi subjects 3285 and 5312 who were taken from camp boundaries at approximately 03:34 by a Children’s League operative, are now believed to have been mistakenly identified as Green upon their initial classification.…’”

  “Keep going,” Clancy said, when my voice trailed off.

  “‘Subjects 3285 and 5312 are believed to be highly dangerous. Orders have been issued for their immediate recapture and reprocessing’—reprocessing?” My eyes flew up again. “But the way this is written…they didn’t know…they didn’t… Are you trying to tell me that they had no idea I was an Orange until after I got out?”

  Clancy nodded. “It sounds that way.”

  “Then I wasn’t in any danger after all? They wouldn’t have killed me?”

  “Oh, you were definitely in danger,” he said. “They had all of the pieces, and it just took one curious mind to put it all together. But if you’re asking whether or not you would have been caught if the League hadn’t planted the frequency—then the answer to that is no, probably not.”

  “Then why did they do it?” I demanded. “It seems like a huge risk to take to only get a few kids.”

  “A few extremely valuable, rare kids,” he corrected. “Kids that would have been killed otherwise.”

  Seeing my expression, he added, not unkindly, “You didn’t really think they let any of the kids like us live, did you? Not Oranges. Yellows, yes, because their threat can be contained, but not Oranges.”

  I passed a hand over my face. “What about the Reds, then? They were killed, too?”

  “No,” Clancy said. His voice became quiet, hesitant. “They had a much worse fate.”

  I waited for him to continue, hands twisting in my lap.

  “The president’s classified program.” Clancy crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back. “Project Jamboree. Dear old Dad’s been training himself a special army using all of the Reds they took from the camps. So you can see why…” He cleared his throat. “You can see why the League would be interested in finding any particularly dangerous kids for their own.”

  I shook my head, dropping my face into my hands. Of all of the scenar
ios I had imagined—of all the things I thought had happened to those kids—this was too insane for me to have ever dreamed up.

  “How could they force them into this?” I asked, my voice sounding hollow to my own ears. “Why did they agree?”

  “What other choice do they have?” Clancy asked. “They were made to think that if they didn’t cooperate, something would happen to their families. They underwent a special conditioning program to make them think that they were needed and cared for absolutely. Before my father and his advisers figured out I was influencing them, I was able to supervise enough of the program to ensure that they would be cared for—better than if they had been in camps, at least.” He shook his head. “Don’t be afraid for them. They’ll get out from under my father’s control one day.”

  And they’re not dead, I thought; there’s that.

  “Ruby.”

  I looked up, feeling cold down to my guts.

  “Let me show you what I know,” he whispered, his other hand rising to brush the hair off my cheek. The clenched mass of nerves in my stomach eased at the touch, and I felt what few suspicions I had left about him unwinding. We were the same, in the ways that mattered. He wanted to help me, even though I had nothing to offer him in return.

  “No one will be able to hurt you or change you if you can fight them off,” he said, softly.

  It wasn’t depression that drove me forward—it wasn’t even self-pity. It was a pure, distilled strand of hatred, weaving its way through my core. I thought the Slip Kid would be able to help me reclaim my old life, but now I knew that wasn’t enough. I needed him to help me protect my future. When I spoke, my words burned the air between us.

  “Teach me.”

  TWENTY-THREE

  JUST BECAUSE CLANCY had all that power, it didn’t mean he actually used it. It was strange to me that someone who could influence the thoughts of others had been born with a personality that naturally drew people to him. I witnessed it firsthand, when he offered to give me a tour of the camp.

 
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