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The darkest minds, p.38
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       The Darkest Minds, p.38

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  “Ruby!” Lizzie was looking straight at me, her face ashen. Her hair had caught in her dozens of piercings, but it was the blood on her hands that stopped the flow of blood to my head.

  “It’s Clancy,” she gasped, clutching my arms. “He just…fell and starting shaking all over like crazy, and bleeding, and I didn’t know what to do, but he told me to get you because you’d know what was going on—Ruby, please, please help me!”

  I stared at her hands, the wet blood.

  “It’s a trick,” Liam croaked from the futon. “Ruby, don’t you dare…”

  “If he’s really hurt, I should go,” Chubs told Lizzie.

  “Ruby!” she cried, like she couldn’t believe I was standing there. “There was so much blood—Ruby, please, please, you have to help him!”

  He really thought I was stupid, didn’t he? Or did he just think his influence extended that far—that I could ever forget what he had done to Liam and go rushing to his side? I shook my head, anger rippling over my skin. Too immature and weakhearted to use my abilities, was I?

  We’d see about that.

  Liam pushed himself up into a sitting position. “You know him,” he was saying. “Don’t do it, don’t—”

  “Show me where he is,” I said, over Chubs’s protests. I turned to him. “You have to stay with Liam, understand?” You have to watch him because I can’t. “I’ll take care of everything.”

  I would get us out. Not Mike, not a burst of random luck—I would get us out, and seeing Clancy’s face slack with my influence would be well worth the effort it would take to break into his mind. Hadn’t he taught me everything I needed to know to do it?

  “Ruby—” I heard Liam say, but I took Lizzie’s arm and guided her outside, past the confused kids, past the cabins. Outside, the temperature had dropped almost twenty degrees.

  Fat tears dripped down her chin. “He’s in Storage—we were talking about—about—”

  “It’s okay,” I told her, putting an awkward hand on her back. We ran through the garden and up the office’s back steps. She fumbled to put her key in the lock, only to have it jam. I had to kick it in; Lizzie was too far gone to do anything but sprint inside. The hall and kitchen were empty. The whole building smelled like garlic and tomato sauce. Everyone must have been out setting up for dinner.

  Everyone except Clancy, who stood in the middle of the storage room, leaning against a shelf of macaroni boxes.

  Lizzie ran to the back right corner of the room and dropped to her knees. She pawed at the ground, her trembling hands clutching only air. “Clancy,” she cried. “Clancy, can you hear me? Ruby is here now—Ruby, come here!”

  My stomach turned violently, and I was surprised by how sad it made me feel to have my worst suspicions confirmed.

  Why does it have to be like this? I thought, looking at him. Why?

  “You came, you really came,” Clancy said in a bored, flat voice. He sounded like he was reciting the words from a script. “Thank you, Ruby. I appreciate your help in my hour of need.”

  “Why are you just standing there?” Lizzie wailed. “Help him!”

  “You’re sick,” I said, shaking my head. Clancy came toward me, but I moved to the opposite end of the room, where Lizzie had her face buried in the ground. “Stop it, I’m here. There’s no reason to keep torturing her.”

  “I’m not torturing her,” Clancy said. “I’m just playing around.” And then, as if to prove his point, he barked, “Liz, shut up!”

  She stopped mid-gasp. A trickle of blood escaped her lip from where she had bitten it. I took her hands, turning them over. The blood was coming from her, from two neat cuts across her palms.

  “What do you even want?” I asked, whirling around. “I’ve told you everything, and what I didn’t say, you went ahead and saw!”

  It was only then that I noticed what Clancy was wearing. Nice, pressed black slacks, a white button-down shirt without so much as a speck of dust on it, and a red tie, trailing down over his stomach in the exact same way the blood was dripping down Lizzie’s chin.

  “I’m just keeping you in here for a little while,” he said, “then we can go.”

  “And where, exactly, are we going?” My eyes fixed on the shelf behind his head, the one full of metal spoons and mixing bowls.

  “Anywhere you want,” he said. “Isn’t that what that Blue promised you?”

  I tried to stay calm, but the way he spat the word out—Blue—rankled my already frayed nerves. I don’t know if Lizzie sensed the sharp change in my mood, but Clancy did. He was smiling, that perfect Gray smile, the same one that had followed me across Thurmond’s grounds.

  Good, I thought. Let him think I’m helpless. Let him think that there was no real threat from me, not until he was flat down on the ground, unable to even remember his own name.

  “Do you have a better offer?” I asked.

  “What if I did?”

  “I’d find that hard to believe,” I said, inching closer, trying to distract him, “considering you care so little about me. If this situation had been reversed, you wouldn’t have come running, would you have?”

  He shrugged. “I would have come. I just would have walked.”

  “Please let Lizzie go,” I said. It scared me the way she was acting, like a little kid. What was it about being Orange that turned people into such monsters?

  “Why? If she stays you won’t think about trying anything, because it might mean her getting hurt, or worse.” He said it so casually that I actually thought he was kidding.

  “How can you be sure?” I hoped my voice sounded stronger than it felt in my throat. “I don’t know her that well.”

  “I’ve seen your memories. You’re what shrinks call ‘overly empathetic.’ You won’t do anything if it means hurting others—not intentionally at least.”

  He said it with the utmost confidence, which made the shock on his face when I lunged at him that much sweeter. For once, he hadn’t predicted my response, hadn’t pulled me under his sway. I slashed across his face, heard him grunt as my nails bit into his cheek.

  The connection was instant and powerful. It seemed that some part of what he had said was true, after all. I needed to want to use my abilities. I had to want to have control over them. And God, did I want to. I wanted to tear his brain to shreds.

  The images that churned up from the dark waters of his head were so unlike what I had seen before. Instead of the bright glare and the sharp, controlled edges, they were sketched in a kind of watery charcoal. Unfocused, fuzzy. I saw faces, bloated and distorted, rise up from the murky surface. His mind had gone limp; I felt like I could reach both hands up and reshape him.

  “Let her go,” I said, my grip on his throat tightening. I threw the image of him sending Lizzie away, and a moment later he was mumbling the words, “Lizzie, go…outside.”

  She bolted for the door, and I felt a thrill run through me. He was shaking under my hands, his eyes blinking, but I held on to him.

  “Now,” I said. “Now you’re going to let us go, too.”

  But even as the words left my mouth, I felt the unraveling. I gripped harder, my fingers digging into his skin. Not yet, I begged, not yet, I need—I need to—

  As quickly as I had slipped in, I was thrown out, and that damn white curtain swept between us. I tried to throw myself at it again, but Clancy’s hand lashed out to snatch my wrist, and I felt every muscle in my body thicken to stone.

  “Nice try.” Clancy let me fall to the ground like a board, and actually stepped over me to examine his scratched cheek in a pot’s reflective surface. “Didn’t even draw blood.”

  I couldn’t even move my jaw to tell him off.

  “Good to see my lessons were of some benefit to you,” Clancy snarled, raking a hand through his disheveled hair. He turned back to face the shelves, hiding his face, but I saw his hands clench at his side, bunching up the fabric of his pants. I hadn’t ruined him, but I had rattled him. “I like to see my students applyin
g themselves, but don’t mistake a few weeks of practice for years of it.”

  I focused on trying to untangle whatever mental block he had thrown on me. I started with my toes, imagining them moving one by one. And…nothing.

  Maybe I could erase memories, but he could turn people into living stone.

  The first scream came only a second after I heard the first whirring engines. An unnatural wind stirred up the trees outside. Their branches scratched against the side of the building, insistent, as if to get our attention. I saw Clancy cringe at the high-pitched shriek of sirens, too, but he straightened himself up from his core. His face was lit with eagerness, and that’s what frightened me most of all.

  “That’s it, then,” he said, brushing his jacket off. “They’re finally here.”

  I couldn’t squeeze my eyes shut. The air was burning them, and then the air itself was burning. The telltale smell of smoke filtered in through the open windows. Gunfire, more screaming, more struggling. I imagined myself moving, on my feet and running for the door, to the others, to safety, but I got no farther than a blink. But that was something. I could work with that.

  “You’re okay,” Clancy told me as he sat down next to me. One of his feet began to tap out a rhythm against a stool. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

  The blood roared in my ears. The kind of yelling that was coming from outside didn’t sound human; more like live animals having their skin torn clear off the bone. It sounded like pain, and terror, and desperation. The pitch of the metallic whine coming through the walls increased in intensity as each minute ticked on.

  Rabbits need dignity and above all the will to accept their fate.

  I felt, rather than heard, the footsteps thundering down the hall. I couldn’t tell how many there were. They were all moving in perfect time. The storage room door burst open in an explosion of smoke and heat.

  I had never been so grateful for anything in my life as I was that I was looking at his face when the PSFs barged in. The anticipation there gave way to blank incomprehension and then to pure, unadulterated rage. Whatever Clancy had been expecting, it wasn’t two Psi Special Forces soldiers.

  He didn’t even have to touch them. “Shut up!” Clancy hissed, throwing a hand out in their direction. “Get out! Tell your superior that there was no one here!”

  The man in front, his body hidden under layers of fabric and body armor, held a gloved hand against the device in his ear and said, in a monotone voice, “Building clear.” The signal he gave to the other two was a simple, mechanical wave. As they jogged out of the room, I realized that they were the ones that had been letting off the smoke.

  That the fires had started with them.

  “Damn it—God damn it!” Clancy was shaking his head. A fist flew out and smashed into the nearby shelf, its impact drowned out by the rattling of gunfire outside. “Where are my Reds? Why didn’t he send them?”

  He brought a bruised knuckle to his lips and began to suck on it, pacing the short length of the room. His breath came out in short bursts, and seemed to reflect the rapid turning of his thoughts.

  My Reds. His—the way that he spoke about them left no doubt in my mind what the implication was there. Project Jamboree, his father’s program.

  No, I thought. Not his father’s.

  I could see the different shards of the fractured full picture in front of me now. When he had first explained the program, I hadn’t known him all that well, or seen what he was capable of doing—not enough to piece together the clues he had unintentionally left for me to uncover.

  There really wasn’t a single person in the world that was immune to his abilities, not even President Gray.

  Clancy was still stalking across the room like a caged panther, the muscles of his back rippling with each spray of gunfire. Then he stopped, looking up at the windows and the smoke that was swirling against them.

  “Who told you, you bastard?” he said, in a low enough voice that I wasn’t sure he knew he was speaking aloud. “Which one of them broke my influence and figured it out? I was so careful. So goddamn careful—”

  He turned on his heel and stalked back toward me, and I saw the truth of it all written on his face. The same hand that bled with newly split skin had been the same one to coax his father, his advisers, anyone and everyone it took, to consider Project Jamboree. Hadn’t he said that before his father realized he was controlling him, Clancy had had some hand in making sure the program ran smoothly, and that the kids were treated well?

  He clearly could have done more than that. If he had all of East River under his sway, what’s to say he couldn’t have controlled a small army of Reds, too?

  Clancy must have seen the realization in my eyes, because he let out a low, humorless laugh. “I forget sometimes, you know, that he’s not stupid. Even after he finally figured out I was manipulating him, he never put it together that Project Jamboree came from me. I made sure of it after I escaped—I even left East River to check on them from time to time, to make sure my influence was still there. I timed the leak of East River’s location perfectly with the end of their training program.”

  One hand came up to fist in his hair, and there was something breaking in his voice when he spoke again. “I grew up idolizing him, but when I saw what he really was—what he could do to his own son—” His words choked off slightly. “Who was it? Who tipped him off? How would he have known to send the PSFs instead? I should be controlling my Reds right now—and we should all be marching up toward New York to take him down—”

  Clancy bent suddenly, grabbing the front of my shirt and hauling me up from the floor. He shook me, hard enough that I almost bit my tongue clean off, but he didn’t say a single word. The bullets and screams outside didn’t touch his stony features, or his thoughts. Smoke began to crawl along the floor, rolling, heaving, seizing everything in its path. With no warning, Clancy’s hands released my shirt and glided up my shoulders in a lover’s caress; his fingers closed around my neck, and I was sure, so damn sure, that he was either going to kiss me in his rage, or kill me.

  More footsteps, lighter than before, but no less urgent. Clancy looked up, annoyance creasing his forehead.

  I didn’t see what happened next, only the aftermath. Clancy went flying back into the shelves, hard enough that there was an audible crack as his head connected with the back wall. His body tore down the shelves of pasta and flour, landing in a messy pile on the floor.

  Chubs’s upside-down face appeared over mine. His glasses were scratched and bent, and his face and shirt were stained with soot, but he didn’t look like he was hurt.

  “Ruby! Ruby, can you hear me? We need to run.” Why did he sound so calm? Gunfire roared in my ears, an endless stream of tiny pops and explosions. “Can you move?”

  I was still too stiff to do anything other than shake my head.

  Chubs gritted his teeth and slipped his arms around me, making sure he had a good hold. “Hold on, I’m getting us out of here. Move when you can.”

  Outside the safety of the Office, there was no escaping the noises. My heart lurched to life, pounding against my rib cage.

  Tear gas and smoke coated the air in thick layers. Everywhere there was fire—on the ground, climbing the trees, dropping onto cabin roofs. My face and chest felt like they had caught, too. The wind blew the fire so close to us that Chubs had to pat my jeans down so I wouldn’t go up in flames. He grunted, and I knew he was struggling to keep us going under my weight. I wanted to tell him to drop me, to take the letters in Liam’s jacket and run.

  Liam. Where is Liam?

  Through the swirling ash I saw the lines of black uniforms marching the kids from camp down the path to the cabins. I saw a girl thrown out of her cabin and into the dirt, only to be yanked up by her hair. Two kids I recognized from the camp’s security detail raised their guns at the PSFs, who blew them away in a cloud of fire.

  “STOP WHERE YOU ARE!”

  The air was knocked from my chest as Ch
ubs dropped me to throw that same soldier up into a tree. When his arms circled my chest again, we were moving faster than before.

  And then we were falling, tumbling down the hill. Chubs let out a surprised croak as we rolled, picking up brush and embers along the way. The back of my hand smacked against a tree, but I couldn’t see where we were going. The smoke blinded me.

  I came to a slow stop at the base of the hill, sinking face-first in the muddy bank. My hands and legs all convulsed as the feeling began to return to them.

  I felt hands on the back of my jacket. Chubs dragged me on my back, choking and coughing.

  We are going to die. We are going to die. We are going to die.

  Rabbits need to accept their fate, rabbits need dignity and above all the will to accept their fate, their fate, their fate, their fate—

  The water was freezing and swallowed me whole. Shock cut straight through my limbs, waking them with a slap. I struggled against the water, flapping my arms to break to the surface. The orange-stained sky was waiting as I broke into the night, coughing up water and poisoned air.

  Chubs found me again. One hand clung to a wood post, the other reached out for me. The dock, I thought, our dock. I kicked toward him and let Chubs draw me under the cover of the old wood. The helicopters flying overhead beat the lake into a frenzy of waves and patterns. I could barely keep my head above the cold water, but I was alert enough to see the searchlights from above dancing over the lake’s surface.

  I kept one arm around Chubs’s shoulders and used my free hand to reach up and grab hold of the dock’s algae-slick supports. He did the same, and waited until the sound of boots and guns had cleared from overhead before whispering, “Oh my God.”

  I moved my arm to draw us closer together, and hugged him as hard as my muscles could. We didn’t dare to speak, but I felt him shake his head. He knew what I was trying to say, I knew what he wanted to ask, and neither of us could find the words to choke out amid the smoke and screams.

 
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