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The darkest minds, p.4
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       The Darkest Minds, p.4

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  “Ruby,” I whispered. It was the last word I spoke for nearly a year.

  FOUR

  I WOKE TO COLD WATER and a woman’s soft voice. “You’re all right,” she was saying. “You’ll be fine.” I’m not sure who she thought she was fooling with her sweet little B.S., but it wasn’t me.

  I let her bring the wet towel up to my face again, savoring her warmth as she leaned in closer. She smelled of rosemary and past things. For a second, just one, her hand came to rest against mine, and it was almost more than I could take.

  I wasn’t at home, and this woman wasn’t my mother. I started gasping, desperate to keep everything inside me. I couldn’t cry, not in front of her, or any of the other adults. I wouldn’t give them the pleasure.

  “Are you still in pain?”

  The only reason I opened my eyes was because she pulled them open herself. One at a time, shining an intense light in each. I tried to throw my hands up to shield them, but they had strapped me down in Velcro cuffs. Fighting against the restraints was pointless.

  The woman clucked her tongue and stepped back, taking her flowery fragrance with her. The smell of antiseptic and peroxide flooded the air, and I knew exactly where I was.

  The sounds of Thurmond’s infirmary faded in and out in uneven waves. Some kid crying out in pain, boots clipping against the white tile floors, the creak of wheelchair wheels…I felt like I was standing above a tunnel with my ear to the ground, listening to the hum of cars passing beneath me.

  “Ruby?”

  The woman was wearing blue scrubs and a white coat. With her pale skin and white-blond hair she all but disappeared into the thin curtain that had been pulled around my bed. She caught me staring and smiled, so wide and so pretty.

  The woman was the youngest doctor I’d ever seen in Thurmond—though admittedly I could count my trips to the Infirmary on one hand. I went once for the stomach flu and dehydration after what Sam called my Gut Puking Spectacular, and once for a sprained wrist. Both times I felt far worse after being groped by a pair of wrinkled hands than I had before I’d come in. Nothing cures a cold faster than the thought of an old perv wearing a cologne of alcohol and lemon hand soap.

  This woman—she was unreal. Everything about her.

  “My name is Dr. Begbie. I’m a volunteer with the Leda Corporation.”

  I nodded, glancing at the gold swan insignia on her coat pocket.

  She leaned in closer. “We’re a big medical company that does research and sends doctors in to help care for you guys at the camps. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you’re more than welcome to call me Cate and leave off the doctor business.”

  Sure I was. I stared at the hand she extended toward me. Silence hung between us, punctuated by the pounding in my head. After an awkward moment, Dr. Begbie stuffed her hand back into the pocket of her lab coat, but not before letting it stray over the restraint securing my left hand to the bed’s guardrail.

  “Do you know why you’re here, Ruby? Do you remember what happened?”

  Before or after the Tower tried to fry my brain? But I couldn’t say it out loud. When it came to the adults, it was better not to talk. They had a way of hearing one thing and processing it as something else. No reason to give them an excuse to hurt you.

  It had been eight months since I’d last used my voice. I wasn’t sure I even remembered how.

  The doctor somehow guessed the question I was barely holding back at the tip of my tongue. “They turned on the Calm Control after a fight broke out in the Mess Hall. It seems that things got…a bit out of hand.”

  That was an understatement. The White Noise—Calm Control, the higher powers called it—was used to settle us down, so to speak, while it did absolutely nothing to them. It was like a dog whistle, the pitch tuned perfectly so only our freak brains could pick it up and process it.

  They turned it on for a whole host of reasons, sometimes for things as small as a kid accidentally using their ability, or to stamp out unruliness in one of the cabins. But in both of those instances, they would have piped the noise directly into whatever building the kids were in. If they used it across the camp, blasting it over the speakers for us all to hear, then things must have gotten really out of hand. They must have been worried that there was a spark that would have set the rest of us ablaze.

  There was no hint of hesitation on Dr. Begbie’s face as she unstrapped my wrists and ankles. The towel she had been using to clean my face hung limp on the guardrail, dripping water. Bright red splotches soaked through its white fabric.

  I reached up and touched my mouth, my cheeks, my nose. When I pulled my fingers away, I was only half-surprised to see that they were coated with dark blood. It was crusted between my nostrils and lips, as if someone had clocked me right in the honker.

  Trying to sit up was the worst idea that crossed my mind. My chest screamed in pain, and I was flat on my back again before I even registered falling. Dr. Begbie was beside me in an instant, cranking the metal bed into an upright position.

  “You have some bruised ribs,” she said.

  I tried to take a deep breath, but my chest was too tight to inhale anything more than a choked gasp. She must not have noticed because she was looking at me with those kind eyes again, saying, “May I ask a few questions?”

  The fact that she asked my permission was amazing in and of itself. I studied her, searching for the hatred buried beneath the layer of pleasantness on her face, the fear hovering in her soft eyes, the disgust caught in the corner of her smile. Nothing. Not even annoyance.

  Some poor kid started to throw up in the stall to my right; I could see his dark outline like a shadow against the curtain. There was no one sitting with him, no one holding his hand. Just him and his bowl of puke. And here I was, my heart skipping beats out of fear that the fairy-tale princess sitting next to me was going to have me put down like a rabid dog. She didn’t know what I was—she couldn’t have known.

  You’re being paranoid, I told myself. Get a grip.

  Dr. Begbie pulled a pen out of her messy bun. “Ruby, when they turned on the Calm Control, do you remember falling forward and hitting your face?”

  “No,” I said. “I was…already on the ground.” I didn’t know how much to tell her. The smile on her face stretched, and there was something…smug about it.

  “Do you usually experience this much pain and bleeding from the Calm Control?”

  Suddenly, the pain in my chest had nothing to do with my ribs.

  “I’ll take that as a no.”

  I couldn’t see what she was writing, only that her hand and pen were flying across the paper, scribbling as though her life depended on it.

  I always took the White Noise harder than the other girls in my cabin. But blood? Never.

  Dr. Begbie was humming lightly under her breath as she wrote, some song that I thought might have been by the Rolling Stones.

  She’s with the camp controllers, I reminded myself. She is one of them.

  But…in another world, she might not have been. Even though she was wearing the scrubs and white coat, Dr. Begbie didn’t look much older than I was. She had a young face, and it was probably a curse to her in the outside world.

  I had always thought that people born before Generation Freak were the lucky ones. They lived without fear of what would happen when they stepped over the border between childhood and adolescence. As far as I knew, if you were older than thirteen when they started rounding kids up, you were home free—you got to pass Freak Camp on the board game of life and head straight on to Normalville. But looking at Dr. Begbie now, seeing the deep lines carved in her face that no one in their twenties should have had, I wasn’t so sure they had gotten off scot-free. They’d gotten a better deal than what we ended up with, though.

  Abilities. Powers that defied explanation, mental talents so freakish, doctors and scientists reclassified our entire generation as Psi. We were no longer human. Our brains broke that mold.

  “I see from
your chart that you were classified as ‘abnormal intelligence’ in sorting,” Dr. Begbie said after a while. “The scientist that sorted you—did he run you through all of the tests?”

  Something very cold coiled in my stomach. I might not have understood a great many things about the world, I might have only had a fourth grader’s education, but I could tell when someone was trying to fish around for information. The PSFs had switched over to outright scare tactics years ago, but there was a time when all of their questioning had been done in soft voices. Fake sympathy reeked like bad breath.

  Does she know? Maybe she ran a few tests while I was unconscious, and scanned my brain, or tested my blood, or something. My fingers curled one by one until both hands were tight fists. I tried to work the line of thought through, but I kept getting caught on the possibility. Fear made things hazy and light.

  Her question hung in the air, suspended somewhere between truth and lie.

  The clip of boots against the pristine tile forced my eyes up, away from the doctor’s face. Each step was a warning, and I knew they were coming before Dr. Begbie turned her head. She moved to push herself away from the bed, but I didn’t let her. I don’t know what possessed me, but I grabbed her wrist, the list of punishments for touching an authority figure running through my head like a skipping CD, each scratch sharper than the next.

  We weren’t supposed to touch anyone, not even each other.

  “It was different this time,” I whispered, the words aching in my throat. My voice sounded different to my ears. Weak.

  Dr. Begbie only had enough time to nod. The slightest movement, almost imperceptible, before a hand ripped back the curtain.

  I had seen this Psi Special Forces officer before—Sam called him the Grinch, because he looked like he had stepped straight out of the movie, save for no green skin.

  The Grinch cast one look at me, his top lip peeling back in annoyance, before waving the doctor forward. She blew out a sigh and set her clipboard down on my lap.

  “Thank you, Ruby,” she said. “If your pain gets any worse, call for help, okay?”

  Was she on drugs? Who was going to help—the kid throwing up his stomach lining next door?

  I nodded anyway, watching her turn to go. The last glimpse I had of her was her hand dragging the curtain back around. It was nice of her to give me privacy, but a little naive, given the black cameras hanging down between the beds.

  The bulbs were installed all over Thurmond, lidless eyes always watching, never blinking. There were two cameras in our cabin alone, one on each end of the room, as well as one outside the door. It seemed like overkill, but when I was first brought to camp, there were so few of us that they really could watch us all day, every day, until their brains were ready to burst from boredom.

  You had to squint to see it, but a tiny red light inside the black eye was the only clue that the camera had zeroed in on you. Over the years, as more and more kids were brought into Thurmond on the old school buses, Sam and I began to notice that the cameras in our cabin no longer had the blinking red lights—not every day. Same went for the cameras in the laundry, the Washrooms, and the Mess Hall. I guess with three thousand kids spread out over a square mile, it was impossible to watch everyone all the time.

  Still, they watched enough to put the fear of God in us. You had a better-than-average chance of being busted if you practiced your abilities, even under the cover of darkness.

  Those blinking lights were the exact same shade as the blood-red band the PSFs wore around the upper part of their right arm. The Ψ symbol was stitched on the crimson fabric, indicating their unfortunate role as caretakers of the country’s freak children.

  The camera above my bed had no red light. The relief that came over me at the realization actually made the air taste sweet. For just a moment, I was alone and unobserved. At Thurmond, that was an almost unheard-of luxury.

  Dr. Begbie—Cate—hadn’t completely closed the curtain. When another doctor hurried past, the thin white fabric pulled back farther, allowing a familiar flash of blue to catch my eye. The portrait of a young boy, no more than twelve years old, stared back at me. His hair was the same shade as mine—deep brown, nearly black—but where my eyes were pale green, his were dark enough to burn from a distance. He was smiling, as always, his hands clasped in his lap, his dark school uniform without a wrinkle. Clancy Gray, Thurmond’s first inmate.

  There were at least two framed pictures of him in the Mess Hall, one in the kitchen, several nailed outside of the Green outhouses. It was easier to remember his face than it was to remember my mom’s.

  I forced myself to look away from his proud, unwavering grin. He may have gotten out, but the rest of us were still here.

  As I tried to readjust my body, I knocked Dr. Begbie’s clipboard off my lap and into the crook of my left arm.

  I knew there was a chance that they were watching, but I didn’t care. Not then, when I had answers inches away from my fingertips. Why had she left it there, right below my nose, if she hadn’t wanted me to see it? Why hadn’t she taken it with her, like all of the other doctors would have done?

  What was different about the White Noise?

  What did they figure out?

  The fluorescent lights above me were exposed, glowing in the shape of long, angry bones. They gave off a hum, sounding more and more like a cloud of flies swirling around my ears. It only got worse as I flipped the clipboard over.

  It wasn’t my medical history.

  It wasn’t my current injuries, or lack thereof.

  It wasn’t my answers to Dr. Begbie’s questions.

  It was a note, and it read: New CC was testing for undetected Ys, Os, Rs. Your bad reaction means that they know you aren’t G. Unless you do exactly as I say, they will kill you tomorrow.

  My hands were shaking. I had to set the clipboard down in my lap to read the rest.

  I can get you out. Take the two pills under this note before bed, but don’t let the PSFs see you. If you don’t, will keep your secret, but I can’t protect you while you’re in here. Destroy this.

  It was signed, A friend, if you’d like.

  I read the note one more time before I ripped it out from under the metal clip and shoved it in my mouth. It tasted like the bread they served us for lunch.

  The pills were in a tiny clear bag clipped on top of my real medical chart. Scrawled in Dr. Begbie’s dismal handwriting was the note, Subject 3285 hit her head against the ground and lost consciousness. Nose was fractured when Subject 3286 elbowed her. Possible concussion.

  My eyes were itching to look up, to peer into the black eye of the camera, but I didn’t let myself. I took the pills and shoved them into the standard-issue sports bra the camp controllers had bestowed on us when they realized fifteen hundred teenage girls weren’t going to stay twelve and flat forever. I didn’t know what I was doing; I really didn’t. My heart was racing so fast that for a moment I couldn’t get any air.

  Why had Dr. Begbie done this to me? She knew I wasn’t Green, but she had covered it up, lied on the report—was this just a trick? To see if I would incriminate myself?

  I pressed my face into my hands. The packet of pills burned against my skin.

  …they will kill you tomorrow.

  Why did they even bother to wait? Why not take me out to the buses and shoot me now? Isn’t that what they did with the others? The Yellows, Oranges, and Reds? They killed them, because they were too dangerous.

  I am too dangerous.

  I didn’t know how to use my abilities. I wasn’t like the other Oranges, who could spout off commands or slip nasty little thoughts into other people’s minds. I had all of the power, and none of the control—all of the pain, and none of the benefits.

  From what I’d been able to figure out, I had to touch someone for my abilities to take hold, and even then…it was more like I was glimpsing their thoughts, rather than screwing with them. I’d never tried to push a thought into someone else’s head, and it wasn
t like I’d had the opportunity or the desire to try. Every slip of the mind, intentional or not, left my head a jumble of thoughts and images, words and pain. It took hours to feel like myself again.

  Imagine someone reaching straight into your chest, past the bones and blood and guts, and taking a nice firm hold on your spinal cord. Now imagine that they start shaking you so fast the world starts bulging and buckling under you. Imagine not being able to figure out later if the thought in your head is really yours or an unintentional keepsake from someone else’s mind. Imagine the guilt of knowing you saw someone’s deepest, darkest fear or secret; imagine having to face them the next morning and pretend you didn’t see how their father used to hit them, the bright pink dress they wore to their fifth birthday party, their fantasies about this boy or that girl, and the neighborhood animals they used to kill for fun.

  And then imagine the soul-crushing migraine that always follows, lasting anywhere between a few hours and a few days. That was what it was like. That was why I tried to avoid my mind so much as brushing up against someone else’s at all costs. I knew the consequences. All of them.

  And now I knew for certain what would happen if they found me out.

  I flipped the clipboard over on my lap, and just in time. The same PSF soldier was back at my curtain again, ripping it aside.

  “You’ll be returning to your cabin now,” he said. “Come with me.”

  My cabin? I searched his face for any sign of a lie, but saw nothing except the usual annoyance. A nod was the only thing I could muster. My entire body was one earthquake of dread, and the moment my feet touched the ground, the back of my head uncorked. Everything spilled out, every thought, fear, and image. I collapsed against the guardrail, holding on tight to consciousness.

  The black spots were still gliding in front of my eyes when the PSF barked out, “Hurry it up! Don’t think you get to stay another night here just by putting on an act.”

 
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