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The darkest minds, p.41
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       The Darkest Minds, p.41

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken

  I was breathing hard now, though inwardly I was as calm as the waters on East River’s lake. All at once, the final piece clicked into place, and I knew what I was going to do.

  “Okay,” I said. “I’ll stay and I won’t fight you or manipulate you. But if you want me to do as you say…if you want to use my abilities, or do testing on me, I have one condition. You have to let Lee go.”

  “Ruby,” she began, shaking her head, “it’s too dangerous, for everyone involved.”

  “He’s a Blue. You don’t need him. He won’t ever be a fighter, not like you want.”

  And if he stays here, you will kill him.

  You will kill every good part of him.

  “I can do so much now,” I told her, “but you won’t see another hint of it until you let him go. Until you swear you will never chase him down.”

  Cate watched me for a moment, a hand pressed to her mouth. I could see the indecision in her face. I had used Martin to show her exactly what I could offer them, and he, apparently, had already proven to them how valuable an Orange could be. These were not, however, the terms she would have chosen.

  “All right,” she said, finally. “All right. He can go.”

  “How do I know you’ll keep your promise?” I asked.

  Cate stood and reached again into her pocket. The silver Calm Control device, the only thing keeping me out of her head, was still warm when she pressed it into my palm. My fingers closed around hers.

  “So help me God,” I said slowly, clearly, when Cate looked up at me. “If you go back on your word, I will tear you apart. And I won’t stop, not ever, until I’ve destroyed your life and the lives of every single person in this organization. Believe me, you may not always keep your promises, but I do.”

  She nodded at me once, and there was something almost like pride in her eyes.

  “Understood,” Cate said, and we did.

  They kept Liam in the bedroom at the other end of the hall, in a room painted a soft blue. The kind of color you’d only find in the sky just before sunrise, maybe. It might have been a nursery once. There were clouds painted on the ceiling, and the few pieces of furniture left seemed too small for an average adult.

  Liam sat on the tiny bed with his back to me. At first, as I shut the door behind me, I thought he was staring out the window. As I came closer, I saw he was actually fixated on the wrinkled sheet of paper in his hand.

  The bed dipped as I crawled across it, wrapping my arms around his chest from behind. I pressed my cheek against his, letting my hands wander until they found his steady heartbeat. He shut his eyes and leaned back.

  “What are you looking at?” I whispered.

  He handed me the paper wordlessly as I moved to sit beside him. Jack Fields’s letter.

  “You were right,” Liam said after a moment. “You were so right. We should have read it. We would have known not to bother.”

  It was the dead way he spoke, so flat, so coated with grief, that made me crumple the letter and throw it across the room. He only shook his head, pressing a hand over his eyes.

  I fumbled with the inside pocket of his jacket, where I had stashed Chubs’s letter all those days ago. Liam watched me pull it out, and sagged beside me.

  “He told me he didn’t write it for them,” I said. “He wrote it for you. He wanted you to read it.”

  “I don’t want to.”

  “Yes, you do. Because when you get out of here, you’ll want something to say when you see him again.”

  “Ruby.” Now he sounded angry. His arm dropped from around my shoulders, and he stood up. “Do you really think that if he lives, they’re going to let us see him? Do you think they’re even going to let us stay together? That’s not how these people work. They’re going to control our every move, right down to who we see and what we eat. Trust me, it’ll be some precious piece of luck if we even find out if he’s alive, never mind if they’ve brought him in for training.”

  Liam paced the room once, twice, three times, and it felt like an hour had passed before I worked up the nerve to open Chubs’s letter myself.

  The room was silent for a long time.

  “What?” Liam asked, finally. His voice was laced with fear. “What does it say?”

  It was blank. There was nothing written on the sheet of paper aside from Chubs’s parents’ name and their address, and there had never been. Not a single drop of ink.

  “I don’t understand…” I said, passing it to him. That couldn’t have been right. Maybe he had lost the original letter, or was carrying the real one? When I looked up again, Liam was crying. One hand destroying the letter in his fist, the other pressed against his eyes. And then I realized I already knew the answer.

  Chubs hadn’t written anything because he didn’t think he had to. He thought he was going to be able to tell his parents everything he wanted to say in person. He believed he was going to get home.

  Liam’s knees seemed to buckle out from under him as he sat back down on the bed. His forehead came down to rest against my shoulder, and I wrapped both arms around him. He did believe you, I wanted to say. All along, he believed you.

  I felt so much older, then. Not sixteen, not sixty, not even a hundred, but a thousand years old. Older, but not brittle. I felt like one of the oak trees that grew along the highway overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, with deep roots and a strong core.

  He gets to go, I thought. He gets to go home.

  For a long time I did nothing but hold on to him. I wanted to memorize the way his hair curled at the ends, the scar at the edge of his lips. I had never felt time’s sting as sharply as I did then. Why did it only ever seem to freeze or move forward at a barreling speed?

  “The crazy thing is, I had all of these plans,” he whispered. “What we were going to do. All the places I was going to take you. I really wanted you to meet Harry.” The window breathed in afternoon light. I felt his hand trail down the length of my arm. “We’ll be okay,” Liam said. “We just can’t let them separate us.”

  “They won’t,” I whispered. “I was thinking…I know this is going to sound so corny, but…if there’s one good thing that came out of all this, it was that I got to meet you. I would go through it all again—” Tears pricked my eyes. “I would, as long as it meant I’d met you.”

  “You really think that?” Liam sat up and pressed his lips against my hair. “’Cause, frankly, the way I see it, you and me? Inevitable. Let’s say we didn’t get stuck in those god-awful camps—no, just listen. I’m going to tell you the amazing story of us.”

  Liam cleared his throat again and turned to fully face me. “So, it’s the summer and you’re in Salem, suffering through another boring, hot July, and working part-time at an ice cream parlor. Naturally, you’re completely oblivious to the fact that all of the boys from your high school who visit daily are more interested in you than the thirty-one flavors. You’re focused on school and all your dozens of clubs, because you want to go to a good college and save the world. And just when you think you’re going to die if you have to take another practice SAT, your dad asks if you want to go visit your grandmother in Virginia Beach.”

  “Yeah?” I leaned my forehead against his chest. “What about you?”

  “Me?” Liam said, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “I’m in Wilmington, suffering through another boring, hot summer, working one last time in Harry’s repair shop before going off to some fancy university—where, I might add, my roommate will be a stuck-up-know-it-all-with-a-heart-of-gold named Charles Carrington Meriwether IV—but he’s not part of this story, not yet.” His fingers curled around my hip, and I could feel him trembling, even as his voice was steady. “To celebrate, Mom decides to take us up to Virginia Beach for a week. We’re only there for a day when I start catching glimpses of this girl with dark hair walking around town, her nose stuck in a book, earbuds in and blasting music. But no matter how hard I try, I never get to talk to her.

  “Then, as our friend Fate would h
ave it, on our very last day at the beach I spot her. You. I’m in the middle of playing a volleyball game with Harry, but it feels like everyone else disappears. You’re walking toward me, big sunglasses on, wearing this light green dress, and I somehow know that it matches your eyes. And then, because, let’s face it, I’m basically an Olympic god when it comes to sports, I manage to volley the ball right into your face.”

  “Ouch,” I said with a light laugh. “Sounds painful.”

  “Well, you can probably guess how I’d react to that situation. I offer to carry you to the lifeguard station, but you look like you want to murder me at just the suggestion. Eventually, thanks to my sparkling charm and wit—and because I’m so pathetic you take pity on me—you let me buy you ice cream. And then you start telling me how you work in an ice cream shop in Salem, and how frustrated you feel that you still have two years before college. And somehow, somehow, I get your e-mail or screen name or maybe, if I’m really lucky, your phone number. Then we talk. I go to college and you go back to Salem, but we talk all the time, about everything, and sometimes we do that stupid thing where we run out of things to say and just stop talking and listen to one another breathing until one of us falls asleep—”

  “—and Chubs makes fun of you for it,” I added.

  “Oh, ruthlessly,” he agreed. “And your dad hates me because he thinks I’m corrupting his beautiful, sweet daughter, but still lets me visit from time to time. That’s when you tell me about tutoring a girl named Suzume, who lives a few cities away—”

  “—but who’s the coolest little girl on the planet,” I manage to squeeze out.

  “Yup,” Liam said. “Wanna try for the ending?”

  By then, I couldn’t help myself. I brought both hands up to my face, pressing my fingers against my eyes.

  I had to do it now, or I never would. We couldn’t hide up here forever. They could change their mind about his leaving as quickly as they had the first time.

  I sat up and wiped the tears off my face, gritting my teeth. Liam pushed himself up so that he was sitting beside me on the edge of the bed, a concerned look on his face. For a moment I was terrified that he knew what I was about to do.

  He tilted his head to the side, a small smile turning up the corner of his lips. I tried to smile back, but inside I was breaking apart. “What?”

  When they brought us to the camps, they took everything. They stripped away our friends and family, took our clothes, took our future. They only thing we got to keep were our memories, and now I was about to take those from him, too.

  “Close your eyes,” I whispered. “I’m going to finish the story.”

  I felt the trickle at the back of my mind and let it turn into a roar. And when I kissed him, when my lips pressed against his one last time, slipping inside of his mind was as easy as taking his hand had been.

  I felt him jerk back, heard him say my name in alarm, but I didn’t let him get away. I pulled myself from his mind, day by day, piece by piece, memory by memory, until there was nothing of Ruby left to weigh him down or keep him bound to my side. It was a strange unwinding sensation, one I had never felt before, or maybe one I never recognized until that moment.

  The problem of Chubs rose in the back of my mind, and I had a split-second to make a decision. If he was alive—and he had to be, there was no alternative for me—the League would bring him in. But if Liam knew that, he’d come back to find a way to get him out, and the deal would be for nothing.

  I would take care of Chubs. I would be the one to help him give the League the slip. There was no reason why Liam couldn’t think that his friend had made it home to his parents; no reason he needed another distraction from getting home himself. It was a simple adjustment, a quick patch over an ugly memory.…

  And then I was out of air and out of time. The door behind me opened and I pulled away from Liam. He stayed board stiff, his hands resting on his knees, his eyes shut tight. Cate looked back and forth between us, her brows drawing together. I stood and moved to her side.

  A moment later, Liam’s bright blue eyes opened, and he was seeing me. He just wasn’t seeing Ruby.

  “What happened?” he asked, looking between Cate and me. He reached up to touch his face, which was still swollen and battered.

  “You had a car accident,” I said. “The League picked you up.”

  Cate stiffened beside me; I caught the sudden comprehension fall over her features, out of the corner of my eye.

  “The League…” he repeated, his eyes narrowing.

  “Yes, but if you feel well enough, you can go,” Cate said, when she recovered. “Your brother asked us to give you some money for a bus ticket.”

  “I bet he did,” Liam grumbled as he searched the ground for his shoes. “Why can’t I remember the accident?”

  I’m not sure Cate realized how plainly she was wearing the shock on her face. Her hand floated up toward my shoulder—to steady me, or herself, I wasn’t sure—but I stepped away.

  “Does your head still hurt?” I managed to choke out. I was still wearing his jacket. I couldn’t bring myself to take it off. “You hit it pretty hard.”

  “A little,” he admitted. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me, his brows drawn together in concentration. “And the League is just letting me go?”

  Cate nodded and threw him an envelope. Liam threw it right back to her.

  “I don’t want your money.”

  “The procedure to contact your parents is also in here,” she said.

  “Don’t want it,” he said. “Don’t need it.”

  “What am I supposed to tell Cole?”

  Liam drew himself up on unsteady legs. “Tell him to come home, and then we can talk.” He turned to me. “What about you? Are you really one of them? You look like you have a lot more sense than that.”

  Wordlessly, I took the envelope from Cate. When I pressed it into his hand, he didn’t toss it back at me. “You’d better get going.”

  “I’m not going to thank you,” he told us. “I didn’t ask for your help.”

  Cate led him out into the hall. “You didn’t have to, and you never need to.”

  He started down the stairs.

  “Hey—” I called. Liam stopped, turning back up to look at me. “Be careful.”

  His blue eyes flicked back and forth between Cate and me. “You too, darlin’.”

  I watched him go, from the window overlooking the street, following his familiar shape as he stepped outside and closed the door behind him. No car, no one to watch over, no one to help. He was completely free.

  And he looked happy. Sure of himself, at least. His feet instinctively knew what direction home was. Now there was nothing left to keep him from getting there.

  Liam passed through the white fence surrounding the house and stepped onto the sidewalk. He flipped the sweatshirt hood up over his head and glanced both ways before jogging across the street. I watched him grow smaller and smaller with each step.

  All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, I thought, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning.

  Be cunning and full of tricks, and your people shall never be destroyed.

  Cate came up behind me, stroking a hand through my hair. “You’ll be happy with us,” she said. “I’ll take care of you.”

  I drew the gauzy curtains shut, my fingers sliding over their silky surface. I watched her for a moment, searching for the tell that would reveal her lie. I wondered if she still thought I was the girl she had carried out of Thurmond, who had cried the first time she’d seen the stars.

  Because she didn’t know that there were two of me now; split between everything I had wanted, and everything I would now have to be. One of me, the hardest, angriest part, would stay with these monsters and slowly find herself twisting into their shape. But there was another, secret Ruby. This one was as thin as a wisp of air, and had strug
gled for so long just to be. This was the one that Liam carried with him, without knowing. The one that would ride in his back pocket, whisper words of encouragement, tell him that he was born to chase the light.

  For the first time in months, I heard Sam’s voice whisper in my ear: Don’t be scared. Don’t let them see.

  I turned from the window, and I didn’t look back.


  AS THE OLD SONG GOES, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” and that’s definitely the case here. My thanks to:

  My family, of course, for a lifetime of love and support. You inspire me every day.

  Merrilee Heifetz, my amazing agent, who worked tirelessly on behalf of this project and was behind it in an amazing way from the start. Likewise, thanks are owed to Genevieve Gagne-Hawes for her early feedback, all of which helped shaped the story into what it is today.

  The whole team at Hyperion, especially my editor, Emily Meehan. Both she and Laura Schreiber have taken incredible care of this story, and not a day goes by that I don’t stop and think how lucky I am to work with such talent.

  My early readers, in particular Sarah J. Maas, who cried and laughed in all the right places, and Carlin Hauck, who helped back my imagination up with actual science.

  Everyone at RHCB, for their unwavering support, interest, and understanding.

  And, finally, there are no adequate words in the English language to convey how thankful I am to Anna Jarzab for loving this story as much as I do. I’m blessed to have you as a champion, but even more privileged to call you my friend.



  Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds

  (Series: Darkest Minds # 1)




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