Home > The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(3)

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(3)
Alexandra Bracken

The heat from a hundred-odd bodies fogged the bus windows, and it acted like a screen to the outside world. Later, the windows of the bright yellow buses they used to bring kids in would be smeared with black paint. They just hadn’t thought of it yet.

I was closest to the window on the five-hour drive, so I could make out slivers of the passing landscape whenever the rain let up for a bit. It all looked exactly the same to me—green farms, thick expanses of trees. We could have still been in Virginia, for all I knew. The girl sitting next to me, the one that would later be classified Blue, seemed to recognize a sign at one point because she leaned over me to get a better look. She looked a little familiar to me, like I had seen her face from around my town, or she was from the next one over. I think all of the kids with me were from Virginia, but there was no way to be sure, because there was only one big rule: and that was Silence.

After they had picked me up from my house the day before, they’d kept me, along with the rest of the kids, in some kind of warehouse overnight. The room was washed in unnatural brightness; they sat us in a cluster on the dirty cement floor, and pointed three floodlights toward us. We weren’t allowed to sleep. My eyes were watering so badly from the dust that I couldn’t see the clammy, pale faces around me, let alone the faces of the soldiers who stood just beyond the ring of lights, watching. In some weird way, they ceased to be whole men and women. In the gray haze of half sleep, I processed them in small, terrifying pieces: the gasoline reek of shoe polish, the creak of stiff leather, the twist of disgust on their lips. The tip of a boot as it dug into my side, forcing me back awake.

The next morning, the drive was completely silent except for the soldiers’ radios and the kids that were crying toward the back of the bus. The kid sitting at the other end of our seat wet his pants, but he wasn’t about to tell that to the red-haired PSF standing beside him. She had slapped him when he complained he hadn’t eaten anything all day.

I flexed my bare feet against the ground, trying to keep my legs still. Hunger was making my head feel funny, too, bubbling up every once in a while to overwhelm even the spikes of terror shooting through me. It was hard to focus, and harder to sit still; I felt like I was shrinking, trying to fade back into the seat and disappear completely. My hands were starting to lose feeling after being bound in the same position for so long. Trying to stretch the plastic band they’d tightened around them did nothing but force it to cut deeper into the soft skin there.

Psi Special Forces—that’s what the driver of the bus had called himself and the others when they collected us from the warehouse. You are to come with us on authority of the Psi Special Forces commander, Joseph Traylor. He held up a paper to prove it, so I guess it was true. I had been taught not to argue with adults, anyway.

The bus took a deep dip as it pulled off the narrow road and onto a smaller dirt one. The new vibrations woke whoever had been lucky or exhausted enough to fall asleep. They also sent the black uniforms into action. The men and women stood straighter, and their attention snapped toward the windshield.

I saw the towering fence first. The darkening gray sky cast everything in a moody, deep blue, but not the fence. It was glowing silver as the wind whistled through its open pockets. Just below my window were dozens of men and women in full uniform, escorting the bus in at a brisk jog. The PSFs in the control booth at the gate stood and saluted the driver as he navigated past them.

The bus lurched to a stop, and we were all forced to stay deathly still as the camp gate slid shut behind us. The locks cracked through the silence like thunder as they came together again. We were not the first bus through—that had come a year before. We were not the last bus, either. That would come in three more years, when the camp’s occupancy maxed out.

There was a single breath of stillness before a soldier in a black rain poncho rapped on the bus door. The driver reached over and pulled the lever—and ended anyone’s hope that this was a short pit stop.

The PSF was an enormous man, the kind you’d expect to play an evil giant in a movie, or a villain in a cartoon. He kept his hood up, masking his face, hair, and anything that would have let me recognize him later. I guess it didn’t matter. He wasn’t speaking for himself. He was speaking for the camp.

“You will stand and exit the bus in an orderly fashion,” he yelled. The driver tried to hand him the microphone, but the soldier knocked it away with his hand. “You will be divided into groups of ten, and you will be brought in for testing. Do not try to run. Do not speak. Do not do anything other than what is asked of you. Failure to follow these instructions will be met with punishment.”

At ten, I was one of the younger kids on the bus, though there were certainly a few kids younger. Most seemed to be twelve, even thirteen. The hate and mistrust burning in the soldiers’ eyes might have shrunken my spine, but it only sparked rebellion in the older kids.

“Go screw yourself!” someone yelled from the back of the bus.

We all turned at once, just in time to see the PSF with the flaming red hair launch the butt of her rifle into the teenage boy’s mouth. He let out a shriek of pain and surprise as the soldier did it again, and I saw a faint spray of blood burst from his mouth when he took his next, angry breath. With his hands behind his back, there was no way he could block the attack. He just had to take it.

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.

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