Home > The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(9)

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(9)
Alexandra Bracken

More snickers from behind us.

“The laces are all wrong.” His other arm wrapped around my left side, until there wasn’t an inch of his body that wasn’t pressed up against mine. Something new rose in my throat, and it tasted strongly of acid.

The tables around us had gone completely quiet and still.

My silence only egged him on. With no warning, he picked up the bin of boots and flipped it over, so dozens of boots scattered across the length of the table with a terrible amount of noise. Now everyone in the Factory was looking. Everyone saw me, thrust out into the light.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!” he sang out, knocking the boots around. But they weren’t. They were perfect. They were just boots, but I knew whose feet would slide into them. I knew better than to screw it up. “Are you as deaf as you are dumb, Green?”

And then, clear as day, low as thunder, I heard Sam say, “That was my bin.”

And all I could think was No. Oh no.

I felt the PSF shift behind me, pull back in surprise. They always acted this way—surprised that we remembered how to use words, and use them against them.

“What did you say?” he barked.

I could see the insult rising to her lips. She was rolling it around on her tongue like a piece of hard lemon candy. “You heard me. Or did inhaling that polish kill whatever helpless brain cells you had left?”

I knew what she wanted when she looked over at me. I knew what she was waiting for. It was exactly what she had just given me: backup.

I hung back a step, crossing my arms over my stomach. Don’t do it, I told myself. Don’t. She can handle it. Sam had nothing to hide, and she was brave—but every time she did this, every time she stood up for me and I shrunk back in fear, it felt like I was betraying her. Once again, my voice was locked away behind layers of caution and fear. If they were to look into my file, if they were to see the blanks there and start looking into filling them, no punishment they’d give Sam would ever compare to the one they’d give me.

That was what I told myself, at least.

The right side of the guy’s lips inched up, turning a grim line into a mocking smirk. “We’ve got a live one.”

Come on, come on, Ruby. It was all in the tilt of her head and the tightness of her shoulders. She didn’t understand what would happen to me. I wasn’t brave like she was.

But I wanted to be. I so, so wanted to be.

I can’t. I didn’t have to say the words aloud. She read it easily enough on my face. I saw the realization come together behind her eyes, even before the PSF stepped forward and took her arm, yanking her away from the table, and from me.

Turn around, I begged. Her blond ponytail was swinging with each step, rising above the shoulders of the PSFs escorting her out. Turn around. I needed her to see how sorry I was, to understand the clenching in my chest and the nausea in my stomach had nothing to do with the fever. Every single desperate thought that ran through my head made me feel sick with disgust. The eyes that had been on me lifted two by two, and the soldier never came back to finish his personal brand of torment. There was no one left to see me cry; I had learned to do it silently, without any fuss, years ago. They had no reason to so much as look my way again. I was back in the long shadow Sam had left behind.

The punishment for speaking out of turn was a day’s worth of isolation, handcuffed to one of the gateposts in the Garden regardless of the temperature or the weather. I’d seen kids sitting in a mound of snow, blue in the face, and without a single blanket to cover them. Even more sunburned, covered in mud, or trying to scratch patches of bug bites with their free hands. Unsurprisingly, the punishment for talking back to a PSF or camp controller was the same, only you also weren’t given food and, sometimes, not even water.

The punishment for a repeat offense was something so terrible, Sam wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about it when she finally returned to our cabin two days later. She came in, wet and shaking from the winter rain, looking like she had slept no more than I had. I slid off my bunk and was on my feet, rushing to her side, before she had even made it halfway across the cabin.

My hand slipped around her arm, but she pulled away, her jaw clenched in a way that made her look almost ferocious. Her cheeks and nose had been wind-whipped to a bright red, but she didn’t have any bruises or cuts. Her eyes weren’t even swollen from crying, like mine were. There was a subtle limp to her walk, maybe, but if I hadn’t known what had happened, I would have just assumed she was coming in from a long afternoon of working in the Garden.

“Sam,” I said, hating the way my voice shook. She didn’t stop or deign to look at me until we were by our bunks, and she had one fist curled in her bedsheets, ready to pull herself up to the top bed.

“Say something, please,” I begged.

“You stood there.” Sam’s voice was low and rough, like she hadn’t used it for days.

“You shouldn’t have—”

Her chin came down to rest against her chest. Long, tangled masses of hair fell over her shoulders and cheeks, hiding her expression. I felt it then—the way that the hold I had on her had suddenly sprung free. I had the strangest sensation of floating, of drifting farther and farther away with nothing and no one to cling to. I was standing right beside her, but the distance between us had split into the kind of canyon I couldn’t jump across.

“You’re right,” Sam said, finally. “I shouldn’t have.” She drew in a shuddering breath. “But then, what would have happened to you? You would have just stood there, and let him do that, and you wouldn’t have defended yourself at all.”

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