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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Dark Mind Rising

A Dark Intercept Novel

The Dark Intercept (Volume 2)

Julia Keller

Tor Teen

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1

A Twitch in Time


Twitch.

Something weird was happening.

Twitch.

There it was again. A little crease of feeling, right behind her eyes.

Twitch.

Nothing serious, just annoying.

Amelia Bainbridge shifted in her seat. She glanced around the tram car at the other passengers. Was anybody else reacting? Was it some kind of glitch in the propulsion system, making the car bump and shudder? Nope. They all looked perfectly normal.

Twitch.

In the entire sixteen years of her life, she had never experienced anything quite like this. It wasn’t painful, but it was definitely distracting. Something … moved. Something shifted at the edge of her thoughts, right on the outer rim of her mind. She tried to ignore it, but she couldn’t.

Twitch.

Twitch.

It was coming even more frequently now, that jittery, fluttery thing, filling more of her head.

And just like that, Amelia’s perfectly ordinary ride—the same one she took to school every weekday, traveling high above the bright serenity of New Earth—took a nosedive toward the strange and dark.

Twitch.

Stronger that time, more insistent. Like somebody had spun a dial from five to six.

Twitch.

Now the dial jumped from six all the way up to eight. Or maybe ten or eleven.

Once again, just to be sure, Amelia looked around the nearly full car. She sneaked a glance at the skinny old guy across the aisle two rows up, and at the girl roughly her own age, with reddish curly hair, in the row behind her. And once again, nobody else seemed any different, nobody else was reacting. So nobody else was feeling it. They all appeared to be doing what she’d been doing until just a few seconds ago when the weird twitches came along: enjoying the ride on another gorgeous morning on New Earth.

The tram traveled at a phenomenally high rate of speed, but it did so with such scintillating grace and absolute balance that there was no lurching, no bobble, no rocking back and forth; there was barely a sense of motion at all. The car followed the long sweep of elevated track with a whisper of perfectly modulated acceleration.

Someday, Amelia wanted to create things just as sleek and sparkling as this tram system. In her case, it would be buildings. She wanted to be an architect so that she could design amazing structures that would make people look up and utter a soft “Wow.” And even though she got a bit discouraged sometimes because all the cool stuff had already been created—or so it seemed, which she knew wasn’t really true, but New Earth was filled with intimidating wonders—she loved gazing out the window and dreaming. Any window would do.

Twitch.

The buildings she’d create one day flew out of her head, replaced by increasing confusion. And fear. The twitches were at it again.

She shook her head, trying to clear it.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Her desperation increasing, Amelia fetched a series of shallow, rapid breaths. Was she getting sick or something? Were these flu symptoms, maybe? The flu made you dizzy, right? This twitching thing could be the first stage.

People didn’t usually get sick on New Earth. The serious, most-dreaded diseases were quarantined on Old Earth. If you didn’t go down there, you’d be fine. The few maladies that did creep their way up to the shiny new civilization floating above the broken planet were annoyances—colds, allergies, and the like. And even those would soon be eradicated. Amelia had read a story on her wrist console just last week about Shura Lu, a young physician on the verge of developing a cold vaccine.

Until then, people had to put up with being a little bit sick now and again. Maybe that explained this twitching business. After class, Amelia would head straight home. Take a nap, maybe. Eat some soup. Whatever. Her mom would know what to do for her.

She made yet another frantic assessment of the other people riding the tram. It was just before nine A.M., so most of them were probably on their way to school or work.

Nothing unusual.

A few seconds went by without a twitch. Amelia took a deep, relieved breath. Maybe it was over. Maybe the twitches would never come back. She relaxed. She let her head fall back against the cushioned seat, and she looked out the window again. The car was zipping across an aquamarine sky. The Color Blenders had done a nifty job today.

Each horizontal section of track was connected to a vertical strand of wire thinner than a human hair. The wires were made of a stunningly robust alloy developed by Arianna Prokop, chief engineer of New Earth. Every few feet they rose stealthily from the surface of New Earth, so fine that they were virtually invisible against the silver hills of the horizon. When viewed from the ground, the track looked as if it were attached to nothing at all, as if the tram system had simply materialized by magic and now wound in and out of the clouds in an elegant aerial cloverleaf. Tram cars swooshed along day and night, ferrying the people of New Earth with crisp speed and frictionless efficiency.

The car glided to a stop. The double doors jumped apart with a hiss, letting in another three passengers: an old woman in a floppy gray hat and two young children, a boy and a girl. Floppy Hat kept a hand on top of each child’s head, shepherding them toward the trio of seats across the aisle from Amelia. The old woman sat in the middle, a kid on either side.

The doors smacked to a close, resuming their tight seal. The car oozed forward toward its ultimate destination, Mendeleev Crossing.

Amelia watched the newcomers out of the corner of her eye, wondering if Floppy Hat was the kids’ grandmother, or maybe a friendly neighbor who had agreed to take them out for the day. There were lots of museums in Mendeleev Crossing, art museums and history museums and science museums. Amelia could spend hours hopping from museum to museum. Her mother used to take her there all the time. Now she was old enough to go on her own, and so she’d call her friends and—

Twitch.

Amelia’s happy thoughts vanished. Anxiety roared back in. She tried again to focus on something else.

They were entering Hawking, the capital city of New Earth, which lay between Amelia’s home in Higgsville and her school at Mendeleev Crossing. She saw Floppy Hat pointing out at the tall, skinny spires outside the window, murmuring a history lesson to the kids about the construction of the buildings when New Earth was still young.

Twitch.

Amelia shuddered.

Twitch.

Twitch.

The twitch expanded into her shoulders—or so she felt. Amelia looked at her right shoulder and then at her left, and she saw that they were still. So it was all happening in her mind. An invisible quiver traveled up the right side of her face, starting at her jaw and forking toward her temple.

Her lower lip began to tremble, the way it sometimes did when she was starting to cry—but she wasn’t starting to cry. She was too scared to cry. She reached up to feel her lip. It was perfectly still.

Everything was happening on the inside, not the outside.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Amelia let out a short, sharp little blurt of a sound. Not a yelp, exactly, and not a cry, but a sort of half burp.

That attracted the notice of one of the kids. He whispered something to the old lady. She put an arm around him and drew him closer to her, as if she—she, Amelia Bainbridge, who’d never hurt anybody in her entire life, who felt bad if she accidentally stepped on an ant or a spider, especially because they’d been so carefully bred up here on New Earth—was dangerous.

Twitch.

Twitch.

Twitch.

She was losing control of herself. Her knees banged against each other. Her arms and her legs jerked and stuttered—and yet, when she looked down, she saw that her body was completely still.

The only thing that had changed was the tiny bruise in the crook of her left elbow. She could swear she saw a small blue flash there. Once, twice.

And still the twitches continued.

Something had its hands on her brain and was squeezing tighter and tighter. The twitches had linked up to make a single long chain of unbearable hurt.

I want to die.

Never before had such a thought occurred to Amelia. Her life had not been totally painless—nobody’s life was perfect, right?—but overall she had it pretty good, and she knew it. She had a tight circle of friends. She was doing fantastic in school. She was making excellent progress toward her dream of becoming an architect. She loved her mom. She even loved her annoying little brother, Jeff.


Copyright © 2018 by Julia Keller