Whispers of the Darkness

The world is changing-the government has seized control of every aspect of society, and now kids are disappearing.

For Marinette and her brother Nino, life turns upside-down when they are hauled out of bed one night, separated from their parents, and thrown into a secret compound for no reason they can comprehend.

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2. Chapter 1

Nino POV

Sometimes you wake up and the world is just plain different.

The noise of a circling helicopter is what made me open my eyes. A cold, blue-white light forced its way through the blinds and flooded the living room. Almost like it was day.

But it wasn't.

I peered at the clock on the DVD player through blurry eyes: 2:10 a.m.

I became aware of a steady drub, drub, drub—like the sound of a heavy heartbeat. Throbbing. Pressing in. Getting closer.

What's going on?

I staggered to the window, forcing my body back to life after two hours of being passed out on the sofa, and peeked through the slats.

And then I stepped back and rubbed my eyes. Hard.

Because there's no way I had seen what I'd seen. And there was no way I had heard what I'd heard.

Was it really the steady, relentless footfall of hundreds of soldiers? Marching on my street in perfect unison?

The road wasn't close enough to the center of town to be on any holiday parade routes, much less to have armed men in combat fatigues coursing down it in the dead of night.

I shook my head and bounced up and down a few times, kind of like I do in my warm-ups. Wake up, Nino. I slapped myself for good measure. And then I looked again.

There they were. Soldiers marching down our street. Hundreds of them as clear as day, made visible by a half-dozen truck-mounted spotlights.

Just one thought was running laps inside my head: This can't be happening. This can't be happening. This can't be happening.

Then I remembered the elections, the new government, the ravings of my parents about the trouble the country was in, the special broadcasts on TV, the political petitions my classmates were circulating online, the heated debates between teachers at school. None of it meant anything to me until that second.

And before I could piece it all together, the vanguard of the formation stopped in front of my house.

Almost faster than I could comprehend, two armed squads detached themselves from the phalanx and sprinted across the lawn like commandos, one running around the back of the house, the other taking position in front.

I jumped away from the window. I could tell they weren't here to protect me and my family. I had to warn Mom, Dad, Mari—

But just as I started to yell, the front door was knocked off its hinges.

Mari POV

It's quite hideous to get kidnapped in the dead of night, right inside your own home. It went something like this:

I woke to the chaotic crashing of overturning furniture, quickly followed by the sounds of shattering glass, possibly some of Mom's china.

Oh God, Nino, I thought, shaking my head sleepily. My older brother had grown four inches and gained thirty pounds of muscle in the past year. Which made him the biggest and fastest quarterback around, and, I must say, the most intimidating player on our regional high school's undefeated football team.

Off the playing field, though, Nino could be about as clumsy as your average bear—if your average bear were hopped-up on a case of Red Bull and full of himself because he could bench-press 275 and every girl in school thought he was the hunk of all hunks.

I rolled over and pulled my pillow around my head. Even before the drinking started, Nino couldn't walk through our house without knocking something over. Total bull-in-a-china-shop syndrome.

But that wasn't the real problem tonight, I knew.

Because three months ago, his girlfriend, Alya, had literally vanished without a trace. And by now everyone was thinking she probably would never come back. Her parents were totally messed up about it, and so was Nino. To be honest, so was I. Alya was—is—very pretty, smart, not conceited at all. She's this totally cool girl, even though she has money. Alya's father owns the luxury-car dealership in town, and her mom is a former beauty queen. I couldn't believe something like that would happen to someone like Alya.

I heard my parents' bedroom door open and snuggled back down into my cozy, flannel-sheeted bed.

Next came Dad's booming voice, and he was as angry as I've ever heard him.

"This can't be happening! You have no right to be here. Leave our house now!"

I bolted upright, wide awake. Then came more crashing sounds, and I thought I heard someone moan in pain. Had Nino fallen and cracked his head? Had my dad been hurt?

Jeez, Louise, I thought, scrambling out of bed. "I'm coming, Dad! Are you all right? Dad?"

And then the nightmare to start a lifetime of nightmares truly began.

I gasped as my bedroom door crashed open. Two hulking men in dark-gray uniforms burst into my room, glaring at me as if I were a fugitive terrorist-cell operative.

"It's her! Marinette Dupain-Cheng!" one said, and a light bright enough to illuminate an airplane hangar obliterated the darkness.

I tried to shield my eyes as my heart kicked into overdrive. "Who are you?!" I asked. "What are you doing in my freaking bedroom?"

"BE extremely careful with her!" one of the humongous men cautioned. They looked like Special Forces operatives with giant white numbers on their uniforms. "You know she can—"

The other nodded, glancing around my room nervously. "You!" he snapped harshly. "Come with us! We're from the New Order. Move one step out of line, and we will punish you severely!"

I stared at him, my head spinning. The New Order? These weren't ordinary policemen or EMS personnel.

"Um—I—I—," I stammered. "I need to put on some clothes. Can I... can I have a little privacy?"

"Shut up!" the first commando guy barked. "Grab her! And protect yourself. She's dangerous—all of them are."

"No! Stop! Don't you dare!" I screamed. "Dad! Mom! Nino!"

Then it hit me like a runaway tractor trailer on ice. This was what had happened to Alya, wasn't it?

Oh God! Cold sweat beaded on the back of my neck. I need to get out of here, I thought desperately. Somehow, some way.

I need to disappear.

The seriously muscle-bound men in gray suddenly froze, their blocklike heads whipping back and forth like puppets on strings.

"Where is she? She's gone! Vanished! Where'd she go?" one said, his voice hoarse and panicky.

They shone flashlights around the room. One of them dropped to his knees and searched under my bed; the other rushed over to look in my closet.

Where'd I go? Were these guys totally insane? I was right there. What was going on?

Maybe they were trying to trick me into running for it so they had an excuse to use force. Or maybe they were escapees from an asylum who had come to get me the way they'd come to get poor Alya—

"Mari!" My mom's anxious shout from the hallway pierced the fog that had invaded my brain. "Run away, sweetheart!"

"Mom!" I shrieked. The two guys blinked and stepped back in surprise.

"There she is! Grab her! She's right there! Quick, before she disappears again!"

Big klutzy hands grabbed my arms and legs, then my head. "Let me go!" I screamed, kicking and struggling. "Let. Me. Go."

But their grip was like steel as they dragged me down the hall to the family room and dumped me on the floor like a sack of trash.

I quickly scrambled to my feet, more floodlights whiting out my vision. Then I heard Nino shouting as he was thrown onto the living room floor next to me.

"Nino, what's going on? Who are these... monsters?"

"Mari!" he gasped, coherently enough. "You okay?"

"No." I almost cried, but I couldn't, wouldn't, absolutely refused, to let them see me wuss out. Every awful true-crime movie I'd ever seen flashed through my head, and my stomach heaved. I nestled close to my brother, who took my hand in his and squeezed.

Suddenly the floodlights turned off, leaving us blinking and shaking.

"Mom?" Nino shouted. "Dad?" If my brother hadn't been stone-cold sober already, he sure was now.

I gasped. My parents were standing there, still in their rumpled pajamas, but held from behind like they were dangerous criminals. Sure, we lived on the wrong side of the tracks, but no one in our family had ever been in trouble before.

Not that I knew of anyway.

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