Home > The Farm (The Farm #1)

The Farm (The Farm #1)
Author: Emily McKay



Some days, you just want to let the bad guys win. My mom, the pro bono lawyer, used to say that to me sometimes, back in the Before. That’s how you know you’re doing the right thing—it’s so hard you want to give up.

I really hoped she was right, because today was one of those days. Of course, my mom lived in a world where the monsters were greed, ambition, and questionable ethics. That all ended when the Ticks swarmed across the Southwest, eating every human in their path. My sister, Mel, and I live in a whole different world and the monsters here are less . . . metaphorical. And even if I sometimes wanted to give up, I knew I wouldn’t, because my twin, Mel, depended on me.

Praying for the patience to deal with her, I said, “We’ve been over this. You can’t come with me today.” I reached for her hand, but she snatched it away. Okay, not a day for touching.

She stood so close to me, I couldn’t shut the door to the storage closet where we’d lived for the past six months. “Stay here.”

Mel didn’t back up. She stood there, clenching her Slinky, shifting it from one hand to the other and back again, so it made that irritating sllluuunk sound. She never went anywhere without the damn thing, but she only jiggled it like this when she was nervous.

Since we’d arrived on the Farm, Mel had followed me everywhere. Mel hadn’t always been like this. Yeah, she had all the normal autism spectrum stuff: delayed speech, social impairment, and self-stimulating behaviors. But after years of therapy she’d functioned pretty highly. The stress of living on the Farm had changed all that.

In the past six months, we hadn’t been apart even for a few minutes. But for what I had to do today, she had to stay behind in our room. She and I lived in an eight-by-twelve storage closet, tucked in the corner of one of the lab rooms in the science building. Every time I tried to leave, Mel was right on my heels. Lily’s little lamb, Mom had always called her.

I pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket. There was never a signal, but I plugged it in every night and kept it charged because it was the only way to know what time it was without listening for the chimes. Three fifty-two. I had five, six minutes tops to get down to Stoner Joe’s if I wanted to talk to him alone.

Extending a single finger like a hook, I waved it past Mel’s face. “Look at me, Mel.”

Mel kept her gaze locked on the shelf beside the door where our backpacks sat, crammed full of the food and clothes we’d need if we did escape from the Farm. The pink pack sat on top of a stack of chemistry textbooks. Everything we needed was ready to go at a moment’s notice, everything except the stuff we didn’t have yet. Things that I could live without, but Mel couldn’t. And if I didn’t leave the room now to go trade for them, we’d have to wait one more week and then it might be too late.

I tried again, waving my hooked finger in front of her eyes like the occupational therapist had taught me do so many years ago. “Look at me, Mel.”

Mel twitched, shifting her gaze from the backpacks to a box of lab supplies wedged onto the shelf of microscopes.

I knew it bugged her, having all this crap in our room, but it was important. If a Collab happened to come by for an inspection, I wanted our room messy enough that he’d give up in disgust rather than search all our belongings.

Again I waved my hand. “Look at me, Mel.”

Mom would have told me to be patient. But Mom wasn’t here and I was out of time. I reached out and gave her fingers a quick rap. “Damn it, Mel. This is important. Red rover.”

Mel’s gaze snapped to mine.

Guess I should have led with that. The phrase “Red rover, red rover” was our code for the plan to escape the Farm and cross the Red River. That was one of the benefits of having a sister who spoke almost entirely in nursery rhymes. Most of the time, I hated that living on the Farm had made her regress to how she’d been as a child, but at least it meant we could discuss our escape plans anywhere and no one would know what “red rover” meant.

“When I leave, I want you to wedge the chair under the knob. That way you’ll be safe.” I swallowed, praying I wasn’t about to make a promise I couldn’t keep. “I won’t be gone long.”

Mel just stood there mumbling her senseless distress.

“When I come back, I’ll tap out ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on the door. Don’t open the door until then.”

Mel’s gaze had shifted again. Maybe I should have kept trying, but if she didn’t know the plan now, we were probably screwed anyway. Even though I didn’t really expect an answer, I asked one last time, “Do you understand?”

Mel bobbed her head, but I knew it wasn’t really an agreement. “Red rover, red rover, let Lil-lee come over.”

“Yes,” I muttered. “That’s the idea.”

I patted the pocket of my hoodie to make sure the slim box of pills was tucked inside. Then I let myself out the door. This time, Mel didn’t follow. A second later, I heard the sound of the chair being scraped across the floor and wedged under the knob.

Okay, step one: leave Mel safely hidden while I go out to trade. Check.

Step two: walk across campus, keep my head down, blend. As long as I didn’t give any of the Collabs a reason to stop me, no one would know what I had in my pocket. Not that Collabs needed an excuse to harass a Green. The Collabs were all guys who’d been high school bullies back in the Before. Surprise, surprise: all the jerks who picked on geeks like me were also willing to betray their own species by collaborating with the Dean. On the bright side, Collabs weren’t known for their keen intelligence and observational skills, so hopefully none of them would notice when I didn’t line up in front of the dining hall with the rest of the Greens, but instead went into Stoner Joe’s to trade.

The room Mel and I lived in was on the seventh floor, and walking down six flights of stairs gave me plenty of time to think about what I was about to do.

This time of day, all the Greens with the A schedule would be in the dining hall eating. All the Greens with the B schedule—like Mel and I—would be lining up for third meal. I should be able to talk to Joe alone. If someone was there, well, then I’d just hang out until everyone else left. I wouldn’t think about Mel by herself in our room. I wouldn’t think about the clock ticking away the remaining minutes of mealtime. If Mel and I had to miss third meal, it wasn’t that big a deal. Technically, Greens could miss one meal a week.

And I certainly wouldn’t think about the contents of my pocket. About those pills that would get me sent to the Dean’s office. That was a trip you didn’t come back from. Some people just disappeared up there, but if the Dean wanted to make an example of you, you were dragged out at dusk and tied to stakes just beyond the electric fences that surrounded the Farm. The screams seemed to echo for days afterward.

The Dean liked to remind us that those fences were there to keep the Ticks out as much as to keep us in.

As I left the building, the bitter February wind bit through the fleece of my jacket. I glanced around for any Collabs who might be nearby. Their bright blue uniforms made them easy to spot. They would have looked so cheerful if it hadn’t been for the tranq guns slung over their shoulders. A couple of them loitered over by the admin building.

Back in the Before, the Farm had been a prestigious private liberal arts college. For more than a hundred years, the college had sat nestled against the banks of the Red River, just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border, home to pampered students. The admin building dominated the east side of the campus. Whatever its purpose had been back in the Before, now . . . now, it just creeped me out. The real monster might be on the other side of the fence, but sometimes, horrible noises came from the admin building and the shadows at the windows seemed to move with inhuman speed.

At the opposite end of campus was the dining hall, with its sleek modern architecture and massive, floor-to-ceiling windows. Between the two buildings stretched the open green space of the quad, a smattering of dorms and academic buildings lining the quad’s edges. Our science building was one of them.

Four times a day, all the Greens shuffled out from their various hiding places and ambled over to the dining hall, where we were scanned, prodded, and fed. Yeah, we were treated like cows, except cows lived in the blissful oblivion of not knowing their future. We Greens couldn’t escape the reminders of what was to come. Not when Collabs took weekly “donations” at the mobile blood bank. Calling it that was their way of making it seem voluntary. It wasn’t. And every time we donated blood, they tested it to see how “clean” it was, whether or not it would make good food for the Ticks or if it had too many of the hormones the Ticks seemed to crave. On the Farm, we weren’t raising food; we were the food.

When I was kid, my dad used to love showing me these cheesy sci-fi movies—my cultural education, he called it. His favorite was Soylent Green, this one where everyone finds out the perfect food is made out of people. For weeks after, we ran around yelling, “Soylent Green is people!” I thought it was so funny. It wasn’t funny anymore.

Still, donating wasn’t so bad, once you got used to feeling weak all the time. It kept us docile. It allowed us to pretend there wasn’t something much worse waiting for us when we turned eighteen.

I tried not to think of that as I made my way across campus. If you wanted to go anywhere on campus without attracting attention, just before or just after meals was the time to do it.

As always, Breeders lounged around the edges of the quad, smugly serene, some of them displaying bellies already round and fertile. They didn’t have to worry about eighteenth birthdays. Of course, the ones who were pregnant had other things to worry about.

The Greens all kept their heads down, shuffling across the quad like cattle, and I moved quickly to join them. There was safety in numbers—or the illusion of it—and a little extra warmth, too.

Normally I kept my head down, too, and stayed as close to the center of the pack as possible. However, I was distracted, running through the plan in my mind, and when I glanced up, I was at the edge of the crowd with a clear view between one of the dorms and the education building. Most days, we all did everything we could to avoid looking out beyond the fences. Now I wished like hell I’d been paying better attention, because when I looked up, I saw four Greens tethered to a streetlight on the other side of the fence. They were still alive. They’d been tranqed, but I could see the terror trying to fight through the haze.

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