Without being told, Minho and Newt took up position on either side of the doorway, Launchers at the ready. Brenda grabbed the handle of the door, pistol aimed into the opening. There were no sounds coming from the other side.
Thomas gripped his Launcher tighter, the back end pressed against his shoulder, muzzle aimed forward. “Open it,” he said, his heart racing.
Brenda swung the door wide and Thomas charged through. He swept his Launcher left and right, turning in a circle as he moved forward.
The massive hangar looked like it was built to hold three of the enormous Bergs, but only two stood in their loading spots. They loomed like giant squatting frogs, all scorched metal and worn edges, as if they’d flown soldiers into a hundred fiery battles. Other than a few cargo crates and what looked like mechanics’ stations, the rest of the area was nothing but open space.
Thomas pushed on, searching the hangar as the other three spread out around him. Not one thing stirred.
“Hey!” Minho shouted. “Over here. Someone’s on the …” He didn’t finish, but he had stopped next to a large crate and had his weapon trained on something behind it.
Thomas was the first one at Minho’s side and was surprised to see a man lying hidden from view on the other side of the wooden box, groaning as he rubbed his head. There was no blood showing through his dark hair, but judging from the way he struggled to sit up, Thomas bet he’d been hit pretty hard.
“Careful there, buddy,” Minho warned. “Nice and easy, no sudden movements or you’ll smell like burnt bacon before you know it.”
The man leaned on an elbow, and when he dropped his hand from his face, Brenda let out a small cry and rushed forward to him, pulling him into a hug.
Jorge. Thomas felt a rush of relief—they’d found their pilot and he was okay, if a little banged up.
Brenda didn’t seem to quite see it that way. She searched Jorge for injuries as her questions poured out. “What happened? How’d you get hurt? Who took the Berg? Where is everyone?”
Jorge groaned again and gently pushed her away. “Calm your pants, hermana. My head feels like it’s been stomped by dancin’ Cranks. Just give me a sec while I get my wits back together.”
Brenda gave him some space and sat down, her face flushed, her expression anxious. Thomas had a million questions of his own, but he understood well what it felt like to be knocked in the head. He watched Jorge as he slowly got his bearings, and remembered how he’d once been scared of this guy—been terrified of him. The images of Jorge fighting Minho inside that wreck of a building in the Scorch would never leave his mind. But eventually, like Brenda, Jorge had realized that he and the Gladers were on the same side.
Jorge squeezed his eyes shut and opened them a few more times, then started talking. “I don’t know how they did it, but they took over the compound, got rid of the guards, stole a Berg, flew out of here with another pilot. I was an idiot and tried to get them to wait until I could find out more about what’s going on. Now my head’s paying for it.”
“Who?” Brenda asked. “Who are you talking about? Who left?”
For some reason Jorge looked up at Thomas when he answered. “That Teresa chick. Her and the rest of the subjects. Well, all of them except you muchachos.”
Thomas staggered a step or two to his left and caught himself on the heavy crate for support. He’d been thinking that maybe Cranks had attacked after all, or that some other group had infiltrated WICKED, taken Teresa and the others. Rescued them, even.
But Teresa had led an escape? They’d fought their way out, subdued the guards, flown away in a Berg? Without him and the others? There were so many elements to the scenario, and none of them would come together in his mind.
“Shut your traps!” Jorge shouted over the din of questions from Minho and Newt, and Thomas jolted back to the present. “You’re driving nails through my head—just … quit talking for a minute. Somebody help me get up.”
Newt grabbed the man’s hand and pulled him to his feet. “You better start explaining what bloody happened. From the beginning.”
“And be quick about it,” Minho added.
Jorge leaned back onto the wooden box and folded his arms, still wincing with every movement. “Look, hermano, I already told you I don’t know much. What I said happened is what happened. My head feels like—”
“Yeah, we get it,” Minho snapped. “You have a headache. Just tell us what you know and I’ll find you some shuck aspirin.”
Jorge let out a little laugh. “Brave words, boy. If I remember right, you’re the one who had to apologize and beg for your life back in the Scorch.”
Minho’s face scrunched up and reddened. “Well, it’s easy to be tough when you have a bunch of lunatics with knives protecting you. Things are a little different now.”
“Would you stop!” Brenda said to both of them. “We’re all on the same side.”
“Just get on with it,” Newt said. “Talk so we buggin’ know what we need to do.”
Thomas was still in shock. He stood listening to Jorge and Newt and Minho, but it felt like he was watching something on a screen, like it wasn’t happening in front of him. He’d thought Teresa couldn’t be more of a mystery to him. Now this.
“Look,” Jorge said. “I spend most of my time in this hangar, okay? I started hearing all kinds of shouts and warnings over the com, then the silent-alarm lights started blinking. I went out to investigate and just about had my head blown off.”
“At least it wouldn’t hurt anymore,” Minho muttered.
Jorge either didn’t hear the comment or just ignored it. “Then the lights went out and I ran back in here to find my gun. Next thing I know, Teresa and a bunch of your hooligan friends come running in here like the world’s about to end, hauling old Tony along to fly a Berg. I dropped my lousy pistol when seven or eight Launchers were aimed at my chest, then I begged them to wait, explain things to me. But some chick with blond hair whacked me in the forehead with the butt of her gun. I passed out, woke up to see your ugly faces staring down at me and a Berg gone. That’s all I know.”
Thomas took it all in but realized none of the details mattered. Only one thing about the whole affair stood out, and not only did it confuse him, it hurt him to face it.
“They left us behind,” he almost whispered. “I can’t believe it.”
“Huh?” Minho asked.
“Speak up, Tommy,” Newt added.
Thomas exchanged long glances with both of them. “They left us behind. At least we went back and looked for them. They left us here for WICKED to do whatever they want with us.”
They didn’t respond, but their eyes revealed that they’d been thinking the same thing.
“Maybe they did search for you,” Brenda offered. “And couldn’t find you. Or maybe the firefight got too nasty and they had to leave.”
Minho scoffed at that. “All the guards are freaking tied up in that room back there! They had plenty of time to come look for us. No way. They left us.”
“On purpose,” Newt said in a low voice.
None of it sat right with Thomas. “Something’s off. Teresa’s been acting like WICKED’s number one fan lately. Why would she escape? It has to be some kind of trick. Come on, Brenda—you told me not to trust them. You have to know something. Talk.”
Brenda was shaking her head. “I don’t know anything about this. But why is it so hard to believe that the other subjects would have the same idea we did? To escape? They just did a better job of it.”
Minho made a noise that sounded like a wolf growling. “Insulting us is something I wouldn’t do right now. And use the word subjects again and I’ll smack you, girl or no girl.”
“You just try it,” Jorge warned. “Smack her and it’ll be the last thing you do in this life.”
“Could we stop the macho games for a bit?” Brenda rolled her eyes. “We need to figure out what comes next.”
Thomas couldn’t shake how much it bothered him that Teresa and the others—Frypan, even!—had left without them. If his group had been the ones to tie all the guards up, wouldn’t they have searched until they found their other friends? And why had Teresa wanted to leave? Had her memories brought back something she hadn’t expected?
“There’s nothing to bloody figure out,” Newt said. “We get out of here.” He pointed at a Berg.
Thomas couldn’t have agreed more. He turned to Jorge. “You’re really a pilot?”
The man grinned. “Damn straight, muchacho. One of the best.”
“Why’d they send you to the Scorch, then? Aren’t you valuable?”
Jorge looked at Brenda. “Where Brenda goes, I go. And I hate to say it, but heading for the Scorch sounded better than staying here. I looked at it like a vacation. Turned out a little rougher than I—”
An alarm started blaring, the same whining scream as before. Thomas’s heart jumped—the noise seemed even louder in the hangar than it had been in the hall, echoing off the high walls and ceiling.
Brenda looked with wide eyes at the doors they’d come through, and Thomas turned to see what had caught her attention.
At least a dozen of the black-clad guards were pouring through the opening, weapons raised. They started firing.
Someone grabbed the back of Thomas’s shirt and yanked him hard to the left; he stumbled and fell behind the cargo box just as the sounds of glass shattering and electricity crackling filled the hangar. Several arcs of lightning threaded around and over the crate, singeing the air. They’d barely winked out before a round of bullets thudded against the wood.
“Who let ’em loose?” Minho yelled.
“Hardly think it bloody matters right now!” Newt shouted back.
The group crouched low, their bodies pressed against each other tightly. It seemed impossible that they could fight back from such a position.
“They’ll flank us any second,” Jorge called out. “We need to start shooting back!”
Despite the wild attack going on around them, the statement struck Thomas. “I guess you’re with us, then?”
The pilot looked at Brenda, then shrugged. “If she’s helping you, then so am I. And if you haven’t noticed—they’re trying to kill me, too!”
A surge of relief edged through Thomas’s terror. Now they just had to make it onto one of those Bergs.
The onslaught had paused momentarily, and Thomas could hear shuffling footsteps and short barked commands. If they were going to gain an advantage, they needed to act quickly.
“How do we do this?” he asked Minho. “You’re in charge this time.”
His friend gave him a sharp look but nodded curtly. “Okay, I’ll fire right, Newt fires left. Thomas and Brenda, you fire over the box. Jorge, you scout a way for us to get to your shuck Berg. Shoot anything that moves or wears black. Get ready.”