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Hans glared at Thomas, scrutinized him like a scientist examining a specimen. “Doesn’t look important to me.” He shook his head and stood up. “Give me five minutes to prep,” he said, then disappeared through a side door without further explanation. Thomas could only wonder if the man recognized him. If he knew what Thomas had done for WICKED before the Maze.

Brenda sat back in her chair and let out a sigh. “That wasn’t so bad.”

Yeah, Thomas thought, the bad part’s coming up. He was relieved that Hans was going to help them, but as he looked around he got more and more nervous. He was about to let a stranger mess with his brain in a dirty old apartment.

Minho snickered. “You look scared, Tommy.”

“Don’t forget, muchacho,” Jorge said. “You’re doing this, too. That gray-haired grandpa said five minutes, so get ready.”

“The sooner, the better,” Minho replied.

Thomas rested his elbows on the table, his head—which had begun to throb—in his hands.

“Thomas?” Brenda whispered. “You okay?”

He looked up. “I just need to—”

The words caught in his throat as a sharp pain sliced down his spine. But just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. He sat up in the chair, startled; then a spasm sent his arms out straight and his legs kicked, twisting his body so that he slid off the chair and collapsed to the floor, shaking. He yelled when his back slammed into the hard tile, and struggled to get control of his jerking limbs. But he couldn’t. His feet slapped the floor; his shins banged against the legs of the table.

“Thomas!” Brenda yelled. “What’s wrong?”

Despite his loss of bodily control, Thomas’s mind was clear. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Minho was next to him on the ground trying to calm him and Jorge was frozen in place, eyes wide.

Thomas tried to speak, but only drool came out of his mouth.

“Can you hear me?” Brenda yelled, bending over him. “Thomas, what’s wrong!”

Then his limbs abruptly stilled, legs straightening and coming to a rest, his arms falling limp at his sides. He couldn’t make them move. He strained with the effort, but nothing happened. He tried to speak again, but no words formed.

Brenda’s expression changed to something close to horror. “Thomas?”

He didn’t know how, but his body started moving even though he wasn’t telling it to. His arms and legs shifted, he was getting to his feet. It was as if he’d become a puppet. He tried to scream but couldn’t.

“You okay?” Minho asked.

Panic clenched inside Thomas as he kept doing things against his will. His head twitched, then turned toward the door through which their host had disappeared. Words started spilling from his mouth, but he had no idea where they came from.

“I can’t … let you … do this.”


Thomas fought desperately against it, straining to get control of his muscles. But something foreign had taken over his body.

“Thomas, they’ve got you!” Brenda yelled. “Fight it!”

He watched helplessly as his own hand pushed her face away, sent her tumbling to the floor.

Jorge moved to protect her but Thomas reached out and punched him in the chin with a quick jab. Jorge’s head snapped back; a little spray of blood shot from his lip.

Again the words were forced from Thomas’s mouth. “I can’t … let you … do this!” By that time he was screaming, the effort hurting his throat. It was like his brain had been programmed with that one sentence and he couldn’t say anything else.

Brenda had gotten back to her feet. Minho stood dazed, his face a mask of confusion. Jorge was wiping the blood off his chin, his eyes lit with anger.

And a memory bubbled up in Thomas. Something about a fail-safe programmed into his implant to prevent it from being removed. He wanted to shout at his friends, tell them to sedate him. But he couldn’t. He started moving toward the door in lurching steps, shoving Minho out of the way. As he half stumbled past the kitchen counter, his hand reached out and grabbed a knife sitting by the sink. He gripped the handle, and the harder he tried to drop it, the more tightly his fingers clenched.

“Thomas!” Minho shouted, finally breaking out of his stupor. “Fight it, man! Get those shuck people out of your head!”

Thomas turned to face him, held the knife up. He hated himself for being so weak, for not being able to master his own body. Once again he tried to speak—but nothing. All his body would do now was whatever it took to prevent his implant from being removed.

“You gonna kill me, slinthead?” Minho asked. “Gonna throw that thing just like Gally did to Chuck? Do it, then. Throw it.”

For one second Thomas was terrified that that was exactly what he’d do, but instead his body turned back around to face the opposite direction. Just as he did, Hans came through the doorway, and his eyes widened. Thomas guessed Hans was his main target—that the fail-safe would attack whoever was attempting to remove his implant.

“What the hell is this?” Hans asked.

“I can’t … let you … do this,” Thomas replied.

“I was worried about this,” Hans murmured. He turned to the group. “You guys get over here and help!”

Thomas pictured the internal workings of the mechanism in his brain as minuscule instruments operated by minuscule spiders. He fought them, clenched his teeth. But his arm started to rise, the knife gripped tightly in his balled fist.

“I ca—” Before he could finish, someone slammed into him from behind, knocking the knife from his hand. He crashed to the floor and twisted to see Minho.

“I’m not letting you kill anybody,” his friend said.

“Get off me!” Thomas yelled, not sure if they were his own words or WICKED’s.

But Minho had pinned Thomas’s arms to the ground. He hovered over him, heaving to catch his breath. “I’m not getting up until they let your mind go.”

Thomas wanted to smile—but his face couldn’t follow even a simple command. He felt the tension in every single muscle.

“It won’t stop until Hans fixes him,” Brenda said. “Hans?”

The older man knelt down next to Thomas and Minho. “I can’t believe I ever worked for those people. For you.” He almost spat the word, looking directly at Thomas.

Thomas watched all this, powerless. His insides boiled with the desire to relax—to help Hans do what he needed to do. Then something ignited inside him, making his midsection arch upward. His body bucked and fought to free his arms. Minho pressed down, tried to get his legs in position to sit on Thomas’s back. But whatever was controlling Thomas seemed to release adrenaline inside him; his strength overcame Minho’s and he threw the boy off.

Thomas was on his feet in an instant. He grabbed the knife off the floor and dove toward Hans, lashing out with the blade. The man deflected it with his forearm, a red gash appearing there as the two of them collided and rolled across the floor, struggling against each other. Thomas did everything he could to stop himself, but the knife kept slashing as Hans kept dodging it.

“Get him!” Brenda yelled from somewhere close.

Thomas saw hands appear, felt them grabbing his arms. Somebody gripped him by the hair and yanked back. Thomas screamed in agony, then slashed blindly with the knife. Relief flooded through him—Jorge and Minho were gaining control, pulling him off Hans. Thomas crashed onto his back and the knife was knocked from his grip; he heard it clatter across the floor as someone kicked it to the far side of the kitchen.

“I can’t let you do this!” Thomas yelled. He hated himself even though he knew he had no control.

“Shut up!” Minho shouted back, now in his face as he and Jorge fought against Thomas’s attempts to get free. “You’re crazy, dude! They’re making you crazy!”

Thomas desperately wanted to tell Minho that he was right—Thomas didn’t really believe what he was saying.

Minho turned and yelled at Hans. “Let’s get that thing out of his head!”

“No!” Thomas shouted. “No!” He twisted and flailed his arms, battled them with ferocious strength. But the four of them proved too much. Somehow they ended up with one person holding tightly to each of his limbs. They lifted him from the floor, carried him out of the kitchen into a short hallway and down its length as he kicked and squirmed, knocking several framed pictures off the walls. The sound of shattering glass followed them.

Thomas screamed once, then again, over and over. He had no more strength to resist the internal forces—his body fought against Minho and the others; he said whatever WICKED wanted him to. He’d given up.

“In here!” Hans shouted over him.

They entered a small, cramped lab with two instrument-filled tables and a bed. A crude-looking version of the mask they’d seen back at WICKED hung over the empty mattress.

“Get him on the bed!” Hans yelled. They slammed Thomas down onto his back, where he continued to struggle. “Get this leg for me—I need to knock him out.”

Minho, who had been holding the other leg, now grabbed both legs and used his body to press them against the bed. Thomas’s thoughts immediately went back to when he and Newt had done this same thing to Alby when he’d woken up from the Changing back in the Glade Homestead.

There was the clatter and clanging of Hans going through a drawer, searching for something; then he was back.

“Hold him as still as possible!”

Thomas erupted in one last flurry of effort to get free, screaming at the top of his lungs. An arm sprang loose from Brenda’s grip and he smacked Jorge in the face with his fist.

“Stop it!” Brenda yelled as she reached for it.

Thomas arched his torso again. “I can’t … let you do this!” He had never felt such frustration.

“Hold him still, dammit!” Hans shouted.

Somehow Brenda got his arm again, leaned against it with her upper body.

Thomas felt a sharp prick in his leg. It was such an odd thing to be fighting against something so violently and yet wanting it to happen so completely.

When the darkness started to take him and his body stilled, he finally regained control of himself. At the very last second he said, “I hate those shucks.” And then he was out.


Lost in the dark haze of drugs, Thomas dreamed.

He is fifteen years old, sitting on a bed. The room is dark except for the amber glow of a lamp on the desk. Teresa is there—she has pulled a chair out and is sitting close to him. Her face is haunted—a mask of misery.

“We had to do this,” she says quietly.

Thomas is there but isn’t there. He doesn’t remember the details of what happened, but he knows his insides feel like rot and filth. He and Teresa have done something horrible, but his dreaming self can’t quite grasp what it was. A ghastly thing that is no less repulsive because they were told to do it by the people they did it to.

“We had to do it,” she repeats.

“I know,” Thomas responds in a voice that sounds as dead as dust.