- The Death Cure
Two words pop into his head: the Purge. The wall blocking him from the memory thins for a moment and a dreadful fact looms on the other side.
Teresa starts talking again. “They wanted it to end this way, Tom. Better to die than spend years going crazier and crazier. They’re gone now. We had no choice, and no better way to make it happen. It’s done and that’s that. We need to get the new people trained and keep the Trials going. We’ve come too far to let it fall apart.”
For a moment Thomas hates her, but it’s fleeting. He knows she’s trying to be strong. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” And he doesn’t. He has never hated himself with such intensity before.
Teresa nods but says nothing.
The dreaming Thomas tries to invade the mind of his younger self, explore the memories in that unfettered space. The original Creators, Flare-infected, purged and dead. Countless volunteers to take their place. The two ongoing Maze Trials, running strong over a year in, with more results every day. The slowly but surely building blueprint. Training for the replacements.
It’s all there for the taking. For the remembering. But then he changes his mind, turns his back on it all. The past is the past. There is only the future now.
He sinks into a dark oblivion.
Thomas woke up groggy and with a dull ache behind his eyes. The dream still throbbed in his skull like a pulse, though its details had grown fuzzy. He knew enough about the Purge, about its being the shift from the original Creators to their replacements. He and Teresa had had to exterminate the entire staff after an outbreak—they’d had no choice, were the only ones left who were immune. He swore to never think about it again.
Minho was sitting in a chair nearby, his head lolling as he snored in fitful sleep.
“Minho,” Thomas whispered. “Hey. Minho. Wake up.”
“Huh?” Minho opened his eyes slowly and coughed. “What? What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just want to know what happened. Did Hans get the thing switched off? Are we fixed?”
Minho nodded through a big yawn. “Yeah—both of us. At least, he said he did. Man, you wigged out big-time. You remember all that?”
“Of course I do.” A wave of embarrassment made his face flush hot. “But it was like I was paralyzed or something. I kept trying, but I couldn’t stop whatever was controlling me.”
“Dude, you tried to slice my you-know-whats off!”
Thomas laughed, something he hadn’t done in a long time. He welcomed it happily. “Too bad I didn’t. Could’ve saved the world from future little Minhos.”
“Just remember you owe me one.”
“Good that.” He owed them all.
Brenda, Jorge, and Hans walked in, all three of them looking serious, and the smile fell from Thomas’s face.
“Gally stop by and give you guys another pep talk?” Thomas asked, forcing a lighthearted tone to his voice. “You look downright depressed.”
“When did you get so cheerful, muchacho?” Jorge responded. “A few hours ago you were stabbing at us with a knife.”
Thomas opened his mouth to apologize—to explain—but Hans shushed him. He leaned over the bed and flashed a little light into both of Thomas’s eyes. “Looks like your head’s clearing up pretty well. The pain should be gone soon—your operation was a little worse because of that fail-safe.”
Thomas turned his attention to Brenda. “Is it fixed?”
“It worked,” she said. “Judging from the fact that you’re not trying to kill us anymore, it’s deactivated. And …”
“Well, you shouldn’t be able to talk to or hear from Teresa or Aris again.”
Thomas might’ve felt a pang of sadness at that even the day before, but now he felt only relief. “Suits me fine. Any sign of trouble yet?”
She shook her head. “No, but they can’t take any chances—Hans and his wife are going to leave, but he wanted to tell you something first.”
Hans had stepped back to stand by the wall, probably to give them a little space. He came forward now, his eyes downcast. “I wish I could go with you and help, but I have a wife, and she’s my family. She’s my first concern. I wanted to wish you luck. I hope you can do what I don’t have the courage to try.”
Thomas nodded. The change in the man’s attitude was marked—maybe the recent incident had reminded him of what WICKED was capable of. “Thanks. And if we can stop WICKED, we’ll come back for you.”
“We’ll see about that,” Hans murmured. “We’ll see about a lot of things.”
Hans turned and walked back to his position by the wall. Thomas was sure that the man carried around many dark memories in his mind.
“What next?” Brenda asked.
Thomas knew they didn’t have time to rest. And his mind was set on what they needed to do. “We find our other friends, convince them to join us. Then we go back to Gally. The only thing I’ve accomplished in life is to help set up an experiment that failed and tormented a bunch of kids. It’s time to add something else to that list. We’re going to stop the entire operation before they do it to new Immunes all over again.”
Jorge spoke for the first time in a while. “We? What’re you saying, hermano?”
Thomas shifted his gaze to the man, his resolve solidifying. “We have to help the Right Arm.”
No one said anything.
“Okay,” Minho finally said. “But first let’s get something to eat.”
They went to a coffee shop nearby, recommended by Hans and his wife.
Thomas had never been in such a place before. At least, not that he remembered. Customers lined up at the counter, getting coffee and pastries, then heading for a table or back out the door. He watched as a nervous older woman kept lifting her surgical mask to sip her hot drink. One of those red-shirted guards stood at the door, randomly testing people for the Flare with his handheld device every couple of minutes or so; an odd metal apparatus covered his own mouth and nose.
Thomas sat with Minho and Brenda at a table in the back corner while Jorge went to get food and drinks. Thomas’s eyes kept coming back to a man, maybe thirty-five or forty years old, who sat at a nearby bench in front of a large window onto the street. He hadn’t touched his coffee since Thomas and his friends had arrived, and steam no longer rose from the cup. The man just hunched over, elbows on knees, hands loosely clasped, staring at a spot on the other side of the shop.
There was something disturbing about the look on his face. Blank. His eyes were almost floating in their sockets, and yet there was a hint of pleasure there. When Thomas pointed it out to Brenda, she whispered that the guy was probably on the Bliss and would be jailed if he got caught. It gave Thomas the willies. He hoped the man would leave soon.
Jorge returned with sandwiches and steaming cups of coffee and the four of them ate and drank in silence. Thomas knew they all realized the urgency of their situation, but he was grateful to rest and get some strength back.
They finished up and were getting ready to leave, but Brenda remained in her seat. “Would you guys mind waiting outside for a few minutes?” she asked. Her look made it obvious that she meant Jorge and Minho.
“Excuse me?” Minho responded, his tone exasperated. “More secrets?”
“No. Nothing like that. I promise. I just need a moment. I want to tell Thomas something.”
Thomas was surprised but curious. He sat back down. “Just go,” he said, addressing Minho. “You know I won’t keep anything from you. And she knows it, too.”
His friend grumbled, but finally went with Jorge, and the two of them stood out on the sidewalk near the closest window. Minho flashed Thomas a goofy grin and waved, his sarcasm making it obvious he wasn’t exactly happy. Thomas waved back, then focused on Brenda.
“So? What’s this all about?” he asked.
“I know we need to hurry, so I’ll be really quick. We haven’t had time to be alone, and I just want to make sure you know that what happened in the Scorch wasn’t an act. I was there on a job, I was there to help things play out, but I did grow close to you and it did change me. And there are a few things I think you deserve to know. About me, about Chancellor Paige, about—”
Thomas held his hand up to cut her off. “Please just stop.”
She pulled back, a look of surprise on her face. “What? Why?”
“I don’t want to know anything. Not one more thing. All I care about is what we’re going to do from here out, not stuff about my past or yours or WICKED’s. Nothing. And we need to move.”
“No, Brenda. I mean it. We’re here and we have a goal and that’s all we need to focus on. No more talking.”
She held his gaze without saying anything, then looked down at her hands resting on the table. “Then all I’ll say is I know you’re doing the right thing, going in the right direction. And I’ll keep helping as best I can.”
Thomas hoped he hadn’t hurt her feelings, but he meant what he’d said. It was time to let go, even though she was obviously itching to tell him something. As he searched for a response, his eyes wandered back to the odd man on the bench. He’d pulled something Thomas couldn’t see out of his pocket and was pressing it against the crook of his right elbow. He closed his eyes in a long blink, looking a little dazed when they opened again. His head slowly drifted backward until it rested on the window.
The red-shirted Flare tester stepped into the café and Thomas leaned over to get a better look. Red Shirt walked toward the bench where the drugged-out man was still resting peacefully. A short woman moved along next to the tester, whispering into his ear and fidgeting nervously.
“Thomas?” Brenda asked.
He put a finger to his lips, then nodded toward the potential confrontation. She turned in her seat to see what was going on.
Red Shirt kicked the toe of the guy on the bench, who flinched and looked up. The men started exchanging words, but Thomas couldn’t hear what they were saying over the bustle and buzz of the crowded coffee shop. The man who’d been relaxing there suddenly looked scared.
Brenda turned back to Thomas. “We need to get out of here. Now.”
“Why?” The air seemed to have thickened, and Thomas was curious about what was going to happen.
Brenda was already standing. “Just come on!”
She turned and walked briskly toward the exit, and Thomas finally moved to follow her. He’d just risen from his chair when Red Shirt pulled out a gun and pointed it at the man on the bench, then leaned in to place his testing device on the man’s face. But the man swatted it away and rushed forward, tackling the tester. Thomas stared, frozen in shock, as the gun skittered away and disappeared under a counter. The two men crashed into a table and slammed to the floor.
Red Shirt started yelling; his voice sounded almost robotic coming through the protective metal mask covering his mouth and nose. “We’ve got an infected! Everyone evacuate the building!”