Thomas stood with Minho and Brenda at one of the viewing ports and watched the deliriously angry crowd below. It was hard to believe that what he was seeing was real.
“Look at them down there,” Thomas said. “Who knows what they were doing a few months ago. Living in a high-rise, maybe, working at some office. Now they’re chasing people like wild animals.”
“I’ll tell you what they were doing a few months ago,” Brenda answered. “They were miserable, scared to death of catching the Flare, knowing it’s inevitable.”
Minho threw his hands up. “How can you worry about them? Was I alone just now? With my friend? His name is Newt.”
“Nothing we could’ve done,” Jorge called from the cockpit. Thomas winced at the lack of compassion.
Minho turned to face him. “Just shut up and fly, shuck-face.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jorge said with a sigh. He fiddled with some instruments and got the Berg moving.
Minho slumped to the floor, almost like he’d melted. “What happens when he runs out of Launcher grenades?” he asked no one in particular, looking at an empty spot on the wall.
Thomas had no idea how to respond, no way to express the sorrow that filled his chest. He sank down next to Minho on the ground and sat there without saying a word as the Berg rose higher and flew away from the Crank Palace.
Newt was gone.
Eventually, Thomas and Minho got themselves up and went to sit on a couch in the common area while Brenda helped Jorge in the cockpit.
With time to think, the full reality of what had happened hit Thomas like a falling boulder. Ever since Thomas had entered the Maze, Newt had been there for him. Thomas hadn’t realized just how much of a friend he’d become until now. His heart hurt.
He tried to remind himself that Newt wasn’t dead. But in some ways this was worse. In most ways. He’d fallen down the slope of insanity, and he was surrounded by bloodthirsty Cranks. And the prospect of never seeing him again was almost unbearable.
Minho finally spoke in a lifeless voice. “Why did he do that? Why wouldn’t he come back with us? Why would he point that weapon at my face?”
“He never would’ve pulled the trigger,” Thomas offered, though he doubted it was the truth.
Minho shook his head. “You saw his eyes when they changed. Complete lunacy. I’d be fried if I’d kept pushing. He’s crazy, man. He’s gone wacker from top to bottom.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing.”
“Come again?” Minho asked as he turned to Thomas.
“Maybe when their minds go, they’re not themselves anymore. Maybe the Newt we know is gone and he’s not aware of what’s happening to him. So really, he’s not suffering.”
Minho almost looked offended by the notion. “Nice try, slinthead, but I don’t believe it. I think he’ll always be there just enough to be screaming on the inside, deranged and suffering every shuck second of it. Tormented like a dude buried alive.”
That image made Thomas not want to talk anymore, and they fell silent again. Thomas stared at the same spot on the floor, feeling the full dread of Newt’s fate, until the Berg landed with a thump back at the Denver airport.
Thomas rubbed his face with both hands. “I guess we’re here.”
“I think I understand WICKED a little more now,” Minho said absently. “After seeing those eyes up close. Seeing the madness. It’s not the same when it’s someone you’ve known for so long. I’ve watched plenty of friends die, but I can’t imagine anything worse. The Flare, man. If we could find a cure for that …”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but Thomas knew what he was thinking. Thomas closed his eyes for a second—nothing about this was black-and-white. It never would be.
Jorge and Brenda joined them after they’d sat awhile in silence.
“I’m sorry,” Brenda murmured.
Minho grunted something; Thomas nodded and gave her a long look, trying to let her know with his eyes how terrible he felt. Jorge just sat there, staring at the floor.
Brenda cleared her throat. “I know it’s hard, but we need to think about what we’re going to do next.”
Minho flew to his feet and pointed at her. “You can think all you want about whatever shuck thing you want, Ms. Brenda. We just left our friend with a bunch of psychos.” He stormed out of the room.
Brenda’s eyes fell on Thomas. “Sorry.”
He shrugged. “It’s okay. He was with Newt for two years before I showed up in the Maze. It’ll take him some time.”
“We’re really spent, muchachos,” Jorge said. “Maybe we should take a couple of days and rest. Think it all through.”
“Yeah,” Thomas murmured.
Brenda leaned toward him and squeezed his hand. “We’ll figure something out.”
“There’s only one place to start,” Thomas replied. “Gally’s.”
“Maybe you’re right.” She squeezed his hand once more, then let go and stood up. “Come on, Jorge. Let’s make something to eat.”
The two of them let Thomas be alone with his sorrow.
After a dreadful meal during which no one spoke more than a couple of meaningless words at a time, the four of them went their separate ways. Thomas couldn’t stop thinking about Newt as he wandered the Berg aimlessly. His heart sank when he thought about what their lost friend’s life was going to become, what little left of it he had.
Thomas stood dazed for a moment, then ran to the bathroom and locked the door. The note! In all the chaos of the Crank Palace, he’d completely forgotten about it. Newt had said Thomas would know when the time came to read it. And he should’ve done it before they’d left him in that rancid place. If the time hadn’t been right then, when would it have ever been?
He pulled the envelope out of his pocket and ripped it open, then took out the slip of paper. The soft lights that ringed the mirror lit up the message in a warm glow. It was two short sentences:
Kill me. If you’ve ever been my friend, kill me.
Thomas read it over and over, wishing the words would change. To think that his friend had been so scared that he’d had the foresight to write those words made him sick to his stomach. And he remembered how angry Newt had been at Thomas specifically when they’d found him in the bowling alley. He’d just wanted to avoid the inevitable fate of becoming a Crank.
And Thomas had failed him.
Thomas decided not to tell the others about the message from Newt. He didn’t see what possible purpose it could serve. It was time to move on, and he did so with a coldness that he didn’t know he had.
They spent two nights in the Berg, resting up and talking plans. None of them knew much about the city or had any solid connections. Their conversations always returned to Gally and the Right Arm. The Right Arm wanted to stop WICKED. And if it was true that WICKED might begin the Trials all over again with new Immunes, then Thomas and his friends had the same goals as the Right Arm.
Gally. They had to go back to Gally.
On the morning of the third day after their run-in with Newt, Thomas showered, then joined the others for a quick meal. It was obvious how anxious everyone was to get moving after two days of sitting around. The plan was to go to Gally’s apartment and start from there. There’d been a little worry about what Newt had told them—that some Cranks were planning to break out of the Palace and go to Denver—but there’d been no sign of them from the air.
Once they were ready, Thomas and the others gathered at the hatch door.
“Let me do the talking again,” Jorge said.
Brenda nodded. “And when we get in, we’ll find a cab.”
“Fine,” Minho muttered. “Let’s quit this shuck yapping and go.”
Thomas couldn’t have said it better himself. Movement was the only thing that would deaden the despair he felt about Newt and his dreadful note.
Jorge pressed a button and the huge ramp of the cargo door started to pivot downward. The door had only opened halfway when they saw three people standing just outside the Berg. By the time the bottom edge thumped the ground, Thomas had realized that they weren’t there with a welcome banner.
Two men. One woman. Wearing the same metallic protective masks as Red Shirt back in the coffee shop. The men held pistols and the lady had a Launcher. Their faces were dirt-smeared and sweaty, and some of their clothes had been torn, as if they’d had to fight their way through an army to get there. Thomas could only hope it was security being extra cautious.
“What is this?” Jorge asked.
“Shut your mouth, Munie,” one of the guys said, his mechanized voice making his words all the more sinister. “Now step down here nice and easy, or you won’t like what happens. Don’t. Try. Anything.”
Thomas looked past their assailants and was shocked to see that both gates leading into Denver were standing wide open and two people lay lifeless in the narrow alley leading to the city.
Jorge was the first to respond. “You start firing that thing, hermano, and we’ll be on top of you like stink on dookie. You may get one of us, but we’ll get all three of you punks.”
Thomas knew it was an empty threat.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” the man replied. “Give it your best shot. I’m pretty confident I’ll nail two of you before anybody takes a single step.” He lifted his gun a couple of inches and aimed at Jorge’s face.
“Fair enough,” Jorge muttered, and put his hands in the air. “You win for now.”
Minho groaned. “You are one tough slinthead.” But he raised his hands, too. “You guys better not drop your guard. That’s all I’m saying.”
Thomas knew they had no choice but to go along. He put up his hands and was the first to walk down the ramp. The others followed right behind, and they were led around to the back of the Berg, where an old beat-up van waited, the engine rumbling. A lady in a protective mask sat at the steering wheel, and two others holding Launchers sat on the bench seat behind her.
One of the men opened the side door, then gestured inside with a nod of the head. “In you go. One wrong move and bullets start flying. Like I said, we’ve got nothing to lose. And I can think of a lot worse things than the world with one or two less Munies in it.”
Thomas climbed into the back of the van, all the time working at their odds. Six versus six, he thought. But they had weapons.
“Who’s paying you to steal Immunes?” he asked as his friends clambered in to sit beside him. He wanted someone to confirm what Teresa had told Gally, that Munies were being rounded up and sold.
The three people who’d greeted them at the Berg got into the van and closed the doors. Then they aimed their weapons toward the back.
“There’s a pile of black hoods in the corner,” the lead guy said. “Put them on. And it won’t sit well with me if I catch you peeking during the ride. We like to keep our secrets nice and safe.”