Thomas sighed—arguing would be pointless. He grabbed one of the hoods and slipped it over his head. All he saw was darkness as the van lurched into motion with a roar of the engine.
It was a smooth ride, but it seemed to last forever. And so much time to think about things wasn’t exactly what Thomas needed—especially without being able to see. He was nauseated by the time they finally stopped.
When the side door of the van opened, Thomas instinctively reached up to take off his hood.
“Don’t do it,” the lead guy snapped. “Don’t you dare take those off until we tell you to. Now get out, nice and slow. Do us a favor and keep yourselves alive.”
“You sure are a tough shank,” Thomas heard Minho say. “Easy to do when you’ve got six people with guns. Why don’t you—”
He was cut off by the thump of a hard punch, followed by a loud grunt.
Hands grabbed Thomas and pulled him out of the van so roughly that he almost fell down. Once he got his balance, the person yanked again and started leading him away; Thomas was barely able to keep his feet under himself.
He kept quiet as he was led down a set of stairs and then down a long hallway. They stopped, and he heard the swipe of a key card, the click of a lock, then the creak of a door opening. As it did, the murmurs of hushed voices filled the air, as if dozens of people were waiting inside.
The woman gave him a push and he stumbled a few steps forward. He immediately reached up and yanked the hood off his head, just as the door closed behind him.
He and the others stood in a huge room filled with people, most of them sitting on the floor. Dull lights in the ceiling illuminated the few dozen faces that stared back at them, some of them dirty, most of them scratched or bruised.
A woman came forward, her face twisted by fear and anxiety. “What’s it like out there?” she asked. “We’ve been in here for a few hours, and things were falling apart. Has it gotten worse?”
More people started to approach their group as Thomas answered. “We were outside the city—they got us at the gates. What do you mean things were falling apart? What happened?”
She looked at the floor. “The government declared a state of emergency, without any kind of warning. Then the police, the cop machines, the Flare testers—they all disappeared. All at once, it seemed. We got snagged by these people trying to get work at the city building. There wasn’t even time to figure out what was happening or why.”
“We were guards over at the Crank Palace,” another man said. “Others like us had been disappearing left and right, so we finally gave up and came to Denver a few days ago. We got nabbed at the airport, too.”
“How’d everything get so bad, so suddenly?” Brenda asked. “We were here three days ago.”
The man let out a sharp, bitter laugh. “The whole city is full of idiots thinking they’ve been containing the virus. It’s been a long and slow rumble, but it’s all finally exploded in our faces. The world has no chance—the virus is too strong. Some of us have seen this coming for a long time.”
Thomas’s gaze wandered back to the group of people approaching. He froze when he saw Aris.
“Minho, look,” he said, elbowing him and pointing.
The boy from Group B had already broken into a grin and was jogging over. Behind him, Thomas could see a couple of girls who had been in Aris’s Maze group. Whoever these people were who had taken them, they were good at their job.
Aris reached Thomas and stood in front of him as if he were about to give him a hug, then held out a hand instead. Thomas shook it.
“Glad you guys are okay,” the boy said.
“You too.” Seeing Aris’s familiar face made Thomas realize that any bitterness he’d felt about what had happened between them in the Scorch was gone. “Where is everyone?”
Aris’s face darkened. “Most of them aren’t with us anymore. They got taken by another group.”
Before Thomas could process what he’d said, Teresa appeared. Thomas had to clear his throat to get rid of the lump that had suddenly formed there. “Teresa?” He felt such a flurry of conflicted emotions he could barely get the word out.
“Hey, Tom.” She stepped close to him, her eyes sad. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Her eyes moistened with tears.
“Yeah, you too.” Part of him hated her; part of him had missed her. He wanted to scream at her for leaving them behind at WICKED.
“Where did you guys go?” she asked. “How did you get all the way to Denver?”
Thomas was confused. “What do you mean, where did we go?”
She stared at him for a few seconds. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Thomas squinted. “What’re you up to now?”
“I’m not up to …” Defiance gripped her voice. “There’s obviously been some miscommunication. Look, most of our group was captured by different bounty hunters yesterday—they’ve probably already been taken back and sold to WICKED. Including Frypan. I’m sorry.”
An image of the cook popped into Thomas’s head. He didn’t know if he could handle losing yet another friend.
Minho leaned in to speak. “I can see you’re as cheerful as always. So glad to be back in your sunshiny presence.”
Teresa completely ignored him. “Tom, they’ll be moving us soon. Please come talk to me. In private. Now.”
Thomas hated the fact that he wanted to, and he tried to hide his eagerness. “The Rat Man already gave me his big speech. Please tell me you don’t agree with him and think I should go back to WICKED.”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” She paused, as if battling her pride. “Please.”
Thomas stared at her for a long moment, not sure how he felt. Brenda was just a few feet away, and it was clear she wasn’t happy to see Teresa.
“Well?” Teresa asked. She motioned to their surroundings. “Not a lot to do in here but wait around. Are you too busy to talk to me?”
Thomas had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He pointed to a couple of empty chairs in the corner of the large room. “Let’s go, but make it quick.”
Thomas sat with his head against the wall, arms folded. Teresa had her legs pulled up under her, sitting so that she faced him. Minho had warned him not to listen to a word she said as they’d walked away.
“So,” Teresa said.
“Where do we start?”
“This was your idea. You tell me. We can be done if you don’t have anything to say.”
Teresa sighed. “Maybe you could start by giving me the benefit of the doubt and quit acting like a jerk. Yes, I know I did things in the Scorch, but you also know why I did them—to save you in the long run. I didn’t know it was all about Variables and patterns then. How about giving me a little credit? Talk to me like a regular person.”
Thomas let silence fill the air for a few moments before he answered. “Okay, fine. But you left me behind at WICKED, which shows you—”
“Tom!” she yelled, looking as if she’d been slapped. “We did not leave you behind! What are you talking about?”
“What are you talking about?” Thomas was thoroughly confused now.
“We didn’t leave you behind! We came after you. You left us behind!”
Thomas could only stare at her. “Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
“All anyone talked about at the complex was that you, Newt, and Minho had broken out and were in the surrounding forest somewhere. We looked but didn’t see any sign of you. I’ve been hoping ever since that somehow you made it back to civilization. Why do you think I was so thrilled to see you alive!”
Thomas felt a stirring of familiar anger. “How can you possibly expect me to believe that? You probably knew exactly what Rat Man tried to tell me—that they needed me, that I’m the so-called Final Candidate.”
Teresa slouched. “You think I’m the most evil person to ever walk the earth, don’t you?” She didn’t wait for him to answer her, though. “If you had just gotten your memories back like you were supposed to, you’d see that I’m the same Teresa I’ve always been. I did what I did in the Scorch to save you, and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since.”
Thomas was having a hard time staying angry—she didn’t seem to be acting. “How can I believe you, Teresa? How?”
She looked up at him, and her eyes were glassy. “I swear to you, I don’t know everything about the Final Candidate—that stuff was developed after we went to the Maze, so I have no memories of that. But what I did learn was that WICKED doesn’t intend to stop the Trials until they get their blueprint. They’re preparing to start another round, Thomas. WICKED is gathering more Immunes to begin testing if the Trials didn’t work. And I can’t do it again. I left to find you. That’s it.”
Thomas didn’t respond. A part of him wanted to believe. Desperately.
“I’m so sorry,” Teresa said through a sigh. She looked away and ran her hand through her hair. She waited several seconds before she looked at him again. “All I can tell you is that I’m torn up inside. Ripped apart. I did believe that a cure could happen, and I knew they needed you to do it. It’s different now. Even with my memories back I can’t think the same way I did before. I can see now that things will never end.”
She stopped talking, but Thomas had nothing to say. He searched Teresa’s face and saw a pain unlike any he’d ever seen before. She was telling the truth.
She didn’t wait for him to speak before she continued. “So I made a deal with myself. I’d do whatever it took to make up for my mistakes. I wanted to save my friends first, and then other Immunes, if possible. And look what a great job I did.”
Thomas searched for words. “Well, we haven’t done much better, have we?”
Her eyebrows rose. “Were you hoping to stop them?”
“We’re about to be sold back to WICKED, so what does it matter?”
She didn’t answer right away. Thomas would’ve given anything to be inside her head—and not in the old way. For a brief moment he felt sad, knowing they’d shared countless hours together that he no longer had any memory of. They’d been best friends once.
She finally said, “If somehow we could do something, I hope that you’d find a way to trust me again. And I know we can convince Aris and the others to help us. They feel the same way I do.”
Thomas knew he had to be careful. It was strange that she only agreed with him about WICKED now that she’d gotten her memories back.
“We’ll see what happens,” he finally said
She frowned deeply. “You really don’t trust me, do you?”
“We’ll see what happens,” he repeated. Then he stood up and walked away, hating the look of hurt on her face. And hating himself for caring after everything she’d done to him.