“This is the headquarters of the Right Arm?” Brenda asked. “Consider me a little discouraged.”
Gally answered, his smile gone. “We’ve moved around more times than we can count. But thank you for the compliment.”
“So which one of you is the boss?” Thomas asked.
Gally nodded at his companion. “Don’t be a slinthead—Vince is in charge. And show some respect. He’s risked his life just because he believes that things should be made right in the world.”
Thomas held his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “I didn’t mean anything. The way you acted in your apartment, I thought you might be the guy in charge.”
“Well, I’m not. Vince is.”
“Does Vince know how to talk?” Brenda asked.
“Enough!” the large man yelled in a deep, booming voice. “Our whole city is overrun with Cranks—I don’t have time to sit here and listen to childish spats. What do you people want?”
Thomas tried to hide the anger that had lit up inside him. “Just one thing. We want to know why you captured us. Why you’re kidnapping people for WICKED. Gally gave us a lot of hope—we thought we were on the same side. Imagine our surprise when we found out the Right Arm was just as bad as the people they’re supposedly fighting against. How much money were you going to make selling humans?”
“Gally,” the man said in response, as if he hadn’t heard a single word Thomas had said.
“You trust these two?”
Gally refused to meet Thomas’s gaze. “Yeah.” He nodded. “We can.”
Vince leaned forward, resting his massive arms on the table. “Then we can’t waste any time. Boy, this is a look-alike operation and we didn’t plan on making a single dime off of anybody. We’re collecting Immunes to mimic WICKED.”
The response surprised Thomas. “Why in the world would you do something like that?”
“We’re going to use them to get inside their headquarters.”
Thomas stared at the man for a few seconds. If WICKED really was responsible for the disappearance of the other Immunes, it was so simple he could almost laugh. “That just might work.”
“I’m glad you approve.” The man’s face remained unreadable and Thomas couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. “We have a contact, and the deal is already arranged to sell them. It’s our way in. We have to stop those people. Prevent them from wasting even more resources on a pointless experiment. If the world is going to survive, they need to use what they have to help the people left alive. Keep the human race going in a way that makes sense.”
“Do you think there’s any chance they could ever find a cure?” Thomas asked.
Vince let out a long, low chuckle that rumbled in his chest. “If you believed that for even a second, you wouldn’t be standing here in front of me, would you? You wouldn’t have escaped, wouldn’t be seeking revenge. Which is what I’m assuming you are doing. I know what you’ve been through—Gally told me everything.” He paused. “No, we gave up on their … cure a long time ago.”
“We’re not here about revenge,” Thomas said. “It’s not about us. That’s why I like it that you talk about using their resources for something different. How much do you know about what WICKED is doing?”
Vince leaned back in his chair again, the whole thing squeaking as he shifted. “I just told you something, a secret that we’ve guarded with loss of life. It’s your turn to repay the trust. If Lawrence and his people had known who you were, they would’ve brought you here first thing. I apologize for the rough treatment.”
“I don’t need apologies,” Thomas answered. Though it did bother him that the Right Arm would have treated him differently than anyone else if they’d known who he was. “I just want to know what you have planned.”
“We go no further until you share what you know. What can you offer us?”
“Tell him,” Brenda whispered, nudging Thomas with an elbow. “This is what we came for.”
She was right. His gut had told him to trust Gally from the very moment he’d gotten the note from him, and it was time to commit. Without help, they’d never make it back to their Berg, much less accomplish anything else.
“Okay,” he said. “WICKED thinks they can complete the cure, that they’re almost there. The only missing piece is me. They swear it’s the truth, but they’ve manipulated and lied so much, it’s become impossible to know what’s real and what’s not real. Who knows what their motives are now. Or how desperate they’ve gotten, or what they might be willing to do.”
“How many of you are there?” Vince asked.
Thomas thought about it. “Fewer than four more—waiting back where we were taken by Lawrence. We don’t have numbers, but we have a lot of inside knowledge. How many in your group?”
“Well, Thomas, that’s a hard question to answer. If you’re asking how many people have joined the Right Arm since we started meeting and gathering forces a few years back, then there are well over a thousand. But as for how many are still around, still safe, still willing to see it all through to the end … Well. Then we’re only talking a few hundred, unfortunately.”
“Are any of you immune?” Brenda asked.
“Almost none. I myself am not, and—after what’s come to light in Denver—I’m pretty sure I’ve got the Flare by now. Hopefully the majority of us do not have the virus yet, but it’s inevitable in this crumbling world. And we want to make sure that something is done to salvage what’s left of this beautiful race called humans.”
Thomas pointed to a couple of chairs close by. “Can we sit down?”
Almost as soon as Thomas took a seat he began with the many questions that had built up. “So what exactly are you planning to do?”
Vince let out that rumbling chuckle of his again. “Calm down, son. Tell me what you have to offer in all this, and then I’ll tell you my plans.”
Thomas realized he was almost out of his seat, leaning across the table. He relaxed and sat back. “Look, we know a lot of things about WICKED’s headquarters and how things work there. And we have some in our group who’ve had their memories returned. But the most important thing is that WICKED wants me to come back. And I think we can use that to our advantage somehow.”
“That’s it?” Vince asked. “That’s all you have?”
“I never said we could do much without help. Or without weapons.”
At this last comment, Vince and Gally exchanged a knowing look.
Thomas knew he’d struck a chord. “What?”
Vince turned his attention first to Brenda, then Thomas. “We’ve got something that’s infinitely better than weapons.”
Thomas leaned forward again. “And what could that possibly be?”
“We have a way to make sure no one can use any weapons.”
“How?” Brenda asked, before Thomas could speak.
“I’ll let Gally explain that.” Vince gestured to the boy.
“Okay, think about the Right Arm,” Gally said. He stood up. “These people aren’t soldiers. They’re accountants, janitors, plumbers, teachers. WICKED basically has their own little army. Trained in the finest and most expensive weaponry. Even if we could find the largest stash in the world of Launchers and everything else they use, we’d still be at a huge disadvantage.”
Thomas couldn’t imagine where this was going. “So what’s the plan, then?”
“The only way to even the playing field is to make sure they don’t have any weapons. Then we might stand a chance.”
“So you’re going to steal them somehow?” Brenda asked. “Stop a shipment? What?”
“No, nothing like that,” Gally responded, shaking his head. Then a look of childlike excitement came over his face. “It’s not about how many you can recruit to your cause, but who you can recruit. Of everyone the Right Arm has gathered, one woman is the key.”
“Who?” Thomas asked.
“Her name is Charlotte Chiswell. She was a lead engineer for the biggest arms manufacturer in the world. At least for the advanced weaponry that uses second-generation technology. Every pistol, Launcher, grenade—you name it—used by WICKED comes from there, and they all rely on advanced electronics and computer systems to function. And Charlotte’s figured out a way to render their weapons useless.”
“Really?” Brenda asked, her tone full of doubt. Thomas found the idea hard to believe also, but he listened intently as Gally explained.
“There’s a common chip in every weapon they use, and she’s spent the last several months trying to figure out a way to reprogram the things remotely—to jam them. She finally did it. It’ll take a few hours once she starts, and a small device needs to be planted inside the building for it to work, so our people who plan to hand over the Immunes will do the job. If it works, we won’t have weapons, either, but at least we’ll have a level playing field.”
“If not an advantage,” Vince added. “Their guards and security detail are so trained in using those weapons that it’s second nature by now, I’m sure. But I bet they’ve grown lax in hand-to-hand combat. Real fighting. Sparring with knives and bats and shovels, sticks and rocks and fists.” He grinned mischievously. “It’ll be an old-fashioned brawl. And I think we can take them. If we didn’t do it that way, if their weapons were still working, we’d get destroyed before it even got going.”
Thomas thought back to the battle they’d had with the Grievers inside the Maze. It had been like what Vince just described. He shuddered at the memory, but it sure beat going against full-blown weapons.
And if it worked it would mean they had a chance. A rush of excitement hit Thomas. “So how do you do it?”
Vince paused. “We have three Bergs. We’re going in with about eighty people—the strongest we could find in our group. We’ll hand over the Immunes to our contact inside WICKED, plant the device—though that’s going to be our hardest task—and when it does the job, we’ll blow out a hole in the wall and let everyone else in. Once we’ve gained control of their facility, Charlotte will help us get enough of the weapons running again to stay in control. We’ll do this, or every last one of us will die trying. We’ll blow up the place if we have to.”
Thomas took it all in. His group could be invaluable in an assault like this. Especially those with their memories intact. They knew the layout of the WICKED complex.
Vince continued, and it was as if he’d read Thomas’s mind. “If what Gally says is true, you and your friends will be a huge help to our planning team, since some of you know the facility inside and out. And every extra body counts—I don’t care how old or young you are.”