“Thomas?” Dr. Wright asked, reaching out to put a hand on his back. “Are you okay? Do you have any more questions?”
Thomas sat up, brushed her hand away. “Just … let’s go where you said.”
The air suddenly seemed to go out of Janson’s office and Thomas’s chest tightened. He stood and walked to the door, opened it and stepped out into the hallway. It was all too much.
Thomas followed the doctors, but his mind was racing. He didn’t know what to do. There was no way to communicate with the Right Arm, and he’d lost his ability to speak inside Teresa’s—or Aris’s—mind.
They turned a couple of corners, and the zigzagging made Thomas think of the Maze. He almost wished he were back there—things were so much simpler then.
“There’s a room right up here on the left,” Janson explained. “I already put a typing pad in there if you’d like to leave any messages for your friends. I’ll figure out a way to deliver them.”
“I’ll make sure you get something to eat, also,” Dr. Wright called from behind.
Their politeness annoyed Thomas. He remembered stories of killers being put to death in the old days. They always got a last meal, too. As fancy as they wanted it.
“I want steak,” he said, stopping to look at her. “And shrimp. And lobster. And pancakes. And a candy bar.”
“I’m sorry—you’ll have to settle for a couple of sandwiches.”
Thomas sighed. “Figures.”
Thomas sat in a soft chair, staring at the typing pad on the small table in front of him. He had no intention of writing a note to anyone, but he didn’t know what else to do. The situation had proven to be way more complicated than he could’ve imagined. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but the notion that they’d dissect him alive had never crossed his mind. He’d figured whatever they did, he could just play along until the Right Arm showed up.
But there wouldn’t be any coming back from playing along now.
He finally typed goodbye messages to Minho and Brenda just in case he ended up dead; then he rested his head in his arms until the food arrived. He ate slowly, then rested again. He could only hope his friends showed up in time. Either way, he certainly wouldn’t leave this room until he absolutely had to.
He dozed as he waited, the minutes stretching on.
A knock at the door startled him awake.
“Thomas?” came the muffled voice of Janson. “We really need to get things started.”
The words lit a fire of panic in Thomas. “I’m … not ready yet.” He knew he sounded ridiculous.
After a long pause, Janson said, “I’m afraid we don’t have much of a choice.”
“But …,” Thomas began, but before he could pull his thoughts together, the door opened and Janson stepped inside.
“Thomas—waiting will only make it worse. We need to go.”
Thomas didn’t know what to do. He was surprised that they’d been so calm with him so far. He realized he’d pushed it to the limit and he’d run out of time. He took a deep breath.
“Let’s get it over with.”
The Rat Man smiled. “Follow me.”
Janson led Thomas to a prep room with a wheeled bed surrounded by all kinds of monitors and several nurses. Dr. Christensen was there, dressed from head to toe in scrubs, a surgical mask already in place on his face. Thomas could only see his eyes, but he looked eager to get started.
“So that’s it?” Thomas asked. A surge of panic raced through his gut, and it felt as if something were trying to chew through his chest. “Time to cut me open?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor answered. “But we need to begin.”
The Rat Man was just about to speak again when a blaring alarm erupted throughout the building.
Thomas’s heart lurched and relief flooded his system. It had to be the Right Arm.
The door swung open and Thomas turned just in time to see a frantic-looking woman announce, “A Berg arrived with a delivery, but it was a trick to get people inside—they’re trying to take over the main building this very second.”
Janson’s response almost stopped Thomas’s heart.
“Looks like we need to hurry and get this procedure started. Christensen, put him under.”
Thomas’s chest constricted and his throat seemed to swell. Everything was on the line, but he was frozen.
Janson barked orders. “Dr. Christensen, quickly. Who knows what these people are up to, but we can’t waste a second now. I’ll go tell operating personnel to stand their ground, no matter what.”
“Wait,” Thomas finally croaked. “I don’t know if I can do this.” The words felt empty—he knew they wouldn’t stop at this point.
Janson’s face burned red. Instead of answering Thomas, he turned to the doctor. “Do whatever it takes to open this kid up.”
Just as Thomas opened his mouth to speak, something sharp pricked his arm, sending jolts of heat through his body, and he went limp, collapsing onto the gurney. From his neck down he was numb, and terror flared inside him. Dr. Christensen leaned over him and passed a spent syringe to a nurse.
“I’m really sorry, Thomas. We have to do this.”
The doctor and a nurse pushed him farther onto the bed, hoisting his legs up so that he lay flat on his back. Thomas could move his head slightly from side to side, but that was all. The sudden turn of events overwhelmed him as he realized the implications. He was about to die. Unless somehow the Right Arm got to him immediately, he was going to die.
Janson stepped into his view. Nodding approvingly, the Rat Man patted the doctor on the shoulder. “Get it done.” Then he turned and disappeared; Thomas could hear someone shouting in the hallway before the door closed.
“I just need to run a few tests,” Dr. Christensen explained. “Then we’ll get you into the operating room.” He turned to fiddle with some instruments behind him.
It felt like the man spoke to him from a hundred miles away. Thomas lay helpless, his mind spinning as the doctor took blood, measured his skull. The man worked in silence, barely blinking. But the beads of sweat on his forehead showed that he was racing against who-knew-what. Did he have an hour to get this done? Several hours?
Thomas closed his eyes. He wondered if the weapons-disabling device had done its job. Wondered if anyone would find him. Then he realized, did he even want them to? Was it really possible that WICKED almost had a cure? He forced himself to breathe evenly, focus on trying to move his limbs. But nothing happened.
The doctor suddenly straightened and grinned at Thomas. “I believe we’re ready. We’ll wheel you to the operating room now.”
The man walked through the door and Thomas’s gurney was pushed into the hallway. Unable to move, he lay staring up at the lights in the ceiling flashing by as he rolled down the corridor. He finally had to close his eyes.
They’d put him to sleep. The world would fade. And he’d be dead.
He snapped his eyes open again. Closed them. His heart pounded; his hands grew sweaty and he realized he was gripping the sheets on the gurney in two balled fists. Movement was coming back, slowly. Eyes open again. The lights zooming by. Another turn, then another. Despair threatened to squeeze the life out of Thomas before the doctors could do it.
“I …,” he started to say, but nothing else came out.
“What?” Christensen asked, peering down at him.
Thomas struggled to speak, but before he could force any words out a thunderous boom rattled the hallway and the doctor tripped, his weight pushing the gurney forward as he scrambled to stop himself from falling. The bed shot to the right and crashed into the wall, then rebounded and spun until it hit the other side. Thomas tried to move, but he was still paralyzed, helpless. He thought of Chuck and Newt, and a sadness like none he’d ever known seized his heart.
Someone screamed from the direction of the explosion. Shouts followed; then everything grew silent again, and the doctor was up on his feet, hurrying to the gurney, straightening it out, pushing it again, banging through a set of swinging doors. A host of people dressed in scrubs awaited them in a white operating room.
Christensen started barking orders. “We have to hurry! Everyone, get to your places. Lisa, get him fully sedated. Now!”
A short lady responded. “We haven’t done all the prep—”
“It doesn’t matter! As far as we know the whole building’s gonna burn down.”
He placed the gurney next to an operating table; several sets of hands were lifting Thomas and moving him over before the gurney even came to a complete stop. He settled on his back, strained to take in the beehive buzz of doctors and nurses, at least nine or ten of them. He felt a prick in his arm, glanced down to see the short lady inserting an IV into his vein. All the while the only movement he could manage was in his hands.
Lights were placed in position just above him. Other things were stuck into his body in various places; monitors started beeping; there was the hum of a machine; people talking over other people; the room was filled with the scurry of movement, like an orchestrated dance.
And the lights, so bright. The room spinning, though he lay perfectly still. The rising terror of what they were doing to him. Knowing it was ending, right here, right now.
“I hope it works,” he finally managed to get out.
A few seconds later, the drugs finally took him and it all went away.
For a long time, Thomas knew only darkness. The break in the void of his thoughts was just a hairline crack—only wide enough to let him know about the void itself. Somewhere on the edge of it all, he knew that he was supposed to be asleep, kept alive only so they could inspect his brain. Take it apart, probably slice by slice.
So he wasn’t dead yet.
At some point as he floated in this confusing mass of blackness, he heard a voice. Calling his name.
After hearing Thomas several times, he finally decided to go after it, find it. He made himself move toward the voice.
Toward his name.
“Thomas, I have faith in you,” a woman said to him as he fought to regain consciousness. He didn’t recognize the voice, but it was somehow soft and authoritative at the same time. He continued struggling, heard himself moan, felt himself shifting in his bed.
Finally, he opened his eyes. Blinking against the brightness of the overhead lights, he noticed a door closing behind whoever had been there to wake him.
“Wait,” he said, but it came out as nothing more than a gravelly whisper.
By force of will he got his elbows under him and pushed himself up. He was alone in the room, the only sounds distant shouts and an occasional rumble like thunder. His mind began to clear, and he realized that other than a little grogginess, he felt fine. Which meant that, unless the miracles of science had really taken a leap, he also still had his brain.
A manila folder on the table beside his bed caught his attention. In big red letters, Thomas had been written across the front of it. He swung his legs around to sit up on the edge of the mattress and grabbed the folder.