There were two pieces of paper inside. The first was a map of the WICKED complex, with black marker tracing several routes through the building. He quickly scanned the second: it was a letter, addressed to him and signed by Chancellor Paige. He put the map down and started to read the letter from the beginning.
It’s my belief that the Trials are over. We have more than enough data to create a blueprint. My associates disagree with me on this matter, but I was able to stop this procedure and save your life. It’s now our task to work with the data we already have and build a cure for the Flare. Your participation, and that of the other subjects, is no longer necessary.
You now have a great task ahead of you. When I became chancellor I realized the importance of creating a back door of sorts to this building. I placed this back door in an unused maintenance room. I’m asking you to remove yourself, your friends, and the considerable number of Immunes we’ve gathered. Time is of the essence, as I’m sure you’re aware.
There are three paths marked on the map I’ve enclosed. The first shows you how to leave this building through a tunnel—once outside, you’ll be able to find where the Right Arm has made their own entrance to another building. There, you can join them. The second route will show you how to get to the Immunes. The third shows you how to find the back door. It’s a Flat Trans that will transport you to what I hope will be a new life. Take them all and leave.
Ava Paige, Chancellor
Thomas stared at the paper, his mind in a spin. Another rumble sounded far away and jarred him back to reality. He trusted Brenda, and she trusted the chancellor. All he could do now was move.
He folded the letter and the map and stuffed them in his back pocket, then slowly stood up. Surprised at how quickly his strength had returned, he ran to the door. A peek out into the hallway showed that it was empty. He slipped out, and just as he did, two people came running by from behind. They didn’t so much as glance at him, and Thomas realized that the chaos brought about by the Right Arm’s attack might be the thing that ended up saving him.
He pulled out the map and studied it carefully, following the black line that led to the tunnel. It wouldn’t take long at all to get to it. He memorized the path and started jogging down the hall, scanning the two other paths Chancellor Paige had marked on the map as he went.
He had only gone a few yards when he stopped, stunned by what he was seeing. He pulled the map closer to make sure—maybe he wasn’t reading it right. But there was no mistaking what it showed.
WICKED had hidden the Immunes in the Maze.
There were two mazes on the map, of course—the one for Group A and the one for Group B. Both must’ve been built deep into the bedrock that lay under the main buildings of WICKED’s headquarters. Thomas couldn’t tell which one he’d been directed to go to, but either way he was going back to the Maze. With a sickening dread, he started running toward Chancellor Paige’s tunnel.
He followed the map and ran down hallway after hallway until he got to a long set of stairs that descended into a basement. The path took him through empty rooms and then, finally, to a small door that opened to a tunnel. The tunnel was dark but, Thomas was relieved to see, not completely black. Several uncovered lightbulbs hung from the ceiling as he ran along the narrow corridor. After about two hundred feet he came to a ladder that had been marked on the map. Up he went, and at the top there was a round metal door with a wheel handle that reminded him of the entrance to the Map Room in the Glade.
He spun the handle and pushed with all his strength. A dim light came in as Thomas forced the door up, and as it flipped open on its hinges, a great gust of cold air blew over him. He heaved himself out and onto the ground, next to a big rock in the barren, snow-covered land between the forest and WICKED headquarters.
He carefully hefted the lid to the tunnel up and over to close it again, then crouched behind the stone. He didn’t notice any movement, but the night was too dark to see very well. He looked up into the sky, and when he saw the same heavy gray clouds he’d noticed when he’d reached the complex, he realized that he had no idea how much time had passed since then. Had he been in the building for only a few hours, or had a full night and day come and gone?
Chancellor Paige’s note said that the Right Arm had made their own entrance into the buildings, probably with the explosions Thomas had heard earlier, and that was where he needed to go first. He saw the wisdom of connecting with the group—there was safety in numbers—and he had to let them know where the Immunes were hidden. Judging from the map, the best option Thomas had was to run to the cluster of buildings farthest from where he’d come out and search the area.
He went for it, edging around the boulder and sprinting for the closest building. He crouched as he ran, trying to stay as low as possible. Lightning streaked through the sky; it illuminated the cement of the complex and flashed off the white snow. Thunder followed quickly, rumbling across the land and rattling deep in his chest.
He reached the first building and pushed through the line of ragged bushes up against the wall. He edged along the side of the structure but found nothing. He stopped when he came to the first corner and peered around it—in the space between buildings were a series of courtyards. But he still saw no way inside.
He skirted the next two buildings, but as he approached the fourth one, he heard voices and immediately dropped to the ground. As quietly as he could, he scooted along the frozen dirt toward an overgrown bush, then peeked around it to search for the source of the noise.
There it was. Rubble lay strewn across the yard in huge heaps, and behind them a massive hole had been blasted in the side of the building. Which meant that the explosion had originated from the inside. A faint light shone from the opening, casting broken shadows on the ground. Sitting on the edge of one of those shadows were two people wearing civilian clothes. The Right Arm.
Thomas had started to stand up when an icy hand gripped his mouth tightly and he was jerked backward. Another arm wrapped around his chest and pulled him, dragging him along the ground; his feet burrowed through the snow. Thomas kicked out, struggling to free himself, but the person was too strong.
They turned the corner of the building into another small courtyard, and Thomas was thrown to the ground on his stomach. His captor flopped him onto his back and clamped a hand again over Thomas’s mouth. It was a man he didn’t recognize. Another figure crouched over him as well.
“I’m very disappointed,” the Rat Man said. “Looks like not everyone in my organization is on the same team after all.”
Thomas could do nothing but struggle against the person pinning him to the ground.
Janson sighed. “I guess we’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
Janson pulled out a long, slender knife, held it up and inspected it with narrowed eyes. “Let me tell you something, kid. I’ve never thought of myself as a violent man, but you and your friends sure have driven me to the brink. My patience is stretched to a minimum, but I’m going to show restraint. Unlike you, I think about more than myself. I’m working to save people, and I will finish this project.”
Thomas forced his every inch to relax, to be still. Struggling hadn’t accomplished a thing, and he needed to save his energy for when the right opportunity presented itself. It was clear that the Rat Man had lost it, and judging from that blade, he was determined to get Thomas back in the operating room at any cost.
“That’s a good boy. No need to fight this. You should be proud. It will be you and your mind that save the world, Thomas.”
The man holding Thomas down—a squat guy with black hair—spoke then. “I’m going to let go of your mouth now, boy. Let out one peep and A.D. Janson’s gonna give you a nice poke with that blade of his. Understand? We want you alive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few war wounds.”
Thomas nodded as calmly as he could and the man let go of him and sat back. “Smart boy.”
It was Thomas’s cue to go for it. He swung his leg violently to his right and kicked Janson in the face. The man’s head jerked backward and his body crashed to the ground. The dark-haired man moved to tackle Thomas, but Thomas squirmed out from under him and went after Janson again, this time kicking the hand that held the knife. It flew out of his grasp, skipping across the ground until it smacked into the side of the building.
Thomas turned his attention to the blade, and that was all the squat man needed. He lunged at Thomas, who landed on his back on top of Janson. Janson squirmed beneath them as they wrestled, and Thomas felt a desperation seize him, adrenaline exploding through his body. He screamed and pushed, kicked, fought his way out from between the two men. Scrabbling and clawing with his hands and feet, he got loose and dove toward the building for the knife. He landed next to it, grabbed it and spun around, expecting an immediate attack. Both men were just getting to their feet, obviously stunned by his sudden burst of strength.
Thomas stood up as well, holding the knife out in front of him. “Just let me go. Just walk away and let me go. I swear if you come after me I’m gonna go crazy with this thing and won’t stop stabbing till you’re both dead. I swear it.”
“It’s two against one, kid,” Janson said. “I don’t care if you have a knife.”
“You’ve seen what I can do,” Thomas replied, trying to sound as dangerous as he felt. “You’ve watched me in the Maze and the Scorch.” He almost wanted to laugh at the irony. They had made him into a killer … to save people?
The short guy scoffed. “If you think we’re—”
Thomas reared back and threw the knife as he’d seen Gally do, handle over blade. It cartwheeled through the space between them and slammed into the man’s neck. There was no blood at first, but he reached up, shock transforming his face, and clawed at the knife stuck in him. That was when the blood came, spurting in jets in time with his heartbeat. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak he collapsed to his knees.
“You little …,” Janson whispered, his eyes wide with horror as he stared at his colleague.
Thomas was shocked by what he’d done, and froze to the spot, but the moment broke as Janson turned his head to look back at him. Thomas burst into a sprint out of the courtyard, around the corner of the building. He had to get back to the hole in the building, had to get back inside.
“Thomas!” Janson shouted; Thomas heard his footsteps in pursuit. “Get back here! You have no idea what you’re doing!”
Thomas didn’t even pause. He passed the bush he’d hidden behind and ran full-bore toward the gaping hole in the side of the building. A man and a woman still sat nearby, crouched on the ground so that their backs touched. Upon seeing Thomas, they both clambered to their feet.
“I’m Thomas!” he yelled at them just as they opened their mouths to ask questions. “I’m on your side!”
They exchanged a look, then returned their attention to Thomas just as he skidded to a stop in front of them. Heaving for breath, he turned to look back, saw the shadowed figure of Janson running toward them, maybe fifty feet away.