- The Death Cure
And there was something else bothering him—the flash he’d felt when the Rat Man had first announced that WICKED would remove the Swipe. Besides knowing that he couldn’t just accept anything WICKED called his memories, he was scared. If everything they’d been insisting was true was in fact true, he didn’t want to face his past even if he could. He didn’t understand the person they said he was before. And more, he didn’t like him.
He watched as the Rat Man opened the door and left the room. As soon as he was gone, Thomas leaned in close to Minho and Newt so only his friends could hear him. “There’s no way we do this. No way.”
Minho squeezed Thomas’s shoulder. “Amen. Even if I did trust those shanks, why would I want to remember? Look what it did to Ben and Alby.”
Newt nodded. “We need to make a bloody move soon. And when we do, I’m going to knock a few heads to make myself feel better.”
Thomas agreed but knew they had to be careful. “Not too soon, though,” he said. “We can’t screw this up—we need to look for our best chance.” It had been so long since Thomas had felt it, he was surprised when a sense of strength began to trickle through him. He was reunited with his friends and this was the end of the Trials—for good. One way or another, they were done doing what WICKED wanted.
They stood up and, as a group, made their way to the door. But as Thomas put his hand on the knob to pull it open, he stopped. What he was hearing made his heart sink. The rest of the group was still talking, and most of the others had decided to get their memories back.
* * *
Rat Man was waiting outside the auditorium. He led them down several turns of the windowless hallway until they finally reached a large steel door. It was heavily bolted and looked to be sealed against outside air. Their white-clad leader placed a key card next to a square recess in the steel, and after a few clicks, the large slab of metal slid open with a grinding sound that reminded Thomas of the Doors in the Glade.
Then there was another door; once the group had filed into a small vestibule, the Rat Man closed the first door and, with the same card, unlocked the second. On the other side was a big room that looked like nothing special—same tile floors and beige walls as the hallway. Lots of cabinets and counters. And several beds lined the back wall, each with a menacing, foreign-looking contraption of shiny metal and plastic tubes in the shape of a mask hanging over it. Thomas couldn’t imagine letting someone place that thing on his face.
Rat Man gestured toward the beds. “This is how we’re going to remove the Swipe from your brains,” Rat Man announced. “Don’t worry, I know these devices look frightening, but the procedure won’t hurt nearly as much as you might think.”
“Nearly as much?” Frypan repeated. “I don’t like the sound of that. So it does hurt, is what you’re really saying.”
“Of course you’ll experience minor discomfort—it is a surgery,” Rat Man said as he walked over to a large machine to the left of the beds. It had dozens of blinking lights and buttons and screens. “We’ll be removing a small device from the part of your brain devoted to long-term memory. But it’s not as bad as it might sound, I promise.” He started pressing buttons and a buzzing hum filled the room.
“Wait a second,” Teresa said. “Is this going to take away whatever’s in there that lets you control us, too?”
The image of Teresa inside that shed in the Scorch came to Thomas. And of Alby writhing in bed back at the Homestead. Of Gally killing Chuck. They were all under WICKED’s control. For the slightest moment Thomas doubted his decision—could he really allow himself to remain at their mercy? Should he just let them do the operation? But then the doubt vanished—this was about mistrust. He refused to give in.
Teresa continued. “And what about …” She faltered, looked at Thomas.
He knew what she was thinking. Their ability to talk telepathically. Not to mention what came with it—that odd sense of each other when things were working, almost as if they were sharing brains somehow. Thomas suddenly loved the idea of losing that forever. Maybe the emptiness of having Teresa not there would disappear too.
Teresa recovered and continued. “Is everything going to be out of there? Everything?”
Rat Man nodded. “Everything except the tiny device that allows us to map your killzone patterns. And you didn’t have to say what you’re thinking because I can see it in your eyes—no, you and Thomas and Aris won’t be able to do your little trick anymore. We did turn it off temporarily, but now it’ll be gone forever. However, you’ll have your long-term memory restored, and we won’t be able to manipulate your minds. It’s a package deal, I’m afraid. Take it or leave it.”
The others in the room shuffled about, whispered questions to each other. A million things had to be flying through everyone’s heads. There was so much to think about; there were so many implications. So many reasons to be angry at WICKED. But the fight seemed to have drained from the group, replaced by an eagerness to get it all over with.
“That’s a no-brainer,” Frypan said. “Get it? No-brainer?” The only response he got was a groan or two.
“Okay, I think we’re just about ready,” Rat Man announced. “One last thing, though. Something I need to tell you before you regain your memories. It’ll be better to hear it from me than to … remember the testing.”
“What’re you talking about?” Harriett asked.
Rat Man clasped his hands behind his back, his expression suddenly grave. “Some of you are immune to the Flare. But … some of you aren’t. I’m going to go through the list—please do your best to take it calmly.”
The room lapsed into silence, broken only by the hum of machinery and a very faint beeping sound. Thomas knew he was immune—at least, he’d been told he was—but he didn’t know about anyone else, had actually forgotten about it. The sickening fear he’d felt when he’d first found out came flooding back.
“For an experiment to provide accurate results,” the Rat Man explained, “one needs a control group. We did our best to keep the virus from you as long as we could. But it’s airborne and highly contagious.”
He paused, taking in everyone’s gazes.
“Just bloody get on with it,” Newt said. “We all figured we had the buggin’ disease anyway. You’re not breaking our hearts.”
“Yeah,” Sonya added. “Cut the drama and tell us already.”
Thomas noticed Teresa fidgeting next to him. Had she already been told something, also? He figured that she had to be immune like him—that WICKED wouldn’t have chosen them for their special roles otherwise.
Rat Man cleared his throat. “Okay, then. Most of you are immune and have helped us gather invaluable data. Only two of you are considered Candidates now, but we’ll go into that later. Let’s get to the list. The following people are not immune. Newt …”
Something like a jolt hit Thomas in the chest. He doubled over and stared at the floor. Rat Man called out a few more names, but none Thomas knew—he barely heard them over the dizzying buzz that seemed to fill his ears and fog his mind. He was surprised at his own reaction, hadn’t realized just how much Newt meant to him until he heard the declaration. A thought occurred to him—earlier the Rat Man had said that the control subjects were like the glue that kept the project’s data together, made it all coherent and relevant.
The Glue. That was the title given to Newt—the tattoo that was etched in his skin even now, like a black scar.
“Tommy, slim yourself.”
Thomas looked up to see Newt standing there with his arms folded and a forced grin on his face. Thomas straightened back up. “Slim myself? That old shank just said you’re not immune to the Flare. How can you—”
“I’m not worried about the bloody Flare, man. I never thought I’d still be alive at this buggin’ point—and living hasn’t exactly been so great anyway.”
Thomas couldn’t tell if his friend was serious or just trying to seem tough. But the creepy grin still hadn’t left Newt’s face, so Thomas forced a smile onto his own. “If you’re cool with slowly going crazy and wanting to eat small children, then I guess we won’t cry for you.” Words had never felt so empty before.
“Good that,” Newt responded; the smile disappeared, though.
Thomas finally turned his attention to the rest of the people in the room, his head still dizzy with thoughts. One of the Gladers—a kid named Jackson who he’d never gotten to know very well—was staring into space with blank eyes, and another was trying to hide his tears. One of the girls of Group B had red, puffy eyes—a couple of her friends were huddled around her, trying to console her.
“I wanted to get that out of the way,” Rat Man said. “Mainly so I could tell you myself and remind you that the whole point of this operation has been to build toward a cure. Most of you not immune are in the early stages of the Flare, and I have every confidence that you’ll be taken care of before it goes too far. But the Trials required your participation.”
“And what if you don’t figure things out?” Minho asked.
Rat Man ignored him. He walked over to the closest bed, then reached up and put a hand on the odd metallic device hanging from the ceiling. “This is something we’re very proud of here—a feat of scientific and medical engineering. It’s called a Retractor, and it will be performing this procedure. It’ll be placed on your face—and I promise you’ll still look just as pretty when everything is done. Small wires within the device will descend and enter your ear canals. From there they will remove the machinery in your brain. Our doctors and nurses will give you a sedative to calm your nerves and something to dull the discomfort.”
He paused to glance around the room. “You will fall into a trancelike state as the nerves repair themselves and your memories return, similar to what some of you went through during what you called the Changing back in the Maze. But not nearly as bad, I promise. Much of that was for the purpose of stimulating brain patterns. We have several more rooms like this one, and a whole team of doctors waiting to get started. Now, I’m sure you have a million questions, but most of them will be answered by your own memories, so I’m going to wait until after the procedure for any more Q and A.”
The Rat Man paused, then finished, “Give me just a few moments to make sure the medical teams are ready. You can take this time to make your decisions.”
He crossed the room, the swish-swishing of his white pants the only sound cutting the silence, and disappeared through the first steel door, closing it behind him. Then the room erupted with noise as everyone started talking at once.
Teresa came over to Thomas, and Minho was right behind her. He leaned in close to be heard over the buzz of frantic conversations. “You shanks know more and remember more than anybody else. Teresa, I’ve never made a secret of it—I don’t like you. But I want to hear what you think anyway.”