“They’ve been looking all over for you,” the male guard said. “But you’re supposed to be in there.” He jabbed a finger at the hole.
“Where is everybody? Where’s Vince?” Thomas panted.
And as he spoke he knew Janson was still tearing after him. Thomas turned to face the Rat Man, whose face was screwed up in unnatural rage. It was a look Thomas had seen before. It was the same insane anger he’d seen in Newt. The Rat Man had the Flare.
Janson spoke between heavy breaths. “That boy … is property … of WICKED. Hand him over.”
The lady didn’t flinch. “WICKED doesn’t mean a pile of goose crap to me, old man. If I were you, I’d get lost, and I wouldn’t go back inside, either. Bad things are about to happen to your friends in there.”
The Rat Man didn’t respond, just kept panting, his eyes darting between Thomas and the others. Finally, he started to back away, slowly. “You people don’t get it. Your self-righteous arrogance will be the end of everything. I hope you can live with that while you rot in hell.”
Then he turned and ran away, disappearing into the gloom.
“What’d you do to piss him off?” the lady asked.
Thomas tried to catch his breath. “Long story. I need to find Vince, or whoever’s in charge. I need to find my friends.”
“Calm down there, kid,” the man responded. “Things are kind of quiet right now. People getting in position, planting, that sort of thing.”
“Planting?” Thomas asked.
“What does that mean?”
“Explosives, you idiot. We’re about to bring this whole building down. Show old WICKED that we mean serious business.”
Everything came into focus at that moment for Thomas. There’d been a fanaticism about Vince that hadn’t fully hit him until now. And there was the way the Right Arm had treated Thomas and his friends in the van after taking them hostage at the Berg. Also, why did they have all these explosives but no real conventional weapons? It didn’t make sense unless their goal was to destroy, not take over. The Right Arm wasn’t exactly on the same page as he was. Maybe they thought their motives were pure, but Thomas was beginning to realize that the organization had a darker purpose.
He needed to step carefully. All that mattered at that moment was saving his friends and finding and releasing the others who’d been captured.
The lady’s voice interrupted Thomas’s thoughts. “You’re doing a lot of heavy thinking in that noggin of yours.”
“Yeah … sorry. When do you think they’re going to set off the explosives?”
“Pretty soon, I suppose. They’ve been planting for hours. They want them all to detonate at the same time, but I’m guessing we aren’t quite that skilled.”
“What about all the people inside? What about the ones we came to rescue?”
The two of them looked at each other, then shrugged. “Vince hopes to get everyone out.”
“He hopes? What does that mean?”
“I need to talk to him.” What Thomas really wanted was to find Minho and Brenda. Right Arm or no Right Arm, he knew what they had to do: get to the Maze and lead everyone out of there to the Flat Trans.
The lady pointed to the hole in the side of the building. “Just through there a ways is an area they’ve pretty much taken over. You’ll probably find Vince there. Careful, though. WICKED’s got guards hiding all over the place. And they’re vicious little buggers.”
“Thanks for the warning.” Thomas turned, eager to get inside. The hole loomed over him, dusty darkness waiting within. There were no more alarms or flashing red lights. He stepped through.
At first Thomas didn’t see or hear anything. He walked on in silence, careful of what might be around each turn. The lights got brighter the farther he walked, and he finally spotted a door at the end of the hallway that had been propped open. He jogged to it and peered in to see a large room with tables scattered across the floor set on their sides like shields. Several people crouched behind them.
The people were watching a large set of double doors on the other side of the room, and no one noticed him as he squeezed against the doorframe, hiding most of his body from the inside. He leaned his head in to get a better look. He spotted Vince and Gally behind one of the tables, but didn’t recognize anyone else. On the far left side of the room, there was a small office, and he could tell that at least nine or ten people were huddled inside. He strained to see, but he couldn’t make out any faces.
“Hey!” he whispered as loudly as he dared. “Hey! Gally!”
The boy turned immediately, but had to glance around a few seconds before he spotted Thomas. Gally squinted, as though he thought his eyes might be tricking him.
Thomas waved to make sure he saw him and Gally motioned for him to come over.
Thomas looked around again to make sure it was safe; then he crouched down, ran over to the table and collapsed on the ground next to his old nemesis. He had so many questions he didn’t know where to begin.
“What happened?” Gally asked him. “What did they do to you?”
Vince shot him a glare but didn’t say anything.
Thomas didn’t know how to answer. “They … ran a few tests. Look, I found out where they’re keeping the Immunes. You can’t blow the place up until we get them out.”
“Then go get ’em,” Vince said. “We’ve got a one-shot deal here, and I’m not going to waste it.”
“You brought some of those people here!” Thomas looked to Gally for support, but he only got a shrug in response.
Thomas was on his own.
“Where’s Brenda, Minho, everyone else?” he asked.
Gally nodded toward the side room. “Those guys are all in there, said they wouldn’t do anything until you came back.”
Thomas suddenly felt sorry for the scarred boy beside him. “Come with me, Gally. Let these guys do whatever they want, but come help us. Don’t you wish someone had done the same for us when we were in the Maze?”
Vince spun on them. “Don’t even think about it,” he barked. “Thomas, you knew coming in here what our goals were. If you abandon us now I’ll consider you a turncoat. You’ll be a target.”
Thomas kept his focus on Gally. He saw a sadness in the boy’s eyes that made his heart break. And he also saw something he’d never seen there before: trust. Genuine trust.
“Come with us,” Thomas said.
A smile formed on his old enemy’s face and he responded in a way Thomas never would have expected.
Thomas didn’t wait for Vince to react. He grabbed Gally’s arm and they scooted away from the table together, then ran to the office and slipped inside.
Minho was the first to him, pulling him into a bear hug as Gally watched awkwardly from the side. Then the others were there, Minho. Brenda. Jorge. Teresa. Even Aris. Thomas almost got dizzy from the quick exchange of hugs and words of relief and welcome. He was especially thrilled to see Brenda, and he held on to her longer than anyone else. But as good as it felt, he knew they didn’t have time for it.
He pulled away. “I can’t explain everything right now. We have to go find the Immunes WICKED took, then find this back-door Flat Trans I learned about—and we need to hurry before the Right Arm blows this place up.”
“Where are the Immunes?” Brenda asked.
“Yeah, what did you learn?” Minho added.
Thomas never thought he’d say what he had to say next. “We need to go back to the Maze.”
Thomas showed them the letter he’d discovered next to him in the recovery room, and it only took a few moments for them all to agree—even Teresa and Gally—to abandon the Right Arm and set off on their own. Set off for the Maze.
Brenda looked at Thomas’s map and said she knew exactly how to get there. She gave him a knife and he gripped it tightly in his right hand, wondering if his survival would come down to one thin blade. They slipped out of the side room and made for the double doors while Vince and the others yelled at them, called them crazy, told them they’d get killed within minutes. Thomas ignored every word.
The door was still cracked, and Thomas was the first one through. He crouched, ready for an attack, but the hall was empty. The others fell in behind him, and he decided to trade stealth for speed, sprinting down that first long hallway. The gloomy light made the place feel haunted, as if the spirits of all the people WICKED had let die were there waiting in the corners and alcoves. But to Thomas, it felt like they were on his side.
With Brenda pointing the way, they turned a corner, went down a flight of stairs. Took a shortcut through an old storage room, down another long hallway. Down more stairs. A right and then a left. Thomas kept a fast pace, constantly scanning for danger. He never paused, never stopped to catch his breath, never doubted Brenda’s directions. He was a Runner again, and despite everything, it felt good.
They approached the end of one hallway and turned to the right. Thomas had only gone three more steps when out of nowhere someone was on top of him, gripping his shoulders and throwing him to the ground.
Thomas fell and rolled, pushing to get the person off of him. He heard shouts and the sounds of others struggling. It was dark and Thomas could barely see who he was fighting, but he punched and kicked, slashed with his knife, felt it connect and rip something. A woman screamed. A fist smacked into his right cheek, something hard nailed him in the upper thigh.
Thomas paused to brace himself, then pushed with all his strength. His attacker slammed into the wall, then jumped back on top of him again. They rolled, bumped into another pair of people fighting. It took every bit of his concentration to hold on to the knife, and he kept slashing, but it was hard being so close to his assailant. He jabbed with his left fist, hit under his attacker’s chin, then used the moment of reprieve to slam his knife into the person’s stomach. Another scream—again a woman, and definitely the person who was attacking him. He pushed her off for good.
Thomas stood, looked around to see who he could help. In the bare light, he saw Minho straddling a man, whaling on him, the guy showing no resistance. Brenda and Jorge had teamed up on another guard, and just as Thomas looked the man scrambled to his feet and fled. Teresa, Harriet, and Aris were leaning against a wall, catching their breath. They’d all survived. They needed to run.
“Come on!” he yelled. “Minho, leave him!”
His friend threw another couple of punches for good measure, then stood up, giving his guy one last kick. “I’m done. We can go.”
And the group turned and kept running.
They ran down another long flight of stairs and stumbled one by one into the room at the bottom. Thomas froze in shock when he realized where he was. It was the chamber that housed the Griever pods, the room they’d found themselves in after they escaped from the Maze. The observation room windows were still shattered—the glass lay in shards all over the floor. The forty or so oblong pods where the Grievers rested and charged looked like they’d been sealed closed since the Gladers had come through weeks earlier. A layer of dust dulled what had been a shiny white surface the last time Thomas had seen them.