Thomas was just as curious to hear Teresa’s opinion. He nodded at his former friend and waited for her to speak. There was still a small part of him that foolishly expected her to finally speak out against doing what WICKED wanted.
“We should do it,” Teresa said, and it didn’t surprise Thomas at all. The hope inside him died for good. “It feels like the right thing to me. We need our memories back so we can be smart about things. Decide what to do next.”
Thomas’s mind was spinning, trying to put it all together. “Teresa, I know you’re not stupid. But I also know you’re in love with WICKED. I’m not sure what you’re up to, but I’m not buying it.”
“Me neither,” Minho said. “They can manipulate us, play with our shuck brains, dude! How would we even know if they’re giving us back our own memories or shoving new ones inside us?”
Teresa let out a sigh. “You guys are missing the whole point! If they can control us, if they can do whatever they want with us, make us do anything, then why would they even bother with this whole charade of giving us a choice? Plus, he said they’d also be taking out the part that lets them control us. It feels legit to me.”
“Well, I never trusted you anyway,” Minho said, shaking his head slowly. “And certainly not them. I’m with Thomas.”
“What about Aris?” Newt had been so quiet, Thomas hadn’t even noticed that he’d walked up behind him with Frypan. “Didn’t you say he was with you guys before you came to the Maze? What does he think?”
Thomas scanned the room until he found Aris talking to some of his friends from Group B. He’d been hanging out with them since Thomas had arrived, which Thomas figured made sense—Aris had gone through his own Maze experience with that group. But Thomas could never forgive the boy for the part he’d played in helping Teresa back in the Scorch, luring him to the chamber in the mountains and forcing him inside.
“I’ll go ask him,” Teresa said.
Thomas and his friends watched as she walked over, and she and her group started whispering furiously to each other.
“I hate that chick,” Minho finally said.
“Come on, she’s not so bad,” Frypan offered.
Minho rolled his eyes. “If she’s doing it, I’m not.”
“Me neither,” Newt agreed. “And I’m the one who supposedly has the bloody Flare, so I have more stake in it than anybody. But I’m not falling for one more trick.”
Thomas had already settled on that. “Let’s just hear what she says. Here she comes.”
Her talk with Aris had been short. “He sounded even more sure than us. They’re all for it.”
“Well, that settles it for me,” Minho answered. “If Aris and Teresa are for it, I’m against it.”
Thomas couldn’t have said it better himself. Every instinct he had told him Minho was right, but he didn’t voice his opinion aloud. He watched Teresa’s face instead. She turned and looked at Thomas. It was a look he knew so well—she expected him to side with her. But the difference was that now he was suspicious about why she wanted it so badly.
He stared at her, forcing his own expression to remain blank—and Teresa’s face fell.
“Suit yourselves.” She shook her head, then turned and walked away.
Despite everything that had happened, Thomas’s heart lurched in his chest as she retreated across the room.
“Ah, man,” Frypan’s voice cut in, jarring Thomas back. “We can’t let them put those things on our face, can we? I’d just be happy back in my kitchen in the Homestead, I swear I would.”
“You forget about the Grievers?” Newt asked.
Frypan paused a second, then said, “They never messed with me in the kitchen, now, did they?”
“Yeah, well, we’ll just have to find you a new place to cook.” Newt grabbed Thomas and Minho by the arms and led them away from the group. “I’ve heard enough bloody arguments. I’m not getting on one of those beds.”
Minho reached over and squeezed Newt’s shoulder. “Me neither.”
“Same here,” Thomas said. Then he finally voiced what had been building inside him for weeks. “We’ll stick around, play along and act nice,” he whispered. “But as soon as we get a chance, we’re going to fight our way out of this place.”
Rat Man returned before Newt or Minho could respond. But judging by the looks on their faces, Thomas was sure they were on board. One hundred percent.
More people were piling into the room, and Thomas turned his attention to what was going on. Everyone who’d joined them was dressed in a one-piece, somewhat loose-fitting green suit with WICKED written across the chest. It struck Thomas suddenly how thoroughly every detail of this game—this experiment—had been thought out. Could it be that the very name they’d used for their organization had been one of the Variables from the beginning? A word with obvious menace, yet an entity they were told was good? It was probably just another poke to see how their brains reacted, what they felt.
It was all a guessing game. Had been from the very beginning.
Each doctor—Thomas assumed they were doctors, like Rat Man had said—took a place next to one of the beds. They fidgeted with the masks that hung from the ceiling, adjusting the tubes, tinkering with knobs and switches Thomas couldn’t see.
“We’ve already assigned each of you a bed,” Rat Man said, looking down at papers on a clipboard he’d brought back with him. “Those staying in this room are …” He rattled off a few names, including Sonya and Aris, but not Thomas or any of the Gladers. “If I didn’t call your name, please follow me.”
The whole situation had taken on a bizarre taint, too casual and run-of-the-mill for the seriousness of what was going on. Like gangsters yelling out roll call before they slaughtered a group of weeping traitors. Thomas didn’t know what to do but go along until the right moment presented itself.
He and the others silently followed Rat Man out of the room and down another long, windowless hallway before stopping at another door. Their guide read from his list again, and Frypan and Newt were included this time.
“I’m not doing it,” Newt announced. “You said we could choose and that’s my bloody decision.” He exchanged an angry look with Thomas that seemed to say they better do something soon or he’d go crazy.
“That’s fine,” Rat Man replied. “You’ll change your mind soon enough. Stay with me until we’ve finished distributing everyone else.”
“What about you, Frypan?” Thomas asked, trying to hide his surprise at how easily the Rat Man had relented with Newt.
The cook suddenly looked sheepish. “I … think I’m going to let them do it.”
Thomas was shocked.
“Are you crazy?” Minho asked.
Frypan shook his head, bearing himself up a little defensively. “I want to remember. Make your own choice; let me make mine.”
“Let’s move along,” Rat Man said.
Frypan disappeared into the room, hurrying, probably to avoid any more arguments. Thomas knew he had to let it go—for now, he could only worry about himself and finding a way out. Hopefully he could rescue everyone else once he did.
Rat Man didn’t call for Minho, Teresa and Thomas until they were standing at the final door, along with Harriet and two other girls from Group B. So far Newt had been the only one to say no to the procedure.
“No thanks,” Minho said when Rat Man gestured for everyone to enter the room. “But I appreciate the invitation. You guys have a good time in there.” He gave a mock wave.
“I’m not doing it, either,” Thomas announced. He was beginning to feel the rush of anticipation. They had to take a chance soon, try something.
Rat Man stared at Thomas for a long time, his face unreadable.
“You okay, there, Mr. Rat Man?” Minho asked.
“My name is Assistant Director Janson,” he replied, his voice low and strained, as if it was hard work to stay calm. His eyes never left Thomas. “Learn to show respect for your elders.”
“You quit treating people like animals and maybe I’ll consider it,” Minho said. “And why are you goggling at Thomas?”
Rat Man—Janson—finally turned his gaze to Minho. “Because there are many things to consider.” He paused, stood straighter. “But very well. We said you could choose for yourselves, and we’ll stand by that. Everyone come inside and we’ll get things started with those willing to participate.”
Again, Thomas felt a shiver pass through his body. Their moment was coming. He knew it. And by the expression on Minho’s face, he knew it, too. They gave each other a slight nod and followed Rat Man into the room.
It looked exactly like the first one, with six beds, the hanging masks, all of it. The machine that evidently ran everything was already humming and chirping. A person dressed in the same green clothes as the doctors in the first room stood next to each bed.
Thomas looked around and sucked in a breath. Standing next to a bed at the very end of the row, dressed in green, was Brenda. She looked way younger than everyone else, her brown hair and face cleaner than he’d ever seen them back in the Scorch. She gave him a quick shake of her head and shifted her gaze to Rat Man; then, before Thomas knew what was happening, she was running across the room. She grabbed Thomas and pulled him into a hug. He squeezed back, completely in shock, but he didn’t want to let go.
“Brenda, what are you doing!” Janson yelled at her. “Get back to your post!”
She pressed her lips against Thomas’s ear, and then she was whispering, so quietly he could barely hear her, “Don’t trust them. Do not trust them. Only me and Chancellor Paige, Thomas. Ever. No one else.”
“Brenda!” the Rat Man practically screamed.
Then she was letting go, stepping away. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m just glad to see he made it through Phase Three. I forgot myself.” She walked back to her post and turned to face them once again, her face blank.
Janson scolded her. “We hardly have time for such things.”
Thomas couldn’t look away from her, didn’t know what to think or feel. He already didn’t trust WICKED, so her words put them on the same side. But why was she working with them, then? Wasn’t she sick? And who was this Chancellor Paige? Was this just another test? Another Variable?
Something powerful had swum through his body when they’d hugged. He thought back to how Brenda had spoken in his mind after he’d been put into the white room. She’d warned him things were going to get bad. He still didn’t understand how she’d been able to do that—was she really on his side?
Teresa, who’d been quiet since they left the first room, stepped up to him, interrupting his thoughts.
“What’s she doing here?” she whispered, the spite evident in her voice. Every little thing she did or said now bothered him. “I thought she was a Crank.”