“I don’t know,” Thomas muttered. Flashes of all that time he’d spent with Brenda in the broken city filled his head. In a strange way, he missed that place. Missed being alone with her. “Maybe she’s … just throwing me a Variable.”
“You think she was part of the show, sent to the Scorch to help run things?”
“Probably.” Thomas hurt inside. It made sense that Brenda could’ve been part of WICKED from the beginning. But that meant she’d lied to him, over and over. He wanted so badly for something to be different about her.
“I don’t like her,” Teresa said. “She seems … devious.”
Thomas had to force himself not to scream at Teresa. Or laugh at her. Instead, he spoke to her calmly. “Go let them play with your brain.” Maybe her distrust of Brenda was the best indication that he should trust Brenda.
Teresa gave him a sharp look. “Judge me all you want. I’m just doing what feels right.” Then she stepped away, awaiting the Rat Man’s instructions.
Janson assigned the willing patients to beds while Thomas, Newt, and Minho hung back and observed. Thomas glanced at the door, wondered if they should make a run for it. He was just about to nudge Minho when the Rat Man spoke up as if he’d read Thomas’s mind.
“You three rebels are being watched. Don’t even think about trying anything. Armed guards are on their way as we speak.”
Thomas had the unsettling idea that maybe someone had read his mind. Could they interpret his actual thoughts from the brain patterns they were so studiously collecting?
“That’s a bunch of klunk,” Minho whispered when Janson returned his attention to getting people settled on the beds. “I think we should take our chances, see what happens.”
Thomas didn’t answer, looked over at Brenda instead. She was staring at the floor, seemingly deep in thought. He found himself missing her terribly, feeling a connection he didn’t quite understand. All he wanted was to talk to her alone. And not just because of what she’d said to him.
The sound of rushed footsteps came from the hallway. Three men and two women burst into the room, all of them dressed in black, with gear strapped to their backs—ropes, tools, ammunition. They were all holding some sort of bulky weapon. Thomas couldn’t stop staring at the weapons—they tugged at some lost memory he could just barely put his finger on, but at the same time it was like seeing them for the first time. The devices shimmered with blue light—a clear tube in the middle was filled with shiny metallic grenades that crackled and fizzed with electricity—and the guards were pointing them at Thomas and his two friends.
“We waited too bloody long,” Newt snapped in a low, harsh whisper.
Thomas knew an opportunity would present itself soon. “They would’ve caught us out there anyway,” he answered quietly, his lips barely moving. “Just be patient.”
Janson walked over to stand beside the guards. He pointed at one of the weapons. “These are called Launchers. These guards will not hesitate to fire them if any of you cause trouble. The weapons won’t kill you, but trust me when I say that they’ll give you the most uncomfortable five minutes of your life.”
“What’s going on?” Thomas asked, surprised at how little fear he felt. “You just told us we could make this choice ourselves. Why the sudden army?”
“Because I don’t trust you.” Janson paused, seeming to choose his words carefully. “We hoped you would do things voluntarily once your memories were back. It would just make things easier. But I never said we don’t still need you.”
“What a surprise,” Minho said. “You lied again.”
“I haven’t lied about a thing. You made your decision, now live with the consequences.” Janson pointed at the door. “Guards, escort Thomas and the others to their rooms, where they can dwell on their mistakes until tomorrow morning’s tests. Use whatever force is necessary.”
The two female guards lifted their weapons even higher, the wide, round muzzles pointed at the three boys.
“Don’t make us use these,” one of the women said. “You have zero room for error. One false move and we pull the trigger.”
The three men swung the straps of their Launchers over their shoulders, then moved toward the defiant Gladers, one per boy. Thomas still felt an odd calmness—coming in part from the deep determination to fight until he couldn’t anymore—and a sense of satisfaction that WICKED needed five armed guards to watch three teenagers.
The guy who grabbed Thomas’s arm was twice as thick as he was, powerfully built. He walked briskly through the door and into the hallway, pulling Thomas along after him. Thomas looked back to see another guard half drag Minho across the floor to follow, and Newt was right behind them, struggling to no avail.
The boys were hauled down corridor after corridor, the only sounds coming from Minho—grunts and shouts and curses. Thomas tried to tell him to stop—that he was only making it worse, that he was probably going to get shot—but Minho ignored him, fighting tooth and nail until the group finally stopped in front of a door.
One of the armed guards used a key card to unlock the door. She pushed it open to reveal a small bedroom with two sets of bunk beds and a kitchenette with a table and chairs in the far corner. It certainly wasn’t what Thomas had been expecting—he’d pictured the Slammer back in the Glade, with its dirt floor and one half-broken chair.
“In you go,” she said. “We’ll have some food brought to you. Be glad we don’t starve you for a few days after the way you’ve been acting. Tests tomorrow, so you better get some sleep tonight.”
The three men pushed the Gladers into the room and swung the door closed; the click of the lock engaging echoed through the air.
Immediately all the feelings of captivity Thomas had endured in the white-walled prison came flooding back. He crossed the floor to the door and twisted the knob, pulled and pushed with all his weight. He pounded on it with both fists, screaming as loudly as he could for someone to let them out.
“Slim it,” Newt said from behind him. “No one’s coming to bloody tuck you in.”
Thomas whirled around, but when he saw his friend standing in front of him, he stopped. Minho spoke before he could put words together.
“I guess we missed our chance.” He plopped down on one of the bottom bunks. “We’ll be old men or dead before your magical moment comes rolling along, Thomas. It’s not like they’re going to make a big announcement: ‘Now would be an excellent time to escape, because we’ll be busy for the next ten minutes.’ We’ve gotta take some chances.”
Thomas hated to admit that his friends were right, but they were. They all should’ve made a run for it before those guards showed up. “Sorry. It just didn’t feel right yet. And once they had all those weapons in our faces, it seemed kind of pointless to waste the effort trying anything.”
“Yeah, well” was all Minho said. Then, “You and Brenda had a nice little reunion.”
Thomas took a deep breath. “She said something.”
Minho sat up straighter on the bed. “What do you mean she said something?”
“She told me not to trust them—to only trust her and someone named Chancellor Paige.”
“Well, what’s her buggin’ deal anyway?” Newt asked. “She works for WICKED? What, was she just a bloody actress down in the Scorch?”
“Yeah, sounds like she’s no better than the rest of them,” Minho added.
Thomas just didn’t agree. He couldn’t even explain it to himself, much less to his friends. “Look, I used to work for them, too, but you trust me, right? It doesn’t mean anything. Maybe she had no choice, maybe she’s changed. I don’t know.”
Minho squinted as if he was thinking but didn’t respond. Newt just sat down on the floor and folded his arms, pouting like a little kid.
Thomas shook his head. He was sick of puzzling everything out. He walked over and opened the small fridge—his stomach was rumbling with hunger. He found some cheese sticks and grapes and divvied them up, then practically shoved his portion down his throat before drinking a full bottle of juice. The other two gobbled theirs as well, no one saying a word.
A woman showed up soon after with plates of pork chops and potatoes, and they ate that, too. It was early evening, according to Thomas’s watch, but he couldn’t imagine being able to fall asleep. He sat down in a chair, facing his friends, wondering what they should do. He was still feeling a little chagrined, like it was his fault that they’d yet to try anything, but he didn’t offer any ideas.
Minho was the first one to speak since the food had come. “Maybe we should just give in to those shuck-faces. Do what they want. One day we’ll all sit around, fat and happy.”
Thomas knew he didn’t mean a word of it. “Yeah, maybe you can find a nice pretty girl who works here, settle down, get married and have kids. Just in time for the world to end in a sea of lunatics.”
Minho kept at it. “WICKED’s going to figure out this blueprint business and we’ll all live happily ever after.”
“That’s not even funny,” Newt said grumpily. “Even if they did find a cure, you saw it out there in the Scorch. It’s gonna be a buggin’ long time before the world can ever get back to normal. Even if it can—we’ll never see it.”
Thomas realized he was just sitting there, staring at a spot on the floor. “After everything they’ve done to us, I just don’t believe any of it.” He couldn’t get past the news about Newt—his friend, who’d do anything for someone else. They’d given him a death sentence—an incurable disease—just to watch what would happen.
“That Janson guy thinks he has it all figured out,” Thomas continued. “He thinks it all comes down to some sort of greater good. Let the human race kick the bucket, or do awful things and save it. Even the few who are immune probably wouldn’t last long in a world where ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people turn into psycho monsters.”
“What’s your point?” Minho muttered.
“My point is that before they swiped my memory, I think I used to buy all that junk. But not anymore.” And the one thing that terrified him now was that any returning memories might make him change his mind about that.
“Then let’s not waste our next chance, Tommy,” Newt said.
“Tomorrow,” Minho added. “Somehow, some way.”
Thomas gave each of them a long look. “Okay. Somehow, some way.”
Newt yawned, making the other two do the same. “Then we better quit yapping and get some buggin’ sleep.”
It took over an hour of staring into the dark, but Thomas eventually fell asleep. And when he did, his dreams were a slew of scattered images and memories.
A woman, sitting at a table, smiling as she stares across the wood surface, directly into his eyes. As he watches her she picks up a cup of steaming liquid and takes a tentative sip. Another smile. Then she says, “Eat your cereal, now. That’s a good boy.” It’s his mom, with her kind face, her love for him evident in every crease of her skin as she grins. She doesn’t stop watching over him until he eats the last bite, and she takes his bowl over to the sink after tousling his hair.