Thomas glared at the Rat Man. “I was a kid. They brainwashed me into doing those things—into helping.” That was what had been eating away at him since the memories had started coming back. Since he’d been able to start connecting the dots.

“I wasn’t there in the beginning,” Janson said in a level voice. “But you yourself approved me for this job after the original founders were purged. And you should know, I’ve never seen someone, child or adult, as driven as you were.” He smiled and Thomas wanted to rip his face off.

“I don’t care what you—”

“Enough!” Janson yelled. “We’ll do him first.” He gestured at one of the guards. “Get a nurse down here. Brenda’s inside—she’s been insisting that she wants to help. Maybe he’ll be easier to deal with if she’s the technician working with him. Take the others to the waiting room—I’d like to do them one at a time. I need to go check on another matter, so I’ll meet you there.”

Thomas was so upset that he didn’t even register Brenda’s name. Another guard joined the one behind him and they each took hold of an arm.

“I won’t let you do it!” Thomas screamed, a hysteria rising up in him. The thought of learning who he’d been terrified him. “There’s no way you’re putting that thing on my face!”

Janson ignored him and spoke directly to the guards. “Make sure she sedates him.” Then he started walking away.

The two guards pulled Thomas toward the door, his feet dragging behind him. He struggled, tried to free his arms, but their hands were like iron manacles, and he finally gave up to conserve his strength. The realization hit him that he might have lost the fight. His only hope was Brenda.

Brenda stood next to a bed inside the room. Her face was stony. Thomas searched her eyes, but she was impossible to read.

His captives yanked him farther into the room. He couldn’t understand why Brenda was there, helping WICKED do this. “Why are you working for them?” His voice sounded weak to his ears.

The guards spun him around.

“Better to just keep your mouth shut,” Brenda answered. “I need you to trust me like you did back in the Scorch. This is for the best.”

He couldn’t see her, but there was something in her voice. Despite what she’d said, she sounded warm. Could she be on his side?

The guards pulled Thomas to the last bed in the row. Then the female guard released him and aimed her Launcher at him while the man held Thomas against the edge of the mattress.

“Lie down,” the guard said.

“No,” Thomas growled.

The guard swung back and slapped Thomas across the cheek. “Lie down! Now!”


The man lifted Thomas by the shoulders and slammed him onto the mattress. “This is going to happen, so you might as well not fight it.” The metallic mask with its wires and tubes hung above him like a giant spider waiting to smother him.

“You’re not putting that thing on my face.” Thomas’s heart raced dangerously now, the fear he’d been holding at bay rushing in, beginning to take away any calm that could help him figure a way out of this.

The male guard took both of Thomas’s wrists and pressed them to the mattress as he leaned forward with all his weight to make sure Thomas didn’t go anywhere. “Sedate him.”

Thomas forced himself to calm down, save his energy for one last effort to escape. He almost hurt at seeing Brenda; he’d grown closer to her than he’d realized. If she helped force him to do this, it would mean she was the enemy as well. It was too heartbreaking to even consider.

“Please, Brenda,” he said. “Don’t do it. Don’t let them do this.”

She stepped close to him and gently touched his shoulder. “Everything’s going to be okay. Not everyone is out to make your life miserable—you’ll thank me later for what I’m about to do. Now quit your whining and relax.”

He still couldn’t read her for the life of him. “That’s it? After everything back in the Scorch? How many times did we almost die in that city? All we went through, and you’re just gonna abandon me?”

“Thomas …” She trailed off, not bothering to hide her frustration. “It was my job.”

“I heard your voice in my head. You warned me that things were about to get bad. Please tell me you’re not really with them.”

“When we made it back to HQ after the Scorch, I got into the telepathy system because I wanted to warn you. Prepare you. I never expected us to become friends in that hell.”

On some level, just hearing that she’d felt that way, too, made things more manageable, and now he really couldn’t stop himself. “Do you have the Flare?” he asked.

She answered in quick, short bursts. “I was acting. Jorge and I are immune—we’ve known it for a long time. It’s why they used us. Now be quiet.” Her eyes flickered over to the guard.

“Get on with it!” the male guard suddenly shouted.

Brenda gave the man a stern look but didn’t say anything. Then she gazed at Thomas and surprised him with a slight wink. “Once I inject the sedative, you’ll be asleep in seconds. Do you understand?” She stressed that last word, then subtly winked again. Luckily the two guards were focused on their prisoner and not her.

Thomas was confused, but hope ran through his body. She was up to something.

Brenda moved to the counter behind her and started preparing what she needed, and the guard continued to lean all of his weight on Thomas’s wrists, cutting off the circulation. Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead, but it was clear he wasn’t letting go until Thomas was unconscious. The female guard stood just beside him, her Launcher aimed at Thomas’s face.

Brenda turned back around, a syringe in her left hand, its nozzle pointing up, her thumb on the trigger. A yellowish liquid showed in the small window on the side. “Okay, Thomas. We’re going to do this really fast. Are you ready?”

He nodded at her, not sure what she meant but determined to be prepared.

“Good,” she replied. “You better be.”


Brenda smiled and moved toward Thomas, then tripped on something and stumbled forward. She caught the bed with her right hand, but she fell in such a way that the syringe’s nozzle landed on the forearm of the guard gripping Thomas’s wrist. She instantly pushed the trigger with her thumb, releasing a quick, sharp hiss, before he jerked himself away.

“What the hell!” the man shouted, but his eyes were already glazed.

Thomas acted instantly. Now free from those iron fists, he pushed down on the bed and swung his legs in an arc toward the female guard, who was just coming to her senses after a brief moment of frozen shock. One foot connected with her Launcher and the other with her shoulder. She let out a yell, which was closely followed by the smack of her head hitting the floor.

Thomas scrambled after the Launcher, grabbed it before it slid out of reach and aimed it at the woman, who was holding her head in her hands. Brenda had run around the bed and grabbed the man’s weapon, and she pointed it at his limp body.

Thomas gasped for air, his chest heaving as adrenaline throbbed through his body. He hadn’t felt so good in weeks. “I knew you—”

Before he could finish, Brenda fired her Launcher.

A high-pitched sound pierced the air, increasing in volume for a split second before the gun discharged and kicked, making Brenda jerk backward. One of the shiny grenades shot out, slammed into the woman’s chest and exploded, sending tendrils of lightning arcing across her body. She began to twitch uncontrollably.

Thomas stared, stunned at what the Launcher did to a person and amazed that Brenda had shot it without hesitation. If he had needed further proof that Brenda wasn’t totally committed to WICKED, he’d just seen it. He looked at her.

She returned his gaze, the slightest of smiles on her face. “I’ve been wanting to do something like that for a long time. Good thing I convinced Janson to assign me to you for this procedure.” She bent over and took the unconscious man’s key card, slipped it into her pocket. “This’ll get us in anywhere.”

Thomas had to resist the urge to pull her into a hug.

“Come on,” he said. “We have to get Newt and Minho. Then everybody else.”

They sprinted through a couple of twists and turns in the hallways, Brenda leading. It reminded Thomas of the time she’d led him through the underground tunnels in the Scorch. He urged her to hurry—he knew that more guards could show up at any second.

They reached a door, and Brenda swiped the key card to open it; a brief hiss sounded, and then the slab of metal swung open. Thomas burst through with Brenda close on his heels.

The Rat Man was sitting in a chair but sprang to his feet, his expression quickly twisting to a look of horror. “What in God’s name are you doing?”

Brenda had already fired two grenades at the guards. A man and a woman dropped to the ground, convulsing in a cloud of smoke and tiny lightning bolts. Newt and Minho tackled the third guard; Minho grabbed his weapon.

Thomas trained his Launcher on Janson and put his finger on the trigger. “Give me your key card, then get on the ground, hands on your head.” His voice was steady but his heart was racing.

“This is complete lunacy,” Janson said. He handed his card to Thomas. He spoke quietly, seeming amazingly calm under the circumstances. “You have zero chance of getting out of this complex. More guards are already on their way.”

Thomas knew their odds were bad, but it was all they had. “After what we’ve been through, this is nothing.” He smiled as he realized it was true. “Thanks for the training. Now, another word and you’ll get to experience—how did you put it? ‘The worst five minutes of your life’?”

“How can—”

Thomas pulled the trigger. The high-pitched sound filled the room, followed by the launch of a grenade. It hit the man’s chest and exploded in a brilliant display of electricity. He screamed as he fell to the ground, convulsing, smoke streaming off his hair and clothing. The room filled with an awful smell—a stench that reminded Thomas of the Scorch, when Minho was struck by lightning.

“That can’t feel good,” Thomas said to his friends. He sounded so calm to his own ears that it disturbed him. As he watched their nemesis twitch, he was almost ashamed for feeling no guilt. Almost.

“It supposedly won’t kill him,” Brenda said.

“That’s a shame,” Minho replied. He stood after tying up the uninjured guard with his belt. “The world would’ve been better off.”

Thomas turned his attention from the twitching man at his feet. “We’re leaving. Now.”

“I’ll bloody drink to that,” Newt said.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Minho added.

They all turned to look at Brenda. She lifted her Launcher in her arms and nodded. She looked ready for a fight.

“I hate these people just as much as you,” she said. “I’m in.”