The Death Cure by James Dashner

Page 20


  “We better get in there,” Brenda said. “What if Newt’s turned dangerous?”

  Thomas hated the sound of the question but knew she was right. Without responding, he ran after Minho, entering the dark and stifling Berg. All the systems had been shut down at some point: no air-conditioning, no lights, nothing.

  Jorge followed right at Thomas’s heels. “Let me power her up or we’ll all sweat till we’re nothing but a pile of bones and skin. ” He moved off in the direction of the cockpit.

  Brenda stood next to Thomas, both of them peering into the gloom of the ship, the only light coming from the few scattered portholes. They could hear Minho calling Newt’s name somewhere deep in the ship, but the infected boy wasn’t responding. A cavity seemed to open within Thomas, widening and sucking the hope out of him.

  “I’ll go to the left,” he said, pointing toward the small hallway to the common area. “Why don’t you follow Jorge and search up there. This isn’t good—he would’ve been here to welcome us if everything was okay. ”

  “Not to mention the lights and air would be on. ” She gave Thomas a grim look, then headed off.

  Thomas went down the hallway to the main room. Minho sat on one of the couches, looking at a piece of paper, his face as stony as Thomas had ever seen it. The hollowness inside him grew even more, and his last ounce of hope faded.

  “Hey,” he said. “What is it?”

  Minho didn’t answer. He just kept staring at the paper.

  “What’s wrong?”

  Minho glanced up at him. “Come see for yourself. ” He held up the paper in one hand while he slouched back on the couch, seeming on the verge of tears. “He’s gone. ”

  Thomas walked over and took the paper from him, then flipped it over. Scribbled in black marker, it said:

  They got inside somehow. They’re taking me to live with the other Cranks.

  It’s for the best. Thanks for being my friends.


  “Newt,” Thomas whispered. His friend’s name hung in the air like a pronouncement of death.


  Soon they were all sitting together. The goal was to talk over what should come next, but the reality was they had nothing to say. The group of four just stared at the floor and said nothing. For some reason, Thomas couldn’t get Janson out of his head. Could going back really be a way to save Newt? Every part of him rebelled against the idea of returning to WICKED, but if he did go back, and was able to complete the testing …

  Minho broke the sullen silence.

  “I want you three to listen to me. ” He took a moment to look at each one of them, then continued. “Ever since we broke out of WICKED, I’ve basically gone along with whatever you slintheads ended up saying we should do. And I haven’t complained. Much. ” He gave Thomas a wry grin. “But right here, right now, I’m making a decision and you’re going to do what I say. And if anyone pushes back, to hell with you. ”

  Thomas knew what his friend wanted, and he was glad for it.

  “I know we have bigger goals in mind,” Minho continued. “We need to connect with the Right Arm, figure out what to do about WICKED—all that save-the-world klunk. But first we’re going to find Newt. This isn’t open for discussion. The four of us—all of us—are flying to wherever we need to go, and we’re getting Newt out of there. ”

  “They call it the Crank Palace,” Brenda said. Thomas turned to her and she was staring off into space. “It has to be what he was talking about. Some of those Red Shirts probably broke into the Berg, found Newt and saw that he was infected. Let him leave us a note. I don’t have any doubt that’s what happened. ”

  “Sounds fancy,” Minho said. “You’ve been there?”

  “No. Every major city has a Crank Palace—a place where they send the infected and try to make it bearable for them until they reach the Gone. I don’t know what they do to them then, but it’s not a pretty place to be, no matter who you are, so I can only imagine. Immunes run things there, and get paid a lot for it because a non-Immune would never risk catching the Flare. If you want to go, we should think long and hard about it first. We’re completely out of ammunition, so we’ll be unarmed. ”

  Despite the ominous description, Minho had a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Long and hard thinking done. You know where the closest one is?”

  “Yeah,” Jorge answered. “We passed over it on the way here. It’s just on the far side of this valley, right up against the mountains to the west. ”

  Minho clapped his hands once. “Then that’s where we’re going. Jorge, get this piece of klunk up in the sky. ”

  Thomas expected at least a little argument or resistance. But none came.

  “I’ll be glad for a little adventure, muchacho,” Jorge said, standing up. “We’ll be there in twenty minutes. ”

  Jorge was true to his word on the timing. He landed the Berg in a clearing along the beginnings of a forest that stretched up the surprisingly green mountainside. About half of the trees were dead, but the other half looked as if they’d just begun to recover from years of massive heat spells. It made Thomas sad to think that the world would probably recover from the sun flares just fine someday, only to find itself uninhabited.

  He stepped off the cargo ramp and took a good look at the wall surrounding what had to be the Crank Palace just a few hundred feet away. It was made of thick planks of wood. The closest gate was just beginning to open, and two people appeared, both of them holding huge Launchers. They looked exhausted, but wearily they took a defensive stance and aimed their weapons—they’d obviously heard or seen the Berg’s approach.

  “Not a good start,” Jorge said.

  One of the guards shouted something, but Thomas couldn’t hear what he’d said. “Let’s just go over there, talk to them. They must be immune if they have those Launchers. ”

  “Unless the Cranks took over,” offered Minho, but then he looked at Thomas with an odd grin. “Either way, we’re going in, and we’re not leaving without Newt. ”

  The group held their heads up high and slowly walked to the gate, making sure not to do anything that would cause alarm. The last thing Thomas wanted was to be shot by a Launcher grenade again. As they got closer, he saw that the two guards looked worse up close. They were filthy, sweaty and covered in bruises and scratches.

  They stopped at the gate and one of the guards stepped forward.

  “Who the hell are you people?” he asked. He had black hair and a mustache and was taller than his partner by a few good inches. “You don’t look much like the science goons that come in sometimes. ”

  Jorge did the talking, just as he had at the airport when they’d arrived in Denver. “You wouldn’t have known we were coming, muchacho. We’re from WICKED, and one of our guys got captured and taken here by mistake. We’ll be picking him up. ”

  Thomas was surprised. What Jorge had said was technically the truth, when he thought about it.

  The guard didn’t seem too impressed. “You think I give a crap about you and your fancy WICKED jobs? You’re not the first uppity-up to drop in here and act like you own the place. You wanna come hang out with Cranks? Be my guest. Especially after what’s been going on lately. ” He stepped to the side and made an exaggerated sweeping gesture of welcome. “Enjoy your stay at the Crank Palace. No refunds or exchanges if you lose an arm or eyeball. ”

  Thomas could almost smell the tension in the air, and he worried that Minho would add some smart remark and send these guys over the edge, so he spoke up quickly.

  “What do you mean ‘what’s been going on lately’? What’s happening?”

  The guy shrugged. “It’s just not a very happy place, and that’s all you need to know. ” He didn’t offer anything more.

  Thomas already disliked the way things were going. “Well … do you know if any new”—saying Cranks didn’t feel right to Thomas—“people were brought h
ere in the last day or two? Do you have a register?”

  The other guard—short and stocky, his head shaved—cleared his throat, then spit. “Who you lookin’ for? A he or a she?”

  “A he,” Thomas answered. “His name is Newt. A little taller than me, blond hair, kinda long. Has a limp. ”

  The guy spit again. “I might know somethin’. But knowin’ and tellin’ are two different things. You kids look like you got plenty of money. Wanna share?”

  Thomas, daring to let himself hope, looked back at Jorge, whose face had tightened in anger.

  Minho spoke before Jorge could. “We’ve got money, shuck-face. Now tell us where our friend is. ”

  The guard jabbed the Launcher toward them a little more fiercely. “Show me your cash cards or this conversation is over. I want at least a thousand. ”

  “He’s got it all,” Minho said, jabbing a thumb at Jorge as his eyes lasered in on the guard. “Greedy slinthead. ”

  Jorge pulled his card out and waved it in the air. “You’ll have to shoot me dead to take this, and you know it won’t do any good without my prints. You’ll get your money, hermano. Now show us the way. ”

  “All right, then,” the man said. “Follow me. And remember, if any of your body parts become detached due to an unfortunate encounter with a Crank, I highly advise you to leave said body part behind and run like hell. Unless it’s a leg, of course. ”

  He turned on his heels and walked through the opened gate.


  The Crank Palace was a horrible, filthy place. The short guard proved to be very talkative, and as they made their way through the chaos of the frightening domain, he provided more information than Thomas ever would’ve asked for.

  He described the village for the infected as a huge set of rings within rings, with all the communal areas—cafeteria, infirmary, recreation facilities—located in the middle and then row upon row of poorly built housing encircling them. The Palaces had been conceived as humane options—refuges for the infected until they reached a point where the madness took over. After that they were shipped to remote locations that had been abandoned during the worst of the sun flares. Those who had built the palaces had wanted to give the infected one last shot at a decent life before the end. Projects had sprung up near most remaining cities in the world.

  But the well-intended idea had gone very bad. Filling a place with people who had no hope and knew they were about to descend into a rotten, horrific spiral of insanity ended up creating some of the most wretched anarchic zones ever known to man. With the residents well aware that there could be no real punishment or consequences worse than what they already faced, crime rates grew astronomically. And so the developments became havens of debauchery.

  As the group walked past home after home—nothing more than shacks that had fallen into disrepair—Thomas imagined how truly awful it must be to live in such a place. Most windows in the buildings they passed were broken, and their guard explained how it had been a huge mistake to allow glass in the towns at all. It had become the number one source of weaponry. Trash littered the streets, and though he hadn’t spotted any people yet, Thomas felt like he and his friends were being watched from the shadows. In the distance he heard someone yell a few obscenities; then a scream came from another direction, putting Thomas even more on edge.

  “Why don’t they just close the place down?” he asked, the first of his group to speak. “I mean—if it’s gotten so bad. ”

  “Gotten so bad?” the guard asked. “Kid, bad’s a relative term. This is just how it is. What else are you gonna do with these people? You can’t leave ’em hanging out with the healthy folks in the fortressed cities. You can’t just dump ’em in a place full of Cranks way past the Gone and let ’em get eaten alive. And no government’s gotten desperate enough yet to start killing people as soon as they catch the Flare. This is it. And it’s a way for us Immunes to make some good money, since no one else would ever work here. ”

  His statements left Thomas with a heavy dose of gloom. The world was in pitiful shape. Maybe he was being selfish by not helping WICKED complete the tests.

  Brenda spoke up—her face had been creased into a look of disgust since they’d entered the town. “Why don’t you just tell it like it is—you let the infected run around this godforsaken place until they’re so bad that your conscience is clean enough to get rid of them. ”

  “That about wraps ’er up,” the guard responded matter-of-factly. Thomas had a hard time disliking the guy—he mostly just felt sorry for him.

  They kept walking, passing row after row of houses, all of them broken, run-down and dirty.

  “Where is everybody?” Thomas asked. “I thought this place would be packed wall to wall. And what did you mean earlier about something happening?”

  This time the guy with the mustache answered, and it was good to hear another voice for a change. “Some—the lucky ones—are vegging on the Bliss in their homes. But most of them are in the Central Zone, eating or playing or up to no good. They’re sending us too many—and faster than we can ship them out. Add to that the fact that we’re losing Immunes left and right to who-knows-where, decreasing our ratio each and every day, and things were bound to reach a boiling point eventually. Let’s just say this morning the water finally got hot enough. ”

  “Losing Immunes left and right?” Thomas repeated. It looked like WICKED was tapping every resource they could for more Trials. Even if their doing so had dangerous consequences.
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