The Death Cure by James Dashner

Page 30

 

  The complex was enormous, made up of wide, unadorned interconnected buildings; the walls were peppered with narrow slits in the white cement, allowing for an occasional window. One rounded building rose up amid the others like a tower. The fierce weather of the region, mixed with the moisture from the sea, had taken its toll on the facades of the buildings—cracks spiderwebbed the exteriors of the complex—but they looked like structures that would exist there forever, unyielding to whatever man or weather threw at it. It called to mind a barely held memory of something from storybooks—some sort of haunted asylum. It was the perfect place to house the organization trying to prevent the world from becoming just such a madhouse. A long, narrow road led away from the complex, disappearing into the forest.

  Thomas set out across the rock-strewn section of earth. An almost disturbing quiet settled over the land. The only thing he could hear besides the thump of his footsteps and his own breathing was the sound of distant waves breaking on the bottom of the cliff, and even that was faint. He was certain that the people at WICKED had spotted him by now—the security was surely thorough and tight.

  A scuttling sound, like clicks of metal against stone, made him stop and look to his right. As if summoned by the thought of security, a beetle blade stood perched on a boulder, its red eye gleaming in Thomas’s direction.

  He remembered how it had felt the first time he’d seen one of them inside the Glade, just before it scurried away and into the small woods there. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

  He waved at the beetle blade, and then he kept walking. In ten minutes he’d be knocking on the door of WICKED, asking, for the first time, to be let in. Not out.

  He made his way down the last section of the slope and stepped onto an icy sidewalk that encircled the campus. It looked like there’d once been an effort to make the grounds a little prettier than the barren land around it, but the bushes and flowers and trees had long succumbed to winter, and the patches of gray dirt he could see amid the snow bore only weeds. Thomas walked along the paved lane, wondering why no one had come to greet him yet. Maybe the Rat Man was inside, watching, guessing that Thomas had finally come over to their side.

  Two more beetle blades captured his attention, both roaming the snow-covered weeds of the flower beds, scanning left and right with their red beams as they scuttled along. Thomas looked up at the closest set of windows but saw only darkness—the glass was heavily tinted. A rumble coming from behind made him turn to look. A storm was moving in, its clouds dark and heavy, but it was still a few miles distant. As he watched, several bolts of lightning zigzagged across the grayness, and it took him back to the Scorch, to that awful rain of lightning that had met them as they approached the city. He could only hope the weather wasn’t so bad this far north.

  He resumed his path along the sidewalk and slowed as he approached the front entrance. A large set of glass doors awaited him, and a sudden, almost painful surge of memory pounded inside his skull. The escape from the Maze, the flight through the corridors of WICKED, coming out these doors into the pouring rain. He looked to his right into a small parking lot, where an old bus squatted next to a row of cars. It had to be the same one that had run over that poor Flare-infested woman, then whisked them away to those dorms, where their minds were played with and a Flat Trans eventually took them to the Scorch.

  And now, after all he’d been through, he stood at WICKED’s threshold, there by his own choice. He reached out and knocked on the cold, dark glass in front of him. He could see nothing on the other side.

  Almost immediately, a series of locks disengaged, one after the other; then one of the doors swung out. Janson—who’d always be the Rat Man to Thomas—extended a hand.

  “Welcome back, Thomas,” he said. “No one believed me, but I’ve been saying all along that you’d return. I’m glad you made the right choice. ”

  “Let’s just get on with it,” Thomas said. He’d do this—he’d play the part—but he didn’t have to be nice about it.

  “Sounds like an excellent idea. ” Janson stepped back and bowed slightly. “After you. ”

  With a chill along his spine to match the frosty weather outside, Thomas walked past the Rat Man and entered WICKED’s headquarters.

  CHAPTER 58

  Thomas stepped into a wide lobby with a few couches and chairs, fronted by a large, empty desk. It was different from the ones he’d seen the last time he was there. The furniture was colorful and bright, but it did nothing to perk up the dreary feel of the place.

  “I thought we’d spend a few minutes in my office,” Janson said, and pointed down the hallway that branched off to the right off the lobby. They started walking that way. “We’re terribly sorry about what happened in Denver. A shame to lose a city with such potential. All the more reason we need to get this done and get it done quickly. ”

  “What is it you have to do?” he forced himself to ask.

  “We’ll discuss everything in my office. Our lead team is there. ”

  The device hidden in his backpack weighed heavily on Thomas’s thoughts. Somehow he had to get it planted as soon as possible and get the clock ticking.

  “That’s fine,” he said, “but I really need to use the bathroom first. ” It was the simplest idea he could come up with. And the only sure way to get a minute alone.

  “There’s one just up ahead,” the Rat Man replied.

  They turned a corner and continued down an even duller corridor that led to the men’s room.

  “I’ll wait out here,” Janson said with a nod toward the door.

  Thomas went inside without saying a word. He pulled the device from his backpack and looked around. There was a wooden cabinet for storing toiletries above the sink, and the top of it had a lip just tall enough that Thomas could slip the gadget in and it would be concealed. He flushed the toilet and then turned on the water at the sink. He activated the device as he’d been taught, wincing at the slight beep that sounded, then reached up and deposited it on top of the cabinet. After shutting off the water, he calmed himself while the hand blower ran its course.

  Then he stepped back into the hallway.

  “All finished?” Janson asked, annoyingly polite.

  “All finished,” Thomas replied.

  They continued walking, passing a few crookedly hung portraits of Chancellor Paige just like the ones on the posters in Denver.

  “Am I ever going to meet the chancellor?” Thomas finally asked, curious about the woman.

  “Chancellor Paige is very busy,” Jansen answered. “You have to remember, Thomas—completing the blueprint and finalizing the cure are only the beginning. We’re still organizing the logistics of getting it out to the masses—most of the team is working hard at it as we speak. ”

  “What makes you so sure this will work? Why just me?”

  Janson glanced at him, flashed his rodentlike smile. “I know, Thomas. I believe it with every ounce of my being. And I promise you’ll get the credit you deserve. ”

  For some reason Thomas thought of Newt just then. “I don’t want any credit. ”

  “Here we are,” the man replied, ignoring Thomas.

  They’d reached an unmarked door and the Rat Man let him inside. Two people—a man and a woman—sat facing a desk. Thomas didn’t recognize them.

  The woman wore a dark pants suit and had long red hair, and thin-framed glasses were perched on her nose. The man was bald, angular and skinny, dressed in green scrubs.

  “These are my associates,” Janson said, already moving to sit behind the desk. He motioned for Thomas to take the third seat between his two visitors, which he did. “Dr. Wright”—he pointed at the woman—“is our lead Psych, and Dr. Christensen our lead physician. We have a lot to discuss, so you’ll pardon me if I’m short on introductions. ”

  “Why am I the Final Candidate?” Thomas asked, cutting to the chase.

  Janson ga
thered himself, needlessly moving things around on his desk before sitting back and folding his hands on his lap. “Excellent question. We had a handful of—pardon the term—subjects slated in the beginning to … compete for this honor. Recently it was narrowed to you and Teresa. But she has a way of following orders that you don’t. Your tendency toward freethinking is what ultimately determined that you are the Final Candidate. ”

  Played to the end, Thomas thought bitterly. His own attempts to rebel had turned out to be exactly what they wanted. Every ounce of his anger was directed at the man sitting in front of him. At the Rat Man. To Thomas, Janson had come to represent WICKED from top to bottom.

  “Let’s just get this over with,” he said. He did his best to hide it, but he could hear the fury in his own voice.

  Janson seemed unfazed. “Some patience, please. This won’t take long. Keep in mind that collecting the killzone patterns is a delicate operation. We’re dealing with your mind, and the slightest mishap in what you’re thinking or interpreting or perceiving can render the resultant findings worthless. ”

  “Yes,” Dr. Wright added, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I know A. D. Janson told you about the importance of coming back, and we’re glad you made the decision. ” Her voice was soft and pleasant and somehow exuded intelligence.

  Dr. Christensen cleared his throat, then spoke, his voice thin and reedy. Thomas immediately disliked him. “I don’t know how you could’ve made any other decision. The whole world’s on the verge of collapse, and you can help save it. ”

  “So you say,” Thomas responded.

  “Exactly,” Janson said. “So we say. Everything is ready. But there’s still a little more to tell you so you can understand this decision you’ve made. ”

  “A little more to tell me?” Thomas repeated. “Isn’t the whole point of the Variables that I don’t know everything? Aren’t you going to throw me in a cage with gorillas or something? Maybe make me walk through a field of land mines? Dump me in the ocean, see if I can swim back to shore?”

  “Just tell him the rest,” Dr. Christensen answered.

  “The rest?” Thomas asked.

  “Yes, Thomas,” Janson said through a sigh. “The rest. After all the Trials, after all the studies, after all the patterns that have been collected and scrutinized, after all the Variables we’ve put you and your friends through, it comes down to this. ”

  Thomas didn’t say anything. He was barely able to breathe because of a strange anticipation, the simultaneous desires to know and not know.

  Janson leaned forward, elbows on desk, a grave look shadowing his face. “One final thing. ”

  “And what’s that?”

  “Thomas, we need your brain. ”

  CHAPTER 59

  Thomas’s heartbeat sped up to rattling thumps in his chest. He knew that the man wasn’t testing him. They’d gone as far as they could in analyzing reactions and brain patterns. Now they’d chosen the person best suited to … take apart in their effort to build the cure.

  Suddenly, the Right Arm couldn’t get there fast enough.

  “My brain?” he forced himself to repeat.

  “Yes,” Dr. Christensen answered. “The Final Candidate holds the missing piece to complete the data for the blueprint. But we had no way to tell until we monitored the patterns against the Variables. Vivisection will give us our final data, your systems functioning properly while we do it. Not that you’ll feel any pain—we’ll heavily sedate you until …”

  He didn’t need to finish. His words drifted off into silence and the three WICKED scientists awaited Thomas’s response. But he couldn’t speak. He’d faced death countless times over what he could remember of his life, yet he’d always done so in the desperate hope to survive, doing anything in his power to last one more day. But this was different. He didn’t just have to last through some trial until his rescuers came. This was something he wouldn’t come back from. This was the end if they didn’t come.

  He had a random, horrible thought: did Teresa know about this?

  It surprised him how deeply the idea hurt.

  “Thomas?” Janson asked, breaking Thomas’s train of thought. “I know this must come as quite a shock to you. I need you to understand that this is not a test. This is not a Variable and I’m not lying to you. We think we can complete the blueprint for the cure by analyzing your brain tissue and how, combined with the patterns we’ve collected, its physical makeup allows it to resist the Flare virus’s power. The Trials were all created so we wouldn’t have to just cut everyone open. Our whole aim was to save lives, not waste them. ”

  “We’ve been collecting and analyzing the patterns for years, and you’ve been the strongest by far in your reactions to the Variables,” Dr. Wright continued. “We’ve known for a long time—and it was the highest priority to keep this from the subjects—that in the end we’d have to choose the best candidate for this last procedure. ”

  Dr. Christensen went on to outline the process while Thomas listened in numb silence. “You have to be alive but not awake. We’ll sedate you and numb the area of the incision, but there aren’t any nerves in the brain so it’s a relatively painless process. Unfortunately, you won’t recover from our neural explorations—the procedure is fatal. But the results will be invaluable. ”

  “And if it doesn’t work?” Thomas asked. All he could see was Newt’s final moments. What if Thomas could prevent that horrible death for countless others?

  The Psych’s eyes flickered with discomfort. “Then we’ll keep … working at it. But we have every confidence—”
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