Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Gunner Skale

James Dashner


  The Mortality Doctrine Series

  The Eye of Minds

  The Maze Runner Series

  The Maze Runner

  The Scorch Trials

  The Death Cure

  The Kill Order

  The 13th Reality Series

  The Journal of Curious Letters

  The Hunt for Dark Infinity

  The Blade of Shattered Hope

  The Void of Mist and Thunder

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2014 by James Dashner

  Cover art copyright © 2014 by Kekai Kotaki

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

  Visit us on the Web!

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at

  ISBN 978-0-385-37538-2 (ebook)

  First Delacorte Press Ebook Edition 2014

  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.




  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Eye of Minds Preview

  Maze Runner Preview

  About the Author


  The sea was hot, the salt like acid against his wounds, burning gloriously as he trudged through the dwindling surf to stand upon the pebbly shore once again. Demonhatch had smacked him a good one with its fifty-foot tail, launching his body toward the ocean, beyond where the mammoth waves showed themselves as more than a brooding swell. And so he’d swum, ditching his heavy breastplate, his helm, his chain mail—all the things that wished to drag him down so the foul water could fill his lungs and silence his heart.

  Except his greatsword, Slayer. No, never that.

  Gunner Skale had clutched his weapon with one hand and swum with the other, his eyes open to watch the fiery beast, no matter how much the salt stung. And now he was back, exhausted and achy, but ready to finish the job. If he killed Demonhatch today, so soon, Gunner would easily go down as the greatest gamer ever to enter the world of Plague and its thousands upon thousands of bloodthirsty monsters.

  Soaked, muscles scorched, his sword feeling as if it weighed half a ton, Gunner broke into a run once he reached dry ground, sprinting as best he could to where the beast crouched, eating the remains of something that had once been human. Clearly, Demonhatch thought its last blow had finally killed the greatest warrior it had ever faced—and if not, the raging sea would’ve finished the job. And so, ever arrogant, it feasted, its back to the gray-green waters of the ocean and its battered shore.

  Gunner picked up speed, holding Slayer’s hilt with both hands, his arms cocked to thrust or swing on a moment’s notice. The pebbles turned to rocks, rocks to boulders over which he bounded without so much as a glance down. He couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the beast. And so he trusted his instincts, his balance, his feet, his peripheral vision. Hell’s glory, he was Gunner Skale, for crying out loud. With a smile, he charged forward, knowing that the biggest, baddest, deadliest monster in Plague was about to get its head chopped off.

  Demonhatch finally heard his approach and whipped around to look at Gunner with all four of its slitted, red-tinged eyes. Then its mouth opened, a monstrous bear trap of a thing with hundreds of blade-sharp teeth, jagged points with serrated edges, perfect for ripping up its prey. Then came the roar, followed by the burst of fire, an avalanche of liquid flame that poured down on Gunner.

  Gunner rolled and ignited the Shield spell for which he’d had to betray his closest comrade-in-arms to gain. It kept off most of the heat, though he knew he’d feel some residual burn when he Lifted back to his Coffin. He landed, spun, leapt back to his feet, hefted the greatsword Slayer up above his head, ignoring the variety of pain that crisscrossed his body. He wanted this to be over.

  Igniting an Air spell, he flew thirty feet into the air, vaulting toward the beast’s head. A quick slash of his sword pierced one, then two of Demonhatch’s eyes, black liquid spurting out in streams. But then came the claws and the tail, the beast screeching its roar of agony as it counterattacked. Gunner flipped and dodged, landing on the beast and bouncing off, igniting all the spells he’d saved up—Pouncer and Burst and Waterswell and Fists of Iron—throwing all his power at the creature in one final onslaught.

  A final onslaught that took another hour.

  An hour of ruthless battle, stroke and counterstroke, three more trips out to the sea, three long trudges back to the shore, spell ignition after spell ignition, sword against claw and tooth, quickness and Shield against liquid fire. Gunner took out the beast’s remaining two eyes, then severed its arms, its legs, its tail. But still Demonhatch fought, and Gunner fought back.

  Until Gunner ignited the Air spell one last time, leaping into the sky, far above the wounded, weakened beast. With a raging yell that he knew could be heard throughout all of Plague, Gunner fell back toward the ground, raising his massive sword above his head in a two-fisted grip, manipulating his descent with the power of his eyes. Demonhatch tried to flee, tried to roar, tried to breathe out flame one last time, but it was too late.

  With a scream of fury, Gunner brought the sword down and severed the head of the most feared monster in Plague with one mighty stroke. The warrior landed on his feet under a shower of Demonhatch’s hot blood. After sheathing Slayer in its home on his back, Gunner ignited a Strength spell and picked up the beast’s head, ready to show it to the world.

  Later, after claiming the ultimate victory with the Game Masters, he Lifted back to the Wake.

  Gunner Skale was late for work.


  Most people hated the transition from the Sleep to the Wake. The disorientation, the retraction of the NerveWires pricking out of your skin, the strange discomfort until you were finally up and out of the Coffin. Not to mention the disappointment that came every time—no matter how long you’d done it—in realizing that the vast world of the VirtNet wasn’t real. That real life was real, and eventually you always had to go back to it.

  Gunner relished the transition. He wanted the reminders, the discomfort. As great a gamer as he was, and as much as he loved the VirtNet—and no one loved the Sleep like Gunner Skale—he was too smart to let it take over his life. He’d seen it happen to too many of his friends. The line between what was real and what wasn’t became blurred, then disappeared. After that, there could be no happiness.

  How can you enjoy ice cream if you never eat broccoli?

  That was something his grandma used to say to him. And even though it didn’t stand up if he thought about it too much—Gunner was pretty sure he could eat ice cream and only ice cream for the rest of his life and be just fine—the point had been taken and never forgotten. To fully appreciate the Sleep, you had to embrace the Wake and all its drudgery.

  Once the devices of the Coffin had fully retracted, the blue light came on and the lid rose on it
s hinges, showing him the sparse office in which he kept this most treasured possession of his. There was a desk and a couch, nothing else outside of the NetBox. Groaning, he sat up and dragged himself out of the Coffin. Wearing nothing but a soggy pair of boxers, he stretched and yawned, felt the weariness, the soreness, from head to toe.

  Dawn’s pale beginnings shone through the window, just starting to light up the city beyond. Gunner headed for the shower.


  Rachel was sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping tea and eating a bagel, when Gunner walked in, all spiffed up and ready to go for another day in the jungle of real life. Her eyes lit up when she saw him, reason number one that he loved her so much. Because she loved him, and had since the day they’d met in high school, way before Gunner Skale became the most famous gamer in history. She was way too pretty to love someone with an ugly mug like his, but she hated it when he said that out loud.

  “Gee, what a shocker,” Rachel said after swallowing a bite of her breakfast and taking a sip of orange juice. “You never came to bed last night.”

  Gunner leaned in and kissed her. “Sorry, babe. I figured I might as well finish off Plague while I had all my ducks in a row. Plus, that way I can spend more time with you this weekend! See how it all works out?”

  “Good try. I’ll give you that much.” She pulled out a stool and motioned for him to sit. “You made breakfast yesterday. Let me get you a bagel.”

  “If you call runny eggs and black toast breakfast. You ate three bites, tops.” Gunner was more than happy to be waited on, though. He sat down, trying not to wince, but Rachel saw the pain on his face.

  “Wow, a little rough with the monsters, eh?” she asked as she went for the cupboards. “Maybe you should bring me along so you don’t get hurt so badly next time.”

  “And let you get any credit for my sheer dominance of the Sleep? No way.” He smiled, but they both knew that deep down he meant every single word. Rachel was an excellent gamer—one of the best—which was why he couldn’t ever let her come along. People really would discredit him for having such a talented partner.

  She placed a bagel, a tub of cream cheese, a knife, and a huge glass of OJ in front of him. “Eat up, warrior.”

  “Gladly. Thanks.” He dug into the cream cheese with the knife and started spreading. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in a month.

  “You ought to be a real charmer at work today,” Rachel said, “running on zero sleep and whining every time you take a step. Maybe you should just call in sick. I will, too, and we can chill at Paradise Alley in the Sleep. Throw ice at the old-timers.”

  Nothing had ever sounded so appealing to Gunner, mostly because he knew he couldn’t do it.

  “Sorry,” he said. “Not today. I’ve got a big consulting gig with Virtual Solutions. All I have to do is impress them, and they’ll start printing money to pay me”—he winked at her—“ ’cause I’m so smart, ya know?”

  “Pretty much a genius.” Rachel rolled her eyes and gave him a kiss on his cheek, ignoring that he’d just stuffed a quarter of a bagel in his mouth.

  He guzzled his orange juice in one long, sweetly satisfying swallow, then stood up to go. “I just wish the rest of the world loved it like you do. And me. Everyone hates me.”

  “They always hate the guy at the top. Always. And remember—the teenagers love you still. There’s that.”

  “Yep. There’s that.”

  After a long embrace with Rachel—much longer than he had time for—Gunner headed out the door.


  He always hoped for five minutes. Every day he swore that if he could just make it five minutes, he’d be happy and not complain the rest of the day.

  Once again, he was disappointed.

  Approximately thirty-three seconds after exiting the front door of his apartment building, a group of teenagers engulfed him, asking for his autograph. He obliged as cordially as he could for a minute or so, enduring the inevitable barrage of compliments and requests for advice or interviews as one voice ran into the next.

  Eventually, he broke free, apologizing, saying he was late for work, and they followed a bit before finally giving up, wandering off to their own lives. Then came phase two. The dirty looks from adults. The gamers who’d been doing it long enough to stop admiring and start hating. Gunner just walked, eyes straight ahead, promising himself for the thousandth time that he’d use that ridiculous amount of sponsorship money he’d received from game companies to create a more private life.

  After making it to the train without too much incident, he found a dark corner in the back and sat down, resting his head against the window. He cursed those stupid interviews he’d agreed to do for Gamer Central. In the end, that was what had robbed him of his glorious anonymity. They’d plastered his face all over the Net, and for a good amount of time no one could escape it. He was everywhere—NetScreens, WallScreens, NetWatches, you name it. Gunner Skale, ugliest wallpaper of the century.

  He groaned inwardly. He loved gaming. He loved winning. He loved dominating.

  But, man oh man, he hated being famous. Even as he had the thought, he saw a woman sitting a few rows down eyeing him with nothing short of hatred. She had the look of a prolific gamer—short orange hair, piercings, clothing that showed she didn’t give a crap what people thought of her. Maybe he’d stepped over her on his way to the top of Plague. Who knew.

  He closed his eyes to shut her out and daydreamed, remembering the time when gaming was the most fun, when he’d shattered all the Lifeblood records and no one really knew him yet. The real him.

  Those were the days.


  Gunner liked saying he had to go to work. He liked to call his job the daily grind. But in actuality, it was nothing like that. First, there was nothing daily about it. Rachel teased him all the time about “calling in sick,” even though Gunner had no boss, no office, and no set schedule. But when you’re the most skilled gamer in the Sleep, people want your advice. On a lot of things, most of which would surprise the average Joe. And these people were willing to pay Gunner an absurd amount of money.

  Which he was more than happy to accept.

  Today, he’d been invited to a small building on the outskirts of the city, a place no one would notice unless they accidentally bumped into it: brown dusty concrete exterior, dirty windows, weed-choked parking lot. There were only three cars parked there, all of them old models, and one of them had a flat tire. Gunner didn’t think he had the correct address, but he tried the door anyway and wasn’t surprised when he found it locked, rattling on its rusty hinges.

  What the hell? he thought. Had he really wasted a chance to spend the day in the VirtNet with Rachel for a fake address? He was just turning to walk away when the door opened with a jangle. It had one of those little bells to announce anyone coming or going—something Gunner had only seen in historical games within Lifeblood.

  A woman poked her head out, all frizzy red hair and bright lipstick. “May I help you, sir?” She smacked her gum like an all-out assault. “We don’t usually open until noon or so.”

  Gunner could only stare. Someone had played a joke on him. Surely.

  “Sir?” the bubbly lady inquired.

  “Um … I was supposed to meet with George Hartley. Of Virtual Solutions?”

  She stared at him blankly, jaws busy, chewing her gum.

  “Obviously I have the wrong place. Sorry to bother you.” He paused. “Ma’am.” Every muscle in his face strained as he struggled not to laugh.

  The lady surprised him by swinging the door wide open. “You’ve got the right place, sir. Gunner Skale, I presume? My name is Cherry. Mr. Hartley will see you now.”

  Gunner wrinkled his brow as he eyed the establishment. His question was obvious.

  “We value our security,” Cherry responded. “We value it very, very much, and we find it’s better to hide in plain sight, where no one would think to look.” She picked the gum out of her mouth and threw it over Gunner’s sho
ulder into the parking lot. “Please come in.”

  He followed her through the door, heard the jingle-jangle as she closed it, locked it. The waiting room was as drab as the exterior. Three worn chairs, all sagging in the middle. A dusty desk with a phone that must have been a century old—and completely useless for almost that long.

  “You guys don’t even try to make this place look like a real business,” he said, surprised by what he was seeing. What do these people do for a living? he wondered.

  “We keep meaning to upgrade,” she replied with a wink, a simple thing that for some reason made Gunner not like her. “Follow me. Mr. Hartley is expecting you in the Exhibit Room.”

  “The Exhibit Room?” Gunner repeated.

  “You’ll see.”


  As they made their way down a series of stairwells and long hallways, Gunner started to wonder if he was the biggest idiot in the world for following this woman. He was, after all, famous—a fact about which he’d been feeling sorry for himself all morning. For all he knew, these people were about to blackmail him, kidnap him, ask for ransom, kill him. He felt a sudden and almost exhilarating rush of fear, irrational but thrilling. He kept walking, following his spritely guide.

  They finally reached a section that looked modern. The change was abrupt—plush carpet, freshly painted walls, plasma lighting. Soon after, they came upon a set of double doors that looked to be made of heavy steel, like something that’d be on an industrial refrigeration unit. Cherry swiped her finger in funny little patterns on a section of the door, and the heavy steel panels popped open with a hiss.

  “After you, Mr. Skale,” she said with a slight smile that seemed to say there was a lot to her he might never know.

  Gunner stepped into the room, which was cool and dimly lit. The walls and ceiling were black with tiny pinpoints of white light that looked like stars. It was a moment before he noticed the people. There were three: one woman and two men, their faces in shadow. Their attire was somewhere between business and casual, and oddly, despite the darkness, they were all wearing sunglasses. Cherry, who’d so cheerfully guided Gunner through the strange building, stepped around him to join them. And somehow she belonged. She fit in with the strange group of three, and he was sure he’d guessed correctly—that she was far more than your average secretary.