The Rule of ThoughtsJames Dashner
BOOKS BY JAMES DASHNER
THE MORTALITY DOCTRINE SERIES
The Eye of Minds
The Rule of Thoughts
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
Jacket 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.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The rule of thoughts / James Dashner. — First edition.
Sequel to: The eye of minds.
Summary: “Michael and his friends, Sarah and Bryson, are still being chased by a cyber-terrorist. And now the government is after them, too”—Provided by publisher.
ISBN 978-0-385-74141-5 (hc) — ISBN 978-0-375-99002-1 (glb) —
ISBN 978-0-375-98464-8 (el) — ISBN 978-0-385-39011-8 (intl. tr. pbk.)
[1. Computer games—Fiction. 2. Virtual reality—Fiction. 3. Cyberterrorism—Fiction.
4. Terrorism—Fiction. 5. Science fiction.] I. Title.
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For the #DashnerArmy.
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Other Books by This Author
Chapter 1: A Stranger in the Home
Chapter 2: The Big, Bad World
Chapter 3: A Hitch in the Gut
Chapter 4: A Blur of Color
Chapter 5: The Kitchen Mess
Chapter 6: A Flash of Light
Chapter 7: Diving into the Code
Chapter 8: The Explorers
Chapter 9: An Easy Decision
Chapter 10: An Old Device
Chapter 11: Dark Visor
Chapter 12: Broken Bricks
Chapter 13: Happy Dance
Chapter 14: The Horizontal Door
Chapter 15: Every Speck
Chapter 16: The Infinite Ladder
Chapter 17: Corkscrew
Chapter 18: The Lance Code
Chapter 19: Squeezed
Chapter 20: Plant and Trigger
Chapter 21: Criminal
Chapter 22: Two Visitors
About the Author
Michael was not himself.
He lay on the bed of a stranger, staring up at a ceiling he had seen for the first time just the day before. He’d been disoriented and sick to his stomach all night, catching sleep only in fitful, anxious, nightmare-fueled jags. His life had blown apart; his sanity was slipping away. His very surroundings—the foreign room, the alien bed—were unforgiving reminders of his terrifying new life. Fear sparked through his veins.
And his family. What had happened to his family? He wilted a little more every time he pictured them.
The very first traces of dawn—a gloomy, pale light—made the shuttered blinds of the window glow eerily. The Coffin next to the bed sat silent and dark, as foreboding as a casket dug from a grave. He could almost imagine it: the wood rotting and cracked, human remains spilling out. He didn’t know how to look at the objects around him anymore. Real objects. He didn’t even understand the word real. It was as if all his knowledge of the world had been yanked out from under his feet like a rug.
His brain couldn’t grasp it all.
His … brain.
He almost burst out in a laugh, but it died in his chest.
Michael had only had an actual, physical brain for the last twelve hours. Not even a full day, he realized, and that pit in his stomach doubled in size.
Could it really all be true? Really?
Everything he knew was a result of artificial intelligence. Manufactured data and memories. Programmed technology. A created life. He could go on and on, each description somehow worse than the one before it. There was nothing real about him, and yet now here he was, transported through the VirtNet and the Mortality Doctrine program and turned into an actual human being. A living, breathing organism. A life, stolen. So that he could become something he didn’t even understand. His view of the world had been shattered. Utterly.
Especially because he wasn’t sure if he believed it. For all he knew, he could be in another program, another level of Lifeblood Deep. How could he ever again trust what was real and what was not? The uncertainty would drive him mad.
He rolled over and screamed into his pillow. His head—his stolen, unfamiliar head—ached from the thousands of thoughts that pounded through it, each one fighting for attention. Fighting to be processed and understood. And feeling pain here was no different from feeling it as a Tangent. Which only served to confuse him more. He couldn’t accept that before last night he’d just been a program, a long line of code. It didn’t compute. That did make him laugh, and the pain in his head intensified and spread, slicing down his throat and filling his chest.
He yelled again, which didn’t help, then forced himself to swing his legs off the bed and sit up. His feet touched the cool wooden floor, reminding him once again that he was now in a strange land. Lush carpet had blanketed the apartment he’d always known, which seemed homier, warmer, safe. Not cold and hard. He wanted to talk to Helga, his nanny. He wanted his parents.
And those were the thoughts that almost did him in completely. He’d been avoiding them, pressing them back into that pulsing swirl of thousands of other thoughts, but they weren’t going anywhere. They stood out and demanded attention.
Helga. His parents.
If what Kaine had said was true, they were as synthetic as Michael’s programmed fingernails had been. Even his memories. He would never know which ones had been programmed into his artificial intelligence and which ones he’d actually experienced within the code of Lifeblood Deep. He didn’t even know how long he’d existed—his true age. He could be two months old, or three years, or a hundred.
He imagined his parents and Helga as fake, or gone, or dead, maybe never there in the first place. It just didn’t make sense.
The ache that had crept its way into his chest filled his heart, and grief overtook him. He slumped back onto the bed and rolled over, pushing his face into the pillow. For the first time in his existence, Michael cried as an actual human being. But the tears felt no different than they ever had before.
The moment passed sooner than he’d expected. Just when he thought the despair would swallow him whole, it pulled back, allowed him some respite. Maybe it was the tears. Back in his life as a Tangent, he’d rarely cried. He probably hadn’t since he was a child. He just wa
sn’t the crying sort, he always said. And now he regretted that, because it sure seemed to ease the pain.
He made another attempt to get out of bed and this time succeeded. Feet planted on that hard, cool floor, emotions in check. It was time to do what he hadn’t been able to bring himself to do the night before: figure out who in the world he’d become. Since no one had come running at his screams, he knew he must be alone.
He walked through the apartment, turning on lights and opening blinds to let in the rays of morning sunshine. He wanted to see every detail of this odd place that had become his home and decide if he could or should keep it that way.
The city outside the windows wasn’t the one he’d looked out on from his old apartment. But at least it was a city, something that brought a little comfort in its familiarity. Buildings stacked next to more buildings, cars making their way down crisscrossing streets, the ever-present smog blurring the view. People bustling below, going about their business. Not a cloud in the wistful, dull blue sky.
He began his search.
Nothing out of the ordinary in the bedrooms. Clothes, furniture, pictures cycling on the WallScreens. Michael stood and stared at the huge one in the master bedroom for a while, watching as various pictures of the family—Mom, Dad, son, daughter—took turns filling the space. He vaguely remembered what he now looked like, and it was beyond unsettling to see that boy in so many situations that had absolutely no meaning to Michael whatsoever: A family portrait in front of a stream lined with huge oak trees, sunshine filling the sky. The kids were young, the boy sitting on his dad’s lap. Another portrait, much more recent, in a studio, mottled gray backdrop. Michael had stared at his new face for a long time in the mirror, and it was eerie to see that same face looking down at him from the wall.
There were other, more casual shots. The boy up to bat at a baseball game. The girl playing with silvery blocks on the floor, smiling up at the photographer. The whole family at a picnic. In a swimming pool. At a restaurant. Playing games.
Michael finally looked away. It hurt to see such a happy family when he might have lost that forever. He sullenly walked to the next room, obviously the girl’s. Her WallScreen didn’t have a single shot of the family, just pictures of her favorite bands and movie stars—Michael knew them all from Lifeblood. There was an old-fashioned frame on the nightstand next to her pink-themed bed, with an actual printed picture inside. The girl and the brother—him—grinning big goofy grins. The girl looked to be about two years older than the boy.
The pictures only made Michael feel worse, so he set to rummaging through drawers for any clues as to who these people were. He didn’t find much, though he did figure out that the family name was Porter and the girl’s name was Emileah—strange spelling.
Then he finally found the courage to go back into the boy’s room. His room. With the rumpled bedsheets and the Coffin and the hard, cold floor. And then he saw what he’d been both looking for and dreading: The boy’s name. The boy whose life he’d stolen. It was on a paper birthday card, on top of the dresser.
Scribbled red hearts littered the card itself, hand-drawn and quaint. Sweet. Inside, a message from a girl named Gabriela proclaimed undying love for Jackson and made various physical threats to his nether regions if he let anyone read it. Paired with a smiley face, of course. There was a slightly warped spot at the bottom, as if perhaps a tear had dropped there at the end, right after something about an anniversary. Michael tossed the card, feeling guilty, as if he’d peeked inside a forbidden room.
Michael couldn’t help it. He went back to the master bedroom and watched the WallScreen again. Only, now it had a whole new feeling. For some reason, knowing the boy’s name made everything different. Made Michael stop thinking about himself for a moment. He saw the face and body that were now his, doing so many activities—running, laughing, spraying a hose at his sister, eating. He seemed like one happy dude.
And now he was gone.
His life had been stolen. From a family and a girlfriend.
A life that had a name.
Jackson Porter. Surprisingly, Michael didn’t feel guilt so much as sadness. This hadn’t been his choice, his doing, after all. But the despair of it still swelled within him like nothing he’d ever felt before.
He tore his eyes from the screen and continued searching the apartment.
Michael rifled through drawer after drawer until he decided there wasn’t much more to find. Maybe the answers he needed weren’t in the apartment. It was time to do something that should have been first on his list but was the last thing he wanted to do.
He had to go back online.
Right after he’d woken up in his new body the day before, he’d checked his messages—but only because of the direction from Kaine to do so. He’d logged on to a mostly empty screen, with only the one ominous, life-changing note from Kaine himself, revealing what had happened. However, Michael figured Kaine had only temporarily hijacked Jackson Porter’s online presence for his own use, and that by now it had been restored. All he had to do was squeeze his EarCuff and he could probably find out more than he’d ever want to know about the boy.
For some reason that felt wrong, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Michael had spent a good portion of his life hacking into the VirtNet without the slightest twinge of guilt. But this was different. This didn’t take hacking or coding. This was just a click or swipe away. He’d stolen a human life, and stealing that person’s virtual life as well somehow seemed like too much.
Michael thought it through and realized he had no choice. Jackson Porter—the essence of what made him a person—might be gone forever. If Michael wanted to go forward, he had to accept that. And if Jackson wasn’t gone forever, if there was any possible way of restoring him to his body, Michael would never figure it out unless he jumped back into things.
He found a chair—just a normal, boring chair, not the cloud-soft throne of pure awesomeness he’d once had back in his former life—and sat next to a window, shutting the blinds to ward off some of the brightness. He caught a last glimpse through the slats of a city mad with the day-to-day grind, moving and grooving. In a way he felt envious of those people, completely oblivious that a crazy computer program had the ability to steal their bodies. That anything was wrong in the world at all.
Michael closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them again. He reached up and squeezed his EarCuff. A faint stream of light shot from its surface and created a large viewing screen, hovering a couple of feet in front of him.
It was exactly as he’d guessed. Jackson Porter’s personal online life had been restored from Kaine’s hijacking, icons galore covering the surface of the glowing screen—everything from social dens to games to school materials. Michael was relieved, but he hesitated. He had no idea what to do. Should he pretend to be Jackson? Escape into the world and try to hide from Kaine? Seek out someone from VirtNet Security? He didn’t know where to begin. But whatever he decided, it would require information. A lot of information. And if at all possible, he needed to dig in before someone came home.
Which brought up questions again: Where were Jackson’s parents? Where was his sister? Michael had the sinking thought that somehow Kaine had gotten rid of them, just like he’d sworn he had done to Michael’s own parents.
After quickly scanning several social sites that proved pointless, he found a personal text box and scrolled through its messages. There were several from the girlfriend, Gabriela; three just that morning. Reluctantly, Michael opened the most recent.
Uhhhhh, you slip in the shower and bang your head? Are you sleeping in a puddle of soapy water and drool right now? Of course, you’d be cute and adorable even then. I miss you. Hurry? I’m on my second cup of coffee and there’s a jerk at the next table getting friendly. He sells stocks, or companies, or dead people’s organs, something. Please come save me. You
might even get a coffee-flavored kiss.
She attached a pic, a shadowy, blurred image of someone Michael could only assume was Gabriela—dark skin, dark hair, pretty—with pouting lips, her finger tracing an imaginary tear down her cheek. Her brown eyes tilted down in mock sadness. With a heavy heart Michael swiped it closed and continued looking through the text box.
He didn’t have to search long.
Several things fell into place when he found a note from Jackson’s dad, sent just that morning:
Hope all is well, buddy. I’m sure you’re up and at ’em by now, right? Right? RIGHT?
We’re safe and sound. Puerto Rico is beautiful. For the millionth time, we’re sorry you couldn’t come along. But I know you have big things coming up this week, so we’ll be thinking about you.
Keep us in the loop, and be careful when you access our accounts. Make sure you protect our codes! (That was Mom’s input.)
See you next week. Is Gabby still visiting her dad? Say hi to her for us. We miss you already.
So Jackson Porter was obviously okay when his family left for vacation. Which meant that his body had not been merely clinging to life, brain-dead, like so many others discovered throughout the world. Had those all been tests of some sort? Michael wondered. Had Kaine actually perfected the Mortality Doctrine process before he used it on Michael? Or was Michael the first that had worked? It was a terrifying thought either way. If it seemed the attacks had stopped, no one would be worried about the VirtNet. Kaine could just move ahead and unleash an army of Tangents on the world with no warning.
But Michael had a more immediate concern—what to do about Jackson Porter. Reading that letter had made him absolutely certain of one thing: there was just no way he could pretend to be another person. The notion of passing for this stranger with his family and friends seemed ridiculous now, especially if Gabriela showed up and started whispering sweet nothings in his ear.