The Death Cure, Page 2James Dashner
Thomas only stared. It was a question that had no good response.
The Rat Man might have smiled, but it looked more like he was sneering. “Just remember that at one time you believed it did, Thomas. ” He started to collect his papers as if to go but didn’t move. “I’m here to tell you that everything is set and our data is almost complete. We’re on the cusp of something great. Once we have the blueprint, you can go boo-hoo with your friends all you want about how unfair we’ve been. ”
Thomas wanted to cut the man with harsh words. But he held back. “How does torturing us lead to this blueprint you’re talking about? What could sending a bunch of unwilling teenagers to terrible places, watching some of them die—what could that possibly have to do with finding a cure for some disease?”
“It has everything in the world to do with it. ” Rat Man sighed heavily. “Boy, soon you’ll remember everything, and I have a feeling you’re going to regret a lot. In the meantime, there’s something you need to know—it might even bring you back to your senses. ”
“And what’s that?” Thomas really had no idea what the man would say.
His visitor stood up, smoothed the wrinkles out of his pants and adjusted his coat. Then he clasped his hands behind his back. “The Flare virus lives in every part of your body, yet it has no effect on you, nor will it ever. You’re a member of an extremely rare group of people. You’re immune to the Flare. ”
Thomas swallowed, speechless.
“On the outside, in the streets, they call people like you Munies,” Rat Man continued. “And they really, really hate you. ”
Thomas couldn’t find any words. Despite all the lies he’d been told, he knew that what he’d just heard was the truth. When placed alongside his recent experiences, it just made too much sense. He, and probably the other Gladers and everyone in Group B, was immune to the Flare. Which was why they’d been chosen for the Trials. Everything done to them—every cruel trick played, every deceit, every monster placed in their paths—it all had been part of an elaborate experiment. And somehow it was leading WICKED to a cure.
It all fit together. And more—this revelation pricked his memories. It felt familiar.
“I can see that you believe me,” Rat Man finally said, breaking the long silence. “Once we’d discovered there were people like you—with the virus rooted inside, yet showing no symptoms—we sought out the best and the brightest among you. This is how WICKED was born. Of course, some in your trial group are not immune, and were chosen as control subjects. When running an experiment you need a control group, Thomas. It keeps all the data in context. ”
That last part made Thomas’s heart sink. “Who isn’t …” The question wouldn’t come out. He was too scared to hear the answer.
“Who isn’t immune?” Rat Man asked, eyebrows raised. “Oh, I think they should find out before you, don’t you? But first things first. You smell like a week-old corpse—let’s get you to the showers and find some fresh clothes. ” With that he picked up his file and turned to the door. He was just about to step out when Thomas’s mind focused.
“Wait!” he shouted.
His visitor looked back at him. “Yes?”
“Back in the Scorch—why did you lie that there’d be a cure at the safe haven?”
Rat Man shrugged. “I don’t think it was a lie at all. By completing the Trials, by arriving at the safe haven, you helped us collect more data. And because of that there will be a cure. Eventually. For everyone. ”
“And why are you telling me all this? Why now? Why did you stick me in here for four weeks?” Thomas motioned around the room, at the padded ceiling and walls, at the pathetic toilet in the corner. His sparse memories weren’t solid enough to make any sense of the bizarre things that had been done to him. “Why did you lie to Teresa about me being crazy and violent and keep me in here all this time? What could possibly be the point?”
“Variables,” Rat Man answered. “Everything we’ve done to you has been carefully calculated by our Psychs and doctors. Done to stimulate responses in the killzone, where the Flare does its damage. To study the patterns of different emotions and reactions and thoughts. See how they work within the confines of the virus that’s inside you. We’ve been trying to understand why in you, there’s no debilitating effect. It’s all about the killzone patterns, Thomas. Mapping your cognitive and physiological responses to build a blueprint for the potential cure. It’s about the cure. ”
“What is the killzone?” Thomas asked, trying to remember but drawing a blank. “Just tell me that and I’ll go with you. ”
“Why, Thomas,” the man replied. “I’m surprised being stung by the Griever didn’t make you recall at least that much. The killzone is your brain. It’s where the virus settles and takes hold. The more infected the killzone, the more paranoid and violent the behavior of the infected. WICKED is using your brain and those of a few others to help us fix the problem. If you recall, our organization states its purpose right in its name: World in Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Department. ” Rat Man looked pleased with himself. Almost happy. “Now come on, let’s get you cleaned up. And just so you know, we’re being watched. Try anything and there’ll be consequences. ”
Thomas sat, attempting to process everything he’d just heard. Again, everything rang true, made sense. Fit in with the memories that had come back to him in recent weeks. And yet his distrust of Rat Man and WICKED still sprinkled it all with doubt.
He finally stood, letting his mind work through the new revelations, hoping they’d sort themselves into nice little stacks for later analysis. Without another word, he walked across the room and followed the Rat Man through the door, leaving his white-walled cell behind.
Nothing stood out about the building in which he found himself. A long hallway, a tiled floor, beige walls with framed pictures of nature—waves crashing on a beach, a hummingbird hovering beside a red flower, rain and mist clouding a forest. Fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. Rat Man led him through several turns and finally stopped at a door. He opened it and gestured for Thomas to go in. It was a large bathroom lined with lockers and showers. And one of the lockers was open to show fresh clothes and a pair of shoes. Even a watch.
“You have about thirty minutes,” Rat Man said. “When you’re done, just sit tight—I’ll come back for you. Then you’ll be reunited with your friends. ”
For some reason, at the words friends, Teresa popped into Thomas’s mind. He tried calling out to her again with his thoughts, but there was still nothing. Despite his ever-growing disdain for her, the emptiness of her being gone still floated like an unbreakable bubble within him. She was a link to his past and, he knew without any doubt, had once been his best friend. It was one of the only things in his world that he was sure of, and he had a hard time letting go of that completely.
Rat Man nodded. “See you in a half hour,” he said. Then he pulled the door open and closed it behind him, leaving Thomas alone once more.
Thomas still didn’t have a plan other than finding his friends, but at least he was one step closer to that. And even though he had no idea what to expect, at least he was out of that room. Finally. For now, a hot shower. A chance to scrub himself clean. Nothing had ever sounded so good. Letting his cares slip away for the moment, Thomas took off his nasty clothes and got to work making himself human again.
T-shirt and jeans. Running shoes—just like the ones he’d worn in the Maze. Fresh, soft socks. After washing himself from top to bottom at least five times, he felt reborn. He couldn’t help but think that from here on things would improve. That he was going to take control of his own life now. If only the mirror hadn’t reminded him of his tattoo—the one given to him before the Scorch. It was a permanent symbol of what he’d been through, and he wished he could forget it all.
He stood outside the door to the bathroom, leaning agains
t the wall, arms folded, waiting. He wondered if the Rat Man would come back—or had he left Thomas to wander the place, begin yet another Trial? He’d barely begun the line of thinking before he heard footsteps, then saw the weaselly man’s white form turn the corner.
“Well, aren’t you looking spiffy?” the Rat Man commented, the edges of his mouth crawling up his cheeks in an uncomfortable-looking smile.
Thomas’s mind raced with a hundred sarcastic answers, but he knew he had to play it straight. All that mattered at the moment was gathering as much information as he could and then finding his friends. “I feel fine, actually. So … thanks. ” He plastered a casual smile on his own face. “When do I get to see the other Gladers?”
“Right now. ” Rat Man was all business again. He nodded back toward the way he’d come and gestured for Thomas to follow him. “All of you went through different types of tests for Phase Three of the Trials. We’d hoped to have the killzone patterns mapped out by the end of the second phase, but we had to improvise in order to push further. Like I said, though, we’re very close. You’ll all be full partners in the study now, helping us fine-tune and dig deeper until we solve this puzzle. ”
Thomas squinted. He guessed his Phase Three had been the white room—but what about the others? As much as he’d hated his trial, he could only imagine how much worse WICKED could have made it. He almost hoped he never found out what they had devised for his friends.
Finally Rat Man arrived at a door. He opened it without hesitating and stepped through.
They entered a small auditorium and relief washed over Thomas. Sitting scattered among a dozen or so rows of seats were his friends, safe and healthy-looking. The Gladers and girls of Group B. Minho. Frypan. Newt. Aris. Sonya. Harriet. Everyone seemed happy—talking, smiling and laughing—though maybe they were faking, to some extent. Thomas assumed they’d also been told things were almost over, but he doubted anyone believed it. He certainly didn’t. Not yet.
He looked around the room for Jorge and Brenda—he really wanted to see Brenda. He’d been anxious about her ever since she’d vanished after the Berg picked them up, worried that WICKED had sent her and Jorge back to the Scorch like they’d threatened to—but there was no sign of either one. Before he could ask Rat Man about them, however, a voice broke through the din, and Thomas couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across his face.
“Well, I’ve been shucked and gone to heaven. It’s Thomas!” Minho called out. His announcement was followed by hoots and cheers and catcalls. A swell of relief mixed with the worry clawing in Thomas’s stomach and he continued to search the faces in the room. Too overcome to speak, he just kept grinning until his eyes found Teresa.
She’d stood up, turned from her chair on the end of the row to face him. Black hair, clean and brushed and shiny, draped over her shoulders and framed her pale face. Her red lips parted into a huge smile, lighting up her features, making her blue eyes glow. Thomas almost went to her but stopped himself, his mind clouded with vivid memories of what she’d done to him, of what she’d said about WICKED being good even after everything that had happened.
Can you hear me? he called out with his mind, just to see if their ability had come back.
But she didn’t respond, and he still didn’t feel her presence inside him. They just stood there, staring at each other, eyes locked for what seemed like a minute but could only have been a few seconds. And then Minho and Newt were by his side, slapping him on the back, shaking his hand, pulling him into the room.
“Well, at least you didn’t bloody roll over and die, Tommy,” Newt said, squeezing his hand tightly. His tone sounded grumpier than usual, especially considering they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, but he was in one piece. Which was something to be thankful for.
Minho had a smirk on his face, but a hard glint in his eyes showed that he’d been through an awful time. That he wasn’t quite himself yet, just trying his hardest to act like it. “The mighty Gladers, back together again. Good to see ya alive, shuck-face—I’ve imagined you dead in about a hundred different ways. I bet you cried every night, missing me. ”
“Yeah,” Thomas muttered, thrilled to see everybody but still struggling to find words. He broke away from the reunion and made his way to Teresa. He had an overwhelming urge to face her and come to some kind of peace until he could decide what to do. “Hey. ”
“Hey,” she replied. “You okay?”
Thomas nodded. “I guess. Kind of a rough few weeks. Could—” He stopped himself. He’d almost asked if she’d been able to hear him trying to reach out to her with his mind, but he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing he’d done it.
“I tried, Tom. Every day I tried to talk to you. They cut us off, but I think it’s all been worth it. ” She reached out and took his hand, which set off a chorus of mocking jabs from the Gladers.
Thomas quickly pulled his hand from her grasp, felt his face flush red. For some reason, her words had made him suddenly angry, but the others mistook his action for mere embarrassment.
“Awwww,” Minho said. “That’s almost as sweet as that time she slammed the end of a spear into your shuck face. ”
“True love indeed. ” This from Frypan, followed by his deep bellow of a laugh. “I’d hate to see what happens when these two have their first real fight. ”
Thomas didn’t care what they thought, but he was determined to show Teresa that she couldn’t get away with everything she’d done to him. Whatever trust they’d shared before the trials—whatever relationship they’d had—meant nothing now. He might find a sort of peace with her, but he resolved right then and there that he would only trust Minho and Newt. No one else.