The 13th Reality, Volume 3: The Blade of Shattered Hope, Page 2James Dashner
Frazier Gunn had grown weary of prisons.
He’d now visited eleven of them, each one more foul than the one before it. Dirty. Grimy. Full of people with no self-control, no humanity. Full of thieves and murderers.
Now, walking down the dark, damp, smelly stone tunnel, escorted by two massively strong Brazilian guards with machine guns, he wondered how much more of this he could take. It didn’t help that Mistress Jane had refused to tell him the purpose of the mission he’d undertaken, only the whats and wheres. The hows. None of the whys.
He’d long since gotten over the shock of finding his prey in prison, each and every time. Without fail, his searches had ended at some sort of jail, penitentiary, detention center, or, in three memorable cases, a hospital for the criminally insane. Always in shady institutions run by shady men and women. Always in places where the right price could buy you anything. Were there places in the Realities where this was not the case? He doubted it.
They came to a wooden door, heavily bolted and re-
inforced with a thick chain and lock. The guard to his right grunted something in Portuguese, but Frazier understood him well enough. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of cash, obtained that morning at a local bank, in the local currency. He was amazed how easy it was to come up with money when you had someone as powerful as Mistress Jane backing the operation.
When the guard reached for the cash, Frazier pulled his hand away.
“The prisoner,” he said, keeping his voice as empty of emotion as possible. “Get me the prisoner.”
The man grunted again. Frazier was fully aware that these two brutes could simply take the money and leave him for dead. But he’d been sure to fill their heads with hopes of future deals, future bribes, future money-making opportunities. They’d be idiots to jeopardize such possibilities. It was, of course, a complete lie. Frazier would never, not in a million years, return to this country in this Reality, certainly not to this wretched cesspool of lowlifes. He needed one thing here, and one thing only.
After a long stare-off, the guard finally pulled out his jangly ring of keys and unlocked the chain and the three bolts of the door. He swung the door open, the hinges squealing like tortured rats, then disappeared inside, making it clear with a scowl that Frazier should wait for him to
return. Frazier was more than happy to wait, having seen more than enough prisoners and jail cells in the last few weeks.
He stood next to the other fellow, a sour-faced, bearded giant of a man, who looked at the floor and never spoke a word. Frazier could only imagine what darkness lurked inside the man’s brain, what memories haunted his dreams at night. For the slightest of moments, Frazier felt sorry for the man.
Several minutes passed, the only sounds that of breathing and a constant, echoing drip of water somewhere down the tunnel. Finally, the guard returned with the prisoner for which Frazier had paid handsomely. The eleventh such prisoner, the eleventh such bribe. And, according to his boss, worth every penny.
The woman stepped forward, still shackled at the wrist. Her black hair was a nest of greasy strings, her torn clothes were filthy, and her long fingernails were crusted with black dirt. For a moment, she refused to meet Frazier’s eyes. Irritated, he reached forward and put his hand under her chin, tilting her face up so he could get a good look.
Despite her pale complexion, the smudges of grime, the cracked lips, and the way her skin seemed to squeeze the sharp bones of her skull, he had no doubt, none whatsoever. She was still beautiful to him.
Frazier handed the money to the guard, who then passed over the key to the chains around the prisoner’s—the former prisoner’s—wrist. Frazier nodded once, curtly, then took hold of the woman’s arm.
Without saying a word, he turned and escorted the Alterant of Mistress Jane down the long and dark tunnel.
The Kyoopy Quiz
Okay,” Mr. Chu said, leaning both his elbows on his desk at school and staring down at the open physics book. “If you get this one right, you are The Man. That’s capital T, capital M.”
“Hit me,” Tick responded. Even he could hear the tiredness in his own voice. He’d been studying with Mr. Chu for more than an hour, question after question. Tick was schooled at home now since Master George had insisted that it was too dangerous for Tick to be out and about with classmates and the general public every day. But enough time had passed that Tick had finally convinced his parents and Master George to let him visit Mr. Chu three times a week in the afternoons. Any break from the house was welcome, even if it did involve his former teacher grilling him with questions about physics. Mr. Chu glanced up before continuing, a grin spreading across his face. Tick faltered a moment, hating how much the man looked like his Alterant from the Fourth Reality. Like Reginald Chu. The evil Reginald Chu, who was stuck—uncomfortably, Tick hoped—in a place called the Nonex. Too bad Master George didn’t have a clue as to where the Nonex was, or what it was, or anything else about it at all.
“Okay,” Mr. Chu said, speaking slowly. “How does the wave-particle property paradox contradict the theorems related to radiation damping and nonlinearity in the pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics?”
Tick slumped back in his chair. He barely understood the question, much less knew the answer. Figuring his brain had finally gone to sleep, he murmured, “I give up. My head’s not working right now.”
Mr. Chu laughed, and any remnant of his Alterant was wiped away in a flash. “I was just kidding. I’m not sure the question even made sense, actually.”
Tick couldn’t help but feel relieved. He needed to understand quantum physics and all the sciences in order to figure out what was wrong with him. He had an extremely dangerous influence over Chi’karda, the force that ruled the world of quantum physics—or QP, as Mr. Chu liked to call it—and Tick had very nearly killed himself and countless others when his Chi’karda had gotten out of control just a few months ago.
Since then, he’d been careful not to get too excited or too angry. So far nothing bad had happened—except for the time he’d sent his poor dad flying across the room and through an upstairs window. If it hadn’t been for that bush . . . Well, needless to say, the bush didn’t survive, but his dad—whose weight was classified somewhere between pudgy and ginormous—did. Though he had complained about a hurt back for weeks, sending Tick on countless runs to the kitchen to get him cookies and milk to enjoy during their videogame battles.
“Tick?” Mr. Chu asked, snapping his fingers.
Tick realized he’d been staring at the floor, completely lost in his thoughts. “Oh. Sorry. I was just thinking about something.”
Mr. Chu yawned, then closed the science book with a loud thump. “Well, you’ve got a lot to think about. Any problems lately?”
“No.” He looked into his teacher’s eyes, trying to see if he could read anything there. The man had been through just as much as Tick had, and Tick worried about him. “What about you? Have you . . . gotten over it?”
“Gotten over what? Being imprisoned by a bunch of thugs, forced to torment you and your friends, almost killed? What’s there to get over?”
Tick shook his head, trying not to look sad, but knowing he did. Thinking back to what had happened in the Fourth Reality, and everything that led up to it, always made him sad. He didn’t even really understand why—or at least he told himself that. After all, they’d escaped. They were safe. All seemed fine in the world.
But deep down, he knew why he felt sad. He knew all too well.
It was her. It was Mistress Jane. What he’d done to her.
“Tick,” Mr. Chu repeated, snapping his fingers again. “What’s buzzing in that brain of yours?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Tick said, almost whispering. His heart felt like a squishy pile of mud. “I don’t even know exactly what I did to her. For all we know, I killed her.”
Mr. Chu stood
up, shaking his head. “Enough of that.” He picked up the book and slid it inside Tick’s backpack, then held the pack out toward him. “Seriously. You shouldn’t feel one ounce of guilt for something that happened completely out of your control.”
Tick didn’t respond, just reached out and took his backpack, slipping the straps over his shoulders.
“I’m not even going to talk about it with you anymore,” Mr. Chu continued. “Maybe that’s making your subconscious mind think it’s something you should feel guilty about, something you should come to terms with, seek forgiveness for. Well, it’s not. As soon as blame the wood for killing with fire.”
“Huh?” Tick asked.
Mr. Chu shrugged. “Sorry. It was the best I could come up with.”
For some reason, that made Tick feel better. “I’m fine, I guess. It’s just that . . . she seemed like maybe she was starting to feel bad about being so evil. I thought maybe she was going to change, maybe even help us.”
Mr. Chu put two fingers together and swiped them across his lips like pulling a zipper.
Tick rolled his eyes. “Fine. Well, thanks for helping me study. I’ll see ya next week.”
“Sounds like a plan. Study the chapter on natural electricity’s role in physics carefully. A lot of things build off that information.”
“I will. See ya.”
“Take care.” Mr. Chu smiled then, and he looked nothing like his diabolical twin who had almost driven billions of people permanently insane.
Tick turned and headed out the door, deciding at the last second to swing by the city library to check his e-mail before going home. He was looking forward to the best weekend ever—his sisters Lisa and Kayla had gone to stay with their cousins in Seattle until Monday night. Uncle Ben and Aunt Holly had two daughters the same ages as Tick’s sisters, and the two families swapped weekends between Deer Park and Seattle about every five months.
No girls for three whole days. Well, unless you counted his mom, which he really didn’t.
Peace and quiet. Books, junk food, and video games. It was gonna be great.
Mrs. Sears, the librarian, was in her usual good mood, greeting Tick with that lilting laugh of hers as the gray cleaning pad she called her hair wiggled back and forth on her head. She asked him about the pros and cons of homeschooling, the latest books he’d been reading, and how he’d been faring against his dad in the latest installment of his favorite video game, Football 4000. But every time he answered a question, he eyed the long line of computers, trying to give her a hint.
Finally she nodded toward an empty chair and said, “Well, I know why you’re here. Go on, and I’ll find you a good book before you head out. Deal?”
“Deal,” Tick responded, already moving away.
He was logged into his e-mail in no time. Just as he’d hoped, there was a letter from Sofia and one from Paul. Jackpot. Paul’s had been sent first, addressed to both Tick and Sofia, as usual. Tick opened Paul’s e-mail and began reading.
Okay, I’m bored. When the highlight of your day is getting an e-mail from some chick in Italy about how she hurt her pinky toe in a vicious spaghetti sauce can incident, you know it’s time to change things. Where in the world is Master George? Yeah, I know we almost died and all that in the Fourth, but better that than getting up at the crack of dawn for school and then sitting around all afternoon eating cheese puffs. I can’t watch TV anymore. Too boring.
Tick, how’s that whole power thing of yours working out? Melted any bad guys recently? Dude, I was thinking we could present you to the world as the first human microwave oven. We’d be rich, and the ladies would swarm. Think about it. We’ll split it 50–50. You do the cooking, I’ll do the promoting.
Sofia, when you gonna bring us out to Italy? Don’t give me any junk about money. Just ask ol’ Pops to slip you a few bones to buy us airplane tickets. I’ll even bring you some hot dogs. No, make that corn dogs. Yeah. Corn dogs and Italy. Now that’s living.
I’m out. Any time you start mentioning corn dogs, you know it’s time to end the e-mail. Later. Call us in, Master George!
Still snickering, Tick closed the e-mail and opened Sofia’s, which had been sent soon after Paul’s, despite the time difference.
Did you really start that last e-mail with “Dudes”?!?!? Promise me you’ll call me a dude next time I see you. Oh, and “chick from Italy”? You’re getting awfully brave, Rogers, what with an entire ocean between us. Next time we meet, you might want to wear something made of metal.
I’m kind of bored too. Things with my parents seem worse than ever. All my old friends just seem stupid now. I hate how clueless they are. They have no idea what kind of stuff is going on out there.
I wish I had a funny joke. But once Paul says something that’s actually funny, I’ll try harder.
Seriously, though, I do think you guys should come to Italy. I’ll ask Frupey about it. Maybe this summer. Of course, I hope we’re doing something as Realitants by then.
Tick looked at his watch and realized he should probably get home. His mom worried her head off every time he left the house these days. Deciding he’d just write his friends from home later, he logged off, checked out the book Mrs. Sears recommended, then headed out the door.
Just a few minutes later, he was walking down the long road toward his neighborhood, surprised that he was already sweating.
It was almost spring, but it was still too early to be hot in Deer Park, Washington. Since his escape from the Fourth Reality, Tick had seen his birthday come and go—he was a manly fourteen years old now. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and most of the winter had passed as well; April was just a few days away. Tick had heard less and less from Master George in the last month or so. It gave him an uneasy feeling. He wondered if it was the calm before the storm.
He wondered about Mistress Jane, too. He’d give anything to know what had happened to her. Whether or not she was still alive. And if so, whether or not she was okay. He dreamed about her at night, reliving those terrible moments in Chu’s palace when he’d sent a world of chaos at her body and attacked her with thousands of flying shards of metal.
For some reason, he’d lately had dreams where one of his sisters—sometimes Lisa, sometimes Kayla—replaced Jane and suffered the terrible onslaught instead, screaming in agony. He woke up in a sweat every time, and seeing it play out that way humanized the ordeal, made it more real. No matter what she’d done in the past, Jane was still a person, just like Lisa and Kayla.
His actions haunted him, consumed him with guilt. He wished—
Tick stumbled to the ground, crying out as one of his elbows banged against the rock-hard dirt of the road’s shoulder. He twisted onto his back, fear ripping through his body. He searched around with his eyes, tried to figure out what had happened. It’d been like a wave of hardened air had slammed against him, knocking him down with a sound like the thump of a million bass drums . . .
He braced himself as a massive surge of energy swept across the road and past him. He expected his hair and clothes to whip in the wind, but nothing stirred. He almost felt the energy . . . inside his body. As if someone had injected charges of lightning into his bloodstream.
Tick squeezed his eyes shut. He felt a surge of heat in his chest, an intense pressure that enveloped his body, then it disappeared. Terrified, he scrambled to his feet, stumbling in a circle as he searched around him. There was nothing unusual in sight, nothing out of the ordinary.
Tick took a step backward, wrapping his arms tightly around him, tensing as the wave of force hit again. With each surge of energy, he felt heat within his heart and veins, like a raging fever. Heat. Pressure. Squeezing. But only for an instant. Then it was gone again.
Gasping for breath, h
e stood as still as possible, peeking through squinted eyes, waiting for it to happen again. His mind churned, trying to imagine what it could be. In some ways it felt like the attack of Chi’karda he’d had when everything had gone crazy in Reginald Chu’s research chamber.
Similar, but different.
This wasn’t coming from him. He was feeling it coming from somewhere else.
A blast of panic shot through his nerves. From somewhere else . . .
The wave hit again. Tick sprinted for home.
A Strange Guest
Lorena Higginbottom sat in the chair where she always waited for Atticus to come home from his visits with Mr. Chu at school. Her constant worrying over the boy had done strange things to her. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate. She rarely laughed anymore. Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—the worry turned into utter misery, engulfing her like a horrible, eating cancer.
Her boy. Her one and only boy. Mixed up with the Realitants and plagued with a burden of power that no one understood yet. Something was terribly, terribly wrong with him.
She’d gone through all the usual phases. The denial, the blame, the guilt, the despair. She’d run the whole gamut of emotions over the last few months, and it had all come to a head this morning. When her husband, Edgar, had left for work, and Atticus had disappeared into his room to study, she’d sat in her room, crying, sobbing, a sorry sack of gloom and grief. It had taken every ounce of willpower in her body to pull her anguish back inside and hide it away. But she did, for Atticus’s sake.
With a smile on her face, she’d seen him off to his appointment with his former and favorite teacher. She’d been sitting in her chair ever since, counting down the minutes until he returned. I should’ve gone with him, she thought, just as she did every single time Atticus left the house. But she couldn’t. She knew that. She and Edgar had long since agreed that they couldn’t exist in a constant state of terror and fear. Atticus needed time alone, time to grow, time to learn how to bear his burden. Still, he was only a child, only fourteen . . .