The Fever Code, Page 2James Dashner
Stephen heard the warning in the man’s voice. Whatever came next was not going to be good.
“You’re going to have to accept the loss of certain things and think of something bigger than yourself,” he continued. “If we don’t find a cure within a few years, humans are done. So here’s what’s going to happen, Thomas. You’re going to get up. You’re going to walk with me out that door. And I’m not going to tell you again.”
The man waited for a moment, his gaze unwavering; then he stood and turned to leave.
Stephen got up. He followed the man out the door.
221.11.28 | 9:56 a.m.
When they entered the hallway, Stephen got his first glimpse of another kid since he’d arrived. A girl. She had brown hair and looked like she might be a little older than him. It was hard to tell, though; he only got a brief look at her as a woman escorted her into the room right next to his. The door thumped closed just as he and his escort walked by, and he noticed the plaque on the front of its white surface: 31K.
“Teresa hasn’t had any problem taking her new name,” the man in green said as they moved down the long, dimly lit hallway. “Of course, that might be because she wanted to forget her given one.”
“What was it?” Stephen asked, his tone approaching something like politeness. He genuinely wanted to know. If the girl had really given up so easily, maybe he could hold on to her name as well—a favor to a potential friend.
“It’ll be hard enough for you to forget your own,” came the response. “I wouldn’t want to burden you with another.”
I’ll never forget, Stephen told himself. Never.
Somewhere at the edge of his mind, he realized that he’d already changed his stance, ever so slightly. Instead of insisting on calling himself Stephen, he’d begun to merely promise not to forget Stephen. Had he already given in? No! He almost shouted it.
“What’s your name?” he asked, needing a distraction.
“Randall Spilker,” the man said without breaking his stride. They turned a corner and came to a bank of elevators. “Once upon a time, I wasn’t such a jerk, trust me. The world, the people I work for”—he gestured to nothing in particular all around him—“it’s all turned my heart into a small lump of black coal. Too bad for you.”
Stephen had no response, as he was busy wondering where they were going. They stepped onto the elevator when it chimed and the doors opened.
Stephen sat in a strange chair, its various built-in instruments pressing into his legs and back. Wireless sensors, each barely the size of a fingernail, were attached to his temples, his neck, his wrists, the crooks of his elbows, and his chest. He watched the console next to him as it collected data, chirping and beeping. The man in the grown-up jammies sat in another chair to observe, his knees only a couple of inches from Stephen’s.
“I’m sorry, Thomas. We’d usually wait longer before it came to this,” Randall said. He sounded nicer than he had back in the hallway and in Stephen’s room. “We’d give you some more time to choose to take your new name voluntarily, like Teresa did. But time isn’t a luxury we have anymore.”
He held up a tiny piece of shiny silver, one end rounded, the other tapered to a razor-sharp point.
“Don’t move,” Randall said, leaning forward as if he were going to whisper something into Stephen’s ear. Before he could question the man, Stephen felt a sharp pain in his neck, right below his chin, then the unsettling sensation of something burrowing into his throat. He yelped, but it was over as fast as it had begun, and he felt nothing more than the panic that filled his chest.
“Wh-what was that?” he stammered. He tried to get up from the chair despite all the things attached to him.
Randall pushed him back into his seat. Easy to do when he was twice Stephen’s size.
“It’s a pain stimulator. Don’t worry, it’ll dissolve and get flushed out of your system. Eventually. By then you probably won’t need it anymore.” He shrugged. What can you do? “But we can always insert another one if you make it necessary. Now calm down.”
Stephen had a hard time catching his breath. “What’s it going to do to me?”
“Well, that depends…Thomas. We have a long road ahead of us, you and me. All of us. But for today, right now, at this moment, we can take a shortcut. A little path through the woods. All you need to do is tell me your name.”
“That’s easy. Stephen.”
Randall let his head fall into his hands. “Do it,” he said, his voice little more than a tired whisper.
Until this moment, Stephen hadn’t known pain outside of the scrapes and bruises of childhood. And so it was that when the fiery tempest exploded throughout his body, when the agony erupted in his veins and muscles, he had no words for it, no capacity to understand. There were only the screams that barely reached his own ears before his mind shut down and saved him.
Stephen came to, breathing heavily and soaked in sweat. He was still in the strange chair, but at some point, he’d been secured to it with straps of soft leather. Every nerve in his body buzzed with the lingering effects of the pain inflicted by Randall and the implanted device.
“What…,” Stephen whispered, a hoarse croak. His throat burned, telling him all he needed to know about how much he’d screamed in the time he lost. “What?” he repeated, his mind struggling to connect the pieces.
“I tried to tell you, Thomas,” Randall said, with perhaps, perhaps, some compassion in his voice. Possibly regret. “We don’t have time to mess around. I’m sorry. I really am. But we’re going to have to try this again. I think you understand now that none of this is a bluff. It’s important to everyone here that you accept your new name.” The man looked away and paused a long time, staring at the floor.
“How could you hurt me?” Stephen asked through his raw throat. “I’m just a little kid.” Young or not, he understood how pathetic he sounded.
Stephen also knew that adults seemed to react to pathetic in one of two ways: Their hearts would melt a little and they’d backtrack. Or the guilt would burn like a furnace within them and they’d harden into rock to put the fire out. Randall chose the latter, his face reddening as he shouted back.
“All you have to do is accept a name! Now—I’m not playing around anymore. What’s your name?”
Stephen wasn’t stupid—he’d just pretend for now. “Thomas. My name is Thomas.”
“I don’t believe you,” Randall responded, his eyes pools of darkness. “Again.”
Stephen opened his mouth to answer, but Randall hadn’t been speaking to him. The pain came back, harder and faster. He barely had time to register the agony before he passed out.
“What’s your name?”
Stephen could barely speak. “Thomas.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No.” He whimpered.
The pain was no longer a surprise, nor was the darkness that came after.
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t want you to forget.”
“No.” He cried, trembling with sobs.
“What’s your name?”
“Do you have any other name?”
“No. Only Thomas.”
“Has anyone ever called you anything else?”
“No. Only Thomas.”
“Will you ever forget your name? Will you ever use another?”
“Okay. Then I’ll give you one last reminder.”
Later, he lay on his bed, once again curled up into himself. The world outside felt far away, silent. He’d run out of tears, his body numb except that unpleasant tingle. It was as if his entire being had fallen asleep. He pictured Randall across from him, guilt and anger mixed into a potent, lethal form of rage that turned his face into a grotesque mask as he inflicted the pain.
never forget, he told himself. I must never, never forget.
And so, inside his mind, he chanted a familiar phrase, over and over and over. Though he couldn’t quite put a finger on it, something did seem different.
Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. My name is Thomas.
222.2.28 | 9:36 a.m.
“Please hold still.”
The doctor wasn’t mean, but he wasn’t kind either. He was just kind of there, stoic and professional. Also forgettable: middle-aged, average height, medium build, short dark hair. Thomas closed his eyes and felt the needle slide into his vein after that quick pinprick of pain. It was funny how he dreaded it every week, but then it lasted less than a second, followed by the flood of cold inside his body.
“See, now?” the doctor said. “That didn’t hurt.”
Thomas shook his head but didn’t speak. He had a hard time speaking ever since the incident with Randall. He had a hard time sleeping, eating, and just about everything else, too. Only in the last few days had he started to get over it, little by little. Whenever a trace memory of his real name came forward in his mind, he pushed it away, not ever wanting to go through that torture again. Thomas worked just fine. It’d have to do.
Blood, so dark it looked almost black, glided up the narrow tube from his arm and into the vial. He didn’t know what they tested him for, but this was just one of many, many pokes and prods—some daily, some weekly.
The doctor stopped the flow and sealed off the vial. “All right, then, that does it for the blood work.” He pulled out the needle. “Now let’s get you into the scanning machine and capture another look at that brain of yours.”
Thomas froze, anxiety trickling in, tightening his chest. The anxiety always came when they mentioned his brain.
“Now, now,” the doctor chided, noticing Thomas’s body tense. “We do this every week. It’s just routine—nothing to fret over. We need to capture regular images of your activity up there. Okay?”
Thomas nodded, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. He wanted to cry. He sucked in a breath and fought the urge.
He stood and followed the doctor to another room, where a massive machine sat like a giant elephant, a tube-shaped chamber at its center, a flat bed extended, waiting for him to be slid inside.
“Up you go.”
This was the fourth or fifth time Thomas had done this, and there was no point fighting it. He jumped up onto the bed and lay flat on his back, staring up at the bright lights on the ceiling.
“Remember,” the doctor said, “don’t worry about those knocking sounds. It’s all normal. All part of the game.”
There was a click and then a groan of machinery, and Thomas’s bed glided into the yawning tube.
Thomas sat at a desk, all by himself. In front of him, standing by a writing board, was his teacher, Mr. Glanville—a gruff, gray-toned man with barely any hair. Unless you counted his eyebrows. Those bushy things looked like they’d commandeered every follicle from the rest of his body. It was the second hour after lunch now, and Thomas would’ve given at least three of his toes to lie down, right there on the floor, and take a nap. Just a five-minute nap.
“Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?” Mr. Glanville asked him.
Thomas nodded. “FIRE.”
“Yes, that’s right. And what does it stand for?”
“Flares Information Recovery Endeavor.”
His teacher smiled with obvious satisfaction. “Very good. Now.” He turned back to his board and wrote the letters PFC. “P…F…C. That stands for Post Flares Coalition, which was a direct result of FIRE. Once they’d heard from as many countries as possible, gathered representatives and so forth, they could start dealing with the spectacular disaster caused by the sun flares. While FIRE figured out the full ramifications of the sun flares and who had been affected, the PFC tried to start fixing things. Am I boring you, son?”
Thomas jerked upright, completely unaware that his head had dipped. He might’ve even nodded off for a moment.
“Sorry,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Sorry. FIRE, PFC, got it.”
“Look, son,” Mr. Glanville said. He took a few steps, closing the distance between them. “I’m sure you find your other subjects more interesting. Science, math, physical fitness.” He leaned down to look directly into Thomas’s eyes. “But you need to understand your history. What got us here, why we’re in this mess. You’ll never figure out where you’re going until you understand from where you came.”
“Yes, sir,” Thomas said meekly.
Mr. Glanville straightened, glaring down his nose. Searching Thomas’s face for any sign of sarcasm. “All right, then. Know your past. Back to the PFC. There’s a lot to discuss.”
As his teacher returned to the front of the room, Thomas pinched himself as hard as he could, hoping that would keep him awake.
“Do you need me to go over it again?”
Thomas looked up at Ms. Denton. She had dark hair and dark skin, and she was beautiful. Kind eyes. Smart eyes. She was probably the smartest person Thomas had met so far, as made evident by the puzzles she constantly challenged him with in his critical thinking class.
“I think I’ve got it,” he said.
“Then repeat it back to me. Remember—”
He cut her off, quoting back what she’d said a thousand times. “ ‘One must know the problem better than the solution, or the solution becomes the problem.’ ” He was pretty sure it meant absolutely nothing.
“Very good!” she said with mockingly exaggerated praise, as if shocked that he’d memorized her words. “Then go ahead and repeat the problem. Visualize it in your mind.”
“There’s a man in a train station who’s lost his ticket. One hundred and twenty-six people stand on the platform with him. There are nine separate tracks, five going south, four going north. Over the next forty-five minutes, twenty-four trains will arrive and depart. Another eighty-five people will enter the station during that time. At least seven people board each train when it arrives, and never more than twenty-two. Also, at least ten passengers disembark with each arrival, and never more than eighteen…”
This went on for another five minutes. Detail after detail. Memorizing the parameters was challenging enough—he couldn’t believe she actually expected him to solve the stupid thing.
“…how many people are left standing on the platform?” he finished.
“Very good,” Ms. Denton said. “Third time’s the charm, I guess. You got every detail right, which is the first step to finding any solution. Now, can you solve it?”
Thomas closed his eyes and worked through the numbers. In this class, everything was done in his head—no devices, no writing. It strained his mind like nothing else, and he actually loved it.
He opened his eyes. “Seventy-eight.”
He took a couple of minutes then tried again. “Eighty-one.”
“Wrong.” He flinched in disappointment.
It took another few tries, but he finally realized the answer might not be a number at all. “I don’t know if the man who lost his ticket got on a train or not. Or if some of the others on the platform were traveling with him, and if so, how many.”
Ms. Denton smiled.
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
223.12.25 | 10:00 a.m.
In the two years since they’d stolen Thomas’s name, he’d been busy. Classes and tests filled his days—math, science, chemistry, critical thinking, and more mental and physical challenges than he would have thought existed. He’d had teachers and been studied by scientists of all sorts, yet he hadn’t seen Randall again or heard any mention of him, even once. Thomas wasn’t sure what that meant. Had the man’s job been completed, and then he’d been let go? Had he gotten sick—caught the Flare? Had he left the service of Thomas’s caretakers, racked with guilt for doing such things to a boy hardly old enough to start school?
Thomas was just as hap
py to forget Randall forever, though he still couldn’t help that spike of panic whenever a man in green scrubs turned a corner. Always, for just an instant, he thought it might be Randall again.
Two years. Two years of blood samples, physical diagnostics, and constant monitoring, class after class after class, and the puzzles. So many puzzles. But no real information.
Until now. He hoped.
Thomas woke up feeling good after an excellent night’s sleep. Shortly after he’d dressed and eaten, a woman he’d never seen before interrupted his normal schedule. He was being summoned to “a very important meeting.” Thomas didn’t bother asking for any details. He was already seven or so, old enough to not go along with everything grown-ups wanted him to do, but after two years of dealing with these people, he’d realized that he never got any answers. He’d realized also that there were other ways to learn things if he was patient and used his eyes and ears.
Thomas had lived at the facility for so long at this point that he’d almost forgotten what the outside world looked like. All he knew were white walls, the paintings he passed in the hallways, the various monitor screens flashing information in the labs, the fluorescent lights, the soft gray of his bedclothes, the white tile of his bedroom and bathroom. And in all that time, he’d only interacted with adults—he hadn’t once, not even in a brief chance encounter, been able to speak with anyone approaching his own age.
He knew he wasn’t the only kid there. Every once in a while, he caught a glimpse of the girl who bunked in the room next to his. Always only a mere second or two, eyes meeting just as his or her door closed. To him, the placard on that door had become synonymous with her name, Teresa. He desperately wanted to talk to her.
His life was one of immeasurable boredom, his scant free time filled with old vids and books. A lot of books. That was the one thing they allowed him to peruse freely. The huge collection to which they allowed him access was the lifeline that probably saved him from insanity. The last month or so he’d been on a Mario Di Sanza kick, relishing every page of the classics, all set within a world he hardly understood but loved to imagine.