The Crank Palace was a horrible, filthy place. The short guard proved to be very talkative, and as they made their way through the chaos of the frightening domain, he provided more information than Thomas ever would’ve asked for.
He described the village for the infected as a huge set of rings within rings, with all the communal areas—
cafeteria, infirmary, recreation facilities—located in the middle and then row upon row of poorly built housing encircling them. The Palaces had been conceived as humane options—refuges for the infected until they reached a point where the madness took over. After that they were shipped to remote locations that had been abandoned during the worst of the sun flares. Those who had built the palaces had wanted to give the infected one last shot at a decent life before the end. Projects had sprung up near most remaining cities in the world.
But the well-intended idea had gone very bad. Filling a place with people who had no hope and knew they were about to descend into a rotten, horrific spiral of insanity ended up creating some of the most wretched anarchic zones ever known to man. With the residents well aware that there could be no real punishment or consequences worse than what they already faced, crime rates grew astronomically. And so the developments became havens of debauchery.
As the group walked past home after home—nothing more than shacks that had fall en into disrepair—
Thomas imagined how truly awful it must be to live in such a place. Most windows in the buildings they passed were broken, and their guard explained how it had been a huge mistake to allow glass in the towns at all. It had become the number one source of weaponry. Trash littered the streets, and though he hadn’t spotted any people yet, Thomas felt like he and his friends were being watched from the shadows. In the distance he heard someone yell a few obscenities; then a scream came from another direction, putting Thomas even more on edge.
“Why don’t they just close the place down?” he asked, the first of his group to speak. “I mean—if it’s gotten so bad.”
“Gotten so bad?” the guard asked. “Kid, bad’s a relative term. This is just how it is. What else are you gonna do with these people? You can’t leave ’em hanging out with the healthy folks in the fortressed cities.
You can’t just dump ’em in a place full of Cranks way past the Gone and let ’em get eaten alive. And no government’s gotten desperate enough yet to start killing people as soon as they catch the Flare. This is it.
And it’s a way for us Immunes to make some good money, since no one else would ever work here.” His statements left Thomas with a heavy dose of gloom. The world was in pitiful shape. Maybe he was being selfish by not helping WICKED complete the tests.
Brenda spoke up—her face had been creased into a look of disgust since they’d entered the town. “Why don’t you just tell it like it is—you let the infected run around this godforsaken place until they’re so bad that your conscience is clean enough to get rid of them.”
“That about wraps ’er up,” the guard responded matter-of-factly. Thomas had a hard time disliking the guy
—he mostly just felt sorry for him.
They kept walking, passing row after row of houses, all of them broken, run-down and dirty.
“Where is everybody?” Thomas asked. “I thought this place would be packed wall to wall. And what did you mean earlier about something happening?”
This time the guy with the mustache answered, and it was good to hear another voice for a change.
“Some—the lucky ones—are vegging on the Bliss in their homes. But most of them are in the Central Zone, eating or playing or up to no good. They’re sending us too many—and faster than we can ship them out.
Add to that the fact that we’re losing Immunes left and right to who-knows-where, decreasing our ratio each and every day, and things were bound to reach a boiling point eventually. Let’s just say this morning the water finally got hot enough.”
“Losing Immunes left and right?” Thomas repeated. It looked like WICKED was tapping every resource they could for more Trials. Even if their doing so had dangerous consequences.
“Yeah, almost half our workers have disappeared over the last couple months. No sign of ’em, no explanations. Which only makes my job a thousand times harder.” Thomas groaned. “Just keep us away from the crowds and put us somewhere safe until you find Newt.”
“That’s more like it,” Minho added.
The guard merely shrugged. “Okay. As long as I get my money.” The guards finally stopped two rings away from the Central Zone and told the group to wait. Thomas and the others huddled in some shade behind one of the shacks. The cacophony had grown louder by the minute, and now, so close to most of the Palace’s population, it sounded as if a massive brawl was taking place just around the corner. Thomas hated every second he sat there, waiting, listening to those awful noises, wondering the whole time whether the guard would come back at all, much less with Newt in tow.
About ten minutes after he’d left, two people came out of a little hut across the narrow pathway from them.
Thomas’s pulse quickened, and he almost got up and ran before he realized they didn’t look threatening in the least. They were a couple, holding hands, and other than being a little dirty and wearing wrinkled and worn clothes, they seemed sane enough.
The two approached the little group and stopped in front of them. “When did you get here?” the woman asked.
Thomas fumbled for words, but Brenda spoke up.
“We came in with the last group. We’re actually looking for our friend who was with us. His name is Newt
—blond hair, has a limp. Have you seen him?”
The man answered as if he’d just heard the dumbest question of his life. “Lots of people with blond hair around here—how’re we supposed to tell who’s who? What kind of name is Newt anyway?” Minho opened his mouth to respond, but the noise coming from the center of town picked up and everyone turned to look. The couple gave each other concerned looks. Then, without a word, they scurried back inside their home. They closed the door and Thomas heard the click of a lock engaging. A few seconds later a wooden board appeared in their window, covering it up; a small shard of glass fell to the ground outside.
“They look about as happy to be here as we are,” Thomas said.
Jorge grunted. “Real friendly. I think I’ll come back to visit.”
“They obviously haven’t been here long,” Brenda said. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Finding out you’re infected, being sent to live with Cranks, seeing what you’re about to become right in front of you.” Thomas just shook his head slowly. It’d be misery in its purest form.
“Where are those guards?” Minho asked, impatience clear in his tone. “How long does it take to find someone and tell ’em their friends are here?”
Ten minutes later, the two guards reappeared around a corner. Thomas and his friends jumped to their feet.
“What’d you find out?” Minho asked in a rush.
The short one seemed fidgety, his eyes darting, as if he’d lost his brazenness from before, and Thomas wondered if a trip to what they’d called the Central Zone always did that to a person.
His partner answered. “Took some asking around, but I think we found your guy. Looks just like you described, and he turned toward us when we called his name. But …” The guards exchanged an uncomfortable glance.
“But what?” Minho pushed.
“He said—very pointedly, I might add—to tell you guys to get lost.”
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6|
|Chapter 7||Chapter 8||Chapter 9||Chapter 10||Chapter 11||Chapter 12|
|Chapter 13||Chapter 14||Chapter 15||Chapter 16||Chapter 17||Chapter 18|
|Chapter 19||Chapter 20||Chapter 21||Chapter 22||Chapter 23||Chapter 24|
|Chapter 25||Chapter 26||Chapter 27||Chapter 28||Chapter 29||Chapter 30|
|Chapter 31||Chapter 32||Chapter 33||Chapter 34||Chapter 35||Chapter 36|
|Chapter 37||Chapter 38||Chapter 39||Chapter 40||Chapter 41||Chapter 42|
|Chapter 43||Chapter 44||Chapter 45||Chapter 46||Chapter 47||Chapter 48|
|Chapter 49||Chapter 50||Chapter 51||Chapter 52||Chapter 53||Chapter 54|
|Chapter 55||Chapter 56||Chapter 57||Chapter 58||Chapter 59||Chapter 60|
|Chapter 61||Chapter 62||Chapter 63||Chapter 64||Chapter 65||Chapter 66|
|Chapter 67||Chapter 68||Chapter 69||Chapter 70||Chapter 71||Chapter 72|
|Chapter 73||Book 1: Maze Runner||Book 2: Scorch Trials||Book 3: Death Cure||Prequel: Kill Order|