The clearing was scattered with trunks of trees felled long ago. The tall, thick pines of the forest surrounded Thomas, reaching up to the sky like a wall of majestic towers. He shielded his eyes from the fierce wind as the Berg boosted its thrusters and rose into the air, and he watched as it vanished into the southwestern sky.
The air was crisp and cool and the forest felt fresh, like he was standing in a brand-new world—a place untouched by disease. He was sure that not many people got to see anything like this today, and he felt lucky.
He tightened up his backpack and set out in the direction Lawrence had indicated, determined to make it there as quickly as possible. The less time he had to dwel on what he’d done to Newt, the better. And he knew that being alone out there in the wild would only give him too much time. He took the last few steps out of the snowy clearing and entered the darkness of the thick pines. He allowed their pleasantly overwhelming scent to wash over him and he did his best to shut down his mind again and stop thinking altogether.
He did pretty well, concentrating on his path, the sights and sounds of birds and squirrels and insects, the wonderful smells. His senses weren’t used to such things, since he’d spent most of the life he remembered inside. Not to mention the Maze and the Scorch. As he hiked through the woods, he found it hard to believe that such a different place—the Scorch—could exist on the same planet. His mind wandered. He wondered what life would be like for all these animals if humans really did go away for good.
He’d walked for over an hour when he finally reached the edge of the woods and a wide swatch of barren, rocky earth. Islands of dark brown dirt, devoid of vegetation, dappled the treeless expanse where the snow had been blown away by the wind. Craggy stones of all sizes dotted the land, which sloped toward a sudden drop-off—a huge cliff. Beyond that lay the ocean, its deep blue ending on the horizon, where in a sharp line it changed to the light blue of the brilliant sky. And resting on the edge of the cliff, about a mile ahead of him, was WICKED’s headquarters.
The complex was enormous, made up of wide, unadorned interconnected buildings; the walls were peppered with narrow slits in the white cement, allowing for an occasional window. One rounded building rose up amid the others like a tower. The fierce weather of the region, mixed with the moisture from the sea, had taken its toll on the facades of the buildings—cracks spiderwebbed the exteriors of the complex—but they looked like structures that would exist there forever, unyielding to whatever man or weather threw at it. It called to mind a barely held memory of something from storybooks—some sort of haunted asylum. It was the perfect place to house the organization trying to prevent the world from becoming just such a madhouse.
A long, narrow road led away from the complex, disappearing into the forest.
Thomas set out across the rock-strewn section of earth. An almost disturbing quiet settled over the land.
The only thing he could hear besides the thump of his footsteps and his own breathing was the sound of distant waves breaking on the bottom of the cliff, and even that was faint. He was certain that the people at WICKED had spotted him by now—the security was surely thorough and tight.
A scuttling sound, like clicks of metal against stone, made him stop and look to his right. As if summoned by the thought of security, a beetle blade stood perched on a boulder, its red eye gleaming in Thomas’s direction.
He remembered how it had felt the first time he’d seen one of them inside the Glade, just before it scurried away and into the small woods there. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
He waved at the beetle blade, and then he kept walking. In ten minutes he’d be knocking on the door of WICKED, asking, for the first time, to be let in. Not out.
He made his way down the last section of the slope and stepped onto an icy sidewalk that encircled the campus. It looked like there’d once been an effort to make the grounds a little prettier than the barren land around it, but the bushes and flowers and trees had long succumbed to winter, and the patches of gray dirt he could see amid the snow bore only weeds. Thomas walked along the paved lane, wondering why no one had come to greet him yet. Maybe the Rat Man was inside, watching, guessing that Thomas had finally come over to their side.
Two more beetle blades captured his attention, both roaming the snow-covered weeds of the flower beds, scanning left and right with their red beams as they scuttled along. Thomas looked up at the closest set of windows but saw only darkness—the glass was heavily tinted. A rumble coming from behind made him turn to look. A storm was moving in, its clouds dark and heavy, but it was still a few miles distant. As he watched, several bolts of lightning zigzagged across the grayness, and it took him back to the Scorch, to that awful rain of lightning that had met them as they approached the city. He could only hope the weather wasn’t so bad this far north.
He resumed his path along the sidewalk and slowed as he approached the front entrance. A large set of glass doors awaited him, and a sudden, almost painful surge of memory pounded inside his skull. The escape from the Maze, the flight through the corridors of WICKED, coming out these doors into the pouring rain. He looked to his right into a small parking lot, where an old bus squatted next to a row of cars. It had to be the same one that had run over that poor Flare-infested woman, then whisked them away to those dorms, where their minds were played with and a Flat Trans eventually took them to the Scorch.
And now, after all he’d been through, he stood at WICKED’s threshold, there by his own choice. He reached out and knocked on the cold, dark glass in front of him. He could see nothing on the other side.
Almost immediately, a series of locks disengaged, one after the other; then one of the doors swung out.
Janson—who’d always be the Rat Man to Thomas—extended a hand.
“Welcome back, Thomas,” he said. “No one believed me, but I’ve been saying all along that you’d return.
I’m glad you made the right choice.”
“Let’s just get on with it,” Thomas said. He’d do this—he’d play the part—but he didn’t have to be nice about it.
“Sounds like an excellent idea.” Janson stepped back and bowed slightly. “After you.” With a chil along his spine to match the frosty weather outside, Thomas walked past the Rat Man and entered WICKED’s headquarters.
|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|