The Fever Code (The Maze Runner #5)(5)

by James Dashner

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 happy 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.

“It’s right here,” his guide said as they entered a small lobby, two male guards with weapons posted at the doors. The woman’s tone made him think of a computer simulation. “Chancellor Anderson will be right with you.” She turned abruptly, and without meeting his eyes, she left him with the men.

Thomas took in his new companions. They both wore official-looking black uniforms over bulging armor, and their guns were huge. There was something different about them from the guards he’d grown used to. Across their chests, in capital letters, was the word WICKED. Thomas had never seen that before.

“What does that mean?” he asked, pointing to the word. But the only response he got was a quick wink and the barest trace of a smile, then a hard stare. Two hard stares. After so long interacting with only adults, Thomas had grown much braver, sometimes even bold in the things he said, but it was clear these two had no intention of conversing, so he sat down in the chair next to the door.