The Fever Code (The Maze Runner #5)(7)


by James Dashner

Chancellor Anderson nodded. “Some people didn’t like it, but it really makes perfect sense. It explains exactly what we’re here to do.”

“At any cost,” Thomas said, repeating what the chancellor had said earlier, making sure he realized that Thomas had understood what that implied, though he wasn’t quite sure he did.

“At any cost.” The man nodded. “That’s right.” His eyes were bright now. “WICKED stands for World In Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Department. We want our name to remind people of why we exist, what we plan to accomplish, and how we intend to do it.” He paused, seeming to rethink something. “To be fair, I think the world will fix itself eventually. Our objective is to save humanity. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Chancellor Anderson watched Thomas carefully, awaiting his answer, but Thomas’s head hurt too much by then to figure out half of what the man had said. And he was really creeped out by the word killzone. What could it possibly mean? It seemed even worse than the word right before it, catastrophe.

He’d always thought that given the chance, he’d ask these people a million questions. And here he was, with even more questions. At some point they didn’t seem to matter anymore, though. He was tired, angry, and confused—all he wanted was to go back to his room and be alone.

“Things are going to get very busy over the next several years,” Chancellor Anderson continued. “We’ve brought several young survivors here—just like you—and we’ve finally determined that we’re ready to get to work. Complete more and more testing to see which of our sub—which of our students will rise to the top. Take my advice when I say that you’ll want to do your best. Being immune to the Flare holds power, but it will take more than simple biology to succeed here. And we have such magnificent structures to build, biomechanical labs to construct…wonders of life to create. And all of this will ultimately lead to mapping out the killzone. We’ll identify the differences that cause immunity and then design a cure. I am sure of it.”

He paused, his face alight with excitement. Thomas sat still, doing his best to remain calm. Anderson was getting a little scary.

The chancellor seemed to realize he’d gotten carried away with himself and let out a sigh. “Well, I suppose that’s enough of a pep talk for one day. You’re getting older, Thomas, and doing better than almost anyone in the testing program. We think very highly of you, and I felt it was time that we meet face to face. Expect a lot more of this in the future—more freedom, and a bigger role to play here at WICKED. Does that sound good to you?”

Thomas nodded before he could stop himself. Because, well, it did sound good. He sometimes felt like he lived in a prison, and he wanted out. Plain and simple. Maybe the path had just been laid before him.

“Can I just ask another question?” he said, unable to get that one horrible word out of his head. Killzone.

“Sure.”

“What does…killzone mean?”

Anderson actually smiled at that. “Ah, I’m sorry. I guess I assumed you knew. It’s what we call the brain—the place where the Flare does the most damage. Where it eventually, well, ends the life of those who are infected. And that’s what we’re battling. I guess you could say it’s the battleground for us here at WICKED. The killzone.”

Thomas was a long way from understanding, but for some reason this explanation made him feel better.

“So we’re set, then?” Chancellor Anderson asked. “You’re ready to play a role in the important things we’re doing here?”

Thomas nodded.

The chancellor tapped a finger on the desk a couple of times. “Fantastic. Then go on back to your room and get some rest. Big times ahead.”

Thomas felt a little rush of excitement, followed immediately by a shame he didn’t even understand.

Thomas couldn’t help himself after the same lady had escorted him back to his room. Right before she closed the door, he stuck his hand in the gap to stop it.

“Uh, sorry,” he said quickly, “but can I just ask you one question?”

A flash of doubt crossed her face. “That’s probably not a good idea. This…all of this…it’s a really controlled environment. I’m sorry.” Her face flushed red.

“But…” Thomas searched for the right words, the right question. “That guy…Chancellor Anderson, he said something about big times ahead. Are there many others like me? Are they all kids? Will I finally get to meet some of them?” He hated how much he dared to hope. “Like the girl next to me…Teresa…will I actually get to meet her?”

The woman sighed, sincere pity in her eyes. She nodded. “There are lots of others, but what’s important now is that you’re doing great in the testing, and meeting the others won’t be too far away. I know you must be lonely. I’m really sorry. But maybe it helps to know that everyone is in the same boat. Things will get better soon, though. I promise.” She started to close the door, but Thomas stopped it again.

“How long?” he asked, embarrassed at how desperate he sounded. “How much longer will I be alone?”

“Just…” She sighed. “Like I said. Not much longer. Maybe a year.”

Thomas had to whip his hand away before she slammed the door on it. He ran over and crumpled onto the bed, trying to hold in his tears.

A year.

224.3.12 | 7:30 a.m.

A knock on his door, early morning. It had become as routine as clockwork. Same time, but not always the same face. Yet he knew who he hoped it to be—the nicest doctor he’d met so far. By a long shot. The same one who’d taken him to see the chancellor two months earlier. Unfortunately, it usually wasn’t her.

But when he opened the door today, there she stood.

“Dr. Paige,” he said. He didn’t know why he liked her so much—she just put him at ease. “Hi.”

“Hi, Thomas. Guess what?”

“What?”

She gave him a warm smile. “You’re going to be seeing a lot more of me from here on out. I’ve been assigned to you. And to you only. What do you think of that?”

He was thrilled—he already felt comfortable with her, even though they’d only met a few times. But all that came out to show his excitement was “Cool.”