• Home
  • Directory
  • Popular
  • Authors
  • Series
  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Fever Code (Chapter 2)     
  • The Fever Code(Maze Runner Prequel #0.6)(2) by James Dashner
  • The way the man pointed at him, so casually, like finally settling on a random can of soup in the pantry. He would never forget it. He scrambled for Lizzy, pulled her into his arms. And the strangers took them away.

    221.11.28 | 9:23 a.m.

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. My name is Stephen.

    He’d been chanting it over and over to himself for the last two days—since they’d taken him from his mom. He remembered every second of his last moments with her, every tear that ran down her face, every word, her warm touch. He was young, but he understood that it was for the best. He’d seen his dad plummet into complete madness, all anger and stink and danger. He couldn’t take seeing it happen to his mom.

    Still, the pain of their separation swallowed him. An ocean that had sucked him under, its coldness and depth never-ending. He lay on the bed in his small room, legs tucked up to his chest and eyes squeezed shut, curled into a ball, as if that would bring sleep down on him. But since he’d been taken, slumber had come only in fits, snatches full of dark clouds and screaming beasts. He focused.

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. My name is Stephen.

    He figured he had two things to hold on to: his memories and his name. Surely they couldn’t take the first away from him, but they were trying to steal the second. For two days they’d pressed him to accept his new name: Thomas. He’d refused, clinging desperately to the seven letters his own flesh and blood had chosen for him. When the people in the white coats called him Thomas, he didn’t respond; he acted as if he couldn’t hear them or as if he thought they were talking to someone else. It wasn’t easy when only two people stood in the room, which was usually the case.

    Stephen wasn’t even five years old, yet his only glimpse of the world had been full of darkness and pain. And then these people took him. They seemed intent on making sure he realized that things could only get worse, every lesson learned harder than the one before it.

    His door buzzed, then immediately popped open. A man strode in, dressed in a green one-piece suit that looked like pajamas for grown-ups. Stephen wanted to tell him he looked ridiculous, but based on the last few encounters he’d had with these people, he decided to keep his opinion to himself. Their patience was beginning to wear thin.

    “Thomas, come with me,” the man said.

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. My name is Stephen.

    He didn’t move. He kept his eyes squeezed shut, hoping the stranger hadn’t noticed that he’d taken a peek when the man had first entered. A different person had come each time. None of them had been hostile, but then, none had been very nice either. They all seemed distant, their thoughts elsewhere, removed from the boy alone in the bed.

    The man spoke again, not even trying to conceal the impatience in his voice. “Thomas, get up. I don’t have time for games, okay? They’re running us ragged to get things set up, and I’ve heard that you’re one of the last ones resisting your new name. Give me a break, son. This is seriously something you want to fight about? After we saved you from what’s happening out there?”

    Stephen willed himself not to move, the result only a stiffness that couldn’t possibly look like someone sleeping. He held his breath until he finally had to suck in a huge gulp of air. Giving up, he rolled onto his back and glared at the stranger dead in the eye.

    “You look stupid,” he said.

    The man tried to hide his surprise but failed; amusement crossed his face. “Excuse me?”

    Anger flared inside Stephen. “I said, you look stupid. That ridiculous green jumpsuit. And give up the act. I’m not going to just do whatever you want me to do. And I’m definitely not putting on anything that looks like those man-jammies you’re wearing. And don’t call me Thomas. My name is Stephen!”

    It all came out in one breath, and Stephen had to suck in another huge gulp of air, hoping it didn’t ruin his moment. Make him look weak.

    The man laughed, and he sounded more amused than condescending. It still made Stephen want to throw something across the room.

    “They told me you had…” The man paused, looked down at an electronic notepad he carried. “…‘an endearing, childlike quality’ about you. Guess I’m not seeing it.”

    “That was before they told me I had to change my name,” Stephen countered. “The name my mom and dad gave me. The one you took from me.”

    “Would that be the dad who went crazy?” the man asked. “The one who just about beat your mom to death he was so sick? And the mom who asked us to take you away? Who’s getting sicker every day? Those parents?”

    Stephen smoldered in his bed but said nothing.

    His green-clothed visitor came closer to the bed, crouched down. “Look, you’re just a kid. And you’re obviously bright. Really bright. Also immune to the Flare. You have a lot going for you.”

    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.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire