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  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Fever Code (Chapter 27)     
  • The Fever Code(Maze Runner Prequel #0.6)(27) by James Dashner
  • Maybe, just maybe, the end was in sight, no matter how distant the horizon.

    He and Teresa were almost done with the maze, just slightly behind the pace of Group B, from what they’d been told. But that was just it. Thomas had a harder and harder time believing them. WICKED continued to isolate him and Teresa, so he relied on the latest gossip from Alby, Newt, and his most plentiful source, Chuck. That kid had a brain like a sponge, soaking in every little comment he ever heard or overheard. They might tease him without mercy, but when Chuck spoke, people listened.

    Thomas’s daily ten minutes of morning bliss ended in a cacophony of klaxon sounds when his alarm went off again. He hated it more than solar flares.

    Dr. Paige showed up with breakfast, right on time. How long had he known this woman? Longer than his own mom, for sure. By years. And today he could read something different in her manner, a difference in her smile. A pain behind the bright intelligence her eyes always showed.

    He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but their relationship had never quite recovered after what WICKED had done to Minho. Still, of all the people who worked there, in whatever capacity, Dr. Paige was the one he liked most, and he had to fight to keep any kind of wall between them. Though it was a very thin wall, and the mortar holding it together had begun to crumble.

    “How are we today?” she asked him once she’d set the breakfast on his desk. “Work day today, right?”

    Thomas nodded, then sat down to eat. Normally they talked a little, about how tests were going, his classes, progress on the mazes, etc. But before Thomas could take one bite of his eggs, Dr. Paige was headed for the door. She’d just opened it and was about to step into the hallway when Thomas stopped her.

    “Hey,” he said. “Can you come back in for a second?”

    She paused, let out a heavy sigh. But then she closed the door and came back to the desk, took the other chair. She looked at him with sad eyes.

    Thomas couldn’t help himself—curiosity always won.

    “I wasn’t going to ask,” he said, “but…is there something wrong?” For a long moment he was scared. What if one of his friends had died? Not Teresa, though. He would definitely have felt her absence, or her last moments. He would have had some clue.

    “Thomas…,” Dr. Paige began. She looked around the room as if she might literally find words posted on the walls. “We’re getting very close to sending subjects into the mazes.” She let out a little laugh and met his eyes again. “Well, you would know that better than anyone. How is your work going in there?”

    She meant his and Teresa’s efforts in the maze cavern.

    “It’s going fine. Pretty fun. I don’t know.”

    “You sound less than enthused.”

    “It’s just been hard for me to get over some things. There are secrets—things you’ve been keeping from us. Some of it just doesn’t seem right. And people could be nicer. Like Randall. Like Ramirez. Dr. Leavitt.” It felt good to get some of this off his chest.

    She crossed her legs and gave him a look of sincere concern.

    “I don’t know if you’ll believe this, Thomas, but I’ve struggled with these very things myself. I could offer you excuses—but I’m guessing that’s not what you want to hear.”

    Thomas shook his head. “Even the fact that you call us subjects. I mean, we’re human, not a bunch of mice.” His voice had gotten a little firmer, but Paige kept her cool, nodding as if she understood completely.

    “I think it boils down to two things,” she said. “First, even though everything we’re doing at the moment is leading to the Maze Trials, that doesn’t mean that the Psychs haven’t been looking for every opportunity to seek out killzone patterns. Every second of every day matters, as I’m sure you understand. Just in the time we’ve spoken this morning, how many hundreds or thousands of people have caught the Flare out there in the world? How many have died?”

    “So your solution is…take it out on kids?” Thomas asked, even though he knew it was a stupid thing to say. These people had saved them from almost certain death.

    Anger flashed across Dr. Paige’s face. “This is a harsh, brutal virus that needs to be dealt with by…using harsh and brutal will, Thomas. If you would just…stop thinking about how hard things are for you. You have no idea…” She faltered and a look of regret shadowed her face. “I’m sorry. I’m…sorry. The truth is just too damn hard to talk about.”

    She stood up, her eyes moist with tears. She appeared to be on the verge of saying something else, but then she turned her back to him and left the room, closing the door gently behind her.

    228.04.03 | 8:04 a.m.

    Thomas had struck a nerve. He’d had her talking more honestly than ever before, and he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity, no matter how much her sudden display of emotion surprised him. He got up and went after her.

    She was walking briskly down the hall, almost jogging, so he had to run to catch up. He grabbed her arm to stop her.

    She wrenched away from him, took a step back until she met the wall. Breathing heavily, she looked at him with something like disgust. Her eyes flared with a moment of anger. But then everything melted away and she was back to the same old Dr. Paige he’d always known. Caring, kind Dr. Paige. Although the sadness painted over her features almost made Thomas apologize and go back to his room.

    “What’s going on?” he asked. “What aren’t you telling me?” When she just shook her head, he kept at it. “Every day I go out there and make your gigantic maze a little closer to test-ready. I don’t whine or complain—I just do it. I work my butt off, and so does Teresa. We both know what the stakes are.”

    Dr. Paige nodded. “Yes. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

    “But that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” he continued. “Because we’ve had to grow up fast, we deserve to be treated like adults. Not like babies, not like mice in a cage, not like idiots. We all want the same thing. Why can’t we be treated like partners instead of…subjects? Minho, Alby, Newt—everyone I know in here would be a lot more cooperative if you’d just show a little respect.”

    Dr. Paige had recovered from whatever had caught her off guard. She now stood tall and serene as ever, arms folded, eyes sharp and focused on him. “Listen to me. Back in your room I told you it boiled down to two issues. First, some of these episodes of what you call harshness have actually been planned out by the Psychs. They are ways to stimulate brain patterns before we get to the big tests inside the mazes. Okay?”

    No, not okay. Thomas didn’t like it, though at least it was an explanation. “Fine. And the second thing?”

    “These people are survivors, Thomas. I know you were young—terribly young—but surely you remember the awful state of the world after the virus spread and reached us out here. Things weren’t supposed to…”

    She paused, and something in her eyes told Thomas that she’d said something she hadn’t meant to. “But my point…the world became a place of horror and death and madness. By nature…by definition…anyone who survived those first waves of sheer terror had to be a little hardened. Tougher than normal. It’s what helped them survive. The weak—they either died or will soon.”

    Thomas, a little stunned by her flurry of words, didn’t know what to say.

    “So yes,” she continued. “Most of the people here aren’t the nicest you’ll ever meet. They don’t have the time or the inclination to worry about feelings. Okay? They’ve seen the depths of hell out there in the world, and they’re ready to do anything and everything possible to find a cure and stop those horrors. And you’re just going to have to accept that.”

    “Okay,” Thomas said, overwhelmed by all he’d just heard. Her impassioned speech had drained him of any desire to pursue the argument.

    “Now buck up and get to work,” Dr. Paige said. The corner of her mouth twitched in a semi-smile, which he figured was the best he could ask for that morning.

    “Will do,” he replied, the words as sullen as he could make them.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire