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  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Kill Order (Chapter 17)     
  • The Kill Order(Maze Runner Prequel #0.5)(17) by James Dashner
  • Lana went about her business silently, eventually lying down next to a tree on the outskirts of their small camp. Mark tried to settle into a comfortable position himself, but he was wide awake. Alec finally returned. No one had anything to say, and the sounds of the forest slowly came back to Mark’s awareness: insects and a soft breeze through the trees. But his thoughts still spun wildly.

    What had just happened? What had Alec done to the Toad? Could it really be what Mark thought? Had it been painful? How in the world could things be so messed up?

    At least he had the small blessing of a dreamless sleep after he finally drifted off.

    “This virus from the darts,” Lana said the next morning as they all sat, zombielike, around a crackling fire. “I think there’s something wrong with it.”

    It was a strange statement. Mark looked up at her. He had been staring at the flames, going over the events of the night before, until she’d spoken, and he was suddenly back in the present.

    Alec voiced his thoughts bluntly. “I think there’s something wrong with most viruses.”

    Lana gave him a sharp glare. “Come on. You know what I mean. Can’t you all see it?”

    “See what?” Mark asked.

    “That it seems to be affecting people differently?” Trina asked.

    “Exactly,” Lana responded, pointing at her as if she were proud. “The people who were hit by those darts died within hours. Then Darnell and the people who’d helped the ones who were shot took a couple of days to die. Their main symptom was intense pressure in their skulls—they acted like their heads were being squeezed in vises. Then there’s Misty, who didn’t have symptoms for several days.”

    Mark remembered the moment they’d left her all too well. “Yeah,” he murmured. “She was singing the last time we saw her. Curled up in a ball on the ground. She said her head hurt.”

    “There was just something different about her,” Lana pointed out. “You weren’t there when Darnell first got sick. He didn’t die as fast as the others, but he started acting strangely really quickly. Misty seemed fine up until her head started hurting. But something was off up here with both of them.” She tapped on her temple several times.

    “And we all saw the Toad last night,” Alec added. “Who knows when he got it—if he had it as long as Misty, or just got it from being with her when she died—but he was crazy like mad cow disease.”

    “Show some respect,” Trina snapped at him.

    Mark expected Alec to retaliate or defend himself, but he appeared humbled by the rebuke. “I’m sorry, Trina. Really I am. But Lana and I are just trying to assess our situation as best we can. Figure things out. And the Toad was obviously not lucid last night.”

    Trina didn’t back down. “So you killed him.”

    “That’s not fair,” Alec said coolly. “If Misty died that quickly after her symptoms hit, it’s fair to say that the Toad was going to die also. He was a threat to all of us, but he was also a friend. I did him a mercy and hopefully bought us another day or two.”

    “Unless you caught something from him,” Lana said tonelessly.

    “I was careful. And I immediately scrubbed myself clean.”

    “Seems pointless,” Mark said. He was sinking farther into the doldrums with every second. “Maybe we all have it and it just takes longer to kill you depending on your immune system.”

    Alec shifted up on to his knees. “We’ve strayed from Lana’s point. There’s something wrong with this virus. It’s not consistent. I’m not a scientist, but could it be mutating or something? Changing as it jumps from one person to the next?”

    Lana nodded. “Mutating, adapting, strengthening—who knows. But something. And it seems to take longer to kill you as it spreads, which—contrary to what you’d assume—actually means the virus is more effectively spreading. You and Mark weren’t there, but you should’ve seen how quickly those first victims went. Nothing like Misty. It was bloody and brutal and awful for an hour or two, but then it was over. They convulsed and bled, which only helped it to spread to more human incubators.”

    Mark was glad he’d missed it. But considering what he’d seen Darnell go through at the end, those people might’ve been lucky that it had happened so fast. With way too much clarity, Mark recalled the sound of the boy beating his skull against the inside of the door.

    “It has something to do with their head,” Trina murmured.

    Everyone looked at her. She’d just voiced something obvious, but vital.

    “It definitely had something to do with their head,” Mark chimed in. “They all had massive pain. And loss of sanity. Darnell was hallucinating—plain crazy. And then Misty. And the Toad …”

    Trina posed a question. “Maybe they shot people with different things—how do we know it all started the same?”

    Mark shook his head. “I went through the boxes on the Berg,” he said. “They all seemed to have the same identification number.”

    Alec stood up. “Well, if it is mutating and if any of us have caught it, let’s hope it gives us a week or two before we lose our wits. Come on. Let’s get moving.”

    “Nice,” Trina muttered as she got to her feet.

    A few minutes later, they were on the march again.

    Sometime in the middle of the afternoon they came within sight of another settlement. It was off the path Alec had scrawled on his makeshift map, but Mark spotted several wooden structures through the trees, big ones. His heart lifted at the idea of seeing large groups of people again.

    “Should we go over there?” Lana asked.

    Alec seemed to be weighing the pros and cons before he answered. “Hmm. I don’t know. I’m eager to keep moving and follow our map. We don’t know anything about these people.”

    “But maybe we should,” Mark argued. “They might actually know something about the bunker, headquarters, whatever we’re calling the place the Berg came from.”

    Alec looked at him, obviously considering all their options.

    “I think we should check it out,” Trina said. “If nothing else, we can warn them about what’s happened to us.”

    “Okay,” Alec relented. “One hour.”

    The smell hit them when the wind shifted, just as they were approaching the first buildings, small huts made of logs with thatched roofs.

    It was the same smell that had assaulted Mark and Alec when they’d approached their own village after chasing down the Berg and marching back. The smell of rotting flesh.

    “Whoa!” Alec called out. “That’s it. We’re turning around right now.”

    Even as he said it, it became clear where the stench was coming from. Farther down the path several bodies had been stacked on top of each other. Then a figure appeared. A little girl was walking toward them from the direction of the dead. She must have been five or six years old, with matted dark hair and filthy clothes.

    “Guys,” Mark said. When the others looked at him, he nodded toward the approaching girl. She stopped about twenty feet from them. Her face was dirty and her expression sad, and she didn’t say anything. Just looked at them with hollow eyes. The stench of rot hung in the air.

    “Hey there,” Trina called out. “Are you okay, sweetie? Where are your parents? Where are the others from your village? Are they …” She didn’t need to finish—the stack of bodies spoke for itself.

    The girl answered in a quiet voice and pointed out toward the woods behind Mark and the others.

    “They all ran into the forest. They all ran away.”

    CHAPTER 18

    Mark didn’t know what it was about her words that made him shiver, but they did, and he couldn’t fight the urge to look over his shoulder toward where she was staring. There was nothing back there but the trees and the brush and the sunlight dappling the ground.

    He turned to face the girl again. Trina walked toward her, which of course made Alec protest.

    “You can’t do this,” he said, but even his gravelly rebuke didn’t have any strength. It was one thing to leave adults behind, people who were able to fend for themselves. Maybe it was even one thing to put a teenager—almost an adult—out of his or her misery, like Alec had done to the Toad. But this was a child, and that made everything different. “At least try not to touch her, for the sake of all of us.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire