The Fever Code (The Maze Runner #5)(16)

by James Dashner

He’d been looking around the room proudly, but when he turned back to face Thomas and Teresa he froze, surprised. Thomas imagined that was because he himself must look completely confused.

Teresa asked the question for both of them. “The maze trials?”

Chancellor Anderson opened his mouth to answer but seemed at a loss for words. Ms. McVoy came to his rescue with a polished grin.

“Well, our esteemed chancellor has gotten a bit ahead of himself, but that’s okay. See that door over there? Behind that door is a set of stairs that will take us to a temporary observation platform. We want to show you something, then explain what it will be used for. Are you ready?”

Thomas was. More than ready, dying of curiosity. He nodded at the same time Teresa said, “Definitely.”

They walked as a group toward the door McVoy had indicated, the serious Ramirez taking the rear, looking around as if expecting trouble. They passed a long wall with nothing but huge power docks set far enough apart to accommodate something as big as a car.

“What’re those for?” Thomas asked. They were halfway across the big room.

McVoy started to answer, but the chancellor cut her off. “Let’s just get through one thing at a time,” he said kindly, and shot McVoy a look Thomas couldn’t quite make out. “We have a few things in development that we’re not quite ready to share.”

Thomas had too many butterflies in his stomach to give the comment much thought. He figured he’d have plenty of time later, lying in his bed, to contemplate the onslaught of information being dumped on him.

He followed Anderson through the exit and the small group climbed four sets of stairs. Then they all squeezed in together on the landing directly in front of a massively fortified metal door. McVoy tapped in a security code on a screen. There was a great hissing sound, and then, with a heavy, booming clunk, the door popped open. Anderson and McVoy pushed it open all the way and then stood aside, allowing Thomas and Teresa to go through first.

Thomas had been high on anticipation but couldn’t imagine what to expect. And what he saw before him almost made his heart stop from the sheer shock of it. The open door had created a conduit for air escaping the vast, open space before him. He stood frozen, the breeze washing over him as he took it all in.

He was standing on a platform facing a cavern so massive his mind could barely conceive of its size. He could tell the space had been gouged from the earth—the ceiling was uncovered, roughly cut rock dotted with enough huge, blinding lights to illuminate the entire space. That was a feat impressive on its own. But even more impressive were the steel girders that ran around the room; Thomas could only imagine they’d been put in place to reinforce the expansive ceiling, and they glittered in the reflected light of the brilliant spotlights overhead.

And they were underground.

It seemed impossible, yet they were actually underground. The cavern had to be at least a few miles square and as tall as a skyscraper. Building materials—wood and steel and stone—were scattered in piles across the vast floor. Far in the distance—what looked to be a mile, maybe even two—a huge wall was under construction, its skeletal frame almost reaching the ceiling.

Thomas suddenly sucked in a breath on reflex, not realizing he’d been holding it. He just didn’t understand what lay before him. It was a massive abscess under the ground, so huge it seemed to defy natural law. How could that roof not just cave in?

He looked over at Teresa, whose eyes were wide and glistening in awe.

“I’m sure you have many, many questions,” McVoy said. “And we can answer them, one at a time. Things are going to be different for both of you from now on. You’re going to know a lot more, and you’re going to be very, very busy.”

“Busy doing what?” Teresa asked.

Chancellor Anderson chose to answer that one.

“You’re going to help us build this place.”

224.10.14 | 2:34 p.m.

A few minutes later, they were sitting in a small conference room around a table with Ms. McVoy, Dr. Paige, and Mr. Ramirez, who had yet to say a single word. The chancellor had excused himself, but not before reiterating how excited he was to bring Thomas and Teresa to the next level. He assured them that Ms. McVoy would take as long as they needed to answer their questions.

The thing was, Thomas wasn’t sure he could sort out his questions. After the massive scale of the cavern he’d just stood over, the small room felt almost claustrophobic. And now, gathering his thoughts—it seemed like an incredible feat.

“Okay,” McVoy said, her hands folded gracefully on the table in front of her, “as you can imagine, what you just saw is the culmination of several years’ worth of developments. I couldn’t possibly go over everything in one sitting. But let’s do this: ask me your questions, and let’s see where that takes us. How does that sound?”

Thomas and Teresa both nodded.

“Great. Teresa, why don’t you go first?”

“What is that place?” she asked, the first and most obvious question.

McVoy nodded as if expecting those exact words. “What you saw is one of two natural caverns we found in this area that we then expanded significantly to house what we plan to build inside.”

“And what’s that?” Thomas asked.

“A maze. Two mazes, actually. Like I said, there are two caverns.”

“Why?” Teresa asked. “Why in the world are you building two mazes?”

“As a testing ground. As a controlled environment to stimulate a long list of reactions, both physical and emotional, from our test subjects. We couldn’t risk these locations being in the open air, and not just because of the obvious reasons like the decimated landscape and the potential for Crank invasions. The world is a dangerous, dangerous place at the moment. But just as importantly, we need a closed testing area so we can effectively control the stimuli.”

Thomas heard all this but found it hard to believe. Or maybe just too much to process at once.

“Thomas?” McVoy said. “Do you want to ask the next question?”

“I…” He searched for words. “It’s just so crazy. A maze? Two mazes? What are you going to test inside them? Who are you going to test?”

“It’s complicated, like I said. But basically we need a large-scale environment that we can control with no outside influence. Our doctors and Psychs think this is a perfect environment to get what we need.” She leaned back and sighed. “But I’m rambling. The simple answer is this: We’ll be continuing to do what we’ve already begun. We’ll be testing immunes, studying their brain function and biology, figuring out how they can live with the Flare virus without succumbing to its effects. In short, we’re trying to find a cure, Thomas. We’re trying to prevent all this unnecessary death that now surrounds us.”