It all happened fast enough to blur.
Thomas set his sights on the closing doors at the head of the chamber, and he moved. Behind him, he could hear the sound of Minho coming to blows with their guards, covering him from their fire and giving Thomas as much of a head start as he could.
Brenda saw him moving, and caught on quick. She took advantage of her closer position to the doors to duck through the guards surrounding her while they were distracted, making a dash for the control panel next to the nearest door in the hope she might be able to stop it from closing, sealing them all inside.
But just as quickly, the WCKD soldiers recovered from their surprise, and two of them caught up with him.
Thomas was able to knock the first one’s weapon aside, but it slowed him down enough that the second caught at him, spinning him around and off his feet. Thomas lashed out with a wild haymaker, but missed, and they both found themselves on the floor in a blink. They grappled blindly a moment, a tangle of light body armour and rough jumpsuit canvas, and Thomas felt the earlier wound across his ribs tear and open again in a rush of warmth and pain.
With a last desperate burst of effort Thomas kicked out, scrambling to his feet, his breath a hot stab in his chest. Ahead, he could see Brenda’s guards recovering as well, weapons ready and taking her in their sights.
But now nobody was watching Jorge.
Who had already removed the gun Thomas wouldn’t be surprised to learn he kept holstered down by the ankle of his boot on any given day – though especially this one – from concealment, and was flying across the floor. Firing off shots as he came, aim wild like he was more interested in drawing the soldiers’ fire from Brenda, than in actually hitting anything.
For better or for worse, it worked. The entire room exploded with sound, as the whole place seemed to fill with gun and stunning-blast fire at once. Thomas was on the floor again before he could even make it to the doors and Brenda.
By the time he got there, crouched next to her, the noise of shooting was starting to slow enough they could hear Teresa’s voice shouting for a cease to the fighting.
“Stop this!” Her last order could be heard once the noises had died off. Her face was livid and pale over the screen of her chair as she moved swiftly forward toward the doors.
From behind her came Dr. Patel as well, rushing forward and past Teresa’s chair and drawing the notice of every still-shocked eye in the room along with her to the centre of the floor. And then Brenda went scrambling from Thomas’s side right after her.
It was too late.
The doors had closed. Trapping the Haven’s entire remaining host inside the room, with Newt outside. In what sort of state, none of them knew.
And mere feet away from them lay Jorge, flat on his back with a small pool of blood beginning under one shoulder.
Thomas’s vision swam. He could make out Dr. Patel, already stripping off her coat by the time Thomas had moved, head pounding dazedly and blood starting to soak through the side of his shirt, back across the floor to join the small group now gathering around Jorge’s fallen form, where she was bundling it into a haphazard shape to staunch the dark stain spreading from what Thomas could now see was a gaping gunshot hole in the flesh of Jorge’s shoulder that made the woozy feeling in his head swing violently at the sight.
“Put pressure on that,” she instructed tersely, guiding Brenda’s hands firmly into place to hold it.
Brenda made a choked sound that made Thomas’s heart give a sharp, painful clench in his chest, and complied.
“Híjole!” Jorge’s eyelids flickered open at the pressure. “Easy on the merchandise, mija.” He winced and gave a weak, pained-looking cough before closing them again. “I don’t want to worry you,” he murmured quietly, “but I think somebody shot me.”
Brenda gasped a short laugh, her relief obvious at hearing him alert enough to speak, even as tears of desperation spilled over and down her cheeks.
“Come!” Dr. Patel was already giving more commands, this time directed apparently at Aris, who was hunkered, pale and shell-shocked at the other end of the room, into Harriet’s shoulder as if she might be holding him up. “Let him come forward,” she ordered the guards flanking them. “There should be an Emergency First Aid Kit in that cabinet! Bring it to me.”
“I need a medical team in here, stat!” she shouted next, her voice rising over the re-doubled ringing in Thomas’s head. He could feel it cut through the fog of endorphin and shock like a scalpel blade. “Get those doors open!”
Teresa’s voice was a cool and clear as ever as she looked down at her screen, giving a few hopeless-looking swipes with her fingertips. “NERO’s controls have been disabled. Lockdown procedures have been initiated.”
“Why?” Thomas had the word out even as the possible reasons crowded through his mind – because Newt had gotten free? Was it a measure to cut off his escape? Or…
“I don’t know. It’s malfunctioning. It could be that something has been damaged from the impact of your ship.” Teresa tapped at the screen again, only with more futile-seeming results. “The system is behaving like it’s under attack.”
“Because it is.”
Thomas looked up at the sound of Minho’s voice. He was standing, but still surrounded by guards who watched him warily, weapons still held ready even though they pointed at the floor, on Teresa’s orders. He gave Thomas a dark, knowing look as he wiped at a trickle of fresh blood under his nose with the back of his fist.
“It’s not a malfunction.” And Thomas knew his next words before they came out. “It’s Newt.”
“Elizabeth.” The realization slipped past Thomas’s lips in a whisper.
“What?” Teresa’s voice was nearly as sharp as the burn slicing through his lungs now with every breath.
“Elizabeth.” Thomas could feel his hands clenched tight into fists at his side, and bile rising hotly in his throat. He didn’t care. From beside him he could hear Brenda sniffling quietly while the doctor worked on Jorge. “Look her up,” he added, with a bitter little nod in the direction of Teresa’s NERO screen, glowing expectantly under her fingertips. “That was her name before WCKD came and took all of us from our families. But Newt had more to lose than any of us, when they stole our memories and put us in that Maze. He had a sister.”
Thomas watched something settle in Teresa’s eyes, and her perfectly made up lips press into a tight line before he kept talking.
“And now – probably thanks to all the shit WCKD did to him, messing around in his mind – he remembers.”
Minho had started across the room toward them at the mention of Elizabeth, and family. His guards came too, trailing a cautious but watchful distance behind, their eyes on Teresa for a sign they should stop him, but she gave none, and they didn’t interfere.
“Vince told you,” Thomas went on, once Minho had reached his side, coming to stand next to him with a hand resting comfortingly on Brenda’s shoulder. “We came here to defend our Island. To fight for our freedom. But Newt came for something else. He wants it ended. He’s not going to stop at destroying you, or taking this place down. We did that, that happened in the Last City,” Thomas reminded her, with a gesture at the gleaming facility around them, “and yet here you still are.” Only to drop his arm swiftly to his side when it made the wound under his arm pull and bite. He tucked a hand in against his ribs, but he kept talking. “You said it yourself, this is happening in other countries, other places people are still being taken and tested on, tortured. Newt wants control of it – all of it – every facility, down to the last… stun gun and fuckin’ test tube. He’s on a mission all his own.”
Thomas’s breath still burned but Teresa was watching him with her cool blue gaze gone quiet and intent. He finally seemed to have her ear, without explanations or interruption, and he wasn’t done.
“Newt came for revenge,” he said. “Which is why I can tell you Minho is right, if Newt is awake now the system is under attack. If Newt’s awake then I know where he is.”
They had been over it so many times. Time and time again no matter how many times Vince or anyone else had questioned it, while Newt stared darkly and blank-faced down at their D-I-Y ‘blue prints’ of the building’s layout.
“…He will have gone for the control room.”
Muffled from outside the sealed security doors there were faint sounds of shouting and chaos, and then another loud rumbling and shaking of the walls around them as more of the building at the ship’s impact site apparently came crumbling down.
At their feet, Jorge gave a wet-sounding cough and an ensuing groan of pain that prompted a panicked sob from Brenda.
“I need those doors open!” Dr. Patel insisted loudly, in between checking Brenda’s pressure on the makeshift bandage bundled against Jorge’s chest and readying a syringe of something it looked like she was preparing to inject somewhere in the region of his neck. Jorge kept up a strong grip of reassurance on Brenda’s wrist where she held the coat in place, but he was in obvious pain. Worrying lines of sweat were beginning to bead on his forehead.
“That means you need Newt.” Minho’s eyes were still on Teresa as he spoke. “If Newt’s brain really is gone – like, gone where I think it is – I don’t know if anything can calm him down or bring him back, except Thomas.” Something sparked in Teresa’s eyes, and a frown creased the space between her dark brows as she looked back and forth between them, as if in hope of some further explanation of the statement. “You gotta let him out of here.”
“What happens in a lockdown?” Thomas asked her shortly, pressing down on something urgent that fluttered up from his gut at Minho’s words about Newt and willing his ringing head to stay focused on the moment at hand. “What will happen if they find him?”
“They won’t hurt him,” Teresa said assuringly. “Not if they can help it. They have orders to neutralize him, stun him on sight. Unless he tries to hurt anyone—”
“He will not ‘try’,” Dr. Patel put in, without looking up from her work, apparently satisfied Brenda had her role as a makeshift assistant sufficiently in hand enough to give her a gently collegial pat on the shoulder and move on from Jorge to begin tending to Aris. Who was scratched and bleeding in various places and gingerly cradling an arm that looked like it might be bent in a suspiciously awkward angle at the wrist.
“Hell no, he won’t,” Minho agreed emphatically. “He’ll do it. At the slightest sign of threat, he won’t hesitate. He’ll kill anybody who gets in range wearing that getup,” Minho insisted, pointing an impatient finger at the uniformed guards still surrounding them, “I can guarantee you.”
Thomas watched Minho and Teresa regard each other for a tense second while Minho stared her down as if daring her to speak. But the moment it looked like she might be about to, Minho beat her to it.
“If Newt is in that control room,” he went on, his voice rising little by little as he did, “how many of your people do you think he’s already taken down? You’ve gone after him so many times, and it’s like you said, it’s obviously never enough. How many times do you want go through this cycle!? End it. Get the doors open! Break this fucker right here down if you have to,” he challenged, with a wave at the door nearest to them. “The rest of us will stay here if it makes you feel any better. Let Thomas out of here.”
“I believe you.” Teresa’s voice held its usual steely underpinning of unshakable calm, though her eyes were back on Thomas with a look that said her thoughts were churning uncertainly behind the facade.
“But this is my lab,” she said. “The Chancellor’s lab. It has top level security, those are double chromium-reinforced security doors. There’s nothing in this room strong enough to batter them open, by design.”
More rumbling and sounds of cave-in shook the walls from outside. Thomas would swear he could feel time slipping away from them, as if there were a great big doomsday clock inside his pounding skull, ticking each second loudly away which each throb of his aching head.
Whatever Dr. Patel had given Jorge seemed to have helped, at least with the pain. His grip on Brenda had gone loose and his breathing looked relaxed and nearly even.
“Thomas.” Thomas looked up in surprise, startled out of his thoughts by the quiet voice. “I think I know a way we can get to Newt.”
It was Aris, still looking paler and shakier than his usual and leaning reliantly into Harriet as they allowed Dr. Patel to work on him, wrapping a long bandage around and around a nasty, septic-looking wound on his forearm.
“Remember?” Aris prompted, and Thomas followed his gaze, looking way up to find a small square opening in the ceiling overhead. “But I think I’m too big now,” he said with a wince, gritting his teeth as the doctor’s ministrations apparently hit a tender spot. “…to fit through the vents.”
The voice was small, but her eyes were big, wide and familiar when Thomas turned to look.
“Brenda,” Ana returned, with the timid start of mutiny in her tone, even though Brenda hadn’t even finished voicing her obvious objection. “I can do it. Let me go, I’m the smallest here. I’ll fit.”
“All I have to do is get the doors open right?” Her voice shook, but her expression was determined. “I can do this! You said— you said Newt responds to threats. Like, that’s his trigger. Right?” Ana spread her hands in a gesture that showed off her diminutive little frame as if she were presenting it to a panel of contest judges. “I’ve got to be the least threatening person here.”
Thomas looked at her, with her freckled nose and her big eyes wide and beseeching, and her delicate-fingered little hands spread wide open, and had to admit she was sure as hell at least right about that. Fuck. She was just a kid.
Had he and Aris looked like that, when they done this very thing, what sometimes felt like an entire lifetime ago?
“Thomas.” It was Teresa. Who didn’t seem to share Brenda’s concern about sending a child into what could potentially be harm’s way. “If you and Ana would come over to the main station with me,” she said, “I can give you what you’ll need to navigate the system.”
Thomas ignored her, looking down instead at where Dr. Patel was urging Brenda to ease up on the pressure and lifting Jorge’s coat-compress gingerly, to check on something at the site of the wound. Clearly preparing to do something to it with a pair of scissors and what looked like a bottle of antiseptic she held in her other hand.
Everybody else though, seemed to have their eyes turned on him. Thomas looked around at them – Brenda’s, desperate and red-rimmed, Minho stoic and expectant, Ana’s wide and insistent.
His head was spinning. But possible lingering head injuries and the woolen, cottony feeling in his brain aside, Thomas didn’t feel anything like equipped to be the one making this decision at all. As glad as he might be to see that nobody in the room seemed to be worried that Newt, no matter his state, would be capable of hurting a kid – there was more than Newt to worry about outside those doors.
The walls rumbled and shook again, and this time, the lights overhead dimmed and then leapt back to their to full halogen brightness in the slightest of flickers.
“Thomas,” Teresa said again, this time with a touch of urgency starting to creep in underneath the veneer of calm. “It’s the fastest way to get you to Newt. I can give you maps of the corridors, the override signature Ana will need for the doors, everything you’ll need to go after Newt the minute the doors are open,” Teresa pledged. “You’ll be free to go to him the second they are.”
Thomas shut his eyes and took another breath that pinched, and stung. As much as there were a shuck-load of questions from the past couple hours – not to mention the past couple of years – that wanted answering, for some reason joining Teresa for what was obviously intended to be a discrete tête-à-tête away from the others felt like the last thing he should be doing.
Something about the array of dark, glinting machines and laboratory equipment on the Chancellor’s desk made Thomas’s neck prickle unpleasantly with contextless memory. And Jorge didn’t look good; his skin had taken a terrifying greyish cast, his eyes closed and possibly unconscious.
“You’re injured,” Dr. Patel said, suddenly, noticing the way Thomas still had a hand pressed to his ribs under his coat. Thomas tried not to flinch as she reached out to him and gently pulled the edge of it aside for a look.
“I’m alright.” He was careful not to grit his teeth on the words. They were true enough, Thomas thought. It wasn’t a priority.
He moved his hand to let her see, but then gave a nod back down at Jorge – carefully, so as not to make the cut pull and sting again. The doctor looked at the wound and frowned, but then looked back up at him and nodded. As if she didn’t like this, but would allow it.
Which Ana seemed to take as a green light, and seized her moment without a second to lose.
“Brenda,” she campaigned. “Let me and Thomas do this? He’ll be there the minute the doors are open, to come and get me.”
Thomas clamped down on any reaction that would confirm or deny whether or not that was a responsibility he felt he could commit to.
Brenda’s mouth opened again, but she couldn’t seem to manage any words.
“Jorge needs this,” Ana said, finally, her voice going quiet and letting a little of the vulnerable wobble back in.
And once again Thomas was afraid the kid had a point they couldn’t argue with.
Tears welled again in Brenda’s eyes and she turned them back down toward Jorge’s now-definitely-unconscious form with a sound a lot like a sob.
With a last skeptical look, Dr. Patel seemingly gave up on Thomas accepting any medical attention as a lost cause, and turned back to Jorge. But before she went back to what she had been doing with her scissors and iodine, she took a bedside-manner moment to lay a hand on Brenda’s arm. “Your father is in good hands.”
“He’s not our—"
“No?” The doctor interrupted with a quirk of a dark bird’s-wing brow. “It is not only blood that makes family.”
Thomas swallowed against a dull burning starting to thicken in his throat. He had never had more respect for anything the woman had said.
Brenda gulped, still apparently not trusting her voice enough for words, and settled for shifting her hold on Jorge’s dressing, and nodding bravely.
“She’s the top care WCKD has to offer,” Minho reassured Brenda as well, with a squeeze of her shoulder and a softness and certainty in his tone that struck right through everything that was happening – the urgency and danger and pain all currently screeching for dominance inside Thomas’s head – strongly enough to land as a surprise. Minho was generally in the habit of making his feelings about the doctor more than painfully clear.
Maybe watching a woman literally hold yet another of his bleeding and fatally wounded friends’ lives in her hands was enough to change his mind about a person.
“Maybe, uh, give her some space?” But he was looking at Thomas, now. He gave what he probably considered to be a subtle nod in the direction of Teresa, and the Chancellors’ desk away behind her.
But it was what Dr. Patel said next that maybe struck Thomas the most.
“Chancellor.” Her voice was firm, the look she aimed at Teresa meaningful and significant. “Tell him.”
Teresa didn’t reply but she lifted her head, her chin jutting out with its familiar proud tilt. And again Thomas watched her lips press together, and something play out behind her eyes that said whatever that was about, and as little sense as it made to Thomas, Teresa understood.
There was only one way to find out. Thomas took another sharply stabbing breath and nodded his consent.
And the guard around them moved into position, preparing to escort him and Ana as they followed behind Teresa over to the long bank of mysteriously gleaming computers and machinery waiting on the Chancellor’s desk.