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Authors: James Dashner

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BOOK: The Kill Order
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Her eyes meet his; then her face brightens into a smile. “Absolutely nothing. That’s what I’m going to do for two weeks. Not think. If I start to think, I’m going to think really hard about not thinking until I quit thinking.”

“Wow. That almost sounds hard.”

“No. Just fun. Only brilliant prodigies know how to do it.”

This is one of those moments where Mark has the ridiculous urge to say something about liking her, ask her out on an official date, reach out and take her hand. Instead, the usual dumb words come tumbling out. “O wisest of the wise, maybe you can teach me this method of thinking to not think.”

Her face scrunches up a little. “You are such a dork.”

Oh yeah. He has her wrapped around his finger for sure. He feels like groaning, maybe punching himself in the face.

“But I like dorks,” she says to soften the blow.

And he feels good again. “So … what
are
your plans? You guys going anywhere, staying home, what?”

“We might go to my granny’s for a few days, but we’ll be home most of the break. I’m supposed to go out with Danny sometime, but nothing solid. You?”

He’s been knocked down a few notches. So much up-and-down with this girl. “Um, yeah. I mean, no. We’re just … Nothing. I’ll be sitting around eating chips. Lots of burping. Lots of watching my little sister get spoiled with presents.” Madison. Yeah, she’s spoiled, but half of that is Mark’s fault.

“Maybe we can hang out, then.”

And back up the scale he goes. “That’d be awesome. How about every day?” It’s the boldest statement he’s ever made to her.

“Okay. Maybe we can even …” She looks around with exaggerated caution, then focuses back on him. “Sneak a kiss in your basement.”

For one long second, he thinks she’s serious and his heart stops completely, goose bumps rising like soldiers across his skin. A flush of feeling burns in his chest.

But then she starts laughing like a crazy person. Not really
maliciously, and maybe he even notes a hint of real flirtation in there somewhere. But mostly he can tell that she sees them as lifelong buds, nothing more. That the thought of kissing in his basement is just plain silly. Mark officially decides to abandon his own notions for a while.

“You are so hilarious,” he says. “I’m laughing on the inside.”

She stops her giggling and uses her hand to fan her face. “I really would, ya know.”

The last word has barely come out of her mouth when the lights go out.

The subtrans loses all power and begins to slow; Mark almost falls out of his seat and into Trina’s lap. Any other time and maybe that would be a good thing, but now he just feels scared. He’s heard stories about this sort of thing happening in the olden days, but in his lifetime the power underground never fails. They are in absolute, complete darkness. People are beginning to scream. The brain isn’t wired to be plunged into such darkness without warning. It’s just scary. Finally the glow from a few wristphones breaks it a little.

Trina grabs his hand and squeezes. “What in the world?” she asks simply.

He feels reassured because she doesn’t seem all that scared really. And it brings him back to his senses. Even though it’s never happened before, surely the subtrans is bound to break down eventually.

“Malfunction, I guess.” He pulls out his palmphone—he’s not rich enough for one of those fancy wrist things—but strangely, there’s no service. He puts it back in his pocket.

Soft yellow emergency lights come on, strips that run down the roof of the train. They’re dim but still a welcome relief after the blindness of before. People are standing up all around him, looking up and down the train, whispering furiously to each other. Whispering seems like what you’re supposed to do in such a situation.

“At least we’re not in a hurry,” Trina says. In a whisper, of course.

Mark has lost that initial sense of panic. Now all he wants to do is ask her what she meant when she said, “I really would, ya know.” But that moment has been shot down and killed for good. Of all the rotten timing.

The train shakes. Just a little. Trembling more than anything, like a heavy vibration. But it’s unsettling and people scream again, move about. Mark and Trina exchange a look full of curiosity with a spark of fear.

Two men stomp over to the exit doors, working to force them apart. They finally slide open and the men jump out onto the walkway that runs the length of the tunnel. Like a bunch of rats fleeing a fire, the rest of the passengers follow them, pushing and shoving and cursing until everyone is out. In a matter of two or three minutes, Mark and Trina are left alone on the subtrans car, the pale lights glowing above them.

“Not sure that’s really what we should do,” Trina says, for some reason
still
whispering. “I’m sure this thing will flip back on soon.”

“Yeah,” Mark says. The train continues to quake slightly, and that’s beginning to worry him more. “I don’t know. Something seems really wrong, actually.”

“You think we should go?”

He thinks about it for a second. “Yeah. If we just sit here I might go crazy.”

“Okay. Maybe you’re right.”

Mark stands up, as does Trina. They walk to the open doors, then climb out onto the walkway. It’s narrow and has no railing, which makes it seem really dangerous if the trains start again. Emergency lights have come on in the tunnel as well, but they barely do anything to break the almost tangible darkness of a place so far underground.

“They went that way,” Trina says, pointing to their left. And
something in her tone makes Mark think she means they should go in the opposite direction. He agrees with her.

“So … to the right, then,” he says, giving a nod.

“Yeah. I don’t want to be near any of those people. Can’t even say why.”

“Seemed like a mob.”

“Come on.”

She pulls him by his arm as she begins walking down the narrow ledge. They both run a hand along the wall, almost leaning into it to make sure they don’t topple onto the tracks. The wall is vibrating, but not as strongly as the train. Maybe whatever caused the power outage has finally begun to calm. Maybe it was just a simple earthquake and everything will be okay.

They’ve been walking for ten minutes, not saying a word to each other, when they hear the screams up ahead. No. Not just screams. Something beyond screams. Pure terror, like people being slaughtered. Trina stops, turns to look back at Mark. Any doubts—or hopes, rather—vanish.

Something horrible has happened.

Mark’s instinct is to turn and run in the opposite direction, but he’s ashamed of himself when Trina opens her mouth and shows how brave she is.

“We need to get up there, see what’s going on—see if we can help.”

How can he say no to that? They run, as carefully and as quickly as they can, until they reach the wide platform of a substation. And then they stop. The scene before them is too horrific for Mark’s mind to compute. But he knows that nothing in his life will ever, ever be the same.

Bodies litter the floor, naked and burned. Screams and cries of pain
pierce his eardrums and echo off the walls. People are limping about, arms outstretched, their clothes on fire and their faces half melted like wax. Blood everywhere. And an impossible surge of heat washes through the air, like they’re inside an oven.

Trina turns, grabs his hand, a look of terror on her face that he thinks may be seared into his mind forever. She pulls him once again, running back to where they came from.

All the while, he thinks of his parents. His little sister.

In his mind he sees them burning somewhere. He sees Madison screaming.

And his heart breaks.

CHAPTER 9

“Mark!”

The vision was gone, but the memory of the tunnel still darkened his mind like some kind of seeping sludge.

“Mark! Wake up!”

That was Alec’s voice. No doubt. Yelling at him. Why? What had happened?

“Wake up, dammit!”

Mark opened his eyes, blinked against the bright sun breaking through branches high above him. Then Alec’s face appeared, cutting the light off, and he could see more clearly.

“It’s about time,” the old bear said through an exaggerated sigh. “I was starting to panic, kid.”

That was when Mark was hit with the bolt of pain in his head—it had just been slower to wake than he had. The pain raged inside his skull, felt as big as his brain. He groaned and put his hands on his forehead, touched the slickness of drying blood.

“Ow” was all he could say before he groaned again.

“Yeah, you took quite the hit when we crashed. You’re lucky to be alive. Lucky to have a guardian angel like me to save your hide.”

Mark thought it might kill him, but he had to do it. Bracing for the agony, he sat up. He blinked back the spots in his vision and waited for the pain in his head and body to subside. Then he looked around.

They were sitting in a clearing surrounded by trees. Gnarled roots wove their way through pine needles and fallen leaves. About a hundred
feet away, the wreckage of the Berg lay cradled between two giant oaks almost as if it had grown there like some sort of giant metal flower. Twisted and bent, it smoldered and smoked, though there was no sign of fire.

“What happened?” Mark asked, still disoriented.

“You don’t remember?”

“Well, not since whatever it was smacked me in the head.”

Alec threw his hands up in the air. “Not much to it. We crashed and I dragged your butt out here. Then I sat here and watched you roll around like you were having a bad dream. Memories again?”

All Mark could do was nod. He didn’t want to think about it.

“I rummaged around in the Berg as much as I could,” Alec said, changing the subject. Mark appreciated him not digging any further. “But the smoke from the engines got to be too much. Once you can walk around without going eyeball up, I want to search some more. I’ll find out who these people are—and why they did what they did—if it’s the last thing I do.”

“Okay,” Mark answered. Then a thought hit him, followed by a surge of alarm. “What about that virus stuff we saw? What if the containers and darts were broken and it’s all over the place now?”

Alec held a hand out and patted Mark’s chest. “I know, I know. Don’t worry. Had to go through that hatch room to get out and saw the boxes—still sealed and safe.”

“Well … how does a virus work? I mean … is there a chance we caught it? Would we be able to tell?” He didn’t like the uncertainty. “What kind of virus do you think it is, anyway?”

Alec let out a small chuckle. “Son, those are a lot of good questions that I don’t have answers to. We’ll just have to ask our expert when we get back. Maybe Lana’s heard of that strain before. But my guess is unless you get a bad case of the sniffles, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Remember, it knocked the others out immediately and you’re still standing.”

The words from the box flashed through Mark’s head and he tried to relax.
Highly Contagious
. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said warily. “How far from the settlement do you think we flew?”

“No idea. Might be a pretty piece gettin’ back, but not too bad.”

Mark lay back down on the ground and closed his eyes, put his arm over them. “Just give me a few minutes. Then I think we should search the ship. Who knows what we might find.”

“You got it.”

Half an hour later, Mark was back inside the Berg, kicking through debris, only now he was walking on a wall instead of the grated floor.

The Berg being on its side was disorienting—it played tricks on his mind and upset his already queasy stomach and throbbing head—but he was as determined as Alec to find something to tell them who the Berg belonged to. They were obviously no longer safe in their little mountain abode.

The biggest score would’ve been the computer systems, but Alec had tried that route to no avail. They were shut down, dead. Though odds were that he and Alec would find a portable phone or workpad somewhere in the wreckage—and if they got lucky it wouldn’t be broken. It had been an age since Mark had seen technology like that. After the flares struck they’d been left with only whatever they had that hadn’t fried, and batteries only lasted so long. But if you had a Berg, chances were you probably had batteries, too.

A Berg. He was inside a Berg. It was all really starting to hit him how much his world had changed in just over a year. At one time, seeing a Berg had been as exciting as seeing a tree. And just yesterday he would’ve
guessed he’d never see one again. Now here he was rummaging through one that he’d helped wreck, looking for secrets. It was exciting even though all he’d seen so far was garbage, clothes, broken ship parts and more garbage.

And then he struck gold. A fully functioning workpad. It was on; the bright display was what caught Mark’s eye. It was lodged between a mattress and the bottom of a bunk in one of the small cabins. He turned it off as soon as he pulled it out—if the battery drained on the sucker, there’d be no way to recharge it.

He found Alec in a different cabin, leaning over a personal trunk, cursing as he tried to break into it.

“Hey, lookie what I got,” Mark announced proudly, holding up the workpad for the man to see. “What about you?”

Alec had straightened, his eyes lighting up at the discovery. “I didn’t find a damn thing and I’m just about fed up trying. Let’s go have a look-see at that.”

“I’m worried about the battery running out,” Mark said.

“Yeah, well, all the more reason to study it now, don’t ya think?”

“Let’s do it outside, then. I’m sick of this hunk of junk.”

Mark and Alec huddled over the workpad together, sitting under the shade of a tree as the sun continued to trudge its way across the sky. Mark swore that time slowed down when that thing was up there, beating down on them with its abnormally powerful rays. He had to keep wiping the sweat off his hands as he controlled the screen functions of the workpad.

Workpad. It seemed anything but. Games, books, old news programs that predated the sun flares. There was a personal journal that could
provide a ton of interesting information if it had been updated recently. But there wasn’t much work-related stuff on the device.

BOOK: The Kill Order
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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