The Eye of Minds

From James Dashner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, comes an edge-of-your seat adventure. The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine, a series set in a world of hyperadvanced technology, cyberterrorists, and gaming beyond your wildest dreams . . . and your worst nightmares.

For Michael and the other gamers, the VirtNet can make your wildest fantasies become real. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Who wants to play by the rules anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. One gamer has been taking people hostage inside the VirtNet with horrific consequences.

The government needs Michael to track down the rogue gamer, but the risk is enormous and the line between game and reality could be blurred forever . . .

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Michael forgot the game, forgot the points. The situation had gone from annoying to actual life-and-death. In all his years of playing, he’d never seen someone code out their Core, destroying the barrier device within the Coffin that kept the virtual world and the real world separate in their mind.

“Stop that!” he yelled, one foot already on the railing. “Stop!”

He jumped down onto the catwalk on the outer edge of the bridge and froze. He was just a few feet from her now, and he wanted to avoid any quick movements that might cause her to panic. Holding his hands out, he took a small step toward her.

“Don’t do that,” Michael said as softly as he could in the biting wind.

Tanya kept digging into her right temple. She’d peeled back pieces of her skin; a stream of blood from the wound quickly covered her hands and the side of her face in red gore. A look of terrifying calmness had come over her, as if she had no concept of what she was doing to herself, though Michael knew well enough that she was busy hacking the code.

“Stop coding for one second!” Michael shouted. “Would you just talk about this before you rip your freaking Core out? You know what that means.”

“Why do you care so much?” she responded, so quietly that Michael had to read her lips to understand. But at least she’d stopped digging.

Michael just stared. Because she had stopped digging and was now reaching inside the torn mass of flesh with her thumb and forefinger. “You just want your Experience Points,” she said. Slowly, she pulled out a small metallic chip slick with blood.

“I’ll forfeit my points,” Michael said, trying to hide his fear and disgust. “I swear. You can’t mess around anymore, Tanya. Code that thing back in and come talk to me. It’s not too late.”

She held up the visual manifestation of the Core, gazed at it with fascination. “Don’t you see the irony in all this?” she asked. “If it weren’t for my coding skills, I probably wouldn’t even know who Kaine was. About his KillSims and his plans for me. But I’m good at it, and because of that . . . monster, I just programmed the Core right out of my own head.”

“Not your real head. It’s still just a simulation, Tanya. It’s not too late.” Michael couldn’t remember a time in his en-tire life when he’d felt that ill.

She looked at him so sharply that he took a step backward. “I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take . . . him anymore. He can’t use me if I’m dead. I’m done.”

She curled the Core onto her thumb, then flicked it toward Michael. It fl w over his shoulder—he saw flashes of sunlight glint off it as it spun through the air, almost like it was winking at him, saying, Hey, buddy, you suck at suicide negotiations. It landed with a plink somewhere out in the traffic, where it would be crushed in seconds.

He couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. Someone so sophisticated at manipulating code that she could destroy her Core—the device that essentially protected players’ brains while they were in the Sleep. Without your Core, your brain wouldn’t be able to filter the stimulation of the VirtNet properly. If your Core died in the Sleep, you’d die in the Wake. He didn’t know anyone who’d seen this before. Two hours earlier he’d been eating stolen bleu chips at the Dan the Man Deli with his best friends. All he wanted now was to be back there, eating turkey on rye, enduring Bryson’s jokes about old ladies’ underwear and listening to Sarah tell him how awful his latest Sleep haircut was.

“If Kaine comes for you,” Tanya said, “tell him that I won in the end. Tell him how brave I was. He can trap people here and steal all the bodies he wants. But not mine.”

Michael was done talking. He couldn’t take one more word out of this girl’s blood-smeared mouth. As quickly as anything he’d ever done in his life, as any character in any game, he jumped toward the pole she clung to.

She screamed, momentarily frozen by his sudden action, but then she let go, actually pushed herself away from the bridge. Michael grabbed for the railing to his left with one hand and reached for her with the other but missed both. His feet hit something solid, then slipped. Arms flailing, he felt nothing but air, and he fell, almost in sync with her.

An incredible shriek escaped his mouth, something he would’ve been embarrassed about if his only companion wasn’t about to lose her life. With her Core coded out, her death would be real.

Michael and Tanya fell toward the harsh gray waters of the bay. Wind tore at their clothes, and Michael’s heart felt like it was creeping along the inside of his chest, up his throat. He screamed again. On some level he knew he would hit the water, feel the pain; then he’d be Lifted and wake up back home, safe and sound in his Coffin. But the VirtNet’s power was feigned reality, and right now the reality was terror.

Somehow Michael’s and Tanya’s Auras found each other on that long fall, chest to chest, like tandem skydivers. As the churning surface below rushed toward them, they wrapped their arms around each other, pulling closer together. Michael wanted to scream again but clamped his jaw shut when he saw the complete calmness on her face.

Her eyes bored into Michael’s, searched him, and found him, and he broke somewhere on the inside.

They hit the water as hard as he thought they would. Hard as concrete. Hard as death.

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