He knew that as a member of WICKED he’d spent countless hours and days in this place as they’d worked on creating the Maze, and he felt the shame of it all over again.
Brenda pointed out the ladder that led up to where they needed to go. Thomas shuddered at the memory of going down the slimy Griever chute during their escape—they could’ve just climbed down a ladder.
“Why isn’t anybody here?” Minho asked. He turned in a circle, searching the place. “If they’re holding people in there, why no guards?”
Thomas thought about it. “Who needs soldiers to keep them in when you have the Maze doing the job for you? It took us long enough to figure a way out.”
“I don’t know,” Minho said. “Something’s fishy about it.”
Thomas shrugged. “Well, sitting here isn’t gonna help. Unless you’ve got something useful, let’s get up there and start bringing them out.”
“Useful?” Minho repeated. “I got nothin’.”
“Then up we go.”
Thomas climbed the ladder and pulled himself out into another familiar room—the one with the input stations where he had typed the code words to shut down the Grievers. Chuck had been there, and he’d been terrified but brave. And not even an hour after that he was dead. The pain of losing his friend filled Thomas’s chest once again.
“Home, sweet home,” Minho muttered. He was pointing at a round hole above them. It was the hole that exited to the Cliff. Back when the Maze was fully operational, holotech had been used to conceal it, to make it look like part of the fake, endless sky beyond the stone edge of the drop-off. It was all turned off now, of course, and Thomas could see the walls of the Maze through the opening. A stepladder had been placed directly under it.
“I can’t believe we’re back here,” Teresa said, moving to stand beside Thomas. Her voice sounded haunted, and it echoed how he felt inside.
And for some reason, with that simple statement, Thomas realized that standing there, the two of them were finally on equal ground. Trying to save lives, trying to make up for what they’d done to help start it all. He wanted to believe that with every ounce of his being.
He turned to look at her. “Crazy, huh?”
She smiled for the first time since … he couldn’t remember. “Crazy.”
There was so much Thomas still didn’t remember—about himself, about her—but she was here, helping, and that was all he could ask for.
“Don’t you think we better get up there?” Brenda asked.
“Yeah.” Thomas nodded. “We better.”
He went last. After the others climbed through, he scaled the ladder, pushed himself up onto the ledge, then walked over two boards that had been placed across the gap to the Maze’s stone floor at the Cliff edge. Below him was just a black-walled work area that had always lookedlike an endless drop before. He looked back up at the Maze and had to pause to take it all in.
Where the sky had once shone blue and bright, there was now only the dull gray ceiling. The holotech off the side of the Cliff had been completely shut down, and the once-vertigo-inducing view had been transformed into simple black stucco. But seeing the massive ivy-covered walls leading away from the Cliff took his breath away. Those had been towering even without the help of illusion, and now they rose above him like ancient monoliths, green and gray and cracked. As if they’d stand there for a thousand years, enormous tombstones marking the death of so many.
He was back.
Minho led the way this time, his shoulders squared as he ran, every inch of him showing the pride he’d felt for those two years when he’d ruled the corridors of the Maze. Thomas was right behind him, craning his neck to see the walls of ivy majestically rising toward the gray ceiling. It was a strange feeling, being back in there after everything they’d been through since their escape.
No one said much as they ran toward the Glade. Thomas wondered what Brenda and Jorge must think of the Maze—he knew it had to seem enormous. A beetle blade could never translate size like this back to the observation rooms. And he could only imagine all the bad memories crashing back into Gally’s brain.
They turned the final corner that led to the wide corridor outside the East Door of the Glade. When Thomas came to the section of wall where he’d tied Alby up in the ivy, he looked at the spot, could see the mangled mess of the vines. All that effort to save the former leader of the Gladers, only to see him die a few days later, his mind never fully recovered from the Changing.
A surge of anger burned like liquid heat in Thomas’s veins.
They reached the huge gap in the walls that made up the East Door, and Thomas caught his breath and slowed. There were hundreds of people milling about the Glade. He was horrified that there were even a few babies and small children scattered among the crowd. It took a moment for the murmurs to spread across the sea of Immunes, but within seconds every eye was trained on the new arrivals and utter silence fell upon the Glade.
“Did you know there were this many?” Minho asked Thomas.
There were people everywhere—certainly more than the Gladers had ever numbered. But what stole Thomas’s words was seeing the Glade itself again. The crooked building they called the Homestead; the pathetic copse of trees; the Bloodhouse barn; the fields, now only hardened weeds. The charred Map Room, its metal door blackened and still hanging ajar. He could even see the Slammer from where he stood. A bubble of emotion threatened to burst inside him.
“Hey, daydreamer,” Minho said, snapping his fingers. “I asked you a question.”
“Huh? Oh … There’s so many—they make the place look smaller than it ever did when we were here.”
It didn’t take long before their friends spotted them. Frypan. Clint, the Med-jack. Sonya and some other girls from Group B. They all came running, and there was a short burst of reunions and hugs.
Frypan swatted Thomas on the arm. “Can you believe they put me back in this place? They wouldn’t even let me cook, just sent us a bunch of packaged food in the Box three times a day. Kitchen doesn’t even work—no electricity, nothing.”
Thomas laughed, the anger easing. “You think you were a lousy cook for fifty guys? Try feeding this army.”
“Funny man, Thomas. You are a funny man. I’m glad to see you.” Then his eyes got big. “Gally? Gally’s here? Gally’s alive?”
“Nice to see you, too,” the boy responded dryly.
Thomas patted Frypan on the back. “Long story. He’s a good guy now.”
Gally scoffed but didn’t respond.
Minho stepped up to them. “All right, happy time is over. How in the world are we going to do this, dude?”
“Shouldn’t be too bad,” Thomas said. He actually hated the idea of trying to funnel all these people not only through the Maze itself, but then all the way through the WICKED complex to the Flat Trans. Still, it had to be done.
“Don’t feed me that klunk,” Minho said. “Your eyes don’t lie.”
Thomas smiled. “Well, we’ve certainly got a lot of people to fight with us.”
“Have you looked at these poor saps?” Minho asked, sounding disgusted. “Half of ’em are younger than us, and the other half look like they haven’t so much as arm wrestled before, much less had a fistfight.”
“Sometimes numbers are all that matters,” Thomas responded.
He spotted Teresa and called her over, then found Brenda.
“What’s the plan?” Teresa asked.
If Teresa was really with them, this was when Thomas needed her—and all the memories she’d had returned.
“Okay, let’s split them into groups,” he said to everyone. “There’s gotta be four or five hundred people, so … groups of fifty. Then have one Glader or Group B person be in charge of them. Teresa, do you know how to get to this maintenance room?”
He showed her the map and she nodded after examining it.
Thomas continued. “Then I’ll help move people along as you and Brenda lead the way. Everyone else guide one of the groups. Except Minho, Jorge, and Gally. I think you guys should cover the rear.”
“Sounds good to me,” Minho said, shrugging. Impossibly, he looked bored.
“Whatever you say, muchacho,” Jorge added. Gally just nodded.
They spent the next twenty minutes dividing everyone into groups and getting them into long lines. They paid special attention to keeping the groups even in terms of age and strength. The Immunes had no problem following orders once they realized the new arrivals had come to help rescue them.
Once they were organized into groups, Thomas and his friends lined up in front of the East Door. Thomas waved his hands to get everyone’s attention.
“Listen up!” Thomas began. “WICKED is planning to use you for science. Your bodies—your brains. They’ve been studying people for years, collecting data to develop a cure for the Flare. Now they want to use you as well, but you deserve more than a life as lab rats. You are—we all are—the future, and the future isn’t going to happen the way WICKED wants it to. That’s why we’re here. To get you out of this place. We’ll be going through a bunch of buildings to find a Flat Trans that’ll take us somewhere safe. If we’re attacked, we’re going to have to fight. Stick with your groups, and the strongest need to do whatever it takes to protect the—”
Thomas’s last words were cut off by a violent crack—like the sound of stone splintering. And then, nothing. Only an echo bouncing off the enormous walls.
“What was that?” Minho yelled, searching the sky for the source.
Thomas inspected the Glade, the walls of the Maze rising up behind him, but nothing was out of place. He was just about to speak when another crack sounded, then another. A thunderous din of rumbling crossed the Glade, beginning low and increasing in depth and volume. The ground started to tremble, and it seemed as if the world was going to fall apart.
People turned in circles, looking for the source of the noise, and Thomas could tell panic was spreading. He’d lose control soon. The ground shook more violently; the sounds amplified—thunder and grinding rock—and now screams erupted from the mass of people standing in front of him.
Suddenly it dawned on Thomas. “The explosives.”
“What?” Minho shouted at him.
Thomas looked at his friend. “The Right Arm!”
A deafening roar shook the Glade, and Thomas spun around to look up. A large portion of the wall to the left of the East Door had broken loose, great chunks of stone flying everywhere. A huge section seemed to hover at an impossible angle, and then it fell, toppling toward the ground.
Thomas didn’t have time to shout a warning before the massive piece of rock landed on a group of people, crushing them as it broke in half. He stood for a moment, speechless as blood oozed out from the edges and pooled on the stone floor.
The wounded screamed. Rumbles of thunder and the sound of rock fracturing combined to make a horrible chorus as the ground beneath Thomas continued to shake. The Maze was falling apart around them—they had to get out.