“Run!” he yelled at Sonya.
She didn’t hesitate—she turned and disappeared into the corridors of the Maze. The people who’d been standing in her line didn’t need to be told to follow.
Thomas stumbled, regained his balance, ran over to Minho. “Bring up the rear! Teresa, Brenda and I need to get to the head of the pack!”
Minho nodded and gave him a push to get him going. Thomas glanced back in time to see the Homestead split down the middle like a cracked acorn, half of its slipshod structure collapsing to the ground in a cloud of splintered wood and dust. His gaze swept to the Map Room, its concrete walls already crumbling to pieces.
There was no time to spare. He searched the chaos until he found Teresa. He grabbed his old friend and she followed him to the gap into the Maze. Brenda was there, trying her best with Jorge to facilitate who would go next, to prevent everyone from going at once in a stampede that would surely kill half of them.
Another splintering crack sounded from above; Thomas looked up to see a section of wall falling toward the ground by the fields. It exploded when it hit, luckily with no one underneath. With a sudden jerk of horror he realized that the roof itself would eventually collapse.
“Go!” Brenda yelled at him. “I’m right behind you!”
Teresa grabbed his arm, yanked him forward, and the three of them ran past the jagged left edge of the Door and into the Maze, weaving their way around the crowd of people heading in the same direction. Thomas had to sprint to catch up with Sonya—he had no idea whether she’d been a Runner in Group B’s Maze or whether she’d remember the layout as well as he did, if it was even the same.
The ground continued to tremble, and lurched with every distant explosion. People stumbled left and right, fell, got back up, kept running. Thomas dodged and ducked as he ran, jumping over a fallen man at one point. Rocks tumbled from the walls. He watched one hit a man in the head, knocking him to the ground. People bent over his lifeless body, tried to lift him, but there was so much blood that Thomas could tell it was already too late.
Thomas reached Sonya and ran past her, leading everyone turn after turn.
He knew they were getting close. He could only hope that the Maze had been the first place to get hit and the rest of the compound was intact—that they’d still have time if they could just get out. The ground suddenly jumped underneath him and an earsplitting crack pierced the air. He fell face-first, scrambled to get up. A hundred feet or so in front of him, a section of the stone floor had shifted upward. As he watched, half of it exploded, sending a rain of rocks and dust in all directions.
He didn’t stop. There was a narrow space between the protruding ground and the wall, and he ran through it, Teresa and Brenda on his heels. But he knew the bottleneck would slow things down.
“Hurry!” he yelled over his shoulder. He slowed to watch and could see the desperation in everyone’s eyes.
Sonya exited the gap, then paused to help funnel the others through, grabbing hands, pulling and pushing. It went faster than Thomas could’ve hoped, and he continued toward the Cliff at full speed.
Through the Maze he went, the world shaking, stone crumbling and falling all around them, people screaming and crying. There was nothing he could do but lead the survivors onward. A left and then a right. Another right. Then they were into the long corridor that ended at the Cliff. Beyond its edge, he could see the gray ceiling end at the black walls, the round hole of the exit—and a large crack shooting up and across the once-false sky.
He turned to Sonya and the others. “Hurry! Move!”
As they approached, Thomas got a full view of the terror. Faces white and twisted in fear, people falling to the ground, getting back up. He saw a boy who couldn’t have been more than ten, half dragging a lady until she finally got her feet underneath her. A boulder the size of a small car toppled from high off the wall and struck an older man, throwing him several yards before he hit the ground and collapsed in a heap. Thomas was horror-struck but kept running, all the while yelling encouragement to everyone around him.
Finally he reached the Cliff. The two boards were firmly in place, and Sonya gestured to Teresa to cross the makeshift bridge and go through the old Griever hole. Then Brenda crossed with a line of people trailing her.
Thomas waited on the edge of the Cliff, waving people on. It was agonizing work, almost unbearable, to see the people so slowly making their way out of the Maze when the whole place seemed ready to collapse on itself at any second. One by one they ran across the boards and dropped into the hole. Thomas wondered if Teresa was sending them down the chute instead of the ladder to make it go more quickly.
“You go!” Sonya yelled to Thomas. “They need to know what to do once they’re down there.”
Thomas nodded, though he felt horrible for leaving—he’d done the same thing the first time he’d escaped, abandoning the Gladers to fight while he’d punched in the code. But he knew she was right. He took one last look at the quaking Maze—chunks of the ceiling torn loose and stone jutting from the ground where it had once been smooth. He didn’t know how they’d all make it, and his heart ached for Minho, Frypan, the others.
He squeezed into the flow of people and crossed the boards to the hole, then swerved away from the crowd at the chute and ran to the ladder. He picked his way down the rungs as quickly as he could and was relieved to see at the bottom that the damage hadn’t reached that section yet. Teresa was there, helping people get up after they landed and telling them which direction to head.
“I’ll do this!” he yelled to her. “Get to the front of the pack!” He pointed through the double doors.
She was about to answer when she caught sight of something behind him. Her eyes widened in fear, and Thomas spun around.
Several of the dusty Griever pods were opening, their top halves lifting upward on hinges like the lids of coffins.
“Listen to me!” Teresa screamed. She grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around to look him in the face. “On the tail end of the Grievers”—she pointed at the closest pod—“what the Creators called the barrel—inside the blubber, there’s a switch, like a handle. You have to reach through the skin and pull it out. If you can do it, the things will die.”
Thomas nodded. “Okay. You keep people going!”
The tops of the pods continued to open as Thomas sprinted to the closest one. The lid was halfway up when he reached it, and he strained to look inside. The Griever’s huge, sluglike body was trembling and twisting, sucking up moisture and fuel from tubes connected to its sides.
Thomas ran to its far end and pulled himself up on the lip of the container, then stretched over and leaned down to the Griever inside. He slammed his hand through the moist skin to find what Teresa had described. He grunted with the effort, pushed until he found a hard handle, then yanked on it with all his strength. The whole thing tore loose and the Griever fell into a limp mass of jelly at the bottom of the pod.
He threw the handle to the floor and ran to the next pod, where the lid was lowering to the ground. It took him only a few seconds to pull himself up and over the side, bury his hand in the fatty flesh and yank out the handle.
As he ran to the next pod, Thomas risked a quick glance up at Teresa. She was still helping people from the floor after they slid down the chute and sending them through the doors. They were coming fast, landing on top of each other. Sonya was there, then Frypan, then Gally. Minho came flying through even as he watched. Thomas reached the pod, the lid now completely open, the tubes connecting the Griever to the container detaching themselves one by one. He pulled himself up and over, slammed his hand into the thing’s skin and ripped out the handle.
Thomas dropped to the ground and turned to the fourth pod, but the Griever was moving, its front end slipping up and over the edge of the open pod, appendages bursting out of the skin to help it maneuver. Thomas barely reached it in time, jumped up and heaved himself over the side of the pod. He pushed his hand inside the blubbery skin, grabbed the handle. A pair of scissoring blades swiped at his head; he ducked as he wrenched the piece out of the creature’s body and it died, its mass pulling it back into the coffinlike container.
Thomas knew it was too late to stop the last Griever before it exited its pod. He turned to assess the situation and watched as its full body sloshed out onto the ground. It was already scanning the area with a small observer socket that extended from its front; then, as he’d seen them do so many times before, the thing curled up into a ball and spikes burst from the skin. The creature spun forward with a great whirring of the machines within its belly. Concrete kicked up in the air, the Griever’s spikes tearing through the flooring, and Thomas watched, helpless, as it crashed into a small group of people who’d come through the chute. Blades extended, it sliced through several people before they even knew what was happening.
Thomas looked around, searching for anything he could use as a weapon. A piece of pipe about the length of his arm had broken off from something in the ceiling—he ran to it and picked it up. When he turned back toward the Griever, he saw that Minho had already made it to the creature. He was kicking at it with a fierceness that was almost frightening.
Thomas charged the monster, yelling at the others to get away. The Griever spun toward him as if he’d heard the command, and it reared up on its bulbous back end. Two appendages emerged from the creature’s sides and Thomas skidded to a halt—a new metal arm buzzed with a spinning saw, the other with a nasty-looking claw, its four tips ending in blades.
“Minho, just let me distract it!” he yelled. “Get everyone out of here and have Brenda start leading them to the maintenance room!”
Even as he said it, he watched a man trying to crawl out of the Griever’s way. Before the man could get a few feet from it, a rod shot out of the creature and stabbed him in the chest, and he collapsed to the floor, spitting blood.
Thomas ran in, raising his pipe, ready to beat his way past the appendages, find his way to the handle. He’d almost made it when Teresa suddenly flashed in from his right, throwing her body onto the Griever. It immediately collapsed into a ball, all its metal arms retracting to press her to its skin.
“Teresa!” Thomas screamed, pulling up short, not sure what to do.
She twisted around to look at him. “Just go! Get them out!” She started kicking and clawing, her hands disappearing in the fatty flesh. So far she appeared to have escaped major injury.
Thomas inched in closer, gripping the pipe tighter, looking for an opening to attack without hitting her instead.
Teresa’s eyes found him again. “Get out of—”
But her words were lost. The Griever had sucked her face into its blubbery skin and was pulling her farther and farther in, suffocating her.
Thomas stared, frozen. Too many people had died. Too many. And he wasn’t going to stand there and let her sacrifice herself to save him and the others. He couldn’t let that happen.
He screamed, and with all of the force he had, he ran and leaped into the air, smashing into the Griever. The spinning saw flew toward his chest and he dodged to the left, swinging the pipe around as he did. It connected, hard, and the saw broke off, flew through the air. Thomas heard it hit the ground and clatter across the room. He used his balance to swing back, driving the pipe into the creature’s body, just to the side of Teresa’s head. He strained with all he had to pull it back out, then drove it in again, then again.