“Just think about it,” Gally began. “This slinthead comes up in the Box, acting all confused and scared. A few days later, he’s running around the Maze with Grievers, acting like he owns the place.”
Thomas shrank into his chair, hoping that others hadn’t been thinking anything like that.
Gally continued his rant. “I think it was all an act. How could he have done what he did out there after just a few days? I ain’t buyin’ it.”
“What’re you tryin’ to say, Gally?” Newt asked. “How ’bout having a bloody point?”
“I think he’s a spy from the people who put us here.”
Another uproar exploded in the room; Thomas could do nothing but shake his head—he just didn’t get how Gally could come up with all these ideas. Newt finally calmed everyone down again, but Gally wasn’t finished.
“We can’t trust this shank,” he continued. “Day after he shows up, a psycho girl comes, spoutin’ off that things are gonna change, clutching that freaky note. We find a dead Griever. Thomas conveniently finds himself in the Maze for the night, then tries to convince everyone he’s a hero. Well, neither Minho nor anyone else actually saw him do anything in the vines. How do we know it was the Greenie who tied Alby up there?”
Gally paused; no one said a word for several seconds, and panic rose inside Thomas’s chest. Could they actually believe what Gally was saying? He was anxious to defend himself and almost broke his silence for the first time—but before he could get a word in, Gally was talking again.
“There’s too many weird things going on, and it all started when this shuck-face Greenie showed up. And he just happens to be the first person to survive a night out in the Maze. Something ain’t right, and until we figure it out, I officially recommend that we lock his butt in the Slammer—for a month, and then have another review.”
More rumblings broke out, and Newt wrote something on his pad, shaking his head the whole time—which gave Thomas a tinge of hope.
“Finished, Captain Gally?” Newt asked.
“Quit being such a smart aleck, Newt,” he spat, his face flushing red. “I’m dead serious. How can we trust this shank after less than a week? Quit voting me down before you even think about what I’m saying.”
For the first time, Thomas felt a little empathy for Gally—he did have a point about how Newt was treating him. Gally was a Keeper, after all. But I still hate him, Thomas thought.
“Fine, Gally,” Newt said. “I’m sorry. We heard you, and we’ll all consider your bloody recommendation. Are you done?”
“Yes, I’m done. And I’m right.”
With no more words for Gally, Newt pointed at Minho. “Go ahead, last but not least.”
Thomas was elated that it was finally Minho’s turn; surely he’d defend him to the end.
Minho stood quickly, taking everyone off guard. “I was out there; I saw what this guy did—he stayed strong while I turned into a panty-wearin’ chicken. No blabbin’ on and on like Gally. I want to say my recommendation and be done with it.”
Thomas held his breath, wondering what he’d say.
“Good that,” Newt said. “Tell us, then.”
Minho looked at Thomas. “I nominate this shank to replace me as Keeper of the Runners.”
Complete silence filled the room, as if the world had been frozen, and every member of the Council stared at Minho. Thomas sat stunned, waiting for the Runner to say he’d been kidding.
Gally finally broke the spell, standing up. “That’s ridiculous!” He faced Newt and pointed back at Minho, who had taken his seat again. “He should be kicked off the Council for saying something so stupid.”
Any pity Thomas had felt for Gally, however remote, completely vanished at that statement.
Some Keepers seemed to actually agree with Minho’s recommendation—like Frypan, who clapped to drown out Gally, clamoring to take a vote. Others didn’t. Winston shook his head adamantly, saying something that Thomas couldn’t quite make out. When everyone started talking at once, Thomas put his head in his hands to wait it out, terrified and awed at the same time. Why had Minho said that? Has to be a joke, he thought. Newt said it takes forever just to become a Runner, much less the Keeper. He looked back up, wishing he were a thousand miles away.
Finally, Newt put his notepad down and stepped out from the semicircle, screaming at people to shut up. Thomas watched on as at first no one seemed to hear or notice Newt at all. Gradually, though, order was restored and everyone sat down.
“Shuck it,” Newt said. “I’ve never seen so many shanks acting like teat-suckin’ babies. We may not look it, but around these parts we’re adults. Act like it, or we’ll disband this bloody Council and start from scratch.” He walked from end to end of the curved row of sitting Keepers, looking each of them in the eye as he spoke. “Are we clear?”
Quiet had swept across the group. Thomas expected more outbursts, but was surprised when everyone nodded their consent, even Gally.
“Good that.” Newt walked back to his chair and sat down, putting the pad in his lap. He scratched out a few lines on the paper, then looked up at Minho. “That’s some pretty serious klunk, brother. Sorry, but you need to talk it up to move it forward.”
Thomas couldn’t help feeling eager to hear the response.
Minho looked exhausted, but he started defending his proposal. “It’s sure easy for you shanks to sit here and talk about something you’re stupid on. I’m the only Runner in this group, and the only other one here who’s even been out in the Maze is Newt.”
Gally interjected: “Not if you count the time I—”
“I don’t!” Minho shouted. “And believe me, you or nobody else has the slightest clue what it’s like to be out there. The only reason you were stung is because you broke the same rule you’re blaming Thomas for. That’s called hypocrisy, you shuck-faced piece of—”
“Enough,” Newt said. “Defend your proposal and be done with it.”
The tension was palpable; Thomas felt like the air in the room had become glass that could shatter at any second. Both Gally and Minho looked as if the taut, red skin of their faces was about to burst—but they finally broke their stare.
“Anyway, listen to me,” Minho continued as he took his seat. “I’ve never seen anything like it. He didn’t panic. He didn’t whine and cry, never seemed scared. Dude, he’d been here for just a few days. Think about what we were all like in the beginning. Huddling in corners, disoriented, crying every hour, not trusting anybody, refusing to do anything. We were all like that, for weeks or months, till we had no choice but to shuck it and live.”
Minho stood back up, pointed at Thomas. “Just a few days after this guy shows up, he steps out in the Maze to save two shanks he hardly knows. All this klunk about him breaking a rule is just beyond stupid. He didn’t get the rules yet. But plenty of people had told him what it’s like in the Maze, especially at night. And he still stepped out there, just as the Door was closing, only caring that two people needed help.” He took a deep breath, seeming to gain strength the more he spoke.
“But that was just the beginning. After that, he saw me give up on Alby, leave him for dead. And I was the veteran—the one with all the experience and knowledge. So when Thomas saw me give up, he shouldn’t have questioned it. But he did. Think about the willpower and strength it took him to push Alby up that wall, inch by inch. It’s psycho. It’s freaking crazy.
“But that wasn’t it. Then came the Grievers. I told Thomas we had to split up and I started the practiced evasive maneuvers, running in the patterns. Thomas, when he should’ve been wettin’ his pants, took control, defied all laws of physics and gravity to get Alby up onto that wall, diverted the Grievers away from him, beat one off, found—”
“We get the point,” Gally snapped. “Tommy here is a lucky shank.”
Minho rounded on him. “No, you worthless shuck, you don’t get it! I’ve been here two years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. For you to say anything …”
Minho paused, rubbing his eyes, groaning in frustration. Thomas realized his own mouth had dropped wide open. His emotions were scattered: appreciation for Minho standing up to everybody on his behalf, disbelief at Gally’s continuous belligerence, fear of what the final decision would be.
“Gally,” Minho said in a calmer voice, “you’re nothing but a sissy who has never, not once, asked to be a Runner or tried out for it. You don’t have the right to talk about things you don’t understand. So shut your mouth.”
Gally stood up again, fuming. “Say one more thing like that and I’ll break your neck, right here in front of everybody.” Spit flew from his mouth as he spoke.
Minho laughed, then raised the palm of his hand and shoved Gally in the face. Thomas half stood as he watched the Glader crash down into his chair, tipping it over backward, cracking it in two pieces. Gally sprawled across the floor, then scrambled to stand up, struggling to get his hands and feet under him. Minho stepped closer and stomped the bottom of his foot down on Gally’s back, driving his body flat to the ground.
Thomas plopped back into his seat, stunned.
“I swear, Gally,” Minho said with a sneer, “don’t ever threaten me again. Don’t ever speak to me again. Ever. If you do, I’ll break your shuck neck, right after I’m done with your arms and legs.”
Newt and Winston were on their feet and grabbing Minho before Thomas even knew what was going on. They pulled him away from Gally, who jumped up, his face a ruddied mask of rage. But he made no move toward Minho; he just stood there with his chest out, heaving ragged breaths.
Finally Gally backed away, half stumbling toward the exit behind him. His eyes darted around the room, lit with a burning hatred. Thomas had the sickening thought that Gally looked like someone about to commit murder. He backed toward the door, reached behind him to grab the handle.
“Things are different now,” he said, spitting on the floor. “You shouldn’t have done that, Minho. You should not have done that.” His maniacal gaze shifted to Newt. “I know you hate me, that you’ve always hated me. You should be Banished for your embarrassing inability to lead this group. You’re shameful, and any one of you who stays here is no better. Things are going to change. This, I promise.”
Thomas’s heart sank. As if things hadn’t been awkward enough already.
Gally yanked the door open and stepped out into the hall, but before anyone could react, he popped his head back in the room. “And you,” he said, glaring at Thomas, “the Greenbean who thinks he’s friggin’ God. Don’t forget I’ve seen you before—I’ve been through the Changing. What these guys decide doesn’t mean jack.”
He paused, looking at each person in the room. When his malicious stare fell back on Thomas, he had one last thing to say. “Whatever you came here for—I swear on my life I’m gonna stop it. Kill you if I have to.”