Teresa put her hands through the bars, rested her forearms against the concrete sill. “Just one a night? Why?”
“I don’t know. He also said it had to do with … trials. Or variables. Something like that.” Thomas had the same strange urge he’d had the night before—to reach out and take one of her hands. He stopped himself, though.
“Tom, I was thinking about what you told me I said. That the Maze is a code. Being holed up in here does wonders for making the brain do what it was made for.”
“What do you think it means?” Intensely interested, he tried to block out the shouts and chatter rumbling through the Glade as others found out about the Map Room being burned.
“Well, the walls move every day, right?”
“Yeah.” He could tell she was really on to something.
“And Minho said they think there’s a pattern, right?”
“Right.” Gears were starting to shift into place inside Thomas’s head as well, almost as if a prior memory was beginning to break loose.
“Well, I can’t remember why I said that to you about the code. I know when I was coming out of the coma all sorts of thoughts and memories swirled through my head like crazy, almost as if I could feel someone emptying my mind, sucking them out. And I felt like I needed to say that thing about the code before I lost it. So there must be an important reason.”
Thomas almost didn’t hear her—he was thinking harder than he had in a while. “They always compare each section’s Map to the one from the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, day by day, each Runner just analyzing their own Section. What if they’re supposed to compare the Maps to other sections …” He trailed off, feeling like he was on the cusp of something.
Teresa seemed to ignore him, doing her own theorizing. “The first thing the word code makes me think of is letters. Letters in the alphabet. Maybe the Maze is trying to spell something.”
Everything came together so quickly in Thomas’s mind, he almost heard an audible click, as if the pieces all snapped into place at once. “You’re right—you’re right! But the Runners have been looking at it wrong this whole time. They’ve been analyzing it the wrong way!”
Teresa gripped the bars now, her knuckles white, her face pressed against the iron rods. “What? What’re you talking about?”
Thomas grabbed the two bars outside of where she held on, moved close enough to smell her—a surprisingly pleasant scent of sweat and flowers. “Minho said the patterns repeat themselves, only they can’t figure out what it means. But they’ve always studied them section by section, comparing one day to the next. What if each day is a separate piece of the code, and they’re supposed to use all eight sections together somehow?”
“You think maybe each day is trying to reveal a word?” Teresa asked. “With the wall movements?”
Thomas nodded. “Or maybe a letter a day, I don’t know. But they’ve always thought the movements would reveal how to escape, not spell something. They’ve been studying it like a map, not like a picture of something. We’ve gotta—” Then he stopped, remembering what he’d just been told by Newt. “Oh, no.”
Teresa’s eyes flared with worry. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh no oh no oh no …” Thomas let go of the bars and stumbled back a step as the realization hit him. He turned to look at the Map Room. The smoke had lessened, but it still wafted out the door, a dark, hazy cloud covering the entire area.
“What’s wrong?” Teresa repeated. She couldn’t see the Map Room from her angle.
Thomas faced her again. “I didn’t think it mattered….”
“What!” she demanded.
“Someone burned all the Maps. If there was a code, it’s gone.”
“I’ll be back,” Thomas said, turning to go. His stomach was full of acid. “I gotta find Newt, see if any of the Maps survived.”
“Wait!” Teresa yelled. “Get me out of here!”
But there was no time, and Thomas felt awful about it. “I can’t—I’ll be back, I promise.” He turned before she could protest and set off at a sprint for the Map Room and its foggy black cloud of smoke. Needles of pain pricked his insides. If Teresa was right, and they’d been that close to figuring out some kind of clue to get out of there, only to see it literally lost in flames … It was so upsetting it hurt.
The first thing Thomas saw when he ran up was a group of Gladers huddled just outside the large steel door, still ajar, its outer edge blackened with soot. But as he got closer, he realized they were surrounding something on the ground, all of them looking down at it. He spotted Newt, kneeling there in the middle, leaning over a body.
Minho was standing behind him, looking distraught and dirty, and spotted Thomas first. “Where’d you go?” he asked.
“To talk to Teresa—what happened?” He waited anxiously for the next dump of bad news.
Minho’s forehead creased in anger. “Our Map Room was set on fire and you ran off to talk to your shuck girlfriend? What’s wrong with you?”
Thomas knew the rebuke should’ve stung, but his mind was too preoccupied. “I didn’t think it mattered anymore—if you haven’t figured out the Maps by now …”
Minho looked disgusted, the pale light and fog of smoke making his face seem almost sinister. “Yeah, this’d be a great freaking time to give up. What the—”
“I’m sorry—just tell me what happened.” Thomas leaned over the shoulder of a skinny boy standing in front of him to get a look at the body on the ground.
It was Alby, flat on his back, a huge gash on his forehead. Blood seeped down both sides of his head, some into his eyes, crusting there. Newt was cleaning it with a wet rag, gingerly, asking questions in a whisper too low to hear. Thomas, concerned for Alby despite his recent ill-tempered ways, turned back to Minho and repeated his question.
“Winston found him out here, half dead, the Map Room blazing. Some shanks got in there and put it out, but way too late. All the trunks are burned to a freaking crisp. I suspected Alby at first, but whoever did it slammed his shuck head against the table—you can see where. It’s nasty.”
“Who do you think did it?” Thomas was hesitant to tell him about the possible discovery he and Teresa had made. With no Maps, the point was moot.
“Maybe Gally before he showed up in the Homestead and went psycho? Maybe the Grievers? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Doesn’t matter.”
Thomas was surprised at the sudden change of heart. “Now who’s the one giving up?”
Minho’s head snapped up so quickly, Thomas took a step backward. There was a flash of anger there, but it quickly melted into an odd expression of surprise or confusion. “That’s not what I meant, shank.”
Thomas narrowed his eyes in curiosity. “What did—”
“Just shut your hole for now.” Minho put his fingers to his lips, his eyes darting around to see if anyone was looking at him. “Just shut your hole. You’ll find out soon enough.”
Thomas took a deep breath and thought. If he expected the other boys to be honest, he should be honest too. He decided he’d better share about the possible Maze code, Maps or no Maps. “Minho, I need to tell you and Newt something. And we need to let Teresa out—she’s probably starving and we could use her help.”
“That stupid girl is the last thing I’m worried about.”
Thomas ignored the insult. “Just give us a few minutes—we have an idea. Maybe it’ll still work if enough Runners remember their Maps.”
This seemed to get Minho’s full attention—but again, there was that same strange look, as if Thomas was missing something very obvious. “An idea? What?”
“Just come over to the Slammer with me. You and Newt.”
Minho thought for a second. “Newt!” he called out.
“Yeah?” Newt stood up, refolding his bloody rag to find a clean spot. Thomas couldn’t help noticing that every inch was drenched in red.
Minho pointed down at Alby. “Let the Med-jacks take care of him. We need to talk.”
Newt gave him a questioning look, then handed the rag to the closest Glader. “Go find Clint—tell him we got worse problems than guys with buggin’ splinters.” When the kid ran off to do as he was told, Newt stepped away from Alby. “Talk about what?”
Minho nodded at Thomas, but didn’t say anything.
“Just come with me,” Thomas said. Then he turned and headed for the Slammer without waiting for a response.
“Let her out.” Thomas stood by the cell door, arms folded. “Let her out, and then we’ll talk. Trust me—you wanna hear it.”
Newt was covered in soot and dirt, his hair matted with sweat. He certainly didn’t seem to be in a very good mood. “Tommy, this is—”
“Please. Just open it—let her out. Please.” He wouldn’t give up this time.
Minho stood in front of the door with his hands on his hips. “How can we trust her?” he asked. “Soon as she woke up, the whole place fell to pieces. She even admitted she triggered something.”
“He’s got a point,” Newt said.
Thomas gestured through the door at Teresa. “We can trust her. Every time I’ve talked to her, it’s something about trying to get out of here. She was sent here just like the rest of us—it’s stupid to think she’s responsible for any of this.”
Newt grunted. “Then what the bloody shuck did she mean by sayin’ she triggered something?”
Thomas shrugged, refusing to admit that Newt had a good point. There had to be an explanation. “Who knows—her mind was doing all kinds of weird stuff when she woke up. Maybe we all went through that in the Box, talking gibberish before we came totally awake. Just let her out.”
Newt and Minho exchanged a long look.
“Come on,” Thomas insisted. “What’s she gonna do, run around and stab every Glader to death? Come on.”
Minho sighed. “Fine. Just let the stupid girl out.”
“I’m not stupid!” Teresa shouted, her voice muffled by the walls. “And I can hear every word you morons are saying!”
Newt’s eyes widened. “Real sweet girl you picked up, Tommy.”
“Just hurry,” Thomas said. “I’m sure we have a lot to do before the Grievers come back tonight—if they don’t come during the day.”
Newt grunted and stepped up to the Slammer, pulling his keys out as he did so. A few clinks later the door swung wide open. “Come on.”
Teresa walked out of the small building, glowering at Newt as she passed him. She gave a just-as-unpleasant glance toward Minho, then stopped to stand right next to Thomas. Her arm brushed against his; tingles shot across his skin, and he felt mortally embarrassed.
“All right, talk,” Minho said. “What’s so important?”