Thomas looked at Teresa, wondering how to say it.
“What?” she said. “You talk—they obviously think I’m a serial killer.”
“Yeah, you look so dangerous,” Thomas muttered, but he turned his attention to Newt and Minho. “Okay, when Teresa was first coming out of her deep sleep, she had memories flashing through her mind. She, um”—he just barely stopped himself from saying she’d said it inside his mind—”she told me later that she remembers that the Maze is a code. That maybe instead of solving it to find a way out, it’s trying to send us a message.”
“A code?” Minho asked. “How’s it a code?”
Thomas shook his head, wishing he could answer. “I don’t know for sure—you’re way more familiar with the Maps than I am. But I have a theory. That’s why I was hoping you guys could remember some of them.”
Minho glanced at Newt, his eyebrows raised in question. Newt nodded.
“What?” Thomas asked, fed up with them keeping information from him. “You guys keep acting like you have a secret.”
Minho rubbed his eyes with both hands, took a deep breath. “We hid the Maps, Thomas.”
At first it didn’t compute. “Huh?”
Minho pointed at the Homestead. “We hid the freaking Maps in the weapons room, put dummies in their place. Because of Alby’s warning. And because of the so-called Ending your girlfriend triggered.”
Thomas was so excited to hear this news he temporarily forgot how awful things had become. He remembered Minho acting suspicious the day before, saying he had a special assignment. Thomas looked over at Newt, who nodded.
“They’re all safe and sound,” Minho said. “Every last one of those suckers. So if you have a theory, get talking.”
“Take me to them,” Thomas said, itching to have a look.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Minho switched on the light, making Thomas squint for a second until his eyes got used to it. Menacing shadows clung to the boxes of weapons scattered across the table and floor, blades and sticks and other nasty-looking devices seeming to wait there, ready to take on a life of their own and kill the first person stupid enough to come close. The dank, musty smell only added to the creepy feel of the room.
“There’s a hidden storage closet back here,” Minho explained, walking past some shelves into a dark corner. “Only a couple of us know about it.”
Thomas heard the creak of an old wooden door, and then Minho was dragging a cardboard box across the floor; the scrape of it sounded like a knife on bone. “I put each trunk’s worth in its own box, eight boxes total. They’re all in there.”
“Which one is this?” Thomas asked; he knelt down next to it, eager to get started.
“Just open it and see—each page is marked, remember?”
Thomas pulled on the crisscrossed lid flaps until they popped open. The Maps for Section Two lay in a messy heap. Thomas reached in and pulled out a stack.
“Okay,” he said. “The Runners have always compared these day to day, looking to see if there was a pattern that would somehow help figure out a way to an exit. You even said you didn’t really know what you were looking for, but you kept studying them anyway. Right?”
Minho nodded, arms folded. He looked as if someone were about to reveal the secret of immortal life.
“Well,” Thomas continued, “what if all the wall movements had nothing to do with a map or a maze or anything like that? What if instead the pattern spelled words? Some kind of clue that’ll help us escape.”
Minho pointed at the Maps in Thomas’s hand, letting out a frustrated sigh. “Dude, you have any idea how much we’ve studied these things? Don’t you think we would’ve noticed if it were spelling out freaking words?”
“Maybe it’s too hard to see with the naked eye, just comparing one day to the next. And maybe you weren’t supposed to compare one day to the next, but look at it one day at a time?”
Newt laughed. “Tommy, I might not be the sharpest guy in the Glade, but sounds like you’re talkin’ straight out your butt to me.”
While he’d been talking, Thomas’s mind had been spinning even faster. The answer was within his grasp—he knew he was almost there. It was just so hard to put into words.
“Okay, okay,” he said, starting over. “You’ve always had one Runner assigned to one section, right?”
“Right,” Minho replied. He seemed genuinely interested and ready to understand.
“And that Runner makes a Map every day, and then compares it to Maps from previous days, for that section. What if, instead, you were supposed to compare the eight sections to each other, every day? Each day being a separate clue or code? Did you ever compare sections to other sections?”
Minho rubbed his chin, nodding. “Yeah, kind of. We tried to see if they made something when put together—of course we did that. We’ve tried everything.”
Thomas pulled his legs up underneath him, studying the Maps in his lap. He could just barely see the lines of the Maze written on the second page through the page resting on top. In that instant, he knew what they had to do. He looked up at the others.
“Huh?” Minho asked. “What the—”
“Just trust me. We need wax paper and scissors. And every black marker and pencil you can find.”
Frypan wasn’t too happy having a whole box of his wax paper rolls taken away from him, especially with their supplies being cut off. He argued that it was one of the things he always requested, that he used it for baking. They finally had to tell him what they needed it for to convince him to give it up.
After ten minutes of hunting down pencils and markers—most had been in the Map Room and were destroyed in the fire—Thomas sat around the worktable in the weapons basement with Newt, Minho and Teresa. They hadn’t found any scissors, so Thomas had grabbed the sharpest knife he could find.
“This better be good,” Minho said. Warning laced his voice, but his eyes showed some interest.
Newt leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table, as if waiting for a magic trick. “Get on with it, Greenie.”
“Okay.” Thomas was eager to do so, but was also scared to death it might end up being nothing. He handed the knife to Minho, then pointed at the wax paper. “Start cutting rectangles, about the size of the Maps. Newt and Teresa, you can help me grab the first ten or so Maps from each section box.”
“What is this, kiddie craft time?” Minho held up the knife and looked at it with disgust. “Why don’t you just tell us what the klunk we’re doing this for?”
“I’m done explaining,” Thomas said, knowing they just had to see what he was picturing in his mind. He stood to go rummage through the storage closet. “It’ll be easier to show you. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and we can go back to running around the Maze like mice.”
Minho sighed, clearly irritated, then muttered something under his breath. Teresa had stayed quiet for a while, but she spoke up inside Thomas’s head.
I think I know what you’re doing. Brilliant, actually.
Thomas was startled, but he tried his best to cover it up. He knew he had to pretend he didn’t have voices in his head—the others would think he was a lunatic.
Just … come … help … me, he tried to say back, thinking each word separately, trying to visualize the message, send it. But she didn’t respond.
“Teresa,” he said aloud. “Can you help me a second?” He nodded toward the closet.
The two of them went into the dusty little room and opened up all the boxes, grabbing a small stack of Maps from each one. Returning to the table, Thomas found that Minho had cut twenty sheets already, making a messy pile to his right as he threw each new piece on top.
Thomas sat down and grabbed a few. He held one of the papers up to the light, saw how it shone through with a milky glow. It was exactly what he needed.
He grabbed a marker. “All right, everybody trace the last ten or so days onto a piece of this stuff. Make sure you write the info on top so we can keep track of what’s what. When we’re done, I think we might see something.”
“What—” Minho began.
“Just bloody keep cutting,” Newt ordered. “I think I know where he’s going with this.” Thomas was relieved someone was finally getting it.
They got to work, tracing from original Maps to wax paper, one by one, trying to keep it clean and correct while hurrying as fast as possible. Thomas used the side of a stray slab of wood as a makeshift ruler, keeping his lines straight. Soon he’d completed five maps, then five more. The others kept the same pace, working feverishly.
As Thomas drew, he started to feel a tickle of panic, a sick feeling that what they were doing was a complete waste of time. But Teresa, sitting next to him, was a study in concentration, her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth as she traced lines up and down, side to side. She seemed way more confident that they were definitely on to something.
Box by box, section by section, they continued on.
“I’ve had enough,” Newt finally announced, breaking the quiet. “My fingers are bloody burning like a mother. See if it’s working.”
Thomas put his marker down, then flexed his fingers, hoping he’d been right about all this. “Okay, give me the last few days of each section—make piles along the table, in order from Section One to Section Eight. One here”—he pointed at an end—”to Eight here.” He pointed at the other end.
Silently, they did as he asked, sorting through what they’d traced until eight low stacks of wax paper lined the table.
Jittery and nervous, Thomas picked up one page from each pile, making sure they were all from the same day, keeping them in order. He then laid them one on top of the other so that each drawing of the Maze matched the same day above it and below it, until he was looking at eight different sections of the Maze at once. What he saw amazed him. Almost magically, like a picture coming into focus, an image developed. Teresa let out a small gasp.
Lines crossed each other, up and down, so much so that what Thomas held in his hands looked like a checkered grid. But certain lines in the middle—lines that happened to appear more often than any other—made a slightly darker image than the rest. It was subtle, but it was, without a doubt, there.
Sitting in the exact center of the page was the letter F.
Thomas felt a rush of different emotions: relief that it had worked, surprise, excitement, wonder at what it could lead to.
“Man,” Minho said, summing up Thomas’s feelings with one word.
“Could be a coincidence,” Teresa said. “Do more, quick.”
Thomas did, putting together the eight pages of each day, in order from Section One to Section Eight. Each time, an obvious letter formed in the center of the crisscrossed mass of lines. After the F was an L, then an O, then an A, and a T. Then C … A … T.