Thomas already knew this, but hearing it made his heart sink even lower. Without another word—from himself or Minho—he finished his food and readied himself to explore. To look for who-knew-what.
For the next few hours, he and Minho scoured the ground, felt along the walls, climbed up the ivy in random spots. They found nothing, and Thomas grew more and more discouraged. The only thing interesting was another one of those odd signs that read World In Catastrophe—Killzone Experiment Department. Minho didn’t even give it a second glance.
They had another meal, searched some more. They found nothing, and Thomas was beginning to get ready to accept the inevitable—that there was nothing to find. When wall-closing time rolled around, he started looking for signs of Grievers, was struck by an icy hesitation at every corner. He and Minho always had knives clasped firmly in both hands. But nothing showed up until almost midnight.
Minho spotted a Griever disappearing around a corner ahead of them; and it didn’t come back. Thirty minutes later, Thomas saw one do the exact same thing. An hour after that, a Griever came charging through the Maze right past them, not even pausing. Thomas almost collapsed from the sudden rush of terror.
He and Minho continued on.
“I think they’re playing with us,” Minho said a while later.
Thomas realized he’d given up on searching the walls and was just heading back toward the Glade in a depressed walk. From the looks of it, Minho felt the same way.
“What do you mean?” Thomas asked.
The Keeper sighed. “I think the Creators want us to know there’s no way out. The walls aren’t even moving anymore—it’s like this has all just been some stupid game and it’s time to end. And they want us to go back and tell the other Gladers. How much you wanna bet when we get back we find out a Griever took one of them just like last night? I think Gally was right—they’re gonna just keep killing us.”
Thomas didn’t respond—felt the truth of what Minho said. Any hope he’d felt earlier when they’d set out had crashed a long time ago.
“Let’s just go home,” Minho said, his voice weary.
Thomas hated to admit defeat, but he nodded in agreement. The code seemed like their only hope now, and he resolved to focus on that.
He and Minho made their way silently back to the Glade. They didn’t see another Griever the whole way.
By Thomas’s watch, it was midmorning when he and Minho stepped through the West Door back into the Glade. Thomas was so tired he wanted to lie down right there and take a nap. They’d been in the Maze for roughly twenty-four hours.
Surprisingly, despite the dead light and everything falling apart, the day in the Glade appeared to be proceeding business as usual—farming, gardening, cleaning. It didn’t take long for some of the boys to notice them standing there. Newt was notified and he came running.
“You’re the first to come back,” he said as he walked up to them. “What happened?” The childlike look of hope on his face broke Thomas’s heart—he obviously thought they’d found something important. “Tell me you’ve got good news.”
Minho’s eyes were dead, staring at a spot somewhere in the gray distance. “Nothing,” he said. “The Maze is a big freaking joke.”
Newt looked at Thomas, confused. “What’s he talking about?”
“He’s just discouraged,” Thomas said with a weary shrug. “We didn’t find anything different. The walls haven’t moved, no exits, nothing. Did the Grievers come last night?”
Newt paused, darkness passing over his face. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah. They took Adam.”
Thomas didn’t know the name, and felt guilty for feeling nothing. Just one person again, he thought. Maybe Gally was right.
Newt was about to say something else when Minho freaked out, startling Thomas.
“I’m sick of this!” Minho spat in the ivy, veins popping out of his neck. “I’m sick of it! It’s over! It’s all over!” He took off his backpack and threw it on the ground. “There’s no exit, never was, never will be. We’re all shucked.”
Thomas watched, his throat dry, as Minho stomped off toward the Homestead. It worried him—if Minho gave up, they were all in big trouble.
Newt didn’t say a word. He left Thomas standing there, now in his own daze. Despair hung in the air like the smoke from the Map Room, thick and acrid.
The other Runners returned within the hour, and from what Thomas heard, none of them had found anything and they’d eventually given up as well. Glum faces were everywhere throughout the Glade, and most of the workers had abandoned their daily jobs.
Thomas knew that the code of the Maze was their only hope now. It had to reveal something. It had to. And after aimlessly wandering the Glade to hear the other Runners’ stories, he snapped out of his funk.
Teresa? he said in his mind, closing his eyes, as if that would do the trick. Where are you? Did you figure anything out?
After a long pause, he almost gave up, thinking it didn’t work.
Huh? Tom, did you say something?
Yeah, he said, excited he’d made contact again. Can you hear me? Am I doing this thing right?
Sometimes it’s choppy, but it’s working. Kinda freaky, huh?
Thomas thought about that—actually, he was sort of getting used to it. It’s not so bad. Are you guys still in the basement? I saw Newt but then he disappeared again.
Still here. Newt had three or four Gladers help us trace the Maps. I think we have the code all figured out.
Thomas’s heart leaped into his throat. Serious?
Get down here.
I’m coming. He was already moving as he said it, somehow not feeling so exhausted anymore.
Newt let him in.
“Minho still hasn’t shown up,” he said as they walked down the stairs to the basement. “Sometimes he turns into a buggin’ hothead.”
Thomas was surprised Minho was wasting time sulking, especially with the code possibilities. He pushed the thought aside as he entered the room. Several Gladers he didn’t know were gathered around the table, standing; they all looked exhausted, their eyes sunken. Piles of Maps lay scattered all over the place, including the floor. It looked as if a tornado had touched down right in the middle of the room.
Teresa was leaning against a stack of shelves, reading a single sheet of paper. She glanced up when he entered, but then returned her gaze to whatever it was she held. This saddened him a little—he’d hoped she’d be happy to see him—but then he felt really stupid for even having the thought. She was obviously busy figuring out the code.
You have to see this, Teresa said to him just as Newt dismissed his helpers—they clomped up the wooden stairs, a couple of them grumbling about doing all that work for nothing.
Thomas started, for a brief moment worried that Newt could tell what was going on. Don’t talk in my head while Newt’s around. I don’t want him knowing about our … gift.
“Come check this out,” she said aloud, barely hiding the smirk that flashed across her face.
“I’ll get down on my knees and kiss your bloody feet if you can figure it out,” Newt said.
Thomas walked over to Teresa, eager to see what they’d come up with. She held out the paper, eyebrows raised.
“No doubt this is right,” she said. “Just don’t have a clue what it means.”
Thomas took the paper and scanned it quickly. There were numbered circles running down the left side, one to six. Next to each one was a word written in big blocky letters.
That was it. Six words.
Disappointment washed over Thomas—he’d been sure the purpose of the code would be obvious once they had it figured out. He looked up at Teresa with a sunken heart. “That’s all? Are you sure they’re in the right order?”
She took the paper back from him. “The Maze has been repeating those words for months—we finally quit when that became clear. Each time, after the word PUSH, it goes a full week without showing any letter at all, and then it starts over again with FLOAT. So we figured that’s the first word, and that’s the order.”
Thomas folded his arms and leaned against the shelves next to Teresa. Without thinking about it, he’d memorized the six words, welded them to his mind. Float. Catch. Bleed. Death. Stiff. Push. That didn’t sound good.
“Cheerful, don’t ya think?” Newt said, mirroring his thoughts exactly.
“Yeah,” Thomas replied with a frustrated groan. “We need to get Minho down here—maybe he knows something we don’t. If we just had more clues—” He froze, hit by a dizzy spell; he would’ve fallen to the floor if he hadn’t had the shelves to lean on. An idea had just occurred to him. A horrible, terrible, awful idea. The worst idea in the history of horrible, terrible, awful ideas.
But instinct told him he was right. That it was something he had to do.
“Tommy?” Newt asked, stepping closer with a look of concern creasing his forehead. “What’s wrong with you? Your face just went white as a ghost.”
Thomas shook his head, composing himself. “Oh … nothing, sorry. My eyes are hurting—I think I need some sleep.” He rubbed his temples for effect.
Are you okay? Teresa asked in his mind. He looked to see that she was as worried as Newt, which made him feel good.
Yeah. Seriously, I’m tired. I just need some rest.
“Well,” Newt said, reaching out to squeeze Thomas’s shoulder. “You spent all bloody night out in the Maze—go take a nap.”
Thomas looked at Teresa, then at Newt. He wanted to share his idea, but decided against it. Instead, he just nodded and headed for the stairs.
All the same, Thomas now had a plan. As bad as it was, he had a plan.
They needed more clues about the code. They needed memories.
So he was going to get stung by a Griever. Go through the Changing. On purpose.
Thomas refused to talk to anyone the rest of the day.
Teresa tried several times. But he kept telling her he didn’t feel good, that he just wanted to be alone and sleep in his spot behind the forest, maybe spend some time thinking. Try to discover a hidden secret within his mind that would help them know what to do.
But in truth, he was psyching himself up for what he had planned for that evening, convincing himself it was the right thing to do. The only thing to do. Plus, he was absolutely terrified and he didn’t want the others to notice.
Eventually, when his watch showed that evening had arrived, he went to the Homestead with everyone else. He barely noticed he’d been hungry until he started eating Frypan’s hastily prepared meal of biscuits and tomato soup.
And then it was time for another sleepless night.
The Builders had boarded up the gaping holes left by the monsters who’d carried off Gally and Adam. The end result looked to Thomas like an army of drunk guys had done the work, but it was solid enough. Newt and Alby, who finally felt well enough to walk around again, his head heavily bandaged, insisted on a plan for everyone to rotate where they slept each night.