Thomas quickly scanned the faces of the Keepers, wondering one last time if he should say it, if they would understand. But he knew he had to. He had to.
Thomas took a deep breath, then said it. “Teresa and I helped design the Maze. We helped create the whole thing.”
Everyone seemed too stunned to respond. Blank faces stared back at him once again. Thomas figured they either didn’t understand or didn’t believe him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Newt finally asked. “You’re a bloody sixteen-year-old. How could you have created the Maze?”
Thomas couldn’t help doubting it a little himself—but he knew what he’d remembered. As crazy as it was, he knew it for the truth. “We were … smart. And I think it might be part of the Variables. But most importantly, Teresa and I have a … gift that made us very valuable as they designed and built this place.” He stopped, knowing it must all sound absurd.
“Speak!” Newt yelled. “Spit it out!”
“We’re telepathic! We can talk to each other in our freaking heads!” Saying it out loud almost made him feel ashamed, as if he’d just admitted he was a thief.
Newt blinked in surprise; someone coughed.
“But listen to me,” Thomas continued, in a hurry to defend himself. “They forced us to help. I don’t know how or why, but they did.” He paused. “Maybe it was to see if we could gain your trust despite having been a part of them. Maybe we were meant all along to be the ones to reveal how to escape. Whatever the reason, with your Maps we figured out the code and we need to use it now.”
Thomas looked around, and surprisingly, astonishingly, no one seemed angry. Most of the Gladers continued to stare blankly at him or shook their heads in wonder or disbelief. And for some odd reason, Minho was smiling.
“It’s true, and I’m sorry,” Thomas continued. “But I can tell you this—I’m in the same boat with you now. Teresa and I were sent here just like anyone else, and we can die just as easily. But the Creators have seen enough—it’s time for the final test. I guess I needed the Changing to add the final pieces of the puzzle. Anyway, I wanted you to know the truth, to know there’s a chance we can do this.”
Newt shook his head back and forth, staring at the ground. Then he looked up, took in the other Keepers. “The Creators—those shanks did this to us, not Tommy and Teresa. The Creators. And they’ll be sorry.”
“Whatever,” Minho said, “who gives a klunk about all that—just get on with the escape already.”
A lump formed in Thomas’s throat. He was so relieved he almost couldn’t speak. He’d been sure they’d put him under major heat for his confession, if not throw him off the Cliff. The rest of what he had to say almost seemed easy now. “There’s a computer station in a place we’ve never looked before. The code will open a door for us to get out of the Maze. It also shuts down the Grievers so they can’t follow us—if we can just survive long enough to get to that point.”
“A place we’ve never looked before?” Alby asked. “What do you think we’ve been doing for two years?”
“Trust me, you’ve never been to this spot.”
Minho stood up. “Well, where is it?”
“It’s almost suicide,” Thomas said, knowing he was putting off the answer. “The Grievers will come after us whenever we try to do it. All of them. The final test.” He wanted to make sure they understood the stakes. The odds of everyone surviving were slim.
“So where is it?” Newt asked, leaning forward in his chair.
“Over the Cliff,” Thomas answered. “We have to go through the Griever Hole.”
Alby stood up so quickly his chair fell over backward. His bloodshot eyes stood out against the white bandage on his forehead. He took two steps forward before stopping, as if he’d been about to charge and attack Thomas.
“Now you’re being a shuck idiot,” he said, glaring at Thomas. “Or a traitor. How can we trust a word you say if you helped design this place, put us here! We can’t handle one Griever on our own ground, much less fight a whole horde of them in their little hole. What are you really up to?”
Thomas was furious. “What am I up to? Nothing! Why would I make all this up?”
Alby’s arms stiffened, fists clenched. “For all we know you were sent here to get us all killed. Why should we trust you?”
Thomas stared, incredulous. “Alby, do you have a short-term memory problem? I risked my life to save you out in the Maze—you’d be dead if it wasn’t for me!”
“Maybe that was a trick to gain our trust. If you’re in league with the shucks who sent us here, you wouldn’t have had to worry about the Grievers hurting you—maybe it was all an act.”
Thomas’s anger lessened slightly at that, turned into pity. Something was odd here—suspicious.
“Alby,” Minho finally interjected, relieving Thomas. “That’s about the dumbest theory I’ve ever heard. He just about got freaking torn apart three nights ago. You think that’s part of the act?”
Alby nodded once, curtly. “Maybe.”
“I did it,” Thomas said, throwing all the annoyance he could into his voice, “on the chance that I could get my memories back, help all of us get out of here. Do I need to show you the cuts and bruises all over my body?”
Alby said nothing, his face still quivering with rage. His eyes watered and veins popped out on his neck. “We can’t go back!” he finally yelled, turning to look at everyone in the room. “I’ve seen what our lives were like—we can’t go back!”
“Is that what this is about?” Newt asked. “Are you kidding?”
Alby turned on him, fiercely, even held up a clenched fist. But he stopped, lowered his arm, then went over and sank into his chair, put his face in his hands, and broke down. Thomas couldn’t have been more surprised. The fearless leader of the Gladers was crying.
“Alby, talk to us,” Newt pressed, not willing to let it drop. “What’s going on?”
“I did it,” Alby said through a racking sob. “I did it.”
“Did what?” Newt asked. He looked as confused as Thomas felt.
Alby looked up, his eyes wet with tears. “I burned the Maps. I did it. I slammed my head on the table so you’d think it was someone else, I lied, burned it all. I did it!”
The Keepers exchanged looks, shock clear in their wide eyes and raised eyebrows. For Thomas, though, it all made sense now. Alby remembered how awful his life was before he came here and he didn’t want to go back.
“Well, it’s a good thing we saved those Maps,” Minho said, completely straight-faced, almost mocking. “Thanks for the tip you gave us after the Changing—to protect them.”
Thomas looked to see how Alby would respond to Minho’s sarcastic, almost cruel, remark, but he acted as if he hadn’t even heard.
Newt, instead of showing anger, asked Alby to explain. Thomas knew why Newt wasn’t mad—the Maps were safe, the code figured out. It didn’t matter.
“I’m telling you.” Alby sounded like he was begging—near hysterical. “We can’t go back to where we came from. I’ve seen it, remembered awful, awful things. Burned land, a disease—something called the Flare. It was horrible—way worse than we have it here.”
“If we stay here, we’ll all die!” Minho yelled. “It’s worse than that?”
Alby stared at Minho a long time before answering. Thomas could only think of the words he’d just said. The Flare. Something about it was familiar, right on the edge of his mind. But he was certain he hadn’t remembered anything about that when he’d gone through the Changing.
“Yes,” Alby finally said. “It’s worse. Better to die than go home.”
Minho snickered and leaned back in his chair. “Man, you are one butt-load of sunshine, let me tell you. I’m with Thomas. I’m with Thomas one hundred percent. If we’re gonna die, let’s freakin’ do it fighting.”
“Inside the Maze or out of it,” Thomas added, relieved that Minho was firmly on his side. He turned to Alby then, and looked at him gravely. “We still live inside the world you remembered.”
Alby stood again, his face showing his defeat. “Do what you want.” He sighed. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll die no matter what.” And with that, he walked to the door and left the room.
Newt let out a deep breath and shook his head. “He’s never been the same since being stung—must’ve been one bugger of a memory. What in the world is the Flare?”
“I don’t care,” Minho said. “Anything’s better than dying here. We can deal with the Creators once we’re out. But for now we gotta do what they planned. Go through the Griever Hole and escape. If some of us die, so be it.”
Frypan snorted. “You shanks are driving me nuts. Can’t get out of the Maze, and this idea of hanging with the Grievers at their bachelor pad sounds as stupid as anything I’ve ever heard in my life. Might as well slit our wrists.”
The other Keepers burst out in argument, everyone talking over everyone else. Newt finally screamed for them to shut up.
Thomas spoke again once things settled. “I’m going through the Hole or I’ll die trying to get there. Looks like Minho will, too. And I’m sure Teresa’s in. If we can fight off the Grievers long enough for someone to punch in the code and shut them down, then we can go through the door they come through. We’ll have passed the tests. Then we can face the Creators themselves.”
Newt’s grin had no humor in it. “And you think we can fight off Grievers? Even if we don’t die, we’ll probably all get stung. Every last one of them might be waiting for us when we get to the Cliff—the beetle blades are out there constantly. The Creators’ll know when we make our run for it.”
He’d been dreading it, but Thomas knew it was time to tell them the last part of his plan. “I don’t think they’ll sting us—the Changing was a Variable meant for us while we lived here. But that part will be over. Plus, we might have one thing going for us.”
“Yeah?” Newt asked, rolling his eyes. “Can’t wait to hear it.”
“It doesn’t do the Creators any good if we all die—this thing is meant to be hard, not impossible. I think we finally know for sure that the Grievers are programmed to only kill one of us each day. So somebody can sacrifice himself to save the others while we run to the Hole. I think this might be how it’s supposed to happen.”
The room went silent until the Blood House Keeper barked a loud laugh. “Excuse me?” Winston asked. “So your suggestion is that we throw some poor kid to the wolves so the rest of us can escape? This is your brilliant suggestion?”
Thomas refused to admit how bad that sounded, but an idea hit him. “Yes, Winston, I’m glad you’re so good at paying attention.” He ignored the glare that got him. “And it seems obvious who the poor kid should be.”