As for Thomas and the rest of those committed to the escape, there was a ton of work to be done.
Backpacks were handed out and stuffed full of supplies. Frypan—Newt told Thomas that the Cook had been one of the last Keepers to agree to go—was in charge of gathering all the food and figuring out a way to distribute it evenly among the packs. Syringes of Grief Serum were included, even though Thomas didn’t think the Grievers would sting them. Chuck was in charge of filling water bottles and getting them out to everyone. Teresa helped him, and Thomas asked her to sugarcoat the trip as much as she could, even if she had to flat-out lie, which was mostly the case. Chuck had tried to act brave from the time he first found out they were going for it, but his sweaty skin and dazed eyes revealed the truth.
Minho went to the Cliff with a group of Runners, taking ivy ropes and rocks to test the invisible Griever Hole one last time. They had to hope the creatures would keep to their normal schedule and not come out during daytime hours. Thomas had contemplated just jumping into the Hole right away and trying to punch in the code quickly, but he had no idea what to expect or what might be waiting for him. Newt was right—they’d better wait until night and hope that most of the Grievers were in the Maze, not inside their Hole.
When Minho returned, safe and sound, Thomas thought he seemed very optimistic that it really was an exit. Or entrance. Depending on how you looked at it.
Thomas helped Newt distribute the weapons, and even more innovative ones were created in their desperation to be prepared for the Grievers. Wooden poles were carved into spears or wrapped in barbwire; the knives were sharpened and fastened with twine to the ends of sturdy branches hacked from trees in the woods; chunks of broken glass were duct-taped to shovels. By the end of the day, the Gladers had turned into a small army. A very pathetic, ill-prepared army, Thomas thought, but an army all the same.
Once he and Teresa were done helping, they went to the secret spot in the Deadheads to strategize about the station inside the Griever Hole and how they planned to punch in the code.
“We have to be the ones to do it,” Thomas said as they leaned their backs against craggy trees, the once-green leaves already starting to turn gray from the lack of artificial sunlight. “That way if we get separated, we can be in contact and still help each other.”
Teresa had grabbed a stick and was peeling off the bark. “But we need backup in case something happens to us.”
“Definitely. Minho and Newt know the code words—we’ll tell them they have to get them punched into the computer if we … well, you know.” Thomas didn’t want to think about all the bad things that might happen.
“Not much to the plan, then.” Teresa yawned, as if life were completely normal.
“Not much at all. Fight the Grievers, punch in the code, escape through the door. Then we deal with the Creators—whatever it takes.”
“Six code words, who knows how many Grievers.” Teresa broke the stick in half. “What do you think WICKED stands for, anyway?”
Thomas felt like he’d been hit in the stomach. For some reason, hearing the word at that moment, from someone else, knocked something loose in his mind and it clicked. He was stunned he hadn’t made the connection sooner. “That sign I saw out in the Maze—remember? The metal one with words stamped on it?” Thomas’s heart had started to race with excitement.
Teresa crinkled her forehead in confusion for a second, but then a light seemed to blink on behind her eyes. “Whoa. World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department. WICKED. WICKED is good—what I wrote on my arm. What does that even mean?”
“No idea. Which is why I’m scared to death that what we’re about to do is a whole pile of stupid. Could be a bloodbath.”
“Everyone knows what they’re getting into.” Teresa reached out and took his hand. “Nothing to lose, remember?”
Thomas remembered, but for some reason Teresa’s words fell flat—they didn’t have much hope in them. “Nothing to lose,” he repeated.
Just before the normal Door-closing time, Frypan prepared one last meal to carry them through the night. The mood hanging over the Gladers as they ate couldn’t have been more somber or sodden with fear. Thomas found himself sitting next to Chuck, absently picking at his food.
“So … Thomas,” the boy said through a huge bite of mashed potatoes. “Who am I nicknamed after?”
Thomas couldn’t help shaking his head—here they were, about to embark on probably the most dangerous task of their lives, and Chuck was curious where he’d gotten his nickname. “I don’t know, Darwin, maybe? The dude who figured out evolution.”
“I bet no one’s ever called him a dude before.” Chuck took another big bite, and seemed to think that was the best time to talk, full mouth and all. “You know, I’m really not all that scared. I mean, last few nights, sitting in the Homestead, just waiting for a Griever to come in and steal one of us was the worst thing I’ve ever done. At least now we’re taking it to them, trying something. And at least …”
“At least what?” Thomas asked. He didn’t believe for a second that Chuck wasn’t scared; it almost hurt to see him acting brave.
“Well, everyone’s speculating they can only kill one of us. Maybe I sound like a shuck, but it gives me some hope. At least most of us will make it through—just leaves one poor sucker to die. Better than all of us.”
It made Thomas sick to think people were hanging on to that hope of just one person dying; the more he thought about it, the less he believed it was true. The Creators knew the plan—they might reprogram the Grievers. But even false hope was better than nothing. “Maybe we can all make it. As long as everyone fights.”
Chuck stopped stuffing his face for a second and looked at Thomas carefully. “You really think that, or you just trying to cheer me up?”
“We can do it.” Thomas ate his last bite, took a big drink of water. He’d never felt like such a liar in his life. People were going to die. But he was going to do everything possible to make sure Chuck wasn’t one of them. And Teresa. “Don’t forget my promise. You can still plan on it.”
Chuck frowned. “Big deal—I keep hearing the world is in klunky shape.”
“Hey, maybe so, but we’ll find the people who care about us—you’ll see.”
Chuck stood up. “Well, I don’t wanna think about it,” he announced. “Just get me out of the Maze, and I’ll be one happy dude.”
“Good that,” Thomas agreed.
A commotion from the other tables caught his attention. Newt and Alby were gathering the Gladers, telling everyone it was time to go. Alby seemed mostly himself, but Thomas still worried about the guy’s mental state. In Thomas’s mind, Newt was in charge, but he could also be a loose cannon sometimes.
The icy fear and panic Thomas had experienced so often the last few days swept over him once again in full force. This was it. They were going. Trying not to think about it, to just act, he grabbed his backpack. Chuck did the same, and they headed for the West Door, the one leading to the Cliff.
Thomas found Minho and Teresa talking to each other near the left side of the Door, going over the hastily made plans to enter the escape code once they got into the Hole.
“You shanks ready?” Minho asked when they came up. “Thomas, this was all your idea, so it better work. If not, I’ll kill ya before the Grievers can.”
“Thanks,” Thomas said. But he couldn’t shake the twisting feeling in his gut. What if somehow he was wrong? What if the memories he’d had were false ones? Planted somehow? The thought terrified him, and he pushed it aside. There was no going back.
He looked at Teresa, who shifted from foot to foot, wringing her hands. “You okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she answered with a small smile, clearly not fine at all. “Just anxious to get it over with.”
“Amen, sister,” Minho said. He looked the calmest to Thomas, the most confident, the least scared. Thomas envied him.
When Newt finally had everyone gathered, he called for quiet, and Thomas turned to hear what he had to say. “There’re forty-one of us.” He pulled the backpack he was holding onto his shoulders, and hoisted a thick wooden pole with barbwire wrapped around its tip. The thing looked deadly. “Make sure you’ve got your weapons. Other than that, isn’t a whole lot to buggin’ say—you’ve all been told the plan. We’re gonna fight our way through to the Griever Hole, and Tommy here’s gonna punch in his little magic code and then we’re gonna get payback on the Creators. Simple as that.”
Thomas barely heard Newt, having seen Alby sulking over to the side, away from the main group of the Gladers, alone. Alby picked at the string of his bow while he stared at the ground. A quiver of arrows hung over his shoulder. Thomas felt a rising tide of worry that somehow Alby was unstable, that somehow he’d screw everything up. He decided to watch him carefully if he could.
“Shouldn’t someone give a pep talk or something?” Minho asked, pulling Thomas’s attention away from Alby.
“Go ahead,” Newt replied.
Minho nodded and faced the crowd. “Be careful,” he said dryly. “Don’t die.”
Thomas would have laughed if he could, but he was too scared for it to come out.
“Great. We’re all bloody inspired,” Newt answered, then pointed over his shoulder, toward the Maze. “You all know the plan. After two years of being treated like mice, tonight we’re making a stand. Tonight we’re taking the fight back to the Creators, no matter what we have to go through to get there. Tonight the Grievers better be scared.”
Someone cheered, and then someone else. Soon shouts and battle calls broke out, rising in volume, filling the air like thunder. Thomas felt a trickle of courage inside him—he grasped it, clung to it, urged it to grow. Newt was right. Tonight, they’d fight. Tonight, they’d make their stand, once and for all.
Thomas was ready. He roared with the other Gladers. He knew they should probably be quiet, not bring any more attention to themselves, but he didn’t care. The game was on.
Newt thrust his weapon into the air and yelled, “Hear that, Creators! We’re coming!”
And with that, he turned and ran into the Maze, his limp barely noticeable. Into the gray air that seemed darker than the Glade, full of shadows and blackness. The Gladers around Thomas, still cheering, picked up their weapons and ran after him, even Alby. Thomas followed, falling into line between Teresa and Chuck, hefting a big wooden spear with a knife tied at its tip. The sudden feeling of responsibility for his friends almost overwhelmed him—made it hard to run. But he kept going, determined to win.
You can do this, he thought. Just make it to that Hole.
Thomas kept a steady pace as he ran with the other Gladers along the stone pathways toward the Cliff. He’d grown used to running the Maze, but this was completely different. The sounds of shuffling feet echoed up the walls and the red lights of the beetle blades flashed more menacingly in the ivy—the Creators were certainly watching, listening. One way or another, there was going to be a fight.