Thomas looked around the room he’d stepped into. It was new to him—what looked to be a control centre for security. There was a large wall full of monitors showing everything from the medical rooms, to dorms, to progress on the Maze construction. Nestled in the middle of the room, and facing the monitors, was a deck of equipment fitted out with more display screens and several chairs perched behind it. Two guards sat there now, their gazes fixed on a monitor to the right side of the wall.
Thomas looked closer and felt his heart drop. It showed Minho in a small room, strapped to a chair—the ropes digging into his skin—his face bloodied and bruised. He stared straight at the camera, unwavering, and his look of resolve made Thomas feel a little proud. And a little ashamed. He hadn’t wanted Minho to run and doubted he’d actually try.
“Hurts to say this,” Randall said, “but it looks like your friend didn’t learn from his last attempt to go outside. I guess we were too easy on him, on everyone. Now we have no choice but to step things up. Don’t you agree?”
Randall placed his hands on the outer edge of the control deck and leaned forward, closer to Thomas. “Listen,” the man said. “We’re not here to beat you up over Minho’s mistake. If anything, we were able to see that most of you tried to talk him out of it. But there are some valuable lessons to be learned from all this, and we’re going to take advantage of the situation.”
“What’re you going to do to him?” Thomas shouted, really scared for his friend.
Randall flinched at the sudden loud noise, then continued as if he hadn’t heard the question. “After this is done, we’ll bring in Aris and show him. Same for Rachel. But we wanted you all to be alone on when you see this.”
Thomas stayed quiet. He felt a rage so strong he could barely contain it, like a fire starving for oxygen He didn’t understand how, but somehow, he kept it all in.
Randall pointed to a different screen from the one showing Minho. In the new one Thomas could see an oval container of some sort. It had a seam along one side and hinges on the other. It looked like the coffin for a fat, very wealthy alien.
“What’s that?” Thomas asked, falling right into their trap. Curiosity often won when it came to him.
“Those are pods,” Randall replied. “Pods for a biomechanical creature that the military was able to help us design. At the moment we’re calling them Grievers. They’re still in the early stages of development, but huge progress was made with this last round. I think we’re just two or more modifications away from having our perfect maze monster.”
Thomas was so taken aback. He was at a loss for words. “What’re you even talking about? Biomechanical creatures? Monsters in the maze? What’d you call them? Grievers?”
Ramirez spoke up. “You’ll learn all the details soon enough. Honestly, we had no intention of sharing this with you for a while yet, but this opportunity arose and, well…I will say, as one who’s been on the committee leading the development of these living weapons, that they’re an achievement by any standard.”
“In short,” Randall added, “if we’re going to understand how the Munies’ brains function despite being inflicted with the Flare, we have to be able to stimulate in them every kind of feeling and brain activity known to humans. Once we start the Maze Trials these creatures will help with that in a big way.”
Thomas felt like a dark shadow had passed over him. Something that sucked the life out of the air, and the air from his lungs. Everything these men were telling him—it was all feeling worse by the moment.
“Let’s get on with it,” Randall said. He reached over and pressed something. “Go ahead, Alice. Open the pod.”
Thomas watched as the seam alongside the oval pod split open. Jets of steam hissed from the opening, obscuring any clear view of the pod itself. Swirling, eddying mists filled the room on the screen. Thomas glanced over at the screen showing Minho really fast, and the true horror of what was about to happen became evident. Minho had finally broken his gaze and was looking anxiously to his right. Tendrils of fog slid along the floor from that side of the screen.
Thomas stood up, his skin now cold.
Minho was in the same room as the opening pod.
“Stop!” Thomas yelled. “Stop that…thing!” His imagination had run wild, trying to picture what terrible thing was about to reveal itself. “I get the point, okay?”
“Sit down!” Ramirez yelled from behind Thomas, and the man grabbed both Thomas’s shoulders and slammed him back down into his seat. Thomas had no idea when the man had moved from his chair.
Randall turned away from the mist-filled screen.
“If we don’t act on our threats,” he said, “then how will we ever have control in this experiment? If we let people escape—or try to—with no consequences, what does that tell the other subjects? Minho made his choice. Now things have to play out the way they’re supposed to.”
“Please,” Thomas whispered, feeling the fight drain out of him. Minho—tough, reckless, always-joking Minho—had a look of such terror on his face that Thomas couldn’t bear to watch anymore. He turned his attention to the pod.
The mist had dissipated enough to reveal the container, its two halves resting on the floor. Thomas stared mutely as something began to climb out.
Whatever he had expected, he never could have dreamed up what he saw next. It was impossible to tell its shape; the creature was wet and glistening, with patches of hair covering parts of its surface. But there was metal too—flashes of steel appendages, and sharp disks protruding from the quivering mass. Thomas watched the hideous creature push itself over the lip of the container and crash down to the floor, revealing a slug-like body about the size of a small cow.
He shuddered, watching the…abomination manoeuvre. He looked back at Minho, he saw the boy thrashing against his restraints, screaming with no sound. The fog had washed over him. It was lingering in the background, melting toward the ceiling.
Thomas lost every bit of his restraint.
“Stop it!” he yelled, standing up. Ramirez was there instantly, pushing him down again. “You can’t do this!”
Randall glanced over his shoulder—he’d been watching Minho intently—and gave Thomas a tired expression.
“We have no choice,” the man said simply.
Minho continued to struggle and scream. He managed to move his chair, sliding it back until he hit the wall farthest from the Griever. On the left side of the screen, something flashed into view, a blob with spikes dragging it along the ground. Right before it ran into Minho, it stopped. The metal spikes receded into its skin and the creature flattened out.
Thomas was desperate now, seeing one of his few friends on the verge of serious damage—possibly even death.
“Randall!” he begged. “Listen to me! Please, just…stop that thing. Just stop it! Just…hear me out! Let me talk, and then if you don’t change your mind you can start it again. Please.”
Part of the creature’s body was rising now, and several lengths of metal extended where the spikes had been. They were solid, covered in deadly objects—blades and saws and claws that snapped open and closed. Thomas watched, nearly in tears, as very slowly, the weapons extended toward Minho’s body.
Thomas tried to take a calmer approach. He sucked in a breath. “Randall, please. Minho is too valuable for this. If you don’t stop that thing, I’m not helping you anymore. With anything. I don’t care what you guys do to me.”
The creature had risen on its hindquarters, and it now stood several feet higher than Minho’s head. The metal arms that had extended from its skin wrapped around Minho, encircling him, trapping him against the wall he’d backed into.
“Randall,” Thomas said, fighting to keep calm. “Go get Dr Paige. The Psychs. Go get the chancellor. Go get all of them! They need me, and they need Minho. He has too much potential to help your Trial to waste him here.”
The creature lifted its saw appendage and the blade spun to life, the arm inching closer to Minho’s forehead. He’d already pressed his head back against the wall. Thomas watched as his friend’s face now contorted in pure fear.
“Last chance!” Thomas yelled. “If he dies, I might as well—”
He cut off abruptly when Randall pressed the call button again.
“Pause,” he commanded, a little urgently, as if he’d let it go too far, too late to stop it.
The creature froze. And Thomas let out a huge, shuddering breath. He slumped back down into his seat and dropped his head into his hands. It took everything he had not to burst into tears.
“Look at him, please,” Randall said quietly. “Look at the screen.”
Thomas raised his head and focused on Minho’s display.
“You see that?” Randall asked. He was also watching Minho. The creature was draped over the boy, almost like a blanket. “Did I not tell you that we’re almost there, we’ve almost perfected the greatest soldier?”
Thomas didn’t see anything besides his friend, literally inches from death, and a man who seemed to have lost his grip on reality—if he’d ever had it in the first place.
“I think this goes without saying,” Randall continued, his voice still imbued with a sense of awe. “I need you to never forget what you’ve seen here today. I need you to understand the power and the danger of these creatures. The pattern of your empathy could end up being one of the biggest pieces of our puzzle.”
Thomas found it hard to focus on the man’s words. All he could do was stare at Minho and his sweat-streaked face. The blade, even though it had stopped inching forward, still spun as fast as ever. Thomas found it hard to breathe, knowing it would only take one word from Randall to end Minho’s life.
The man pressed his magic button again and said, “Okay, go ahead and call it back.”
Seconds later, the metal arms of the Griever withdrew, folding away from Minho and retracting into the moist, fatty body. The Griever seemed to melt into a flat slab of flesh on the floor, then wrapped itself into a rounded ball, traction spikes extending; finally it pulled itself end over end until it had rolled out of sight on the screen. Thomas turned his attention to the other screen and the creature appeared, spinning until it reached the pod, retracted its spikes, and oozed its way back inside. The pod hatch was closing even before the creature had disappeared into its home. A few seconds and a hiss of steam later, the pod closed and all went still.
Thomas looked back at Minho, hoping to see that some piece of his friend’s rebellious nature had returned to him.
But not this time.
Minho’s head hung low, and his body shook with sobs. Thomas just dropped his own head sadly. He was at a complete loss trying to understand what he’d just watched.
“Let’s get you back to your room,” Randall said. “We still have two more subjects to witness what you just saw.”
Thomas had missed something. “Wait…what?”
Randall ignored him. “You do realize that we never would have let the Griever hurt Minho, much less kill him. You’re smart enough to know that, right? We only want everyone to learn a valuable lesson: the rules must be followed. Going outside, much less leaving the WICKED compound…Now you know the consequences.”
“But…” Thomas was so shaken, he couldn’t put together the question he wanted to ask. Thomas finally realized what the man was saying. “What do you mean you have three others to show…this?” He pointed to all the screens in front of him, the control deck, the ceiling above. “You do mean a recording of it, right?”
The next half second seemed to stretch out forever.
Please, he thought. Tell me that you recorded it.
“I’m sorry to say the answer is no,” Randall replied.
In that second, all the rage that Thomas had been supressing erupted. He cried out as he lunged across the control room, slamming his clenched fist into Randall’s jaw.
The man staggered backwards, sunned. “You little--”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence; Thomas threw himself at the man, knocking him to the ground and wrestling with him across the metal-plated floors. He heard others shouting but he took no notice of them, pinning the man down against the floor and pummelling him with his rigid knuckles.
He felt a jolt of pain as something pricked his arm. He froze, his body refusing to move. He struggled to breathe, drawing in broken gasps as the fringe of his vision began to darken.
“You’re a monster,” his muttered, his words slurred and lethargic. Hot tears streamed down his cheeks. “You’re all monsters… I’m never going to forget…”
His eyes drooped, his vision fading to black as his body collapsed and he fell into oblivion.
They sat around the round table, all quiet and eyes downcast.
“The kid has become a threat,” Randall noted, rubbing at his jaw. Blemishes of red, purple and black coloured his skin. “There’s no way he’s going to help us with the Trials now.”
“He’s the best we’ve got,” Dr Leavitt said, his voice dry and emotionless. “But it would be naive for us not to realise how much power the boy has over us.”
Chancellor Anderson dragged his hand down his weary face. “What do we do?”
“There’s only one thing we can do,” Dr Paige said, her quiet voice shocking them. She had been silent the whole time, and now all eyes were on her. She drew in a deep breath. “It has to be done.”
He sat in the cafeteria, the bland white walls surrounding them making his head throb. The room was abuzz with quiet chatter as the boys sat in groups around tables, talking to one another as they ate their breakfast.
Thomas prodded at the plate of eggs, not really hungry. His stomach twisted with guilt and his mind was flooded with thoughts.
The Maze was complete, the Trails would start soon. The first fifty boys were to be sent in today.
A group of guard stepped into the rooms, Launchers in their hold. Thomas’s heart sunk; he knew what was about to happen.
Dr Leavitt and Dr Paige stepped into the room, stopping on the small landing that looked over the sunken floor of the dining room.
“Gentlemen,” Dr Leavitt called, his voice ringing out across the open room.
The chatter died away as the boys turned to look at the man.
“We have some exciting news for you all today,” Dr Leavitt said, his voice monotone and lethargic as usual. “Fifty of you have been selected to take part in what we are calling the Maze Trials. Fear not, the rest of you shall join them promptly. Please stand as I read you names.” He paused for a moment and lifted up a workpad, the bright screen lighting his weary face as he cleared his throat and began, “Newt.”
Newt glanced across the table at his friends.
Thomas bowed his head. He couldn’t stand to look his friend in the eye.
Newt hesitantly rising from his seat
Dr Leavitt continued, “Alby.”
Alby’s eyes darted about before he rose to his feet, standing beside Newt.
Thomas listened as, one by one, his friend’s names were called.
George. Stephen. Winston.
He watched as one by one, the boys rose from their seats.
Siggy. Nick. Clint.
Armour-clad guards stepped forward, guiding them up the stairs and standing them by the far wall.
Thomas counted the names as they were read; forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine…
His heart sank. He knew what the fiftieth name would be: Minho.
He froze, his heart skipping a beat. His blood ran cold in his veins, his chest aching as he held his breath. He looked at Minho, sitting beside him and looking back with a mirrored expression of confusion.
Thomas slowly rose from his seat, his legs trembling.
“Promise-” Thomas started, his dry voice scratching at his throat.
“I’ll take care of Chuck,” Minho replied, already knowing what Thomas was going to say.
Thomas nodded, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat as his mind reeled with thoughts.
“It’s going to be okay,” Thomas said reassuringly.
“I’m meant to be telling you that,” Minho says, a forced smile lifting the corner of his lips.
“If I don’t see you on the other side,” Thomas started, two armour-clad guards stepping over to his side to escort him. “Remember…”
Remember, I love you…
He didn’t get to finish his sentence; the guards grabbed his arm and wrenched him away. He spun around, everything a blur of white. The world spun around him, the edges of his memory charred black and glowing like embers as it began to dissolve like a sheet of paper burning away to ash.
Then, there was nothing.
He began his new life, laying on his back, the cool touch of the earth seeping into his back. He blinked his eyes open, wincing and squinting against the glare of the early morning sun. He let out a weak groan, lifting his hand to cover his eyes as he pushed himself up onto his elbows.
He looked around the open field, spying a group of other boys. They were scattered across the grassy field, many sitting up in a daze like him, some staggering to their feet and turning in circles, and others still asleep among the wavering blades of grass.
His head spun, his vision blurred. He blinked rapidly, clearing his vision as he looked around. Around the open field were scattered buildings; a large wooden shack, a small barn and fenced off area of overturned earth, and a small concrete building with a heavy iron door that looked like it belonged on a submarine. He looked upwards, his heart sinking into his gut. The entire space was boxed in by towering walls. The stones barrier reached roughly forty-feet high and was raped in thick vines of lush green ivy.
His head spun with questions. How had he gotten here? Why was he here? Who were these other boys?
The harder he tried to remember, the tighter his chest became. His heart slammed against his ribs, He couldn’t’ remember anything. His mind was blank. No matter how hard he tried to remember anything, the only memory he had was a name, his name.
And even that seemed wrong.
He hung his head in his hands, wincing with pain as his forehead throbbed.
“Hey,” a boy said.
Thomas lowered his hand and looked up at the boy. He looked to be roughly fourteen years old. He was tall and muscular, but quite lean, with a tousled mess of blonde hair and a square jaw. He had an accent as he asked, “Do you know how we got here?”
“No,” Thomas admitted. He thought for a moment, frowning slightly as he asked. “What do you remember?”
“Nothing,” the boy said, his voice catching as a look of fear and pain passed over his face.
“Me neither,” Thomas admitted, trying to sound reassuring. He staggered to his feet. “Do you remember your name?”
“Newt,” he replied.
Thomas held out his hand. “I’m Thomas.”
Newt shook his hand.
Thomas’ eyes fell on a boy who was sitting at the foot of a skeletal pine tree, one of many that were clustered in a small forest in the corner of the open space. He looked to be the oldest of all of them, roughly sixteen years old, with dark skin and a weary look on his eyes. He looked broken, a shall of the boy he had been, or what Thomas could only imagine it to be.
He and Newt made their way over to him, cautious.
“Hey, do you know where we are?” Newt asked.
The boy looked up at him sharply.
“No, I don’t know where we are,” he snapped.
“Well, bloody hell, neither do I,” Newt said sharply.
The boy seemed stunned by the harsh reply.
Newt drew in a deep breath and tried to calm himself. “I’m Newt,” he introduced himself. “And this is Thomas. You?”
“Alby,” he replied.
“Shouldn’t we start trying to figure things out?” Newt asked.
“Yeah, we should,” Alby said quietly. “Tomorrow, man. Give us a day to mope.”
“Fine,” Newt replied, kicking a loose stone to scatter across the dusty ground.
Thomas turned away, his eyes falling on the large stone walls.
“Yeah, well, I’m not going to wait,” he said.
He trudged over to the stone walls, eyeing the patches of ivy before stopping before a lush section. He reached up, grabbing onto one of the thick, rope-like vines and hoisted himself off the ground. He began to climb higher and higher, finding foot holes among the ivy and coiling vines around his hands in order to catch himself if he slipped.
Below him, he could hear the buzz of noise as a hovering group of boys gathered below him.
He climbed until it felt as if he couldn’t go any further. He stopped and began to climb back down.
“Why did you stop?” Newt asked.
“Can’t get up to the top there,” Thomas said, his dark eyes scanning the walls as he picked another section of ivy and tried again, climbing nearly to the top before yielding and climbing back down and trying again on another patch, and again, and again.
Finally, as the setting sun smeared the sky with streaks of purple and orange, the boys retired into the large wooden shack to sleep, only to be woken in the morning by the thundering cacophony of rumbling stone. The ground beneath them trembled as the boys woke with a start, sprinting out into the courtyard. Their eyes were drawn to the walls surrounding them, standing a gasp as the walls opened, revealing a labyrinth of tunnels.
“Bloody hell,” Newt muttered.
Thomas stepped up to the threshold, the toe of his shoe resting on the barrier where grass met stone. He looked down the large hallway, noting where the end of the passage split into two paths: one to the right and one to the left.
Similar doors had opened up on each of the four walls that surrounded them.
“You’re not seriously thinking about going out there, are you, Tommy?” Newt asked.
“Yeah,” Thomas replied, staring down the passageway with determination. He kicked up his heels and took off running.
Two years later, the now all-too-familiar siren of the Box rang out across the Glade. The Gladers gathered around the two large metal doors in the middle of the courtyard. The blaring wail died down as the thundering echo of a boom announced the arrival of the Box.
The crowd parted as Thomas, Newt and Alby stepped forward. Thomas and Newt braced themselves and grabbed the handles, pulling the heavy doors open and revealing the dark space of the metal lift.
As they expected, there was a new boy in the box. Only, he was lying, unconscious, on the floor of the lift.
And uneasy silence settled over the boys as Thomas and Newt dropped down into the Box, landing on the floor with a thundering boom. They crouched beside the boy.
The newcomer was an Asian kid who looked to be a little older than Thomas, with short black hair and strong arms. But there was something else about the newbie, something about him that seemed familiar to Thomas.
“Tommy,” Newt muttered, shaking Thomas from his thoughts. His face was pale as he stared down at the crumpled piece of paper he had pried from the unconscious boy’s hand. He held it out for Thomas to read.
Scrawls of black ink were scratched across the paper.
He’s the last one. Ever.
It’s time to remember, Thomas.
Thomas looked back down at the unconscious boy.
The boy woke with a start, his dark eyes locking onto Thomas’.
It was as if a switch had flipped in his head. He remembered the boy; the boy who had haunted his dreams for the past two years, the boy whose name he had woken screaming so many times.