And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. He didn’t even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.
His memory loss was strange. He mostly remembered the workings of the world—but emptied of specifics, faces, names. Like a book completely intact but missing one word in every dozen, making it a miserable and confusing read. He didn’t even know his age.
“Out there’s the Maze,” Newt whispered, eyes wide as if in a trance. “Everything we do—our whole life, Greenie—revolves around the Maze. Every lovin’ second of every lovin’ day we spend in honor of the Maze, tryin’ to solve somethin’ that’s not shown us it has a bloody solution, ya know? And we want to show ya why it’s not to be messed with. Show ya why them buggin’ walls close shut every night. Show ya why you should never, never find your butt out there.”
Newt looked down in the Box one more time, then faced the crowd, gravely. “It’s a girl,” he said. Everyone started talking at once; Thomas only caught pieces here and there. “A girl?” “I got dibs!” “What’s she look like?” “How old is she?”
“Think about it. Our memories are wiped. We live inside a place that seems to have no way out, surrounded by bloodthirsty monster-guards. Doesn’t that sound like a prison to you?” As he said it out loud, it sounded more and more possible. Nausea trickled into his chest.
“This ain’t got nothin’ to do with no hate or like or love or friends or anything. All we care about is surviving. Drop your sissy side and start using that shuck brain if you got one.”
Alby spoke in a loud, almost ceremonious voice, looking at no one and everyone at the same time. “Ben of the Builders, you’ve been sentenced to Banishment for the attempted murder of Thomas the Newbie. The Keepers have spoken, and their word ain’t changing. And you ain’t coming back. Ever.”
“Order,” Newt continued. “Order. You say that bloody word over and over in your shuck head. Reason we’re all sane around here is ’cause we work our butts off and maintain order. Order’s the reason we put Ben out—can’t very well have loonies runnin’ around tryin’ to kill people, now can we? Order. Last thing we need is you screwin’ that up.”
“You don’t understand, shuck-face! You don’t know anything, and you’re just making it worse by trying to have hope! We’re dead, you hear me? Dead!”
Thomas rocked back on his heels, then ran his arm across his forehead, wiping away the sweat. And at that moment, in the space of only a few seconds, he learned a lot about himself. About the Thomas that was before. He couldn’t leave a friend to die.
“Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they’re so depressed at realizing their old life was no better than what we have now?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. All I know is I saw two people struggling to get inside these walls and they couldn’t make it. To ignore that because of some stupid rule seemed selfish, cowardly, and...well, stupid. If you want to throw me in jail for trying to save someone’s life, then go ahead. Next time I promise I’ll point at them and laugh, then go eat some of Frypan’s dinner.”
Newt’s head appeared at the little glassless window, looking through the bars, a smirk on his face. “Nice reward for breakin’ the rules. You saved some lives, Tommy, but ya still need to learn—”
“Yeah, I know. Order.”
Alby continued. “I hope the Changing doesn’t give us real memories—just plants fake ones. Some suspect it—I can only hope. If the world’s the way I saw it...” He trailed off, leaving an ominous silence.
“I remember remembering,” she muttered, sitting down with a heavy sigh; she pulled her legs up to wrap her arms around her knees. “Feelings. Emotions. Like I have all these shelves in my head, labeled for memories and faces, but they’re empty. As if everything before this is just on the other side of a white curtain. Including you.”
“Congrats, Jeff,” Newt said. “You’re officially the first guy here to get your butt beat by a girl.”
Teresa didn’t stop. “Keep talking like that and you’ll be next.”
“No one ever understood what I saw, what the Changing did to me! Don’t go back to the real world, Thomas! You don’t...want...to remember!”
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 shook his head. “No, you don’t get it. They’re weeding us out, seeing if we’ll give up, finding the best of us. Throwing variables at us, trying to make us quit. Testing our ability to hope and fight. Sending Teresa here and shutting everything down was only the last part, one more...final analysis. Now it’s time for the last test. To escape.”
“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…Better to die than go home.”
“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.”
Minho continued. “Alby didn’t wanna go back to his old life. He freaking sacrificed himself for us—and they aren’t attacking, so maybe it worked. We’d be heartless if we wasted it.”
“All things happen for a purpose,” she said, any sign of malice now gone from her voice. “You must understand this.”
He died saving you, Teresa said. He made the choice himself. Just don’t ever waste it.