The next morning, Rachel sat nervously in a chair facing the Keepers, who were arched in front of her in their own chairs. Amy and Harriet were in the center, with five more girls on Amelia's side and four more on Harriet's side. Because Amy was the leader of the Glade, Nia was representing the Runners. It had been explained that Nia was sort of like a co-Keeper of the Runners, since half the time Amy was dealing with the entire Glade. Sonya was with the Track-hoes, Esther for the Med-jacks, Hat for the Sloppers, and, because Harriet was second-in-command, Cleo for the Bulders. On Harriet's side was Beth of the Cooks, who was glaring at Amy, Rosa for the Bricknicks, Mally for the Slicers, and Claire for the Baggers.
Amelia stood up. "I declare the Gathering officially begun. One thing on our agenda here. That would be our Greenie, Rachel. I know you're all aware of what happened-er-" She thought for a moment. "Two nights ago. We have to decide what we're going to do with her." She sat back down.
"Rachel, you're not allowed to speak unless asked to. Okay?" Harriet said. Rachel nodded. Harriet started talking about what had happened in the Maze. Rachel watched Amelia, not listening. The grey-eyed girl looked terrible. Her eyes were extremely blood-shot, and there were bags and shadows under her eyes. her skin was pallid and pale, and she slouched in her chair. Hadn't she gotten any sleep? The Rachel realized she probably hadn't-Michelle was her closest friend, Michelle had been going through terrible things and screaming bloody murder throughout last night. During the day, fights had been breaking out all over the Glade, so many that the girl'd been kept up to restore peace, which was probably not an easy feat. The night before, they'd been in the Maze. She'd been awake for roughly forty-eight hours straight.
"Cleo, you start."
"Well, yeah, she broke our number one rule. But she's new-she's only been here for less than a week. She isn't used to our rules, or our lifestyle, yet. What she did was stupid, yes, but she just wanted to help them."
"So what do you propose?"
"She should teach us what she did out there. Her and Amy both."
"Okay. Next?" Beth opened her mouth to protest, but Nia cut her off.
"Shut it, Beth. You know the rules. All ideas are possible. And it's not your turn yet."
Esther cleared her throat as Beth threw a scathing look at Nia. "I don't really have an opinion. I agree with Cleo, I guess."
"So that's your opinion." Harriet pointed out. Esther shrugged. "Next."
"Well... what she did was brave, yes. But we can't have non-Runners run into the Maze thinking they'll be rewarded. She needs to be punished." Hat said thoughtfully.
"But not too harshly." Sonya chimed in. "After all, she helped save Michelle. What do you think, Harriet?"
"Yeah. she broke our rules, but we have to make sure people know they can't break the rules. I say we put her in the Slammer for a week."
"You skipped me." Nia broke in. "I say we should make her a Runner."
Rachel looked up, her heart thumping in excitement. A Runner? She knew it was her fate to be a Runner, although she couldn't explain why. She just knew.
Beth pointed at Nia. "She should be kicked out for saying something so stupid."
"No!" Nia stood up, glaring daggers at Beth. "We know she can handle herself in the Maze. She has the guts to go in, she has the strength to run from Grievers, and she has the smarts to know what to do in different situations. I say we make her a shucking Runner!"
"You know the rules. No proposal in unacceptable." Harriet said sternly, as if closing the matter to move on. "Go ahead, Amy."
"Saving my opinion for last." Mumbled a tired voice.
"I'll wait until Rosa, Mally, and Claire go," Beth said.
Rosa shrugged. "She saved their lives. Maybe we can punish her and make her a Runner. Make sure everyone knows it's not okay to break the rules, but reward her for helping them out in the Maze. Cleo's right. Rachel hasn't been here long enough to get our rules. Put her in the Slammer for a week, then send her in with Amy or Nia to train to be a Runner."
"I agree with Rosa," Mally said.
Claire was all for Cleo's idea. Then it was Beth's turn.
"We should lock her in the Slammer for a month." Beth threw angry death glares at Rachel and Nia. "Or even better. Banish her!"
Nia started protesting, but Beth cut her off.
"Shut up, Nia! Just think about what I'm saying! Don't you think it's suspicious that no one, no one, not even our best Runners, have been able to survive an entire night in the Maze? And all of a sudden, this shank, this Greenie, is the first one to do it? I think she's working with the Creators. They're planning something. And I think that boy is part of it too. We should kill them both! Something bad's going to happen. I just know it."
"Maybe she's smart, Beth. Ever heard the saying 'two heads are better than one'? I bet Rachel's really smart, and we all know Amelia is, and they were able to think a way to survive. The other girls who got stuck out there were alone, and since they were stuck outside in the first place, they weren't so smart to begin with." Nia said.
"I wouldn't be so sure about Amelia's intelligence." Beth spat.
Amy's head shot up, all traces of exhaustion gone, replaced by fury. "Say that again, slinthead." She said. her voice was a deadly calm, and it scared Rachel and the other girls more than her anger when the boy was being attacked.
"I said I don't think your so-called intelligence is real. You're an idiot if you don't listen to me." Beth's voice was also steely calm. The feeling in the room was almost exactly like the deadly, quiet calm before a big storm.
"I should kick you out of the Council for saying that, Beth," Amy said. "At least Rachel had the guts and selflessness to come and help us. You've been out in the Maze too Except the reason you survived was far from the hers. You're a coward."
With a roar, Beth threw the first punch, Amy quickly grabbed her wrist after it made contact and judo flipped the screaming girl to the ground. Beth quickly recovered and kicked Amy in the shins, making her fall. Then both girls were rolling around, and what was actually happening could not be determined. Soon it came to a halt, and Amy was sitting on top of Beth, pinning her down. She squeezed her thighs to trap Beth's body, and leaned forward to pin her wrists.
"Get off of me!" Beth screamed. Amy narrowed her eyes, then got up. Beth stood up and walked to the door. Before she left, she looked around the room with a look of rage that made Rachel wonder if Beth was actually sane. It settled on Beth.
"Whatever you're here for, I'll stop it." She growled. "I'll do whatever I have to to stop what you're going to do. I'll kill you if I have to!" Then she stomped out, the door slamming shut behind her.
Amy swallowed, then slowly sat back down in her chair. The others had not moved from their seats, frozen in shock. "She's bloody shucked. Someone send people after her later. She's going to the Slammer." She wiped her hushing nose, staining her sleeve scarlet. Bruises her blooming on the rest of her body.
"What were you thinking?" Esther said. "Why couldn't you just have kept calm?"
"She was in for it anyways," Amy said. "Whatever! Let's just get back to the bloody topic. Who's turn was it?"
"Well, yours now." Harriet said.
"Yeah." Rachel's heart thumped painfully, although she was sure Amelia would stick up for her unconditionally. Wouldn't she? "She saved me and Michelle. It wasn't just luck. Nia's right. She's smart, she's strong, she's brave. Just what we need for a Runner. We need more anyways. Since all of those...suicides." She swallowed. Dead silence filled the room.
"Okay. So...the choices are...making her a Runner, having her teach us what she did, punishing her, and both punishing her and making her a Runner. All for punishing her?"
Hat raised her hand.
"Okay. All for making her a Runner, no consequence?"
Nia and Amy exchanged glances, and raised their hands.
"Having her teach us what she did? No one. Okay. And punishing her and making her a Runner. That's eight. So whats her Punishment, Amy?"
"A day and night in the Slammer. No food. Starting at dawn tomorrow."