Rachel struggled towards the voice, towards waking.
"Rachel. Can you hear me, shuck-face?"
Rachel opened her eyes, and it all came crashing down at once. The shuck memories. She could remember it. The fact that the Maze couldn't be solved. That the only way out was essentially a suicide mission. She was already crushed with grief for all of the girls who'd die, and despair that it might not even work.
Amy and Aris stared down at her with worry, then visibly brightened as she woke up.
"She's awake!" Amy shouted over her shoulder towards the closed door. Harriet came in.
"Shuck," Rachel grumbled, sitting up and rubbing her temples. "Couldn't you be a bit more quiet?"
"Sorry," Amy said, shrugging. "I'm a bit bloody excited that you're alive and okay, Greenie."
"How long was I out?" Rachel groaned, still rubbing her head.
"Just three days. A lot of times we thought you were dead. But we put you in the Slammer to keep you safe at night, and took you back out during the day," Aris told her.
"Did the Grievers come?"
"Yeah. They took Violet and Sylvia and Ally. One at a time. I still don't get why, though," Amy said.
"I can tell you the answer for that. Get the other Keepers. Call a Gathering. I think I know a way out"
A closed Gathering was called. Everyone was there, except Beth. This time a girl named Ray was representing the Cooks. Aris started following Rachel in, but Amelia stopped him.
"You're not coming in." She glared at him with venom, starting to close the door on him.
"Wait," Rachel said, an angry lump rising in her throat. "He gets to hear what I say."
"No. He stays, or none of you'll hear it later."
The leader glared at her, but Rachel steadily held her gaze calmly, lifting her chin and keeping eye contact. Then Amy relented, opening the door open again.
They sat in the same arc, facing Rachel and Aris.
"Talk," Amy demanded, sitting down, not even bothering to do the usual ritual of starting Gatherings. "Do you remember anything?" Her voice was tinged with the slightest sound of hope.
"Yeah." She hesitated for a moment, then took a breath and started talking. "We don't have enough time to talk about everything, but I'll tell you the most important ones. During the Changing, I saw hundreds of images-like a slideshow. Only some of it is clear now. The rest is fading, or has already faded. Anyways, this is what I know. The Maze-it's a test. We were all taken when we were really young. Why is not clear. Just something really bad happened in the outside world, but none of that's important at the moment. Anyways, we have above average intelligence or something, and for the next few years, we were educated and trained in some special schools. We lived what was almost normal lives, until they saved up financially enough to build the Maze. Then, when we got older, we started disappearing. One by one. Every month, like clockwork. Starting with one person, then another, then another. They've been studying us, using beetle blades, altering our brains..." Rachel glanced at Aris. "Another things was that they gave us new names."
"New...names?" Sonya repeated. "What do you mean?"
"They gave us nicknames. Names from influential people. Many of us after religious figures, or scientist and whatnot. Amelia for Amelia Earheart. Aris for Aristotle. Harriet for Harriet Tubman. Nathania-that's Nia-which is something like God's gift. And me-Rachel-Rachel from the Bible."
"I don't know whether to bloody believe you or not, Rachel," Amelia said with a derisive laugh. "This stuff you're saying-it sounds almost impossible."
"I'm not making this up. Why would I?"
"Okay, okay. Just get to the bloody point."
"Okay! The test-they wanted to see how we reacted to certain things, which were called Variables. They wanted see if we could cooperate, build something from scratch to survive. Everything was provided, but they put in something big, something you might have noticed-one of the most well-known puzzles known to humankind."
"A maze," Harriet filled in, shocked.
"Exactly. But the Maze is unsolvable. They put us in here to test our will. They threw us all in here, and tested our responses to crazy things-that's why Aris came here, and that's why crazy things started to happen when he came, like the sky disappearing, or the walls not closing, or the Grievers only taking one of us at a time."
"And the deaths?" Amy stood up, looking almost murderous. It was truly terrifying. Nia half stood up too, her expression mixed with part fear, part caution. "What about the shucking deaths? Did they plan those too?" She asked, her voice heavy with bottled-up rage.
"Yes. The deaths were planned-only the best would escape. Survival of the fittest. But I know an escape plan. I know, because I worked with them. Me and Aris both. Against our will, I swear. But we can talk in each other's heads." A few glances were exchanged, but no one really seemed surprised. Rachel guessed that after seeing the Variables happen, anything was possible. "We were-special. They picked us and had us design the Maze, plan the Trials. We also designed the escape, though. It's all been leading up to here. Every minute of the past two years."
"You'd better start talking about your crap escape plan, then!" Amy shouted, then turned and kicked her chair. She turned to Rachel and Aris, her face a mess of unmasked rage. "I'm sick of watching these girls shucking die, all so those scientist could observe our bloody reactions." She turned towards a beetle blade that was sitting on the way. "You hear that, Creators? You are all disgusting! Disgusting!" She picked up a rock lying nearby and threw it at the little metal lizard-like thing. It scuttle away.
"Amy-" Nia started.
"Don't you 'Amy' me! I've been here for two years. I've hated every second of ever day. I've watched these girls, these kids, die in the most horrible, gruesome ways. I've seen what's happening in the outside world. I've seen kids just give up, lose the will to live, kill themselves. And what for? So they can watch us!" She was crying now, big, angry tears spilling down her cheeks. She furiously wiped at her face with her sleeve, but they kept spilling out of her eyes. "The second we get out of here, I'm going to find those shuck Creators, and I'm going to kill them. I'll see how they like dying!"
"You don't mean that!"
"Oh, yes, I bloody do mean it! I've seen too many people suffer because of them. I'm tired of this shit." Then, it was as if the rage was once again hitched and hidden within her depths, and she pointed at Rachel and Aris with an angry calm settling upon her. "Talk. Tell us how to freaking get out of here."
Unsettled, Rachel swallowed. Did Amy want to kill them too? But she started to talk.
"Well, with your Maps, we figured out the code. But that's not all."
"So what do we have to do?" Hat asked.
Rachel chewed her lip. "You definitely won't like it at all. People will die. That's guaranteed. You'll probably hate us, but it's the only way up."
"It's not your fault," Amy said shortly. "You were just kids. They forced you. Now just get on with it."
"Well..." Rachel shot a glance at Aris, who shrugged, a look of dread on his face. "The Grievers will come after us. But we'll have to fight. It'll be the final, ultimate test."
"The Griever Hole. We have to go over the Cliff, into the Griever Hole."