IMPORTANT QUESTION: how many of you would be fine with a few minor characters from Different being put in this book as well? (They'd be people such as Harvey, Max, Vince, Garret, Theo, etc.) Comment your thoughts!

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It became pretty clear that the Runners couldn't function without their leader out in the Maze with them. They grew restless and crazy, deliberately making bad decisions or even not going into the Maze at all like they thought they couldn't be bossed around anymore. While some of them could still be trusted, something definitely had to be done.

Nick called a Gathering. I hated them. They were usually long and boring, and being in that stuffy room with so many people was one of the most dreadful things I could do. I was seated in the chair in front of the crescent of Keepers that time instead of in my own seat. It was strange to have the boys all looking at me instead of sitting among them.

A small buzz of voices filled the dark room in the Homestead. Nick sat in the middle of the row of Keepers, with Alby to his immediate left. A boy named Link, who was head of the Slicers, started it off. Gally was at the end. I shifted uncomfortably under all of their sideways glances and tugged at the collar of my shirt.

There were no windows in the room, causing the overbearing heat that always stuffed up the small room. The door was always closed so nobody could overhear the Gathering, making the room even more unbearable to sit in for long. The single light above our heads was dim, illuminating everyone in the room with a musky glow that was barely bright enough to show peoples' features. I was glad I had left my jacket in my room that time, and the tank top I now wore provided some sort of relief.

Nick clapped his hands and ordered for silence. "Listen up! Our concern today is Nadia's position. The Runners have been straying out of line little by little ever since her accident, and now it's getting out of hand. We need a way to fix those shanks up and show 'em who's boss."

"Nadia." The voice had come from Frypan. He was leaning back in his chair, looking completely confident as he fanned himself with his hand. "Who says she can't still be in charge? She's been the Keeper since we elected 'em in the beginning, and that shouldn't change because she can't run anymore."

My heart felt warmer after what Frypan said. He was so nice that it hurt, and I knew I'd always be grateful for him. Long live Frypan, Keeper of the Cooks.

"What's the point in having her in charge if she can't even do her job?" That was Clark. He was Keeper of the Raisers, who spent their days raising the livestock and tending to them, hence the name. He was a thin boy with coppery hair that fell into his eyes and constellations of freckles across his pale face. He also smelled like a barn.

Nick sighed and picked up his chair a bit from beneath him. He dropped it, creating a clammoring sound that shut everyone up. There was a look of complete exasperation on his face and his straw-colored hair was sticking up everywhere like he'd run his hands through it uncontrollably. I had never seen him look so tired.

"Slim it," he ordered fiercely. "You all know how this goes. Everyone says their views, we get everyone's recommendations, and then we decide. I better not hear a single word out of line, got that?"

If one thing was for sure, everyone obeyed Nick. He had a natural sense of authority to him that matched perfectly with his charisma and people skills. His mind was great; he was skilled at problem-solving and thinking under pressure. No one dared to challenge him.

Nick nodded at the silence that followed. "Good that." He leaned back in his chair and gestured to the first person in the row. "Link, you first."

Link was one of the boys that I had never really talked to. He was pretty reserved for a Keeper, and the only thing I knew about him was that he enjoyed hamburgers. The light reflected off of his dark brown hair, which was sticking up at the front in an effort to keep it out of his eyes. He was well-known for them, for they were extremely wide like an owl's, and the hazel color was beautiful.

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