Pilcher finally said, “I don’t see it quite that way.”

“No? How then?”

“More like...the savior of our species.”

“You stole people from their families.”

“You still don’t get it, do you?”

“Get what?”

“What Wayward Pines is. Ethan...it’s the last town on earth. A living time capsule for our way of life. For the American Dream. The residents, the crew, me, you...we’re all that’s left of the species Homo sapiens.”

“And you know this how?”

“I’ve sent out a handful of reconnaissance teams over the years. Those who made it back reported the most hostile conditions imaginable. Without the protection and infrastructure of a place like Wayward Pines, no one could survive. Since my crew came out of suspension fourteen years ago, we’ve had a radio beacon continuously transmitting a distress call on every known emergency frequency. I even made the decision to broadcast the coordinates of Pines on the remote chance there were other humans out there. No one’s shown up on our doorstep. No one’s ever made contact. I said this is Boise, but it’s not. There is no Boise, no Idaho, no America. Names no longer mean a thing.”

“How did it all end?”

“We’ll never know, will we? I went to sleep shortly after you so I could still have twenty-five years in Wayward Pines postsuspension. And after 2032, we were all sleeping in the mountain. But if I had to guess? By 2300, I estimated we’d see major abnormalities cropping up. And with diversity being the raw material of evolution, by 2500, we could’ve been classified as a completely different species. Each generation getting closer and closer to something that could thrive in this toxic world. Something less and less human.

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“You can imagine the social and economic ramifications. An entire civilization built for humanity crumbling. I’m guessing there were genocides. Maybe the end came over forty terrible years. Maybe it took a thousand. Maybe a full-scale nuclear war wiped out billions in the span of a month. I’m sure many thought it was end times. But we’ll never have that piece of knowledge. All we know is what’s out there now.”

“And what is that?”

“Aberrations. We call them abbies. Those translucent-skinned creatures that nearly killed you in the canyon. Since coming out of suspension, I’ve traveled only three times by helicopter, including today. It’s quite risky. Farthest we got was Seattle. Or where Seattle used to be. We had to haul fuel. Barely made it back. Extrapolating from what I saw, there must be hundreds of millions of those creatures just on this continent alone. They’re predators, of course, and if their population is as healthy as I’m projecting, this would point to a burgeoning deer or other ruminant population. It’s even possible that some descendant of the bison is once again roaming the plains in large numbers.

“Because we can’t leave the valley to conduct research, we have only a small sample from which to gauge which species survived the last two thousand years unscathed. Birds seem to have come through unaffected. Some insects. But then you’ll realize something’s missing. For instance, there are no crickets. No lightning bugs. And in fourteen years, I haven’t seen a single bee.”

“What are these abbies?”

“It’s easy to think of them as mutants or aberrations, but our name for them truly is a misnomer. Nature doesn’t see things through the prism of good or bad. It rewards efficiency. That’s the beautiful simplicity of evolution. It matches design to environment. In trashing our world, we forced our own transformation into a descendant species from Homo sapiens that adapted, through natural selection, to survive the destruction of human civilization. Line our DNA sequences up side by side, and only seven million letters are different—that’s about half of a percent.”

“Jesus.”

“From a logistical standpoint, abbies are hugely problematic. They’re far more intelligent than the great apes and exponentially more aggressive. We’ve captured a handful over the years. Studied them. Tried to establish communication, but it’s all failed. Their speed and strength is more in line with your average Neanderthal man. At sixty pounds, they’re lethal, and some of them grow to two hundred. You were lucky to survive.”

“That’s why you’ve built fences around Wayward Pines.”

“It’s sobering when you realize we aren’t at the top of the food chain anymore. Occasionally, an abby will get through, but we keep the outskirts of town on motion sensors and the entire valley under sniper surveillance, day and night.”

“Then why didn’t you just—”

“Take you out?” Jenkins smiled. “At first, I wanted the people to do it. Once you reached the canyon, we knew a pack of abbies was in the area. You were unarmed. Why waste ammo?”

“But the residents...they don’t know about any of this?”

“No.”

“What do they think?”

“They woke up here after an accident just like you did—reinjured, of course, in the appropriate places. Through our integration program, they come to understand there’s no leaving. And we have rules and consequences to minimize the complications that arise when someone from 1984 lives next door to someone from 2015. For the residents to thrive, to reproduce, they can’t know they’re all that’s left. They have to live like the world is still out there.”

“But it’s not. So what’s the point of the lie? When you bring them out of suspension, why not just tell them, ‘Congratulations! You’re the sole survivors!’”

“We did that very thing with the first group. We’d just finished rebuilding the town, and we brought everyone down to the church and said, ‘Look, here’s the deal.’ Told them everything.”

“And?”

“Within two years, thirty-five percent had committed suicide. Another twenty percent left town and were slaughtered. Nobody married. No one got pregnant. I lost ninety-three people, Ethan. I cannot—no—humanity cannot afford losses on that scale. Not when our species is this endangered, down to our last eight hundred and eleven souls. I’m not saying our method is perfect, but in all these years, and after trying almost everything, it’s proven the most effective system for growing our population that we’ve landed on.”

“But they always wonder, right? About what’s out there? About where they really are?”