“So this time you went after my mind?”

“We thought if we could induce psychosis, maybe we’d have a chance. Shot you full of some powerful antipsychotics.”

“My headaches.”

“We even tried to use your history of torture against you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I have your military file. Your report from what happened to you in Fallujah. We tried to tap into that during Pope’s interrogation.”

“You’re...sick.”

“I never expected you to actually break into the bunker. We were going to just let the abbies have you. But when I saw you standing in suspension, something occurred to me. You’re stubborn. A fighter to the end. You were never going to accept the reality of Wayward Pines. I realized I needed to quit fighting you. That instead of a liability, you might actually be an asset.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me about all of this?”

“Because I didn’t know what you would do with the knowledge, Ethan. Suicide? Escape? Try to make it on your own? But I realize now that you’re one of the rarities.”

“What do you mean?”

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“The people in town, for the most part, can’t handle the truth of what’s out there. But you...you can’t handle the lie. The not knowing. You’re the first resident I’ve ever shared any of this with. Of course, it’s crushed your family to see the difficulty you’ve had.”

Ethan turned back around and glared at Pilcher. “Why did you bring them here?”

“I’m giving you a choice, Ethan. They know nothing about the world outside of Pines. But you do. Say the word, and I’ll leave you here in this field with your family. There’s a duffel bag packed with food and supplies, even a few weapons. You’re a man who wants things on his terms, and I respect that. If that’s what’s most important to you, have at it. You can reign in hell here on the outside, or serve in heaven, back in Pines. Your choice. But if you come back to Pines, if you want that safety and support for your family, for yourself, it’s on my terms. And my terms, Ethan, come with severe penalties. If you fail me, if you betray me, I will make you watch while I take your son and—”

The sudden noise cut Pilcher off. At first, Ethan thought someone had fired up a jackhammer out in the forest, but then the fear hit him right between the eyes.

It was the tat-tat-tat of the AK.

Pam’s voice exploded over the radio. “Start the chopper! They’re coming!”

Pilcher glanced into the cockpit. “Get us out of here,” he said.

“Working on it, boss.”

Ethan heard the turbines of the BK117 starting up, the thunderous boom of Pam’s shotgun. He moved over to the window, staring back toward the woods as the gunfire grew louder.

Already, it was too noisy inside the helicopter to talk, so he tugged on his headset and motioned for Pilcher to do the same.

“What do you want me to do?” Ethan asked.

“Help me run Pines. From the inside. It’ll be a helluva job, but you were made for it.”

“Isn’t that what Pope’s doing?”

Ethan saw movement in the trees as the turbines began to whine, the cabin vibrating as the RPMs increased.

Pope and Pam broke out of the forest, backpedaling into the clearing.

Three abbies leaped out of the trees and Pope cut two of them down with a long burst of full auto while Pam put a pair of slugs through the third one’s chest.

Ethan lunged to the other side of the cabin and looked out the window.

“Pilcher.”

“What?”

“Give me your gun.”

“Why?”

Ethan tapped the glass, motioning to a pack of abbies emerging on the far side of the field—at least four of them, all barreling toward Pam and Pope at a fast, low sprint that utilized all four appendages.

“You with me, Ethan?”

“They’re going to be killed.”

“Are you with me?”

Ethan nodded.

Pilcher slapped the .357 into his hand.

Ethan ripped off his headset and shouted into the cockpit, “How long?”

“Thirty seconds!”

Ethan cranked open the door and jumped down into the grass.

The noise and the wind from the rotors screaming in his ear.

Pope and Pam were fifty yards away and still backing toward the chopper while laying down a torrent of suppressing fire.

They’d killed a dozen of them already—pale bodies strewn across the grass—and still more were coming.

More than Ethan could count.

He ran in the opposite direction.

Twenty yards past the copter, he stopped and planted his feet shoulder-width apart.

Stared at the revolver in his hand—a double-action Ruger with a six-shot cylinder.

He raised it.

Sighted down the barrel.

Five of them charging at full speed.

He thumbed back the hammer as frantic machine-gun and twelve-gauge fire roared over the turbines.

The abbies were thirty feet away, Ethan thinking, Anytime you want to start shooting, that might be a good idea. And no double taps. You need single-fire kill shots.

He drew a bead on the one in the center, and as it came up into the crest of its stride, squeezed off a round that sheered away the top of its head in a fountain of gore.

At least he was shooting hollow points.

The other four kept coming, unfazed.

Twenty feet away.

He dropped the two on the left—one shot apiece through the face.

Hit the fourth one in the throat.

The last abby inside of ten feet now.

Close enough to smell it.

Ethan fired as it jumped, the bullet only grazing its leg, Ethan adjusting his aim as the abby rocketed toward him.

Pulled back the hammer, pulled the trigger as the monster hit, teeth bared, its scream at this proximity louder than the turbines.

The bullet went through its teeth and tore out of the back of its skull in a spray of bone and brain as it crashed into Ethan.

He didn’t move.

Stunned.

His head jogged so hard that flashes of light were detonating everywhere he looked, and his hearing was jumbled—muffled and slowed down so that he could pick out all the individual pieces of sound that built the symphony of chaos around him.

Shotgun blasts.

The AK.

The spinning rotors.

The screams of the abbies.

Telling himself, Get up, get up, get up.

Ethan heaved the dead weight of the abby off his chest and sat up. Tried to look across the field, but his vision was stuck on blurry. He blinked hard several times and shook his head, the world slowly crystallizing like someone turning the focus knobs on a pair of binoculars.