There must have been fifty of them already in the clearing.
Dozens more breaking out of the trees with every passing second.
All moving toward the helicopter in the center of the field.
Ethan struggled up onto his feet, listing left in the wake of the hit, his center of balance annihilated.
He stumbled toward the helicopter.
Pam was already inside.
Pope standing several feet out from the skid, trying to hold the abbies off. He had shouldered the rifle and was taking precision shots now, Ethan figuring he must be down to the final rounds of his magazine.
Ethan patted him on the shoulder as he stepped onto the skid, screamed in his ear, “Let’s go!”
Pilcher opened the door and Ethan scrambled up into the cabin.
He buckled himself in, glanced out the window.
An army of abbies flooded across the field.
Hundreds of them.
Ten seconds from the chopper and closing in like a mongrel horde.
As he put on his headset, Pilcher pulled the cabin door closed, locked it, said, “Let’s go, Roger.”
“What about the sheriff?”
Through his window, Ethan saw Arnold throw down his AK and try to open the door, struggling with the handle but it wouldn’t turn.
Pope stared through the glass at Pilcher, a beat of confusion flashing through the lawman’s eyes, followed quickly by recognition.
Pope screamed something that never had a chance of being heard.
“Why?” Ethan said.
Pilcher didn’t avert his eyes from Pope. “He wants to rule.”
Pope beat his fists against the window, blood smearing across the glass.
“Not to rush you or anything, Roger, but we’re all going to die if you don’t get us out of here.”
Ethan felt the skids pivot and go airborne.
He said, “You can’t just leave him.”
Ethan watched as the chopper lifted off the ground, the sheriff hooking his left arm around the skid, fighting to hang on.
“It’s done,” Pilcher said, “and you’re my new sheriff. Welcome aboard.”
A mob of abbies swarmed under Pope, jumping, clawing, but he’d established a decent grip on the skid and his feet dangled just out of reach.
Pilcher said, “Roger, take us down a foot or two if you wouldn’t mind.”
The chopper descended awkwardly—Ethan could tell the pilot hadn’t flown in years—lowering Pope back down into the madness on the ground.
When the first abby grabbed hold of Pope’s leg, the tail of the chopper ducked earthward under the weight.
Another one latched onto his other leg, and for a horrifying second, Ethan thought they would drag the chopper to the ground.
Roger overcorrected, climbing fast to a twenty-foot hover above the field.
Ethan stared down into Pope’s wild eyes.
The man’s grip on the skid had deteriorated to a single handhold, his knuckles blanching under the strain, three abbies clinging to his legs.
He met Ethan’s eyes.
Screamed something that was drowned out by the roar of the turbines.
Pope let go, fell for half a second, and then vanished under a feeding frenzy.
Ethan looked away.
Pilcher was staring at him.
Staring through him.
The helicopter banked sharply and screamed north toward the mountains.
* * *
It was a quiet flight, Ethan’s attention divided between staring out his window and glancing back through the curtain at his sleeping family.
The third time he looked in on them, Pilcher said, “They’ll be fine, Ethan. They’ll wake up tonight, safe and warm in bed. That’s what matters, right? Out here, you would all surely die.”
It was getting on toward dusk.
Ethan dead tired, but every time he shut his eyes, his thoughts ran in a hundred different directions and at blinding speeds.
So he tried to just watch the world move by.
His view was west.
The sun was gone, and in the wake of its passing, mountain ranges stood profiled against the evening sky like a misshapen saw blade.
There was nothing to see of the pine forest a thousand feet below.
Not a single speck of light anywhere that existed because of man.
* * *
They flew through gaping darkness.
With the cabin lights dimmed and the glow of the instrument panel in the cockpit hidden behind the curtain, Ethan could just as well have been adrift in a black sea.
He had his family behind him, and there was comfort in that fact, but as he leaned against the freezing glass, he couldn’t help but feel a plunging stab of fear.
They were alone.
So very much alone.
It hit him center mass.
These last few days, he’d been fighting to get back to his life outside of Wayward Pines, but it was gone.
Gone for nearly two thousand years.
Almost everything that defined him.
How was a man supposed to come to terms with a thing like that?
How did one carry on in the face of such knowledge?
What got you out of bed and made you want to breathe in and out?
Your family. The two people sleeping behind you.
Ethan opened his eyes.
At first, he didn’t quite believe what he saw.
In the distance below, a wellspring of light shone in the midst of all that darkness.
It was Pines.
The house lights and porch lights.
The streetlights and car lights.
All merging into the soft nighttime glow of a town.
They were descending now, and he knew that down in that valley, there stood a Victorian house where his wife and his son lived.
Where he could live too.
There was a warm bed to crawl into.
And a kitchen that would smell of the food they cooked.
A porch to sit out on during the long, summer evenings.
A yard where he might play catch with his son.
Maybe it even had a tin roof, and there was nothing he loved more than the sound of rain drumming on tin. Especially late at night in bed, with your wife in your arms and your son sleeping just down the hall.
The lights of Wayward Pines glowed against the cliffs that boxed it in, and for the first time, those steep mountain walls seemed inviting.
Fortifications against all the horror that lay beyond.
Shelter for the last town on earth.
Would it ever feel like home?
Would it be all right if it did?
You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. To the earth...a million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we’re gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.