—An abby devouring Belinda Moran in her recliner.

—Families sprinting down hallways.

—Parents trying to shield children against a horror they were incapable of stopping.

So many frames of suffering, terror, and despair.

Pilcher took a drink from a bottle of scotch—this one from 1925—and tried to think about how to feel about this. There was precedent of course. When God’s children rebelled, God laid down a righteous beating.

A soft voice, the one he’d long since learned to ignore, whispered through the gale-force madness in his head, Do you really believe you’re their God?

Does God provide?

Check.

Does God protect?

Check.

Does God create?

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Check.

Conclusion?

Fucking A.

The search for meaning was the cornerstone of human disquiet, and Pilcher had removed that impediment. He’d given the four hundred sixty-one souls in that valley an existence beyond their wildest fantasies. Given them life and purpose, shelter and comfort. For no other reason than he had chosen them, they were the most important members of their species since h. sapiens had begun to walk the savannahs of East Africa two hundred thousand years ago.

They had brought this reckoning to bear. They had demanded full knowledge, knowledge they were ill-equipped to stomach. And when faced with the truth from Ethan Burke, they had revolted against their creator.

Still, watching their deaths on the monitors wounded him.

He had treasured their lives. This project meant nothing without people.

But still—fuck them. Let the abbies have them all.

He had a couple hundred people still in suspension. This wouldn’t be the first time he’d started over, and his people in the mountain would support him through it all, unquestioningly, and with pure and total devotion. They were his army of angels.

Pilcher stood, unstable on his feet. He moved over to his desk, weaving. No one else in the superstructure knew what was happening in the valley. He’d instructed Ted Upshaw to close surveillance for the night. The reveal of what he’d done would have to be finessed.

Pilcher collapsed into his chair, lifted the phone, and dialed up dear old Ted.

PAM

She reached the fence in the dead of night. The hole Ethan Burke had dug out of the back of her left thigh radiated pain all through her leg and even up into her torso. The sheriff had cut out her microchip and left her stranded on the wild side of the fence, and up until this moment, she’d been obsessed with questioning why. Now, that curiosity was replaced as she stared up at the fence and wondered, What the hell?

It was silent.

No electricity humming through its veins.

Stupid thing to do, but she couldn’t resist. Reaching out, she grabbed hold of the thick steel cable. Barbs bit into her palm but that was it. No jolt. There was something strangely illicit, erotic even, about touching the wire.

She let go, invigorated and wet.

Limping alongside the fence, she wondered if Burke had done this. A massive swarm of abbies had raced past her two hours ago. She’d watched them running north toward Wayward Pines from forty feet up a pine tree.

Hundreds and hundreds of them.

She quickened her pace, struggling against the burn in the back of her leg.

Five minutes later, she reached it.

The gate was open.

Locked open.

She looked back in the direction of the dark woods through which she—and that swarm of abbies—had come. She stared at the open gate.

Was it possible?

Had the swarm pushed into the valley?

Pam jogged through the gate. It hurt like hell, but she didn’t slow down, just grunted through the pain.

Several hundred yards later, she heard the screams. Couldn’t tell if they were human or abby at this distance, only that there were many of them. She stopped running. Her leg was throbbing. She didn’t have a weapon. She was injured. And in all likelihood, a swarm of abbies had somehow entered the valley.

She was torn. The part of her psyche that whispered self-preservation urged her to make a run for the superstructure. Get somewhere safe. Regroup. Let Dr. Miter patch her up. But the part that ruled every fiber of her being was afraid. Not of the abbies. Not of any horror she might encounter in a town overrun with monsters. She was afraid she would find Ethan Burke already dead, and that was unacceptable. After what he’d done to her, there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to find that man and take him slowly apart.

Piece by agonizing piece.

TED UPSHAW

The smell of booze hit him as he opened the door to the old man’s office.

Pilcher sat behind his desk, and when he saw Ted, he smiled a little too wide; his face was red, eyes gone glassy.

“Come in, come in!”

He struggled onto his feet as Ted closed the door after him.

Pilcher had wrecked the place. Two of the monitors were smashed, and the architect’s miniature of Wayward Pines had capsized, the glass that had once covered the model town shattered across the floor, houses and buildings crushed amid the shards.

“I woke you, didn’t I?” Pilcher said.

He hadn’t actually. Ted couldn’t have slept tonight if someone had injected him full of tranquilizers. But he said, “It’s fine.”

“Let’s sit together like old friends.”

There was a thickness, a deliberation, behind Pilcher’s words. Ted wondered how drunk he actually was.

Pilcher staggered over to the leather couches. As Ted followed him, he saw that the monitors had been turned off in here as well.

They sat on the cool leather, facing the dark monitors.

Pilcher poured two healthy glasses of scotch from an expensive-looking bottle with the word Macallan on it and handed Ted the glass.

They clinked the crystal glasses.

Drank.

It was the first alcohol Ted had sipped in more than two thousand years. When he’d been homeless and drinking himself to death in the wake of his wife’s passing, old scotch like this would have been a religious experience. But he’d lost his taste for it.

“I still remember the day we met,” Pilcher said. “You were standing in the soup line of that shelter. It was your eyes that called out to me. So much grief in them.”

“You saved my life.”

The old man looked over at him. “Do you still trust me, Ted?”

“Of course,” Ted lied.

“Of course. You shut down the surveillance hub when I told you to.”

“That’s right.”

“You didn’t even ask why.”

“No.”

“Because you trust me.”