Another plate broke loose.
The end was coming. The thought actually crossed Ethan’s mind that he should go find his family now. Give them both a quick, merciful death, because once the abbies got in, their last moments of sentience would be owned by horror.
The passage outside the door went quiet.
The cavern held its breath.
After a long moment, Ethan approached the door and put his ear to the wood.
He reached for the bolt.
Kate whispered, “No!”
But he slid it back as quietly as he could manage and grasped the handle.
“Maggie, bring the light.”
When she was standing behind him, Ethan pulled.
The two remaining hinges creaked loudly as they bore the full weight of the door.
The firelight brightened the passage.
It still smelled of the abbies—rot and death—but it was empty.
There were people who just sat against the rock wall and wept.
There were those who trembled silently at the horror they had seen.
Those who sat expressionless, still as stone, gazing into some private abyss.
Others plugged in.
Helped tend the fire.
Repair the door.
Organize the weaponry.
Bring food and water out of storage.
Comfort the grieving.
Ethan sat with his family on a broken loveseat at the edge of the fire. The room was warming, and Hecter played something beautiful on the piano that seemed to dial back the edge, to make everyone feel just a touch more human.
In the low light, Ethan counted their number over and over.
Kept arriving at ninety-six.
This morning, there had been four hundred sixty-one souls in Wayward Pines.
He tried to tell himself that it was possible other groups had survived. That they had somehow managed to find refuge. Someplace where the abbies couldn’t get at them. Barricaded themselves in houses or the theater. Fled into the woods. But in his heart, he didn’t believe it. He might have managed to buy in if he hadn’t peeked through that trapdoor and seen Megan Fisher in the street and all those others getting slaughtered.
In the town of Wayward Pines, eighty percent of humanity had been wiped out.
Theresa said, “I keep thinking we’re going to hear someone knocking on the door. Do you think there’s a chance that some of them will make it up here?”
“Always a chance, right?”
Ben’s head lay in Ethan’s lap, the boy asleep.
“You okay?” Theresa asked.
“I suppose, considering I made a decision that sent most of this town to a violent death.”
“You didn’t turn off the fence and open the gate, Ethan.”
“No, I just invited it to happen.”
“Kate and Harold would be dead.”
“Harold probably is anyway.”
“You can’t look at it that way—”
“I f**ked up, baby.”
“You gave these people their freedom.”
“And I’m sure they really had a chance to savor it as the abbies were tearing their throats out.”
“I know you, Ethan. No, look at me.” She turned his chin toward her. “I know you. I know you only did what you believed was right.”
“I wish we lived in a world where actions were measured by the intentions behind them. But the truth is, they’re measured by their consequences.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I just need to tell you, I need you to know, that I feel closer to you right now—on the brink of dying—than I have in years. Maybe ever. I trust you now, Ethan. I know you love me. I’m starting to see it like I haven’t before.”
“I do, Theresa. So much. You are . . . everything.” He kissed her and she leaned into him, resting her head against the side of his shoulder.
He put his arm around her.
Soon, she was asleep.
He looked around.
The collective grief was a tangible thing. It seemed to weigh down the air with a thickness like water or dense smoke.
His hands grew cold. He dug his right one into the pocket of his parka. His fingers touched the memory shard that contained the footage of David Pilcher murdering his own daughter. Grasping it delicately between his thumb and forefinger, an H-bomb of rage blossomed in his gut.
Ted had copies of this footage as well, and Ethan had told him not to do anything with it. To stand by. But that was before the abby invasion. Did Ted know what was happening in Wayward Pines?
Ethan ran another headcount.
He thought of Pilcher, sitting in the warmth and safety of his office, watching on his two hundred sixteen flatscreens as the people he had kidnapped in another lifetime were massacred.
Voices roused him.
Ethan opened his eyes.
Theresa was stirring beside him.
The quality of the light hadn’t changed, but it felt much later. Like he’d been asleep for days.
Gently lifting Ben’s head off his lap, he stood and rubbed his eyes.
People were up and moving around.
Near the door, voices were raised.
He saw two separate groups, with Kate standing between Hecter and another man.
Both men were yelling.
He walked over, caught Kate’s eye.
She said, “We have some people who want to go outside.”
A man named Ian, who owned a shoe-repair store on Main called The Cobbler’s Shoppe, said, “My wife is out there. We were separated when the four groups were forming.”
“And you want to do what exactly?” Ethan asked.
“I want to help her! What do you think?”
“He also wants a gun,” Kate said.
A woman who worked in the community gardens pushed past several people and glared at Ethan. “My son and my husband are out there.”
Kate said, “You understand my husband is too?”
“So why are we hiding in here instead of rescuing them?”
Hecter said, “You’d be dead within ten minutes of leaving this cavern.”
“That’s my choice, pal,” Ian said.
“You aren’t taking a gun.”
Ethan broke in: “Hold on just a minute. This is a conversation for everyone.”
He walked into the middle of the room, and said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Circle up! We need to talk!”
The crowd slowly converged, bleary-eyed, bedraggled.
“I know it’s been a hard night,” he said.
He sensed anger and blame in the eyes that watched him.