The muzzle flash brightened the entire room.
The sound was deafening.
Theresa thinking, We’re dead. She did it.
But she could still think.
She could still feel her son in her arms.
She braced for the pain to hit, but it didn’t come.
Someone was saying her name, and over the ringing in her ears, it sounded as if the shouts were coming from the bottom of a deep hole.
Something sparked, a point of light flaring in her field of vision, Theresa wondering, Is that the light at the end of the tunnel? Am I dead now, accelerating toward it? Is my son with me?
It sparked again, only this time the light didn’t die.
It grew brighter and brighter until a single flame ignited a tiny bundle of dried-out moss.
It was smoking now, and she could smell the smoke as she watched hands lift the burning tinder off the floor. The flames illuminated the dirtiest face she’d ever seen, engulfed by a shaggy beard that must have taken years to grow.
But those eyes . . .
Even in the diminishing firelight and through all the filth and the wildness in that face, she knew them. And not even the shock of almost dying could rival the shock of actually seeing them again.
The man said in a raspy voice, “Theresa! My love!”
Theresa released Ben and lunged forward.
As the light extinguished, she reached the bars and thrust her hands between them. She grabbed him, pulled him into the bars.
Adam Hassler reeked like a man who had been in the wilderness for years, and as her hands slid inside his duster and wrapped around his waist, she could feel that he was skin and bones.
“It’s me, Theresa.”
“Oh my God!”
“I can’t believe I’m actually touching you.”
He kissed her through the bars.
As Ben climbed off the bed and approached, he said, “I thought you were dead.”
“I should be dead, little man. I should’ve died a thousand times over.”
He stood on the hood of Maggie’s Jeep, staring out at the hundred fifty faces that had gathered around him in the ark. It felt strange to look at this entire group, which for fourteen years had worked together to keep its fellow human beings, the residents of Wayward Pines, living in the dark.
Ethan said, “Last night, I made a difficult choice. I told the residents of Wayward Pines the truth. I told them what year it was. I showed them an abby.”
A voice in the midst of the crowd shouted, “You had no right!”
Ethan ignored this.
“I’m guessing none of you agree with that decision, and that’s not really much of a surprise to me. But let’s see if you agree with the decision David Pilcher made in response. He killed the power to the fence and opened the gate. At least five hundred abbies entered the valley in the middle of the night. More than half the town has been slaughtered. Those who managed to escape are stranded without food or water, and with no heat since Pilcher also cut off the power to the town.”
Disbelief spread quickly across the faces.
Someone yelled, “Liar!”
“I understand that at some point in your lives before, each of you bought in hard to what David Pilcher was selling. And to be honest, he’s a brilliant man. No one can deny that. No one can say he isn’t a man of vision, and possibly the most ambitious person who ever lived. I understand what attracted you to him. It’s a rush to keep company with someone who wields such power. Makes you feel better about yourself.
“From what I gather, a lot of you were at low points when David Pilcher came into your lives. He gave you purpose and meaning, and I totally get that. But he’s as much of a monster as the abbies who lived beyond the fence. Maybe even more. The idea of Wayward Pines was always more important to him than the people who called that town home, and I’m sorry to say, it was more important than any of you.
“You all knew Alyssa. Everything I’ve heard confirms that she was universally loved inside this mountain. She didn’t see eye to eye with her father. She believed the people of Wayward Pines deserved better than 24-7 surveillance, than being forced to murder one another, than never knowing the truth. What I’m about to show you is upsetting, and I apologize for that, but you need to know what kind of a man you served so you can begin to move past it.”
Ethan pointed behind the crowd at a hundred-inch monitor mounted to the rock beside the glass doors.
Most days, it displayed work schedules. Who was on shift in surveillance, security, and suspension. Arrival and departure times for transportation going back and forth to Wayward Pines. An in-mountain message system for Pilcher’s inner circle.
Tonight, it would show David Pilcher, the creator of Wayward Pines, murdering his only daughter.
Ethan shouted to one of Ted’s surveillance techs standing beneath the screen, “Play it!”
The smoke trailed up and vented outside through the barred window near the ceiling. Flames ate away at the legs of Belinda’s desk chair, fueled by a ream of printer paper. Ben sprawled on the single mattress, which Theresa had pulled off the metal frame and set next to the fire. She sat across from Hassler, holding her hands close to the heat.
On the other side of the bars, Pam’s body lay slumped across the concrete, the pool of blood still expanding around her head.
“I saw the fence was down,” Hassler said. “I came racing into town. I went to our house, but you weren’t there. I looked everywhere. I thought you and Ben were dead. As I was looking for ammo in the sheriff’s station, I heard your voice, begging Pam to spare you. Isn’t exactly the homecoming I imagined.”
“I didn’t imagine one at all,” Theresa said. “I was told you weren’t coming back.”
“What happened here?”
“The town knows the truth now.”
“Everything. We lost a lot of people. I guess the man who built all of this decided to trash his play set and go home.”
“Who told everyone the truth?”
“There was a fête called for Kate and Harold Ballinger, but instead of executing them, the sheriff used the opportunity to lift the curtain.”
“Pope’s dead, Adam.” Theresa hesitated. “A lot has happened since you’ve been gone. Ethan is the sheriff now.”
“He was introduced into the town a month or so ago. He turned this place upside down. Nothing’s been the same since.”