“And the fence?”
“Full power. All levels in the green. You should really get some sleep.”
“I don’t see a lot of that in my future.”
Alan laughed. “Tell me about it.”
“Thank you, by the way,” Ethan said. “If you hadn’t backed me up yesterday—”
“You honored my friend.”
“The people from town—”
“Don’t let this out, but we call them townies.”
Ethan said, “They’re going to be looking to me. I have a feeling the people in the mountain will be looking to you.”
“Looks that way. There are going to be some tough choices to make in our future, and a right way and a wrong way to handle them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Pilcher ran things a certain way.”
“I’m not defending the man, but sometimes situations arise that are so pivotal, so life and death, one or two strong people need to call the shots.”
“Think Pilcher has any diehards in the mountain?” Ethan asked.
“What do you mean? True believers?”
“Everyone in this mountain is a true believer. Don’t you understand what we gave up to be here?”
“Everything. We believed that man when he said the old world was dying and that we had a chance to be a part of the new world to come. I sold my house, my cars, cashed out my 401(k), left my family. I gave him everything I had.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“You might have missed it with all the other excitement, but we had a nomad return today.”
“Yeah, Adam Hassler.”
“So you know him.”
“Not well. I’m shocked he made it back.”
“I’d like to know more about him. Was he a townie before he left on his mission?”
“I couldn’t tell you. You should go talk to Francis Leven.”
“The steward of the superstructure.”
“Which means . . .”
“He tracks supplies, system integrity, the status of people in suspension and out. He’s a wealth of institutional memory. The heads of each group report to him, and he reports, well, reported, to Pilcher.”
“Never met him.”
“He’s a recluse. Keeps mostly to himself.”
“Where would I find him?”
“His office is tucked way back in the ark.”
The pain meds were fading.
The wear and tear of the last forty-eight hours becoming suddenly pronounced.
As Ethan started toward the door, Alan said, “One last thing.”
“We finally found Ted. He was in his room, stuffed in his closet, stabbed to death. Pilcher had cut his microchip out and destroyed it.”
Ethan would’ve thought that, after a day like this, one more piece of shitty news would crash into his psyche like a wave against a seawall, but it penetrated. Deeply.
He left Alan and went back out into the corridor, started up the steps toward the Level 4 dormitories, but then stopped.
Turning back, he descended the last flight of stairs to the first level.
Margaret, the abby whose intelligence Pilcher had been testing for the last few months, was up, pacing in her cage under the glare of the fluorescents.
Ethan put his face to the small window and stared through, his breath fogging the glass.
Last time he’d seen this abby, she’d been sitting peacefully in the corner.
Now she looked agitated. Not angry, not vicious. Just nervous.
Because so many of your brothers and sisters have come into our valley? Ethan wondered. Because so many have been killed, even in this complex? Pilcher had told him that the abbies communicated through pheromones. Used them like words, he’d said.
Margaret saw Ethan.
She crept on all fours over toward the door and stood on her hind legs.
Ethan’s eyes and the abby’s eyes were just inches away, separated by the glass.
Up close, hers were almost pretty.
Ethan moved deeper into the corridor.
Six doors down, he looked through the window of another cage.
There was no bed, no chair.
Just floor and walls and David Pilcher sitting in a corner, his head hung as if he’d fallen asleep sitting up. The lights burned down through the window and lit the left side of the man’s face.
He hadn’t been allowed to keep any personal effects, including a razor, and white stubble was beginning to overspread his jaw.
You did this, Ethan thought. You ruined so many lives. My life. My marriage.
If he’d had a keycard to this cell, Ethan would’ve rushed inside and beat the man to death.
Everyone—townies and mountain people—came down for the burials.
The cemetery was too full to accommodate all the bodies so an open field on the southern border of the graveyard was annexed.
Ethan helped Kate with Harold.
The sky was gray.
No one spoke.
Tiny flakes of snow swirled through the crowd.
There was just the constant sound of shovels stabbing into the cold, hard ground.
As the digging finished, people crumpled down in the snow-frosted grass beside loved ones, or what was left of them, the dead wrapped tightly in once-white sheets. The digging had given them something to do, but as they sat motionless and cold beside lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends, and children, muffled sobs began to rise up from the crowd.
Ethan walked out into the middle of the field.
From where he stood, it was a crushing collection of sights and sounds: all those little mounds of dirt, the dead waiting to be lowered into their final resting places, the grieving of those who had lost everything, the mountain people standing behind the townies looking solemnly on, and the column of smoke at the north end of town coughing spirals of sweet-smelling black into the sky as six hundred abby corpses smoldered into nothing.
Except for David Pilcher, the man responsible for all this pain, every human being left on earth was in this field.
Even Adam Hassler, standing on the outskirts with Theresa and Ben.
Ethan was struck with a single, terrifying thought: I’m losing my wife.
He made a slow turn, studying all the faces. The grief was overpowering. A living thing.
“I don’t know what to say. Words can’t make any of this feel better. We lost three-quarters of our people, and it’s going to be hard for a long, long time. Let’s do what we can to help one another, because it’s just us out here alone in the world.”