She said, “I’m already—”

“I know you’re married, I know Ethan’s here, but I don’t give a shit and you shouldn’t either. Life is too hard and too short not to be with the one you love. So choose me.”

IX

ETHAN

Francis Leven lived in a stand-alone structure in a far corner of the ark, built into an overhang in the rock wall. Ethan’s keycard didn’t work on the reader, so he banged his fist against the steel door instead.

“Mr. Leven!”

After a moment, the lock retracted.

The door cracked open.

The man who answered stood barely five feet tall, and he was dressed in a bathrobe, which filth and time had degraded to something less than white. Forty-five or fifty, Ethan guessed, although Leven’s advanced state of dishevelment made that approximation iffy. His dishwater hair was shoulder-length and shiny with grease, and through large blue eyes, he regarded Ethan with unveiled suspicion that bordered on malice.

“What do you want?” Leven asked.

“I need to talk to you.”

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“I’m busy. Another time.”

Leven tried to shut the door, but Ethan shoved it open hard and forced his way inside.

Candy bar wrappers littered the floor and the air carried a moist, moldy scent, like the living space of a sixteen-year-old boy, but spiked with the caustic odor of stale coffee.

The sole illumination came from recessed lighting in the ceiling and the glow of the giant LED displays that covered almost every square foot of wall space. Ethan stared at the one closest to him, which showed a digital pie chart. At a glance, the chart appeared to reflect the atmospheric breakdown of the superstructure’s air content.

He didn’t know what to make of all the screens.

They showed a seemingly incomprehensible array of data.

—Sets of temperature gradients in Kelvin.

—A digital representation of what Ethan assumed were the one thousand suspension chambers.

—Vital stats on the two hundred fifty people still warm and breathing on the planet.

—Drone footage.

—A full biometric readout on the female abby in captivity.

It was like the surveillance center on steroids.

“I would like for you to leave,” Leven said. “No one bothers me here.”

“Pilcher’s finished. In case you didn’t get the memo, you work for me now.”

“That’s debatable.”

“What is this place?”

Leven glared him down through a thick pair of glasses.

Stubborn. Resisting.

Ethan said, “I’m not leaving.”

“I monitor the systems that keep the superstructure and Wayward Pines functioning. We call it mission control.”

“Which systems?”

“All of them. Electrical. Hull. Filtration. Surveillance. Suspension. Ventilation. The reactor underneath us that powers everything.”

Ethan moved deeper into the nerve center.

“And it’s just you responsible for all of this?”

Leven let slip a smirk. “I have minions. You know, in the event I’m hit by the proverbial bus.”

Ethan smiled, detecting the first inkling of a wicked sense of humor.

“I hear you keep to yourself,” Ethan said.

“I’m in charge of the engine that makes our existence possible. I work eighteen hours a day, every day. Before the burial this morning, I hadn’t seen the sky in three years.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a life.”

“Well, it’s the one I have. I happen to love it.”

Ethan approached a set of monitors in a dark alcove that streamed lines of code at the speed of a stock-market ticker.

“What’s this?” Ethan asked.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I’m running some projections.”

“Projections on . . . ?”

Leven came and stood beside him. They watched the lines of code spilling down the screens like a waterfall.

Leven said, finally, “The viability of what remains of our species. See, things were dire long before David had his little temper tantrum and threw his people to the wolves.”

“Dire how?”

“Follow.”

Leven showed Ethan over to the main console, where they sat down in oversize leather chairs facing an expansive array of screens.

“Before the massacre in the valley, there were a hundred sixty souls living in the mountain,” Leven said. “Four hundred sixty-one living in Wayward Pines. Our data only goes back fourteen years, but the first killing freeze typically comes in late August. You haven’t been here for a winter yet, but they’re long and brutal. The snow can get ten, fifteen feet deep in the valley. There’s no garden to harvest from. No fruit, no vegetables. We subsist solely on our reserve of freeze-dried meals, supplements, and meat rations. You want to hear a dirty little secret? Now that this is all on you? David Pilcher never intended for us to stay in this valley indefinitely.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He miscalculated how uninhabitable and hostile this world would become.”

Ethan felt something go dark inside of him.

“I’m rerunning my calculations,” Leven said, “but it’s looking like our winter rations will run out in four point two years. Now, there are things we can do to delay the inevitable, like enforcing reduced rations. But that only buys us, at most, another year or two.”

“Not to be callous, but don’t we have less mouths to feed now?”

“Yes, but the abbies wiped out our cattle, our dairy. There will be no milk, no meat. It would take years to reboot the herd.”

“Then we have to find a way to store what we grow for the winter.”

“Our current setup in town doesn’t produce enough food to feed us and save for the future.”

“You mean we eat what we grow?”

“Exactly. And pretty much right away. We’re just too far north. Two thousand years ago, we might have been able to make this growing season work, but it’s gotten shorter and harsher. And these last few years have been the coldest yet. Here’s what I wanted to show you.”

Leven input some new code via the touch screen.

A list began to scroll.

Ethan examined the monitor above him.

Rice: 17%

Flour: 6%

Sugar: 11%

Grain: 3%

Iodized Salt: 32%

Corn: 0%

Vitamin C: 55%

Soybeans: 0%

Powdered Milk: 0%

Malt: 4%

Barley: 3%

Yeast: 1%

The list continued on.