He said, “Do it.”
“You sent me here to die,” Ethan said. “Was it for the money? Or so you could have my wife?”
“She deserves so much better than you.”
“Did Theresa know that you orchestrated all of this so you could be with her?”
“I told her I came here looking for you and that I was involved in a car wreck. She was happy with me, Ethan. Truly happy.”
For a long moment, Ethan stood over Hassler on the brink of caving in the man’s skull.
Wanting to do it.
Not wanting to be the man who would.
He threw the coatrack across the living room and collapsed on the hardwood next to Hassler, his kidney throbbing.
“We’re here because of you,” Ethan said. “My wife, my son—”
“We’re here because two thousand years ago you f**ked Kate Hewson and destroyed your wife. If Kate had never transferred to Boise, she never would have come to Wayward Pines. Pilcher never would have abducted her and Bill Evans.”
“And you never would have sold me out.”
“Just to be clear, you’d be dead right now if I hadn’t—”
“No, we’d have lived out our lives in Seattle.”
“You call what you and Theresa had a life? She was miserable. You were in love with another woman. You want to sit there and tell me what I did was wrong?”
“You seriously just said that?”
“There’s no right or wrong anymore, Ethan. There’s only survival. I learned that in my three and a half years wandering around that hell beyond the fence. So don’t look at me hoping to catch a glimpse of regret.”
“It’s kill or be killed now? That’s where we’re at?”
“We were always there.”
“So why didn’t you kill me?”
Hassler smiled, blood between his teeth.
“When you walked back to the superstructure from Kate’s house last night? I was there. In the woods. It was dark, and it was just you and me. I had my bowie knife, the same one I killed abbies with in hand-to-talon combat you couldn’t even fathom. You don’t know how close I came.”
Ethan felt something cold inch down his spine.
“What stopped you?” he asked.
Hassler wiped blood out of his eyes.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that. I think it’s because I’m not as hard as I’d like to be. See, in my head, I know there’s no right or wrong, but my heart hasn’t made that connection. My twenty-first-century hardwiring is too deep. Too institutional. My conscience intrudes.”
Ethan stared at his old boss through the mounting darkness in the living room.
“Where does this leave us?” Ethan asked.
“The best moments of my life I lived right here. With Theresa. With your son.”
Hassler groaned as he hoisted himself up into a sitting position against the wall.
Even in the low light, Ethan could see the man’s jaw beginning to swell, Hassler’s words now coming lopsided, garbled.
“I’ll walk away,” Hassler said. “Forever. One condition.”
“You think you’re entitled to a condition?”
“Theresa never hears about what really happened.”
“You’d just be doing this so she goes on loving you.”
“She chose you, Ethan.”
“She chose you.”
Relief swept over him.
His throat ached with emotion.
“Now that it’s over,” Hassler said, “I don’t want her to know. Respect that wish, and I’ll make an impossible situation possible.”
“There is another option,” Ethan said.
“I could kill you.”
“Do you have that in you, old friend? Because if so, knock yourself out.”
Ethan looked at the cold woodstove. Into the evening light coming through the windows. Wondered how this house could ever feel like home again.
“I’m not a murderer,” Ethan said.
“See? We’re both too soft for this new world.”
Ethan got up. “You were out there for three and a half years?” he asked.
“So you know more about this new world than any of us.”
“What if I were to tell you that we couldn’t stay in Wayward Pines any longer? That we needed to leave this valley and go someplace warmer, where crops could be grown? Do you think we’d have a chance?”
“Of surviving as a group on the other side of the fence?”
“That sounds like mass suicide. But if we truly have no choice? If it’s stay in this valley and die or take a chance heading south? I guess we’d have to find a way.”
On his way up to the cafeteria, Ethan stopped again at the cage of the female abby. She was sleeping, curled up in a corner against the wall, thinner, frailer even than the last time he’d seen her.
One of the lab techs who worked in the abby holding facility moved past Ethan, heading toward the stairwell.
“Hey,” Ethan called after him. The white-jacketed scientist stopped in the middle of the corridor, turned to face him. “Is she sick or what?” Ethan asked.
The young scientist flashed an ugly smile.
“She’s starving to death.”
“You’re starving her?”
“No, she refuses to eat or drink.”
The man shrugged. “No idea. Maybe because we made a bonfire out of all her cousins?”
The scientist chuckled to himself and continued down the corridor.
Ethan found Theresa and Ben at a corner table in the packed cafeteria. When she saw the bruises on his face, her eyes—tear-swollen and red—went wide.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Have you been crying?”
“We’ll talk later.”
Dinner consisted of packages of freeze-dried horror.
Lasagna for Ethan.
Beef Stroganoff for Ben.
Eggplant parm for Theresa.
All Ethan could think about was how much food this single meal was costing them.
One meal closer to nothing.
And no one had any concept of how fast the supplies were dwindling. Just took for granted that they could walk into this cafeteria, or down to the community gardens, or the town grocery, and find food.
Where would the civility go when it all ran out?
“You want to talk about what’s going to happen later tonight, Ben?” Ethan asked.