Out there in the dark, something was running.
Running toward him.
At first light, Ethan drove out of the superstructure in one of the security team’s Dodge Rams, his son riding beside him in the passenger seat.
Through the trees.
Then Ethan pulled onto the main road, heading south out of town.
At the hairpin curve, he turned off into the woods and steered down the embankment, weaving carefully between the trees.
When they reached the fence, Ethan turned parallel to it and drove until they arrived back at the gate.
He killed the engine.
The hum of the current moving through the barbed steel lines could be heard even from inside the truck.
“Do you think Mr. Pilcher is dead yet?” Ben asked.
“I have no idea.”
“But the abbies will eventually get him, right?”
“That’s a certainty.”
Ben glanced back through the rear window into the bed of the truck. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Why are we doing this, Dad?”
“Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that thing back there.”
Now Ethan looked into the truck bed.
The female abby from the superstructure sat motionless in a plexiglass cage, staring out into the woods.
“It’s strange,” Ethan said. “The world belongs to them now, but we still possess something they don’t have.”
“Kindness. Decency. That’s what it is to be human. At our best at least.”
Ben looked confused.
“I think this abby is different,” Ethan said.
“What do you mean?”
“She has an intelligence, a gentleness I haven’t seen in any of the others. Maybe she has a family she wants to see again.”
“We should shoot her and burn her with all the rest.”
“And what would that accomplish? Feed our anger for a few minutes? What if we did the opposite? What if we sent her out into her world with a message about the species that once lived in this valley? I know it’s crazy, but I’m holding tight to the idea that a small act of kindness can have real resonance.”
Ethan opened his door, stepped out into the forest.
“What do you mean?” Ben asked. “Like it might change the abbies? Maybe more would become like her?”
Ethan walked around to the back of the truck, lowered the tailgate.
He said, “Species evolve. In the beginning, man was a hunter-gatherer. Communicated through grunts and gestures. Then we invented agriculture and language. We became capable of kindness.”
“But that took thousands of years. We’ll all be dead before that ever happens.”
Ethan smiled. “You’re right, son. It would take a long, long, long, long time.”
He turned to face the abby. She sat peacefully in her cage, eyes still heavy from the sedative Ethan had ordered the scientists to administer.
Pulling his Desert Eagle from the holster, he climbed up into the bed, threw the locks on the cage, and eased the door open several inches.
Something between a purr and a growl rumbled in the abby’s throat.
Ethan said, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
He backed slowly away, climbed down out of the truck bed.
The abby watched him.
After a moment, she pushed the cage door open with her long left arm and crept out.
“What if it does something?” Ben asked. “What if it attacks—”
“She’s not going to hurt us. She knows my meaning.” Ethan caught her eyes. “Don’t you?”
He started toward the fence, the abby following sluggishly, several paces behind.
At the gate, he typed in the code for the manual power override, and waited as the bolts unlatched.
The fence went silent.
He shoved the gate open with his boot.
“Go on,” Ethan said. “You’re free now.”
The abby watched him warily as she slunk past, squeezing herself through the opening, out into her world.
“Dad, you think we’ll ever be able to live side by side with them?”
Ten feet out, the abby shot a glance back at Ethan.
Her head tilted.
She watched him for a beat, and he could have sworn she had something to say, her eyes brimming with intelligence and understanding.
There were no words.
But Ethan understood.
And all at once, it came to him.
“Yes,” he said. “I do.”
And she was gone.
Ethan sat with Theresa on one of the park benches, watching Ben, who stood in the middle of the field, staring up at the sky. A couple hundred feet above, a kite skirted along on the breeze. It had taken the boy several tries to get the kite up and out of the still air near the surface, but the patch of red was now a fixture against the perfect blue, twirling around on the currents.
It was a nice thing to sit and watch a child with a kite, and it was the first morning in days, maybe weeks, that didn’t feel like winter.
“Ethan, that’s insane.”
“If we stay in this valley,” he said, “we all die in a matter of years. There’s not even a question. So why put it to a vote?”
“You let the people decide.”
“You let the people decide.”
“People get it wrong.”
“That’s true, but you have to figure out what kind of a leader you’re going to be.”
“I know what the right decision is, Theresa.”
“So sell your idea to them.”
“It’s a hard sell. It’s risky. And what happens if they make the wrong choice? Even you’re on the fence.”
“It’s our wrong choice to make, honey. If you’re willing to force this on people, then what was the point of ever telling them the truth about Wayward Pines?”
“I caused all of this,” Ethan said. “All the death. The suffering and loss. I turned our lives inside out. Now I just want to fix it.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m terrified.” She took his hand into hers. “You’re not just asking me to trust the people with their fate. You’re asking me to trust them with yours. With Ben’s.” Their son sprinted across the field, dragging the kite behind him, laughing. “The day I broke into the superstructure, Pilcher told me that I would come to understand the things he did. The choices he made.”
“And do you now?”
“I’m starting to feel the weight that was on his shoulders.”