“He didn’t trust his people to make the right choices,” Theresa said, “because he was afraid. But you don’t have to be, Ethan. If you do what you know in your heart is right, if you give people the freedom to choose their own fate, their own destiny—”
“We could starve to death in this valley.”
“That’s true. But you won’t have compromised your integrity. That’s the only thing you really have to fear.”
That night, Ethan stood where it had all begun, on the bare stage in the opera house, under the burn of the lights, with the last two hundred fifty people on the planet looking on.
“Here we are,” he said to the crowd, “humanity at the end of the world. We’re here right now because of the choice I made to tell everyone the truth about Wayward Pines. Don’t think I’ve missed that. Many of you lost loved ones. We’ve all suffered. I’ll live with my decision and what it cost for the rest of my life, but right now, it’s time to consider the future. In fact, it’s all I’ve been thinking about this past week.”
The core group of Pilcher’s inner circle sat together off stage left—Francis Leven, Alan, Marcus, Mustin—all watching him.
The quiet in the theater was absolute.
A coiled silence.
“I know we’re all trying to figure out where we go from here,” he said. “What happens next. What our lives might look like. We have some hard truths to face, and we need to face them together. Right now. Here’s the first one. Our food is running out.”
Gasps and whispers trickled through the crowd.
Someone shouted, “How long?”
“About four years,” Ethan said. “Which brings us to the second hard truth. We can’t stay in this valley. I mean, we could. Until the next fence failure. Until a winter comes like we’ve never imagined. Until the food supply is exhausted.
“Francis Leven is here from the superstructure and he can walk you all through the particulars, explain exactly why our lives are no longer sustainable in Wayward Pines.
“But I didn’t drag you down here just to be the bearer of bad news. I also have a proposal for a new course of action. Something radical and dangerous and daring. A leap in the dark.”
Ethan found Theresa in the crowd.
“To be honest, I debated even proposing this as a choice. A friend of mine recently said to me that sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are so life and death, one or two strong leaders need to call the shots. But I think we’re all finished with having our lives controlled. I don’t know how, but we’re going to find our way through this. What it comes down to for me is that I’d rather us make bad decisions as a group, than to live in the absence of freedom. That was the old way. That was Pilcher’s way.
“So all I ask is that you hear me out, and then we’ll decide what to do. Together. Like free human beings.”
ONE MONTH LATER
There were still moments like this one, with the power back on and the smell of Theresa’s cooking emanating from the kitchen, when it all felt normal. Like it could’ve been any weeknight in Ethan’s life before.
Ben upstairs in his bedroom.
Ethan sitting in the study, jotting down notes for tomorrow.
Out the window, in the evening light, he could see Jennifer Rochester’s dark house. She’d been killed in the invasion and the recent cold had murdered her garden as well.
But the streetlamps were back on.
The crickets chirping through speakers in a distant bush.
He missed Hecter Gaither’s piano, the sound of it coming through the radios in all the houses of Wayward Pines.
Would’ve loved to lose himself in the music one last time.
For just a moment, sitting in the oversize chair, Ethan shut his eyes and let the normalcy wash over him.
Tried to push their fragility out of his mind.
But it wasn’t possible.
There was no coming to terms with the fact that he was a member of a species on the verge of extinction.
It filled every moment with meaning.
It filled every moment with horror.
He walked into the kitchen to the smell of pasta boiling and spaghetti sauce thickening.
“Smells amazing,” he said.
Moving up behind Theresa at the stove, he wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck.
“Last meal in Wayward Pines,” she said. “We’re going big tonight. I’m cleaning out the fridge.”
“Put me to work. I can wash those dishes.”
Stirring the sauce, she said, “I think it’s probably all right to leave them.”
Of course it was.
Theresa wiped her eyes.
“You’re crying,” he said.
He took hold of her arm and turned her gently around, and asked, “What is it?”
“I’m just scared is all.”
It was the last time they would sit together at this dinner table.
Ethan looked at Theresa.
At his son.
He raised his water glass.
“I would like to say a couple words to the two most important people in my life.” Already his voice trembled. “I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m pretty far from it. But there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect you, Theresa. And you, Ben. Nothing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Or the day after. Or the day after that.” He scowled against the gathering tears. “I’m just so grateful that we’re together in this moment.”
Theresa’s eyes glistened.
As he sat down, shaken, she reached over and took hold of his hand.
It was the last night he would sleep on a soft mattress.
He and Theresa were intertwined, buried under a mountain of blankets.
The hour was late, but they were both still awake. He could feel her eyelashes blinking against his chest.
“Can you believe this is our life?” she whispered.
“Hasn’t set in yet. Don’t think it ever will.”
“What if this doesn’t work? What if we all die?”
“That’s a real possibility.”
“There’s a part of me,” she said, “that wants to play it safe. Maybe we do only have four years left. So, what if we make them great? Savor every moment. Every bite of food, every breath of air. Every kiss. Every day we aren’t hungry or thirsty or running for our lives.”
“But then we definitely die. Our species is finished.”