Already, it was colder, the heating and ventilation systems running on idle.
The stone floor of the great cavern was freezing against his bare feet.
It was frigid inside the suspension hub, just a few degrees above freezing. Masked by a blue-tinged fog, there was movement all around.
The machines hummed and ejected streams of white gas.
He pushed through the fog, turned a corner, and made his way between two rows of machines.
Men in white lab coats were helping the residents of Wayward Pines to climb into the suspension units.
He stopped at the machine at the end of the row.
The digital nameplate read:
SUSPENSION DATE: 9/19/12
RESIDENT: 8 YEARS, 9 MONTHS, 22 DAYS
She was already inside.
Ethan peered through the two-inch-wide panel of glass that ran down the front of the machine.
Kate stared back at him, locked into her suspension unit.
She was trembling.
Ethan put his hand to the glass.
He mouthed, “It’s going to be okay.”
He hurried three rows down, threading his way through more people in white sleeping suits.
Theresa was kneeling down in front of Ben, holding him, whispering in his ear.
Ethan wrapped his arms around them, pulled his family in close.
“I don’t want to do it, Dad,” Ben cried. “I’m scared.”
“I’m scared too,” Ethan said. “We’re all scared and that’s okay.”
“What if this is the end?” Theresa asked.
Ethan stared into his wife’s green eyes.
“Then know I love you. It’s time,” Ethan said.
He helped Ben onto his feet, held the boy’s arm as he stepped into his machine.
His son was shaking—from the cold, from the fear.
Ethan eased him down onto the metal seat.
Restraints shot out of the walls, locking around Ben’s ankles and wrists.
“I’m so cold, Dad.”
“I love you, Ben. I’m so proud of you. I have to shut the door now.”
“Not yet. Please.”
Ethan leaned in and kissed his forehead, thinking, This could be the last time I ever touch my boy. He stared into Ben’s eyes.
“Look at me, son. Be brave.”
Ethan wiped the tears from his cheek, stepped out of the suspension chamber.
“I love you, Ben,” Theresa said.
“Love you, Mom.”
Ethan gave the door to Ben’s machine a nudge. It swung shut, and an internal locking mechanism triggered the seal.
Ethan and Theresa stared through the glass as the interior of Ben’s chamber began to fill with gas.
They smiled through their tears as Ben’s eyes closed.
Theresa turned to Ethan. “Tuck me in?” she asked.
He took her by the hand and walked her down to her machine. The door was already open, and she stared inside at the black composite seat, the armrests, the black tubing hanging from the inner wall, tipped with a large-gauge needle that would vacuum every drop of blood from her veins.
She said, “Oh Jesus Christ.”
She climbed in and sat down.
The machine locked her in.
Ethan said, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
“You think we’ll really get there?”
And then he kissed his wife like it was the last time he would ever touch her.
Climbing into his suspension chamber, Ethan thought of what he’d written down in his study last night, the words he’d recorded in the surveillance center.
Possibly the last recorded statement of human history.
The world is cruel. The world is hard, and in this valley, we lived at the mercy of the abbies. We lived like prisoners, and it went against every fiber of our being. Humanity is meant to explore; we’re meant to conquer, to roam. It’s in our DNA, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
He sat down in the seat.
It’s going to be a long journey, and when we reach our destination, there’s no telling what we’ll find.
The restraints locked around his ankles.
I’m afraid. We all are.
What kind of a world awaits us on the other side of this long sleep? To some extent, it doesn’t matter. Because the residents of Wayward Pines will face it together. No secrets. No lies. No kings.
The door to his own chamber clanged shut and locked.
We’ve all said our goodbyes. We all know this could be the end, and we’ve made as much peace with that fact as we can.
The pressurized hiss of releasing gas was accompanied by a woman’s voice, computerized and strangely comforting.
She said, “Please begin breathing deeply. Smell the flowers while you can.”
They say time heals all wounds . . . Well, we’ve got plenty of it . . . Enough time for empires to rise and fall. For species to change. For the world to become a kinder place.
The gas smelled like lavender and lilac, and the moment he breathed it in, he felt his consciousness being kicked out from under his feet.
So we all embark wondering what lies over the horizon, what’s around the next bend. And isn’t that, in the end, what drives us?
His eyelids began to lower, and he conjured up the faces of his wife, his son.
We have hope again.
Took Theresa and Ben with him, down into that long, long sleep.
For now, the world belongs to the abbies, but the future . . .
The future could be ours.
Seventy thousand years later, Ethan Burke’s eyes slammed open.