The Jeep lurched forward, accelerating on a single, unmarked lane of pristine pavement.
They sped up a fifteen-percent grade.
The walls of the tunnel were exposed bedrock.
In places, rivulets of water came down the rock and spiderwebbed across the road. An occasional droplet starred the windshield.
The fluorescent luminaires blurred past overhead in a river of morbid orange.
It smelled like stone, water, and exhaust.
Between the engine growl and the wind, it was too noisy for conversation. This was fine by Ethan. He leaned back into the gray vinyl seat and fought the urge to rub his arms against the constant blast of cold, wet air.
Pressure built inside his ears, the roar of the engine fading.
The noise returned.
They kept climbing.
At thirty-five miles per hour, it was only a four-minute trip, but it seemed to take longer. Something disorienting and time-skewing in the face of all the cold and the noise and the wind.
The sense of literally boring up inside a mountain.
The unnerving anticipation of going to see him.
The tunnel emptied into an immense cavern that contained the floor space of ten warehouses. A million square feet or more. A room expansive enough for the assembly of jets or spacecraft. But instead it held provisions. Huge cylindrical reservoirs filled with food staples. Long rows of shelving forty feet high stocked with lumber and supplies. Everything needed to keep the last town on earth running for years to come.
Marcus drove past a door with the word Suspension stenciled across the glass. Misty blue light clouded behind the entrance, and it ran an icy finger down Ethan’s spine to know what stood inside.
Pilcher’s suspension units.
Hundreds of them.
Every resident of Wayward Pines, himself included, had been chemically suspended in that room for eighteen hundred years.
The Jeep jerked to a stop beside a pair of glass doors.
Marcus turned off the car as Ethan climbed out.
The escort typed in a code on the keypad and the doors whisked apart.
They moved past a placard that read “Level 1” into a long, empty corridor.
Fluorescent lights humming.
The floor was a streak of black-and-white checkered tile. Every ten feet stood a door inset with a small circular window. No handle, no doorknob—they opened only with a keycard.
Most of the windows were dark.
Through one, however, an aberration watched Ethan pass, the pupils of its large, milky eyes dilating, razor cuspids bared, a single black talon clicking on the glass.
They visited him in nightmares. He’d wake dripping with sweat, reliving the attack, Theresa patting his back and whispering that he was safe at home in bed, that everything would be okay.
Halfway down the corridor, they stopped at a pair of unmarked doors.
Marcus swiped his keycard and they opened.
Ethan stepped inside the small car.
His escort inserted a key into a chrome panel, and when the sole button began to blink, pushed it.
The movement was smooth.
Ethan’s ears always popped once during the ride, but he could never tell if they were rising or descending.
It stuck in his craw that even after two weeks on the job he was still escorted around this place like a child or a threat.
It felt like just yesterday he’d been sitting across the desk from Adam Hassler, Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle field office, receiving the assignment to come to this town and find Ethan’s missing ex-partner, Kate Hewson. But he wasn’t a Secret Service agent anymore. He still hadn’t fully come to terms with that fact.
The only way to know that they had stopped was that the doors opened.
The first thing he saw stepping off was a Picasso, which Ethan suspected was original.
They walked through a posh foyer. No fluorescent lights and checkered linoleum here. It was all marble tile and high-end wall sconces. Crown molding. Even the air tasted better—none of that canned, stale-edged component found in the rest of the complex.
They passed a sunken living room.
A cathedral kitchen.
A library walled with leather-bound volumes that smelled absolutely antique.
Turning a corner, they finally headed down toward the double oak doors at the end of the hall.
Marcus knocked hard twice, and a voice on the other side responded, “Come in!”
“Go ahead, Mr. Burke.”
Ethan opened the doors and stepped through into a spectacular office.
The floor was a dark, exotic hardwood with a high-gloss sheen.
The centerpiece was a large table that displayed, under glass, an architectural miniature of Wayward Pines, accurate even to the color of Ethan’s house.
The left-hand wall was adorned with the works of Vincent van Gogh.
The opposite wall consisted of a floor-to-ceiling bank of flat-screened monitors. Nine high, twenty-four across. Leather sofas faced the screens that showed two hundred sixteen simultaneous images of Wayward Pines—streets, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, backyards.
Every time Ethan saw those screens he had to stifle an irresistible impulse to tear someone’s head off.
He understood the purpose—fully—but still…
“That fury,” said the man behind the intricately carved mahogany desk. “You flash it every time you come to see me.”
Ethan shrugged. “You’re eavesdropping on private lives. Just a natural reaction.”
“You believe privacy should exist in our town?”
“Of course not.”
Ethan moved toward the giant desk as the doors behind him swung shut.
He shelved his Stetson under his right arm and eased down into one of the chairs.
Stared at David Pilcher.
He was the billionaire-inventor (when money meant something) behind Wayward Pines, behind this complex inside the mountain. In 1971, Pilcher had discovered that the human genome was degrading, and he’d privately predicted that humanity would cease to exist within thirty to forty generations. So he built this suspension superstructure to preserve a number of pure humans before the genome corruption reached critical mass.
In addition to his inner circle of one hundred sixty true believers, Pilcher was responsible for the abduction of six hundred fifty people, all of whom, himself included, he’d put into suspended animation.
And Pilcher’s prediction came true. At this very moment, beyond the electrified fence that surrounded Wayward Pines, lived hundreds of millions of what humanity had devolved into—aberrations.
And yet, Pilcher didn’t own the face he’d ostensibly earned. He was a physically unthreatening man. Five foot five in boots. Hairless save for the faintest silver stubble—more chrome than winter clouds. He watched Ethan through diminutive eyes that were as black as they were unreadable.