Footfalls echoed in the stairwell he’d just been in.
Ethan hurried down the corridor, moving as fast as he could, the fluorescent fixtures scrolling past in a stream of artificial light.
He glanced once over his shoulder as he reached the stairwell, saw two figures in black moving into the far end of the corridor a hundred yards back. One of them pointed and shouted something, and then they rushed toward him.
Ethan hustled through the stairwell.
A pair of automatic glass doors were sliding together straight ahead of him.
He turned sideways, barely managing to squeeze through as they closed after him.
It was the epic proportions of the next room that took him aback, the mad scope of this place bringing him to a full stop.
He no longer stood on tile but on cold rock and at the edge of a cavern the size of ten warehouses—a million square feet at least if he had to guess, and the distance from floor to ceiling sixty feet in places. In all his life, he’d seen only one space more impressive—the Boeing Plant in Everett, Washington.
Giant globes of light hung down from the rocky ceiling, each one illuminating a thousand-square-foot section of floor space.
There were hundreds of them.
The glass doors had begun to spread open behind him, and he could hear the footsteps of those black-garbed men—they’d already covered half the distance of the corridor.
Ethan ran into the cavern and shot down a passageway between shelves laden with lumber of every dimension. The shelves were forty feet tall, three deep on either side, and extended the length of a football field, Ethan figuring they contained enough linear board feet to rebuild Wayward Pines five times over.
Numerous voices echoed through the cavern.
Ethan glanced over his shoulder, saw someone a couple of hundred feet back sprinting toward him.
He broke out of the narrow canyon between the shelves.
Straight ahead, the floor space was overrun by hundreds of cylindrical reservoirs thirty feet tall and just as wide, each capable of holding tens of thousands of cubic feet, each labeled in huge, block letters as tall as Ethan.
Ethan ran into the labyrinth of containers. He could hear footfalls—very close—but with all the spatial interference, it was impossible to pinpoint their location.
He stopped and leaned against a reservoir, breathing into his shirt in the crook of his arm, fighting to mask the noise of his panting.
A man in black fatigues bolted past, holding a walkie-talkie in one hand and something that resembled a cattle prod in the other.
Ethan waited ten seconds and then changed course, threading his way through the containers for another hundred yards until he emerged into a parking lot of cars.
The vehicles ranged in type from early eighties to present to models he’d never seen before—curvaceous, compact designs that looked more like radical concept cars than anything that belonged on a public street.
Every vehicle, without exception, sported gleaming chrome and unblemished paint jobs under the hanging globe lights, all looking as new and shiny as if they’d just rolled off the assembly line thirty seconds prior.
A group of men jogged into view on the far side of the parking lot.
Ethan ducked between a couple of red Jeep Cherokees, didn’t know if he’d been seen, but he felt confident he’d spotted automatic weapons.
He crawled for several car lengths and then rose up slowly beside a driver’s door until he was peering through the windshield of an early-eighties model Impala.
They were closer than he’d realized, just thirty feet away now and all armed with submachine guns. Two of them shined flashlights into the interior of every vehicle they passed while the third crawled behind on hands and knees, putting a light under each car.
Ethan headed in the opposite direction, not bothering to crawl, just running hunched over on the uneven rock and trying to make sure his head wasn’t visible through any glass.
Near the edge of the parking lot, he stumbled past a Crown Vic with tinted windows in the rear passenger doors. He stopped, and with absolute precision, pulled on the handle and tugged the door open without a sound.
The dome light blazed down, and Ethan scrambled inside, jerking the door shut after him with just a touch too much force.
Even from inside the car, he could hear the echo of the slammed door riding through the cavern.
Crouching down in the shadows behind the driver seat, Ethan glanced over the headrest and through the windshield.
The trio of men were all standing now, each slowly turning, trying to ascertain where the noise had originated.
They finally split up, two moving away from Ethan, but one heading straight toward his car.
As the man approached, Ethan got down behind the seat and curled up into as small and compact a ball as he could make himself.
The footsteps drew near.
He had his head tucked between his knees.
Couldn’t see a thing.
Then the footsteps were right at his head, inches away on the other side of the door.
They didn’t trail away.
They had stopped.
The urge to lift his head to see what was happening so strong it nearly overcame him.
He wondered if the man was spotlighting the interior of the Crown Vic.
Wondered how well the light would pass through the rear tinted windows.
If he couldn’t get a decent glimpse inside, would he just open the door?
The footsteps went on, but Ethan didn’t move—waited another five minutes until he could no longer hear them.
Finally, he sat up and stared through the windshield.
The men were gone.
He didn’t see anyone.
Ethan eased the door open and crawled down onto the rock. If he strained to listen, he could hear voices, but they were much farther off, in some distant region of the cavern.
A hundred feet of crawling brought Ethan to the edge of the parking lot.
Straight ahead stood the cavern wall and the opening to a tunnel broad enough for two cars to travel abreast.
Ethan rose up onto his feet and crossed to the tunnel.
It was empty and well lighted and fell away from where he stood in a straight shot that descended at a ten or twelve percent grade over pristine pavement.
A sign had been affixed to the rock above the arched opening—white lettering on green background, just like the signage of the American interstate highway system.