What had started as chaos inside the cavern was escalating toward hysteria out in the open. People had seen what was coming. Some had fled back into the tunnel. Others were trying to climb higher up the mountain. A few had become frozen with fear, sitting down against the rock, trying to tune the world right out.
Those whom Ethan had armed were getting into positions along the uppermost ledge, trying to take aim on the abbies that were already climbing the wall.
Theresa watched one woman drop her rifle.
Saw a man lose his footing and fall screaming into the forest.
The first gunshot rang out from the ledge.
“Mom, what do we do?”
Theresa hated the terror she saw building in Ben’s eyes. She glanced back at the rocky path leading into the cavern.
“Should we have stayed inside?” Ben asked.
“And prayed the door held? No.”
To the right of the cave opening, a narrow ledge extended around the mountain. From this distance, Theresa couldn’t tell if it was navigable, but it was something.
“Come on.” She grabbed Ben’s arm and hustled him back up the path toward the tunnel as more gunshots broke out behind them.
“I thought you said—”
“We aren’t going back into the cavern, Ben.”
When they reached the opening to the tunnel, Theresa got her first good look at the ledge. It couldn’t have been wider than a foot. There were no planks, no cables. It looked right on the edge of plausible.
She faced her son as people streaked past them, heading back into the tunnel.
Somewhere in the forest below, an abby shrieked.
“We have to follow this ledge,” she said.
Ben stared at the slim, natural path across the cliff face, and said, “That looks scary.”
“Would you rather be trapped in that cavern when fifty abbies break the door down?”
“What about everyone else?”
“My job is to protect you. You ready?”
He gave a quick, unconvincing nod.
Theresa felt her stomach clench. She stepped out onto the ledge and pressed her chest against the wall, her palms trailing across the rock. Taking small, shuffling steps, she clutched handholds where she could find them. After five feet, she looked back at Ben.
“See how I did that?”
Hard as it had been leaving the safety of that wide path into the mountain, it was infinitely more excruciating to watch her son step out onto the ledge. The very first thing he did was look down.
“No, don’t do that, honey. Look at me.”
Ben looked up. “It’s a lot scarier in the daylight.”
“Just focus on taking safe steps, and keep your hands on the wall like I am. Sometimes there will be places to grab.”
Ben started toward her, step by step.
“You’re doing great, honey.”
He reached her.
They went on.
After twenty feet, the exposure opened up wide beneath them, a four-hundred-foot drop straight down to the forest floor. So vertical, if you fell you wouldn’t bounce off anything until you hit the ground.
“How we doing, buddy?” Theresa asked.
“Are you looking down?”
Theresa glanced back. He was.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “It makes my stomach feel weird and tingly.”
She wanted to reach out, take his hand, hold him tight.
“We need to keep moving,” she said.
Theresa couldn’t be certain, but the path seemed to be narrowing. Her left foot, which she kept perpendicular to the ledge and pointed into the mountain, was hanging off the edge by an inch or two.
As they arrived at a bend in the mountain, a flurry of gunfire exploded back toward the cavern. Theresa and Ben both looked. Several dozen people were retreating up the path into the tunnel with a speed and intensity that suggested they were fleeing for their lives. The scream of an abby, and another, and another broke out as those pale, translucent monsters climbed off the side of the cliff wall. When they got their talons on level ground, the abbies rushed on all fours up the path toward the tunnel.
“What if they see us?” Ben asked.
“Don’t move,” Theresa whispered. “Not even a muscle.”
When the last of the abbies—she counted forty-four—had disappeared into the tunnel, Theresa said, “Let’s go.”
As they moved around the bend, a deep, thumping sound spilled out of the tunnel.
“What is that?” Ben asked.
“The abbies. They’re beating on the door to the cavern.”
Theresa hugged the cliff and stepped around the corner onto a six-inch ledge, her heart in her throat.
Suddenly, a great chorus of screams rose up inside the tunnel.
GAS WORKS PARK
1,816 YEARS AGO
Hassler flips burgers on a grill in the shadow of the remnants of the Seattle Gas Light Company, a collection of rusted cylinders and ironwork that looms in the distance like the ruins of a steampunk skyline. The expanse of emerald grass runs down to the edge of Lake Union, which sparkles under the late afternoon sun. It’s June. It’s warm. The entire city seems to be out taking advantage of this rare, perfect day.
Sailboat masts add triangles of color to the lake.
Kites sprinkle color in the sky.
Frisbees slice through the air and the bright noise of children’s laughter echoes from the plant’s exhauster-compressor building, which has been renovated into a “play barn.”
It’s the annual company picnic for the Secret Service’s Seattle field office, and Hassler can’t shake how odd it is to see his team sporting all those bare legs and sandaled feet in place of crisp black suits and pantsuits.
His assistant, Mike, walks up carrying two empty plates and a couple of bratwurst requests.
As Hassler spears one of the brats, he spots Theresa Burke moving away from the group she’s been standing with, heading down toward the shoreline at a pace substantially faster than a leisurely stroll.
Hassler sets down the fork and looks at his assistant.
“Did I mention I’m promoting you?” Hassler says.
Mike’s eyes go wide with self-interest. The young man has only been working with Hassler for eight months, but he has, on a number of occasions, demonstrated a complete lack of awareness regarding the fact that his main purpose in life is answering the phones, pouring coffee, and typing up the special agent in charge’s dictation.