Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(13)

by Blake Crouch

“Kate was Alyssa’s point of contact. Kate showed her how to remove her microchip.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Reach out to your old flame. Discreetly. Tell her you’re not really with me.”

“What do these people know and what do they want?”

“I believe they know everything. That they’ve gone beyond the fence and seen what’s out there. That they want to rule. They’re actively recruiting. Last sheriff, they made three attempts on his life. They’re probably already making the same plans for you. This is what I want you to investigate. Top priority. I’ll give you every tool you need. Unlimited access to surveillance.”

“Why aren’t you and your people handling this from the inside?”

“Alyssa’s death has been a big blow to all of us. There are a lot of people in the mountain not thinking very clearly right now. So I have to lay this on your shoulders. You alone. I hope you understand the stakes here. Whatever your personal feelings about the way I run this town—and you’ve shared them with me—it works. This can never be a democracy. There’s too much to lose if everything goes to shit. You’re with me on that, right?”

“I am. You run a mostly benevolent dictatorship with occasional slaughter.”

Ethan thought Pilcher would laugh, but he just stared across the island, the steam coiling off the surface of the coffee into his face.

“That was a joke,” Ethan said.

“You with me or not?”

“Yes. But I worked with Kate for years. She’s not a murderer.”

“No offense, but you worked with her in another time. She’s a different person now, Ethan. She’s a product of Pines, and you have no idea what she’s capable of.”

4

Theresa watched the second hand pass the 12.

3:20 p.m.

She tidied up the items on her smooth, clean desk and gathered her purse.

The brick walls of the office were papered with real estate brochures that few people had ever studied. She had rarely used the typewriter or received a phone call. For the most part, she read books all day, thought about her family, and occasionally her life before.

Since her arrival in Pines, she had wondered if this was her afterlife. At the very least, it was her life after.

After Seattle.

After her job as a paralegal.

After almost all of her relationships.

After living in a free world, that for all its complexities and tragedies still made sense.

But in her five years here, she had aged, and so had others. People had died, disappeared, been murdered. Babies had been born. That didn’t align with any concept of an afterlife she had heard of, but then again, by definition, how could you ever know what to expect outside the realm of the living, breathing human experience?

Over the years of her residency, it had steadily dawned on her that Pines felt much closer to a prison than any afterlife, although perhaps there was no meaningful distinction.

A mysterious and beautiful lifelong sentence.

It wasn’t just a physical confinement, but a mental one as well, and it was the mental aspect that made it feel like a stint in solitary. The inability to outwardly acknowledge one’s past or thoughts or fears. The inability to truly connect with a single human being. There were moments of course. Few and far between. Sustained eye contact, even with a stranger, when the intensity seemed to suggest the inner turmoil.

Fear.

Despair.

Confusion.

Those times, Theresa at least felt the warmth of humanity, of not being so utterly and helplessly alone. It was the fakeness that killed her. The forced conversations about the weather. About the latest crop from the gardens. Why the milk was late. About everything surface and nothing real. In Pines, it was only ever small talk, and getting accustomed to that level of interaction had been one of the toughest hurdles to her integration.

But every fourth Thursday, she got to leave work early, and for a brief window, the rules let up.

Theresa locked the door behind her and set off down the sidewalk.

It was a quiet afternoon, but that was nothing new.

There were never loud ones.

She walked south along Main Street. The sky was a staggering, cloudless blue. There was no wind. No cars. She didn’t know what month it was—only time and days of the week were counted—but it felt like late August or early September. A transitional quality to the light that hinted at the death of a season.

The air mild with summer, the light gold with fall.

And the aspen on the cusp of turning.

The lobby of the hospital was empty.

Theresa took the elevator to the third floor, stepped out into the hallway, checked the time.

3:29.

The corridor was long.

Fluorescent lights hummed above the checkerboard floor. Theresa walked halfway down until she reached the chair sitting outside a closed, unmarked door.

She took a seat.

The noise of the lights seemed to get louder the longer she waited.

The door beside her opened.

A woman emerged and smiled down at her. She had perfect white teeth and a face that struck Theresa as both beautiful and remote. Unknowable. Her eyes were greener than Theresa’s, and she’d pulled her hair back into a ponytail.

Theresa said, “Hi, Pam.”

“Hello, Theresa. Why don’t you come on in?”

The room was bland and sterile.

White walls absent any painting or photograph.

Just a chair, a desk, a leather divan.

“Please,” Pam said in a soothing voice that sounded vaguely robotic, gesturing for Theresa to lie down.

Theresa stretched out on the divan.

Pam took a seat in the chair and crossed her legs. She wore a white lab coat over a gray skirt and black-rimmed glasses.

She said, “It’s good to see you again, Theresa.”

“You too.”

“How have you been?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“I believe this is the first time you’ve come to see me since your husband’s return.”

“That’s true.”

“Must be so good to have him back.”

“It’s amazing.”

Pam slid the pen out of her lapel pocket and clicked out the tip. She turned her swivel chair toward the desk, put the pen to a legal pad with Theresa’s name scrawled across the top, and said, “Do I hear a but coming?”

“No, it’s just that it’s been five years. A lot has happened.”