Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(4)

by Blake Crouch

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.

Pilcher pushed a manila folder across the leather-topped desk.

“What’s this?” Ethan asked.

“A surveillance-based report.”

Ethan opened the folder.

It contained a black-and-white screenshot of a man he recognized. Peter McCall. The man was editor-in-chief of the town paper—the Wayward Light. In the photograph, McCall is lying on his side in bed, staring empty-eyed into nothing.

“What’d he do?” Ethan asked.

“Well, nothing. And that’s the problem. Peter hasn’t shown up for work the last two days.”

“Maybe he’s been sick?”

“He hasn’t reported feeling ill, and Ted, my head surveillance tech, got a weird vibe.”

“Like he might be considering running?”

“Perhaps. Or doing something reckless.”

“I remember his file,” Ethan said. “I don’t recall any major integration issues. No subsequent insubordinate behavior. Has he said anything disturbing?”

“McCall hasn’t spoken a word in forty-eight hours. Not even to his children.”

“What do you want me to do exactly?”

“Keep an eye on him. Drop by and say hello. Don’t underestimate the effect your presence can have.”

“You aren’t considering a fête are you?”

“No. Fêtes are reserved for those who exhibit true acts of treason and try to bring others along with them. You aren’t wearing your sidearm.”

“I think it sends the wrong message.”

Pilcher smiled a mouthful of tiny white teeth. “I appreciate your taking an interest in the message I want my sole figure of authority in town to espouse. I mean that. What would your message be, Ethan?”

“That I’m there to help. To support. To protect.”

“But you’re not actually there to do any of those things. I’ve been unclear—this is my fault. Your presence is a reminder of my presence.”

“Got it.”

“So the next time I spot you walking down the street on one of my screens, can I expect to see your biggest, baddest gun bulging off your hip?”

“For sure.”

“Excellent.”

Ethan could feel his heart punching against his ribs with a furious intensity.

“Please don’t take this minor rebuke to be my overall impression of your work, Ethan. I think you’re integrating nicely into your new position. Would you agree?”

Ethan glanced over Pilcher’s shoulder. The wall behind the desk was solid rock. In the center, a large window had been cut into the stone. The view was of the mountains, the canyon, and Wayward Pines—two thousand feet below.

“I think I’m getting more comfortable with the job,” Ethan said.

“You’ve been rigorously studying the resident files?”

“I’ve gotten through all of them once.”

“Your predecessor, Mr. Pope, had them memorized.”

“I’ll get there.”

“Glad to hear it. But you weren’t studying them this morning, correct?”

“You were watching me?”

“Not watching you watching you. But your office popped up a few times on the monitors. What was that you were reading? I couldn’t make it out.”

“The Sun Also Rises.”

“Ah. Hemingway. One of my favorites. You know, I still believe that great art will be created here. I brought along our pianist, Hecter Gaither, for that explicit reason. I have other renowned novelists and painters in suspension. Poets. And we’re always looking for talent to nurture in the school. Ben is thriving in his art class.”

Ethan bristled internally at Pilcher’s mention of his son, but he only said, “The residents of Pines are in no state of mind to make art.”

“What do you mean by that, Ethan?”

Pilcher asked it like a therapist might—the question charged with intellectual curiosity, not aggression.

“They live under constant surveillance. They know they can never leave. What kind of art would a repressed society possibly be motivated to create?”

Pilcher smiled. “Ethan, to hear you talk, I wonder if you’re fully on board with me. If you actually believe in what we’re doing.”

“Of course I believe.”

“Of course you do. A report came across my desk today from one of my nomads just returned from a two-week mission. He saw a swarm of abbies two thousand strong only twenty miles from the center of Wayward Pines. They were moving across the plains east of the mountains, chasing a herd of buffalo. Every day, I’m reminded how vulnerable we are in this valley. How tenuous, how fragile our existence. And you sit there and look at me like I’m running the GDR or the Khmer Rouge. You don’t like it. I can respect that. Hell, I wish it could be different. But there are reasons for the things I do, and these reasons are based upon the preservation of life. Of our species.”

“Aren’t there always reasons?”

“You’re a man of conscience, and I appreciate that,” Pilcher said. “I wouldn’t have someone in your position of power who wasn’t. Every resource I have, every person under my employ, is devoted to one thing. Keeping the four hundred sixty-one people in that valley—your wife and son included—safe.”