Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(2)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(2)
Blake Crouch

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.

No windows.

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.

Two weeks.

Jesus.

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.

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.”

“What about the truth?” Ethan asked.

“In some environments, safety and truth are natural born enemies. I would think a former employee of the federal government could grasp that concept.”

Ethan glanced over at the wall of screens. On one in the lower left-hand corner, his wife appeared.

Sitting alone in her office on Main Street.

Motionless.

Bored.

The screen adjacent to hers showed a camera feed unlike anything Ethan had seen—a bird’s-eye view of something flying a hundred feet above a dense forest at a considerable rate of speed.

“What’s that camera feed?” Ethan asked, pointing at the wall.

“Which one?”

The image was replaced by a camera shot from inside the opera house.

“It’s gone now, but it looked like something flying at treetop level.”

“Oh, that’s just one of my UAVs.”

“UAV?”

“Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. It’s an MQ-9 Reaper drone. We send them out every so often on reconnaissance missions. Has a range of about a thousand miles. Today, I believe it’s flying south to do a loop around the Great Salt Lake.”

“Ever find anything?”

“Not yet. Look, Ethan. I’m not asking you to like all of this. I don’t like it.”

“Where are we going?” Ethan asked as the image of his wife was replaced with the image of two boys building sand castles in a sandbox. “As a species I mean.” He fixed his gaze back on Pilcher. “I get what you’ve done here. That you’ve preserved our existence far beyond what evolution had in mind. But was it just for this? So a small contingent of humanity could live in a valley under 24-7 surveillance? Shielded from the truth? Occasionally forced to kill one of their own? It’s not a life, David. It’s a prison sentence. And you’ve made me the warden. I want the best for these people. For my family.”

Pilcher rolled back in his chair away from the desk, spun it around, and stared through the glass at the town he had made.

“We’ve been here fourteen years, Ethan. There are less than a thousand of us and hundreds of millions of them. Sometimes the best you can do is simply survive.”

The camouflaged tunnel door closed shut behind him.

Ethan stood alone in the woods.

He moved away from the rock outcropping back toward the road.

The sun had already dropped behind the western wall of cliffs.

A crisp, golden quality to the sky.

A night-is-coming chill to the air.

The road into Pines was empty, and Ethan walked down the middle of the double yellow.

Home was 1040 Sixth Street, a Victorian just a few blocks from Main. Yellow with white trim. Pleasant and creaky. Ethan moved across the flagstones and up onto the porch.

He opened the screened door, the solid wood door.

Stepped inside.

Said, “Honey, I’m home!”

There was no answer.

Only the silent, clenched energy of an empty house.

He topped the coat rack with his cowboy hat and sat down on a ladder-back chair to wrestle off his boots.

In sock feet, he crossed to the kitchen. The milk had come. Four glass bottles rattled against one another when he pulled open the door to the fridge. He grabbed one and carried it down the hallway into the study. This was Ethan’s favorite room in the house. If he sat in the oversized upholstered chair by the window, he could bask in the knowledge that he wasn’t being watched. Most buildings in Pines had one or two blind spots. On his third trip to the superstructure, he’d gotten his hands on the surveillance schematics for his house. Memorized the location of every camera. He’d asked Pilcher if he could have them removed, and been denied. Pilcher wanted Ethan to have the full experience of living under surveillance so he could relate to the people under his authority.

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