Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(6)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(6)
Blake Crouch

“I get a report anytime anyone does anything strange.”

“You think it’s strange it pisses me off when your peeping toms watch me with my wife?”

“Watching intimate moments is strictly forbidden. You know this.”

“The only way an analyst would know that it was no longer an intimate moment was if he had been watching during the intimate moment. Right?”

“You acknowledged the camera.”

“Theresa didn’t see.”

“But what if she had?”

“You think there’s anyone in town who’s been here longer than fifteen minutes who doesn’t know they’re under constant surveillance?”

“Whether they know or suspect, I don’t care. As long as they keep it to themselves. As long as they walk the line. That includes not ever acknowledging the cameras.”

“Do you know how difficult it is to f*ck your wife with a camera over your bed?”

“I don’t care.”

“David—”

“It’s against the rules and you know it.” For the first time, anger laced his words.

“Fine.”

“Say it won’t happen again, Ethan.”

“It won’t happen again. But don’t ever let me find out that your analysts are watching. I’ll leave them where I find them.”

Ethan took a big, hot swallow that burned his throat.

“How you feeling, Ethan? You seem cranky.”

“I feel rough.”

“First thing, we’re taking you to the hospital.”

“Last time I was in your hospital, everyone tried to kill me. I think I’ll just tough this one out.”

“Suit yourself.” Pilcher took a sip and made a face. “It’s not terrible, but sometimes I could kill to sit outside a café in a European city and drink a proper shot of espresso.”

“Oh, come on, you love this.”

“Love what, Ethan?”

“What you’ve created here.”

“Sure, it’s my life’s work. Doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of the old world I still miss.”

They drank coffee and the mood lightened just a touch.

Pilcher finally said, “She was a good woman. A great woman.”

“What was her name?”

“Alyssa.”

“You didn’t know where she was until I told you. Does that mean she wasn’t chipped?”

“We allowed her to take it out.”

“You must’ve trusted her.”

“Implicitly. Remember the group I told you about?”

“The Wanderers?”

“I’d sent her to infiltrate. These people—they’ve all managed to remove their chips. They meet at night. We don’t know where. We don’t know how many. We don’t know how they communicate. I couldn’t send her in with a microchip. They’d have killed her outright.”

“So she got in?”

“Last night was supposed to be her first meeting. She’d have seen all the players.”

“They have meetings? How’s that possible?”

“We don’t know how, but they understand the weaknesses in our surveillance. They’ve gamed the system.”

“And you’re saying these people are responsible for her death?”

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

“You want me to investigate this group?”

“I want you to pick up where Alyssa left off.”

“I’m sheriff. They’d never let me get within a thousand miles.”

“After your tumultuous integration, I’m thinking the jury is still out on where your loyalties lie. You sell yourself right, they might consider you a prized asset.”

“You actually think they’d trust me?”

“I think your old partner will.”

It became very quiet in the kitchen.

Just the hum of the refrigerator.

Distant, ebullient noise coming through an open window—children playing somewhere.

Shouts of You’re it!

Ethan said, “Kate is a Wanderer?”

“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.”

“And now it feels like you’re married to a stranger?”

“We’re rusty. Awkward. And of course, it’s not like we can just sit down and talk about Pines. About this insane situation we’re in. He’s thrown back into my life and we’re expected to function like a perfect family unit.”

Pam scribbled on the pad.

“How would you say Ethan is adapting?”

“To me?”

“To you. Ben. His new job. Everything.”

“I don’t know. Like I said, it’s not like we can communicate. You’re the only person I’m allowed to really talk to.”

“Fair enough.”

Pam faced Theresa again. “Do you find yourself wondering what he knows?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. Ethan was the subject of a fête, and the only person in the history of Pines to escape one. Do you wonder if he made it out of town? What he saw? Why he returned?”

“But I would never ask him.”

“But you wonder.”

“Of course I do. It’s like he died and came back to life. He has answers to questions that haunt me. But I would never ask him.”

“Have you and Ethan been intimate yet?”

Theresa felt a deep blush flooding through her face as she stared up at the ceiling.

“Yes.”

“How many times?”

“Three.”

“How was it?”

None of your fu**ing business.

But she said, “The first two times were a little clunky. Yesterday was far and away the best.”

“Did you come?”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Theresa. Your ability or lack thereof to have an orgasm is a reflection on your state of mind.” Pam smirked. “And possibly Ethan’s skills. As your psychiatrist, I need to know.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, you had one?”

“Yesterday, I did.”

Theresa watched Pam draw an O with a smiley face beside it.

“I worry about him,” Theresa said.

“Your husband?”

“He went out in the middle of the night last night. Didn’t come back until dawn. I don’t know where he went. I can’t ask. I get that. I assume he was chasing someone trying to leave.”

“Do you ever have thoughts about leaving?”

“Not in several years.”

“Why is that?”

“At first, I wanted to. I felt like I was still living in the old world. Like this was a prison or an experiment. But it’s strange—the longer I stayed here, the more it became normal.”

“What did?”

“Not knowing why I was here. What this town really was. What was beyond.”

“And why do you think it became more normal to you?”

“Maybe this is just me adapting or giving in, but I realized that as strange as this town was, it wasn’t all that different from my life before. Not when I really held them up against each other. Most interaction in the old world was shallow and superficial. My job in Seattle was as a paralegal working for an insurance defense firm. Helping insurance companies f*ck people out of their coverage. Here, I sit in an office all day long and hardly talk to anyone. Equally useless jobs, but at least this one isn’t actively hurting people. The old world was filled with mysteries beyond my understanding—the universe, God, what happens when we die. And there are plenty of mysteries here. Same dynamics. Same human frailties. It just all happens to exist in this little valley.”

“So you’re saying it’s all relative.”

“Maybe.”

“Do you believe this is the afterlife, Theresa?”

“I don’t even know what that means. Do you?”

Pam just smiled. It was a facade, no comfort in it. Pure mask. The thought crossed Theresa’s mind, and not for the first time—who is this woman I’m spilling all my secrets to? To some extent, the exposure was terrifying. But the compulsion to actually connect with another human being tipped the scales.

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