Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(9)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(9)
Blake Crouch

“Be careful.” Ethan said it at just above a whisper.

She let go of his hand and stopped in the middle of the street, stared up at him through eyes beginning to sheet over with tears.

“Around who?” she asked. “You?”

In the middle of the night, Ethan’s phone rang.

He went downstairs, answered.

“I’m sorry about the late call,” Pilcher said.

“It’s all right. Everything okay?”

“I had a word with Alan this evening. He said you two spoke in the morgue today.”

“Yeah, he was helpful.”

“This is hard,” Pilcher said, his voice turning hoarse as if he’d begun to cry. “Ethan, I need you to know something.”

7

Cahn Auditorium

Northwestern University

Chicago, 2006

The thousand-seat auditorium was at capacity and the lights shining up from the orchestra pit burned his eyes. Twenty years ago, lecturing to a full house would’ve given him a rush to last for days, but he was long over the thrill. This lecture tour, beyond generating much-needed funds, wasn’t pushing him any closer to completing his work. Lately, all he wanted was to be in his lab. With only seven years left in this world, he needed to make every second count.

As the applause died down, he forced a smile, looked up from his notes, and rested his hands on the lectern.

He could do the opening by memory. Hell, he could do it all by memory, this being his tenth and last talk on the circuit.

He began, “Suspended animation is not a concept of twentieth-century science. We didn’t invent it. It belongs, like all the great mysteries of the universe, to nature. Consider the seed of a lotus plant. It can still germinate after thirteen hundred years. Bacterial spores have been discovered in bee amber, perfectly preserved and viable after tens of millions of years. And recently, scientists from West Chester University successfully revived bacteria that had been trapped for 250 million years inside salt crystals, deep underground.

“Quantum physics seems to hint at the possibility of time travel, and while intriguing, those are theories that only apply to particles on the subatomic level. Real time travel doesn’t need wormholes or flux capacitors.”

Chuckles rippled through the auditorium. That line always sparked a laugh.

He smiled out at all those faces he couldn’t see.

Like they weren’t even there.

Nothing but the crowd energy and the lights and the heat of the lights.

He said, “Real time travel is already here, has been for eons, occurring in nature, and that’s where we, as scientists, must look.”

It was a forty-minute presentation, and for the duration, his mind was elsewhere—in the tiny town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, that was more and more feeling like home.

With his collector, Javier, who had promised to deliver ten new “recruits” by year’s end.

With the last phase of his research and the pending sale to the military that would fully fund everything to come.

When he’d finished, he took questions, people lining up behind a microphone positioned at the front of the center aisle.

The fourth question came from a biology student with long black hair. It was the inevitable question that had come at some point during every one of his lectures.

She said, “Thanks so much for coming, Dr. Pilcher. It’s been a real privilege to have you on campus these last few days.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.”

“You’ve talked a lot about medical applications for suspended animation—using it to keep trauma patients in stasis until proper care can be administered. But what about what you alluded to at the beginning of your talk?”

“You mean time travel?” David said. “The fun stuff?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, I was just trying to get your attention.”

Everyone laughed.

“It worked,” the student said.

“You’re asking if I think it’s possible.”

“Yes.”

He took off his glasses, set them down on his leather notepad.

“Well, it’s certainly fun to dream about, isn’t it?” he said. “Look, there have been successful tests on mice—de-animating them by initiating hypothermia—but as you can imagine, getting human test subjects to sign up for such an experiment is a whole other matter. Especially long-term dormancy. Is it possible? Yes. I think so. But we’re still decades away. For now, I’m afraid, suspended animation as a time travel application for humanity is the stuff of bad science fiction.”

They were still clapping as he walked offstage.

The young, overachieving escort who’d been at his side during his entire stay on campus was waiting in the wings with a blinding smile.

“That was so amazing, Dr. Pilcher, oh my God, I’m so inspired.”

“Thank you, Amber. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Would you mind showing me to the nearest exit?”

“What about your book signing?”

“I need a breath of fresh air first.”

She led him through the backstage corridors, past dressing rooms, to a pair of doors in the back of the building next to a loading bay.

“Is everything, okay, Dr. Pilcher?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“And you’ll be right back? They’re already lining up at your signing table. I have a book for you to sign too.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

David pushed through the double doors and stepped out into the alley.

The darkness and the quiet and the cold so welcome.

The nearby Dumpsters reeked and he could hear the central heating units on top of the auditorium rumbling away.

It was that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the fall semester drawing to a close, the smell of dead leaves in the air, and the quiet that befalls a campus in advance of exam week.

His ride—a black Suburban—was parked in the alley.

Arnold Pope, bundled up in a North Face jacket, sat on the hood, reading a book in the light of a streetlamp.

David walked over.

“How’d it go?” Arnold asked.

“It’s over, this tour’s over, and that’s a good thing.”

“You’re already done signing?”

“I’m skipping out. Small present to myself.”

“Congratulations. Let’s get you back downtown.” Arnold closed the paperback.

“Not just yet. I want to take a little walk across campus first. If they come asking for me…”

“Never saw you.”

“Good man.”

David patted his arm and headed off down the alleyway. Pope had been with him now for four years, initially on the payroll as a driver, but with his law enforcement background David had let him branch out into PI work.

The man was talented, capable, and scary.

David had come to value not only Pope’s investigative acumen, but also his counsel. Pope was fast becoming his right-hand man.

Crossing Sheridan, he soon found himself walking into an open field.

Despite the late hour, the stained-glass windows of the library glowed.

The sky was clear, the moon climbing over the spires of a large, Gothic hall in the distance.

He’d left his coat in the Suburban, and the cold wind cut through his wool jacket, coming off the lake that was less than a quarter of a mile away.

But it felt good.

He felt good.

Alive.

Halfway across Deering Meadow, he caught the scent of cigarette smoke riding on the breeze.

Two steps later, he nearly tripped over her.

Caught himself, staggered back.

Saw the tobacco ember first, and then, as his eyes adjusted in the growing moonlight, the girl behind it.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you there.”

She looked up at him, her knees drawn into her chest.

Dragging deeply on the cigarette, the ember flaring and fading, flaring and fading.

Even in the poor light, he could see she wasn’t a student here.

David knelt down.

She cut her eyes up at him.

She was shivering.

The backpack in the grass beside her was packed to the gills.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“How the f*ck is that any of your business?” She smoked. “Are you like a professor here?”

“No.”

“Well, what are you doing out here in the dark and the cold?”

“I don’t know. Just needed to get away from people for a minute. Clear my head.”

“I know the feeling,” she said.

As the moon cleared the spires of the hall behind them, its light brightened the girl’s face.

Her left eye was black, swollen, half-closed.

“Someone hit you,” he said. He looked at her backpack again. “You on your own?”

“Of course not.”

“I won’t turn you in.”

She’d smoked her cigarette down to her fingers. Flicking it into the grass, she pulled another one out of her pocket, fired it up.

“That’s really bad for you, you know,” David said.

She shrugged. “What’s the worst that’ll happen?”

“You could die.”

“Yeah, that’d be so tragic.”

“How old are you?”

“How old are you?”

“Fifty-seven.”

David reached into his pocket, found his wallet, took out all the cash he had.

“This is a little over two hundred dollars—”

“I’m not going to blow you.”

“No, I’m not… I just want you to have this.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

Her hands were shaking with cold as she took the wad of cash.

“You’ll get yourself a warm bed tonight?” David asked.

“Yeah, because hotels rent out rooms to fourteen-year-olds all the damn time.”

“It’s freezing out here.”

She smirked, a glint of spirit in her eyes. “I have my methods. I won’t die tonight, don’t worry. But I will get a hot meal. Thank you.”

David stood.

“How long have you been on your own?” he asked.

“Four months.”

“Winter’s coming.”

“I would rather freeze to death than go back to another foster home. You wouldn’t understand—”

“I grew up in this beautiful neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut. Cute little town just a forty-minute train ride from Grand Central Station. Picket fences. Kids playing in the streets. It was the 1950s. You probably don’t know who Norman Rockwell is, but it’s the kind of place he would’ve painted. When I was seven years old, my parents left me with the sitter one Friday evening. They were going to drive into the city to have dinner and see a show. They never came back.”

“They left you?”

“They were killed in a car wreck.”

“Oh.”

“Never assume you know where someone else is coming from.”

He walked away, pant legs swishing through the grass.

She called out after him, “I’ll be gone by the time you tell the cops you saw me.”

“I’m not telling the cops,” David said.

After ten more steps, he stopped.

He glanced back.

Then he walked back.

Knelt down in front of her again.

“I knew you were a fu**ing pervert,” she said.

“No, I’m a scientist. Listen, I could give you real work. A warm place to stay. Safety from the streets, the cops, your parents, child services, whatever it is you’re running from.”

“Fuck off.”

“I’m staying downtown at the Drake Hotel. My last name is Pilcher. I’ll already have your very own room waiting for you if you change your mind.”

“I wouldn’t wait up.”

He stood.

“Take care of yourself. I’m David by the way.”

“Have a nice life, David.”

“What’s your name?”

“What do you care?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

She rolled her eyes, blew out a stream of smoke.

“Pamela,” she said. “Pam.”

David slipped quietly into his suite and hung his coat on the rack beside the door.

Elisabeth was sitting in the parlor, reading in the soft light of a floor lamp that overhung the leather chair beside the window.

She was forty-two years old. Her short blond hair had begun to lose its vibrancy—yellow considering silver.

A stunning winter beauty.

“How’d it go?” she asked.

He leaned down and kissed her. “It went great.”

“So this means you’re done?”

“We’re done. We’re going home.”

“You mean to the mountain.”

“That is home now, my love.”

David walked over to the window and swept aside the heavy drapes. There was no view of the city. Just the lights of late traffic on Lake Shore Drive and the black chasm of the lake beyond, yawning out into darkness.

He crossed the suite and carefully opened the door to the bedroom.

Crept inside.

His footfalls soundless on the thick carpeting.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then he saw her. Curled up in a ball on the immense bed. She had kicked away the blankets and rolled over to the edge. He moved her back into the center of the mattress and covered her again and eased her head gently onto a pillow.

His little girl took a deep breath, but didn’t wake.

Leaning over, he kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “Sweet dreams, my sweet Alyssa.”

When he opened the bedroom door, his wife was standing there.

“What’s wrong, Elisabeth?”

“We just had a knock at the door.”

“Who was it?”

“A teenage girl. She said her name is Pam. That you told her to come here. She’s waiting out in the hallway for you.”

II

8

Tobias finished tying off his bivy sack and descended the pine tree. In the failing light, he huddled over the circle of rocks and kindling with his flint and steel, building the nerve. It was a risk, always a risk. But it had been weeks since he’d felt the glow of a fire. Since he’d steeped pine needles in a pot of boiling water and let something warm run down his throat. He had thoroughly scouted the area. No footprints. No scat. Nothing to indicate it was frequented by anything other than a doe and two fawns. He’d seen a tuft of coarse white hair caught in the thorns of a raspberry bush.

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