“Totally normal. You’ll feel better by the end of the day, I promise.”
“Something happened,” the man said.
“Yes. Something happened. Do you remember what?”
His eyes narrowed.
“Do you know your name?” Pam asked.
Total amnesia, especially during the first forty-eight hours, occurred thirty-nine percent of the time.
“Very good. Do you remember what brought you here?”
“I came to sell encyclopedias?”
“Yes. Good. Did you make any sales?”
“I don’t re… one. I think. Yes. One sale.”
“And then what happened?”
“I was walking to dinner and…” She could see the memory of the trauma wash over him, the fear and the shadow of the fear passing across his face. “Something hit me. I don’t know what. I don’t remember anything after. Is this a hospital?”
“Yes. And this is your town now.”
“I don’t live here. I live in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.”
“You did live in Scottsbluff, but now you live here.”
Wayne sat up a little straighter.
This was far and away Pam’s favorite part of integration. Watching a new resident begin to comprehend that their life—or whatever this new existence was—had irrevocably changed. Nothing beat the fêtes, but these moments of quiet, devastating revelation were, at least for her, a close second.
“What does that mean exactly?” Wayne Johnson asked.
“It means that you live here now.”
Sometimes they connected the dots on their own.
Sometimes she had to nudge them over the line.
She waited a minute, watching the wheels turn frantically behind Mr. Johnson’s eyes.
He finally said, “In the accident… was I hurt?”
Pam reached across the bed and patted the lump that was his leg under the blankets.
“I’m afraid you were.”
He looked around the hospital room.
He looked at his hands.
She could feel the question coming.
Willed it to come.
He was tiptoeing right up to the edge of it.
Pam thinking, Ask it. Just ask it. The data was conclusive—almost every time a resident arrived at the question on their own and found the courage to give voice to it, their integration progressed without incident. Failing to ask the question was a frighteningly accurate predictor for unbelievers, fighters, runners.
Wayne closed his mouth.
Swallowed the question down like a bitter pill.
Pam didn’t push it. No point in that.
It was still early.
Still plenty of time to make Mr. Johnson think that he was dead.
Ethan sat at a window table in the Steaming Bean, sipping a cappuccino and watching the toy store across the street. It was called Wooden Treasures, and it adjoined a workshop where a man named Harold Ballinger spent his weekdays building toys. His wife, Kate Ballinger, formerly Kate Hewson, formerly Ethan’s partner in the Secret Service, worked in the toy store.
Ethan had only spoken to her once since coming to Wayward Pines, in the midst of his horrifying integration. But since becoming sheriff, they hadn’t said two words to each other, and he’d managed to avoid her entirely.
Now he studied her through the glass.
She sat at the cash register in the empty toy store, engrossed in a book. It was late afternoon and the light angling through the storefront glass fired her prematurely white hair into a shock of almost blinding brilliance.
Like a cumulous cloud backlit by sunlight.
He’d read her resident file. Read it several times.
Kate had lived in Wayward Pines for almost nine years. When he’d come looking for her, she’d been thirty-six. She would turn forty-five in three weeks. In their life before, he’d been a year older. Now she had him by eight.
Her file told of a brutal integration.
She’d fought, tried to escape, pushed Pilcher’s patience right up to the brink of ordering a fête.
Then—she’d simply relented.
Settled into her assigned house.
Settled into her assigned job.
And two years later when the word came down from Pilcher’s sheriff at the time, she’d married Harold Ballinger and moved in with him without the slightest protestation.
For five years, they were model residents.
The first surveillance report was triggered off an audio strike from the microphone over their bed.
A whispered phrase that just squeaked into the detectible decibel range.
Kate’s voice: The Englers and the Goldens are in.
Then nothing for a month until Kate’s microchip popped one night at two in the morning in the cemetery.
Sheriff Pope had tracked her down. Found her out wandering alone. He’d questioned her, but she played dumb. Made her apologies. Lied and said she’d had a fight with Harold, needed to get some fresh air.
There had been one last incident two days later—Harold and Kate disappearing for an hour inside their bedroom closet, which incidentally happened to be one of the few blind spots in the house.
The footage was flagged, a report generated, but nothing came of it.
There were no further reports for a year and a half until Ted from surveillance sent a memo to Pilcher and Pam.
Ethan read it as he sipped his cappuccino.
From: Ted Upshaw
To: David Pilcher
Subjects: Residents 308 and 294; a/k/a Kate and Harold Ballinger
I’ve harbored a mounting suspicion over the last few months, which I feel compelled to share with you now. After midnight, once every couple of weeks, in eleven households that we know of (Ballinger, Engler, Kirby, Turiel, Smith, Golden, O’Brien, Nighswander, Greene, Brandenburg, and Shaw), the interior cameras produce no video feed for extended periods of time—roughly between four and seven hours. A typical night feed is two hours of tossing and turning with all the motionless activity missing. The only thing that could cause such extended video blackouts would be a complete absence of microchip movement. In other words, no motion to ping the cameras.
But this is impossible.
For a camera to shut off at night for hours at a time, the subjects would have to sleep perfectly still. Or be dead. The cameras are highly sensitive and programmed to wake at the slightest movement, even the rise and fall of someone’s chest associated with heavy breathing.
The cameras have not been disabled. If this was one instance in one household, I might write it off as an anomaly. But the sheer number of extended blackout occurrences, their repetition, and the fact that they’re happening concurrently across multiple households leads me to the conclusion that something bigger, covert, and coordinated is taking place behind our backs.