I believe the above-named residents and possibly more have not only discovered their microchips, but also found a way to remove them at any time in plain view of the cameras. Obviously, without their microchips embedded, residents could move unseen and undetected, in their homes, through town, even beyond the fence.

The possibility of a growing contingent of residents meeting together in secret is a disturbing development, which I believe requires immediate action.

Ethan polished off the rest of his cap and walked out of the coffee shop into the street.

Chimes jingled over the door as he pulled it open and stepped into the toy store.

He had breathed deeply crossing Main, but still his heart was beating like crazy.

Kate looked up from the book—a tattered Lee Child paperback, the last Reacher novel.

It was her shock of white hair that made her look older from a distance. Close up, she was youthful. A few laugh lines, but still so goddamn pretty. Not long ago, at least from his perspective, he’d been in love with this woman.

Their affair had been three of the most intense, reckless, terrifying, happy, alive months of his life. Like how he imagined being on heroin felt if the high never ended, if every syringe didn’t also contain the possibility of death.

They’d been partners at the time, and there had been one week when they’d been on the road together in northern California.

Every night, they rented two rooms. Every night, for five days, he stayed with her. They barely slept that week. Couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Couldn’t stop talking when they weren’t making love, and the daylight hours when they had to pretend to be professionals made it all the more beautifully excruciating. He had never felt such a complete lack of self-consciousness around anyone. Even Theresa. Unconditional acceptance. Not just of his body and mind, but also of something more, of something indefinably him. Ethan had never connected with anyone on this level. The most generous blessing and life-destroying curse all wrapped up in the same woman, and despite the pain of the guilt and the knowledge of how it would crush his wife, whom he still loved, the idea of turning away from Kate seemed like a betrayal of his soul.

So she had done it for him.

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On a cold and rainy night in Capitol Hill.

In a booth over glasses of Belgian beer in a loud dark bar called the Stumbling Monk.

He was ready to leave Theresa. To throw everything away. He had asked Kate there to tell her that and instead she had reached across the scuffed wood of a table worn smooth by ten thousand pint glasses and broken his heart.

Kate wasn’t married, had no children.

She wasn’t ready to jump off the cliff with him when he had so much pulling him back from the ledge.

Two weeks later, she was in Boise, pursuant to her own transfer request.

One year later, she was missing in a town in Idaho in the middle of nowhere called Wayward Pines, with Ethan off to find her.

Eighteen hundred years later, after almost everything they had known had turned to dust or eroded out of existence, here they stood, facing each other in a toy shop in the last town on earth.

For a moment, staring into her face at close range blanked Ethan’s mind.

Kate spoke first.

“I was wondering if you’d ever drop in.”

“I was wondering that myself.”

“Congratulations.”

“For?”

She reached over the counter and tapped his shiny brass star.

“Your promotion. Nice to see a familiar face running the show. How are you adjusting to the new job?”

She was good. In this short exchange, it was obvious that Kate had mastered the superficial conversational flow that the best of Wayward Pines could achieve without straining.

“It’s going well,” he said.

“Good to have something steady and challenging, I bet.” Kate smiled, and Ethan couldn’t help hearing the subtext, wondered if everyone did. If it ever went silent.

As opposed to running half naked through town while we all try to kill you.

“The job’s a good fit,” he said.

“That’s great. Really happy for you. So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I just wanted to pop in and say hi.”

“Well, that was nice of you. How’s your son?”

“Ben’s great,” Ethan said.

“He’s sure growing up fast.”

“That’s the truth.”

God, it felt so stilted talking to her. Like bad dialogue in a novel or actors reading lines.

Hammering started up next door—Harold building something.

“How’s your husband?” Ethan asked.

He didn’t like the word—not when it applied to the man who’d been f**king Kate for the last seven years. Or was it possible their marriage was a sham? That she secretly hated him, but kept up appearances? Had never let him touch her.

“He’s wonderful,” she said, and the authenticity of her smile contradicted everything that had come before, called it all out for the lie it was. She loved Harold. She’d lit up saying his name. In this moment, and only for a flicker of time, Ethan had glimpsed the real Kate.

“He’s next door?” Ethan asked.

“Yes. That’s him hammering away at something. We like to say he’s the brawn, and I’m the brains of this operation.”

Ethan forced a laugh. Said, “I’ve never met him. Well, not really met him.”

He thought she might read his intent. Offer to make an introduction.

But she only said, “You will. He’s a little under the gun this afternoon filling an order for the school. Why don’t you pick out something for Ben? Anything in the store. On the house.”

“I couldn’t.”

“I insist.”

“You’re too kind.”

Ethan moved away from the cash register. It wasn’t a large store, but shelves brimmed—floor to ceiling—with handmade toys. He lifted a wooden car. It had wheels that spun. Doors, hood, and a trunk that opened and closed.

“This is really good,” he said.

“Harold’s work is amazing.”

Ethan put the car back on the shelf.

Kate moved out from behind the counter. She wore a yellow dress the color of turning aspen leaves. Her figure almost unchanged.

“How old is Ben now?” she asked.

“He’s twelve.”

“Hmm. Tough age when traditional toys begin to lose their appeal.” She walked to the back of the store. Bare feet on hardwood that almost glowed under the late-afternoon light slanting through the storefront windows. “But I might have just the thing.”