“All what?”

“The town. The surveillance. Everything.”

“Early on, after we all came out of suspension, she had her idealistic moments.”

“You mean she didn’t agree with how you ran Wayward Pines?”

“Right. But by the time she hit twenty, she’d begun to really mature. She understood the reasons behind the cameras and the fêtes. The fence and the secrets.”

“How did she become a spy?”

“Her request. The assignment came up. There were a lot of volunteers. We had a big fight about it. I didn’t want her to do it. She was just twenty-four. So bright. So many other things she could’ve contributed to that wouldn’t have put her in danger. But she stood here and said to me several months ago, ‘I’m the best candidate for this mission, Daddy. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.’ ”

“So you let her go.”

“As you’ll find with your son soon enough, letting go is the hardest, greatest thing we can do for them.”

“Thank you,” Ethan said. “I feel like I know her a little bit now.”

“I wish you’d really gotten the chance. She was something else.”

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Halfway to the doors, Ethan stopped, glanced back at Pilcher.

“Mind if I ask one more prying question?”

Pilcher smiled sadly. “Sure. Why stop now?”

“Alyssa’s mother. Where is she?”

It was like something broke inside the man’s face. He looked suddenly old, as if the underpinnings had been washed away.

Ethan instantly regretted asking.

The air was sucked out of the room.

Pilcher said, “Out of everyone who went into suspension, nine people never woke up on the other side. Elisabeth was one of those nine. Now I’ve lost my daughter too. Hug your family tonight, Ethan. Hold them tight.”

The OR was down on Level 2, and the surgeon was waiting for them.

He was a roundish man with a bowed back and awkwardness of movement, as if his bones had atrophied after years of living in this mountain, and too little exposure to sunlight. His white coat dropped to his wing tips and he was already wearing a surgical mask.

As Ethan and Pam entered, the doctor looked up from a sink that ran steaming tap water.

He washed his hands furiously.

Didn’t introduce himself.

Just said, “Take off your pants and lie on your stomach on the table.”

Ethan looked at Pam. “You’re staying for this?”

“You honestly think I’d pass up a chance to watch you get cut?”

Ethan sat down on a stool and began to pull off his boots.

Everything had been prepped.

Spread out on blue surgical cloth on a tray beside the operating table: a scalpel, tweezers, forceps, sutures, needle, scissors, needle holder, gauze, iodine, and a small, unlabeled bottle.

Ethan tugged his boots off, unbuckled his belt, and dropped his khaki pants.

The floor was cold through his socks.

With his elbow, the surgeon shut off the tap.

Ethan climbed onto the table and lay on his stomach on the cloth.

There was a mirror on the wall across the room beyond the heart monitors and IV stands. He watched the doctor finish pulling on his surgical gloves and wander over.

“How deep is the microchip?” Ethan asked.

“Not terribly,” the doctor said.

He opened the bottle of iodine.

Poured some onto a cloth.

Scrubbed the back of Ethan’s left leg.

“We affix them to the biceps femoris.” The doctor jabbed the syringe into the smallest bottle. “Few little pinches coming,” he said.

“What’s in that?”

“Just a local anesthetic.”

Once the back of his leg was numb, it went fast.

Ethan couldn’t feel a thing, but in the reflection of the mirror, he watched the doctor lift the scalpel.

He felt some pressure.

Soon there were smears of blood on the doctor’s latex gloves.

A minute later, he traded the scalpel for the tweezers.

Twenty seconds later, the microchip plunked into the metal tray beside Ethan’s head.

It looked like a flake of mica.

“Do me a favor,” Ethan said as the doctor pushed a piece of gauze into the wound.

“What’s that?”

“Do a sloppy job on the sutures.”

“Smart,” Pam said. “It’ll buy you some Kate cred if she thinks you cut it out yourself. Like maybe you’re going rogue.”

“That’s what I’m thinking.”

The doctor lifted the needle holder, a length of dark thread dangling.

The pain from the incision was beginning to warm in the back of Ethan’s leg as he and Pam moved down the Level 1 corridor toward the cavern.

Ethan stopped at the door to Margaret’s cell, leaned in toward the glass window, and cupped his hands around his eyes.

“What are you doing?” Pam asked.

“I want to see her again.”

“You can’t.”

He squinted through the glass into darkness.

Couldn’t see a thing.

“Have you worked with her?” Ethan asked.

“I have.”

“What do you think of her?”

“She should be put in the incinerator with all of our specimens. Come on.”

Ethan looked at Pam. “You see no benefit to learning from the abbies? They do outnumber us by a few hundred million.”

“Oh, you mean so we can coexist? What kind of let’s-hold-hands hippie shit are you suggesting?”

“Survival,” Ethan said. “What if they aren’t all mindlessly violent? If they actually possess a real intelligence, then communication is possible.”

“We have everything we need in Wayward Pines.”

“We can’t live in this valley forever.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I don’t consider the conditions in town ‘living.’ ”

“What would you call it?”

“Imprisonment.”

He turned back to the cage.

Margaret’s head filled the circular window, inches away.

She stared into Ethan’s eyes.

Lucid.

Utterly calm.

“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.

Her black talons began to tap against the glass.

16

It was a two-bedroom Victorian on the northeast side of town, freshly painted, with two pine trees in the front yard and Wayne Johnson’s last name already stenciled on the black mailbox.

Ethan stepped up onto the front porch and rapped the brass knocker.