Shift, p.12
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       Shift, p.12

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
 
Page 12

 

  He typed up his conclusions. It was a dangerous age for shadowing, he noted in his report. Here was a boy between his teens and twenties, an age deep in doubts and shallow in control. Troy asked in his report if anyone at that age could ever be ready. He made mention of the first head of IT he had inducted, the question the boy had asked after hearing tales from his demented great-grandmother. Was it right to expose anyone to these truths? Could men at such a fragile age be expected to endure such blows without shattering?

  What he didn’t add, what he asked himself, was if anyone at any age could ever be ready.

  There was precedence, he typed, for limiting certain positions of authority by age. And while this would lead to shorter terms – which meant subjecting more unfortunate souls to the abuse of being locked up and shown their Legacy – wasn’t it better to go through a damnable process more often rather than take risks such as these?

  He knew this report would matter little. There was no planning for insanity. With enough revolutions and elections, enough transfers of power, eventually a madman would take the reins. It was inevitable. These were the odds they had planned for. This was why they had built so many.

  He rose from his desk and walked to the door, slapped it soundly with the flat of his palm. In the corner of his office, a printer hummed and shot four pages out of its mouth. Troy took them; they were still warm as he slid them into the folder, these reports on the newly dead and still dying. He could feel the life and warmth draining from those printed pages. Soon, they would be as cool as the air around them. He grabbed a pen from his desk and signed the bottom.

  A key rattled in his lock before the door opened.

  ‘Done already?’ Victor asked. The grey-haired psychiatrist stood across from his desk, keys jangling as they returned to his pocket. He held a small plastic cup in his hand.

  Troy handed him the folder. ‘The signs were there,’ he told the doctor, ‘but they weren’t acted upon. ’

  Victor took the folder with one hand and held out the plastic cup with the other.

  Troy typed a few commands on his computer and wiped his copy of the videos. The cameras were of no use for predicting and preventing these kinds of problems. There were too many to watch all at once. You couldn’t get enough people to sit and monitor an entire populace. They were there to sort through the wreckage, the aftermath.

  ‘Looks good,’ Victor said, flipping through the folder. The plastic cup sat on Troy’s desk, two pills inside. They had increased the dosage to what he had taken at the start of his shift, a little extra to cut through the pain.

  ‘Would you like me to fetch you some water?’

  Troy shook his head. He hesitated. Looking up from the cup, he asked Victor a question: ‘How long do you think it’ll take? Silo twelve, I mean. Before all of those people are gone. ’

  Victor shrugged. ‘Not long, I imagine. Days. ’

  Troy nodded. Victor watched him carefully. Troy tilted his head back and rattled the pills past his trembling lips. There was the bitter taste on his tongue. He made a show of swallowing.

  ‘I’m sorry that it was your shift,’ Victor said. ‘I know this wasn’t the job you signed up for. ’

  Troy nodded. ‘I’m actually glad it was mine,’ he said after a moment. ‘I’d hate for it to have been anyone else’s. ’

  Victor rubbed the folder with one hand. ‘You’ll be given a commendation in my report. ’

  ‘Thank you,’ Troy said. He didn’t know what the fuck for.

  With a wave of the folder, Victor finally turned to leave and go back to his desk across the hall where he could sit and glance up occasionally at Troy.

  And in that brief moment it took for Victor to walk over, with his back turned, Troy spat the pills into the palm of his hand.

  Shaking his mouse with one hand, waking up his monitor so he could boot a game of solitaire, Troy smiled across the hallway at Victor, who smiled back. And in his other hand, still sticky from the outer coating dissolved by his saliva, the two pills nestled in his palm. Troy was tired of forgetting. He had decided to remember.

  15

  2049

  Savannah, Georgia

  DONALD SPED DOWN highway 17, a flashing red light on his dash warning him as he exceeded the local speed limit. He didn’t care about being pulled over, didn’t care about being wired a ticket or his insurance rates creeping up. It all seemed trivial. The fact that there were circuits riding along in his car keeping track of everything he did paled in comparison to the suspicion that machines in his blood were doing the same.

  The tyres squealed as he spiralled down his exit ramp too fast. He merged onto Berwick Boulevard, the overhead lights strobing through the windshield as he flew beneath them. Glancing down at his lap, he watched the gold inlay text on the book throb with the rhythm of the passing lights.

  Order. Order. Order.

  He had read enough to worry, to wonder what he’d gotten himself mixed up in. Helen had been right to warn him, had been wrong about the scale of the danger.

  Turning into his neighbourhood, Donald remembered a conversation from long before – he remembered her begging him not to run for office, saying that it would change him, that he couldn’t fix anything up there, but that he could sure as hell come home broken.

  How right had she been?

  He pulled up to the house and had to leave the car by the kerb. Her Jeep was in the middle of the driveway. One more habit formed in his absence, a reminder that he didn’t live there any more, didn’t have a real home.

  Leaving his bags in the boot, he took just the book and his keys. The book was heavy enough.

  The motion light came on as he neared the porch. He saw a form by the window, heard frantic scratching on the other side. Helen opened the door, and Karma rushed out, tail whacking the side of the jamb, tongue lolling, so much bigger in just the few weeks that he’d been away.

  Donald crouched down and rubbed her head, let the dog lick his cheek.

  ‘Good girl,’ he said. He tried to sound happy. The cool emptiness in his chest intensified from being home. The things that should have felt comforting only made him feel worse.

  ‘Hey, honey. ’ He smiled up at his wife.

  ‘You’re early. ’

  Helen wrapped her arms around his neck as he stood. Karma sat down and whined at them, tail swishing on the concrete. Helen’s kiss tasted like coffee.

  ‘I took an earlier flight. ’

  He glanced over his shoulder at the dark streets of his neighbourhood. As if anyone needed to follow him.

  ‘Where’re your bags?’

  ‘I’ll get ’em in the morning. C’mon, Karma. Let’s go inside. ’ He steered his dog through the door.

  ‘Is everything okay?’ Helen asked.

  Donald went to the kitchen. He set the book down on the island and fished in the cabinet for a glass. Helen watched him with concern as he pulled a bottle of brandy out of the cabinet.

  ‘Baby? What’s going on?’

  ‘Maybe nothing,’ he said. ‘Lunatics—’ He poured three fingers of brandy, looked to Helen and raised the bottle to see if she wanted any. She shook her head. ‘Then again,’ he continued, ‘maybe there’s something to it. ’ He took more than a sip. His other hand hadn’t left the neck of the bottle.

  ‘Baby, you’re acting strange. Come sit down. Take off your coat. ’

  He nodded and let her help him remove his jacket. He slid his tie off, saw the worry on her face, knew it to be a reflection of his own.

  ‘What would you do if you thought it all might end?’ he asked his wife. ‘What would you do?’

  ‘If what? You mean us? Oh, you mean life. Honey, did someone pass away? Tell me what’s going on. ’

  ‘No, not someone. Everyone. Everything. ’

  He tucked the bottle under his arm, grabbed his drink and the book and went to the living room. Hel
en and Karma followed. Karma was already on the sofa waiting for him to sit down before he got there, oblivious to anything he was saying, just thrilled for the pack to be reunited.

  ‘It sounds like you’ve had a very long day,’ Helen said, trying to find excuses for him.

  Donald sat on the sofa and put the bottle and book on the coffee table. He pulled his drink away from Karma’s curious nose.

  ‘I have something I have to tell you,’ he said.

  Helen stood in the middle of the room, her arms crossed. ‘That’d be a nice change. ’ She smiled to let him know she was joking. Donald nodded.

  ‘I know, I know,’ he said. His eyes fell to the book. ‘This isn’t about that project. And honestly, do you think I enjoy keeping my life from you?’

  Helen crossed to the recliner next to the sofa and sat down. ‘What is this about?’ she asked.

  ‘I’ve been told it’s okay to tell you about a . . . promotion. Well, more of an assignment than a promotion. Not an assignment, really, more like being on the National Guard. Just in case—’

  Helen reached over and squeezed his knee. ‘Take it easy,’ she whispered. Her eyebrows were lowered, confusion and worry lurking in the shadows there.

  Donald took a deep breath. He was still revved up from running the conversation over in his head, from driving too fast. In the weeks since his meeting with Thurman he had been reading too much into the book – and too much into that conversation. He couldn’t tell if he was piecing something together, or just falling apart.

  ‘How much have you followed what’s going on in Iran?’ he asked, scratching his arm. ‘And Korea?’

  She shrugged. ‘I see blurbs online. ’

  ‘Mmm. ’ He took a burning gulp of the brandy, smacked his lips and tried to relax and enjoy the numbing chill as it travelled through his body. ‘They’re working on ways to take everything out,’ he said.

  ‘Who? We are?’ Helen’s voice rose. ‘We’re thinking of taking them out?’

  ‘No, no—’

  ‘Are you sure I’m allowed to hear this—’

  ‘No, sweetheart, they’re designing weapons to take us out. Weapons that can’t be stopped, that can’t be defended against. ’

  Helen leaned forward, her hands clasped, elbows on her knees. ‘Is this stuff you’re learning in Washington? Classified stuff?’

  He waved his hand. ‘Beyond classified. Look, you know why we went into Iran—’

  ‘I know why they said we went in—’

  ‘It wasn’t bullshit,’ he said, cutting her off. ‘Well, maybe it was. Maybe they hadn’t figured it out yet, hadn’t mastered how—’

  ‘Honey, slow down. ’

  ‘Yeah. ’ He took another deep breath. He had an image in mind of a large mountain out west, a concrete road disappearing straight into the rock, thick vault doors standing open as files of politicians crowded inside with their families.

  ‘I met with the Senator a few weeks ago. ’ He stared down into the ginger-coloured liquor in his glass.

  ‘In Boston,’ Helen said.

  He nodded. ‘Right. Well, he wants us to be on this alert team—’

  ‘You and Mick. ’

  He turned to his wife. ‘No – us. ’

  ‘Us?’ Helen placed a hand on her chest. ‘What do you mean, us? You and me?’

  ‘Now listen—’

  ‘You’re volunteering me for one of his—’

  ‘Sweetheart, I had no idea what this was all about. ’ He set his glass on the coffee table and grabbed the book. ‘He gave me this to read. ’

  Helen frowned. ‘What is that?’

  ‘It’s like an instruction manual for the – well, for the after. I think. ’

  Helen got up from the recliner and stepped between him and the coffee table. She nudged Karma out of the way, the dog grunting at being disturbed. Sitting down beside him, she put a hand on his back, her eyes shiny with worry.

  ‘Donny, were you drinking on the plane?’

  ‘No. ’ He pulled away. ‘Just please listen to me. It doesn’t matter who has them, it only matters when. Don’t you see? This is the ultimate threat. A world-ender. I’ve been reading about the possibilities on this website—’

  ‘A website,’ she said, voice flat with scepticism.

  ‘Yeah. Listen. Remember those treatments the Senator takes? These nanos are like synthetic life. Imagine if someone turned them into a virus that didn’t care about its host, that didn’t need us in order to spread. They could be out there already. ’ He tapped his chest, glanced around the room suspiciously, took a deep breath. ‘They could be in every one of us right now, little timer circuits waiting for the right moment—’

  ‘Sweetheart—’

  ‘Very bad people are working on this, trying to make this happen. ’ He reached for his glass. ‘We can’t sit back and let them strike first. So we’re gonna do it. ’ There were ripples in the liquor. His hand was shaking. ‘God, baby, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna do it before they can. ’

  ‘You’re scaring me, honey. ’

  ‘Good. ’ Another burning sip. He held the glass with both hands to keep it steady. ‘We should be scared. ’

  ‘Do you want me to call Dr Martin?’

  ‘Who?’ He tried to make room between them, bumped up against the armrest. ‘My sister’s doctor? The shrink?’

  She nodded gravely.

  ‘Listen to what I’m telling you,’ he said, holding up a finger. ‘These tiny machines are real. ’ His mind was racing. He was going to babble and convince her of nothing but his paranoia. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘We use them in medicine, right?’
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