Shift, p.17
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       Shift, p.17

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 17


  ‘Okay. ’ Donald smiled. He couldn’t tell if Mick was fucking with him or if his friend had consumed a few too many Bloody Marys from the hospitality tent that morning.

  ‘All right. ’ Mick stood abruptly. He certainly moved as though he were sober. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here. This place gives me the creeps. ’

  Mick threw open the door and flicked off the lights.

  ‘Wimping out, eh?’ Donald called after his friend.

  Mick shook his head and the two of them headed back down the hallway. Behind them, they left the small, random apartment in darkness, its little sink dripping. And Donald tried to sort out how he’d gotten turned around, how the Tennessee tent where he’d cut the ribbon had become the one from South Carolina. He almost had it, his subconscious flashing to a delivery of goods, to fifty times more fibre optic than needed, but the connection was lost.

  Meanwhile, containers loaded with supplies rumbled down the mammoth shaft. And empty trays rattled up.



  • Silo 1 •

  TROY WOKE UP in a fog, groggy and disoriented, his head pulsing. He lifted his hands and groped in front of his face, expecting to find the chill of icy glass, the press of domed steel, the doom of a deep freeze. His hands found only empty air. The clock beside his bed showed it was a little after three in the morning.

  He sat up and saw that he had on a pair of gym shorts. He couldn’t remember changing the night before, couldn’t remember going to bed. Planting his feet on the floor, he rested his elbows on his knees, sank his head into his palms and sat there a moment. His entire body ached.

  After a few minutes slipped by, he dressed himself in the dark, buckling up his overalls. Light would be bad for his headache. It wasn’t a theory he needed to test.

  The hallway outside was still dimmed for the evening, just bright enough to grope one’s way to the shared bathrooms. Troy stole down the hall and headed for the lift.

  He hit the ‘up’ button, hesitated, wasn’t sure if that was right. Something tugged at him. He pressed the ‘down’ button as well.

  It was too early to go into his office, not unless he wanted to fiddle on the computer. He wasn’t hungry, but he could go up and watch the sun rise. The late shift would be up there drinking coffee. Or he could hit the rec room and go for a jog. That would mean going back to his room to change.

  The lift arrived with a beep while he was still deciding. Both lights went off, the up and the down. He could take this lift anywhere.

  Troy stepped inside. He didn’t know where he wanted to go.

  The lift closed. It waited on him patiently. Eventually, he figured, it would whisk off to heed some other call, pick up a person with purpose, someone with a destination. He could stand there and do nothing and let that other soul decide.

  Running his finger across the buttons, he tried to remember what was on each level. There was a lot he’d memorised, but not everything he knew felt accessible. He had a sudden urge to head for one of the lounges and watch TV, just let the hours slide past until he finally needed to be somewhere. This was how the shift was supposed to go. Waiting and then doing. Sleeping and then waiting. Make it to dinner and then make it to bed. The end was always in sight. There was nothing to rebel against, just a routine.

  The lift shook into motion. Troy jerked his hand away from the buttons and took a step back. It didn’t show where he was going but it felt as if it had started downwards.

  Only a few floors passed before the lift lurched to a halt. The doors opened on a lower apartment level. A familiar face from the cafeteria, a man in reactor red, smiled as he stepped inside.

  ‘Morning,’ he said.

  Troy nodded.

  The man turned and jabbed one of the lower buttons, one of the reactor levels. He studied the otherwise blank array, turned and gave Troy a quizzical look.

  ‘You feeling okay, sir?’

  ‘Hmm? Oh, yeah. ’

  Troy leaned forward and pressed sixty-eight. The man’s concern for his well-being must’ve had him thinking of the doctor, even though Henson wouldn’t be on shift for several hours. But there was something else nagging him, something he felt he needed to see, a dream slipping away.

  ‘Must not have taken the first time,’ he explained, glancing at the button.

  ‘Mmm. ’

  The silence lasted one or two floors.

  ‘How much longer you got?’ the reactor mechanic asked.

  ‘Me? Just another couple of weeks. How about you?’

  ‘I just got on a week ago. But this is my second shift. ’


  The lights counted downward in floors but upward in number. Troy didn’t like this; he felt as if the lowest level should be level one. They should count up.

  ‘Is the second shift easier?’ he asked. The question came out unbidden. It was as though the part of him dying to know was more awake than the part of him praying for silence.

  The mechanic considered this.

  ‘I wouldn’t say it’s easier. How about . . . less uncomfortable?’ He laughed quietly. Troy felt their arrival in his knees, gravity tugging on him. The doors beeped open.

  ‘Have a good one,’ the mechanic said. They hadn’t shared their names. ‘In case I don’t see you again. ’

  Troy raised his palm. ‘Next time,’ he said. The man stepped out, and the doors winked shut on the halls to the power plant. With a hum, the lift continued its descent.

  The doors dinged on the medical level. Troy stepped out and heard voices down the corridor. He crept quietly across the tile, and the voices became louder. One was female. It wasn’t a conversation; it must have been an old movie. Troy peeked into the main office and saw a man lounging on a gurney, his back turned, a TV set up in the corner. Troy slunk past so as not to disturb him.

  The hallway split in two directions. He imagined the layout, could picture the pie-shaped storerooms, the rows of deep-freeze coffins, the tubes and pipes that led from the walls to the bases, from the bases into the people inside.

  He stopped at one of the heavy doors and tried his code. The light changed from red to green. He dropped his hand, didn’t need to enter this room, didn’t feel the urge, just wanted to see if it would work. The urge was elsewhere.

  He meandered down the hall past a few more doors. Wasn’t he just here? Had he ever left? His arm throbbed. He rolled back his sleeve and saw a spot of blood, a circle of redness around a pinprick scab.

  If something bad had happened, he couldn’t remember. That part of him had been choked off.

  He tried his code on this other pad, this other door, and waited for the light to turn green. This time, he pushed the button that opened the door. He didn’t know what it was, but there was something inside that he needed to see.



  Fulton County, Georgia

  LIGHT RAINS ON the morning of the convention left the man-made hills soggy, the new grass slick, but did little to erode the general festivities. Parking lots had been emptied of construction vehicles and mud-caked pickups. Now they held hundreds of idling buses and a handful of sleek black limos, the latter splattered with mud.

  The lot where temporary trailers had served as offices and living quarters for construction crews had been handed over to the staffers, volunteers, delegates and dignitaries who had laboured for weeks to bring that day to fruition. The area was dotted with welcoming tents that served as the headquarters for the event coordinators. Throngs of new arrivals filed from the buses and made their way through the CAD-FAC’s security station. Massive fences bristled with coils of razor wire that seemed outsized and ridiculous for the convention but made sense for the storing of nuclear material. These barriers and gates held at bay an odd union of protestors: those on the Right who disagreed with the facility’s current purpose and those on the Left who feared its futur
e one.

  There had never been a National Convention with such energy, such crowds. Downtown Atlanta loomed beyond the treetops, but the city seemed far removed from the sudden bustle in lower Fulton County.

  Donald shivered beneath his umbrella at the top of a knoll and gazed out over the sea of people gathering across the hills, heading towards whichever stage flew their state’s flag, umbrellas bobbing and jostling like water bugs.

  Somewhere, a marching band blared a practice tune and stomped another hill into mud. There was a sense in the air that the world was about to change – a woman was about to win nomination for president, only the second such nomination in Donald’s lifetime. And if the pollsters could be believed, this one had more than a chance. Unless the war in Iran took a sudden turn, a milestone would be reached, a final glass ceiling shattered. And it would happen right there in those grand divots in the earth.

  More buses churned through the lot and let off their passengers, and Donald pulled out his phone and checked the time. He still had an error icon, the network choked to death from the overwhelming demand. He was surprised, with so much other careful planning, that the committee hadn’t accounted for this and erected a temporary tower or two.

  ‘Congressman Keene?’

  Donald started and turned to find Anna walking along the ridgeline towards him. He glanced down at the Georgia stage but didn’t see her ride. He was surprised she would just walk up. And yet, it was like her to do things the difficult way.

  ‘I couldn’t tell if that was you,’ she said, smiling. ‘Everyone has the same umbrella. ’

  ‘Yeah, it’s me. ’ He took a deep breath, found his chest still felt constricted with nerves whenever he saw her, as though any conversation could get him into trouble.

  Anna stepped close as if she expected him to share his umbrella. He moved it to his other hand to give her more space, the drizzle peppering his exposed arm. He scanned the bus lot and searched impossibly for any sign of Helen. She should have been there by now.

  ‘This is gonna be a mess,’ Anna said.

  ‘It’s supposed to clear up. ’

  Someone on the North Carolina stage checked her microphone with a squawk of feedback. ‘We’ll see,’ Anna said. She wrapped her coat tighter against the early morning breeze. ‘Isn’t Helen coming?’

  ‘Yeah. Senator Thurman insisted. She’s not gonna be happy when she sees how many people are here. She hates crowds. She won’t be happy about the mud, either. ’

  Anna laughed. ‘I wouldn’t worry about the conditions of the grounds after this. ’

  Donald thought about all the loads of radioactive waste that would be trucked in. ‘Yeah. ’ He saw her point.

  He peered down the hill again at the Georgia stage. It would be the site of the first national gathering of delegates later that day, all the most important people under one tent. Behind the stage and among the smoking food tents, the only sign of the underground containment facility was a small concrete tower rising up from the ground, a bristle of antennae sprouting from the top. Donald thought of how much work it would take to haul away all the flags and soaked buntings before the first of the spent fuel rods could finally be brought in.

  ‘It’s weird to think of a few thousand people from the state of Tennessee stomping around on top of something we designed,’ Anna said. Her arm brushed against Donald’s. He stood perfectly still, wondering if it had been an accident. ‘I wish you’d seen more of the place. ’

  Donald shivered, more from fighting to remain still than from the cold and moist morning air. He hadn’t told anyone about Mick’s tour the day before. It felt too sacred. He would probably tell Helen about it and no one else. ‘It’s crazy how much time went into something nobody will ever use,’ he said.

  Anna murmured her agreement. Her arm was still touching his. There was still no sign of Helen. Donald felt irrationally that he would somehow spot her among the crowds. He usually could. He remembered the high balcony of a place they’d stayed in during their honeymoon in Hawaii. Even from up there, he could spot her taking her early morning walks along the foam line, looking for seashells. There might be a few hundred strollers out on the beach, and yet his eyes would be drawn immediately to her.

  ‘I guess the only way they were going to build any of this was if we gave them the right kind of insurance,’ Donald said, repeating what the Senator had told him. But it still didn’t feel right.

  ‘People want to feel safe,’ Anna said. ‘They want to know, if the worst happens, they’ll have someone – something – to fall back on. ’

  Again, Anna rested against his arm. Definitely not an accident. Donald felt himself withdraw and knew she would sense it too.

  ‘I was really hoping to tour one of the other bunkers,’ he said, changing the subject. ‘It’d be interesting to see what the other teams came up with. Apparently, though, I don’t have the clearance. ’

  Anna laughed. ‘I tried the same thing. I’m dying to see our competition. But I can understand them being sensitive. There’s a lot of eyes on this joint. ’ She leaned into him once more, ignoring the space he’d made.

  ‘Don’t you feel that?’ she asked. ‘Like there’s some huge bull’s-eye over this place? I mean, even with the fences and walls down there, you can bet the whole world is gonna be keeping an eye on what happens here. ’

  Donald nodded. He knew she wasn’t talking about the convention but about what the place would be used for afterwards.

  ‘Hey, it looks like I’ve got to get back down there. ’

  He turned to follow her gaze, saw Senator Thurman climbing the hill on foot, a massive black golf umbrella shedding the rain around him. The man seemed impervious to the mud and grime in a way no one else was, the same way he seemed oblivious to the passing of time.

  Anna reached over and squeezed Donald’s arm. ‘Congrats again. It was fun working together on this. ’
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