Shift, p.23
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       Shift, p.23

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 23


  He almost said alive. The two orderlies exchanged glances as they helped him from the chair to the lower bunk. The wheelchair squeaked once as it was pushed back into the hallway. The man guiding it paused, his broad shoulders making the doorway appear small.

  One of the orderlies held Donald’s wrist – two fingers pressing lightly on ice-blue veins, lips moving as he silently counted. The other orderly dropped two pills into a plastic cup and fumbled with the cap on a bottle of water.

  ‘That won’t be necessary,’ the silhouette in the doorway said.

  The orderly with the pills glanced over his shoulder as the older man stepped inside the small room and some of the air was displaced. The room shrank. It became more difficult for Donald to breathe.

  ‘You’re the Thaw—’ Donald whispered.

  The old man with the white hair waved a hand at the two orderlies. ‘Give us a moment,’ he said. The one with a grip on Donald’s wrist finished his counting and nodded to the other. Unswallowed pills rattled in a paper cup as they were put away. The old man’s face had awoken something in Donald, pierced through the muddle of visions and dreams.

  ‘I remember you,’ Donald said. ‘You’re the Thaw Man. ’

  A smile was flashed, as white as his hair, wrinkles forming around his lips and eyes. The chair in the hallway squeaked as it was pushed away. The door clicked shut. Donald thought he heard the lock engage, but his teeth chattered occasionally and his hearing was still hazy.

  ‘Thurman,’ the man said, correcting him.

  ‘I remember,’ Donald said. He remembered his office, the one upstairs and some other office far away, someplace where it still rained, where the grass grew and the cherry blossoms came once a year. This man had been a senator, once.

  ‘That you remember is a mystery we need to solve. ’ The old man tilted his head. ‘For now, it’s good that you do. We need you to remember. ’

  Thurman leaned against the metal dresser. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in days. His hair was unkempt, not quite how Donald remembered it. There were dark circles beneath his sad eyes. He seemed much . . . older, somehow.

  Donald peered down at his own palms, the springs in the bed making the room feel as though it were swaying. He flashed again to the horrible sight of a man remembering his own name and wanting to be free.

  ‘My name is Donald Keene. ’

  ‘So you do remember. And you know who I am?’ He produced a folded piece of paper and waited for an answer.

  Donald nodded.

  ‘Good. ’ The Thaw Man turned and placed the folded piece of paper on the dresser. He arranged it on its bent legs so it tented upward, towards the ceiling. ‘We need you to remember everything,’ he said. ‘Study this report when the fog clears, see if it jars anything loose. Once your stomach is settled, I’ll have a proper meal brought down. ’

  Donald rubbed his temples.

  ‘You’ve been gone for some time,’ the Thaw Man said. He rapped his knuckles on the door.

  Donald wiggled his bare toes against the carpet. The sensation was returning to his feet. The door clicked before swinging open, and the Senator once again blocked the light from the hallway. He became a shadow for a moment.

  ‘Rest, and then we’ll get our answers together. There’s someone who wants to see you. ’

  The room was sealed tight before Donald could ask what that meant. And somehow, with the door shut and him gone, there was more air to breathe in that small space. Donald took a few deep breaths. Gathering himself, he grabbed the frame of the bed and struggled to his feet. He stood there a moment, swaying.

  ‘Get our answers,’ he repeated aloud. Someone wanted to see him.

  He shook his head, which made the world spin. As if he had any answers. All he had were questions. He remembered the orderlies who woke him saying something about a silo falling. He couldn’t remember which one. Why would they wake him for that?

  He moved unsteadily to the door, tried the knob, confirmed what he already knew. He went to the dresser where the piece of paper stood on its remembered folds.

  ‘Get some rest,’ he said, laughing at the suggestion. As if he could sleep. He felt as though he’d been asleep for ever. He picked up the piece of paper and unfolded it.

  A report. Donald remembered this. It was a copy of a report. A report about a young man doing horrible things. The room twisted around him as if he stood on some great pivot, the memory of men and women trampled and dying, of giving some awful order, faces peering in at him from a hallway somewhere far in the past.

  Donald blinked away a curtain of tears and studied the trembling report. Hadn’t he written this? He had signed it, he remembered. But that wasn’t his name at the bottom. It was his handwriting, but it wasn’t his name.


  Donald’s legs went numb. He sought the bed – but collapsed to the floor instead as the memories washed over him. Troy and Helen. Helen and Troy. He remembered his wife. He imagined her disappearing over a hill, her arm raised to the sky where bombs were falling, his sister and some dark and nameless shadow pulling him back as people spilled like marbles down a slope, funnelling into some deep hole filled with white mist.

  Donald remembered. He remembered all that he had helped do to the world. There was a troubled boy in a silo full of the dead, a shadow among the servers. That boy had brought an end to silo number twelve, and Donald had written a report. But Donald – what had he done? He had killed more than a silo full of people; he had drawn the plans that helped end the world. The report in his hand trembled as he remembered. And the tears that fell and struck the paper were tinged a pale blue.


  • Silo 1 •

  A DOCTOR BROUGHT soup and bread a few hours later, and a tall glass of water. Donald ate hungrily while the man checked his arm. The warm soup felt good. It slid to his centre and seemed to radiate its heat outward. Donald tore at the bread with his teeth and chased it with the water. He ate with the desperation of so many years of fasting.

  ‘Thank you,’ he said between bites. ‘For the food. ’

  The doctor glanced up from checking his blood pressure. He was an older man, heavyset, with great bushy eyebrows and a fine wisp of hair that clung to his scalp like a cloud to a hilltop.

  ‘I’m Donald,’ he said, introducing himself.

  There was a wrinkle of confusion on the old man’s brow. His grey eyes strayed to his clipboard as if either it or his patient couldn’t be trusted. The needle on the gauge jumped with Donald’s pulse.

  ‘Who’re you?’ Donald asked.

  ‘I’m Dr Sneed,’ he finally said, though without confidence.

  Donald took a long swig on his water, thankful they’d left it at room temperature. He didn’t want anything cold inside him ever again. ‘Where’re you from?’

  The doctor removed the cuff from Donald’s arm with a loud rip. ‘Level ten. But I work out of the shift office on sixty-eight. ’ He put his equipment back in his bag and made a note on the clipboard.

  ‘No, I mean where are you from? You know . . . before. ’

  Dr Sneed patted Donald’s knee and stood. The clipboard went on a hook on the outside of the door. ‘You might have some dizziness the next few days. Let us know if you experience any trembling, okay?’

  Donald nodded. He remembered being given the same advice earlier. Or was that his last shift? Maybe the repetition was for those who had trouble remembering. He wasn’t going to be one of those people. Not this time.

  A shadow fell into the room. Donald looked up to see the Thaw Man in the doorway. He gripped the meal tray to keep it from sliding off his knees.

  The Thaw Man nodded to Dr Sneed, but these were not their names. Thurman, Donald told himself. Senator Thurman. He knew this.

  ‘Do you have a moment?’ Thurman asked the doctor.

  ‘Of course. ’ Sneed grabbed his bag and stepped ou
tside. The door clicked shut, leaving Donald alone with his soup.

  He took quiet spoonfuls, trying to make anything of the murmurs on the other side of the door. Thurman, he reminded himself again. And not a senator. Senator of what? Those days were gone. Donald had drawn the plans.

  The report stood tented on the dresser, returned to its spot. Donald took a bite of bread and remembered the floors he’d laid out. Those floors were now real. They existed. People lived inside them, raising their children, laughing, having fights, singing in the shower, burying their dead.

  A few minutes passed before the knob tilted and the door swung inward. The Thaw Man entered the room alone. He pressed the door shut and frowned at Donald. ‘How’re you feeling?’

  The spoon clacked against the rim of the bowl. Donald set the utensil down and gripped the tray with both hands to keep them from shaking, to keep them from forming fists.

  ‘You know,’ Donald hissed, teeth clenched together. ‘You know what we did. ’

  Thurman showed his palms. ‘We did what had to be done. ’

  ‘No. Don’t give me that. ’ Donald shook his head. The water in his glass trembled as if something dangerous approached. ‘The world . . . ’

  ‘We saved it. ’

  ‘That’s not true!’ Donald’s voice cracked. He tried to remember. ‘There is no world any more. ’ He recalled the view from the top, from the cafeteria. He remembered the hills a dull brown, the sky full of menacing clouds. ‘We ended it. We killed everyone. ’

  ‘They were already dead,’ Thurman said. ‘We all were. Everyone dies, son. The only thing that matters is—’

  ‘Stop. ’ Donald waved the words away as if they were buzzing things that could bite him. ‘There’s no justifying this—’ He felt spittle form on his lips, wiped it away with his sleeve. The tray on his lap slid dangerously and Thurman moved quickly – quicker than one would expect of a man his age – to catch it. He placed what was left of the meal on the bedside table, and up close, Donald could see that he had gotten older. The wrinkles were deeper, the skin hanging from the bones. He wondered how much time Thurman had spent awake while Donald had slept.

  ‘I killed a lot of men in the war,’ Thurman said, looking down at the tray of half-eaten food.

  Donald found himself focused on the old man’s neck. He closed his hands together to keep them still. This sudden admission about killing made it seem as if Thurman could read Donald’s mind, as though this was some kind of a warning for him to stay his murderous plans.

  Thurman turned to the dresser and picked up the folded report. He opened it and Donald caught sight of the pale blue smudges, his ice-tinged tears from earlier.

  ‘Some say killing gets easier the longer you’re at it,’ he said. And he sounded sad, not threatening. Donald looked down at his own knees and saw that they were bouncing. He forced his heels against the carpet and tried to pin them there.

  ‘For me, it only got worse. There was a man in Iran—’

  ‘The entire goddamn planet,’ Donald whispered, stressing each word. This was what he said, but all he could think about was his wife Helen pulled down the wrong hill, everything that had ever existed crumbling to ruin. ‘We killed everyone. ’

  The Senator took in a deep breath and held it a moment. ‘I told you,’ he said. ‘They were already dead. ’

  ‘You’ll never convince me. You can drug me or kill me, but I promise you, you will never convince me. ’

  Thurman studied the report. He seemed unsure of something. The paper faintly shook, but maybe it was the vent overhead. Finally, he nodded as if he agreed. ‘Drugging you doesn’t work. I’ve read up on your first shift. There’s a small percentage of people with some kind of resistance. We’d love to know why. ’

  Donald could only laugh. He settled against the wall behind the cot and nestled into the darkness the top bunk provided. ‘Maybe I’ve seen too much to forget,’ he said.

  ‘No, I don’t think so. ’ Thurman lowered his head so he could still make eye contact. Donald took a sip of water, both hands wrapped around the glass. ‘The more you see – the worse the trauma is – the better the medication works. It makes it easier to forget. Except for some people. Which is why we took a sample. ’

  Donald glanced down at his arm. A small square of gauze had been taped over the spot of blood left by the doctor’s needle. He felt a caustic mix of helplessness and fear well up inside him. ‘You woke me to take my blood?’

  ‘Not exactly. ’ Thurman hesitated. ‘Your resistance to the meds is something I’m curious about but the reason you’re awake is because I was asked to wake you. We are losing silos—’

  ‘I thought that was the plan,’ Donald spat. ‘Losing silos. I thought that was what you wanted. ’ He remembered crossing silo twelve out with red ink, all those many lives lost. They had accounted for this. Silos were expendable. That’s what he’d been told.

  Thurman shook his head. ‘Whatever’s happening out there, we need to understand it. And there’s someone here who . . . who thinks you may have stumbled onto the answer. We have a few questions for you, and then we can put you back under. ’

  Back under. So he wasn’t going to be out for long. They had only woken him to take his blood and to peer into his mind, and would then put him back to sleep. Donald rubbed his arms, which felt thin and atrophied. He was dying in that pod. Only more slowly than he would like.

  ‘We need to know what you remember about this report. ’ Thurman held it out. Donald waved the thing away.

  ‘I already looked it over,’ he said. He didn’t want to see it again. He could close his eyes and see the desperate people spilling out onto the dusty land, the people that he had ordered dead.
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