Shift, p.24
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       Shift, p.24
 

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 24

 

  ‘We have other medications that might ease the—’

  ‘No. No more drugs. ’ Donald crossed his wrists and spread his arms out, slicing the air with both hands. ‘Look, I don’t have a resistance to your drugs. ’ The truth. He was sick of the lies. ‘There’s no mystery. I just stopped taking the pills. ’

  It felt good to admit it. What were they going to do, anyway? Put him back to sleep? He took another sip of water while he let the confession sink in. He swallowed.

  ‘I kept them in my gums and spat them out later. It’s as simple as that. Probably the case with anyone else remembering. Like Hal, or Carlton, or whatever his name was. ’

  Thurman regarded him coolly. He tapped the report against his open palm, seeming to digest this. ‘We know you stopped taking the pills,’ he finally said. ‘And when. ’

  Donald shrugged. ‘Mystery solved, then. ’ He finished his water and put the empty glass back on the tray.

  ‘The drugs you have a resistance to are not in the pills, Donny. The reason people stop taking the pills is because they begin to remember, not the other way around. ’

  Donald studied Thurman, disbelieving.

  ‘Your urine changes colour when you stop taking them. You develop sores on your gums where you hide them. These are the signs we look for. ’

  ‘What?’

  ‘There are no drugs in the pills, Donny. ’

  ‘I don’t believe you. ’

  ‘We medicate everyone. There are those of us who are immune. But you shouldn’t be. ’

  ‘Bullshit. I remember. The pills made me woozy. As soon as I stopped taking them, I got better. ’

  Thurman tilted his head to the side. ‘The reason you stopped taking them was because you were . . . I won’t say getting better. It was because the fear had begun leaking through. Donny, the medication is in the water. ’ He waved at the empty glass on the tray. Donald followed the gesture and immediately felt sick.

  ‘Don’t worry,’ Thurman said. ‘We’ll get to the bottom of it. ’

  ‘I don’t want to help you. I don’t want to talk about this report. I don’t want to see whoever it is you need me to see. ’

  He wanted Helen. All he wanted was his wife.

  ‘There’s a chance that thousands will die if you don’t help us. There’s a chance that you stumbled onto something with this report of yours, even if I don’t believe it. ’

  Donald glanced at the door to the bathroom, thought about locking himself inside and forcing himself to throw up, to expunge the food and the water. Maybe Thurman was lying to him. Maybe he was telling the truth. A lie would mean the water was just water. The truth would mean that he did have some sort of resistance.

  ‘I barely remember writing the damn thing,’ he admitted. And who would want to see him? He assumed it would be another doctor, maybe a silo head, maybe whoever was running this shift.

  He rubbed his temples, could feel the pressure building between them. Perhaps he should just do as they wanted and be put back to sleep, back to his dreams. Now and then, he had dreamed of Helen. It was the only place he could be with her.

  ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll go. But I still don’t understand what I could possibly know. ’ He rubbed his arm where they’d taken the blood. There was an itch there. An itch so deep it felt like a bruise.

  Senator Thurman nodded. ‘I tend to agree with you. But that’s not what she thinks. ’

  Donald stiffened. ‘She?’ He searched Thurman’s eyes, wondering if he’d heard correctly. ‘She who?’

  The old man frowned. ‘The one who had me wake you. ’ He waved his hand at the bunk. ‘Get some rest. I’ll take you to her in the morning. ’

  31

  • Silo 1 •

  HE COULDN’T REST. The hours were cruel, slow and unknowable. There was no clock to mark their passing, no answer to his frustrated slaps on the door. Donald was left to lie in his bunk and stare at the diamond patterns of interlocking wires holding the mattress above him, to listen to the gurgle of water in hidden pipes as it rushed to another room. He couldn’t sleep. He had no idea if it was the middle of the night or the middle of the day. The weight of the silo pressed down upon him.

  When the boredom grew intolerable, Donald eventually gave in and looked over the report a second time. He studied it more closely. It wasn’t the original; the signature was flat, and he remembered using a blue pen.

  He skimmed the account of the silo’s collapse and his theory that IT heads shadowed too young. His recommendation was to raise the age. He wondered if they had. Maybe so, but the problems were persisting. There was also mention of a young man he had inducted, a young man with a question. This young man’s great-grandmother was one of those who remembered, much like Donald. His report suggested allowing one question from each inductee. They were given the Legacy, after all. Why not show them, in that final stage of indoctrination, that there were more truths to be had?

  The tiny clicks of a key entering a lock. Thurman opened the door as Donald folded the report away.

  ‘Feeling better?’ Thurman asked.

  Donald didn’t say.

  ‘Can you walk?’

  He nodded. A walk. When what he really wanted was to run screaming down the hallway and punch holes in walls. But a walk would do. A walk before his next long sleep.

  They rode the lift in silence. Donald noticed Thurman had scanned his badge before pressing the button for level fifty-four. Its number stood bright and new while so many others had been worn away. There was nothing but supplies on that level if Donald remembered correctly, supplies they weren’t ever supposed to need. The lift slowed as it approached a level it normally skipped. The doors opened on a cavernous expanse of shelves stocked with instruments of death.

  Thurman led him down the middle of it all. There were wooden crates with ‘AMMO’ stencilled on the side, longer crates beside them with military designations like ‘M22’ and ‘M19’. There were rows of shelves with armour and helmets, with boxes marked ‘MEDICAL’ and ‘RATIONS’, many more boxes unlabelled. And beyond the shelves, tarps covered bulbous and winged forms that he knew to be drones. UAVs. His sister had flown them in a war that now seemed pointless and distant, part of ancient history. But here these relics stood, oiled and covered, reeking of grease and fear.

  Beyond the drones, Thurman led the way through a murky dimness that made the storehouse seem to go on for ever. At the far end of the wide room, a glow of light leaked from an open-doored office. There were sounds of paper stirring, a chair squeaking as someone turned. Donald reached the doorway and saw, inexplicably, her sitting there.

  ‘Anna?’

  She sat behind a wide conference table ringed with identical chairs, looked up from a spread of paperwork and a computer monitor. There was no shock on her part, just a smile of acknowledgement and a weariness that her smile could not conceal.

  Her father crossed the room while Donald gaped. Thurman squeezed her arm and kissed her on the cheek, but Anna’s eyes did not leave Donald’s. The old man whispered something to his daughter, then announced that he had work of his own to see to. Donald did not budge until the Senator had left the room.

  ‘Anna—’

  She was already at the massive table, wrapping her arms around him. She began whispering things, comforting words as Donald sagged into her embrace, suddenly exhausted. He felt her hand caress the back of his head and come to a rest on his neck. His own arms interlocked around her back.

  ‘What’re you doing here?’ he whispered.

  ‘I’m here for the same reason you are. ’ She pulled back from the embrace. ‘I’m looking for answers. ’ She stepped away and surveyed the mess on the table. ‘To different questions, perhaps. ’

  A familiar schematic – a grid of fifty silos – covered the table. Each silo was like a small plate, all of them trapped under glass. A dozen chairs were gathered around. Donald re
alised that this was a war room, where generals stood and pushed plastic models and grumbled over lives lost by the thousands. He glanced up at the maps and schematics plastered on the walls. There was an adjoining bathroom, a towel hanging from a hook on the door. A cot had been set up in the far corner and was neatly made. There was a lamp beside it sitting on one of the wooden crates from the storeroom. Extension cords snaked here and there, signs of a room long converted into an apartment of sorts.

  He turned to the nearest wall and flipped through some of the drawings. They were three layers deep in places and covered in notes. It didn’t look as if a war was being planned. It looked like a scene from the crime shows that used to lull him to sleep in a former life.

  ‘You’ve been up longer than me,’ he said.

  Anna stood beside him. Her hand alighted on his shoulder, and Donald felt himself startle at being touched at all.

  ‘Almost a year now. ’ Her hand slid down his back before falling away. ‘Can I get you a drink? Water? I also have a stash of Scotch down here. Dad doesn’t know half the stuff they hid away in these crates. ’

  Donald shook his head. He turned and watched as she disappeared into the bathroom and ran the tap. She emerged, sipping from a glass.

  ‘What’s going on here?’ he asked. ‘Why am I up?’

  She swallowed and waved her glass at the walls. ‘It’s—’ She laughed and shook her head. ‘I was about to say it’s nothing, but this is the hell that keeps me out of one box and in another. It doesn’t concern you, most of this. ’

  Donald studied the room again. A year, living like this. He turned his attention to Anna, the way her hair was balled up in a bun, a pen sticking out of it. Her skin was pale except for the dark rings beneath her eyes. He wondered how she was able to do this, live like this.

  There was a printout on the far wall that matched the table, a grid of circles, the layout of the facilities. A familiar red X had been drawn across what he knew to be silo twelve in the upper left corner. There was another X nearby, a new one in what looked to be silo ten. More lives lost. And in the lower right-hand corner of the grid, a mess that made no sense. The room seemed to wobble as he took a step closer.

  ‘Donny?’

  ‘What happened here?’ he asked, his voice a whisper. Anna turned to see what he was looking at. She glanced at the table, and he realised that her paperwork was scattered around the same corner of the facility. The glass surface crawled with notes written in red and blue wax.

  ‘Donny—’ She stepped closer. ‘Things aren’t well. ’

  He turned and studied the scrawl of red marks on the wall schematic. There were Xs and question marks. There were notes in red ink with lines and arrows. Ten or a dozen of the silos were heavily marked up.

  ‘How many?’ he asked, trying to count, to figure the thousands of lives lost. ‘Are they gone?’

  She took a deep breath. ‘We don’t know. ’ She finished her water, walked down the long table and reached into one of the chairs pushed up against it. She procured a bottle and poured a few fingers into her plastic cup.

  ‘It started with silo forty,’ she said. ‘It went dark about a year ago—’

  ‘Went dark?’

  Anna took a sip of the Scotch and nodded. She licked her lips. ‘The camera feeds went out first. Not at once, but eventually they got them all. We lost contact with the heads over there. Couldn’t raise anyone. Erskine was running the shift at the time. He followed the Order and gave the okay to shut the silo down—’

  ‘You mean kill everyone. ’

  Anna shot him a look. ‘You know what had to be done. ’

  Donald remembered silo twelve. He remembered making that same decision. As if there had been a decision to make. The system ran automatically. Wasn’t he just doing what came next, following a set of procedures written down by someone else?

  He studied the poster with the red marks. ‘And the rest of them? The other silos?’

  Anna finished the drink with one long pull and gasped for air afterward. Donald caught her eyeing the bottle. ‘They woke up Dad when forty-two went. Two more silos had gone dark by the time he came for me. ’

  Two more silos. ‘Why you?’ he asked.

  She tucked a strand of loose hair behind her ear. ‘Because there was no one else. Because everyone who had a hand in designing this place was either gone or at their wits’ end. Because Dad was desperate. ’

  ‘He wanted to see you. ’

  She laughed. ‘It wasn’t that. Trust me. ’ She waved her empty cup at the arrangement of circles on the table and the spread of papers. ‘They were using the radios at high frequencies. We think it started with forty, that maybe their IT head went rogue. They hijacked their antenna and began communicating with the other silos around them, and we couldn’t cut them off. They had taken care of that as well. As soon as Dad suspected this, he argued with the others that wireless networks were my speciality. They eventually relented. No one wanted to use the drones. ’

  ‘Argued with what others? Who knows you’re here?’ Donald couldn’t help but think how dangerous this could get, but maybe that was his own weakness screaming at him.

  ‘My dad, Erskine, Dr Sneed, his assistants who brought me out. But those assistants won’t work another shift—’

  ‘Deep freeze?’

  Anna frowned and splashed her cup, and it struck Donald how much had been lost while he had slept. Entire shifts had gone by. Another silo had gone dark, another red X drawn on the map. An entire corner of silos had run into some kind of trouble. Thurman, meanwhile, had been awake for a year, dealing with it. His daughter as well. Donald waved his arm at the room. ‘You’ve been stuck in here for a year? Working on this?’
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