Shift, p.25
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       Shift, p.25

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
 
Page 25

 

  She jerked her head at the door and laughed. ‘I’ve been cooped up in worse for a lot longer. But yeah, it sucks. I’m sick of this place. ’ She took another sip, her cup hiding her expression, and Donald wondered if perhaps he was awake because of her weakness just as she might be awake because of her father’s. What was next? Him searching the deep freeze for his sister Charlotte?

  ‘We’ve lost contact with eleven silos so far. ’ Anna peered into her cup. ‘I think I’ve got it contained, but we’re still trying to figure out how it happened or if anyone’s still alive over there. I personally don’t think so, but Dad wants to send scouts or drones. Everyone says that’s too big a risk. And now it looks like eighteen is going to burn itself to the ground. ’

  ‘And I’m supposed to help? What does your father think I know?’ He stepped around the planning table and waved for the bottle. Anna splashed her cup and handed the drink to him; she reached for another cup by her monitor while Donald collapsed onto her cot. It was a lot to take in.

  ‘It’s not Dad who thinks you know anything. He didn’t want you up at all. No one’s supposed to come out of deep freeze. ’ She screwed the cap back on the bottle. ‘It was his boss. ’

  Donald nearly choked on his first sip of the Scotch. He sputtered and wiped his chin with his sleeve while Anna looked on with concern.

  ‘His boss?’ he asked, gasping for air.

  She narrowed her eyes. ‘Dad told you why you’re here, right?’

  He fumbled in his pocket for the report. ‘Something I wrote during my last . . . during my shift. Thurman has a boss? I thought he was in charge. ’

  Anna laughed humourlessly. ‘Nobody’s in charge,’ she told him. ‘The system’s in charge. It just runs. We built it to just go. ’ She got up from her desk and walked over to join him on the cot. Donald slid over to give her more room.

  ‘Dad was in charge of digging the holes, that was his job. There were three of them who planned most of this. The other two had ideas for how to hide this place. Dad convinced them they should just build it in plain sight. The nuclear containment facility was his idea, and he was in a position to make it happen. ’

  ‘You said three. Who were the others?’

  ‘Victor and Erskine. ’ Anna adjusted a pillow and leaned back against the wall. ‘Not their real names, of course. But what does it matter? A name is a name. You can be anyone down here. Erskine was the one who discovered the original threat, who told Victor and Dad about the nanos. You’ll meet him. He’s been on a double shift with me, working on the loss of these silos, but it’s not his area of expertise. Do you need more?’ She nodded at his cup.

  ‘No. I’m already feeling dizzy. ’ He didn’t add that it wasn’t from the alcohol. ‘I remember a Victor from my shift. He worked across the hall from me. ’

  ‘The same. ’ She looked away for a moment. ‘Dad refers to him as the boss, but I’ve been working with Victor for a while, and he never thought of himself that way. He thought of himself as a steward, joked once about feeling like Noah. He wanted to wake you months ago because of what’s happening in silo eighteen, but Dad vetoed the idea. I think Victor was fond of you. He talked about you a lot. ’

  ‘Victor talked about me?’ Donald remembered the man across the hall from him, the shrink. Anna reached up and wiped underneath her eyes.

  ‘Yes. He was a brilliant man, could tell what you were thinking, what anyone was thinking. He planned most of this. Wrote the Order, the original Pact. It was all his design. ’

  ‘What do you mean was?’

  Her lip trembled. She tipped her cup, but there was little left in the bottom.

  ‘Victor’s dead,’ she said. ‘He shot himself at his desk two days ago. ’

  32

  • Silo 1 •

  ‘VICTOR? SHOT HIMSELF?’ Donald tried to imagine the composed man who had worked across the hall from him doing such a thing. ‘Why?’

  Anna sniffed and slid closer to Donald. She twisted the empty cup in her hands. ‘We don’t know. He was obsessed with that first silo we lost. Obsessed. It broke my heart to see how he blamed himself. He used to say that he could see certain things coming, that there were . . . probabilistic certainties. ’ She said these two words in a mimic of his voice, which brought the old man’s face even more vividly to Donald’s mind.

  ‘But it killed him not to know the precise when and where. ’ She dabbed her eyes. ‘He would’ve been better off if it’d happened on someone else’s shift. Not his. Not where he’d feel guilty. ’

  ‘He blamed me,’ Donald said, staring at the floor. ‘It was on my shift. I was such a mess. I couldn’t think straight. ’

  ‘What? No. Donny, no. ’ She rested a hand on his knee. ‘There’s no one to blame. ’

  ‘But my report—’ He still had it in his hand, folded up and dotted here and there with pale blue.

  Anna’s eyes fell to the piece of paper. ‘Is that a copy?’ She reached for it, brushed the loose strands of hair off her face. ‘Dad had the courage to tell you about this but not about what Vic did. ’ She shook her head. ‘Victor was strong in some ways, so weak in others. ’ She turned to Donald. ‘He was found at his desk, surrounded by notes, everything he had on this silo, and your report was on top. ’

  She unfolded the page and studied the words. ‘Just a copy,’ she whispered.

  ‘Maybe it was—’ Donald began.

  ‘He wrote notes all over the original. ’ She slid her finger across the page. ‘Right about here, he wrote: “This is why. ”’

  ‘This is why? As in why he did it?’ Donald waved his hand at the room. ‘Shouldn’t this be why? Maybe he realised he’d made a mistake. ’ He held Anna’s arm. ‘Think about what we’ve done. What if we followed a crazy man down here? Maybe Victor had a sudden bout of sanity. What if he woke up for a second and saw what we’d done?’

  ‘No. ’ Anna shook her head. ‘We had to do this. ’

  He slapped the wall behind the cot. ‘That’s what everyone keeps saying. ’

  ‘Listen to me. ’ She placed a hand on his knee, tried to soothe him. ‘You need to keep it together, okay?’ She glanced at the door, a fearful look in her eyes. ‘I asked him to wake you because I need your help. I can’t do this alone. Vic was working on the situation in silo eighteen. If Dad has his way, he’ll just terminate the place not to have to deal with it. Victor didn’t want that. I don’t want that. ’

  Donald thought of silo twelve, which he’d terminated. But it was already falling, wasn’t it? It was already too late. They had opened the airlock. He looked at the schematic on the wall and wondered if it was too late for silo eighteen as well.

  ‘What did he see in my report?’ he asked.

  ‘I don’t know. But he wanted to wake you weeks ago. He thought you had touched on something. ’

  ‘Or maybe it was just because I was around at the time. ’

  Donald looked at the room of clues. Anna had been digging, tearing into a different problem. So many questions and answers. His mind was clear, not like last time. He had questions of his own. He wanted to find his sister, find out what had happened to Helen, dispel this crazy thought that she was still out there somewhere. He wanted to know more about this damnable place he’d helped build.

  ‘You’ll help us?’ Anna asked. She rested her hand on his back, and her comforting touch brought back the memory of his wife, of the moments she would soothe and care for him. He started as if bitten, some part of him thinking for a moment that he was still married, that she was alive out there, maybe frozen and waiting for him to wake her.

  ‘I need . . . ’ He jumped up and glanced around the room. His eyes fell to the computer on the desk. ‘I need to look some things up. ’

  Anna rose beside him. ‘Of course. I can fill you in with what we know so far. Victor left a series of notes. He wrote all over your report. I can show you. And maybe you can convince Dad
that he was on to something, that this silo is worth saving—’

  ‘Yes,’ Donald said. He would do it. But only so he could stay awake. And he wondered for a moment if that was Anna’s intention as well. To keep him around, near to her.

  An hour earlier, all he had wanted was to go back to sleep, to escape the world he had helped create. But now he wanted answers. He would look into silo eighteen, but he would find Helen as well. Find out what had happened to her, where she was. He thought of Mick, and Tennessee flashed in his mind. He turned to the wall schematic with all the silos and tried to remember which state went with which number.

  ‘What can we access from here?’ he asked. His skin flushed with heat as he thought of the answers at his disposal.

  Anna turned towards the door. There were footsteps out there in the darkness.

  ‘Dad. He’s the only one with access to this level any more. ’

  ‘Any more?’ He turned back to Anna.

  ‘Yeah. Where do you think Victor got the gun?’ She lowered her voice. ‘I was in here when he came down and cracked open one of the crates. I never heard him. Look, my father blames himself for what happened to Victor, and he still doesn’t believe this has anything to do with you or your report. But I knew Vic. He wasn’t crazy. If there’s anything you can do, please. For me. ’

  She squeezed his hand. Donald looked down, didn’t realise she’d been holding it. The folded report was in her other hand. The footsteps approached. Donald nodded his assent.

  ‘Thank you,’ she said. She dropped his hand, grabbed his empty cup from the cot and nested hers with it. She tucked the cups and the bottle into one of the chairs and slid it under the table. Thurman arrived at the door and rapped the jamb with his knuckles.

  ‘Come in,’ Anna said, brushing loose hair off her face.

  Thurman studied the two of them for a moment. ‘Erskine is planning a small ceremony,’ he said. ‘Just us. Those of us who know. ’

  Anna nodded. ‘Of course. ’

  Thurman narrowed his eyes and glanced from his daughter to Donald. Anna seemed to take it as a question.

  ‘Donny thinks he can help,’ she said. ‘We both think it’s best for him to work down here with me. At least until we make some progress. ’

  Donald turned to her in shock. Thurman said nothing.

  ‘We’ll need another computer,’ she added. ‘If you bring one down, I can set it up. ’

  That, Donald liked the sound of.

  ‘And another cot, of course,’ Anna added with a smile.

  33

  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION SLUNK AWAY after the scuffle with the farmers, and the rest of the porters scattered. He stole a few hours of sleep at the upper way station on level ten, his nose numb and lips throbbing from a blow he’d taken. Tossing and turning, too restless to stay put, he rose in the dim-time and realised it was too early yet to go to the Nest; the Crow would still be asleep. And so he headed to the cafeteria for a sunrise and a decent breakfast, the coroner’s bonus burning in his pockets the way his knuckles burned from their scrapes.

  He nursed his aches with a welcome hot meal, eating with those coming off a midnight shift, and watched the clouds boil and come to life across the hills. The towering husks in the distance – the Crow called them skyscrapers – were the first to catch the rising sun. It was a sign that the world would wake one more day. His birthday, Mission realised. He left his dishes on the table, a chit for whoever cleaned after him, and tried not to think of cleaning at all. Instead, he rushed down the eight flights of stairs before the silo fully woke. He headed towards the Nest, feeling not a day older at all.

  Familiar words greeted him at the landing on level thirteen. There, above the door, rather than a level number it read:

  THE CROW’S NEST

  The words were painted in bright and blocky letters. They followed the outlines from years and generations prior, colour piled on colour and letters crooked from more than one young hand’s involvement. The children of the silo came and went and left their marks with bristles, but the Old Crow remained.

  Her nest comprised the nursery, day school and classrooms that served the up top. She had been perched there for longer than any alive could remember. Some said she was as old as the silo itself, but Mission knew that was just a legend. Nobody knew how old the silo was.

  He entered the Nest to find the hallways empty and quiet, the hour early still. There was a soft screech from one classroom as desks were put back into order. Mission caught a glimpse of two teachers conferring in another classroom, their faces scrunched up with worry, probably wondering what to do with a younger version of himself. The scent of strong tea mixed with the odour of paste and chalk. There were rows of metal lockers in dire need of paint and stippled with dents from tiny fists; they transported Mission back to another age. It felt like just yesterday that he had terrorised that hall. He and all his friends whom he didn’t see any more – or at least not as often as he’d like.

  The Crow’s room was at the far end and adjoined the only apartment on the entire level. The apartment had been built especially for her, converted from a classroom, or so they said. And while she taught only the youngest children any more, the entire school was hers. This was her nest.

  Mission remembered coming to her at various stages of his life. Early on, for comfort, feeling so very far from the farms. Later, for wisdom, when he was finally old enough to admit he had none. And more than once he had come for both, like the day he had learned the truth of his birth and his mother’s death – that she had been sent to clean because of him. Mission remembered that day well. It was the only time he’d ever seen the Old Crow cry.
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