Shift, p.33
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       Shift, p.33

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 33


  ‘I might like to come back,’ he said.

  ‘We’ll see. ’

  Thurman walked around the pod and placed a hand on Donald’s shoulder, gave him a light, sympathetic squeeze. He led Donald towards the door and Donald didn’t glance back, didn’t check the screen for his sister’s new name. He didn’t care. He knew where she was, and she would always be Charlotte to him. She would never change.

  ‘You did good,’ Thurman said. ‘This is real good. ’ They stepped into the hall, and he shut the thick door behind them. ‘You may have stumbled on why Victor was so obsessed with that report of yours. ’

  ‘I did?’ Donald didn’t see the connection.

  ‘I don’t think he was interested in what you wrote at all,’ Thurman said. ‘I think he was interested in you. ’


  • Silo 1 •

  THEY RODE THE lift to the cafeteria rather than drop Donald off on fifty-four. It was almost dinnertime, and he could help Thurman with the trays. While the lights behind the level numbers blinked on and off, following their progress up the shaft, Thurman’s hunch about Victor haunted him. What if Victor had only been curious about his resistance to the medication? What if there wasn’t anything in that report at all?

  They rode past level forty, its button winking bright and then going dark, and Donald thought of the silo that had done the same. ‘What does this mean for eighteen?’ he asked, watching the next number flash by.

  Thurman stared at the stainless steel doors, a greasy palm print there from where someone had caught their balance.

  ‘Vic wanted to try another reset on eighteen. I never saw the point. But maybe he was right. Maybe we give them one more chance. ’

  ‘What’s involved in a reset?’

  ‘You know what’s involved. ’ Thurman faced him. ‘It’s what we did to the world, just on a smaller scale. Reduce the population, wipe the computers, their memories, try it all over again. We’ve done that several times before with this silo. There are risks involved. You can’t create trauma without making a mess. At some point, it’s simpler and safer to just pull the plug. ’

  ‘End them,’ Donald said, and he saw what Victor had been up against, what he had worked to avert. He wished he could speak to the old man. Anna said Victor had spoken of him often. And Erskine had said Victor had wished people like Donald were in charge.

  The lift opened on the top level. Donald stepped out and immediately felt strange to be walking among those on their shifts, to be present and at the same time removed from the day-to-day life of silo one.

  He noticed that no one here looked to Thurman with deference. He was not that shift’s head, and no one knew him as such. Just two men, one in white and one in beige, grabbing food and glancing at the ruined wasteland on the wall screen.

  Donald took one of the trays and noticed again that most people sat facing the view. Only one or two ate with their backs to it. He followed Thurman to the lift while longing to speak to these handful, to ask them what they remembered, what they were afraid of, to tell them that it was okay to be afraid.

  ‘Why do the other silos have screens?’ he asked Thurman, keeping his voice down. The parts of the facility he’d had no hand in designing made little sense to him. ‘Why show them what we did?’

  ‘To keep them in,’ Thurman said. He balanced the tray with one hand and pressed the call button on the express. ‘It’s not that we’re showing them what we did. We’re showing them what’s out there. Those screens and a few taboos are all that contain these people. Humans have this disease, Donny, this compulsion to move until we bump into something. And then we tunnel through that something, or we sail over the edge of the oceans, or we stagger across mountains—’

  The lift arrived. A man in reactor red excused himself and stepped between the two of them. They boarded and Thurman fumbled for his badge. ‘Fear,’ he said. ‘Even the fear of death is barely enough to counter this compulsion of ours. If we didn’t show them what was out there, they would go look for themselves. That’s what we’ve always done as a race. ’

  Donald considered this. He thought about his own compulsion to escape the confines of all that pressing concrete, even if it meant death out there. The slow strangulation inside was worse.

  ‘I’d rather see a reset than extinguish the entire silo,’ Donald said, watching the numbers race by. He didn’t mention that he’d been reading up on the people who lived there. A reset would mean a world of loss and heartache, but there would be a chance at life afterwards. The alternative was death for them all.

  ‘I’m less and less eager to gas the place, myself,’ Thurman admitted. ‘When Vic was around, all I did was argue against wasting our time with any one silo like this. Now that he’s gone, I find myself pulling for these people. It’s like I have to honour his last wishes. And that’s a dangerous trap to fall into. ’

  The lift stopped on twenty and picked up two workers, who ceased a conversation of their own and fell silent for the ride. Donald thought about this process of cleansing a silo only to watch the violence repeat itself. The great wars of old were like this. He remembered two wars in Iran, a new generation unremembering so that sons marched into the battles their fathers had already fought.

  The two workers got off at the rec hall, resuming their conversation as the doors closed. Donald remembered how much he enjoyed punishing himself in the weight room. Now he was wasting away with little appetite, nothing to push against, no resistance.

  ‘It makes me wonder sometimes if that was why he did what he did,’ Thurman said. The lift slid towards fifty-four. ‘Vic calculated everything. Always with a purpose. Maybe his way of winning this argument of ours was to ensure that he had the last word. ’ Thurman glanced at Donald. ‘Hell, it’s what finally motivated me to wake you. ’

  Donald didn’t say out loud how crazy that sounded. He thought Thurman just needed some way to make sense of the unthinkable. Of course, there was another way Victor’s death had ended the argument. Not for the first time, Donald imagined that it hadn’t been a suicide at all. But he didn’t see where such doubts could get him except in trouble.

  They got off on fifty-four and carried the trays through the aisles of munitions. As they passed the drones, Donald thought of his sister, similarly sleeping. It was good to know where she was, that she was safe. A small comfort.

  They ate at the table in the war room. Donald pushed his dinner around his plate while Thurman and Anna talked. The two reports sat before him – just scraps of paper, he thought. No mystery contained within. He had been looking at the wrong thing, assuming there was a clue in the words, but it was just Donald’s existence that Victor had remarked upon. He had sat across the hall from Donald and watched him react to whatever was in their water or their pills. And now when Donald looked at his notes, all he saw was a piece of paper with pain scrawled across it amid specks of blood.

  Ignore the blood, he told himself. The blood wasn’t a clue. It had come after. There were several splatters in a wide space left in the notes. Donald had been studying the senseless. He had been looking for something that wasn’t there. He may as well have been staring off into space.

  Space. Donald set his fork down and grabbed the other report. Once he ignored the large spots of blood, there was a gap in the notes where nothing had been written. This was what he should’ve been focused on. Not what was there, but what wasn’t.

  He checked the other report – the corresponding location of that blank space – to see what was written there. When he found the right spot, his excitement vanished. It was the paragraph that didn’t belong, the one about the young inductee whose great-grandmother remembered the old times. It was nothing.


  Donald sat up straight. He took the two reports and placed them on top of each other. Anna was telling Thurman about her progress with jamming the radio towers, that she would be done soon. Thurman
was saying that they could all get off shift in the next few days, get the schedule back in order. Donald held the overlapping reports up to the lights. Thurman looked on curiously.

  ‘He wrote around something,’ Donald muttered. ‘Not over something. ’

  He met Thurman’s gaze and smiled. ‘You were wrong. ’ The two pieces of paper trembled in his hands. ‘There is something here. He wasn’t interested in me at all. ’

  Anna set down her utensils and leaned over to have a look.

  ‘If I had the original, I would’ve seen it straight away. ’ He pointed to the space in the notes, then slid the top page away and tapped his finger on the one paragraph that didn’t belong. The one that had nothing to do with silo twelve at all.

  ‘Here’s why your resets don’t work,’ he said. Anna grabbed the bottom report and read about the shadow Donald had inducted, the one whose great-grandmother remembered the old days, the one who had asked him a question about whether those stories were true.

  ‘Someone in silo eighteen remembers,’ Donald said with confidence. ‘Maybe a bunch of people, passing the knowledge in secret from generation to generation. Or they’re immune like me. They remember. ’

  Thurman took a sip of his water. He set down the glass and glanced from his daughter to Donald. ‘More reason to pull the plug,’ he said.

  ‘No,’ Donald told him. ‘No. That’s not what Victor thought. ’ He tapped the dead man’s notes. ‘He wanted to find the one who remembers, but he didn’t mean me. ’ He turned to Anna. ‘I don’t think he wanted me up at all. ’

  Anna looked up at her father, a puzzled expression on her face. She turned to Donald. ‘What are you suggesting?’

  Donald stood and paced behind the chairs, stepping over the wires that snaked across the tiles. ‘We need to call eighteen and ask the head there if anyone fits this profile, someone or some group sowing discord, maybe talking about the world we—’ He stopped himself from saying destroyed.

  ‘Okay,’ Anna said, nodding her head. ‘Okay. Let’s say they do know. Let’s say we find these people over there like you. What then?’

  He stopped his pacing. This was the part he hadn’t considered. He found Thurman studying him, the old man’s lips pursed.

  ‘We find these people—’ Donald said.

  And he knew. He knew what it would take to save these people in this distant silo, these welders and shopkeeps and farmers and their young shadows. He remembered being the one on a previous shift to kill in order to save.

  And he knew he would do it again.


  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION’S THROAT ITCHED and his eyes stung, the smoke growing heavier and the stench stronger as he approached one-twenty and Lower Dispatch. The pursuit from above seemed to have faltered, perhaps from the gap in the rails that had claimed a life.

  Cam was dead, of that he felt certain. And how many others had suffered the same fate? A twinge of guilt accompanied the sick thought that the fallen would have to be carried up to the farms in plastic bags. A porter would have to do that job, and it wouldn’t be a pretty one.

  He shook this thought away as he got within a level of Dispatch. Tears streamed down his face and mixed with the sweat and grime of the long day’s descent. He bore bad news. A shower and clean clothes would do little to alleviate the weariness he felt, but there would be protection there, help in clearing up the confusion about the blast. He hurried down the last half-flight and remembered, perhaps due to the rising ash that reminded him of a note torn to confetti, the reason he’d been chasing after Cam in the first place.

  Rodny. His friend was locked away in IT, and his plea for help had been lost in the din and confusion of the explosion.

  The explosion. Cam. The package. The delivery.

  Mission wobbled and clutched the railing for balance. He thought of the ridiculous fee for the delivery, a fee that perhaps was never meant to be paid. He gathered himself and hurried on, wondering what was going on in that locked room in IT, what kind of trouble Rodny might be in and how to help him. How, even, to get to him.

  The air grew thick and it burned to breathe as he arrived at Dispatch. A small crowd huddled on the stairway. They peered across the landing and into the open doors of one-twenty. Mission coughed into his fist as he pushed his way through the onlookers. Had the wreckage from above landed here? Everything seemed intact. Two buckets lay on their sides near the door, and a grey fire hose snaked over the railing and trailed inside. A blanket of smoke clung to the ceiling; it trailed out and up the wall of the stairwell shaft, defying gravity.

  Mission pulled his ’chief up over his nose, confused. The smoke was coming from inside Dispatch. He breathed in through his mouth, the fabric pressing against his lips and lessening the sting in his throat. Dark shapes moved inside the hallway. He unsnapped the strap that held his knife in place and crossed the threshold, keeping low to stay away from the smoke. The floors were wet and squished with the traffic from deeper inside. It was dark, but beams of light from flashlights danced around further down the hallway.

  Mission hurried towards the lights. The smoke was thicker, the water on the floor deeper. Bits of pulp floated on the surface. He passed one of the dormitories, the sorting hall, the front offices.

  Lily, an elder porter, ran by in slaps and spray, recognisable only at the last moment as the beam from her flashlight briefly lit her face. There was someone lying in the water, pressed up against the wall. As Mission approached and a passing light played over the form, he saw that they weren’t lying there at all. It was Hackett, one of the few dispatchers who treated the young shadows with respect and never seemed to take delight in their burdens. Half of his face remained unscathed, the other half was a seething red blister. Deathdays. Lottery numbers flashed in Mission’s vision.
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