Shift, p.34
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       Shift, p.34

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 34


  ‘Porter! Get over here. ’

  It was Morgan’s voice, Mission’s former caster. The old man’s cough joined a chorus of others. The hallway was full of ripples and waves, splashes and hacks, smoke and commands. Mission hurried towards the familiar silhouette, his eyes burning.

  ‘Sir? It’s Mission. The explosion—’ He pointed at the ceiling.

  ‘I know my own shadows, boy. ’ A light was trained on Mission’s eyes. ‘Get in here and give these lads a hand. ’

  The smell of cooked beans and burned and wet paper was overpowering. There was a hint of fuel behind it all, a smell Mission knew from the down deep and its generators. And there was something else: the smell of the bazaar during a pig roast, the foul and unpleasant odour of burned flesh.

  The water in the main hall was deep. It lapped up over Mission’s halfboots and filled them with muck. Drawers of files were being emptied into buckets. An empty crate was shoved into his hands, beams of light swirling in the mist, his nose burning and running, tears on his cheeks unbidden.

  ‘Here, here,’ someone said, urging him forward. They warned him not to touch the filing cabinet. Piles of paper went into the crate, heavier than they should be. Mission didn’t understand the rush. The fire was out. The walls were black where the flames must have licked at them, and the grow plots along the far wall where rows of beans had run up tall trestles had turned to ash. The trestles stood like black fingers, those that stood at all.

  Amanda from Dispatch was there at the filing cabinets, her ’chief wrapped around her hand, managing the drawers as they were emptied. The crate filled up fast. Mission spotted someone emptying the wall safe of its old books as he turned back towards the hallway. There was a body in the corner covered by a sheet. Nobody was in much of a hurry to remove it.

  He followed the others to the landing, but they did not go all the way out. The emergency lights in the dorm room were on, mattresses stacked up in the corner. Carter, Lyn and Joel were spreading the files out on the springs. Mission unloaded his crate and went back for another load.

  ‘What happened?’ he asked Amanda as he reached the filing cabinets. ‘Is this some sort of retribution?’

  ‘The farmers came for the beans,’ she said. She used her ’chief to wrestle with another drawer. ‘They came for the beans and they burned it all. ’

  Mission took in the wide swathe of damage. He recalled how the stairwell had trembled during the blast, could still see in his mind the people falling and screaming to their deaths. The months of growing violence had sparked alive as if a switch had been flipped.

  ‘So what do we do now?’ Carter asked. He was a powerful porter, in his early thirties, when men find their strength and have yet to lose their joints, but he looked absolutely beat. His hair clung to his forehead in wet clumps. There were black smears on his face, and you could no longer tell what colour his ’chief had been.

  ‘Now we burn their crops,’ someone suggested.

  ‘The crops we eat?’

  ‘Just the upper farms. They’re the ones who did this. ’

  ‘We don’t know who did this,’ Morgan said.

  Mission caught his old caster’s eye. ‘In the main hall,’ he said. ‘I saw . . . Was that . . . ?’

  Morgan nodded. ‘Roker. Aye. ’

  Carter slapped the wall and barked profanities. ‘I’ll kill ’em!’ he yelled.

  ‘So you’re . . . ’ Mission wanted to say Lower chief, but it was too soon for that to make sense.

  ‘Aye,’ Morgan said, and Mission could tell it made little sense to him either.

  ‘People will be carrying whatever they like for a few days,’ Joel said. ‘We’ll appear weak if we don’t strike back. ’ Joel was two years older than Mission and a good porter. He coughed into his fist while Lyn looked on with concern.

  Mission had other concerns besides appearing weak. The people above thought a porter had attacked them. And now this assault from the farmers, so far from where they’d been hit the night before. Porters were the nearest thing to a roaming sentry and they were being taken out by someone, purposefully, he thought. Then there were all those boys being recruited into IT. They weren’t being recruited to fix computers; they were being hired to break something. The spirit of the silo, perhaps.

  ‘I need to get home,’ Mission said. It was a slip. He meant to say up top. He worked to unknot his ’chief. The thing reeked of smoke, as did his hands and his overalls. He would have to find different overalls, a different colour to wear. He needed to get in touch with his old friends from the Nest.

  ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Morgan asked. His former caster seemed ready to say something else as Mission tugged the ’chief away. Instead, the old man’s eyes fell to the bright red weal around Mission’s neck.

  ‘I don’t think this is about us at all,’ Mission said. ‘I think this is bigger than that. A friend of mine is in trouble. He’s at the heart of all that’s going wrong. I think something bad is going to happen to him or that he might know something. They won’t let him talk to anyone. ’

  ‘Rodny?’ Lyn asked. She and Joel had been two years ahead at the Nest, but they knew Mission and Rodny, both.

  Mission nodded. ‘And Cam is dead,’ he told the others. He explained what’d happened on his way down, the blast, the people chasing him, the gap in the rails. Someone whispered Cam’s name in disbelief. ‘I don’t think anyone cares that we know,’ Mission added. ‘I think that’s the point. Everyone’s supposed to be angry. As angry as possible. ’

  ‘I need time to think,’ Morgan said. ‘To plan. ’

  ‘I don’t think there is much time,’ Mission said. He told them about the new hires at IT. He told Morgan about seeing Bradley there, about the young porter applying for a different job.

  ‘What do we do?’ Lyn asked, looking to Joel and the others.

  ‘We take it easy,’ Morgan said, but he didn’t seem so sure. The confidence he displayed as a senior porter and caster seemed shaken now that he was a chief.

  ‘I can’t stay down here,’ Mission said flatly. ‘You can have every vacation chit I own, but I’ve got to get up top. I don’t know how, but I have to. ’


  • Silo 18 •

  BEFORE HE WENT anywhere, Mission needed to get in touch with friends he could trust, anyone who might be able to help, the old gang from the Nest. As Morgan urged everyone on the landing back to work, Mission slunk down the dark and smoky hallway towards the sorting room, which had a computer he might be able to use. Lyn and Joel followed, more eager to find out about Rodny than to clean up after the fire.

  They checked the monitor at the sorting counter and saw that the computer was down, possibly from the power outage the night before. Mission remembered all those people with their broken computers earlier that morning at IT and wondered if there would be a working machine anywhere on five levels. Since he couldn’t send a wire, he picked up the hard line to the other Dispatch offices to see if they could get a message out for him.

  He tried Central first. Lyn stood with him at the counter, her flashlight illuminating the dials, piercing the haze of smoke in the room. Joel splashed among the shelves, moving the reusable sorting crates on the bottom higher up to keep them from getting wet. There was no response from Central.

  ‘Maybe the fire got the radio too,’ she whispered.

  Mission didn’t think so. The power light was on and the speaker was making that crackling sound when he squeezed the button. He heard Morgan splash past in the hallway, yelling and complaining that his workforce was disappearing. Lyn cupped her hand over her flashlight. ‘Something is going on at Central,’ he told Lyn. He had a bad feeling.

  The second way station he tried up top finally won a response. ‘Who’s this?’ someone asked, their voice shaking with barely concealed panic.

  ‘This is Mission. Who’s this?’

‘Mission? You’re in big trouble, man. ’

  Mission glanced up at Lyn. ‘Who is this?’

  ‘This is Robbie. They left me alone up here, man. I haven’t heard from anybody. But everyone’s looking for you. What’s going on down there in Lower?’

  Joel stopped with the crates and trained his flashlight on the counter.

  ‘Everyone’s looking for me?’ Mission asked.

  ‘You and Cam, a few of the others. There was some kind of fight at Central. Were you there for that? I can’t get word from anyone!’

  ‘Robbie, I need you to get in touch with some friends of mine. Can you send out a wire? Something’s wrong with our computers down here. ’

  ‘No, ours are all kind of sideways. We’ve been having to use the terminal up at the mayor’s office. It’s the only one working. ’

  ‘The mayor’s office? Okay, I need you to send a couple of wires, then. You got something to write with?’

  ‘Wait,’ Robbie said. ‘These are official wires, right? If not, I don’t have the authority—’

  ‘Dammit, Robbie, this is important! Grab something to write with. I’ll pay you back. They can dock me for it if they want. ’ Mission glanced up at Lyn, who was shaking her head in disbelief. He coughed into his fist, the smoke tickling his throat.

  ‘All right, all right,’ Robbie said. ‘Who’m I sending this to? And you owe me for this piece of paper because that’s all I have to write on. ’

  Mission let go of the transmit button to curse the kid. He thought about who would be most likely to get a wire and send it along to the others. He ended up giving Robbie three names, then told him what to write. He would have his friends meet him at the Nest, or meet each other if he couldn’t make it there himself. The Nest had to be safe. Nobody would attack the school or the Crow. Once the gang was together, they could figure out what to do. Maybe the Crow would know what to do. The hardest part for Mission would be working out how to join them.

  ‘You got all that?’ he asked Robbie when the boy didn’t reply.

  ‘Yeah, yeah, man. I think you’re gonna be over the character limit, though. This better come out of your pay. ’

  Mission shook his head in disbelief.

  ‘Now what?’ Lyn asked as he hung up the receiver.

  ‘I need overalls,’ Mission said. He splashed around the counter and joined Joel by the shelves, began searching through the nearest crates. ‘They’re looking for me, so I’m gonna need new colours if I’m getting up there. ’

  ‘We,’ Lyn told him. ‘We need new colours. If you’re going to the Nest, I’m coming with you. ’

  ‘Me too,’ Joel said.

  ‘I appreciate that,’ Mission said, ‘but company might make it more dangerous. We’d be more conspicuous. ’

  ‘Yeah, but they’re looking for you,’ Lyn said.

  ‘Hey, we have a ton of these new whites. ’ Joel pulled the lid off a sorting bin. ‘But they’ll just make us stand out, won’t they?’

  ‘Whites?’ Mission headed over to see what Joel was talking about.

  ‘Yeah. For Security. We’ve been moving a ton of these lately. Came down from Garment a few days ago. No idea why they made up so many. ’

  Mission checked the overalls. The ones on top were covered in soot, more grey than white. There were dozens of them stacked in the sorting crate. He remembered all the new hires. It was as if they wanted half the silo dressed in white and the other half fighting one another. It made no sense. Unless the idea was to get everyone killed.

  ‘Killed,’ Mission said. He splashed down the shelves to another crate. ‘I’ve got a better idea. ’ He found the right bin – he and Cam had been given one of these just a few days ago. He reached in and pulled out a bag. ‘How would you two like to make some money?’

  Joel and Lyn hurried over to see what he’d found and Mission held up one of the heavy plastic bags with the bright silver zipper and the hauling straps.

  ‘Three hundred and eighty-four chits to divide between you,’ he promised. ‘Every chit I own. I just need you for one last tandem. ’

  The two porters played their lights across the object in his hands. It was a black bag. A black bag made for carrying the dead.


  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION SAT ON the counter and worked the laces on his boots free. They were soaked, his socks as well. He shucked them off to keep the water out of the bag and to save the weight. Always a porter, thinking about weight. Lyn handed him one of the Security overalls, an extra precaution. He wiggled out of his porter blues and tugged the whites on while Lyn looked the other way. His knife he strapped back to his waist.

  ‘You guys sure you’re up for this?’ he asked.

  Lyn helped him slide his feet into the bag and worked the inside straps around his ankles. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked, cinching the straps.

  Mission laughed, his stomach fluttering with nerves. He stretched out and let them work the top straps under his shoulders. ‘Have you both eaten?’

  ‘We’ll be fine,’ Joel said. ‘Stop worrying. ’

  ‘If it gets late—’

  ‘Lie your head back,’ Lyn told him. She worked the zipper up from his feet. ‘And don’t talk unless we tell you it’s okay. ’

  ‘We’ll take a break every twenty or so,’ Joel said. ‘We’ll bring you into a bathroom with us. You can stretch and get some water. ’

  Lyn worked the zipper up over his chest to his chin, hesitated, then kissed the pads of her fingers and touched his forehead the same way he’d seen countless loved ones and priests bless the dead. ‘May your steps rise to the heavens,’ she whispered.
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