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       Shift, p.36

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 36


  When he woke, Anna was already gone, her cot neatly made. Donald did the same, tucking the sheets beneath the mattress and leaving the corners crisp, even though he knew the sheets would be mussed as the cots were returned to their rightful place in the barracks. He checked the time. Anna had been put under during the early morning so as not to be spotted. He had less than an hour before Thurman would come for him. More than enough time.

  He went out to the storeroom and approached the drone nearest the hangar door. Yanking the tarp off sent a cloud of dust into the air. He dragged out the empty bin from under one of the wings, opened the low hangar door, and arranged the bin so that it was slightly inside the lift. He lowered the door onto the bin to keep the hangar open.

  Hurrying down the hallway, past the empty barracks, he pulled the plastic sheet off the station at the very end. Flipping the plastic cover off the lift switch, he threw it into the up position. The first time he’d done this, the door to the lift would no longer open, but he could hear the platform rumbling upward on the other side of the wall. It hadn’t taken long to figure out a solution.

  Replacing the plastic sheet, he hurried down the hall, turned the light off and shut the door. He pulled the other bin from under the drone’s left wing. Donald stripped and tossed his clothes under the drone. He pulled the thick plastic suit from the bin and sat down to work his feet into the legs. The boots went on next, Donald being careful to seal the cuffs around them. Standing up, he gripped the dangling shoelace stolen from an extra boot. The end had been tied to the zipper on the back of the suit. He pulled it over his shoulder and tugged upward, made sure the zipper went to the top before grabbing the gloves, flashlight and helmet from the bin.

  Suited up, he closed the bin and slid it back under the wing, covered the drone with the tarp. There would only be a single bin out of place when Thurman arrived. Victor had left a mess to discover. Donald would hardly leave a trace.

  He crawled inside the lift, pushing the flashlight ahead of him. He could hear the motor straining against the pinned bin like an angry hive of bees. Turning on the flashlight, he took a last look at the storeroom, braced himself, then kicked the plastic tub with both boots.

  It budged. He kicked again and there was a thunderous racket as the door slammed shut, and then the shudder of movement. The flashlight jittered and danced. Donald corralled it between his mitts and watched his exhalations fog the inside of his helmet. He had no idea what to expect, but he was causing it. He would control his own fate.


  • Silo 1 •

  THE RIDE UP took much longer than he anticipated. There were moments when he wasn’t sure whether or not he was moving. He grew worried that his plan had been discovered, that the misplaced bin had led them to his tracks in the dust, that he was being recalled. He urged the lift to hurry along.

  His flashlight gave out. Donald tapped the cylinder in his mitt and worked the switch back and forth. It must’ve been on a weak charge from its long storage. He was left in the dark, no way of knowing which way was up or down, whether he was rising or falling. All he could do was wait. He knew that this was the right decision. There was nothing worse than being trapped in the darkness, in that pod, unable to do anything more than wait.

  Arrival came with a jarring clank. The persistent hum of the motor disappeared, the ensuing quiet haunting. There was a second clank, and then the door opposite the one he’d entered rose slowly. A metal attachment the size of a fist slid forward on a track. Donald scrambled after this, seeing how the drone might be guided forward.

  He found himself in a sloping launch bay. He hadn’t known what to expect, thought maybe he’d simply arrive above the soil on a barren landscape. But he was in a shaft. Above him, up the slope, a slit was opening, a dim light growing stronger. Beyond this slit, Donald spotted the roiling clouds he knew from the cafeteria. They were the bright grey that came with the sunrise. The doors at the top of the slope continued to slide apart like a maw opening wide.

  Donald crawled up the steep slope as quickly as he could. The metal car in the track stopped and locked into place. Donald hurried, imagining he didn’t have much time. He stayed off the track in case the launch sequence was automated, but the car never moved, never raced by. He arrived at the open doors exhausted and perspiring and pulled himself out.

  The world spread out before him. After a week of living in a windowless chamber, the scale and openness were inspiring. Donald felt like tearing off his helmet and sucking in deep breaths. The oppressive weight of his silo imprisonment had been lifted. Above him were only clouds.

  He stood on a round concrete platform. Behind the opening for the launch ramp was a cluster of antennae. He went to these, held on to one of them and lowered himself to the wide ledge below. From here it was a scramble on his belly, trying to hold on to the slick edge with bulky gloves, and then a graceless drop to the dirt.

  He scanned the horizon for the city – had to work his way around the tower to find it. From there, he aimed forty-five degrees to the left. He had studied the maps to make sure, but now that he was there, he realised he could’ve done it by memory. Over there was where the tents had stood, and here the stage, and beyond them the dirt tracks through the struggling beginnings of grass as ATVs buzzed up the hillside. He could almost smell the food that’d been cooking, could hear the dogs barking and children playing, the anthems in the air.

  Donald shook off thoughts of the past and made his time count. He knew there was a chance – a very good chance – that someone was sitting at breakfast in the cafeteria. At this very moment, they would be dropping their spoon and pointing at the wall screen. But he had a head start. They would have to wrestle with suits and wonder if the risk was worth it. By the time they got to him, it would be too late. Hopefully, they would simply leave him be.

  He worked his way up the hillside. Movement was a struggle inside the bulky suit. He slipped and fell several times in the slick soil. When a gust of wind hammered the landscape, it peppered his helmet with grit and made a noise like the hiss of Anna’s radio. There was no telling how long the suit would last. He knew enough of the cleaning to suspect it wouldn’t be for ever, but Anna had told him that the machines in the air were designed to attack only certain things. That’s why they didn’t destroy the sensors, or the concrete, or a properly built suit. And he suspected the suits in silo one would have been built properly.

  All he hoped for as he laboured up the hill was a view. He was so obsessed and determined to win this that he never thought to look behind him, slipping and scrambling, crawling on his hands and knees the last fifty feet, until he was finally at the summit. He stood and staggered forward, exhausted, breathing heavily. Reaching the edge, he peered down into the adjacent bowl. There, a concrete tower stood like a gravestone, like a monument to Helen. She was buried beneath that tower. And while he could never go to her, never be buried alongside her, he could lie down underneath the clouds and be close enough.

  He wanted his helmet off. First, though, his gloves. He tugged one of them free – popping the seal – and dropped it to the soil. The heavy winds sent the glove tumbling down the slope, and the swirling grit stung his hand. The peppering of fine particles burned like a day on a windy beach. Donald began tugging on his other glove, resigned to what would come next, when suddenly he felt a hand grip his shoulder – and he was pulled back from the edge of that gentle rise and the view of his wife’s last resting place.


  • Silo 1 •

  DONALD STUMBLED AND fell. The shock of being touched sent his heart into his throat. He waved his arms to free himself but someone had a grip on his suit. More than one person. They dragged him back until he could no longer see beyond the ridge.

  Screams of frustration filled his helmet. Couldn’t they see that it was too late? Couldn’t they leave him be? He flailed and tried to lunge out of their grip, but he was being pulle
d inexorably down the hill, back towards silo one.

  When he fell the next time, he was able to roll over and face them, to get his arms up to defend himself. And there was Thurman standing over him – wearing nothing more than his white overalls, dust from the dead earth gathering in the old man’s grey brow.

  ‘It’s time to go!’ Thurman yelled into the heavy wind. His voice seemed as distant as the clouds.

  Donald kicked his feet and tried to crawl back up the hill but there were three of them there, blocking his way. All in white, squinting against the ferocity of the driving wind and pelting soil.

  Donald screamed as they seized him again. He tried to grab rocks and fistfuls of soil as they pulled him along by his boots. His helmet knocked against the lifeless pack of dirt. He watched the clouds boil overhead as his fingernails were bent back and broken in his struggle for some purchase.

  By the time they got him to the flats, Donald was spent. They carried him down a ramp and through the airlock where more men were waiting. His helmet was tossed aside before the outer door fully shut. Thurman stood in a far corner and watched as they undressed him. The old man dabbed at the blood running from his nose. Donald had caught him with his boot.

  Erskine was there, Dr Sneed as well, both of them breathing hard. As soon as they got his suit off, Sneed plunged a needle into Donald’s flesh. Erskine held his hand and seemed sad as the liquid spread through Donald’s veins.

  ‘A bloody waste,’ someone said as the fog settled over him.

  ‘Look at this mess. ’

  Erskine placed a hand on Donald’s cheek as Donald drifted deeper into the black. His lids grew heavy and his hearing distant.

  ‘Be better if someone like you were in charge,’ he heard Erskine say.

  But it was Victor’s voice he heard. It was a dream. No, a memory. A thought from an earlier conversation. Donald couldn’t be sure. The waking world of boots and angry voices was too busy being swallowed by the mist of sleep and the fog of dreams. And this time – rather than with a fear of death – Donald went into that darkness gladly. He embraced it, hoping it would be eternal. He went with a final thought of his sister, of those drones beneath their tarps, all those things he hoped would never be woken.


  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION FELT BURIED alive. He fell into an uncomfortable trance, the bag growing hot and slick as it trapped his heat and exhalations. Part of him feared he would pass out in there and Joel and Lyn would discover him dead. Part of him hoped.

  The two porters were stopped for questioning on one-seventeen, the landing below the blast that took Cam. Those working to repair the stairwell were on the lookout for a certain porter. Their description was part Cam, part Mission. Mission held deathly still while Joel complained of being stopped with so sensitive and heavy a load. It seemed that they might ask for the bag to be opened, but there were some things nearly as taboo as talk of the outside. And so they were sent on their way with a warning that the rail was out above and that one person had already fallen to their death.

  Mission fought off a coughing fit as the voices receded below. He wiggled his shoulders and struggled to cover his mouth to muffle the sound. Lyn hissed at him to be quiet. In the distance, Mission could hear a woman wailing. They passed through the wreckage from hours earlier, and Joel and Lyn gasped at the sight of an entire landing torn free from the stairwell.

  Above Supply, on one-zero-seven, they carried Mission into a bathroom, opened the bag and let him work the blood back into his arms. Mission used one of the stalls, took a few sips of water and assured Joel and Lyn that he was fine in there. All three of them were damp with sweat, and there were still thirty-odd levels to go to Central Dispatch. Joel especially seemed weary from the climb, or perhaps from seeing the damage wrought by the blast. Lyn was holding up better but was anxious to get going again. She fretted for Rodny and seemed as eager as Mission to get to the Nest.

  Mission caught a glance of himself in the mirror with his white overalls and his porter’s knife strapped to his waist. He was the one they were looking for. He drew his knife, held a handful of his hair and cut through a clump close to his scalp. Lyn saw what he was doing and helped with her own knife. Joel grabbed the trash can from the corner to collect the hair.

  It was a rough job, but he looked less like the one they wanted. Before putting his knife away, he cut a few slits in the black bag, right by the zipper. He peeled off his undershirt and wiped the inside of the bag dry before throwing the shirt in the trash can. It reeked of smoke and sweat anyway. Crawling back inside, helping with the straps, they zipped him up and carried him back to the stairway to resume their ascent. Mission was powerless to do anything but worry.

  He ran over the events of a very long day. That morning, he had watched the clouds brighten over breakfast, had visited the Crow and delivered her note to Rodny. And then Cam – he had lost a friend. The exhaustion of it all caught up with him and Mission found himself sliding into unconsciousness.

  When he started awake, it felt but a moment later. His overalls were damp, the inside of the bag slick with condensation. Joel must have felt him jerk, as he quickly shushed Mission and told him they were coming up on Central.

  Mission’s heart pounded as he came to and remembered where he was, what they were doing. It felt difficult to breathe. The slits he had cut were lost in the folds of the plastic. He wanted the zipper cracked, just a slice of light, a whisper of fresh air. His arms were pinned and numb from the straps around his shoulders. His ankles were sore from where Lyn was hoisting him from below.

  ‘Can’t breathe,’ he gasped.

  Lyn told him to be quiet. But there was a pause, an end to the swaying. Someone fumbled with the bag over his head, a series of tiny clicks from the zipper being lowered a dozen notches.

  Mission sucked in cool gasps. The world resumed its swaying, boots striking the stairs in the distance – a commotion somewhere above or below, he couldn’t tell. More fighting. More dying. He pictured bodies spinning through the air. He saw Cam leaving the farm sublevels just the day before, a bonus in his pocket, no thought of how little time he had left for spending it.
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