Shift, p.37
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       Shift, p.37

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 37


  They rested at Central Dispatch. Mission was let out in the main hallway, which was frighteningly empty. ‘What the hell happened here?’ Lyn asked. She dug her finger into a hole in the wall surrounded by a spiderweb of cracks. There were hundreds of holes like them. Boots rang on the landing and continued past.

  ‘What time is it?’ Mission asked, keeping his voice down.

  ‘It’s after dinner,’ Joel said. It meant they were making good time.

  Down the hall, Lyn studied a dark patch of what looked to be rust. ‘Is this blood?’ she hissed.

  ‘Robbie said he couldn’t reach anyone down here,’ Mission said. ‘Maybe they scattered. ’

  Joel took a sip from his canteen. ‘Or were driven off. ’ He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

  ‘Should we stay here for the night? You two look beat. ’

  Joel shook his head. He offered Mission his canteen. ‘I think we need to get past the thirties. Security is everywhere. Hell, you could probably dash up with what you’ve got on the way they’re running about. Might need to clean up your hair a bit. ’

  Mission rubbed his scalp and thought about that. ‘Maybe I should,’ he said. ‘I could be up there before the dim-time. ’ He watched as Lyn disappeared into one of the bunk rooms down the hall. She emerged almost immediately with her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.

  ‘What is it?’ Mission asked, pushing up from a crouch and joining her.

  She threw her arms around him and held him away from the door, buried her face into his shoulder. Joel risked a look.

  ‘No,’ he whispered.

  Mission pulled away from Lyn and joined his fellow porter by the door.

  The bunks were full. Some lay sprawled on the floor, but it was obvious by the tangle of their limbs – the way arms hung useless from bunks or were twisted beneath them – that these porters weren’t sleeping.

  They discovered Katelyn among them. Lyn shook with silent sobs as Joel and Mission retrieved Katelyn’s body and loaded her into the bag. Mission felt a pang of guilt that she’d been chosen as much for her size as how well loved she’d been. While they were securing the straps and zipping her up, the power in the hallway went out, leaving them in the pitch black.

  ‘What the hell?’ Joel hissed.

  A moment later, the lights returned but flickered as though an unsteady flame burned in each bulb. Mission wiped the sweat from his forehead and wished he still had his ’chief.

  ‘If you can’t make it all the way to the Nest tonight,’ he said to the others, ‘stop and stay at the way station and check on Robbie. ’

  ‘We’ll be fine,’ Joel assured him.

  Lyn squeezed his arm before he went. ‘Watch your steps,’ she said.

  ‘And you,’ Mission told them.

  He hurried towards the landing and the great stairway beyond. Overhead, the lights flickered like little flames. A sign that something, somewhere, was burning.


  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION HURRIED UPBOUND amid a fog of smoke, his throat on fire. An explosion in Mechanical was whispered to have been the reason for the blackout. Talk swirled of a bent or broken shaft and that the silo was on backup power. He heard such things from half a spiral away as he took the steps two and sometimes three at a time. It felt good to be out and moving, good to have his muscles aching rather than sitting still, to be his own burden.

  And he noticed that when anyone saw him, they either fell silent or scattered beyond their landings, even those he knew. At first, he feared it was from recognition. But it was the Security white he wore. Young men just like him thundered up and down the stairwell terrorising everyone. Only yesterday, they had been farmers, welders and pumpmen – now they brought order with their dark weapons.

  More than once, a group of them stopped Mission and asked where he was going, where his rifle was. He told them that he had been a part of the fighting below and was reporting back. It was something he’d heard another claim. Many of them seemed to know as little as he did and so they let him pass. As ever, the colour you wore said everything. People thought they could know you at a glance.

  The activity grew thicker near IT. A group of new recruits filed past, and Mission watched over the railing as they kicked in the doors to the level below and stormed inside. He heard screams and then a sharp bang like a heavy steel rod falling to metal decking. A dozen of these bangs, and then less screaming.

  His legs were sore, a stitch in his side, as he approached the farms. He caught sight of a few farmers out on the landing with shovels and rakes. Someone yelled something as he passed. Mission quickened his pace, thinking of his father and brother, seeing the wisdom for once in his old man’s unwillingness to leave that patch of dirt.

  After what seemed like hours of climbing, he reached the quiet of the Nest. The children were gone. Most families were probably holed up in their apartments, cowering together, hoping this madness would pass like others had. Down the hall, several lockers stood open, and a child’s backpack lay on the ground. Mission staggered forward on aching legs towards the sound of a familiar, singing voice and the horrid screech of steel on tile.

  At the end of the hall, her door stood as welcome and open as always. The singing came from the Crow, whose voice seemed stronger than usual. Mission saw that he wasn’t the first to arrive, that his wire had gone out. Frankie and Allie were there, both in the green and white of farm security. They were arranging desks while Mrs Crowe sang. The sheets had been thrown off the stacks of desks kept in storage along one wall. Those desks now filled the classroom the way Mission remembered from his youth. It was as though the Crow were expecting them to be filled at any time.

  Allie was the first to notice Mission’s arrival. She turned and spotted him at the door, her bright eyes shining amid her farmer freckles, her dark hair tied back in a bun. She rushed over, and Mission saw how her overalls were bunched up around her boots, the straps knotted at her shoulders to make them shorter. They must’ve been Frankie’s overalls. As she threw herself into his arms, he wondered what the two of them had risked to meet him there.

  ‘Mission, my boy. ’ Mrs Crowe stopped her singing, smiled and waved him by her side. After a moment, Allie reluctantly loosened her grip.

  Mission shook Frankie’s hand and thanked him for coming. It took a moment to realise something was different, that his hair had been cut short as well. They both rubbed their scalps and laughed. Humour came easy in humourless times.

  ‘What is this I hear about my Rodny?’ the Crow asked. Her chair twitched back and forth, her hand working the controls, her faded blue nightgown tucked under her narrow bones.

  Mission drew a deep breath, smoke lingering in his lungs, and told them everything he had seen on the stairwell, about the bombs and the fires and what he had heard of Mechanical, the security forces armed with rifles – until the Crow dispelled his frenzied chatter with a wave of her frail arms.

  ‘Not the fighting,’ she said. ‘The fighting I’ve seen. I could paint a picture of the fighting and hang it from my walls. What of Rodny? What of our boy? Has he got them? Has he made them pay?’ She made a small fist and held it aloft.

  ‘No,’ Mission said. ‘Got who? He needs our help. ’

  The Crow laughed, which took him aback. He tried to explain. ‘I gave him your note, and he passed me one in return. It begged for help. They have him locked up behind these great steel doors—’

  ‘Not locked up,’ the Crow said.

  ‘—like he’d done something wrong—’

  ‘Something right,’ she said, correcting him.

  Mission fell silent. He could see knowledge shining behind her old eyes, a sunrise on the day after a cleaning.

  ‘Rodny is in no danger,’ she said. ‘He is with the old books. He’s with the people who took the world from us. ’

  Allie squeezed Mission’s arm. ‘She’s been
trying to tell us,’ she whispered. ‘Everything’s going to be okay. Come, help with the desks. ’

  ‘But the note . . . ’ Mission said, wishing he hadn’t turned it to confetti.

  ‘The note you gave him was to give him strength. To let him know it was time to begin. Our boy is in a place to hurt them good for what they’ve done. ’ There was a wildness in the Crow’s eyes.

  ‘No,’ Mission said. ‘Rodny was afraid. I know my friend, and he was afraid of something. ’

  The Crow’s face hardened. She relaxed her fist and smoothed the front of her faded dress. ‘If that be the case,’ she said, her voice trembling, ‘then I judged him most wrongly. ’


  • Silo 18 •

  THE DIM-TIME approached while they arranged desks and the Crow resumed her singing. Allie told him a curfew had been announced, and so Mission lost hope that the others would show up that night. They pulled out mats from the cubbies to rest and plan, and decided to give the others until daybreak. There was much Mission wanted to ask the Crow, but she seemed distracted, her thoughts elsewhere, possessed with a joyousness that made her giddy.

  Frankie felt certain he could get them through security and deeper into IT if only he could reach his father. Mission told them how well he’d been able to move about with the whites on. Maybe he could reach Frankie’s dad in a pinch. Allie produced fresh fruits harvested from her plot and passed them around. The Crow drank one of her dark green concoctions. Mission grew restless.

  He wandered out to the landing, torn between waiting for the others and his anxiety to get going. For all he knew, Rodny was being marched up to his death already. Cleanings tended to settle people down, to follow bouts of unrest, but this was unlike any of the spates of violence he had seen before. This was the burning his father spoke of, the embers of distrust and crumbling trade that jumped up all at once. He had seen this coming, but it had approached with the swiftness of a knife plummeting from the up top.

  Out on the landing, he heard the sounds of a mob echoing from far below. Holding the landing rail, he could feel the hum of marching boots. He returned to the others and said nothing of it. There was no reason to suspect those boots were coming for them.

  Allie looked as though she’d been crying when he got back. Her eyes were moist, her cheeks flushed. The Crow was telling them an Old Time story, her hands painting a scene in the air.

  ‘Is everything all right?’ Mission asked.

  Allie shook her head as if she’d rather not say.

  ‘What is it?’ he said. He held her hand, heard the Crow speaking of Atlantis, another tale of the crumbling and lost city of magic beyond the hills, a bygone day when those ruins shone like a wet dime.

  ‘Tell me,’ he said. He wondered if the stories were affecting her the way they sometimes did him, making her sad and not knowing why.

  ‘I didn’t want to say anything until after,’ she cried, fresh tears welling up. She wiped them away and the Crow fell silent, her hands dropping into her lap. Frankie sat quietly. Whatever it was, the two of them knew as well.

  ‘Father,’ Mission said. It had to do with his father. He was gone, he knew it instantly. Allie was close to his father in a way that Mission had never been. And suddenly, he felt a powerful regret for ever having left home. While she wiped her eyes, the words unable to form on her trembling lips, Mission imagined himself on his hands and knees, in the dirt, digging for forgiveness.

  Allie bawled, and the Crow hummed a tune of aboveground days. Mission thought of his father, gone, all he longed to say, and wanted nothing more than to hurl himself at the posters on the walls, to tear them down and rip to shreds their urgings to go and be free.

  ‘It’s Riley,’ Allie finally said. ‘Mish, I’m so sorry. ’

  The Crow ceased her humming. All three of them watched him.

  ‘No,’ Mission whispered.

  ‘You shouldn’t have told him—’ Frankie began.

  ‘He ought to know!’ Allie demanded. ‘His father would want him to know. ’

  Mission gazed at a poster of green hills and blue skies. That world blurred with tears as surely as it might with dust. ‘What happened?’ he whispered.

  She told him that there’d been an attack on the farms. Riley had begged to go and help fight, had been told no, and had then disappeared. He’d been found with a knife from the kitchen still clutched in his hands.

  Mission stood and paced the room, tears splashing from his cheeks. He shouldn’t have left. He should have been there. He hadn’t been there for Cam, either. Death preceded him in all the places he couldn’t be. He had done the same to his mother. And now the end was coming for them all.

  A rumble grew from the landing and filled the hallway – the sound of approaching boots. Mission wiped his cheeks. He had given up on any of the others coming and thought it might be Security with their guns. They would ask him where his own gun was before realising he was an impostor, before shooting them all.

  He pushed the door shut, saw that the Crow had no lock on the thing, and wedged a desk under the handle. Frankie hurried to Allie, told her to get behind the Crow’s desk. He grabbed the back of the Crow’s wheelchair – the overhead wire swinging dangerously – but she insisted she could manage herself, that there was nothing to be afraid of.

  Mission knew better. This was Security coming for them – Security or some other mob. He’d travelled the stairwell, knew what was out there.

  There was a knock on the door. The handle jiggled. The boots outside quietened as they gathered around. Frankie pressed his finger to his lips, his eyes wide. The wire overhead creaked as it swung back and forth.

  The door budged. Mission hoped for a moment that they would go away, that they were just making their rounds. He thought about hiding under the sheets used to cover the desks, but the thought came too late. The door was shoved open, a desk screeching as it skittered across the floor. The first person through was Rodny.
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