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       Shift, p.38

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 38


  His appearance was as sudden and jarring as a slapped cheek. Rodny wore white overalls with the creases still in them. His hair had been cut short, his face newly shaved, a nick on his chin.

  Mission felt as though he were staring into a mirror, the two of them in costume. More men in white crowded behind Rodny in the hallway, rifles in hand. Rodny ordered them back and stepped into the room where all those empty desks lay neatly arranged.

  Allie was the first to respond. She gasped with surprise and hurried forward, arms wide as if for an embrace. Rodny held up a palm and told her to stop. His other hand held a small gun, the same the deputies wore. His eyes were not on his friends but on the Old Crow.

  ‘Rodny—’ Mission began. His brain attempted to grasp his friend’s presence. They had all come together to rescue him, but he looked in little need of it.

  ‘The door,’ Rodny said over his shoulder.

  A man twice Rodny’s age hesitated before doing as he was asked and pulling the door shut. This was not the demeanour of a prisoner. Frankie lurched forward before the door shut all the way, calling ‘Father!’ as if he’d seen his old man in the hall with the others.

  ‘We were coming for you,’ Mission said. He wanted to approach his friend, but there was something dangerous in Rodny’s eyes. ‘Your note—’

  Rodny finally looked away from the Crow.

  ‘We were coming to help—’ Mission said.

  ‘Yesterday, I needed it,’ Rodny said. He circled around the desks, the gun at his side, his eyes flicking from face to face. Mission backed up and joined Allie in standing close to the Crow – whether to protect her or feel protected, he couldn’t say.

  ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Mrs Crowe said with a lecturing tone. ‘This is not where your fight is. You should be hurting them. ’ A thin finger pointed at the door.

  The gun in Rodny’s hand rose a little.

  ‘What’re you doing?’ Allie asked, her wide eyes on the gun.

  Rodny pointed at the Crow. ‘Tell them,’ he said. ‘Tell them what you’ve done. What you do. ’

  ‘What’ve they done to you?’ Mission asked. His friend had changed. It was more than the haircut and uniform. It was in his eyes.

  ‘They showed me—’ Rodny swept his gun at the posters on the wall. ‘That these stories are true. ’ He laughed and turned to the Crow. ‘And I was angry, just like you said I would be. Angry at what they did to the world. I wanted to tear it all down. ’

  ‘So do it,’ the Crow insisted. ‘Hurt them. ’ Her voice creaked like a door about to slam.

  ‘But now I know. They told me. We got a call. And now I know what you’ve been doing here—’

  ‘What’s this about?’ Frankie asked, still in the middle of the room. He moved towards the door. ‘Why is my father—’

  ‘Stay,’ Rodny told him. He pushed one of the desks out of the way and moved down the aisle. ‘Don’t you move. ’ His gun swung from Frankie to the Crow, whose chair shivered in time with her palsied hand. ‘These sayings on the wall, the stories and songs – you made us what we are. You made us angry. ’

  ‘You should be,’ she screeched. ‘You damn well should be!’

  Mission moved closer to the Crow. He kept his eye on the gun. Allie knelt and held the old woman’s hand. Rodny stood ten paces away, the gun angled at their feet.

  ‘They kill and they kill,’ the Crow said. ‘And this will go the way it always has. Wipe it all clean. Bury and burn the dead. And these desks—’ Her arm shot up, her quivering finger aimed at the empty desks newly arranged. ‘These desks will be full again. ’

  ‘No,’ Rodny said. He shook his head. ‘No more. It ends here. You won’t terrify us any more—’

  ‘What’re you saying?’ Mission asked. He stepped close to the Crow, a hand on her chair. ‘You’re the one with the gun, Rodny. You’re the one scaring us. ’

  Rodny turned to Mission. ‘She makes us feel this way. Don’t you see? The fear and hope go hand in hand. What she sells is no different than the priests, only she gets to us first. This talk of a better world. It just makes us hate this one. ’

  ‘No—’ Mission hated his friend for uttering such a thing.

  ‘Yes,’ Rodny said. ‘Why do you think we hate our fathers? It’s because she makes us hate them. Gives us ideas to break free from them. But this won’t make it better. ’ He waved his hand. ‘Not that it matters. What I knew yesterday had me terrified for my life. For all of us. What I know now gives me hope. ’ His gun came up. Mission couldn’t believe it. His friend pointed the barrel at the Old Crow.

  ‘Wait—’ Mission raised a hand.

  ‘Stand back,’ Rodny said. ‘I have to do this. ’


  His friend’s arm stiffened. The barrel was levelled at a defenceless woman in a mechanical chair, the mother to them all, the one who sang them to sleep in their cribs and on their mats, whose voice followed them through their sha-dowing days and beyond.

  Frankie shoved a desk aside and lurched towards Rodny. Allie screamed. Mission threw himself sideways as the gun roared and flashed. There was a punch to his stomach, a fire in his gut. He crashed to the floor as the gun thundered a second time, the Crow’s chair lurching to the side as a spasm gripped her hand.

  Mission landed heavily, clutching his stomach. His hands came away sticky and wet.

  Lying on his back, he saw the Crow slump over in her chair, a chair that no longer moved. Again, the gun roared. Needlessly. Her body twitched as it was struck. Frankie flew into Rodny and the two men went tumbling. Boots stormed into the room, summoned by the noise.

  Allie was there, crying. She kept her hands on Mission’s stomach, pressing so hard, and looked back at the Crow. She wailed for them both. Mission tasted blood in his mouth. It reminded him of the time Rodny had punched him as a kid, only playing. They’d only ever been playing. Costumes and pretending to be their fathers.

  There were boots everywhere. Shiny and black boots on some, scuffed with wear on others. Those who had fought before and those just learning.

  Rodny appeared above Mission, his eyes wide with worry. He told him to hang in there. Mission wanted to say he’d try, but the pain in his stomach was too great. He couldn’t speak. They told him to stay awake, but all he’d ever wanted was to sleep. To not be. To not be a burden to anyone.

  Hush my Darling, don’t you cry

  I’m going to sing you a lullaby

  Though I’m far away it seems

  I’ll be with you in your dreams.

  Hush my Darling, go to sleep

  All around you angels keep

  In the morn and through the day

  They will keep your fears at bay.

  Sleep my Darling, don’t you cry

  I’m going to sing you a lullaby


  Three Years Later

  • Silo 18 •

  MISSION CHANGED OUT of his work overalls while Allie readied dinner. He washed his hands, scrubbed the dirt from beneath his fingernails and watched the mud slide down the drain. The ring on his finger was getting more and more difficult to remove, his knuckles sore and stiff from the hoeing of planting season.

  He soaped his hands and finally managed to work the ring off. Remembering the last time he’d lost it down the drain, he set it aside carefully. Allie whistled in the kitchen while she tended the stove. When she cracked the oven, he smelled the pork roast inside. He’d have to say something. They couldn’t go buying roasts on no occasion.

  His overalls went into the wash. There were lighted candles on the table when he got back to the kitchen. They were for emergencies, for the times when the fools below switched generators and worked on the busted main. Allie knew this. But before he could say anything about the roast or the candles, or tell her that the bean crop wouldn’t be what he’d hoped come harvest, he saw the way she was beaming at him. There was only
one thing to be that happy about – but it was impossible.

  ‘No,’ he said. He couldn’t allow himself to believe it.

  Allie nodded. There were tears in her eyes. By the time he got to her, they were coursing down her cheeks.

  ‘But our ticket is up,’ he whispered, holding her against him. She smelled like sweet peppers and sage. He could feel her trembling.

  Allie sobbed. Her voice broke from being overfull of joy. ‘Doc says it happened last month. It was in our window, Mish. We’re gonna have a baby. ’

  A surge of relief filled Mission to the brim. Relief, not excitement. Relief that everything was legal. He kissed his wife’s cheek, salt to go with the pepper and sage. ‘I love you,’ he whispered.

  ‘The roast. ’ She pulled away and hurried to the stove. ‘I was gonna tell you after dinner. ’

  Mission laughed. ‘You were gonna tell me now or have to explain the candles. ’

  He poured two glasses of water, hands trembling, and set them out while she fixed the plates. The smell of cooked meat made his mouth water. He could anticipate the way the roast would taste. A taste of the future, of what was to come.

  ‘Don’t let it get cold,’ Allie said, setting the plates.

  They sat and held hands. Mission cursed himself for not putting his ring back on.

  ‘Bless this food and those who fed its roots,’ Allie said.

  ‘Amen,’ said Mission. His wife squeezed his hands before letting go and grabbing her utensils.

  ‘You know,’ she said, cutting into the roast, ‘if it’s a girl, we’ll have to name her Allison. Every woman in my family as far back as we can remember has been an Allison. ’

  Mission wondered how far back her family could remember. It’d be unusual if they could remember very far.

  He chewed and thought on the name. ‘Allison it is,’ he said. And he thought that eventually they would call her Allie too. ‘But if it’s a boy, can we go with Cam?’

  ‘Sure. ’ Allie lifted her glass. ‘That wasn’t your grandfather’s name, was it?’

  ‘No. I don’t know any Cams. I just like the way it sounds. ’

  He picked up his glass of water, studied it awhile. Or did he know a Cam? Where did he know that name from? There were bits of his past shrouded and hidden from him. There were things like the mark on his neck and the scar on his stomach that he couldn’t remember coming to be. Everyone had their share of these things, parts of their bygone days they couldn’t recall, but Mission more than most. Like his birthday. It drove him crazy that he couldn’t remember when his birthday was. What was so hard about that?




  • Silo 1 •


  There was a clatter of bones beneath his feet. Donald stumbled through the dark.

  ‘Can you hear me?’

  The haze parted, an eyelid cracking just like the seal of his pod. A bean. Donald was curled inside that pod like a bean.

  ‘Sir? Are you with me?’

  Skin so cold. Donald was sitting up, steam rising from his bare legs. He didn’t remember going to sleep. He remembered the doctor, remembered being in his office. They were talking. Now he was being woken up.

  ‘Drink this, sir. ’

  Donald remembered this. He remembered waking over and over, but he didn’t remember going to sleep. Just the waking. He took a sip, had to concentrate to make his throat work, had to fight to swallow. A pill. There was supposed to be a pill, but it wasn’t offered.

  ‘Sir, we had instructions to wake you. ’

  Instructions. Rules. Protocol. Donald was in trouble again. Troy. Maybe it was that Troy fellow. Who was he? Donald drank as much as he could.

  ‘Very good, sir. We’re going to lift you out. ’

  He was in trouble. They only woke him when there was trouble. A catheter was removed, a needle from his arm.

  ‘What did I—’

  He coughed into his fist. His voice was a sheet of tissue paper, thin and fragile. Invisible.

  ‘What is it?’ he asked, shouting to form a whisper.

  Two men lifted him up and set him into a wheelchair. A third man held it still. There was a soft blanket instead of a paper gown. There was no rustling this time, no itching on his skin.

  ‘We lost one,’ someone said.

  A silo. A silo was gone. It would be Donald’s fault again. ‘Eighteen,’ he whispered, remembering his last shift.

  Two of the men glanced at each other, mouths open.

  ‘Yes,’ one of them said, awe in his voice. ‘From silo eighteen, sir. We lost her over the hill. We lost contact. ’

  Donald tried to focus on the man. He remembered losing someone over a hill. Helen. His wife. They were still looking for her. There was still hope.

  ‘Tell me,’ he whispered.

  ‘We’re not sure how, but one of them made it out of sight—’

  ‘A cleaner, sir—’

  A cleaner. Donald sank into the chair; his bones were as cold and heavy as stone. It wasn’t Helen at all.

  ‘—over the hill—’ one said.

  ‘—we got a call from eighteen—’

  Donald raised his hand a little, his arm trembling and still half numb from the sleep. ‘Wait,’ he croaked. ‘One at a time. Why did you wake me?’ It hurt to talk.

  One of the men cleared his throat. The blanket was tucked up under Donald’s chin to stop him from shivering. He hadn’t known he was shivering. They were being so reverent with him, so gentle. What was this? He tried to clear his head.

  ‘You told us to wake you—’

  ‘It’s protocol—’
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