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         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 39

 

  Donald’s eyes fell to the pod, still steaming as the chill escaped. There was a screen at the base, empty readouts without him in there, just a rising temp. A rising temp and a name. Not his name.

  And Donald remembered how names meant nothing unless that was all one had to go by. If nobody remembered each other, if they didn’t cross paths, then a name was everything.

  ‘Sir?’

  ‘Who am I?’ he asked, reading the little screen, not understanding. This wasn’t him. ‘Why did you wake me?’

  ‘You told us to, Mr Thurman. ’

  The blanket was wrapped snugly around his shoulders. The chair was turned. They were treating him with respect, as if he had authority. The wheels on this chair did not squeak at all.

  ‘It’s okay, sir. Your head will clear soon. ’

  He didn’t know these people. They didn’t know him.

  ‘The doctor will clear you for duty. ’

  Nobody knew anyone.

  ‘Right this way. ’

  And then anyone could be anybody.

  ‘Through here. ’

  Until it didn’t matter who was in charge. One who might do what was correct, another who might do what was right.

  ‘Very good. ’

  One name as good as any other.

  59

  2312 – Hour One

  • Silo 17 •

  THE LOUD CAME before the quiet. That was a Rule of the World, for the bangs and shouts need somewhere to echo, just as bodies need space in which to fall.

  Jimmy Parker was in class when the last of the great Louds began. It was the day before a cleaning. Tomorrow, they would be off from school. For the death of a man, Jimmy and his friends would be gifted a few extra hours of sleep. His father would work overtime down in IT. And tomorrow afternoon, his mother would insist that they go up with his aunt and cousins to watch the bright clouds drift over the clear view of the hills until the sky turned dark as sleep.

  Cleaning days were for staying in bed and for seeing family. They were for silencing unrest and quietening the Louds. That’s what Mrs Pearson told them as she wrote the rules from the Pact up on the blackboard. Her chalk clacked and squeaked and left dusty trails of all the whys for which a man could be put to death. Civics lessons on a day before a banishment. Warnings on the eve of graver warnings. Jimmy and his friends fidgeted in their seats and learned rules. Rules of the World that very soon would no longer apply.

  Jimmy was sixteen. Many of his friends would move off and shadow soon, but he would need another year of study to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mrs Pearson marked the blackboard and moved on to the seriousness of choosing a life partner, of registering relationships according to the Pact. Sarah Jenkins turned in her seat and smiled back at Jimmy. Civics lessons and biology lessons intermingled, hormones spoken of alongside the laws that governed their excesses. Sarah Jenkins was cute. Jimmy hadn’t thought so at the beginning of the year, but now he was seeing it. Sarah Jenkins was cute and would be dead in just a few hours.

  Mrs Pearson asked for a volunteer to read from the Pact, and that’s when Jimmy’s mother came for him. She burst in unannounced. An embarrassment. The end of Jimmy’s world began with hot cheeks and a burning collar and everyone watching. His mom didn’t say anything to Mrs Pearson, didn’t excuse herself. She just stormed through the door and hurried among the desks the way she walked when she was angry. She pulled Jimmy from his desk and led him out with his arm in her fist, causing him to wonder what he’d done this time.

  Mrs Pearson didn’t speak. Jimmy looked back at his best friend Paul, caught him smiling behind his palm, and wondered why Paul wasn’t in trouble too. They rarely got in or out of a fix alone, he and Paul. The only person to utter a word was Sarah Jenkins. ‘Your backpack!’ she cried out just before the classroom door slammed shut, her voice swallowed by the quiet.

  There were no other mothers pulling their children down the hallway. If they came, it would be much later. Jimmy’s father worked among the computers and knew things. His father knew things before anyone else. This time, it was only moments before. There were others scrambling on the stairwell already. The noise was frightening. The landing outside the school level thrummed with the vibrations of distant and heavy traffic. A bolt in one of the railing’s stanchions rattled as it worked its way loose. It felt as though the silo would simply shake itself apart. Jimmy’s mom took him by the sleeve and pulled him towards the spiral staircase as if he was still twelve.

  Jimmy pulled against her for a moment, confused. In the past year, he had grown bigger than his mom, as big as his father, and it was strange to be reminded that he had this power, that he was nearly a man. He had left his backpack and his friends behind. Where were they going? The banging from below seemed to be getting louder.

  His mother turned as he gave resistance. Her eyes, he saw, were not full of anger. There was no glare, no furrowed brow. They were wide and wet, shiny like the times Grandma and Grandpa had passed. The noise below was frightful, but it was the look in his mother’s eyes that placed fear in Jimmy’s bones.

  ‘What is it?’ he whispered. He hated to see his mother upset. Something dark and empty – like that stray and tailless cat that nobody could catch in the upper apartments – clawed at his insides.

  His mother didn’t say. She turned and pulled him down the stairs, towards the thundering approach of something awful, and Jimmy realised at once that he wasn’t in trouble at all.

  They all were.

  60

  2312 – Hour One

  • Silo 17 •

  JIMMY HAD NEVER felt the stairs tremble so. The entire spiral staircase seemed to sway. It turned to rubber the way a length of charcoal appears to bend between jiggled fingers, a parlour trick he’d learned in class. Though his feet rarely touched the steps – racing as he was to keep up with his mother – they tingled and felt numb from vibrations transmitted straight from steel to bone. Jimmy tasted fear in his mouth like a dry spoon on his tongue.

  There were angry screams from below. Jimmy’s mother shouted her encouragement, told him to hurry, and down the staircase they spiralled. They raced towards whatever bad thing was marching upward. ‘Hurry,’ she cried again, and Jimmy was more scared of the tremor in her voice than the shuddering of a hundred levels of steel. He hurried.

  They passed twenty-nine. Thirty. People ran by in the opposite direction. A lot of people in overalls the colour of his father’s. On the landing of thirty-one, Jimmy saw his first dead body since his grandpa’s funeral. It looked as if a tomato had been smashed on the back of the man’s head. Jimmy had to skip over the man’s arms, which stuck out into the stairwell. He hurried after his mother while some of the red dripped through the landing and splattered and slicked the steps below.

  At thirty-two, the shake of the stairs was so great that he could feel it in his teeth. His mother grew frantic as the two of them bumped past more and more people hurrying upward. Nobody seemed to see anyone else. Everyone was looking out for themselves.

  The stampede could be heard, a din of a thousand boots. There were loud voices among the ringing footfalls. Jimmy stopped and peered over the railing. Below, as the staircase augered into the depths, he could see the elbows and hands of a jostling crowd jutting out. He turned as someone thundered by. His mother called for him to hurry, for the crowd was already upon them, the traffic growing. Jimmy felt the fear and anger in the people racing past and it made him want to flee upward with them. But there was his mom yelling for him to come along, and her voice cut through his fear and to the centre of his being.

  Jimmy shuffled down and took her hand. The embarrassment of earlier was gone. Now he wanted her clutching him. The people who ran past shouted for them to go the other way. Several held pipes and lengths of steel. There were some who were bruised and cut. Blood covered the mouth and chin of one man. A fight somewhere. Jimmy thought that only
happened in the Deeps. Others seemed simply to be caught up in it all. They were without weapons and were looking over their shoulders. It was a mob scared of a mob. Jimmy wondered what had caused it. What was there to be afraid of?

  Loud bangs rang out among the footfalls. A large man knocked into Jimmy’s mom and sent her against the railing. Jimmy held her arm, and the two of them stuck to the inner post as they made their way down to thirty-three. ‘One more to go,’ she told him, which meant it was his father they were after.

  The growing throngs became a crush a few turns above thirty-four. People pressed four wide where there was only room for two. Jimmy’s wrist banged against the inner rail. He wedged himself between the post and those forcing their way up. Moving a few inches at a time – those beside him shoving, jostling and grunting with effort – he felt certain they would all become stuck like that. People crowded in and he lost his grip on her arm. She surged forward while he remained pinned in place. He could hear her yelling his name below.

  A large man, dripping with sweat, jaw slack with fear, was trying to force his way up the downbound side. ‘Move!’ he yelled at Jimmy, as if there were anywhere to go. There was nowhere to go but up. He flattened himself against the centre post as the man brushed past. There was a scream by the outer rail, a jolt through the crowd, a series of gasps, someone yelling ‘Hold on!’ and another yelling to let them go, and then a shriek that plummeted away and grew faint.

  The wedge of bodies loosened. Jimmy felt sick to his stomach at the thought of someone falling so near to him. He wiggled free and climbed up onto the inner rail, hugged the central post and balanced there, careful not to let his feet slip into the six inches of space between the rail and the post, that gap that kids liked to spit into.

  Someone in the crowd immediately took his place on the steps. Shoulders and elbows knocked into his ankles. He remained crouched there, the undersides of the steps above him transmitting the scrapes of shuffling boots from those overhead. He slid his feet along the narrow bar of steel made slick by the rubbing of thousands of palms and worked his way down the railing after his mom. His foot slipped into the gap by the centre post. It seemed eager to swallow his leg. Jimmy righted himself, fearful of falling onto the lurching crowd, imagining how he could be tossed across their frenzied arms and slip out into space.

  He was half a circuit around the inner post before he found his mom. She had been forced towards the outside by the crowds. ‘Mom!’ he yelled. Jimmy held the edge of the steps above his head and reached over the crowd for her. A woman in the middle of the steps screamed and disappeared, her head sinking below those who took her place. As they trampled her, the woman’s screams disappeared. The crowd surged upward. They carried Jimmy’s mom a few steps with them.

  ‘Get to your father!’ she screamed, cupping her hands around her mouth. ‘Jimmy!’

  ‘Mom!’

  Someone knocked into his shins, and he lost his grip on the stairs overhead. Jimmy waved his arms once, twice, in little circles, trying to keep his balance. He fell inward on the sea of heads and rolled. Someone punched him in the ribs as they protected themselves from his fall.

  Another man threw Jimmy aside. He tumbled outward across an undulating platform of sharp elbows and hard skulls, and time slowed to a crawl. There was nothing but empty space and a long fall beyond the crowd, now packed five wide. Jimmy tried to grab one of the hands pushing and shoving at him. His stomach lurched as the space grew nearer. He couldn’t see the rail. He heard his mother’s voice, a screech recognisable above all the others, as she watched, helpless. Someone screamed to help that boy as he slid down the spiral of heads, rolling and grasping. That boy they were screaming after was him.

  Jimmy rolled into open space. He was thrown aside by those trying to protect themselves. He slid between two people – a shoulder catching him in the chin – and he saw the railing at last. He clutched for it, got one hand wrapped around the bar. As his feet tumbled over his head he was twisted around, his shoulder wrenched painfully, but he kept his grip. He hung there, clutching the railing with one hand and one of the vertical stanchions with the other, his feet dangling in the open air.

  Someone’s hip pinched his fingers against the rail and Jimmy cried out. Hands scrambled at his arms to help, but these people and their concerns were pushed upward by the madness below.

  Jimmy tried to pull himself up. He looked down past his kicking feet at the crowds jostling beyond the rail below him. Two turns down was the landing to thirty-four. Again he tried to hoist himself, but there was a fire in his wrenched shoulder. Someone scratched his forearm as they tried to help and then they too were gone, surging upward.

  Peering down his chest, between his feet, Jimmy saw that the landing to thirty-four was packed. A crowd spilled out of the jammed stairs and tried to shove their way back in again. Someone barged out of the doors to IT with a cleaning suit on, helmet and everything. They threw themselves into the crowd, silvery arms swimming amid the flesh, everyone trying to get up, more of the bangs and shouts from down below, a sudden pop like the balloons from the bazaar but much, much louder.

  Jimmy lost his grip on the railing – his shoulder was too injured to bear the weight any longer. He clutched the stanchion with his other hand as he slid down, sweaty palm on steel adding one more squeal to the uproar of the mob. He was left clutching the edge of the steps at the base of the stanchion. With his feet, he tried to feel for the railing one turn below, but all he felt were angry arms knocking his boots aside. His busted shoulder was alive with pain. He swung down on one hand, dangling for an instant.

  Jimmy cried out in alarm. He cried out for his mother, remembering what she’d told him.

  Get to your father.

  There was no way he was getting back up on the stairwell. He didn’t have the strength. There was no room. Nobody was going to help him. A surging crowd, and yet he hung there all alone.
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