Shift, p.4
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       Shift, p.4

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 4


  ‘Do you think I would need to?’ she asked him.

  ‘No, no. It’s not that . . . ’ He waved his hands. ‘It’s just that I don’t think I ever would. ’

  A smirk thinned her lips. Maturity had hardened Anna’s good looks, had refined her lean frame, but the fierceness from her youth remained. ‘You say that now,’ she said, ‘but wait until your joints start to ache and your back goes out from something as simple as turning your head too fast. Then you’ll see. ’

  ‘Okay. Well. ’ He clapped his hands together. ‘This has been quite the day for catching up on old times. ’

  ‘Yes, it has. Now, what day works best for you?’ Anna interlocked the flaps on the large box and slid it towards the door with her foot. She walked around the back of the desk and stood beside him, a hand on his chair, the other reaching for his mouse.

  ‘What day . . . ?’

  He watched while she changed some settings on his computer and the new monitor flashed to life. Donald could feel the pulse in his crotch, could smell her familiar perfume. The breeze she had caused by walking across the room seemed to stir all around him. This felt near enough to a caress, to a physical touch, that he wondered if he was cheating on Helen right at that very moment while Anna did little more than adjust sliders on his control panel.

  ‘You know how to use this, right?’ She slid the mouse from one screen to the other, dragging an old game of solitaire with it.

  ‘Uh, yeah. ’ Donald squirmed in his seat. ‘Um . . . what do you mean about a day that works best for me?’

  She let go of the mouse. It felt as though she had taken her hand off his thigh.

  ‘Dad wants me to handle the mechanical spaces on the plans. ’ She gestured towards the folder as if she knew precisely what was inside. ‘I’m taking a sabbatical from the Institute until this Atlanta project is up and running. I thought we’d want to meet once a week to go over things. ’

  ‘Oh. Well. I’ll have to get back to you on that. My schedule here is crazy. It’s different every day. ’

  He imagined what Helen would say to him and Anna getting together once a week.

  ‘We could, you know, set up a shared space in AutoCAD,’ he suggested. ‘I can link you into my document—’

  ‘We could do that. ’

  ‘And email back and forth. Or video-chat. You know?’

  Anna frowned. Donald realised he was being too obvious. ‘Yeah, let’s set up something like that,’ she said.

  There was a flash of disappointment on her face as she turned for the box, and Donald felt the urge to apologise, but doing so would spell out the problem in neon lights: I don’t trust myself around you. We’re not going to be friends. What the fuck are you doing here?

  ‘You really need to do something about the dust. ’ She glanced back at his desk. ‘Seriously, your computer is going to choke on it. ’

  ‘Okay. I will. ’ He stood and hurried around his desk to walk her out. Anna stooped for the box.

  ‘I can get that. ’

  ‘Don’t be silly. ’ She stood with the large box pinned between one arm and her hip. She smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear again. She could’ve been leaving his dorm room in college. There was that same awkward moment of a morning goodbye in last night’s clothes.

  ‘Okay, so you have my email?’ he asked.

  ‘You’re in the blue pages now,’ she reminded him.

  ‘Yeah. ’

  ‘You look great, by the way. ’ And before he could step back or defend himself, she was fixing his hair, a smile on her lips.

  Donald froze. When he thawed some time later, Anna was gone, leaving him standing there alone, soaked in guilt.



  • Silo 1 •

  TROY WAS GOING to be late. The first day of his first shift, already a blubbering mess, and he was going to be late. In his rush to get away from the cafeteria, to be alone, he had taken the non-express by accident. Now, as he tried to compose himself, the lift seemed intent on stopping at every floor on the way down to load and unload passengers.

  He stood in the corner as the lift stopped again and a man wrestled a cart full of heavy boxes inside. A gentleman with a load of green onions crowded behind him and stood close to Troy for a few stops. Nobody spoke. When the man with the onions got off, the smell remained. Troy shivered, one violent quake that travelled up his back and into his arms, but he thought nothing of it. He got off on thirty-four and tried to remember why he had been upset earlier.

  The central lift shaft emptied onto a narrow hallway, which funnelled him towards a security station. The floor plan was vaguely familiar and yet somehow alien. It was unnerving to note the signs of wear in the carpet and the patch of dull steel in the middle of the turnstile where thighs had rubbed against it over the years. These were years that hadn’t existed for Troy. This wear and tear had shown up as if by magic, like damage sustained from a night of drunkenness.

  The lone guard on duty looked up from something he was reading and nodded in greeting. Troy placed his palm on a screen that had grown hazy from use. There was no chit-chat, no small talk, no expectation of forming a lasting relationship. The light above the console flashed green, the pedestal gave a loud click, and a little more sheen was rubbed off the revolving bar as Troy pushed through.

  At the end of the hallway, Troy paused and pulled his orders out of his breast pocket. There was a note on the back from the doctor. He flipped it over and turned the little map around to face the right direction; he was pretty sure he knew the way, but everything was dropping in and out of focus.

  The red dash marks on the map reminded him of fire safety plans he’d seen on walls somewhere else. Following the route took him past a string of small offices. Clacking keyboards, people talking, phones ringing – the sounds of the workplace made him feel suddenly tired. It also ignited a burn of insecurity, of having taken on a job he surely couldn’t perform.


  He stopped and looked back at the man standing in a doorway he’d passed. A glance at his map showed him he’d almost missed his office.

  ‘That’s me. ’

  ‘Merriman. ’ The gentleman didn’t offer his hand. ‘You’re late. Step inside. ’

  Merriman turned and disappeared into the office. Troy followed, his legs sore from the walk. He recognised the man, or thought he did. Couldn’t remember if it was from the orientation or some other time.

  ‘Sorry I’m late,’ Troy started to explain. ‘I got on the wrong elevator—’

  Merriman raised a hand. ‘That’s fine. Do you need a drink?’

  ‘They fed me. ’

  ‘Of course. ’ Merriman grabbed a clear Thermos off his desk, the contents a bright blue and took a sip. Troy remembered the foul taste. The older man smacked his lips and let out a breath as he lowered the Thermos.

  ‘That stuff’s awful,’ he said.

  ‘Yeah. ’ Troy looked around the office, his post for the next six months. The place, he figured, had aged quite a bit. Merriman, too. If he was a little greyer from the past six months, it was hard to tell, but he had kept the place in order. Troy resolved to extend the same courtesy to the next guy.

  ‘You remember your briefing?’ Merriman shuffled some folders on his desk.

  ‘Like it was yesterday. ’

  Merriman glanced up, a smirk on his face. ‘Right. Well, there hasn’t been anything exciting for the last few months. We had some mechanical issues when I started my shift but worked through those. There’s a guy named Jones you’ll want to use. He’s been out a few weeks and is a lot sharper than the last guy. Been a lifesaver for me. He works down on sixty-eight with the power plant, but he’s good just about anywhere, can fix pretty much anything. ’

  Troy nodded. ‘Jones. Got it. ’

  ‘Okay. Well, I left you some notes in these folders. There have been a few workers we ha
d to deep-freeze, some who aren’t fit for another shift. ’ He looked up, a serious expression on his face. ‘Don’t take that lightly, okay? Plenty of guys here would love to nap straight through instead of work. Don’t resort to the deep freeze unless you’re sure they can’t handle it. ’

  ‘I won’t. ’

  ‘Good. ’ Merriman nodded. ‘I hope you have an uneventful shift. I’ve got to run before this stuff kicks in. ’ He took another fierce swig and Troy’s cheeks sucked in with empathy. He walked past Troy, slapped him on the shoulder and started to reach for the light switch. He stopped himself at the last minute and looked back, nodded, then was gone.

  And just like that, Troy was in charge.

  ‘Hey, wait!’ He glanced around the office, hurried out and caught up with Merriman, who was already turning down the main hall towards the security gate. Troy jogged to catch up.

  ‘You leave the light on?’ Merriman asked.

  Troy glanced over his shoulder. ‘Yeah, but—’

  ‘Good habits,’ Merriman said. He shook his Thermos. ‘Form them. ’

  A heavyset man hurried out of one of the offices and laboured to catch up with them. ‘Merriman! You done with your shift?’

  The two men shared a warm handshake. Merriman smiled and nodded. ‘I am. Troy here will be taking my place. ’

  The man shrugged, didn’t introduce himself. ‘I’m off in two weeks,’ he said, as if that explained his indifference.

  ‘Look, I’m running late,’ Merriman said, his eyes darting towards Troy with a trace of blame. He pushed the Thermos into his friend’s palm. ‘Here. You can have what’s left. ’ He turned to go and Troy followed along.

  ‘No thanks!’ the man called out, waving the Thermos and laughing.

  Merriman glanced at Troy. ‘I’m sorry, did you have a question?’ He passed through the turnstile and Troy went through behind him. The guard never looked up from his tablet.

  ‘A few, yeah. You mind if I ride down with you? I was a little . . . behind at orientation. Sudden promotion. Would love to clarify a few things. ’

  ‘Hey, I can’t stop you. You’re in charge. ’ Merriman jabbed the call button on the express.

  ‘So, basically, I’m just here in case something goes wrong?’

  The lift opened. Merriman turned and squinted at Troy almost as if to gauge if he was being serious.

  ‘Your job is to make sure nothing goes wrong. ’ They both stepped into the lift and the car raced downward.

  ‘Right. Of course. That’s what I meant. ’

  ‘You’ve read the Order, right?’

  Troy nodded. But not for this job, he wanted to say. He had studied to run just a single silo, not the one that oversaw them all.

  ‘Just follow the script. You’ll get questions from the other silos now and then. I found it wise to say as little as possible. Just be quiet and listen. Keep in mind that these are mostly second- and third-generation survivors, so their vocabulary is already a little different. There’s a cheat-sheet and a list of forbidden words in your folder. ’

  Troy felt a bout of dizziness and nearly sagged to the ground as weight was added, the lift slowing to a stop. He was still incredibly weak.

  The door opened; he followed Merriman down a short hallway, the same one he had emerged from hours earlier. The doctor and his assistant waited in the room beyond, preparing an IV. The doctor looked curiously at Troy, as if he hadn’t planned on seeing him again so soon, if ever.

  ‘You finish your last meal?’ the doctor asked, waving Merriman towards a stool.

  ‘Every vile drop of it. ’ Merriman unclasped the tops of his overalls and let them flop down around his waist. He sat and held out his arm, palm up. Troy saw how pale Merriman’s skin was, the loose tangle of purple lines weaving past his elbow. He tried not to watch the needle go in.

  ‘I’m repeating my notes here,’ Merriman told him, ‘but you’ll want to meet with Victor in the psych office. He’s right across the hall from you. There’s some strange things going on in a few of the silos, more fracturing than we thought. Try and get a handle on that for the next guy. ’

  Troy nodded.

  ‘We need to get you to your chamber,’ the doctor said. His young assistant stood by with a paper gown. The entire procedure looked very familiar. The doctor turned to Troy as if he were a stain that needed scrubbing away.

  Troy backed out of the door and glanced down the hall in the direction of the deep freeze. The women and children were kept there, along with the men who couldn’t make it through their shifts. ‘Do you mind if I . . . ?’ He felt a very real tug pulling him in that direction. Merriman and the doctor both frowned.

  ‘It’s not a good idea—’ the doctor began.

  ‘I wouldn’t,’ Merriman said. ‘I made a few visits the first weeks. It’s a mistake. Let it go. ’

  Troy stared down the hallway. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would find there, anyway.

  ‘Get through the next six months,’ Merriman said. ‘It goes by fast. It all goes by fast. ’

  Troy nodded. The doctor shooed him away with his eyes while Merriman began tugging off his boots. Troy turned, gave the heavy door down the hall one last glance, then headed in the other direction for the lift.

  He hoped Merriman was right. Jabbing the button to call the express, he tried to imagine his entire shift flashing by. And the one after that. And the next one. Until this insanity had run its course, little thought to what came after.



  Washington, DC

  TIME FLEW BY for Donald Keene. Another day came to an end, a week, and still he needed more time. It seemed the sun had just gone down when he looked up and it was past eleven.
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