Shift, p.43
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       Shift, p.43
 

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 43

 

  Wake me when you get this.

  —Anna

  (Locket 20391102)

  Donald blinked rapidly at the sight of her name. He glanced across the hall at the silo head and listened for footsteps coming his way. His arms were covered in goosebumps. He rubbed them, wiped underneath his eyes and read the note a second time.

  It was signed Anna. It took him a moment to realise that it wasn’t to him. It was a note between daughter and father. There was no send date listed, which was curious, but it was sorted near the very top. Perhaps it was from before their last shift together? Maybe the two of them had been awake recently. Donald studied the number at the bottom. 20391102. It looked like a date. An old date. Inscribed on a locket, perhaps? Something meaningful between the two of them. And what of the mention in the header of this Pact? That was the name the silos used for their constitutions. What could be urgent about that?

  Footsteps in the hallway broke his concentration. Eren rounded the corner and covered the office in a few steps. He circled the desk and placed two folders by the keyboard, then glanced at the screen as Donald fumbled with the mouse to minimise the message. ‘H-How’d it go?’ Donald asked. ‘You got through to everyone?’

  ‘Yeah. ’ Eren sniffed and scratched his beard. ‘The head of sixteen took it badly. He’s been in that position a long time. Too long, I think. He suggested closing down his cafeteria or shutting off the wall screen, just in case. ’

  ‘But he’s not going to. ’

  ‘No, I told him as a last resort. No need to cause a panic. We just wanted them to have a heads-up. ’

  ‘Good, good. ’ Donald liked someone else thinking. It took the pressure off him. ‘You need your desk back?’ He made a show of logging off.

  ‘No, actually, you’re on if you don’t mind. ’ Eren checked the clock in the corner of the computer screen. ‘I can take the afternoon shift. How’re you feeling, by the way? Any shakes?’

  Donald shook his head. ‘No. I’m good. It gets easier every time. ’

  Eren laughed. ‘Yeah. I’ve seen how many shifts you’ve taken. And a double a while back. Don’t envy you at all, friend. But you seem to be holding up well. ’

  Donald coughed. ‘Yeah,’ he said. He picked up the topmost of the two folders and read the tab. ‘This is what we have on seventeen?’

  ‘Yep. The thick one is your cleaner. ’ He tapped the other folder. ‘You might want to check in with the head of eighteen today. He’s pretty shaken up, is shouldering all the blame. Name’s Bernard. There are already grumblings from his lower levels about the cleaning not going through, so he’s looking at a very probable uprising. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you. ’

  ‘Yeah, sure. ’

  ‘Oh, and he doesn’t have an official second right now. His last shadow didn’t work out, and he’s been putting off a replacement. I hope you don’t mind, but I told him to hurry that through. Just in case. ’

  ‘No, no. That’s fine. ’ Donald waved his hand. ‘I’m not here to get in your way. ’ He didn’t add that he had absolutely no clue why he was there at all.

  Eren smiled and nodded. ‘Great. Well, if you need anything, call me. And the guy across the hall goes by Gable. He used to hold down a post over here but couldn’t cut it. Opted for a wipe instead of a deep freeze when given the choice. Good guy. Team player. He’ll be on for a few more months and can get you anything you need. ’

  Donald studied the man across the hall. He remembered the empty sensation of manning that desk, the hollow pit that had filled him. How Donald had ended up there had seemed unusual, a last-minute switch with his friend Mick. It never occurred to him how all the others were selected. To think that any might volunteer for such a post filled him with sadness.

  Eren stuck out his hand. Donald studied it a moment, then accepted it.

  ‘I’m really sorry we had to wake you like this,’ he said, pumping Donald’s hand. ‘But I have to admit, I’m damn sure glad you’re here. ’

  65

  2312 – Day One

  • Silo 17 •

  THE BOX ON the wall was unrelenting. His father had called it a radio. The noise it made was like a person hissing and spitting. Even the steel cage surrounding it looked like a mouth with its lips peeled back and iron bars for teeth.

  Jimmy wanted to silence the radio but was scared to touch it or adjust anything. He waited to hear from his father, who had left him in a strange room, a hidden warren between the silo’s levels.

  How many more of these secret places were there? He glanced through an open door at the other room his dad had shown him, the one like a small apartment with its stove, table and chairs. When his parents got back, would they all stay there overnight? How long before the madness cleared from the stairs and he could see his friends again? He hoped it wouldn’t be long.

  He glared at the hissing black box, patted his chest and felt for the key there. His ribs were sore from the fall, and he could feel a knot forming in his thigh from where he’d landed on someone. His shoulder hurt when he lifted his arm. He turned to the monitor to search for his mother again, but she was no longer on the screen. A jostling crowd moved in jerks and fits. The stairwell shook with more traffic than it was ever meant to hold.

  Jimmy reached for the box with the controls his father had used. He twisted one of the knobs and the view changed. It was an empty hall. A faint number ‘33’ stood in the lower left corner of the screen. Jimmy turned the dial once more and got a different hallway. There was a trail of clothes on the ground as if someone had walked by with a leaking laundry bag. Nothing moved.

  He tried a different dial and the number on the bottom changed to ‘32’. He was going up the levels. Jimmy spun the first dial until he found the stairwell again. Something flashed down and off the bottom of the screen. There were people leaning over the railing with their arms outstretched, mouths open in silent horror. There was no sound, but Jimmy remembered the screams from the woman who fell earlier. This was too far up to be his mother, he consoled himself. His dad would find her and bring her back. His dad had a gun.

  Jimmy spun the dials and tried to locate either of his parents, but it seemed that not every angle was covered. And he couldn’t figure out how to make the windows multiply. He was decent on a computer – he was going to work for IT like his father someday – but the little box was as unintuitive as the Deeps. He dialled it back down to ‘34’ and found the main hallway. He could see a shiny steel door at the far end of a long corridor. Sprawled in the foreground was Yani. Yani hadn’t moved, was surely dead. The men standing over him were gone, and there was a new body at the end of the hall, near the door. The colour of his overalls assured Jimmy that it wasn’t his father. His father had probably shot that man on his way out. Jimmy wished he hadn’t been left alone.

  Overhead, the lights continued to blink angry and red, and the image on the screen remained motionless. Jimmy grew restless and paced in circles. He went to the small wooden desk on the opposite wall and flipped through the thick book. It was a fortune in paper, perfectly cut and eerily smooth to the touch. The desk and chair were both made of real wood, not painted to look like that. He could tell by scratching it with his fingernail.

  He closed the book and checked the cover. The word Order was embossed in shiny letters across the front. He reopened it, and realised he’d lost someone’s place. The radio nearby continued to hiss noisily. Jimmy turned and checked the computer screen, but nothing was happening in the hallway. That noise was getting on his nerves. He thought about adjusting the volume, but was scared he might accidentally turn it off. His dad wouldn’t be able to get through to him if he messed something up.

  He paced some more. There was a shelf of metal containers in one corner that went from floor to ceiling. Pulling one out, Jimmy felt how heavy it was. He played with the latch until he figured out how to open it. There was a soft sigh as the lid came loose, and
he found a book inside. Looking at all the containers filling the shelves, Jimmy saw what a pile of chits was there. He returned the book, assuming it was full of nothing but boring words like the one on the desk.

  Back at the other desk, he examined the computer underneath and saw that it wasn’t turned on. All the lights were dim. He traced the wire from the black box with all the switches and found a different wire led from the monitor to the computer. The machine that made the windows – that could see far distances and around corners – was controlled by something else. The power switch on the computer did nothing. There was a place for a key. Jimmy bent down to inspect the connections on the back, to make sure everything was plugged in, when the radio crackled.

  ‘—need you to report in. Hello—’

  Jimmy knocked his head on the underside of the desk. He ran to the radio, which was back to hissing. Grabbing the device at the end of the stretchy cord – the thing his dad had named Mike – he squeezed the button.

  ‘Dad? Dad, is that you?’

  He let go and looked to the ceiling. He listened for footsteps and waited for the lights to stop flashing. The monitor showed a quiet hallway. Maybe he should go to the door and wait.

  The radio crackled with a voice: ‘Sheriff? Who is this?’

  Jimmy squeezed the button. ‘This is Jimmy. Jimmy Parker. Who—’ The button slipped out of his hand, the static returning. His palms were sweaty. He wiped them on his overalls and got the device under control. ‘Who is this?’ he asked.

  ‘Russ’s boy?’ There was a pause. ‘Son, where are you?’

  He didn’t want to say. The radio continued to hiss.

  ‘Jimmy, this is Deputy Hines,’ the voice said. ‘Put your father on. ’

  Jimmy started to squeeze the button to say that his father wasn’t there, but another voice chimed in. He recognised it at once.

  ‘Mitch, this is Russ. ’

  Dad! There was a lot of noise in the background, people screaming. Jimmy held the device in both hands. ‘Dad! Come back, please!’

  The radio popped with his father’s voice. ‘James, be quiet. Mitch, I need you to—’ Something was lost to the background noise. ‘—and stop the traffic. People are getting crushed up here. ’

  ‘Copy. ’

  That was his father talking to the deputy. The deputy was acting as though his old man were in charge.

  ‘We’ve got a breach up top,’ his father said, ‘so I don’t know how long you’ve got, but you’re probably the sheriff until the end. ’

  ‘Copy,’ Mitch said again. The radio made his voice sound shaky.

  ‘Son—’ His father was yelling now, fighting to be heard over some obnoxious din of screams and shouts. ‘I’m going to get your mother, okay? Just stay there, James. Don’t move. ’

  Jimmy turned to the monitor. ‘Okay,’ he said. He hung the Mike back on its hook, his hands trembling, and returned to the black box with all the controls. He felt helpless and alone. He should be out there, lending a hand. He wondered how long it would be before his parents returned, before he could see his friends again. He hoped it wouldn’t be long.

  66

  2312 – Day One

  • Silo 17 •

  HOURS PASSED, AND Jimmy wanted to be anywhere but in that cramped room. He crept down the dark passage to the ladder and peered up at the grating, listening. There was a faint buzzing sound coming and going that he couldn’t place. The hiss of the radio could barely be heard from the end of the corridor. He didn’t want to be too far away from the radio, but he worried his dad might need him by the door as well. He wanted to be in two places at once.

  He went back to the room with the desks. He looked at the long gun propped against the wall, the same as the one his father had used to kill Yani. Jimmy was afraid to touch it. He wished his father hadn’t left. It was all Jimmy’s fault for being separated from his mom. They should’ve made it down together. But then he remembered the crush of people on the stairs. If only he’d been faster, they wouldn’t have gotten caught up in the crowds. And it occurred to Jimmy that the only reason his mother was there at all was because she had come for him. If it weren’t for that, his parents would be down in that room, together and safe.

  ‘James—’

  Jimmy spun around. His father’s voice was there in the room with him. It took a moment to realise the static from the radio was gone.

  ‘—son, are you there?’

  He lunged for the radio, grabbed the Mike at the end of the cord. It had seemed like hours since he’d heard voices. Too long. As he squeezed the button, a flash of movement caught his eye. Someone was moving on the monitor.

  ‘Dad?’ He stretched the cord across the small room and looked closer. His father was outside the steel door, standing at the end of the hall. Yani was still in the foreground, unmoving. The other body was gone. His father had his back to the camera, the portable radio in his hand. ‘I’m coming!’ Jimmy yelled into the radio. He dropped the Mike and dashed for the corridor and the ladder.

  ‘Son! No—’

  His father’s shouts were cut off by a grunt. Jimmy wheeled around, his boots squeaking. He clutched the desk for balance. On the screen, another man had emerged from around the corner, and his father was doubled over in pain. This man held the long pistol, stooped to retrieve something from the ground, held it to his mouth. It was the portable his father had taken from the room.

  ‘Is this Russ’s boy?’

  Jimmy stared at the man on the screen. ‘Yes,’ he said to the screen. ‘Don’t hurt my dad. ’
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