Shift, p.44
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       Shift, p.44

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 44


  The room was full of static. The lights overhead continued to throb red.

  Jimmy cursed himself. They couldn’t hear him. He pushed away from the desk and grabbed the dangling Mike. ‘Please don’t hurt him,’ he said, squeezing the button.

  The man turned and looked directly at the camera. It was one of the security guards. There was a bit of movement peeking out from around the corner of the hall, more people out of sight.

  ‘James, is it?’

  Jimmy nodded. He watched his dad regain his composure and stand. His father made a gesture to someone out of sight, patted the air with his palm as if to calm someone.

  ‘What’s the new code?’ the man with the radio asked.

  Jimmy didn’t want to tell him. But he wanted his father back inside. He wasn’t sure what to do.

  ‘The code,’ the man said. He aimed the gun at Jimmy’s dad. Jimmy watched his father say something, then gesture for the portable. The security guard hesitated a moment before handing it over. His father lifted the unit to his mouth.

  ‘They’ll kill you,’ his father said, calm as if he were telling his son to tie his boots. The man with the gun waved an arm, and someone rushed into view to wrestle with his father. ‘They’ll kill us all anyway,’ his father shouted, struggling to keep hold of the radio. ‘And they’ll kill you the moment you open this door!’

  Jimmy screamed as one of the men punched his father. His dad fought back but they punched him again. And then the man with the gun waved the other guy away. The room was full of static, so he couldn’t hear the shot, but Jimmy could see the flashes of flame leap out, could see the way his father jerked as he was hit, watched him slump to the ground and become as still as Yani.

  Jimmy dropped the Mike and grabbed the edges of the monitor. He yelled at this cruel window on the world while the guards in the silver overalls surveyed the man who had been his father. And then more men appeared from around the corner. They dragged Jimmy’s mom behind them, kicking and silently screaming.


  2312 – Day One

  • Silo 17 •

  ‘NO, NO, NO, no—’

  The room was static and pulse. The two men wrestled with Jimmy’s mother, who lifted herself off the ground and writhed in their jerking grasps. Her feet kicked and whirled. Jimmy’s father lay still as stone beneath her.

  ‘Open this goddamn door!’ the man with the portable yelled. The radio on the wall was deafening. Jimmy hated the radio. He ran to it, reached for the dangling cord, then thought better and grabbed the other portable from the rack. One of the knobs said Power. He twisted it until it made the hissing sound, turned to the screen and held the small radio to his mouth.

  ‘Don’t,’ Jimmy said, and he realised he was crying. Tears splashed his overalls. ‘I’m coming. ’

  It was hard to tear himself away from the view of his mother. As he rushed down the dark corridor, he continued to see her kicking and screaming, her boots in the air. He could hear her yelling in the background as the man radioed again: ‘Tell me the code!’

  Jimmy held the portable’s wrist strap between his teeth and attacked the ladder, ignoring the pain in his shoulder and knee. He found the release for the grating and threw it aside with a clang. Tossing the portable out, he scrambled after it on his knees. The lights above were on fire. His chest was on fire. His father was as dead as Yani.

  ‘Coming, coming,’ he said into the radio.

  The man yelled something back. All Jimmy could hear was his mother screaming and his heartbeat ringing in his ears. He ran beneath the pulsing lights and between the dark machines. The laces on one of his boots had come undone. They whipped about while he ran, and he thought of his mother’s legs, up in the air like that, kicking and fighting.

  Jimmy crashed into the door. He could hear muffled shouts on the other side. They came through the radio as well. Jimmy slapped the door with his palm and shouted into his portable: ‘I’m here, I’m here!’

  ‘The code!’ the man screamed.

  Jimmy went to the control pad. His hands were shaking, his vision blurred. He imagined his mother on the other side, the gun aimed at her. He could feel his father lying a few feet away, just on the other side of that steel door. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He put in the first two numbers, the level of his home, and hesitated. That wasn’t right. It was twelve-eighteen, not eighteen-twelve. Or was it? He put in the other two numbers, and the keypad flashed red. The door didn’t open.

  ‘What did you do?’ the man yelled through the radio. ‘Just tell me the code!’

  Jimmy fumbled with the portable, brought it to his lips. ‘Please don’t hurt her—’ he said.

  The radio squawked. ‘If you don’t do as I say, she’s dead. Do you understand?’

  The man sounded terrified. Maybe he was just as scared as Jimmy. Jimmy nodded and reached for the keypad. He entered the first two numbers correctly, then paused and thought about what his father had said. They would kill him. They would kill him and his mother both if he let these men inside. But it was his mom—

  The keypad blinked impatiently. The man on the other side of the door yelled for him to hurry, yelled something about three wrong tries in a row and having to wait another day. Jimmy did nothing, paralysed with fear. The keypad flashed red and fell silent.

  There was a bang on the other side of the door, a blast from a gun. Jimmy squeezed the radio and screamed. When he let go, he could hear his mom shrieking on the other side.

  ‘The next one won’t be a warning,’ the man said. ‘Now don’t touch that pad. Don’t touch it again. Just tell me the code. Hurry, boy. ’

  Jimmy blubbered and tried to form the sounds, to tell the man the numbers in the right order, but nothing came out. With his forehead pressed against the wall, he could hear his mother struggling and fighting on the other side.

  ‘The code,’ the man said, calmer now.

  Jimmy heard a grunt. He heard someone yell ‘Bitch’, heard his mother scream for Jimmy not to do it, and then a slap on the other side of the wall, someone pressed up against it, his mother inches away. And then the muffled beeps of numbers being entered, four quick taps of the same number, and an angry buzz from the keypad as a third attempt failed.

  More shouts. And then the roar of a gun, louder and angrier with his head pressed to the door. Jimmy screamed and beat his fists against the cold steel. The men were yelling at him through the radio. There were screams coming through the portable, screams leaking through the heavy steel door, but none were made by his mother.

  Jimmy slid to the floor, buried the portable against his belly and curled into a ball as the angry yelling bled through the steel door. His body quivered with sobs, the floor grating rough against his cheek. And while the violence raged, the lights overhead continued to throb at him. They throbbed steady. They weren’t like a pulse at all.



  • Silo 1 •

  THERE WAS A plastic bag waiting on Donald’s bunk when he got back to his room. He shut the door to block out the cacophony of traffic and office chatter, searched for a lock and saw that there wasn’t one. Here was a lone bedroom among workspaces, a place for men who were always on call, who were up for as long as they were needed.

  Donald imagined this was where Thurman stayed when he was called forth in an emergency. He remembered the name on his boots and realised he didn’t have to imagine; it was happening.

  The wheelchair had been removed, he saw, and a glass of water stood on the nightstand. He tossed the folders Eren had given him on the bed, sat down beside them and picked up the curious plastic bag.

  Shift, it read, in large stencilled letters. The clear plastic was heavily wrinkled, a few items appearing inside as inscrutable bulges. Donald slid the plastic seal to the side and peeled open the bag. Turning it over, there was a jingle of metal as a pair of dog tags rattled out, a fine chain slit
hering after them like a startled snake. Donald inspected the tags and saw that they were Thurman’s. Dented and thin, and without the rubber edging he remembered from his sister’s tags, they seemed like antiques. Which he supposed they were.

  A small pocketknife was next. The handle looked like ivory but was probably a substitute. Donald opened the blade and tested it. Both sides were equally dull. The tip had been snapped off at some point, used to prise something open, perhaps. It had the look of a memento, no longer good for cutting.

  The only other item in the bag was a coin, a quarter. The shape and heft of something once so common made it difficult for him to breathe. Donald thought of an entire civilisation, gone. It seemed impossible for so much to be wiped out, but then he remembered Roman coins and Mayan coins sitting in museums. He turned this coin over and over and contemplated the only thing unusual about him holding a trinket from a world fallen to ashes – and that was him being around to marvel at the loss. It was supposed to be people who died and cultures that lasted. Now it was the other way around.

  Something about the coin caught Donald’s attention as he turned it over and over. It was heads on both sides. He laughed and inspected it more closely, wondering if it was a joke item, but the feel of the thing seemed genuine. On one of the sides, there was a faint arc where the stamp had missed its mark. A mistake? Perhaps a gift to Thurman from a friend in the Treasury?

  He placed the items on the bedside table and remembered Anna’s note to her father. He was surprised not to find a locket in the bag. The note had been marked urgent and had mentioned a locket with a date. Donald folded the bag marked Shift and slid it beneath his glass of water. People hurried up and down the hall outside. The silo was in a panic. He supposed if the real Thurman were there, the old man would be storming up and down as well, barking orders, shutting down facilities, ordering lives to be taken.

  Donald coughed into the crook of his arm, his throat tickling. Someone had put him in this position. Erskine, or Victor beyond the grave, or maybe a hacker with more nefarious designs. He had nothing to go on.

  Lifting the two folders, he thought of the panic roused by a person meandering out of sight. He thought about the violence brewing in the depths of another silo. These were not his mysteries, he thought. What he wanted to know was why he was awake, why he was even alive. What exactly was out there beyond those walls? What was the plan for the world once these shifts were over? Would there be a day when the people underground would be set free?

  Something didn’t sit right with him, imagining how that last shift would play out. There was a nagging suspicion that things wouldn’t end so simply. Every layer he’d peeled back so far possessed its share of lies, and he didn’t think he was done uncovering them. Perhaps someone had placed him in Thurman’s boots to keep digging.

  He recalled what Erskine had said about people like himself being in charge. Or was it Victor who said it to Erskine? He couldn’t remember. What he did know, patting his pocket for the badge there – a badge that would open doors previously locked to him – was that he was very much in charge now. There were questions he wanted answers to. And now he was in a position to ask them.

  Donald coughed into his elbow once more, an itch in his throat that he couldn’t quite soothe. He opened one of the folders and reached for his glass. Taking a few gulps of water and beginning to read, he failed to notice the faint stain left behind, the spot of blood in the crook of his elbow.


  2312 – Week One

  • Silo 17 •

  JIMMY DIDN’T want to move. He couldn’t move. He remained curled on the steel grating, the lights flashing overhead, on and off, on and off, the colour of crimson.

  People on the other side of the door yelled at him and at each other. Jimmy slept in fits and starts. There were dull pops from guns and zings that rang against the door. The keypad buzzed. Only a single digit entered, and it buzzed. The whole world was angry with him.

  Jimmy dreamed of blood. It seeped under the door and filled the room. It rose up in the shape of his mother and father, and they lectured him, mouths yawning open in anger. But Jimmy couldn’t hear.

  The yelling on the other side of the door came and went. They were fighting, these men. Fighting to get inside where it was safe. Jimmy didn’t feel safe. He felt hungry and alone. He needed to pee.

  Standing was the hardest thing he’d ever done. Jimmy’s cheek made a tearing sound as he lifted it from the grating. He wiped the drool from the side of his face and felt the ridges there, the deep creases and the places his skin puckered out. His joints were stiff. His eyes were crusted together from crying. He staggered to the far corner of the room and tugged at his overalls, tried to get them free before he accidentally wet himself.

  Urine splashed through the grating and trickled down on bright runs of wires in neat channels. His stomach rumbled and spun inside his belly, but he didn’t want to eat. He wanted to waste away completely. He glared up at the lights overhead that drilled into his skull. His stomach was angry with him. Everything was angry with him.

  Back at the door, he waited for someone to call his name. He went to the keypad and pressed the number ‘1’. The door buzzed at him immediately. It was angry too.

  Jimmy wanted to lie back down on the grating and curl back into a ball, but his stomach said to look for food. Below. There were beds and food below. Jimmy walked in a daze between the black machines. He touched their warm skin for balance, heard them clicking and whirring as if everything were normal. The red lights flashed over and over. Jimmy weaved his way between them until he found the hole in the ground.

  He lowered his feet to the rungs of the ladder and noticed the buzzing noise. It came and went in time with the throbbing red lights. He pulled himself out of the shaft and crawled across the floor in pursuit of the sound. It was coming from the server with its back off. His father had called it a comm hub – whatever that was. He patted his chest and felt the key against his breastbone. The buzzing from the machine came and went with the flashing lights in perfect synchrony. He peered inside. There was a headset hanging on a hook with a wire dangling down from it. The piece on the end looked like something from computer class. He searched for a place to plug it in and saw a bank of sockets. One of them was blinking. The number ‘40’ was lit up above it.
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