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         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 5

 

  Helen. There was a rush of panic as he fumbled for his phone. He had promised his wife he would always call before ten. A guilty heat wedged around his collar. He imagined her sitting around, staring at her phone, waiting and waiting.

  It didn’t even ring on his end before she picked up.

  ‘There you are,’ she said, her voice soft and drowsy, her tone hinting more at relief than anger.

  ‘Sweetheart. God, I’m really sorry. I totally lost track of time. ’

  ‘That’s okay, baby. ’ She yawned, and Donald had to fight the infectious urge to do the same. ‘You write any good laws today?’

  He laughed and rubbed his face. ‘They don’t really let me do that. Not yet. I’m mostly staying busy with this little project for the Senator—’

  He stopped himself. Donald had dithered all week on the best way to tell her, what parts to keep secret. He glanced at the extra monitor on his desk. Anna’s perfume was somehow frozen in the air, still lingering a week later.

  Helen’s voice perked up: ‘Oh?’

  He could picture her clearly: Helen in her nightgown, his side of the bed still immaculately made, a glass of water within her reach. He missed her terribly. The guilt he felt, despite his innocence, made him miss her all the more.

  ‘What does he have you doing? It’s legal, I hope. ’

  ‘What? Of course it’s legal. It’s . . . some architectural stuff, actually. ’ Donald leaned forward to grab the finger of gold Scotch left in his tumbler. ‘To be honest, I’d forgotten how much I love the work. I would’ve been a decent architect if I’d stuck with it. ’ He took a burning sip and eyed his monitors, which had gone dark to save the screens. He was dying to get back to it. Everything fell away, disappeared, when he lost himself in the drawing.

  ‘Sweetheart, I don’t think designing a new bathroom for the Senator’s office is why the taxpayers sent you to Washington. ’

  Donald smiled and finished the drink. He could practically hear his wife grinning on the other end of the line. He set the glass back on his desk and propped up his feet. ‘It’s nothing like that,’ he insisted. ‘It’s plans for that facility they’re putting in outside of Atlanta. Just a minor portion of it, really. But if I don’t get it just right, the whole thing could fall apart. ’

  He eyed the open folder on his desk. His wife laughed sleepily.

  ‘Why in the world would they have you doing something like that?’ she asked. ‘If it’s so important, wouldn’t they pay someone who knows what they’re doing?’

  Donald laughed dismissively, however much he agreed. He couldn’t help but feel victim to Washington’s habit for assigning jobs to people who weren’t qualified for them. ‘I’m actually quite good at this,’ he told his wife. ‘I’m starting to think I’m a better architect than a congressman. ’

  ‘I’m sure you’re wonderful at it. ’ His wife yawned again. ‘But you could’ve stayed home and been an architect. You could work late here. ’

  ‘Yeah, I know. ’ Donald remembered their discussions on whether or not he should run for office, if it would be worth them being apart. Now he was spending his time away doing the very thing they’d agreed he should give up. ‘I think this is just something they put us through our first year,’ he said. ‘Think of it like your internship. It’ll get better. And besides, I think it’s a good sign he wants me in on this. He sees the Atlanta thing as a family project, something to keep in-house. He actually took notice of some of my work at—’

  ‘Family project. ’

  ‘Well, not literally family, more like—’ This wasn’t how he wanted to tell her. It was a bad start. It was what he got for putting it off, for waiting until he was exhausted and tipsy.

  ‘Is this why you’re working late? Why you’re calling me after ten?’

  ‘Baby, I lost track of the time. I was on my computer. ’ He looked to his tumbler, saw that it held the barest of sips, just the golden residue that had slid down the glass after his last pull. ‘This is good news for us. I’ll be coming home more often because of this. I’m sure they’ll need me to check out the job site, work with the foremen—’

  ‘That would be good news. Your dog misses you. ’

  Donald smiled. ‘I hope you both do. ’

  ‘You know I do. ’

  ‘Good. ’ He swilled the last drop in the glass and gulped it down. ‘And listen, I know how you’re gonna feel about this, and I swear it’s out of my control, but the Senator’s daughter is working on this project with me. Mick Webb, too. You remember him?’

  Cold silence.

  Then, ‘I remember the Senator’s daughter. ’

  Donald cleared his throat. ‘Yeah, well, Mick is doing some of the organisational work, securing land, dealing with contractors. It’s practically his district, after all. And you know neither of us would be where we are today without the Senator stumping for us—’

  ‘What I remember is that you two used to date. And that she used to flirt with you even when I was around. ’

  Donald laughed. ‘Are you serious? Anna Thurman? C’mon, honey, that was a lifetime ago—’

  ‘I thought you were going to come home more often, anyway. On the weekends. ’ He heard his wife let out a breath. ‘Look, it’s late. Why don’t we both get some sleep? We can talk about this tomorrow. ’

  ‘Okay. Yeah, sure. And sweetheart?’

  She waited.

  ‘Nothing’s gonna come between us, okay? This is a huge opportunity for me. And it’s something I’m really good at. I’d forgotten how good at it I am. ’

  A pause.

  ‘There’s a lot you’re good at,’ his wife said. ‘You’re a good husband, and I know you’ll be a good congressman. I just don’t trust the people you’re surrounding yourself with. ’

  ‘But you know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. ’

  ‘I know. ’

  ‘Look, I’ll be careful. I promise. ’

  ‘Okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Sleep tight. I love you. ’

  She hung up, and Donald looked down at his phone, saw that he had a dozen emails waiting for him. He decided to ignore them until morning. Rubbing his eyes, he willed himself awake, to think clearly. He shook the mouse to stir his monitors. They could afford to nap, to go dark awhile, but he couldn’t.

  A wireframe apartment sat in the middle of his new screen. Donald zoomed out and watched the apartment sink away and a hallway appear, then dozens of identical wedge-shaped living quarters squeeze in from the edges. The building specs called for a bunker that could house ten thousand people for at least a year – utter overkill. Donald approached the task as he would any design project. He imagined himself in their place, a toxic spill, a leak or some horrible fallout, a terrorist attack, something that might send all of the facility workers underground where they would have to stay for weeks or months until the area was cleared.

  The view pulled back further until other floors appeared above and below, empty floors he would eventually fill with storerooms, hallways, more apartments. Entire other floors and mechanical spaces had been left empty for Anna—

  ‘Donny?’

  His door opened – the knock came after. Donald’s arm jerked so hard his mouse went skidding off the pad and across his desk. He sat up straight, peered over his monitors and saw Mick Webb grinning at him from the doorway. Mick had his jacket tucked under one arm, tie hanging loose, a peppery stubble on his dark skin. He laughed at Donald’s harried expression and sauntered across the room. Donald fumbled for the mouse and quickly minimised the AutoCAD window.

  ‘Shit, man, you haven’t taken up day-trading, have you?’

  ‘Day-trading?’ Donald leaned back in his chair.

  ‘Yeah. What’s with the new set-up?’ Mick walked around behind the desk and rested a hand on the back of Donald’s chair. An abandoned game of Freecell sat embarrassingly on the smaller of the two screens.
>
  ‘Oh, the extra monitor. ’ Donald minimised the card game and turned in his seat. ‘I like having a handful of programs up at the same time. ’

  ‘I can see that. ’ Mick gestured at the empty monitors, the wallpaper of cherry blossoms framing the Jefferson Memorial.

  Donald laughed and rubbed his face. He could feel his own stubble, had forgotten to eat dinner. The project had only begun a week ago and he was already a wreck.

  ‘I’m heading out for a drink,’ Mick told him. ‘You wanna come?’

  ‘Sorry. I’ve got a little more to do here. ’

  Mick clasped his shoulder and squeezed until it hurt. ‘I hate to break it to you, man, but you’re gonna have to start over. You bury an ace like that, there’s no coming back. C’mon, let’s get a drink. ’

  ‘Seriously, I can’t. ’ Donald twisted out from his friend’s grasp and turned to face him. ‘I’m working on those plans for Atlanta. I’m not supposed to let anyone see them. It’s top secret. ’

  For emphasis, he reached out and closed the folder on his desk. The Senator had told him there would be a division of labour and that the walls of that divide needed to be a mile high.

  ‘Ohhh. Top secret. ’ Mick waggled both hands in the air. ‘I’m working on the same project, asshole. ’ He waved at the monitor. ‘And you’re doing the plans? What gives? My GPA was higher than yours. ’ He leaned over the desk and stared at the taskbar. ‘AutoCAD? Cool. C’mon, let’s see it. ’

  ‘Yeah, right. ’

  ‘Come the fuck on. Don’t be a child about this. ’

  Donald laughed. ‘Look, even the people on my team aren’t going to see the entire plan. And neither will I. ’

  ‘That’s ridiculous. ’

  ‘No, it’s how government shit like this gets done. You don’t see me prying into your part in all this. ’

  Mick waved a hand dismissively. ‘Whatever. Grab your coat. Let’s go. ’

  ‘Fine, sure. ’ Donald patted his cheeks with his palms, trying to wake up. ‘I’ll work better in the morning. ’

  ‘Working on a Saturday. Thurman must love you. ’

  ‘Let’s hope so. Just give me a couple of minutes to shut this down. ’

  Mick laughed. ‘Go ahead. I’m not looking. ’ He walked over to the door while Donald finished up.

  When Donald stood to go, his desk phone rang. His secretary wasn’t there, so it was someone with his direct line. Donald reached for it and held up a finger to Mick.

  ‘Helen—’

  Someone cleared their throat on the other end. A deep and rough voice apologised: ‘Sorry, no. ’

  ‘Oh. ’ Donald glanced up at Mick, who was tapping his watch. ‘Hello, sir. ’

  ‘You boys going out?’ Senator Thurman asked.

  Donald turned to the window. ‘Excuse me?’

  ‘You and Mick. It’s a Friday night. Are you hitting the town?’

  ‘Uh, just the one drink, sir. ’

  What Donald wanted to know was how the hell the Senator knew Mick was there.

  ‘Good. Tell Mick I need to see him first thing Monday morning. My office. You too. We need to discuss your first trip down to the job site. ’

  ‘Oh. Okay. ’

  Donald waited, wondering if that was all.

  ‘You boys will be working closely on this moving forward. ’

  ‘Good. Of course. ’

  ‘As we discussed last week, there won’t be any need to share details about what you’re working on with other project members. The same goes for Mick. ’

  ‘Yes, sir. Absolutely. I remember our talk. ’

  ‘Excellent. You boys have a good time. Oh, and if Mick starts blabbing, you have my permission to kill him on the spot. ’

  There was a breath of silence, and then the hearty laugh of a man whose lungs sounded much younger than his years.

  ‘Ah. ’ Donald watched Mick, who had taken out the plug from a decanter to take a sniff. ‘Okay, sir. I’ll be sure to do that. ’

  ‘Great. See you Monday. ’

  The Senator hung up abruptly. As Donald returned the phone to its cradle and grabbed his coat, his new monitor remained quietly perched on his desk, watching him blankly.

  6

  2110

  • Silo 1 •

  TROY’S BEATEN-UP plastic meal tray slid down the line behind the spattered sheet of glass. Once his badge was scanned, a measured portion of canned string beans fell out of a tube and formed a steaming pile on his plate. A perfectly round cut of turkey plopped from the next tube, the ridges still visible from the tin. Mashed potatoes spat out at the end of the line like a spit wad from a child’s straw. Gravy followed with an unappetising squirt.

  Behind the serving line stood a heavyset man in white overalls, hands clasped behind his back. He didn’t seem interested in the food. He concentrated on the workers as they lined up for their meals.

  When Troy’s tray reached the end of the line, a younger man in pale green overalls and probably not out of his twenties arranged silverware and napkins by the plate. A glass of water was added from a tightly packed tray nearby. The final step was like a ritualised handshake, one Troy remembered from the months of orientation: a small plastic shot glass was handed over, a pill rattling in the bottom, a blurry blue shape barely visible through the translucent cup.

  Troy shuffled into place.

  ‘Hello, sir. ’

  A young grin. Perfect teeth. Everyone called him sir, even those much older. It was discomfiting no matter who it came from.
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