Shift, p.56
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       Shift, p.56

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 56


  Shadow’s eyes glowed beneath the desk. He peered out warily at Jimmy and his new flashlight.

  ‘You okay?’ Jimmy asked.

  The cat blinked.

  ‘Stay here,’ Jimmy whispered.

  He cradled the flashlight between his cheek and shoulder and checked the clip. Before he left, he nudged the man who was bleeding on his sheets. Jimmy felt a strange numbness at seeing someone down there, even dead. He listened for more intruders as he stole his way towards the ladder.

  The power outage and this attack were no coincidence, he told himself. Someone had gotten the door open. They had figured the keypad or pulled a breaker. Jimmy hoped this man had done it alone. He didn’t recognise the face, but a lot of years had passed. Beards got long and turned grey. The silver overalls hinted at someone who might know how to break in. The pain in his shoulder and wrist hinted at these being no friends of his.

  There was no one on the ladder. Jimmy slipped the rifle over his shoulder and doused the flashlight so no one would see him coming. His palms made the softest of rings on the metal rungs. He was halfway up when he felt Shadow slithering and clacking his way up between the ladder and the wall.

  Jimmy hissed at the cat to stay put but it disappeared ahead of him. At the top of the ladder, Jimmy unslung his rifle and held it in one hand. With the other, he pressed the flashlight against his stomach and turned it on. Peeling the lens away from his overalls a little at a time, he cast just enough glow to pick his way through the servers.

  There was a noise ahead of him, Shadow or another person, he couldn’t tell. Jimmy hesitated before continuing on. It took for ever to cross the wide room with the dark machines like this. He could hear them still clacking, still whirring, still putting off heat. But when he got close to the door, the keypad was no longer blinking its sentinel light at him. And there was a void beyond the gleaming door – a door that stood halfway open.

  More noise outside. The rustle of fabric, of a person moving. Jimmy killed the flashlight and steadied his rifle. He could taste the fear in his mouth. He wanted to call out for these people to leave him alone. He wanted to say what he had done to all those who came inside. He wanted to drop his gun and cry and beg never to have to do it again.

  He poked his head into the hall and strained to see in the darkness, hoped this other person couldn’t see him back. The hall contained nothing but the sound of two people breathing. There was a growing awareness that a dark space was shared with another.

  ‘Hank?’ someone whispered.

  Jimmy turned and squeezed the trigger. There was a flash of light. The rifle kicked him in the shoulder. He retreated into the server room and waited for screams and stomping boots. He waited what felt like for ever. Something touched his boot and Jimmy screamed. It was Shadow purring and rubbing against him.

  Chancing his flashlight, he peered around the corner and allowed some light to dribble out. There was a form there, a person on their back. He checked the deep and dark hallways and saw nothing. ‘Leave me alone!’ he yelled out to all the ghosts and more solid things.

  Not even his echo called back.

  Jimmy looked over this second man only to discover it wasn’t a man at all. It was a woman. Her eyes had thankfully fallen shut. A man and a woman coming for his food, coming to steal from him. It made Jimmy angry. And then he saw the woman’s swollen and distended belly and got doubly angry. It wasn’t as if they were hurting for food, he thought.



  • Silo 1 •

  DONALD SET HIS alarm for three in the morning, but there was little chance of him falling asleep. He’d waited weeks for this. A chance to give a life rather than take one. A chance at redemption and a chance for the truth, a chance to satisfy his growing suspicions.

  He stared at the ceiling and considered what he was about to do. It wasn’t what Erskine or Victor had hoped he would do if someone like him was in charge, but those men had got a lot wrong, least of all who he was. This wasn’t the end of the end of the world. This was the beginning of something else. An end to the not knowing what was out there.

  He studied his hand in the dim light spilling from the bathroom and thought of the outside. At two-thirty, he decided he’d waited long enough. He got up, showered and shaved, put on a fresh pair of overalls, tugged on his boots. He grabbed his badge, clipped it to his collar, and left his apartment with his head up and his shoulders back. Long strides took him down a hall with a few lights still on and the distant clatter of a keyboard, someone working late. The door to Eren’s office was closed. Donald called for the lift and waited.

  Before heading all the way down, he checked to see if it would be all for naught by scanning his badge and pressing the shiny button marked fifty-four. The light flashed and the lift lurched into motion. So far, so good. The lift didn’t stop until it reached the armoury. The doors opened on a familiar darkness studded with tall shadows – black cliffs of shelves and bins. Donald held his hand on the edge of the door to keep it from shutting and stepped out into the room. The vastness of the space could somehow be felt, as though the echoes of his racing pulse were being swallowed by the distance. He waited for a light to flick on at the far end, for Anna to walk out brushing her hair or with a bottle of Scotch in her hand, but nothing in that room moved. Everything was quiet and still. The pilots and the temporary activity were gone.

  He returned to the lift and pressed another button. The lift sank. It drifted past more storage levels, past the reactor. The doors cracked open on the medical wing. Donald could feel the tens of thousands of bodies arranged all around him, all facing the ceiling, eyelids closed. Some of them were well and truly dead, he thought. One was about to be woken.

  He went straight to the doctor’s office and knocked on the jamb. The assistant on duty lifted his head from behind the monitor. He wiped his eyes behind his glasses, adjusted them on his nose and blinked at Donald.

  ‘How’s it going?’ Donald asked.

  ‘Hmm? Good. Good. ’ The young man shook his wrist and checked his watch, an ancient thing. ‘We got someone going into deep freeze? I didn’t get a call. Is Wilson up?’

  ‘No, no. I just couldn’t sleep. ’ Donald pointed at the ceiling. ‘I went to see if anyone was up at the cafeteria, then figured since I was restless, I might as well come down here and see if you wanted me to finish out your shift. I can sit and watch a film as well as anyone. ’

  The assistant glanced at his monitor and laughed guiltily. ‘Yeah. ’ He checked his watch again, had somehow already forgotten what it just told him. ‘Two hours left. I wouldn’t mind slagging off. You’ll wake me if anything pops up?’ He stood and stretched, covered his yawn with his hand.

  ‘Of course. ’

  The medical assistant staggered out from behind the desk. Donald stepped around and pulled the seat away, sat down and propped up his feet as though he wouldn’t be going anywhere for hours.

  ‘I owe you one,’ the young man said, collecting his coat from the back of the door.

  ‘Oh, we’re even,’ Donald said under his breath as soon as the man was gone.

  He waited for the lift to chime before launching into action. There was a plastic drink container on the drying rack by the sink. He grabbed this and filled it with water, the musical pitch of the vessel filling like a rising anxiety.

  The lid came off the powder. Two scoops. He stirred with one of the long plastic tongue depressors and twisted the lid on, put the powder back in the fridge. The wheelchair wouldn’t budge at first. He saw that the brakes were on, the little metal arms pressing into the soft rubber. He freed these, grabbed one of the blankets from the tall cabinet and a paper gown, tossed them onto the seat. Just like before. But he’d do it right this time. He collected the medical kit, made sure there was a fresh set of gloves.

  The wheelchair rattled out the door and down the hall, and Donald’s palms felt s
weaty against the handles. To keep the front wheels silent, he rocked the chair back on its large rubber tyres. The small wheels spun lazily in the air as he hurried.

  He entered his code into the keypad and waited for a red light, for some impediment, some blockade. The light winked green. Donald pulled the door open and swerved between the pods towards the one that held his sister.

  There was a mix of anticipation and guilt. This was as bold a step as his run up that hill in a suit. The stakes were higher for involving family, for waking someone into this harsh world, for subjecting her to the same brutality Anna had foisted upon him, that Thurman had foisted upon her, on and on, a never-ending misery of shifts.

  He left the wheelchair in place and knelt by the control pad. Hesitant, he lurched to his feet and peered through the glass porthole, just to be sure.

  She looked so serene in there, probably wasn’t plagued by nightmares like he was. Donald’s doubts grew. And then he imagined her waking up on her own; he imagined her conscious and beating on the glass, demanding to be let out. He saw her feisty spirit, heard her demand not to be lied to, and he knew that if she were standing there with him, she would ask him to do it. She would rather know and suffer than be left asleep in ignorance.

  He crouched by the keypad and entered his code. The keypad beeped cheerfully as he pressed the red button. There was a click from within the pod, like a valve opening. He turned the dial and watched the temperature gauge, waited for it to start climbing.

  Donald rose and stood by the pod, and time slowed to a crawl. He expected someone to come find him before the process was complete. But there was another clack and a hiss from the lid. He laid out the gauze and the tape. He separated the two rubber gloves and began pulling them on, a cloud of chalk misting the air as he snapped the elastic.

  He opened the lid the rest of the way.

  His sister lay on her back, her arms by her sides. She had not yet moved. A panic seized him as he went over the procedure again. Had he forgotten something? Dear God, had he killed her?

  Charlotte coughed. Water trailed down her cheeks as the frost on her eyelids melted. And then her eyes fluttered open weakly before returning to thin slits against the light.

  ‘Hold still,’ Donald told her. He pressed a square of gauze to her arm and removed the needle. He could feel the steel slide beneath the pad and his fingers as he extracted it from her arm. Holding the gauze in place, he took a length of tape hanging from the wheelchair and applied it across. The last was the catheter. He covered her with the towel, applied pressure and slowly removed the tube. And then she was free of the machine, crossing her arms and shivering. He helped her into the paper gown, left the back open.

  ‘I’m lifting you out,’ he said.

  Her teeth clattered in response.

  Donald shifted her feet towards her butt to tent her knees. Reaching down beneath her armpits – her flesh cool to the touch – and another arm under her legs, he lifted her easily. It felt like she weighed so little. He could smell the cast-stink on her flesh.

  Charlotte mumbled something as he placed her in the wheelchair. The blanket was draped across so that she sat on the fabric rather than the cold seat. As soon as she was settled, he wrapped the blanket around her. She chose to remain in a ball with her arms wrapped around her shins rather than place her feet on the stirrups.

  ‘Where am I?’ she asked, her voice a sheet of crackling ice.

  ‘Take it easy,’ Donald told her. He closed the lid on the pod, tried to remember if there was anything else, looked for anything he’d left behind. ‘You’re with me,’ he said as he pushed her towards the exit. That was where both of them were: with each other. There was no home, no place on the earth to welcome one to any more, just a hellish nightmare in which to drag another soul for sad company.



  • Silo 1 •

  THE HARDEST PART was making her wait to eat. Donald knew what it felt like to be that hungry. He put her through the same routine he’d endured a number of times: made her drink the bitter concoction, made her use the bathroom to flush her system, had her sit on the edge of the tub and take a warm shower, then put her in a fresh set of clothes and a new blanket.

  He watched as she finished the last of the drink. Her lips gradually faded to pink from pale blue. Her skin was so white. Donald couldn’t remember if she’d been so pale before orientation. Maybe it had happened overseas, sitting in those dark trailers with only the light of a monitor to bathe in.

  ‘I need to go make an appearance,’ he told her. ‘Everyone else will be getting up. I’ll bring you breakfast on my way back down. ’

  Charlotte sat quietly in one of the leather chairs around the old war planning table, her feet tucked up under her. She tugged at the collar of the overalls as if they itched her skin. ‘Mom and Dad are gone,’ she said, repeating what he’d told her earlier. Donald wasn’t sure what she would and wouldn’t remember. She hadn’t been on her stress medications as long or as recently as him. But it didn’t matter. He could tell her the truth. Tell her and hate himself for doing it.

  ‘I’ll be back in a little bit. Just stay here and try to get some rest. Don’t leave this room, okay?’

  The words echoed hollow as he hurried through the warehouse and towards the lift. He remembered hearing from others as soon as they woke him that he should get some rest. Charlotte had been asleep for almost three centuries. As he scanned his badge and waited for the lift, Donald thought on how much time had passed and how little had changed. The world was still the ruin they’d left it. Or if it wasn’t, they were about to find out.

  He rode up to the operations level and checked in with Eren. The Ops head was already at his desk, surrounded by files, one hand tangled in his hair, his elbow on piles of paperwork. There was no steam from his mug of coffee. He’d been at his desk for a while.
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