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         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 59

 

  ‘Another two hundred years before you kill us all,’ Donald said. The barrel trembled with hatred. He wrapped his other hand around the grip and took half a step back. Thurman was weak and bound but Donald was taking no chances. The old man was like a coiled snake on a cold morning. Donald couldn’t help but think of what he would be capable of as the day warmed.

  Thurman licked his lips and studied Donald. Curls of steam rose from the old man’s shoulders. ‘Anna told you,’ he finally said.

  Donald had a sadistic urge to tell him that Anna was dead. He felt a prideful twinge and wanted to insist that he’d figured it out for himself. He simply nodded instead.

  ‘You have to know this is the only way,’ Thurman whispered.

  ‘There are a thousand ways,’ Donald said. He moved the gun to his other hand and dried his sweaty palm on his overalls.

  Thurman glanced at the gun, then searched the room beyond Donald for help. After a pause, he settled back against the pod. Steam rose from within the unit, but Donald could see him begin to shiver against the cold.

  ‘I used to think you were trying to live for ever,’ Donald said.

  Thurman laughed. He inspected the knotted cord once more, looked at the needle and tube hanging from his arm. ‘Just long enough. ’

  ‘Long enough for what? To whittle humanity down to nothing? To let one of these silos go free and then sit here and kill the rest?’

  Thurman nodded. He pulled his feet closer and hugged his shins. He looked so thin and fragile without his overalls on, without his proud shoulders thrown back.

  ‘You saved all these people just to kill most of them. And us as well. ’

  Thurman whispered a reply.

  ‘Louder,’ Donald said.

  The old man mimed taking a drink. Donald showed him the gun. It was all he had. Thurman tapped his chest and tried to speak again, and Donald took a wary step closer. ‘Tell me why,’ Donald said. ‘I’m the one in charge here. Me. Tell me or I swear I’ll let everyone out of their silos right now. ’

  Thurman’s eyes became slits. ‘Fool,’ he hissed. ‘They’ll kill each other. ’

  His voice was barely audible. Donald could hear all the cryopods around them humming. He stepped even closer, more confident with each passing moment that this was the right thing to do.

  ‘I know what you think they’ll do to one another,’ Donald said. ‘I know about this great cleanse, this reset. ’ He jabbed the gun at Thurman’s chest. ‘I know you see these silos as starships taking people to a better world. I’ve read every note and memo and file you have access to. But this is what I want to hear from you before you die—’

  Donald felt his legs wobble. A coughing fit seized him. He fumbled for his cloth but pink spittle struck the silver pod before he could cover his mouth. Thurman watched. Donald steadied himself, tried to remember what he’d been saying.

  ‘I want to know why all the heartache,’ Donald said, his voice scratchy, his throat on fire. ‘All the miserable lives coming and going, the people down here you plan on killing, on never waking. Your own daughter . . . ’ He searched Thurman’s face for some reaction. ‘Why not freeze us for a thousand years and wake us when it’s done? I know now what I helped you build. I want to know why we couldn’t sleep through it all. If you wanted a better place for us, why not take us there? Why the suffering?’

  Thurman remained perfectly still.

  ‘Tell me why,’ Donald said. His voice cracked but he pretended to be okay. He lifted the barrel, which had drooped.

  ‘Because no one can know,’ Thurman finally said. ‘It has to die with us. ’

  ‘What has to die?’

  Thurman licked his lips. ‘Knowledge. The things we left out of the Legacy. The ability to end it all with the flip of a switch. ’

  Donald laughed. ‘You think we won’t discover them again? The means to destroy ourselves?’

  Thurman shrugged his naked shoulders. The steam rising from them had dissipated. ‘Eventually. Which is a longer time than right now. ’

  Donald waved his gun at the pods all around him. ‘And so all this goes as well. We’re supposed to choose one tribe, one of your starships to land, and everything else is shut down. That’s the pact you made?’

  Thurman nodded.

  ‘Well, someone broke your pact,’ Donald said. ‘Someone put me here in your place. I’m the shepherd now. ’

  Thurman’s eyes widened. His gaze travelled from the gun to the badge clipped on Donald’s collar. Clattering teeth were silenced by the clenching and unclenching of his jaw. ‘No,’ he said.

  ‘I never asked for this job,’ Donald said, more to himself than to Thurman. He steadied the barrel. ‘For any of these jobs. ’

  ‘Me neither,’ Thurman replied, and Donald was again reminded of those prisoners and those guards. This could be him in that pod. It could be anyone standing there with that gun. It was the system.

  There were a hundred other things he wanted to ask or say. He wanted to tell this man how much like a father he’d been to him, but what did that mean when fathers could be as abusive as they were loving? He wanted to scream at Thurman for the damage he’d done to the world, but some part of Donald knew the damage had been done long before and that it was irreversible. And finally, there was a part of him that wanted to beg for help, to free this man from his pod; a part that wanted to take his place, to curl up inside and go back to sleep – a part that found being the prisoner was so much easier than remaining on guard. But his sister was up above, recovering. They both had more questions that needed answering. And in a silo not far away, a transformation was taking place, the end of an uprising, and Donald wanted to see how that played out.

  All this and more raced through Donald’s mind. It wouldn’t be long before Dr Wilson returned to his desk and possibly glanced at a screen just as the right camera cycled through. And even as Thurman’s mouth parted to say something, Donald realised that waking the old man to hear his excuses had been a mistake. There was little to learn here.

  Thurman leaned forward. ‘Donny,’ he said. He reached out with bound wrists for the pistol in Donald’s hand. His arms moved slowly and feebly, not with the hope – Donald didn’t think – of snatching the gun away, but possibly with the desire to pull it close, to press it against his chest or his mouth the way Victor had, such was the sadness in the old man’s eyes.

  Thurman reached past the lip of the pod and groped for the gun, and Donald very nearly handed it to him, just to see what he would do with it.

  He pulled the trigger instead. He pulled the trigger before he could regret it.

  The bang was unconscionably loud. There was a bright flash, a horrid noise echoing out across a thousand sleeping souls, and then a man slumping down into a coffin.

  Donald’s hand trembled. He remembered his first days in office, all this man had done for him, that meeting very early on. He had been hired for a job for which he was barely qualified. He had been hired for a job he could not at first discern. That first morning, waking up a congressman, realising he and only a handful of others stood at the helm of a powerful nation, had filled him with as much fear as accomplishment. And all along, he had been an inmate asked to erect the walls of his own asylum.

  This time would be different. This time, he would accept responsibility and lead without fear. Him and his sister in secret. They would find out what was wrong with the world and fix it. Restore order to all that had been lost. An experiment had begun in another silo, a changing of the guard, and Donald intended to see the results.

  He reached up and closed the lid on the pod. There was pink spittle on its shiny surface. Donald coughed once and wiped his mouth. He stuffed the pistol in his pocket and walked away from the pod, his heart racing from what he’d done. And the pod with a dead man inside – it quietly hummed.

  98

  2345 – Year Thirty-four

 
• Silo 17 •

  SOLO WORKED THE rope through the handles of the empty plastic jugs. They rattled together and made a kind of sonorous music. He collected his canvas bag and stood there a moment, scratching his beard, forgetting something. What had he forgotten? Patting his chest, he made sure he had the key. It was an old habit from years ago that he couldn’t shake. The key, of course, was no longer there. He had tucked it in a drawer when things no longer needed locking, when there was no one left to be afraid of.

  He took two bags of empty soup and veggie cans with him – hardly a dent in the massive pile of garbage. With his hands full and every step causing a clang and a clatter, he carried his things down the dark passage to the shaft of light at the far end.

  It took two trips up the ladder to unload everything. He passed between the black machines, many of which had gone silent over the years, succumbing to the heat, perhaps. The filing cabinet had to be moved before the door would open. The silo had no locks and no people – but no dummies, either. He pulled the heavy door, could feel his father’s presence as always, and stepped out into the wide world crowded with nothing but ghosts and things so bad he couldn’t remember them.

  The hallways were bright and empty. Solo waved to where he knew the cameras were as he passed. He often thought that he’d see himself on the monitors one day, but the cameras had quit working for ever ago. And besides, there’d have to be two of him for that to happen. One to stand there and wave, another down by the monitors. He laughed at how silly he was. He was Solo.

  Stepping out on the landing brought fresh air and a troubling sense of height. Solo thought of the rising water. How long before it reached him? Too long, he thought. He would be gone by then. But it was sad to think of his little home under the servers full of water one day. All the empty cans in the great pile by the shelves would float to the top. The computer and the radio would gurgle little bubbles of air. That made him laugh, thinking of them gurgling and the cans bobbing around on the surface, and he no longer cared if it happened or not. He tossed both bags of empty cans over the railing and listened for them to crunch down on the landing at thirty-five. They dutifully did. He turned to the stairs.

  Up or down? Up meant tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. Down meant berries, corn and digging for potatoes. Down required more cooking. Solo marched up.

  He counted the steps as he went. ‘Eight, nine, ten,’ he whispered. Each of the stairs was different. There were a lot of stairs. They had all kinds of company, all kinds of fellow stairs, like friends, to either side. More things just like them. ‘Hello, step,’ he said, forgetting to count. The step said nothing. He didn’t speak whatever they spoke, the ringing singing of lonely boots clanging up and down.

  A noise. Solo heard a noise. He stopped and listened, but usually the noises knew when he was doing that and they got shy. This was another of those noises. He heard things that weren’t there all the time. There were pumps and lights wired all over the place that turned on and off at their whim and choosing. One of these pumps had sprung a leak years ago, and Solo had fixed it himself. He needed a new Project. He was doing a lot of the same ones over and over, like chopping his beard when it got to his chest, and all of these Projects were boring.

  Only one break to drink and pee before he reached the farms. His legs were good. Stronger, even, than when he was younger. The hard things got easier the more you did them. It didn’t make it any more fun to do the hard things, though. Solo wished they would just be easy the first time.

  He rounded the last bend before the landing on thirty, was just about to start whistling a harvest tune, when he saw that he’d left the door open. He wasn’t sure how. Solo never left the door open. Any doors.

  There was something propped up in the corner against the rail. It looked like scrap material from one of his Projects. A broken piece of plastic pipe. He picked it up. There was water in it. Solo sniffed the tube. It smelled funny, and he started to dump the water over the rail when the pipe slipped from his fingers. He froze and waited for the distant clatter. It never came.

  Clumsy. He cursed himself for being forgetful and clumsy. Left a door open. He was headed inside when he saw what was holding it open. A black handle. He reached for it, saw that it was a knife plunged down through the grating.

  There was a noise inside, deep within the farms. Solo stood very still for a moment. This was not his knife. He was not this forgetful. He pulled the blade out and allowed the door to close as a thousand thoughts flitted through his waking mind. A rat couldn’t do something like this. Only a person could. Or a powerful ghost.

  He should do something. He should tie the handles together or wedge something under the doors, but he was too afraid. He turned and ran instead. He ran down the stairs, jugs clattering together, his empty pack flopping on his back, someone else’s knife clutched in his hand. When the jugs caught on the railing the rope snagged, and he tugged twice before giving up and letting them go. His hole. He had to get to his hole. Breathing heavily, he hurried on, the clangs and vibrations of some other disrupting his solitude. He didn’t have to stop to listen for them. This was a loud ghost. Loud and solid. Solo thought of his machete, which had snapped in half years ago. But he had this knife. This knife. Around and around the stairs he went, sorely afraid. Down to the landing. Wrong landing! Thirty-three. One more to go. Stopped counting, stopped counting. He nearly stumbled, he ran so fast. Sweating. Home.

  He slammed the doors behind him and took a deep breath, hands on his knees. Scooping the broom off the ground, he slid it through the handles on the door. It kept the quiet ghosts at bay. He hoped it would work on the noisy ones.

  Solo pushed through the busted security gate and hurried down the halls. One of the lights overhead was out. A Project. But no time. He reached the metal door and heaved. Ran inside. Stopped and ran back. He leaned on the door and pushed it closed. He got low and put his shoulder into the filing cabinet, slid that against the door, an awful screech. He thought he heard footsteps outside. Someone fast. Sweat dripped off his nose. He clutched the knife and ran, through the servers. There was a squeal behind him, metal on metal. Solo was not alone. They had come for him. They were coming, coming. He could taste the fear in his mouth like metal. He raced to the grate, wished he’d left it open. At least the locks were broken. Rusted. No, that wasn’t good. He needed the locks. Solo lowered himself down the ladder and grabbed the grating, began to pull it over his head. He would hide. Hide. Like the early years. And then someone was tugging the grate from his hand. He was swiping at them with the knife. There was a startled scream, a woman, breathing heavy and looking down at him, telling him to take it easy.
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