Shift, p.7
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       Shift, p.7

         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 7


  The agent returned and took up a position beside the Senator, shopping bag in hand. He looked over at Donald and seemed to study him through those impenetrable sunglasses. Not for the first time, Donald felt watched.

  Senator Thurman shook Donald’s hand and said to keep him posted. Another agent materialised from nowhere and formed up on Thurman’s flank. They marched the Senator through the jangling door, and Donald only relaxed once they were out of view.



  • Silo 1 •

  THE BOOK OF the Order lay open on his desk, the pages curling up from a spine stitched to last. Troy studied the upcoming procedure once again, his first official act as head of Operation Fifty, and it brought to mind a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a grand display where the man with the shears took credit for the hard work of others.

  The Order, he had decided, was more recipe book than operations manual. The shrinks who had written it had accounted for everything, every quirk of human nature. And like the field of psychology, or any field that involved human nature, the parts that made no sense usually served some deeper purpose.

  It made Troy wonder what his purpose was. How necessary his position. He had studied for a much different job, was meant to be head of a single silo, not all of them. He had been promoted at the last minute, and that made him feel arbitrary, as if anyone could be slotted into his place.

  Of course, even if his office was mostly titular, perhaps it served some symbolic purpose. Maybe he wasn’t there to lead so much as to provide an illusion to the others that they were being led.

  Troy skipped back two paragraphs in the Order. His eyes had passed over every word, but none of them had registered. Everything about his new life made him prone to distraction, made him think too much. It had all been perfectly arranged – all the levels and tasks and job descriptions – but for what? For maximum apathy?

  Glancing up, he could see Victor sitting at his desk in the Office for Psychological Services across the hall. It would be easy enough to walk over there and ask. They, more than any one architect, had designed this place. He could ask them how they had done it, how they had managed to make everyone feel so empty inside.

  Sheltering the women and the children played some part; Troy was sure of that. The women and children of silo one had been gifted with a long sleep while the men stayed and took shifts. It removed the passion from the plans, forestalled the chance that the men might fight among themselves.

  And then there was the routine, the mind-numbing routine. It was the castration of thought, the daily grind of an office worker who drooled at the clock, punched out, watched TV until sleep overtook him, slapped an alarm three times, did it again. It was made worse by the absence of weekends. There were no free days. It was six months on and decades off.

  It made him envious of the rest of the facility, all the other silos, where hallways must echo with the laughter of children, the voices of women, the passion and happiness missing from this bunker at the heart of it all. Here, all he saw was stupor, dozens of communal rooms with movies playing in loops on flat-panel TVs, dozens of unblinking eyes in comfortable chairs. No one was truly awake. No one was truly alive. They must have wanted it that way.

  Checking the clock on his computer, Troy saw that it was time to go. Another day behind him. Another day closer to the end of his shift. He closed his copy of the Order, locked it away in his desk and headed for the communications room down the hall.

  A pair of heads looked up from the radio stations as he walked in, all frowns and lowered brows in their orange coveralls. Troy took a deep breath, pulled himself together. This was an office. It was a job. And he was the man in charge. He just had to keep his shit together. He was there to cut a ribbon.

  Saul, one of the lead radio techs, took off his headset and rose to greet him. Troy vaguely knew Saul; they lived on the same executive wing and saw each other in the gym from time to time. While they shook hands, Saul’s wide and handsome face tickled some deeper memory, an itch Troy had learned to ignore. Maybe this was someone he had met at his orientation, from before his long sleep.

  Saul introduced him to the other tech in comm room orange, who waved and kept his headset on. The name faded immediately. It didn’t matter. An extra headset was pulled from a rack. Troy accepted it and lowered it around his neck, keeping the muffs off his ears so he could still hear. Saul found the silvery jack at the end of the headset and ran his fingers across an array of fifty numbered receptacles. The layout and the room reminded Troy of ancient photographs of phone operators back before they were replaced with computers and automated voices.

  The mental image of a bygone day mixed and fizzed with his nerves and the shivers brought on by the pills, and Troy felt a sudden bout of giggles bubble beneath the surface. The laughter nearly burst out of him, but he managed to hold it together. It wouldn’t be a good sign for the head of overall operations to lurch into hysterics when he was about to gauge the fitness of a future silo head.

  ‘—and you’ll just run through the set questions,’ Saul was telling him. He held out a plastic card to Troy, who was pretty sure he didn’t need it but took it anyway. He’d been memorising the routine for most of the day. Besides, he was sure it didn’t matter what he said. The task of gauging a candidate’s fitness was better left to the machines and the computers, all the sensors embedded in a distant headset.

  ‘Okay. There’s the call. ’ Saul pointed to a single flashing light on a panel studded with flashing lights. ‘I’m patching you through. ’

  Troy adjusted the muffs around his ears as the tech made the connection. He heard a few beeps before the line clicked over. Someone was breathing heavily on the other end. Troy reminded himself that this young man would be far more nervous than he was. After all, he had to answer the questions – Troy simply had to ask them.

  He glanced down at the card in his hand, his mind suddenly blank, thankful that he’d been given the thing.

  ‘Name?’ he asked the young man.

  ‘Marcus Dent, sir. ’

  There was a quiet confidence in his young voice, the sound of a chest thrust out with pride. Troy remembered feeling that once, a long time ago. And then he thought of the world Marcus Dent had been born into, a legacy he would only ever know from books.

  ‘Tell me about your training,’ Troy said, reading the lines. He tried to keep his voice even, deep, full of command, although the computers were designed to do that for him. Saul made a hoop with his finger and thumb, letting him know he was getting good data from the boy’s headset. Troy wondered if his was similarly equipped. Could anyone in that room – or any other room – tell how nervous he was?

  ‘Well, sir, I shadowed under Deputy Willis before transferring to IT Security. That was a year ago. I’ve been studying the Order for six weeks. I feel ready, sir. ’

  Shadowing. Troy had forgotten it was called that. He had meant to bring the latest vocabulary card with him.

  ‘What is your primary duty to the . . . silo?’ He had nearly said facility.

  ‘To maintain the Order, sir. ’

  ‘And what do you protect above all?’ He kept his voice flat. The best readings would come from not imparting too much emotion into the man being measured.

  ‘Life and Legacy,’ Marcus recited.

  Troy had a difficult time seeing the next question. It was obscured by an unexpected blur of tears. His hand trembled. He lowered the shaking card to his side before anyone noticed.

  ‘And what does it take to protect the things we hold dear?’ he asked. His voice sounded like someone else’s. He ground his teeth together to keep them from chattering. Something was wrong with him. Powerfully wrong.

  ‘Sacrifice,’ Marcus said, steady as a rock.

  Troy blinked rapidly to clear his vision, and Saul held up his hand to let him know he could continue, that the measures were coming through. Now they neede
d baselines so the biometrics could tease out the boy’s sincerity towards the first questions.

  ‘Tell me, Marcus, do you have a girlfriend?’

  He didn’t know why that was the first thing that came to mind. Maybe it was the envy that other silos didn’t freeze their women, didn’t freeze anyone at all. Nobody in the comm room seemed to react or care. The formal portion of the test was over.

  ‘Oh, yessir,’ Marcus said, and Troy heard the boy’s breathing change, could imagine his body relaxing. ‘We’ve applied to be married, sir. Just waiting to hear back. ’

  ‘Well, I don’t think you’ll have to wait too much longer. What’s her name?’

  ‘Melanie, sir. She works here in IT. ’

  ‘That’s great. ’ Troy wiped at his eyes. The shivers passed. Saul waved his finger in a circle over his head, letting him know he could wrap it up. They had enough.

  ‘Marcus Dent,’ he said, ‘welcome to Operation Fifty of the World Order. ’

  ‘Thank you, sir. ’ The young man’s voice lifted an octave.

  There was a pause, then the sound of a deep breath being taken and held.

  ‘Sir? Is it okay if I ask a question?’

  Troy looked to the others. There were shrugs and not much else. He considered the role this young man had just assumed, knew well the sensation of being promoted to new responsibilities, that mix of fear, eagerness and confusion.

  ‘Sure, son. One question. ’ He figured he was in charge. He could make a few rules of his own.

  Marcus cleared his throat, and Troy pictured this shadow and his silo head sitting in a distant room together, the master studying his student.

  ‘I lost my great-grandmother a few years ago,’ Marcus said. ‘She used to let slip little things about the world before. Not in a forbidden way, but just as a product of her dementia. The doctors said she was resistant to her medication. ’

  Troy didn’t like the sound of this, that third-generation survivors were gleaning anything about the past. Marcus may be newly cleared for such things, but others weren’t.

  ‘What’s your question?’ Troy asked.

  ‘The Legacy, sir. I’ve done some reading in it as well – not neglecting my studies of the Order and the Pact, of course – and there’s something I have to know. ’

  Another deep breath.

  ‘Is everything in the Legacy true?’

  Troy thought about this. He considered the great collection of books that contained the world’s history – a carefully edited history. In his mind, he could see the leather spines and the gilded pages, the rows and rows of books they had been shown during their orientation.

  He nodded and found himself once again needing to wipe his eyes.

  ‘Yes,’ he told Marcus, his voice dry and flat. ‘It’s true. ’

  Someone in the room sniffled. Troy knew the ceremony had gone on long enough.

  ‘Everything in there is absolutely true. ’

  He didn’t add that not every true thing was written in the Legacy. Much had been left out. And there were other things he suspected that none of them knew, that had been edited out of books and brains alike.

  The Legacy was the allowed truth, he wanted to say, the truth that was carried from each generation to the next. But the lies, he thought to himself, were what they carried there in silo one, in that drug-hazed asylum charged somehow with humanity’s survival.



  Fulton County, Georgia

  THE FRONT-END loader let out a throaty blat as it struggled up the hill, a charcoal geyser streaming from its exhaust pipe. When it reached the top, a load of dirt avalanched out of its toothy bucket, and Donald saw that the loader wasn’t climbing the hill so much as creating it.

  Hills of fresh dirt were taking shape like this all over the site. Between them – through temporary gaps left open like an ordered maze – burdened dump trucks carried away soil and rock from the cavernous pits being hollowed from the earth. These gaps, Donald knew from the topographical plans, would one day be pushed closed, leaving little more than a shallow crease where each hill met its neighbour.

  Standing on one of these growing mounds, Donald watched the ballet of heavy machinery while Mick Webb spoke with a contractor about the delays. In their white shirts and flapping ties, the two congressmen seemed out of place. The men in hard hats with the leather faces, calloused hands and busted knuckles belonged there. He and Mick, blazers tucked under their arms, sweat stains spreading in the humid Georgia heat, were somehow – nominally, at least – supposed to be in charge of that ungodly commotion.

  Another loader released a mound of soil as Donald shifted his gaze towards downtown Atlanta. Past the massive clearing of rising hills and over the treetops still stripped bare from fading winter rose the glass-and-steel spires of the old Southern city. An entire corner of sparsely populated Fulton County had been cleared. Remnants of a golf course were still visible at one end where the machines had yet to disturb the land.

  Down by the main parking lot, a staging zone the size of several football fields held thousands of shipping containers packed with building supplies, more than Donald thought necessary. But he was learning by the hour that this was the way of government projects, where public expectations were as high as the spending limits. Everything was done in excess or not at all. The plans he had been ordered to draw up practically begged for proportions of insanity, and his building wasn’t even a necessary component of the facility. It was only there for the worst-case scenario.

  Between Donald and the field of shipping containers stood a sprawling city of trailers; a few functioned as offices, but most of them served as housing. This was where the thousands of men and women working on the construction could ditch their hard hats, clock off and take their well-earned rest.

  Flags flew over many of the trailers, the workforce as multinational as an Olympic village. Spent nuclear fuel rods from the world over would one day be buried beneath the pristine soil of Fulton County. It meant that the world had a stake in the project’s success. The logistical nightmare this ensured didn’t seem to concern the back-room dealers. He and Mick were finding that many of the early construction delays could be traced to language barriers, as neighbouring work crews couldn’t communicate with one another and had evidently given up trying. Everyone simply worked on their set of plans, heads down, ignoring the rest.
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