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         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 8

 

  Beside this temporary city of tin cans sat the vast parking lot he and Mick had trudged up from. He could see their rental car down there, the only quiet and electric thing in sight. Small and silver, it seemed to cower among the belching dump trucks and loaders on all sides. The overmatched car looked precisely how Donald felt, both on that little hill at the construction site and back at the Hill in Washington.

  ‘Two months behind. ’

  Mick smacked him on the arm with his clipboard. ‘Hey, did you hear me? Two months behind already, and they just broke ground six months ago. How is that even possible?’

  Donald shrugged as they left the frowning foremen and trudged down the hill to the parking lot. ‘Maybe it’s because they have elected officials pretending to do jobs that belong to the private sector,’ he offered.

  Mick laughed and squeezed his shoulder. ‘Jesus, Donny, you sound like a goddamned Republican!’

  ‘Yeah? Well, I feel like we’re in over our heads here. ’ He waved his arm at the depression in the hills they were skirting, a deep bowl scooped out of the earth. Several mixer trucks were pouring concrete into the wide hole at its centre. More trucks waited in line behind them, their butts spinning impatiently.

  ‘You do realise,’ Donald said, ‘that one of these holes is going to hold the building they let me draw up? Doesn’t that scare you? All this money? All these people. It sure as hell scares me. ’

  Mick’s fingers dug painfully into Donald’s neck. ‘Take it easy. Don’t go getting all philosophical on me. ’

  ‘I’m being serious,’ Donald said. ‘Billions of taxpayer dollars are gonna nestle in the dirt out there in the shape that I drew up. It seemed so . . . abstract before. ’

  ‘Christ, this isn’t about you or your plans. ’ He popped Donald with the clipboard and used it to point towards the container field. Through a fog of dust, a large man in a cowboy hat waved them over. ‘Besides,’ Mick said, as they angled away from the parking lot, ‘what’re the chances anyone even uses your little bunker? This is about energy independence. It’s about the death of coal. You know, it feels like the rest of us are building a nice big house over here, and you’re over in a corner stressing about where you’re gonna hang the fire extinguisher—’

  ‘Little bunker?’ Donald held his blazer up over his mouth as a cloud of dust blew across them. ‘Do you know how many floors deep this thing is gonna be? If you set it on the ground, it’d be the tallest building in the world. ’

  Mick laughed. ‘Not for long it wouldn’t. Not if you designed it. ’

  The man in the cowboy hat drew closer. He smiled widely as he kicked through the packed dirt to meet them, and Donald finally recognised him from TV: Charles Rhodes, the governor of Oklahoma.

  ‘You Senator Thawman’s boys?’

  Governor Rhodes had the authentic drawl to go with the authentic hat, the authentic boots and the authentic buckle. He rested his hands on his wide hips, a clipboard in one of them.

  Mick nodded. ‘Yessir. I’m Congressman Webb. This is Congressman Keene. ’

  The two men shook hands. Donald was next. ‘Governor,’ he said.

  ‘Got your delivery. ’ He pointed the clipboard at the staging area. ‘Just shy of a hundred containers. Should have somethin’ rollin’ in about every week. Need one of you to sign right here. ’

  Mick reached out and took the clipboard. Donald saw an opportunity to ask something about Senator Thurman, something he figured an old war buddy would know.

  ‘Why do some people call him Thawman?’ he asked.

  Mick flipped through the delivery report, a breeze pinning back the pages for him.

  ‘I’ve heard others call him that when he wasn’t around,’ Donald explained, ‘but I’ve been too scared to ask. ’

  Mick looked up from the report with a grin. ‘It’s because he was an ice-cold killer in the war, right?’

  Donald cringed. Governor Rhodes laughed.

  ‘Unrelated,’ he said. ‘True, but unrelated. ’

  The governor glanced back and forth between them. Mick passed the clipboard to Donald, tapped a page that dealt with the emergency housing facility. Donald looked over the materials list.

  ‘You boys familiar with his anti-cryo bill?’ Governor Rhodes asked. He handed Donald a pen, seemed to expect him to just sign the thing and not look over it too closely.

  Mick shook his head and shielded his eyes against the Georgia sun. ‘Anti-cryo?’ he asked.

  ‘Yeah. Aw, hell, this probably dates back before you squirts were even born. Senator Thawman penned the bill that put down that cryo fad. Made it illegal to take advantage of rich folk and turn them into ice cubes. It went to the big court, where they voted five–four, and suddenly tens of thousands of popsicles with more money than sense were thawed out and buried proper. These were people who’d frozen themselves in the hopes that doctors from the future would discover some medical procedure for extracting their rich heads from their own rich asses!’

  The governor laughed at his own joke and Mick joined him. A line on the delivery report caught Donald’s eye. He turned the clipboard around and showed the governor. ‘Uh, this shows two thousand spools of fibre optic. I’m pretty sure my plans call for forty spools. ’

  ‘Lemme see. ’ Governor Rhodes took the clipboard and procured another pen from his pocket. He clicked the top of it three times, then scratched out the quantity. He wrote in a new number to the side.

  ‘Wait, will the price reflect that?’

  ‘Price is the same,’ he said. ‘Just sign the bottom. ’

  ‘But—’

  ‘Son, this is why hammers cost the Pentagon their weight in gold. It’s government accounting. Just a signature, please. ’

  ‘But that’s fifty times more fibre than we’ll need,’ Donald complained, even as he found himself scribbling his name. He passed the clipboard to Mick, who signed for the rest of the goods.

  ‘Oh, that’s all right. ’ Rhodes took the clipboard and pinched the brim of his hat. ‘I’m sure they’ll find a use for it somewhere. ’

  ‘Hey, you know,’ Mick said, ‘I remember that cryo bill. From law school. There were lawsuits, weren’t there? Didn’t a group of families bring murder charges against the Feds?’

  The governor smiled. ‘Yeah, but it didn’t get far. Hard to prove you killed people who’d already been pronounced dead. And then there were Thawman’s bad business investments. Those turned out to be a lifesaver. ’

  Rhodes tucked his thumb in his belt and stuck out his chest.

  ‘Turned out he’d sunk a fortune into one of these cryo companies before digging deeper and reconsidering the . . . ethical considerations. Old Thawman may have lost most of his money, but it ended up savin’ his ass in Washington. Made him look like some kinda saint, suffering a loss like that. Only defence better woulda been if he’d unplugged his dear momma with all them others. ’

  Mick and the governor laughed. Donald didn’t see what was so funny.

  ‘All right, now, you boys take care. The good state of Oklahoma’ll have another load for ya in a few weeks. ’

  ‘Sounds good,’ Mick said, grasping and pumping that huge Midwestern paw.

  Donald shook the governor’s hand as well, and he and Mick trudged off towards their rental. Overhead, against the bright blue Southern sky, vapour trails like stretched ropes of white yarn revealed the flight lines of the numerous jets departing the busy hub of Atlanta International. And as the throaty noise of the construction site faded, the chants from the anti-nuke protestors could be heard outside the tall mesh of security fences beyond. They passed through the security gate and into the parking lot, the guard waving them along.

  ‘Hey, you mind if I drop you off at the airport a little early?’ Donald asked. ‘It’d be nice to get a jump on traffic and get down to Savannah with some daylight. ’

  ‘That’s right,’ Mick said with a grin
. ‘You’ve got a hot date tonight. ’

  Donald laughed.

  ‘Sure, man. Abandon me and go have a good time with your wife. ’

  ‘Thanks. ’

  Mick fished out the keys to the rental. ‘But you know, I was really hoping you’d invite me to come along. I could join you two for dinner, crash at your place, hit some bars like old times. ’

  ‘Not a chance,’ Donald said.

  Mick slapped the back of Donald’s neck and squeezed. ‘Yeah, well, happy anniversary anyway. ’

  Donald winced as his friend pinched his neck. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I’ll be sure to give Helen your regards. ’

  10

  2110

  • Silo 1 •

  TROY PLAYED A hand of solitaire while silo twelve collapsed. There was something about the game that he found blissfully numbing. The repetition held off the waves of depression even better than the pills. The lack of skill required moved beyond distraction and into the realm of complete mindlessness. The truth was, the player won or lost the very moment the computer shuffled the deck. The rest was simply a process of finding out.

  For a computer game, it was absurdly low-tech. Instead of cards, there was just a grid of letters and numbers with an asterisk, ampersand, per cent or plus sign to designate the suit. It bothered Troy not to know which symbol stood for hearts or clubs or diamonds. Even though it was arbitrary, even though it didn’t really matter, it frustrated him not to know.

  He had stumbled upon the game by accident while digging through some folders. It took a bit of experimenting to learn how to flip the draw deck with the space bar and place the cards with the arrow keys, but he had plenty of time to work things like this out. Besides meeting with department heads, going over Merriman’s notes and refreshing himself on the Order, all he had was time. Time to collapse in his office bathroom and cry until snot ran down his chin, time to sit under a scalding shower and shiver, time to hide pills in his cheek and squirrel them away for when the hurt was the worst, time to wonder why the drugs weren’t working like they used to, even when he doubled the dosage on his own.

  Perhaps the game’s numbing powers were the reason it existed at all, why someone had spent the effort to create it, and why subsequent heads had kept it secreted away. He had seen it on Merriman’s face during that lift ride at the end of his shift. The chemicals only cut through the worst of the pain, that indefinable ache. But lesser wounds resurfaced. The bouts of sudden sadness had to be coming from somewhere.

  The last few cards fell into place while his mind wandered. The computer had shuffled for a win, and Troy got all the credit for verifying it. The screen flashed GOOD JOB! in large block letters. It was strangely satisfying to be told this by a home-made game – told that he had done a good job. There was a sense of completion, of having done something with his day.

  He left the message flashing and glanced around his office for something else to do. There were amendments to be made in the Order, announcements to write up for the heads of the other silos, and he needed to make sure the vocabulary in these memos adhered to the ever-changing standards.

  He got it wrong himself, often calling them bunkers instead of silos. It was difficult for those who had lived in the time of the Legacy. An old vocabulary, a way of seeing the world, persisted despite the medication. He felt envious of the men and women in the other silos, those who were born and who would die in their own little worlds, who would fall in and out of love, who would keep their hurts in memory, feel them, learn from them, be changed by them. He was jealous of these people even more than he envied the women of his silo who remained in their long-sleep lifeboats—

  There was a knock on his open door. Troy looked up and saw Randall, who worked across the hall in the psych office, standing in the doorway. Troy waved him inside with one hand and minimised the game with the other. He fidgeted with the copy of the Order on his desk, trying to look busy.

  ‘I’ve got that beliefs report you wanted. ’ Randall waved a folder.

  ‘Oh, good. Good. ’ Troy took the folder. Always with the folders. He was reminded of the two groups that had built that place: the politicians and the doctors. Both were stuck in a prior era, a time of paperwork. Or was it possible that neither group trusted any data they couldn’t shred or burn?

  ‘The head of silo six has a new replacement picked out and processed. He wants to schedule a talk with you, make the induction formal. ’

  ‘Oh. Okay. ’ Troy flipped through the folder and saw typed transcripts from the comm room about each of the silos. He looked forward to another induction ceremony. Any task he had already done once before filled him with less dread.

  ‘Also, the population report on silo thirty-two is a little troubling. ’ Randall came around Troy’s desk and licked his thumb before sorting through the reports, and Troy glanced at his monitor to make sure he’d minimised the game. ‘They’re getting close to the maximum and fast. Doc Haines thinks it might be a bad batch of birth control implants. The head of thirty-two, a Biggers . . . Here we go. ’ Randall pulled out the report. ‘He denies this, says no one with an active implant has gotten pregnant. He thinks the lottery is being gamed or that there’s something wrong with our computers. ’

  ‘Hmm. ’ Troy took the report and looked it over. Silo thirty-two had crept above nine thousand inhabitants, and the median age had fallen into the low twenties. ‘Let’s set up a call for first thing in the morning. I don’t buy the lottery being gamed. They shouldn’t even be running the lottery, right? Until they have more space?’

 
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