THAT AFTERNOON, DONALD and Anna worked to restore order to the war room. They made it ready in case it was called upon in a future shift. All their notes were taken off the walls and filed away into airtight plastic crates, and Donald imagined these would sit on another level somewhere, in another storeroom, to gather dust. The computers were unplugged, all the wiring coiled up, and these were hauled off by Erskine on a cart with squeaky wheels. All that was left were the cots, a change of clothes and the standard-issue toiletries. Enough to get them through the night and to their meeting with Dr Sneed the following day.
Several shifts were about to come to a close. For Anna and Thurman, it had been a long time coming. Two full shifts. Almost a year awake. Erskine and Sneed would need a few weeks to finish their work, and by that time the next head would come on, and the schedule would return to normal. For Donald, it had been less than a week awake after a century of sleep. He was a dead man who had blinked his eyes open for a brief moment.
He took his last shower and his first dose of the bitter drink so that no one would think anything was amiss. But Donald didn’t plan on going under again. If he went back to the deep freeze, he knew they would never wake him again. Unless things were so bad that he wouldn’t want to be woken anyway. Unless it were Anna once more, lonely, wishing for company and willing to subject him to abuse in order to get it.
That wasn’t sleep. That was a body and a mind stored away. There were other choices, more final escapes. Donald had discovered this resolve by following the trail of clues left behind by Victor, and he would soon join him in death.
He walked a final lap amid the guns and drones before finally retiring to his cot. He thought of Helen as he lay there listening to Anna sing in the shower one last time. And he realised the anger he had felt for his wife having lived and loved without him had now dissipated, wiped away by his guilt for coming to find solace in Anna’s embrace. And when she came to him that night, straight from the shower with water beading on her flesh, he could not resist any longer. They had the same bitter drink on their breath, that concoction that prepped their veins for the deep sleep, and neither of them cared. Donald succumbed. And then he waited until she had returned to her cot and her breathing had softened before he cried himself to sleep.
When he woke, Anna was already gone, her cot neatly made. Donald did the same, tucking the sheets beneath the mattress and leaving the corners crisp, even though he knew the sheets would be mussed as the cots were returned to their rightful place in the barracks. He checked the time. Anna had been put under during the early morning so as not to be spotted. He had less than an hour before Thurman would come for him. More than enough time.
He went out to the storeroom and approached the drone nearest the hangar door. Yanking the tarp off sent a cloud of dust into the air. He dragged out the empty bin from under one of the wings, opened the low hangar door, and arranged the bin so that it was slightly inside the lift. He lowered the door onto the bin to keep the hangar open.
Hurrying down the hallway, past the empty barracks, he pulled the plastic sheet off the station at the very end. Flipping the plastic cover off the lift switch, he threw it into the up position. The first time he’d done this, the door to the lift would no longer open, but he could hear the platform rumbling upward on the other side of the wall. It hadn’t taken long to figure out a solution.
Replacing the plastic sheet, he hurried down the hall, turned the light off and shut the door. He pulled the other bin from under the drone’s left wing. Donald stripped and tossed his clothes under the drone. He pulled the thick plastic suit from the bin and sat down to work his feet into the legs. The boots went on next, Donald being careful to seal the cuffs around them. Standing up, he gripped the dangling shoelace stolen from an extra boot. The end had been tied to the zipper on the back of the suit. He pulled it over his shoulder and tugged upward, made sure the zipper went to the top before grabbing the gloves, flashlight and helmet from the bin.
Suited up, he closed the bin and slid it back under the wing, covered the drone with the tarp. There would only be a single bin out of place when Thurman arrived. Victor had left a mess to discover. Donald would hardly leave a trace.
He crawled inside the lift, pushing the flashlight ahead of him. He could hear the motor straining against the pinned bin like an angry hive of bees. Turning on the flashlight, he took a last look at the storeroom, braced himself, then kicked the plastic tub with both boots.
It budged. He kicked again and there was a thunderous racket as the door slammed shut, and then the shudder of movement. The flashlight jittered and danced. Donald corralled it between his mitts and watched his exhalations fog the inside of his helmet. He had no idea what to expect, but he was causing it. He would control his own fate.