85. 2345. • Silo 1 •

DONALD STEERED THE empty wheelchair back to Dr Wilson’s office. A damp blanket was draped over the armrests and dragged across the tile. He felt numb. His dream that morning had been to give life, not take it. The permanence of what he’d done began to set in, and Donald found it difficult to swallow, to breathe. He stopped in the hallway and took stock of what he’d become. Unknowing architect. Prisoner. Puppet. Hangman. He wore a different man’s clothes. His transformation horrified him. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he wiped them away angrily. All it took was thinking of Helen and Mick, of the life taken from him. Everything leading up to that point in time, to him awakening in that silo, had been someone else’s doing. He could feel parted strings dangling from his elbows and knees. He was a loose puppet steering an empty wheelchair back to where it belonged.

Donald parked the chair and set the brakes. He took the plastic vial out of his pocket and considered stealing another dose or two. Sleep would be hard to come by, he feared.

The vial went back into the cabinet full of empties. Donald turned to go when he saw the note left in the middle of the gurney:

You forgot this.

—Wilson

The note was stuck to a slender folder. Donald remembered handing it to Dr Wilson along with the reactor tech’s belongings. The trip to the other two lockers had been a blur. All he could remember was clutching his phone, facts coming together, realising that Anna had played Mick and Thurman to engineer a last-minute switch that made no sense, that could only happen with a daughter bending her father’s ear. Thus his life had been stolen away.

The folder had been in the locker Anna had mentioned to her father in the message. It seemed inconsequential now. Donald balled up the note from Dr Wilson and tossed it in the recycling bin. He grabbed the folder with the intention of staggering back to his cot and searching for sleep. But he found himself opening it up instead.

There was a single sheet of paper inside. An old sheet of paper. It had yellowed, and the edges were rough where bits had flaked off over the years. Below the single-spaced typing there were five signatures, a mix of florid and subdued penmanship. At the top of the document, boldly typed, it read: RE: THE PACT.

Donald glanced up at the door. He turned and went to the small desk with the computer, placed the folder by the keyboard and sat down. Anna’s note to her father had the same words in the subject line, along with Urgent. He had read the note a dozen times to try and divine its meaning. And the number in the note had led him to this folder.

He was familiar enough with the Pact of the silos, the governing document that kept each facility in line, that managed their populations with lotteries, that dictated their punishments from fines to cleanings. But this was too brief to be that Pact. It looked like a memo from his days on Capitol Hill.

Donald read:

All—

It has been previously discussed that ten facilities would suffice for our purposes, and that a time frame of one century would perform an adequate cleanse. With members of this pact both familiar with budget under-runs and how battle plans prove fruitless upon first firing, it should surprise no one that facts have changed our forecast. We are now calling for thirty facilities and a two-century time frame. The tech team assures me their progress makes the latter feasible. These figures may be revisited once again.

There was also discussion in the last meeting of allowing two facilities to reach E-Day for redundancy (or the possibility of holding one facility back in reserve). That has been deemed inadvisable. Having all baskets in one egg is better than the danger of allowing two or more eggs to hatch. As it is a source of growing contention, this amendment to the original Pact shall be hereby undersigned by all founding persons and considered law. I will take it upon myself to work E-shift and pull the lever. Long-term survivability prospects are at 42 per cent in the latest models. Marvellous progress, everyone.

—V

Donald scanned the signatures a second time. There was Thurman’s simple scrawl, recognisable from countless memos and bills on the Hill. Another signature that might be Erskine’s. One that looked like Charles Rhodes, the swaggering Oklahoma governor. Illegible others. There was no date on the memo.

He read over it again. Understanding dawned slowly, full of doubts at first, but solidifying. There was a list he remembered from his previous shift, a ranking of silos. Number eighteen had been near the top. It was why Victor had fought so hard to save the facility. This decision he mentioned in the memo, pulling the lever. Had he said something about this in his note to Thurman? In his admission before he killed himself? Victor had grown unsure of whether or not he could make some decision.

Baskets in one egg. That wasn’t how the saying went. Donald leaned back in the chair, and one of the light bulbs in Dr Wilson’s desk lamp flickered. Bulbs were not meant to last so long. They went dark, but there were redundancies.

One egg. Because what would they do to each other if more than one were allowed to hatch?

The list.

The reason it all fell together for Donald so easily was because he already knew. Had always known. How could it be otherwise? They had no plan, these bastards, of allowing the men and women of the silos to go free. No. There could be only one. For what would they do to each other if they met hundreds of years hence on the hills outside? Donald had drawn this place. He should’ve always known. He was an architect of death.

He thought about the list, the rankings of the silos. The one at the top was the only one that mattered. But what was their metric? How arbitrary would that decision be? All those eggs slaughtered except for one. With what hope? What plan? That the differences and struggles among a silo’s people can be overcome? And yet the differences between the silos themselves was too much?

Donald coughed into his trembling hand. He understood what Anna was trying to tell him. And now it was too late. Too late for answers. This was the way of life and death, and in a place that ignored both, he’d forgotten. There was no waking anyone. Just confusion and grief. His only ally, gone.

But there was another he could wake, the one he’d hoped to from the beginning. This was a grave power, this ability to bestir the dead. Donald shivered as he realised what the Pact truly meant, this pact between the madmen who had conspired to destroy the world.

‘It’s a suicide pact,’ he whispered, and the concrete walls of the silo closed in around him; they wrapped him like the shell of an egg. An egg never meant to be hatched. For they were the most dangerous of them all, this pit of vipers, and no world would ever be safe with them in it. The women and children were in lifeboats only to urge the men of silo one to keep working their shifts. But they were all meant to drown. Every last one of them.

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