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2110 • Silo 1

Troy held his breath and tried to remain calm while the doctor pumped the rubber bulb. The inflatable band swelled around his bicep until it pinched his skin. He wasn’t sure if slowing his breathing and steadying his pulse affected his blood pressure, but he had a strong urge to impress the man in the white coveralls. He wanted his numbers to come back normal.

His arm throbbed a few beats while the needle bounced and the air hissed out.

“Eighty over fifty.” The band made a ripping sound as it was torn loose. Troy rubbed the spot where his skin had been pinched.

“Is that okay?”

The doctor made a note on his clipboard. “It’s low, but not outside the norm.” Behind him, his assistant labeled a cup of dark gray urine before placing it inside a small fridge. Troy caught sight of a half-eaten sandwich among the samples, not even wrapped.

He looked down at his bare knees sticking out of the blue paper gown. His legs were pale and seemed smaller than he remembered. Bony. He felt the urge to pee but had already gone as much as he could.

“I still can’t make a fist,” he told the doctor, working his fingers in and out.

“That’s perfectly normal. Your strength will return. Look into the light, please.”

Troy followed the bright beam and tried not to blink.

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked the doctor.

“You’re my third coming out. I’ve put two under.” He lowered the light and smiled at Troy. “I’ve only been out myself for less than a month. I can tell you that the strength will return.”

Troy nodded. The doctor’s assistant came over and handed him another pill and a cup of water. Troy hesitated. He stared down at the little blue capsule nestled in the crease of his lifeline.

“A double dose this morning,” the doctor said, “and then you’ll be given one with breakfast and dinner. Please do not skip a treatment.”

Troy looked up. “What happens if I don’t take it?”

The doctor shook his head and frowned, but didn’t say anything.

Troy popped the pill in his mouth and chased it with the water. The cup looked identical to the one he’d peed in. He hoped they washed them thoroughly. A bitterness slid down his throat.

“One of my assistants will bring you some clothes and a fluid meal to kick-start your gut. If you have any dizziness or chills, you’re to call me at once. Otherwise, we’ll see you back here in six months.” The doctor made a note, then chuckled. “Well, someone else will see you. My shift will be over.”

“Okay.” Troy shivered. The doctor looked up from his clipboard.

“You’re not cold, are you? I keep it a little extra warm in here.”

Troy hesitated before answering. “No, doctor. I’m not cold. Not anymore.”

••••

Troy entered the lift at the end of the hall, his legs still weak, and studied the array of numbered buttons. The orders they’d given him included directions to his office, but he vaguely remembered how to get there. Much of his orientation had survived the decades of sleep; it was other items that seemed to be slipping away.

Memory wasn’t supposed to work like this. He felt as though he were on a ship beset by fog. There were breaks where he could spot the shoreline, the recent past, but much of what lay inland was obscured. Voices rang out, drifting over the water. Troy sensed bad things happening to the people deep in the woods.

The doors to the lift closed automatically, and he shook away the image. His apartment was on thirty-seven; he remembered that. His office was on thirty-four. He reached for a button, intending to head straight to his desk, and instead found his hand sliding up to the very top. He still had a few minutes before he needed to be anywhere, and he felt some strange urge, some tug, to get as high as possible, to rise through the soil pressing in from all sides.

The button for the top floor clicked and glowed to life as he applied pressure. Something loomed above him. He could feel an attraction upward, a thread running clear through the top of his skull and yanking him like a puppet. There was something there he needed to see, something he’d left behind.

Troy struggled to remember as the lift lurched upward. He groped for this gossamer and fading dream, this glimpse through the mist—but the bitterness in his throat and the pills in his stomach were a tide tugging him away from the shore. Why had he been crying earlier? Or had he cried? He couldn’t remember. His stomach grumbled around the shake he’d been forced to drink. He shivered but was not cold.

The elevator accelerated up the shaft. There was a whooshing sound as another car or maybe the counterweight zoomed by. He knew these things. The round buttons flashed as the floors passed. There was an enormous spread of them, seventy in all. The centers of many were dull from years of rubbing. This didn’t seem right. Just yesterday, the buttons were shiny and new. Just yesterday, everything was.

The elevator slowed. Troy palmed the wall for balance, his legs still uncertain.

The door dinged and slid open. Troy blinked at the bright lights in the hallway. He left the elevator and followed a short walk toward a room leaking chatter. His new boots were stiff on his feet, the generic gray coveralls itchy. He tried to imagine four more times of waking up like this, feeling this weak and disoriented. Five shifts of six months each. Five shifts he hadn’t volunteered for. He wondered if it would get progressively easier or if it would only get worse.

The bustle in the cafeteria seemed to modulate as he entered. A few heads turned his way, utensils pausing. He saw at once that his gray coveralls weren’t so generic. There was a scattering of colors seated at the tables, forks paused between plate and mouth. A large cluster of reds, quite a few yellows. No other grays.

That first meal of sticky paste he’d been given rumbled once more in his stomach. He wasn’t allowed to eat anything else for six hours, which made the aroma from the canned foods overwhelming. He remembered the fare, had lived on it during his orientation. His orientation after—

He couldn’t remember. It was there, but he was losing it. And the food he had once grown tired of suddenly seemed appetizing.

“Sir.”

A young man nodded to Troy as he walked past, angling for the elevators. Troy thought he recognized the man, couldn’t be sure. Dreams intervened. The gentleman certainly seemed to have recognized him. Or was it the gray coveralls that stood out?

“First shift?”

An older gentleman approached, thin, with white and wispy hair that circled his head from temple to temple. He held a tray in his hands, smiled at Troy. Pulling open a recycling bin, he slid the entire tray inside and dropped it with a clatter.

“Come up for the view?” the man asked.

Troy nodded. It was all men throughout the cafeteria. All men. They had explained why this was safer. He tried to remember as the man with the splotches of age on his skin crossed his arms and stood beside him. There were no introductions. Troy wondered if names meant less amid the short shifts and long dreams. He gazed out over the bustling tables toward the massive screen that covered the far wall.

Here was the shoreline and the edge of the woods—some part of the thing that was wrong. And sure enough, a real mist roamed the view, whirls of dust and hanging clouds over a field of scattered and half-eaten debris. A few metal poles bristled from the ground and sagged lifeless, the tents and flags long vanished. Troy remembered. He couldn’t name it, but his stomach twisted in recognition; it tightened like a fist around the paste and the bitter pill.

“This’ll be my second shift,” the man said.

Troy barely heard. His watering eyes drifted across the lifeless hills, the gray slopes rising up toward dark clouds full of menacing and invisible things. The debris scattered everywhere was rotting away, molecules taking flight. Next shift, or the one after, it would all be gone.

“You can see further from the lounge.” The man turned and gestured along the wall. Troy knew well enough what room he was referring to. This part of the building was familiar to him in ways this man could hardly guess.

“No, but thanks,” he stammered. Troy waved him off. “I think I’ve seen enough.”

Curious faces returned to their trays; the chatter resumed. It was sprinkled with the clinking of spoons and forks on metal bowls and plates. Troy turned and left without saying another word. He put that hideous view behind him—turned his back on the unspoken eeriness of it. He hurried, shivering, toward the elevator, knees weak with more than the long rest. He needed to be alone, didn’t want anyone around him this time, didn’t want sympathetic hands comforting him while he cried.

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