And so Troy printed his report assuming nothing would come of it. These were the odds they had planned for. This was why they had built so many. He rose from his desk and walked to the door, slapped it soundly with the flat of his palm. In the corner of his office, a printer hummed and shot four pages out of its mouth. Troy took them; they were still warm as he slid them into the folder, these reports on the newly dead and still dying. He could feel the life and warmth draining from those printed pages. Soon, they would be as cool as the air around them.

A key rattled in his lock before the door opened. Troy wiped his cheeks and then his desk. He dragged his palm across the seat of his pants, destroying the evidence.

“Done already?” Victor asked. The gray-haired psychiatrist stood across from his desk, keys singing as they returned to his pocket. He held a small plastic cup in his hand.

Troy handed him the folder. “The signs were there,” he told the doctor, “but they weren’t acted upon.”

Victor took the folder with one hand and held out the plastic cup with the other. A blue blur of forgetting rattled softly inside.

Troy typed a few commands on his computer and wiped his copy of the videos. The cameras were no good for predicting and preventing these kinds of problems. There were too many to watch all at once. You couldn’t get enough people to sit and monitor an entire populace, which meant they were only good for sorting through the wreckage, the aftermath.

“Looks good,” Victor said, flipping through the folder. The plastic cup sat on Troy’s desk. There were two pills inside. It was like the dosage at the start of his shift, a little extra to cut through the little extra. Looking down at them, he saw that there was still a wet smear across his desk. He wondered if it would turn to salt once the moisture evaporated away.

“Would you like me to fetch you some water?”

Troy shook his head. He hesitated. Looking up from the twin pills, he asked Victor a question.

“How long do you think it’ll take? Silo 12, I mean. Before all of those people are gone.”

Victor shrugged. “Not long, I imagine. Days.”

Troy nodded. Victor watched him carefully. Troy tilted his head back and rattled the pills past trembling lips. There was the bitter taste of forgetting on his tongue, and then he made a show of swallowing.

“I’m sorry that it was your shift,” Victor said. “I know this wasn’t the job you signed up for.”

Troy nodded.

“I’m actually glad it was mine,” he said after a moment. “I’d hate for it to have been anyone else’s.”

Victor rubbed the folder with one hand. “You’ll be given a commendation in my report.”

“Thank you,” Troy said. He didn’t know what the fuck for.

With a wave of the folder, Victor finally turned to leave and go back to his desk across the hall where he could sit and glance up occasionally at Troy.

But he had to walk to get there. And in that brief interval, when no one was looking, like a young shadow sawing into his arm because the pain was better than the numbness, Troy spat the two blue blurs into the palm of his hand.

Shaking his mouse with one hand, waking up his monitor so he could boot a game of solitaire, Troy smiled across the hallway at Victor, who smiled back. And in his other hand, still sticky from the outer coating dissolved by his saliva, two pills nestled in a palm dyed pink. The blood red stain from the day before was already beginning to fade. But Troy was tired of fading. He had decided to remember.


2049 • Savannah, Georgia

Donald sped down highway 17, driving manually, a flashing red light on his dash warning him as he exceeded the local speed limit. He didn’t care about being pulled over, didn’t care about being wired a ticket or his insurance rates creeping up. It all seemed trivial. The fact that there were circuits riding along in his car keeping track of everything he did paled in comparison to the suspicion that machines in his blood were doing the same.

The tires squealed as he spiraled down his exit ramp too fast. He merged onto Berwick Boulevard, the overhead lights strobing through the windshield as he flew beneath them. Glancing down at his lap, he watched the gold inlay text on the book throb with the rhythm of the passing streetlights.

Order. Order. Order.

He had read enough to worry, to wonder what he’d gotten himself mixed up in. Helen had been right to warn him, had been wrong about the scale of the danger.

Turning into their neighborhood, Donald remembered an ancient conversation—he remembered her begging him not to run for office, that it would change him, that he couldn’t fix anything up there, but that he could sure as hell come home broken.

How right had she been?

He pulled up to the house and had to leave the car by the curb. Her Jeep was in the middle of the driveway. One more habit formed in his absence, a reminder that he didn’t live there anymore, didn’t have a real home.

Leaving his bags in the trunk, he took just the book and his keys. It was enough of a load, that book.

The motion light came on as he neared the stoop. He saw a form by the door, heard frantic scratching on the other side. Helen opened the door, and Karma rushed out, tail whacking the side of the jamb, tongue lolling, so much bigger in just the few weeks that he’d been away.

Donald crouched down and rubbed her head, let the dog lick his cheek.

“Good girl,” he said. He tried to sound happy. The cool emptiness in his chest intensified from being home, from lying to their dog about his mood. The things that should’ve felt comforting just made him feel worse.

“Hey, honey.” He smiled up at his wife.

“You’re early.”

Helen wrapped her arms around his neck as he stood. Karma sat down and whined at them, tail swishing on the concrete. Helen’s kiss tasted like coffee.

“I took an earlier flight.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the dark streets of his neighborhood. As if anyone needed to follow him.

“Where’re your bags?”

“I’ll get ’em in the morning. C’mon, Karma. Let’s go inside.” He steered his dog through the door.

“Is everything okay?” Helen asked.

Donald went to the kitchen. He set the book down on the island and fished in the cabinet for a glass. Helen watched him with concern as he pulled a bottle of brandy out of the cabinet.

“Baby. What’s going on?”

“Maybe nothing,” he said. “Lunatics—” He poured three fingers of brandy, looked to Helen and raised the bottle to see if she wanted any. She shook her head. “Then again,” he continued, “maybe there’s something to it—” He took more than a sip. His other hand hadn’t left the neck of the bottle.

“Baby, you’re acting strange. Come sit down. Take off your coat.”

He nodded and let her help him remove his jacket. He slid his tie off, saw the worry on her face, knew it was a reflection of his own. He tried to relax the knot he could feel above his nose, the scrunched brow that was frozen on his forehead—it was the emotional and physical antithesis of sore cheeks from smiling too much.

“What would you do if you thought it all might end?” he asked his wife. “What would you do?”

“If what? You mean us? Oh, you mean life. Honey, did someone pass away? Tell me what’s going on.”

“No, not someone. Everyone. Everything.”

He tucked the bottle under his arm, grabbed his drink and the book, and went to the living room. Helen and Karma followed. Karma was already on the sofa waiting for him to plop down before he got there, a goofy smile, oblivious to anything he was saying, just thrilled for the pack to be reunited.

“It sounds like you’ve had a very long day;” Helen said, trying to find excuses for him.

Donald sat on the sofa and put the bottle and book on the coffee table. He pulled his drink away from Karma’s curious nose.

“I have something I have to tell you,” he said.

Helen stood in the middle of the room, her arms crossed. “That’d be a nice change.” She smiled to let him know it was meant in jest. Donald nodded.

“I know, I know,” he said. His eyes fell to the book, then drifted toward what he figured was the general direction of Atlanta. “This isn’t about that project. And honestly, do you think I enjoy keeping my life from you?”

Helen crossed to the recliner next to the sofa and sat down. “What is this about?” she asked.

“I’ve been told it’s okay to tell you about a...promotion. Well, more of an assignment than a promotion. Not an assignment, really, more like being on the National Guard. Just in case—”

Helen reached over and squeezed his knee. “Take it easy,” she whispered. Her eyebrows were lowered, confusion and worry lurking in the shadows there.

Donald took a deep breath. He was still revved up from running the conversation over in his head, from driving too fast. The weeks since his meeting with Thurman were a blur, a blur of reading too much into the book and too much into that conversation. He couldn’t tell if he was piecing something together or just mentally falling apart.

“How much have you followed what’s going on in Iran?” he asked, scratching his arm. “And Korea?”

She shrugged. “I see blurbs online.”

“Mmm.” He took a burning gulp of liquor, smacked his lips, and tried to relax and enjoy the numbing chill as it traveled through his body. “They’re working on ways to take everything out,” he said.

“Who? We are?” Helen’s voice rose. “We’re thinking of taking them out?”

“No, no—”

“Are you sure I’m allowed to hear this—?”

“No, sweetheart, they’re designing weapons to take us out. Weapons that can’t be stopped, that can’t be defended against.”

Helen leaned forward, her hands clasped, elbows on her knees. “Is this stuff you’re learning in Washington? Classified stuff?”

He waved his hand. “Beyond classified. Look, you know why we went into Iran—”

“I know why they said we went in—”

“It wasn’t bullshit,” he said, cutting her off. “Well, maybe it was. Maybe they hadn’t figured it out yet, hadn’t mastered how—”

“Honey, slow down.”

“Yeah.” He took another deep breath. He had an image in mind of a large mountain out west, a concrete road disappearing straight into the rock, thick vault doors standing open as files of politicians crowded inside with their families and just a handful of belongings.

“I met with the Senator a few weeks ago.” He stared down into the ginger-colored liquor in his glass.

“In Boston,” Helen said.

He nodded. “Right. Well, he wants us to be on this alert team—”

“You and Mick.”

He turned toward his wife. “No, us.”

“Us?” Helen placed a hand on her chest. “What do you mean, us? You and me?”

“Now listen—”

“You’re volunteering me for one of his—?”

“Sweetheart, I had no idea what this was all about.” He set his glass on the coffee table and grabbed the book. “He gave me this to read.”

Helen frowned. “What is that?”

“It’s like an instruction manual for the—well, for the after. I think.”

Helen got up from the recliner and stepped between him and the coffee table. She nudged Karma out of the way, the dog grunting at being disturbed. Sitting down beside him, she put a hand on his back, her eyes shiny with worry.

“Donny, were you drinking on the plane?”

“No.” He pulled away. “Dammit baby, listen to me. It doesn’t matter who has them, it only matters when. Don’t you see? This is the ultimate threat. A world-ender. I’ve been reading about the possibilities on this website—”

“A website,” she said, voice flat with skepticism.

“Yeah. Listen. Remember those treatments the Senator takes? These nanos are like synthetic life. Imagine if someone turned them into a virus that didn’t care about its host, that didn’t need us in order to spread. They could be out there already—” He tapped his chest, glanced around the room suspiciously, took a deep breath. “They could be in every one of us right now, little timer circuits waiting for the right moment—”


“Very bad people are working on this, trying to make this happen.” He reached for his glass. “We can’t sit back and let them strike first. We can’t let them strike first. So we’re gonna do it.” There were ripples in the liquor. His hand was shaking. “God, baby, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna do it before they can—”

“You’re scaring me, honey—”

“Good.” Another burning sip. He held the glass with both hands to keep it steady. “We should be scared.”

“Do you want me to call Dr. Martin?”

“Who?” He tried to make room between them, bumped up against the armrest. “Charlotte’s doctor? The shrink?”

She nodded gravely.

“I need you to listen to me for one second,” he said, holding up a finger. “Listen to what I’m telling you. These tiny machines are real.” He thought about the comparison Thurman had made to Alfred Nobel and TNT, how good inventions could be hijacked and steered in dangerous ways. His mind was racing. It would be easy to babble and convince her of nothing but his insanity.

“Look,” he said. “We use them in medicine, right?”