Standing on one of these growing mounds, Donald watched the choreographed ballet of heavy machinery while Mick Webb spoke with a contractor about the delays. In their white shirts and flapping ties, the two congressmen seemed incongruous. The men in hardhats with the leather faces, calloused hands, and busted knuckles belonged. He and Mick, blazers tucked under their arms, sweat stains spreading in the humid Georgia heat, were aliens from another land who were somehow—nominally, at least—supposed to be in charge of that ungodly commotion.
Another loader released a bite of soil as Donald shifted his gaze toward downtown Atlanta. Past the massive clearing of rising hills and over the treetops still denuded from fading winter rose the glass and steel spires of the old Southern city. An entire corner of sparsely populated Fulton County had been cleared. Remnants of a golf course were still visible at one end where the machines had yet to disturb the land. A pile of stripped trees was being craned onto trucks by a machine with a maw like a beetle’s.
Down the slope of that first hill, near the main parking lot, a staging zone the size of several football fields held thousands of shipping containers packed with building supplies, more than Donald thought necessary. But he was learning by the hour that this was the way of government projects, where public expectations were as high as the spending limits. Everything was done in excess or not at all. The plans he had been ordered to draw up practically begged for proportions of insanity, and his weren’t even a necessary component of the facility, not really.
Between Donald and the field of shipping containers stood another impressive array of boxes: trailers, a few used as offices but most of them serving as housing. They formed a temporary city built for thousands. This was where men—and a handful of women—could ditch their hard hats, where everyone lived in pre-fabbed cans like sardines that had been salted and packed away for later.
Flags flew over many of the trailers, the workforce as multinational as an Olympic village. Spent nuclear fuel rods from the world over would one day end up buried beneath the pristine soil of Fulton County. It meant that the world had a stake in the project’s success. The logistical nightmare this ensured seemed to matter little to the back-room dealers. He and Mick were finding that many of the early construction delays could be traced to language barriers, as neighboring work crews couldn’t communicate with one another and had evidently given up trying. Everyone simply worked on their set of plans, heads down, ignoring the rest.
Donald watched them in the distance. Their colorful helmets lent them the appearance of the Lego men he had played with as a kid. And all around them, huge diesel-burning trucks rumbled throughout the encampment, their beds full of work crews and building supplies. One group of men with tiny tubes of paper in their fists kicked through the dust together, and Donald wondered if any of those plans were his own.
Beside this temporary city 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 square-shouldered and belching ogres on all sides. Donald laughed at the sight of it. The overmatched car looked precisely how he felt, both on that little hill at the construction site and back at the Capital one 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 had no idea. He shrugged as they left the frowning foremen and trudged down the hill toward the parking lot.
“Maybe because they have elected officials pretending to do jobs that belong to the private sector?” Donald offered, dejectedly.
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 center. More trucks waited in a line, their butts spinning impatiently.
“You do realize,” Donald said, “that one of these holes is going to hold plans they let me draw up, right? Doesn’t that spook you? All this money? It freaks me out.”
Mick’s fingers dug painfully into Donald’s neck. His friend laughed over the rumbling, beeping machines.
“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, don’t be so melodramatic. This isn’t about you or your plans.” He popped Donald with the clipboard and used it to point toward the container field. Through a fog of dust, a large man in a cowboy hat was waving 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 the 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. It’d be the tallest pile of rubble in the world.”
Donald didn’t find this or Mick’s nonchalance amusing. The man in the cowboy hat drew closer. He smiled as he kicked through the packed dirt to meet them, and Donald finally recognized him from TV: Charles Rhodes, the governor of Oklahoma.
“You need to keep some perspective,” Mick added under his breath. “How many bunkers has this country seen that were never used? Not even once? So relax. You’re stressing me out.”
“You Senator Thawman’s boys?”
Governor Rhodes smiled. He had the authentic drawl to go with the authentic hat, the authentic boots, and the authentic buckle. He rested his hands on his 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 back toward 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 that?”
Governor Rhodes laughed. “You mean Thaw-man?”
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, mind you, 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 fiber-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.”
“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 fiber 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 laughed. “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 had sunk a fortune into one of these cryo companies before digging deeper and reconsidering the...ethical considerations. Old Thawman may have lost his financial skin, but it ended up savin’ his political hide. Made him look like some kinda saint, suffering a loss like that. Only defense 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 then they left him and trudged through the freshly turned soil of the construction site on the way toward their rental. Overhead, against the bright blue Southern sky, contrails like stretched ropes of white yarn revealed the flight lines of the numerous jets departing the busy hub of Atlanta International. And as the clank and grumble of the construction site faded, the chants from the anti-nuke protestors could be heard outside the tall mesh of security fences beyond.
“Hey, you mind if I drop you off at the airport a little early?” Donald asked, looking up at the streaks of white. They passed through the security gate and into the parking lot, the guard waving them along. “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.”
“Sure, man. Abandon me and go have a good time with your wife.”
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, go hit some bars like old times.”
“Not a chance,” Donald said.
Mick slapped the back of his 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.”
2110 • Silo 1
Troy enjoyed a hand of solitaire while Silo 12 collapsed. There was something about the game that he found blissfully numbing. It held off the waves of depression even better than the pills did, the repetition and the complete lack of skill pushing it beyond distraction and into the realm of complete mindlessness.
If a card played, one simply played it. If it didn’t: draw another. The truth was, the player won or lost the very moment the computer shuffled the deck. The rest was simply a lengthy process of finding out.
For a computer game, it was absurdly low-tech. It had likely been coded by a bored predecessor with rudimentary programming skills. Instead of cards, there was just a grid of letters and numbers with an asterisk, ampersand, percent, 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 bugged him to not 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 spacebar 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.