The hardest part of my job as Head of IT has always been the deception. I remember my initial inability to accept the schizophrenic reality of the situation when my father first disclosed it to me. As a Shadow training under my father, it was clear that continuing the deception would eventually be my responsibility. But I had no idea what would actually be involved. Looking back, it was easy to see there is nothing more effective than trial by fire.
I remember my father’s comments to me about his introduction to the role of Head of IT when he was a Shadow under his father. Keeping a lie of this magnitude going for all these years was only part of my challenge. Offering guidance to the Silo population in how best to follow the goals of the Silo was just as demanding.
My grandfather, the very first Head of IT, had instilled in us at an early age that telling the truth was ultimately the best course of action. However it was important to remember that selecting which truths to share was an art in itself. Sometimes it was hard to believe that this was not the way we were suppose to live. I mean living enclosed in an underground building, rather than on the surface and outside. Yet our society values the individual and we strive to make life as exciting and sustainable as possible for the 5,000 people who call Silo 42 home. My ancestors told me our people had lived on this land for a thousand years before the arrival of the white man. I knew that someday we would return to the surface. My grandfather a member of the Choctaw Tribe, always emphasized the importance of respect for the land and one another.
It was also hard to believe that other silo residents were not allowed to know the truth. To hold back that knowledge made no sense. How can we be expected to provide leadership and guidance if the first thing we did was to lie to the Silo residents about their history and why they were living in the Silo in the first place? It felt gratifying to share at least most of the truth with the residents of Silo 42.
I sat on the chair behind the ancient server tower as it hummed along. The rows of blinking lights caught my attention as I waited for the call. This section of the large room had been maintained in the old way with lights at 70% to match the expected illumination on the security camera. The paint on wall behind me had worn off years ago from thousands of hours of backs sitting against the wall by my ancestors. Directly behind the stool the grey cement of the Silo wall was exposed. Unlike most other places in our Silo, the expected wear and tear was allowed to show to keep up the perception that the Silo was aging as planned.
I checked my watch as the secondhand made its way past the eleven on its enviable march to twelve. The predictableness of the hands on my watch was a relief compared to the surprises I faced when talking with the machine-like voices from Silo 1. These regular calls were like waiting for a train you knew was coming, but not knowing who would be on it. The light started to flash just as the beeping began. I took a deep breath and let it out completely readying myself for another “performance.” I took the aged plug and kissed the end as my predecessors had done. Showing the proper respect to the ones with ultimate control was one of the tenants from the original Pact. The logic was obvious when you thought about it. Respect leads to compliance which leads to stability.
I inserted the plug into its mate beneath the number 1 and waited for the connection to be made. Several clicks followed by the familiar resonate voice on the other end. “Andrew?”
“Yes this is Andrew.” I kept my heart rate perfectly steady as I spoke. Knowing they were monitoring my vitals through the headset sensors. Besides the monitoring sensors, the communication was primarily auditory. There was no video feed.
“What is the status of selecting a Shadow for yourself?” said the voice.
“I have whittled down the qualified pool of candidates to two and are passing along their histories now.”
I pulled out a small drive from my pocket and inserted it into the slot under the row of plugs. A small yellow light blinked rapidly as the files were passed through the intra-silo network to the main servers in Silo 1 at the center of the huge silo field.
My mind wandered as I waited for confirmation.
It was hard to imagine I had lived here for almost 50 years. But watching the children of my friends grow old before my eyes, was irrefutable evidence that time was passing. Since Meredith and I never chose to have children of our own, the time had come to select a Shadow to follow in my footsteps when I became too old to serve the Silo. In most instances selecting a Shadow was a fairly straightforward proposition. Young folks tended to show their aptitudes fairly early and it was easy enough to test them out as interns before deciding who should be seriously considered a Shadow candidate. Other professionals in agriculture or manufacturing or education, electronics and the hundreds of occupations that ran the silo were easy compared to what was required by the Head of IT, essentially the Head of the Silo.
As the head of IT, my responsibility was to see that the Silo survived and the occupants could eventually return to the outside when the air again became fit for humans to breath. I also had to insure that those in Silo 1 never suspected we had taken a path different than what was prescribed in the founding documents. Their discovery would mean the end of our way of life.
“We have received your files. Keep us informed of your decision as soon as you have made your selection.”
Without ceremony the voice moved on to other topics. “How are you dealing with the energy depletion issue?”
I had expected that this topic would be raised and was prepared with an answer. “I have put the best people in mechanical on it.” I hesitated a moment before asking. “How many of the other silos have had to deal with this?” The silence on the other end of the line told me all I needed to know. We were definitely not the only one. After almost a century of pumping oil and natural gas from beneath the Silo it was of little surprise to our engineers that the rate of production was eventually going to peak and then start declining.
The computer-disguised voice came back onto the line. “We will take your question under consideration.”
Just as I suspected. But it really didn’t matter what they said. Fortunately for us, our Silo had solved this particular problem. The challenge was keeping that information from them. It was just another part of the deception.
I checked my watch and hoped we would be done soon. The voice returned in its flat and lifeless tone. “We see that you have scheduled another cleaning.”
“Yes, it was most unfortunate as this one was once a very respected member of the community.”
“We understand, but even the most patriotic among us sometimes goes astray. We are sorry for your loss and your commitment to maintaining silo stability.”
The irony was almost too much. I was able to steady my heart rate to show the appropriate response before responding. “Thank you for your condolences. We will be better after the cleaning.”
“Have you been able to repair the external airlock video camera?” the voice asked.
“I am sorry sir we have not, but the internal airlock view should be working perfectly.”
I hoped that answer would suffice since we had been unable to fix a growing number of video cameras due to a part shortage we had no way to remedy.
These calls were getting more and more stressful. Like all the Heads of IT, I had always known of the termination option. The faded red “X” drawn through Silo 12 and the older X’s over Silo 40, 49 and 17, were a constant reminder. I prayed to the Great Spirit that we would never have to be concerned about such a fate.
The Pact or set of rules and regulations which every silo agreed to abide by contained many taboos. At the top of its exhaustive list was to never talk about the outside. Even worse and cause for immediate Cleaning was to contemplate going outside. I knew our course of action contained risk, but it had proved a solid solution since my grandfather established the practice almost a century ago. It was also a solution which allowed us to monitor the outside conditions without ever raising questions from our overseers. We felt it was critical to know when we could safely leave the Silo and to help future generations plan for that time. If we could not monitor the exterior atmosphere we would never know what was truly happening outside. It had to be done and using the annual cleaning was the easiest way to secretly gather this information.
It had been almost a year since our last cleaning and the Silo was in full preparation. I was anxious to finish the call and get on with my other responsibilities. “Will there be anything more?” I asked in an attempt to get off the line.
“No Andrew, that is all for now. We will review your file and let you know if we have any concerns.”
“Thank you for your eternal guidance and patience. Good bye.”
I pulled the plug out and released a sigh I was sure could be heard all the way up to level 1 where the preparations for cleaning were being made. Another call, another month of relative peace. I needed to shift my attention to picking a Shadow, a challenging process that needed to be done. But, for now, it was time to travel almost 1,500 feet. I hope it doesn’t take too long to get Up Top.