羊毛战记 Part 1 Holston 6
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  Present Time
  The first year without her, Holston had waited, buying into her insanity, distrusting the sight of her onthat hill, hoping she’d come back. He’d spent the first anniversary of her death scrubbing the holdingcell clean, washing the yellow airlock door, straining for some sound, some knock, that would meanthe ghost of his wife was back to set him free.
  When it didn’t happen, he began to consider the alternative: going out after her. He had spentenough days, weeks, months going through her computer files, reading some of what she had piecedtogether, making sense of half of it, to become half-mad himself. His world was a lie, he came tobelieve, and without Allison in it he had nothing to live for even if it were truth.
  The second anniversary of her departure was his year of cowardice. He had walked to work, thepoisonous words in his mouth—his desire to go out—but he had choked them down at the lastsecond. He and Deputy Marnes had gone on patrol that day with the secret of how near he’d come todeath burning inside of him. That was a long year of cowardice, of letting Allison down. The firstyear had been her failure; last year had been his. But no more.
  Now, one more year later, he was alone in the airlock, wearing a cleaning suit, full of doubts andconvictions. The silo was sealed off behind him, that thick yellow door bolted tight, and Holstonthought that this was not how he’d thought he’d die, or what he had hoped would become of him. Hehad thought he would remain in the silo forever, his nutrients going as the nutrients of his parentshad: into the soil of the eighth-floor dirt farm. It seemed a lifetime ago that he had dreamed of afamily, of his own child, a fantasy of twins or another lottery win, a wife to grow old with—A klaxon sounded on the other side of the yellow doors, warning everyone but him away. He wasto stay. There was nowhere else for him to go.
  The argon chambers hissed, pumping the room full of the inert gas. After a minute of this, Holstoncould feel the pressure of the air as it crinkled the cleaning suit tight around his joints. He breathedthe oxygen circulating inside his helmet and stood before the other door, the forbidden door, the oneto the awful outside world, and waited.
  There was a metal groan from pistons deep within the walls. The sacrificial plastic curtainscovering the interior of the airlock wrinkled from the pressure of the built-up argon. These curtainswould be incinerated inside the airlock while Holston cleaned. The area would be scrubbed beforenightfall, made ready for the next cleaning.
  The great metal doors before him shuddered, and then a shaft of incredible space appeared at theirjoint, widening as the doors withdrew into the jamb. They wouldn’t open all the way, not like theywere once designed to—the risk of invading air had to be minimized.
  An argon torrent hissed through the gap, dulling to a roar as the space grew. Holston pressedclose, as horrified at himself for not resisting as he’d previously been perplexed by the actions ofothers. Better to go out, to see the world one time with his own eyes, than to be burned alive with theplastic curtains. Better to survive a few moments more.
  As soon as the opening was wide enough, Holston squeezed through, his suit catching and rubbingat the doors. There was a veil of fog all around him as the argon condensed in the less pressurized air.
  He stumbled forward blindly, pawing through the soft cloud.
  While he was still in that mist, the outer doors groaned and began closing. The klaxon howlsbehind were swallowed by the press of thick steel against thick steel, locking him and the toxins outwhile cleansing fires began to rage inside the airlock, destroying any contamination that had leakedits way inside.
  Holston found himself at the bottom of a concrete ramp, a ramp that led up. His time felt short—there was a constant reminder thrumming in the back of his skull—hurry! Hurry! His life was tickingaway. He lumbered up the ramp, confused that he wasn’t already aboveground, so used as he was toseeing the world and the horizon from the cafeteria and lounge, which were on the same level as theairlock.
  He shuffled up the narrow ramp, walls of chipped concrete to either side, his visor full of aconfusing, brilliant light. At the top of the ramp, Holston saw the heaven into which he’d beencondemned for his simple sin of hope. He whirled around, scanning the horizon, his head dizzy fromthe sight of so much green!
  Green hills, green grass, green carpet beneath his feet. Holston whooped in his helmet. His mindbuzzed with the sight. Hanging over all the green, there was the exact hue of blue from the children’sbooks, the white clouds untainted, the movement of living things flapping in the air.
  Holston turned around and around, taking it in. He had a sudden memory of his wife doing thesame; he had watched her awkwardly, slowly turning, almost as if she were lost or confused orconsidering whether to do the cleaning at all.
  The cleaning!
  Holston reached down and pulled a wool pad from his chest. The cleaning! He knew, in adizzying rush, a torrent of awareness, why, why. Why!
  He looked where he always assumed the tall circular wall of the uppermost silo floor would be,but of course that wall was buried. All that stood behind him was a small mound of concrete, a towerno more than eight or nine feet tall. A metal ladder ran up one side; antennae bristled from the top.
  And on the side facing him—on all the sides he saw as he approached—were the wide, curving, fish-eye lenses of the silo’s powerful cameras.
  Holston held out his wool and approached the first. He imagined the view of himself from insidethe cafeteria, staggering forward, becoming impossibly large. He had watched his wife do the samething three years ago. He remembered her waving, he had thought at the time for balance, but had shebeen telling him something? Had she been grinning like a fool, as wide as he was grinning now,while she remained hidden behind that silver visor? Had her heart been pounding with foolish hopewhile she sprayed, scrubbed, wiped, applied? Holston knew the cafeteria would be empty; there wasno one left who loved him enough to watch, but he waved anyway. And for him, it wasn’t the rawanger he imagined many might have cleaned with. It wasn’t the knowledge that they in the silo werecondemned and the condemned set free; it wasn’t the feeling of betrayal that guided the wool in hishand in small, circular motions. It was pity. It was raw pity and unconstrained joy.
  The world blurred, but in a good way, as tears came to Holston’s eyes. His wife had been right:
  the view from inside was a lie. The hills were the same—he’d recognize them at a glance after somany years of living with them—but the colors were all wrong. The screens inside the silo, theprograms his wife had found, they somehow made the vibrant greens look gray, they somehowremoved all signs of life. Extraordinary life!
  Holston polished the grime off the camera lens and wondered if the gradual blurring was evenreal. The grime certainly was. He saw it as he rubbed it away. But was it simple dirt, rather than sometoxic, airborne grime? Could the program Allison discovered modify only what was already seen?
  Holston’s mind spun with so many new facts and ideas. He was like an adult child, born into a wideworld, so much to piece together all at once that his head throbbed.
  The blur is real, he decided as he cleaned the last of the smear from the second lens. It was anoverlay, like the false grays and browns the program must have used to hide that green field and thisblue sky dotted with puffy white. They were hiding from them a world so beautiful, Holston had toconcentrate not to just stand still and gape at it.
  He worked on the second of the four cameras and thought about those untrue walls beneath him,taking what they saw and modifying it. He wondered how many people in the silo knew. Any ofthem? What kind of fanatical devotion would it take to maintain this depressing illusion? Or was thisa secret from before the last uprising? Was it an unknown lie perpetuated through the generations—afibbing set of programs that continued to hum away on the silo computers with nobody aware?
  Because if someone knew, if they could show anything, why not something nice?
  The uprisings! Maybe it was just to prevent them from happening over and over again. Holstonapplied an ablative film to the second sensor and wondered if the ugly lie of an unpleasant outsideworld was some misguided attempt to keep people from wanting out. Could someone have decidedthat the truth was worse than a loss of power, of control? Or was it something deeper and moresinister? A fear of unabashed, free, many-as-you-like children? So many horrible possibilities.
  And what of Allison? Where was she? Holston shuffled around the corner of the concrete towertoward the third lens, and the familiar but strange skyscrapers in the distant city came into view.
  Only, there were more buildings than usual there. Some stood to either side, and an unfamiliar oneloomed in the foreground. The others, the ones he knew by heart, were whole and shining, nottwisted and jagged. Holston gazed over the crest of the verdant hills and imagined Allison walkingover them at any minute. But that was ridiculous. How would she know he’d been expelled on thisday? Would she remember the anniversary? Even after he’d missed the last two? Holston cursed hisformer cowardice, the years wasted. He would have to go to her, he decided.
  He had a sudden impulse to do just that, to tear off his helmet and bulky suit and scamper up thehill in nothing but his carbon undersuit, breathing in deep gulps of crisp air and laughing all the wayto his waiting wife in some vast, unfathomable city full of people and squealing children.
  But no, there were appearances to keep, illusions to maintain. He wasn’t sure why, but it was whathis wife had done, what all the other cleaners before him had done. Holston was now a member ofthat club, a member of the out group. There was a press of history, of precedent, to obey. They hadknown best. He would complete his performance for the in group he had just joined. He wasn’t surewhy he was doing it, only that everyone before him had, and look at the secret they all shared. Thatsecret was a powerful drug. He knew only to do what he had been told, to follow the numbers on thepockets, to clean mechanically while he considered the awesome implications of an outside world sobig one couldn’t live to see it all, couldn’t breathe all the air, drink all the water, eat all the food.
  Holston dreamed of such things while he dutifully scrubbed the third lens, wiped, applied,sprayed, then moved to the last. His pulse was audible in his ears; his chest pounded in thatconstricting suit. Soon, soon, he told himself. He used the second wool pad and polished the grimeoff the final lens. He wiped and applied and sprayed a final time, then put everything back in its place,back in the numbered pouches, not wanting to spoil the gorgeous and healthy ground beneath hisfeet. Done, Holston stepped back, took one last look at the nobodies not watching from the cafeteriaand lounge, then turned his back on those who had turned their backs on Allison and all the othersbefore her. There was a reason nobody came back for the people inside, Holston thought, just as therewas a reason everyone cleaned, even when they said they wouldn’t. He was free; he was to join theothers, and so he strolled toward that dark crease that ran up the hill, following in his wife’sfootsteps, aware that some familiar boulder, long sleeping, no longer lay there. That, too, Holstondecided, had been nothing more than another awful pixelated lie.