…and not a mention anywhere of Jules.
We’re probably three or so weeks away from SECOND SHIFT – ORDER being available on the Kindle store. It could be a week longer, as there are many rough patches to smooth over, and one of the more complex plots I’ve ever tried to weave together. Once again, no Jules in this one. She’ll be back in the 9th Silo Story.
After the break, you can read the rough draft of chapter one. I did this with FIRST SHIFT, just to give you a feel for the new story. I’m also thinking about doing the beta read a bit differently this time. I’ve considered creating a Google document that a dozen or so readers and editors could access at the same time, leave notes on, see what each other thinks and comments on. I’ve also thought about serializing the editing process by sending out an entire section as I get it done, let the betas read that while I’m revising the next part. It’d be fun to experiment.
Okay, don’t continue further unless you feel like reading a rough draft of chapter 1. Some of you probably already skipped all this nonsense and went straight for it. This is me sticking my tongue out at you people:
Keep in mind that this is rough draft material. I included the title, dedication, and section page as images because WordPress is crap at whitespace. The first chapter follows those pages.
Deathdays were birthdays. That’s what they said, anyway, those who were left behind. They said this to ease their pain. An old man dies and a lottery is won. Children weep while hopeful parents cry tears of joy. Deathdays were birthdays, and no one knew this better than Mission Jones.
It was the day before his seventeenth. Tomorrow, he would grow a year older. It would also mark seventeen years since his mother died. The cycle of life was everywhere—it wrapped around all things like the great spiral staircase—but nowhere else was it more evident, nowhere else could it be seen so clearly that a life given was one taken away. And so Mission approached his birthday with no joy, with a heavy load on his young back, thinking on death and celebrating nothing.
Below him three steps and matching his pace, Mission could hear his friend Cam wheezing from his half of the load. When dispatch assigned them a tandem, they had flipped a coin, heads for heads, and Cam had lost. That left Mission with a clear view of the stairs. It also gave him rights to set the pace—and dark thoughts made for a brutal one.
Traffic was light on the stairwell that morning. The children were not yet up and heading to school, those of them who still went anymore. A few bleary-eyed shopkeepers staggered toward work. There were service workers with grease stains on their bellies and patches sewn into their knees coming off late shifts. One man descended bearing more than a non-porter should, but Mission was in no mood to set down his burden and weigh another’s. It was enough to glare at the gentleman, to let him know that he’d been seen.
“Three more to go,” he huffed to Cam as they passed the twenty-forth. His porter’s strap dug into his shoulders, the load a great one. Heavier still was its destination. Mission hadn’t been back to the farms in near on four months, hadn’t seen his father in just as long. His brother, of course, he saw at the Nest now and then, but it’d still been a few weeks. To arrive so near to his birthday would be awkward, but there was no helping it. He trusted his father to do as he always had and ignore the occasion altogether, to ignore that he was getting any older.
Past the twenty-fourth they entered another gap between levels full of graffiti. The foul sting of home-mixed paint hung in the air. Recent work dribbled in places, parts of it obviously done the night before. In bold letters that wrapped across the curving wall of concrete far beyond the stairway railing read:
This is our ‘Lo.
The slang for silo felt dated, even though the paint was not yet dry. Nobody said that anymore. Not for years. Further up and much older:
Clean this, Mother-
The rest was obscured in a slap of censoring paint. As if anyone could read it and not fill in the blank on their own. It was the first half that was a killing offense, anyway. The second was just a word.
Down with the up-top!
Mission laughed at this one. He pointed it out to Cam. Probably painted by some kid born above the mids and full of self-loathing. Some kid who couldn’t abide their own good fortune. Mission knew the kind. They were his kind. He studied all this graffiti painted over last year’s graffiti and all the many years before. It was here between the levels, where the steel girders stretched out from the stairwell to the cement beyond, that such slogans went back generations. Atop the angry words were pockmarks, scars, and burns of old wars. Atop these wounds lay ever more angry scribbles, on and on.
The End is Coming . . .
Mission marched past this one, unable to argue. The end was coming. He could feel it in his bones. He could hear it in the wheezing rattle of the silo with its loose bolts and its rusty joints, could see it in the way people walked of late with their shoulders up around their ears, their belongings clutched to their chests. The end was coming for certain.
His father would laugh and disagree, of course. His father always disagreed. Mission could hear his old man’s voice from all the levels away, could hear his father telling him how people had thought the same thing before he and his brother were born, that it was the hubris of each generation to think this anew, that their time was special, that all things would come to an end with them. His father said it was hope that made people feel this way, not dread. People talked of the end coming with barely concealed smiles. Their prayer was that they wouldn’t go alone.
Thoughts like these made Mission’s neck itch. He held the hauling strap with one hand and adjusted the ‘chief around his neck with the other. It was a nervous habit, hiding his neck when he thought about the end of things. But that was two birthdays ago.
“You doing okay up there?” Cam asked.
“I’m fine,” Mission called back, realizing he’d slowed. He gripped his strap with both hands and concentrated on his pace, on his job. There was a metronome in his head from his shadowing days, a tick-tock, tick-tock for tandem hauls. Two porters with good timing could fall into a rhythm and wind their way up a dozen flights, never feeling a heavy load. Mission and Cam weren’t there yet. Now and then one of them would have to shuffle their feet or adjust their pace to match the other. Otherwise, their load might sway dangerously.
Their load. Mission’s grandfather came to mind, though he had never known the man. He had died in the uprising of ’78, had left behind a son to take over the farm and a daughter to become a chipper. Mission’s aunt had quit that job a few years back. She no longer banged out spots of rust and primed and painted raw steel like she used to. Nobody did. Nobody bothered. But his father was still farming that same plot of soil, that same plot generations of Jones boys had farmed, forever insisting that things would go on, that they would never change.
“That word means something else, you know,” his father had told him once, when Mission had spoken of revolution. “It also means to go around and around. To revolve. One revolution, and you get right back to where you started.”
This was the sort of thing Mission’s father liked to say when the priests came to bury a man beneath his corn. His dad would pack the dirt with a shovel, say that’s how things go, and plant a seed in the neat depression his thumb made.
Weeks later, Mission had told his friends this other meaning of revolution. He had pretended to come up with it himself. It was just the sort of pseudo-intellectual nonsense they regaled each other with late at night on dark landings while they inhaled potato glue out of plastic bags.
His best friend Rodny hadn’t been impressed. “Nothing changes until we make it change,” he had said with a serious look in his eye.
Mission wondered what his best friend was doing now. He hadn’t seen Rodny in months. Whatever he was shadowing for on thirty-four kept him from getting out much.
Thinking of Rodny brought back memories of happier days. Growing up in the Nest with friends tight as a fist. Mission remembered thinking they would all stay together and grow old in the up-top. They would live along the same hallways, watch their eventual kids play together the way they had. But all had gone their separate ways. It was hard to remember who had done it first, who had shaken off the shadowing expected by their parents, but eventually most had. Like a group decision never discussed. They had broken dozens of repeated cycles by leaving home and choosing a new fate. Sons of plumbers took up farming. Daughters of the cafe learned to sew. None of them bothered to ask how many of their parents had done the same. Everything felt new and unique, and so it had to be.
Mission remembered leaving home angry. A fight with his father, throwing down his shovel, promising he’d never dig a trench again. He’d learned in the Nest that he could be anything. And so when he grew miserable, he assumed it was the farms that made him feel that way, and he decided to become a porter.
These thoughts led to a brutal pace. Mission thought on old friends he no longer saw and family he had never known, and a ring of fire burned steady around his neck, the remnants of a rope’s embrace. There was a welcomed soreness in his legs, a raging fire in his calves, pain that reminded him he was alive. A few steps behind him, Cam gasped for air and joked how vandals couldn’t spell.
Birthdays were deathdays, Mission told himself, two sides of the same coin. He and Cam had flipped a dime back in dispatch, heads for heads, and now Mission could feel a man’s shoulders pressed against his own. And when he lifted his gaze to survey the steps ahead, the back of his skull met the crown of the dead man’s through the plastic bag, birthdays and deathdays pressed tight, both halves of a single coin.
Mission carried them both, this load meant for two people. He took the stairs a pair at a time, a brutal pace, up toward the farm of his youth.