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Refuse (The Silo Archipelago Series Book 1)

Hugh Howey


  Book One

  of the

  Silo Archipelago Series


  Michael Bunker


  Fiction Disclaimer:

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events either are the products of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  © Copyright 2013 by Michael Bunker

  All rights reserved


  All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without the written permission of the author.

  Cover Design:

  Jason Gurley

  To contact Michael Bunker, please email:

  [email protected], or send snail mail to:

  M. Bunker

  1251 CR 132

  Santa Anna, Texas 76878

  My thanks to Hugh Howey for letting us write stories that take place in his world. Special thanks to Jason Gurley, who wrote the awesome GREATFALL series, for the incredible book cover, and to the League of Official Woolwrights (LOOW) for your help and encouragement in bringing this story to print.

  For all the Woolites in all the Wooliverse

  I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.

  Henry David Thoreau

  Samizdat (Russian: самизда́т; IPA: [səmɨzˈdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade officially imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials. (From Wikipedia)

  The word “Samizdat” literally translated from Russian means: Self-Published




  A Note

  Praise for the WICK Series

  Other Books by Michael Bunker


  Part 1 of the Silo Archipelago series

  Hugh Howey has been so gracious in encouraging other writers to participate in his fantastic Wooliverse by writing fan fiction within that universe. It’s been exciting to read so many quality stories coming from fans of the WOOL books. For the most part, I’ve been just a happy bystander and fan throughout the Wool phenomenon. As a lark, for a writing competition put on by an e-magazine in England, I did write a little comedy/satire piece that included Hugh as a character, but that story (#NaNoWri War Z) was not literally fanfic, since it did not take place in the Wool universe. Hugh happily gave me permission to use his story and likeness in that quirky little bit of zombie comedy, and I am so grateful to him for that. Other than that, I’ve just been a reader and a fan.

  And then I had an idea.

  The Wool world is so ripe for stories and tales that might be completely different than the primary tale that Hugh was telling in his books. Being a self-published writer who has seen some limited success, I wondered what someone like me would be doing if I were trapped in a silo. Would I be writing and publishing my work? I also happen to be a Russophile who loves Russian literature and history. I’ve long been interested in the phenomenon of SAMIZDAT in the former USSR, which was the underground publishing system used by dissidents to publish unapproved books during the Soviet era. My favorite author and hero is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a brilliant writer and dissident who took on Stalin and the whole Soviet apparatus for the right to publish the things that he wrote. He published his famous book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch using SAMIZDAT, an underground group of individuals who hand-wrote or hand-typed illegal manuscripts and distributed them throughout the Soviet Union. The word SAMIZDAT literally means “Self Publishing” so I thought that a parallel story taking place in the silo might be of interest to Wool readers. I hope that it is.

  REFUSE is a short story about a woman named Leah, a picker whose job it is to sift through the refuse and waste of the silo in order to achieve the goal of recycling everything. On her own time, Leah loves to make homemade paper and lives to write stories. She just happens to exist in a dystopian world that has been destroyed by mankind, and lives in an underground silo full of mysteries and questions. The problem is that both of these things, making paper and writing stories, if they are not approved by the authorities in the silo, are illegal.

  I thank Hugh Howey for giving me permission to write this story and to publish it. I hope you all enjoy it.

  Michael Bunker

  May 2013

  Leah was a picker, and as a picker she now stood hip deep among the seemingly endless heaps of garbage, carefully opening the reclamation bags one by one, sorting through the contents and tossing the bits and pieces of refuse into the appropriate wooden separation bins for recycling.

  Wood. The separation bins were made of wood. Heavy, sturdy, ancient wood, hardened by time, shiny and smooth from use, and aged by the tempering of many hands.

  Leah had never seen a real tree, unless you count the little wispy olive trees on the farming floors. She’d visited the farms as a girl in school, like every young person did, and there she’d seen the olive trees lined up in rows like emaciated soldiers standing erect under buzzing grow lights. She knew, however, that those trees could never have produced enough wood to make even one of the sturdy bins she used daily to sort through and recycle the tons of waste produced continuously in the silo. These bins were antiques, relics of another time and place. They were reminders that everything in the silos originally came from somewhere else, and that there had once been another world and another kind of life—one that wasn’t lived underground.

  Thinking things like that can make your head spin and it might lead to trouble, but she thought such things quite often anyway.

  The silo had six recycling units, spaced at regular intervals all the way from the up-top down to the down-deep. The recycling sections were fed by chutes that never ceased feeding color-coded bags of garbage to the recycling floors. Everything was recycled in the silos. Even the plastic reclamation bags. Dozens of pickers in each recycling section sifted through the garbage with gloved hands and separated out every piece of refuse into the appropriate wooden bin for re-use.

  No one monitored the pickers—at least, it could be said that they weren’t monitored very closely—but if a picker got caught stealing paper, they’d be in big trouble. Everyone knew that. Depending on what you were doing with the expropriated paper, you might even get sent to clean. That should tell you something about the value of paper in a closed society. In a very real way, the death penalty was annexed to the concept of paper and its use.

  As she thought about these things, Leah recalled the mental image of a great man—to her, maybe he was the greatest man—and she remembered the day he was sent to clean. Even after two years, it seemed to her like it had only happened yesterday.

  She’d shadowed under Alexander, her greatest friend and mentor, until he was sent to clean for the twin crimes of procuring or producing black-market paper, and the illegal use of recyclable material. It all happened so quickly. Almost no time passed between Alexander’s arrest and the carrying out of his sentence. She’d been given very little time to say goodbye, and even less time to consider what losing the old man would really mean to her. Now, she’d been without Alexander’s wisdom and guidance for two long years, and his absence was like an open wound in her heart and mind. She looked down as she shifted the bin closer to the stacks of bags. She was strong and lean and not un
attractive at all, if the attention she was paid by the men her age was any indication. Her long dark-brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail to keep it out of her face as she bent over to move the bins. Every time she gripped the wooden handles of a recycling bin, or peeled a piece of illegal, black-market paper from its screened frame, she thought of Alexander, and of trees immense and beyond the restraints of the imagination.

  Alexander had often talked in hushed but respectful tones about towering trees and endless forests and paper so plentiful that people used it to wipe their chins and even their butts… and seemingly endless reams of paper used to write books so numerous that they couldn’t even be counted or contained in any single library.

  Leah wasn’t sure how he could possibly know about such things. Maybe he’d derived those fanciful ideas from the childhood books stacked in cubbies in the silo’s classrooms. Or maybe he’d drawn knowledge from some other source of ancient wisdom known only to the men and women of the mind. In any case, he was an old man who knew how to stoke the fires of imagination in others. He was the one who’d encouraged Leah to read, and to write. Now she wrote every day, so long as she had paper upon which to scribble her words. She wrote earnestly and purposefully, with Alexander’s entreaties always hovering before her, imprinted in her mind and soul:

  “In every age and every time, for the prophet, the revolutionary, or the artist, the act of writing is the act of pouring out one’s life onto paper.”

  So she wrote every day, sharpened charcoal gripped firmly in a needy hand.

  Having plentiful paper was no easy thing, and making it outside of regulated and well-monitored channels was both a chore and a crime. Considering her reality, Leah knew that spiritually she was born into a long line of criminals.

  “You gonna be there today, Leah?”

  It was Ivan, cohort in crime and fellow picker. The two friends usually teamed up together as they worked through the stacks of reclamation bags. Ivan was twenty years old, fully five years younger than Leah, but he was smart and kind, and to her he always seemed to be older and wiser than his years. He smiled as he pulled half a dozen square metal containers from a bag with both hands and dropped them into a recycling bin.

  “Yeah. I’ll be there,” she answered as she ran the back of a gloved hand across her forehead, pushing some stray wisps of her dark hair out of her face. “I have to help my mother with the apartment today, though. She gets tired a lot now, and Dad’s been in the down-deep for… (what was it?) …weeks now helping re-design and upgrade the heating vents.”

  As she talked with Ivan, her mind—as always—churned on in another direction altogether. She thought of the heating vents, and that thought brought forth for her the texture of her artificial environment. Heating.

  The ever evident coolness of the recycling section—of the whole silo—pressed in and down on her. Cool radiated from the surrounding dirt and through the thick concrete walls and permeated everyone and everything. The omnipresent cold could only be combated with brute force. Alexander had explained it all to her, and so had her father. The human body exists in its healthy state at 37 degrees Celsius. Now, in this silo, humans were unnaturally populating a concrete silo that, without brute force being applied, wanted to maintain a temperature of around 12.78 degrees Celsius. There were some minimal amounts of heat provided by the existence of so many bodies and machines and activity, but that was not enough to raise the temperature to the point where most people could be comfortable without wearing more than just their coveralls. So heating became a reality of life.

  Heating. Brute force alteration of the environment.

  “But you’ll be there, right?” Ivan said. He looked around the floor trying to act casually even though what he was really doing was making sure that no one was watching them. When he was certain that no one was looking their way, he bent over and Leah watched as he tore a white cardboard carton into flat strips that he then tucked up into the pants leg of his work coveralls. He pulled his socks up over the strips and then smoothed the pants legs back down into place.

  “I’ll be there,” Leah replied. She also scanned the room to see if anyone was paying them any undue attention. Paul and Joseph were working together near Chute #3, and both seemed to be in some kind of restrained argument. Neither looked over to where Leah and Ivan sorted under Chute #1. Paul she liked, though she really didn’t know him. Joseph Kind was another story altogether. She felt sorry for Paul having to work with Joseph, and she was thankful that she always had Ivan when she needed to talk. Joseph was a strange bird, secretive and brooding, always looking at everyone else like he rejected their right to live and breathe. Maybe she was being harsh in her judgment of Joseph—she really didn’t know him either. But the way he watched and scowled made her want to give him a wide berth.

  The tumbling sound of a reclamation bag bouncing down twenty stories of stainless steel ducting drew her attention and provided emphasis to the unspoken fact that the work of recycling in an artificial world made by man was never done.

  Alexander told her that out there… outside…. the sun warmed the earth naturally, and that there were seasons, and storms, and temperature swings. Weather.

  The silo existed underground, he said, where the warmth of the sun and the warm temperatures in the core of the earth barely reached it. This meant that the dirt surrounding the silo stayed cool, and kept the silo at the same temperature. “Men aren’t supposed to live here,” Alexander had told her. “…At least not forever.”

  Leah scanned the room again, this time not looking at the people, but instead she looked at the room itself. Typical of the silo. Plastic life. Artificial. It’s all fake. The grow lights in the dirt farms. The motors that cycled water from the down-deep up through the hydroponic gardens. The heating. The wallscreen up on the top floor that showed the bleak and desolate outside. But it was more than just those things. It was the chits and the economy and the endless stairs and the lottery and the jobs—all of these things revolving (like the stairs in the silo) around maintaining that plastic life. Alexander saw it all and he wrote about it too. She wondered whatever happened to the beautiful things that Alexander wrote. Probably recycled and used to print chits.

  Leah noticed a large heap of shredded paper stuffed into the bottom of the bag she was sorting. Chit reports from IT, or portage documents, or perhaps these scraps had been the expired records from the Sheriff’s office. Papers documenting the lives and crimes of the dead—no longer needed (the dead and the reports)—shredded and sent down the chutes for recycling. When you died, your body was buried in the dirt of the farms to become food for the rest of the silo, but your records… those were shredded, because in reality, to the cold silo, you never really existed.

  For a black-market papermaker, pre-shredded paper is a godsend. Almost unconsciously, she ducked down to make it look like she was struggling with a heavy bag from the kitchen. With practiced precision, she balled up the shredded mass, and, unzipping the front of her coveralls, she stuffed the paper into the area around her midsection, smoothing it carefully before zipping up again. She ran her hands around the area where she’d stuffed the paper until there were no lumps or obvious protrusions.

  “You look like you’ve gained a few pounds,” Ivan said, winking.

  “Shut up, Ivan!” she snapped, playfully. “Besides,” she whispered, “if I could pull off getting a couple of pounds of paper out of here without someone noticing, I would do it. That would be a huge accomplishment.”

  “Ahh,” Ivan waved at her dismissively with his hand, “you’re so skinny, you’re lucky to get a few ounces out of here in a shift.”

  “Keep talking like that, buddy, and I’ll take you to meet my mother.”

  “Oh no! Not me!” he said, laughing. “I’m waiting for my dream girl… maybe a cute little porter or someone like that. I’d never marry a picker. They have a smell to them that I can’t get used to.”

  Leah growled and threw a plastic container at him, bu
t he ducked and the container bounced harmlessly among the sacks stacked behind him. He winked at her again and went back to sorting.

  They flirted a lot, but nothing much had ever come of it. She’d known Ivan for most of her life, and she liked him well enough. He was handsome in a mids kind of way, and she probably would respond if he ever showed any real interest, but both of them were too wrapped up in their world of making paper—and writing—to expend too much energy in the pursuit of romance. She was happy with the way things were, and she didn’t want to lose Ivan as a friend. Or maybe I just tell myself that because Ivan has never done anything other than flirt with me.


  When the shift was over, the pickers stacked their bins in the packing area. Overnight, packers would come into the section and bundle the salvaged material for delivery by the porters to the different areas of the silo that engaged in manufacturing new things from the salvaged materials. A lot of this refuse—the paper waste—would go to the official paper manufacturing section, where it would be pulped and bleached and made into new paper. Then it would be cataloged and traced and tracked and used for approved purposes only.

  You could get paper for your family if you had enough chits, and as long as you weren’t a trouble maker. You could draw and paint—even write—if (and only if) whatever you drew, painted, or wrote was acceptable and was in conformity to the laws of the silo. It had to be pre-approved. As a result, almost no one wrote books, other than the handful of officially sanctioned writers who wrote lukewarm, un-challenging tripe for the widest possible audience. There was no room in the literature of the silo for metaphor, or irony, or for a bracing, cold waltz with the truth.