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The Dig pt. 1 (Dust, story 2)

A sudden crash resounds across the floor, several men look up as a rain of glass pours out of a far window. Alarms sound and the residents rush to take cover. Dust begins to infiltrate through this new breach in the community's defenses. A trained crew of repairmen don masks and gather in the central courtyard. If they don't hurry, if too much of the invading ash and soot fight its way in, then the entire complex will be compromised.

Two men watch, standing in the warehouse office, papers cluttering their desks. The first is wearing glasses two parts of a suit, his jacket decorating the back of an office chair. The second wears headphones around his neck and a zip hoodie, decorated with the name of some now irrelevant band.

"That's the third one this week," the suit says, "I don't know how much longer we'll be able to last at this rate."

"It'll be long enough," the hoodie says.

"We're running out of plywood," continues the suit, "and we can't exactly go out and get more."

"We can send scavengers. Besides, we shouldn't need to last much longer. A few weeks, maybe a month at most," the hoodie says. He drops into his chair and grabs his mug, takes a draw of the powdered creamer in instant coffee. He misses his Colombian espresso, but powdered, instant sludge is better than nothing.

"You said 'two weeks' four months ago. Are you sure it'll work this time?"

"Sure enough. And when I gave you that quote, I thought we'd still be able to work with Carmicheal and his team. You know how that turned out."

"A shame about that." The suit sighs and looks at a well-used white erase board. It is decorated with statistics and probability models, scenarios and their likely results. "It would be nice to have access to some of their computing power right now."

"Yea. We ever find out what happened?"

"Yes," the suit says. He takes off his glasses and begins to polish them with a cloth from his desk. They don't really need polishing, but as far as nervous habits go, this was far from deadly. "We were able to get a salvage team across town about a week ago. Looks like a tree took out their main entrance. The whole place flooded in a couple of hours."

"Ah, hell. That's no good. Did we at least get some of those servers?"

"No," the suit says, "We don't have the power to run more machines right now."

The hoodie sneers, "You should fire whoever lead that salvage team. If we had more servers, we could have run the calculations faster. If we even had another five machines, drilling would start tomorrow."

The suit stares at the hoodie. "I made the call."

"You what?"

"I made the call. They signaled me when they found the breach, told me that the entire complex was contaminated and asked me what to do. I told them to grab what food they could and seal the building."

The hoodie leaned forward and almost spits as he demands, "Why would you do something so unquestionably stupid?"

"Listen, Mr. Dashner, our first priority is always survival. We don't have room for the servers, we don't have the power to keep them going."

"So put them in a hallway and siphon power from somewhere else!"

"From where? From the medical clinic? From the barracks? Oh, what about from air filtration system? We already have rolling brownouts. The turbines can only do so much."

The hoodie, or Thomas Dashner, stares at the suit, Dashner's eyes trying to bore holes through the suit's face. "You could have found a way."

"While I appreciate the vote of confidence, no, I couldn't have."

The suit turns back towards the window. In the distance, the team has suited up and started towards the broken window, driving a small crane to help with the emergency repair. The other residents have all evacuated into their shelters, and wait for the all-clear siren. The suit's family is down there, and he wonders if Dashner would really be so gung-ho if he had someone else in his life.

"Do you really think that we'll be done in a month?" the suit asks.

"If I were betting, I would say three-to-two odds, maybe two-to-one that we'll be drilling in three weeks."

"That's not the same thing as the completed project. How long once drilling begins?"

"Well, that will probably take another five months."

"Probably?"

"I just don't know. We're not just talking about digging a hole here. If we break through into the wrong tunnel, that could destroy all we have left. We're using computer modeling to try to prevent that. Now, we'll be updating the model as we go, but every change means the computers will need that much more time to re-calibrate."

Dashner pauses for effect, "If we have more servers it will cut the pre-dig time, and could even take another month off of the primary dig."

The suit knods, lost in thought.

Dashner tries to push his point further, "If we could get another five servers running these numbers, then we could easily cut two months off of the project."

The suit considers for a moment and then says, "I'll get a team to go get them. You better pray that you're right."

Dashner smiles, "Don't need to. I am."

Across the warehouse, the construction team has lifted up plywood and covered the broken glass. Enough dust has gotten through that the air has clouded, making the overhead lights' beams sharp lines in the ashen fog.

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