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Chapter 2 (cont.)
Penny sighed, feeling fatigue hit and thinking it unlikely that her father, at his age, would still be coming that night. Maybe he wouldn’t be coming at all. She didn’t know which would be worse.
She pinned the two pieces of the clue to the refrigerator door with magnets that were souvenirs from another world—one was a white pawn from a magnetic chess set her grandmother used to have. Penny could remember moving the pieces around on the refrigerator door when she would visit with her father as a young girl, before she understood the rules of the game. She would instead arrange them in an X formation, one half black and the other white. She wondered why only one white pawn had survived into her adulthood.
The other magnet featured a photo of a preternaturally tan, middle-aged man with the address and phone number of a real estate office below it. She wondered where he and his cheesy grin had landed in all of this. Not in Science, she thought, and placed her face against the cool, stainless steel dent Jimmy had left behind. She suddenly missed his smell, the warmth of his arms around her. She wanted to stop missing him.
The night before he’d left, the mail car had come for the last time. The post offices had disbanded years ago, but there was still a weekly mail service, mostly for the new government to communicate with the holdouts on the Perimeter whatever they wished them to know. That night, they had wished to tell Jimmy the results of his Abilities Assessment—under a final threat of imprisonment, he had relented to taking the test the week prior.
The AA was infamous now on the Perimeter, and stories abounded of what various results meant, which results were preferable and how to achieve those results. Merchants had even popped up for a little while at the trading hubs, promising this or that result, but either due to their inability to predict the best result, their inability to deliver it, or something more nefarious, they had all disappeared years ago. By the time Jimmy took it, he had gathered as much intel as anyone on the Perimeter could have had, and it still hadn’t worked.
The general consensus was that it was more or less of an IQ test and the trick was to score somewhere in the middle—Jimmy had just earned his MD before the Migration, and was about to start his residency in neurology at NYU just before the hospital had been ordered closed. There were rumors that workers designated for Science were closely monitored—Big Brother type crap. Some people had even speculated the scientists got monitoring chips implanted, so that if their blood pressure or heart rate or anything indicated betrayal to the government, those in charge would know.
Penny had speculated that in Jimmy’s case, the test might have been bogus, anyway. They—whoever “they” even were—didn’t even send any actual results, just a letter notifying him he’d been placed in Science and a car would be coming for him in the morning to “migrate him into the citizenry”.
Hence, the dent in the refrigerator.
It was the Congressional scientists who had been responsible for moving everyone Indoors to begin with—at least according to the new government. The scientists themselves hadn’t spoken directly to the public in at least thirty years, under a gag order from the President. That’s when she had established the Department of Homeland Energy Revitalization and quietly went about hiring the nation’s top scientists to develop various doomsday simulations, then estimate the energy needs vs. resources that would face the population in each scenario.
Ten years into the program, the United States had experienced the coldest winter since the 1800s. For a few years there had been a vibrant social debate on whether or not the cold winters meant an escalation of global warming, or a reversal, and during those years, it kept getting colder.
In the sixth subsequent year of declining temperatures, the Congressional scientists had issued a unanimous decree: the sun was dying. Their models had predicted a 20-year die off before it flickered out for good, plus or minus five years with a 95% confidence interval. It had only taken them four to erect the foundational walls, which were a thousand feet high, and then six more to move the majority of eligible citizens indoors.
Now they were in the final phase—collecting the last of the holdouts, like Jimmy, and starting to close up shop. At this point, they hadn’t even had to use force. The resources on the Perimeter kept dwindling, as did the people, and the ones who were still eligible were basically just being starved-in to the new, indoor society.
But a latent fennel seed had just blossomed in Penny’s greenhouse for the first time in seven years.
It was getting warmer.