No fucking way.
Mitch knew that voice. That voice did not belong to someone he wanted to talk to right now. Or anytime for that matter. He was already in a nasty mood, having to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere for who knows what kind of government testing.
He pretended that he hadn't heard anyone calling his name, continuing just to pump gas and watch the dollars tick up much faster than the gallons. It was pretty blatant, but it was the only ploy open to him. He sincerely hoped the man would get the hint.
No, such luck.
"Oh, Alex, hey." He was unable to dredge up any enthusiasm but managed to pull polite out of somewhere. Alex was the type of person who refused to believe he wasn't everyone's best friend. Think Norm from "Yes Man," but he was also the do-gooder type. Those character traits had caused them to clash in the past when Alex had almost gotten Mitch fired from a job he enjoyed based on some rumors (untrue) he heard and took to their manager. It was probably petty to hold on to pre-Tolling grudges but, in the midst of all this chaos, Mitch sometimes found that making little things bigger helped to make big things seem smaller.
Mitch quashed some very unkind words that boiled to the top of his mind and only nodded a greeting.
"Man! Crazy running into you out here, what's it been six, seven years?"
"Something like that," Mitch says.
"Time flies huh? What've you been up to all this time?"
"The usual; work and such."
"Nice. Simple. You heading out for testing?"
"Yeah, my test is tomorrow, but I didn't want to be late and have someone put a warrant out on me."
The second Tolling had happened a couple of months ago, and all of the changes they had seen from the first Tolling were exacerbated.
At first, people had been excited. It seemed like the rebirth of legends. Super strength, super speed, magic; they all seemed to be making a comeback. Unfortunately, that had prompted the government to take some drastic and unfortunate actions. The boys in Washington were saying that because of the scale of some of these changes after the second tolling, they were reaching the point where they could be considered weapons and as such were subject to regulation. Specifically, every surviving American was required to report for testing and registration.
Testing centers had been set up across the country on military bases, and everyone had received a notice giving them a date and location to report for testing. Anyone who did not show at the designated time would have a warrant issued for their arrest. There had been a lot of pushback, and very few people were happy about it. It had even been compared to the Nazi registration of Jews in WWII; Mitch thought that might be a bit extreme, but couldn't completely disagree with the comparison. Even children over five years old were required to report for testing.
Testees would be given an ID with their score that they would be required carry at all times.
"That makes sense," Alex chuckled lightly as if Mitch had made a joke of some kind, "Me and the missus are actually on our way back." Mitch started to think that this unfortunate conversation may have some benefit after all. The government had been very vague about the testing process; only saying that it was "simple."
"Nice. Is it as simple as they've been saying?"
"Oh yeah, super simple. They have these machines that they have you grab ahold of like those electric BMI readers, just way bigger. I was kind of expecting a physical test or an obstacle course or something, but all you do is hold on to these handles for a bit, and then it spits out a score."
Mitch was surprised. That actually was very simple. He didn't wear a tinfoil hat, but he rarely took what the government said at face value, but this time they were right on point.
Alex had a history as a bit of a braggart, so he hesitated to ask his next question, but his curiosity got the better of him. "How'd you rate?"
"Not bad." In Alex speak that meant "really good" and he was pretending not to want to say because he didn't want to brag. If you got him going though he would talk about his accomplishments all day. He was great at interviews.
Mitch sighed mentally but asked, "Yeah? What was your score?"
"E4-5. They said that's in the ninety-seventh percentile."
"Wow, that is pretty good."
The government had laid out the scoring system a couple of weeks ago. It was split by type, tier, and level. So, Alex's score was type E, tier four, level five. There were four types: E, W, F, R. There was a lot of speculation that the types stood for Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, with R stading for water; but there had been no confirmation from the government on that.
Each type had six tiers, from zero up to five. Each tier also had five levels; one through five. It sounds complicated, but it boiled down to the higher your numbers, the stronger the effect the returning energy was having on you.
Alex was on at the top level of the fourth tier. If that was the ninety-seventh percentile then most likely they were using a bell curve; only tier five and above would be in the top two percent. Mitch hated bell curves. He had gotten screwed over more than a couple of times by those things.
"Yeah, I guess it is," says Alex, breaking Mitch from his reverie.
"So are you seeing any of the effects they keep talking about?"
"Strength mostly. Supposedly I'm at four times the pre-Tolling world record for the deadlift."
Four hundred percent stronger than the strongest man before the Tolling? Well, just for the deadlift. But, wait, that's worse. The guy who set that record probably worked at that specific exercise for months before they showed Guinness.
"So, how much is that?"
"Uhh, Forty-two-hundred pounds." Mitch found himself very glad that he had stayed friendly.
"Wow, and the machine tells them that?"
"Oh, no. They give you the option to take a voluntary test after the basic one. They had me do all sorts of calisthenics and weightlifting stuff."
"What did you bench?" There was almost no chance that "all sorts of weightlifting stuff" didn't include the bench press and as that exercise was the American standard for strength Mitch was curious what could be done nowadays.
"I did a bit better there, forty-four-hundred pounds." Really glad he had stayed friendly; that was more than most cars weigh.
"What about you, any changes?"
"Not really, I'm probably more in the average range."
"Ah, that makes sense. Cool, cool."
"Hey, can I see that card?"
"Oh! Sure. It's not very cool. It just looks like a driver's license except that it has one of those internet codes on the back instead of a barcode."
Internet code thing? Alex pulls out the card: he meant QR code. Other than that it really does look like a driver's license. There is no organ donor status, and instead of a license number, it has Alex's score. The QR code is on the back.
"Would you mind if I scanned that QR code to see what it says?"
"Oh, that's interesting. Sure, give it a go."
Mitch pulls out his cell phone. Some electronics, especially wireless ones, had been acting up quite a bit since the second Tolling, but he manages to get the QR reader app going and scan the code.
All he gets is an error notice that pops up. "Form incompatible with this software."
"Aw, dang." says Alex. "I actually got really curious when you asked about that. You think it's one of those electronic glitches or is it the code?"
"I wouldn't be surprised if they encrypted it."
"Hmm, good point."
"Well, thanks for the info. Good to see you again." Says Mitch.
"Oh, yeah! You to. Good luck on the test. Keep in touch!"
"Thanks. Have a good one."
"Sure thing buddy! Do the same!"
Now he really wonders how he will do on the test? Will he break any old world records? Probably not. Maybe he can match some of them? Yea, maybe match.
Only one way and one day to find out.
- Indiana, USA
Bio: I've been a reader since I can remember. I remember reading late into the night using just the light I could get from cracking my bedroom door to the hallway, much to my parents frustration I'm sure. Animorphs, Where the Red Fern Grows, Call of the Wild, Ender's Game, Dune, The Wheel of Time and many more than I can name here all defined my childhood. To a certain point I remember the stories from the books I read better than my actual youth. Recently I felt a strong desire to write something. To pour out a bit of what I have built up over the years. I had always had a kind of formless "one day" kind of desire to write, but this was different: persistent. Thus is born my first fiction, Rescendence, begun some random weekday night when an extra nightcap gave me the courage to finally put fingers to keys and see what happened. This is my first serious attempt at writing anything, and is proving more exciting and more difficult than I anticipated. I hope that through it all I can give you, dear reader, something that you enjoy and can look forward to.