She walked through the cold, dark streets, pulling her tattered jacket tighter around herself. The icy wind bit at her exposed flesh and had previously attempted to claim her nose & fingertips. She subconsciously fingered the chip that hung on a thin stretch of twine around her neck. The guys at the lab said it would protect her for one hundred days.
She was now on day one-hundred-six.
She flinched and her head shot down to look at the pavement in front of her when she saw an old man, possibly sixty or seventy, struggling forward on his hands and knees. He was clearly desperate to get inside. She saw that the chip around his neck was red.
She hugged herself as she shuffled forward a little quicker than before, hurrying to get to the Station before they ran out of the good rations. For all people knew, they were going to get snowed in for half the year like last time. She had heard rumors that two-thirds of the town had starved during last year’s blizzard.
She rushed past the graveyard, keeping her head down but stealing a glance off to the side at all the tombstones. Every single stone slab was at least forty years old - the city had begun focusing all its resources on providing for the living and no one had time anymore for mourning the dead. She spotted a young man, seemingly in his late teens, huddled by a tombstone. The stone was dusted with what, forty years ago, people would’ve thought was snow, but now was known to be ash. It was ash left from the reactor just outside of town that had caught fire. The city didn’t even try to evacuate people - there wasn’t anywhere for them to go.
Their options had been to die of radiation poisoning, or choke on fumes from the cities.
Luckily for them, the city had come up with the chips that were now tied around everyone’s necks. It bought them one hundred days of life without the poison, and if you were unlucky enough to have your chip break, or if there was a short supply that round, then you’d likely be dead before anyone could help you. Nowadays, most deaths were quick - people were literally living off their technology, and a fault would easily turn a broken body over to survive on its own. After taking so much damage before the technology arrived, no one’s body could support themselves without the chips.
She looked down at her chip in mild, curiosity, but with serious relief. The intricate lines that ran across the white surface were still blue. Blue meant life. Green meant minor damage - just don’t go outside. Red... Anyone with a red chip would be dead within twenty-four hours of its malfunctioning. No one had lived for more than thirty hours after their chip breaking.
She was tempted to see if the man wanted her help, but she could see him anxiously fingering his chip too.
It was the end of the cycle, and the supply trains had been hindered by a blizzard to the south, so the chips were gradually failing. She was just grateful that hers was still working. She was in better shape than most people, including her family, who had woken up this morning to see that their chips were green.
There were maybe six other people at the Station for rations. Seven people were left with blue chips.
Seven people who could go outside.
The number hung in the air as everyone was counting everyone else. There was more than enough food to go around now. Before, when hundreds or thousands of people had blue chips, there was always a family or twenty that went without food for that month. Now that most people were dead or dying, it left room for kindness.
When she arrived, the six teenage boys were dividing the rations up between themselves, but upon seeing her, and seeing her blue chip, they quickly threw everything back into a pile and re-divided everything amongst the group. No one said a word, but there was this silent agreements of a round-robin selection. They would reach forward, one at a time, pick a packet of food, and the next person would follow.
The packets of rations did not divide evenly by seven, however, and the boys exchanged glanced before looking at her. She froze for a moment and realized that she recognized these boys. Each had sought shelter with her family at one point or another when they had been caught outside in a blizzard of ash blowing in from the reactor. She knew they each had two parents and an older sibling. They had learned that she had two parents, an older brother, and a baby sister.
They were giving her the packet.
She hesitantly reached forward and took the bundle, feeling the paper crackle beneath her fingers. She nodded her thanks, and they each parted ways.
The air was cold, even colder than it had been before. She shivered, and the icy tingling that rushed down her spine and through her blood made her scared. She broke into a run as the wind picked up, hugging the packets of food close to her.
White-grey flakes began to blow from behind her, and she picked up the pace into a full-out sprint. Her chip bounced on its cord around her neck as she ran, and as the blizzard grew in intensity, she could see the dim lights of her home. The small apartment had nearly been abandoned during the meltdown, but her family had quickly taken up shelter there after the previous family chose the smog over the radiation. Most people did, anyways.
The ash was flying into her eyes and causing them to sting and water, her ice-cold tears chilling her even further. She quickly flew through the door of her home, where she saw her family, each sitting on a discarded pillow or cushion. She dropped the food packets in front of them and struggled to warm herself by the small fire they had in the center of the room.
After failing to successfully fend off the chill that had seeped through her skin, she passed out the food packets, one to split between two people. She split her packet with her brother and sister since the infant was so small she didn’t eat much anyway. She noticed the frightened looked on her family members’ faces.
She swallowed hard, knowing those looks. They had given the same looks to her uncle, her aunt, her older brother, the boy across the street, his parents. It was a look she knew all too well.
With a shaky breath, she lifted her chip to her gaze, holding it in her trembling thumb and forefinger.