“He says I need to find second sources to back up all the claims in the story,” Madison explained to Bryce and Cindy across the cafeteria table. “He said that’s the journalistic standard for things like this.”

“That’s bullshit,” Bryce said. “You know everything in the story is true. You heard it with your own ears.”

“Well, to be fair, I can’t say how I learned some of the stuff, since it wasn’t exactly legal. And I guess it is possible that Dr. Thornton is just a loopy, confused old man, even though he certainly seemed completely lucid to me,” Madison said.

“I’m not risking it,” Cindy said. “I moved all my savings into gold.”

Bryce turned to face her. “What?”

“You heard me,” she said. “I read on the internet that if a HEMP happens over Kansas, it would destroy all electronics in the entire United States. If my money is sitting in a bank, that really just means there’s a number in a database somewhere that says I have that much money. You wipe that database, and my money disappears.”

“But they’d have backups,” Bryce said.

“Backups where? Off-site doesn’t usually mean in a completely different country. The backups would be wiped along with the originals. All records that I ever had money in that account could vanish, and I’d have no way to prove they owe it to me.”

“HEMP erases computer disks?” Madison asked.

“Well, no. Not technically,” Cindy said. “But it would destroy the chips that make the disks work. I suppose they might be able to replace the electronics, but it would take a really long time. Disks aren’t made to be repaired, they’re made to be thrown away. The data might be on magtape, but the computer to read it would be destroyed and have to be replaced. Bottom line, the entire financial industry would be toast, and we’d be starting from scratch.”

“Hence the gold,” Madison said. “They’re hoarding gold at the warehouse. I guess that’s why.”

“Definitely,” Cindy agreed.

“How do you have enough in savings to buy gold?” Bryce asked.

Cindy smiled and motioned a zipper across her lips.

Madison laughed, then asked, “So wait a second. Would the same thing be true of debt?”

“You mean like would your credit card balance disappear?” Cindy asked. “Definitely. Both sides of the balance sheet go away.”

“This could be very good for my mom,” Madison said.

“What about stocks?” Bryce asked. “Like, my dad’s retirement money is all in the stock market. Would that disappear?”

“Sure,” Cindy said. “Unless he had stock certificates, but you never get those anymore. If you think about it, overnight there wouldn’t be any billionaires.”

“Why not?” Madison asked.

“Because nobody has a vault filled with gold—”

“Except you, apparently,” Bryce interrupted.

“Fair,” Cindy said. “But anyway, those super rich guys are only rich on paper. Other than land, and houses, and stuff like art, their wealth is just numbers in a database. Erase the database, erase the wealth.”

“Erase the rich,” Madison said.

“Hey, I was going to eat that!” Bryce joked.

Cindy and Madison laughed. “But what are the chances of it happening here?” Madison asked. “I mean, it could be anywhere over the whole planet when it goes off. Wouldn’t they try to time it, so it happens over the ocean?”

“I’d think so,” Cindy agreed. “But then why all the warehouses? They seem to be preparing for it happening here.”

“Maybe they are preparing for more than one,” Bryce suggested. The girls turned to him, and Madison’s eyes widened. “I mean really,” he continued, “we don’t know why that first one in April has to be destroyed. Maybe there’s a bunch that are going to fail. Maybe this is just a thing that happens now—every few years, another place gets HEMP’d.”

“HEMP is a verb now?” Cindy asked.

“HEMP is a verb now,” Madison said.

“Get HEMP’d,” Bryce said. “Has a nice ring to it.”

“You guys are so weird,” Cindy said. “I’m glad I have you on my apocalypse team.”

“Aww,” Madison replied. “We’re glad we have you, too.”

“Especially because gold,” Bryce said.

Madison tilted her head, raised her eyebrows, and nodded in agreement. Then they all started laughing.

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