Status: this is an INCOMPLETE FIRST DRAFT, and has only undergone minor edits. if something seems weird just leave it be


Proposals of Impossibility

Red hair hastily pulled back in a tight bun off her tired face, Cate waited outside the governor’s office door. She pulled the front of her blouse down, as if it would hide the rounded outline of her belly. It never did, but it always made her feel better to pretend. Hell, she was nervous. The note she had received played in her head for the fifth time since she had made the climb up.
“Urgent. I have a proposition for you.” That was it. It stunk like high hell to Cate’s nose, but who was she to turn down the governor before she’d even heard the woman out? It was the highest form of disrespect she could think of.
She tugged at her blouse again one last time when a creak announced the door opening. The governor beckoned her in. Governor Melissa Powell was in her mid sixties, greying hair braided away from her dark face tightly in neat rows. She was lean and wiry and stood almost a full head taller than Cate, and everything about how she sat in the chair behind the desk exuded wisdom and power. It was something Cate had aspired to for a long time.
Cate stepped through the door and took the seat in front of the governor’s desk, crossing her feet and tugging her skirt down for modesty’s sake. “Ma’am, you called for me,” she said in neutral, deferential tones.
Governor Powell looked her over and smiled. “You look well considering the circumstances. How have you been?”
Cate hesitated. “If I may speak freely, ma’am, I’ve been doing terribly.” She regretted it immediately.
The governor cleared her throat. “As I’ve said before, you have my most sincere condolences. You are more than welcome to take time off, you know.” Cate couldn’t tell from her tone how she meant it.
“Pardon, ma’am, but I feel that it would be best for me to keep busy,” she said slowly, folding her hands in her lap. She was getting nervous. There had to have been a reason for the summons besides this small talk, right?
Governor Powell nodded, understanding. “As long as you don’t overwork yourself,” she said. She leaned over her desk for a brief moment, shuffling papers in silence.
Cate piped up, “Is there a specific reason I’m here today, ma’am?”
“Of course there is,” the governor said curtly. “I have something in the works that might turn into a great opportunity for you. I know how invested you are in history and cultural preservation.”
Oh lord, did Governor Powell know how Cate had fought her tooth and nail for the position she held and the permissions it brought her. All for her the studies she had devoted herself to. The two women certainly did have a history together, and not always a very nice one.
Cate took the comment glibly, raising an eyebrow to show she was interest. She said nothing.
The governor cleared her throat and continued. “You and I are the most informed about the scavenging parties we send out. You document their comings and goings and what they bring back.”
Cate nodded. It was something she had done for years. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Well, say I were arranging one on a much larger scale,” Governor Powell said.
A larger scale? What? “What kind of scale are we talking here?” she asked. The governor was right, Cate was beginning to feel very interested despite her sluggishness and melancholy. And here she had thought it would be a while before she could move herself to care about anything.
“Seventy people, about. Whole families traveling together,” the governor started. “You know as well as I that the snipers and the groundguards have reported less activity in recent years. The zombie population is on the decline, Miss Catherine.”
It clicked. “You want to start a test colony?” Cate ventured. This was very intriguing.
“Precisely,” the governor said, smiling. “Haven’t you ever been curious to find out what dirt feels like?” She was playing into Cate’s dreams and Cate knew she was falling for it. She couldn’t help it, she was a sucker for knowledge.
“I myself was a baby when it all happened, you know,” the governor said. Her tone changed. Less professional, more sentimental. Despite their clashes, she trusted Cate with treasured memories. “I don’t know the feeling myself. I would go myself if my position allowed it.”
“Ma’am?” Cate hedged.
“Would you like to?” The governor asked, making eye contact.
Yes. Yes, I do. More than anything.
“My work here-” Cate started, but the governor cut her off.
“Is worth nothing if you find nothing new,” she said. “I’ve seen you pore over those old journals even though you’ve read them countless times by now. You’ve dissected all there is to dissect, Miss McCarthy, and you know it. There is little you can do now besides keep the records. And anyone can take over that job.”
She was right. Cate was useless. But her throat felt dry. This was too much, too soon. “Who will take care of the archive?” she asked, her voice cracking. Damn it, she was getting all choked up at the thought of leaving her admittedly meager life’s work behind.
“Your father has offered to take over the maintenance of your collection,” the governor said. “You know he cares about it almost as much as you do.”
Only because I do, Cate thought. But the governor was right. Dale McCarthy would make a good archivist in her absence. “What makes you think I would survive out there?” she asked. Perhaps now she was simply fishing for compliments, but she needed them right now. Besides, there were things the governor was holding back and Cate wanted to know. She wanted to know everything.
Governor Powell had hooked her completely. The old woman waved her hand. “I plan on sending a large chunk of the groundguard and the scavengers along. They have experience facing the wilds and all that is in them. They will keep you safe.”
“For what purpose, exactly?” Cate asked.
The governor smiled at her again. Like she knew all sorts of things Cate didn’t. It would have irked her if she hadn’t been so invested. “I want you to handle the whole trip,” the governor said. “The group will need someone competent to manage the rations, the rosters, and most important for you, the events of the expedition.” She beckoned Cate to scoot in and unrolled an old map on the desk.
Cate scooted in and peered at the map. It was of the whole United States as they had once been, major cities that now stood long abandoned marked here and there. There were a few holes in the map, pinpricks that obviously held significance for its previous owner. Who was long dead, of course.
The governor had drawn a route on the map in red pen. Her spidery handwriting had annotated certain spots along the way, and the destination was circled with a heavy hand, pressing ridges into the old paper. Cate furrowed her brow. “Yellowstone National Park? That’s like us, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” the governor said. “We’re the only place in the former country with this many redwoods. It makes us special. Yellowstone doesn’t have any.”
Just imagining a place without redwoods was difficult. It didn’t feel right.
“You want us to settle on the ground?” Cate asked.
The governor met her questioning gaze. “Absolutely, I do,” she said. “Yellowstone, much like us has its own unique natural defenses. I’m sure you remember what that geology textbook you coveted a few years back had to say about geysers.”
Geysers. Big natural fountains of hot water that just shot out of the ground. Right.
“I do,” Cate said.
“Those things, the book claims, have a great deal of heat and pressure behind them. It’s unlikely that unintelligent predators will make it past them,” the governor said. There was something wild in her eyes, a passion Cate did not see often. It was terribly contagious.
“What makes you so sure they won’t kill us too?” Cate prodded.
“They seem like they’d be difficult to miss,” the governor said. “I’m sure you will find local maps in broken down cars around the area, as well. I doubt you’ll be going in completely blind.” She leaned back and sighed, a more grave demeanor taking over. “That is not to say I’m not expecting casualties. It’s a long way to go, especially on foot. It won’t be easy and some of you will die on the way.”
Cate nodded grimly. It was a given to her, of course. Life just worked that way. But that didn’t make it any more pleasant to acknowledge, though. “I understand,” she said. “I’m in.”
“Thank you,” Governor Powell said. “Really, it’s a lot to ask of one woman. Especially at a time like this. But the world still spins and time goes on and we have a lot of planning to do.”
“I understand,” Cate said again. “I’m honored you would trust me with something this big.” A simple truth. Now that Cate had really begun processing all that had been said, she could feel an incredible pride welling in her breast. The governor was right, it was a great deal to trust one person with. And that the governor clearly did trust her, even enough to just openly shove the responsibility into her hands, that was truly something.
She ended up leaving the office with a large stack of papers and a newfound hope for the future.
The governor really had known when she would need it most. The old woman had even, in a rare moment of informality, embraced her before she left. For some reason, that alone was lifted Cate’s spirits as much as everything else. The fact that someone she had loved had died did not mean there were no more people that loved her.
And what an odd place to find a kind of motherly compassion for even those brief seconds than the woman she worked for. But she couldn’t find it in her to complain. She had needed it.
But as Cate made her way back down to her archive space, a weight began settling on her shoulders. This project, this expedition was going to be a lot of work. And much of it was on her now.

She was more than ready to sink her teeth into it and begin.