Drab grey cement, covered in graffiti, amplified the staccato of her heels to Tommy Gun decibels. Echoes of each report rolled through the urban canyon that used to be the greatest city in the world. Sadly, just the skeleton of the beast remained. The main arteries had long ago been bled dry by the greedy who claimed poverty — those who valued the prize but not the effort it took to achieve it. They had since discarded their winnings like so much refuse, bored and unfulfilled by what they were certain they had to have. The country had behaved like a petulant child and reaped exactly what it had sewn in its discontent. Those who could not stop the calamity were now bequeathed the task of reparation, a thankless job that made survival in the new world that much more perilous.
The assault of heels on pavement stopped abruptly as an incessant rumble arose from behind the woman. She ducked between the ribs of the slain beast and hid in a doorway. Shadow had become a trusted friend in recent months. The company she kept and the routes she traveled required discretion and stealth. Dinah had become adept at both. Today’s trek through downtown Manhattan was a mission she never would have considered prior to her father’s death. Patriotism had always been her brother’s calling. Countless debates had raged between them about the best way for the country to proceed. As it turned out, they had both been wrong. It was their father who had held insight into the fate of their nation. She had dismissed the truth he spoke as sentimental, unwilling to accept the possibility of its power until his last moments. The undeniable proof she required came at a price she never expected to pay. His cause had become hers as his final ledger was balanced. The cobwebs of memory that had ensnared her were torn away by the monstrous, black, military transport that rumbled down the street she had traversed moments before. A soldier in black body armor and riot gear manned a swivel mounted machine gun from a turret in the center of the vehicle. Dinah peered around the corner of her alcove and watched as the gunman slowly surveyed the street. She was gripped by fear but fought to master its debilitating power. She had no time to be afraid. Only purposeful. The behemoth’s growl faded after what seemed an eternity. Dinah slipped off her heels and crept to the edge of the building. Her bare feet padded noiselessly against the broken cement. After a moment’s pause to be certain no more patrols lurked, she continued on toward her destination. The ruins of the Washington Square Park Arch loomed ahead, scrawled with the self-importance of the ignorant. The white stone darkened by the despotism of an entire generation. Dinah shivered as she passed beneath the overseer, though whether it was from the cool of the morning or the symbol of groupthink’s oppression she couldn’t be sure. She fixed her eyes on the spire piercing the clear blue ocean of sky before her. It had endured as a beacon of the city’s greatness for over a hundred years. At nearly fifteen hundred feet tall, it dwarfed everything in the immediate vicinity. Dinah was reminded of Alice in the Queen of Heart’s court, where it was illegal to be more than a mile high, yet nothing could be done about Alice’s giant stature no matter what the Queen demanded. Proponents of the nation’s descent called for its destruction. Its symbolism was offensive to them and to the other nations of the world, or so they claimed. Those who sought to preserve liberty rallied to its cause and denied the apologists. What seemed a small victory at the time became a catalyst for resistance. When the darkness fell, battles lit the sky at the base of the Empire State Building. In the end, the building was claimed as the base of operations for Prosperity. Prosperity was the name taken by the men and women who believed life should be driven toward a purpose. That individual effort and accountability were what propelled an individual, a people, a nation, a world forward.
It was Dinah who pressed forward now, resolute in her purpose to advance the nation’s rebirth. Fortune smiled upon her and she reached her destination without encountering any further patrols or barriers. She pounded the rhythmic pattern on the steel door alerting the guard to her presence and her identity. The guard cracked the door and slid the muzzle of his AR-15 into the space. No matter how common place weapons had become in daily life, Dinah still struggled to get used to a firearm being pointed at her. She made certain to hold very still and looked directly into the darkness beyond the barrel of the gun. A dozen agonizingly long heartbeats elapsed before the weapon was pulled back and the door opened wide enough for her to slip inside. The massive lobby was dark compared to the brilliant, sunlit morning. Dinah hated those first few moments of blindness when she first came inside. She kept her eyes on the shoes of the guard as he led her down the hallway between the elevator banks.
“How was it out there this morning Ms. Deats?” the guard broke the silence. “Only one patrol, Bernard. I was lucky.” She responded quietly. “That is fortunate. God smiles upon you.” His Nigerian accent was still heavy even after all his years as a New Yorker.
“My father would have admired your faith.” Her words were infused with as much warmth as she could muster. “There is no doubt he is proud of you, Miss.” Dinah smiled and passed him into the room for which Bernard held the door. Desks topped with oil lamps crowded the space. There were only a half a dozen people there and they congregated around a single desk. It was strewn with maps, and bits of paper. A strategy session was clearly underway. Dinah crossed the room and stood beside a tall man with closely cropped blonde hair. She listened quietly and attempted to absorb all the information she could from the debriefing.
Quickly, she realized the mission from the previous night had not gone well. The faces that surrounded her were tense with worry and fear. Her hand found that of the man beside her and she squeezed it. Her cousin Lucas’s pale blue eyes turned upon her as he squeezed her hand in response. They were bloodshot and red-rimmed with dark circles painting the soft skin beneath them. One look at his face and her mouth went dry. Anxiety bubbled up in her chest leaving the rest of her reeling in a desperate emptiness. “Where’s Dylan?” she whispered.
“He didn’t come back last night.” Lucas responded.
“What do you mean he didn’t come back?” she hissed.
“We lost contact with him about three A.M. Doc has been trying to reach him ever since. No luck.” Lucas didn’t look at her as he spoke. “Why didn’t anyone come get me?” Dinah’s eyes glistened with emotion in the half light.
“What could you have done?” His response was matter of fact but not harsh. “Somebody still should have let me know.” Her lips were pressed into a thin line as she fought to control her worry. “It was my call,” Lucas wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “I saw no reason for both of us to be awake all night. We’ll find him, cousin. I won’t let my brother be lost to this madness.”
“I could never forgive myself if anything happened to him. I’m the reason he’s here.” She leaned her head on Lucas’s shoulder and inhaled deeply.
“He’s here because it’s the right thing to do. It’s where we all should be. That you led us here is just a tribute to your vision.”
“My dad’s vision.” She corrected him. “But your perseverance.”
Check out all the chapters of The Mountain by Duane Deats