Chapter 1: (v.2) Surface

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

Reads: 531

Sand was burying the ruins of old New York. Dunes crept up the stairs of the public library. The Bronx courthouse was so deep you could easily get on the roof. And yet, some buildings were still inhabited. They'd reinforce the walls, add new exits in the ceiling. Some people simply could not give up on the surface city and move down into the great caverns. So here and there at night you could see sand-dunes glow softly from internal lights.


Surface dwellers were stubborn; Jamie tried to emulate them. She tried to embrace the desert aesthetic. She'd gotten a very fine robotic camel, started dressing in flowing robes, with long silver-white gloves that came to her elbows to thawart the UV rays. She painted her dark skin with shimmering mica paints, reflecting sunlight from her nose, cheakbones and lips. swaddled in rippling, silver cloth, from a distance she was a vision from the past, a Bedouin guide girl on the road to Kem't. Oblivious, the electric camel picked its way on wide, soft, silent, carbon hooves over the endless rolling dunes. Jamie scanned the reddening evening horizon. As an archeologist, to her, the shape of dunes, the texture of sand, told a story. She was on what had once been Broadway, in the center of the street heading uptown into the ruins of Harlem. Hamilton Heights, Inwood, were some of the few parts of the city that still poked above the sand.

The sand was capricious. But, it had accomplished what generations of engineers and city planners could not: It had made NYC, for miles, perfectly level. Low lying regions were buried. Only the tallest buildings and those built at elevation poked above ground. With the exception of the domes, and the valleys of old river beds, New York was … equalized. The dynamism of the city, the tall buildings like cliffs, the heightened contrasts of a world city had vanished from the surface. Only to be replicated far below, but at a grotesque scale. All of those subsurface caverns, where the many billions of people who never saw the real sun lived their lives. New York stretched out over miles of stoney mantel. New York more levels deep than you could count and not a star in the artificial skies. Jamie shuddered. She could hardly afford to live on the surface, even with the help of the university, but the struggle, the dangerous conditions were worth it to be … free of the caverns. 


Jamie was riding home after a long day on the dig site. A long day but a good one. She'd found something remarkable: couldn't wait to show Kevin. She was excited but also bodily exhausted from digging. Hopefully she wouldn't need to shovel any sand to get in the front door of her reinforced brownstone tonight. Thier building stood alone, the last to survive on the block: a sand-shrouded survivor disappearing into the rippling desert sea. For the past few months a huge dune had crept up the back of the building, nearly reaching the roof. Lately, sand had started spilling over the top, first covering the stoop, then burying the front windows. Most of the building was uninhabitable. The desirable upper stories weren’t structurally sound. But, the first floor and basement were sound enough for active support. A kind of sarcophagus integrated in to the walls preventing the sand from crushing the structure that remained. Through the sand that had partially filled the front stairwell she could see the faint glow of the kitchen windows. Kevin was home. And Kevin had cleared a path to the door. 

Maybe it was a lucky day after all. She patted her rucksack, thinking of the find. 


Once in the front hall, she removed her bags from the e-camel.  Obediently, the camel ducked under the front hall stairs, folded its legs beneath it, and closed its big dopey eyes to recharge. Jamie wished it were that simple for her. 


The front hall was one of the oldest parts of the building. Cracked, black and white checkered tiles, windows that once looked out on a postage stamp of a backyard, the brass railings and painted-over tin ceiling were out of the 1900s, back when the building was surrounded by other brownstones. Back when there was a neighborhood not just dotted… installations of the very wealthy (and often insane) sort of person who insisted that this… valley of tombs was the real New York City, and only the real New York no matter how inhospitiable would do. 

The windows in the hall were completely blocked by sand. It blocked out light and muffled howling winds. Whenever she was in the hall she thought she could hear, just below the near constant sounds of the desert, a deeper noise, the building groaning ...the windows cracking, the sounds of the old spaces she excavated.


Perhaps, it was time to get the sand around their home "hardened" Targeted lasers and a liquid slurry with plastic micro-particles could turn a sand dune into a solid structure resistant to cave-ins--


But, it meant you could never (ever) dig back out again. There were still the rare weeks when the dunes would shift, letting in shafts of light through the sandblasted glass. If you had it hardened, you'd never see light through those windows again.

She stepped into a small console and tried (ineffectively) to remove the sand from her clothes with the vacuum, then tripped downstairs, invited by the savory smells of Kevin cooking dinner. 


Submitted: November 28, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.

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