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Damian quickly closes the gate behind them and peers out into the approaching nightscape. He then scans the darkening hillsides one last time before turning to his men. The security group has just finished their patrols for the day. “Alright, that’s it,” he says. “Get some sleep and be ready for the meeting at eight in the morning. Tomorrow will be a busy one again.” The men turn and one by one go in their different directions toward their housing. Damian will move on to his office to write his reports before returning home to his wife and son.

It has been an uneventful day and the kind of day for which they always hope it can be. And seldom did any problems arise anymore but, on occasion, he and his men would come across others making their way up the mountain and they would have to be chased away. The Perimeter stretches a few miles in every direction from the mountaintop compound and patrolling is a daily requirement. Most Groupings have been able to maintain and protect their immediate surroundings with adequate arms and sufficient manpower. Those who may still threaten are declining rapidly in numbers as death and despair increasingly prevail below. But one needs to stay on guard, just in case some foolhardy soul, mad from starvation and want, makes a last ditch suicidal assault on a well-protected and well-provisioned compound such as the Donnelly Grouping.

Opening the door to his office, Damian puts down his pack and sits down at the desk. Turning on a lamp, he rests in the low glow of a single bulb. He is tired, weary from his day’s work. But he is one of the lucky ones, with a job, in a Grouping where food and water are still abundant. Damian and his family had moved here almost ten years ago when his son was only five years old. The offer had come from a friend of his deceased father, from a Mister Donnelly, a man of wealth and power who had gone in with three others to build this mountain fortification. The proposal was for Damian to join the security forces and work for the Grouping and with this allegiance came the safety and sustenance that would make life possible for his family and himself. It had been a difficult but simply unavoidable decision. Reality looked them in the face and it was either join or in time, they would also perish.

Life had become unbearable in the cities and the towns like the one in which Damian and his family had previously lived. Economies were wrecked and with that disappeared the benefits from having steady and regular employment. People had used up their savings and sold nearly everything they had to purchase the remaining necessities of life. And as chaos and unrest spread through the streets, safety had become a main issue. In the early years of The Decline, crime and theft had increased enormously. Those that had provisions would hide them from view, hide them from others as no one was to be trusted, not your neighbors, not your friends, and not that person beside you. It was simply everybody for themselves. Families clung ever tighter to each other, grasping at any life preserver that floated past, and then hanging on for dear life. But dear life was an image of the past, near death being the more real present.