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Union Candy (part 12)

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They walked cautiously through the dimly lit hallways where mutants stopped what they were doing to stand and stare at them. None of these mutants were armed, Kru noticed, nor did they show any signs of hostility and Finny just smiled and waved at all of them like she was strolling by the pond on a sunny afternoon.

Wheezy conversations restarted after they passed by and, as they got deeper into the underground world, smells of cooking surrounded them. Finny led Kru along what was obviously a main thoroughfare and, branching off it, Kru made out other, narrower, corridors of what were obviously living quarters. She saw humans here too, whole families in some cases. These desperate refugees responded nervously to their presence, even to Finny’s friendly waves, and quickly ushered their children away from them.

The smell of cooking resolved itself into a large communal kitchen and dining hall and, once again, mutants and humans stopped what they were doing to watch their progress. Finny led Kru towards a final set of wooden stairs that led down one final level to the door leading to the actual sewer tunnels. Finny crossed to a pile of crude and bloody weapons.

“Here, you’ll need one of these.” Finny said, passing Kru a baseball bat with nails driven through the business end.

Kru examined the weapon, the lower half of which was coated in layers of dried blood with torn bits of flesh covered in matted fur lodged between the vicious nails. She looked at Finny with a question in her eyes.

“Rats.” Finny said, picking a short but hefty wooden club for herself. “Great big ones.”

After watching Finny, already laden with the briefcase, awkwardly swinging the club one handed, Kru stepped towards the door.

“Okay, I’ll lead. Stay close.”

She opened the door and was met with a wave of fetid foulness not entirely made up from shit alone.

Finny followed Kru through and stood next to where her companion had stopped.

They were in an enormous circular hallway. On the walls of the dome that arched above them, a dozen or so outlet pipes trickled a continuous stream of filthy water and detritus into the slowly swirling pool in the middle of the hall. At the centre of the shallow water, a pile of rubbish formed a conical island.

Anything that floated wound up here, first to be picked over by the Underfolk before being sluiced down to the massive compactors whenever the next large rainfall emptied onto the land metres above them.

“This is where all the dead dogs go.” Finny whispered, remembering back to the night when she had very nearly ended up here herself.

Kru looked at the glistening mound of crap held together with shit. Not just dogs, she thought, noticing the maggot ridden remains of some poor sod adding his own putrescence to the pile.

“Come on”, she said quietly, putting a hand on Finny’s shoulder. “Let’s get moving.”

They carefully made their way along the narrow footway to where the main sewer entered the chamber and they turned right, into the wide tunnel.

When Finny and the reading group had travelled these tunnels on their way to their second ‘great adventure’ the weather had been so hot that barely a trickle of water ran down the centre of the troughs and the walls and floors were caked in dry and crusty platelets that exploded into dust when hit with their sticks.

Today, though, the sewers were back to their normal state, wet slimy walls and a treacherously slippery floor. Down the centre of the tunnel, the metre-wide trough was full of opaque water that carried along all the literal and metaphorical crap from New Flagstaff in a slow, gurgling journey to the where Finny and Kru had just come from.

The only light down here is what comes in from the sidewalk gutters and drains. Daylight had gone and now, and all that filtered through from above was the flickering neon glow from the streetlights. This made the walking doubly dangerous and once or twice Kru tripped on the broken concrete floor or something that had been too heavy to me moved in all but the most fast-flowing water. The thought of ending up in the murky water that lay beneath the curiously pretty oily film made Kru shudder and she wondered how Finny even knew the way to where they were going, never mind how she deftly managed to avoid all the trip hazards.

“How the hell do you know which is the right way?”

“The sewers follow the streets.” Finny called back over her shoulder. “It’s easy.”

Kru wasn’t a native of New Flagstaff. If she’d grown up on the streets like Finny and her friends, she too would have known every backstreet and alley in the town. Kru just hoped Finny’s confidence was justified. She’d hate to be lost down here.

The plan was for them to get Finny’s lockpicks from her vault and then, using the sewers again, make their way to Verde Street where Joe’s lock-up was. Hopefully, by the time they arrived, the Union guards who normally patrolled there would have set up a cordon for a supposed ‘gas leak’ or whatever reason Eric Cloud had come up with to make sure there would be nobody laying in wait for them. At the moment, though, they were heading for a quiet corner of Milton Road, close to the vaults, where they could climb out into the fresh evening air.

Kru had just finished turning the latest rat attack into a bloody, pulpy mess when Finny called a halt.

“We’re here.”

Kru pushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes and hoped that whatever was wet on her cheek was only blood. Finny was pointing up so Kru followed the finger up to where faint orange light leaked past the edges of the round manhole cover.

“There’s a problem, though.”

The finger descended, following the path of the ladder. One rung, another… and that was it, just the snapped off rusted ends remained. The ladder ended half a metre higher than Kru had a hope of reaching. She swore under her breath.

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to go to the next nearest then.”

Finny shook her head.

“Too far away, and it’s right inna main road. The next one is outside the orphanage an’ the next one is the one we want after I’ve got my lock picks.”

Kru swore again.

“Shit!” She kicked the remains of one of the rats a long way back down the tunnel. “Fuck!” Another mangled corpse joined its brother. Finny watched. Just as Kru was pulling her foot back to launch another rat, she raised her voice over her partner’s cursing.

“If you boost me,” Finny said, standing under the manhole cover and peering up. “I bet I could reach the ladder.”

Kru flicked the last rat corpse into the trough with the toe of her boot and joined Finny under where the ladder ended. She looked up too. Yeah, she could boost the kid up that far.

“Then what?”

Finny looked at Kru as if she was dumb or something.

“Then I go and get my stuff and come back here.”

Kru started wagging a finger.

“Oh no no no. No! No way. Anything happens to you up there and Joe’ll croak me for sure. There has to be another way.”

“I just said. This is the only way up that is close to the vaults. If we go up another one then they’re gonna spot us anyway.”

Kru looked like she was about to try and veto Finny’s idea. Finny, still dangling the briefcase from her left hand, put her hands on her hips.

“I can run there an’ back in a couple of minutes, an’ it’s dark anyway.”

“Not dark enough so that they can’t see you. And that hair of yours is a dead giveaway.”

Finny made a face. Not for the first time had her hair betrayed her in the face of those looking for a culprit. Then the scowl turned into a sneaky grin.

“I can do a disguise though.”

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