A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Water splashed around her feet, the sound echoing loudly off the walls of the gloomy tunnel as Greb ran as fast as her legs could carry her, rats scattering, squealing for cover, as she went.
The flashlights were getting closer now, sending crazy, jagged shadows scattering around her as she lost her footing and nearly fell head long into a puddle of stinking water. She steadied herself against the wall, and drew deep breaths of fetid air – not that Greb noticed, it was the air she had always breathed.
“Keep up the pace, men, she went this way!” came a barked order from behind her. Greb looked around and tried to get her bearings – she had been running for several miles now and had taken turnings almost randomly, hoping to throw The State patrol off her scent.
She should have known better, it was getting too dangerous to head Above alone nowadays, the stations were crawling with The State, patrolling, ready to follow any Choobie they saw and try to track them to their base. Just as this squad had attempted to do with Greb. But she wouldn’t lead them to her people: one thing The State didn’t understand was that the Choobies were a family, a tribe, and their loyalty was not paid for with a monthly salary.
The markings on the wall opposite were familiar to her, and Greb thought – hoped, that she knew where she was – enough for her to form a mental map, at least, and she sped off down the tunnel once again. Behind her came another shout, and this time it was followed by a light finding her feet.
A split second later, Greb’s world was filled with noise as bullets hit, then ricocheted all around her. Idiots – with a bit of luck these State troopers would end up hitting themselves within the tight confines of the tunnels.
At last, Greb reached the exit she was hoping to see: an ancient service doorway. She scanned the door quickly, desperately searching for a sign, a hieroglyph from one of her brethren that would indicate some escape, some hope: and there is was – a single, simple inverted T. Praise be the Seven Sisters, she said silently to herself, she could not have hoped for more!
She wrenched the door open and made to dart through, but then paused for just a second, looking back, to make sure the State troopers saw which was she was headed. The light landed on her face and there was a shouted command. Dammit, she had paused too long, they would surely wonder why she had stopped to be seen. She raised her crossbow and loosed off two shots in quick succession, without aiming or any particular hope of finding an enemy – just hoping they would assume this was why she had stopped. Then she moved swiftly through the doorway and into the darkness.
It worked. She could hear the troopers calling to one another:
“That way! The door!”
Through the doorway Greb found herself surrounded by darkness. The warning hieroglyph would do her no good if she couldn’t see anything, but away from the main tunnels, these walkways received no light at all, and even the attuned eyes of a Choobie couldn’t see in pitch black.
She moved forward slowly, carefully, scanning the walls and feeling her way in the darkness. There! Luminous paint on the wall showed three vertical lines followed by threw downward facing hoops. She could hear the echo of pounding feet – closer now – and quickly stood in line with the wall marking. She then took three strides, and three leaps, holding her breath each time she landed safely.
“There!” called a gruff voice, and the tiny passageway was suddenly illuminated with flashlights as The State troopers came bursting through the doorway. In the torchlight Greb could that the passageway widened out into a small room, with some ancient office furniture scattered around and a metal desk up by the wall up ahead of her, and sprinted for this. There was a burst of assault rifle fire and then a scream.
“Hold your fire you idiots! The ricochets will kill us all!”
Greb reached he desk and pulled herself behind it, then peeped out over the top. The troopers were massed at the other end of the room, one kneeling on the ground with a bleeding wound to the leg.
“There!” shouted another, as they spotted her.
“Grab her!” cried the Lieutenant. Two of the troopers quickly stowed their guns and reached for their knives as they ran forward.
Greb ducked and tried to curl herself into a ball in the corner where the desk met the concrete wall, and counted, her eyes tightly closed. One stride, two strides, thr…
…the explosion deafened her utterly, and the whole world shook, followed almost immediately by another, as one of the troopers either fell or was flung into the second trip-wire.
Through the metal to her back she could feel a force akin to someone slamming into her, but thankfully the desk must have been built into the wall itself, and the desk stayed put. She clung to her knees tightly for a few seconds more, before daring to open her eyes. Her ears rang with a sharp, high squeal.
One of the flashlights had somehow remained intact, and shone down the corridor at an odd angle. There was a lot of blood, even here beyond her hiding spot, and fragments of weaponry, clothing… people. There were no sounds from any of the corpses. She moved down the corridor, being careful to avoid the third trip wire, over to that of the Lieutenant, largely intact. His eyes were utterly vacant, there hadn’t even been time for him to register surprise. She checked his pockets. Sure enough, she soon found a great roll of the pieces of paper they called “points”, which the Choobies had found the The Guild would accept as if they had some inherent value.
She put the points in her pocket and swung a shotgun, which looked largely intact, over her shoulder, surveyed the carnage one more time, and headed off back down the railway tunnels towards home.
Maybe going Above alone wasn’t such a bad idea after all.