LEON DROVE AHEAD IN HIS LITTLE box on wheels, keeping an eye out for police. He didn’t know where exactly they were heading, as Voice was keeping that information strictly to himself, but the now closed-circuit navs that Boss had spent the day modifying were letting Voice ping forwards an occasional direction to Leon’s screen. They were taking the most intricate route that Voice’s mind could compute, and after a while, even Boss was worried that they’d gotten themselves lost. He half expected to see foreign faces in an uncharted land. A sharp screech and a loud smash quickly brought him back to reality, though, as he realised they must be near central city. The drivers there never ceased to amaze Boss as they tempted the fast-busses in their little eco-friendly cars. No chance…
Another ping on Leon’s navs showed what looked like the main road into China-Ville. As expected, it was swarming with tourists, providing good cover from any potential pursuers. Leon pushed his way through. Progress was slow from there on, but he felt safe behind the thick wall of consumers.
Once Voice stopped updating the navs, Leon assumed that they had arrived and pulled into a side lane that even his tiny car struggled to fit into. He hopped out of the driver’s seat and looked around, amazed at the colours and smells and accents echoing all over. Voice pulled up behind, all but blocking the walkway, and Boss fell out of the door, eye rolling. “Jesus, if I had known we were going for a city-wide tour, I would have thrown us a few comms together. I was bored half to death.”
He slammed the door behind him. Voice backed up and disappeared down one of the many turns ahead. Leon watched, long after the dust settled. “Think he’s coming back? Or we got to find this Dubbs dude ourselves?”
Boss shrugged. “Either way, I’m going for a stroll. Can’t sit still any longer.”
“I hear that.”
They walked slowly, glancing down each turn as they searched for clues about where to go. “While we’re here, you should get yourself a pirate eyeball or something. Anything. Just cover up that hole in your face.”
“An eyeball from China-Ville? You kiddin’? Who knows who else could be watching through it. That’s like paying for someone to spy on you.”
“That’s what the brand names want you to think so you buy theirs for an extremely inflated price. It’s all the same gear.”
“Eh, either way, I don’t want just any old eyeball. Last one was custom design from Dubbs. If I get a new one, it will be from him.”
“Can you at least get some sunglasses or something? It’s gross, man.”
“Sunglasses? What you think this is, the seventies?”
Leon pulled a face. Someone had once told him never to argue with stupid people, and he was beginning to see why.
“You realise that eye tints are only a year or so old, right? Sunglasses are still the most common — ”
“Alright, kid, cool it. I’ll get some damn sunnies.”
“But they’re coming out of your pay.”
Leon shook his head. The duo walked a little further down the lane, eyeball arguments left behind. After another turn, they heard a rumbling sound coming from an unknown source, and they stopped and looked around. It sounded like a distant earthquake. After a few disconcerting seconds, a hissing came from beneath Leon as a manhole cover lifted itself. Boss pulled Leon aside and stared at the cover, peering through the gap as it continued to open. The tunnel was completely dark, and neither Leon nor Boss saw anything except for a dirty little face peering back. This person was small but not young. The goggles perched on the end of a button nose were covered in grime. Two round eyes stared over the top. A piece of rag fastened over the head concealed long, matted hair, and it took Boss a moment to realise that this face belonged to a woman. He didn’t know what to say, being so taken aback by this half mole who had just popped up from the floor. The mole broke the silence.
Boss nodded dumbly.
“Come down, quick-like.”
Leon rolled back his sleeves, readying himself for the descent.
Boss looked at him sideways. “You don’t seem as weirded out as I feel.”
Leon shrugged. “Working for you, I’ve become immune. Just add this to the list of weird stuff I’ve seen these last few days.”
Boss couldn’t argue, so he followed Leon underground.
They walked quietly for a while, following the glow strips and the sound of mole-lady’s footsteps through the shadows.
“Reminds me of being back at the zone,” Leon said, though it was more of a thought out loud. He realised then just how much he missed it.
Boss scratched his head. “Oh yeah? The TV showed a bunch of tents and aid work shelters. I didn’t picture it like this at all.”
“I was surprised, too. The survivors are hiding in places like this. They said they are hunted. I wasn’t convinced until the checkpoint guards pulled their guns on me and Voice.”
The mole-lady quieted her footsteps to catch the end of the conversation.
Boss continued. “As much as I hate to suggest it, I wonder if the police could help them.”
The mole-lady stopped altogether now. “The police are the ones doing the hunting. Or some other government section is, at least. I guarantee it.”
“Why’s that?” Leon asked.
“They are always covering something up or working on some new secret. When was the last time you saw them doing any good?”
Something loud happened in front of the group, and after a few last moments of darkness, a beam of light flooded the hall, burning Leon’s unadjusted eyes. Only after a half-minute of agony did Leon realise that the mole had placed the goggles over her eyes before the door opened. Thanks for the warning, he couldn’t be bothered to say.
From the newfound light, a silhouette approached. It looked familiar. Much like Hughey from Zone C, his posture said more than enough about the position he held in this underground facility.
“Welcome. Good to see you again, Pizza Boss. Just a shame it’s under these circumstances, know what I’m sayin’?” The man extended his hand to Boss, who took it firmly and grunted.
Leon rubbed at his eyes, hoping to speed up the adjustment process. “Tyrone?”
The man grinned and extended his hand once more. “Leon. Good to see you again, too, my man.” He looked across to Boss, then back to Leon, acknowledging something that neither of the others saw. “You’ve come a long way since we last met.”
“I’ve been busy right around the clock after taking this new job,” Leon said.
Tyrone’s grin widened. “I knew that Moppers Anonymous was the place for you. Didn’t I tell ya, man? When was the last time you had a drink?”
Leon was taken aback. He eyed Tyrone suspiciously.
“Now let’s bring this baby back to the ground with the soothing sound of a warm breeze on a cool night. That’s right.”
A thousand words crashed into Leon at once, and he spat out a gargled mix of nonsense as they all combined in his mouth. He took a breath and tried again, barely able to contain his excitement. “DJ T? Really?”
Tyrone stepped forwards, his arms wide. “Yeah, it’s me, brother. I’m glad you found your way.” He stepped forwards and gave Leon a strong hug. “Now let me show you how our radio station works down here.” He turned back to the woman who had led them through the underground passage. “Could you grab that gate for us, Molly?”
Boss snorted at goggle-girl’s name. He couldn’t have thought of a more fitting one.
The walkway quickly widened, and Boss and Leon marvelled at the sight. The next room looked like how Boss imagined the inside of an alien spaceship might look, and for a moment he wondered if he were indeed inside one. The room was huge, at least five stories high, and resembled an auditorium. They were halfway up, on the same floor as the balcony walkway that circled the entire space. In the completely hollow centre was something resembling a satellite dish. Lights flickered all over it, different colours at different intervals, conveying messages to those who could understand them.
Tyrone watched their gleaming eyes. This was the part he loved the most. “So what do you think?”
“What is this?” Leon asked.
Boss backhanded Leon’s chest. “Do you need to make us look so damn stupid?”
“Well, do you know what it is?”
“No,” mumbled Boss.
Tyrone explained. “She’s a beauty, huh? It’s China-Ville’s submersallite. Any information we don’t want filtering through the big corporations’ satellites gets pumped through here instead. Okay, I can give you the rundown later, but the man Dubbs is waitin’ and I’ve got a show to put on, so let’s keep scurryin’ along.”