Tunnels 01 tunnels, p.37
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       Tunnels 01 - Tunnels, p.37

           Roderick Gordon

  He leaned back against the wall, sighing contentedly as a slim young girl with a pleasant face and a flowery cotton scarf over her head appeared. Carrying a rattan basket, she went from table to table, trying to sell little sprigs of heather with foil wrapped around their stems. It was a scene that could have been lifted from Victorian times. He grinned, thinking how quaint it was that street gypsies still peddled such innocent wares when all around the big companies were promoting their brands so relentlessly on the billboards.


  The name drifted toward him as a breeze picked up and a battered car swerved recklessly around the corner, its wheels squealing. He shivered, and looked suspiciously at an old man as he struggled along the pavement with his walking stick. The man's cheeks were covered with spiky gray stubble, as if he'd forgotten to shave that morning.

  As the girl selling the heather brushed past with her basket, Imago looked away for the old man and studied the people at the tables again. No, he was just a little jumpy. It was nothing. He must have imagined it.

  He put the bowl of whitebait on his lap and helped himself to another handful, washing it down with some beer. This was the life! He smiled to himself and stretched out his legs.

  Nobody saw as he was thrown back against the wall by a sudden spasm and then pitched forward from the bench, his face locked into a grotesque contortion. As he hit the ground, his eyes swiveled up into their sockets and his mouth opened, just once, then closed for the last time.

  It was all over long before the ambulance arrived. Because he might have rolled off the stretcher, the two ambulance men decided instead to carry the rigid corpse, one on each side. The crowd of onlookers gasped at the spectacle, muttering among themselves as Imago's body, frozen like a statue in a sitting position, was manhandled into the back of the ambulance. And there was absolutely nothing the paramedics could do about the bowl still grasped in the corpse's hand, so tightly they couldn't lever it out.

  Poor old Reggie. A pretty insensitive bunch when it came to the welfare of their clientele, the bar staff were genuinely disturbed by his death. Particularly so when the kitchen was closed and several of them lost their jobs. They were later told there'd been an obscure lead-based compound in his food; it was a freak occurrence, a poisoned fish in a million. His body had simply shut down, his blood clotting like quick-setting cement due to overwhelming toxic shock.

  At the inquest, the coroner wasn't too forthcoming about the nature of the poison. Indeed, he was rather baffled by the traces of complex chemicals that had never been recorded before.

  Only one person, the girl watching the ambulance from across the road, knew the truth. She took off her scarf and threw it into the gutter, shaking out her jet-black hair with a self-satisfied smile as she put on her sunglasses and inclined her head toward the bright sky. As she walked away, she began singing softly, "You are my sunshine… My only sunshine…"

  She wasn't done yet…

  The Rookeries Press


  * for your delight and delectation *

  * for the Uninitiated *

  * and with WARNINGS

  for the unadvisedly curious,

  the ill-informed, and

  the downright stupid *

  Mr. Nemo's unofficial occasional on the workings of the Colony

  — OR —

  If you find yourself here in this forsaken hole of a place, then you are here to stay, my friend, and our glorious masters, the vicious, white-necked, black-haired devils known to all and sundry as the Styx, will rip out your kidneys if they catch you reading this.

  The Styx

  — If you do nothing else, then at least heed the words of warning writ on this page —

  Do NOT doubt that the Styx are our Lords and Masters, and as such must be treated with the respect one affords the most poisonous of vipers. There follow some vital tips for those who don't desire a thoroughly unpleasant end…..

  1. Be advised not to look upon the face of a Styx unless addressed directly by one. It's best to avert one's eyes, but do so in a respectful manner.

  2. Be advised not to loiter by the Styx compound or any other edifice occupied by the Styx. Keep yourself to yourself if there are Styx about.

  3. On no account should you ever trust a Styx. And if one acts in a friendly fashion toward you, be afraid, be bloody terrified. Indeed, it's probably time to pack your bags for a journey to the Deeps.

  4. Our brethren who are in the pockets of the White Necks, namely the Governors, the scientists, and the police, are to be pitied and should be ashamed of themselves. If you dance with danger, the dance don't stop.

  5. Be advised not to reproduce the name of the Styx nor allow any graven image of them to be contained in any printed matter, for any purpose whatsoever. And if furnished with such, thou must report this heinous crime forthwith. Didn't "thou" read the cover? Stuff this pamphlet down your britches and peruse it in the confines of your own water closet.

  The Colony:

  Mores and Customs

  Some things never change down here —

  indeed, nothing ever changes.

  1. Colonists shalt live in the bowels of the Earth, in damp and cramped conditions where the light of day never penetrates and the clothes rot on your back. Get used to it. We have.

  2. Colonists shall attend services once every day at eight bells on the dot, without fail. Year in, year out. So grab yourself a pew and get some shut-eye.

  3. Colonists shalt not question what is written in the Book of Catastrophes. You probably won't understand it, anyway.

  4. If you don't pull your weight and do your daily labours in the services of the Colony, you will be the weight dangling on the end of a short rope. That's the rule, and there's no getting around it.

  5. On rare occasions you will see Topsoilers in the Colony. These fall into several groups: those that are allies and trade with us: those that have been press-ganged into coming here by the White Necks and those poor unfortunates who didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Despise them all.

  Life's Little Luxuries

  It's not all work down here — there are some things to look forward to.


  Subterranean fare can be delicious and nutricious, and then it can be downright awful. Some examples:

  Sightless Rat: A rare treat and highly sought after. Bred on vermin farms, though the choicest specimens are caught in the drains by hunting parties.

  Slug Paté: Nothing compares to a freshly ground gastropod when spread on a stout root biscuit, particularly if it's a juicy pitch slug reared on lichens.

  Smithfield Barnacle Soup: A particular favorite of the inhabitants of the South Cavern, who breed barnacles in the slop gunnels.

  Fungi Crops

  Ever since Sir Gabriel and the Founding Fathers ploughed the first mushroom fields, Colonists have relied on fungi for their daily sustenance. Mushroom pastures are laid out to three main crops: pennybuns, stinking bristleball, and Mole's ear. In one form or another, these are the basis for nearly everything that Colonists consume, be it broths, stews, or fancies. But if the humidity is conducive, the delectable Hairy Ink Cap mushroom is worth the extra expense, although large amounts should be avoided due to its explosive laxative qualities.

  But beware: Don't eat anything of which the source is uncertain. There are hoodwinkers in the markets attempting to sell trays of Destroying Angel, Floy Agarie, and Death Hat. Be not tempted, as the outcome is painful. And usually fatal.

  Liquid Refreshment

  Every working man needs his daily sup from his pewter tankard. Currently on tap in the taverns and hostelries round the Colony or at the "Styx-easies" of the Rookeries are New London, Camden Bilge, Somers Town Soup, and the most expensive brew, Fourbees (Battle Bridge Best Bitter). For the ladies and the young, Frog's Bladder is very popular, and an excellent remedy for teething or gripe.


  Much favoured are the bare-knuckle
boxing bouts in the Archway Cuttings, but the street brawls that take place outside taverns are not to be missed for the demonstrations of both pugilistic skills and the dirtiest fighting techniques known to man. Also to be found on tavern forecourts are games of chance such as Pitch and Toss, Find the Painted Lady, and Newt Bating.

  The Rookeries

  Built in the first years of the settlement by the Founding Fathers, the heart of the Colony is alive and beating in the Rookeries. Home to the salt of the Earth, we are one big family and we watch out for each other. Of course, as with any big family, we have been known to have the odd rumpus, but what's a death or two amongst kin?

  We, the people of the Rookeries, are proud of our heritage. We are also the toughest, meanest, nastiest geezers ever to walk the dark ways of the Earth, and we can take anything the rest of the Colony — including those Styx slitherers and their bandogs — throw at us.

  But one final word of caution: As a newcomer to the Colony, don't get it into your head that you are welcome in our neighborhood. Because you are not.

  We await your arrival…..



  Roderick Gordon, Tunnels 01 - Tunnels



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