Seeking Shelter

Despite the fact that I'd lived there for most of my life, I had always hated the Underurbs. It was a disgusting underworld of concrete and fizzled cigstick ends. Its crumbling buildings pressed close on every side, sheltering shadowy alleyways that snaked between them, some so narrow you had to keep your arms close at your sides to squeeze through them. Everything was bathed in sallow light that flickered from dying argon bulbs that received about as much maintenance as the streets did repaving.

I think what I hated most about the Underurbs was the ever-present ceiling. There was never any air that could even pretend to be fresh and I couldn't remember the last time I had seen sky. When Alarbor had gotten too large and too crowded, those in power had just pushed the poor of the city below, underground where they wouldn't have to see them. And the poor were then forced to live, or rather survive, in the lawless squalor of the Underurbs.

It was in this lawless squalor that Kris and I lived for the next couple of weeks. We left Sunry's basement shortly after Lucatz's visit and didn't stay long in one spot afterward. We hopped from warehouses to cheap hotels to sheltered gutters, constantly alert to the many dangers of the dark streets and the greater threat of police and bounty hunters. We had seen posters of our faces plastered up on the grimy walls of bars and markets, accompanied by discouragingly high rewards for our capture. I was sure that Jeremy Wayne had backed the reward with some of his own money and as a consequence, I was equally sure that anyone who recognized us would be glad to hand us in.

Kris suggested that we adopt disguises as a precaution. She now covered her sandy hair in a black head scarf at all times and had taken to wearing a permanent spray-tan to darken her skin. I started wearing a hat pulled down to shadow my face and had even stolen a pair of glasses, which though I could barely see with, I slipped on whenever we had to enter a public area, something we tried to avoid whenever we could.

We were pretty miserable most of the time. Hunger was constant as we only stole when it was safe, which was not nearly enough. We could never quite relax because there was always the threat of being found out. Shelter was hard to come by and so was sleep, so we were nearly always exhausted. I knew that we couldn't survive forever like this. Sooner or later we were bound to slip up and everything we had worked so hard for would amount to nothing. More than once Kris and I discussed going up to the city surface, but though some dangers would be eliminated, tightened security and prevalent surveillance cameras would make concealment much more difficult. I had even suggested fleeing the city entirely, perhaps cutting across the desert to Scarabine, but Kris immediately shot this down by saying that we would never get by customs security.

It was with reluctance that I once again brought up Lucatz's offer to take us in. I knew Kris didn't trust him and I couldn't really blame her. But Lucatz was the only contact either of us had right now. We weighed the idea carefully for a while, but eventually decided it was probably our best option. At least he had offered us a place to stay and the prospect of more regular meals. I also thought that Lucatz might be able to help hide us; he was something of an expert at that.

Soon we were making our way through the Canal District toward Bridge Street. Rows of derelict tenements jostled each other for space on our left, while a black, sludgy waterway dribbled by on our right. It reeked of decaying garbage and caused me to gag slightly when I turned my head in its direction. It didn't take long to locate Bridge Street, the road that crossed the river. The pavement had so many cracks and fissures that it looked as though there had been several recent earthquakes. I said a quick prayer as we crossed the bridge, but it stayed intact.

After a few questions and grudgingly parting with five feds, we found Lucatz. He was leaning against the side of a gutted cantina, smoking a cigstick and looking furtively around with his yellow eyes. I raised my hat as we approached so he could see my face. Lucatz grinned.

"That's not too bad," he said as he clasped my hand. " I almost didn't recognize ye. Almost." He winked at Kris. "That tan looks good on ye," he added. Kris pursed her lips.

I opened my mouth to phrase my request, but Lucatz cut me off at the first syllable. "Don't bother," he said, waving my unfinished words aside. "I knew ye'd come by 'ventually. Underurbs are 'ard survive in the best o' times, never mind when the yer on the run from pretty much everyone."

"Thanks," I said gratefully.

"Don't mention it," said Lucatz. "C'mon, I'll show ye ter me place."

We set off among the concrete jungle once more, down a labyrinth of twisting side streets, finally stopping in front of a scuffed metal gate that had so many dents it looked as though a company of men with shotguns had opened fire on it. Lucatz rapped on it several times and we waited a minute before a sleepy-eyed man who smelled strongly of alcohol opened it.

" 'Ey there, 'Enry. Brought some friends ter visit fer a while."

Henry nodded sleepily, but it was clear that his besotted mind barely took us in. We shuffled past him into a patio that was littered with glass and empty cases of booze. There were several other men in the patio, smoking, drinking, shuffling cards. They peered at us curiously. Kris drew a little closer to me.

"This is it," said Lucatz. " 'Ome sweet 'ome. These are me mates. Mates, this is me brother Gavin and 'is girl."

I felt my face color a little and hoped that the lighting was dim enough to hide it.

"I want everyone to show their welcome fer our guests," Lucatz continued.

Suddenly, I noticed something wrong. A flicker of movement from all the men. Kris noticed it too and her hand jumped to the gun at her hip, but she was too late: Lucatz already had a pistol to her temple. Before I could do anything, Henry, who was apparently less drunk than he looked, had seized me from behind and forced me into a headlock.

"Sorry, Gavin," said Lucatz and there may have been a note of genuine apology in his voice. "The reward's pretty damn 'igh. And it's 'ard to refuse an offer like that when yer as 'ungry as we all are."

The End

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