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Interlude — Underground

If Karl had learned nothing else during his time as a homeless fugitive, he had learned how to hide. After he slipped away from the police, he had ducked around the corner of the Pyramid and found the street beyond littered with an abundance of hiding place. There were cars, small trees and thick shrubs. On the Pyramid side, there was the remains of the lost Mega Centre's retaining wall. On the other was a motley selection of suburban fences.

Karl ignored all of these possibilities and slipped into a storm-water drain.

It was surprisingly easy. Months of living on garbage had slimmed him down so much that he didn't even need to remove his jacket. And with so many easily accessed and non-stupid hiding places, the cops were unlikely to pursue him here.

Even so, for a while he simply lay still -- waiting, observing. It was only when he was certain that the police were not coming that he took a battered flashlight from the pocket of his ragged jacket and began to look around.

The tunnel he found himself in was, unfortunately, a real storm-water drain tunnel not the TV variety – high enough to walk through, free of water and punctuated with huge back-lit fans for atmosphere. In fact, it was barely large enough for an emaciated man to crawl along, and while it was mostly dry there was an unpleasant streak of damp, slimy moss running down the middle. It was just as well his suit was already ruined.

Karl considered just lying doggo until he was sure it was safe, but something was clawing for attention in his memory. What was it? What? Eventually, the penny dropped: a branch of the tunnel ran perpendicular to the main one.

Under the Pyramid.

Again, it took a while for Karl's addled brain to catch up with him. A Pyramid is… well, it's heavy, isn't it? Extremely heavy. Much heavier than the jerry-built buildings of the Mega Centre. How was it that the storm-water drain hadn't collapsed? Now that he thought of it how was it that the entire local infrastructure hadn't failed? Surely there weren't just storm-water drains under the Pyramid, but water mains, electrical cables, telephone lines, and the NBN. Surely someone would have noticed a massive breach in all of those systems? Well, other than the NBN, obviously.

"Okay," Karl said. "The last couple of times I tried to do something, it went badly and only made things worse. But this time… Surely this time I'm due a break?"

Karl dragged himself to the turn in the pipe that would take him under the Pyramid. He looked at the long rectangular space leading into the unknown, then looked down at his cheap torch, then looked down the tunnel. He adjusted his hat. Somehow he was still wearing his hat? That was kind of cool.

"Let's get to it," he said to no one.

The flashlight in his mouth, he dragged himself down the tunnel, metre by painful metre. His flashlight was just beginning to dim when he found what he was after – a grill directly overhead. And on the other side – blank, flat rock. Gingerly, he touched it. It just felt like sandstone.

"So the Pyramid is just… sitting weightlessly on the surface?" Karl said. "But, it rose from underground. It smashed the Mega Centre like it was a model village. How is this possible?"

"Who's that talking?"

It had been a day since Karl had last eaten. Oddly, this was fortunate, because it meant there was nothing in his bowel, preventing him from literally soiling himself. As it was, he dropped the flashlight, causing the batteries to fall out.

"Uh…" he said.

"Uh…" he continued.

"Well…" he said added for the sake of variety.

"Is that you, Karl?" the voice said.

For most people, one of the few things worse than being alone in the dark with a mysterious stranger, would be being alone in the dark with a mysterious stranger who knows who you are. But a fortunate side-effect of Karl's paranoia was that he assumed everybody knew who he was, so he remained at his initial level of terrified.

"This is Karl."

"Oh. Hi, Karl."

The pause that followed was just a little too long.

"Who is this?" Karl said.

"It's me," the voice said. "Fiona. Remember? I visited you in the hospital after you got shot."

"Uh…"

"You explained to me all about how Roswell was an Illuminati false-flag…"

"Oh, Fiona," Karl said. "How are you?"

"Been better, been worse. Come this way. Follow my voice."

That was a terrible idea, but still better than any idea that Karl had on hand. He dragged himself forward, until the slimy texture of the tunnel bottom gave way to a dry, gritty texture.

"Is that concrete dust?" he said.

"Yeah, I got most of the big pieces out when I installed the door, but the dust…"

"Door?"

"Sealed pressure door. So that the water from the storm drain doesn't get through. I could usually handle it, but if it happened while I was out... I'll show you."

With a metallic creaking, a section of tunnel swung outwards, letting a dim light into the empty tunnel.

"Where are you?" Karl said.

"On the other side of the door," Fiona said. "It's kind of hard to manouveur in this tunnel. You go through, and I'll close the door, back up, then follow you."

"That seems sub-optimal."

"Well, I opened the door from the wrong side, okay? I don't get a lot of visitors."

Karl pulled himself around the corner, and found himself overlooking a large, empty space. It was a rough cube, about the size of an average living room, with a rough stone floor, dirt walls and a concrete ceiling. It was lit by a portable garage light that was patched into an electrical cable that emerged from one wall. There was no other furniture other than an inflatable mattress. But the most interesting thing about the space was that broken ceramic pipes extended from two of the four walls, and a flow of water ran from one to another through the empty air.

After Karl had lowered himself into the space, the door closed and – perhaps a little to his surprise – opened again. Fiona entered. Karl only knew her slightly – one of the salespeople from the Handy Pavilion, a crony of Axel Platzoff's, he thought.

Fiona picked up an electric kettle that had lain hidden behind the light. She opened the lid and raised a finger. A small trickle of water broke away from the main stream that ran across the room, curving through the air until it landed in the kettle. Once the kettle was full, the trickle pulled away and rejoined its parent.

"So," Fiona said, plugging the kettle in and switching it on. "You're the conspiracy theorist?"

"And you're the…" Karl began. "…Fiona," he finished weakly.

"I'm not a conspiracist," Fiona said, pointedly ignoring him. "But I see where you're coming from. I'm also trying to see what's happening on the other side of the curtain. Want to find out what I've learned?"

"Yes!" Karl said. "Oh, yes!"

"Then sit comfortably," Fiona said, gesturing to a grubby bit of carpet while she sat in the inflatable chair. "Sit comfortably, and have some tea and I will tell you a story."

Next: Part 27 -- Occupants

Previous: Part 26 -- Drive

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