“Where are you going?” Avonaco said. “It is this way.”
“I’m getting my duffel,” said Grace.
“It would be safer to leave that here.”
Grace grabbed the duffel and draped it across her right shoulder, then headed to the stairs.
“Not that way, either,” Avonaco huffed. He pressed a hand against the wall next to the medical pod. There was a click followed by a swishing sound as a small door swung outward. Beyond it was a dark tunnel, with hints of metal surfacing.
“What’s that way?”
“Old subway line.”
“Where does it go?”
“Where do you think? Just follow,” he said irritably.
The tunnel led to a spiral stair leading down. As they descended, the metal treads creaked and the entire structure seemed to sway. It was completely dark.
“Can you see?” Is it safe? she wanted to ask.
“I can,” he answered. “But your ptenda light would be a good idea.” He picked up his pace and vanished. “You are almost at the bottom.”
Grace fingered her ptenda and held it up to see the last few steps. Avonaco was standing a few meters away. There was a lot of rubble, though the space was still bigger than she’d expected. She moved her arm, trying to get her ptenda to illuminate the room. A faded sign on the wall read NEW HAVEN ROAD. High up were arches and thick metal struts. To her right were the raised remnants of a passenger platform. She moved closer to peer at its old system map. The name of the line had been torn away, but the colors and symbols showed the way to Bod Town which, according to the map, had once been called Hartrandt.
This explained why some of the AIs beneath the Freer Diner dared to venture into Bod Town. They had a separate route away from the xenophobic gaze of the compstate.
“How big is this system? Can you go other places too?”
“Some,” said Avonaco. “But we are cautious, opening up new routes. Compstate would destroy all of it if they knew.”
They began to walk, feet crunching on a roadbed devoid of rails.
“What’s Bod Town like now?”
“Nothing different than you would expect. It is still the heart of the city, but even more of a mechflesh ghetto than it once was. Compstate has closed streets entering Bod Town and built checkpoints on the remaining ones. That is why we are down here. We would have to pass at least one or two groups of protectors and loafers if we had stayed topside.”
“To think I once took pride in being a compstate protector.” Grace clenched her fists. “I thought I was serving the people.”
“You were serving people. Some of them.”
“Yeah, the wrong ones.”
They walked in silence for a while.
“One thing,” said Avonaco.
“Avoid standing out when we get topside.”
“Of course. Thought that was the point.”
“Not with loafers. With the mods. Mechflesh are used to body hacking. They might work out who you are before compstate does.”
“They’re not a danger, are they?”
“That depends. Some folks here—they expect Grace Donner’s triumphant return. We do not want an uprising while we are trying to get into Cloister 11.”
“Are you serious? An uprising?”
Avonaco looked at her, then kept walking. “Soon it must happen. Synths like me are already illegal. They have rounded up mechflesh outside Port Casper. Now they are coming for human scientists. You know, progress.”
A large white sign cleared the shadows ahead: BOD TOWN. They’d arrived at the old subway station.
“We have to go up. Over here,” he said, gesturing toward a pile of debris.
“What? Why?” Grace asked, following him.
Avonaco began digging at the wall, shoving aside metal scaffolding and half-rotted planks of wood.
“Can you give me a hand?” he asked.
Grace began moving scattered small pieces, then heaved a large pile aside.
“Do not pull it all down,” he said. “We will have to put it back in place when we return.”
On the other side of the debris was a rusty ladder. Avonaco started climbing, and Grace went up after him. The ladder led into a narrow concrete tunnel about a meter in diameter, its sides slick with slime.
“Do I want to know what this is?” she muttered.
“Keep climbing,” Avonaco said. “We are almost to the top.”
Grace flinched at the unexpected clang of a grate overhead. Weak light poured down with blobs of muck. She followed Avonaco up and out, onto a sidewalk strewn with oily rubbish.