Ivy flew down the stairs three at a time. Her palms sweated, but at each landing she managed to keep her grip on the metal handrail as she whipped herself around 180 degrees toward the next flight. The railings were cold, and getting colder as she descended. Her bare feet made slapping sounds on the concrete that echoed off the tiled walls. Her heels shot bolts of pain up her calves, but she couldn’t stop.
They were gaining on her.
Every few flights she would kick the door at the landing. Most were locked, but some opened, and she let them slam loudly, hoping some of the guards might split off. She wasn’t sure if it worked. The rapid footfall of a dozen heavy boots behind her blended into an indistinct rushing sound like a windstorm over a city dome.
There was little light, save for the red emergency lantern far below. Ivy was spiraling down into a cold red hell, but still, it was better than getting caught. Before she knew it she’d run out of stairs. She was at the bottom. The last few steps disappeared into the water. That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Water. The most valuable commodity in all the colonies. More expensive than even oxygen, pound for pound. Way more than any shiny metal. And here was more than she’d ever seen, sitting stale and wasted, flooding some megacorp subbasement.
They were nearly upon her.
She could barely see, the red lighting of the stairwell disappearing quickly down either side of the long tunnel. But she was grateful she couldn’t see more. There were bodies in the water. Lots of them. She didn’t have time to dwell on it. Ivy leapt beneath the water.
She screamed. The sound died in her throat and emerged from her mouth as air bubbles. She’d never felt anything so cold. It was oddly like being boiled. But she pressed herself against the bottom, her empty lungs tight, and forced herself still.
The guards splashed into the water at the base of the stairs. Their flashlight beams and laser sights raked the tunnel, unable to thoroughly inspect each of the countless bodies bobbing against one another. A leg brushed her shoulder as one of the guards walked past. “She may have gotten off on another floor. Fan out.” The guards retreated back up the stairs, the water stilled, and Ivy popped up for a gasping breath she wasn’t sure she’d ever take. Oxygen never tasted so good.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Michael Topol, used with permission.