Chapter One

Keely threw herself flat on the ground and covered her ears.

A sleek ship, a royal purple color with orange flames streaking from the nose, hurtled past her, spiralling out of control. It hit the walls of the grimy tunnel more than once, showering sparks everywhere. Keely heard gasps and cries of dismay. She winced in pain as a hot piece of iron rained down on her; she flicked it away and curled up as small as possible.

Someone jumped out of the ship. More than one person, actually. They hit the slimy floor with a thud and were still. The shuttle careened around a bend in the tunnel and was lost from view, though spits and crackles were still audible.

There was a low swell of chatter, then the tunnel was quiet again. Keely sat up and touched the burn on her arm. It didn't hurt too much. Cautiously, she stood up. Usually, there would be another ship following, to make sure that it really had won the fight, but there was no sign of one. She looked around. Everyone was going about his own business again – bartering, gambling, talking. No one made a move to help the still forms on the floor.

Frowning, Keely contemplated whether it was worth it. They certainly wouldn't give her any thanks, but then again, she couldn't leave them just lying there. Sighing, she hopped off the ledge into the mire and made her way to the people.

There were three, actually. Two of them were unconscious, but one was struggling to sit up. A girl.

"Here." Keely gave her hand to the girl, who looked at her suspiciously. Her short brown hair was wild, her clothes scorched, her leg splayed at an odd angle, and her green eyes currently narrowed. She took Keely's hand and sat up, groaning.

"Thanks." She looked at Keely unashamedly.

"That was a bad one," Keely remarked, fiddling with her black braid. "I've never seen a worse."

At that moment, a huge explosion echoed through the halls. The girl winced. "Yeah. Cam's going to kill me." She looked around and grimaced again as she saw the two other bodies next to her. "Oh my God," she whispered, and attempted to move. Her sharp cry of pain made Keely shiver.

"Don't move. I'll see to them."

Keely scrambled over the girl and looked down at the other two, both boys. One was on his stomach; his whole arm was bleeding profusely. She felt his wrist for a pulse; there was one, though it was faint. The other boy, who was lying awkwardly on his side, was also alive. Deftly, Keely tore off the first boy's shirt and ripped it into two. Mopping up the blood from his arm, she carefully wrapped it with the other half. The girl's breathing was ragged.

"Are you all right?" Keely asked with concern, turning to look at her. The girl shook her head impatiently.

"See to the boys."

At that moment, a loud groan came from the second boy. "Damn," he swore, and attempted to sit up.

"Stop it, Miguel, you fool," the girl snapped. "Stay still."

The muscular boy moaned again and lay back down. His dark skin was pale. "Damn," he repeated. "Did it go down, Shady?"

"Yes," the girl replied shortly.


"The Steels won't be getting it any time soon," Shady continued. "It blew up."

The boy, Miguel, made a face. "Cam won't be too happy." For the first time, he noticed Keely, who was sitting quietly next to the other prone figure. "Who's this, then?"

The girl sniffed and shifted her weight to her other thigh. Keely realized that they didn't know who she was.

"Keely. I'm Keely."

Miguel narrowed copper-colored eyes at her suspiciously. "What gang are you in?"

"I'm not in a gang."

Shady scoffed. "Yeah, right." She stared at Keely again.

Embarrassed, Keely wondered what kind of person the petulant Shady saw. Her black hair was probably a mess, and her clothes were faded – she didn't remember what colors they had once been. She'd been wearing the same ones for months now. Self-consciously, she wiped some of the grime off her small, round face. "I'm not in a gang. I never have been. I'm a streeter," she said louder.

"How old are you?" Miguel's face was inscrutable.

"Thirteen. Fourteen in a few weeks." She went to the second boy and checked him over. "You can believe me, or you can't. It makes no difference to me."

"Why are you helping us?" Miguel asked.

"Because no one else is."

"Why should you? What do you want to get out of it?"

Exasperated, Keely replied, "Why should you care? I'm helping you, anyway. Would you like me to stop?"

Miguel laughed. "No one just – does things, down here in the Tunnels. We expect demands from any normal person."

"I'm not a normal person, then, I guess," Keely retorted.

The second boy twitched and opened bright blue eyes.

"Hey, Thomas. How're you doing?" Miguel inquired jovially, as if he wasn't lying in the muck and slime of the tunnel, injured.

Thomas laughed mirthlessly. Keely helped him sit up; he didn't seem too hurt, since there was no blood anywhere. "I'm fine. Who are you?"


He looked at her with uncertainty.

"She's all right, muchacho," Miguel said softly. "She doesn't have any demands."

"Everyone has demands," Thomas said at once. He raised his bruised arm and rumpled sandy blonde hair. "Gosh, that smarts."

"How do we contact Cam, then?" Shady said abruptly, massaging her leg. "My contaction is broken, I can feel it piercing me."

Miguel looked wistfully at his pocket. "I can't tell."

Gingerly, Thomas reached into his coat and pulled out a small black wallet-sized object. He flipped it open and attempted to turn it on. Keely leaned over, interested – she had only heard of such machines, but she had never seen one. The screen flickered and then became white.

"I can't do anything with these fingers," Thomas growled, rumpling his hair again – it seemed to be a nervous habit of his.

"I'll help," Keely offered. Scowling, Thomas let her have the contaction.

"Type 'Cam' and press the red button," he instructed, watching her carefully. As the screen flashed, he swiftly turned his head and winced as his neck cracked. "What happened to the ship?"

"Exploded," Shady said shortly. Thomas whistled.

On the screen, an attractive girl's face came into focus. Large hazel eyes were widened in alarm.

"We've been trying to contact you for ages, it went all black," she babbled quickly, a lock of blonde hair falling into her face. "What happened?"

"She blew up," Thomas growled, rubbing his eyes with his fist. "We're lying here in the muck waiting to be rescued, that's what happened."

"It blew up?" the girl gasped.

"Cor. Send a ship, we're in – which tunnel is this?" He glanced at Keely.

"Kiev," she replied.

"Kiev," repeated Thomas. "Shady and Miguel are here too. And some girl. Send them quickly, Shady's not in good shape."

"I'm fine," Shady protested.

"All right," the girl on the screen said nervously. "Hang in there. We'll be over in ten minutes."

"Thanks, Corinne." Thomas told Keely to turn it off; she did so. The four adolescents sat still for a few moments.

"Damn Steels," Miguel said musingly. "They hit us hard."

"Which gang are you from?" Keely asked. She adjusted her survival pack, the bag slung over every streeter's shoulder with her life belongings.

"Chalkers," he answered readily. "The gang with the most potential."

"The most ships, too, until now," Thomas snorted. "Can you help me up? I swear, that was our best one too."

Keely extended a hand and helped Thomas stand. Right then, the roaring sound of engines flooded the tunnel. Everyone on the sides looked up and groaned, thinking there was going to be another fight, but the ship slowed down and touched onto the ground gracefully. Three people got out, the girl on the screen and two other boys.

"Gosh," the girl said at once, and came over immediately. "Shady! Are you okay?" She rushed over to the ashen Shady, who feebly objected. The girl, tall and slender, called, "Trucker, Julian, come help me!"

The two boys, Trucker and Julian, obediently came and hoisted a protesting Shady onto Trucker's back and marched to the ship, stowing her away carefully before they came back for Thomas. The girl, Corinne, flipped a long blonde ponytail away from her face and talked quietly with Miguel. She was tall, Keely noticed, amazed, taller than anyone she had ever seen. Corinne's eyes flickered towards Keely, who felt nervous, for some reason.

"Eh, Miguel," Trucker said jovially, helping him up, "Cam was swearing himself blue when we left him. Second ship in three days."

"Not our fault," Miguel retorted, dusting off his shirt. "Those porkers were waiting for us. We gave 'em some nice injuries, though," he added, satisfied. "Take a while to mend those."

"All right. Well, at least you all aren't hurt too badly," Corinne said, sounding relieved. She smiled at Keely. "Thanks. Come on, guys." She left and hoisted herself up into the navy blue vessel, which was smaller than the other one, and disappeared from view. Trucker, a chubby and freckled boy about Keely's age, followed Corinne. Only Miguel lingered, looking at Keely with contemplating brown eyes.

"Really, you got no demands?" he asked softly.

"Nope." She retreated, a few steps back towards the sides of the tunnel, her home.

Miguel chuckled and said, "Keely. Do me a favor. Don't leave this tunnel for a few days, let's say three. I'll see what I can do."

Puzzled, Keely nodded and watched the boy get onto the ship. The doors slid shut and the ship hovered in the air and zoomed away.

"Four nicks, and that's my final offer."

"Fine, you robber." Keely tossed some boy four little coins and collected her food, a nice pastry full of meat and spices. She hadn't eaten for a day, at least; she had lost all her money to the streeter game called pinch. She also had won twenty-five nicks from an amateur player just a few hours ago, however, so she figured it was all right, just this once, to blow four whole nicks on a pastry, even though she could be stocking up on more pinch pieces or choosing a new shirt.

"It's so tasty, though," Keely said to herself, biting in. Her survival pack jingled with her wealth. Her mind wandered to the strange incident three days ago, the ship that had gone down. And Miguel. What did he mean when he said, "I'll see what I can do"? It had been three days already. Should she move on? Kiev was a large tunnel, and she had been in it for about six days now, but she was wearing out her welcome. She had her eyes on the next tunnel, Jakarta, which was labelled one of the roughest places around on this part of the Eurasian maze.

The low hum of engines flooded the tunnel and headlights illuminated the sides. The pastry-seller swore under his breath and retreated into the shadows. Keely understood the impulse – the gangs were usually not very kind to the struggling streeters. They had the advantage. It was every streeter's dream to become part of a gang.

Was it the ship she had seen before? It went past her. Keely felt a surge of disappointment, but then surprise and hope when it slowed down and settled on the floor. She crammed the rest of her food into her mouth. Ignoring the muttering crowd around her, she pushed herself closer to the ship. Out jumped Miguel, who searched the crowd.

"Miguel?" Keely called, hopping down. "What're you doing here?"

He grinned at her. "Ah, Keely, mi amiga. Come on, chica. We're going to see if you're fit to be a part of the Chalkers."

Her mind spun. "A part of your gang?" she gasped. "Really?"

Miguel beckoned for her to come to the ship. "Yes, really. Think about it, Keely. How many streeters don't have any demands?" He helped her on board. "A rare one, surely. Besides, we need new players. Growing gangs need growing people, you know."

Keely blinked in the light – she wasn't used to much light, as the tunnels were dim. As her eyes adjusted, she could see two others inside. Shady, the girl she saw before, and another boy, tall, handsome, and black-skinned.

"So, Miguel, this is Keely," the boy said, scrutinizing her. "I see. I'm Cam, the pilot of the Chalkers. Miguel and Shady say you helped them for nothing. Good deeds get rewarded."

Keely felt immobilized under the unfriendly gaze of Cam's piercing yellow eyes. "It was nothing. I – uh – I'm honored, Pilot."

"Yeah. You should be." Cam turned away from her and muttered something to Shady, who revved up the engines. The doors swung shut and Miguel sat her down in a chair behind Shady

"Buckle up," Miguel warned, sitting down next to her and fastening his shoulder belts. Keely awkwardly did so and looked around as the ship shot out of the tunnel. It was a six-seater – two more seats were behind her. The interior of the ship was small, but it sparkled with innumerable buttons and panels. Keely felt a rush of pleasure and excitement as the ship hurtled up a tube. The sensation of flying was so foreign…she loved it! Was she really going to be part of a gang? Just like that? Could anyone be as lucky as she felt right now? Keely felt like she was swelling with happiness.

"You're not right in the gang," Cam said abruptly, bursting her bubble. "We have to test you, of course."

"What kind of tests?" Keely blurted out. She blushed as Shady turned around and glared at her.

"You'll find out, won't you?" Cam replied, without any emotion. He maneuvered the craft skillfully through a mass of tubes, which were like tunnels, only smaller and going in the vertical direction.

Keely gulped and wished she hadn't eaten quite so quickly as the ship spiralled upside down in a particularly winding tube. She took a deep breath and tried to think of other things. Her hands clutched her survival pack.

Abruptly, the ship slowed down and settled on the ground. "Everybody out," Cam said. Shady and Miguel hopped out of the vehicle and Keely followed Cam. The tunnel they were in was small and completely deserted; there was a lantern that glowed dimly, giving the entire tunnel an eerie appearance.

"So." Cam took off his shirt, showing a wiry and muscular chest. "Keely. Take off that pack."

Keely nervously did so and stood facing Cam. Shady and Miguel seemed to fade into the background.

"We'll fight now," Cam said, grinning. "Are you ready?"

She felt a familiar thrill of anticipation and fear, the same feeling she got before every fight. She knew how to fight – when you were a streeter, you had to.


They circled. Keely glanced at his face – it was set in concentration, giving nothing away. She focused on his chest – it was the most likely to give her a clue. All of a sudden, she leapt at him.

Was he taken by surprise? It didn't seem like it. He threw her off easily enough and attacked with effortlessness, his arm twisting hers. She let him crush her and think that she was an easy opponent – many people were fooled by her small stature, but she had some tricks up her sleeve. As he held her and began counting, she summoned her strength and bucked him off. As he came back for the attack, she bent and grasped his ankles firmly and tried to pull them out. It sort of worked, for he stumbled, but then he used his arms to pry her off. He was strong, and he seemed to know what she was going to do.

Keely resorted to her best strategy: surprise. Feinting an attack, she fooled him into lunging for her right arm; she then took his shoulders and twisted him so that he landed on his back. She started counting also – the rule was that she had to count up to five – but she only got to two, for he leapt back up. They struggled, Cam mostly dominating; she clawed at him, for her fingernails were long, but he eventually pinned her down and counted to five, though she almost threw him off at three.

"Game," he declared, and sat down, sweat trickling into his eyes. Keely sat up and groaned. Her arms were killing her.

Shady and Miguel came back into view; Miguel was smiling, but Shady's expression as usual was blank. "Not bad, Keely chica," Miguel remarked. "Longer than I thought you'd hold him off, for sure."

"Yes," Shady agreed unexpectedly. Keely looked surprised and smiled at her – the girl actually smiled back.

"Yeah, not bad at all," Cam allowed. Miguel tossed him a water canteen, and he took a swig, then handed it to Keely, who drank thirstily. "You've fought before. You're not strong enough, though."

"I know," Keely admitted. "It's my biggest disadvantage, but then again, most people aren't as strong as you are."

"Can't argue with that," Cam agreed. Shady swatted him with the canteen and he grinned. He really wasn't that bad, Keely thought, once he forgot to be the imposing Pilot. "Well, we can work you up. It won't be hard. For us," he added as an afterthought. "It might be hard for you."

"Does that mean I'm in?" Keely asked eagerly, feeling the familiar bubble of hope swell up in her.

"Maybe." Cam stood up and extended his hand. She took it and stood up, suppressing another groan – he was heavy. "You're all right, Keely of the Chalkers."

She liked her new name immensely.