Tales From Earth:Tuberunning
introduction by the author
This story was recounted to me by my Polish plumber. Shortly after arriving in London, with little English and a lot of innocence, he was duped into driving the getaway car for an armed robbery. Whilst in prison, he met the narrator of this little tale, which I set down here exactly as I heard it, third hand. I have yet to verify the existence of the shadowy organisation described but am looking into it presently. Perplexians should know that The Tube is the colloquial term for our underground subway system and Zones 1 and 2 cover the central part of the city.
London is a game. First, you find a place you can live. Then, you find a job you can stand. Then you get money. Then you get a network of people you can trust. Now it's time to start going after the good stuff.
The Zone One and Two Athletics and Orienteering Club is a venerable institution, going back a hundred years to the building of the Tube itself. Tuberunning, as it's colloquially known these days, is a fine way for a bright young chap starting out in the city to make a name for himself.
I realise I should be talking about all of this in the past tense. Tuberunning was a great game. I was a fine way for a young man get ahead. Before the - incidents.
I'm sorry. I should explain. I forget you're not a member. Tuberunning is the sport of racing through the London Underground. Six runners to a race: told to present themselves at a particular station and time, then given ten stations to reach, in no particular order. One must pass through the barriers to qualify. You are allowed overground but only on foot. And, the first rule inscribed in Sweffling, the book of rules named after the great founder of our game;
Gentlemanly conduct must be observed at all times.
All other rules flow from this one. No running. No pushing. Help ladies in need. Let other people off the train first.
Of course, these sub-rules are subject to interpretation, and those interpretations subject to further refinement, and those refinements subject to change. It is not only speed that is looked for in a champion. It is the ability to recall this complex web of regulations in the heat of battle, to pursue your goal with steely determination whilst remaining within the bounds of decency; that is what makes one great.
Seven judges watch over the tuberunners. Six monitor a racer each, and call for votes on additional points won or lost. I was the seventh. The Adjudicator. In the event of a split vote, I would decide. Given the, shall we say, factional nature of the judging panel, a split vote was a regular occurence. I wielded a great deal of power in the organisation. Second only to the Chairman himself.
These days of course it's all done in real time, with microcameras and GPS and the like. In my day you were followed on your run by an umpire who collated a report to present before the panel, which was then discussed at length before final placings were announced. I remember in the Sweffling Cup final of '48, a particularly complex manoeuvre I sparked a debate that lasted a full day! I was coming down the circular steps at Holloway double time with an umbrella whilst castling a couple of drunkards Mongolian when an opposing runner clattered me, came off worse, and passed out. What I wouldn't have given to see an ultra slow-motion replay of that. Those were the days.
Of course, I must bear my share of the responsibility for the Club's ultimate demise. As the rulekeeper, I should have foreseen the debilitating effect of introducing female competitors into the system. We were losing members - I was convinced of the need to modernise, and I let that blind me to the ultimate truth. How can one demand gentlemanly conduct of a lady? Teresa Mancioni may be hold the Sweffling Cup but she is a fraud, a she-male, an insolent bitch with no respect. The cup she holds is nothing more than debased tin. All the true believers know that.
You see, I couldn't just let her win. No-one ever just wins. Collusion and skulduggery are as much a part of Tuberunning as is a sound knowledge of the seven ways to traverse Kings Cross at pace. Kings Cross. I'd nuke the place. Build a heliport. To think she evaded my trap! And as for that bungling nonentity Crouch, he was only supposed to stop the train, not derail it entirely. The deaths were unfortunate. And I must confess I had no idea the Chairman was so deeply in that harpy's pocket. To think he's cut me dead like this! Stuck here, talking to some foreigner in a cell.
What's that? Sorry, my Polish is a little rusty. Pull the other one, it's got bells on? I say, your command of the colloquial is most impressive. It's true, dear boy, every word of it. Actually, with your build you might make a fair player yourself. When the others spring me from here I'll be sure to put a word in for you if you can keep those apes in the canteen queue from harassing me like they did yesterday. Tell me - where do you live? And work? Well, not work, in your case. So.
On the way in, do you position yourself at the far end of the platform, in order to face the exit at the other end? And have you seen that side passage? Save you a good six seconds that will, hardly anyone uses it.
You do? Very good. We might make a tuberunner of you yet.