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Downsiders, p.1

Downsiders, page 1



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  Talon lives Downside, that is, underneath New York City. There is a strict code of secrecy among the Downsiders. However, when Talon accidentally meets a young woman named Lindsay, who is a Topsider (from above the ground), the two worlds inevitably collide. They become friends and love blossoms. The punishment for Talon’s lack of discretion could be death. What will happen to them? Will the entire Downsider community be discovered?

  Also by Neal Shusterman


  Simon & Schuster, New York

  Cover illustration copyright © 1999 by Greg Harlin

  Wood Ronsaville Harlin, Inc.


  For Joelle

  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 1999 by Neal Shusterman

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at

  Also available in a hardcover edition.

  Book design by Heather Wood

  The text for this book is set in Minion.

  This Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers paperback edition November 2009


  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows: Shusterman, Neal. Downsiders/Shusterman, Neal.—1st ed. p. cm.

  Summary: When fourteen-year-old Lindsay meets Talon and discovers the Downsiders world which had evolved from the subway built in New York in 1867 by Alfred Ely Beach, she and her new friend experience the clash of their cultures.

  ISBN 978-0-689-80375-8 (hc)

  [1. Subways—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 2. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction.]

  1. Title.

  PZ7.S55987Do 1999

  [Fic]—dc21 98-38555

  ISBN 978-1-4169-9747-4 (pbk)

  ISBN: 978-1-4391-1535-0 (eBook)



  Prologue: Once Below a Time

  Chapter 1: Talon

  Chapter 2: High Perimeters

  Chapter 3: The Champ

  Chapter 4: Party Uptown

  Chapter 5: Strangers in a Drain

  Chapter 6: Topsider Down

  Chapter 7: The Bot

  Chapter 8: Missing Persons

  Chapter 9: Low Justice

  Chapter 10: Dead Man Flushing

  Chapter 11: Surface Tension

  Chapter 12: The Null Tunnel

  Chapter 13: Countermeasures

  Chapter 14: Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Earth

  Chapter 15: Who Died and Left You Most-Beloved?

  Chapter 16: The Festival of Outages

  Chapter 17: Vessels of the Soul

  Chapter 18: The Left Half of Memory

  Chapter 19: Fire in the Hole

  Chapter 20: On the Dark Side of the Moon

  Chapter 21: The Highside

  Everwild excerpt

  Unwind excerpt

  Unwholly excerpt

  Also by Neal Shusterman


  The Dark Side of Nowhere


  The Eyes of Kid Midas

  Full Tilt

  The Schwa Was Here

  The Shadow Club

  The Shadow Club Rising

  Speeding Bullet


  What Daddy Did

  The Skinjacker Trilogy



  The Dark Fusion Series


  Red Rider’s Hood

  Duckling Ugly

  Story Collections

  Darkness Creeping

  Kid Heroes



  Visit the author

  at and


  I’d like to thank the following Topsiders for helping to bring this book to the surface . . . The Fictionaires, and particularly Don Stanwood for his wealth of subterranean information; Keith Richardson, Lauri Dudley, and Joseph Brennan for their research assistance; my sons, Brendan and Jarrod, for being the story’s first audience; my wife, Elaine, for her endless support and wealth of ideas; and Stephanie Owens Lurie, whose editorial brilliance earns her the title of First Wise Advisor.

  Once Below a Time

  Cities are never random.

  No matter how chaotic they might seem, everything about them grows out of a need to solve some problem. In fact, a city is nothing more than a solution to a problem, that in turn creates more problems that need more solutions, until towers rise, roads widen, bridges are built, and millions of people are caught up in a mad race to feed the problem-solving, problem-creating frenzy.

  Even the structure of a city is no accident. To look at New York, one might think the whole skyline was haphazard: an outcrop of skyscrapers downtown, followed by smaller buildings, giving way to skyscrapers again at Midtown—like two mountains with a valley in between. But if you studied the earth beneath the city, you’d know the reason for this structure: The city is built atop an underground mountain range, and only where the granite peaks come close to the surface, is the earth sturdy enough to hold skyscrapers. The shape of the skyline is no accident at all—it’s a perfect mirror of the unseen mountains below.

  Hiding below the surface are many more solutions to the woes of civilization—from hundreds of miles of subway lines, to thousands of miles of utility tunnels, all so twisted and confused that no Topsider can truly know what lies beneath.

  Or who lies beneath.

  As in the sea, where strange and mysterious creatures thrive on thermal vents in the deepest trenches, a deep city Downside grew; a place where people learned to thrive separately and apart from a world ruled by the sun. In time those people grew strong and noble, for nobility was the only way to save themselves from the despair of a life without sky. Of course, that isn’t to say they were any wiser than Topsiders. Just like anyone else, their potential for profound stupidity ran deep. But unlike most surface dwellers, the Downsiders nurtured in their hearts a bright and untainted innocence. That innocence alone made them like few others on this shrinking planet—and who’s to say whether things would still be the same had it not been for the Great Shaft Disaster, and the power of a single chance meeting to change the world.

  The year is now, the month is December. And it all began last night....


  High above the windblown city, a drop of falling rain was caught by an icy blast and puffed into a feathery flake of snow. No longer did it plunge through the city, but instead drifted slowly toward the magnificent lights of a New York night.

  It sailed past the tip of the Empire State Building, whose upper floors were lit a Christmas green and red. Then, caught in a crosswind, the flake sailed further uptown, spinning around the icicle spire of the Chrysler Building and drifting down toward the late-night traffic of Forty-second Street. At 11:00, from high above, one might think the streets of the city truly were paved with gold, for the roofs of the taxis were like great golden bricks as they sat
waiting for the light on Lexington Avenue.

  Sheltered from the high winds, the flake wafted undisturbed down the face of Grand Central Station and landed on the tip of the nose of a young man who sat firmly on the bottom rung of life’s ladder.

  His name and destiny are of little importance, but he does command some attention here, for the sole reason that his life is about to end.

  All of nineteen years old, but with a hopeless weariness that made him seem many years older, he huddled in a stone niche, near the great train station’s entrance. He did not bother to shake out the snow that now speckled his hair.

  People ignored him as he sat in the lonely corner. The well-dressed men and women in the city were skilled in looking the other way when they came across a derelict bit of humanity. To the business folk in camel-hair coats and Armani shoes, the bums of the city were unfortunate byproducts of their lives—like the mountains of trash that accumulated each time the sanitation workers went on strike—so they simply turned their noses up and kept on walking.

  Tonight the young man did not extend his cup for spare change. He wanted no one’s money anymore, no one’s pity. His will to live was quickly failing him, and by morning his will, and his life, would extinguish in the cold, like a street-light flickering out at dawn.

  As he sat there, searching for a reason to be, he caught a pair of eyes watching him from a storm drain across the street. In truth, those eyes had been watching him patiently for more than an hour, studying his actions—or lack of action. Only now, in the headlight glare of a bus changing lanes, did he see those eyes regarding him from beneath the curb across Forty-second Street. The face appeared young— younger than he—but in an instant the bus crossed in front of him and, when it passed, the storm drain was just a dark slit in the curb once more.

  With the numbness of his fingers and toes slowly growing into his wrists and ankles, he dug up the will to rise to his feet. Then he shuffled into the warmth of Grand Central Station, still trying to figure out if the face he saw in the drain was truly there or just an image dredged up from his own troubled mind.

  There were others like him occupying the warmer corners of the station. Most were older, indigents without a penny to their name who stood little chance of finding their way back into a productive life. Some were drunks. Others were mentally ill. Still others were cast here by unfortunate circumstance and had become resigned to their lot. As the young man passed them, he knew he could not live with that sort of resignation. But neither did he know how to pull himself up. And so he continued down.

  He found himself descending the steps of track twenty-five. The platform was deserted and dim in this off-hour, so no one saw him hop down onto the tracks. Or so he thought. In a moment he was stumbling away from the pitiless world above, into a dark tunnel. He made his way through the blackness, not slowing his pace, and he fell many times, shredding his palms on the railroad ties below. Still, he continued on. He wasn’t really sure what he was doing, until the headlights appeared far ahead. They lit the track in front of him and the many other tracks on either side that ran deep under the superstructures of the city. He stopped moving and stood there, staring into the light, until he knew for sure that the train was on his track, zeroing in on him.

  If he stood his ground and let the train bear down on him, would anyone ever know? Would anyone ever find him in the mildewed darkness? Or was this the perfect place to disappear for good?

  His heart beat a rapid, unnatural rhythm as the ground beneath him rumbled with his approaching end. No horn was blown. Perhaps the conductor wasn’t watching the track. Or perhaps he was purposely looking the other way.

  As the young man stood there, he wondered whether this would be an act of bravery or cowardice and, realized that, in the end, he did not care; in ten seconds, the answer to the question wouldn’t matter.

  The blinding headlights filled his entire mind, and he leaned forward to receive them...but then somewhere deep beneath his desire to leave this world, an instinct for survival kicked in and surged powerfully up his spine, sizzling in every nerve ending. The fear became so intense that he screamed louder than the roar of the train, and leaped out of the way. The train caught the heel of a shoe and spun him around, slamming him against one of the many steel I-beams that held up the city above, and he gripped onto that beam as the underdraft threatened to drag him under the train, to those crushing wheels that were suddenly far less attractive than they had been a moment before.

  When the train was gone he put his head into his hands and, for the first time in many years, he cried. He wept long and loud, crying for all the things lost in his life, and for all the things that he would never be.

  It was when he paused for breath that he first heard the rats.

  No. Not rats. These skittering sounds were too slow, too heavy to be the footfalls of rats. He looked up and around. While his central vision was still blurred by the bright imprint of the train headlights on his retina, he did see rapidly moving shadows in his peripheral vision. They darted from track to track, hiding behind I-beams. They appeared human.

  Finally the shadows stopped before him. He could hear them breathing steadily, just a few feet away, and he began to worry.

  He knew of the mole-people: the unloved of the city, who banded together in the city’s many tunnels. Some were friendly and accepting of newcomers. Others were dark and dangerous.

  “Go away,” he snarled at the three figures before him. “I don’t have anything to steal.”

  There was silence for a moment, as if these figures had all the time in the world. Then the one closest to him spoke. “We wish to know your name.”

  The voice sounded young. A boy’s voice, still in the process of changing.

  “What do you care?” answered the destitute young man, still clearing the tears from his eyes.

  Another moment of silence, and then again the statement, calm and controlled. “We wish to know your name.”

  The figures before him patiently waited for a response.

  “Robert,” he finally spat out. “Robert Gunderson.”

  “We’ve been watching you, Robert Gunderson,” said another voice, this one female. “We saw you challenge the train and survive.”

  “I didn’t mean to survive,” he told them. “I just lost my nerve.”

  “We know this,” said a third voice. Another boy, with a voice much raspier than the other’s. “This is why we’ve made ourselves known.”

  “Look at us, Robert Gunderson,” said the boy in front, clearly the leader of the three. The girl then turned on a flashlight, lighting up their faces in shadow-filled relief. Robert gasped at the sight, because it was far from what he’d expected. He’d expected to see three filthy tunnel-rats, held together by hate and mud-stained rags. But there was nothing dirty about this trio. As he sat there wiping his eyes clear, he began to sense that these were not homeless people who took refuge in tunnels. These kids were something entirely different. Their hair was shaved around their ears, but dense and long everywhere else. It hung down their back and about their shoulders. Their clothes were coarse, woven garments, but on closer inspection Robert could see they were made up of tiny patches sewn together from a thousand different fabrics. Each wore wide metallic wristlets and ankle bracelets with intricate designs, and hand-carved hieroglyphics that looked part English, part something else— Arabic or Russian, or Chinese—or maybe a combination of all three. They wore watches on—of all places—their right ankles. The leader, whose hair flowed in thick bronze locks, wore a shining metallic vest that looked like some sort of ancient chain mail. Robert stared at that vest for the longest time, knowing there was something even stranger about it, and the rest of their metallic accessories, but he couldn’t quite say what. Even their flashlight was strange—its face oblong instead of round, and its shaft swirling with red and green patterns. It seemed ancient and almost holy.

  “Few Topsiders look upon us and live,” said the leader. This wasn’t
a boast or a threat, but a mere statement of fact.

  “Then why do I live?” asked Robert.

  The leader’s face remained solemn. “You don’t,” he said. Then he reached behind him and he pulled a sword out from a leather patchwork sheath. It wasn’t smooth and mirrored like the swords Robert had seen in movies. This was specked and rough—as if it were made of aluminum foil, pounded and re-formed until it was heavy, sharp, and dangerous. And the sword’s handle—it seemed to be little more than the grip of a gearshift.

  It was then Robert realized what was so strange about the metallic objects they wore. The bracelets were forged of discarded tin cans. The chain-mail vest was a thousand soda-can pop-tops strung together. Everything they had, from their patchwork clothes to their relic of a flashlight, was made out of the world’s garbage.

  “Today you die, Robert Gunderson,” said the leader, and with that he raised his trash-hewn sword above his head and swung it toward Robert’s neck in a swift, killing arc.

  This was Talon’s favorite part. But although he felt a thrill rush through him as he brought the blade down, he kept his face hard and unrevealing. Before him the nineteen-year-old man who had been named Robert Gunderson closed his eyes and grimaced, waiting for his head to be lopped off by Talon’s blade...but Talon had something else in mind. He stopped his blade just before it touched his skin, then rested the sword heavily on Gunderson’s shoulder. The look of surprise and relief on Gunderson’s face was a fine thing indeed.

  Gutta turned her flashlight in Gunderson’s eyes so they could see him—his every move, and the sincerity of his words.

  “You have fallen through the bottom of the World,” Talon said, his voice a monotone, almost like a chant. “Say it!”

  “I...I have fallen through the bottom of the world,” repeated Gunderson, his eyes darting back and forth, not understanding—not knowing how important this moment in his life was.

  “Do you renounce the Topside? All its joys and evils?” asked Talon, trying to find a depth in his voice that had not yet come. “Do you shed all ties that held you there?”

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