UNITED STATES—In the Metro station Zorba did an about-face and beelined to the virtual turnstile. The country bumpkin turned away to slip between passengers streaming in the opposite direction. Zorba saw the kid was dazed, eyes glassy. Out of nowhere the kid lurched back and threw a roundhouse punch at Zorba. The former detective slammed down a meaty fist, strengthened by hours at the police gym, and derailed the roundhouse. The green-plaid hayseed’s right fist shot out with all its might.

Zorba ducked. The law of objects in free motion did its work and the kid slumped on the floor with kind of a delightful thud. Zorba reveled in a recovery breath, tired by elated. In the second that the kid was down on his knees, Zorba saw a corner of folded paper sticking out the kid’s back pocket.

The kid was not from the Underground Cities. Except for official agencies the preserved documents of historical nature, only those from “up there” used paper.

“Is everything OK?” enquired a security ambassador from the Metro. It was the year 2045 and some things never change. When the Security Ambassador said, Are you OK?, he really meant, I’m looking for trouble and you’re it.

The bumpkin from “up there” turned ghost-pale and quivered. Zorba said, “Everything fine. He has a problem with balance.”

The kid had that grasping-at-straws look of knowing there was a right answer but not knowing what it was. Finally a hushed “Yeah” escaped around the heart lodged in his throat. That kid from “up there” was sweating bullets, if he got picked up he’d face debriefing, which was another way of saying he’d get the third degree.

The Security Ambassador left and Zorba asked the kid, “Who sent you here?”

Zorba could see the guy was nervous as a rabbit and thinking about making a run for it. “I wouldn’t if I were you,” said Zorba.

Zorba had the size advantage, as well. People “up there” on the earth’s surface were notoriously short, seldom over five feet. They had endured severe malnourishment in the post-vegan-war period. The Leader had decreed that height was not an innate virtue. “A human as big as an ant would still have a soul that kisses the clouds” was one of the Leaders saying.

The spooked kid and former detective, using his size and knowledge as a threat, strolled toward the Metro exit. Then a light flashed in Zorba’s skull; the firefly kept glowing as his train whooshed by on the cushion of air formed by inverted magnetic poles.

When the light came back, through his fluttering eyelids, it was the glazed light at the at the end of an overlit tunnel, dirt grimed. Cobwebs hung like chandeliers. Then the whole tunnel tilted sideways, like a listing ship. Zorba thought they were on a rogue spaceship at first.

Zorba, no longer Detective Zorba, but just plain Zorba, was ringed on all sides by a quartet of plaid-shirted yokels. They had the same high cheekbones and scrubbed look of the first joker in the train station.

They belonged to the same family. Zorba tried to speak but his lips did not move. And he wasn’t thinking right.

One of the plaid brothers peered down at Zorba and said, with apparent pity, “Is you all right, amigo?”

He clapped him on the back. It took Zorba back to when the green-plaid-shirted kid had stumbled into him in the Metro esplanade. The same sting re-woke in his shoulder blade. Again he saw the firefly and the black cavern engulfed him, but not before two clicks of the tongue had turned on his body phone. From the selection on the retinal screen he selected headquarters.

By the time Lieutenant Robbins got the message, it was too late to do anything. Former Detective Zorba had already left the exit silo, and was already in the land “up there.” Well, good riddance, she thought. That’s where he belongs with his cold cases.

To be continued. . .

Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction, is the author of the thriller “Hostages of Veracruz” (available on Amazon.com).