Part 11. Previous entries here.

Joshua hated this part of the job. Sure, most of the time, janitorial wasn’t so bad. People kept things tidy, by and large, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do. Yeah, the backed-up plumbing was a pain in the ass, but it didn’t come up often enough to be unbearable. Mopping up after the drifting masses, that was an easy life. Just pushing a broom, nodding at folks passing by, and earning your keep without hardly a sweat. Wasn’t glamorous, but hell — glamor was just in books and plays, splayed out in the films with lavish costumes and other dreams.

This part, though. This was the worst of it. Tracing pathways through old tunnels, the places people didn’t go now. Chasing down some idiot’s report of some noise echoing through a damn air vent, like that wasn’t something that they all dealt with. It was never anything. Some moles or ugly rodents, maybe a snake. Down here, though, shadows played with your eyes and dust was a thick layer that covered everything but those footprints.

Footprints. Joshua stopped. These weren’t the scatterd, tiny paws of a miniscule pest. There were human footprints, full-formed in the dirt that spread across the floor. Not even boots, but bare feet — he could make out the toes in the glow of his shoulder lamp. He traced them back with his eyes, wondering how they’d even gotten to where they were. There. Just beyond a nearby curve in the walls — why hadn’t these corridors been built straight, anyway? — a line scraped across the base of the hall. They’d used a damn maintenance hatch.

Joshua sighed. As if the idea of walking alone through these forgotten depths wasn’t enough, now he was chasing some brain-fried moron scampering in the dark without any shoes, and they probably had a goddamned blueprint to boot. He thought about getting back to report in, but — well, damnit. Gotta know what exactly you’re reporting. Storming back to Crawford with some half-cocked idea that the closed-down district was playing home to some delusional kid without proof wasn’t likely to fly.

Time to do some searching, then. Somewhere in this long-abandoned maze, he’d find something that could prove there was someone living here, or at least visiting. People don’t go anywhere without leaving parts of themselves, especially not if they’re certain nobody knows they’re there. The things men do in secret are — well, you learn things, being a part of cleanup. Most people follow the rules well, but when certain folk think that nobody knows what they’re up to, rules aren’t really a consideration. It’s only bad if you get caught, or so they tell themselves in their brief and inconsequential fits of lucidity.

He followed what he could of tracks in the dust, using his lamp to light the way. Joshua wasn’t about to start squeezing through the much narrower shafts that the feet followed through the walls, but sticking his head through an access panel or two allowed more than enough to keep on tracking. He had to turn back once, realizing that he’d wound his way almost back to civilization, but the delay only fueled his determination. He had one end of the path; finding the other was only a matter of time. There were only so many tunnels.

Joshua grinned broadly when he found it. A wide steel door that led into an old lab — one that wouldn’t have any direct access through the walls. This had to be the place. Footprints and scrapes across the ground confirmed his convictions. He pulled the doors open with both hands, opening up into a wide room scattered with derelict equipment. Tables, desks, and weird-looking metal cylinders; he approached these, still letting the path of the one who’d been here first guide him.

Joshua froze. He was standing an arm’s length from the dull metal of one of these bizarre contraptions. Through a small glass window, he could see a face.

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