In the dark and dangerous depths of the cities engineering levels, Talus was as silent as a ghost, he knew this vast labyrinth of concrete, pipes, hallways and cables like the back of his hand. The dampness of the underground graveyard clung heavily to his clothes, it caked his skin and penetrated his lungs. The musky, rusted smell from years of decay filled his nostrils as he moved through the endlessness like a blur. In the decrepit hallways next to the auxiliary power grid, Talus ran past 2 men rummaging through the trash. As per normal, the two vagabonds were uninterested in his comings and goings so he didn’t pay them any mind either. Down a few of the wider pipelines, a left turn, a right, another left and Talus slowed down to a walk and approached the edge of the walkway, where he looked out once again across The Void. His rebreather slung loosely around his neck, Talus placed it securely over his mouth and nose so as not to inhale any toxic air while crossing The Void. Aptly named, The Void was the split between the two hemispheres of the city, just like a human brain, only down here it was made of metal, concrete and plastic, thousands of metres of intertwining, looping, and crisscrossing constructs under layers or man-made materials. The only way across the gap was the bridge, a hasty construction built to accommodate the workers down in the depths of the underground city Talus liked to call EL, short from Engineering Levels. The bridge was another couple of hundred metres further to the left of where Talus stood at the end of the corridor, so he took off at a jog along a narrow strut. Pipes, corridors and conduits raced by, the void to his right loomed ominously, falling at least 12 kilometres down to the Earth’s surface. Less than a kilometre down, however, the toxic cloud threatened menacingly, which if entered unprotected, was certain death.
Running along the edge of the void Talus reached the bridge and glanced across, his gaze lifting up towards the small portion of the underbelly of the city a couple of hundred metres above, a few pipes broken or cracked leak fluids down into the void, others dripping sewage down to Earth. Scum and dirty water had stained the walls of the void and where there should have been a metallic sheen of steel and copper, now only rust and discoloured pipes represented the state of the engineering lower levels of the city he called home. Even with the amount of workers, and engineers down in the depths of EL, the condition of the cities foundations would scare people if they knew how much Talus and his colleagues fixed every single day. Several floors above Talus he could see 8 of his cohort building scaffolding three levels deep and 50 metres wide alongside one of the decaying and massive air filter systems exposed to the void. One of the workers Talus recognised as his boss, Heng, waving down at Talus he signaled in the direction he was already heading. Returning the wave in understanding he gave a thumbs up, Talus reached for his radio “you need a hand after?” he spoke in fast Chinese, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. He received back a short open/ close buzz of the radio channel, as good a confirmation as any. Heng had always been a man of few words, he respected the old man for that.
Talus looked back down at his feet and began walking across the bridge carefully, grasping the railing on both sides with one hand each. His body swayed with the wind that circulated the chasm like eddies in a river. Stepping along the narrow bridge, the 40 metre-wide gap of the engineering hemispheres always seemed like an eternity. Talus looked down into that swirling storm below, heart thumping, the blood rushing through arteries making his legs shake slightly, his reflexes and concentration peaked as he tread carefully across the last few steps of the bridge. Reaching the relative safety of the landing he immediately darted down a nearby passageway, as he ran Talus mind drifted off into thoughts of his parents. Carla, and LI, and his brothers and sisters at the orphanage, while his feet, unaided and unhindered by thoughts, carried him towards his destination on autopilot. The echoing sound of the beaten, blackened, and worn out shoes underfoot slapped the metal grates, pipes, and concrete as Talus continued onwards. A few minutes later, Talus came to a dead end, or so it appeared to the unfamiliar eye, he deftly lifted a hatch upward off the solid metal floor and jumped down into the blackness below. Weightlessly falling through the air down a chute, a slight curve at the bottom thrust him into some of the cities cooling vents, the deceleration from the curve peeled his shirt up his back, pulling it down briskly, Talus continued onward. At the far end of the corridor the 5 metre-tall blades were whirring with an echoing hum that filled the room like a thousand tiny voices. Walking carefully towards the blades, the wind blowing against his warm face the sweat crawled off tanned brow and neck and away from the dark brown eyes set below Talus’ thick black eyebrows.
Stopping a couple of paces away from the fan, Talus closed his eyes, a look of calm concentration spread across his face, the wrinkle between his eyes deepened as a warmth crept out from his chest as a feeling of power entered the room. Bright light burst through his veins and into his hands and fingertips, which started glowing a ghostly white. At a mere thought, the warmth left Talus’ fingers, oozing out the ends from his very pores, forming into a translucent and white gelatinous substance like jelly, it grew to the size of a tennis ball and suddenly dropped onto the metal floor without a sound. The slug-like white ball of light crawled and darted like lightning across the metal floor itself towards the fan. It passes through the fan to the other side of the deadly spinning blades, and stopped at an unspoken command, Talus opened his eyes once again. The ball of light rose into the air, pulsing in multiple directions, like a baby poking at its mum’s stomach, licking the air around it with electric white light. Talus glanced at the fans control panel on the other side of the blades, the ball of light lashed out with a pulse hitting the stop button with precision. This must have been the 50th time he had stopped the fan with his powers. Stepping through the now motionless fan, past the ball of light which followed Talus, dogging his steps, it regained flight again reentering through his back, the warmth left the room in the absence of the ball of light, but Talus felt that warmth permeate his body and energize him. With a casual flick of the wrist Talus looked back and flicked the fans controls back on again, he left the room as he had found it.
6 months ago Talus had discovered these power, but didn’t know how or where they came from, all he knew was that they were a part of him now. As he was only one of three ‘runners’ in the engineering crew down in EL, having these powers made life a whole lot easier, they allowed Talus to take shortcuts, like the one he had just bypassed, through otherwise dangerous areas of all 50 levels that made up engineering. The powers whispered to him, almost like they had a personality of their own, giving him ideas, instincts, pushing him further, beyond what he would have thought possible. Talus didn’t know what the catch was, but he knew there must be one caveat to having these powers, the last 6 months he waited for something happen, something bad, but every day was just a normal as the next. The powers were feeding off his own longing, own thoughts, emotions, and memories, remembering back to days long past, a different life, lost forever. Either way, the powers had helped him get out of a lot of sticky situations, and had already saved his life, twice.
Outside of the cooling vents, Talus squeezed through a long and narrow passage, nearly at his destination, he emerged on the other side one leg, one arm at a time. About to make a right turn into an open corridor, he heard a loud noise and something crashed into him from is left. Talus hit the floor tumbling head over heels, scratching exposed elbows on the concrete. But he bounced back up like a cat and turned to face whatever was behind him, only to find the rugged figure of Jack sprawled on his front. Jack was one of his brothers from the orphanage, his fellow maintenance worker, and Talus’ best friend. A guttural laugh cut deeply as Jack turned onto his back, looking up at Talus’ tanned face, a wide grin on his dial as he attempted to regain his feet, laughing, spluttering and cursing in Chinese all the while, which made talus laugh with him. Pulling him to his feet, finally standing tall again, Jacks lanky body towered over Talus an inch or 2, a fact Jack constantly reminded him about. He was wearing his dirty, worn out, dark blue one-piece overalls just like Talus. His Pockets bulging down towards the floor, laden with bolts, screws, washers, spare cable and the-like. His tool belt holding not only his pants up, stopping them from hitting the floor, but held an assortment of spanners, wrenches, a hammer, and a small cordless multi-purpose drill and a radio. Unlike Jack, Talus wore his overall’s arms wrapped around his skinny waist, his tool belt slung tightly over his right shoulder on an angle, like a bandolier of bullets. Talus found it more efficient this way, it meant less weight was bouncing around when he run.
“Talus you bastard!” exhaled Jack, patting down his arms and legs of dust and dirt, still puffing from the collision, “You came out of nowhere man, what’s the deal!?” trying desperately to hold down his smile but failing dismally. “Whatever, you noob, you got in my way!” Talus bantered through a broad smile, “I was minding my damn own business when you came thundering into me, totally your fault!”, “Whatever man, hey check this loot out I snagged from some of the sewage filters” Jack dug into his pockets and held out some small items, “gross bro, I don’t want to look at your poo trinkets again, get them away from me” Talus shoved away his hands, knocking some of the items from his hands and onto to the floor, a whistle bounced and fell through the grates, a small heart-shaped locket bounced and spun end-over-end, descending over the side, chasing the whistle down into oblivion. Jack managed to catch a few of the trinkets which he quickly shoved back in his pockets. He stumbled over to where the whistle and locket had disappeared looking down into the depths of the blackness under where they stood. “Now, if you’ve finished talking shit” Talus muttered, “let’s go find out-“, “Jack, Talus, you two at the water pipe on level 22 yet!?” Both radios spluttered in the unmistakable voice of their boss. Jack rolled his eyes, pulling his radio off his belt and replying “nearly there boss”. A crackled click of a reply confirmed Heng’s approval, Jack and Talus shrugged at each other smiling and headed off shoulder to shoulder in the direction of the water pipe, striding casually, another glance at each, then gaining speed, before long, another foot race was underway, both of them giving it their all.