It was actually the custom of the Errand Runners to use the stairs. I followed closely behind him, trying to resist the urge to look over the railing into the red abyss below.
Something about the sheer drop seemed to fascinate me. It felt like a manner of minutes before we reached the lower levels, and it wasn't that hard to tell when we did.
The air seemed to change, becoming thicker, warmer and more humid. Red lights on the wall shone in our faces, extending shadows and making me occasionally see things out of the corner of my eye. A headache began to form just above my eyes, and my pace slowed a little. I could hear hissing, clanking and a variety of other noises that weren't exactly welcoming. Metallic smells invaded my nostrils, making me think of thick rivers of blood. Normally, the thought of blood doesn't bother me, but at that point I just about puked.
I didn't know whether Kumar was experiencing the same effects, but he continued walking normally until we reached a door on one of the landings of the stairs. He opened it without hesitation, and all the smells and sounds were amplified times twenty. I coughed in momentary agony, and my friend looked at me in sympathy.
"It takes some getting used to. Just like everything else around here." As we walked through the door, I heard him mutter, "though they could at least put up air fresheners."
There were a lot of hallways in The Lab. This one was the color of rusted metal, and had pipes running along the walls. Occasionally, there would be a loud hiss and one of the pipes would spew white clouds of steam at us. Kumar said something about hiring a plumber just before another went off right next to me. Luckily, I was just far enough away not to get burned, but I still sensed the searing heat that came with those leaks.
"Why the hell do they power stuff with steam down here?" I finally asked as we approached another door. The door reminded me of one from an old submarine, with a wheel looking thing for the handle. What? I don't know the proper name for everything you know!
"Something to do with how the electricity might blow something up I think." Kumar turned the wheel with a grunt. The submarine-door opened with a squeak that was of the eardrum puncturing sort.
"Whoa." I said as I looked out the other side of the door.
Another thing about The Lab is that it has a lot of ridiculously huge rooms. This one, was bigger than the lobby. It stretched on for a quite awhile in fact, though at that moment I was more concerned with what the room held. Metal catwalks with railings that were considerably better then those on the staircase wound around the room, making it so you could walk above all of the experiments and everything else they were doing below us.
I could see both scientists and engineers again, though this time the scientists outnumbered everyone. Large machines whirred as they did whatever they were supposed to do, and smaller machines moved around the vast pit-like room, carrying metal pieces and other such objects. Huge vats of colorful liquids rested in the middle of the room in one straight line below the longest catwalk that went to the other end of the room.
The combination of the red lights and the lack of light coming from the ceiling made it difficult to tell exactly where you were going, so I kept pace with Kumar, seeing as I wasn't too interested in getting lost in this place. As we walked across one of the catwalks, I looked, for just a moment, down.
Something exploded as I did. Suddenly, bits of hot metal were flying around the room, and an alarm was sounded. I looked at Kumar, but he just kept going. This didn't improve my opinion of the place. If this was normal, I'd just as soon hang out in a alligator-infested swamp.
We reached a metal flight of stairs leading down to the scientists below us, who appeared to be studying the contents of one of the vats of liquid. I had a pretty good feeling that if I touched that stuff, I would be greeted with instant death, or something similar. We reached the metal floor (pretty much everything was made out of metal down there) and a man with thick glasses and no hair walked over to us. I noticed he, and everyone else, was wearing safety goggles, and couldn't help but wonder why me and my friend hadn't taken those same precautions.
"Ah, thank you Mr..." The bald man trailed off as Kumar handed him his package.
"Jain, sir, it's Kumar Jain. Remember?" He rolled his eyes.
"Right!" The man nodded, as if he'd known all along. "And you must be..." He turned to me.
"Todd Anderson." Kumar answered for me.
"Good god! What in hell are you doing in a place like this?! Never mind, never mind, I'm Dr. Gilbert." He held out his hand for me to shake it. I did, though albeit warily. "Anyways, gotta get back to work, boys. This stuff doesn't stay 'happy' for long." He grinned, holding the box.
"Right..." I said nervously, looking at the thing Kumar had carried with us.
As we were walking along the catwalk again, I asked "did you know what was in there?"
He shrugged. "Probably something that could kill us in small doses."
"I think this place scares the shit out of me."
"Welcome to the club."
We reached the stairs in a seemingly shorter amount of time, but climbing them felt longer. "Couldn't we have just taken the elevator?" I asked, breathing a little more heavily then I should have.
"Try to keep up, fatty." Kumar answered from a few steps above me.
"Fuck you, Indian." I smiled.
"Aryan bastard." He grinned.
"You know how Hitler was trying to create the perfect race with the blue eyes and blond hair?" We had reached the door that would take us to the lobby. Kumar looked at his watch. "Well, it's my lunch break. Fancy a burger or two?"
I didn't see why not.
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