Vertibird flight wasn’t unfamiliar to Professor Bodil Ramsbottom-Fergusen, Hill-Davis. Nor was the noise, or the discomfort of the webbing ‘seats’, or the freezing temperatures at altitude that condensed into rain inside the fuselage as they descended. Nor was she unfamiliar with the heart pounding excitement of the prospect of a dig so far off in the semi-explored wilds of La Grande Bretagne.
Joining her in the primitive seating arrangement along each side of the fuselage were ‘the team’. Ellie was there, of course, along with her giant shadow Gregor. Victor was there too, her own shadow for the duration of the expedition. Then there was Doctor Harry Hubbard Shearer, Troy- Awolowo, the Troy museum’s resident anthropologist and his assistant Amy something something, Bodil missed the introduction as they boarded.
Finally there was her own ‘assistant’ Cybil Jonsdottir-Olafson, Olafsdottir- Jonson. When Bodil had raised a quizzical eye at this Cybil had looked uncomfortable and said “It’s complicated”. That was good enough for Bodil who was more concerned that Cybil wasn’t actually an archaeologist, she was a conservator from the Troy museum. On top of that, she wasn’t even a qualified conservator, just a student. The professor wished once again that there had been time to collect her own team from the university.
They began to descend. From Bodil’s vantage point she could see their destination swing into view below them. At first she thought it was a huge natural bowl in the overgrown landscape but as they circled lower it became obvious that this was, or at least had been an enormous, partially collapsed building of some kind. The vine and bush covered outside walls towered at least thirty metres above the outside ground. Perched on the edges of the walls, at strategic intervals, were scaffolding towers, each supporting a small cabin with large outward facing searchlights. Inside the walls the huge bowl sloped down to a large concreted flat space that looked to be well below the outside ground level. As the vertibird settled lower inside the bowl Bodil could see that the ‘slopes’ were in fact a continuous gently climbing hill of overgrown collapsed debris. Recognition came to her. She had seen things like this before. This was a pre Fall arena. Confirmation came when the pilot’s voice crackled over the internal speakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen please brace for landing.”
The vertibird touched down. Despite the pneumatics of the landing gear there was still a tailbone jarring bump as they hit terra very firma.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Wembly.”
Jumping down from the vertibird, they were met by a man in the olive uniform of the Rangers. Unable to make himself heard above the twin rotors of the vertibird, the ranger gestured for everyone to follow him. He then led them across the unstained and therefore relatively new concrete towards the lower slopes away to the west of where they had landed. Bodil knew it was west, not because of some ancient archaeological skill learned at the foot of some trowel worshiping sensai, but because there was a huge white sign with huge black letters saying ‘Western Slopes: Administration and Secure Storage.’ Then in smaller letters, ‘Please show your pass.’
Passes duly shown, they followed their guide through the busy narrow corridors that connected the warren of portacabins and other, more jury-rigged, structures that made up the administrative centre of the site.
As they walked, like ducklings following their mother, Bodil could smell the paperwork. Even out here, in the back end of beyond, she thought. Offices smell exactly the same. Except, she conceded with a wry grin, for her own office… But that was just because of the mildew. Just then she was jerked out of her meandering thoughts by their arrival at their destination.
Following Victor’s not unattractive broad frame into the room, Bodil found herself in a classroom, complete with student desks and a blackboard facing them. They were directed to take seats facing the blackboard and the rather aggressive looking ranger sergeant standing in front of it. Their guide took up the familiar hands-behind- the back-feet-apart-don’t fuck-with-me stance by the door. Bodil glanced around at the faces of her compatriots. Ellie stared, blank faced at the sergeant, waiting for her to speak. Victor slouched, arms folded, in the unfamiliar arrangement and ostensibly examined his nails. Gregor, meanwhile, was giving the stink eye to the ranger by the door. Bodil got the impression that the ranger’s stance wasn’t working on Gregor and that the giant would like nothing better than to ‘fuck-with-him’, probably until there were snapping sounds.
The ranger sergeant waited until everyone was still.
" My name is Sergeant Glasser and I have been told that it is my job to keep you people alive while you are here to do, whatever the hell it is you are here to do.”
The sergeant paused and looked at everyone individually to make sure that everyone seated got the message that whatever it was they were here to do was not on her bucket list.
“With the help of Ranger Hancock, “The sergeant nodded towards the man by the door. “And with Specialist Weis, who you have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, I estimate that I will be seventy percent successful in fulfilling my mission… That’s seventy percent, at best.”