Bodil turned to the little ranger.
“Ranger Weis, we were wondering if you had any idea when the entrance hole we came down might have been created. It seems to have been made by an explosion.”
Weis shifted footing and swopped his rifle from the crook of his left arm to the crook of his right arm. Meanwhile, his pointed face took on a look of deep concentration and considered thought. Finally, he sniffed.
“Now that’s a very interesting question Prof.” He looked from one eager face to the other before continuing. “The thing is though… You should have asked it while we at the top of the bleedin’ ‘ole, shouldn’t you? Then I could have ‘ad a look, couldn’t I?”
Gregor smiled a one sided grin. Ellie pursed her lips and looked at her feet. Bodil and Hobbes looked at each other and then Bodil turned back to Weis.
“That’s a good point Ranger. Tell you what, when we go back, would you mind having a look to see if you can tell when the explosion, if that’s what it was, was made.”
Weis looked happy then.
“Sure Prof. ‘Be my pleasure.”
Hobbes cleared his throat again.
“Okay then. Now we’ve got that sorted out…” Attention returned to him. “As I was saying, this is the first area we excavated. And as you can see from the condition of the environment, we weren’t particularly hopeful of finding anything at all.
“I’m assuming you did though.”
Hobbes nodded happily.
“Yes Professor, indeed we did. While examining the area we believe wasn’t normally accessed by the general public we found a safe.”
Professor Hill raised an interested eyebrow. Thus encouraged Hobbes continued.
“Now, as we know, seven hundred year old steel has either corroded away altogether by now or has become unrecognisable except by EMR…”
The question came from Gregor and was answered by Bodil.
“Electro-magnetic radiation Gregor. X-Rays.”
Satisfied, Gregor went back to looking bored. Hobbes tried to pick up the thread again.
“… Except by… X-rays then. Anyway, this safe was so corroded that the door crumbled to the touch and everything inside had just, gone. Except!” He actually held up a finger. “Inside, there was a firebox.”
Ellie, arms folded, was slowly sliding a booted foot back and forth through the moss and rubble and other gunk that had collected on the floor. Without looking up she interrupted what seemed to be turning into a lecture.
“Mister Hobbes? I have read the report from the dig. If you are going to tell us about the incredibly well preserved pre-Fall pornographic magazine that was found inside that firebox then I can cut this short.” Now she looked up. “I’ve seen it. It’s disgusting, and the Troy family are donating it to the Museum Of Ancient Art in Brasília.”
Hobbes’ face fell, his bonfire well and truly pissed on. His anxiety cranked up another notch or two. Ellie took a long breath and let out an equally long, bored sigh.
“Now. Can you take us to wherever it was where the scarab was found?”
Bodil felt a flash of anger at Ellie, tinged with a little sympathy for the unfortunate Hobbes. The professor was getting the distinct impression that when this assignment was being handed out the poor man had definitely drawn the short straw. On top of that she doubted that he knew what it was he was even supposed to be doing. Just that the people at the very top of his employment food chain had taken a sudden and unexplained interest in something he had been involved in.
“Certainly Miss Troy.” Hobbes brushed non-existent dirt off his sleeve. “If you’ll follow me this way?” Hobbes set off towards the open maw of another slope. Like the other, this had once held the moving staircase called an escalator. Now it was a series of long shallow steps made from duckboards and fastened or bolted down to the rust and rubble that made up the natural slope.
Weis stepped in front of the field archaeologist.
“If you don’t mind mister ‘Obbes. I’ll take the lead from here. The air coming up from down there is warm-ish, dank-ish and, pardon my language, stinks bugshit-ish.” Looking at each party member in turn Weis organised what he called ‘the order of march’. Right then. Me first, then mister ‘Obbes to tell me the way. Then you Tiny,” meaning Gregor. “Then the two ladies in whatever order you like.”
And so the descent began. Perhaps more to keep his own nervousness in check, Hobbes kept up an intermittent commentary.
“In case you were unaware… Although I’m sure that after reading… Anyway in case you aren’t, I mean didn’t…” He cleared his throat loudly. “This station is the junction between two underground train routes. We are now going down to what was called the ‘Northern Line’. Below that we will descend further to the ‘Central Line’ which is some sixty five metres below ground. This is where the…”
Weis had stopped and raised a hand.
Everyone listened but it was only Gregor who whispered back.
“Sounds like fire crackling.”
Weis was readying his rifle.
“Nah mate. That’s lots of little bug feet, that’s what that is.”
Gregor and Ellie both produced handguns.
Hobbes was slowly stepping backwards until he ran into the bulk that was Gregor. There was no room to get around the giant in the narrow cleft that was all that remained of the escalator track. Fortunately Gregor solved the problem of the man who was suddenly in his way by lifting him up, turning around, and then putting him back down.
Unfortunately, this left Hobbes staring into the barrel of Ellie’s weapon. Thankfully he was able to skitter past her to where Professor Hill held her trusty trowel, dagger-like, in her right hand.
For her part, Bodil was reconsidering her decision not to fetch a gun of her own. Not that she had a gun, but she was sure Victor could easily lay his hands on one should she ask him. She thought she might ask him.
At the front Weis was edging quietly forward, the powerful beam of his weapon’s torch scanning ahead. Gregor began to move forward, as did Ellie behind him. Sensing this, Gregor stopped and turned around to face his boss.
“Stay here Miss.” He growled.
Ellie knew this was one of those situations where she wasn’t going to be able to order, or even argue with her bodyguard. She stayed put while Gregor continued down the slope after Ranger Weis. With a few quick instructions to Professor Hill and Mister Hobbes, Weis’ and Gregor’s torches were reinforced by their own probing beams making sure nothing appeared behind them that they had failed to notice.
Ellie just hoped that nothing did. In all her long years, her proficiency with weapons hadn’t improved much.