Archaeologist Hobbes now directed the party through several much more narrow tunnels and then down a flight of stone steps, keeping up a nervous commentary as he did so.
“It’s remarkable how so many ceramic tiles have managed to remain attached on these smaller passageways… You can still feel a slight breath of air from the natural convection ventilation system… Down those steps are the Northern Line train stops. The southbound tunnels have the flood defence gates still in place….”
Only professor Hill was paying any attention, and even for her it was more to keep the oppressiveness of the narrow tunnels at bay. The only other time the tense monotony was broken was when Weis cheerfully stomped several tick nymphs into mushy oblivion. Eventually the tunnel they were in opened up into a larger concourse, similar to the one they had emerged into after entering the excavation but nowhere near as overgrown.
Hobbes stepped forward.
“Ah. Here we are.”
The party gathered in a group facing him while looking around at the largely intact walls and ceiling.
“Much better isn’t it? You can imagine our delight at finding this.” Hobbes joined the rest looking around for a few seconds before going on. “Unfortunately that didn’t last long once we started finding signs of more recent disturbance.”
“Oh. Like what, mister Hobbes?”
Hobbes blinked. The Troy woman’s question had been sharp, demanding even. At last the penny started to drop. So that’s what all this was about. Not something they’d done, or not done, or damaged, or stolen, or any of the other possible reasons he and some others had dreaded regarding the sudden visit by these people. Hobbes felt a huge weight lifting from his shoulders.
“Well, erm, the damage for one thing. Whoever had made the entrance hole into the station had brought a whole lot of equipment with them.” Hobbes gestured Ellie to follow him and led her, and the others, across the concourse. “Look here. Absolute vandalism.”
Plascrete rails had been unceremoniously bolted into the ground, shattering ancient floor tiles in the process. In other places deep post holes had been drilled and in the walls there were similar holes for horizontal crossbeams. Hobbes pointed all of these out in an angry little dance.
“Whoever they were, they destroyed valuable archaeology just so they could build what was probably a store room of some kind. We found cables, boxes of fastenings, broken electronics, all kinds of rubbish in just this area. Oh, and graffiti…” Hobbes led them around a corner to a patch of undisturbed tiling on the wall. “… See?” He shone his torch onto the wall and the other followed his lead.
It was very faded.
Everyone looked at it. Only Ellie recognised it. It was a stencil, a spray paint image of a stylised bird inside a broad black circle. The bird’s head and sharp beak was seen in profile, but the body of the bird was a frontal depiction of its large wings folded down, cowl-like, to either side of it.
“Yes Mister Hobbes,” She said, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice. “I see what you mean. Quite shocking.”
Hobbes was still looking at it, shaking his head.
“Disgraceful isn’t it? But you’ve yet to see the worst. You’ll see, it’s on our way.”
The party moved off, leaving only Weis and his single torch beam looking up at the martial imagery. He was sure he’d seen that birdie somewhere before. He shrugged. It would come to him, eventually. Not wanting his little flock of boffins to wander into anything he was gonna catch flak from the sergeant for, Weis hurried after them.
Hobbes took them to the mouth of another large tunnel that sloped down into more darkness. He stood at the lip and beckoned everyone to do the same and shine their torches down where the escalator once ran.
“There, see that. Incredibly rare archaeology just ripped out or flattened, and for what?”
There was much less plant life on this slope than there had been on the other. Less water too. As a result the decay to the ancient engineering was considerably less. There were even places, picked out by individual probing beams of light, that showed the aluminium sides of the escalator troughs, once shiny but now white and pitted from traces of salt in the air. The tunnel walls themselves still had large areas of tiling and smooth concrete. At the bottom of the escalator troughs, though heavily rusted, there was still the stumps of the machinery that had lived under the once moving steps.
It was this that Hobbes was so upset about, even Bodil cringed at the damage that had been done. Large parts of the machinery had been ripped out and dumped to one side. Now, where it once stood, stepped plascrete walkways had been installed down the whole length of one trough and a smooth plascrete slide down the other.
“It’s good, Miss. It means you won’t be falling on your ass as much and so I won’t have to catch you as much.”
“Greggie? You’re fired.”
The grin broadened.
Bodil watched the little interaction with a smile of her own. Their casual back and forth suggested a comfortable familiarity of long standing.
Weis’ head popped up.
“Can we get on? It’s bin two hours wiv no tea break, and I don’t fancy supping me brew when there’s still those blood-sucking little buggers around ready to nibble on me ginger nuts.” Having made his feelings known Weis set off down the steps.
Hobbes sighed at the total disregard for history and followed the little ranger. Then Gregor, then Bodil and finally, with a glance over her shoulder, Ellie brought up the rear where nobody could see her chewing worriedly on her lip.