The decent to the level of the Central Line was uneventful. By the time they reached the concourse at the bottom the dancing torch beams were picking out very little in the way of plant life. Yes, there was some ceiling collapse and there was a fairly large pool of water being fed by sporadic drips from another great crack directly above them, but on the whole the condition of the concourse wasn’t too bad. There were even the remains of light fittings, long since fallen from the ceiling and now laying smashed on the tiles. There were also more signs of manmade damage. More plascrete tracking, more post holes.
The party followed Hobbes past all this to the start of another maze of narrow tunnels and stone steps. As they walked, the barely moving air got progressively cooler. Finally, Hobbes led them down a last flight of steps and they emerged into a long open area split lengthways into two levels with each end disappearing off into large tunnels. Hobbes brought them to a halt.
“This is the place where the trains would stop for passengers.” He nodded to the tunnel mouth nearest where they had come in. “The train would come from that direction,” he turned to face the other way and pointed. “And it would leave that way. That’s the way we have to go now.”
Ellie pulled her jacket tighter. The draught coming from the tunnel was really quite chilly now, especially after the warm, humid air of the higher levels.
“So what’s down there Mister Hobbes?”
The party followed as Hobbes set off towards the tunnel mouth.
“Another station. One not on the old maps.”
Weis trotted on ahead, looking around all the time for bugs to either shoot at or stomp on. Professor Hill caught up with Hobbes.
“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t a station not be on the map?”
Ellie fell in behind the pair of archaeologists, listening.
“Because they went and built the station we just came from. That one was a junction of the Northern and Central lines.” He nodded towards the approaching tunnel. “The one down there became superfluous so it was abandoned. That was over a hundred years before The Fall by the way. Even in the last days people who travelled this line never knew about thee abandoned station. By then it had already been lost from living memory.”
Just before they entered the tunnel Ellie tugged on the archaeologist’s sleeve, bringing him and everyone to a halt.
“So why did they dig down to the station we came in at? Why didn’t they dig straight down to the abandoned one?”
“Because they didn’t know where to dig. We still don’t. The station was called ‘British Museum’ station but when we excavated the museum there was no sign of any station there. We have no idea where the entrance might be.”
They entered the tunnel.
The further they progressed, the more archaeology appeared and in steadily better condition. The steel rails they followed were rusted but still held their shape. Cables, too, though their supports had rusted away and allowed them to fall to the ground, still snaked along the tunnel floor mostly intact thanks to the thick insulation protecting them through the centuries.
Bodil and Ellie walked together. Although Pre Fall history was not her field, the professor explained as much as she could remember of ancient underground mass transit systems. When Ellie asked about what she thought were pipes Bodil corrected her and explained how the existing tunnels were often used by power companies as conduits for the high power electrical cables that were more usually strung from enormously high steel pylons. When they walked through a particularly nasty smelling section of the tunnel she was also able to explain that sewerage companies sometimes did the same thing.
It made a change for Bodil to be able to enthuse about history with Ellie. Up until now Ellie had always seemed to her to be disinterested or even disdainful about the past. To actually have her asking questions was warmingly pleasant. Eventually, though, she found herself more and more having to refer Ellie to Mister Hobbes for answers to her increasingly specific questions.
Up ahead Hobbes and Weis had come to a halt and seemed to be waiting for them. When Bodil, Ellie and Gregor arrived it was to stand on a wide ramp and look up into a large, dark hole that had been created in the side of the tunnel. The edges of the hole had been tidied up and reinforced.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Hobbes intoned with false ceremony. “May I present, ‘British Museum Station.” With that, he and Weis swung around and shone their torches directly through the hole.
What the beams revealed was a glimpse of unfaded red and cream tiles and, in the very centre of an expanse of cream, a mosaic of a bright red circle with a central blue horizontal bar. The blue bar bearing the legend ‘MUSEUM’ in white lettering.
Mesmerised, Bodil felt her way up the slope, watched by a grinning Hobbes.
“Beautiful?” Hobbes offered.
Now the rest of the party joined in following the professor through the hole and eight hundred years into the past.
The platform they congregated on was an exhibition of ornate ancient ironwork pillars, decorated in great detail with painted cast iron leaves and berries, like some underground forest. The walls and curved ceiling were tiled in scarcely damaged cream tiles bordered into huge squares and rectangles by more tiles of deepest red.
Except for a few that had inevitably crashed to the ground, large white glass globes hung from long brass chains as if ready to be turned on at any second and so do away with the pathetic torches of the modern interlopers.
Even Gregor seemed impressed, in so much as his bullet head tilted and swivelled like a turret on his shoulders. Only Weis seemed not so enthralled by the scenery. Instead, the little ranger was slowly following dust filled but still deep gouges that led towards an opening about half way along the platform.
Ellie noticed first Weis and then the long scratches in the platform’s surface that he was following. Tapping Gregor on the arm, the pair quietly left the archaeologists to follow Weis.