The ranger disappeared around the corner and when Ellie and Gregor found him a few seconds later Weis had gone past the foot of some stone steps and on through the passage to the other platform.
Except, where the platform and the track should have been, the trio’s combined torch beams were showing them what was obviously some kind of large workshop. A workshop equipped to do some heavy work too, judging by the presence of the overhead crane.
“What the f…?”
Weis spoke for all three of them. They walked slowly out into workshop area and looked around them. Steel workbenches, some collapsed under their own weight, stood in rows. So too did lathes, milling machines, drills and other bits of serious machinery that none of them could identify. At each end of the space, where the tracks should have been, the working area seemed to continue on down the tunnels.
Bodil and Hobbes joined them. Ellie turned to Hobbes.
“Looks like they did some serious damage to your archaeology here Mister Hobbes.”
However, Hobbes didn’t seem to be in the least bit angry.
“It does look that way doesn’t it Miss Troy. But you’d be wrong you know. This,” he held out his arms to include the whole scene. “Is the archaeology. Pretty much all of this dates back to at least 2017.”
Professor Hill looked intrigued.
“How can you be so precise Mister Hobbes?”
“I’ll show you.” He led them over to the far side of the workshop, to what had once been a wire mesh cage, most of the mesh now having rusted away. He pulled out one of several dust covered pipe sections and created a clean spot around the flange at one end. The metal he exposed was shiny and bright. “Stainless steel see, hasn’t corroded in all these years. Look here.” Wetting his thumb he rubbed away at the meta,l revealing letters stamped into the steel. ‘R. Blackett Charlton Ltd. 27/01/2017 Batch No. HGSF(N)62134HD’
“Now that’s what I call damn good dating evidence!”
Hobbes grinned back at her, wiping his hands on Weis’ shoulder.
“Isn’t it though.”
“Well, now the moment you’ve been waiting for I suppose. Let me show you where the scarab was found.” This time Hobbes led them over to a series of small benches clustered together in a corner next to where the westbound tunnel began. He stopped in front of a nondescript looking steel bench and put his hand on it. “Here we are. The scarab was found right where I’m standing.”
The whole party stared at the space in front of Hobbes’ feet for several seconds.
Ellie felt a tingle raise the hackles on her neck. She had stood here. She had sat at this bench, working away on a little clockwork scarab while all around her others were… doing what? She looked up, past the others, trying to see into the past. Why were you here BB?
“Right then!” She said, clapping her hands, as much to break her out of her own thoughts as to get everyone’s attention. “Spread out. Look for anything that isn’t at least seven hundred years old. Anything. Anything that is going to give us some clue as to what was going on here seventy years ago.”
The group started to do just that, until Weis’ voice stopped them.
“Do not go out of sight people! I need to be able to look up and count heads and not come up one missing! It’ll look shite on me resume if I turn up back at base with three people and a bag of bits.”
Suitably reminded of the potential dangers that could still be lurking in the darkness, the party started looking for Ellie’s clues. Ellie, though, hung around the bench as if reluctant to leave this tangible link to the creator of the scarab. She shone her torch down the westbound tunnel but its beam only illuminated the first few metres, revealing decaying facades to what could have been small workshops, office, labs… She sighed. Who the hell knows, everything had been cleaned out and taken with them when ‘they’ left seventy years ago. ‘They’. Thanks to Hobbes’ graffiti she now had a pretty good idea who ‘they’ were. Some of them at least.
While she was thinking Ellie had been almost unconsciously following one of the few intact pipes that snaked out from the tunnel and along the wall at about hip height. Though rusted, grimy and faded with age she was still able to make out that it had once been painted red. Probably bright red, she thought, as her torch beam picked out the letters ‘FI E MAI’ stencilled on the side. Fire Main, how long since it had last carried water? But then she frowned and looked a little closer. She began following the pipe, walking beside it.
“Professor Hill!” She shouted, still walking besides the pipe as it led her along the wall towards the entrance to the eastbound tunnel. Here she stopped and followed the pipe with just her torch as it curved upwards, over the tunnel and then down again to the ‘platform’ side where it carried on again for a few metres at hip height. Then the pipe reached the north wall and turned before almost immediately disappearing, along with other pipes of varying sizes, into a small, square, concrete horizontal shaft. “Would you mind having a look at this please?” Ellie crossed over to where the fire main pipe disappeared into the wall with the others. Professor Hill, followed by a suspicious Gregor, joined her there.
“What do you make of this pipe, Professor?”
Bodil leaned down, putting her hands on her knees to examine the pipe Ellie was pointing at. It only took her a couple of seconds to reach a conclusion.
“That’s not a pipe. It’s a…”
“…Cable.” They spoke the word together. Bodil straightened up.
“Why did someone try and hide a cable as a pipe?”
“That’s a good question Professor.” Now it was Ellie’s turn to bend down and peer into the shaft. “This goes on for quite a way. My light doesn’t reach the end.”
Bodil leaned forward again to try and see what Ellie was seeing down the shaft. As she did so she put a hand on the cable for support. It took a second or two but then Bodil gasped and both women immediately stood up. Ellie looked at her.
Bodil looked at her hand, then at Ellie.
“The cable. It’s… Warm.”