With Ellie’s aid, and flanked by Professor Hill and Mister Hobbes, Gregor walked up and down the corridor a few times until he and Ellie between them decided that he was probably strong enough to attempt the journey back to the surface.
Weis led the way with his rifle and was covered by Bodil with Gregor’s pistol. Then Gregor, supported by Ellie. However, after watching them stagger up and down the corridor, Bodil doubted that the diminutive Ellie could do anything other than cushion the big man’s fall should he keel over en route. Bringing up the rear was a very nervous archaeologist.
The steps up to the concourse were more difficult for Gregor than expected and he had to pause halfway up.
Ellie fussed around him, checking his bandage.
“Take your time Greggie. How are you feeling? Do you want more pain relief?”
Gritting his teeth against his obvious discomfort, Gregor gently pushed Ellie to arm’s length.
“Just…” He took a breath to release the irritation in his voice. “I just need a second.” Still using the wall for support he offered Ellie the best grin he could manage. “Stairs hurt.”
It was always difficult to know what Ellie was feeling under whatever damn visor or fancy glasses she was wearing, Bodil was thinking. But, brief though it was, the hurt Ellie had felt at the moment Gregor pushed her away seemed to burst from every atom of her being in an expanding wave of sadness. Bodil felt a catch in her throat and even a tear start to form. She and Weis exchanged a confused, embarrassed glance before both of them found something else to look at other than Ellie and Gregor. Then it was gone, leaving Bodil wondering what the hell just happened.
Bodil looked back down the stairs to where Ellie once again had a supporting arm around Gregor’s middle as the two of them started up the remaining steps towards them. She turned to Weis, just in time to see him rub his eye with the heel of his hand. He frowned at her.
“What? I got dust in me eye.” Weis turned and huffily climbed the rest of the way up onto the concourse.
After a second Bodil trotted after him. They waited, one each side of the open doors with their torches on to augment the dimmer light of the concourse, searching the shadows. Neither spoke. When they were all finally gathered in the last of the brighter light from below Hobbes looked long and hard at the injured bodyguard before turning to Ellie.
“How are we going to close the door? He’s the only one who could operate the circuit breaker.”
Ellie thought for a second before shaking her head.
“We’ll have to leave it.”
“And if more of those things decide to follow us?”
Weis butted in.
“No more appeared while I was watching. Maybe we killed ‘em all.”
But Hobbes wasn’t having it.
“And maybe we didn’t. The last thing we need is more of them sneaking up behind us in the dark.”
“But we’ve got you at the back to protect us Mister Hobbes.” Bodil added with a smile.
“Exactly. No, wait, I mean…”
Bodil put a hand on his arm.
“I was joking. I’ll take the back if you want.”
He tried his best but Hobbes was unable to hide the relief in his voice.
“Well, sure… I mean if that’s what you want.” He became aware of the disdain in the eyes of those around him. “Look, I’m not saying anything. It’s just that I’ve never really used a gun before is all.”
Bodil shook her head and patted the archaeologist’s arm again.
“It’s all right Mister Hobbes. Really it is. I don’t mind, and at least I’ve used a pistol before. Only on a range, but I was pretty good even if I say so myself.”
Hobbes’ relief grew.
“Well, if you’re sure then. It does make more sense doesn’t it?”
“Oh absolutely. That’s settled then. I’ll take the rear just in case some possible stalkers maybe do decide to come after us. You, Mister Hobbes, take the front where it’s almost certain we’ll run into those big bugs again.” So saying, Bodil took up position at the rear of the group.
The sickly look on the archaeologist’s face was in stark contrast the suppressed laughter of the other four.
“Don’t worry Mister’ Obbes.” Weis slapped his rifle. “Me an’ old Joanna ‘ere will look after you.”
With the new marching order sorted out, the party moved slowly off.
Going down steps proved to be even more painful for Gregor than going up them had been and, by the time they descended into the dividing passage between the ornate platform and the workshop area, Gregor face glistened with sweat and he was breathing hard. They took a rest, with Gregor leaning back against the tiled wall while Ellie once again checked the bandage.
Weis disappeared off onto the platform and returned a minute later to find Gregor much recovered and the party ready to move on.
“Half a mo’ folks.”
The four others looked at him.
“What is it Weis? Bugs?” Ellie whispered.
“Fuck.” From Hobbes, under his breath.
Weis shook his head.
“Nah, not yet.” He sniffed in loudly. “Smell that?”
Everyone copied him, taking in a deep lungful of air. Carried on the natural convection currents within the tunnels, the faint metallic, meaty smell of the four corpses they had left behind tickled their nose hairs.
It was Hobbes who got the significance of the smell first.
“Oh… Shit. Shit, shit, fucking shit.”
The others, who hadn’t been in the London basin for long enough to know, looked puzzled. Weis enlightened them.
“It might not be just the bugs we ‘ave to worry about. Did the Sarge say anything to you about Carrion Worms by any chance?”
It was Bodil who was able to recall the thing about the worms first.
“Only that they ‘clean up’ dead things.” She thought harder. “They live underground and in the swamps.”
Weis was nodding.
“Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Eat dead things. Live underground.” Weis shifted uncomfortably, moving his rifle from being cradled across his left arm to his right.
Bodil had seen the little ranger do this before and she was starting to get a bad feeling.
Weis sniffed loudly.
“Did she er… Did she tell you how ‘big’ they were?”