When everyone was seated, Bodil found that she had Victor sitting opposite her.
Whether this was by accident or by design, she couldn't be sure, but the smile he gave her raised hopes it was the latter.
"Ok," Ellie said, putting down her beer and taking out her notebook. "That was, thorough. I'm sure, after all of that, that the sergeant's ass will stay nice and clean should one of us die."
There was a ripple of laughter which broke the ice and helped dispel the air of certain doom that Sergeant Glasser had managed to build over the last couple of hours.
Cybil, though, added her own concerns.
"Those giant insect things? The ticks? I've read about them." She shuddered. "They scare the hell out of me. I mean, talk about nightmares."
Ellie was flicking through her notebook and didn't even look up.
"Just walk backwards and empty your magazine into it, you'll be fine."
Cybil and Amy shared a look. Victor, noticing his boss's words weren't helping, added calmly.
"The important thing is to never go anywhere by yourself. That way you'll always have someone watching your back."
Gregor banged the table with the palm of his hand.
"And watching you piss! Yes?!"
The big man laughed out loud at his own joke. Everyone else turned to stare at the normally stoic giant. Even Ellie looked up."
"Yes, Greggie." She said, patting the giant's hand. "And if I catch you watching me again, I'll send you home."
This created more general laughter around the table. Gregor joined in but blushed like a boy in a brothel all the same.
More drinks were ordered and downed and, with a more relaxed mood settling down on the team, conversations started up, stories were shared, and expectations about the expedition raised.
This was especially true about the two students who knew that they would not only be learning a lot from Professor Hill and Doctor Awolowo but also gaining a lot of kudos amongst their peers
on their return and that both of these things would look really well on their resumes.
For Doctor Awolowo, it was a return to an old stomping ground.
Long before the clean-up process had even begun on the British Isles,
the doctor had been part of a small expedition that had sailed up the much-flooded river Crouch and landed near what had been Wickford in what was then Essex.
Heading west the small team soon came across the dominant local tribe called the 'Gu-Nar'.
Fortunately, although regressed to a more primitive state, they proved to be reasonably friendly people and very keen traders.
The Gu-Nar spoke a basic language that was a strange, guttural corruption of English but that proved to be surprisingly easy to learn.
In the three months the expedition was in the area Doctor Awolowo learned a lot about the Gu-Nar and other local tribes. He also learned enough about the more warlike people to the north.
The Nor Folk, The Bru-Mai, The Jor-Dai and, far to the north, The wild Scote-Aye, to know that any potential expeditions in that direction would probably need considerable Ranger protection.
Professor Hill, however, had never been to London. She had been invited, once, but that dig had been sponsored by the Troy family and her invitation had been suddenly cancelled.
Bodil snuggled down in her seat with her third whiskey and let the chatter wash over her. And now here I am, she thought.
At about this point, Ellie brought the team back to the matter in hand. She consulted her notebook.
"Okay, before we all get too drunk, I've created a little itinerary for tomorrow. Nothing complicated, just things that need to get done before we can do what we came here for."
The table became quiet.
Ellie glanced up from her screen to get the attention of Doctor Awolowo.
"Doctor. I'd like you to see if you can re-establish any old contacts among the Gu-Nar from your last visit. Get them onside, clothing, food, whatever it takes, work your charm.
" The Doctor smiled nodding. Ellie rewarded him with a small smile of her own. "I want you to find out what was going on here seventy-odd years ago. Any outsiders, any 'expeditions' etc.
Basically, anything that might give us a clue as to who was here and who might have left us that scarab to find."
Ellie next turned her attention to the two assistants, Cybil and Amy.
"You two. I want you doing the same kind of thing here. Talk to your peers, talk to anyone. Throw the Doctor's and the Professor's names around as much as you like.
You can even hint at financial reward if you think you can get away with it." Cybil and Amy stared at Ellie like two rabbits caught in headlights.
Their instructions went scarily beyond their pay grade, something Ellie quickly picked up on. She softened her tone. "If you get any flak, you can use my authority.
Just, you know, don't cost me too much money, ok?" The little joke made the girls smile and they visibly relaxed.
"The important thing is to find out if anyone has made any finds that are 'odd' or," She paused, clicking her fingers. "What's the term you archaeologists use? 'Out of context.
' Anything like that I want to know about, Ok?"
Cybil and Amy nodded in unison. Ellie reciprocated with a firm nod of her own. Then she turned to Bodil.
"Professor? You and I will be going on a little field trip to see where the scarab was found.
Get whatever you think you'll need to do your thing because I'm going to be relying on you to provide answers."
It was now Bodil's turn to nod while hiding her own little smile. You want answers? But Ellie had moved on.
"Greggie, you're with the professor and me."
Gregor raised his glass in acknowledgement. Ellie turned to the last team member.
"Victor. Organise us some office and storage space. Also, I want secure communications for our boffins so they can talk to their people. And the usual arrangements for me."
Victor's turn to nod an acknowledgement, although the glance he threw at Bodil suggested to the professor that he would rather swop jobs with Gregor.
All the while she was talking Ellie was working with her notebook, passing written versions of the instructions along with relevant ancillary information to her team's own PDA equipment.
When she had finished, she closed the notebook and stood up.
"I have some people I need to talk to." Gregor automatically got to his feet too as Ellie continued.
"Enjoy your evening folks but have a good night's rest because we are going to be busy tomorrow." She turned to leave, then stopped and looked back with a grin. "Oh, and try not to die."
The following morning saw only Dr Awolowo blinking painfully, and perhaps regretfully,
in the morning sunlight as he and Ranger Hancock headed out of the compound and then east towards the main settlement of the Gu-Nar.
Cybil and Amy met for an early breakfast and to plan how they were going to go about visiting the various offices and conservation facilities of the expeditions that were based here.
Victor, meanwhile, armed with a tray of fresh coffee and pastries, knocked on the door of the Chief Administrator's personal secretary.
At the motor pool, things were going less smoothly.
Ellie, Bodil and Gregor had been waiting twenty minutes beyond the agreed time for their escort, the previously mentioned Ranger Specialist known only as 'Weis'.
Normally, if this had been her expedition, it would have been the professor who would have been pacing up and down, arms folded, with tight, angry lips holding back her rising annoyance.
But she was just a passenger on this trip, so all of that was instead being perfectly demonstrated by Ellie. Bodil had to admit that she was sort of enjoying not being in charge for once.
Gregor simply stood, with his arms crossed across his barrel chest, calmly watching his boss pacing.
Behind the heavy brows and deep-set eyes, the loyal giant's mind wandered to wherever it went while his body was in waiting mode.
About then a figure approached from the depths of the long, low building that was the motor pool.
His back bent by an enormous pack, a rifle slung over one shoulder and about a dozen grenades strung along a pair of belts that hung around his neck, the figure staggered towards them.
As it came closer, it became apparent that the enormous backpack wasn't as big as it looked. The backpack was standard Ranger issue, it was the Ranger himself who wasn't.
With a grunt and a curse, the uniformed figure tipped the backpack, rifle and grenades into the flatbed of a 4x4.
He stretched erect, working his shoulder blades to get some feeling back into his arms. Then he held out an arm towards the approximate midpoint between where Ellie and the professor each stood.
"Hi. I'm Weis."