Bodil turned to the little ranger.
"Ranger Weis, we were wondering if you had any idea when the entrance hole we came down might have been created. It seems to have been made by an explosion."
Weis shifted footing and swopped his rifle from the crook of his left arm to the crook of his right arm. Meanwhile, his pointed face took on a look of deep concentration and considered thought.
Finally, he sniffed.
"Now that's a very interesting question, Prof." He looked from one eager face to the other before continuing. "The thing is though...
You should have asked it while we were at the top of the bleedin' 'ole, shouldn't you? Then I could have 'ad a look, couldn't I?"
Gregor smiled a one-sided grin. Ellie pursed her lips and looked at her feet. Bodil and Hobbes looked at each other and then Bodil turned back to Weis.
"That's a good point, Ranger. Tell you what, when we go back, would you mind having a look to see if you can tell when the explosion if that's what it was, was made."
Weis looked happy then.
"Sure Prof. Be my pleasure."
Hobbes cleared his throat again.
"Okay, then. Now we've got that sorted out..." Attention returned to him. "As I was saying, this is the first area we excavated.
And as you can see from the condition of the environment, we weren't particularly hopeful of finding anything at all.
"I'm assuming you did, though."
Hobbes nodded happily.
"Yes Professor, indeed we did. While examining the area we believe wasn't normally accessed by the general public, we found a safe."
Professor Hill raised an interested eyebrow. Thus encouraged Hobbes continued.
"Now, as we know, seven-hundred-year-old steel has either corroded away altogether by then or has become unrecognisable except by EMR..."
The question came from Gregor and was answered by Bodil.
"Electro-Magnetic Radiation Gregor. X-Rays."
Satisfied, Gregor went back to looking bored. Hobbes tried to pick up the thread again.
"... Except by... X-rays then. Anyway, this safe was so corroded that the door crumbled to the touch and everything inside had just, gone. Except!" He actually held up a finger.
"Inside, there was a firebox."
Ellie, arms folded, was slowly sliding a booted foot back and forth through the moss and rubble and other gunk that had collected on the floor.
Without looking up, she interrupted was seemed to be turning into a lecture.
"Mister Hobbes? I have read the report from the dig.
If you are going to tell us about the incredibly well-preserved pre-Fall pornographic magazine that was found inside that firebox, then I can cut this short." Now she looked up. "I've seen it.
It's disgusting, and the Troy family are donating it to the Museum Of Ancient Art in Brasilia."
Hobbes' face fell, his bonfire well and truly pissed on. His anxiety cranked up another notch or two. Ellie took a long breath and let out an equally long, bored sigh.
"Now. Can you take us to wherever it was where the scarab was found?"
Bodil felt a flash of anger at Ellie, tinged with a little sympathy for the unfortunate Hobbes.
The professor was getting a distinct impression that when this assignment was being handed out, the poor man had definitely drawn the short straw.
On top of that, she doubted that he knew what it was he was even supposed to be doing.
Just that the people at the very top of his employment food chain had taken a sudden and unexplained interest in something he had been involved in.
"Certainly, Miss Troy." Hobbes brushed non-existent dirt off his sleeve. "If you'll follow me this way?" Hobbes set off towards the open maw of another slope.
Like the other, this had once held the moving staircase called an escalator.
Now it was a series of long shallow steps made from duckboards and fastened or bolted down to the rust and rubble that made up the natural slope.
Weis stepped in front of the field archaeologist.
"If you don't mind mister 'Obbes. I'll take the lead from here. The air coming up from down there is warm-ish, dank-ish and, pardon my language, stinks bugshit-ish.
" Looking at each party member, in turn, Weis organised what he called 'the order of march'. Right then. Me first, then mister 'Obbes to tell me the way. Then you Tiny," meaning Gregor.
"Then the two ladies in whatever order you like."
And so the descent began. Perhaps more to keep his own nervousness in check, Hobbes kept up an intermittent commentary.
"In case you were unaware... Although I'm sure that after reading... Anyway, in case you aren't, I mean didn't..." He cleared his throat loudly.
"This station is the junction between two underground train routes. We are now going down to what was called the 'Northern Line'.
Below that we will descend further to the 'Central Line' which is some sixty-five metres below ground. This is where the..."
Weis had stopped and raised a hand.
Everyone listened, but it was only Gregor who whispered back.
"Sounds like fire crackling."
Weis was readying his rifle.
"Nah, mate. That's lots of little bug feet, that's what that is."
Gregor and Ellie both produced handguns.
Hobbes was slowly stepping backwards until he ran into the bulk that was Gregor. There was no room to get around the giant in the narrow cleft that was all that remained of the escalator track.
Fortunately, Gregor solved the problem of the man who was suddenly in his way by lifting him up, turning around, and then putting him back down.
Unfortunately, this left Hobbes staring into the barrel of Ellie's weapon.
Thankfully he was able to skitter past her to where Professor Hill held her trusty trowel, dagger-like, in her right hand.
For her part, Bodil was reconsidering her decision not to fetch a gun of her own. Not that she had a gun, but she was sure Victor could easily lay his hands on one should she ask him.
She thought she might ask him.
At the front Weis was edging quietly forward, the powerful beam of his weapon's torch scanning ahead. Gregor began to move forward, as did Ellie behind him.
Sensing this, Gregor stopped and turned around to face his boss.
"Stay here, Miss." He growled.
Ellie knew this was one of those situations where she wasn't going to be able to order or even argue with her bodyguard. She stayed put while Gregor continued down the slope after Ranger Weis.
With a few quick instructions to Professor Hill and Mister Hobbes,
Weis' and Gregor's torches were reinforced by their own probing beams making sure nothing appeared behind them that they had failed to notice.
Ellie just hoped that nothing did. In all her long years, her proficiency with weapons hadn't improved much.
When Weis and Gregor started to get so far away that the surrounding darkness threatened to hide them from view, Ellie began to creep forward to keep Gregor within range of her torch.
Bodil and Hobbes followed suit but with Hobbes' torch now turning like a demented lighthouse to make sure nothing was creeping up on them while they tried to make sure nothing crept up Weis
In this way, the two groups made their way down the incline until Weis suddenly shouted.
"Bugs! On the ground, twelve o'clock!"
Even twenty or so metres back the gunfire from, first, Weis' weapon and then another when Gregor joined in, was literally deafening.
Hobbes grabbed Bodil by the shoulders and was shouting something at her while trying to pull her back up the slope, but she could only see his mouth moving.
Any sound he was making was drowned out by the ringing in her ears, and it was only the louder cracks of more shots being fired that she could hear above that.
Bodil freed herself with a twist of her shoulders and the last she saw of the field archaeologist he was clawing his way back up the slope in a panic.
She turned around to somehow try and tell Ellie that Hobbes had gone, but Ellie was now halfway towards Gregor.
The choice between following Hobbes or going after Ellie was made by her feet before her brain got a word in. Hobbes was heading towards safety... probably.
But Bodil hadn't got her reputation for being a right hardnosed bit...
expedition leader for nothing, so she was already several fast steps closer to the gunfire by the time her brain agreed with what her feet were already doing.
But even before Ellie had reached Gregor, the gunfire ceased. Weis and Gregor stood with their weapons at the ready while sweeping in front of them with their torch beams.
When Bodil joined them, her ears were still ringing, so asking what had just happened seemed pointless.
The lack of hearing, however, wasn't such a problem for the other three and Bodil watched as a strange and silent conversation of hand gestures, fingers and fists took place in front of her.
Then Bodil was distracted by a startled look on Ellie's face that indicated something behind her.
A fraction of a second later Gregor's pistol pointed over her shoulder, and Bodil closed her eyes. There was no gunshot.
Fortunately, neither was there the sudden pain of a giant tick's mouthparts piercing her flesh. There was only Hobbes. Gregor relaxed, Ellie scowled and Bodil tried to slow her heart rate.
There were no comments directed to the field archaeologist. He had done the right thing.
From early infancy, it is absolutely drilled into every one to get the hell away from anything that can kill you. Hobbes' reactions were the natural ones.
It was only the very specific training of the others that had allowed them to do the opposite... With a large degree of bloody-mindedness, too, in Bodil's case.
As a tight group, they carefully made their way down the last few steps to the bottom of the escalator slope.
Waiting for them were maybe a dozen or so shattered corpses of sergeant Glasser's giant 'London Ticks'.
Some of the pale and fetid looking dead things were pretty well intact, with just a neat hole in the dorsal shield that leaked yellow ichor.
Others, though, had been blown apart by the explosive rounds from Weis' weapon and ranger Weis was now examining the various dead ticks with professional interest.