SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 40 of many)
SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 40 of many) postapocalyptic stories
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ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Carrion worms... they're just worms, right?

SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 40 of many)

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 enroute.

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 started 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 to 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's 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?"

Bodil, Ellie and Gregor stood and looked at Weis while Hobbes paced up and down looking unhappy.

"No," Bodil said after a few seconds. "I don't recall that she did say, how big they were."

Hobbes chose this moment to stop his pacing and join the conversation.

"I'll tell you how big they are..."

Weis rolled his eyes and shook his head but didn't interrupt the archaeologist.

"... One was washed up in the estuary a while back. It was over six metres long and had teeth like that!" He held up his hand with thumb and finger stretched as far apart as they could go.

Now Weis interrupted.

"It was a four-metre-long adult male an' they only get that big in the water. Ones that live in the ground don't get that big." He paused, his face trying to make a decision.

"But okay, he was right about the teeth though."

Everyone started shooting questions at the ranger all at once. That is until Ellie held out both arms for silence. After a few seconds, she got it. Then she turned to Weis.

"What makes you think these carrion worms are down here? You never mentioned them when we killed all those bugs."

"I'll show you." They followed Weis back to the platform area. "I never said anythin' about them before 'cause you don't normally find 'em this far away from the river.

Even the ones that live in the ground like it pretty softish, not this clay shit."

Weis led them over to the ramp down to the track. He didn't have to show them anything because it was obvious.

Something, something big, had created a half-metre wide, unbroken track in the dust. The track disappeared along the platform into the gloom.

Ellie squatted down and touched the track with her fingers.

"So was it coming or going?"

Weis pointed out how the swirls at the edges of the track indicated the way it went. Ellie stood up and, together with the others, shone her torch along the platform.

Hobbes stepped closer to the ranger.

"Why do you think it's gone that way when the dead stalkers are behind us?"

Still looking down the platform for the slightest sign of movement, Weis shook his head.

"No idea, mate. Maybe it ain't peckish right now or somethin'."

Also not taking her eyes away from the far end of the platform Bodil, too, stepped up behind the ranger.

"How big do you think it is..." Her eyebrows clinched together. "What is your first name anyway?"

"Just call me Weis Prof. It's less embarrassing."

Bodil smiled and made a mental note to find out the ranger's first name.

"Okay. Weis it is. So then, how big?"

"Well. It ain't an adult, at least not a fully grown one. It might be a big juvenile, in which case we're probably fucked. Pardon my language. If we're lucky though it'll be a young adult male."

"Why, Weis?" It was Ellie from behind them. "I'd have thought a juvenile would have been easier to kill."

"Oh, it would sweetheart. Smaller teeth, thinner skin and dumb as wotsit. Thing is, if it's a juvenile, then Mummy isn't far away.

Maybe Daddy as well, not to mention three or four brothers and sisters. If it's a young adult male though, then it's gonna be on its Jack. Alone."

Hobbes chimed in.

"When the males stop being juveniles, they have to leave, or the alpha male will kill them. They hole up somewhere until they find a mate and start breeding."

"Anything else we need to know Ranger Weis?"

"Oh, right, yeah. They're blind and deaf. They hunt by smell mainly but are attracted by ground vibr...

The electric! The busbars hum! That's why it's buggered off down that way, it's investigating the switch room we were in."

Hobbes swallowed.

"We nearly went there."

Ellie's voice took on a note of command.

"Right then. While it's busy with that, I think it's time for us to leave."

Weis was already moving, heading for the ramp.

"Come on Mister 'Obbes. You're with me, remember."

Hobbes threw Bodil a dirty look but then followed Weis down the ramp onto the track.

Bodil watched Ellie and Gregor carefully navigate the steep slope. With one last look behind, she double-checked her pistol then turned and followed.

She wondered if archaeology was like this in the olden days.

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