Everyone looked at each other. It was a plan.
Not much of a plan, but still a plan and much better than going back, Bodil thought, with a mental image of what was likely behind them and probably getting closer even now.
Those without guns looked in their packs for any kind of a weapon. Bodil offered Ellie her trowel, it was the only thing she had that looked in any way offensive.
Ellie looked at it then smiled as she politely shook her head and pulled from her own pack a cloth wrapped something. Unwrapped, it revealed itself to be a long, broad-bladed combat knife.
The archaeologist in Bodil recognised it as being very old, probably pre-Sirtuin. Unseen under her dark glasses, Ellie looked at it fondly for a moment before becoming business-like again.
Bodil was about to offer the trowel to Gregor, but Gregor was already flexing the fingers of his hammer-like fists. She shrugged and stuffed the trowel back into her pack.
Weis then went through the plan again before handing a grenade to Ellie. He held back a moment from handing one to Gregor.
"Thinks you can lob this big man?"
"I can stick it up my ass and fart it further than you can throw 'little man'. I can do it."
Weis grinned back happily and the grenade disappeared into Gregor's fist.
"Okay then folks. Let's do this. Keep together and watch each other's backs."
Just as slowly as Weis had done earlier the tight group of five climbed the steps.
Like Weis had done, they also stopped before reaching the top so that their eyes could adjust and they could see for themselves what Weis had described.
Bodil's stomach cramped and she felt like she needed to pee. Hobbes supplied the words to what she was feeling.
"Holy Mother." He whispered, very very quietly. "Holy fucking Mother."
"Steady now," Weis warned. "It's just bugs. Concentrate on stomping the little buggers into paste and remember that the really dangerous ones are gonna get blown to shit...
Pardon my fucking French."
Slowly, they completed the journey out of the stairwell and onto the concourse. The escalator slope that led up to the entrance excavation was about thirty metres away.
They would need to get right up to the base of it to be able to lob their grenades up into the seething mass of adult ticks.
Right now, though, they were becoming the centre of attention of the hundreds of smaller juveniles that almost carpeted the concourse floor.
The smaller ticks, those about the size of your foot, swarmed towards the party immediately.
The larger, older ones held back, waving their antennae in the air as if assessing if the newcomers were food or threat.
And so it began. The leading edge of the wave of semi-transparent insectoids met their deaths under the feet of the five-man stomping machine as it inched across the mostly unseen tiled floor.
Many more were stopped by finding the sudden and unexpected delicacy of the splattered insides of their fallen comrades.
These, in turn, provided a bridge for the rear ranks to scamper over in their mad rush towards the sweet-smelling meat that had come amongst them so willingly.
Now some of the older juveniles joined their smaller cousins. Their initial caution drowned out by the need to feed.
For the party, it meant that the going became harder as they had to raise their feet higher to crush the climbers.
Hands and weapons swatted away those bugs that had escaped the stomping and had climbed past the impenetrable leather of the boots to try and sink their teeth into less protected areas of leg.
Occasional gunshots were now also required to take out the bigger ticks before they could get to them and do more serious damage.
By the time the party was half way to the escalator trough, their muscles were starting to ache from the effort.
It wasn't helping that painful bites oozed blood, adding to the insect gore which now completely soaked their legs and boots.
Despite his injuries, Gregor worked overtime keeping the scrambling insects off his team mates, ignoring those which climbed and bit his own body until he had a free moment to deal with them.
Fortunately, many of the ticks were being attracted to Gregor's blood-soaked clothing but found the stiff foam bandage underneath them impossible to penetrate.
They were almost at the foot of the escalator when the mass of the older juveniles, those who had held back, decided to attack.
Weis, supported by Hobbes and Bodil did sterling work with their weapons,
holding them back while Ellie and Gregor did their best to keep the seemingly never-ending stream of smaller ticks off them.
The massed gunfire forced the larger ticks to a sticky standstill, mainly due to Weis' 'Joanna' spewing out a full auto 7.
6mm firestorm, saving the heavy calibre explosive rounds for his stand at the base
of the ladder. Then the twin drums, at last, spun empty and now there was only the crack of the two pistols to be heard over the squishy, sucky, sticky advance of the remaining ticks.
The bigger ones again waved their antennae in the air. Weis and Bodil glanced at each other. Hobbes cursed.
While the smaller bugs still came on relentlessly, the larger ones now crept over their fallen with more caution. Then they stopped again, their antennae working overtime.
Then, incredibly, they backed away for a few steps before suddenly surging forward, past the incredulous party,
even knocking their smaller brethren flying as they funnelled their way into the escalator troughs and upwards towards the adults.
Many of the smaller ticks followed them until only the smallest of them was left vainly snapping at the boots of the amazed humans.
Five pairs of boots made short work of those and the party was soon left standing victorious in the stinking mess of splattered bugs that formed a thick,
wide trail all the way back to the stairs.
Hobbes raised his arms in the air.
"Yes! We beat the fuckers! Look at them run!"
And it was true. Where before only the adults filled the area below the entrance hole, now it was a seething mass of all sizes, all climbing over each other to be the top of the pile.
"Effing perfect." Weis crooned, taking out his grenade.
Bodil and Gregor followed suit while Hobbes, his arms still raised, danced a stomping jig of sorts amongst the slippery corpses of the countless ticks they had slaughtered.
"After three, ok?"
The three grenadiers flipped open the caps and three thumbs hovered over the three red buttons.
"One... Twoooo... Three!"
The little balls sailed upwards and disappeared into the morass of squirming bugs.
They just had time to drop and cover their heads before there was a short rolling explosion as the three grenades went off and the air was immediately filled by a cloud
of disintegrating insects. Hobbes wasn't quite so lucky.
He missed the shout to duck entirely and as a result, was left with his arms still raised above his head, covered in insect offal and spitting pieces of carapace out of his mouth.
He was a figure of mixed amusement and pity to the others when they stood up again.
Bodil helped him clean up while the others stood around the base of the escalator watching a slow 'waterfall' of dead insects slide down onto the concourse.
It was only when a shower of plaster fell on the heads of the bug stompers that they thought to look around. Plaster dust hung in the air all across the concourse.
"It'll be the concussion wave," Ellie said.
Weis stepped away from the brightness near the escalator, shading his eyes to try and see better.
"There was no concussion wave. Well, there was, but it was made up of bug bits."
"Do you think the roof will fall in?"
Weis was looking unhappy.
"Nah, not from three itty bitty grenades."
Bodil stepped away from the still dripping and complaining Hobbes to get water from her pack to help clean him down.
There was another fall of plaster from the ceiling, followed by a few ceiling tiles. The few tiles became a constant stream moving in a straight line across the ceiling towards them.
Then another line of falling tiles began from the ceiling above the far side of the concourse. Then another. Then the same thing only along the near wall.
All of the lines were moving directly towards them. Weis was backing away.
"I think we need to get out of here."