The large hatch that faced them was battleship grey. It had a porthole, which was painted over. It had steel clamps at the corners, which Boz undid. It had a maroon wheel handle, which he turned. The heavy door swung back and Boz found himself teetering above an impenetrably gloomy void. Ahead was a polished, lightly greased, brass pole. Without thinking too hard he wrapped his arms tightly around it and jumped.
And the others followed.
As the pile of bodies at the base of the pole grew, they heard the steady clunk clunk clunk of hobnailed hiking boots on iron rungs. The voice from above belonged to Slasher McGoogs.
“Perhaps another time you may wish to give some consideration to your actions before leaping… and maybe have a look around for a less thrilling alternative.” He completed his descent of the cast-iron spiral staircase and began to help the boys pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Ferdy had friction burns on some of his wing-stub feathers, Phoebles had grazed his knee, Ginsbergbear had snapped his favourite pencil and they had all landed on top of Boz. There were no other injuries. Once composed they began to look around. They had arrived in one of the main linking shafts of Les Chats Souterrains’ subterranean domain – wide, arched and concrete lined. It carried a tarmacadam roadway and twin narrow gauge railway tracks. The artery and its subsidiary systems existed parallel to or even confluent with the cave system, just a tiny dimensional twist away, kept apart by a micron thin membrane of warped space-time. It was but a miniscule section of the Atlantean world-wide tunnel system, disused for eons and now usurped by the Lizard Kings, which honeycombs the earth’s crust, linking natural cave systems, accessible only under mystic circumstances from every mine, cavern, metro and catacomb; normally undetectable and gateway, some maintain, to the inner world of our hollow earth.
“Wow!” exclaimed Phoebles.
“Just come on!” insisted McGoogs. But they had not gone far when they heard the purr of a combustion engine. Scrambling as quickly as they could up a fall of rock and scree the boys gained a wide ledge, well above eye height, and cautiously peeped down. What they saw was the arrival of a lichen-grey painted Mini Moke Twinny, which halted whilst four characters, uniformly dressed in khaki one-piece overalls, got out. They had ghost-white, narrow faces, tiny pink eyes and overly large ears. They were armed and they were searching.
“I’ve never seen them without their goggles before,” said Phoebles, “Ugly looking bunch.”
“I don’t think we should hang around here,” said Slasher, wrenching a grill off the wall behind them. “Boz, you come through last, and pull this grating back in place.”
They were in a small, square cross-sectioned shaft that carried a steady draft of warm air. It inclined gently and branched off at regular intervals. At length their somewhat randomly chosen route emerged into a gallery that overlooked a truly vast cavern. Ginsbergbear threw himself back from the edge and pressed into the cave wall. Ferdy and Phoebles gave out simultaneous gasps. This was Titan, the belly of Behemoth – one hundred foot of vault above them and an eighty-foot drop to the floor below. They were looking down into the mother of all chambers – and it swarmed with industry.