As we had hoped, the quarry gate was unguarded, and we slipped through unnoticed. Thankfully, the padlock was still only being held shut by a wad of JJ’s chewing gum. The lock had been dealt a fatal blow by the sonic weapon on our first visit two weeks before - an act that had remained undiscovered. So far. Olivia and Pam led the way into Crow Wood. I came next and Hobbo and JJ brought up the rear. The scramble up the path to the top of the quarry face was difficult, partly because today had been rainy, and that made the clay surface slippery, and partly because Hobbo was so out of shape he needed constant coaxing and even pushing to get him up to the top.
The sky had cleared, and a waxing quarter moon hung above Half Moon Hill. It was about half an hour before sunset. We moved quietly between the tall oak and ash trees and briefly paused for breath at the top of the hill. I looked back through the trees. Below, still clearly visible in the ripening corn, was that huge, naked scar of bare earth. Sterile and black, it marked the spot where a Wessex helicopter had crash-landed and caught fire. The Army had not bothered to clear up all of the wreckage after the accident, and we walked past twisted aluminium panels and jagged pieces of rotor blade, ripped from the craft as it spun downwards and struck the treetops.
The boys caught me up. “What do you think would happen to us if we were found in here?” JJ said.
“No idea,” I replied. “Nothing good, that’s for sure, so let’s not get caught, eh?”
Hobbo slumped against a tree and took a puff from his inhaler before adding “Well said, old thing. Although, what could they do to us that would make it any worse? At least after this we will have done everything possible to find out what really happened up here last night. Let’s push on, chaps.”
When we reached our destination the girls were already picking their way gingerly among the jagged lumps of concrete and piles of rusty ironwork that randomly populated the clearing. The tower still stood, but one leg had twisted and buckled, and the whole structure now leaned in a way that seemed to defy gravity. Its weatherproof coating had been burnt away by the scalding blast, and rust had quickly moved in to create a false impression of antiquity. JJ leapt on top of one of the larger chunks of masonry and looked about, then danced a little jig around us. “I’m the king of the castle!” he sang, his high, fluting voice echoing across the empty glade.
“Oh, shut up, JJ; nobody’s in the mood,” Olivia said, and took a half-hearted swipe at his legs with her shoulder bag.
JJ dodged nimbly out of the way and then jumped down beside her. “OK, sorry. So, where should we look first, do you think?”
“They were heading for the ventilation shaft, remember?” Hobbo said. “That’s where we’ll start.”
It soon became apparent that this was going to be easier said than done. The entrance to the shaft, which Griff had discovered eight months previously, seemed to have completely disappeared. It should have been easy to find. For one thing, it was not that far from the pond, and for another its entrance had been protected by a steel roof shaped like a Chinese hat, but some six feet in diameter. The cover must have weighed several hundredweight, and now it was nowhere to be seen. We spread out and poked about in the scrub for a few minutes, but with no result. Then Pam gave a shout. “Over here!”
We congregated on either side of her, near the foot of a large oak tree, and gazed at her find. Olivia gave a low whistle. “In the name of God, Hobbo. What on earth is it?”
We were looking at a cube-shaped metal object. It lay on its side, partly buried in the soft ground. It was enshrouded by a tattered cargo net, damaged most probably during its journey through the tree canopy. This was what the helicopter must have been carrying on the night of the blast. The object was painted the recognizable light grey of industrial electrical apparatus, and when operational it would have stood about five feet high. Hobbo bent down and wiped some mud from the manufacturer’s information plate. Then he stood up and took a notebook and pencil from his pocket. “Well, obviously, it’s a step down transformer,” he said as he scribbled in his notebook. “Let’s see, three phase, 11000 to 415 volt ratio, 200 KVA rating. The kind you get in small electricity substations, near the end of the distribution chain.”
“What would they want with that in the tunnels?” I said.
Hobbo shrugged. “I’ve absolutely no idea, old fruit. Your guess is as good as mine. Makes you think, though, doesn’t it?”
We searched for another twenty minutes for any sign at all that Anna and Griff had ever been here. In the end, it was I who stumbled on the site of the air duct. The surrounding ground had collapsed into the shaft. It had filled with a slurry of liquefied mud, and was now little more than a shallow depression. I hoped upon hope that our friends had not been caught down there.
It was beginning to get dark. Crossing to the centre of the clearing, I stood on the edge of the huge pit that had once been the round pond. It fell away below me, black and gaping like an eye socket left staring blindly skyward, its sense organ gouged out by a shocking force. I found it impossible to grasp the hugeness of the energy that had caused such total destruction, even though at the time, deep underground, I must have been within a few feet of its source. Pam joined me; dear, lovely Pam, who had been there with me in the tunnels on that appalling night. Our eyes briefly met, and then she glanced down. Her hand opened to reveal a mud-smeared tube. “I found this lying by the track. It’s Anna’s lip balm, I’m sure of it.”
She held on to my arm as we looked into the vast hole. The hood of her parka was pulled well forward, and I couldn’t see her face. Instead, I felt her expression of horror and, yes probably, wonder as her grip on my arm tightened. “Oh, my God, Sam,” she said at last. “Oh, my God.”