Last week, Antonios and Medas met up with fellow academics Albert Winston and Helena Papidou at the bottom of the Athenian sinkhole. In the wake of the accident they saw investigations are conducted, but whispers hurry through the workforce that something unexplainable caused it.
The tunnel was cordoned off for the day as the accident was investigated by some of the people on site. The only people permitted beyond the great door were Medas, Albert and myself, Helena, two of her staff, Alexis, a photographer named Eliza, and a doctor named Demos. A couple of workers who had witnessed the accident had also been kept behind.
The site of the accident was a few dozen metres along the vast tunnel, which itself was a marvel of ancient engineering, almost enough to make one think that this must have once been upon the surface of the planet, rather than forged beneath it. Stone walls, forty feet high, echoed with the footfall of we human visitors. The walls were scratched and gouged in several places, but in others they were smooth, and shone in the faint electric light of the torches and light boxes carried by the dig team.
The group gathered around a pile of rocks and dull bronze in the middle of the vast tunnel, which bored along the earth below Athens. A body could be seen among the ruins. Another sorry place to die.
“It is Maria,” said Demos, the doctor. Helena pressed her hand to her forehead, turned away and pinched back a weep. I truly felt for her, then.
“She was so young,” said Helena.
“She knew the risks,” said Alexis, looking up at the walls. “What happened here?”
“Up there,” said one of the two men who had witnessed the accident. He pointed up with a shaking finger at a ledge that was three quarters of the way up the wall and which ran for the length of the tunnel, bearing off into the aphotic doom ahead. The path of the ledge did not run clear: at various points it was crumbling and decayed. What’s more, upon the ledge were perched several large statues depicting yet more scenes from the Gigantomachia. Some were stone, some marble, and some bronze. Upon closer inspection of the pile that had crushed poor Maria, I could indeed see lumps of bronze protruding with ugly malevolence from the stone. I turned away in disgust as the witness continued his account. “Maria and Georgios and I were overlooking the map of the tunnels we were building, when there was a noise overhead, like creaking. Then there was a crack, and by the time we looked up…”
As he spoke, Medas took the time to inspect the pile in greater detail, crouching by it and looking it over with a forensic eye. I didn’t like the way it intrigued her but I did not interrupt her. I hoped this gruesome episode might give her another – healthier – perspective on this whole strange business, but I knew the depths of her obstinacy. And yet! Though my trust of this venture had already been stretched by this wretched affair, I confess my intellectual appetite had been whetted. I wanted to follow the tunnel.
“When we looked again,” said the man, controlling the emotion in his voice now, “there was a hole in the stone behind the statue. We saw a light, and then…” he looked at Alexis with quivering eyes. “…The light was gone!”
He gripped Alexis by the arm, who shrugged off the man with disgust and dusted his sleeve down. “We’ll have the marshals down here at the end of the excavation,” Alexis said grimly. “For now, we have to work.”
This time I could not help but grab Alexis by the arm, and he gave me the same derisive look as had the mourning worker. “Why the hurry? Let them be for the evening. And if this statue has collapsed, then surely the engineers ought to be consulted again?”
He irritably yanked his sleeve away a second time. “A great deal of money has been invested in this project, Professor.” He and Medas exchanged a thin-eyed scowl, which could have been either mutually contemptuous or something more conspiratorial. “It is my responsibility to ensure that it does not fail. The engineers have already given the area the all-clear.”
“That was before a statue fell on that poor woman!”
He glowered at me. “The engineers have given the site the all-clear, Professor.” He paused. “But fine. The workers may rest. We resume tomorrow at six a.m., as usual. Eat. Get some sleep.” He looked once more at the hideous pile of bronze and rock, and his countenance faded a tad. “Mourn if you must.” With that, he strode off, pushing past the poor man who had related his account of the tale.
“Mr Alexis, I really must insist that I speak with the sponsor of this project,” I said, calling after him, and making him swivel round with a sigh. “There are marvels and devils down here, and I must ensure that the safety of the dig team is being considered at all times. Where is this mysterious benefactor of ours? Is he even here at all? It is time we knew the truth.”
“You’re wasting your time, Antonios,” said Medas. “People like him care not for other people. They care only for the treasures of the world.”
Alexis looked at her with curiosity and gave her an odd half-smile, that I couldn’t place, but I sensed she was right. “Yes,” I said. “Then what of the treasures of this realm, Alexis? This statue, a great treasure, has been destroyed. Will you think of this? Of course not, you are no artist, no man of knowledge. You are an administrator, a glorified accountant, a leech whose vacuity of soul is matched only by your avarice for the ephemeral. What an irony it is that such a Philistine should be among the first to step upon the limitlessness of antiquity!”
Alexis rolled his eyes, exhaled theatrically, and looked to move away. I grabbed his sleeve again, and he spun around with a stern, baleful look on his face. I felt Alexis’s punch before I saw it, and reeled to the side, clutching my jaw. It wasn’t a hard punch, but it caught me off guard, and it hurt. Blinking, I stood erect and stared at the rotten little shit. Now, I’m a big fellow, and Alexis looked rather scrawny in comparison to me, but I decided against retaliation. That would do no good at all.
“Take your fucking hands off me, Professor,” he said, and stormed off.
Medas took me by the hand, and I flinched, but melted when I saw it was her.
“You’re ok, Antonios?”
“Fine. Forget it. We will know the truth soon enough. What do you think of this whole sorry mess?”
“A woman is dead, is what I think,” she said, flatly. “You should not have come here.”
I frowned, rubbing my jaw. There’d be a peach of a bruise there soon enough. “And what of you? And of the statue, and the light?”
She looked up at the wrecked ledge, sadly. “It’s an ancient place. All this has lain undisturbed for millennia. It’s not surprising it’s weakened in places the engineers might have missed. There’s no hole, and there’s no light.” She shone her torch on the walls for effect. “Down here, there’s no light but what we bring ourselves. And I think the light of mankind is irrevocably dim.”