On the surface, London was a desolate place: devastated and in ruins. But the heart and soul of the city lay in its people. For the average Londoner, life went on as normal, if 'normal' is living through the Blitz. Most people tried to act as normal as possible. They still chatted on street corners, still picked their way through rubble and stone to the shops. Children were warned away from bombed houses, but the inquisitive nature of a child does not cease because of war, and they found ways of incorporating the bomb debris into everyday play. The abandoned shells of dilapidated houses became great castles and secret hideaways.
But even the cheeriest of people struggled to keep the shadows of war at bay.
This was above ground. Beneath the disarray and damage, there was a different London, one that told another side to the conflict. Under Whitehall lay an underground lair, a safe house for important government officials during the Blitz, but also the engine room of British warfare. The Map Room and the Cabinet Room were a buzz of activity day and night, awash with decisions that would effect soldiers thousands of miles away on the front line. Last night's bombing raid had been particularly catastrophic, emphasising the weaknesses in British defence. The fact that it had been a bomber's moon (a full moon) had only accentuated the damage. Around 430 civilians dead, and another 900 seriously injured. It did not look good on the home front.
While the clean-up operation was going on upstairs, the extensive underground complex was also hard at work. The epicentre of the complex was the Map Room, where officers of the Royal Navy, Air Force and Army were busy collecting and verifying geographic information, ready to send the daily report to the War Cabinet. The corridors bustled with activity; everyone had a purpose here, a job to do. Idleness was not a trait found in the Armed Forces, especially not during a war.
"They've found one still alive, sir."
"Have them take him down to the Lab."
" Yes sir."
Just a snippet of a conversation that changed the fate of one German pilot, for the good of the Allies.
Only a few select personnel knew about the other important chamber in the War Rooms. The work done there was classified as 'dangerous' and confidential; access was restricted to those who had level one security, and the people who worked there.
The chamber itself lay even further underground, down a steep winding passage, the entrance of which was concealed by a fake panel near the Cabinet Room. Today (although the staff didn't know it yet) was a significant day for this specific unit of the military. It had been labelled 'the Laboratory of Imagination' by some of the officers who were sceptical of the usefulness of their work. An unusual name for a science lab, and a military one at that. It wasn't the only secret lab under London. It was by no means the biggest or most important. But it is still a noteworthy endeavour. It didn't matter how small and insignificant it seemed. Today marked the start of a new era for war technology.
A group of about half a dozen made their way down the passageway. Something seemed odd about the group - something that could be seen but not observed properly until you looked closer. One of the men in the centre of the pack was hobbling. His clothes were ragged, his hair matted with dried blood that clotted above his right eye. He clunked with every pained step. A metallic screech. Both wrists and ankles caught in an iron snare, as strong hands grasped his shoulders.
The men surrounding him wore an array of military uniforms and cold expressions. Their eyes were dark with the shadows of the horrors they had witnessed. Unfortunately, horror was something experienced by most in a war such as this.
As they neared the chamber, they could hear a voice ring out from ahead.
"...need to be stored carefully." A clatter of metal followed these words, an audible sigh, then...
The only sounds that could be heard were the footsteps of the group, accompanied by the clang of the prisoner's boot clad feet, echoing through the passage. Soon they came upon a door. A 'Caution - Danger' sign stood out, small against the plain wood of the door, but large in the mind.
One firm knock on the door later, and the viewing panel was drawn back. A face appeared, taking in the newcomers with a single glance then disappearing from view in a spit second. The guards didn't even blink. The door was opened only enough for the prisoner to be shoved ungainly into the room beyond. One word accompanied him.