Through The Grey Stone
There is a rich world under our feet thanks to the firm but versatile bedrock we are standing on. The solid granite under our city has enabled the excavations of a myriad of tunnel networks and other wormholes right under our feet. There is a mass of wires and pipes embedded in the bedrock: information, energy, waste, bodily fluids, clean water, heating… The newest thing is cold air for the glass houses occupied by business men, their managers and secretaries, and different kinds of engine rooms and other industrial applications… Some tunnels are narrow and must be traversed on foot while most are large enough to drive a truck. Some are lit day and night while others are in a constant state of night.
Apart from utility lines, our underground network facilitates archives, pumping stations, processing plants, converters, World War era bomb shelters, newer fallout shelters, enormous coal and oil storages, parking halls, old ammo caches etc…Sometimes the tunnels crisscross on several levels, and there are interconnected tunnels as well as tunnels that are not connected to other networks at all, or ones that are separated by doors or surveillance systems. In addition to all these, there are tactical spaces: military communication centers, shelters for military headquarters, government management spaces for crisis situations, shelters for state councils and parliament — the list goes on and on. These spaces are known to few, so there is a certain mystical shroud around them. Legends that are regarded as facts — someone’s cousin has worked there and remembers the levels upon levels of complexes, plus construction workers were not admitted in if their name was not profoundly Finnish. Another guy has heard, or maybe even seen the invisible tunnel that leads under water all the way to the airport during his time in the army, and says it was full of secret weapons and armored vehicles in constant readiness… It’s most likely a good thing that these tales have a life or their own, as they provide a sense of security — it’s comforting to feel that there is more to our defenses than meets the eye. This strong bedrock of ours doubles as a subliminal national treasure to which we can flee should disaster strike.
The underground city is, for the most part, invisible and barred from the average city dweller. All the signs of its existence are there, nonetheless; air vents, grated concrete boxes and odd entrances around the city. Some entrances are large enough for a truck to enter, some just seemingly random steel doors on street level. These entry ways are deliberately built so that they do not draw attention. There are also thousands of sewers and metal hatches around town, but only a handful of those hide a vertical shaft with a ladder, or even a few steps to go down… This network is expanding at a considerable rate — you can find construction sites now and again that have open doors and access ramps that go down underground.
As is well known, we live in a utopic dystopia, well documented by such optimists as Orwell … The sales of electronic surveillance and technical evolution are the norm now. A smart camera starts wakes up on movement, sends out an alarm, follows the target, focuses on their face and utilizes facial recognition — everything can easily be networked to other cameras. Meanwhile, all you need to connect a camera to weapons, lethal or nonlethal, is an administrative decision…
The rise of global oligarchy, and the political wellbeing of such, give rise to new national security issues which in turn aid companies that produce security technology and control services to come up with even more gear. A poorly prepared underground adventurer can unknowingly challenge those corrupt dark forces to make public control even more innovative and aggressive which cannot lead to a nice outcome. But does not the thought of freedom oblige us to discover? Here and now, on this ground we stand and below? In the name of freedom itself and our own freedom …
Getting into the tunnels is not quite as easy crossing the road, but when you do it right, you can go down in one part of the city and come up in another. At its best, all you need is agility of the body and the mind. Exits are few and the tunnels kilometers in length, and depending on the type of tunnel, as well as its location, these exits may not be feasible due to security reasons. Legally binding prohibition signs are not very common, so our traditional Everyman’s Right* should be up open for interpretation. Is this underground city, built for the common good with common tax money, a truly public place or some subliminal or even forbidden side to the city?
*) The ’Everyman’s Right’ is a legal Finnish custom that entitles people to freely roam the environment independent of the ownership of the land in question. This right does not, however, apply to yards, plantations or explicitly preserved national reserves, or restricted places such as military areas. Whether this right extends to the underground or not is not specified in law.
A report from (one) underground division
The evening is turning into night. Less people around and generally peaceful underground, so the window is optimal not to run into servicemen or people on the graveyard shift. It’s spring so the snow is melting and there’s an earthy aroma in the air. The moon is in crescent on the North-West skies with Venus directly at one o’clock from it and the city humming in the background.We peel the curtains of reality as we silently step into the world down under — there’s no lighting in this tunnel so we light our own as soon as we are deep enough for it not to glimmer outside.
The odor is familiar, an inimitable earthy mixture of damp stone and different kinds of mildew. Sometimes I catch scents of rusted metal and oil. Then there’s the soundscape — an absolute silence broken only by the damp scrape of our feet, and the seasonal dripping of water from the melting snow above. It is spring after all. All sounds are quickly absorbed by the rugged stone walls in the narrow tunnel that spreads just a couple meters wide. You can literally see the moisture in the air, like a sparkling powder, as the beam from our flashlight cuts through it. The slanted floor in the tunnel is stone, but soon turns to gravel as it evens out and it feels like walking along a forest path. A small stream runs between the pathway and the wall — more water would be flowing had there been more snow this winter. The spring stream tangles with the path here and there, accompanied by a louder drizzle. The direction of the stream is an indication of if the pathway is slanted up or down. Sometimes more water seeps out of the wall. In general the water is clear, but there are some spots that are clearly rusty — sometimes we run into thick, orange/brown slime patches that form when the water mixes with iron and other minerals from the bedrock or from above ground.
There are black streaks here and there on the walls that are sometimes accompanied by the smell of oil. We must be under an industrial area — all the spilled liquids from past years are seeping down and further into the natural water reserves… Naturally, the pathway is accompanied by a thick pipeline or several, these are the reason for the tunnel in the first place. Cables run above the pipelines: important information and electricity is whizzing by, necessities of life and industry.
There are also slightly wider patches to the tunnel to accommodate vertical shafts which lead above ground. These shafts have usually outlived their original functions in aiding when the tunnel was being built — auxiliary and ventilation shafts that have since been closed with solid concrete and maybe even topped off with dirt, the only indication of a shat such as this is at most an air duct, often nothing. However, some are equipped with a steel hatch and a ladder that provide a way out — these are few and far apart. Unless you want a cold shower, you have to dodge dripping water here during wet seasons. The water drips from high above and almost sounds like a steady stream and is clearly audible from afar in the silent tunnel. These kinds of spots are a welcome change for anyone traversing the dull dark tunnels even if they pose the risk of getting you wet. Sometimes these shaft spaces can also have different kinds of equipment like massive shut-off valves. If one were so inclined, one could have shut down the water for several parts of town with one of these valves and enough will and raw torsion. Luckily these spots are known to few, and those few are usually responsible, good people. There are also forks in the paths accompanied by signposts with distances. The signs point toward exits: ”So and so part of town 500m that way” or ”this and that street 1000m this way”.
Good Friday on River Styx
Easter. Witches on broomstick inhabit the skies according to Nordic mythology, or Jeebus hanging on a cross somewhere. Either way, we are approaching an intersection after walking in a beeline for about 1,5km. Some of these intersections are lit and you can spot them from far away. Like a faint star in the gloom of space: first you’re not sure if your mind is playing tricks on you in the dark, but slowly it gets clearer. A bright light can be seen from deceptively far in an absolutely dark and straight tunnel — often it appears closer than it actually is. There’s an ascending ramp and a pumping station at the intersection. The ramp would take us to the ground floor of a certain building and outside, but there’s also a descending ramp which provides access to a whole new tunnel network.
That second network can be sensed almost a kilometer before we arrive at the intersection, it’s a light scent that gives it away, and it gets stronger as we approach. There’s a massive two door entrance at the wide space in the tunnel, behind which we can a sound that resembles distant echoing rapids. As we open the doors, we hit an invisible wall. This wall is not exactly an odor and nothing as common as a stench, nor anything as mild as an aroma. That ethereal wall is a combination of washing detergents, shampoo, soap, mouthwash, an abundance of perfumes, human waste, food scraps and all the rotten gasses I can think of. We have reached a border of worlds — ancient River Styx flowing for kilometers with its main streams and branches in the dark. A river of death, full of microbiological life whose basin covers the entire city…*]
*] In Greek mythology, Styx (/stɪks/; Ancient Greek: Στύξ [stýkʰs]) is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld that circulates around the Underworld nine times. Kharon is the ferryman of Styx who carries the deceased to the afterlife for a fee.
A large ramp takes us down to a lower level, and while the river itself is still below us, it is clearly audible and the echo makes it stronger. The ramp has been built by driving gravel on top of the bedrock, smoothing it out and finishing it off with asphalt, forming a slight gravel “roadside” between the wall and the asphalt. The gravel part is inhabited by rats. Small holes providing access to yet another network under our city. A network of life, living and sleep — a mother rat nourishing her offspring in the shelter of the dark. From their underground colony the rats go to gather their scraps in the never-ending darkness…
The ramp leads further down and the tunnel gets wider to resemble a small lagoon with a railing on one side. The view of the stream opens up here, or one of the branching streams to specific. The main stream itself runs in its own tunnel about a kilometer downstream. Nonetheless, the stream here is strong, and something that resembles a docking station has been built here. Even the railing is shiny and sturdy. Being the explorers we are, we reserve the right to name this spot “The Dock of the Ferrymen” after Kharon himself. The rocky walls here are of a reddish granite — the solid yet versatile material of our homeland. The humidity makes it resemble a freshly varnished oil painting, or the mucus membrane in an intestine. And the river flows rapid. The color is grey with a green tint as it is carrying whatever a stream down here may… bodily fluids, chemicals, solid materials, protozoa, medicines, elixirs, cellulose, sanitary products, hormones, nutrients, heavy metals, micro plastics and whatever else anyone spews in it…
The space is somewhat wider at the dock, forming a beach across the river. And a bridge to the beyond, where a jagged sand beach lies. From afar it seems like a miniature beach and micro landscape: The Infamous Brown Riviera Beach. Only the tan you acquire here will not stick. At the waterfront there is even something that resembles kelp, but just a different color. Like the waves in the ocean and tidal fluctuations, the water here too has washed material ashore. The sand is brown throughout, covered by a mucky layer of looser solid materials. Our light beam hits fragile seedlings growing in this underground beach of excrement; seeds have washed down here and found a suitable place to grow. While the habitat is no doubt rich in nutrients, life will never get a foot hold down in here in the dark. We dub this spot “The Bridge of Kharon”.
A Buried Stairway to Nowhere
The stench grows weaker but never gives up as we go back up. We notice a convenient valve and hose outside of the steel doors and proceed to wash our boots and hands. We apply some of that trendy antiseptic hand rub. The night is still young.We continue into another dull tunnel that is just as straight as the previous one. Our head lamps sway as we beeline another half kilometer until we come to a fork in the path — two tunnels both ways, again, straight as arrows. We take the path to the right. There is a thick water pipe that seems to be a pressure line, and another one continues the way we came so it’s a tight squeeze to fit between them. There are also cables running atop the pipes — it may be one of the oldest tunnels in the city, but modern times have caught up with it. The first plans for the tunnel were made nearly 80 years ago and this is probably also the first of the long stretching bedrock tunnels.
A dozen meters into the tunnel it starts to get wet and we find ourselves ankle deep in water at times. Our rubber boots will suffice. The water is a brownish yellow at times, rusty and full of sediments, sometimes orange, but it gets clearer after a while. The walls have been the same jagged but solid rock for a few kilometers already — some shotcrete enforced patches at the intersection, but none after that in the older portions. Then we run into a part with solid concrete enforced walls and ceiling — the rock walls here have been crackling before. And where there are cracks, there is bound to be something, water at least, seeping out. At our current spot, at the end of the concrete enforced part, there is yellow goo hanging from the seam of the concrete and rock. We don’t recognize the consistence of it, the color is probably iron, but have no idea what forms the thick and oozy texture. It’s a lot like some kind of slimy algae, but that would need light to grow — what grows in the dark? The same creepy ooze can be found on the cabling and it’s all over the cables of our IT-infrastructure. The longest run-offs of this mystery goo are a couple dozen centimeters long — what is this indescribable anomaly? Where does it come from? I have no doubt some scientist could answer our question, but our expedition members are at a loss… Our minerabacterologistic knowhow is just not up to the task.We carry on through the wetness and our boots start turning the same color as the mystery goo. The jagged rock wall on our right side turns into a smooth concrete wall after a short walk. We decide to stop as there are three doorways — three heavy steel doors side by side. However, there’s no easy access to the mysterious doors as they are blocked by thick metal pipes on top of a concrete platform. The pipes look old and the doors even older. We manage our way over the platform and make our way through one of the doors. We open the doors and a large empty room of about 50m2 opens up in front of us. The floor is solid concrete, the walls on both sides and the roof are stone while the wall with the doors is made of smooth concrete. Across the room there’s an identical concrete wall and another three doors.
The rusty green doors are equipped with strong steel latches making the entrance look very much like a bunker’s entrance. They also have small peek holes covered with round steel sheets. One of the doors has a sign suspended haphazardly with metal wire and reads “No Smoking”. I recall seeing a photo of the exact same type sign with the same font in a book or museum somewhere. However, the space is too small to be a bomb shelter, it’s more like a passageway. Filled with curiosity, we enter the doors only to find that they lead to a small water covered platform of some sort. The mysterious find keeps on giving nonetheless as we notice a concrete staircase leading up from the water covered platform. The stairs are wide and have a railing made of rusty welded pipes. Sediment plumes from the bottom as we step into the crystal clear water, but the light from our lamps reflects a disco ball effect on the bedrock walls around us. The walls seem to ripple as if we had entered some kind of a weird kinetic theater. Even the staircase resembles that of a cinema. The walls of the staircase are of a rugged and grotesque stone and have a baroque or rococo feel to them while the stairs themselves and the railing seem more modern in their minimalistic approach. There’s also a galvanized round air-conditioning pipe running along the ceiling to our side along the staircase, but it has seen better days. Our assumption of having entered an old bomb shelter are confirmed; the wide stairs and the railing have been put in place to help move into the shelter should an air raid take place. The long stairwell is split in three parts by small platforms. Ingenious architecture in the sense that a panicking individual will not knock the whole crowd to the bottom of the stairs.
We begin our ascent against the imaginary crowd of people and are greeted by another concrete wall on the third platform, again with three enforced doors side by side, peek holes and all. Must be a pressure shut-off to prevent the pressure wave of a nearby external explosion from making its way into the shelter. The staircase goes on to yet another platform, but then we hit a wall that shuts the whole staircase throughout. The wall is made of red clay bricks and the middle railing of the staircase runs absurdly through the wall. The wall has been left with a hole for the round railing and sealed with plaster — the bricklayer has shut the staircase off, but looks like sawing off the railing wasn’t a part of the contract. There are cut air-conditioning pipes sticking out of the ceiling with roots hanging out of them. Somewhere above there are trees growing whose roots have found their way down the old pipes into the damp tunnel. The eternal humidity down here is condensing on the roots and providing them with an infinite water supply. Looking at them from below, from this close-minded darkness, those heavy hanging straight roots look like the thick strands of hair of a giant amazon warrior sleeping above. They are like resting tentacles, hanging gooey from the ceiling and should not be disturbed.
Our descent ends here, but the staircase probably continue beyond the wall. The rest of the chasm must be filled shut and the entire wide staircase feels like it’s been buried alive.
English translation by Jussi Norio