The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Saints and Angels
From: Andre Swahn, Briefing / 99
To: Agents: Steven Anderson, Matthew Culver, John Henry, Benedict Riggs, Adam Twitchin
Subject: Zombie activity in Haiti
Enclosures: Letter from Laënnec Hurbon
Travel arrangements: you have been booked on the British Airways flight from Heathrow to Haiti at 1700 on 17th September 1997. Return flights are your own responsibility.
Destination: Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where you will meet with Laënnec Hurbon.
Background information: You are no doubt aware of the voodoo religion prevalent in Haiti. In recent years, since the fall of the Duvalier regime, this religion has become increasingly socially accepted and powerful. In voodoo the devout give reverence to a set of beings known as lwa, who are powerful spirits intermediate between humans and God. One of its less savoury tenets is that voodoo sorcerers, known as bocors, are able to turn their enemies into zombies - will-sapped creatures of the dead who are under the control of their creators.
Priority A) to establish whether or not the voodoo religion is part of the conspiracy which we oppose, and in particular whether Borasme is one of its members or agents;
Priority B) to establish whether the phenomenon of zombieism is a supernatural or a medical one;
Priority C) to help Professor Hurbon with the resolution of his problem, if that proves practical.
Cover: whatever seems appropriate to you. SITU will vouch for you at the usual numbers.
Note: although Professor Hurbon is a SITU member in good standing, he is not of as high a security clearance as you are. You should be careful not to reveal to him any information which might prejudice security.
Note: the usual arrangements regarding expenses and extra-legal activity will obtain.
Department of Anthropology
Republic of Haiti
tel: (+189) 412 3324
fax: (+189) 412 3143
10th August 1997
G M Blaize
Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained
16-18 Boundary Row
Dear Mr Blaize,
I am writing to draw your attention to a disturbing development of which I have been informed.
As you will know, my work has primarily been with studying the relevance of Haiti's traditional voodoo religion in the present day. This has meant dispelling a number of the popular Western prejudices against the religion, and struggling against the unfortunate images of what is a thriving and vibrant faith, bringing much positivity to its followers, that have been put about by the efforts of Hollywood.
You are no doubt familiar with the studies that have been made by the psychiatrists Mars and Bijoux into the high incidence of schizophrenia in Haitian society. I have collaborated with them in a number of papers exploring the possible impact of cultural factors on this incidence. As part of their studies Mars and Bijoux have been touring the health centres of the rural areas of the north, and there they came across a man named Achille Borasme.
Borasme is the Prefect of Port-de-Paix district, a senior civil administrator. He has held his post since the Duvalier days and is strongly linked with that regime. Mars and Bijoux suspect that Borasme, who is a houngan in the voodoo religion, has been raising zombies to terrorize the local populace.
I am sure you will agree that this anti-social behaviour is detrimental both to the Haitian commonweal and to the image of voodoo at large. I have of course made complaints to Borasme's superiors, in the national government, but you will appreciate the difficulties President Aristide and his people have here, good though their intentions: Haiti is a poor country, and they cannot attend to such matters with any degree of expedition.
Therefore I would request the despatch of a team of field operatives of SITU - you may be the only people who can help us.
Professor Laënnec Hurbon
Saints and Angels
Side-step bends down to look in through the open window of the red Sierra, resting his elbows on the sill. The driver shrinks away slightly from him: a middle-aged man, unshaven, sweating acridly. A small aromatic Christmas tree dangles from the rear-view mirror. Side-step smiles, without warmth. 'Now don't be a silly boy, John. I don't want any trouble, you don't want any trouble, no-one wants any trouble. Let's behave like adults, eh? You can't keep up the payments, you can't keep the car - it's as simple as that. Now just hand over the keys, and we can be friends again.'
'Now here's an interesting one,' says Matt Culver, writing quickly on the overhead. His audience, students at the Maudsley Institute, regard the screen with varying degrees of attention. 'There's a whole string of studies that show season of birth is significantly linked with schizophrenia - the references are on the handout. Patients with schizophrenia are more likely to be born in late winter or early spring. And that's true in both the northern and southern hemispheres.' He looks up, his thin face intense and engaging. 'And then we have the gender differences. Differences in epidemiology, in presentation, in course of illness and in response to treatment. Even early environmental factors differ between the genders - in men we're more likely to see a history of obstetric complications, in women we're more likely to see a history of maternal influenza.'
John Henry absent-mindedly sprinkles a handful of corn on the ground outside the back door, and the chickens run to peck it up, swirling around his ankles. The idea of getting rid of the pesky creatures passes briefly through his mind once more, but no: they had come with the house, and it seemed cruel to move them. He is at that stage of his latest project that he cannot bear distraction. This new phenomenon, the 'Diana Corks', could be just what is needed to get his Face Facts series back into the public eye. The face of Jesus in a pancake, the name of Allah in an aubergine, that is all old hat: but now there are three separate cases around the country of people who claim to have found the face of the late Princess of Wales on the underside of a champagne cork. The original Face Facts - Miracles in the Kitchen: Faith or Fake? sold better than any of its successors, and this is the perfect excuse for a new edition. But would his publishers be ready to print a book debunking the cult of Diana?
'Mr Riggs? Are you in there?'
Riggs keeps quiet, pressed up against the wall beside the door. His breathing is relaxed. Preparation is a matter of daily routine for him. It sounds like his landlady, but that proves nothing - they can sound like what they chose.
'Mr Riggs? There's some letters here for you - shall I just push them under the door? Only I'll have to squash this one if I do.'
Riggs smiles slightly. He isn't going to fall for that old trick.
There is a rustling and scraping noise at the foot of the door, and Riggs steps lightly away from it, picking up his gas mask just in case: the gap is easily large enough to introduce a nozzle and flood the room with the latest neurotoxic agents.
Three letters in brown envelopes, one severely scuffed, emerge into the room: Riggs watches them carefully. All seem to be still, and there is no ticking.
From outside the door the voice comes again 'Rent day tomorrow, Mr Riggs, don't forget now, will you? Will you leave it in the exhaust pipe like normal?' Then the sound of footsteps receding.
Riggs relaxes slightly, and gently prodded the small stack of letters with his toe.
Professor Adam Twitchin scribbles on the pieces of paper, swift sure strokes outlining the diagram he has drawn so many times. 'Here - you see? The d-shell energy levels overlap - that's all perfectly orthodox, Max Planck was the first to demonstrate it. But this is the step of reasoning he didn't make.'
He adds a couple more lines. 'So this is the new Hamiltonian - the energy equation of state for the system as a whole. Are you with me?'
The young journalist nodded, frowning. 'I think so...'
'Good! Now - see - we apply the standard Laplace transform to isolate the time-dependent part of the equation. And these terms reduce... so. Now what does that leave us with?'
'Err... I'm not sure... why's that term negative?'
'It has to be! That's because I expanded this quadratic, here, and cancelled the two small terms. Now what does this result mean? You can't see? This, my dear, is one of the most fundamentally important result of twentieth-century physics, some people have been known to say. It proves that there can be a perpetual motion machine. Effectively it borrows energy from the future - but as time goes on, the time borrowed from recedes as well, so it need never be paid back - do you follow me?'
The journalist considered for a moment, then shook her head resignedly. 'No, I'm sorry - I just don't think we can carry this story. It's crazy enough, but it's just not very visual. The readers won't understand, even with diagrams.'
'What do you mean?' asks Twitchin, disturbed. 'I thought you were interviewing me for your Great Men of Science series?'
'Is that what they told you?' She puts her hand over her mouth and emits a small embarrassed giggle. 'Er, no... actually, we wanted you for the Cranks and Crazies section.'
Back at Charlie's hire place, Side-step climbs out of the red Sierra, and tosses the keys onto the table. 'Another satisfied customer, Charlie.'
'Nice work, mate,' says Charlie, handing him a beer and opening one himself. 'Any grief?'
'Not a whisper. He was as meek as a lamb, that guy - these big, fat blokes are all the same.' Side-step lights up a cigarette. His lighter now says 'Side-step 6 - IRA 0 - Witches 0'.
'Oh, the post came - here's a couple for you.' Charlie tosses them across.
Culver paces around the living-room of his flat, full of energy. He feels twitchy, eager, ready for something - but he is not quite sure what. He snatches up Time Out and flips rapidly through the club pages: there doesn't seem to be anything special on tonight. Perhaps he should go down to The Hoist and see what was available. A pickup and a little brutal, mindless sex might be just what he needed. But how to fill the day between now and then?
He notices the pile of letters he had not had the time to open before going out to his lecture that morning.
'Over there, too? Excellent! This is getting better and better. The international angle... thanks, Mary, I'll be sure to credit you.' Henry hangs up, pleased with himself. Mary Welch, an American fellow-sceptic, has told him that there are two new Diana Corks, in Florida. That might help persuade the publishers, if it really is a global phenomenon.
There is a rattle at the door. Henry tuts: the post seems to come later and later each day. The trouble with living out in the middle of nowhere!
Riggs has headed out to the park to read his post. It is only here, with open space all around him, that he can be sure he is not being spied on - as sure as he can ever be. He scans the sky for black helicopters before carefully slitting the first with his knife. He is wearing thick leather gloves to protect his hands from poisons, which makes this task difficult.
Professor Twitchin scans through his post eagerly. Every day brings the faint hope that there will be a letter reinstating him in his old professorial post - or an offer of a more prestigious one. Surely soon, someone, somewhere will recognize the value of his work. But not today, it seems.
One of the long, brown envelopes bears the frank of SITU. As he opens it, two photocopied pieces of paper and an airline ticket fall out into his lap.