The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
From: Andre Swahn, Briefing / 99
To: Agents Diana Knight, Madeleine Hook, Senator Gregory Wentworth, Nora McShane, Ellen Wallace, Iain Blayne; Operative Alan Margeson
Subject: Mysterious death of Knut Johannesen
Enclosures: article from New Scientist of 17th April 1998.
Destination: Demeter Project Headquarters, European Space Agency, French Guiana
Background: Knut Johannesen, a Norwegian national, was Chief Engineer at the European Space Agency's Demeter Project (see attached article). On the afternoon of 14th May 1998 he was found frozen to death by his assistant Jacqueline Murdoch. The death has been declared as accidental: Johannesen apparently fell into a tank of liquid nitrogen.
On 9th May 1998, the scheduled test of the Demeter probe's launcher system exploded on the launchpad: no explanation has yet been given for this failure, which is still under investigation.
Your cover: as employees of independent TV production company 'Acorn Productions', filming a documentary for the BBC's 'Tomorrow's World' programme. You will be supplied with suitable equipment. 'Acorn Productions' is a standard SITU front company, and the usual Boundary Row address and numbers can be used.
Your mission: to establish whether Johannesen's death was as accidental as it seems. We have reason to suspect that it may in some way be concerned in the conspiracy we all oppose. If Johannesen's death was caused, by who / what, and how? And was there any connection between Johannesen's death and the failed launch test?
Note: the usual arrangements regarding expenses and extra-legal activity will obtain.
Article - New Scientist magazine, 17th April 1998
Trouble for ESA's pollution probe
There has been a setback for the European Space Agency's Demeter pollution monitor project, with the resignation of respected scientist Erika Mahringer from the team. Mahringer, and atmospheric physicist who was responsible for the design of much of the instrumentation Demeter is to carry, cited "personal reasons" as the explanation for her departure.
Demeter, a satellite intended to measure pollution levels in the upper atmosphere, has been plagued with funding troubles, and it is rumoured that the ESA are contemplating pulling the plug on what many see as a 'white elephant'. But project head Gustave Fabry was bullish: "Erika will be greatly missed, of course, but her work here was mostly done, and Demeter will continue without her: there are a number of other equally able scientists here, who are working day and night to guarantee the success of this project, which is so important for the future of the Earth."
Jungle All The Way
10.30 am, Thursday 21st May 1998
During the long flight from Paris to Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, the two groups of SITU operatives have been seated apart from each other, and it is not until they enter the transit lounge to await the European Space Agency's shuttle bus to Kourou that they are first able to appraise each other.
Greg takes the initiative, striding over to where Diana and Maddy stand slightly nervously together. 'How do you do - I'm Gregory Wentworth.' He is a tall, handsome man in his mid-forties, with dark brown hair starting to grey slightly at the temples, deep brown eyes, and a firm handshake. He is immaculately tailored in a stylish grey silk suit, and looks every inch the successful Californian lawyer and politician. He walks with a slight limp in his left leg.
'Diana Knight,' says Diana, taking his hand. She is also tall, and slim, with shoulder-length auburn hair. There is the faintest trace of a Yorkshire accent in her voice. Her manner is restrained. She appears to be in her late twenties, and she is dressed as though for a nice, relaxing holiday.
Maddy Hook is something of a contrast. She has been looking around her curiously since landing, while not stuffing complimentary peanuts into her mouth, and she is more than a little drunk. 'Are you the one who's a senator? Brilliant! Does that mean you get to have, like, CIA bodyguards or whatever?' She wipes her hand on her orange lurex shorts. 'I'm Madeleine Hook, or you can call me Maddy - but don't call me Mad, 'cos that's not nice.' She is about eighteen, small and thin, with dyed red hair and a number of piercings.
Greg introduces the rest of his colleagues. Ellen Wallace 'call me Ella' is a Scotswoman of about Diana's age, of average height with long, loose red hair and a suffusion of freckles. She is wearing black jeans, with a leopard-print fake fur coat, and platform boots, and her fingernails are each painted a different colour. She carries a huge handbag.
Iain Blayne is a fellow-Scot, on the small side of average, with short black hair that is already greying although he cannot be long past thirty. He is wearing long shorts that look like cut-off combats, with a loose T-shirt, and his eyes are a piercing blue.
Nora McShane is almost as small as Maddy, but blonde, slight and pretty. She is wearing a formal suit, and has her hair tied back: her accent is Australian. She seems a little tense and edgy, and is scanning the surroundings carefully: she has the look of one trained to be observant.
The last member of the team, Alan Margeson, has to introduce himself: he seems a little overwhelmed to see that he is the only person who doesn't know anybody. He is tall and thin, with fine, dark hair over his collar, and occasional tufts struggling to form a beard. He looks around 20, and his handshake is weak and cold. From his body language it seems he is particularly nervous to be surrounded by women.
Heaped up around the operatives is a large stack of filming equipment: video cameras, editing units, monitors, lights, and mysterious silver boxes full of who knows what.
'Does anyone know how to work this stuff? It'll help make our cover more convincing...' wonders Ella.
Kourou, where the European Space Agency is based, looks like a cross between Metropolis and Torremolinos: huge silvery towers stab into the sky, transparent lifts moving swiftly up and down their sides, while below acres of golden sand stretch away to the gently-lapping blue sea, where water-skiers can be seen disporting themselves.
'This place is even better than Mexico!' exclaims Maddy. 'Which one's our hotel?'
Unfortunately, it appears that not all of the ESA's facilities are based here. When the team ask at the headquarters building where they can find Project Demeter, they are met with a wry smile. 'They're located... a little way inland,' says the desk clerk. 'If you don't mind hanging on a little while, I'll take you myself, in the Landrover.'
Some hours later, the towers of Kourou are a mere memory on the horizon, and the Landrover is bumping along a muddy track as it climbs up from the coastal plateau into the dense jungle that clothes the interior of French Guiana. The humidity is stifling, and the track bears the signs of recent flooding.
The team's driver, Charlie Figgis, is full of entertaining stories about the Demeter staff. 'Old man Fabry, who runs the place - he's a tyrant! Just a few weeks ago, before the launch trial that blew up, he actually locked all the staff in the lab for three days solid - no leave, no sleep - until they finished the preparation work! Can you believe that? He got the result, they all got done what they needed to, but what way is that to run a research team?'
'We heard one of the team dies recently - Mr Johannesen?' asks Diana.
'That's right, poor old Knut. Nice guy, but a bit of an eccentric - you know? Always playing with his computer. Mind you, eccentric's the least of it for most of them out there - why d'you think ESA stuck them out in the jungle! Jacquie Murdoch, who took over his job, she's just as bad.' He laughs loudly, a noise no dissimilar to the squawking of the macaws that can be heard up in the canopy. 'Mind you, they're in trouble now - what with the explosion, and Knut's death, people have been asking questions about the whole project.'
'You mean it might be cancelled?'
'That's right - there's some bigwig from the European Union there now, I expect you'll meet her, one of the commissioners or something - thinking about closing off the funding, I shouldn't wonder. Poor old Fabry'll have his work cut out to impress her!'
Charlie leans on the horn to alert a couple of walkers who are in the trail ahead. Both wave cheerily as the Landrover passes: Nora notices that the woman has a tattoo on her shoulder, of a globe clenched within a green fist. 'Funny to see backpackers out here in the jungle?'
'Oh, there's quite a few, actually, they're pretty well provided for - the government has these sort of forest huts called carbets, which you can stay in for free if you've got a permit. They're all over the place. Not a bad system - it's just a shelter, I mean, with hammocks, but you have to sort your own food and so on. Nice way to see the rain forest.'
Not long passes before signs of habitation become apparent. 'Here we are - journey's end. Project Demeter.'
The clearing contains a complex of low prefabricated huts around a concrete hard, with ancillary buildings such as vehicle storage grouped off to one side: a radio transmitter mast stands high above the buildings. The overall impression is slightly dilapidated.
Charlie hoots his horn as he drives onto the hard, and at once starts to help the operatives out of the Landrover. He seems in a hurry. 'Are you not staying?' asks Ella curiously.
'No fear! I'd rather drive three hours back through the jungle than stick around here...' His voice dies away as people start to emerge from the buildings in response to the horn.
In the lead is a middle-aged man wearing a jacket and crooked bow tie, his grey hair tousled. He has clearly not shaven for some time. As he comes forward he takes out a large pocket-watch and checks it. 'Charlie!' His accent is French. 'Who are these people? Don't you know we are busy here?'
'They're the TV company, Monsieur Fabry - aren't you expecting them?'
There is an uneasy moment for the SITU team, then Fabry claps his hand to his forehead, leaving a smear of black grease. 'Ah bon Dieu! Of course! Our dear friends from the BBC! Come in, come in, make yourselves welcome – we are always pleased to see you! I am Gustave Fabry, leader of this happy team. Will you not join me for lunch?'