The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
1.05 pm, Thursday 21st April 1998
Greg at once strides over to Fabry, extending his hand. 'How do you do, Doctor. I'm Gregory Wentworth.' Fabry, smiling, shakes it enthusiastically, and Greg subtly wipes away a black grease mark with his handkerchief as he continues, 'We will be needing just a few minutes to stow our things and check our equipment - you can never be sure that everything has travelled all right - and then we'd be pleased to join you for lunch. Could you please show us to where we will be staying?'
'Certainly, certainly. This way, Mr Wentworth.' Fabry starts to usher the operatives towards one of the long, low buildings.
Maddy reaches forward to take him by the hand. 'Lunch is cool,' she says, nodding happily. 'I could eat a scabby horse!' She looks curiously at her hand and tastes the smudge of grease that has been left on it with the tip of her tongue, making a face. Fabry does not seem to notice. 'I'm Maddy. I s'pose I'm a sort-of creative thingy person - y'know, like a Dolly Grip or a Best Boy. 'Cept I'm a girl...' She tails off, looking around at the compound, making a rectangular shape with her hands and peering through it at the huts. 'Mmm... not very photogeneric, is it?'
Alan hangs back to bid farewell to Charlie Figgis and thank him for the lift. 'You seem keen to get away, how come you aren't stopping for lunch?' he asks.
Charlie grimaces. 'With this pack of weirdos? No chance!' He grins at Alan's slightly wary expression. 'Only kidding, they're a smashing bunch really... not!' With that he spins the wheels of the Landrover and roars off.
The visitors' block is well appointed by the standards of the Demeter project. It holds twelve small but comfortable single rooms, of which only two are currently occupied. Each has its own running water and telephone point.
Greg gathers the seven operatives together in his room. He stands by the closed door, an imposing presence, as the others settle on the edges of the bed and desk. 'Alan, could you, please?' he asks.
Alan pulls out a small bag of electrical equipment and starts touring the room, listening through headphones and watching the dials of a number of small meters. After a few minutes he reports 'All clear. The other rooms probably are too, then.'
Greg relaxes visibly. 'We need to sort out our roles in the production team. I'd like to suggest myself for the on-camera work, interviewing and presenting.'
Maddy applauds enthusiastically.
'I could be in charge of sound, or camera,' says Alan.
'I can be a technical researcher,' says Iain.
'I shall be the director and research journalist,' puts in Nora, who is wearing extremely concealing dark glasses.
Everyone looks at Diana and Ella.
'I suppose I could be the production designer,' says Diana with a slight lack of conviction.
'You should be in charge of costumes and make-up, Ella,' says Maddy excitedly. 'That's such cool nail-polish - can I borrow the blue? Or you and Diana could do a whole make-over on me - like on Style Challenge.'
Diana, who is used to Maddy's ways, pats her soothingly on the hand. 'We'll need to be a little careful dealing with Fabry. If he's the sort of impatient, intolerant individual he sounds we might do best not to ask him too many questions - and if he's in the conspiracy that'll make him suspicious, anyway.'
'Good point,' says Nora. 'I plan to interview Jacquie Murdoch as well, and perhaps some of the other junior staff here might provide interesting information - about what Johannesen was like.'
'Also,' continues Diana, 'there are a couple of leads outside the complex. Finding out where Erika Mahringer lives and works now, and asking her why she left. Maybe she discovered something she shouldn't have? And checking out the backpackers we passed on the way. From what Charlie Figgis said, if they have a carbet permit they could have been here for some time - maybe they sabotaged the earlier launch? They could probably have got in easily enough, especially with a little help from inside. Maybe they're part of the conspiracy? Maybe that tattoo has some significance? It might be the symbol of some sort of society that wants the probe stopped for their own ends - maybe a sort of anti-Greenpeace - that would make them excellent pawns, or allies, of the conspiracy - after all, a lot of companies have got rich by polluting the planet, and wouldn't like to have to stop if this probe goes ahead.'
Everyone is silent, digesting this, then Alan says 'We may need to use other ways of finding out about Johannesen, too. Iain, you look like a resourceful chap - could you help me try and get into his office, or his living quarters? I want to have a look at the computer Charlie said he was "always playing with".'
'Time for lunch,' says Nora, tapping her wrist. She seems to be throwing herself into the role of director with some enthusiasm.
As the operatives filter out towards the refectory block, Maddy takes Alan aside. 'When you're in poor old Knut's room, can you do something for me - get hold of something of his? Something personal - a photograph, or some hair, some nail clippings or something. Just something of his, y'know?'
'What for?' asks Alan nervously.
Maddy taps her nose enigmatically. 'Ahaa! It's for a special finding ritual...'
Lunch is served at long refectory tables, and the atmosphere is animated. There are about twenty staff at Project Demeter, so the seven operatives, plus the two EU staff present, make quite an addition. The complex is clearly large enough to cope with at least twice as many, though.
Nora sits herself next to Fabry and at once starts to chat pleasantly. He seems very eager to please, although he keeps glancing at a large pocket-watch and then eating more quickly.
Nora tells him that the team are looking to make a fly-on-the-wall documentary of his facility and the Demeter Project, and the effect on the surrounding area. They will do some initial research - talk to people and that sort of thing - and then start filming. They will of course need access to as many staff as possible, and safe areas of the facility. He will have final approval on the final film and be free to edit out anything sensitive. The team will also be touching on the sad death of Knut Johannesen.
Fabry seems generally receptive and keen, provided that the production crew do not delay the project unduly. 'We have deadlines to meet, you understand of course? You catch us at a most busy time.' When Nora mentions Knut, he nods vigorously. 'Poor chap! He was a very hard worker. We owe his memory a great deal.'
'Well, it turns out that some of our equipment has been damaged in transit,' says Nora. 'Isn't that right, Alan?'
'Eh? Oh! Yes, yes: I'll need to do some work on it before we can actually start filming,' says Alan, rubbing his shin under the table.
'Well, I will ask the staff to help you, but I must ask you in return not to distract them from their duties,' says Fabry. With that he bolts down his last mouthful, rises and heads out of the hut.
As soon as he has gone there is a marked relaxation in atmosphere.
'You're the technical guy, eh?' says a tall, thin woman in her thirties to Alan. 'I'm Jacqueline Murdoch - Jacquie - Chief Engineer here. Pleased to meet you.' She shakes his hand.
'We'll be wanting to talk to you about Knut Johannesen,' says Nora.
'Yes, of course: poor guy. I found his body, you know, sitting at his desk all stiff and cold. He was my boss - of course, I'm doing his old job now. Dead men's shoes!' She laughs slightly abruptly.
Diana regards Jacquie with interest. She has to be one of the main suspects for Knut Johannesen's death, she thinks to herself.
Meanwhile, Greg has been buttonholed by a middle-aged woman in a smart business suit, whose manner bespeaks authority. She introduces herself as Irma Helting, a Dutch national, here as Inspector on behalf of the European Commission. 'It is very fortunate that we should be here at the same time - your team and mine.' Her "team" consists of a secretary, a pale young man in a fawn suit. 'It gives us a wonderful opportunity.'
'It certainly does,' affirms Greg, although unsure of what she is driving at. 'What precisely is your team's role here at Demeter, Ms Helting?'
She sighs slightly. 'As you know, the European Union funds the European Space Agency extensively. We are not just interested in the curvature of bananas, despite what the British public seem to think!' A trilling laugh. 'This is an expensive project, and my role here - I have only arrived here yesterday - is to make sure our money, the money of all European citizens, is being well spent.'
'So do you have authority over this funding?'
'I do not personally control the purse-strings, but my superiors to whom I will report do. So Dr Fabry is being very nice to me!' Another laugh. 'Anyway, Mr Wentworth - what I was saying is this. If your team wishes to interview me on my work here, this will help us all - interesting footage for you, and the British public will get to see the European Commission in action - do you see?'
Seated to Ella's left is a dapper-looking Frenchman, his shirt immaculately pressed. He dabs delicately at his mouth with an embroidered handkerchief before introducing himself to her as Bernard Joubert, Demeter's Head of Computing. Ella cannot help but notice that he has been shifting uncomfortably in his seat throughout the meal, a though sitting pains him. 'So you are from Edinburgh? What a beautiful city. I visited there on conference once, at the University. And of course your people and mine, we have the "Old Alliance", do we not? I would love to see your city with you, Miss Wallace - are you descended from your great William Wallace? - and you could show me your favourite places.'
Ella responds politely to this none-too-subtle approach, but has the slightly unflattering feeling that Joubert is making a play for her more as a matter of habit than conviction. Indeed, as a girl who looks more like a student than a researcher approaches the 'Acorn Productions' group, slightly timidly, he breaks away from Ella and leaps relievedly to his feet. 'Ah, Catherine, ma petite, at last you come!'
'I'm sorry, Dr Joubert,' she says nervously, 'Dr Fabry asked me to take the production team on a tour of the project.'
Joubert turns away, grinding his teeth, and strides out of the hut.
'I want to visit those carpet things the backpackers live under,' says Maddy, as soon as the group are gathered outside. 'How do you get to them?'
'Er, I don't really know, I'm afraid,' says the girl - she has introduced herself as Catherine Maxwell, a research assistant, who used to work with Erika Mahringer but now runs that part of the project single-handed, designing the probe's detectors. 'We don't really get into the jungle much. I suppose you could just follow the trails... but it's a bit dangerous, I think. There's all sorts of creatures out there.'
'What, like lions and tigers? Cool!' Maddy is impressed.
'No, not really - but big insects and snakes and things - poisonous ones. And spiders.'
'I'll come with you,' says Diana. 'We should be safe enough if we stick to the trails and don't go too far from the compound.'
As they head back to the visitors' block to change, Maddy tosses a parting comment over her shoulder to Ella. 'Your coat's really... wow. How many fake leopards died to make it? Or did they, like, fake their deaths too?'
The layout of the Demeter complex is simplicity itself. There are blocks of huts on three sides of a square: residential (including the visitors' block), administrative (including the refectory), and technical (including all the workshops and scientists' offices). There are also a number of smaller ancillary blocks such as the vehicle compound (containing three Landrovers), the lavatory and shower block and the generator / fuel storage hut.
Catherine explains, in response to Alan's question, that the admin and technical blocks are all on one computer network. Joubert is the system administrator (a shadow seems to cross her face when she mentions his name). She seems to lose some of her shyness when talking about these familiar matters. There are no terminals in the residential block, although there are plenty of phone points, so if Iain has a portable and a modem he can dial up the server to use a guest account on it and email his fiancée if he wishes.
'She gets a bit uptight if I don't send her e-mail when I'm on assignment,' he explains. 'I tell her there's no chance of me getting into "trouble", but she's a bit of a jealous type. You know what I mean?'
'Do many of the staff have computers in their accommodation?' asks Alan innocently.
Catherine makes a moue. 'Well, not really - we don't really get to spend much time there, except to sleep - we're very, very busy at the moment, you see, with the new launch coming up. We more or less live in our offices.'
And indeed the technical block is a hive of activity - men and women slaving over hot workbenches or terminals, reluctant to be disturbed. Catherine just points at them through the windows.
One of the larger offices is deserted, though. 'That used to be Dr Johannesen's office, before he...' She shudders. 'When Dr Murdoch took over as Chief Engineer she kept her own office.'
'Too busy to move everything across, I expect,' says Nora.
'Well, you'd think so, wouldn't you, really, but she did an awful lot of reorganizing in the actual lab - I had to move all my testing rig from one side to the other for her. She said it was to make things more efficient.'
'We'll be talking about Johannesen's death, so we'll want to do some filming in there, ideally,' says Nora.
'Ugh... isn't that a bit ghoulish?' She blushes. 'Sorry, it's none of my business, of course you know what you're doing. Anyway, it's all still just as he left it, I'm sure Dr Fabry wouldn't mind you filming in there.'
As they wander back out into what is effectively the courtyard, Iain says 'On our way here we saw some hikers and were told that there are a number of huts sponsored by the government. Do you know if anyone here would have a map of the area that would show these? We're always on the lookout for background info for other programmes and this seems ideal. It'd also help me sort out a place to go running. I presume that some of you do some sort of exercise up here?'
'There's a little multigym in the admin block, over there, but really we don't get much time for that sort of thing. You're welcome to use it, of course - it'd be better than running in the jungle, you don't know what might bite you!' She shudders. 'But I don't know if anyone here would have a map - we don't really get out much. You might be better off talking to the ESA people in Kourou, or the government, in Cayenne where you landed. You can phone them direct from your room, if you like.'
Maddy and Diana are forging their way along the jungle trail. Maddy has changed into green-painted DMs, shorts made from cut-off Arctic camouflage trousers, and a grubby T-shirt saying 'No Dope, No Hope'. She has a small luminous green rucksack from which occasional chinking noises emerge.
Basically there are two ways to go: back towards Kourou, or on into the jungle. Choosing the latter, Diana and Maddy hike for about an hour, in the sweltering heat. The jungle floor is surprisingly dark, with the lofty canopy cutting off much of the sun's light. From above can be heard strange squawks and squeals, and all around is the constant chitter of insects and the drip of water. 'Isn't this brilliant? This is just like Valley of the Dinosaurs!' whispers Maddy delightedly - the oppressive atmosphere seems to impose quiet.
Eventually they come upon what must be a carbet - a small hut by the side of the trail, with a clearing blazed around it. Plants are already beginning to recolonize the cleared area.
The hut stands open - really it is little more than a thatched roof on stilts, with hammocks slung between them - and it is clear that it is currently unoccupied. Maddy, who had been hoping for something more like a youth hostel, is disappointed, and prods about in the grass.
'I suppose this might not be the height of the tourist season round here,' says Diana. 'And there are probably other carbets elsewhere in the jungle - we don't know which one those backpackers we saw might be using.'
'Here's something, look,' says Maddy, who has found a patch of disturbed ground. She pokes at it with a stick and finds, a couple of inches below the surface, some wads of used toilet paper. 'Ugh! They've buried it - very Green!' She hastily scrabbles the earth back over the primitive latrine. 'Well, it can't have been all that long ago there were people here, then.'
'Let's get back,' says Diana. 'We need to meet up with the others and compare what we've found out.'
'Right, what's the plan for the rest of the afternoon?' asks Iain. 'Do we interview Fabry first, to get him out of the way? And Jacquie Murdoch - she needs to be done quickly too, as she'll probably be the most useful. I should think we could get away with a couple of interviews, and perhaps we could chat to some of the others at dinner, or afterwards - if they get evenings off!'
'Here come Diana and Maddy,' points out Ella. 'Let's go back inside and compare notes on what we've learnt so far.'