The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
9.10 pm, Thursday 21st May 1998 [thanks for spotting that Karen!]
'Hmph!' mutters Maddy, staring at Bertoldo de Santa Croce's retreating back. She turns to Irma Helting, who has watched the episode with some amusement. 'Is he, like, shy about how fast he can type? I don't think he wanted to be showy-offy.'
'Probably not,' agrees Irma. 'He is a very sensitive young man.'
'Have you seen the great big probe thing?' Maddy starts guzzling down the remainder of her food, but before Irma has had a chance to do more than start on her answer she interrupts with a 'That's really interesting, but I've got creative things to do, y'know', stands up and leaves.
Greg, spying an opening, with his most telegenic smile asks Irma if he may join her. They chat amiably about life in general at first, Greg alluding to his hope that the project be finished in time to take in the Kentucky Derby: Irma turns out to have little interest in following sport, although she too rides horses occasionally - they compare riding exploits briefly. Greg is starting to develop more of a picture of Irma: she seems dedicated to the European Union as a supra-national ideal, something to provide humanistic values and aspirations above those of petty statehood. Her politics appear to be firmly in the Northern European social democratic tradition. There is an entertaining digression on the subject of decriminalization of cannabis, before Greg brings her back to the European Space Agency and the Demeter Project's chances of funding.
'This is a very good project, good science, and worthwhile - but we have our reservations about its direction as currently constituted. I think I can safely say that if it is to attract further funding, we will be wanting some changes to be made. That's my initial assessment, of course - we still have a good deal of investigation to do before we will make our final report.'
'Do you think these recent difficulties may prejudice its chances?'
'We certainly have to consider them. As I say, the direction of the project does not appear always to have been what we would like to see.'
'How much longer will you be here?'
'Until the launch, at least: I think that will probably be long enough. Yourself?'
'We're thinking about it.' Greg takes a drink of water, considering. 'The easy thing to do with this documentary would be just to focus in on the strange death of Knut Johannesen and suggest that the failure of the earlier launch might be connected to it in some way. It would be cheap and sensational and very successful. It wouldn't suit your purposes at all, I'm afraid. I'd hate to do it, because it would deal one more blow to a worthwhile project that doesn't need to take any more hits.'
Irma looks perturbed, for the first time since Greg met her. 'I really do hope, Mr Wentworth, that you decide not to take that angle. I don't believe that sensationalism should have any place in scientific journalism. As far as I'm aware there's no suggestion at all that Johannesen's death had any connection to the launch failure.'
'But I've got a television show to tape, and I need something gripping to grab and keep my audience. I don't suppose that you have any suggestions for a more constructive approach to the subject matter?'
'I would concentrate on the science - on the good work that the Demeter probe will be doing once it is launched. It will be monitoring pollutant levels, ozone holes and so on - making the Earth safe for all humanity, thanks to the citizens, scientists and administrators of the European Union. That would be my approach,' she says firmly.
Ella is initially astounded by Catherine's revelations but then her brain starts working in overdrive. After letting the young woman cry herself out she says in a firm voice 'I'm not going to let anything happen to you, don't worry. You were right to tell someone and I think I can help you. Now do you have any idea at all what Knut would be doing with the computers that would so enrage Bernard?'
'I... I don't really know... he's very protective of them. Perhaps Knut was looking at some files he shouldn't have been, or something? I don't know, really...'
'Now listen - I think it would be helpful if I told Nora and the others about this.'
'Oh, no! You mustn't! No-one must know!' Catherine looks ready to burst into tears again.
Ella breaks in quickly. 'Please hear me out, I think that the more people who know about this the safer you will be, especially trained journalists - he couldn't possibly hurt you while we know of this, he'd be the first suspect and he can't kill us all.'
'That... that's true, I suppose.'
Catherine has her head bowed so cannot see Ella's wry grin. If Joubert is connected to the worldwide conspiracy SITU is investigating then possibly he might well be able to kill them all, but better not to let Catherine know that.
'Do you mind if I... stay with you? It's just... I feel so lonely and scared, and I never know when he's going to... I... if you tell the others... I'd be safe with you, wouldn't I?'
After finishing his meal Iain excuses himself, saying, 'I'm just going to take some dinner to our German friends and have a bit of a chat with Spider.' He grabs two trays of food and heads over to the room where Spider is resting.
As he knocks on the door there is the sound of hurried motion from within, and after a few seconds Sioux opens it looking annoyed. Spider is lying on the bed, but something looks odd - Iain realizes that he is lying on the side of his broken leg. Noticing Iain's gaze, Spider rolls over onto his other side, wincing.
'How are things going here?' asks Iain, handing over the food. 'Nasty bit of luck - were you hiking between carbets?'
'That's right,' says Sioux, who falls greedily upon her tray, leaving Spider to feed himself, which he does capably and without comment. 'A holiday. The jungle here is beautiful - so unspoilt. Then this fool falls down a hole.' Her English is excellent, and Iain guesses from her accent that she is probably from a well-to-do background. 'You and your colleagues are here making a television programme?'
They fall to chatting and Sioux proves animated and lively. Spider occasionally attempts to join in from the bed, but she pays him little attention. Iain asks how they came by their unusual names.
'I was christened Susan - my parents liked English names. But I changed it to Sioux after Siouxsie Sioux - of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The punk rock group,' she explains, as though not expecting Iain to have heard of them.
'I am named Spider because I like spiders,' says Spider proudly. He fishes in his pocket and pulls out a large and hairy example of the breed. 'This one is named Boris!'
As Iain bids them farewell he notices that out on the table - screened from him by Sioux, the way she was sitting - is a laptop computer. Surely not usual hiking equipment?
Diana places a phone call to the coroner's office in Cayenne, and is pleased to find it still open at this late hour. She is put through to the morgue superintendent, Maurice Chatillon. He turns out to be only to happy to reveal details of Knut Johannesen's post-mortem to her when he learns that she is calling from the Demeter Project.
'Very strange, I can tell you. I've never seen a man frozen to death, but I didn't imagine it would be like this.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, if he fell into liquid nitrogen like they said, you might expect that the outside would have frozen first, and the warmth stayed longest in the middle, yes? But it was the other way round. He had frozen from the middle outwards - from the stomach.'
'That is odd,' says Diana thoughtfully. An idea strikes her. 'Was there anything in his stomach?'
'No real food - it must have been some hours since he'd eaten. The only thing, which he must have only just swallowed, from their state of digestion, was a few sweets - funny-looking things. They're shaped like dustbins, fish heads, pieces of rubbish!'
'Was there anything else unusual about the body?'
'Not really. No blood alcohol. Oh - the one thing. Under his fingernails and in the skin of his hands there was a particle residue - some very finely divided black substance, which he must have been handling earlier that day.'
Ella is able to persuade Catherine to stay in her room while she meets with the rest of the team next door in Greg's. She shares what she has learnt with them. 'This revelation about Joubert could be very useful! While I'm not convinced that he actually killed Knut, it's only circumstantial evidence after all, it might be useful as leverage. The threat of an investigation with him as the prime suspect might make Joubert more amenable to answering our questions and to letting us into the computer system. But we want to be subtle about it, not appear to be outright blackmailing him. Use the line that it is only in his interests to assist us in investigating.'
'Do you believe Catherine, though?' asks Diana doubtfully. 'It all seems a little too - well, neat, for want of a better phrase, almost a cliché: the innocent who knows too much.'
'I'm inclined to believe her,' says Ella, 'but you're right, we can't ignore the possibility that she is a very good actress and may be setting up Joubert. Greg, Nora, you should probably handle him as you have more experience with pressuring people for information.'
'Either Knut was tampering with something he shouldn't have been, or else he discovered something he shouldn't have,' says Diana. 'It's worth you continuing to hack into the system, Alan, I think.'
'I'm going to call SITU and have them check up on Knut's home background,' says Nora. 'The scout group. I'll send them copies of the photographs.'
Iain comes in to join the discussion. 'Hi guys. Did someone mention that you'd found a cargo document that's written in Norwegian? It's close enough to Swedish that I should be able to make out most of what it says.'
Nora hands him it over, and he swiftly peruses it. 'Hm... interesting. This is a shipping docket for a consignment of... I guess that must be carbon black. To Knut Johannesen at the Demeter Project - stamped as received 28th April 1998. And it's being sent under the personal authority of Alf Hansen, who it seems is the general manager at the Bergen refinery - pretty senior guy! Why would he be getting involved in a tiny consignment like this - it's only a few kilos? And there's no invoice number quoted.'
Before bedtime Maddy nips across to call on Spider and Sioux. Again there is the sound of hurried activity and, when the door is opened, Spider is lying face down on the bed, as though he has just dived onto it.
'Um, hi, I'm Maddy. Are you guys, like, OK? I've, uh, brought you a healing crystal...' She untangles a clear purple crystal on a leather thong from the many other pendants around her neck, and hands it solemnly to Spider. Then, grinning half-apologetically, she produces a grubby packet of paracetamol from her rucksack. '...oh, and this'll, like, help the amethyst along.'
'Thank you!' says Spider cheerfully. 'You are very nice!' He seems in good spirits for a man who was at death's door only a few hours previously.
Maddy pretends to notice Sioux's tattoo for the first time. 'Cool tattoo. Is it, y'know, something to do with the environment an' all that?'
'Yes,' says Sioux solemnly. 'It means we will struggle to defend the Earth.'
'That's right!' says Spider, sitting up eagerly. 'We are warriors against the exploiters!'
Sioux turns to him fiercely and mutters something in German: he shuts up and looks abashed.
'I've got a tattoo too, on my shoulder, but I dunno what it means,' says Maddy, slipping her shoulder out of her T-shirt (Spider looks interested until he gets another glare from Sioux) and displaying the elaborate pentagram design.
'Very nicely done,' says Sioux professionally. 'This could mean that you are talented - these are old magical designs here.'
'Oh, well, don't like to boast, y'know, but I am a bit of a dab hand at that magicy sort of thing,' says Maddy, winking conspiratorially. 'I'm here with the BBC crew doing a documentary thingy, but we're trying to get the real angle - y'know, the truth about that scientist lady walking out, and the poor guy dying an' all that.'
Sioux winks back. 'Keep your cameras rolling, then, and you'll see some things happening, I can promise you that.' She will say no more.
The next morning, over breakfast, Maddy asks brightly 'So... did everyone focus on my sigil when they did the thing last night, hmm?'
'I did,' says Ella. She adds, deadpan, 'It took me a few attempts to get the timing right, but eventually I managed to... mm... focus at the right moment.'
The others stare at her in surprise (Alan blushing noticeably), but this is as nothing compared to their bogglement when Greg says 'I carried out your suggestion, too. I feel ridiculous even telling you about this. I damn well hope it helped. Have you had any results?'
'I'm doing the next bit today,' says Maddy happily.
Greg glances at his colleagues. 'I'm doing all I can to make sure that our endeavour here succeeds. I trust that we all are doing as much?'
When Alan announces that he is going back to Johannesen's office, Iain volunteers to help with the computer, and Maddy says she will join them. They manage to get into the office as easily as on the previous day. Alan eyes Maddy nervously, wondering what she has in mind, but is relieved to see that all she does is pocket a couple of the boiled sweets, slip the music-box into her rucksack, and take photocopies of the two photographs.
On the back of the scout group is a list of names, written in a childish hand:
and, separately, presumably indicating the scoutmaster:
'I guess this is poor old Knut in the other photo as well, then,' she says, comparing the dog-boy with one of the scouts. 'Either that or he just, I dunno, liked scouts or something...'
Maddy gone, Alan sets to the serious business of disassembling Knut's PC. 'I thought', he explains to Iain, 'it might be easier to work on in my own quarters. I should only need the hard drive, I expect. Would you keep an eye out for anyone coming?' (the last rather uneasily).
'What if the files we want are on the server, and he just used this as a terminal?' asks Iain.
'Let's cross that bridge if we get there,' says Alan. He carefully removes the hard drive and refits the cover, all the while keeping talking to Iain, probably because of nerves, 'What did you say that hiker's name was? Sue Stich? Sounds German. That's a coincidence, didn't you say you were in Germany recently?'
'That's right,' says Iain thoughtfully. 'Could be just a coincidence...'
Alan carefully examines the pictures and the desk, including the undersides of the drawers, for any concealed notes, but finds nothing. 'Perhaps he was one of those rare users who can actually remember their password,' he mutters to himself.
As they get ready to leave, Alan takes a sheet of paper from a pad, rolls a sweet out from the bag sitting on the desk and wraps it in the paper. 'Well, something killed him. I doubt it was too much sugar though. We may not be able to analyse it here, but I'm darn sure SITU will be able to when we get home.' Of course, it may be too late by then, he thinks to himself.
Diana places another call, this time to the University of Salzburg. She is put through to the Department of Atmospheric Physics and asks to speak to Dr Erika Mahringer. There is a brief silence. 'Ms Knight, Dr Mahringer is no longer with us.'
'But she only just got back,' Diana starts to say, before she takes the secretary's meaning. 'You mean...?'
'She died just after returning from her ESA posting. It was a skiing accident - she had decided to take a holiday before properly resuming her duties here.'
Diana passes this sad information on to SITU, along with instructions to investigate the backgrounds of Fabry, Murdoch, Maxwell, Joubert, Helting and de Santa Croce, and the names of the boy scouts. The Boundary Row staff are getting quite flustered with this deluge of requests.
Alan spends the best part of the day fiddling with Knut's hard drive. After much excitement involving hacking together a PCMCIA-IDE cable, he manages to set it up as an external drive to his own laptop. To his disappointment, thought, there is nothing of any great interest or use on it. There is a good deal of programming, which as far as he can tell is to do with software control of instrumentation. And there are a number of routine items of correspondence to do with purchasing and the like - none including carbon black. There is, though, a reference in the startup configuration file to a network application called Diary - presumably this resides on the server.
He restores all the recently deleted files, but they are just more of the same.
Maddy has made a brief excursion into the jungle, and returns to commence her ritual. She locks the door of her room and draws all the curtains, then lights a lemon-flavoured joss stick and three candles - black, white and green, placing them in a triangle. She gets out Understanding Chaos Theory and attacks it vigorously with a pair of scissors, scattering words and phrases all over the floor. Then she lays the photocopies of Knut's photographs in the middle of the triangle, and sprinkles carbon black over them. She jabs the scissors into the ball of her finger, yelping, and dribbles blood artistically to form the shape of the sigil, within the ring of carbon black.
'Almost ready!' she tells herself, digging out the music-box and carefully checking it for clues (which are not to be found). She sets it playing, and is momentarily disturbed at the sounds which issue forth - rather than the usual syrupy folk tune or whatever, it plays a curious atonal music, with no apparent consistency of time of key, and strange intervals. 'Weird!' she mutters. 'And now the piece of resistance!' She carefully shakes out the large, brown, furry spider she caught earlier into the middle of the circle. It squats there uneasily, regarding its new surroundings. To encourage it, Maddy sprinkles Knut's toenail clippings on its back, and at once it starts to scamper about, trailing carbon black and blood through the scraps of paper.
'I s'pose it should really be a butterfly, but never mind,' Maddy murmurs, to whatever chaos entity might be listening. 'Oh, and the computer password would be really nice, too...'
At first the spider scurries irresolutely, pausing and turning. It attempts to make a break for freedom, but Maddy shepherds it back with her toothbrush. Eventually, the strange music finishes, and Maddy scoops the spider back into her wash bag. She studies the text eagerly.
The tone would leap from frequency to frequency
like no other experience I can
weird numerology observations
weeks or months, in defiance
"maps" in 1967
undeniable unity of all living organisms
'Alan, do you think it would be possible to plant some of the miniature microphones in appropriate areas - people's offices or rooms - to eavesdrop on them?'
Alan is forced to say he thinks it would not work. 'These throat mikes need cable attached - they can't be monitored remotely. We'd need to run cable all the way from the mike to our listening-post, and someone'd be bound to notice.' He adds winningly 'I could start work on knocking up something more useful, though, if you like?'
Ella nods. 'I say we prioritize Fabry, Catherine - just to see if she's on the level - and Joubert.'
Catherine is still disposed to hang around the investigators like a lost child, so it is easy to engage her in conversation about the sensors. 'There's several different instruments in the probe - this one measures the thickness of the ozone layer, this one monitors atmospheric oxides of nitrogen, this one compares intensity of UV-A and UV-B, and so on.' She points to them all, laid out in the probe. The SITU operatives are impressed or bored according to their natures.
'Why's there that big space in the middle?' asks Nora curiously. Alan and Iain peer in too.
'Oh... I'm not really...' Catherine looks embarrassed. 'That's something we're... well, really, you see, Knut designed the internal layout of the probe and gave Erika and me the specs for the size the instruments could be to fit in. It wasn't until we started to put them - I started, I mean, this was just these last few days, it was just me by then - that we - Jacquie and me - realized there was going to be this big space. Jacquie decided to just leave it, it's too late to recalculate all the sizes now.' She looks nervous. 'You won't tell Dr Fabry, will you? We thought it would be better if he didn't know...'
Iain has been thinking fast. The size and shape of the space are suggestive to him. 'Have you checked that the masses of the instruments tally with the total mass Knut had planned? Is there supposed to be any extra mass in that space?'
Catherine twists her hands together miserably. 'Erm, yes, there is, really... we thought he must have miscalculated. The instruments fall 2388 grams - about two and a half kilos - short of the total payload. We were just going to... put some ballast in the space... and hope no-one opened it up...'
She tails off feebly, but Iain is not listening. 2388 grams is exactly the mass of the carbon black consignment despatched to Johannesen. And the space is the same size and shape as the container he found above the showers.
Greg manages to catch Jacquie Murdoch and is quizzing her about expenses and purchasing. There is a fairly simple system, it seems, with the senior project staff able to buy in pretty much what they like on their own authority - only major purchases need higher-level authorization.
As he accompanies Jacquie to the admin block, Greg sees that Sioux Stich has managed to draw Bernard Joubert out from the computer building into the sunlight. She is listening to him intently, gazing up into his eyes, as he expatiates on some subject or other - his gestures are animated, and he keeps laying his hand on Sioux's bare arm. Greg shakes his head amusedly and walks past, but as Joubert and Sioux walk towards the main compound gate, his arm now around her shoulders, Greg suddenly catches sight of a movement in the computer room Joubert has vacated.
Greg bends to peer under the blinds, not sure what he is seeing, but it is clear: Spider, the supposedly injured hiker, is sat at Joubert's desk and is tapping away at the Frenchman's keyboard. There is no sign of his crutch.
Jacquie breaks off what she is saying, noticing Spider at the same time as Greg. 'Hey! What's that guy doing in there?' She walks towards the room, calling.
Spider leaps guiltily to his feet and makes a dash for the door, but Jacquie intercepts him. 'You little bugger! What the hell were you up to in there?' She twists him round and efficiently armlocks him, and Greg's eyes water in sympathy with the expression on Spider's face.
By now people are emerging from the buildings to see what is going on, and Jacquie calls out proudly 'Look! I found this little shit messing around on the computer! I bet his leg's not hurt at all!' She kicks it to make sure, and from the yell Spider gives, it is pretty clear that his leg is hurt now, if it was not before.
Joubert comes dashing back into the compound, an ugly look on his face - he is dragging Sioux by the arm. She is putting up no more than a token struggle. 'So! You would try and deceive me, would you, to lure me away while your accomplice carries out his filthy work? Not Joubert, my sweet, not Bernard Joubert!'
Fabry at last appears on the scene, and takes stock of the situation. 'Lock them away,' he says simply, when all has been explained to him. 'We can call Kourou to have them taken back for trial.' He looks sternly around. 'And the rest of you - GET BACK TO YOUR DUTIES!'
Sioux and the no-longer limping Spider are locked into their room, and slowly the muttering staff disperse, Fabry glaring at them until there is no-one but the investigators left on the concrete yard.
'Have you seen those hikers around before?' Ella asks Catherine, who at Joubert's display of fury is sticking close than ever to her. Ella can see that this attachment may become awkward at some point.
'No... not really. There are hikers around most of the time, but they come and go, you know?' She looks around. 'They say that the boy was hacking the probe's control software, can you imagine? My God, if Jacqui hadn't have caught him, the whole mission could have been trashed... and we'd all have been out of jobs.'
'Especially Joubert, I should think,' says Ella. 'He seemed to be tempted away from his desk pretty easily by a bit of female attention, and he must have left himself logged in.'
'They do say that he's been saying it was that boy who set the spider on him last week,' Catherine says. Seeing Ella's look of incomprehension she explains. 'He was bitten by a big spider - in the lavatory block. That's why he can't sit down properly! You'd think it was funny, but it's not really, is it? I can't stand spiders - not big ones. They give me the creeps.'
'I'm all right with spiders,' confides Ella. 'It's snakes that get me.' She feels quite uneasy just thinking about the idea.
Iain and Nora place their last call of the day, to Charlie Figgis at ESA headquarters in Kourou. He confirms Jacquie Murdoch's story that a blocked fuel line destroyed the last mission. 'Yep, all our fault - them's the breaks! We're being pretty careful this time round, though, shouldn't get the same problem again.'
'Yes, take good care,' says Iain, remembering Ella's theory that there might be a saboteur at the launch pad.
No sooner has he put down the phone than it rings again.
Nora snatches it up. 'BBC team, Nora McShane.'
The voice of Andre Swahn comes on the line. 'Operative McShane, this is SITU. We've got an important development. You're going to have to come back to Europe first thing in the morning.'
'What?' Nora is shocked. 'We're making good progress here!'
'Never mind that - with what you've told us, it's clear the real story's going on in Norway. Knut Johannesen - frozen to death. He receives a package from Alf Hansen. Hansen was in the scout group back in Lillehammer with him. Now guess what? We looked up Alf Hansen - he froze to death yesterday morning, up near Trondheim, just about the time you landed in Cayenne. We're trying to track down the rest of the scout group now, and we want you in Norway right away to follow up - we think they're all still based there.'
'But what about all this that's going on here?' Nora explains the most recent developments.
'Try and tie up whatever loose ends you can in the next few hours, but the flight's at seven in the morning. If someone's picking off those boy scouts one by one, there might be no time to lose. We'll have a proper briefing ready for you at the airport - if all goes well.' He chuckles. 'And get some warm clothes - it's ten below in Lillehammer right now!'