The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
7.30 pm, Sunday 24th May 1998
Greg looks around the busy valley. 'In any case, there's no palace of ice near to here, that's for sure. Someone would have spotted it by now. Unless...' he trails off for a moment. 'I can think of four possibilities.
'First, it could just be a metaphor for a mountain filled with ice caves, or icy caverns within that mountain. We ought to be able to find out if such caverns exist. That's the easiest possibility.
'Or, Maddy's dream of an ice palace could just have been an interpretation for the name, derived from Knut's memories or something like that. The ice palace that Larsson might have meant just might be something as mundane as a skating rink with a grand name. We'll have to have Iain look through a phone book, or better yet an old phone book from when the scouts were young. That's the most boring possibility.
'The most bizarre is that it's something that fits in most with Norse mythology, if mythology is the right word for it. Norse legend, anyway. Norse religion, if you prefer - I know people in California who wear the Thor's hammer and worship Odin today.'
'There are a few in Edinburgh, too,' nods Ella.
'The Einherjar come from those tales. Another feature of the old stories is that if you're touched by the powers of the otherworld, you can see things that the rest of us cannot. You have the truesight. It could be that the palace of ice is right here, but none of us can see it or enter it, without the truesight. Maddy might have it; if I'm right about this, and it's a crazy theory, mind you, I'd bet the scouts have it.
'The fourth possibility, and this is the one that I think is most likely to be right, is that the scouts were victims of alien abduction, or something of a similar nature. If so, it could be that the inside of the aliens' ship seemed like an ice palace to them – perhaps the aliens need a much colder environment than we do to function at their optimum.'
'That's the one you think is most likely?' asks Ella doubtfully.
'Come on, let's rent some skis,' says Greg, and he strides towards the complex of buildings at the foot of the lift.
'Aaaaww!' sighs Maddy, momentarily moved almost to tears at the story of the poor little English boy whose parents didn't love him as much as the scouts' parents. She then develops a puzzled frown, as though probing a missing tooth with her tongue.
'What was his name?' asks Diana.
'I'm not sure... I can find out for you, if you like,' replies the Matron. 'Perhaps you would contact him for your newspaper story? An English witness to the scouts' survival, eh?' She smiles.
'What did they all get for, like, presents?' asks Maddy.
'They all got beautiful music-boxes,' says the Matron. 'Santa was very kind. He had made them himself, I think - they were all the same. One for all the children - the scouts, and the little English boy. His parents... they were rich people, on holiday here, and I think they were just enjoying themselves too much to give much thought to him. Lillehammer was famous for its nightlife in my young days.' She sighs regretfully, unlikely as this suggestion sounds.
'Who was it who played Santa?' asks Alan. 'Was he attached to the hospital?'
'No, no, we had no such arrangement then. Now one of the doctors usually does it, but not then. No, this Santa came in and offered his gifts - we had never seen him before.'
'Do you have his name?'
She frowns. 'No... it was very strange. He gave us a letter, of course, with his credentials, but we were so busy no-one read it until afterwards. And it just said for his name and address Kris Kringle, North Pole.' She laughs.
'Did any of the scouts have, er, squiggly memories? Y'know, like sometimes you don't remember stuff after, like nasty stuff happens?' Maddy looks thoughtfully at the Matron, chewing a strand of hair.
'Not as far as I know - it was not so very nasty for them, they were lucky really. One of them is our Mayor now, did you know? A very successful man. And another is a professor.'
'Dr Hammer - you said he'd passed away,' says Alan. 'What did he die of, if you don't mind me asking?'
'Cancer, poor man. Of the lung. He was a very heavy smoker.'
'What was his first name?' demands Maddy. 'It wasn't Lilly, was it? Or, um, MC?'
'It was Rolf,' says the Matron rather puzzledly. Her puzzlement is confounded when Maddy, as she is turning to leave, sneaks out a hand and pokes her in the rear.
'Oooh, Matron!' Maddy gasps in nasal pretend-shock tones, quickly breaking into a fit of childish giggles.
'I've always wanted to say that!' she gasps, as Diana drags her away.
'I think we're missing something,' says Ella that evening. 'What do all the scouts have in common? Apart from being single and in positions of power, except Ollie - but he gave his music box away, so it's obviously the key.'
'You should ask him why he gave it to Larsson,' says Nora.
'I mean, what can these men do that would bring advantage to the Conspiracy?' Ella continues, sipping reflectively at her coffee. The Skallagrim is all but deserted. 'Is there even a connection? Maybe the Conspiracy just took the opportunity to brainwash a bunch of kids so that they would strive to be in positions of power and then only use them if they proved useful - or does each person have a specific role to play in some plan? And what could that plan possibly be? We have to find out more about the scouts and what they do, or did, in their professional lives. I can see the connection between Knut and Alf Hansen, but what about Harald Liberg and the others. I mean, how could the national canoeing team coach help aliens invade Earth!' She laughs lightly.
Diana and Iain join in with hearty chuckles, but realizing that no-one else is laughing, stop embarrassedly.
'I want you all to call or visit your assigned scouts and listen to the sounds from their music boxes,' says Nora firmly. 'See if they're the same. And it'd be interesting to see what happens if Ollie listens to the sounds from the music box he gave away.'
'What - steal it from Larsson?' asks Alan worriedly.
'Or take Ollie to Larsson's house,' says Greg. 'I was thinking about doing that anyway.' He steeples his fingers together. 'We didn't find anything much on the mountain...'
Ella hastily takes a gulp of coffee to cover up the memory of Greg careering helplessly down the Olympic downhill run, his sticks flailing wildly.
'... so I guess the simplest, literal meaning of the ice palace is out.'
'I had a look,' says Iain, 'and there aren't thought to be any ice caves, or even ordinary caves, nearby - and there's no establishment called The Ice Palace or anything like that. As far as the people I spoke to knew, there wasn't thirty years ago, either.'
'On the subject of Ollie Olsen,' continues Greg, 'what would you all think about our confiding in him? Explain to him what we've learnt so far about the scouts situation, and see what, if anything, he can add to what we know. He'd surely be concerned for his brother's welfare, and for the other scouts as well.'
'I don't know,' says Nora. 'Just because he doesn't have a music box doesn't mean he's a good guy.' She shakes her head wearily, and mutters to herself 'What am I saying?'
'My instinct is that the scouts, at least unless and until something within them is switched on, are decent and benevolent people,' says Greg. 'The same is true of just about everyone we've met since we've gotten to Norway, from Virna to the matron to the police captain.' He pauses. 'Yet there have been at least four murders. There's a menace here somewhere.'
As Ella bids Greg goodnight, she says quietly 'I was playing my tape of the music box while we were going up in the cable car, and while we were searching the mountain, but... it just sounded like a load of weird noises to me. Perhaps I haven't got this truesight you were talking about.' She smiles rather weakly. 'You know, I think we might have to get Maddy up to the mountain, to perform some kind of ceremony - perhaps she could open the way to the Ice Palace? She certainly seems to have some kind of inexplicable ability.'
Greg nods. 'Another idea - hypnotic regression of Larsson or of one of the scouts might help them remember the true events of the time that they were stranded. Do you know if any of the other operatives possess the skill to perform hypnotic regression?'
Ella shakes her head.
The next morning the bulk of the team rise early for some hefty research.
Greg learns that the mountain with the cable car on is owned by the Norwegian state, and always has been: it is part of a national park. He also establishes that ytterbium, a silvery metal, would be unlikely to look very like carbon black if powdered - it would be a dark powder, but it would be much more sparkly. Also it would be considerably denser.
Iain visits the library, and spends an instructive few hours reading up on the Einherjar. He finds that they are the Chosen Slain, the spirits of dead Norse warriors who fought and died bravely, and that they have the honour of fighting alongside the gods in the final battle of Ragnarok (and losing, incidentally, but no-one seems to mind that too much). They are summoned to fight by Heimdall, blowing on his horn. The term Einherjar is also occasionally applied to other groups of spiritual warriors, for example the Einherjar of the Herlathing, who are spirits who ride alongside Herne the Hunter on nights of new moon.
Iain next turns to Erik Bloodaxe, who is a historical personage. He was the leader of a group of tenth-century Vikings who first raided and then conquered the north-east coast of England. He is generally credited with having founded the city of York. He has a reputation as a capable but harsh ruler, and is something of a traditional folk hero, representing the more bloodthirsty side of the Viking way than people like Erik the Red or Leif Ericsson.
Ella is also in the library, searching for references to ice palaces. She has to hunt, but she does find an interesting account in a collection of legends gathered by the eighteenth-century mythographer Egil Soderstrom. The story originates from the extreme north of Norway. It tells how the hunter Sig drove his dog sled far north across the ice, pursuing a seal which evaded his harpoon. He became lost in a realm of mighty ice mountains, and despaired for his life, before stumbling into a valley in which lay a great palace carved of ice. The palace was owned by a giant called simply The Master, who had as slaves large numbers of small trolls who toiled for him. Sig was likewise enslaved and worked for what seemed like many months - although day and night did not seem to pass in those lands - carving fine gems, diamonds, rubies and emeralds, from the ice, alongside the trolls. Each of these gems carried a great gift with it, the gift of kingliness, of wisdom, of bravery, whatever The Master had instructed. Periodically The Master gathered up the finished gems and distributed them secretly among the people of the world, so that all who deserved were given the appropriate gifts. Sig had little contact with The Master, knowing only that he had arrived at this place in the very ancient times, alone, having fled the company of his brothers and sisters, riding a great flying sled, and had built the palace himself. With much difficulty Sig eventually managed to escape and make his way back to his village, where he was surprised to find that eighty years had passed.
Iain spends the rest of the morning combing through back copies of the Lillehammers Nyheter for stories about the cable car, the mountain, the scouts, Larsson, the Mayor, the hospital and the late Dr Hammer, but is unable to add anything to what has already been learnt.
Greg has also been asking around the town. He learns that there are worshippers of the old gods around today, but they are not thought much of by respectable folk: they have links with extreme right-wing politics. The main group is called the VAM, which translates as 'White Aryan Resistance'.
Greg then goes to the hospital and meets with its chaplaincy. He finds that there are both Catholic and Lutheran priests on hand, but they do not keep detailed records of their chats with patients. The priest who would have seen the scouts, thirty years ago, is sadly no longer of this world.
Nora meanwhile is calling SITU for news of the chemical tests. 'Definitely an enzyme, and a rather interesting one,' says the researcher to whom she speaks. 'It sequesters heat - in the presence of stomach enzymes there's a tremendously endothermic reaction.'
Nora struggles to keep up with this. 'You mean it would cool down someone who ate it?'
'More than cool them down. We reckon that a couple of sweets' worth would freeze the eater to death.'
'What?' Nora's knowledge of biochemistry is limited, but she feels sure she would have heard if such a thing were possible. 'That can't be proper science, surely.'
There is a faint sigh. 'That's what I said when I first saw the results, Agent McShane. But... there's some strange stuff going on here. Given what you've learned on your previous mission, you might not be surprised to learn that ytterbium's involved: there's a nest of four ytterbium atoms at the heart of the enzyme cofactor.'
'What is it with this ytterbium?' wonders Nora.
'We don't know yet, but it seems like it might be pretty fundamental to several of the things SITU's investigating,' confides her interlocutor.
Musing on this, Nora digs out the original packet of sweets found in Knut's office, and inspects it carefully. It takes some searching, but eventually she finds what she is looking for: in the base, next to one of the seams, is a tiny hole, such as might be made by a needle. She guesses that it must have been through this that the enzyme was introduced.
After lunch the team divide up once more. Greg goes to visit Michael Rehnstrom, who lives not far from the apartment of Martin Olsen, in a small house which looks as though it can only have been built in the last few years. Its roof is covered with black solar energy panels.
Rehnstrom himself is a cheerful, thin, energetic man who greets Greg warmly. He, it turns out, has spoken to Olsen, and is up to date on the fates of his boyhood chums.
Greg swiftly brings up the subject of the musical box Rehnstrom received that fateful Christmas Day in 1967.
'Yes, I have it here,' says the computer consultant, rising to a shelf running up the side of the spiral staircase. He fetches down a musical box identical in every respect to Knut Johannesen's.
'Do you mind if I play it?' asks Greg cautiously.
'Be my guest!' smiles Rehnstrom, settling back into his low-slung chrome and canvas chair.
Greg gently turns the handle, and the plangent discords and odd tones fill the room: it sounds exactly identical to Knut's. He is aware, hearing the real thing once more, that the tape recordings Nora made come nowhere near capturing the weird quality of the music, if such it can be called. They are strange in their own right, but nowhere near as disturbing as the sound actually produced by the music boxes.
A curious change at once comes over Rehnstrom. He stiffens, cocking his head like a dog, and an expression of vacancy overtakes his features, his eyes wide and blank.
Greg is ready for any sudden movement, but Rehnstrom does nothing but listen.
As soon as the last note dies away, he relaxes back into his former position, regarding Greg amiably. 'Go on, then - aren't you going to play it?' He seems unaware that that is what has just happened.
Greg opens his mouth, then closes it again uneasily.
Maddy and Ella head out into the snow to attempt the cable car once more. Maddy is her usual ebullient self. 'The scoutmaster talked about slaves, yeah? Well, that fits with my theory, see? The scouts are, like, programmed puppets or whatever and that's why they've all got, y'know, high-up suit jobs or whatever - um, 'cept Ollie. An' they're all controlled by the thing in the ice palace in my dream - which sounds sort-of like Cthulhu...' She shivers deliciously.
'Isn't he supposed to live under the sea, or something, though?' Ella asks vaguely.
'Well, whatever. Anyway, they must have some way of hiding the citadel thingy, yeah? I bet I can find it, though, with my Double-Subliminal Dream Machine...' She claps her hands excitedly and crams the headphones onto her ears.
The two women wait until there is no-one else in the queue and get into the cable car, Ella looking slightly nervously out of the front window as it begins its jerky ascent.
Maddy pulls out the photo, placing it on the right side of her notebook, and allows her gaze to defocus. Taking her pencil in her left hand, she starts to cover the paper in barely-legible scribbles. 'With automatic writing,' she murmurs, 'the trick is to, like, just forget what your hand's doing.'
Then, quite sharply, she stiffens, turning her head from side to side, sniffing. Ella watches enthralled, assuming that this is part of the ritual. Maddy's mouth opens and drool starts to come out, with words and other sounds mixed up in it. Her hands are still.
After about a minute of this, as the cable car is approaching the summit, Maddy slumps back, her head dropping and the pad sliding down off her lap. Ella anxiously moves across to tend her and mop her chin, and as the car bumps to a halt Maddy comes round.
She looks about herself slightly blearily, and at the mostly blank pad. 'Oh poo. Must've dozed off.'
'No, I think you were in a trance, you were saying all sorts of things!' says Ella excitedly.
'Wow! What like?'
'I couldn't make much of it out, it was mostly just noises, but there were words in it - take care, a few times, and they know, you are few, protect yourselves. And then right at the end you said quite clearly, Don't accept sweets from strangers.' Ella squeezes Maddy's hands. 'And it was all in a very odd, deep voice, not like your normal one - more like a man's.'
Diana and Alan have hopped onto an Oslo train and made their way to the factory where Rubbish Sweets are made. It is owned by an independent company, and makes nothing else: there are around eighty employees. Introducing themselves as journalists (the Norwegians seem to treat this as an honourable profession granting the right to ask all sorts of questions) they learn that Knut Johannesen was a regular customer. The company made a monthly despatch of a box of sweets to him on standing order. 'He was a man with a great taste in sweets,' says the despatch officer sorrowfully. 'Even when he was posted abroad, our sweets kept him in touch with Norway.'
'When did you send the last batch out?' asks Diana.
'It can only have been a couple of weeks ago - yes, I remember, it was just after the fire alarm. Would you believe, we had to stand outside in the cold for two hours, with no hats or coats? Even at this time of year it was very unpleasant. And I had just written out Mr Johannesen's address label and stuck it on the box. And after all that, it was a hoax.'
'How annoying!' sympathizes Diana.
'Yes,' sniffs the despatch officer, 'and those clumsy firemen must have left a window open - in our postroom it was freezing cold, even colder than outside it seemed like. A false alarm! I bet I know who it was set the alarm off, as well.'
'Who?' asks Alan.
'Well, my friend Inge, who works in sales above us here, said there was a suspicious-looking man hanging around outside all morning - a Japanese man, with a funny scar under his eye. He looked like a prowler. And he wasn't there after the alarm.'
As they leave the factory, Alan says to Diana 'Where now - Hansen's house? Liberg's place? Anywhere else?'
Nora is sitting in her hotel room and has just finished making some calls of her own when the phone rings, making her start violently.
'Miss McShane? You are the head of the team writing about the boy scouts?' It is the Matron to whom Maddy, Alan and Diana spoke the previous day.
'That's right,' says Nora smoothly. 'How can I help you?'
'I said I would find something out for your colleagues yesterday, and I have only now been able to find the records - we have very deep archives here!' She laughs good-naturedly. 'I said I would find the name of the little English boy who was here when the scouts were here too.'
'Oh, right, great,' says Nora, getting her notebook ready. 'What was he called?'
'His name was Paul Elliot,' says the Matron.
There is a snap as Nora's pen breaks in her fingers.