The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
7.55pm, Monday 25th May 1998
Ella checks Maddy's pulse and pupils, which are respectively very weak indeed and contracted almost to points. She feels herself starting to panic as the cold continues to creep over Maddy's small, frail body. Then a sense of determination comes over her. 'No, damn them - we lost Uriah, I'm not about to lose you too! Now THINK Ellen, THINK!'
She examines the posy closely, remembering what she has learnt from her author's manuscript, and comes to a decision. She finds the mobile phone and taps out Greg's number.
'I know we were given them when we were very small,' says Martin Olsen. 'It may be a firm that is no longer in business.'
Greg replies at once, 'I suspect that these music boxes may not have been produced in a factory, but rather are the work of some craftsman. There's no manufacturer's stamp on them anywhere, and the quality of sound that they create is only hinted at by what you heard on the videotape - which is probably just as well, or you might have fallen into that strange state again.'
Martin nods intelligently as Diana and Ollie re-emerge from the bedroom.
'I wonder if they might have been made by the Santa Claus that visited you that Christmas when you were all in the hospital and gave you the music boxes,' continues Greg. 'As Mayor, I wonder if you might have some way to learn who he was? Even if he didn't construct them himself, he would know where they came from.'
'I shall make inquiries at the hospital,' says Martin decisively, placing his hands on his knees preparatory to levering himself out of the chair.
'Anything I can do to help, Martin, I...' says Ollie nervously, a look of misery on his face. Clearly the realization that his act of generosity has made him inadvertently responsible for Roald Larsson's sad condition has hit him hard.
'Oh, Ollie, really I don't think you'll be much use, will you?' replies his brother dismissively.
Ollie's face scrumples and he hunches his shoulders defensively.
Greg observes this fraternal tension unhappily. It is not without some trepidation that he has set Martin Olsen on the trail of the Voice, as much for the Mayor's sake as for any other reason. Yet, he reasons, if nothing is done to break the grip over the onetime scouts, their fate could turn out to be even sadder than Larsson's. Each of them is alone, grown apart even from one another, and if ever they are abandoned by the Voice, there's no knowing what might happen to them. Clearly, though, rebuilding the bridges between them, and to the rest of society, is going to be no overnight task.
And there can be no question that Roald Larsson has been visited by a lingering curse which has made a ruin of what probably should have been his finest years - if anything can be done to help Larsson, it must be done. For no more reason than his stewardship of the young scouts, so far as Greg can tell, a purely benevolent motive, Larsson's life has been ruined; but perhaps not beyond salvation. For one thing, removal of the music-box should prevent an further deterioration. After that - residential psychiatric care? Perhaps the hypnotist SITU are sending out will be able to provide some help, or ideas.
Just at that point Greg's cellphone vibrates in his pocket. Colour drains from his face as he hears what Ella has to say, but he retains the presence of mind to make a mental note of her precise instructions.
He puts the phone away, realizing that everyone is staring worriedly at him, and recomposes his features. 'Diana, we have to go at once. Martin, Ollie, I'm sorry to have to leave you so suddenly - Ollie, I'm sure you'll make sure that Mr Larsson is all right.'
The two operatives swiftly pack the equipment together and, as they head for the door, Greg calls over his shoulder 'I'll be back in touch with you both tomorrow. And under no circumstances eat Garbage Sweets!'
Martin is just saying 'What -?' as the door slams shut.
Ella closes up the phone and rummages quickly in her and Maddy's things, referring to the by now dog-eared manuscript. She turns Maddy's chill body, placing it in a fresh patch of snow, so that her head is pointing to the south, and draws a circle in the air around her with her hunting knife. At the north point of the circle she says 'Hail Neith, One Who Is, Queen of the North'; at the west point 'Hail Sekhmet, Powerful Female, Queen of the West'; at the south point 'Hail Isis, Great Sorceress, Queen of the South'; and at the east point she says 'Hail Nephthys, Mistress of the House, Queen of the East'.
She then takes her place standing at Maddy's head: the girl's skin is now almost devoid of colour.
'I should think Australia First would be interested in an article about your people,' says Nora to Jens Larby.
The young man swells with pride at the thought that nationalists on the far side of the world will soon be marvelling at his antics.
'Let's keep in touch, OK?' says Nora. She looks up to see that Iain, who has his cellphone pressed to one ear, is frantically trying to attract her attention. 'Excuse me, please.' She walks across.
Iain rather warily explains what Greg has told him. As he sees Nora's cynical expression he says 'Nora, I know you're not really convinced about all this "magic" stuff, but I think we should at least try it. I know that before joining SITU I would never have believed in anything like that. But after our little "adventure" in Germany I'm not sure exactly what to believe.' Nora blanches slightly as she remembers. Iain grimaces and continues 'That was a seriously fucking weird time. I've also seen enough weird martial arts stuff to know that we're capable of far more with ourselves than we first think. Let's give it a crack and see how it goes. If it all turns out to be crap, I'll help you get drunk back at the hotel!'
They head out of the bar together, leaving Jens and the other VAM members gazing puzzledly after Nora.
'... have you got all that, Alan?' asks Greg. 'Good. Right then, you'd better get moving.'
He turns back to Diana, who has been listening to Ella's relayed instructions herself while she urges the Saab around the skirt of the mountain. 'Next time I get the chance, Diana, I'm going to ask Andre Swahn, or another SITU functionary, for permission to explain to you, Alan and Maddy the remarks that you have heard us making about the Heidelberg mission.'
Diana nods. 'I know a little about it, from the debrief package SITU sent me, but it was rather sketchy. You might want to know about what we were getting up to in Mexico, too.'
'For the moment, anyway,' Greg continues, 'what is important is that the Master is surely Evil, and that supernatural forces exist, and exist powerfully to transform a living man into some sort of zombie, and to animate the truly dead.'
Diana, thinking about the nightmarish end to the skull reunion ceremony at the Merida Sheraton, and the grisly fate from which Maddy, Lawrence and Corrin were able to rescue George, nods again. It is unlikely that anything Greg has to relate will prove much of a shock to her system, after what she herself has experienced.
Ella bows once, takes angelica, clove, basil, garlic and rosemary in her hand, and walk around Maddy, sprinkling it over her while saying 'Great Hastsebaad banish this evil from Madeleine's body, Wondrous Asalluha exorcise this pain from Madeleine's body' three times. Returning to Maddy's head, she lights one of the candles left over from the binding ritual and places it beside Maddy, saying 'Great God Haephustus, Lord of all that burns, bring fire to ward off this cold.'
The darkness is almost complete now, and a chill wind is whipping the powdery snow along the ground. A skyful of bright stars glares down on the two women, many more than Ella is used to seeing in Edinburgh; but her attention is not on the heavens, rather on the waif at her feet. She moves to the north point of the circle, by Maddy's feet, bows, and places on the ground some of the leftover silk rope, saying 'Goddess Neith, Lady of Weaving whose power helped me bind this group together. Help us now, let that binding be strengthened despite our great distance from each other, I beseech thee.' She then moves to the western point and bows, pouring some of Maddy's vodka onto the ground saying 'Goddess Sekhmet, Lady of War, do battle on this sister's behalf. Use your great strength on behalf of we who are so weak, I beseech thee.' At the southern point Ella bows and places some of the leftover mistletoe and daffodils on the ground, saying 'Goddess Isis, Lady of Magic, most powerful of all. Protect this sister from those that would harm her, protect her as you did Insety your grandchild, I beseech thee.' At the east point she bows again and lays the leftover rowan and garlic flowers on the ground, saying 'Goddess Nephthys, Lady of the House. Give this sister the shelter of your home and protect her as you did your nephew Hapy. I beseech thee.'
Alan, to the north of the mountain, gazes up into the star-strewn sky, thinking of Maddy and the kindness she has shown him - she is the only person who seems really to understand the experiences he has been through. He clutches the posy to his heart, and concentrates on the unseen crest of the mountain, where she lies.
Iain is east of the mountain, holding his posy and concentrating deeply on friendship, warmth and Maddy. Having prepared himself, he runs through an exercise to focus his chi, and projects it towards Ella's position, as a beam of energy.
Nora, as she is from Australia, the Southern Land, has been given the station to the south of the mountain. When first briefed she was more than a little cynical about the whole exercise, but as she has seen the conviction of the others she is taking the idea more seriously. Holding her magic posy, she aims warmth and strength towards Maddy.
Greg and Diana reach their station to the west of the mountain just in time to see its peak painted with the last traces of the dying sun, thanks to some rather risky driving from Diana. They face the mountain, holding their posies to their hearts.
Diana concentrates on her feelings of warmth for Maddy, remembering all that they have been through together, and imagining a beam of light issuing from the posy extending all the way to Ella. Once that image is fixed, she gradually begins to push those down the beam of light, building up the strength of the image. Maddy appearing at the Esplendido, wearing blazing bright Bermudas and caked in orange suncream; squinting up into the light at Chichen Itza.
Greg meanwhile, as the sun sets behind him, endeavours to continue to represent it emblematically. He is a profoundly Western man, born and raised in the blessed isle of the Uttermost West, or at least the nearest equivalent in the world as we know it, whose home is in Westwood and whose purposeful life had been dedicated to an enlightened stewardship until he was forced to seek a new life, which he now more fully begins. If Maddy's power is founded in Chaos, Greg seeks his in the Law which he wrote and which he practises still. He remembers his oaths, at the bar and as a lawmaker, which bind him still. He seeks to signify, as he begins the ritual of the posy, all the finest in what the West can be said to represent, to focus that into the posy along with everything else that Ella has told him, and to channel that worth to Ella and Maddy.
The fifteen minutes of preparation time now spent, Ella moves to Maddy's head, kneels down, lifts her arms out to the side, looks straight up and says 'I ask again great Gods, help us, we fight for good and right as best we know how. Isis, I dedicate myself to you in this and in all things, your power is unsurpassed, help me now. Enfold Madeleine in your wings, warm her and banish this cold forever.'
She closes her eyes...
She is on an island of rock, floating in the midst of cloud. Maddy is before her, stretched out - her essence is thin and weak. She is shrouded in ice, darts of cold are sticking into her, and more fly in with every instant. Above is a blue arch, and as Ella gazes upwards she sees that it is the body of a woman, Nut, stretched across the heavens, the stars painted on her skin. To the four corners, rising out of the cloud, are four more women. To the south, a seated queen, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, from her hand issue strands of cotton that stretch towards Ella and to the other quarters. To the west, a great lion-headed woman, her snarl preparing to do battle with those who threaten her children. To the south, another queen, the disk of the sun on her head, her eyes dark and promising magical powers. To the east, the fourth woman, her headdress bearing the hieroglyphs of her name, her arms reaching out to enfold and protect.
At the feet of each of the women is a male figure, pressed against her skirt. Each of them bears a jar, its lid tight shut, and Ella knows that into these jars is Maddy's life-essence, her major organs. By Neith is jackal-headed Duamutef, who holds Maddy's stomach. By Sekhmet stands hawk-headed Khebshenuf, guardian of the intestines. By Isis is her son's son Insety, whose head is human, and in his jar is Maddy's liver. And at Nephthys's feet stands baboon-headed Hapy, who holds the lungs.
'Isis, Lady of Magic, give me strength,' Ella chants to herself, over and over, and Isis smiles on her. With a crack of thunder the four sons of Horus open their jars, and bolts of light flash from them to Maddy's body. Four beams of warmth pulse from the four compass points, melting the ice and driving back the cold. Nephthys raises her hands, and the darts falter, and fade. Sekhmet roars, and Neith draws back her bow, as the vision fades, and Ella finds herself in darkness.
Slowly she opens her eyes.
'...uuh...c-cold...i-is that you, mother?... Ganesh?... no, um, E-Ella!' Teeth chattering, Maddy's arms reach up and hug Ella tightly, as consciousness swims back around her. Slowly, as Ella cradles her, her shivering subsides.
Tears pour down Ella's cheeks as she hugs Maddy fiercely, mingling with the melting snow.
'... and then the... the, um, thing in the corner saw me and it all went freezy-cold an' then I blacked out. Ella, you saved me! With your Wicca thingies!' Maddy grins broadly, huddled in the duvet, and hugs Ella again.
'And, oh! I had all these thoughts, like it all sort-of makes sense, well bits of it. It's Santa Claus! That's who's controlling the scouts! Flying sled, presents, elves, lives in the frozen north - it must be him! Ho ho ho!'
She looks round at the group, all gathered around her, basking in the attention and the warmth of their regard. Even Nora is smiling.
'Okay, like, whoever this Master guy is - astronaut or alien or whatever - he's been, y'know, hanging out up there long enough for folks to start making up stories of, like, St Nicholas, or Santa Claus or Father Christmas, yeah? An' he's, like, fallen out with his "brothers and sisters", whoever they are. An' he wants the big probe thingy to go up and scatter black carbony stuff all over the sky. Maybe it'll, I dunno, hide him from satellites or something...'
'Ella,' says Greg when they are alone together, 'I wanted to talk with you about what I did during the ritual.' He explains what was in his mind as he took up his station to the west of the mountain. 'And I included thoughts of you yourself, as well as Maddy. Does my adding this sort of emphasis to the ritual throw up any sort of potential problem? I need to know for the future.'
'I'm really not sure,' says Ella. 'According to the book... we're all equals in the Craft, although I was leading - we all have the same Earth power within us, we're all children of the same Mother. I guess you'd have to be a bit careful before improvising too much, though, in case what you were doing conflicted somehow with what I was doing. In Egyptian myth the West is the Land of the Dead... It seems to have worked this time... but perhaps better check with me beforehand in future, so we can make sure we're pulling together? If we ever have to go through this again, that is - Goddess forbid.' She looks very pale and drained.
'It's urgent to try to affect affairs at Project Demeter,' says Greg. 'It's an imperative to try to phone Demeter with the news of Knut's password and try to learn what might have been inside his diaries.'
'They might contain valuable information,' Ella agrees. 'I'm inclined to think that we are dealing with two factions of the same "race" here, and that the Voice is basically working for good - after all it's not the one killing these scouts.'
'We don't know he's definitely a baddie,' says Maddy reflectively. 'I know he tried to, like, freeze me to death an' everything, but he might've thought I was helping the Chinesey guy.' She takes a slurp of coffee, to which she has added a generous dash of blackcurrant Absolut.
'Depending on what we find in Knut's diaries,' says Ella, 'I think we should let the carbon black be put into the probe - as it may be some kind of step to prevent aliens or whatever communicating by interfering with their signals.' She sighs and massages her temples. 'This is all rather hazy - we need more facts.'
'I reckon the Chinesey guy - or someone like him - will be on his way to Project Demeter, to stop Paul Elliot from putting his carbony stuff in the probe. And since we're prob'ly more on Paul Elliot's side than the Chinesey guy's, I think we should warn him.' Maddy shrugs. 'I wish the bad guys would, like, wear black hats or something, so we cold know who not to help...'
Alan applies himself to his laptop with a will, attempting to tap into the Demeter system. After a couple of hours, though, he has to admit himself defeated: the firewall that (presumably) Joubert has set up around the whole system prevents any remote login.
'We'd never have guessed that word with, like, the 'O' with the funny line through it,' muses Maddy.
'It's good practice,' says Alan distractedly, 'to have at least one of the characters not be a standard alphanumeric - helps protect against password crackers.' He shrugs despondently.
'Okay, let's try calling Joubert and see if he can let us in,' says Iain.
The time difference is such that it is still early evening in French Guyana, and after a bit of patience waiting to be transferred by various international operators and ESA staff at Kourou, he is through, albeit with a considerable satellite delay and some nasty atmospheric crackle.
'Hallo, Bernard Joubert?' shouts Iain. 'This is Iain Blayne - we met last week.'
'Ah - corbleu!' says the unmistakable Joubert faintly. There is a pause, then 'Monsieur Blayne! We speak again! How may I help you?'
'We've found Knut Johannesen's password!' yells Iain excitedly. 'And we have a warning - watch out for a man named Paul Elliot! He's using your computer without authorization!'
'Johannesen's password? You have it?' Joubert replies. He pauses again, and under the whoops and crackles on the line Iain is almost sure he can hear another person talking. Joubert's voice is flat and uninflected, almost monotonous. 'Very interesting. I have no more need of it.'
'What?' says Iain, surprised. 'What about this Paul Elliot?'
'Paul Elliot? He is... Ahw!' Joubert cries in pain and there is a clatter as he presumably drops the receiver. More noises off, and when the Frenchman's voice returns it is quiet and pained. 'I have never heard of this man, Mr Blayne - I think you must be mistaken. He has certainly not been here.' The phone clicks dead.
As Iain hangs up, the team look at each other. 'I don't know exactly what was going on there,' says Iain slowly, 'but it didn't sounds good.'
'Well, that's it,' says Nora. 'Some of us'll have to go back.'
Greg phones Andre Swahn at SITU and briefs him on the story so far and the decisions reached. He is posting a copy of the video. 'How much will the hypnotist know? And how much can we tell him or her?'
'Her. It's an operative named Celine Coombes. She'll be familiar with everything you've told me: you need hold nothing back. As for this other matter - this is rather irregular, but I authorize the four of you to share details of the Neckar case with Operatives Hook and Knight.'
'What about Alan Margeson?'
'Not him. Too junior.'
Diana, Alan and Nora load themselves, their belongings (including a musical box and a copy of the video), and most of the TV equipment into the train for Oslo, accompanied by many encouragements and warnings from those members of the party remaining in Lillehammer.
'We'll need to do some more filming, as cover - that'll be our excuse for returning,' says Nora. 'And I'm going to try and talk to Sioux and Spider, to see if they know any more about Knut and his colleagues' plans.' She at least seems to be rather cheerful to be leaving the land of ice and snow behind her.
Iain, returning from the railway station, calls in on the address the group have for Sylla Trogard, niece of the late Dr Hammer. He finds that although she has preserved some of her uncle's papers, there is nothing that appears to have a significant bearing on the case of the scouts: just the local newspaper reports he has already seen.
He comes back to the hotel and digs out his old phone book, finding the number of Mats Gele, alongside whom he worked while contracting at Saab Ericsson Space. After the usual chit-chat and catching up on each other's lives, Iain casually throws carbon black into the conversation. 'Does it have any special electromagnetic properties? I've just been on a short job for ESA and one of their blokes seemed keen on getting some of it into orbit. Not a clue why and you know what these scientists are like. Couldn't give you a straight answer to two plus two!'
Mats chuckles in agreement. 'And how much of our taxes is paying for it? You'd never guess, to talk to them. No, carbon black doesn't have any particular E-M properties - I mean, it'll diffuse signals, but no more than any other dust, and not as well as a metallic dust. Putting it into orbit sounds a bit odd to me, though - depending on what height orbit, of course, and on how much. If you're not careful you could get a Mount St Helens effect.'
'What's that?' asks Iain warily.
'Oh, you know - when the volcano erupted, it threw a big cloud of ash into the atmosphere. Up here in Europe we just got some spectacular sunsets for a year or so, but in the tropics there was quite a bit of damage done to weather systems. Because the dust cuts out the sun's rays, you see, and it persists up there for a long time: it's quite inert. Lots of extra rain, unseasonal cold, flooding - some people say the effects are still with us more than a decade on. That's the trouble with weather, chaotic system you know!'
'This guy was just talking about a couple of kilos,' says Iain.
'Well, that could be enough to cause localized problems - once that dust gets up into the stratosphere it spreads very thinly, you know.'
Ella spends the morning, together with Greg, touring the hotels of Lillehammer. She is claiming to be a photographer of tourists, who has a snap of the Japanese man but has lost the address to send the photo to.
She finds to her relief that he does not appear to be staying in Lillehammer at the moment: at least, none of the hotel staff she speaks to recognize her description, and it is a rather memorable one.
She then moves to the hotels of Oslo, and strikes lucky on her third attempt: a man of his appearance, who gave the name Yatsuo Shimaya, was staying at the Polar Hotel until last night, but has now checked out. He left his address as 2-Kawabashi-chome, Sapporo 24113, Japan.
Iain heads to the library once more, takes up his regular seat and looks into carbon black. He finds that it is simply very finely divided particles of carbon, available in grades according to how small they are - tenths of microns is typical. The main application area is in inks, mostly those used for computer printers and for presses. It is also much used as a chemical catalyst, as the small size of the particles can greatly increase reaction loci, provided of course that the medium is one which does not oxidize carbon. Furthermore it serves as a reagent in its own right, the most reliable means for introducing carbon into a reaction.
Essentially, carbon black is a modern term for soot, and as such there is much reference to it in occult and alchemical literature. Alchemists generally thought of it as something to get rid of: they tended to be pleased when they found soot produced by a reaction, as it meant the base dark nature of the substance to be purified was being driven off. Occultists have favoured using the soot of particular burnings for specialized purposes: Cornelius Agrippa is said to have favoured soot obtained from the combustion of black goat's fat for the ink in which he wrote his great tomes. In general soot of the appropriate source can be widely used for making signs and markings to accompany a ritual, and for marking the skin.
It seems likely, though, that the carbon black supplied to Johannesen and Elliot was of petrochemical origin, as all is these days, probably having its origin in the Statfjord oilfield in the North Sea.
It is nine in the morning, local time, when Nora, Alan and Diana land at Cayenne. Nora will brook no delaying and at once drags the others onto the Cayenne shuttle.
Once at ESA headquarters she meets with Charlie Figgis, the team's contact from their previous visit.
'The Demeter probe? Takes off the day after tomorrow, at dawn, all being well. We're expecting to take delivery of it tomorrow morning: the Demeter people are driving it up from their base, and we just have to fit it into the launch vehicle. Should be pretty straightforward!'
'What's its planned trajectory? Will it pass over Norway?'
'Goodness, no,' he laughs. 'It'll just spiral up southwards, heading out over the Atlantic, to an equatorial orbit. There's hardly any latitudinal movement involved.'
'Good,' says Nora relievedly. 'You might be able to help me with another matter - do you know where the two eco-terrorists captured by Fabry are being kept?'
'Oho!' Charlie whistles. 'Didn't you hear about that? They blew the gaff on old Fabry - turns out he's a bit of an eco-nut himself! He's in the same group as them - the Green Dawn Brigade, it's called. Pretty nasty pieces of work, apparently, they've killed people before now.'
'What happened to Fabry?' asks Nora, agog.
'He was sacked, of course - Jacquie Murdoch's running the project now, she's a sensible sort - and I heard he just wandered off into the jungle, went walkabout. He'd better stay out there if he knows what's good for him, there's a hell of a stink waiting for him if he ever comes back this way!' He laughs without a great deal of kindness.
Greg goes to meet Celine Coombes at Lillehammer railway station at around two o'clock. She is a brisk woman of around forty, with a dark blonde urchin cut, grey eyes, a smart navy trouser suit and sensible shoes.
'Senator Wentworth?' She shakes his hand firmly. 'I've read your reports. Admirably concise.' In person her manner is much more brisk than would be suggested by the debriefing rubric Greg has received from her. 'I don't have much time, so let's get to work - where's the subject?'
'I thought we'd start with Michael Rehnstrom,' says Greg. He had wanted Martin Olsen, but he is off in Stockholm today on parliamentary business. Rehnstrom was keen to help, though, when he saw the video.
He answers the door a little nervously: Iain, Ella and Maddy are already present. There is a round of introductions, and Rehnstrom makes coffee for everyone. 'So, how will the therapy start?' he asks.
'Therapy?' says Coombes. 'I'm not a hypnotherapist, Mr Rehnstrom, I'm just a hypnotist. I can regress you and express your memories, but I can't treat you. You probably won't even know what's happened.'
'Probably?' asks Greg anxiously. 'Will he, or won't he?'
Micke looks from one to the other.
'The important thing is that we will know the truth,' says Coombes, snapping open her briefcase. 'Mr Rehnstrom may or may not, and you operatives may decide to tell him or not - I'll advise you on the security aspects when we've heard what he has to say. My task is simply to pull the information out.'
Micke looks distinctly worried now. Greg gives him a nod intended to be reassuring, but he too is rather perturbed by Coombes's ruthless attitude, not to say her tactlessness.
'Roll up your sleeve,' says Coombes, taking out a hypodermic and filling it from a small phial of colourless liquid.
'What's that?' asks Maddy curiously. 'Can I have some?'
'Sodium pentothal. It'll help you talk freely, Mr Rehnstrom.'
Micke looks as though he wishes fervently he were somewhere else now, but he bares his arm obediently and allows himself to be injected.
Coombes looks at her watch. After thirty seconds has passed, she takes out a small torch-like instrument and holds it in front of Micke's face, its light flashing rapidly on and off. He gazes slackly at it.
'Who is your protector, Micke? Who gives you instructions?'
'Kris Kringle,' he murmurs in a whispery voice. Greg, who is filming this, has to turn up the gain on the microphone. 'He looks after all the good boys.'
'Who opposes him? Who are the enemy?'
'They... have no name. They are his brothers and sisters. They live far away, each alone. But their arms are long.'
'Why do they fight him?'
'I don't know.'
'Where is his base? The ice palace?'
'I don't know. Far to the north.'
'Have you ever been there?'
'No. He told me never to.'
'What else did he tell you?'
'First, to play the musical box every day at noon, to receive instructions. Then, all sorts of things... how to do well at school. What to read. He helped me and protected me when I was a boy. Then... later... he told me what software to develop. To sell well.'
'What did he tell you about the others? The Einherjar?' Coombes's voice is firm, insistent, probing.
'To always help each other. We are a team... we scouts, and the English boy Paul. We were chosen, and we will give our all for him. In the new world to come we will be rewarded.'
'The new world? What is that?'
Just at that point Rehnstrom is rudely interrupted by a loud crash of breaking glass from the upstairs landing, followed by the light thud of a body landing dextrously on floorboards. The operatives, who have been watching his lips raptly, jolt to alertness.
'The skylight!' says Celine Coombes. 'It appears we have company.'