The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
4.15 pm / 12.15 pm, Tuesday 26th May 1998
'Well, if it's Shimaya, he's no Ninja, at least!' exclaims Ella as the broken glass continues to patter down into the central atrium space of the house. She takes her ice-axe out from her belt and moves warily to the door of the room.
Greg pulls his cellphone out, quickly types a number and says crisply 'We've been invaded through the skylight upstairs - come in at once, and follow me upstairs.' He types another number, and says 'Hello? Police, please!'
Iain is also bending over Rehnstrom, and says in broken Norwegian, 'Micke! You are in danger! We are your friends, but the enemy is here. You will wake up now and be ready to defend yourself and come with us.'
Micke, still in his trance, says in Norwegian 'Yes... I will come...' He shows no signs of waking up, but he allows Iain and Maddy to pick him up under the arms and drag him towards the back of the house. Celine Coombes, who has smoothly packed away her instruments and closed her case, accompanies them.
Greg seizes up a poker from the hearth while talking to the police clerk, tosses the phone in the vague direction of the departing Celine to finish the conversation, and charges out into the hallway making a good deal of noise. Ella follows him.
'Maddy, keep an eye on Micke and if things look like they're getting out of hand then get out as quickly as you can,' says Iain. As they pass through the kitchen he snatches up a mop that is leaning against the sink, and plucks its head free.
Nora is greatly disturbed by the news of Fabry, but thinks quickly on her feet. 'We need to go back there... to do some more filming, will that be OK?'
'You only just left!' Charlie Figgis protests amusedly.
'We were called away on an emergency assignment, but there's still some bits and pieces to tie up here.' Nora leans over his desk, smiling winningly. 'Any chance of a lift down?'
Charlie sighs in mock annoyance. 'Oo, more than my job's worth... you'll have to make it up to me somehow! How about a credit in the film?'
Nora had thought that he was going to make a slightly different kind of suggestion. 'You could be Best Boy if you play your cards right!'
'Good God,' says Alan anxiously, 'have you seen the weather?' The sky has darkened heavily, although it is only a little way into the afternoon. A long line of brownish-black clouds is massing in from the southern horizon, and the tops of the palm trees in the square outside are being plucked by occasional gusts.
'Don't worry about that, a spot of rain never hurt the old bus yet,' says Charlie cheerfully, pointing to his Landrover outside.
'You might want to take a gun, though,' suggests Nora. 'What with all these dangerous eco-terrorists running around.'
Greg thrusts Ella behind him as he ascends the stairs, poker at the ready. He has not reached halfway to the landing here is a blur of motion above, and over the banisters onto him leaps a figure, dressed all in black, with a black hood shading his face.
Greg is knocked flat by the impact, and his assailant utters a hiss of satisfaction, pinning his poker arm.
Ella, reacting quickly, steps swiftly up two steps and calls out 'Ah, Mr Shimaya, I presume?' As the intruder turns back to look at her she strikes with reversed ice-axe in a flat arc at his head.
Shimaya (for it is indeed he) easily ducks under the blow, but as Ella recovers springs up from Greg to poise on the landing above both of them. 'You are not Rehnstrom,' he says in a flat, hissing monotone, with a faint Japanese accent.
Greg picks himself up and dusts himself off unselfconsciously. 'Ah, Shimaya Matsuo. We meet at last. I am a trifle disappointed in you to see you here where you were expected. The Lillehammer Police will be pleased, though.'
Shimaya grins, revealing teeth filed to points. 'Wentworth-san. I know you from your voice. And Miss Wallace? Most interesting. I had thought you had left with your friends.'
'We stayed to deal with you,' says Greg, conscious that by retaining Shimaya in conversation he is buying time for the others.
'You must be very upset about a few kilos of soot being put into the atmosphere to go to all this trouble,' says Ella, slightly unconvincingly.
'That is just the first step,' says Shimaya. 'What would be next? In any case, I am obeying my orders, and they are to leave no witnesses.' His hands move extremely quickly, and suddenly both are holding tong-fa - jointed clubs used for both parrying and attacking.
Then he whirls round to see that Iain, barefoot, pressed flat against the wall, is only four feet away from him, having come up the outside stairs and through the master bedroom.
Iain assumes a combat stance, mop handle held upright before him, as does Shimaya, and they circle around each other on the landing, Iain's style drawing a nod of approval from his adversary.
Iain is normally so affable that it is easy to forget he has served in a combat zone. The concentration he now exhibits is new to Ella and Greg.
The fight is not much of a spectator sport, as everything happens far too quickly to really see what's going on. Both warriors emit a loud kiai, and close in a flurry of blows. Iain is certainly giving as good as he is getting, although he is not driving Shimaya back into the corner as he hopes. The noise of wood clattering on wood, interspersed with the occasional grunt, is terrifically loud.
Then Celine Coombes appears in the doorway of the master bedroom, holding a silenced automatic pistol, and shoots Shimaya in the right shoulder, the bullet plucking at Iain's jacket as it passes under his raised arm.
Shimaya, his eyes wide with shock, is flung back against the wall, and slumps to the floor, clutching his shoulder, blood welling from between his fingers.
By the time they set off from Kourou, Nora having phoned SITU to update them and ask them to track the satellite once launched ('We'll try,' said the staffer to whom she spoke, in a slightly dubious tone), the weather is more than menacing. Fat, chill drops of rain fall from the dense cloud overhead, and there is thunder rumbling in the distance.
Diana's cellphone occasionally bleats as though someone is trying to ring her. 'You won't get any joy out of that,' advises Charlie as they load up the Landrover. 'Those things're useless in weather like this. Not to worry, though, we've got a radio link back to base if we get caught out in the rain.'
The clouds finally empty themselves as the team are heading south out of Kourou. Huge waves of water plummet from the sky, more like bathtubs being emptied than like rain. Lightning crackles to all sides, and a howling wind tears leaves from the trees and jostles the Landrover about as its powerful headlights peer ahead into the murk.
'At least there won't be much traffic, no-one else'd be mad enough!' says Charlie cheerfully as he hangs onto the wheel. He is clearly enjoying this much more than the SITU operatives are.
Ella tends Shimaya's wound, using the emergency medical kit she carries with her, while Celine Coombes fills the syringe with sodium pentothal once more. The Japanese man is tied firmly to a chair, the SITU team gathered eagerly around him. It seems that his clavicle is broken.
Rehnstrom, who came out of his trance halfway down the stairs when the musical box finished its tune, has had the situation explained to him, and is worriedly making coffee in the kitchen.
Greg's bodyguard, who broke down the front door just as Greg was dragging Shimaya down to the front room, is standing out in the hallway, keeping his eyes open: he has asked no questions about what is going on. He does not seem the question-asking type. He has now been introduced to everyone.
'Getting very sneaking in your old age, Greg,' Ella says in a rather sharp tone as Greg dismisses Kriek.
The truth serum does not take long to have its effect, and Coombes takes the same tone as she did with Rehnstrom. 'Who are you working for, Yatsuo?'
'Who is he?'
'He is my boss.'
Coombes tuts and changes tack. 'Why are you here in Norway?'
'To kill the servants of Krillikhesh.'
'Is that the being we call Father Christmas?'
'What do you know about Erika Mahringer's death?' puts in Ella.
Coombes frowns at her as Shimaya, not turning his head, says 'Nothing.'
Pulling out a small Dictaphone and holding it up to Shimaya's mouth, Coombes asks 'Who are your master's colleagues in this business?'
'They are very ancient people. Magicians. One in each part of the world. Krillikhesh was with them but now they are against him.'
Coombes draws in breath sharply, an expression of glee on her face. She snaps off the Dictaphone and stands up. 'Excellent! I thought so! This is better than we had hoped. You are all to be congratulated on effecting this man's capture. I'll make sure you're all commended.'
'Is that it?' demands Maddy. 'Aren't you going to ask him any more questions?'
'I'm taking him back to England. We'll want to give him a proper interrogation. He may know things that are absolutely vital to SITU's work.'
'Is there something you're not telling us?' Ella asks with some suspicion in her tone.
'It's beyond your security clearance, Agent Wallace. You'll learn in due course, if you stay with us.'
'Hold on - you're returning to England now?' protests Greg. 'What about Mr Rehnstrom - the other scouts? I was hoping you might be able to speak with Roald Larsson as well...'
'Never mind them! That's not important now.' She has taken out another phial from her case, and injects Shimaya again. 'This man, and what's inside his head, is what's important.' Shimaya slumps quickly into unconsciousness. 'Can you call Ms Lindt for me, please? She will arrange trasnport.'
Closing her case, she looks round at the expressions on the faces of the operatives, and her face softens. 'Look - really, I meant it when I said you'd done very well here. You just have to take my word for it for now that there's a bigger picture here. You remember what happened to Operatives Sutherland and Bowater in Heidelberg, or Operative Kellsall in Merida? You were all exposed last mission to risks whose magnitude we didn't fully know. We need to get everything we can from this enemy agent to minimize such risks in future. Your colleagues, Operatives McShane, Knight and Margeson, are tying up the last loose end of this investigation about which we're concerned at the moment. As for you four - you may as well have a couple of days' holiday. At SITU's expense!'
It is a testament to the former glories of British manufacturing that the old Landrover rides the road down to Demeter - turned into a muddy yellow torrent by the volume of run-off pouring onto it from both sides - without serious mishap.
'Weird, isn't it?' calls out Charlie at one point. 'There's some stupid butterfly over in New Guinea flaps its wings, and we get this lot dumped on us!'
By the time they reach Demeter the sky is completely dark, and floodlights on the compound's perimeter fence are all that announce its presence. The gate is shut, and there is no sign of life.
Charlie tootles on his horn. 'All indoors, poor buggers. They've probably stepped up security a bit, what with what's been going on, I should think. Makes sense.'
A spotlight switches on, punching its way through the pouring rain, picking the Landrover out and dazzling all the occupants.
'Oi!' calls out Charlie annoyedly. 'It's me, Charlie Figgis!' He opens the cab door and leans out - getting immediately soaked - and waves his arms.
There is the crackle of a short burst of fire, and Charlie stiffens, his hand clutching emptily for the top of the door.
'Jesus!' cries Nora, and she dives under the dashboard as Diana desperately hauls Charlie back inside. He has been hit in the thigh and is losing blood fast.
A massively amplified voice booms across the clearing, blasting away the sound of the rain. 'GO AWAY! YOU'RE NOT WANTED HERE!'
'Is that you? Paul Elliot?' calls out Diana uncertainly. The voice is barely recognizable.
'GO AWAY! DON'T TRY AND INTERFERE!' There is another, longer burst of fire, and the Landrover rocks slightly as several bullets strike it, the team cowering under the seats. The engine dies suddenly, with a splutter.
Alan has applied a tourniquet to Charlie's leg: he is swearing profusely. The bullet passed through the muscle, but has not touched the bone, fortunately.
'We want to help you!' tries Nora. 'It's me, Nora, remember?'
Charlie says tersely 'Pass me that headset - I'm going to radio back to Kourou. If some nutter's gone and taken over the place, they'll want to send in the heavy mob.'
He jiggles the transmission key up and down, then curses again in frustration. 'The set must have caught a bullet. Bugger! With the engine shot up as well, we can't move out of here.'
There is another burst of fire, and a bullet passes through the window above Diana's head: she ducks as she is showered with broken glass. 'Well, look, we can't stay in here, we're sitting ducks. We'll have to get off into the jungle or something.'
Charlie looks at her doubtfully. 'You know your way around here, do you?'
'I do a bit, actually,' says Diana, and opening the door on the far side of the Landrover from the shooting she worms her way out. 'Come on - we can make a dash for the cover of the trees. In this rain, once we get twenty yards away he won't be able to see us to aim at.'
'And then what?' demands Nora, as she helps Alan drag Charlie towards the door.
'Iain, your friend called weather a chaotic system,' says Greg. The four operatives are sitting in his room in a new hotel: at Iain's suggestion they have moved location once more. 'It occurs to me that if worst comes to worst and the Demeter probe is launched with a dangerous cargo that Maddy's chaos magic, combined with Ella's Earth magic, might be enough to thwart the Voice's plans, using yin against yang.'
Maddy is staring listlessly out of the window, which is being lashed by chill grey driving rain. 'Yeah, p'raps.' There is a generally deflated atmosphere about the group, which Greg is doing his best to rally.
'I spoke with my private detective, Johan Kriek: he's looked into Shimaya and various other leads. Apparently Shimaya is a "sarariman", an employee of Mitsubishi, in the personnel department of their automobile business. He has an exemplary work record. In fact, he's at his desk now, according to their records.' He shrugs. 'He looked out Sylla Trogard, as well: she's a schoolteacher in the town. Married, two small children. And the other thing I looked for was rivers or streams emerging from underground, around that mountain - canoeing routes - but there don't seem to be any marked on the maps.'
'I'm glad Celine's gone,' says Ella suddenly. 'I didn't much want to let her loose on the other scouts. I thought she was going to be a hypnotist, not an interrogator!'
'And I talked some more with Micke Rehnstrom,' puts in Iain. 'He did write the software that Knut and Paul Elliot have used, as we suspected. He's given me a few tips on how to handle it, if we ever need to.'
'Why haven't the others phoned?' says Maddy, turning round from the window at last. She has drawn a smiley face in the mist left by her breath.
'Mm, they should have by now,' says Ella. She pulls out her phone and types a number. She listens briefly, then shakes her head. 'That was a recorded message. Apparently the phone's in a low signal area at the moment: they can't put me through.'
She brightens slightly. 'One thing, when it comes to noon tomorrow, we could try and communicate with the Voice, when it speaks to Micke Rehnstrom. I'd like to explain we're not threatening it, if we think that the Voice isn't evil that is. And I'd like to ask it if it killed Erika Mahringer, and why.'
The hotel phone in the room rings, startling Iain who is sat next to it. He frowns - who knew they were here? - and picks up the receiver.
It is Andrew Swahn. Iain instantly realizes that his voice carries a tone of dread that he has never heard before. 'Iain? He got away - got Celine.'
'What? Who?' Iain motions the others to silence - the line is not very good.
'Shimaya.' Swahn swallows heavily. 'Came out from under the sedative. He's killed Celine.'
'Bloody hell,' says Iain quietly. 'This was back in England?'
'No. Over at your end. They hadn't reached the airport yet. Jesus - that sedative should have kept an elephant quiet. He must have been helped.' The tone of those last two words is inexpressibly sinister. 'And Celine! She'd been with us since the early days. She was no pushover, let me tell you. He broke her neck.'
'Hold on.' Iain is thinking quickly. 'They hadn't yet got to the airport? Where were they, in Stockholm? And how long ago was this?'
'Just about two hours ago. We only just heard. Virna Lindt was with them - she got laid out, got taken to hospital. She called me as soon as she came round.'
'Two hours? That gives him plenty of time to come back to...'
'Yes. Get back here as soon as possible, all of you, and be very careful.' Swahn hangs up.
The operatives look at each other.
There is a knock at the door. 'Room service?'
'I didn't order anything,' says Iain. 'Did any of you?'
'We'll have to head for a carbet,' says Diana, leading the drenched group along the jungle trail. At least the rain falling now is warm, and slightly less intense. Demeter base is ringed by a tall barbed-wire-topped fence with only the one gate: it would be very difficult to assault by force, with only handguns and no vehicles. 'Charlie needs to stay under shelter, or his wound'll get infected. We can come up with a plan then.' Some way of sneaking in might be possible, but it looks like it would mean getting over the fence somehow.
'If we can find a way of playing him the musical box, he should go into a trance,' says Nora hopefully.
It is comparatively easy to find the way back to the carbet that she and Maddy explored, where Spider and Sioux Stich had been staying before they turned up at Demeter. Heads down, hunching to avoid the rain - a futile exercise now, as all are thoroughly soaked - the four stagger into its shelter.
The relief from the constant pelting pressure is so blessed that it takes a few seconds for anyone to realize that they are not alone.
'Hallo! We meet again!' says Spider cheerfully. He is sitting cross-legged just inside the entrance, a machete across his lap.
'What brings you back to these parts?' asks Sioux. 'Decided to join our crusade against the polluters? Or perhaps you might like to make a documentary about us.' Her tone is heavily ironic, and she moves to cut off the team's retreat.
There are three further people in the carbet - two miscellaneous young men who look very like Green Dawn Brigade activists, and a wild-looking middle-aged man clad in a ragged caftan, with leaves and twigs in his hair and beard.
With a start Nora recognizes him as Gustave Fabry. His eyes gaze limpidly off into space, and he is humming gently to himself. 'Fabry! Are you all right?'
'He is very well,' says Sioux nonchalantly. 'Now he is among his true friends and being true to his beliefs. All those years of pretence and hypocrisy are over, isn't that right, Gustave?'
Fabry chuckles lightly. 'I'm happy now, yes, very. Jacquie is running Demeter now. I hope that she enjoys it. But she will never know as much as me about that place. The secrets I know will be very useful now.' He looks sly.
'Enough of that, Gustave!' Sioux says with some sharpness. 'We mustn't talk about our secrets in front of these people, must we? No, we must not.'