The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
CROESO I GYMRU
RHAN WYTH (PART 8)
March 17th, midnight
Russell, Maddy, Michael - Orielton research centre
Alan, Ross, Sam - Tanya's flat, Manorbier.
"Let me in," Martin Hughes demands. He hammers at the door again, the wood shaking under the blows.
Tanya stares at the three men, half in panic. "I think you ought to hide yourselves. Go into the bedroom; I'll talk to him."
Ross and Alan stand up, but Sam stays where he is. "I'm not leaving you alone with him," he insists. "Let him in and we'll both talk to him." She looks about to refuse, but another crash comes, lower down the door this time. Biting her lip, she nods and runs to unlock it.
Martin is talking before the door is half open. "Tanya, what the hell is going on? First you say you're going out with me again, then you start talking to men I've never even seen before. What am I supposed to think? I -" He stops.
"I think you ought to apologise and then make yourself scarce," Sam says calmly.
Martin's face, already flushed with drink, turns dark scarlet. He walks into the room unsteadily, his lips curling into a snarl. "You again. What are you doing here?"
"He needed somewhere to stay for the night," Tanya cuts in. "I said he could sleep on the floor." She tries to put herself in front of him, holding her hands up placatingly. Martin brushes her aside.
"I didn't ask you, I asked him," he says curtly. His gaze focuses on Sam. "Well?" Before Sam can answer the bedroom door opens behind him and Alan steps out. Martin's eyes widen. He swings round to face Tanya, swaying slightly. "Two of them?" he asks.
"Three," she says in a small voice. "I told you, I offered them a place to stay for the night."
"I don't believe you." But some of the anger is draining from his voice, to be replaced by uncertainty. When Ross appears behind Alan, Martin backs away a step, his glance flickering around the whole room. The only sound is the humming of the electric bulb, and then the creak of a floorboard as Alan walks slowly to the centre of the room, puts his hands on Martin's shoulders and pushes him. The movement looks almost gentle but Martin stumbles.
"Why don't you come back and discuss this when you're sober, friend?" Alan says softly. "And then you can tell us exactly why you're so keen on watching Tanya. It's not because of jealousy, is it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Martin brings his fists up but Alan catches his wrists easily and pushes him back again, almost lazily, towards the door.
"Come - back - tomorrow."
Martin stares up into his eyes. He suddenly looks tiny in comparison. The breath seems to go out of him all at once and shooting a final glare at Tanya he turns around and makes his way to the door. "All right" he says over his shoulder. "I'm going. But I will come back tomorrow, and I will want some answers - starting with what you were doing in her bedroom."
He slams the door shut behind him.
Tanya sits down shakily. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Sam puts his arm around her shoulders then helps her to her feet. "Come on, you'd best get back to bed."
He comes out of the bedroom half an hour later, closing the door quietly. Alan grins. "Been spanking naughty snakes, have you? Or whatever it was Maddy said?"
"Ah, now if it's that you want..." Sam reaches in his pocket for his wallet, "I know someone in the East End who'll do it for you for a tenner. Here, I'll even pay for your first time." He offers Ross a folded ten pound note and, when he refuses, it flips it in Alan's direction instead.
Alan smiles but his eyes are still worried. "I don't know about you," he says, nodding to the front door, "but I don't buy that jealous boyfriend crap for an instant. I reckon someone's paying him to watch Tanya. You know - to make sure she doesn't say anything about 1977."
"Maybe." Sam sits down and rolls himself a cigarette. As he smokes, his thoughts drift to another woman, waiting for him in London. Part of him tells him he's being unfair to Tanya, but what else is he supposed to do? The girl is obviously attracted to him, and what with the aliens and her ex-boyfriend causing trouble, someone has to look out for her.
At the Research Centre, Russell Osbourne is curled up asleep in his too-short bed. He is smiling. Next to the bed, an ash tray holds the blackened remains of a small square of paper. One person at least has decided to give Maddy's spell a go.
In the half light of the laboratory, the dead eyes of the squid are wide with a look of almost glazed astonishment. Little wonder considering what has just joined it in the preserving fluid. The skinny body of a naked girl floats on the surface, hair floating out in a wide, red cobweb, legs outstretched, arms moving to wrap the lifeless tentacles around her body. "...nonakanokotobaokeaterenshuushinasai," Maddy murmurs. "Bokunonarattakotabatochigaimasukara." The nonsense syllables come faster and faster and gradually real words form among them. "aliens...real...unreal...squid. Looking... looking."
A sudden howling brings her eyes wide open. A dog, sounding almost as if it's in pain. And then, a voice, high with nerves, but loud in the shadowed silence of the laboratory.
"Hello? Who's there?"
Gasping, Maddy scrambles out of the tank and struggles back into her T shirt, just in time. The door opens. Maddy finds herself blinking up at a very surprised Margaret Ferris.
"Maddy?" She sounds as if she can't quite believe what she's seeing. "What are you doing here?"
The girl blushes scarlet and pulls at her T shirt. The cotton is fast turning transparent against her wet body. "Uh, I don't know," she says uneasily. "I guess I was sleep-walking again. I do it sometimes, specially when there's interesting stuff happening like here, and like... uh, I'll go back to bed now, I think." Snowdon, whining now rather than howling, sniffs closer to her and she tries to hide behind him as she edges out.
Margaret frowns. "Are you sure you'll be all right? Look at you, you're soaked. How did that happen?"
"I dunno." Maddy smiles at her brightly. "D'you think I thought I was dirty in my sleep and had a shower before I came out for a walk?" She escapes while Margaret is thinking of a reply.
Back in her room she shuts the door and leans against it with a heavy sigh. Would it be safe to go back to Mr Squid and do the orgone thing in the tank, she wonders. She hears Margaret's footsteps on the stairs and decides not. Less fun, but far safer to do it in bed.
The whole group meets together at the Centre at ten the next morning, Tanya having assured Sam that she has to go to work and she will be all right for a few hours. Maddy, hair damp and smelling violently of tangerine comes in last and smiles brightly around.
"So, did everyone, like, do the thing?" she asks. "I'm doing the y'know, other stuff today. In my room." She shoots a glance at Michael and he grins back, shrugging when Russell frowns at him. "Anyway, like, I've got special equipment to buy so I've got to go to the shops. I'll be back later."
"Wait a minute," Ross calls after her. But she has already gone, singing something tuneless about Mulder and Scully. He sighs and shakes his head. "Never mind. Now we're together I've got a few ideas I'd like to discuss. Michael can fill her in later, no doubt.
"The Old Man of Clachantyre investigation is one I've heard of," he begins, getting to his feet and pacing the room as he speaks. "It started with a whole village behaving strangely. The group who investigated found that they were being influenced by some creatures living off the island - they could have been aliens, I suppose. And, there were government people on site who knew about it. Working for some organisation called HIDA if I remember rightly. Vul Dragna was one of the SITU operatives, but something happened to drive him mad and he turned on the rest of the team. He could well have been drawn here because of the alien link."
"So what do you think is happening here?" Russell asks.
Ross frowns in thought. "This is all guess-work, but what if the government have been in contact with these sea-creatures, whatever they are, since? HIDA could have used the technology to build the flying ships that people have seen."
"That people haven't seen, you mean," Michael interrupts. "So far we have a set of painted luminous footprints, a single glimpse of someone wearing white and the stuff Tanya remembers, which may or may not be true."
Ross ignores him. "Now, if things have turned nasty between the two groups that will explain the sub wreckage. And if the creatures are operating the same as before, they won't be too far out to sea, and they will have a link on the mainland. That's what we should look for next."
Alan stretches his legs out and looks around grimly. "I'm up for seeing how good the security is around this place. As none of us actually believe this chemical story, a scouting mission might be a good idea. Just to see exactly what is going on?"
"I think they've quarantined the area because we've been asking too many questions," Ross says. "They'll probably have agents on us."
"Or we're just paranoid." Russell smiles, lightening the mood a little. "We should wait and see what this Patrick Newsome has to say in any case. Shall we do a bit more nosing around until then?"
Breaking into the castle is a matter of course now. Sam snaps the padlock free of the gate and stands aside, letting Alan, Ross and Michael go in first. Even in daylight the place feels uneasy and the four of them are tensed, ready for Vul Dragna to come charging out at them at any moment. But the dark stone towers are silent as the four of them make their way across the courtyard and up the first set of spiral steps.
The corridor of the private rooms has been neatly swept; brush marks are still visible on the stone. Ross leads the way, stepping quietly, turning his head slowly from side to side. His hand is never far from his jacket pocket, Michael notices. He stops outside the door of the bedroom where Vul had been hiding and the others gather around, tensed and ready to fight if necessary. Standing to one side, Ross pushes the door open.
The room is empty. Ross looks in cautiously then steps inside. The four-poster bed is unmade, beer cans and a pizza box are piled together under a chair, but Vul himself has gone.
"Lets check the other rooms," Ross suggests.
They move through them quickly, finding no sign of Vul, though signs - newspapers, take-away cartons - that he has been here. Then, as Michael turns to leave the sitting room, he catches sight of a scrap of paper stuck to the wall. He pulls it down, taking off a lump of yellowed plaster with it.
Next time you touch me, I kill you, it says.
Maddy comes skipping out of a chemists in the village centre and stops to have a look around. There are more people in suits that there should be, she thinks, but the place doesn't look too unusual considering everyone is stuck here with nowhere else to go. She starts to walk, chewing the ends of her hair as she goes and grimacing at the taste of the tangerine oil she had to use to cover up the smell of squid.
Two men come towards her. She recognises one of them at once - Martin Hughes, Tanya's would-be boyfriend. The other one she doesn't know. Aged late thirties probably - really old - and wearing a non-descript grey suit, his hair is turning the same shade as his jacket in places. Maddy stares after them, her fingers in her mouth. Something tells her that she should know the man, though she knows she has never seen him before.
Then it comes to her. She hasn't seen him ever, but he fits exactly one of the descriptions SITU gave her. Peter Grey, the man who left the investigation before she arrived.
"Hi," Sam greets Tanya, wandering into the shop. "Any trouble?"
The girl smiles back. "None at all. Martin's been keeping away so far. He's probably still sleeping it off."
Michael wanders closer to her as she and Sam chat, pretending fascination with the display of crisps and chocolate by the till. He knows for a fact that he has a certain talent for psychic sensitivity. Not as much as Maddy's, maybe, but it should be enough to pick something up off Tanya, assuming she's telling the truth about the aliens.
"Tell me about your dream again," Sam says quietly. "We might have missed something last night."
She looks down at the counter. "I don't think so. It started off with just one alien, lying down like it was asleep. But then it woke up and saw me and suddenly there were hundreds of them, all turning around and looking for me." Her fingers tap out a nervous rhythm on the side of the till. "It was only a dream, wasn't it?"
"Of course it was. Trust me." Sam grins at her at takes her hands a moment. "I'll see you later, all right?"
"She was telling the truth," Michael says as the two of them leave. "Something did happen to her in the past, I could feel that much. And she's terrified it's going to start again..."
Russell finishes reading one newspaper and picks up another. The sealing of the area has made front page news on most of them. In every case the cause is given as chemical spillage due to a train accident. One of the papers has printed a map, identical to the one they were given, making off the out-of-bounds areas with thick lines. The headline on another screams: Army Personnel Hold Area Hostage and suggests that Manorbier is surrounded by armoured vehicles up to and including tanks. Some blurred photographs of roads with what look like jeeps parked across them take up the whole of page seven. Air Staff 2A features prominently and the papers variously liken the situation to Northern Ireland, Colditz and 'The Prisoner.' But nowhere is there a mention of the organisation called HIDA.
A steady throbbing fills the room. After a few minutes Russell realises what it is: the sound of a helicopter overhead. Crossing to the window he can see two of the things, hovering like giant birds of prey above the village. Something about the sight makes him shiver.
The door creaks behind him, making him jump. "Sorry to interrupt you, Russell," Margaret says, putting her head round and smiling rather worriedly, "but the man from Air Staff is here."
Patrick Newsome is a tall man in his fifties, slate-grey hair brushed straight back, his eyes a piercing blue beneath sparse brows. He politely declines Margaret's offer of tea and turns to face the group that is gathered in one of Orielton's seminar rooms.
"First of all, I must thank you for your patience," he begins. "We realise this accident has put you to considerable inconvenience and the good news is that I have been authorised to compensate you fully. I shall be dealing with claims personally and we do intend to be regarding all claims generously."
"I should hope so," Phil Lake complains from the back of the room. "First the sea around here, now the land. What else are you people going to contaminate?"
"Nothing has been contaminated," the Air Staff man replies smoothly. "That is, there is no permanent damage that we foresee. The chemical that has spilled can cause severe allergic reaction in certain people but it will biodegrade naturally over the course of a week or so - quicker than that if the clean-up operation is a success. Once it has degraded there is no danger. There is, however, a small danger that people may carry the chemical out of the area unawares, on their clothing, for example. That is why we have had to take this drastic step of sealing the area. Now, I am here to answer your questions so perhaps our time will be best served if you air your concerns before I say any more." He looks around, eyebrows raised.
Russell stands up. "How did the accident actually happen?" he asks. "We heard a train was derailed because of vandals or something. Was anyone hurt? And why are certain areas completely out of bounds but not others?"
"For your own safety, to answer the last question first. Certain areas contain a higher risk of contamination. My people will be concentrating their efforts there and I would ask you to bear with us. As for your other questions: the police are investigating the possibility that the accident was caused by vandals, and no, nobody was hurt. Fortunately the train was carrying no passengers and the driver escaped unharmed." He looks at Russell curiously. "Am I right in understanding that you're one of the group who are on a course here at present?"
"That's right," he nods.
"Then the best thing you can do is continue with your course. You'll be compensated the same as the residents here, of course. I would imagine you weren't planning to go far from this centre anyway?"
Russell mutters an agreement.
"What's the name of the chemical?" Carol Hennessy asks.
Newsome turns his attention to her and smiles slightly. "That is classified, I'm afraid. It is a new compound, Chloride-based. More than that I can't tell you at present."
A vague mumble of discontent fills the room.
"So, we've all got to stay put because some chemical that you won't name, but that isn't dangerous has been spilled and we might be contaminated even though we haven't shown any allergic reaction," Phil summarises.
Newsome's smile doesn't waver. "That's about the sum of it, I'm afraid. As I said, more than adequate compensation will be offered, and you are in no danger. All we ask is for a little patience until we have the situation under control."
The meeting breaks up soon after that.
"Chemical spillage," Phil mutters to himself as he pushes his way out. Russell grabs his arm.
"How's your theory coming on? Have you turned anything up?"
The scientist shakes his head. "Not a thing," he says bitterly. "The water samples all came up normal and I've still got no idea what that bit of metal I found in the squid is. Maybe if we had soil samples of the so-called contaminated area it might help but there's no way of getting that the way the place is sealed off. I'm not giving up, though." He glares at Russell fiercely. "They think they can buy us off with the 'adequate compensation' but it's not going to work. I for one intend getting to the bottom of what's happening here."
As the others are filing out, Ross draws Russell aside.
"Listen," he says, "I want to do some scouting alone, find out exactly what the government people are doing here. Will you take charge of the group while I'm gone?"
Russell blinks at him in surprise. "Well, yes, but..."
"I have to go alone." Ross cuts off the protest before his friend can voice it. "I'm trained for this kind of thing and none of the rest of you are. I'm going to try and get into the quarantined area. I think there's something going on between land and sea here, some sort of struggle. If I'm right, there'll be some sort of artifact hidden close by, and we can't rule out the possibility of people turning strange like they did at Clachantyre. You'll have to be on your guard, ready to protect the others if need be."
For a moment Russell looks as if he's going to argue. Then he presses his lips together into a tight smile and holds out his hand. "Good luck, then."
Michael and Maddy had slipped away the moment the talk was over and both are now sitting in Maddy's bedroom. Or rather, Michael is sitting. Maddy is hopping about excitedly from one foot to the other.
"So you're, like; psychic too, yeah? Cool! D'you know what my - um - pentagram means?" Before he can stop her she shrugs her T shirt down and turns, showing him an elaborate design tattooed on her left shoulder."
He studies it closely. "It's good," he says at last. "But I've got no idea what it means." He pushes her T shirt back into place. "Weren't we going to do your spell?"
"Yeah, right." She reaches behind and produces a stuffed elephant. Only this one has got extra arms sewn on. One of them is coming loose a little and Maddy pushes it back into place, blushing a little. "This is Lord Ganesh," she introduces him. "He's the god of, like, breaking new entrances and luck and stuff. And he's got a cute trunk. He likes bananas so we have to sacrifice to him by, well, eating them." Solemnly she offers Michael a banana and, just as solemnly, he eats it, watching as Maddy produces a silver bowl, white candles, joss-sticks, a wine glass and three 'Goosebumps' paperbacks, all featuring full moons on their covers. "This is all about the sea, right?" she says, waiting for him to agree. "So this is a moon ritual, yeah? You have to cut up the books."
Michael takes books and scissors and begins hacking pages and covers to pieces, piling the bits into the silver bowl. Meanwhile, Maddy spaces the candles around the room and lights the incense sticks. Jasmine-scented smoke curls up.
Outside the door Snowdon begins to whine.
Maddy fills the wine glass with a mixture of tap water and vodka from her rucksack then stabs her thumb with the scissors and draw and rough curve on the side of the glass. "The moon," she explains. She dips her thumb in the glass and sucks it clean. A trace of blood stains the liquid. She stands up and takes the bowl, gesturing to Michael to hold the other side of it. "On the count of three, we throw it up," she says. She closes her eyes. "One..."
The door bursts open. A howling mass of frightened St Bernard rushes through, his tail knocking out two candles at once. Before Maddy can react he has barrelled straight into her. Michael swears and staggers back. Hundreds of pieces of white paper flurry about the room, like snow, or confetti.
"Bloody stupid dog," Michael groans. He shoves Snowdon away and helps Maddy to her feet. "Are you all right?"
She nods, but keeps hold of his hands. Quickly, she pulls toward him and kisses him then draws back, her cheeks red.
A few pieces of paper have landed back in the silver bowl, and one has fallen into the wine glass. Maddy fishes it out and lays it out flat to dry. Michael collects up the others.
"Strange..." he says after a while. "All these bits begin with 's.'
The village is quiet though more than the usual number of cars are parked. There are at least two cars on every street that have men sitting in, watching the place, taking notes occasionally. Russell walks on, Alan and Sam following just behind. Outside the Tudor Arms a group of new-agers is having a party and Gwyn Montgomery is watching with a smile on his face.
But further out, the scene changes. "Look," Alan says, stopping. A hundred yards ahead a pair of figures clothed in white biohazard suits are sweeping disc-like instruments across the fallen leaves. As the group approaches darkened visors turn in their direction.
"This area isn't restricted, is it?" Russell asks them cheerfully. One of the figures shakes his - her? - head and gestures vaguely before going back to looking at leaves.
The three watch for a moment before moving on. They pass more parked cars and then a pierced-nosed boy arguing with two police officers. "Look, pal, I'm telling you I need to get home. I've got stuff to do there. Someone's got to let me out." The policemen listen and nod sympathetically but when he tries to walk past they block his way. The noise of the helicopter engines continues constant overhead.
Russell is heading straight for one of the restricted areas marked on the map. When they get within sight of it, there is no mistaking where it starts. Men in army uniform are standing sentry, the roads are blocked with army jeeps parked across them and a makeshift barbed wire fence cuts diagonally away across rough ground.
Alan looks at the others with a tight smile. "Seems like they're pretty serious about this."
"Sorry, sirs, you'll have to turn back now. Restricted area." One of the soldiers steps up to block their path.
"So I see," Sam says, trying to see over the man's shoulder.
He shifts slightly so that Sam can see the handgun and baton strapped to his belt. "You have to turn back," he repeats tonelessly. "I'll escort you."
"Scotland," Maddy reads. "Scam, secret, snatch, squid, searching. And this one's got a full sentence on it too." Her eyes crease as she reads. "Seemed the joke was on them."
"What did the one in the glass say?" Michael asks.
She picks it up.
"Stewart," she says, sounding disappointed.
Ross ducks down low, parting brambles and leaves with his hands to peer through. Up ahead, a white-suited man is sweeping the grass with what looks like a metal detector. Ross eases his way closer. He can't see anything on the ground, though presumably if there are chemicals present they won't be visible to the naked eye. Now, if he could just get a look at that machine...
A twig snaps beneath his foot. The government man swings around, his movements made clumsy by the suit he is wearing.
The sky is dark.
A thick cloth muffles the sound of breaking glass. Sam reaches through the window cautiously and opens it from the inside. He blows out a long breath. So far so good. Now, as long as he can keep away from the dogs...
The inside of the farmhouse is thick with shadow. Sam catches his foot on the edge of the carpet and stops. He can hear voices coming from above him. Garel and Susan Williams, he thinks, turning his face up towards the sound. He moves forward again. The floorboards creak then settle back into silence. Carefully, Sam makes his way to the door, pausing to listen after every step. The door is half open and he pushes it gently shut and settles himself down in the shadows to wait.
He's not sure how much time passes. An hour, maybe.
A crash comes from outside and both dogs start barking at once. Sam leaps to his feet, and at the same time the floorboards creak heavily above him. Footsteps sound on the stairs.
"Who's there?" comes Garel Williams' voice. "Come on, I know you're there." A brief pause, then he continues, harsher than before. "I have a shotgun, you know, and I'm prepared to use it."
"There's not a lot more we can do till Ross gets back, I suppose," Michael says. The ten o'clock news broadcast has told them nothing new. He gets up to flick the set off. "Did anyone find out anything about HIDA?"
Alan shakes his head. "We asked in a few places, but there's not a lot you can say without raising suspicions. If anyone knew anything they weren't saying. Where's Sam, by the way? With Tanya?"
"He said he was going to Lodge Farm." Russell sounds disapproving. "Some scheme about breaking in and staging an alien watch." He checks his watch. "I hope he knows what he's doing."
"I could cast a spell to find out," Maddy offers. "And while we're talking about spells... What d'you think about what I found out so far? Isn't is cool?"
At the perimeter of the village, a tall man in a badly-fitting biohazard suit is making his way towards the trees. A crescent moon lights his path. Ross smiles to himself. There'll be a search for him, no doubt, when the rightful owner of the suit wakes up, but by his reckoning he should have at least two hours to have a good look around. He sees the dark line of barbed wire up ahead and quickens to a clumsy jog.