The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
CROESO I GYMRU
RHAN UN AR DDEG (PART 11)
Orielton Research Station 1.00 am March 20th 1999.
"I can help," Tanya offers.
Russell frowns at the carpet. Taking the girl along will be dangerous, he knows, but a glance at Ross's bandaged arm tells him that trying to sneak through the army barricades unaided will be at least as dangerous.
"We have to back Stewart up," Ross says as if catching Russell's thoughts. "The only question is the best way to get into the farm. Any ideas, anyone?"
In the silence Snowdon gives up trying to chew Michael's leather coat and pads over to Alan. The big ex-bouncer's smile turns into an expression of disgust as a dark, acrid patch spreads across his trouser leg. Maddy sniffs loudly and glances up at Sam and Ross, shrugging slightly.
"Nobody likes my ideas," she says accusingly. "You all think I'm, like, Mad Maddy - just like Dr Culver did, at the hospital. Well, me and Snowdon'll be upstairs, yeah? That's if you still want us to, y'know, help. Come on doggie." She stands up. Snowdon bounds to her side straight away and the two of them sweep from the room.
"Men!" Maddy exclaims, tossing Snowdon a chocolate finger and stuffing another into her own mouth. The dog thumps his tail on the floor, watching her and panting slightly while she flings clothes and books into the corners of the room and spreads out a map in the clear space.
"There!" she exclaims triumphantly. "Lodge Farm." She scribbles a green cross over the place then takes one of the pendants from her neck and lets it swing over the map, marking every point it stops with more crosses. After a while she sighs, sits back on her heels a moment, then drags her rucksack towards her and rummages in it for a gold felt tip and a little plastic pot of red liquid. "Blood and sea water," she explains to Snowdon. "Now you be a good dog and stay."
Bending double over the map, pausing to push her hair out of her eyes every so often, she begins to draw an intricate pattern of circles and arrows around the farm.
She is sitting cross-legged, staring hard at the pattern when a knock at the door brings her head up.
"Maddy?" Michael whispers. "We've got a plan. Are you coming?"
She flushes and attempts a glare that is spoiled when her lips twitch involuntarily into a smile. "How's your coat?" she asks. "I hope Snowdon didn't chew it too much. Bad Snowdon."
The dark blue van rumbles along uncertainly. The sky is still black - a good two hours before dawn - and the barely-there shadows of the trees either side of the narrow road give the night a special feeling of claustrophobia that the twin dipped headlights do nothing to relieve.
In front seat Tanya sits beside Sam, fidgeting nervously. The others are all crowded into the back.
"So what's the plan?" Maddy asks, forgetting for the moment that she's supposed to be sulking. "I've already done, like, a binding circle on the farm - and a Chaos one, so my powers'll, y'know, work really well there. Oh, and there's Snowdon the Psychic Dog..." She has insisted on bringing Snowdon despite Alan's misgivings and the big dog is lying quietly next to her, his ears twitching whenever she speaks.
"If you have to do any of your magic, make sure you keep it under control," Alan says. "And the same goes for the dog. This isn't a game. Ross has already been shot, remember?"
The van rolls over a patch of sand and stops. Michael gets to his feet, forced to bend almost double in the van's cramped interior. "Plan A, part one coming up," he says quietly. "See you soon."
"Are you sure about this?" asks Richie Wardens of 'Crop Circle Quarterly.'
Michael nods enthusiastically, putting as much conviction into his voice as he can when he answers. "Absolutely. There have been strange things going on at the woods by Lodge Farm for months now. Tonight it all comes to a head. The only question is what exactly will happen when the aliens land? Will they turn out to be friends or enemies?" His gaze drifts to Richie's partner, Vicki, and he grins when he sees she already has her notebook out. "Everyone's going to be going there from what I hear - even that Fortean Times bloke."
"I see." Vicki is checking her bag for spare rolls of film but Richie still looks a little suspicious. "Isn't this wood inside the quarantine area?" he asks.
"Of course it is. Why do you think the government cordoned off the area in the first place? They knew the aliens were about to land, that's why, and they wanted to clear a space for them. If you ask me, they've been communicating with them in secret for months. All this quarantine crap was to make sure none of us could get out to warn people."
"It makes sense..." Vicki says slowly.
Michael walks away, whistling softly.
He is still grinning to himself when he swings back into the van. "Let's go," he says. "Very soon the military are going to be so busy chasing hippies through the woods there'll be no one left to check on what we're doing."
Sam puts his foot down and the van lurches forwards.
"Let's kick bottom!" Maddy cheers.
The two guards on the roadblock looks bored. One of them wanders round to the back of the van, kicking idly at the tyres. The other stays and blocks Tanya's way. "What's your name?" he repeats. His voice is a monotone.
She glances once at Sam before answering. "Tanya Green. I told you, I'm a friend of Mr and Mrs Williams. Phone them up and ask them. You can't just stop me going to see them."
"I'm afraid I can, Miss. Anyway, what do you want with them this time of night?"
Tanya draws herself up as tall as she can manage, but still looks tiny compared with the guard. "This time of night, as you call it, is the time most farmers are getting up and starting work. I presume Mr Williams is still at the farm?"
He nods curtly.
"Well then, it can't be that dangerous to go there," Tanya crows. She makes a movement toward the phone clipped to his belt. "Here, I'll phone them myself."
"No, you..." He stops. He sways on his feet, his hand coming up to cover his eyes. A startled exclamation behind the van makes him turn his head. In that moment he collapses.
"Good work," Ross mutters, appearing behind him. He stoops to search the limp body, removing radio, phone and a hand gun. "I don't know how much time we've just bought but it won't be long. Take us to the farm, Sam."
They follow the road until it turns into a narrow track and then the way is blocked by a gate. Sam stops and they all get out, shivering in the cold air, Vul muttering a stream of curses to himself.
"Ready?" Sam asks. Stewart nods, coming to join him and Ross by the gate. He is carrying a spade.
"That's where I hid it," he says, pointing. "Across the field there."
"Do we need black stuff for our faces?" Maddy wonders.
Russell hushes her. "Go on," he tells Ross. "We'll keep a look out here. Good luck."
The three men hesitate a moment more. Sam squeezes Tanya's shoulder, whispers something to her that makes her smile, then swings himself neatly over the gate.
The others wait in uneasy silence.
"Do you think..." Michael begins. He doesn't finish. A gunshot rings out, echoing from the far side of the farm house. Tanya squeals. Vul steps forward, an eager light coming to his eyes and lifting the corners of his mouth into a twisted smile. Alan shakes his head at him and bunches his fists ready to strike him if need be. Torchlight flares out into the sky, an erratic beam arching overhead and missing the group by several hundred metres. Vul turns around and leans his forearms on the gate.
"What are they doing?" he mutters.
Ross stops when he hears the gunshot, and drops flat, only moving on again when he is sure the sound came from beyond the farm. His gun is gripped lightly in his hand. His injured arm feels stiff and he moves it cautiously, wincing as a sharp pain catches him. But there is a steady heat rising through his body as he adjusts to the dark and the anticipation of action.
"Where now?" he asks Stewart. He pushes the policeman ahead of him, frowning when the older man wheezes, obviously out of breath.
"This way," Stewart gasps. They go on, creeping almost silently through the cropped grass of the field, the only sound the strained wheezing of his breath. A fence looms up in front of them, cutting the field in half. Raising himself slightly, Ross can see the outline of the farm house roof against the sky. As he watches, a light flicks on in an upstairs window.
Sam is already over the fence and reaching back to haul Stewart across. Ross follows them, flicking a glance around the field behind them. He can barely see the van now, or the rest of the group waiting beside it.
The ground becomes uneven. Stewart stumbles twice, nearly falls flat the second time, and stops. "Here," he says. "It's here." He swings the flat of his spade in a rough circle. Looking down at the ground, the others see two pairs of stones marking out the corners of a narrow rectangle.
"What are they doing now?" Maddy asks, nearly falling over the gate in her eagerness to see what's happening.
"Nothing. Be quiet."
"It's not nothing." Her eyes widen and stay wide, her gaze becoming unfocussed. "There's lots of people awake," she announces. "And... oh dear."
Stewart throws the spade down and stands back, gazing at the hole he has opened up with something close to reverence. Sam crouches down beside him, slowly letting out his breath in a long sigh that hangs in front of him.
Lying in its shallow grave is a featureless, matt black case. About six foot in length, the lid slightly curved and the corners rounded so it has the appearance of a flattened coffin. In the centre of the lid are four sets of indentations. Sam runs his fingers over them, tracing out letters. HIDA.
"There she is," Stewart says. He sounds close to tears. "Worth the trouble, wouldn't you say?"
Sam grunts acknowledgement. A sudden tension in the air makes him move and he grasps the end of the black coffin, preparing to lift it out.
"Get down," Ross hisses. He throws the other two to the ground and dives back towards the fence himself. The three men wait, breathless. They can all hear it now - the steady crunch of footsteps on the cold grass.
Sam wriggles back on his stomach until he's level with Stewart.
"We can't leave now," the policeman pleads. "They'll find the alien."
Sam smiles tightly. "Don't worry. It's a bit late to pull out."
Then he hears a voice he recognises.
"You might as well come out. I know you're there." Peter Gray walks slowly toward them, a gun in each hand.
The crack of a pistol makes Sam jump. Gray staggers sideways then rights himself with a laugh.
"The next shot will hit you," comes Ross's voice. "Back off now."
"I don't think so." He stops where he is, both guns trained into the darkness where the three men are crouched. "You don't want any trouble, do you? Whereas I don't really mind. The more the merrier." He tilts both guns up. "A couple of shots now and you won't get out for army, so I suggest you listen. You have the Fingers - you keep them. I take the alien. And then..."
Ross chooses that moment to shoot him in the leg.
Gray screams as he falls, dropping one gun and releasing a volley of shots with the other. The echoes roll like thunder across the farm and back. Lights jerk on all over the farmhouse. The howling of dogs mingles with the final dying echo of the gunshots.
Ross dives for Gray, Sam for the coffin.
"Lets get out of here. Now!"
Torchlight rushes towards them from the farm house. A man's voice. "Who's there?"
Ross leaves Gray unconscious in the grass and relieves Stewart of his end of the coffin. They start to run. Engines roar to life all around them and headlights cut across the field.
"Snowdon! Bad dog!" Maddy yells. "Come back here!" She jumps down into the field and runs after him. Michael freezes for the best part of a second then charges after her.
Russell breaths a quick sigh. "It does look like they need help. Tanya, can you drive?"
She nods, biting her lips together.
"Good. Get the van started. We won't be long." He vaults the gate as well.
More gun shots shatter the air.
"Chaos magic, make shadows come," Maddy sings shrilly. Snowdon bounds on ahead of her. One of the sets of headlights swerves suddenly and goes out.
Alan reaches Sam first and relieves him of his end of the coffin. Sam gasps his thanks.
A jeep swings round in front of them, its headlight dazzling them for a moment. Ross fires at it one-handed.
"Give yourselves up," calls Patrick Newsome. "You are all under arrest."
"What for?" Stewart shouts back. "Stealing aliens? The world's going to know the truth, you bastards." Pulling himself free of Michael's grip, he flings himself at the jeep.
Quite calmly, Newsome levels a gun and him and fires. Stewart yells and falls, clutching his shoulder.
Then there is a flurry of movement behind the vehicle and Vul's face, twisted with hate appears in the white of the head lights. "The alien is mine!" He hauls the driver out of the jeep by the collar and flings him halfway across the field. Newsome swings round just in time to come face to face with the business end of a machine pistol.
"Get him Snowdon," Maddy shrieks. "Chaos shadows, make everything black." The ground appears to shift beneath her, thick greenish smoke rising up around her feet.