The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

When Christ And His Saints Slept

6.00 pm, Wednesday 26th August 1998

T.R. gives a faint smile and remarks to Vera, 'You're pretty brave offering to spend time with Chevrotain. I only saw a couple minutes of his speech, but I can't imagine listening to him during an entire dinner.' He grins and does a fair imitation of Chevrotain's manner of speaking, 'Wither... psychism...'

Vera is avoiding eye contact with him, as with the others, turned towards her uncle, her mouth in a line.

T.R. shakes his head, still laughing, and then adds more seriously, 'But don't feel bad about not learning anything. There is something weird going on here, I think - otherwise that guy at the Psychic Times would not have acted so strangely - but I have no clue what it is. I'll try to interview Jackley's assistant Chambers after the reception. If any of you can talk to Jackley himself, that would be great.'

'I think it would be good if we all try to meet new people, therefore getting contacts around the place,' pipes up Belle-Marie, who is leaning back against the wall, arms folded across her body. 'Vera, if you can get to know any of the organisers in that dress, that would be a bonus.' She smiles crookedly. 'Then again I have a feeling that in that dress that you'll have quite a few people interested in getting to know you.'

'I don't plan to spend too long at the dinner,' says Steven matter-of-factly. 'I'm planning to get back on the computer afterwards and do some more research. If we can meet up for breakfast before going to the conference, we may have some more information to talk about.'

'Well, it's not as if we have to contend with attacking dervishes or Cthulhu rising from the deep quite yet,' Eric comments. He is still in the chair he has been in since first entering the room, allowing the younger people to answer the door, make coffee, and so forth, giving very much the air of a patrician presiding over the gathering.

'Are you all right, honey?' asks Taylor with concern, seeing that Belle-Marie has suddenly turned very pale and is blinking rapidly.

'Yes... yes, I'm fine, thank you,' says Belle-Marie, backing away slightly from Taylor's outstretched hand. 'It's just... me being silly. Something he said. Anyway, I'm fine, don't you worry.'

Taylor continues to look at her with sympathy as Eric, steepling his fingers together, continues 'It seems that the saleswoman at the cycle shop felt some prompting to report Vera's visit, and one of the ladies at the conference had either guessed I was a Scorpio through some good luck, or more likely she is making some effort to impress people by looking up their backgrounds in advance and then startling them with an unaccountable knowingness about them. It's an old mummer's trick, and no doubt The Amazing Jackley will have a few such surprises for us by the time he's through. But there is at least a chance that there's more to it than this, and that someone, or some group of someones, is looking into some or all of our backgrounds for some reason.'

This thought hangs in the air for a moment, before the group divides, some to head off to the reception, some to continue their preparations.

'Do you mind if I use your phone again?' T.R. asks Eric. He types in the number he has been given for Marje Criss, Beaufort College's officer for external events.

The phone rings for quite a little while, and is eventually answered by a flustered-sounding young woman, who explains that she is the residential administrative assistant, Shyama Bhutt. Ms Criss is away from the office, but once T.R. has explained the reason for his call she explains that rooms in the college are not available for renting to members of the public. Even the information that T.R. is a reporter with the Phoenix Sun is insufficient to sway her from the college's declared policy. 'The Master likes to keep the college as tranquil as possible, sir, for the benefit of the dons and students, so we only let rooms out to special bookings.'

'But the speakers at the ICIP are staying there, aren't they?' asks T.R. 'What's special about them?'

'Erm, I can't tell you that, sir. There may have been some personal connection.'

T.R. hangs up, frowning slightly, and tells Eric what he has learnt. He thinks to himself that he may have to look elsewhere for his 'refuge'.

Vera may be having similar thoughts, for she is on the telephone to the Bath Place Hotel, a small, luxurious establishment right in the centre of Oxford. She books a small suite for the next two nights, and hastily packs a bag of clothes to be delivered there, at the last moment adding her knife.

Belle-Marie meanwhile is rather wistfully inspecting her wardrobe. She takes out a slightly faded cotton print dress, and holds it up against herself, squinting critically at her reflection. It will have to do: it is the only clothing she has that is anything like 'smart'. She smiles wryly, remembering when she first wore it, the day Njalsonn gave her it and announced their engagement to his family. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Taylor is also preparing herself, but with a rather broader palette to select from. She is wearing a strapless cocktail dress, of green satin and velvet, very tight through the waist and hips and ending just above the knee, with silver-and-faux-emerald jewellery, black stockings and gloves. Her hair is up, and she is just putting the finishing touches to her makeup. She applies three dabs of Joy de Jean Patou, more perhaps than she might normally use, and puts on the heavy pendant earrings. There! Perfect!

Ned and Vera share a cab to Beaufort College, Vera not dressed at all for another bike ride. 'I think I'll nose around the college, a bit,' Ned tells his niece. 'Somehow, I think there must be more to Jackley's choice of venue than seems apparent. T.R. mentioned Marje Criss. I think I'll stop by her office to see what I can turn up. Nose around a bit, you know.'

Vera is staring out of the car window into the gathering dusk, biting her lip. She turns back to Ned. 'Ned I'm going to try something a little bolder at the reception to night. I'm going to play 'damsel in distress' with Prof. C.'

'How do you mean?'

'I didn't want to mention it before in case some of the other SITU folks tried to talk me out of it. You can't, so don't bother trying.'

Ned frowns. 'Are you sure you know what you're doing?'

She flashes him a quick grin as the cab slows. 'I can take care of myself if this is all just a criminal fraud, probably better than most of the other folks in this group. If something does happen to me tonight, it probably means something supernatural is behind it.'

The car stops outside the medieval gatehouse of Beaufort College, and Vera sees the Irish girl, her legs bare in a simple dress that makes her look about 17, walking into the quadrangle ahead of them. She grins, pointing at Ned, who pauses guiltily, his hand halfway to his mouth, spraying crumbs. 'Are those cookies in your pocket, Uncle Ned, or are you just happy to see Belle Marie?'

T.R. has turned up to the reception in good time, wearing a navy blue suit the quality of whose cut would surprise those familiar only with his more usual mode of dress, a white shirt and a conservative striped tie. He has taken a glass of sherry from one of the waitresses, and is standing in the shade of a large bay tree, observing the gathering. Jackley is easy to spot, at the centre of a throng of admiring delegates, laughing loudly, his head thrown back - he appears to have them spellbound. Other delegates are clustered about other speakers - identifiable by their purple name badges - or in small shy knots. The setting is a rather daunting one, it must be said. The great bulk of the college's dining hall, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1673, looms up to one side of the garden, and a spiked iron fence divides it from the graveyard that lies alongside the 14th-century college chapel. The garden itself is artfully landscaped, with a mix of formal borders and more spontaneous patches of colour breaking up the lawn. Dusk is stealing over the buildings, painting their honey sandstone with a hint of rose, and the cries of swifts on the wing can be heard from high above.

Gathered over to one side of the garden is a small knot of dons, in black academic gowns, looking rather nervously at the gathered psychics who have been invited to trespass in their hallowed precincts. They sip their sherry at a rapid rate (T.R., tasting his experimentally, makes a face) and steadily munch their way through plates of canapés, making no effort to engage in conversation with the college's guests.

Belle-Marie is going round peering at the badges of the various speakers, and after a little while manages to locate Cosmo Landesman, a cheery youngish man in a tweed jacket, rocking back and forward on his heels. 'Er - excuse me, sir? Mr Landesman?'

Landesman, noticing her pluck at his elbow, turns, then half-closes his eyes, peering at her theatrically, splaying one hand across his brow and gesturing her to silence with the other. Seemingly satisfied with what he sees, he exclaims 'My dear young lady! How may I help you, on this fine night?' He has a strong New York-Irish accent

'Well, my name's Belle-Marie Prior, and I was wondering, I've heard about this aura reading that you do, and it sounds quite interesting -'

'Quite interesting! Why, more than that, Belle-Marie, it's the greatest study proper to man - don't you see? Like that great poet Burns said, "O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us, to see oorselves as ithers see us" - hey?' Enthusiasm shines from his face.

'Well then, surely, and what can you tell me about it, then?' says Belle-Marie, slightly flustered. 'I was wanting to have mine read, see, and -'

'Say no more, you've come to the right man. I can set you straight all right. How'd you like to be one of my victims tomorrow? During the lecture, see, I'll be calling for volunteers from the audience, for demonstration of the Power. You stick your hand up then, all lively, and I'll call you forward. Long as you don't mind having it reeled off in public that is.' He regards her narrowly. 'Not that a young thing like you can have too much to hide. But I'll keep quiet about all the disreputable bits, don't you worry.'

Vera has headed straight for Professor Chevrotain, who despite the undeniable brilliance of his lecture yesterday seems to be finding himself rather alone. He is mercilessly dissecting a prawn vol-au-vent with swift, agile fingers. His eyes light up as he sees her approach. 'Ah! The charming young lady from the third row!'

Vera allows him to kiss her hand (very French). 'I was fascinated by your lecture, Professor -'

'Please! You must call me Arnaud!'

'- I truly learnt a lot. Have you been involved with Mr Jackley and his group long, Arnaud?'

'Oh, not very long really - Jackley is a reader of my work, of course -' he sniffs '- though whether he truly understands it is doubtful. Many of these people, they do not have what you call first-class minds. Jackley approached me earlier this year to speak, and I was glad of the opportunity. If I have reached just one person, made them think for the first time perhaps -' he regards Vera keenly, although she cannot but notice that his gaze keeps straying downwards towards her décolletage '- then we have another citizen for the Republic of Learning, isn't it?'

Taylor makes her entrance rather late, but all eyes are at once drawn to her. She broadcasts warm smiles all round, and slowly makes her way over towards Jackley's little group. 'Mr Jackley? Taylor Parker-Davis.' She shakes his hand firmly. 'I found your talk this afternoon very interesting - I'm looking forward tremendously to the rest of the Congress, if it follows your lead.'

Jackley takes a moment to recover his poise, but replies smoothly 'We've got a tremendous array of entertaining and informative speakers lined up, Ms Parker-Davis - they'll be putting my poor contribution to shame, I can assure you! The finest collection of experts in their fields ever gathered under one roof.'

'I've been hearing about the television show you present, and it's such a shame that we can't see it in the States. Is there any chance of it coming over in the future?'

'Oh, well, actually, I'm in negotiation with your Fox Network right at the moment,' Jackley replies slightly hurriedly. 'Things are looking rather hopeful, I can tell you. Wouldn't surprise me if I popped up in your next year's, er, fall schedules.'

Taylor, because of the industry in which she works, is sensitive to showbiz hype, and she guesses that Jackley is not quite so confident about the prospects of his show crossing the Atlantic as he makes out.

Richard Chambers, Jackley's blond assistant, tugs at his elbow, flashing Taylor a quick glance which she is not sure how to interpret - irritation? Jealousy? 'Bernard, the Master wants to talk to you before he makes his speech.'

'Very well, very well,' says Jackley calmly, detaching Chambers from his sleeve. 'I shall have to catch up with you later, Ms Parker-Davis. Duty calls!' With that he saunters off across the lawn to where a tall, distinguished-looking middle-aged man in rather splendid robes is carefully inspecting a newly-planted sapling.

Steven has been holding to the edges of the crowd, not yet being drawn in to any of the conversations. He is now close to the knot of dons, some of whom appear to be quite drunk now: all are still regarding the psychics with great suspicion. 'What brave new world is this, that has such people in it, eh?' one middle-aged woman with big glasses remarks to her neighbour. 'What a bunch!'

'I'll say,' he responds with feeling. 'And these are the ones who have the general public at their beck and call with their horoscope columns. Incredible, isn't it? Mystic Meg and so forth - dreadful fraud.'

'Oh, there's nothing fraudulent about horoscopes, Andrew. I read mine every day - very useful.'

He chokes on his sherry, regarding her with horror for an instant, then she grins and winks, and both collapse into laughter as he pokes her in the ribs. 'Marion! I almost believed you for a moment there.'

Eric has managed to draw a nervous-looking woman in her forties, in a sagging ecru dress, into conversation. He has found that she is not a delegate, but in fact the wife of one of the dons: her name is Margaret Saunders. 'Of course I don't know whether it was real or not - how can anyone? - but I do believe I genuinely saw a ghost once. It was a Roman centurion. Where we lived when I was younger, in Silchester, it had been a garrison town in the Roman times. And he stood before me, holding in one hand a spear, in the other hand was one of those bunch of rods things that the people who attended the consuls and so on used to carry in procession - what are they called? Anyway, it was strange, I almost felt as though I was being asked to choose between one and the other. But then he faded away.'

'It must have been very disturbing,' says Eric automatically, feeling slightly sick, his mind revisiting a comparable experience he once had.

'It certainly was! I called for my husband, but of course he was no help. And he wouldn't have seen anything anyway, being such a sceptic. He just said to stop being so silly!' She laughs.

'A friend of mine once thought he saw the ghost of a little girl who had drowned,' said Eric. 'But he investigated, and he couldn't find any story of that having happened. In the end he thought it might have been a dream.'

'That's what Michael would have said. My husband. You'd like him, Dr Alnes: I wonder where he is, he should be here by now.' She bites her lip. 'He's always late. What with this Royal Commission and everything.'

'Royal Commission?' probes Eric gently.

'Oh, it's a bit dull really. The Rowney Commission on Agriculture, or something like that. Michael's a member, he sits on a lot of these things, analysing the information their given - it's all provided by lobby groups, you see, and they have to weigh it up and arrive at recommendations, so they need someone like Michael to make proper judgements on what's genuine and what's just spin, but this one's being a lot of work. Lots of late nights.'

'And he should have been able to break out of it easily, do you see? He was a very strong man. And then my mother, just a few days later, drowned at sea. And she was a professional swimmer, for goodness' sake.' Vera is more animated than she has been up till now, and Professor Chevrotain is listening carefully. 'The police gave up the investigations, so... I don't know where to begin looking for a psychic answer. If you have some time tonight, then perhaps you could tell me about some resources?'

'Mmm. This is not really my field, of course. I am more of a theoretician. You would need to speak with one of the practitioners.' He has an expression of distaste as he says the word.

'Could you perhaps introduce me to someone, then?'

'Let me see... there is Mme Kingston. She is supposed to be a very gifted medium. She could perhaps contact your parents 'beyond the Spirit Veil' and ask them to tell their own stories to you.'

'I wonder if I could sit next to her at dinner, then?' muses Vera.

Dr Chevrotain's face falls as he realizes that his attractive interlocutor does not have quite the personal interest in him that he might have hoped when she began their conversation.

T.R. sees Jackley and the Master of Beaufort conversing quietly, over in a secluded corner of the garden. From their body language he can tell that the two men know each other well. Jackley is mostly just nodding and listening while the Master expounds something, his hands thrust deep into his pockets. Finally Jackley, a brief smile crossing his face, pats the Master on the shoulder as though in comfort or reassurance, and they both walk swiftly back to the gathering.

The Master clears his throat, and the general conversation slows and stops. 'Ahem. Ladies, gentlemen. Honoured guests. Welcome to Beaufort College, one of Oxford's oldest establishments, founded by Walter de Beaufort in 1429. Walter's grand-daughter Joan, of course, went on to marry John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III, and was thus progenitress of the Lancastrian line...'

And where has Ned been all this while? Once the cab had dropped him and Vera off, he headed away from the garden and casually entered the administrative wing of the College. At this time of the evening, there are few people about. Most of the offices are empty, with only a few staff about, mostly occupied with their own tasks, too buy to notice Ned, who walked quietly through the corridors, following the signs saying 'Externals'. After a few minutes, he reached what must be Marje Criss's office, its door ajar.

Ned walks up to the door and pauses. Without touching it, he listens carefully. There is the faint rustle of papers, and the sound of someone breathing.

Ned knocks quietly on the door.

'Yes?' comes a querulous voice.

He moves the door open, and sees a woman sitting at the desk, amid substantial clutter. She must be around 40 but looks older, prematurely greying and her temples lined with worry. Ned smiles warmly, hoping to appear casual and non-threatening. 'Hello, my name's Ned Numenor. I work for the Monthly Anomalist, and I'm doing a feature story on Beaufort College's association with Bernie Jackley and the Congress.'

'What? Oh. Really, Mr Numenor, I'm not the best person to speak to about this. I'm just a functionary.' She sounds tired.

Ned's brow creases with concern. He slips further into the room and sits in the office's only other chair. 'Oh, I'm sorry to intrude. Perhaps I can get some background information for my article, without attribution of course, on Jackley. Your impressions of him and his Congress, for example. Didn't you first have contact with him early this summer?'

'That's right...' She looks rather worried. 'Well, yes and no.' She pauses. Ned remains silent, giving her no help. 'Well, the thing is, you see...' She spreads her hands over each other, the fingers straining outwards. 'He's a friend of the Master, that's how he contacted us, and the Master said to treat him well and so on. But... I found out that he's not just come out of nowhere. He was a student here himself, in the Seventies: I just came across his name while looking thorough the records. At the same time that the Master was: that must have been where they became friends.'

'The Master was a student here too?' asks Ned, surprised. He had had the impression that college heads were usually brought in from outside.

'Oh, we're very incestuous here at Beaufort. Keep it in the family, you know.' She laughs weakly. 'But I'd spoken at length to Mr Jackley previously, and he didn't say anything about it. I mean, I described all the buildings to him and so on, asking where he'd like to stay, and of course he must have known them all perfectly well if he was a student here, but he didn't say anything.'

As the Master's speech wears on, T.R. draws aside Richard Chambers, whom he has previously asked for a brief interview.

Chambers appears nervous and tense, but his expression is firm and he manages a smile for T.R. as he explains the background to the Congress.

It seems that such a gathering has been an ambition of Jackley's for some time, and it is his own brainchild. He has been building up his contacts with the various speakers for a few years now. It was only this year that he managed to persuade the Psychic Times to agree to sponsor the event. His hope is that it will foster world understanding of psychism, through the various members of the press gathered here, and that it will also allow practitioners of the different branches of the field to compare techniques, make links, and in general knit together in a multi-disciplinary fashion. Chambers eyes shine as he relates his boss's vision, and it is clear that he regards these aims as highly laudable.

Chambers has worked for Jackley for four years, as his personal assistant and factotum. He was taken on when Jackley got the TV contract: the volume of work had become too great. Up till that point Jackley had managed his own affairs. He sees Jackley as a great man and is sincerely admiring: T.R. is unable to detect any hint of bad feeling, although Chambers admits that he and Jackley are not intimates. 'Someone like him doesn't really need other people close by, in an emotional sense, I mean: he's very self-contained. There are many things I don't know about him, like his early background and so on. He never talks about the past.'

T.R. learns that Chambers himself recommends the more practical sessions of the Congress over the theoretical disquisitions of the likes of Chevrotain. The two morning presentations, by Gration and Rohinder, should be particularly interesting, as should the lecture by the police representative on Friday afternoon. 'These demonstrations of how psychism can benefit everybody's lives - that's what it's really about, don't you see? If you've been given such a wonderful gift, it's your duty to use it for the benefit of the community, isn't it?' Most of the speakers will be conducting small demonstrations using members of the audience, but the only big experiment will be Rohinder's Rhine card test on Friday morning. The idea is to divide the audience between the two lecture theatres. One group will concentrate on one of the five Rhine symbols, while the other tries to mentally discern it. This is a standard telepathy experiment as used on individuals, but Rohinder is hoping that the gathering of many psychic minds under one roof, working together, will produce a highly synergistic effect.

Jackley, it seems, has never claimed any psychic gifts of his own. On his TV show he merely acts as facilitator and host for those who are so gifted. His sobriquet 'The Amazing' was gained from his earlier life as a well-regarded stage conjuror, which he used as a springboard into his present role. Chambers confides, though, that he believes Jackley to have healing hands and mild mesmeric powers. 'When I'm ill - I get these headaches from time to time - he just has to put his hands on my temples, look into my eyes and talk softly to me, and the pain goes away!'

Chambers himself is not gifted. He started as a fan of Jackley's act, as a teenager, and struck up a correspondence with the man: he was delighted to be offered the job. He believes that one is either born psychic, or not: that it's a genetic predisposition. If you are not, you can never be. And if you are, you'll still usually have to train and develop the powers before they can be practically used.

Eventually, as they are walking towards dinner, T.R. manages to raise the question of funding. Chambers has no idea why Psychic Times withdrew its offer. 'I can only imagine that they were envious of the popularity and success it would give Bernard,' he sniffs. Fortunately, a white knight stepped in: a charitable body called Tehuti. They fronted up the thirty thousand pounds that were required to fund the organization of the Congress, beyond the deleagtes' fees, without a murmur. They are not represented at the Congress: Chambers has had no contact with them beyond opening the envelope that contained their cheque. He does not believe that Jackley has spoken to them either. 'They must have heard about our troubles.'

By the time Ned slips out of Criss' office, the reception is nearly over. As he exits the building and walks toward the reception, he hears the sound of gentle footsteps behind him, slipping out of the same door.

Before Ned can turn around, though, Cosmo Landesman walks up to him, exclaiming in a loud voice: 'Your aura, man - good God, what is your name?' His voice is shocked.

Ned grits his teeth and quickly looks round, but sees no one behind him now. He turns again to the odd man who's confronted him. 'My name's Numenor, I work for the Monthly Anomalist. And you?'

Landemans shakes his hand warmly, 'Landesman. Damn glad to meet you. I sensed tonight would be propitious. And now I find you, with an aura that screams out to me!'

Ned is beginning to worry that this man's effusiveness is drawing unwanted attention to him. 'Yes, Mr. Landesman, I'd like to interview you for my magazine,' Ned says as he draws him aside away from the questioning eyes. He notices, out of the corner of his eye, Vera and Chevrotain talking in an animated way as they walk towards the dining hall. 'Can you tell me about your involvement with Jackley and the Congress?'

'No, Mr Numenor, it is I who would like to interview you - your aura is remarkable, sir! Unique, one might say!'

Ned nods, humouring the fellow. 'Maybe later. But Jackley?'

'Oh, I've known him for a few years. He had me on that British TV show of his, a rather nice little demonstration. Gained a few believers that day, I can tell you! Good man, Jackley, his heart's in the right place. He has a very good aura himself. Golden, mostly: that's the best you can have. Yours, on the other hand...'

Vera is shown to a seat next to the medium Isobelle Kingston, and Chevrotain sits opposite. Into the other seat next to her slips Martin Keyes, the damp young man from the registration. He seems strongly drawn to Vera, who shudders slightly at his proximity.

Vera explains her position, her shoulder turned towards Keyes, who is shamelessly earwigging in the hope of joining the conversation. 'Ms Kingston, I hope that you can help me. I've never been much of a believer, but I'm willing to pay if you and your colleagues can provide some answers about my parents' deaths.'

Kingston nods sympathetically. 'Call me Isobelle, dear. I'll certainly do what I can to help. It all sounds terribly sad, you poor thing. You must have such a lot of questions you'd like to ask them.'

'That's right,' says Vera. 'I believe that whatever did them in is beyond the reach of the police and the private detectives I hired. It may involve... darker avenues.'

'Well, dear, in that case we shall have to be very careful with how we proceed. The risks are considerable. I think that we should meet privately - perhaps some time during tomorrow? You'll have to tell me everything you know about your parents, and about the circumstances of their deaths. I know it'll be painful, dear, but it's for the best, really. Then you must tell me what you want to ask them, and I'll try and contact them and you'll hear what they have to say to you.'

'I'm an orphan too,' says Martin Keyes hopefully.

Vera withers him with a glance. 'I'm staying at the Bath Place Hotel, Isobelle - perhaps you could contact me there?'

'So what exactly is rhabdomancy?' asks Belle-Marie, who is much more relaxed now. 'It sounds interesting... I think.'

Gottfried Ulek, his steel-framed glasses glinting, laughs gently in an avuncular fashion. 'Many people say this! I did not want the word appearing on the programme, but Bernard said it would fascinate people!' His German accent is light and easy on the ear. 'It is from the Greek 'rhabdos' which is of course 'a rod' - so, divining with a rod. What you call dowsing.'

'Oh, you mean finding water and that?' Belle-Marie asks interestedly. There was a woman who lived near her family in Ireland who claimed to be able to find springs.

'Yes, except that it is all rather scientific these days, no? We have established that underground anomalies - flowing water, or metal pipes, or archaeological remains perhaps - emit special rays, called N-rays. And sensitive people can feel these rays. The rod acts as an amplifier, you could say. In my Institut we have done a good deal of scientific research into the techniques, and we have very good, very consistent results. Of course we are not yet able to explain why only a few people have the sensitivity. That is a question for the evolutionary biologists perhaps!' He laughs.

Margaret Saunders has stayed close by Eric's reassuring presence as they enter the dining hall, with still no sign of her husband. It is noticeable that she looks nervously from time to time at Jackley, who is still with the Master exhibiting great bonhomie.

She chats about local events in Oxford - apparently there is a great deal of controversy over the City Council's plans to bulldoze the historic former London, Midland and Scottish Railway station building to make room for a new business park - until about halfway through the main course a tall, fierce-looking man in robes bursts into the hall.

'Ah, Michael,' says the Master. 'So glad you could join us.'

The new arrival smiles briefly, then takes a vacant seat at the far end of the table. 'Sorry, Master, distinguished guests,' he says, with a hint of irony. 'I've been rather tied up in the office until just now.' His wife gazes anxiously down at him, ignoring Eric.

Taylor hears the don named Marion snigger slightly. 'Tied up!' she whispers to her neighbour. 'More likely he had someone else tied up - this new student of his, Claire whatshername.'

Andrew raises his eyebrows. 'Oh, you mean...? Well, she is rather a pretty little thing.'

Steven makes his excuses early and heads upstairs. He has managed to persuade the College sysadmin to let him into the computer room, three floors up in the top of the building. Outside term the small room is deserted, the terminals quiet and the work tables lying empty, and Steven happily sits at a terminal and starts searching the Web. He swiftly finds two recent Psychic Times articles mentioning Jackley, and sends off emails to their author, Richie Wardens. He searches the Web for mentions of the following day's speakers, and finds a number of papers written by Gottfried Ulek, many in German but a few in English. It seems that Ulek actually has State funding for his research into divining, and his papers look impressively academic despite their seemingly outré subject matter.

Steven is starting to search the IRC channels, looking for discussions about the ICIP, when suddenly the power on his terminal goes dead, together with all the other computers in the room, and the lighting. It is very dark.

Steven quells the brief urge to panic, and rises slowly to his feet, listening carefully. There is a shred of light spilling under the door of the computer room, from the deserted corridor outside, and as he watches he sees the shadow of feet move across it, accompanied by the faint sound of rattling metal - a bunch of keys, perhaps?

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