The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
When Christ And His Saints Slept
11.30 am, Tuesday 25th August 1998
Theodore Revelle Warren - 'T.R.' to his friends - stands still, looking inquisitively about himself, as the crowds of returning holidaymakers part and rejoin around him. Heathrow Airport's Terminal Four is large, clean and modern, but apart from the fact that the advertising hoardings are in English, he could be in the arrival area of an airport in any of a dozen countries he has visited in the course of his work in the past eight years. He is tall, but in his beige suit he presents an inconspicuous appearance: his hair is sandy blond, and his features while rugged are similarly unremarkable.
He is expecting to see a SITU staffer holding up a board with his name, or something of the kind, but there is none apparent. Well, organization does not seem to be the Society's strong point, so far: he had only had a day's notice of this new mission, so it was fortunate that his time is currently pretty much his own.
'Dr Alnes? Dr Eric Alnes?' A slim, worried-looking man who looks about thirty, T.R.'s own age, is wandering about the concourse disconsolately, peering into people's faces.
Alnes is the name of the fellow-operative with whom T.R. is supposed to be working. He shoulders his flight bag, strides over, and taps the man on the shoulder. 'You're meeting Dr Alnes? Are you with SITU?'
'Yes!' The other seems greatly relieved. 'Are you him?'
'No... my name's Warren. Are you looking for me too?'
The man consults a Filofax, which he carefully keeps turned away from T.R. 'Mr Theodore Warren? I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow!' He snaps the Filofax shut and stuffs it annoyedly into his pocket. 'Really, this is all too much. Chaos! What's your briefing number?'
'I can't tell you, I'm afraid,' replies T.R. easily. 'I haven't had a briefing yet. Matter of fact, I don't know what SITU want me here for yet. Just had a fax saying to be on this plane.'
'Oh God!' The man looks almost ready to weep. 'This is absolute hell! Ever since we lost Boundary Row, it's been complete chaos! Well, Mr Warren, you wait here, and don't move - I've got to find Dr Alnes. He's an elderly gentleman... don't want him getting lost!' He begins scanning the crowd again.
'Might that be him?' suggests T.R., pointing across at a distinguished-looking man with white hair, who is likewise standing still and slowly looking around himself.
Eric is carrying himself as erect as usual, but the strain of flying has told somewhat on his frame: he is relieved to be hailed. 'You must be Mr Swahn, is that correct?' He offers his hand to the SITU staffer.
'No, I'm afraid not, he's busy: my name's Mike Burgin. And this is Mr Warren, your colleague.'
'T.R. How do you do?' T.R. steps forward, offering his hand. Eric's is slim and delicate, without the flabbiness and shaking that might be expected: he appears to be at least seventy, although his open, blue-eyed face is markedly unlined. His dark suit is beautifully cut in an Italian style suggestive of great expense.
'Eric Alnes. Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.' T.R. has to repress a slight start as Eric speaks: his voice is very much like that of NPR newscaster Noah Adams.
The two men size each other up, and then Eric says to Mike Burgin, 'I believe we are meeting a lady as well, is that right? A Miss Parker-Davis?'
'What's this? I've heard nothing about this!' Burgin consults his Filofax again, shaking his head. 'This is just getting absurd. How many more of you Americans are there?'
'I've not been given any other names,' Eric says gently.
T.R. unslings his flight bag again, and starts scanning the crowd once more.
'Well! That was more of an adventure than I was expecting!' says Taylor Parker-Davis cheerfully, putting her hands on her hips. Her voice is a warm Southern drawl, and as she shakes her head, waves of rich auburn hair cascade down her back. She is wearing a cream linen jacket and slacks and appears to be in her mid-twenties, with the height, build and self-possession commonly associated with models. 'Do you two gentlemen know exactly what we're all doing here?'
It seems, though, that none of the three operatives have been given any form of briefing. They stand together in a small huddle, while Mike Burgin, twenty yards away, yatters furiously into a public telephone, attempting to find out what SITU has planned.
From across the concourse, rising above the sounds of thronging humanity, comes the sound of cymbals, several small pairs striking in ragged unison. Handclaps join in, and then a handful of voices start singing, or rather chanting: what sounds like a prayer or hymn, on one note, in a vaguely Eastern-sounding language.
'Hare Krishnas?' wonders Eric. 'They're quite common on the streets of London, I believe.'
Across the concourse comes threading a small procession of dancers, four men and two women. All have their heads shaves, all but a small tassel at the back, and all wear bright white robes, baggy enough to allow a good deal of freedom of movement. Each wears a pair of thumb cymbals. All six have beatific grins on their faces, and their eyes are closed, their heads nodding back and forth in ecstasy as their voices rise together in the chant.
'I wonder how they keep following each other, with their eyes closed like that?' muses Taylor.
The arriving passengers are treating the dancers with an assortment of reactions, ranging from amused tolerance to contemptuous disregard. The leader spreads his arms wide as the other five follow him in a series of fantastic whirls and capers, and he reaches into an inner recess of his robs and pulls out a handful of leaflets. His eyes snap open, and he calls out 'Feel the Sun smile on you!'
'The sun, huh?' says T.R. 'Not much chance of that here in England.' He grins.
The leader of the dancers pauses, his arms aloft. 'You could hardly be wronger, brother,' he replies, although T.R. is a good ten feet away from him. 'We make our own Sun - all of us do. We can carry it with us into the darkness if we wish. Here!' And he skims one of the light card fliers across towards T.R. [attached as KEEPERFL.GIF - Mo]
'"The Keepers of the Hidden Circles",' T.R. starts to read. 'Sounds like some kind of cult, doesn't it?'
As the dancers weave their way off again, Mike Burgin returns, red in the face and his forehead sweating. 'OK, people, I've done what I can. There's been some huge mess-up here, I don't understand what's going on at all - none of you were supposed to be here until tomorrow. But we do what we can, eh? You've to get to Oxford - I've booked you into the Hawkwell House hotel, and I've booked a cab for you. Stupid, can't get authorization for the train, because it goes through London - we're not using London at the moment. The road's a nightmare, there's roadworks by High Wycombe, but you'll just have to sit through them I'm afraid.'
'Is that High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire?' asks T.R., who is still reading the flier.
'That's right - what've you got there?' Burgin takes it and quickly skims through it. 'That's very strange. We looked at these guys last year. I thought they'd been closed down.'
'Do you mean that SITU investigated them?' asks Eric.
'That's right.' Burgin frowns, tapping the flier against his thumb. 'We found... er, nothing of any great interest,' he glances quickly around the three attentive faces, 'but... strange, all the same. Hmm. Listen, can you guys do me a favour, and check this out? It's right on your way to Oxford.'
'Check it out? How, exactly?' asks Eric.
'See what's going on. We were told the cult'd been closed down and their headquarters building burnt. They were pretty innocent - not much below the surface -' he frowns slightly '- but even so, if they've started up again... we need to know things like who's in charge, where they're based, how many, what they're up to... that sort of thing. You three up for that?'
The operatives glance at each other. 'Anything to help,' says Taylor graciously. 'But I'm still not exactly clear... can you tell us anything about the cult?'
Burgin sighs. 'It's above your... well, look, it's basically what's on the flier, OK? Just nose around - use your wits - but don't do anything rash, OK?'
T.R. looks around the concourse, but the dancers have now disappeared, and their hymn is no more to be heard.