The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
July 16th, 6pm.
Maddy and Jonas - Oxford
The others - on the road to London.
"For Chrissakes, you're as mad as the priest is!" Mark shouts. There is genuine fear in his eyes as he jumps to his feet.
Geoffrey pushes him back roughly. "Stay out of this. It's a case of him or us, Mark. Given the choice, which would you prefer?" He pulls Jake's head up by the hair and circles a hand lightly around his throat. "Look at him - he doesn't even know what's happening."
"Then why kill him?" Mark protests.
Geoffrey shifts his feet wider apart, balancing against the unsteady movements of the van. "Hush," he murmurs, drawing a syringe out of his jacket pocket. "Show some respect for the dying. I think this man is having a heart attack." The point of the needle touches Jake's neck. Geoffrey smiles.
The priest's eyes snap open. For a moment Geoffrey just stares then he starts back, just a fraction too late. Both Jake's feet whip up together. His heavy boots slam into Geoffrey's groin, lifting him off the floor. Geoffrey screams and collapses. Huddled on the floor, his head is within easy reach of Jake's boots.
Mark scrambles forward, fumbling in his jacket for his gun. Jake lashes out again, connects with Mark's right knee. There is a satisfying crack. He yells in pain and stumbles back, tripping over the moaning Geoffrey.
Jake tugs angrily at the chains around his wrists. Mark tries to get up and he kicks him again for good measure. "Okay, you pig-stuffing bastards," he snarls. "Stop this van and get me some help before these shiteaters start using their guns." He feels the van lurch to one side.
Brandy and Mal exchange glances. "I think..." Brandy begins. He gets no further. Nolan Corey slams his foot on the accelerator, and swings the car sideways, straight at the police van. A road sign flashes past them. 'A34 Abingdon, Oxford.'
The black Mercedes Will is following pulls out to overtake another car. Will keeps his distance, never taking his eyes off it. No doubt the others will be screaming for help soon enough. Until then, the longer he can keep out of the eyes of the enemy the better.
"It's my mother, Jonas! Like in Bambi! I have to go!" Maddy hugs him hard then breaks away and runs for the door. He watches her a moment then shrugs and follows. Whatever trouble Jake is in, he's too far away to do anything. He hopes the others will be able to deal with it.
The door opens as he gets there. A woman, early fifties, expensively dressed, looks out at them both. She is wearing a siring of pearls and she plays with them nervously, exactly the same gesture Jonas has seen Maddy use time and again.
Maddy spreads her arms wide. "I'm Maddy...I mean Marilyn," she announces happily. "An' I'm back!"
The woman's face turns white. Joy, disbelief and a shock so great it verges on terror drains the blood from her face. Tears start down her cheeks as she returns Maddy's embrace. "Marilyn. But they said... I mean, we thought..." The rest of the sentence comes out as a choked sob. She holds Maddy tight and Jonas stands and watches the pair of them - a middle-aged woman in a pink jumper and real pearls, and a half-starved girl, covered in henna tattoos and loaded with cheap jewelry. Glancing across the road he sees the net curtains are already twitching on the houses opposite.
Maddy pulls back. "Oh, this is Jonas. He's, uh, y'know, been helping me."
The woman looks at him over Maddy's shoulder and schools her face into a polite smile. "I'm pleased to meet you." She doesn't sound quite certain that she means it. "I'm Jennifer Hooke. Marilyn's mother."
The van turns off the M4 onto the Oxford road and then down a narrow side road too narrow for Corey to overtake.
Jake's voice fills the car again. "I think we're slowing. What the hell's happening here? I need backup."
"Coming," Mal mutters. He glances behind. A black Mercedes is close behind them. Following that is an old Ford he doesn't recognise but guesses has to be Will's.
"Here's the plan," Brandy says. "When the van stops I'll stay out of sight and sneak back to help Jake. Mal, you distract the driver." He grins nervously. "A bit simplistic, and it probably won't work like that, but let's give it a try."
Mal nods agreement. "Here, these might help," he says, tossing him a small bunch of keys. "They'll open most things." He frowns for a moment, then asks, "But what makes you think the van will stop?"
"This," Corey snaps from the driver's seat. The road widens suddenly up ahead. The car screeches into the gap. Metal scraps along metal, Corey hauls on the steering wheel. Then the nose of the van hits the hedge. A few birds fly up in alarm.
"Now," Mal mutters. Brandy slips out of the car on the far side. Mal waits a moment then gets out on his side and strolls back. Behind the van, the Mercedes has stopped and another man is getting out. Will's car has pulled up just behind.
"Sorry," Mal says, walking to the van. "We seem to have burst a tyre, and my friend had trouble steering. We'll be out of your way as soon as..." the driver is completely in shadow. Mal can't see his face, only the outline of a peaked cap and the dark barrel of a gun pointing straight out of the window. He flings himself down, hears a quick muffled crack as the bullet ploughs into the branches behind him. He rolls to one side quickly; another bullet scores through the leaves above his face.
Brandy makes it to the back of the van and stops.
"You know, the easiest thing for us would be to kill you all right now," say the Mercedes driver. He too has a gun. He aims it, smiling. "Give me the slightest excuse and I'll do it." The Mercedes is parked just behind. There is no sign of Will's car. Brandy groans and raises his hands. The driver's smile broadens. He steps forward...
And Will charges him from the side. He staggers and turns. Will grabs his wrist and forces the gun up. He lets out a quick cry of pain then pulls back and swings at Will with his left fist. Will doesn't try to block it and hardly seems to notice when the punch connects. He scowls, concentrating all his strength into his grip around the man's wrist, his fingers digging in between tendons. He hears the man scream again and he lets out a grunt of satisfaction. He blocks a punch to his face, hears the gun clatter to the ground, shifts his grip and hits out as hard as he can.
Brandy sees the gun fall. Grinning his thanks to Will, he turns his attention back to the van doors. The fourth key he tries opens them and he half falls, half climbs in.
"About time," Jake glares at him. He is sitting, chained to a seat. He is pale, his eyes bloodshot. Two men are on the floor, both moaning in intermittent agony. Jake stamps on the hand of one as he gropes for a gun.
"Get their weaponry," Jake orders curtly. "And then get me out of here."
Another shot kicks the ground by Mal's feet. He does the only thing possible: he rolls under the van. The hot smell of metal and dirt makes him feel dizzy; he gulps in air, waiting. A pair of feet appear, hesitate a moment then plant themselves firmly on the ground. Small feet, Mal notes.
"You might as well come out." The silver glint of metal shifts slightly. "There's nowhere you can go." Mal starts in surprise. The driver is not a man after all, but a woman, and, what is more, he recognises her voice. The policewoman, Jonas' latest conquest. Lesley.
She moves back a pace, rising up onto the balls of her feet. In a moment she'll be bending down, aiming the gun beneath the van, Mal thinks. He takes a quick, deep breath, shoots out both hands, grabs her ankles and pulls. She lets out a surprise squawk and sits down hard. Mal twists himself around. Lesley still has hold of the gun and he scrambles for it.
Lesley lunges forward, gasps once and goes limp. Will bends down to give Mal a hand out from under the van.
The four men look at each other and then at their captives. "So now we have them, what do we do with them?" Brandy asks. "We can't stay here."
Maddy dances back through the house. Too excited, too happy to stand still for more than a second at a time. Almost everything she sees seems to spark off another memory; still hazy, but random images are coming back. A birthday party; coming downstairs at Easter and finding her pet dog had eaten all her chocolate (the dog long since buried in the garden, she remembers with a twinge of regret); bringing her first boyfriend home and propping a chair under the door handle so her mother couldn't come in. She grins at Jonas. "I remember this house. I used to live here."
Her mother comes in, carrying a tray. Bone china cups and saucers, a teapot, a plate of fancy cakes.
"If I'd known you were coming I'd have bought something in," she says, still halfway between tears and laughter.
Maddy laughs. "Mum, don't fuss." Then, realising how utterly normal the phrase sounds, she blushes. "Sorry, I..."
"You've been gone a long time," Jennifer Hooke says. She squeezes her hand quickly then busies herself pouring milk into cups.
Maddy can't stay silent for long. She chatters on, telling her mother most of what she can remember since waking up in a psychiatric hospital in 1996. She doesn't mention SITU, to Jonas' relief - not that he thinks her mother would believe her in any case. She listens to Maddy talk with a dazed look in her eyes, nodding from time to time, obviously taking very little in.
"We tried to find you," she says for what must be at least the fifth time. "The police, the Salvation Army, you name it, we tried it. We even hired a private investigator but all he did was cost us money. The police told us that it sometimes happens, that people vanish without trace. They said unless we could prove there had been a crime, and we couldn't of course, they couldn't help us. It wasn't as if you were a child any more."
Another memory stirs. Maddy sits up straight. "Mum, what about Dad? Where is he?" She can almost remember him: a tall man, quiet.
Jennifer Hooke wipes her eyes with a handkerchief. "Marilyn, " she says quietly, "I'm sorry, but your father died last year. A car crash. No one was to blame."
Maddy feels herself go cold. "What was he doing? He wasn't working for Harvest, was he? Or was he a scientist?"
"No." Jennifer gives her a quick, puzzled look. "He was an accountant. You were the scientist. Don't you remember? You were in college, studying biochemistry. Darling, you were doing so well before you disappeared."
There is a faint reproach in her voice. Jonas picks it up, Maddy doesn't. She goes back to gazing around the room, playing absently with the ankh around her neck. This is too much for her at once, Jonas thinks. The girl has hardly started remembering stuff yet, she needs some space. And then there's Jake. It was Jonas's idea to have him arrested. If anything's gone wrong...
He stands up, a little too quickly. "Mrs Hooke, I'm sorry, but we both have urgent business to see to. I'll get Marilyn back here as soon as possible - that's a promise." He looks at Maddy meaningfully.
She flushes and stands up. "Yeah, sorry. It's... uh... kinda a secret. I've got stuff to do. But I'll be straight back and, like, don't worry 'cause I've got Jonas to keep an eye on me."
Funny how her accent changes, Jonas reflects. A moment ago she had been coherent, almost educated. Now she's pure Maddy again. He nods to her mother. "She'll be fine."
Jennifer bites her lip unhappily. "Well if you're sure... Wait!" She pulls her purse out of her handbag and presses it into Maddy's hands. "Take it. Find yourself somewhere nice to stay tonight, and if you need anything else give me a call."
Will sits in the back of the van, staring at the four captives angrily. With Mal's help they have handcuffed them all and searched them thoroughly. They also have photos of them, and fingerprints, and all the identification they could find, which wasn't much. Also a couple of syringes which no one wants to touch.
"So you're on your own," Brandy says conversationally, searching the van as he speaks. "No back up, you can't contact your bosses, and the only person following us is our lawyer friend in the car. Who wants to start talking first?"
No one utters a word.
Mal's voice comes from the front of the van. "I'll be turning off soon. There's somewhere we can stop not far from here. I've told Jonas and Maddy to meet us there."
Brandy pulls open a drawer and lets out a whoop of delight. "A computer!" He sits down, balancing it on his knees. "Will, Jake, see if one of our friends will give us their passwords."
A short while later the van rolls to a halt.
"Jonas," Jake yells, "if I didn't already have too much blood on my hands, you can guarantee that I'd pull your heart out and piss on it while you watched." He shoves him out of the way and wrenches open the van door.
"Jake..." Jonas begins. The priest shakes his head in disgust.
"Don't bother. I only hung around this long so I could tell you what I thought of you. I'm through with the whole lot of you."
He gets out of the van and stamps away. The others look at each other in shocked silence for a second or two then Corey gets up slowly. "I'll see he's all right. You better decide what to do with these people." He shuts the van door. The group hear his car start to life a moment later.
Jonas rubs his hands over his face and sighs heavily. He turns his attention to Lesley, scowling. "You were in on this all along then?" he asks.
Lesley eyes him nervously. "What do you think? I was stationed at Usk to keep an eye on Jameson - and the Jacqueline Brown woman, funnily enough. Then when your friends turned up I was told to play along with them and find out who you all were."
A sour taste comes into Jonas' mouth. "So you're nothing to do with the police."
"You're wrong," she says, "I am. Started training at eighteen and been on my way up ever since." She sounds almost proud of herself. "I was following orders, that's all. There was a good promotion in it for me. All I had to do was watch. Then, when we were ready to move your mad friend I was assigned as driver and told to go whatever Geoffrey here told me to."
All eyes turn to Geoffrey. He shifts uncomfortably. "You can't do anything to us."
"Try us," Will threatens. "Who are you working for? Harvest?"
"Harvest?" Geoffrey lets out a bark of laughter. "Harvest works for us. We..."
"Shut up you fool," the Mercedes driver snaps. Geoffrey falls silent immediately. The driver turns to Will with a quick, almost apologetic smile. "I think we can come to some arrangement here. I can tell you for a start that the last thing I did before leaving the car was to radio for backup. You've probably got another ten minutes before our people find you. You let us go now and we'll keep them off your backs."
He's lying, Mal thinks. He picks up a gun and aims it at him experimentally. "Who are you working for?"
A slight shrug. "The group is called GX. No one knows who's really in charge of it so there's no point asking. In any case, if you come out of this alive no one's going to believe a word you say."
"We'll see," Mal replies calmly. "What about the scientists?"
The man shakes his head and doesn't answer. Mal raises the gun again, wondering what would happen if he really did use it.
He doesn't have to find out. Brandy looks up from the computer screen. "There's no need. It's all here." Mal pushes the gun into his pocket with a sigh of silent relief.
Brandy prints off a few sheets of paper. A list of names they all recognise. Jameson, Kendal, Kawakami, Lee, Thomas. All of them marked 'failed.' There are blank spaces under all but Jameson's name. It looks like someone has been making notes on him.
"Pollen side-effect strikes again. Police verdict is sound," Brandy reads aloud. "Wife unaffected. J. Brown - that's Jacqueline, isn't it, Maddy? - J. Brown ok. Checking for immunity. Containment successful." He opens another file, frowning. "SW Test. Location: Windermere, Cumbria. Testers: Phillip and Nia Tulley, farmers. Completion expected end July." He tears off a page and passes it to Mal. There is a rough map of the area showing the positions of the village and lake. Close to the lakeside, a small area is shaded in red.
Jonas jabs at it with a finger. "What's that? The next experiment site?"
Geoffrey tugs at his handcuffs. "You won't get there in time to stop it. That's right, isn't it?" Again, he falls silent.
"What's an SW test?" Maddy asks.
She turns and stares at the captives hard. Eventually, the Mercedes driver answers her. "It's known as the Saffron Walden test, honey. The large-scale test. As my loud-mouthed friend here told you, there's nothing you can do about it now, it's far too well advanced." He pauses a moment, shakes his head slowly. "What he didn't tell you is we've already got people up there to monitor the effects and contain them as best we can. If you interfere now you could find yourselves responsible for hundreds of people dying."
Another lie? Mal wonders.