The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
July 16th 8pm
A quiet place near Oxford.
"We'd better..." Will begins.
Maddy cuts him off, rounding on the prisoners. "You have no idea, have you?" she demands. The voice that comes out is Marilyn's and it is icy with fury. "No idea what it's like. No idea what you do to people. I've lost three years - three years - of my life. I don't know my mother anymore. My father's dead and I wasn't there. Bits of my life - bits of me - just gone, taken away. I'll never get that back. Do you have any idea what that's like?!"
She stares at them all in turn. Lesley flushes slightly and avoids her gaze. Geoffrey and Mark look uncomfortable, the Mercedes driver just shrugs. "It's all in a good cause, love. We wouldn't expect you to understand."
"A good cause?" Maddy's voice leaps several octaves. "You destroy three years of my life and it's a good cause?" She is panting with anger, her face bright red. "You did that - you and the people you work for. If you've got any, like, decency left at all, you'll tell me the truth about everything. Now."
There is a moment's silence. Will stands up to look out of the back of the van. "We need to move out of here, now," he says firmly. "Maddy, you can shout at these people on the way. Lets go."
With Mal driving, the van lurches off. The road behind them is empty.
"Mal Harris." Mal pauses a moment. "Listen, we've got a problem..." Quickly, he explains the situation. He can almost feel Blaize frowning when he's finished.
"Understood," Blaize says eventually. "Maybe we underestimated the level of backup you'd need on this one. We'll meet you at... where are you now exactly? Right, thirty miles on there's a place. We'll bring a car for you and take your - ah - guests off your hands. That should do it."
In the back of the van, Maddy is still seething despite the others' best efforts to calm her down.
"Where in Windermere is this experiment happening?" Will asks.
Geoffrey grins. "All over, man, all over."
"If it's any consolation," Lesley tells Jonas, "I'd probably have slept with you even if I didn't have orders to find out who you were. I like you, you know."
"Then why don't you help us?"
"I can't. I don't know what's going on in Cumbria. "All I was expected to do was follow occasional orders as they came in. I never asked why."
Brandy pushes the computer to one side. "We have the location of the farm. What's the best way in? You." He picks on Geoffrey as the most likely to tell him.
Geoffrey remains silent, shaking his head. Then he smiles. "Sorry, can't tell you any more. If you get up there you'll find out soon enough. But we know who you are now. I don't rate your chances that highly." He sits back, staring at them sullenly, refusing to say anything else.
Brandy sighs. "I suppose we can always search them."
Searching reveals two sets of car keys and a map of Windermere with an area outlined in black pen. Brandy pockets it. "At least we know where we're going now."
Maddy begins rummaging in her rucksack. "Okay," she mutters, "you took a piece of my life an' now I'm going to take a piece of yours." She pulls out a half-used bag of wholemeal flour and hands it to Jonas. "Pour this around them, and, like, be careful not to get your feet in it." She stands up, wobbling slightly against the movement of the van, stops in front of each of the prisoners and tugs a few hairs from each one of them, eliciting a squeal of pain from Lesley. "That's for wanting to hurt Jonas," she hisses.
"Maddy, what are you doing?" Will asks. She flashes him a quick smile.
"Making sure they stay quiet." She stuffs the last of the hair into an envelope and produces a Polaroid camera. Quickly, she takes a picture of each of them, smiling to herself as their pale faces slowly come into focus under her gaze. She waves them in front of Lesley's face. "Right. You don't wanna know what I can do with these... If you know what's good for you, you'll tell your bosses nothing...!" She grins nastily, then turns to the others and gives them a smile that is pure Maddy. "Are we nearly there yet?"
As if responding to her, Mal stops the van.
Three men are waiting outside. They introduce themselves quietly and hand Mal a set of car keys. "Here you go. We'll handle the prisoners from here. Your orders are to get straight up to Cumbria and stop this experiment, whatever it is. Use any means possible.
"We need another car," Will says. "I was planning to trail the others to make sure no one follows us."
"Sorry. You'll have to split when you get there. There's no time for anything else now." The three of them walk away quickly, one getting into the front of the van, the other two in the back.
After a moment's pause, Will turns to the others. "What are we standing here for? Let's go."
"Your mouth is closed. You cannot speak, to gossip, slander or havoc wreak..." Maddy, frowning in concentration, is sewing up the mouths on the four photographs with a mixture of purple embroidery wool and strands of hair. The tip of her needle wavers over Lesley's eyes for a moment then she lets the photo fall with a sheepish smile. "That's that, then." She tapes the remaining blonde hairs onto the photo and puts it with the others. She closes her notebook with a snap and beams around. "I s'pose I wouldn't have, like, learned any of that stuff if I just kept on being Marilyn, y'know, all the time. She must've been really, like, left-brained..."
Will is about to point out that, given the choice, he'd rather have Marilyn around any day, sees the look on Maddy's face and changes his mind. She looks as if she's trying too hard to convince herself she's glad things happened the way they did, he thinks. He looks out of the back window instead.
"Anyone following?" Jonas asks. He shakes his head.
The roads remain quiet. Mal drives fast, Jonas and Will both watching constantly for signs they are being followed. Maddy persuades Brandy to teach her about the internet and she alternates between states of intense silent concentration and excited chatter for the rest of the way.
"Wow, coolsville! There's, like, so much stuff! Look! I just put in 'SITU' into that box thingie an' here's a thingie by another Atlantean called Ned Numenor...he must be, like, something to do with Jake! Oh wow! Doctor Culver's here too - he was my doctor for a while, y'know... It's all true! Everything I thought: the Ylids are the same thing as like Cthulhu 'cept they're not good at all an' it's all to do with Atlantis an' the aliens that we saw one of in Wales before an' this big old one called the Watcher, yeah? He's all, like, connected with those Fingers thingies an' the Men In Grey an' I'm sure he's doing stuff with corn, now. Doctor Culver says so! He's making special genetic corn, like they had in Atlantis..."
"Corn like they had in Atlantis?" Jonas queries. But Maddy, immersed again in a world of new information, doesn't look up.
It is getting dark. Mal glances at his watch. eleven o'clock. At this rate they'll be in Windermere in the early hours of the morning. He hopes it will be early enough.
"Are there any SITU members in the area of Windermere at the moment," Brandy asks. "We could contact them and get them to check things out for us, see if we can get there in time and tell us exactly what's going on." He removes the computer firmly from Maddy's grasp. "Here, I'll show you how to contact SITU by email."
A message comes back fifteen minutes later:
Nothing out of the ordinary so far. Things generally quiet at night this area. One problem - there have been rumours that a group of environmental protesters are intending to set up camp around the farm in question. No one knows why. No sign of them yet. Good luck.
The next few hours drag by, everyone except Maddy sharing the driving so they can all get a few hours sleep. Maddy wakes once or twice to complain that she's never allowed to drive and falls promptly back to sleep, slumped against whoever's shoulder is nearest.
The sky is just starting to lighten again when the team arrive in Windermere.
"We need to split up," Brandy says. "Two groups. We can leave the car close to the farm and meet back there."
Will shakes his head. "I'll follow along behind. I want to watch out for signs of the enemy."
"Forget the enemy. Our priority is to stop this experiment."
"And you do that better without mystery people following you," Will replies evenly.
They are still arguing about it when Jonas announces, "We're here."
The field is several acres across, or so Mal guesses, tightly planted with something that looks like corn or wheat. He slips on his infra red goggles and turns around slowly. The others show up as red, featureless blurs. Another blur of red scurries along the bottom of the hedge. And then, strangely, something else. A pale glow - a colour he can't quite make out, moving slowly in waves.
"Do you see that?" Maddy whispers.
Mal takes the goggles off in surprise. The field fades back to normal. A wind rustles across the top of the wheat. Jonas coughs suddenly. Maddy grasps his arm. "It's the experiment! The whole field is the experiment. I can see it. It's like... like something blowing off it."
"Don't breathe it in," Jonas snaps. "Cover your mouths, everyone."
Will rounds on him. "Who made you the boss?" He presses a hand across his eyes. The world has become unsteady. He staggers a step or two away from the field. He came here to do something, he knows. Think. What was it? The enemy. The word flashes across his mind. He came to fight the enemy. Four people are standing together watching him. He blinks and recognises them. He realises his hands are clenched into fists and makes a conscious effort to relax them. "Sorry," he says. "What was I saying?"
The sound of a shotgun shatters the dawnlight. The group stare at each other.
"It came from that way," Brandy says. He begins to run.
Will drops back as they head towards the gates to the farm buildings, slipping into cover before he can be seen. The air feels hot against his face and for some reason he seems to be having trouble breathing. He makes an effort to pull his thoughts together.
"We are members of SITU," Mal recites to himself as he runs along. "We are working on an investigation. Something about wheat. Harvest PLC are behind it, and someone else is behind them, and..." he stops, gasping for breath. When he slips his goggles back on he can see pale strands of colour twining through the air. He ducks under one of them.
Brandy follows, panting heavily. His eyes are starting to sting and he rubs at them with his sleeve before putting a handkerchief over his mouth, breathing in through the fold of white cotton. He's not sure if it will help, but it makes him feel better for the moment.
Somewhere behind them a siren blares into life, passing along a road in the distance. A breeze whips through Jonas' clothes. Maddy sees a loop of colour brush against him and then jerk sharply away, but before she has time to comment on it they turn a corner on the path and she stops dead.
Three men are at the gate. One, wearing a dark suit that looks out of place here, stands facing another man who looks like the farmer. He is the one holding the shotgun. The third man, again in a dark suit, is sitting on the ground, blood oozing down the front of his jacket.
"I told you," the farmer shouts. "I'm not having any of you activists here upsetting my work. Bugger off before I shoot the lot of you." Both Maddy and Mal can see a single snake of pale amber air writhing from his mouth.