The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
July 17th 5 a.m. Windermere.
Maddy pulls back, clutching at Jonas' arm. "It's another farmer with a gun," she hisses, "just like in Wales! Only this one's got a snaky tentacle thing growing out of his mouth, like Narythotep!"
Jonas gives her a blank look. "Maddy, I haven't got the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"The Watcher. He's trying to, like, make corn that turns everybody into his, y'know, slaves. But, uh, the snaky corn ghost thing doesn't like the taste of you, Jonas..." she frowns slightly at him, and shakes her head. "Anyway, we need to burn the corn. Can we get spare petrol from the van or, like, a tube, so I can, y'know, suck some out of the petroly-hole? I've got a lighter already."
"The Watcher?" Brandy looks at Mal. "Is she making any sense to you?"
"I don't know yet." He has eased his way to the turn in the lane and is watching the group at the farm gate. "I think we should stop the farmer." He tosses Maddy the keys to the van. "You go back and burn the field. Good luck."
She grins at him. "Right." But first she goes to where Will is crouching, unloops her silver ankh from around her neck and places it over his head. "Protection," she explains. "I don't need it now. I'm Marilyn."
She and Jonas set off back to the van at a run. The others gather cautiously where they can see the three men at the farm gate. None of them has moved.
"Only one way to do this," Brandy mutters. He steps forward.
Will drops back again, keeping to the shadows of the hedge. His head is still throbbing. Maddy's ankh is tight around his neck. He touches his fingers to it; the cool metal seems comforting, somehow. He covers his mouth with his sleeve and draws in a steady breath. Slowly, the feeling of coolness spreads from his neck, sliding over the rest of his body.
"Excuse me," Brandy says loudly. "Can we help you?"
The farmer swings the shotgun round on him. "Who the hell are you?"
"The boss sent us." He steps forward, keeping his hands well clear of his sides. "He thought you might want some help here." The farmer's attention is fixed on him. The end of the shotgun wavers slightly and steadies.
Mal kicks it away.
The explosion shatters the night. Bright flashes sear Will's eyes, chasing away the last of the throbbing in his head. The world becomes clear again. Mal and Brandy are struggling with the farmer. The wounded man is still on the ground. The other is starting forward. Will leaps at him.
A few, confused seconds and it is over. The farmer slumps unconscious to the ground. The other man struggles briefly against Will and gives up. A few folds of amber air settle around them. Mal steps sharply aside to avoid them, pulling Brandy with him.
"How do we stop this?" Mal demands. Their captive shakes his head angrily. Whether he's been affected by the wheat or not, they can't tell.
"We were trying to stop it, you fools." He struggles again, trying to turn around to face Will. He glares at them all in turn and appears to come to a decision. "There's a control room underneath the main farm-house" he snaps. "Get in there before this gets completely out of hand. I need to call for an ambulance." He pushes Will's arm aside. "Hurry."
Maddy soaks another cloth with water from her flask. "It's homeopathic," she explains. "The molecules remember the corn; they want revenge..."
"You hope," Jonas mutters. He takes a cloth anyway and wraps it around his nose and mouth. Taking the petrol can from the back of the van he starts toward the field.
The wheat is glowing pale amber. A mist, rising and falling with the wind. A siren behind and then someone shouting in the distance. There is no time to wonder what it is. Maddy squeezes through the hedge first and Jonas follows, dragging the can behind him.
"You all right, sister," he asks.
She forces a grin then squats down at the edge of the field and gasps in air. Tentacles of colour are all around her, squirming like worms. They ate my memory once, she thinks, watching them. They could well do it again. For a moment fear floods her and all she can feel is the cold space at her neck where her ankh should be. She raises her hand unsteadily and curls her fingers around the cross Jonas gave her. If they do take her memory again, at least she'll be able to burn the field first. And it's happened to her once before. If it happens again it can't be any worse than last time. She hopes.
She makes herself stand up. Jonas is unscrewing the cap of the petrol can. Maddy finds her scissors and jabs herself in both thumbs. Drops of blood splash into the open mouth of the can.
"By the pricking of my thumbs," she intones, "something Maddy this way comes."
Mal bursts into the farm-house first, Brandy close behind him, Will protecting both of them at the back. A woman swings around and screams.
"Police, ma'am," Brandy says. "We need to go to the lab."
She looks frightened and relieved at the same time. "Thank goodness you're here. Is it because of the activists? Harvest warned us there might be trouble because of this. I think my husband is outside somewhere. What should I do?" She indicates a door. "You want to go through the kitchen. The cellar door's on the left."
"Go upstairs and shut yourself in your bedroom till we say it's safe to come out," Will tells her. He pushes the other two through the door before she can ask any more questions.
They find the steps leading down. Vague noises drift up, voices, distorted by the distance. But the air is cool here, clear. Mal removes his goggles.
"No sign of anything weird in the air," he says with relief. He starts down the steps.
The corridor at the bottom is dark and smells of damp. At the end of it, a door is slightly ajar, bluish light spreading in a patch on the stone floor. The three men start towards it.
"What are you -?" demands a voice. The question remains unfinished. Will lowers an unconscious body onto the floor and steps carefully over it. Brandy pushes the door open.
Inside is a laboratory. Computers set up along the length of two walls, fluorescent lights giving everything an unnatural glare. And a man and a woman getting up quickly. The man yells. The woman dives for a switch on her desk. Mal lunges at her and reaches her just as an alarm blares out.
"Shut the door!" Brandy shouts. Will slams it shut and looks for something to wedge it.
"Who are you? What do you want?" The woman backs away from Mal, trying to pull a chair around between them. Mal knocks it aside and forces her to sit.
Her colleague lashes out at Brandy. The look in his eyes is one of pure panic. The side of his hand catches Brandy a glancing blow and makes him gasp. He catches the man's arm and hangs on. Then Will joins him. The man crashes to the floor, starts to get up and thinks better of it. He stays where he is, moaning and clutching his arm. Will pulls him up and thrusts him into a seat next to the girl.
"Right," he says threateningly. "We want some answers."
Brandy walks to the nearest computer screen. It is showing a map. The one next to it has a list of data names, places, numbers that mean nothing. Another one is an image of a field, dark and still apart from two orange blurs at one side. Maddy and Jonas, Brandy thinks. He leans closer. "What are they doing?"
Footsteps sound in the corridor outside. Brandy jerks away from the screen. "Get the door!" he shouts. He thinks a moment, grabs a chair and brings it crashing down on the nearest computer. Green sparks flare and die.
Maddy scurries on through the field, Jonas close behind her, trailing out a steady line of petrol behind them.
"What are you doing?" he gasps.
"We got to do it in a spiral, like a mutated corn circle shape." She can barely get the words out. She is running through amber mist and every breath she takes through the soaked cloth burns her lungs as if the field was already on fire. She can hear voices shouting but she's not sure whether they're real or in her mind. She tries to stop for a moment to work it out and Jonas pushes her on.
"Faster! We haven't got long."
Another siren, getting steadily louder. When Jonas turns his head he sees lights on the road outside.
Nonsense syllables come out of Maddy's mouth. "LatefakogutihinetoRelightMyFi-relalalalalavutekoni..." Jonas isn't sure whether she's aware of what she's saying or not.
"Stop what you're doing and come out!" a voice hails them. Maddy finishes her chant and ducks her head low. Amber coils continually whip at Jonas and pull back. She grabs his hand. Together, they run, petrol dripping in a dark trail behind them.
"This is your last warning."
"Not - much - further," Maddy pants.
A single gunshot cracks over their heads.
The farmhouse looms up in front of them, its dark walls reaching for them. Maddy rubs at her eyes frantically. The last of the petrol splashes onto the wheat. Jonas lets out a groan and straightens up.
Two men have guns trained on them.
"Put your hands up and come out of there," one of them orders.
Maddy's hand clenches around her lighter. She raises her head.
"Watcher - watch this!" she screams. She flicks the lighter on and tosses it down.
Silence for a moment. Then, an orange trail. Fire races along, tracing out the beginning of an uneven spiral. The air above crackles and turns blue then red. All at once, a thousand heads of corn burst into flame at once with the sound Maddy has been hoping for.
"It's too late," screams the woman. "They know you're here. You won't get out."
The last computer crumples in the middles. The image of the wheat field burst briefly into fire then goes blank. Another crash at the door. Will braces himself against it, holding on with both hands, his vision blurring with the effort and the force of the vibrations.
Mal reaches a gloved hand into a computer and pulls out a handful of wires. Blue sparks leap up, the room fills with the smell of burning plastic.
"Hurry," Will grates between clenched teeth. "I can't hold it much longer."
"Done. It's done."
The door bursts open, knocking Will flat. Brandy turns around and finds himself staring at an automatic pistol, trained on his chest. Slowly, he raises his hands.
Will, Mal and Brandy are already in the farmhouse when Maddy and Jonas are pushed in. Sitting with their hands on their head, looking shaken but triumphant. Guns are trained on them from every corner of the room.
"We did it!" Maddy crows. She wipes soot from her face. "We stopped their experiment." She sees the guns and falls silent, chewing her lip nervously.
The door opens one last time. They recognise the man who comes in straight away - he is the one they saw by the farm gate. He looks at them all with a thin smile.
"I suppose you can start congratulating yourselves," he says. He jerks his head at the men with the guns. "Put those away. You people..." turning back to the SITU operatives, "get out of here. As far as I'm concerned we never saw you. The farm workers went mad, smashed the lab and burned the wheat."
Brandy stands up slowly. "But..."
"Get out." He smiles again: a faint movement of his lips while his dark eyes still burn with barely-suppressed anger. "Consider it a favour returned."
SEEDS OF SUSPICION
To: Madeleine Hook, William Brickham, David 'Brandy' Smith, Mal Harris, Jonas Shabazz. Also Jason Lazarus, Ross Myers, Jake Numenor.
From G.M. Blaize
1) To investigate the separate suicides / murders committed by scientists and in each case ascertain true cause of death or, in Mrs Kendal's case, murder. Police cover-up cannot be ruled out.
2) To investigate any link that emerges.
3) In particular, to establish whether any group or groups are behind the incidents and, if so, to investigate such groups as far as circumstances will allow. Names, locations, motives, all are important.
You have adequately proved that the scientists were all under the influence of some hallucinogenic drug produced naturally in the pollen of a strain of genetically-modified wheat. The scientists were all conducting research into this wheat on behalf of the genetic-engineering company, Harvest PLC. Further investigation showed that Harvest was sponsoring the research on behalf of an unknown third party. This organisation has considerable government backing, with powers over the police. Their kidnapping and drugging of Operative Lazarus suggests they are powerful enough to be able to take direct and violent action without fearing repercussion.
Agent Hooke's theory that this organisation is linked with the Ylid known as the Watcher is unproved but likely. Some of you in the group will not be aware of the existence of Ylids yet. It is enough for now that you know they are non-human creatures and enemies of mankind. Should you progress in SITU you will learn more.
The agent who released you at Windermere. He could prove to be a useful ally in future, depending on his motives for letting you go. Maybe we will come across him again in the future.
What is certain, however, is that the organisation backing Harvest are now aware of our existence as a group. This is unfortunate but it was unavoidable. The moment you began investigating they were watching you. As yet they must know very little about us: less than we do about them, so we still have the advantage.
Your investigations into the wheat have showed that this experiment is one in a long line of similar studies over several decades, backed by the same organisation. Agent Maddy Hooke was herself caught in one such experiment at Glastonbury, which resulted in her total amnesia. It could be that her psychic powers stem from that time as well. Certainly, the fact that she was able to see the pollen as moving strands in the air, and that the strands avoided operative Shabazz suggests that the drug has a different effect on those with psychic ability. We are pleased that agent Hooke's memory is now returning, and we trust she will continue as a valued member of SITU.
On the whole, you are all to be congratulated. You uncovered an ongoing conspiracy and your quick actions at the Windermere site averted what could easily have been a large-scale tragedy. Operative Jake Numenor's actions, of course, cannot be condoned. Murdering the finance director of Harvest was a bad mistake and if Jonas's subsequent actions had not brought the conspiracy into the open the investigation could well have failed at that point. We must stress again the need to act within the law. We are sure the rest of you are well aware of this.
Jake Numenor is now in a hospital for the criminally insane in Washington. He is said to be quiet and has only shown violent tendencies when it was suggested he was well enough to leave.
Jason Lazarus is fully recovered and working on a new film - a science-fiction adventure about a lone hero battling against a government-backed genetic engineering company. Jason's powers of imagination are such that we do not consider this represents a security risk.
The police officer, Lesley, and the three men you handed over to us were released after questioning. Maddy's silencing ritual appears to have worked so effectively that they do not remember any of the events of our investigation. We had trouble, in fact, persuading them to talk at all. But the men, Geoff and Mark were both carrying syringes full of a drug similar, we believe, to the one produced in the wheat. It is currently under analysis.
Jacqueline Brown is still working at Usk Agricultural college. She has been making efforts to find out who was responsible for her partial amnesia and to find any others who are similarly affected. It may be that she can be encouraged to join SITU.
Windermere. Several people were affected by the wheat pollen, including the farmer you encountered and a number of his employees. All recovered within days. Police reports show no record of a laboratory under his farmhouse.
Brandy stops writing and stares out of the window. Enough information to make the whole thing believable, and enough error that no one will link him with the pseudonym on the cover page. He pauses a moment more and smiles. How likely is it that anyone will believe any of this, whatever he writes? His boss at the paper will be pleased, that's the main thing, and there'll be a big bonus in it for him.
Mutant wheat. He frowns suspiciously at a spider plant on the window sill then, sighing to himself, he types in another two sentences.
The farm workers have themselves admitted to smashing the laboratory and burning the wheat field. No one knows why.
From: Alistair Thwaite, Debrief/84
To: Operatives: William Brickham, David 'Brandy' Smith, Jonas Shabazz.
Subject: Dead scientists
Many thanks for your help in the recent investigation of matters genetically-modified. You will be pleased to learn that following your successful completion of this mission, you have been promoted from the rank of Investigator to that of Agent, meaning that your Illumination level is now 2.
Now that you have reached a higher rank within SITU, it is right that we should share some facts with you. Please note that these are strictly for the knowledge of Illumination level 2 or higher, and must on no account be communicated to, or even hinted at when with, persons of lower Illumination. In fact, you should not even let them know that a Level 2 of Illumination exists.
You will be aware that SITU sends Operatives to investigate Unexplained events all over the world. What you will not have known before now, but do as of today, is that these events are not as scattered and unlinked as they may at first seen. In point of fact, SITU has evidence that there exists today and has done throughout most of human history a wide-ranging global conspiracy, inimical to humanity. Therefore part of SITU's duty is to ascertain whether individual Unexplained events fit into this pattern or not: and to learn more about it and those responsible. So you can be sure that your investigations have helped all of humanity! In the investigation you have just completed, The Watcher is a part of this conspiracy, and we suspect that Harvest may be linked to another aspect of it.
You have been contacted separately with the details surrounding your particular mission, and if you wish any of you wish to prepare a report to go into our magazine 'SITUation Report': this is far from compulsory, but may provide interest to other members. Your report will of course be censored by SITU HQ, so you need not fear giving too much away.
Thank you again, and I hope that you will wish to continue serving SITU on further missions.
From: Alistair Thwaite, Debrief/84
To: Operative: Mal Harris
Subject: Dead Scientists
Congratulations on successfully having completed your second investigation with SITU! As a mark of the respect and trust we place in you, you are now to be admitted to Illumination Level 3 and the rank of Executive. As stated previously, the information herein is highly secret and must on no account be communicated with those of lower security clearance.
You already know that SITU exists to thwart an ancient, evil conspiracy against all of humanity. This is not the whole story, though. The members of the conspiracy, known as Ylids, are independent persons or beings each with their own geographical area and sphere of operation. We estimate there to be no more than 40 or so of them worldwide. Individual Ylids appear to be extremely long-lived - they may be functionally immortal. They are also extremely powerful, both temporally and 'magically' / 'psychically'. An Ylid is an extraordinarily dangerous adversary. Fortunately, although they are in conspiracy together, they appear never to be encountered other than individually. The being known as The Watcher is an Ylid, we think the only one currently operating in this country. Each Ylid seems to have a number of human agents. In this case, we believe Harvest to be backed by another Ylid, of whom we currently know very little. This may be one of the organized group of Ylids we know to be working towards a common end. What that end is, we do not yet know, but we can only surmise that it has to do with the eventual enslavement of all humanity under the Ylid yoke.
In general, low-level SITU investigations aim to identify the areas of influence of Ylids, to establish their locations, and to ascertain which unexplained phenomena are attributable to them and which not. Now that you are more highly Illuminated you can be expected to be working more closely on investigations we believe central to the Ylid scheme, and the targeting of particular Ylids and their agents.
Thank you again!
From: G M Blaize, Chief of Operations
To: Executives: Madeleine Hook
You have now been working with us for long enough, and have shown enough dedication to the cause we are all struggling for, that it is time to lay the facts of the matter, as SITU understands them, before you. These Ylids whom we fight seem to have once lived happily together, a very long time ago, but they became sundered somehow and have had to stay apart since. They have spent their time until now squabbling amongst themselves, and manipulating and shaping human thought and endeavour so that it suits their purposes - what those purposes might be, we are still not entirely clear. It seems to us that Ylids in general want to increase the amount of mystical belief among humans, hence we often find them inspiring cults, magical works, drugs, vampire activity and so on. However they also seem to be keen to back space research - you will remember from Norway that the group of 'organized Ylids' under Yashimoto were killing off the 'rogue Ylid' Krillikhesh's agents, and we think his hostility to the space program may have been part of this. Furthermore there is at least one Ylid, The Watcher, active in Britain, who seems keen to make contact with extraterrestrial lifeforms.
Our main weapons while learning about the Ylids have been their division and their lack of knowledge of our existence. That phase is now coming to an end - the Ylid known as The Master's destruction of our Boundary Row headquarters shows that they know us to be their enemies. However we doubt that all of them yet know the extent of the threat we pose to them, so we now plan to send our most senior Operatives, including yourselves, on a series of missions to take out individual Ylids and weaken their overall power considerably. By that stage, of course, the gloves will be off, but we hope we will have taken the maximum possible advantage from what we have learnt so far.
It need hardly be said that we rely on you to achieve these goals. It will not be easy, and some of you may be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. But this is the only way to save humanity from slavery.