The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
From: G M Blaize
To: Operatives: Katrina Darken, Jeffrey Fanlight, Gino Ferrocco, Vera Goodchild, Kristina Macdowell, Grace Ndofir, Ned Numenor, Stuart Winters
Subject: N-Rays at Lenin's mausoleum
The red granite mausoleum in which the embalmed corpse of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov ('Lenin') has been stored and displayed since his burial in 1924 is one of the best-known features of Moscow's Red Square. During the Soviet era it provided a place of pilgrimage for good Communists from all over Russia, the Soviet Union and the world. Since the fall of Communism, though, it has fallen into disuse if not disrepair. The armed guard which patrolled it has been severely reduced, as have its opening hours. Lenin slumbers on disturbed by few except tourists seeking a glimpse of the old Russia.
In fact, there is some doubt as to whether the body on display, in its sealed glass case, is in fact the genuine corpse of Lenin, or merely a waxwork. One of your secondary objectives is to ascertain the truth or otherwise of this rumour.
You are encouraged to learn more about the mausoleum, at its Interweb 'home page', http://win.aha.ru/~mausoleu/index_e.htm
Another rumour surrounding the tomb, which is of more direct interest to SITU, is that N-rays (see attached briefing) have allegedly been detected as emanating from it. The Karl-Heim-Institut, of Frankfurt, Germany, have today sent a team to Moscow to investigate these stories, under the leadership of Dr Gottfried Ulek, a scholar known to some of you, SITU believes.
While we believe that N-rays and their associated phenomena are indeed of interest, SITU is keen to learn what other attention the Ulek team's investigation attracts. We are unsure as to the extent of our enemies' penetration of Russia, and it seems highly probably that any forces they have there will bear close links to the individual known as 'The Master' whom some of you encountered in Transylvania - possibly also to the individual known as 'Krillikhesh', based in Norway, a debriefing about whom those of you of the appropriate security clearance have received.
1) Ascertain and detail any connection to our enemies, general or specific, among the forces which may be studying Lenin's tomb or the Karl-Heim-Institut's investigation of it. Note that we believe the Institut itself to be innocent, but this is not completely certain.
2) Frustrate any actions which our enemies are attempting in relation to the tomb or corpse. You are authorized to use all necessary force, provided that no undue attention is attracted.
3) Establish what you can about the nature of Lenin's corpse, genuine or fake, and about any N- or other rays it may or may not be emitting.
You should note, especially those of you of low security clearance, that this will be an extremely risky operation. It will need to be conducted with military precision. SITU expects all of you to obey the orders of those senior to you in the organization, without question. As well as our enemies, whose danger cannot be overestimated, there are other risks in Moscow, such as the notorious Russian Mafiya. Any opposition you face is likely to be well-organized and well-armed. However, for that reason, you are being allowed a greater freedom of action than any other of our investigative teams, in recognition of the dedication you have shown and the services you have provided to SITU in the past. Furthermore, while we have no way of helping you get illegal items into Russia, SITU's local agent (see below) is holding a cache of special equipment for you: if you have any specific equipment requests, make them before your flight tomorrow and our agent will endeavour to supply them.
23/139 Mineralniye Prospekt
No particular cover is needed for this mission: any or each of you can travel under alias if you wish, and SITU will provide the appropriate documentation.
rendezvous will be at London Heathrow, 12.30 pm Thursday 8th July 1999. Separate arrangements have been made for Mr Ferrocco to fly out from New York and meet the rest of you at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow.
the usual arrangements regarding expenses and extra-legal activity will obtain.
Blondlot and N-rays (Robert Todd Carroll, 1998)
Rene Prosper Blondlot (1849-1930) was a French physicist who claimed to have discovered a new type of radiation, shortly after Roentgen had discovered X-rays. He called it the N-ray, after Nancy, the name of the town and the university where he lived and worked.
Blondlot was trying to polarize X-rays when he claimed to have discovered his new form of radiation. Dozens of other scientists confirmed the existence of N-rays in their own laboratories. However, N-rays don't exist. How could so many scientists be wrong? They deceived themselves into thinking they were seeing something when in fact they were not. They saw what they wanted to see with their instruments, not what was actually there (or, in this case, what was not there).
The story of Blondlot is a story of self-deception among scientists. Because many people have the misguided notion that science should be infallible and a fount of absolutely certain truths, they look at the Blondlot episode as a vindication of their excessive skepticism towards science. They relish accounts such as the one regarding Blondlot and the phantom N-rays because it is a story of a famous scientist making a great error. However, if one properly understands science and scientists, the Blondlot episode indicates little more than the fallibility of scientists and the self-correcting nature of science.
Blondlot claimed that N-rays exhibit impossible properties and yet are emitted by all substances except green wood and certain treated metals. In 1903, Blondlot claimed he had generated N-rays using a hot wire inside an iron tube. The rays were detected by a calcium sulfide thread that glowed slightly in the dark when the rays were refracted through a 60 degree angle prism of aluminum. According to Blondlot, a narrow stream of N-rays was refracted through the prism and produced a spectrum on a field. The N-rays were reported to be invisible, except when viewed as they hit the treated thread. Blondlot moved the thread across the gap where the N-rays were thought to come through and when the thread was illuminated it was said to be due to N-rays.
Nature magazine was skeptical of Blondlot's claims, since laboratories in England and Germany had not been able to replicate the Frenchman's results. Nature sent American physicist Robert W. Wood of Johns Hopkins University to investigate Blondlot's discovery. Wood suspected that N-rays were a delusion. To demonstrate such, he removed the prism from the N-ray detection device, unbeknownst to Blondlot or his assistant. Without the prism, the machine couldn't work. Yet, when Blondlot's assistant conducted the next experiment he found N-rays. Wood then tried to surreptitiously replace the prism but the assistant saw him and thought he was removing the prism. The next time he tried the experiment, the assistant swore he could not see any N-rays. But he should have, since the equipment was in full working order.
According to Martin Gardner, Wood's exposure of Blondlot led to the French scientist's madness and death [Gardner, p. 345 n.1]. But were those who verified Blondlot's N-ray experiments stupid or incompetent? Not necessarily, since the issue isn't one of intelligence or competence, but of the psychology of perception. Blondlot and his followers suffered "from self-induced visual hallucinations." [ibid.]
What is the lesson from the Blondlot episode? James Randi writes "...science does not always learn from these mistakes. Visiting Nancy recently and speaking on the subject of pseudoscience, I discussed this example and though I was in the city that gave the name to N-rays, no one in the audience had ever heard of them, or of Blondlot, not even the professors from the University of Nancy!
"The fact that Blondlot is not remembered at Nancy ought to be taken as a sign that science does learn from its mistakes. The fact that Blondlot is not considered a prophet in his homeland is a healthy sign that although scientists often make errors, even big ones, other scientists will uncover the errors and get science back on the right path to understanding nature. Those who think that science should be infallible do not understand the nature of science."
http://www.rtd.com/~lippard/skeptic/01.1.randi-paranormal.html (James Randi at Cal Tech)
Asimov, Isaac, 'The Radiation That Wasn't,' The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1988; also in Out of the Everywhere (1990).
Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957).
Unfortunately, Mr Carroll seems to be ignorant of the more recent history of N-ray research. The Karl-Heim-Institut was established in 1962 by the West German government to investigate the scientific basis to dowsing and water / mineral divining phenomena, and proposed N-rays, or a related ray which might as well be called by the same name, as the means by which dowers were able to operate with success. The Institut has conducted a long series of well-attested experiments analysing the nature of the N-ray interaction and how sensitive humans are able to detect the N-rays being emitted by underground streams or metal deposits. SITU itself takes no view on the validity or otherwise of this work, but the German government certainly believes it valuable, as it has continued to fund the Institut generously, for projects including research into mine detection and detection of unexploded World War II bombs. Dr Ulek, its chief, is a well-known and well-respected figure in the fringe science community and has spoken worldwide on matters rhabdomantic.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
30th October 1998, North Yorkshire
'Well, that's that for the time being,' says the Reverend Jeffrey Fanlight, dismounting from the large motorcycle and taking his helmet off to reveal a round, ruddy-cheeked face fringed with white hair. 'We need some more petrol. Fuel, so that it can continue to carry us,' he adds, for the benefit of his passenger.
'The hell-steed requires sustenance?' enquires the other man doubtfully. 'Some manner of sacrifice perchance?' He too is dressed all in black, although unlike Jeffrey's biker leathers, his clothes are quaintly archaic, with knee-breeches and a tatty lace stock, and lank grey hair hangs down to either side of his bemused, distant-looking features.
'No, no, of course not, Jeremiah!' says Jeffrey slightly sharply. 'You know perfectly well that I'm a priest, for goodness' sake. It needs petrol, which is I suppose like coal, only liquid. Like paraffin - did you have that? Or whale oil? Anyway, the point is we'll have to walk for a little way now, until we come across a farmhouse.'
'Dawn is fast approaching,' points out Jeremiah Fulk. 'Will the hounds of pursuit not be yet fresh on our heels?'
'I don't think so,' says Jeffrey grimly. After riding all night he is very tired - particularly as Jeremiah, on the pillion, has been gripping him firmly around the neck. 'We've come nearly a hundred miles, you know.'
'Such wonders! - who would have dreamed it possible? No galloping horse could have conveyed us so far, methinks. But a windy enough ride it was belike.' Jeremiah attempts to flatten his hair. 'And my good beaver hat is lost, when fleeing from the fortress of my captors. To which you, Reverend, and Mistress Macdowell and the others, had consigned me.' His tone sounds slightly accusatory.
'It wasn't a fortress, Jeremiah. It was a secure hospital. They didn't mean you any harm, I'm sure.' And if I really believe that, why did I go to such lengths to break him out? wonders Jeffrey to himself.
21st June 1999, University of Surrey
Ten o'clock at night, darkness stealing over the campus. In the ornate red-brick Department of Anthropology, only a handful of scholars are still working. Most of the students and faculty are at the Midsummer's Eve party in the Humanities Faculty main building.
In one office, a desk lamp casts a pool of yellowish light across a large, battered wooden table. The room is sparsely furnished, neat, with no pictures on the walls or photographs on the table - just two large bookcases full of textbooks, and a blackboard filling one wall. Covering the blackboard, in neat, precise, well-marshalled lines, are an assortment of characters and symbols, arranged in categories of similarity.
The woman sitting at the table is also neat and precise, as upright as a statue, her woolly grey hair cur short and her dark skin smooth. She is working on an A3 sketchpad and also on a laptop computer, occasionally tutting and frowning as she makes marks on the digitizing tablet at its side.
The darkness settles, and the pool of light closes around her, but she does not pay any attention: a straight-sided glass of water stands untouched on the table. Dr Grace Ndofir's lips move slightly, pronouncing odd syllables, making no sound, forming the words which must surely lie behind the documents she brought back from Castle Cnoiff.
It is near dawn before she sits back from the table, stretching her shoulders backwards to dispel the stiffness that has come into them. Her hands flex automatically, the slim fingers opening and closing like spiders' legs. She unplugs the digitizing tablet and pulls the computer forward, changing to another window to summarize what these months of work have shown her.
To look at her, you would not think that she believes herself to have made the anthropological discovery of the century - a theory of the origin of civilization which utterly overturns the conventional wisdom of the field. Whether she feels pleased, proud, eager, scared - not even her closest friend would be able to say. Not that Grace is a woman with a large number of close friends.
' Analysis of the grammar and structure of the unknown language shows similarities with a wide range of languages, across the Mediterranean basin and also in the Far East, Polynesia, both coasts of Africa, and Central America, of the sixth to eighth millennia BCE. Phyletic reduction of these common elements suggest a location in the South Pacific, making the normal assumptions of terrain-modified radial contact. The existence of a civilization in this region of the globe, capable of contacting such a wide range of other peoples themselves largely still primitive before this contact, has hitherto been unsuspected. There is as far as this author is aware no archaeological evidence for such a civilization, and Fleury and co-workers (1985) suggested that the absence of a sufficiently large landmass in the region made development of advanced linguistic devices there unlikely. The documents under current examination are of modern origin, palaeographic analysis demonstrates, and for the unknown language to be in its current form in the present day suggests a very small community of users - either with little contact with outside languages, or with little contact with each other and a well-realized intention to preserve its archaic forms.'
Grace frowns more deeply. Her fingers move, almost without her volition, and type 'WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE? WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? WHERE ARE THEY TODAY?'
She looks at the words, her lips moving again, and with a sudden, savage movement, deletes them.
3rd July 1999, Glastonbury
'For gosh sakes, Uncle Ned, haven't you eaten enough of those things yet?' mutters Vera Goodchild, tossing her long, blonde hair out of her eyes and frowning crossly at her tubby uncle.
'Just one more,' mumbles Ned Numenor apologetically, spraying crumbs across the table as he takes another big bite of the cinnamon doughnut. 'How was Harrogate?'
'Not so bad. Kind of steamy. There was this guy kept snoopin' around after me - little guy with a big nose. An American journalist. But I got rid of him.' Vera sips her orange juice, making a face. 'Have you read this yet?' She brandishes the briefing package. 'Those loons at SITU want us to go off to Moscow now.'
'Russia, huh?' Ned begins whistling an approximation of Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago, while strumming an imaginary balalaika.
'Very authentic.' Vera regards him sourly. 'That's not where your family's from, is it? - what kind of crazy name is Numenor, anyway?'
'I don't rightly know where it's from, actually,' says Ned, settling his slightly scorched Miami Marlins baseball cap on his head. 'We have a story in the family that our people used to live on this big island, which sank under the sea, and after that we were refugees and had to take our chances with the ordinary folks.' He grins. 'Just like in a book, huh?'
'Maybe you should ask your Uncle Jake,' suggests Vera. She has always regarded it as no more than poetic justice that Ned has a mad uncle of his own to ride his back.
5th July 1999, New York
'Jeez, this is dull!' exclaims Gino Ferrocco, slamming the order book shut with a snap.
Charlie Amato, his second cousin, who runs the di Scarlattos' warehousing, tuts. 'Now you know why the old man sent you out here to work with me, Gino. You screwed up, and big. Now you just cool your heels here for a while, and maybe he'll come back round in a year or two.'
'Screwed up! Like hell I did, Charlie. I put together a sweet package with that Reuben Stokes guy. How was I to know those SITU scumbags were going behind my back?' Gino slaps the table angrily, his handsome face contorting and his silk suit creasing around his shoulders.
'Now then, boy, you watch your mouth. You know that Uncle Sammy wants you to keep on cosying on up to those SITU guys. We're still getting these green spider monkeys in the consignments. And the other day Luca Locatelli found a three-eyed fish in his bed. The old man's counting on you to sort this crazy stuff out, Gino, you know that.' Charlie scratches his balding head.
'Say, Gino!' Young Paulie di Scarlatto saunters into the warehouse. 'Still bashing the books, huh?' He laughs, rather unkindly: since Gino's relegation to this mundane duty he has rather taken over as blue-eyed boy of the family.
'That's right, Paulie, still working hard,' says Gino evenly. He knows he cannot afford to lose his temper with Uncle Sammy's current favourite nephew.
'Well here's a bit of reading that might distract you - it's from those SITU guys back in England.' Paulie tosses over a brown envelope.
Gino rips it open with his thumbnail and reads quickly. At last! Could this be his opportunity to win his way back into the family's good graces? But as he sees the list of the operatives who will be accompanying him, his heart sinks slightly.
6th July 1999, Egham
'Kris? Kristina Macdowell?'
Kris frowns. 'Who's this?' She has just got in from work at the university library and is standing in the hallway of her flat, one hand easing the heavy bag from her shoulder as the other holds the receiver.
'It's me - Stuart. Stuart Winters - remember? From SITU.'
'Oh. Hold on.' Kris carefully puts the receiver down and, wincing, eases off her shoes and sits down on the edge of the hall table, one leg stretched out stiffly in front of her. 'What do you want?'
No How are you, or What have you been up to lately, or anything like that, thinks Stuart to himself. 'It's this briefing from SITU. Have you seen it? In the post this morning.'
'No - I haven't had a chance yet - hold on.' Kris roots through the pile of envelopes by the door. 'Bill junk junk oh. Yes. Here it is - I've got it.' Holding the phone under her chin, she raggedly tears open the envelope.
Stuart is talking enthusiastically. 'It'll be just like when we were in Hatfield Peverel! You, me, Grace, Gino, Jeffrey - I don't know what's happened to Kyle and Ferdinand, it doesn't say anything about them. And three new people. Moscow! Isn't that great? We'll get to see the post-communist economy in action. They say it's the most corrupt polity on the planet!'
Kris, ignoring him, is reading the briefing in increasing disbelief. 'Are they serious? Weird rays seeping out of Lenin's tomb?' Mind you, she had thought that the premise for her last mission had been rather an implausible one, at first.
'One funny thing, it doesn't say how Illuminated these new people are. But in the briefing it seems like we're of different levels. How much do you think we can tell them?' continues Stuart.
Kris interrupts him. 'What's this bit of Russian say?'
'I don't know. I was going to get one of the Modern Languages people to translate it for me.'
'You do that,' says Kris wearily. 'And I suppose I'd better organize some roubles.'
7th July 1998, London
Katrina Darken struggles to tear open the envelope, grunting slightly with the thick manila. At last she is able to free its contents. She tuts to herself as she avidly reads the briefing, revealing teeth whose perfection surely owes more to modern dental science than to nature. SITU - who are they? My God! That bunch! It had been - what? six months? - since she applied to the organization. When she didn't hear back straight away, she assumed it was all a wind-up. But it seems real enough now, judging by the look of this 'briefing pack'. And they want her to go to Moscow? With a gang of people she'd never met? Tomorrow? What a joke!
She shrugs, taking the letter over to the window, automatically walking past the broken jar of pickled beetroot that sullies her kitchen floor - another one whose lid wouldn't come off when it was asked. She has gained the habit of checking the windows every few minutes, since the incident. Her gaze slides across to the strange dagger, which is sitting uncomfortably on the table, its oddly-shaped blade glinting in the sun, the sigils looking deep, dark and as mysterious as they had since she had taken it from the dead body - the body which had definitely been dead for quite some time before five bullets to the head stopped it moving.
On the other hand, perhaps Moscow wouldn't be so bad at this time of year.