The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Et In Arcadia Ego
Chapter 3

August 7th 1999 2:30pm

Judith, Yuri, Louis, at Sandrine's house.

Dexter, Jake, Nate, Sonja, Liza at the Tour Magdala.

Sandrine Bellaire clasps her bleeding hands together as if in prayer. Her pale face is radiant. The three SITU members exchange uneasy glances. The wounds are genuine, that much is certain, but what caused them. Surely they can't be self-inflicted, which leaves the possibility that the stigmata are genuine, or that they are the result of something an Ylid has done.

"Sandrine," Louis says softly, "has anyone visited you recently because of this. The priesthood, or the press maybe."

"Everyone." She opens her eyes and looks at them in turn. "The press came first, but they didn't say much. There was one story in the paper. I've got it here, if you want to see it. Then people from the churches came. Some of them thought I was lying, but most just wanted to see the marks and to pray." She pauses a moment to find the newspaper cutting. Yuri takes it off her with a nod of thanks.

"I usually have ten, maybe fifteen visitors every day," she continues. "Usually people I know, but sometimes there are tourists who hear about me and want to come and see. Like you, only you are making a programme, Marie says." She shrugs. "I do not mind. Maybe you will tell people about me and they will find faith, and if so the pain will be worth bearing."

Judith is immediately sympathetic. "You poor thing. Does it hurt much?" A drop of blood runs off Sandrine's hand and she produces a handkerchief and dabs at it gently. Sandrine allows her to fuss for a moment or two before pulling back.

"They don't hurt too much now. At first they did. In my hands and feet and here." She touches her stomach. "It doesn't matter. The Lady told me I had been chosen to suffer as Jesus suffered and I was to be happy."

"Are you happy?" Judith prompts. "Do you feel you've been forgiven now?" She tucks her handkerchief back into her handbag, folding it away almost reverently.

Sandrine ponders a moment before answering. "The Lady told me I could be forgiven. I'm not sure if she meant I am forgiven now, or if I will be. But I am happy." She smiles a wide, fragile smile at them all. "I have been chosen. How can I not be happy?"

Yuri finishes looking at the newspaper article and passes it to Louis. It is in French, of course. A large photograph of Sandrine, holding up her hands so the stigmata are clearly visible. Two people stand behind her.

"My parents," Sandrine says. A note of pride touches her voice. "I live here with them now and they look after me. They let people see me because they know my gift is for everyone to share."

The article itself is surprisingly colourless, Louis thinks, reading it quickly. It simply states that a local girl showed signs of stigmata whilst praying in church on Easter day. It adds that the family doctor could find no cause for the strange marks, and that is all. Almost as if the reporter really wasn't interested at all.

"How old are the wounds?" Yuri asks suddenly. "You said since Easter, didn't you? Did they come with one of your visions?"

Sandrine shakes her head. "No. The vision came after." She notes Yuri's sceptical look and frowns. "I can remember it all exactly. First the stigmata appeared when I was in the church. The pain was very bad then, as I said. The vision came in the night. I saw the Magdalene. She was beautiful: her face was like gold, her eyes like stars and the light that shone out of her was so terrible I could not look at it. 'Stand up, Sandrine,' she said, 'for God has put his hand upon you. You will bear the marks of our Lord's suffering as a witness to his love. Believe.' Then she spread golden wings and flew up into the sky until I could no longer see her." The girl bows her head. "That is the last time I saw her," she finishes quietly.

Marie stands up. "I think we'd better go. We've tired the poor girl enough."

The others agree reluctantly.

"One more thing," Judith adds as they leave. "What do you think the Magdalene meant when she said to follow your heart?"

Sandrine blushes. "I don't know. I… I think maybe that it's all right to love someone even if you're not married to them."

"And now we will go," Marie says firmly.

Nate finishes up another roll of film.

"Round scars," Dexter muses. "A bit weird, that. Do you think it's Stigmata, or maybe he nailed her up for real… Sounds like a Masonic thing to do." He walks quickly to the window and looks out. "Lets hurry up and get out of here. The whole thing stinks so much of Freemasonry it's making my gut hurt."

Jake picks up the portrait and turns it over. On the back is a date: 1940. Liza reads it over his shoulder then goes to join Sonja looking round the rest of the room. The two women together make a striking contrast. Liza, tall, slim, her perfect blonde hair flowing over the shoulders of her designer shirt. And Sonja, much shorter, dressed in jeans and an old T shirt, hair floating everywhere in unruly, auburn curls.

"Which one do you prefer?" Dexter murmurs, nudging Jake. The Australian gives him a blank look and hands him the portrait.

"Here. I want to check what we can see from the windows."

Another ten minutes and they are done. The rest of the tower is very much the same as the parts they have already seen. Deep colours on the walls, thick carpets, dried flower arrangements on the windowsills. Everything is carefully maintained, not a speck of dust anywhere. The large windows look out onto the village on one side and open countryside to the other. The mountains stand out sharply against the pale sky.

"According to the book, the tower is owned by the French government now," Sonja informs the others. "It's open to the public all through the summer. As far as they know, Sauniere never actually lived here, although that strange funeral ritual of his did take place on the terrace at the back of the tower."

Liza takes the book out of her hands and closes it. "I don't think we're going to find out anything else standing here. I suggest we go on to Villa Bethania and talk to the Corbu family."

"Seconded," Dexter agrees heartily. "Anything to get out of this place."

They file outside. Jake stops to look back as they start down the hill. The high windows of the tower reflect the sun back into his face: squares of golden light so bright it is painful to look at them directly.

Outside Sandrine's house, Marie turns to the group with an apologetic smile. "I hope you don't mind me cutting your visit short. Sandrine becomes tired so easily. I think the stigmata have made her ill. She is all right for a while but then she needs to sleep. You understand?"

"Perfectly," Judith assures her. She pauses a moment, biting her lip then asks, "Marie, how well do you know Sandrine?"

"We are friends. Why?" Her gaze is very direct.

Judith looks down at the ground, flushing slightly. "The Magdalene said there was forgiveness for the fallen. Had Sandrine fallen in some way?"

Marie gives her a hard look. "I think that is her business, not yours. Now, I have shopping to do this afternoon. Please excuse me."

"Well done," Yuri mutters as the French woman walks away. He turns and starts away in the opposite direction. Judith and Louis follow.

"Yuri," Louis says. "Please, tell me if I ask too many questions, but you have had contact with Ylids, yes? Your hand…"

"Was the work of terrorists," Yuri says. He holds up his left hand and looks at the mutilated digits. "I am a scientist. I found something out about seismic activity - strange patterns. I was trying to make it public when I was kidnapped. They told me to keep quiet about what I knew and they did this to my hand. Why, I don't know. I still don't know who they were. They said they were Algerian terrorists, but they didn't behave like terrorists and they spoke Russian. I didn't know about Ylids then, but now I think it might have been one of them that ordered the men to attack me." He speaks slowly, as if struggling to find the right words, not sure that he will be believed. "SITU thinks so too," he adds with a touch of defiance. "That is why they wanted me to work for them."

Louis is silent a while. Finally, he raises his head and murmurs, "I have seen the dead walk the tombs of Egypt and heard spirits speak at seances. I believe you, my friend."

Slightly mollified, Yuri grunts and pushes his hands into his pockets as he walks. When they reach the house he turns suddenly. "You said you were in Egypt," he says. "What do you know about Nefertiti?"

"Nefertiti?" Louis grins and shrugs. "She was the queen of pharaoh Amenophis IV, and stepmother to Tutankhamen. She was very influential in her time, but I'm not sure her influence stretched as far as France. "Why do you want to know?"

"It's not important." Again, Yuri retreats into grim silence. "Are the others not back yet?"

A pretty-looking woman opens the door to the Villa Bethania. "Monsieur Corbu?" she asks in answer to Sonja's question. "He is at work. I am his house-keeper. I can take a message for him."

Nate finds a piece of paper and scribbles a quick note. "Tell him we're from the BBC in Great Britain. We're making a programme about Marie Denarnaud and we'd like to talk to him. He can ring me on this number. Where does he work, by the way?"

"In Toulouse, Monsieur. For Harvest. I will tell him."

The group walk away slowly, pausing for Nate to take a few photographs.

"Where now?" Liza asks.

In the end they decide to go back to the house to meet up with the rest of the group. They find Judith and Louis swapping stories about their respective countries while Yuri listens on morosely.

"Three women in the same region bearing stigmata?" Louis says in surprise when they have finished comparing notes. "I haven't heard of anything like that happening. There must be some link here." He stands up decisively. "I will cook us dinner and then we can decide what to do next."

While he cooks, Nate and Judith pop back into the village to take the rolls of film to a developer's and to send Judith's blood-stained handkerchief to SITU for analysis. They come back looking flushed, Judith giggling. Nate is carrying a packet of photographs. He tosses them onto the table, upsetting Louis' carefully arranged salad bowl.

"So we have women with stigmata, a strange church and a tower that seemed to be ordinary," Sonja says, opening the conversation. "Oh, Nathan, I've still got your phone here. Thanks."

He takes it off her. "Thanks yourself. I was wondering where that had got to again. I'm going to have to put it on a chain or something to stop me losing it." He shoots Dexter a sharp glance. "Lucky I'm surrounded by such honest people. More wine, Sonja?"

She looks surprised at the sudden friendliness in his voice but accepts the glass without a word.

Liza refuses wine, and ignores the salad as well, muttering something about rabbit food. Adding a handful of extra cheese to her omelette she looks around at the others. "Well?"

It seems that most people are in favour of visiting the church again, all at different times. Sonja wants to go back there as soon as possible, Jake favours waiting until they can get hold of some sonar or radar equipment to study the ruins, Liza wants to visit the place by night and Judith, for some reason of her own, is determined to look at the statue of Asmodeus on the stroke of noon the following day.

"I was planning a trip to Toulouse tomorrow," Nate objects.

Louis smiles. "Then there's no problem. I, too, would like to visit Toulouse. We can meet at the church at midday and go straight on from there."

Everyone agrees. "Anyway," Judith adds, "Marie phoned earlier. She's booked me two horses for tomorrow morning. Nate and I are going riding."

Nate looks less than overjoyed at the prospect. "I thought we were supposed to be investigating, not on holiday. Which reminds me…" he opens one of the packets of photos, flips through several of Judith in various poses and pulls out one of the ones he took of Marie Denarnaud's portrait. "Does that look anything like Sandrine?" he asks.

Judith glances at it and shakes her head. "The scars are in the same place, though. But it's definitely not the same person."

Yuri sighs irritably. "There's either too much going on here or nothing at all. How are we supposed to get to the bottom of it?"

Louis opens another bottle of wine. "Jake, what are your thoughts on the treasure? Do you think it's something tangible, like relics, or can it be hidden knowledge."

"I'm not sure." Jake speaks with his mouth full. "It could well be both - relics that point to some hidden information. I'm sure if it was some large treasure trove it would have been found by now - sorry to disappoint you, Liza." He pushes his plate aside. "Thanks. That was very… French. Well, we still have several hours of daylight. I intend to do a bit more investigating. Anyone fancy going to the pub later?"

Judith pores over Sonja's computer with every sign of fascination.

"I never knew you could find out so many things," she enthuses.

They are checking details of the eclipse. Sonja has found a map showing its path across Europe, cutting about sixty miles north of Paris and just clipping Cornwall as it passes over Britain.

"It says we can expect a 98% eclipse in this area," Judith says, reading down a screen of information, "which means it'll go dark, but we won't get any special effects around the sun. That's a pity. Where can we find out about occult significance?"


There are pages of detail of rituals and sacrifices, most of them aimed at scaring away the demon that is eating the sun. According to the various viewpoints on display they can expect anything from a slight clouding of the skies to the end of the world.

Nathan is busy working on his own computer. He finds frustratingly little information on Rhedae. Nothing about what the word could mean and very little explanation as to how the settlement deteriorated from being an important capital to a small village. Simply to do with a moving population as far as he can make out. And the mountains enclosing the area mean the available land space isn't big enough to house a modern-sized city.

As for Arcadia, it comes from the Greek word 'Arkadia', which was an actual mountain region but more generally has become synonymous with the notion of a rustic paradise. An idealised place. Nate searches for a few more moments then turns the computer off and picks up the phone.

"James," he greets his friend from the Metropolitan police. "I've got a small favour to ask."

"What, again?" The policeman sounds less than enthusiastic. Nate pretends not to take the hint.

"Just two things. First I'm sending a photograph to you. See if you can get any information on the man for me, will you. And secondly, I want to get hold of some equipment that will pick up minute marks in stone. The sort of thing you might get if a gravestone inscription has been deliberately removed. Can you suggest anything?"

"Infra-red might do it, I'm not sure. There's some stuff they use in forensics that's supposed to bring up most things, but it'll leave a stain."

Nate grins to himself. "Send me a bottle, will you? I'll email the photo over to you in a few minutes." He pauses. "The man's name? Sure. It's Yuri. Yuri Belnakov."

Yuri, Liza and Louis spend an hour or so trailing the village roads taking note of cars while Dexter slips off on his own to find out where M. Plantard's house is. He finds it easily enough. The house is luxurious, set well back from the road, the driveway screened by high, white gates. Perfect, green lawns stretch up to the front of the house, rose bushes, carefully trimmed, stand sentinel in double lines. There is also a security light that comes on the moment Dexter pauses in the gateway. He can't see any signs of an alarm system (although he's seen enough police shows on TV to know exactly what to look for.) He's sure there must be something there, though. He pauses a while longer then carries on at a slow jog. Best to leave breaking in until another night, he thinks. When he's got company he can blame if anything goes wrong.

The group reassembles later in the small pub in the village centre. Jake comes in last looking a little shaken. Dexter puts a pint of lager in front of him and he drinks it all before speaking.

"I went to the church," he says in a low voice. "To see if I could find out anything about Sandrine."

Liza raises an eyebrow. "And?"

"I don't know. I get the feeling there's something wrong. Very wrong. Like the stigmata is an illness or a cancer, that's affecting her whole body. It's something that wasn't meant to happen."

Judith looks at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"And how the hell did you find anything out," Dexter adds. "What were you doing - communing with the ancestors?"

Jake avoids his gaze. "It's hard to explain. I've just got this feeling. Believe me for now, ok?"

The clock is striking midnight as Liza creeps into the churchyard. Glad to be away from the others for a while, she tries not to notice how the shadows seem to be moving to surround her. The church door is locked. Liza pushes it a few times then scrambles up to look into the window. Shining her torch in, she can barely make out the shadow of the statue of Asmodeus. The pictures on the far wall are featureless rectangles. The combined scent of roses and anemones make her feel dizzy. She slides down and pads quickly through the churchyard to the ruins at the back. Her heart is beating hard in her throat.

Everything is silent. Gravestones form arches around her and the ruined walls in front look like claws coming out of the earth. The beam of light from the torch wobbles uncertainly. Liza kneels down in a hollow where two walls meet and digs at the earth with one hand. It is solid clay and refuses to give. She scowls at it, wishing she'd thought to bring a spade. Well, never mind. She doesn't have to find the treasure tonight. She just has to work out where it might be hidden. A pity the church is shut, she should have thought of that. She really wanted to take a look at the statue of Asmodeus.

Something makes her turn her head. She comes to her feet slowly. Was it the reflection of her torch she saw, or was there a flicker of light inside the church. For a moment she considers running, then she thinks of how Nathan would sneer and she squares her shoulders and walks back through the fragrant air to the arched doorway.

The door gives under her touch. The shadows beckon her inside.

Eyes wide open, unblinking, almost as if she is sleep-walking, Liza moves forward. The statue of Asmodeus turns to look at her as she comes in.

"Welcome," it says.

"Hello," she replies uncertainly. She retains just enough presence of mind to ask, "Who are you?"

"The demon, the Magdalene, whatever you want me to be." A golden light creeps up around the statue's feet. Liza hears the rustling of heavy skirts on the floor.

"I can help you," says the demon. "I can give you your youth back, make you into anything you want to be."

"Liza," Judith says, shaking her. "Wake up. It's eight o'clock."


Liza rolls over and stares at her blearily. She is in the house, sunlight streaming golden through the window across her bed. "What happened?" she asks.

"What happened? You overslept, that's all. Dexter's making breakfast. I hope you like mountains of bacon. I'll leave you to it."

"Wait a minute," Liza calls after her. "Did I go to the church last night?"

Judith gives a quick, puzzled shake of her head. "No. You decided you were too tired and went to bed early. You didn't go anywhere."

Liza waits for her to go before looking at her hands. Her fingernails are full of black earth. When she goes to the bathroom to shower she finds a photograph of herself pinned to the back of the door. She recognises it at once - one of a series she did for Vogue several years ago. She wonders who is responsible, but she can't be bothered to ask right now.

"Good news," Nate announces. "Monsieur Corbu rang. He's agreed to an interview, but we've got to pay him for his time. I told him I'd send someone round this evening to talk to him."

"Git," Dexter mutters. Whether he's referring to Corbu or Nate is unclear.

The one good thing about bouncing along on a horse behind Lady Judith, Nathan reflects, is that at least the view is good. Judith rides easily, as if born to it, which she probably was. He, on the other hand, is acutely conscious that his riding style owes more to the 'sack of potatoes' method than anything else. After only a few minutes his face is red from a mixture of embarrassment and exertion.

Luckily, being Sunday, the roads are almost deserted. Even so, he's glad when Judith calls a halt. He slides off the horse and stands, sweating.

"Here we are," Judith says, all business-like. "The churchyard. Lets have a look at some dates, and better be quick, there are another five graveyards to look at, according to Marie."

Singing starts up from inside the church as they begin.

By the time they reach the fourth church, Nate is wearing a troubled frown, and not just because of the aching in his legs. "There seem to be an awful lot of people who die young here," he says. "And why are most of them women?"

"The war, perhaps?" But Judith doesn't sound convinced. She is still wondering about the lack of any Jewish community in the area. She felt sure there would have been one but Marie told her quite emphatically there was nothing. Another set of dates catches her eye and she bends down to take a closer look. Fleur Cuvier, she reads. Born 1961, died 1980. That takes the total up to thirty.

The rest of the group have the easier task of touring the countryside. First the ruins at Bezu, then the Chateau de Blanchefort and the site of 'Les Bergers' painting.

The ruins are simply that - ruins. Both would have been huge in their day. Louis can imagine the fortress of Bezu holding out against siege for months. The chateau is - was - a typical French stately home. Built for defence as well as comfort it has clear views across the whole area. The rooms that are more or less intact still bear traces of the wall murals and mosaic-work on the floors. But if there is any treasure hidden at either place, it has never been found. There are certainly no clues here now.

"It feels empty," Liza says, walking through the courtyard of the Chateau de Blanchefort. Jake agrees.

They pick up a guide book on their way out. A few pages detail the history of the area - nothing they haven't already found out from 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.' A double-page drawing shows what the chateau would have looked like in its prime, and there are three pictures of Bertrand de Blanchefort from different times in his life. Apparently, it was never occupied again after Bertrand de Blanchefort. There is mention of his treasure, of course, and speculation as to what it could have been. However, the writer concludes, as the treasure has never been found despite extensive searches, either it was a hoax, or de Blanchefort had hidden something that no one else would recognise as treasure.

From the chateau, the group go on to the site of the tomb of 'Les Bergers'. It is easy to find. In fact, it has been fenced off and marked with a plaque and copy of the famous painting. Liza walks around it slowly.

"Et in Arcadia Ego," Louis reads. "And in Arcadia, I…"

"Or is it 'begone I hold the secrets of God,'" Jake says.

Dexter grins. "If we're going to waste our time making up anagrams, I can come up with a better one than that. A great car… We could have a competition. A pint of beer to the one who thinks up the best anagram."

"Shut up, Dexter," Yuri says absently. He runs his left hand over the cold stone and shivers visibly. He has been quiet all morning, snapping back irritably when anyone asks him how he is. Sonja casts a worried look at him, starts to say something and thinks better of it. She walks away from the tomb and turns slowly, gazing out over the open country side.

"Well, we've seen it," Jake says at last. "If we're going to head back via Laval de Dieu, we'd better get moving. We can always come back when we've got some scanning equipment."

Laval de Dieu proves equally uninspiring. Another church with a service in progress, a couple of small hotels, a library (closed), no museum. Jake stops a man in the main street and asks about Cathar history. He shakes his head.

"In Rennes-le-Chateau. Nothing here."

Back at the church, they find Judith and Nate standing outside. A service has just finished and a small group of people are coming out. The caretaker woman is among them and smiles to the group and stops.

"You miss the service, but the church is open. I will come."

Louis thanks her in French and they wait until everyone has gone before walking in. The statue of Asmodeus sneers at them in welcome. Liza shudders, the others get to work. Judith positions herself right in front of the statue and stares at if fixedly, only taking her eyes off it for a moment at a time to watch the second hand crawl around her watch. Louis goes back to look at the pictures of the stations of the cross. Jake gets out some measuring equipment and starts to note down the dimensions of the church.

"Did you know that the child in plaid in that picture is probably a reference to the Stuarts' line and a link with their bloodline?" he says. "It's why the Templars were never persecuted in Scotland. Probably." He finishes measuring. "The inside of this place certainly seems to be built along Templar lines. The dimensions are very similar to a lot of their church structures."

"Really?" Dexter murmurs. "How fascinating. Hey, Igor, you want to have a look round outside while Jake finishes amusing himself with his didgeridoo?" He walks out without waiting for an answer. After a moment, Liza follows them.

"Did you know Marie Dernarnaud?" Sonja asks the caretaker. "We saw a picture of her yesterday. The strange thing was her hands. She had marks on them, like this." She traces out circles on the backs of her own hands.

The caretaker watches her. "Marks? Yes, I remember. She had them always, I think. Often, she wore gloves."

"Really?" Sonja feigns academic interest, taking out a notebook. "You mentioned another girl who had stigmata on her hands. Was it the same thing?"

"I don't know. No. This girl, her hands bled all the time. Marie's never bleed."

"What was the girl's name?" Sonja persists. "If she has any family living here we'd like to talk to them."

The woman thinks a moment. "She was called Lucille. Is buried in graveyard. No one tends the grave now so I think no family left."

Judith leaves the statue a moment and comes over to join them. "You must remember Marie Dernarnaud well. Sauniere too. What did you think of them?"

"What did I think?" She scratches her head. "Not knowing them too well. Everyone knew about them, because of the strange church. They lived together in the villa. Some people talked, but lots of people had a housekeeper."

"And Marie never had children?"

An emphatic shake of the head. "No. Never married, no children."

Jake finishes staring at the painting of the stations of the cross. The oddities in each are easy enough to pick out. A peacock half hidden behind a bush in one, a gypsy playing a violin in another. In the resurrection scene the woman who is presumably Mary Magdalene has blonde hair and blue eyes. Whether any of it is significant he doesn't know.

"Does anyone know anything about Asmodeus?" Judith asks, going back to the statue.

"He's a demon," Louis tells her. "Usually associated with evil. The most famous legend is that Solomon captured him and forced him to build the first temple of God in Jerusalem. He's got no link with the Templars that I know of. Jake?"

The Australian shakes his head, only half listening. "Strange," he murmurs. "I'm trying to work out the direction of his gaze, but it seems to change every time I measure it."

Judith giggles nervously. "Now he's looking at me." She looks down at her watch again. It is exactly noon.

Toulouse. After the quiet streets of Rennes-le-Chateau, the city seems as busy as London on a Monday morning.

"Where to first?" Nate asks, getting out of his car and going back to join the others.

"The university," says Louis.

"Harvest," Dexter says simultaneously. He grins and adds. "We want to find out what they're working on, like combining human and goat DNA for Masonic uses…"

The dispute is settled when they reach the Harvest site and find it closed for the day.

Dexter does manage to find a security guard on duty. "We're from the BBC in London," he lies cheerfully. "We're making a programme about the area and want to feature modern technology. Would it be possible to have a tour of the place?"

The guard straightens up visibly as if he's already on camera. "Tours are always possible, sir. Harvest welcomes publicity. But you must book. Here." He hands him a business card. Henri Severin. "That is the name of the site manager. He will be in his office tomorrow morning. If you phone him, he will arrange to see you."

Dexter pockets the card. "Thanks, pal. We'll do that. You keep up the good work here. Next stop the university then, Louis?"

They have to wait for Nate to take some photos. Somehow, he manages to get Judith into most of them. "Are you still working?" he asks Liza. "If you brought your cossie I could get a few snaps in before lunch!" She skips out of the way hurriedly.

When they reach the university, Louis asks the others to drop him off there, arranging to meet them later. He makes his way straight to the archaeology department. Quieter than it would have been on a week day, there are still some people working in the small office rooms, including the head of department.

"Louis Tregalier," Louis introduces himself, shaking hands. "I worked in Paris with M. Roussel for three years."

"Ah, of course! I know him." The little man stands up. "My name is Charles. What can I do for you?"

After chatting generally about the department and the area, Louis gets onto the subject of Rennes-le-Chateau. "Have there been any digs there recently?" he asks.

"Recently? No." Charles smiles broadly. "To tell you the truth, we were given a large grant to excavate parts of the city and north of here. We won't have time to look at Rennes-le-Chateau again for years. It is good news for the department, especially if we find any remains then we can write more papers this year."

Louis frowns. "Have you found anything yet?"

"No. But we will. Our sponsors seem to think there's definitely something there."

"Really? Then good luck." Louis checks his watch. "I really must go," he says. "Thank you for your time. By the way, who are your sponsors, maybe I could interest them in funding some work in Paris."

Charles laughs. "You can try. Some of the money has come straight from the French government. The rest is from Harvest PLC."

Nate and Judith have fallen behind the others. Sonja quickens her pace to catch up with Dexter. "Is he always like that?" she asks, nodding back to where Nate is filming the main gates of the Space Agency and promising Judith new underwear as soon as they can find a shop that's open.

He laughs. "You'll get used to it."

"We want to show the region as technologically progressive," Nate's voice drones on behind them. "We don't want our listeners thinking the place is some kind of medieval backwater. If we can mention research breakthroughs in passing, no details will be broadcast you understand, this will encourage investment into industry in the area. Your competitors up the road were very accommodating this morning."

Yuri heaves a huge sigh.

"If you're filming the local industry," a voice says in English, "you should get both points of view on it."

They turn.

The girl who has spoken is in her mid twenties. Dressed in combat gear, and looking as if she could do with a bath and a meal, in that order, her arms are bare and her left shoulder is marked with a tattoo of a militaristic fist clenching a globe. A young man stands behind her, grinning slightly, watching her constantly.

"I'm Sioux Stich," the woman says, walking forward to confront Yuri. "You're Russian, aren't you? Do you know how much damage your country has done to the environment in the last twenty years alone?"

Yuri stares at her. "I know," he says heavily. "If it's Russia you're worried about, you're in the wrong country."

"France is a bigger threat. Isn't it Spider?" She flicks a glance to the man at her side. "Are you from the television." She looks at Nate's camera with interest.

"Maybe you'd better tell us who you are," Sonja says.

The girl scowls at her, her hand briefly touching the tattoo on her shoulder. "We're with Green Dawn."

"Environmental activists," Dexter murmurs. "I've heard of them. They were causing trouble in Scotland a while ago, because of the off-shore oil rigs." He addresses Sioux. "You're like Greenpeace, aren't you, only more violent. You lot planning something here, then?"

She grins quickly. "That's for us to know and you to find out, isn't it? But off the record…" she drops her voice to a whisper. "The latest threat is genetic engineering. They say Harvest is making big money out of it."

August 8th 1999 4pm

Louis - Toulouse university

The others - Toulouse centre

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