The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Last Flight of Kunukban
From: G M Blaize
To: Operatives: Katrina Darken, Gino Ferrocco, Kristina Macdowell, Belle-Marie Masterton, Grace Ndofir, Stuart Winters
Subject: Suspected reappearance of the Ylid ‘Yashimoto’ in Australia
1) Inoshiro Yashimoto
As you will be aware – most of you from personal experience – the Ylid known as ‘Yashimoto’ has been one our greatest foes in the fight against his kind. His malign influence spread as far as Russia, Kampuchea and even Norway, and his Japanese power base encompassed organized crime, the nation’s largest companies, manipulation of Government ministers and attempts to foment religious conflict. This power base was all but destroyed by a SITU operation last summer; thanks to the efforts of the SITU team, including the courageous self-sacrifice of operative Robert Montague Flint, we have heard nothing of Yashimoto – or his agents – since Boiling Hell Valley. We had started to hope Yashimoto was finished. We may, however, have hoped too soon.
2) Erich F. Schutz
According to the sleeve notes of his latest book, Erich F. Schutz’s lifelong inspiration and the ‘wisest man in all the Worlds’ is none other than Erich von Daniken, that highly-successful, self-proclaimed seventies prophet of all things implausible. Sadly, compared to his namesake, Erich F. Schutz is merely a voice crying plaintively in the wilderness. So unremarkable are his talents, in fact, that he has failed to make his mark on this or any other World, despite the recent resurgence in public interest in the Unexplained. After many years’ ‘intensive research’ in Europe and the Middle East, and several dozen highly-derivative publications such as The Holy Grail: God’s Boiler Room?, Vestibules of the Gods and Spacemen and Spaced Women, this mild-mannered German schoolteacher has recently turned his attention to Australia. His latest, privately published, work, Lost Secrets of the Sky Heroes (attached) expounds at great length Schutz’s theory that the mythical period known to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as the ‘Dreaming’ was, in fact, the Eden of the Judeo-Christian Bible, and that the ‘Sky Heroes’ that populated it were alien cosmonauts.
Schutz is currently located in Sydney, where he has been giving a series of lectures and talks to publicize this book. Whacky theories such as his abound in these peri-Millennial times, but the author has recently achieved an unprecedented level of notoriety, if not quite fame and fortune – as the following newspaper clippings show.
Jack-on-the-Box TV review column
New South Wales Chronicle and Advertiser, 2 December 2000
Even a dedicated insomniac must have felt let down by Channel 10’s desperately dreary Ten Weekend last night. A late-night fest of outrage and insults thinly disguised as serious debate should have been fun, but wasn’t. Dear old Bob Dale tried to sound excited, but even he can’t really believe that the revelation that alien cosmonauts once walked the earth is exciting. Most of this dismal show wasn’t even as interesting as that – sci-fi nerds already know that we’re all descended from little gray men. The only highlight was feisty Irish Professor, Bridgit McMahon. Although this flame-haired boffin was playing the arch-sceptic here, she must have set many an anorak’s heart a-flutter when she dumped her beer on the crank Kraut’s head and flounced off-stage in a sulk.
University Blaze: Police Suspect Arson
New South Wales Chronicle and Advertiser, 9 December 2000
Officials investigating a fire at the University of New South Wales last night suspect it may have been started deliberately, sources claim. No one was injured in the blaze in the library of the Aboriginal Research and Resource Centre, but flames caused extensive damage to the Centre’s valuable collection. “It looks like someone torched the place with a flame thrower,” commented an irate ARRC spokeswoman. “We don’t burn books in this country. When they catch the man who did this, they should lock him up and throw away the key.”
Writer sought in University arson probe
New South Wales Chronicle and Advertiser, 10 December 2000
A German writer is wanted for questioning concerning a recent fire at the Aboriginal Research and Resource Centre, police report. Erich F. Schutz, 42, has not been seen since the night of the blaze, when, it is alleged, he was seen leaving the University campus “like all the hounds of hell were on his tail”.
‘Book-burning’ writer arrested, bailed
Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 2000
Ercih F. Schutz gave himself up to police yesterday morning, following a State-wide search for the 42-year-old German. Schutz, the highly-prolific author of 37 books with a worldwide readership, was wanted for questioning concerning a recent arson attack at the University of New South Wales, and unpaid bills at the Hotel Wilson Astoria. He had earlier admitted himself to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment of what staff have described as certain ‘unusual’ but non-life-threatening injuries. Following a brief hearing, Schutz was later released on bail and returned to hospital.
‘My alibi, the aliens’: book-burning writer claims
Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2000
In a bizarre twist as unlikely-sounding as any of his book titles, alleged arsonist Erich F. Schutz today made the startling claim that he could not have started the blaze of which he is accused – because he was a captive of mystical beings at the time. “Whoever the caretaker saw that night at the library, it wasn’t me,” asserted Schutz, speaking from his hospital bed via his publicist Takeyumi Nakayama. “I was hundreds of miles away, deep in the desert – carried there by a giant white serpent, summoned by the greatest of the Sky Heroes. He told me how his people ruled the Earth at the dawn of time, and that the time of their return is now upon us. He said he would make me his mouthpiece, greatest amongst men! But first I would have to suffer, to prove myself worthy of wisdom!” This revelation is sure to fuel public interest in the case. Already, a small group of supporters has gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, brandishing ‘Free Erich’ posters during a candlelit vigil.
Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2000
After 5 days under arrest, accused arsonist Erich F. Schutz was today released and all charges against him dropped. He was greeted by several dozen cheering fans as he left hospital, where he paused to sign copies of his latest book Lost Secrets of the Sky Heroes, before being whisked away to an unknown location. “Mr Schutz is considering whether to sue for wrongful arrest,” confirmed his publicist Takeyumi Nakayama. “But meanwhile, he wishes to be left in peace to recover from this ordeal and reconsider his future.” When asked if Erich had any word for his fans, Mr Nakayama would only add: “They should come to his next lecture. No earthly authority can hope to suppress the secrets he knows.” “The police have no comment,” commented Inspector Lou Salmon, in charge of the case.
3) Takeyumi Nakayama
Preliminary SITU investigations have confirmed that this individual is an employee of New Palace Press, a publishing subsidiary of the mighty Dai-Mitsu conglomerate, ultimate control of which was formerly held by Yashimoto. Furthermore, New Palace financed Schutz’s trip to Australia, via a grant Schutz received from the UK publication Crab. As some of you already know, Crab is a magazine devoted to alien conspiracy theories and high-level government cover-ups; though much of its content may be dismissed as paranoid fantasy, some contains more than a grain of truth. The magazine has suffered financial problems for several years, but was recently saved from closure by an injection of cash from New Palace Press. As far as SITU can ascertain, Takeyumi Nakayama was instrumental in this investment. The nature of his interest in Crab is unknown.
1) Determine Yashimoto’s aims in Australia, if any.
2) Thwart these aims.
While the link between Erich F. Schutz and the Ylid menace may seem tenuous, SITU believes that the events documented above are sufficiently suspicious to merit further investigation. If Yashimoto does have a scheme in Australia, better to uncover it now and strike while the Ylid is weak, rather than later, when he is strong again. A further defeat may be all we need to destroy Yashimoto forever.
We suggest you concentrate on Schutz in the first instance. If Schutz is indeed a tool of Yashimoto, witting or unwitting, it is imperative that we have agents on the scene to intervene when the Ylid acts. As a result of his sudden fame, Schutz has extended his lecture tour, and is due to speak next in the Arts and Social Sciences Faculty of the University of New South Wales, at 11 a.m. on Christmas Eve.
One point of note is that, despite its great size and relative isolation, Australia has never harboured Ylid activity known to SITU. Whether this is by accident, design, or some other reason known only to the Ylids, SITU has no idea. That Yashimoto has chosen to shift his operations there, may be an indication of his increasing desperation.
Tickets will be booked for you on a flight out of Heathrow, arriving in Sydney at 1500 hrs on Saturday 23 December. Separate arrangements will be made to fly Mr Ferrocco from New York. You may choose your own cover stories as you desire.
Even in a weakened state, Yashimoto will remain a fearsome foe. In the past, he has proved superhumanly strong and quick, with seemingly limitless psychic/magical powers, some of which (including his use of animated origami figures), he is able to confer on his agents. Be aware that you are all in personal danger – you are Yashimoto’s enemy, and the enemy of his allies. For this reason, you may choose to undertake this mission under false identities. If this is the case, SITU will supply the necessary papers.
As always, you should avoid doing anything illegal unless it is strictly necessary. SITU will give you all the help it can, but please bear in mind that we do not have the influence to bail you out of jail.
The Last Flight of Kunukban
The stench of burning flesh is still strong in Kristina Macdowell’s nose as she jerks awake sweating with a soundless cry of fear on her lips. The shriek of squealing tyres dies even as she opens her eyes, though, and is replaced by the steady hum of the engines of the plane. Shuddering, she straightens her ponytail, pulls off her glasses and rubs her aching eyes. Bad dreams again, and always the same; they’ve been bothering her a lot lately. She wraps her arms around her rucksack and tries to stay awake; the rucksack feels lighter than usual – the folding knife, Maglite and fire extinguisher she has to collect from the cabin crew on landing – and Geoff Blaize’s two letters rattle loosely around with her sketch-pad and pencils. These letters, she muses morosely, must have surely triggered her sleepless nights.
The first had arrived back in April.
‘Dear friends,’ it read, cheerily.
‘After our tremendous successes of 1999, I think we can be justified in congratulating ourselves on having broken the power of the Ylids. With the destruction of Yashimoto and The Master, our two most capable adversaries, we have ensured that never again can these monstrous beings present a coordinated threat to the happiness of humanity. Of course, we must not be too complacent. A little pride in a task well done is no doubt appropriate, but we must bear in mind that there are still a number of Ylids left alive, and being spiteful creatures they will probably continue to attempt to make life difficult for SITU operatives. But we will gradually dispose of them: we are now, effectively, moving into what can be considered a mopping-up phase. Each of you can expect odd missions here and there as one Ylid or another decides to cause trouble: but now that we have the upper hand, you may be sure that none of them will do so more than once! In the meantime, enjoy some well-earned free time.’
The message had been a relief at the time – that last mission in Russia had come much too close to home for Kris; she could still see Father Zukhov’s face writhing as he burned to death. Then months had passed, and noohing more from SITU – until the briefing. And now she was stuck in a plane again, flying off to Australia with barely a two days’ notice. Tenuous, Blaize said. Kris snorts to herself. More like a wild goose-chase. But at least the mission would get her out of the way over Christmas. Just the thought of the presents and carols and smiling children makes her shudder again. She hadn’t been surprised to learn an Ylid was behind it all…
‘You look pale,’ observes Kristina Darken, from the seat beside her. ‘Shall I pass the sickbag?’
‘I don’t like travel.’ Kris takes off her glasses again and gives Katrina a withering glare, but Katrina isn’t daunted; she matches it with a piercing, blue-eyed stare of her own.
‘Really? That’s why I joined SITU, you know – for the travel. Who wouldn’t want to swap London for Australia at this time of year?’
Though the ninja assassins and killer toads and constant general threat of death are a downside, Katrina has to admit. She grimaces, rubbing her ribs, and feels the cold, dark dagger nestling inside her leather jacket. Strange – and fortunate – how it doesn’t show up on the X-ray machines. Fortunate, too, that Vera’s not on this mission – another minute in the presence of that half-demon bitch and Katrina would have used the knife on her. The thought isn’t unpleasant, though; she smiles nastily to herself, then catches Stuart Winters looking at her from across the aisle. She turns her brilliant grin on him.
Unnerved, he turns away. Since the moment he first met Katrina in Moscow, Stuart has had a distinct feeling she doesn’t like him. But at least, he reassures himself, she’s more reliable than Vera; maybe we can, just for once, achieve something approaching a team spirit on this mission. He turns back to Belle-Marie and doggedly starts chatting again. He’s already spent most of the flight trying to put the young Irishwoman at ease.
‘So your husband is a SITU agent, too?’ he prompts, eagerly.
‘That’s right.’ Belle-Marie Masterton studies him with her large tawny-green eyes, wondering what to make of her new colleagues. Stuart, the scruffy student-type with his blonde dreadlocks and crumpled clothes; the quiet, dour Kris; Grace, the serious old lady… All three seem to be bowed, somehow, under the weight of what they’ve been through. Katrina looks fresher, but there are still shadows in her eyes.
‘We were married just a few months ago,’ she continues, warily. ‘Daniel left on a mission to Paris at just about the same time as me. Our little girl Rhiannon is staying with her grandparents.’
It seems a shame to Stuart that the child should have to spend Christmas so far from her parents; he wonders if he should commiserate, but one look at Belle-Marie’s face tells him there’s no need.
‘I miss them, of course,’ she ventures, suddenly. ‘And sometimes I wish I was with them. But then I think of Rhiannon lying sound asleep, knowing nothing of this. And that’s when I remember what we’re fighting for.’
And how much longer will that fight go on, wonders Grace Ndofir. She’s overheard snatches of the others’ conversations throughout the flight, but hasn’t taken much part in them herself. For most of the long journey, she has been working on her laptop computer, pausing only occasionally to readjust her reading glasses or take a few bites of the latest flavourless meal. More than one passing stewardess has glanced curiously at the screen and the strange symbols and characters there, but Grace barely notices the attention she is getting; she’s lost in another world as she finalizes her Muvian grammar. In the break since her last SITU mission, she’s found the time to finish her analysis of the scripts she has collected, and now, she believes, her knowledge of the language of ancient Mu is fair to middling. Even after months of work, the thought gives her a thrill – this is the kind of discovery any anthropologist would surely die for. But her paper on her findings still languishes, unpublished in the computer. Something is still holding her back from releasing her knowledge on the world.
She pauses briefly, to glance out of the tiny window beside her. The earth below is hard and red-baked, not soft and sandy like the deserts of North Africa. It seems to go on forever, interrupted only by empty water courses and an occasional hint of inhabitation; lonely dots of humanity clinging onto a harsh, dry land.
Grace sighs and turns to the screen again. Maybe, she muses, the world isn’t ready yet.
The jet swoops right over the city as it starts on its descent. From his window-seat, Gino Ferrocco can see the whole of Sydney basking beneath him in the warm December sun – tiny automobiles like ants following well-worn paths on speedways and bridges, the beaches, the Harbour and Opera House, and a new landmark rising above the streets – Stadium Australia, the scene of many a triumph for the good ol’ US of A this Fall, as always. Though Gino doesn’t know or care in which events, exactly – last time he looked, the Olympic Games didn’t feature football.
It has been a long journey, but Gino feels less tired than he’d expected to be; the flight from New York is barely half-full, so he’s had a row of seats to himself and has been able to get a decent rest, for once. He stands, stretches, smoothes down his well-cut silk shirt, then reaches up for his jacket, but as he pulls it down, a parcel wrapped in bright red and gold Christmas paper shoots into the air and drops with a dull crack on the floor. He stoops to pick it up, but as he does another hand closes around his; he looks up to see a pair of indigo eyes staring at him from an impossibly ancient, wrinkled black face.
‘Uh… I’m sorry – ‘ He starts to apologize for breaking the old guy’s Christmas gift, but the old guy doesn’t stop staring, and doesn’t let go of his hand either. Frowning, Gino wrenches himself free. ‘If I’ve broken it, let me pay for it, huh?’ He flips through his wallet and pulls out a couple of bills, but when he looks up again, the old man is gone.
‘You’ve dropped your gift, Mr Ferrocco.’ One of the stewardesses – the pretty redhead – is suddenly at his side, pressing the parcel into his hand. ‘It’s time to take your seat now – we’re coming into land.’
Gino’s right palm is still tingling where the old man grasped it. Feeling slightly disconcerted, he sits and fastens his seatbelt.
Saturday 23 December 2000