The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Last Flight of Kunukban
‘Could you be just a little more specific?’ Gino demands impatiently. ‘The Ferrocco family motto might well be “never look a gift awesome power in the mouth”, but we don’t want to cause any nasty accidents, do we?’ He waves his hand at the old woman, but she seems unperturbed. ‘Why would Long Jack Wunuwun choose me as his successor?’ he continues. ‘I’m not even one of your people, for a start.’ Though neither is Long Jack, he muses; if he really _is_ an Ylid, as everyone seems to think.
‘Long Jack must have had good reasons, though I can’t say he’d tell them to me.’ The old woman takes a long, contemplative breath on her pipe. ‘You should ask yourself, whitefella, for you must know what they are, deep down. If you didn’t he wouldn’t have chosen you.’
Gino shakes his head in exasperation. ‘I really do have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even know what this mystical karadji power is, let alone how to use it. How could I possibly succeed Long Jack – and that’s assuming I even I wanted to?’
The old woman shrugs. ‘Long Jack cannot be wrong.’
‘Maybe not, but you think he might troubled to discuss this with me beforehand.’
‘You will know what to do when the time comes.’
‘The time when Long Jack dies and you will succeed him.’
Gino exchanges dark glances with Grace. ‘He seemed healthy enough the last time we saw him,’ he growls.
‘Where _has_ he gone, exactly?’ Grace asks, suspiciously.
Again, the infuriating shrug. ‘I can’t say,’ the old woman says, ‘but he spent a long time looking at our blanket before he left.’
‘Ah yes – and that reminds me.’ Grace steps in quickly, before Gino finally blows his top. ‘I was going to ask you if you’d let me take a look at that myself. I’d like to make a closer study of the symbols…’
As Belle-Marie crosses the street into the bar, Katrina jumps down from the truck and looks up and down the empty road.
‘What to do, what to do…’ she muses, tapping her sadly scuffed toe in the dirt.
‘We could start by reporting the accident. _Accidents._’ Kris grimaces at the memory of the crash. At least, she thinks, I didn’t get to personally witness John Boone smashed to atoms by a mysterious falling boulder.
‘That sounds a fine idea.’ Katrina turns sharply on her heels and heads towards the bar after Belle-Marie. ‘And while you make your excuses to the cops – let me know what story you come up with – _my_ first priority is to get cleaned up.’
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Kris demands.
‘ I’m going to find a bath. Dust, blood… these things can really ruin a girl’s hair and complexion, you know.’
Kris is dumbfounded. ‘Haven’t we got more urgent things to do?’ she shouts.
But Katrina just grins infuriatingly over her shoulder. ‘I don’t know about you, Kristina dear, but _I_ don’t want to look scruffy for the imminent end of the world.’
Kris watches her leave, exasperated. ‘Fine, just fine,’ she mutters, stamping towards the phone box on the main street (and chickening out of a direct confrontation). ‘Let _me_ talk to the police, why don’t you? You go ahead and enjoy yourself.’ She needn’t have bothered, however; there is no reply to her call, even after several minutes. She frowns. Madeleine can hardly be the crime capital of the country, she supposes; but even so, she might have expected a better-staffed police station.
Admitting defeat at last (and with some relief), she hangs up the phone and peers suspiciously through the dusty glass of the call box; from there, she can see straight down the long, straight road in both directions, north and south both leading into the empty darkness of the bush. There is something decidedly eerie about the silence, and the ghostly remains reminders of the corroboree drifting in the breeze, and the lights burning unnoticed in the bar. For a fanciful moment, Kris can almost imagine some giant unseen hand, reaching down into the town and plucking everyone out. She remembers what Bridgit said about the denizens of the Dreaming – about how whole peoples are descended from the ancestral spirits residing there. And once again she thinks of Katrina’s sorry tale about shooting the emu…
She shudders, tries to dismisses her nagging fears with a laugh…
‘Did you manage to call the police?’ Belle-Marie is suddenly outside the call box, tapping on the door. Kris puts down the phone and joins her. ‘What did they say about the crash? And John Boone? Are they going to send someone round there? There’s something very strange going on here,’ she adds, with a wary look left and right. ‘The bar is completely deserted, but the TV is still on and there are half-empty drinks all over the place. And there’s some weird news, too. Tidal waves, people disappearing without trace, giant boulders falling from the sky. I’m worried what Grace and Katrina might have set in motion while they were in the Dreaming…’
Kris stares at the silent houses and buildings. All we have to do, she thinks, is knock on one of those doors. We’d wake up the occupants, they’d be mad at us, and rightly so. But my fears would be disproved…
‘I’ve just spoken to Geoff Blaize about what’s happened,’ Belle-Marie continues, ‘and he suggested that the spilling of blood by outsiders in the Dreaming may have corrupted its fabric in some way, perhaps by introducing a weakness. From what we’ve heard, read and seen of the Dreaming, it seems to be intimately bound up with the land in the real world, so it’s possible that any weakness in one may be felt in the other. There’s a lot of power – ungud – locked up in the Dreaming, and if that could be channelled in some way – perhaps through such a weakness – it could be used for, for…’ She shrugs. ‘Well, I don’t know what for. Something pretty big, whatever. Blaize suggests that a release of ungud like that could destroy the Dreaming – and have devastating effects on the whole country.’
‘Hmm. I should’ve guessed it,’ says Kris. She steps back into the call box and picks up the phone.
After a good wash and brush-up in the bathroom behind the bar, Katrina is starting to feel a whole lot better; she even hums a grim little tune to herself as she takes her weapons out of her bag and gives them a quick oil and check over; they are all in working order, it seems – but no more shooting emus, she resolves. As she packs them safely back into the bag, she notices the tiny Dreaming spear, glinting secretively in the darkness; she pulls it out and scrutinizes it for a moment, wondering what she should do with it.
‘An earring, I think,’ she says at last, holding it up to the mirror. ‘Or better still, a necklace. Though I’ll need a few bits of leather…’
She rummages around in her bag to see if she has something suitable with her, but as she does so, the tiny spear pricks her in the thumb. With a gasp of surprise, she drops it, and it disappears under the sink. But you have to try and accessorize, she thinks; even when you’re miles from decent shopping… Sucking at the bead of blood welling on the tip of her thumb, she bends down to retrieve the spear before it gets lost on the floor.
There is little chance of that, though; instead of falling flat, it has landed balanced right on its point, in a heap of sand on the lino. Katrian reaches towards it warily; it may be the size of a cocktail stick, but it did come from the Dreaming. And then, even more remarkably, it starts to move.
‘I take it back about the earring,’ she whispers.
The spear ignores her. Slowly and laboriously, it is scratching a message into the sand…
>Yashimot going to Uluru
>Dont forget shark repellent
As soon as Kris has finished her phone call, she and Belle-Marie head out of town towards the golf course. There is no sign of Grace, Gino or Long Jack Wunuwun there, but a further walk in the direction of the waterhole finds the two SITU agents and an elderly aboriginal woman sitting on the ground beside a blanket. They are clearly not having a picnic; Grace’s face is unusually animated in the light of her torch, as she studies the symbols painted on the rough fabric.
‘It’s amazing,’ she whispers, ‘to think that I may be the first person to read this script in centuries. Or the first human, anyway.’
‘So what have you learned?’ asks Kris.
Grace narrows her eyes contemplatively. ‘Well… It’s a painstaking process – these symbols are somewhat difficult to decipher, for a start. The people who painted them weren’t exactly careful in their transcription. No offence meant, of course,’ she adds, to the old aboriginal woman. She doesn’t respond. ‘The text has been copied over and over again for hundreds of years – how many times I can’t possibly say. It’s rather like Chinese whispers. And the symbols have really become more decoration than text – ’
‘But what have you learned?’ Kris persists.
‘Much of it seems to concern what we already knew from the Dreaming. The sinking beneath the waves of a great land to the east – a land by the name of Mu…’ She points at strange, angular marks on the blanket. ‘The Muvians attempt to escape their fate by means of spirits. By which, I assume, the writer meant spacecraft of some sort – like the ones Katrina and I saw in the Dreaming.’
‘And maybe like the one I saw, too,’ remembers Kris, ‘while I was stranded on the road before Gino and Belle-Marie picked me up. It was heading north – but who was flying it? Nakayama, maybe?’
‘You did say he was looking for a spaceship on John Boone’s land,’ suggests Belle-Marie.
Grace turns back to the blanket. ‘As we know, one of these beings landed in what we now know as Australia, though this may not have been intentional – as was the case for others of his kind who landed elsewhere. The meaning isn’t too clear here – the text keeps mentioning the word I heard in the Dreaming – servants, slaves… I’m not sure.’ She frowns. ‘Whatever, this Kunukban was happy with his lot – unlike the other Muvians, who wanted to raise their homeland and return there. This will certainly happen one day, it says – but at a great cost to the land. And the cataclysm will begin at Uluru. Not unsurprisingly – the aborigines call Uluru the “navel of the world”, as far as I remember from my researches back in Sydney.’ She glances at the old woman for confirmation, but gets none.
‘So this old blanket predicts the end of the world as we know it?’ says Gino.
‘Sounds like it,’ says Kris, grimly. ‘And it may be sooner than you think. I just phoned an old friend of mine, in the geology department back at Imperial – I wanted to know more about the tidal wave that’s just hit the Solomon Islands. Apparently, waves of that magnitude are unknown in that region, but what’s _really_ causing excitement some rather odd seismographic data.’
‘Odd?’ Gino raises his eyebrows.
‘Odd that they’re picking up signs of a land mass that shouldn’t be there – a land mass somewhwere between the Solomon Islands and Nauru.’
‘Could that be Mu – rising from the waves?’ gasps Belle-Marie. She turns to Grace, anxiously. ‘Does the blanket say how to stop it?
‘Hmmm…’ says Grace. She doesn’t look too hopeful. ‘It will repay further study, I think. But it does mention something about the self-sacrifice of a great karadji.’
‘Self-sacrifice to stop Mu rising? Could that be where Long Jack has gone?’
Kris smiles darkly. ‘That doesn’t sound so bad. If it’s true, _we_ can wait here safely while he gets on with saving the world.’
‘I’d think again, if I were you,’ says a sudden voice behind her. It is a newly clean and fragrant Katrina, wearing a rather impressive spear-shaped earring that Kris hasn’t noticed before.
‘Why all this sudden interest in the mission?’ she asks sarcastically.
Katrina explains what happened in the washroom, but Kris still looks dubious.
‘Can we be sure the message came from Stuart?’ she asks.
Katrina shrugs. ‘Who else would know about that touching Christmas gift he gave me? And who else who knows us is wandering around in the Dreaming? Only him, and that crazy guy Erich Schutz.’
‘But why would Yashimoto go to Uluru?
‘For the party?’
Belle-Marie is looking rather pale. ‘When two Ylids are close together,’ she says, very slowly, ‘they mutually self-destruct, with a tremendous release of energy. It’s happened before, in Mexico. Maybe _that_ could channel the ungud from the Dreaming – as Geoff Blaize suggested?’
‘Maybe,’ says Katrina. ‘Though as far as I’m concerned, any kind of mystical release of energy is bound to be a Very Bad Thing. I missed the start of the conversation –’ she nods at the blanket. ‘But I assume some nasty is planning to harness the energy for their own diabolical purposes. World, galaxy, universe domination, delete as appropriate… Could it be the weird and wacky plan of these Ylid things? Maybe they have been working towards this event for a fair while?’
‘Something like that,’ says Kris. ‘So – Long Jack goes to Uluru to stop the flow of ungud, prevent the destruction of the land and stop Mu rising again. But Yashimoto meets him there, and boom – the world ends. But would Yashimoto really sacrifice his own life to raise Mu?’
Gino shakes his head in exasperation. ‘Maybe the only way to stop this is by returning to the Dreaming and trying to move time back, to when Katrina was about to shoot the emu… If we stopped that, would we prevent this? Or would we somehow undo the whole world?’ He starts pacing back and forth, muttering anxiously to himself; if there was any time he needed karadji superpowers, surely this is it. ‘If the dreaming is so fluid, can we undo what’s already been done? And if we can, do we have to do it before midnight on New Year’s Eve? Would throwing mud in a certain direction or peeing in the Dreaming cause a tidal wave in the real world?’
Gino’s words remind Grace of her vision in the Dreaming, of the creation of Uluru by two small boys playing in the mud. He doesn’t give her time to comment on this, though.
‘If we went back to the Dreaming, we could at least do something for Stuart,’ he continues. ‘We might be able to run back the poisoning somehow.’
‘If we do want to go back to the Dreaming,’ Belle-Marie says, a little hesitantly, ‘I think I know how to do it. I’ve had a message from Maddy, and she’s managed to make a sigil for us.’ She clears her throat. ‘She, er… sent a message, too.’
She passes it round for the others to read.
>i don’t really know much about the dreaming but blood’s a powerful thing
>especially if its in a prophecy. whose blood was it?
>i’m sending the sigil, it’s a special one which should help find the situ
>people and also protect them from yashimoto (it’s been harmful to him
>before). i don’t know if you know about sigils but you need to POWER it and
>the easiest way is by sex energy, orgone. to generate this, you need to
>draw the sigil out on a little piece of paper, one copy for each person, and
>each person has to go off and… well, YOU know, do the spanking the naughty
>snake thing or whatever (it’s better with more than one person, but any sex
>energy is good). anyway, they need to focus on the sigil just at the like
>MOMENT – and afterwards they should burn the sigil so it tranfers
>unconsciously into their right brain.
>but just like do it and it’ll work. you’ll see.
‘It sounds a bit dodgy, I know,’ Belle-Marie says, to the wall of silence that greets these instructions. ‘But she really does know what she’s doing…’
‘Being in the Dreaming may be the only thing that’s keeping Stuart alive,’ says Grace quickly, and somewhat irrelevantly.
‘But we’re back in town now,’ says Gino. ‘If we brought him out, we could have a doctor standing by with antivenom.
Kris shakes her head, firmly; she has no desire to risk finding the surgery deserted, too. ‘We don’t have time to mess around with Stuart,’ she snaps. ‘He seems to be okay where he is for now, so let’s leave him there.’
‘And he’s more useful to us in the Dreaming than he ever could be here.’ Katrina jingles her earring.
‘Our first priority has to be catching up with Long Jack,’ says Kris. ‘Or at least getting to Uluru in time to warn him about Yashimoto.
‘So it’s decided?’ says Grace. ‘We’ve a party to attend at Uluru…’ She looks down at the partly-deciphered blanket. So much still to learn… ‘I wonder…’ She turns to the old aboriginal woman. ‘Might I borrow this blanket for a few days. I’ll take great care of it, I promise – I know how precious it is to you.’
The old woman does not respond; she is still squatting on the ground, her pipe clenched between her teeth. Thinking she might have fallen asleep while the agents discussed their problems, Grace reaches down to touch her shoulder.
And jumps back in horror, as she disintegrates into a pile of sand.
4 am, Thursday 28th December 2000