The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Haunting of Hatfield Peverel
Chapter 12

A quarter after nine o'clock, Thursday 30th August, 1781
In the grounds of the Manor House

Gino writhes guiltily under the accusatory glares of his colleagues. 'I can explain everything,' he cries. 'I guess this doesn't look too good, but I am not the evil dude you may suspect.'

'I don't think you're evil, Gino. Just misguided,' says Jeffrey wearily.

Grace steps forward and slaps the startled Gino smartly round the head.

He raises his hands defensively and continues, 'I had to fake the Miracle Visitor bit and get the stuff from Stuart, because I figured it was the only way of getting Stokes to collaborate, and he was suspicious of everybody so I thought it would be better if just one of us approached him.

'Why didn't you just ask him for it?' demands Jeffrey.

'My only concern at this point was finding a way of getting Ronnie back all in one piece and with all her digits - she's been pretty nice to me all the way through this, and I don't like lying to her.'

'So what about you rescuing her?' asks Kyle curiously.

'That was staged with Stokes. I knew he had her, and so I swapped the stone and book I'd taken off Stuart, for her safe return. I told Stokes that if he sent me back in time, I'd burn his house down and thus avoid him drawing attention to himself - but what I thought was, I could get the kid out, bring it back to our time and give it to Ronnie on the basis that , that way , no one has to kill any babies, and if it's a baby in our time it can't possibly have had any descendants -'

'But those descendants _do_ exist,' bursts in Jeffrey, 'We've met one. Preventing the birth of Clive and all the other Stokeses inbetween is tantamount to killing them, I assure you.'

'- and I thought you lot said Clive Stokes was a bad dude,' continues Gino defensively. Kris and Grace exchange glances. 'Also that would get rid of the risk to Reuben Stokes. OK, I did offer him a new residence in the States with my uncle Sam, because Sammy is quite well off and has sort of house guards and stuff - nothing illegal, just employees - but I thought that was a good way of keeping Stokes safe. Let's face it, won't SITU want to do awful experiments on him and stuff?'

'Don't you trust them, then?' asks Ferdinand curiously.

Gino makes an expressive motion with his eyebrows. 'I know I belong to SITU, but to be quite honest I don't really know anything about them, and you lot never bloody tell me anything - like, why you want rid of Clive Stokes, for example, so whaddyou expect? I thought I was doing the best thing for everyone and yeah, I'm sorry about Stuart but I was careful not to hurt him. You can think or do what you like, but getting that baby out of this timeframe is the only way you'll ensure Clive doesn't get born. Trusting me with a bit of information about situ in the first place might have avoided us being at cross porpoises like this - like I said I'm real sorry.'

'You're ranting, Gino,' says Jeffrey loftily. 'Obviously the sign of a guilty conscience. Why does SITU dislike Clive Stokes? I have no idea, either. But do _I_ run around lying, stealing, assaulting people and generally behaving like a hooligan? No, I don't.'

Gino shrugs. 'I guess you'll probably decide to leave me here or something.'

'The suggestion of the thought hadn't even begun to think about crossing my mind,' Jeffrey assures him.

'Well, I'm sure I could be pretty important in 1681 with my knowledge of weapons and stuff, could probably change the course of history in fact - and, gee, it'd sure be interesting to see what some of your direct ancestors are like - I'm sure I could find them and pay a visit. Please understand that I'm not in a position to be issuing threats here and I wouldn't do that, but I'd kinda like to be in the twentieth century where football is something more than kicking a bladder from village to village.'

'You really are trying my patience, Gino. Now stop acting like a poor man's James Cagney - that gangster routine of yours is fooling no one, you know - and say you're sorry. I just want you to apologize, shake hands with Stuart, and promise not to misbehave again. Then we'll say no more about the matter,' finishes Jeffrey.

Gino with a somewhat ill grace offers his hand to the young student. 'Stuart, look, I'm really sorry but we do seem to end up leaping all over each other at the moment. I'm sorry if I squashed you a bit, but I was trying not to hurt you - didn't want to cock up the same way I did with that evil Baron.'

Kris watches grimly as they shake. 'As for you, Gino, we are _not_ going to be leaving you in the seventeenth century. With your disregard for orders already shown, I shudder to think what you might do to history as we know it. You can come back with us and explain yourself to SITU; perhaps if you're lucky they may explain to you some of the reasons why things are done as they are. Maybe. They might have other ideas.'

'Well, I think you'll agree that my plan with the baby is pretty sound,' replies Gino sulkily.

Kris nods, but Jeffrey charges in: 'I'm afraid I most certainly don't. I still think we can deal with Ruben Stokes by sabotaging his work on time travel and leaving the baby out of it.' However, Gino's apology is enough to placate him, and he offers his colleague the hand of friendship in turn, which Gino gladly accepts. 'I suggest we all go back to Jeremiah's house. Hopefully Reverend Pettigrew will be gone by now, and we can make our plans.'

'I have to say,' says Stuart as the team sit around Jeremiah Fulk's kitchen table once more, 'I find our sense of priorities to be somewhat strange. The idea of being able to travel through time - to be able to be on the scene at any given event - to find out who really shot JFK, for example - doesn't that fascinate you all?'

'Reuben wasn't keen to use the stone because of the attention he feared it would attract,' points out Gino. 'If you used it to start zipping backwards and forwards in time, how are you going to avoid half a ton of time-travelling warlocks descending in righteous wrath on SITU HQ?'

'We only have Reuben's word for that,' points out Stuart. 'We're relying far too much on his testimony, despite it being immediately evident that he isn't a very pleasant or trustworthy person. Why did he hand over the stone quite so readily? He seemed almost eager to have us take it from him, despite its evident value. And why would a time traveller have to go to the trouble of faking his own death in order to escape from his enemies?'

'Because _they're_ time-travelling too,' says Kyle. 'Like in _Terminator_2_!'

'If there really are time-travelling warlocks after him,' says Gino, 'and he's afraid of using the stone because it'll attract their attention, then you can see how he'd be quite keen to dump it on some other bunch of mugs and have them take the fall.'

'Maybe,' says Stuart sceptically, although he does glance warily up into the corners of the room - fortunately, no boiling blue mist is apparent.

'Hey - where did Jeffrey go?' asks Kyle suddenly.

Everyone looks round, but the egregious clergyman has disappeared - and so has Grace.

Grace becomes suspicious when Jeffrey excuses himself, during Stuart's peroration, and follows him out of the kitchen. She sees him conversing briefly with Fulk, who is sitting in the front room wringing his hands, and sees Fulk nod eagerly. Then Jeffrey makes his way quietly into the back garden.

Grace follows him, in his tracks at a distance, not wanting to pounce until she knows what he is up to.

Jeffrey sneaks into the shed where the team's possessions have been left, pulling the door shut behind him. Grace approaches it cautiously and applies her eye to the latch-hole.

She then has to leap back smartly as the door bursts open, charged by the front wheel of Jeffrey's motorbike, and the ear-splitting roar of the engine fills the night. Jeffrey, not even noticing that he has just all but run Grace down, rears up the front of the bike, its powerful headlight stabbing the sky and setting the rooks to flight, before turning it sharply (which gouges a huge tear in Fulk's lawn), revving heavily, and speeding off down towards the stream.

Grace starts to give chase, but realizes within about three strides that she has no chance of catching him.

'Bloody hell!' exclaims Kyle.

Fulk bursts into the kitchen. 'What be that unholy noise? Is it the infernal legions of the damned, risen to draw us all down to their sulphurous abode?'

'Something like that,' says Kris sharply. She claps her hands sharply. 'Come on, everyone - we know where he's gone. Let's get moving quickly.'

As the team spill out of the kitchen into the back garden, Stuart says to the baffled and perturbed Fulk 'You'd better come along too - if you'd like to, that is.' He points at the musket hanging above the fire. 'And you might bring that with you.'

Fulk is at first reluctant to venture forth, but the look in Kris's eye persuades him.

Jeffrey fords the stream easily, and bumps his way up through the trees towards the Manor House, engine roaring. What the villagers, who must surely have been awakened by now, think of all this is anyone's guess.

There are still lights on at the Manor House - candles in two upstairs rooms - so it seems the putative warlock keeps late hours. Jeffrey rides up to the front door and not pausing to knock, drives straight through it - the solid oak bursting off its hinges as half a ton of Harley-Davidson strikes it amidships.

Revving the engine wildly, he bellows in a commanding voice 'Come out, Reuben Stokes, Sorceror. The last times are upon you! Come out and answer for your crimes!!'

There is no sign of Stokes, so Jeffrey points the bike at the sweeping staircase and rides straight up it. 'Always wanted to do that!' he thinks to himself.

There is a scurrying noise along the landing, and Jeffrey pursues it mercilessly, riding down the door at the end to find the woeful figure of Reuben Stokes, clad in a long embroidered robe, cowering in the corner of what must be his laboratorium. Apart from his clothing and a somewhat greater wildness of beard and hair, he looks much the same man as has been encountered in the 1998 village. The room is fascinating - filled with alchemical apparati and other trappings of occult activity - but Jeffrey pays these no heed, whipping out his torch and shining it right in Stokes's terrified face. 'You cannot hide from the wrath of God, woodlouse that you be!'

Stokes makes a feeble admonitory gesture, as though to ward off, as Jeffrey menacingly descends from his bike, grabs the hapless enchanter, clamps the headphones into his ears, and turns the volume of the Walkman full on.

His brain scrambled by the distorted sounds of 'Stand by Your Man', Stokes collapses in shock and horror. Jeffrey pulls him to his feet and snarls 'So the wail of the harpy pains you? It is naught to the screams you shall endure forever in Hell's bowels!' Mercifully, though, he turns the Walkman off.

'Wh-what manner of foul beast art thou, spirit?' inquires Stokes shakily.

Jeffrey laughs mockingly and replies 'My name is two hundred letters long, and every one of them is unpronounceable! Not that your foul mouth would be worthy to speak it! You, woodlouse, shall call me... The Miracle Visitor From Futurity!!'

Stokes nods alertly, as though thinking 'hmm, that has a nice ring to it'.

'Genesis tells us that giants once walked the Earth,' continues Jeffrey fiercely. 'I tell you now, Reuben Stokes, that those times will come again. In the Futurity from which I come, men walk among the stars - women too! They straddle the seas like colossi. They know all that is to be known - of science, and nature, and even the mind of God Himself!! They have mastered the secret of Time itself - and they look back in Time, and see _you_ Reuben Stokes, and the evil you have wrought.'

Stokes does not look uncomfortable enough for Jeffrey's taste, so he gives him another blast of Tammy. 'You are treading a dangerous path, woodlouse, and a coward's death lies ahead of you.'

He thrusts the phoney diary pages into Stokes's face. 'Read this - see the date, and cower! A prophecy from Futurity, scribed in the hand of your own Reverend Pettigrew!'

Stokes peruses the pages with interest. 'Then it be true! It _is_ possible to travel in time, as good Doctor Dee predicted? I had long speculated about using his stone for this purpose... it would seem my studies are to bear fruit! Thank you, O Miracle Visitor, for this appearance, terrifying though it be! I had decided this last year to abandon my researches as hopeless, but now that thy visit proves they are bound to succeed, I shall press on undaunted until Zimrael is mine to command!'

'No, no,' cries Jeffrey alarmedly. 'There is just one way to avoid your fate! Return to your God, beg his forgiveness, cleanse your heart and mind of evil. Turn aside from the path you are on - it can only lead to despair!!' He applies more Tammy to reinforce his point. 'But your crimes demand that a price be paid...' Jeffrey pauses dramatically. 'A certain stone of marvellous power. And, as your God asked of Abraham, the life of your son!'

'But the LORD spared Isaac at the last,' protests Stokes, 'and he went on to found a mighty line of princes!'

Jeffrey pulls out his Polaroid camera and snaps a picture of the intransigent warlock, who freezes in the flash. He holds up the picture menacingly, as it dries and the image of Stokes's aghast face solidifies.

'Your soul is now mine, woodlouse,' he says, as menacingly as he can. 'Do not cross me again, or I'll rend it in two.'

'There's people moving in the village,' says Stuart warily, as the rest of the team struggle up the hill towards the Manor House. 'They must have heard that racket.' The recollection of the Pfaawelt mob, clutching their blazing pitchforks as they assaulted Castle Cnoiff, is strong in his mind.

'Well, as long as we don't get caught ourselves, it doesn't matter what they do,' says Kris. 'The house'll get burnt down one way or another. In fact, it has to, to cover up the baby's disappearance.'

'What manner of talk is this?' says Fulk alarmedly. 'Master Fanlight - the good Reverend, rather - vouchsafed to me that the babe would be safe. And he advised me most firmly that the methods _ye_ all planned were unchristian.'

'He would, wouldn't he?' says Kris. 'This may be startling news to you, Jeremiah, but by our time it's common knowledge that the Church doesn't have a monopoly on virtue - and some of its ministers can be extremely dodgy.'

'_Papish_ priests are corrupt and sinful, of course,' says Fulk, 'but surely that cannot be also true of the good Protestant faiths?' He looks deeply troubled.

'Come on, let's go in,' says Kyle impatiently.

Jeffrey rips the baby from Stokes's trembling hands and stuffs it squalling into his pannier. The warlock clings stubbornly to the black stone, though. 'If I render this magickal device over to thee, O Visitor, then I will never discover the secrets of time - and the Futurity thou describest will never come to pass! But if that were so, then thou couldst never come back so to warn me, and I would be doomed to burn in Hell, by thine own account - so by refusing to give thee the stone, I am _preserving_ myself from eternal damnation!'

'No, no, it's not like that -' starts Jeffrey, but he realizes that he cannot really say anything very sensible to refute Stokes's argument, given that if he takes away the stone before Stokes works out how to travel in time, the 1998 Stokes would not have existed and so would have been unable to send the team back. It might even be that they would all wink out of existence. 'Anyway! The baby is the important part. Here, take this!'

He presses the cyberpet into Stokes's hands. 'See - the Power of Futurity. You hold in your hand a small Demon, an unnatural spawn of Belial himself. Tamagotchi is its foul name. I plucked it from Hell and entrapped it, in this magical crystal.

'I give Tamagotchi to you, Reuben Stokes - for did you not desire consort with demons? It shall be your millstone. Voracious it is! [who invited Yoda? - ed] Ceaselessly shall you toil to fulfil its desires, and ever shall it demand more, and more, ungrateful and unheedful of your efforts. And should you let it die...' He shudders melodramatically.

'Jeffrey! What exactly are you up to?' The voice is Grace's: she, Fulk, Stuart, Kyle and Ferdinand are standing on the landing.

Jeffrey guiltily pushes Reuben Stokes behind him into the laboratorium, out of sight of the others. 'Ah - hello everyone. I thought I'd just tidy up a few loose ends...'

'Hand over the baby,' says Grace. 'We have to take it into the future, to be sure that Clive is never born.'

'But that's as bad as murder! It would be a grievous sin!' protests Jeffrey.

'Nonsense,' says Kris, reappearing: she and Gino have been sprinkling petrol liberally around the lower storey of the house, in preparation for a hasty departure. 'Here in 1681, the descendants haven't been born yet, so it _can't_ be murder. We're just _preventing_ them from being born - all it is is contraception.'

'Look, do we have to cast a vote here?' demands Gino. 'We have an agreement to protect Reuben Stokes, so we have to take the baby forward.'

'Didst thou call my name?' asks Stokes, emerging from behind Jeffrey. His eyes widen as he takes in the team's clothing. 'More wondrous visitors! Truly I am a blessed man tonight. And Neighbour Fulk! In company with these sendings?'

'_You_ may have made such an agreement, I certainly didn't' protests Jeffrey, but he is powerless to resist as Gino grabs the baby out of the pannier.

The baby starts to wail and scream, and Gino looks nonplussed, shaking it gently before handing it to an equally baffled Ferdinand.

'Reuben Stokes? Be thou at home?' A voice is calling up from the lawn outside.

As if drawn by a string, all the party, Stokes and Fulk rush over to the nearest window. On the grass below stands Reverend Pettigrew at the head of a crowd of a dozen or so men, most carrying blazing torches and some armed with muskets. They look wary and ready for anything, and Pettigrew has his scapular cross prominently displayed.

'Aye, good Master Pettigrew, here I be, see?' says Stokes, leaning out of the window. The smell of woodsmoke drifts up, together with the heady aroma of petrol fumes.

'I've had reports, Master Stokes, of foul noises, the very choirs of Hell as Goody Smee did describe it, up at the Manor this night, and witches on besoms seen a-circling round the chimney-stacks. What sayst thou to that?' asks Pettigrew.

Behind him there is a surging in the crowd, and the burly man at his right hand shouts 'The villain's a warlock, consorting with th'Devil! What else is there to say? We all know it! What else could make that vile clangour?'

'Nay, nay, Master Bleddoes, thou hast the wrong of it,' says Stokes anxiously. 'Why, that noise was no such thing. It was merely... er... my coal-cellar collapsing. And the warming-pans falling into the hearth. And... um... my good horse Betsy had the colic and so whinnied in pain. All at the once, and hence the noise.'

This all sounds dreadfully unconvincing, but 'Well, if thou sayst so, Master Stokes, so be it,' says Pettigrew relievedly. It is clear he wants no part of any witch-hunt.

The villagers behind him mutter angrily, the words 'Master Hopkins' being audible, but Pettigrew quells them with a glare.

But then Jeremiah Fulk, who has been listening agape to Stokes, pushes through to the window. ''Tis a lie! Stokes lies in his teeth, I say so! The truth of it is there are visitors from Futurity here, good Master Pettigrew, much as I described to thee - the very same with whom I have had correspondence these past days! Why anyone should wish to conceal such a marvel is strange to me, I confess, but thou shouldst enter and see with thine own - umf!' He ends with a stifled grunt, as Gino claps his hand over his mouth and drags him back out of the window.

'Master Fulk! What dost _thou_ here? Now I told thee this eve to get much rest and sleep, did I not?' calls up Pettigrew anxiously. 'Thou hast undergone many trials of late, and thou knowest not of what thou speakest, if I be any judge. 'Tis mere mazey babbling.'

'Be that as it may, I'm to see for myself,' growls Master Bleddoes, and shouldering past the vicar he barges into the front hall, still carrying his torch.

'Folly!' mutters Reuben Stokes. 'I must be about concealing my researches, or we are all undone!' He scurries back to the laboratorium and locks himself in.

But before the SITU operatives have time to do more than look at each other, there is a soft whump noise from downstairs and a ball of flame billows up into the landing. Simultaneously half the downstairs windows shatter with the pressure of the explosion. There is a faint scream as Master Bleddoes learns about the properties of the strange colourless fluid he has found spread throughout the hall, the hard way.

'How much petrol did you _use_?' demands Kyle, aghast.

'I thought it would be best to make sure,' says Kris defensively. She is looking very nervous and trapped, though, and keeps touching her leg.

'As long as we don't panic, we'll be fine,' says Grace reassuringly. 'We can't use the stairs, so we'll have to climb out of one of the windows. At the back we can go out over the kitchen roof. Who's got the baby? - good. Follow me.'

'What about Stokes?'

'He can look after himself!' And as the team, Kyle and Gino dragging Fulk, hurry past the door of the laboratorium, they hear Stokes chanting rapidly in Hebrew.

From a safe vantage in the side orchard, the Manor House blazes brightly against the darkened sky. The villagers, Pettigrew at their head, are standing at the front, some of them cheering: they seem to be taking the unnatural explosion as evidence of Stokes's culpability.

'I should speak with Master Pettigrew,' says Fulk anxiously.

'No you don't, you're coming with us.' says Kris, feeling much better now she is out of the blaze.

'What? - why?' asks Kyle puzzledly.

'D'you think he can stay here safely, with what he's seen? First thing tomorrow morning Pettigrew'll have him locked up in Bedlam or somewhere, or else the villagers'll set Matthew Hopkins on him. We _have_ to take him back. SITU will look after him, and he could even bring up the baby - it'll give him some purpose in life.'

'The baby, that foul spawn of Chaos, as I was told? I mislike this scheme!' says Fulk nervously.

'There's nothing wrong with it, it's a perfectly ordinary baby. I thought we'd explained that,' says Grace wearily.

'Of course - yes. Thou must forgive my stupidity, Mistress Underfire - all this is somewhat mazing to my meagre wits.'

'It's called Future Shock,' says Kyle cheerily, slapping Fulk on the back. 'We all get it from time to time, dinna ye fret!'

'Right, let's get back into the woods and do the ritual,' says Stuart. 'Who's got something to sacrifice? I'm not happy about using an animal.'

With ill grace, Kyle digs into his pack and pulls out a four-pack of Newcastle Brown. 'My emergency supplies,' he explains.

But, curiously, the smell of cinnamon and camphor that the team associate with travelling in time is already on the air, borne, together with the woodsmoke, from the blazing Manor House. 'Seems like Stokes did find a way to get himself out,' comments Ferdinand.

'Form a circle!' commands Stuart.

As sensation returns to each of the team, they are suddenly conscious of the cold. It is raining, and quite chilly. Approaching dawn is starting to paint the skyline pink. The black mist clears, and they regard each other cautiously. Fulk, his musket across his knees, gazes around him blankly. 'My house! – but how changed!'

Stuart looks around warily to see if Reuben Stokes is waiting to pounce on them. 'Isn't that him over there? Look!' And, indeed, the 1998 version of the warlock is approaching them, strolling down the hill from the blackened ruins of the Manor House.

As everyone turns round, Stuart's hand sneaks out towards the black stone, still glistening wet with beer, about to stuff it surreptitiously into his pocket.

But Jeffrey's keen eyes have spotted him, and 'Not so fast!' he cries. His hand, carrying a large adjustable wrench, whips across and down, and Stuart has to jerk his own hand back quickly to avoid being hit by it.

The black stone of John Dee, struck firmly on its flattened top, shatters explosively into a thousand shards, with a small thunderclap.

As Stuart annoyedly picks shards of black glass out of his jacket, Grace points to Stokes, who has paused and is clutching his side in momentary pain. She sees him reach puzzledly into his inside pocket - it reappears full of similar shards of black glass. Stokes shakes his head in confusion for a moment, then brightens and continues to walk towards the team.

'Mistress Ndofir! Mistress MacDowell! Master Ferrocco! Neighbour Fulk! Good friends all! How are we this fine spring morning? The first day of the rest of our lives!' Then he sees the baby, grizzling in Ferdinand's arms, and his cheery face softens. 'And my own dear little Jacob - reunited with his father at last!' He relieves Ferdinand of the infant, which at once stops crying and takes on a peaceful expression as Stokes gently rocks it. 'In the brave new world of the next millennium, who knows what he may grow to become - eh?'


From: Andre Swahn, Briefing / 99

To: Executives Kristina Macdowell, Grace Ndofir; Agents Ferdinand Bingly, Jeffrey Fanlight, Gino Ferrocco, Kyle McKenzie, Stuart Winters

Subject: Curious events in Hatfield Peverel

Code: D/99/22/14A

Congratulations on the highly successful resolution of a tricky mission with a number of ramifications. Although the initial issue which you were sent to investigate, the supposed haunting of the Leighs' computer, proved of trivial interest, we have achieved two notable successes:

* the 'winking out of existence' of Clive Stokes, an important enemy agent, as is explained below;
* the recruitment of Reuben Stokes, who has mutual enemies with us and will certainly prove a valuable asset.
It is unfortunate that the black stone of John Dee, and hence the secret of time travel, was not recovered for SITU. The use which we could have made of such an item is literally incalculable. But with the book of spells, and the knowledge of Reuben Stokes at our disposal, we are hopeful that we may be able to reproduce Operative Winters's results by more conventional means before too long.

Sufficient time has now passed that we believe history to have now settled. Reverend Pettigrew's journals have now been published, under the title _The_Diary_of_a_Country_Clergyman_, thanks to agreement between Reverend Hendry and Janessa Pettigrew to share the revenues. The book has been remarkable successful, as its narrators plain, humanistic style seems to strike a chord with modern readers. Here we can read of the tragic fire at the Manor House on the 30th of August, 1781, in which Reuben Stokes, his infant son and his neighbour Jeremiah Fulk all perished, as did one Master Bleddoes, who apparently lost his life going into the blaze to try and rescue them. There is no mention of any unusual circumstances about the fire, or of any suspicion of witchcraft hanging about the name of Stokes: we may assume that Reverend Pettigrew was keen to hush up such complications to the story he tells. The heat was too intense for any bodies to be recoverable, but a plaque to all four victims was put up in the church, where it can be seen to this day.

Andrew and Veronica Leigh are still living in Willow Farm, and interest in their computer has now passed: it now behaves no more inexplicably than any other such machine.

Harold Marsh, the Leighs' neighbour, died shortly after your return, after an apoplexy brought on by smoke inhalation, the coroner's report said: it is assumed that he was over-enthusiastically tending a garden bonfire.

Reuben Stokes is being well looked after by SITU in secure accommodation, together with his son. He is proving most helpful.

Martin Thane, Richie Wardens, Vicki Drew and the other reporters of the Strange have long since left Hatfield Peverel for newer stories.

From: Alistair Thwaite, Debrief/84

To: Agents: Ferdinand Bingly, Jeffrey Fanlight, Gino Ferrocco, Kyle McKenzie, Stuart Winters

Subject: Curious events in Hatfield Peverel

Code: D/84/22/14A

Dear Operatives,

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. Each Ylid seems to have a number of human agents. We have learned, from prior investigations, that Clive Stokes was the chief agent of an Ylid active in Great Britain, with particular interest in the activities of aliens: by 'winking him out of existence' in the ingenious manner you chose, you have struck a powerful blow for humanity and weakened this particular Ylid considerably.

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. For example, the investigation of 'Fangs for the Memory' Tours was not initially thought to involve Ylid activity, but you dealt with it admirably when it became apparent. This most recent investigation seems to have had no overt Ylid context - other than that Reuben Stokes was frightened of being pursued by the Ylids - but the cancellation of Clive Stokes is a huge bonus.

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.

Thank you again!

Alistair Thwaite


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