The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


3.30 p.m.. March 12th. Orielton research station.

'You're from London, then,' Alan asks Ross, dumping his bag on one of the twin beds in the little room.

Ross flashes him a grin. 'How did you guess? It's the accent, right? Yeah, London born and bred,' he continues. He empties his bag out and sorts through the contents, pushing T shirts untidily into a drawer and stowing a small leather case underneath them.

'What made you leave the paras?' Alan asks.

Ross shrugs. 'The usual thing - they decided they didn't need me any more.' He frowns a moment before his usual grin returns. 'I'm not the only one it's happened to, and I've wound up luckier than most so I can't complain.' He kicks his bag under his bed and straightens up. 'I'm going to take a look at the maps of this place. You coming?'

Alan hesitates then shakes his head. 'No, I think I'll wander down to the beach. Have a quick look around and stretch my legs at the same time. Tell everyone I'll see them at dinner.'

'Will do.' Ross is whistling to himself as Alan leaves.

In the next room Peter and Michael unpack in silence. Michael is the first to finish and escapes with a sigh a relief. He is looking markedly more presentable now, his hair combed and an expensive-looking black leather coat worn open over his 'Sisters of Mercy' T shirt and black jeans.

As he starts down the stairs, Sam emerges from his room. He raises his hand in greeting, his blue eyes widening a fraction as he takes in the coat. 'Now that's more like the Michael I know,' he comments.

Michael grimaces and forces a smile and Sam laughs softly. 'Seriously, though,' he says, 'you look rough. Like you've been pulled in straight off an all-nighter.'

'You're not far wrong.' Michael stifles a yawn. 'The guys back at the studio sprung a surprise bash for my 21st a few days ago. I'm still trying to get rid of the damn hangover.'

Sam looks surprised. 'You made it to twenty-one? Congratulations. Hope the hangover goes soon - my worst one lasted almost a week.'

'Tell me about it.' Michael groans. 'Right now I feel my brain's been run over by a truck.' He starts down the stairs again. 'Did Margaret say there was a kettle somewhere? I'm going to get some coffee.'

Peter comes out of his room shortly afterwards, pauses in the lounge area then sees a sign marked 'library' and walks briskly in that direction. He finds Ross and Russell already there, Ross poring over a table full of outspread maps and Russell sitting with his PC in front of him and a pile of books on either side. Peter nods a greeting to them both and sits down next to Russell.

Russell has found several general books on marine biology and is going through them, tapping the occasional note into his PC. He pushes a couple of larger volumes across to Peter and the two of them set to reading in a companionable silence. Russell, looking specifically for information on giant squid, finds disappointingly little. It looks like someone has made this study before because all the passages that he does find have been marked lightly in pencil.

'Architeuthis,' one book says. 'Squid, giant. Generally 20 - 25 feet long, though larger ones have been noted. Habitat, deep ocean. Rarely come to the surface. Non-dangerous unless disturbed.' In the margin someone has scribbled a note. 'Is 38 feet a record?' Peter finds a photograph of the squid in another book. It is an ugly-looking creature, mottled grey in colour, its tentacles trailing limp around the swollen body. Peter pushes the book aside. 'Wouldn't fancy meeting one of those on a dark night,' he mutters. He leaves Russell to it and goes to join Sam and Michael in the lounge.

The two of them are slumped on chairs in front of steaming mugs of coffee, talking softly, their voices almost drowned out by the television in the corner. There are cigarette papers and tobacco scattered on the coffee table and a coil of smoke rises from a saucer.

Sam stops talking mid-sentence when he sees Peter and jerks round almost guiltily. 'Found anything useful yet?' he asks.

'No. A bit about giant squids, and a lot of stuff about fish. What are you planning to do?'

Sam avoids his gaze. 'Nothing much today. We've been looking at the newspapers. Seems there have been lights flashing on the beach something like three times a week and a couple of kids say they've seen aliens lurking in the trees.'

'There's a piece here about Mike Wray's book, 'The Pembrokeshire Riddle', too,' adds Michael. 'It seems it's selling well again. His theories were that the 1977 aliens could have been real, a case of mass hysteria or hallucination, a complete hoax or a government experiment. He says there's supposed to be a MOD installation hidden somewhere three miles off the coast from here but no one knows about it.'

Ross walks in at that moment and his dark eyes light up with interest. 'A secret installation? How can we find out where it is, do you reckon?'

Peter looks up. 'With great difficulty,' he tells him. 'In my experience if these places really do exist - which is doubtful - looking for them isn't going to get you anywhere.'

The television interrupts him. 'More on the aliens of Manorbier,' the newsreader says. Michael reaches across to turn the volume up.

'The question is, are the aliens back? And if they are, what do they want this time?' There is a picture of an empty beach, cutting quickly to a neat looking castle complete with TV aerial. 'Twenty two years ago this place was the favourite holiday spot of sun-loving aliens. In recent weeks the sightings have begun again. Gwyn Montgomery of the Tudor Arms in Manorbier -' a shot of the front of the hotel - 'is convinced this is not a hoax and so too, it seems, are many of his regulars. What will happen over the next weeks remains to be seen but the people of Manorbier are sure of one thing - the flashing lights are only the start of it.'

Outside, Alan has returned from his walk on the beach. His face is stinging from the cold and he walks with his hands pushed into his pockets. Disappointed that he found nothing more mysterious than footprints, nevertheless he is whistling to himself.

He bumps into Margaret as he comes into the building and he greets her. She smiles in return. 'Hello. How was your walk?'

'Cold,' he admits. 'But I needed it - it cleared my head out all right. This is an interesting place.'

She nods. 'It is. I've been here five years now and I'm not tired of it yet.'

'I suppose the alien stories liven it up a bit? I was reading one of your newspapers and saw something about it.'

She laughs aloud, shaking her head. 'Oh, that. Yes, it certainly gives people something to talk about. You ought to hear them down at the Tudor Arms in the evening. It's all a load of rubbish, of course, but it's great fun to listen to.'

'You think it's a hoax, then?'

She shoots him a surprised glance. 'I'm a scientist - I believe in the most rational explanation. Of course it's a hoax. What else could it be?'

Alan ponders the question as he changes for dinner.

Dinner is a lively affair, with nine people crammed around two dining tables pushed together. Carol Hennessy, the station's director, introduces herself before she sits at the head of the table. 'You've already met Margaret,' she says, waving a hand in her direction. She indicates a bearded man in his thirties. 'And this is Phil Lake, our senior zoologist.'

'Pleased to meet you,' Phil says with a cursory glance around at the group. He turns his attention to Margaret. 'Mags, did you know we pulled up more of those damn fish today?'

'We're pulling up more of them every day,' she replies calmly. 'Maybe they're a new mutant variety or something.'

Phil scowls darkly and falls silent, giving Russell the chance to jump in. 'There's something wrong with the fish, did you say?'

'There certainly is.' Phil stabs his fork in his direction. 'How much marine biology do you lot actually know?' He doesn't give anyone time to answer. 'Never mind. You all know what a fish should look like, at least, don't you. They're not supposed to have tails that curve back over their bodies, for one thing. Or bodies that have got lumps growing out of them. The worst one looked like it had a second head coming out of its belly.'

'It was a growth, not a head,' Margaret says. 'Some form of cancer, I thought we'd agreed.'

'Cancer?' His voice rises several decibels. 'Bloody hell, woman, if you were a proper scientist you'd see straight away that something was wrong.'

Margaret flushes slightly and Ross frowns. 'How long have you been finding these things?' he asks.

Phil shrugs dismissively. 'A few months or so. They come up erratically; we haven't found a pattern to it yet. I can let you see the charts and stuff if you're interested.' He looks round them all and when everyone nods he smiles, obviously pleased.

Carol manages to steer the conversation back onto general matters and as dinner progresses everyone begins to relax. At the meal end Russell stands up first and offers to help clear away. Carol smiles her thanks but shakes her head. 'There's no need, the catering staff will take care of it. In any case, your first lecture starts in ten minutes: you might want to grab pens and notebooks.'

The lecture goes on for an hour, covering the history of the station, the types of marine life it deals with and the local area. The high point is a slide of the squid that was washed up on the beach in 1977. 'The people here at the time nicknamed her Nelly,' Margaret says. 'And they never managed to find out how she ended up here, so she's still a mystery - and something of a famous one hereabouts. We've never found anything like her since and there certainly aren't any of her sort in the waters around here. The best guess then was that she died and was washed along with the currents until she ended up here and we haven't come up with a better explanation.'

'Are any of the scientists still here?' Alan asks.

'No. These sort of centres you tend to take your research as far as it will go then move on somewhere else. Talk to Phil if you're interested: he's the one who likes all the anomalies.'

After the lecture Russell, Sam and Michael go off to the library together and the others go in search of Phil Lake. They find him in one of the labs, startling him as he opens the door.

'The fish?' he says. He blinks at them a moment as if he's forgotten the conversation over dinner then he recovers himself. 'Come on then.'

He shows them a folder full of photographs of dead fish and several preserved samples. As he said earlier, all of them are deformed in some way. According to the records, the first one was found five and a half months ago with others coming at irregular intervals since. No one yet has discovered what is causing problems. 'Though it's likely to be a single cause,' Phil muses. 'Some chemical dump would be my guess, though we haven't found any trace of that either.'

It is night, a half moon hanging over the roof top of Manorbier's primary school. Inside, two men are going through a filing cabinet in an office marked 'Private' while the third watches the door.

'Got it,' Russell whispers a moment later. He pulls a file out and holds it up. 'Here we go, the file from 1977. Sam, is anyone coming yet?'


All three of them are surprised at how easy it was to break into the school. One low wall and an old lock on the main door that was hardly worth Michael using his disabler on it. No one about, either, as far as any of them can see. Sam thinks of the schools in London - high-walled places that look more like prisons than schools, some of them. Looking around at the open doors to classrooms and offices he still can't quite believe there are people in the world who are so trusting.

Russell skims through a few pages, quickly realising the file contains nothing useful. Lists of names, that's all, and no way to tell whether any of them are important or not. He takes the file to the copier in the corner anyway and sets to work. He is tense, waiting every moment for Sam's shout of alarm. It doesn't come. He finishes copying the pages in the file and puts it back in the proper place. 'Come on,' he mutters, 'lets get out of here.'

They get out the way they came in: through the main door. But as Michael is jumping over the outer wall they hear a shout from farther down the street. 'Hey! What are you doing?' The three of them start running together.

'Where have you been?' Peter asks when Michael slips into their room later on.

'Nowhere.' He is breathing hard, his pale face flushed. 'We've been looking a few things up. We've found a list of people who were at the primary school in 1977. It might be useful.'

The next day Ross excuses himself straight after breakfast saying he wants to explore the countryside a little. He has arranged to hire a Range Rover and he tosses a piece of paper and a small map onto the seat beside him. RAF St Athan, Aberporth and Llandeilo, he thinks. All the military bases within driving distance - the ones that were marked on the map, that is. He begins to drive.

Peter and Allan catch a bus in the direction of Lodge Farm. The Williams must be the best ones to talk to, Peter reasons, they were the ones who saw most of the alien activity last time.

They can see the farm house from the bus-stop. It is a large, white building sitting in the middle of fields of sheep and cattle, the dark shapes of other, smaller buildings dotted here and there. The air stinks of cut grass and manure as they make their way up the path to the gate. A pair of collies come bounding up as they arrive, barking loudly and jumping up at the gate to sniff Alan's hands.

'Hello?' Peter calls.

An answering voice. 'Just a minute.' But, in fact, it is closer to five minutes before a white-haired man comes striding towards them. He walks with a stick, but not because he needs it by the look of him. Rather, he jabs it into the ground every step as if he's got some quarrel with the earth. He stops by the gate, shoos the dogs away from it and leans over it, unsmiling. 'If you're wanting to cut through here you're out of luck. This ain't public land, you know.'

'We know. Don't worry, we're not trespassers. We're interested in the alien sightings, that's all. We wondered if you could spare a few minutes to tell us what you saw?'

Garel Williams' face darkens immediately. 'Listen, I told folk then, and I'll tell you now, my wife and I don't appreciate your type tramping all over our land and bothering us with your questions. You can tell that to the rest of them too.'

'We were only...' Alan begins, but the farmer cuts him off. 'Clear off out of here, both of you. I had enough of it last time and I'm not putting up with it again. Now, get lost before I set the dogs on you.'

Anger flashes into Alan's eyes and his fists clench but Peter puts a hand out to him. 'Forget it,' he mutters. Aloud he says. 'We're sorry to have bothered you, Mr Williams. We'll be going.'

'And don't come back,' the farmer shouts after them, a parting shot that echoes around the buildings before dying.

While Michael checks out the local area, Russell has found his way to the library. Checking back through the papers he finds numerous reports of the 1977 aliens, and a few names of interest. Garel and Susan Williams of Lodge farm gave one interview and refused to say anything else. A group of children including a brother and sister, Lewis and Megan Phillips talked enthusiastically about the aliens who came to visit. And another girl, Tanya Green, apparently dreamed about aliens for a year afterwards. Some of her picture of the aliens are printed along with the news reports. Russell checks back to his list and finds that all the names are on there. Megan and Lewis were seven and ten respectively at the time, and Tanya was six which means she'll be about twenty-one now.

'We do have an open day here every year if you're interested,' a uniformed man tells Ross. Ross nods and takes a leaflet, putting it with the map and other papers he has amassed. After a full day of driving he is exhausted and he has uncovered nothing unusual. Aberporth is a small naval base, and that is being wound down - more government cut-backs. The centre at Llandeilo serves as a base camp for infantry on manoeuvre exercises in the Welsh hillsides. And St Athan, the one he's at now, serves as a showpiece for the RAF with regular open days, a small aircraft museum, and displays of flying.

If a military base has anything to do with what's happening at Manorbier, it isn't one of these three, Ross decides, turning westwards again.

He is the last to return to the station, getting in about five in the afternoon. 'We were planning to go down the pub after dinner this evening,' Margaret greets him, 'if any of you want to come you're very welcome.'

Ross nods and grins. 'Sounds good, you can count me in.

'What do you think, then,' he asks quietly when Margaret has bustled off. 'Is it a government cover-up, aliens or what?'

'I still want to know how you got that list of names,' Peter says, looking at Michael hard. 'A strange thing to find lying around at midnight.'

Michael looks back innocently, but before he has to answer the door opens and Margaret comes back in followed by a policeman. The man looks around and shuffles his feet awkwardly before taking out a notebook and flipping it open.

'I'm sorry to bother you gentlemen,' he says. 'My name is Sergeant Harris - Robert Harris. I'm just making a few enquiries, nothing to worry about. Apparently the school was broken into last night. Nothing was taken but there were people spotted climbing over the wall on their way out. You probably didn't see it, being up here, but we're working our way around the village and just wondered whether any of you were out last night and noticed anything.'

He clears his throat and looks around expectantly.


The Manorbier Post
15th August 1977

Aliens Are at it Again

'They're doing it again,' farmer Garel Williams said yesterday. Not content with shining lights at his house, the aliens have taken to following him about when he's working. 'At least my wife can see where I am,' he joked, 'but I do wish they'd move on and bother someone else. Especially when they start messing with my cattle.' The alien's latest trick, he revealed, was to transport two entire herds of cattle into neighbouring fields during the night. How they did it without opening gates, and without the cattle leaving a single mark in the lanes between the fields is a mystery.

20th August

Children Talk of Alien Visits

Manorbier primary school became the scene of the latest alien visit yesterday afternoon. According to children and teachers who witnessed the event, a 'great white shiny disc thing' lowered itself out of the sky onto the field beside the school. Then, while children looked on, 'little grey men in shiny suits' came out, stuck a cattle prod in the ground and left they same way they'd come.

It meant an afternoon off for the children, which certainly pleased Megan and Lewis Phillips, pupils at the school. 'It was great,' Megan said. 'Much better than Dr Who.'

5th Jan 1978

Still Dreaming of Aliens

Little Tanya Green, six years old when a UFO landed outside her school last year, is still affected by dreams of aliens, her mother said. Tanya is now seeing a child psychologist and has drawn literally hundreds of pictures of the men in the UFO. Her mother is meanwhile considering action against the school. 'It's not right,' she said, 'I send her to school to learn, not to have her sleep disturbed.'

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