The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
CROESO I GYMRU
RHAN PEDWAR (PART 4)
Manorbier beach, March 14th 8:30 pm.
...The beach is silent save for the sound of Vicki's pen making frantic notes. Then everyone starts talking at once.
"Did you see that?" Vicki's voice is shrill with excitement. "Did you see it? Wasn't it amazing? Wasn't it -"
"Seen it all the time," a man close by grumbles. "Don't see why you're so worked up about a few crabs."
"A few? There were thousands. Millions!"
Russell drops to one knee and digs his fingers deep into the sand. After a few moments they touch something hard. He smiles as he pulls out a pair of crabs, holding them fast in his closed fist. "Anyone got anything to put these in?" he asks.
Sam has walked over to one of the groups of people. "You say this happens all the time?"
The man who spoke turns to face him. "Yeah. Well, not all the time, you know. The tide's got to be right or something. I've seen it once or twice before, though."
"They come with the tide, then," Vicki Drew cuts in. "And the tide is linked to the moon, and..." She's writing it all down as she speaks. Her co-worker, Richard walks away from her, taking a few random photographs of the beach and begins a conversation with another local.
"How often would you say this happens?" His voice is loud, carrying easily across the babble of voices. "Once a year? Twice?"
The group waits, listening, asking a few questions here and there, and eventually people start to wander off. It seems that opinion is split. Most of the locals claim that the crabs have appeared before. Why they appear, and how is a matter of debate. Some, like Vicki and Richard, think there could be supernatural forces at work. Others shrug and admit ignorance, only saying that there must be a logical explanation and no doubt the scientists know all about it. Finally, the five men are alone on the beach. Alan draws in a deep breath and stretches. "Well, shall we look at Russ's footprints before we go?"
Russell leads the way across. When he gets to the rocks he slows, swearing softly in amazement. Where, yesterday, there were the faint marks of something that could have been footprints, this evening the footprints are clear. Silvery white and shining faintly they are making their way towards the sea, gradually getting fainter as they go on. Michael bends over then, counting silently. There are a total of fifteen of them, some of the almost fully formed, others just trace outlines. The last one is a single curve that could be the toe of a boot, and then nothing. It is as if whoever - or whatever - was walking along here had suddenly disappeared into thin air.
Michael straightens up slowly. "I wonder what Vicki Drew would think of these," he asks no one in particular.
When the group get back to Orielton they find that Margaret has already left for the Tudor Arms. But Phil is still working and they take the crabs to show to him.
"Hermit crabs," he says dismissively. "Genus Brachyura, both the same species. Where did you find them?"
Russell answers. "On the beach. There were thousands of them."
"You don't say?" He grins to himself and shakes his head, chuckling softly as he goes back to work. "Don't tell me, you thought there was something special about them," he says.
"No. Just checking." Alan tries to see over the scientist's shoulder to the computer screens behind. One of them is scrolling up a list of numbers so fast it's impossible to read them. A second has four sets of overlapping charts showing and the third looks like some document. "Three computers at once?" Alan wonders.
"Four if you include the one in the office," Phil says. He moves across to tap a few sentences into the document that's showing. "I've got different things running on each. It happens, you know." He looks up, eyebrows raised. "Was there anything else you wanted? Oh, you can take those with you," he adds, pointing to the two crabs on the table. "We've got plenty."
When Margaret arrives back from the pub, Russell asks her about internet access.
"Of course," she agrees at once. She stifles a yawn. "But if you don't mind I'll just get you set up and leave you to it. I'm shattered."
The moment she has gone, Russell closes the piece on marine life he was studying and types in the words 'aliens' and then 'Pembrokeshire.' By the time he has finished sifting through material it is past two o'clock.
[Full file of information given at the end of this turn.]
After breakfast the next day Alan draws Ross aside. "How about taking another look at the castle some time?" he asks. "A proper look, I mean. Remember the beer tins and stuff - doesn't strike me as kids. I was thinking if Susan Carter leaves the main gate unpadlocked again someone else can sneak in while we keep her busy in there."
Ross nods agreement. "It could be worth doing. But not today, I've got something else planned. How about you ask Mrs Carter if we can have another tour tomorrow sometime?"
"Sure." Alan looks at him curiously. "What are you doing today then? Anything I can help with?"
"Thanks, but no. A spot of diving, that's all. I'll catch up with you later."
Ten minutes later, Ross is following the road along the coast. It's not long before he comes to the next village and when he sees a sign saying 'Boats for Hire' he stops the car and gets out.
'Giant squids have been known to eat pieces of flotsam,' Russell is reading, 'no doubt mistaking it for prey. A squid of this type was examined at the California Scientific Research Centre in 1986. Its stomach contents included driftwood, a large piece of stone and several smaller pieces of metal, that on examination were found to be pieces of a small outboard engine. It is presumed that these pieces, maybe from a damaged boat, came loose and sunk to a depth at which the squid found them.'
Russell pauses to make a few notes on his PC. The Orielton library is quiet, the window open to the sunlight. The breeze that comes in makes the air smell of salt. After a moment Russell turns the page and continues reading.
'Tales that giant squid have attacked fishing boats are, however, unfounded. In the first place, a squid of this size rarely rises to the surface. And secondly, a squid knows the look of its prey: it would never attack anything larger than itself.'
The bell above the door rings sharply as Alan and Sam walk into the small Spar together. Sam pauses in the doorway and looks around, his gaze scanning shelved stacked with everything from tomato soup to sandpaper. Sitting by the single till is a young woman - Tanya, he presumes. He glances once at Alan then picks up a couple of bars of chocolate and takes them to the till. "I'll have these, please," he says. He pauses then adds, "You're Tanya Green, aren't you? I've read about you in the paper."
The woman returns his smile, faintly pink. "That's right." She is thin, dark-haired, and even when she is smiling she looks a little worried.
"So did you really see an alien?" Alan asks. Sam turns to frown at him but Tanya giggles, nervously.
"It was a long time ago. But yes, I really did see them." She looks at Sam curiously. "Are you from the press as well?"
He's quick to reassure her. "No. We're on at course at Orielton for the week. The alien thing sounded interesting, that's all. My name's Sam, by the way."
"Tanya." She blushes again. "But you know that already."
"Have you got a few minutes to talk?" Alan asks her, smiling politely. "With all these rumours around we'd like to know what really happened in 1977."
Her hands shift nervously on the counter but she nods. "As long as no one else comes in. I don't mind talking about it." Her attention strays back to Sam as she talks. "I was only six but I can remember it as clear as anything. We were in school. It was playtime and I was standing by the gate and I saw this enormous - this enormous thing - come down and land." She frowns, worriedly, as if she's expecting them to laugh but when Sam nods encouragingly she goes on. "It was all shining, it was. Silvery. I was the first to see it, I reckon, but it didn't take long for the others to come crowding in. It parked itself right in the middle of the field opposite and these two men got out. I remember them being big, but I was only six. I suppose they were smaller than adult size. We could only see their faces, the rest of them were covered up in suits the same silver as the saucer. But their faces were grey, I can remember than well enough. And long - longer than people's faces, with tiny little eyes." She falls silent a moment, staring at nothing.
"What happened?" Alan prompts her.
She jumps, blinking as if his voice has startled her. "They came out of their flying saucer, or whatever it was, stuck something long into the ground and took off. Some of the farm kids said the thing looked like a cattle prod but we weren't allowed to go closer to see. Then, when we did get to look, it had gone."
"And that was the end of it?" Sam asks.
She shakes her head vaguely. "No. I had... dreams. For ages afterwards. I dreamed they were coming to get me, or they were talking to me. Once I saw them exploring Australia." She smiles briefly. "I know it was Australia because there was a kangaroo there. And then, a year later, it stopped. Just like that. I still don't know why. People did tests on me at the time and they couldn't say what was happening either." She lowers her voice. "If you ask me, though, the aliens were real. And now they're saying they've come back." She flicks her hair back, her eyes troubled. "Sometimes I just wish I could get out of this place," she confides.
"Then why don't you," Sam begins, but at that moment the bell jangles behind him and the door opens.
A young man comes in and after a moment both Sam and Alan recognise him. He's the one who was talking about the submarine wreckage in the Tudor Arms the other night. He nods a greeting to them both and grins at Tanya.
"Hiya, Tan." He sees the look on her face and frowns. "Hey, these two haven't been bothering you, have they?" His fists close a fraction as he steps forward.
Tanya shakes her head quickly. "No, they're not the press. They're from Orielton. We were just talking."
"Oh yes? What about?" He gives Sam an unfriendly stare. "If you've got anything to say to her, mate, you can say it in front of me. I'm her boyfriend, see?"
Sam tenses, but Alan puts a hand on his arm. "It's all right, we were just leaving, weren't we?"
As they walk out, Tanya's boyfriend starts talking to her, quietly. But Alan looks back before he closes the door and he sees that the girl is not looking at her boyfriend. Her gaze is fixed over his shoulder, watching Sam's back as he walks away.
Although the sun is bright, a wind is whipping across the tops of the waves as a little boat skims further out to sea. Ross rubs the gooseflesh off his arms and hopes that the water won't be too cold.
"It's a good day for it," the other man in the boat says cheerfully. The owner and captain of the boat, he is a heavy-built man, middle-aged, his skin tanned darkly and his hands rough with calluses. He watches Ross struggle with twin air canisters and gives him a hand tightening the straps. He has already given Ross a thorough run-down on the waters and currents hereabouts and he continues to chat as he works, alternately helping Ross with his equipment and steadying the boat as the waves catch it. "Now, as I said, there are six sets of caves that I know of. They've all been explored before, and they're all safe. I'm taking you as close to the first lot as I can and you come on back when you've had enough. It shouldn't take you more than half an hour to go through the first ones - any more than three-quarters and I'll raise the alarm."
"I'll be back," Ross promises. He slips the mask over his face, raises a hand in farewell and flips himself backwards over the side of the boat, submerging with a single splash of water.
"Lewis Phillips?" Michael asks as the door opens. "My name's Michael, I rang earlier."
Lewis nods doubtfully, looking him up and down. It's obvious that he expected someone a little more respectable than this youth in faded black jeans and T shirt. Nevertheless, after a moment's hesitation he smiles and opens the door wider. "Come on in. You wanted to interview me or something, didn't you?" He doesn't wait for an answer but leads the way into a shabby sitting room and settles himself in a floral armchair that smells faintly of cigarette smoke. The television is on in the corner, some programme on fashion. Lewis picks up the remote control and turns the volume down. "Where would you like me to start?" he asks.
Michael sits down gingerly, perching on the edge of the sofa. "How about going through what happened in 1977?"
Lewis grins. "I saw a spaceship. Just like out of Star Trek. It was huge, easily covered the field when it landed." He laughs suddenly. "Didn't half startle the cows, I can tell you." He pauses. "You know, you're the third person who's been to see me this week. I'm not used to having all this company." He frowns. "Shouldn't you be writing this down?"
"What? Oh, yes." Michael searches his pockets and finds an old envelop and a biro. He holds them ready and tries to look attentive as Lewis continues.
"Like I was saying, it was huge. You've got that, haven't you? It was shining bright gold too - like the sun had fallen down or something, only the sun couldn't have fallen, of course, because it's still up there in the sky. What else?" He chews his lip thoughtfully. "Yes, people got out of it. Like in ET or something - have you seen that film? You should; it's really good. Loads of people got out, anyway. Must have been a dozen of them at least. All dressed in tin foil too. Seriously strange." He swallows back a giggle and makes to get up. "Are you sure I can't get you a drink or anything?"
Michael shakes his head.
"No, you're probably busy, aren't you? You press types usually are. Best get on with it then, yes? What else do you need to know?"
"They say the aliens have come back," Michael says carefully. "Have you seen anything this time round?"
Lewis's eyes light up. "Have I just? All these journalist people wanting to know things. My picture's been in the paper again, you know." He scrabbles in a magazine rack next to the chair. "Here, I'll show you."
Michael glances at it dutifully. 'Local boy on alien hunt' the headline reads. "So you've seen the aliens this time as well," he asks.
"Sure have. Lights on the beach, footprints leading up to walls and stopping. I even saw something silver whiz past my car the other day. Nearly made me crash, it did. Mam says it must have been a rabbit, but I don't think so."
Lewis hesitates then nods. "Oh yes. The school was broken into this week and guess what I saw? A man in a space suit making his way across the field opposite. Looking for something, he was. I reckon he was trying to find whatever it was they left here last time."
Michael sighs and puts his paper away. He has the feeling that Lewis would tell him anything he wanted to hear. "Thanks for your time he says, standing up."
"You're not going, are you? Hey, I've just remembered: I saw an alien in the castle too."
Michael is no longer listening.
Ross moves cautiously, shining his torch into every opening in the cave wall. A few startled fish flit past him. One of them, he notices, is shaped wrong, its tail flattened and huge out of all proportion to its body. He makes a grab for it but his hand closes a fraction too late. Air bubbles froth out in a steady stream behind him as he continues deeper into the caves. This is the third set he has looked at and so far he has found nothing. He pauses, running his hands over the rocks to either side of him. Everything feels completely solid. Blowing out air he turns gracefully in the confined space and kicks his way back out towards the surface.
Russell and Sam are walking up the path to the Williams' farmhouse, Russell having finished his research in the centre for the time being.
"Are you sure this is a good idea," Russell is asking doubtfully.
Sam grins at him. "Of course I'm sure. We speak to the farmer, warn him there's reporters about and leave. No problem."
The barking of dogs greet them as they reach the gate. Sam leans over as far as he dare. "Hello? Is anyone there?"
"What do you want?" a man's voice calls out. A few minutes later the farmer comes striding across to them, a dark scowl deepening the lines on his face.
Sam offers his hand in greeting. "Hello. We're staying at the Orielton centre for a while. We just thought we ought to let you know, there are a lot of reporters in Manorbier right now, and some of them will probably be planning to come this way. Thought you might appreciate the warning."
Garel Williams stares at them both, not quite sure how to react. In the end he nods. "Thanks for the warning, then. And you give them a warning from me. I always have my shotgun to hand. Let them think about that if any of them's got ideas about snooping around here."
His eyes are still suspicious and Russell steps back from the gate. "We'd best be going back then. I can understand you being annoyed. Reporters can be a real nuisance."
"More than that," the farmer agrees fiercely. "If the aliens weren't enough to contend with, we have people all over here for months afterward. You tell them from me it's not happening again."
"Will do." Sam bids him a cheery good-bye and turns away.
The last underwater cave is as empty as the others. Ross swims back to the surface with a feeling of heavy disappointment. Apart from a few more misshapen fish he's seen nothing unusual all day.
The captain gives him a hand back into the boat. "Where to now then?" He looks up at the sky. "It's getting a bit dark, isn't it?"
"Are you sure there aren't any more caves?" Ross asks.
"Positive. Unless there are some I don't know about, which I doubt. I can take you further on round the coastline if that's what you want." He begins turning the boat in that direction. The lighthouse tower is just visible further on as a dark shadow.
"You don't know if there's any military installation in these waters?" Ross asks suddenly.
The captain shakes his head. "Well, no. There are rumours that there used to be. During the last war, you know. But I've been out here twenty years and I've known people who've sailed longer and no one has ever seen anything so I guess the answer has to be no."
Ross glances at him, trying to read his expression. It doesn't look like he's deliberately hiding anything. Ross sighs. "All right," he says, "lets carry on along the coast for a while. See what comes up."
The boat powers on, churning the water up into a grey foam behind. The boat captain talks most of the way, pointing out rock formations and bits of coastline that he finds interesting. Ross sits in the middle of the boat, slowly scanning the horizon, but there is nothing to see. Only the outline of hills and the occasional building to the right, while on the other side, far out to sea, the sun gradually sinks into the waves turning the whole sky into a mass of orange and pink. Ross pulls his jacket around him, reaching into the pocket for the bottle of whiskey he has brought just in case. If nothing else, he thinks resignedly, he has ruled out the possibility of there being anything in the caves around here.
It is evening. As the group - minus Ross - leave Orielton to go the Tudor Arms, a man crouches behind trees and bushes, watching them.
Best to keep an eye on what they do, Peter Grey decides. Judging by what he's seen of the group, they're likely to slip up sooner or later and there'll be need of someone like him to step in to pick up the pieces - and the credit.
The Tudor Arms is more crowded than ever. Small groups of people are standing outside on the street, pint glasses clutched in both hands. As Sam makes his way through them he spots Tanya Green and her boyfriend. He is in the middle of a group of men talking loudly about sailing and submarines, but she is hanging on the fringes of the group. When she feels Sam's gaze on her she looks up and smiles, her cheeks reddening and the tight lines around her mouth softening until she looks almost pretty.
Gwyn is behind the bar, chatting and smiling, and the darts board is set up to one side as before. Margaret is throwing darts, missing every time, as Alan wanders over to join her.
"Where's Ross?" a thin, little man of about twenty demands. "He was supposed to be here last night for the darts game."
"He was busy," Alan apologises.
The man stifles a giggle. "He was scared, that's what he was. Knew we'd beat him. That's the trouble with scientists. They might know computers and stuff but they can't throw darts to saves their life."
"Harry..." someone else says warningly, but he doesn't stop. "You lot think you're clever just because you're educated, don't you? Well there's more types of clever than your type." He laughs loudly as Margaret misses the board completely with the last dart and smiles good-naturedly.
Michael turns his back on the group and looks around. Martin Thane is sitting at the same table he was at the other night, his jacket slung over the chair beside him and his walking stick propped up, as if he has never moved. Michael hesitates a moment then walks over and offers his hand in greeting.
"Michael," he says. "We met briefly the night before last, remember?"
The older man looks at him. "Hmm..."
"Listen, I'm sorry about that. Pretending not to have heard of you and everything, but I had to check. I could have been talking to anyone."
Neat grey eyebrows rise. "So you've heard of the FT, then?"
"Sure." Michael puts on his friendly grin, sitting down without being invited. "In fact I checked out a couple of your latest articles today. The one about the fake moon landing was well written."
"They're all well written, dear boy. But thank you." He drains his glass, looking slightly bored.
"Anyway," Michael continues, "I know a few people in the trade myself. Ever hear of Mysteria?"
Thane nods. "It's getting a bit of a reputation," he says dismissively. "I don't read it myself, but I'm familiar with the style. You work for them, I take it?"
"Not exactly. But I am sort of checking out the UFO story for them and I think we could help each other out." He leans forward, resting both elbows on the table. "How do you feel about collaborating efforts?"
Thane thinks about it for a while then signals to Gwyn at the bar for another drink. "And something for this young man, as well thank you. Very well," he says, turning back. "What do you know?"
Michael smiles. "There's only one way to find out..." he replies.
"It was a squid," someone says loudly. Russell looks round sharply and sees an old man in fisherman's hat and jacket slamming down an empty glass. "It was a squid," he repeats. "A great white one just like Moby Dick. And when it comes back you'll all be in trouble."
The moment he stops speaking, several people get up and gather around him. Easily recognisable types, Russell thinks. All in garish clothes and hair that looks like it has never been cut, two of the girls with rings in their noses. He sidles closer to listen.
"I saw it under moonlight," the old man intones. It sounds as if he has learned the words off by heart. "White it was, all white. A giant ghostly thing, floating by the ship, keeping pace with her and all the time the moon shines on and turns everything silver. No one believed me then and no one believes me now, but the squid will come back. And when it does it will bring trouble in its wake, you mark my words."
"My people have done most of the ground work," Thane confides to Michael. "All the background work on the '77 sightings. I presume you've got all that." Michael nods and he continues. "Well then, I've got pages worth of interviews with the locals. Between you and me they fit into three categories. Some of them - mainly the ones who saw the aliens last time - do believe they're back. I've got sightings of lights inland from the beach and out at sea, half a dozen people who say they've seen glowing footprints. No photos of the footprints themselves which is a pity. Other people have heard strange noises on the beach, some whining which could be anything from a ship's engine to a spaceship landing. And a group of children say they saw a man in a silver suit walk across the road where they lived and disappear into the trees. Category two are ones who don't care one way or the other. They think something might have happened but they're not willing to talk. Then you get the complete sceptics and the ones that are winding us up for fun, making up stories."
Michael nods. "I've met at least one like that. Anything else?"
"The crabs on the beach - I had one of my juniors covering the story. Apparently it's quite a natural phenomena. Or so say the scientists, of course, and we all know whose side they're on." His eyes narrow sharply. "You'd better make it worth my while telling you all this. A story, you said, and a big one. I look forward to hearing the details." The question in his voice is plain.
Sam has stopped to ask a couple of people about Tanya and her boyfriend.
"Martin Hughes?" One of them says. "He used to live around here. Moved north now, he has. He and Tanya have been seeing each other off and on like. Between you and me he's more serious about it than she is."
"Although her mam always did say she wants to get away," someone else at the table puts in. "Never happy here, according to her. And Martin does live away now. It could be a good chance for her."
"Not if she don't love him."
"Ah, but there are different types of love," Gwyn cuts in from the bar. "I love this place, you see. And it's a grand old place too. You should see it in summer - and there are always rooms available here for those as want them. I'd be glad to have you all."
Subject: alien sightings. Pembrokeshire, South Wales. 1997
Heavy UFO activity was observed by locals, tourists and investigators, along the south-west coast of the region. This activity centred on the oil terminal at Milford Haven and on an area of sea 3 miles off the coast. Witnesses described flashing lights and remarkably maneuverable discs in the sky.
[A blurred photograph is attached here, showing what looks like a round patch of light in the sky.]
On land, the UFO activity centred around Lodge Farm, home of Garel and Susan Williams. Activity lasted some weeks, including strange balls of light following their tractor and UFOs hovering directly over the farmhouse. Herds of cattle were repeatedly teleported from one field to another.
Playtime at a local school was interrupted by the landing of a flying saucer in an adjacent field. Twenty children, aged 5 - 11 witnessed both the UFO and the 'small grey men in shiny suits' who climbed out and inserted a 'cattle prod' into the field before departing. When questioned individually, each child gave identical details (though sceptics have pointed out they had plenty of time to make up a story between them.) No trace of the cattle prod was ever found, though experts claimed to find raised levels of radioactivity in the field where the UFO landed.
Filename - The Welsh Triangle
Popular name given to an area of sea to the south of Manorbier, S. Wales. Following reported UFO activity in the region, instruments on boats and aircraft would go haywire, radio communication was impossible and several accidents occurred.
Filename - Squid (giant)
Subject - sightings in the south Wales area.
The only major sighting was the body of a squid - genus Architeuthis - found by Manorbier scientists in the summer of 1977. Generally a deep water creature, the theory was that it had been washed ashore by sea currents.
Subject - fish. Mutations, causes.
There have been several occurrences across the world of fish in a particular area showing signs of deformity. Theories are as follows:
1) Alien activity (laughable)
2) Pollution (chemicals, antibodies released into rivers and finding their way to the sea, sewage.)
3) Leakage from government bases (a possibility where such bases exist though governments deny it.)
4) Natural mutation (possible, but unlikely.)