The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


March 16th 7pm
Alan, Sam, Ross, Michael: Manorbier castle.
Russell: Orielton research station.

Alan glances at the others quickly then flattens himself against the wall by the door, one fist raised.

Just in time, because the intruder bursts into the room. His dark eyes widen a fraction as he sees the group standing there.

"What the fuck...?" he begins angrily.

Alan hits him.

He staggers, his eyes clouding for a moment before he shakes his head and carries straight on, lunging at Ross. Alan's jaw drops in amazement. Then there is no more time to think. Ross sidesteps and the stranger misses him, swinging wildly. The side of his face is reddened where Alan hit him. He backs off as the group close in around him, his eyes completely wild. A knife appears in his hand and he makes a couple of swings with it. "Who are you?" he demands thickly. "And what are you doing in..."

He stops. Ross has a gun trained on him, completely steady.

"Suppose we all calm down," he suggests. "Put the knife down and we'll talk."

The stranger freezes a moment, only his eyes moving, darting quickly from side to side. Then, just as Ross is beginning to relax, with a snarl of rage he throws himself sideways, crashing into Michael and taking him down with him. Sam grabs him to pull him off and gasps with pain as he sinks his teeth into his hand. Alan and Ross dive forward together. The is a brief, sickening, sound of solid metal hitting bone and the strange stiffens then goes limp.

Michael crawls out from under him, pushing strands of sweat-soaked hair off his face with shaking fingers.

"Are you all right?" Ross asks.

He nods. "What about him?"

"He'll be out for a good half hour," Ross tells him, kneeling to examine the still body. "Question is, what do we do with him?"

Alan is examining his knuckles, shaking his head slowly. "I don't believe he didn't go down. I hit him hard enough, didn't I?"

"Forget it. Do we leave him here or what?"

Michael interrupts him. He has picked up a sheaf of newspaper cuttings and is flicking back through them. He holds one up, a photograph of the supposed lunatic, Vul Dragna. In silence the four of them look at the unconscious man on the floor.

Vul Dragna has lost a lot of weight, and his hair is thinning on top, but there is no mistaking the scar that cuts face and right ear in half. Or the fixed scowl that twists the mouth even in the photograph, even in unconsciousness.

"Take the papers and get out of here," Alan suggests.

Sam frowns. "And just leave him here?" He takes out a cigarette paper and licks the edge of it. When he rolls it up the others can see the red marks of Vul's teeth on the back of his hand.

"What else are we going to do?" Alan points out reasonably. "We're trespassing here ourselves, remember? Anyway, hopefully we've done enough to frighten him off."

Ross nudges Dragna with his foot. The madman groans softly. Michael gathers up the rest of the papers. As they leave, Ross wedges the door closed. "That should keep him there for a while at least," he says.

Russell watches, fascinated, as Phil makes the first cut into the squid's leathery skin. The flesh parts with a dull, wet sound and Phil grabs some sort of metal clamp to hold the cut open while he probes inside.

"Who found the squid?" Russell asks Margaret quietly.

She takes her eyes off the operation just long enough to glance at him. "The UFO freaks, would you believe it? A lot of them are camped on the beach. They were having a barbecue when it was washed up at their feet. Luckily one of them had the sense to come here and tell us and Phil went down there and grabbed it quick." She smiles. "I think he was worried they'd eat it or worship it or something."

Phil Lake is frowning as he cut through the membranes into the main sac of the squid's body. Russell moves closer to offer help. Grey fluid drips steadily onto the floor and the whole room is smelling of an unpleasant mixture of seaweed and wet rot but Phil, engrossed as he is, doesn't seem to notice.

"It's an architeuthis, isn't it?" Russell asks, comparing the dead mass with a set of pictures he saw in the library's encyclopedias. Phil looks grateful for the interest.

"That's right. And a big one - even for it's species. Here, hold this." He slaps a slime, covered cleaver into Russell's hand and selects a small, narrow-bladed scalpel from the case. "Colour's normal," he murmurs, scraping away part of the skin. "Internal organs look OK too. Whatever killed it wasn't old age or disease."

He continues cutting, and Russell continues to watch. The smell in the room grows worse but no one leaves. Soon, the only sound is the swift cut of Phil's knife and the dead flesh tearing apart like wet paper. Phil's exclamation of delight startles everyone, then. He plunges both hands deep into the squid's body and comes out with a large and twisted piece on metal.

"Cause of death: swallowing this," he announces. "It's big enough to give a whale indigestion - whatever it is." He turns it over several times, examining it for clues and finds nothing. The metal is badly corroded and looks scorched down one side but there are no markings. It may have been part of a larger sheet, Russell guesses, but even that is uncertain. It is twisted so badly out of shape that there's no telling what it was.

The others arrive back as Phil is clearing up, having stopped at the police station on the way to report the incident with Dragna. The way Sam told it, Dragna had leaped out at them as they were taking a peaceful evening stroll and then run off in the direction of the castle. Sergeant Harris took down all the details dutifully, showing the right amount of concern and promising to send someone out to investigate right away. When Michael suggested Dragna might be responsible for the school break-in, the policemen nodded in agreement. And there they left it.

The group exchange news with Russell and then Russell says he wants to go back to the beach to collect samples of the glowing footprints. "And tomorrow we could buy some plaster of paris and make a cast of the ones Ross found. It could be useful."

"I think it'll be more useful to chase this Harry fellow," Alan muses. "And what about this Vul Dragna - we should see what else we can find out about him." He proposes keeping up a watch on the farm for another night, just in case and goes off to get ready while Russell leaves for the beach.

Russell returns some time later with a collection of glowing flakes in a sandwich bag. While he's mailing the package off to SITU, including a report of progress to date , Ross and Michael catch up on the local news. The squid hasn't yet made it into the headlines, of course, but the UFO hunters are prominent. There are rumours, apparently, that some of them are planning to start an annual festival on the beach, and police are already moving in to clear the worst of them away.

There is a new notice on Lodge Farm's gate. 'Private Property - Entry Strictly Forbidden. Trespassers will be Prosecuted.' Trespassers will be shot, rather, Alan thinks, remembering Garel William's shotgun. He settles himself down a safe distance away to watch.

All is quiet that night, only the dogs barking from time to time. No sign of Harry sneaking about, of any other intruder, or indeed of alien visitors. At 4 in the morning, having drifted in and out of sleep at least three times, Alan gives up and goes back to the research centre, breathing a sigh of relief as he slips past the St. Bernard, Snowdon, asleep on guard duty just inside the front door.

Russell manages to corner Phil after breakfast the next morning.

"You said something last night that I've been wondering about," he begins. "Something like 'They wouldn't believe me but I was right.' Who are 'they'?"

"They?" Phil's eyes immediately take on a shifty look. "You seem very interested in this all of a sudden."

Russell shrugs. "It's a hobby." Phil regards him a moment more then nods.

"All right, in here." He opens a side door and pushes Russell inside. "There's a conspiracy, you know," he says, lowering his voice even though he's shut the door and no one can possibly hear him. "The government are up to something down here. I don't know what, and they deny it all, of course, but you don't get that many fish mutated without reason. Contamination, radiation, whatever's causing it it's no accident."

"You can prove this?" Russell frowns.

Phil responds with a glare that fills his eyes with fire. "Of course I can't prove it. No one can prove anything - that's why everyone else keeps saying there's nothing wrong. They've never believed me. But the squid, there's no way that should have turned up here." His hands are gripping the edge of the table, Russell notices, so hard that the tips of his fingers turn white. "That chunk of metal we found in its gut, I still haven't worked out what it is, but I think it's some part of a government base. Maybe even part of some weapon they're developing. All I need to do now is prove it and people will have to take notice of me."

Sam has arranged to meet Tanya Green at midday to take her to the hypnotherapist. Russell manages to acquire a small bag of plaster of paris and he and Ross go off in the hired car to check out the footprints Ross marked on the outskirts of Manorbier. And after some enquiries, Alan finds out that the man he's after is Harry Pugh. He's a friend of Gwyn Montgomery and always has lunch in the Tudor Arms...

Three people get off the train at Manorbier station that morning. Two walk straight off, but the third hesitates on the platform, reading an awkwardly folded map. She is about eighteen years, old, far too thin and her hair is dyed a brilliant red, cropped short on the sides but falling down over her pierced eyebrow at the front. She looks up, feeling the disapproving stare of the station master and smiles disarmingly.

"Hello," she says. "I'm looking for..." she pauses to read one of her papers again, dropping most of the rest as she does so. "Orielton research centre. I'm s'posed to be meeting some people there. Ross Myers, Michael Williamson..?" Her smile grows a little worried when he shakes his head. "Well, I'll just have to find the research centre first. I'm a scientist, see, I'm staying there."

He looks at her doubtfully, his eyes taking in the jumble-sale arrangement of clothes and the two copies of The Big Issue protruding from the top of her khaki rucksack. But he does give her directions. Let Orielton sort her out, he decides. Anyway, scientists are a weird bunch. It could well be that she's telling the truth.

Michael walks into the Tudor Arms first, Alan following and carrying the bag that Harry dropped in his flight the night before last. The two of them have gone through the bag thoroughly of course, turning out a small trowel, a length of rope, several torches (one of them not working) and a couple of the small tester pots of paint that DIY stores sell.

A quick look around and Alan sees Harry slouched in a corner, reading a newspaper held in one hand while he forks a mess of chips and tomato ketchup into his mouth with the other. Alan walks straight across and dumps the bag at his feet.

"Here mate, you left this the other night," he says conversationally.

Harry grunts something, still reading. But then he catches sight of the bag and he jerks his head up, his cheeks turning suddenly pale as he recognises Alan.

"How about having a little chat?" Alan asks. "In private." He doesn't give Harry time to argue but stands up, taking him by the arm so he has to stand too or be dragged across the room.

Alan doesn't release him until they're in the car park outside. "Now," he says, turning on him. "Suppose you tell me what the hell is going on?"

Harry giggles nervously, his eyes flicking from side to side as if he's looking for an escape. There is none. Michael positions himself carefully on the other side of him, putting on a dark scowl which, if it isn't threatening, is certainly unnerving.

Harry's tongue flickers across his lips. "What do you mean - what's going on?" His voice comes out high. "There ain't nothing going on."

"No? Then what were you doing sneaking about at Lodge Farm?" Michael demands.

Harry opens his mouth to come back with some retort then his gaze catches Alan's fists: closed fast, his right arm drawn slightly back, and he thinks better of it. He flushes and looks down at his feet.

"I wasn't doing no harm," he repeats, less confidently. "I was having a walk, that's all."

"And if you happen to flash lights about or maybe paint a footprint or two that's entirely coincidental." Micheal adds coldly. "What exactly have you been doing, Harry?"

"Nothing. I told you, I -"

Alan grabs his arm, rather too hard for comfort. "Look, friend, I'll make the choices easy for you. Either you tell us the truth or I'm going to thump you one."

Michael makes a warning sound in his throat, but Alan's face is flushed with anger and his lips are set in a straight, stubborn line. If he does decide he wants to hit Harry, Michael thinks, there isn't a lot he can do to stop him.

Harry has obviously come to the same decision. "It wasn't my fault," the little man squeals. "It was Gwyn - he's the one who wanted to do it. He said if we had aliens back here then more people would come and visit. And more people means more money for him, see?" He seems on the point of tears. "And now you've made me tell you and he's going to kill me."

"He was threatening you?" Michael cuts in.

Harry's eyes open wide. "Threatening? What are you talking about? You're the ones who's threatening me. Gwyn and me are mates, see? I was doing it for him as a favour. And now you've gone and completely ruined it, so there!"

The two men look at each other and sigh. Alan relaxes and stands aside. "Harry," he says. "Get lost."

They are wondering what to do next when a voice floats across the car park to them. "Yoo hoo! I said, yoooo hoo!"

They turn together and see a girl, no more than eighteen and with vivid fake red hair, waving at them madly.

"Are you from the SITU group?" she asks, running over. "You must be, mustn't you? I got photos of you in my file so's I'd know you. You must be..." Thin lips purse, "Alan. And you're Michael. I was on my way to Orielton, like it said in the briefing thing, and then, guess what, I saw you, and I thought it must be you so I..." Her voice tails off. "Uh, I thought I'd come over," she finishes. She looks at them both anxiously. "You are, aren't you? It'd be terrible if I said all that to the wrong people."

Alan nods, trying not to stare at the rings through her nostril and eyebrow.

Michael, less fazed, smiles. "We're the right people. I'm Michael. You are..?"

"Maddy," she announces, with a note of triumph as if remembering is important to her. She wipes her hand on jeans and holds it out in greeting. Several bracelets dangle off it. When they stare back, unsure how to react, she sniffs impatiently. "SITU sent me," she tells them in a conspiratorial whisper. "I'm your new thingy - um - partner."

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Russell asks for the fifth time.

Ross glances at him impatiently. "Of course I'm sure. I showed you where I put the stones, didn't I?"

"You did. So we have two footprints, one of them a bit blurred. A couple of broken branches that could have been snapped off any time... and no alien." Russell straightens up with a sigh. "Sorry, Ross. Are you sure it wasn't an animal? Or someone running across in front of you?"

The soldier scratches the back of his neck and frowns. "I don't honestly know what it was." he admits. "It definitely wasn't an animal, though - far too big for that. From the prints it definitely looks like someone's been here. The question is who?"

He digs around a bit more, pushing through trees and bushes. Then, just as he is deciding they're both wasting their time, he stops with a grunt of satisfaction. Caught on the end of a branch is a strip of white cloth. Ross detaches it carefully and rolls it up. It feels like ordinary cotton to him.

"Great," Russell comments, joining him. "Now all we need to do is find an alien with a torn suit and we're sorted."

Ross gives him a look of disgust as he puts the piece of cloth in his pocket. They go back to check the footprints. The plaster of paris has hardened nicely. Ross lifts the two pieces out and wraps them in polythene then, looking back to make sure Russell is following, he starts back to the car and swings himself into the driver's seat.

The office door is badly painted and bears a sign: "Cheryl Taylor, Alternative Therapist. FSAP, LCMS." Tanya Green glances back at Sam nervously and he puts his hand on her shoulder.

"It'll be all right," he reassures her.

She still looks scared but as she meets Sam's eyes she swallows and straightens her shoulders. "Lets get it over with," she mutters.

Cheryl Taylor turns out to be a reassuringly middle-aged woman, overweight, with sensible short hair and brown plastic spectacles. She smiles as she greets the visitors and quickly ushers Tanya over to a couch by the window. "Just lie down there, my dear, and relax. It's as easy as going to sleep." She turns to Sam. "I usually ask friends to wait outside," she says. "My patients usually find it easier to relax when they're alone. But if Miss Green wants you to stay..."

"I do," Tanya puts in firmly and Cheryl smiles and shrugs.

"Well then. All I ask is that you don't interfere. Hypnotherapy is a very delicate business. I'm not saying interrupting me is dangerous, it's just wise not to take any chances, don't you agree?"

Sam has no choice but to nod. He sits down at the side of the room and watches as Cheryl pulls a blind across the window then flicks a switch that lights up a swirling pattern on the darkened ceiling. "Now, then, dear," she begins, her voice suddenly as soothing as melted honey. "All I want you to do is to watch the lights."

..."You're going back into your childhood, Tanya, leaving everything behind. It's a bright sunny day. Summer, remember? You've got to go to school today."

Tanya's nose wrinkles. "Yes, and I don't want to. It's too nice for school. We've got maths first and I hate maths."

"Well, you're going to school now," Cheryl's voice soothes. "Can you feel the sun on your face? And the breeze? Just enough so it's not too hot."

Sam is starting to nod in his chair. He jerks himself awake and sits forward, rubbing his eyes. Wouldn't do to let himself get hypnotised along with Tanya.

"...You're at school now. You've had maths and you're in the playground for break time. Something strange happens today, doesn't it, Tanya? What is it?"

"Something is coming." Tanya sounds completely childish now, her voice high-pitched and nervy. "It's big and round and flat, like a huge silver pancake and it keeps getting closer. Everyone's watching it. Even the teachers have come out. I don't think Mrs Williams can see it, but I can. Oohh! It's stopping now. It's going to land on the field. I can see it. It's big an' shiny an'..."

"What can you see now, Tanya," Cheryl interrupts softly.

"There are people getting out." The girl's thumb creeps up into her mouth. "I can see two people. They're all dressed in tin foil and it's hurting my eyes it's shining so hard. They're putting something into the ground now. A stick. And now..." Her face twists suddenly. "He's looking at me. And he's making me look back, but I don't want to." Her voice rises in panic. "No! They won't leave me alone. I don't like them any more. I want them to stop it!"

"Tanya." Cheryl's voice, still calm, has taken on a note of urgency. Sam starts out of his seat in alarm but she shoots him a glance that freezes him. "Tanya, you're going to wake up now. You'll remember everything but you won't be afraid. When I say three. One..."

"Stop it! Make them go away!" Tanya has curled tight on the couch, knees hugged to her chest, tears leaking from her tightly closed eyelids.


"Are you sure..." Sam begins.

"Leave it to me. I know what I'm doing."

"Leave me alone!!"


Tanya's eyes snap full open, and stay open, staring unblinking at the ceiling. As Sam jumps to his feet a shudder runs through her.

"They're back," she whispers. She turns her head and stares at Sam, her eyes filled with tears. "You've woken them up and now they're back and they won't leave me alone again, ever." She begins to cry in earnest then, her chest heaving silently.

"If the whole thing was a hoax we'd might as well go home now," Russell says, his disappointment evident.

He and Ross have met up with Alan, Michael and Maddy outside the Tudor Arms. Maddy is practically fizzing with excitement and Russell has to consciously block out her chatter so he can think straight.

"Maybe we should just report to SITU that the whole thing was faked," he suggests.

But Ross shakes his head. "No, I still think there's something strange going on. There's Tanya for a start. And Vul Dragna, though how he fits into all this is anyone's guess." He stops, looking on ahead. "What's happening up there?"

They have been walking in the direction of the research centre and now they can see the turning to the entrance way. Outside it, an unmarked black van is parked and Carol Henessey is arguing with two men no one recognises.

"But you can't just..." Carol is saying as the group come into earshot.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," one of the men comes back to her. "It's necessary for the safety of the area, I'm afraid. Rest assured, we are doing everything we can to remedy the situation and as soon as there's a change we'll let you know."

The group arrive at the gates, Ross first, and Carol swings round to face them. "You're not going to like this," she says. "These gentlemen say there's been a rail accident. A container of contaminated waste was derailed and damaged. And until they've got the situation under control they're sealing off the area. I hope none of you have to rush back to work, because your holiday is going to be a bit longer than you'd anticipated."

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