The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


March 17th. 2pm.
Sam: Cheryl Taylor's office with Tanya
The others: outside Orielton Research Centre

Maddy reacts first, muttering under her breath. "Pffft! A likely story." The two men turn to look at her and she stares back, consciously narrowing her eyes into a frown before turning to Carol. She smiles awkwardly and holds one hand out upside down over her collection of papers and files.. "Um, hi, I'm Madeleine Hook; you can call me Maddy, but don't call me Mad 'cause... well, anyway. I'm one of the, y'know, fish scientists, yeah?"

Carol recovers herself surprisingly well and shakes hands. "We're expecting you. We had a phone call from your office. The two men are starting to edge away and she rounds on them fiercely. "I haven't finished with you yet."

"Yeah," Maddy agrees. "Who are you guys, anyway? The Men in Grey?"

Russell puts a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe it would help if you showed us your ID?" he asks, more calmly. "And then you can tell us exactly what is happening."

Both of them reach into their pockets without hesitation. Ross stiffens, half expecting them to pull out guns, but they produce identical plastic cards. "Douglas Harding," the one says, obviously the spokesman of the two. "Air Staff Secretariat 2A." His companion's name is James Grant, printed in bold type on an identical card.

"Never heard of you," Russell comments, handing the cards back. But Ross frowns.

"I have. You're tied in with the military, aren't you? Though you're not a military unit as such."

Harding nods. "That's right, sir. We're a scientific team, specially trained to deal with hazard situations, such as this one. We will keep inconvenience to a minimum and we'll do our best to complete the clear-up operation with minimum delay." He speaks as if he's reciting a speech he's learned. Maddy jigs about impatiently, the others watch him with various degrees of scepticism.

"So what areas are sealed, and how long is this going to take?" Alan asks.

Harding's bland smile doesn't change. "I have a map here, sir. You'll see that we've cordoned off the whole of Manorbier to a radius of about five miles. And the areas ringed in red on here are completely out of bounds - for your own safety, you understand."

"I understand all right," Carol Hennessey mutters. "Your people have messed something up badly and you're trying to cover it up. I've never heard of chemicals even being taken by train through here."

"It doesn't often happen, ma'am." Harding flushes slightly under her glare. "Listen, if you want to discuss this, you'd best talk to the chief of operations. We'll be setting up an office in the village to answer any queries. Here." Another card is produced. Carol glances at it once.

"Patrick Newsome. Right. You can tell Mr Newsome from me that I'll be wanting a full explanation of this. And it had better be a good one. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a number of calls to make."

She raises her eyebrows at the group as she passes them. Whether the gesture is meant as one of apology or exasperation no one can tell.

"...They won't leave me alone," Tanya sobs. Sam glances at Cheryl Taylor and stands up to put his arms around the girl. Her whole body is shaking. Her hands are so cold when Sam takes them that he shivers involuntarily.

Calmly, Cheryl gets up and fills a plastic beaker with water. Pressing it into Tanya's hands, she murmurs reassuringly. "It's all right now, you're perfectly safe. You're in Manorbier, remember. Whatever you saw can't hurt you now."

Water slops over the sides of the beaker. Tanya draws in a trembling breath and works one hand free to wipe her eyes. Sam holds her close a moment then releases her. "Cheryl, could I have a word with you?"

The hypnotherapist nods and leads him to the side of the room. Tanya seems unaware of them as they talk quietly.

"You didn't tell me she'd suffered some sort of a trauma," Cheryl says. "Taking her back to her childhood obviously opened it up again. It was fortunate I managed to bring her back safely." Seeing Sam's worried frown she smiles. "I'm not blaming you for what happened. It was my fault too - I wasn't expecting anything like this to happen so it caught me unawares. But there's not harm done. Give her a few minutes to calm herself and she'll be fine."

"Right." Sam reaches automatically into his jacket pocket for cigarette papers and stops himself. "Is it all right to ask her a few questions?"

Cheryl bites her lip. "I suppose so. As long as she doesn't get worked up again. Don't push too hard, though."

Tanya looks up and smiles when he approaches. Her face is pale save for two spots of colour beneath her eyes. "I'm sorry..." she begins.

"Don't be." He sits down next to her and covers her hands with his own. "Can you remember what you saw?"

"I think so," she begins. She pauses for a moment then continues shakily. "First I saw the space ship, just like it was when I was at school. And then the people getting out of it. They had some sort of silver uniform on..."

"Any insignia?"

She screws her eyes up, trying to remember. "I don't think so... No, I can't see any. They're looking at me." She shakes her head hard. "They kept looking at me and then they wouldn't go away. I dreamed about them, Sam, all the time, even in the day. They wouldn't..." tears well from her eyes again. She stops and fumbles for a tissue. Sam meets Cheryl Taylor's gaze over her head, wondering whether it's safe to ask anything else.

She shakes her head, just the once.

Back at Orielton, the group is gathered in the small lounge area. The TV is on in the background and the kettle has just finished boiling. Maddy, having spent the best part of an hour in her room, has changed into a tie-dye skirt in clashing streaks of lemon and lime, and a black T shirt with a glowing alien face design taking up most of the chest. Her biker's jacket, which looks almost big enough to fit Ross, lies forgotten over the coffee table.

"Okaaay," she announces, eyeing everyone fiercely. "I'm from the Flying Squad, right, and I dunno why they've sent me here but it's all, like, cool by me." Her speech is spoiled by Snowdon trying to eat the green DMs off her feet. She kicks him away a few times and continues. "I'm, like, psychic an' stuff, so I'm gonna do a special Chaos Ritual thingy that I did on the last mission an' it worked really well - sort of..."

Alan looks at her doubtfully, but Michael grins. "Fine by me. I'm sort of psychic myself so let me know if you need any help."

The girl's eyes go round under their weight of blue glitter. "Really? Wow, cool!"

"Maybe we should check out this story about chemical contamination first," Russell suggests, clearly less than impressed. We can start with the maps here, and then check out the library in the village. See if this has ever happened before. Does anyone want to bring - ah - Maddy up to date on what we've been doing here?"

Michael begins, interrupted and corrected by the others as he goes on. When he mentions Vul Dragna, Maddy's mouth drops open.

"Oh wow!" she bursts out. "Coolsville!"

"You know him?" Ross asks.

"You bet! He's, like, some freaky guy who was it SITU but he went all, y'know, mad and tried to shoot a whole island or something - that was aliens too. We should phone SITU and, like, tell them. Maybe they're looking for him!"

Ross's dark eyes reflect surprise. "He was a SITU agent? How do you know that? Did you mention him in your report, Russell?"

The writer nods.

"Good. Then we should hear from them soon enough. In the meantime I suggest we-"

The door opens, interrupting him. Ross tenses, then relaxes when Sam comes in, closely followed by Tanya.

"Did you know this whole damn village is sealed off?" Sam demands. He sees Maddy and stops.

"This is Maddy," Michael says. "She's with us. How did the hypnotherapy go?"

"Terrible." He sits down heavily and rolls a cigarette as he explains. Tanya sits beside him silent, looking at her fingers, embarrassed at all the attention.

Maddy's face is bright red with excitement when Sam finishes. "That's sooo cool! " she exclaims. But Russell notes the quick tightening of Tanya's lips and interrupts before his new colleague's enthusiasm can do any more damage.

"Are you all right now, Tanya?" he asks.

She gives him a jerky nod of the head and edges closer to Sam. He doesn't seem to notice that his arm is around her shoulders. "I'll stay with her for now," he says.

"Why don't we go back to the school," Maddy breaks in, despite Russell's warning glance. "To, like, find, Mrs Williams an' sneak a look at the files."

Tanya raises her head. "It's a different Mrs Williams, Maddy, not the one from the farm. And anyway, she retired years ago. She's not there now."

"Oh." Somewhat deflated, she stares at the floor a while. "What about a zoo then?" she asks. "Didn't you say you saw a kangaroo in a dream. Is there a zoo near here?"

"I'm afraid not. Bristol's the closest and we can't go there if the area's sealed off."

They go back to making plans, Maddy listening for a while before she excuses herself saying she has important stuff to do. Russell watches her go, a frown creasing his forehead.

Alan laughs good-naturedly. "I suppose me and Ross can always sit on her if she's too much trouble."

...A train derailment outside Manorbier today has left the whole area cut off. Officials say the train was carrying an amount of an unspecified chemical waste product which may have contaminated the local area when the train was overturned earlier today. Certain areas have been sealed totally while people living or staying in Manorbier and the surrounding area have been asked not to leave the district until a thorough check can be carried out. The authorities heading the clean-up operation say compensation will be offered and stresses that there is no danger to the public as long as their instructions are carried out.

Spokesmen for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, however, are angry. (Cut to a long-haired youth sporting several earrings,) "Whatever they say, it isn't good enough. For a start, chemical waste of this nature should not be transported without due warning, and due consideration to the dangers. Secondly, if the track was faulty, as they say it was, why was it not repaired? Third, if there's the possibility of contamination, the area should be evacuated, not quarantined. For all people know, the government have locked them in with a deadly chemical." (Cut back to studio and a smug-looking presenter sitting safe in the knowledge she isn't in the quarantined area.) Further reports of that later. Coming up next on Wales Tonight...

Ross switches the television off and goes back to join Sam and Alan poring over a set of maps on the floor. Alan has the small map that Harding gave them in his hand and he is busy coping the lines of the restricted areas. The whole of the Manorbier area is ringed around in red, the circle extending as far as the closest villages along the coast. Several thicker red lines run alongside the railway, taking in a couple of roads that run parallel to it. He glances up as Ross joins them. "That's about the sum of it, then," he says cheerfully. "We're stuck here all right. Question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Of course it's an alien cover-up," the boy says. Like most of the other UFO fanatics camped on the beach he looks as if he hasn't washed in days. Or if he has, it's only been in the sea. There is salt crusted around the collar of his T shirt.

Russell's smile is strained but Michael seems completely at home. "What do you think is happening, then?" he asks.

"Cover up. The aliens have come here, right, and the government have got wind of it and have captured one. They don't want word getting out and they know we're on to them. Ergo they seal the area to stop us getting away to tell the outside world."

"Nah." One of his friends shakes his head. "It's not aliens. It really is some sort of chemical, but it's not what they're saying. It's like in 'The Andromeda Strain.' Some biological warfare thing they've been developing here and now there's been a leakage. They need to keep us here to see what will happen. We'll all develop boils next, and die." He sounds almost excited at the prospect. If his acne's anything to go by, Russell thinks dryly, maybe boils will be an improvement.

An hour later and even Michael's head is spinning. Russell gave up concentrating ages ago. According to the theorists, the government have sighted aliens and are hunting them, the government are running an experiment on the local population, the government have been taken over by aliens who are keeping the area contained either to eat everyone or experiment on them. The government are running some sort of closed-environment test. The government are chasing down a high-security prisoner who's escaped and have turned the whole area into a prison to try to catch him.

Back at Orielton, the scientific theories are almost as wild. Phil Lake is convinced there's a cover-up under way. "There aren't even any chemical plants in the area," he says angrily. "And any waste there is goes out through Milford Haven. They never take it by rail through here. If you ask me, there's no chemical spillage at all."

"Then what's going on?" Ross asks.

"Who knows? My guess is some sort of experimentation. They started with the marine life and now it's spreading to the rest of us. I wouldn't be surprised if there's been some sort of contaminant in the water for ages."

Carol holds up her hands. "Now, lets not jump to conclusions," she says soothingly. "I've asked to speak to the man in charge of all this and he's coming to the centre tomorrow afternoon. Any of you who want to can speak to him then."

"Oh, we'll want to all right," Phil growls. "I'm going to run some tests on the water tonight, and tomorrow he'd better have some answers for us."

Sitting alone in her narrow, single room, happily oblivious to the fuss going on around her, Madeleine Hook is writing in a battered exercise book. Strands of hair escape from the pink butterfly clip above her ear and she clamps them and her tongue between her teeth, her pencil moving in slow, deliberate strokes. Gradually, a design takes form on the page. She studies it a moment, her head tipped on one side, then a grin of delight lights up her face.

Several more newscasts early evening say little more than the group have discovered already. Not one mentions the name of the chemical that has supposedly spilled; only one gives any clue as to how the accident happened, saying the track was damaged as a result of vandals. Dinner, then, is a quiet affair, the scientists either angry or worried or both. Sam is missing - having dinner with Tanya, Ross explains. Only Maddy seems to feel like talking, and only Michael seems to be in any mood to listen to her chatter. After dinner the girl waits impatiently until everyone is together in the lounge.

"Righty-ho!" she smiles. She opens her exercise book and takes out several loose pieces of paper and hands them around. "This is, like Maddy's Special Finding Ritual Part One, it'll work much better if everyone does just this one teensy-weensy thing - which, being guys an' all, you'd prob'ly be doing anyway." She pauses for breath and continues. "I need your orgone, your sexual energy, yeah?"

Russell chokes into his coffee. Ross and Alan exchange grins. Maddy's expression wavers for a moment then her smile returns. "So... tonight," she explains "when you're uh, spanking the naughty snake or bishop or whatever you call it, I want you to, like focus, on this sigil, right at the point when you, um, do the thing." Her cheeks are bright red but she continues anyway. "Then I want you to burn the paper and, like, forget it. That way it'll sort of percolate into your right brain. Easy!"

"Spanking the naughty snake?" Ross asks. Maddy's features rearrange themselves into a hurt look and he hastily wipes the smile from his face. "Sure, fine."

"I wasn't really planning on spanking any naughty snakes," Micheal says. He catches Maddy's eye and his grin turns sly. "You need the right sort of company for that, don't you Maddy?"

Maddy appears to be trying for a place in the Guinness Book of Blushing. She practically expires with relief when Russell breaks the silence.

"I'm going to spend some time on the computer. I want to see if there's been a spillage here before. best give Sam a ring, too, see how he's doing."

He just about manages to get out of the door before he starts to laugh.

Subj: Re: Russell's report

Date: 17/03/99

From <Classified>

Sender: A.R.Stafford @<classified>

To: Osborne@compuserve.com

Congratulations on investigation so far. Have heard about problems in local area, suggest you look into this too as it may well be related. Will, of course, cover all additional expenses.

Vul Dragna - EXTREMELY dangerous. He is a killer and will kill without thought. Why he is in the area is a mystery. Possibility rumours of alien activity drew him in. Certified psychopathic. Repeat: extremely dangerous. His recapture would benefit everyone but put own safety first. Likely that he is armed, and he WILL kill.

Trust Miss Hook arrived safely. Her psychic abilities could well prove beneficial.

Will be monitoring situation. Please send further report as and when events warrant.

The rest of the group meets up with Tanya and Sam in the Tudor Arms for the evening. Behind the bar, Gwyn Montgomery is practically fizzing at the prospect of the extra custom. In one corner Harry Pugh sits, watching Alan sourly and in another Tanya's supposed boyfriend, Martin Hughes, is drinking steadily, never taking his eyes off Sam. Tanya begins to fidget nervously.

"I think I'd better just go home. Will you..."

"You shouldn't be alone," Ross agrees. "How about if Michael sees Maddy back to Orielton and the rest of us stay with you tonight? Is your house big enough?"

"Flat. Yes, it is. You'll have to sleep on the floor, mind." Her eyes are wide with relief as she stands up and reaches for her jacket.

Maddy's fingers are linked through Michael's by the time they reach the research station, and his leather coat is draped over her shoulders. Maddy is chattering happily and Michael is content to let her words wash over him, listening to just enough of it to be able to follow the flow of conversation. They get back to find Russell sitting outside watching the sky above the beach.

"Found anything useful?" Michael asks him.

He shakes his head, twisting his hair back off his shoulders. "Not a thing. There's never been a spillage in this area, it's never been sealed off like this before, not even in '77 when the residents were calling for it to keep the UFO freaks away. I think the best thing is to go to bed and see what this Patrick Newsome has to say for himself tomorrow."

Night. Maddy stirs and sits up. Pulling up a plain black T shirt she gets up, tiptoes to the door and slips out. The corridor outside her room is dark and she has to feel her way along the wall, but downstairs the faint glow of emergency lighting is enough to see by. She wanders along slowly, biting her lips nervously until she finds the laboratory door.

The squid, part dissected, is floating in a tank of some foul-smelling preserving fluid. In this light, and with the ends of tentacles twitching with the movement of the water, it looks half-alive - but only half. Like one of Cthulhu's evil minions, Maddy decides. She creeps closer and presses her nose against the glass. Two huge eyes, wide open in death, stare back at her.

"Wow!" she whispers. "Cool..."

It is about midnight that Tanya starts screaming. Sam reaches her first and she clings to him, her eyes wide and tearless.

"I saw them again," she whispers. "The aliens. They were looking for me."

At that moment a banging is heard on the door, and a man's voice, slurred and angry. "Tanya? Who's in there with you? Let me in, now!"

Tanya turns pale. "It's Martin. I'd better talk to him." She pushes Sam away and stands unsteadily.

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