The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


March 19th. 9pm. Orielton Research Centre.

"Stewart, you bastard, where are the fingers?" Vul roars.

Russell grabs Margaret by the arm and pulls her to one side just in time. Tanya slumps against Sam and Maddy stumbles back a step, jams her fingers in her ears and screws her eyes tight shut. Alan shoulders Vul aside just before he reaches Stewart. Then, with a howl that is bordering on madness, Snowdon leaps for the two men and fastens his teeth on Vul's ankle. He screams, trying to kick the dog off and punch Alan at the same time. The door slams shut as Russell manages to push Margaret out, the scientist still protesting that she should call the police.

Everything goes very quiet.

Vul freezes where he is, staring, for the second time in a week, at the gun in Ross's hand.

Maddy opens her eyes. "Snowdon, you can stop biting him now. Good dog." Amazingly, the dog does let go and pads to her side, whining softly. She fixes Vul with a glare that doesn't quite manage to be threatening and clears her throat.

But it is Ross who speaks first. "Stop right there, Dragna or I'll put a fucking bullet through you leg, I swear to God."

"You're mad." Vul's eyes register shock.

Ross doesn't react. "You're going to listen to me," he says, walking forward slowly. "We're all after the same thing here: you, us, Stewart. If we work together we might have a chance of finding it before the government get their hands on it. Agreed?"

"You're mad," he repeats. But he has stopped struggling. He rubs his ankle, scowling fiercely then, slowly, he nods. "All right. Me an' Stewart'll tell you what we know, and then we'll go fetch the alien together. Is it a deal, Stewart?"

The Scotsman frowns, staring down at the carpet. "All right," he agrees. "I don't trust you as far as I can throw you, mind. Especially not that lunatic there."

Outside, Russell is trying to explain things to Margaret, and not doing too good a job of it if the look in her eyes is anything to go by.

"I still think we should call the police," she says. "Or the Air Staff people. If that man is suffering a reaction to the chemical they'd know what to do."

"No," Russell says a little too quickly. Margaret's eyes narrow suspiciously. "What I mean is, it's best if we handle it for now," he goes on. "Ross is an expert on chemical science, you know."

She shakes her head. "Yes, what about Ross? What happened to him?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't worry, it probably looks worse than it is." He draws in a breath. "Look, give us half an hour, that's all. We'll get rid of Vul, fix Stewart's van for him and no one else need know any of this happened. You don't really want police swarming all over the place do you? Interfering with your experiments and so on?"

Margaret considers it a moment. "I suppose not," she concedes.

Russell lets himself back into the lounge room with a sigh of relief, catches Ross's eye and nods once. Tanya is sitting next to Sam, watching Maddy draw a complex little pattern on Ross's arm with a gold pen while the others bring him up to date with what's been happening.

"Finished." Maddy announces. "Now, how about a cup of tea. With vodka. And, err, Mr Dragna, can you, like, clip your nails for me?"

"What?" He stares at her, anger rising in his eyes again.

"Forget it," Sam says. "Stewart, Vul said something about fingers. What are they?"

"They need them to raise the sea creature," Ross says when Stewart remains silent. "Isn't that right." The policeman continues to stare at him and he sighs. "You might as well tell us. We know who you are. We know about the Clachantyre investigation, and we know about SITU."

"Situ?" Tanya asks, stirring.

"We'll explain later." He shrugs his injured arm uncomfortably. "Michael, do me a favour and find the first aid kit, will you? No offence, Maddy. Well, Stewart, is that what the fingers are? Some device for contacting the aliens."

"Some device for waking them," he replies reluctantly. "They were left behind in Clachantyre after the investigation."

"Until you stole them," Sam fills in. "Where are they now? Lodge Farm?"

He blinks back stupidly. "The farm? I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes you do. You were there last night - I saw you. Why did you go there; to hide the fingers or to get them back?"

"Or if not the fingers," Michael adds, coming back into the room, "what exactly have you hidden there?"

There is a short silence, broken by Stewart's slow intake of breath. "I have the fingers here," he admits. He pulls a box out of an inside pocket and opens it.

Vul immediately lunges at him again. "They're mine!" Alan catches him and forces him back.

"My preciousssss," mutters Maddy. Russell frowns at her and she falls silent.

The box contains five slender rods, grey in colour, looking almost - but not quite - like quartz.

Michael picks one up gingerly and rolls it across his fingers. "So these are the Old Man's Fingers," he breathes.

"They are, laddie. And if they belong to anyone, they're mine. Certainly not that madman's. I suppose you know he went completely mad before the end of the investigation that turned these up. Why he's not still behind bars, I don't know."

"I got bored," Vul growls.

Russell takes the 'finger' off Michael and puts it back in the box. "So you both came here. Why? Because of the aliens?"

Vul shrugs.

"In my case, yes, I suppose," Stewart says. "There were rumours of them in this area and I reckoned it could be the same ones as caused all the trouble at home. Government may well have moved them secretly - they're good at that sort of thing."

"Moved them by submarine?" Russell wonders.

Sam gets to his feet, staring at Stewart open-mouthed. "Now I know what you were doing at the farm," he says. "It wasn't the fingers, was it, because you had them all along. It's the bloody aliens."

"Lets get this straight," Michael says. "The government were moving the aliens out of the area by train. You sabotaged the line, grabbed one of the creatures and took off with it. Then you hid it at Lodge Farm."

Stewart shrugs sheepishly. "I had to hide it somewhere, laddie. They were after me pretty quickly." He looks around quickly, making sure no one else can hear. Alan and Ross have taken Vul up to their room, 'to keep him out of trouble' Ross said as they were leaving. Maddy waited only a few minutes before going out herself, wanting to do some shopping ready for her next ritual. The others are gathered around, listening intently.

"They slapped the place under quarantine to stop me getting out," Stewart continues nervously. "They've been after me the whole year, you know, couldn't even tell SITU about it because they've even got spies there. And now that I'm this close to blowing the lid on it all, I have Dragna chasing me as well."

"What are you going to do now?" Russell asks.

Stewart turns to face him. "That's easy laddie. I'm going to Lodge Farm to get the alien and use the Fingers to reanimate it. Let the world know what's going on." He gazes around belligerently. "People have got a right to know."

Ross puts the phone down and turns to face the others. "Well, I've managed to get hold of him," he announces. "Neil Chapman, his full name is. He said he'll come around the coast tonight and have the boat standing by for us at Manorbier beach any time we need it. All we have to do is get there. SITU aren't going to be too pleased about the bill, mind."

Alan returns his grin. "I dare say they'll think it's worth it in the end. What's next? Stewart's van? You can come too, Vul. I want to keep an eye on you."

While the others set about rescuing the van, Russell sets up his computer again.

'Have made contact with Dragna,' he types. 'Attempting to work with him at present. Is this wise?' He goes on to give SITU a brief run-down on the latest developments then turns his attentions to Chief Inspector Andrew Stewart. A few calls to bleary-voiced records departments tells him that Stewart was nowhere near Manorbier in 1977. In fact, he was stationed in Edinburgh, having recently finished police training, and rarely let Scotland until he suddenly quit the police force without explanation two months previous and apparently left the area.

Maddy returns to the centre flushed and excited. "I'm going to do another ritual on the beach," she announces to the group. "I'm going to try and make contact! Who's going to help?"

She blushes deeply when Michael stands up, and looks a little less enthusiastic when Alan follows suit. Still, she lets him take her carrier bag and follows him out of the room.

The beach is a mass of tents and bonfires and hippies dangling silver jewelry. Maddy threads her way through the all, stopping every so often to make sure the two men are still following her. "I, like, I knew the Atlanteans an' the sea people were y'know in league with the aliens!" she enthuses. "The Manky Old Fingers must be, like, some special technology thingy." She giggles drunkenly and stumbles against Michael, lacing her fingers through his as she walks and singing under her breath. "Caaaaalling occupants of interplanetary craft, la la la lala laaaa... we'd like to make a contact with youuuu, dooo doo do dooo..."

It feels strange, Alan muses, that she can walk along like that and every else around here is so far gone she looks perfectly normal. No one even looks at them as they pass.

Crossing the rocks at the far end of the beach, Maddy stops on a patch of sand that is relatively sheltered from the main campsite. Digging in her bag, she produces candles, incense and matches and begins to explain the ritual.

Michael's expression slowly turns from one of interest to disgust.

"Why do you keep talking about Situ?" Tanya asks. "What is it?"

Sam frowns before replying. "It's an organisation, that's as much as I can tell you. It investigates this sort of goings on. It's all very discreet, and no one's supposed to know it exists even."

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." She looks at him, her head tilted on one side. "It explains a lot. I thought you didn't look like a scientist," she says. She pauses a moment then adds, "How do you join?"

Before Sam can answer, the door crashes open.

"She wanted to have sex with me!" Michael shouts, bursting into the room. "Right on the beach in front of everyone. She..." He runs out of words, mouth opening and shutting soundlessly, face red with embarrassment and anger.

Alan grins at his friend's discomfort. "I thought the best part was when she want to draw on you with blood," he tells Sam. "And you don't ever want to know where the blood came from. Take it from me."

Maddy comes in a while later, theatrically crestfallen. She avoids Michael's eyes altogether as she drags her things upstairs. The bag bounces on every step behind her as she goes.

To: Osborne@compuserve.com

Time: 00:15 20-03-99

Many thanks for message. Report so far is most encouraging. You seem to have a good grasp on what your mission should be from here. Retrieving the alien for us is preferable, of course, but you should work to maintain your cover. We must remain secret. I must emphasise - under no circumstances allow Dragna access to the alien's body or to the fingers which may awaken it. The consequences of such an event are unknown but could well be disastrous. Stewart can probably be trusted but has shown recent signs of instability, whether a result of internal paranoia or real external persecution is unknown. That said, he made a good ally before and may well do again. While it would benefit us to question Dragna before handing him back to rightful keepers, our advice is to treat him with EXTREME caution. Can offer no physical backup until you are out of the quarantine area.

"The question is, what do we do now?" Sam asks everyone gathered in the lounge. It is gone midnight but the whole group is there, Stewart, Tanya and Vul among them. So far Vul has said little and has barely made a move except for his cold-eyed gaze which continually flicks from Ross to Alan and back.

Stewart seems only slightly more at ease. "You can do what you like. I'm going to go back to Lodge Farm and get the alien, road-block or no road-block. And the sooner it's done the better." He makes to stand up.

"Tomorrow might be better," Ross cautions. "If we let Phil analyse the soil samples I took and they all come out normal we can probably count on his help at least. Anyway, I'm not sure we shouldn't be in hiding anyway. Air Staff will be looking out for you, remember?"

Stewart shakes his head stubbornly, his hand firmly clenched around the box in the pocket of his raincoat. "I'm going, and that's an end to it," he says. "All I need to know is the best way to do it. If you lot want to help me, fine, else I'll do it myself."

A short silence. Maddy looks down, biting her lip. Michael shoots her a look, almost of sympathy, that turns quickly to a scowl when Alan smothers a laugh. Another thought occurs to Ross. Peter Grey: what about him? They can do without another ex-agent charging in and making the mess worse.

"I know the Williams," Tanya offers hesitantly. "I don't know whether that'll do any good, but I will help you if you want me to."

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