The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
When Christ And His Saints Slept
11.45 am, Thursday 27th August 1998
Taylor gasps, her hands to her face, and rushes from her chair to the stricken Landesman. He stirs slightly at her touch, and she glances up into the flabbergasted audience, seeking help.
'Let me through, I'm a doctor!' barks Eric, dashing (as best he can) down to the front of the hall, shouldering aside a young man standing in the aisle. 'Call an ambulance!' he commands over his shoulder.
As Eric starts to loosen Landesman's clothing, Taylor continues to scan the crowd. She sees that all are staring ghoulishly at either her or Landesman himself: Belle-Marie, still very pale, is trying to push down to the front too, her face set and her spiky elbows working to good effect. The only face which leaves an odd impression in Taylor's mind is that of a fattish woman sat towards the back, who is staring at her quizzically rather than surprisedly. With a faint chill she realizes that it must be the woman who was sat next to Ned. As Taylor holds the woman's gaze, she smiles, rises and leaves the chamber.
'What the bloody hell happened?' demands Belle-Marie, grasping Taylor by the arm.
'Heavens, dear, I've no idea,' replies Taylor with concern. She turns back to the crowd, who are getting restive. 'Please, everybody, do try and remain calm. I'm sure everything will be fine.'
Landesman groans as Eric wafts smelling salts under his nose, and groggily moves his head.
'Mr Landesman? Can you hear me?' asks Eric, shining a small torch into the aura-reader's eye.
'I... I can hear you,' says Landesman shakily.
'There!' says Taylor brightly. 'Panic over!'
Ned, his leg aching, walks stiff-legged to the men's room and splashes water on his face. He looks at his reflection in the mirror and wonders what's the matter. 'Why am I reacting this way?' he thinks to himself. Outside, he hears loud talking and the sound of people moving quickly through the hallway. He ignores it as he continues to stare at his dripping image.
One of the cubicles flushes, and from it emerges Martin Keyes, adjusting his dress. He washes his hands vigorously and lengthily, occasionally glancing nervously at Ned in the mirror. He swallows convulsively while he dries them, and eventually says 'So, erm, are you enjoying the Congress so far?'
Ned jolts back to awareness of his surroundings 'Oh... er, yes, most interesting.' Who is this creep, he wonders to himself.
'Oh, ha-ha, yes, me too. Erm. So, erm, have you had much chance to try some of the pubs in town?' Keyes is sweating profusely at the effort of making conversation with a stranger.
'A couple, yeah - nice places,' says Ned non-committally, wondering where this is leading.
'A, er, a few of us were planning to get some drinks in the Turf Tavern before the walking tour starts - it's a very historic pub - very olde worlde - if you're interested?' Keyes is gabbling now. 'have a chat, get to know each other, you know, instead of just sitting in lecture theatres...!'
'Really? I'm not sure if I'm committed then, but I'll see,' says Ned.
Keyes flees in relief, wiping his hands on his trousers.
Ned, sighing, looks at his watch and notes that there's time before lunch for him to do a little researching through old student newspapers. The Bronze Age burial seemed especially interesting, but he hopes to find information on Jackley, Saunders and the Master as well. Drying his face, he leaves the bathroom and as he turns he notices a crowd gathering around the entrance to the lecture hall. Ned ignores it though and leaves the building, heading for Little Clarendon Street, where the student newspaper Cherwell has its offices.
Steven arrives at the door to the lecture theatre just as the commotion is subsiding. He stands there, gazing out across the scene, but sees no-one acting unusually - or any more so than is customary among these psychic enthusiasts.
'I think that'd better be it for this morning,' says Jackley, who has also appeared, drawn from whatever recess he had been inhabiting by the sounds of confusion. 'Poor Cosmo needs a bit of a lie down, I think - and a large whisky most likely. Let's adjourn this session, shall we, and see you all at lunch at Beaufort?'
Eric meanwhile has drawn Mary Gration, who was seated in the front row, aside. 'I'd be very interested to know what you make of this case, Dr Gration, in the light of your lecture earlier - I was sorry to have to miss that. My name is Alnes, by the way.'
Gration smiles lightly. 'It looks as though your own skills have been sufficient to avert the current crisis, Dr Alnes, but I'd certainly expect that a thorough examination and treatment of the patient according to Cabbalistic principles would shed some light on the deeper reasons behind his distress. And that of the young lady too, perhaps.'
'Healing the soul, you mean?' hazards Eric. 'I came across a rather interesting group recently - the Keepers of the Hidden Circles. Their concern is with clearing "occlusions" from the soul. They were backed by the same Tehuti body that funded this Congress.'
'Tehuti? I'm not familiar with it, I'm afraid. Well, if you'd attended my lecture, you'd know that our - the Sephiroth Centre's - thesis suggests it is inevitable that any body of learning must embody at least partial wisdom. All evolved religions have a doctrine of the soul, or something similar, and the concept of its sickness as distinct from and related to bodily sickness. In fact, of course, it is necessary that they must have, if they are to be at all in contact with the inner truth - and any religion or belief system that is to persist must have some such contact, or it would wither.'
'Is this "inner truth" then related to Jung's "collective unconscious"?' wonders Eric.
'Yes, very much so. Jung found a terminology suited to his own mystical Catholic background: we use terminology from the Jewish faith, but the same concepts are being addressed. Jung's later, less mechanistic work is quite valuable.' She gives Eric an appraising glance. 'Are you a scholar yourself, Dr Alnes, as well as a medical man?'
'I have read a certain amount,' replies Eric modestly. 'I would be interested to hear your thoughts on related concepts such as the oversoul, the Zeitgeist - their relation to the Sophia?'
Gration smiles. 'Ah, Dr Alnes, I see you've grasped the nub of the matter. The relation of concepts is inevitable when we seek to discuss truths. The Zeitgeist, for example...' and, still talking animatedly, she and Eric depart the lecture theatre, leading the still rather woozy Landesman.
Vera catches her breath, and offers to make good on her promise of lunch to Isobelle Kingston. 'Oh, my dear, I couldn't possibly go out in public right away, just after Aiwass has been,' says Kingston pallidly, and she orders a light lunch for them both to her suite. She clears away the crystal ball and to make room for the tray containing a green salad with dressing for each, finger sandwiches and a few cookies, an American brand that just launched a bakery in the UK, 'Famous Amos.' Vera saves two of the cookies in a paper napkin in her bag for Uncle Ned.
Vera begins to regain her composure. The idea of her parents being knocked off by 'evil doers' is hardly shocking. The police didn't pretend they died from natural causes. They simply could not find any clues that led anywhere. Because of her status as the primary owner of her parent's businesses, some information about Vera is available 'on the web.' The fact that she owns the firms and how she came to own them in particular. Is there really anything here that was said that strongly suggests a supernatural event has occurred?
Over lunch Vera repeats Kingston's, or rather Aiwass's, words to her.
'Interesting,' says Kingston slowly. 'You do seem to have rather an interesting background, my dear.'
'A little too interesting,' agrees Vera. 'I do have an Uncle Ned - you've met him - and we're travelling in the UK on business and pleasure. I do trust him, although he thinks his niece is a little crazy!'
'What about these "new associates"?' asks the medium.
'Oh, a group I've become involved with since taking over the business,' says Vera dismissively.
Kingston does not press her.
After a few moments of silence, as they each begin picking at their salads, Vera asks, 'Isobelle, I know you're tired but I'm curious about a few things. Who or what is Aiwass?'
'He's an ancient spirit, dear. A Persian, of the sixth century BC, we think. A Zoroastrian - they used to worship fire as the divine principle, you know. He was a priest in life, what they then called a Magian, and in death he's dedicated himself to helping spirits of the dead and the living get in touch. He's used other mediums before myself, of course, I'm just the latest in a long chain!' She laughs merrily.
'I'm impressed by the implications of some of what Aiwass said through you. Are many of the attendees, or even the conference presenters in your league? Do they have your kind of power in their respective fields?' Vera's eyes are wide.
'Well, as to that, dear, I wouldn't like to comment on other people's claims, or on their business practices. Even with the talent one can't always guarantee good results. There has to be a genuinely strong bond, and a wish to communicate from both sides. But yes, I think that many of the attenders here are gifted. We probably have the largest concentration of raw psychic power that's ever been seen!'
'If so, isn't there potential for a huge exercise of that power here?' asks Vera excitedly. 'How often has anyone managed to get a group like this together? Could someone try and change the world for good or ill through a concentration of occult power?'
'Oh, definitely, dear, this is the way you would do it. And of course dear Anita Rohinder's experiment tomorrow will demonstrate that: she expects to find immensely heightened telepathic powers.'
'Isobelle, I'd be being less than honest if I didn't say I was a sceptic. But I assume you've been involved in this supernatural world for years, I assume. Tell me a little about yourself. Have you been involved in any other organized groups related to being a medium, or psychic, or I don't know ... crop circles?!!' Vera laughs.
'Oh, well, my dear, that's not such a joke, you know. After all, "visitors" don't make crop circles just for amusement - they do so to communicate with us. Bus as they are alien in nature, their intentions are difficult to read. I was involved with a group of cerealogists - that's what they call themselves, dear - to carry out readings at the sites of new circles, to help decipher the instructions they contained. We managed to achieve some very good work - there were a series of messages describing realignments that were needed - before it came to an end.' A wistful look comes over her features.
As Landesman recovers, under Eric's watchful eye, both Belle-Marie and Taylor approach, eager to know what he saw in their auras. He pales at the sight of Taylor, then seems to steel himself, gritting his teeth.
'Oh, Mr Landesman, I'm so sorry about all that,' says Taylor, not sure for what she is apologising.
'Oh, no, not at all, you weren't to know - I don't suppose. It's not your fault. I should have guessed.'
'Guessed what, precisely?' asks Eric.
Landesman half-smiles. 'This young lady has been visited, if I'm not mistaken. There's a pattern of silver threads in her aura which I've seen before. It leads the mind inwards, and... as you saw. It's a wholly alien construction.'
'What?' exclaims Eric, despite himself. Belle-Marie too gasps in surprise.
Taylor, looking embarrassed, relates the bare facts about her 'abduction', and Landesman nods. 'This affects more people than you might think. You're the third I've come across - the other two were back in the US. Both similar experiences. What it all means, I've got no idea though.'
There is a pause for consideration, then Belle-Marie says nervously 'And, er, what about me, then? What did you see that you wouldn't say?'
Landesman smiles, relievedly. 'Well, it's good news, my girl, you'll be pleased to hear. I can see now you didn't know it yourself - but you're expecting a baby, child.'
'What?' Belle-Marie pales, sitting down hard. 'That can't be right, surely?'
'Oh, yes. I'm sure the doctor here will confirm it for you.'
'Yes, of course,' says Eric reassuringly.
'Not too far gone yet, I can see that. But not to worry about it, my girl, it may be hard going now but I can see you're a tough old bird, eh? You won't have any troubles, I shouldn't think. And you'll be a wonderful mother, I can see that clear as day.'
Belle-Marie, biting her lip, counts backwards in her mind. Good heavens, it might have been the first night with Daniel, she thinks. But... hold on. That could mean... oh, dear.
T.R. phones a friend of a friend, Jane Tate, a Californian archaeologist currently working at Oxford. They spend a few moments reminiscing about their mutual acquaintance Robert Terrero, Jane's old professor, before T.R. raises the subject of the Stanton Harcourt burial. Jane explains that many of the relics from it are in the Ashmolean Museum (others are in the British Museum in London), and she would be happy to meet with him and talk through what she knows about the site: she will even drive him out to see it, although it has now been built over and not much remains. They agree to meet late that afternoon, at 6.30, and T.R. promises to buy Jane dinner in thanks for her time.
Ned spends what remains of the time before lunch flicking through back issues of Cherwell, the weekly student newspaper. It is poorly archived and not indexed at all, and he has made little progress by the time his stomach starts to rumble.
On his way back to Beaufort, he encounters T.R., and they discuss the mysterious affair of the Zener cards.
'I got a set from Blackwell's, look,' says T.R., fanning the attractive cards out. 'There's several copies of each: I recognized your description of the symbols from a high school class I once took.' He smiles at the recollection.
T.R. darts on ahead as they reach Beaufort, and unobtrusively slips sets of the three symbols onto the dining-table at Jackley's and Michael Saunders's places.
Ned, meanwhile, dallies, and is caught by the mob of Congress delegates arriving from Zoology. A couple of them are talking about the Landesman incident, and Ned, alarmed, looks around for Vera - but she is nowhere to be seen.
He does, though, see Anita Rohinder approaching, and decides to confront her and ask her about the odd note. 'Anita!' He waves to her.
She slows her steps. 'Ned? How are you today?'
'Anita, I'm glad to see you. I enjoyed our time together during dinner last night.'
She nods gracefully.
'Thank you for your note, could you, um, tell me if there was, uh, anything specific you were trying to tell me?' He feels awkward and stupid raising the subject, but feels it's important to peg down the reasons if any for her strange note.
Her brow furrows slightly. 'Did you not understand it? Hmm. In that case I think I may have misidentified you, Ned.'
'What?' says Ned, puzzled. 'Do you mean it was some sort of recognition device, or something?'
'No, not at all, just a joke,' says Rohinder hurriedly, and she strides purposefully away, looking concerned.
Ned gazes after her, his mouth open, and then sees her strange companion approaching. 'Excuse me, madam... sir... whatever - can you tell me anything about what's going on here?' He is frustrated now, and feels that perhaps the time has come for a little more aggression. Time may be running out. He feels a twinge in his leg.
'If you don't know now, perhaps you never will,' says the woman - it definitely seems to be a woman now - with a mocking smile. 'Have you ever heard a knock at the door, then gone to answer it and found no-one there? Or have you ever torn open an envelope, only to find it empty? That's the fate of the ignorant man as he journeys through life. Wisdom consists in knowing alternative ways of discerning these things.'
Ned's leg suddenly gives way under him, and he slumps against the wall, his foot twitching spastically, a look of horror on his face.
'Anita thinks we should give up on you, but I don't know... you still have potential, I think,' says the woman, and she too briskly walks away.
Lunch is a fairly subdued affair in the wake of the morning's excitement. Landesman seems fine now: Eric has checked him over, and he is generally a healthy man apparently bearing no after-effects. Neither Michael nor Margaret Saunders is present, although Jackley and the Master both are. Jackley studies the cards in front of his plate in puzzlement, then shrugs and scoops them into his pocket, giving the impression of thinking no more about them.
After lunch the operatives group to discuss strategy. 'If we ever manage to develop one, I hope someone will tell me,' murmurs Steven.
'Well,' says Eric, 'I think our strategy is still to try to spread out and cover as many leads as possible. T.R. is concentrating on the school politics area, and will I assume look into the Bronze Age burial. Taylor, Belle-Marie and Vera are concentrating on the delegates and lecturers at the conference. Since Jackley has responded so well to you, Taylor, I think you should try to get more friendly with him. If you can gain access to his... confidence, it could be a big help for us.'
Taylor nods. 'I expect that now I'm going to be one of the most conspicuous people at the conference, so I might as well make the most of it. I can distract attention from what you others are doing, and possibly "flush out the game" so to speak. But apart from that, I think we need to have at least one party member at every presentation, but probably not more than two or three, with the others investigating elsewhere as needed. I'm still curious as to what might be going on at the agricultural conference, with regard to Saunders' speech and other matters.'
'I'll be taking that in,' says T.R.
'Good, and I'm still curious to see what matters are covered at the "Psychism in the News" speech, and how the audience reacts to them. I'm hoping Bernard will introduce me to Martin Thane, afterwards.'
'I was hoping to speak with him, too, earlier' says Ned.
'Yes,' says Eric. 'He could be useful in trying to uncover more information about the Psychic Times' withdrawal of sponsorship - why didn't Thane's people sponsor the Congress rather than the Psychic Times in the first place, since Jackley's remarks to Thane on the telephone suggest that they had been extended the opportunity? Expense, perhaps? Or something more ominous? After all, Thane wrote the articles about the Bronze Age burials and the crop circles. Try to pin him down: he might not be planning to stay at the conference after his lecture, while Chevrotain and the others seem to be here for the duration. And before that, whoever is at the N-Ray lecture should try to ask Mr Ulek about Dr Sherwood's notion that crop circles might be used to realign ancient monuments in accordance with the precession of the poles. Could dowsing be useful to detect anything about this alignment of the monuments with the stars, and perhaps about the way that the crop circles might impact these alignments? Could Ulek examine the areas around Oxford where the crop circles appeared in the 70s and determine if, just possibly, the appearance of the crop circles could have led anyone to the site where the Bronze Age burial was uncovered?'
T.R. raises an eyebrow while this extravagant theory is being propounded, but merely adds 'Ned, you should continue poking around for background info. You seem to be as much a target as an investigator: perhaps you should play on that and try to get more involved with Rohinder's group.'
Ned, scowling, munches a cherry cookie and says nothing.
As the operatives start to dissipate, Steven approaches Belle-Marie, who has been quietly twisting her fingers around one another, and says gently 'Hey - I am not good at this sort of thing, but if you need someone to talk to I am pretty good at listening...'
She smiles nervously at him. 'Listen, thanks, that's really kind of you. I might just take you up on that. But... listen, all of you -' the others pause in the doorway '- there's some stuff I ought to tell you. Personal stuff.'
All are agog as she continues, her face pale but determined. I've overcome heroin, know I've got to overcome this, she thinks to herself. I know I can do it... I've got Daniel now... 'Listen, I ought to let you all know. I think some of you might be a bit suspicious of me, so, here you go, I'm coming clean. My friend Daniel I've mentioned to you, well, he's my boyfriend actually - or my fiancé, I should say. And he's a SITU operative as well. We met on one of his investigations, in Sweden it was. I was... well, I was living there, I'd got myself into this situation, the guy I'd been with had died, and I had some work out there, right? It was on a lake, Lake Storsjon, I was working the boats. And there was this other guy, kinda creepy he was, name of Louie Lakersson, and he was a bit sweet on me it turned out. And he got angry when Daniel and his friends turned up, and we got on well. And he tried to poison Daniel with sleeping pills - anyway, that's not really important, but that shows you the kind of guy he was, OK? This is the difficult bit.'
She swallows, pressing her hands to her sides, and Taylor smiles encouragingly at her. 'Well, this fellow Louie, he was a bit special, right? He was - I don't know, this is going to sound really stupid - well, might as well just out an' say it, girl - he was in contact with this spirit that lived in the lake - a thing called a Nykk. Big evil thing. And she was causing all sorts of trouble with the weather and all, and there were these big water-snakes called lindorns that were going around eating people... anyway it came down to Louis had captured me and Daniel and he was going to give Daniel to the Nykk, and he threw him overboard all tied up an that, and if it hadn't been for Daniel's friend Mal being a good swimmer and pulling him out, and then this other fellow Gerard was going to shoot Louis with a harpoon - but not in time to stop the Nykk coming up out of the lake, and she ate him down in one bite - dear Lord, I wish I hadn't have seen that bit... anyways, so, there you go, that's my story. Now you all know why I'm as mad as a hatter.' She grins weakly.
After lunch, Vera dashes by the dress shop on the way back to the conference. The sales lady looks rather stiff, but quickly finds just the right look for Vera. It's red. It's just a little off the shoulder and short. It clings. It's perfect. It has a silver chain-mail-styled belt and a large, but not too heavy silver crucifix that hangs rather low. The sales lady advises her to wear her hair down and not to wear too much jewellery, perhaps just some diamond earrings. Shoes? Black heels please. Vera has it sent to her hotel and runs hell-bent-for-leather to the Congress.
She arrives, panting, at 1.30, only to realize that she still has half an hour before the next lecture starts. So she has time to seek out god-forsaken Martin Keyes. He should still be intimidated from their last tête-à-tête. Nevertheless, she puts on her 'threatening scowl.'
Keyes, lurking about the coffee machine, looks alarmed as Vera approaches, but she traps him in a corner and relays to him what 'Aiwass' suggested. '"He should look underneath the top drawer in the study. There is something there of value to him." That's what he said.'
Keyes goggles at her.
'I'm serious!' Vera tells him. 'You don't think I'd make this up, do you? You have a look, and tell me what you find. I've stuck my neck out for you. Just tell me as soon as you can, or tonight at the dinner, or during the tour.'
'Well, it'll-it'll take me a little while to get down to Southampton and check,' says Keyes excitedly. 'If I leave now I can be back here by evening, most probably. Can I meet you for a drink later and talk about it?'
'No, you cannot,' says Vera firmly.
It takes a brief hunt for Steven to find Martin Dirkheim, who has an office across the corridor from his boss Professor Saunders. Dirkheim is a thin, intense young man, with long, floppy fair hair and a scruffy tweed suit. He seems very flustered.
'I nearly got shut in the computer room last night,' says Steven conversationally.
Dirkheim starts and drops the pile of papers he is moving from one corner of his desk to another. 'Really? Sorry to hear it, Mr... that really is a shame. Now, as you can see, I'm rather busy - can I help you in any other way?'
'I just wondered whether, if you were here at that time, you saw or heard anything,' says Steven.
'I'm sorry, I was at home, I'm afraid,' says Dirkheim hastily. 'Knocked off early last night. Can't help you, I'm afraid. It was probably just the night-porter doing his rounds, eh?
'Maybe,' says Steven rather coolly. He bids Dirkheim farewell and goes down the corridor to the computer room, where he finds a message waiting for him from Mike Burgin of SITU - using a Hotmail account.
Dear Operative Smith, enclosed find details of recent investigation in Egypt - note contains links to Isobelle Kingston - potentially useful character. Also explanation of CPRG debacle. Included are contact details of SITU operatives responsible - contact them directly for more information.
From : K S Pyke
To: Operatives: Isobel Blyth, Edmund Davies, Celestina Mirande, John Stone, Michael Thomas, John Torillo, Wotan Andrew Weiser
Subject: Pyramid of Khentkaus
Rendezvous: Heathrow airport, 0730 hours, 8 March 1998
Destination: Giza, Egypt. Giza is a suburb of Cairo best known for the Old Kingdom funerary complex centring about the pyramids of Khufu, Khephren and Menkaure, and the Great Sphinx. You will be staying in the Cairo Hilton, two miles from the site.
Travel arrangements: you have been booked on British Airways flight BA715 to Cairo. The return leg has been left open as to date. You will be met at Cairo airport by the hotel's courtesy bus.
Cover: you are posing as agents of an academic charity, the Davina Millhouse Trust. The Trust (a fictitious body) is considering funding the archaeological research work of Professor Sonia Bird's group, currently studying the pyramid of Khentkaus. Our assessment is that Professor Bird's straitened grant circumstances will lead to her welcoming representatives of such a funding body. This story will be confirmed on contacting the 'Trust' at 16-18 Boundary Row, London SE1 8HN, tel / fax 0171 865 0088, SITU's cover address for this investigation.
Historical: Khufu (reigned approx 2551-2528 BCE), also known as Cheops, was the most important pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty: believed to be the son of Snofru, the dynasty's founder, he campaigned successfully in Nubia and in modern-day Syria and left behind the monument known as the Great Pyramid, to which his descendants added lesser structures. Khentkaus was one of his senior queens, who died in approx 2535 BC: hers is the smallest of the three queens' pyramids that stand beside the causeway leading to the presumed site of his valley temple.
Archaeological: the pyramid of Khentkaus has stood empty of goods since the First Intermediate Period, thanks to the depredations of tomb-robbers. Archaeological work has centred on the translation of the inscriptions within its chambers. Professor Bird's group are currently engaged in exploring the air-shafts of the pyramid using a robot video camera: there is a possibility that this work will also reveal further chambers.
The robot was first introduced into the complex of air-shafts on 2 March 1998. On 8 March a fault was experienced which led to its failure, and the Bird group have since been concentrating their efforts on attempting to recover it. One possible method would involve sending in another robot with a magnetic or other grapple attached, for which the group would require additional funding: this might prove a suitable angle of pressure for the SITU team.
Professor Bird is attached to the University of Oxford Archaeological Unit, and currently has a team of six: herself, Drs M Matthews, W van Heuvelen and M Chenevix, and graduate students H Challis and J Tate. There are also no doubt various local assistants.
Other: in March 1997 Yorkshire-based science fiction author Ben Foster experienced what was interpreted by witnesses as an abduction episode while camping in the Giza complex (reported by SITU operative Russell Osbourne). Foster's disappearance was accompanied by a bright light, as was his reappearance 28 hours later - a circle of sand around him was also melted to black glass. Operative Osbourne reports that Foster had no memory of the episode. We have reason to believe that Foster has recently been back in Cairo purportedly researching for a new novel.
a) to establish the reason for the Bird group's robot's failure
b) to inspect any video footage available after its recovery
c) to assess and evaluate any 'occult' influences present at the site
d) to gather and assess further information regarding Ben Foster's 'abduction' and his subsequent activities in Cairo
Political climate: Operatives should be aware that the terrorist menace in Egypt is growing, and that tourist sites such as the Giza complex are being targeted. Operatives should conduct themselves with care, and in particular avoid giving offence, by word, action or dress, to the devout Muslims who form the backbone of support for the Islamic Brotherhood terror organization.
Expenses: SITU will reimburse Operatives for all reasonable expenses incurred during the investigation. Receipts will be required.
General advice: All operatives should be aware that, while they may choose to operate outside the law, they are not above it. SITU does not condone unlawful activity of any nature. Note that SITU will not act on the behalf of an Operative who is cautioned, arrested, charged, etc in the course of an investigation. Indeed, if an Operative were to attempt to contact SITU in such a situation, he/she would find all telephone numbers unobtainable and all addresses unoccupied.
Dawn Chamberlain (Isobel Blyth)
Dave Cooksey (John Stone)
2 Pemerton Road
Dale Else (Eddie Davies)
66 St Catherine Street
Mia Hart-Allison (Celestina Mirande)
3 Nelson Square
STOCKTON ON TEES
Derek Hawthorne (Micky Thomas)
4 Hardman Street
Geir Kaare Opheim (Wotan Andrew Weiser)
FP 110 Cheeba
0020 Oslo avg. utl.
Tony Roberts (John Torillo)
24 Clarke Crescent
From : K S Pyke, Debrief / 295
To: Operatives: Isobel Blyth, Edmund Davies, Celestina Mirande, John Stone, Michael Thomas, Wotan Andrew Weiser
Subject: Pyramid of Khentkaus
Congratulations to all operatives on their stern resistance to an extremely serious threat. The information your investigation has provided demonstrates clearly that Egypt is one of the most important nexuses of enemy activity.
You succeeded in the terms of your initial briefing, establishing the problem with the Bird robot and inspecting its video, and gained us a good deal of interesting information on the history of Egypt as it relates to our concerns - not all of our interpretation is available to all of you at your current security clearance, although it may be later. Your report on Ben Foster was also of great interest and fits well into a picture of alien activity which we are gradually building up.
By far the most significant point, though, is your report on Abdel Essawi - a man who has given us much trouble in the past - and the occult / magical powers set around Giza. It is clear that future SITU activity in Egypt will demand considerably greater security and precautions against a well-entrenched foe.
Aftermath: the Egyptian government has ascribed the destruction of the pyramid of Khentkaus to terrorist activity. Political instability in Cairo seems likely to continue or worsen.
Willem van Heuvelen: thank you for bringing this man back to us, Operative Stone. Use of hypnotic techniques have proved very fruitful, and we are sure that he has more information that will be of use to us. He is currently residing in a secure establishment, receiving treatment for his paranoid schizophrenia.
Abdel Essawi: the information you have brought back about this individual allows us more fully to map out his powers. He is clearly influential in government and rebel circles, as well as evidencing magical powers. The details of the sign on his forehead are highly revealing. We must regard him as a highly placed and extremely dangerous enemy agent, but you may have given us some ammunition to use against him. We believe that the powers he displays are largely not his, but his mistress's - Khentkaus and Nefertiti are just two of the names she has used.
Haremakhet and Hetepheres: your report suggests that these two discorporate spirits were blasted out of existence with the destruction of the obelisk. This is unfortunate, a they may have represented a potent counter to the enemy holding in Egypt, but it is unlikely that SITU could have worked with them: from your description of Haremakhet, he sounds highly unstable and motivated largely by vengeance and megalomania.
Professor John Torillo: this operative seems to bear no ill-effects from his ordeal of possession, but SITU regard him as compromised and have suspended him from active duty.
Professor Bird's group: their licence to excavate at Giza has been withdrawn by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and they have returned to Oxford. The early results which they have so far been able to publish have caused something of a stir in the Egyptological world.
The Circles Phenomenon Research Group: we have looked into this group's background, and assess them as essentially innocent and unthreatening. It seems likely that they were initially simply trying to realign the pyramid as claimed - as to the merits or practicality of this exercise, SITU currently has no opinion. It was their misfortune to first fall under the influence of Essawi, who offered them the powered obelisk from Branston Hall to aid their rituals - we imagine that the prayers he also supplied were to serve some secret purpose of his mistress - and then under the influence of Haremakhet, who supplied further prayers designed to free Hetepheres. (It is extremely fortunate that the team were alert to the dangers of Operative Blyth being used as a vessel for this spirit. To have one operative possessed by a Fourth Dynasty ghost might be put down to misfortune: to have two so possessed would look very much like carelessness.)
The Group has now broken up. Sherwood, shaken by his ordeal and greatly weakened - we surmise that Haremakhet drew off a good deal of his life-force to help embody Hetepheres - has retired from activity to write books on his obsession. Pope has returned to his duties at the UK Ministry of Defence. Presley is still sponsoring a range of crop circle groups. Kingston is working as a medium: she may prove a useful contact for SITU in the future, thanks to the bond Operative Blyth has formed with her.
Ben Foster: we are monitoring this individual closely. We are still unsure as to which faction he serves, if any. He is clearly an important figure, but it is not clear exactly why.
Wasim, Sarfraz and Mahmoud: these lowly locals may prove useful contacts for future operatives travelling to Cairo. We retain their details on file.
Wafic Said: a more powerful potential ally, SITU is contacting him with the aid to purchasing his services.
Ned, waiting in the lobby as the delegates file into Gottfried Ulek's lecture (there are notably rather fewer than there were for the morning session), sees Jackley start forward to greet a distinguished-looking middle-aged gentleman with luxuriant snow-white hair, a green crushed velvet smoking jacket and an amber-topped walking stick. 'Martin, my dear fellow! So glad you could make it. Come in, here, take a seat, why don't you - I'll fetch you a drink. Brandy? Of course!'
While Jackley bustles off, Ned approaches the fellow. 'Mr Thane? my name is Ned Numenor, I write for a monthly magazine that's published in the United States - we're doing a feature on the conference. Could I have a few minutes of your time?'
Thane sighs. 'Of course, my dear fellow, of course.' His voice is rich, fruity and sonorous. 'Please do keep it brief, though, there's a good chap, I still have a little preparation to do for my talk.' Lighting a cigarillo, he explains that he has been interested in matters psychic since his early youth. An aunt claimed to be sensitive to ghosts, and he himself saw one when on holiday at Bakewell, in Derbyshire. He has known Jackley for many years, since the early 80s, when Jackley first started making a real name for himself as a performer. He is acquainted with most of the other speakers, although knows none of the well apart from Mary Gration.'
'Can you tell me anything about Tehuti, and why the Psychic Times decided not to sponsor the conference?'
'Ah, thereby hangs a tale, dear boy, doubt it not!' Thane taps his veined nose with one nicotine-stained finger. 'Warned off, I shouldn't doubt. Perhaps this Tehuti group pushed them out of the way, eh? Only Sarah Vaughan would know for sure, and she's a close-mouthed woman. As for Tehuti, they're funded by City people, that's all I know. Very mysterious group!'
'I've read your articles on the discovery during the 1970s of a Bronze Age burial at Stanton Harcourt. Fascinating topic, and excellent reporting. Can you tell me more about this discovery?'
Thane chuckles warmly. 'That old story! My goodness, I was but a mere pup at the time, still wet behind the ears. To be honest I can't remember much of the detail - some very solid archaeology, and against the clock, because the developers wanted to start work - the dig was on a building site which had uncovered the tip of the burial, you see, so the archaeologists only had four weeks. And without my newspaper reports raising public attention it would have been less time than that, I dare say. At that time, though, I was forever out on stories of some sort, all over the county - I had some energy in those days, I can tell you! - can't remember anything particularly notable about that one. The archaeologists got very excited, but no occult significance, if that's what's biting you! Nothing relevant to today's proceedings.'
Ned nods, making notes. 'What can you tell me about Jackley and his relationship to the Master, if any?'
'Ah, well!' Thane's eyes sparkle. But just at that moment Jackley himself returns from the bar, clutching a huge brandy, and Thane clams up firmly. 'Ah, Bernard, dear fellow. Just been chatting with this delightful American gentleman, but now I really must get some notes made for the talk.'
'Yes, indeed,' says Jackley, glaring at Ned as he excuses himself.
With Steven's help, Eric has established that the Saunderses live in Iffley, not far from the Hawkwell House. He drives back out of town, and parks in the street outside: it is a large, foursquare Georgian building, one face covered in clematis, set back in an acre or so of ground. The Thames runs close by.
Eric rings persistently on the doorbell, but it is some time before it is answered. Margaret Saunders opens the door, dressed in a towelling housecoat, her feet in slightly incongruous hedgehog slippers. She sways slightly, and says in surprise 'Dr Alnes! How nice to see you! You'll have to excuse the... won't you please come in?'
Eric is immediately able to tell that she is still partly under the effects of tranquillizers, presumably taken last night to help her sleep. 'Is your husband at home?' He knows perfectly well that Saunders is supposed to be addressing the National Farmers' Union conference at the moment.
'Michael? Oh, no - I'm so sorry, Dr Alnes. If you've come to see him, you've had a wasted journey. He's not been at home today.' She leads him through into a dreadfully untidy kitchen, and starts making tea. 'Been out since last night, as a matter of fact.'
'No, not at all,' says Eric. 'The pleasure of your own company is more than sufficient reason.' He bows slightly. 'I was hoping to speak with you about our mutual acquaintance Bernard Jackley.'
'Bernard? You know him? Oh, yes, of course you do. Lovely man. He and I were students together, did you know?'
'I believe he interrupted his studies - was there a reason?'
'Oh. Yes, that's right. No, it was... well, it was a long time ago, wasn't it? Well, things went... you know, and he was rather... not happy here. I don't know, it's not really something I think I should talk about. I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you himself.'
'Were you, or he, or your husband, involved in the discoveries of the crop circles at that time, and the Bronze Age burial at Stanton Harcourt?'
She looks at him blankly. 'What? No, sorry, I don't know what you mean, at all. Crop circles? Did they exist back then? I really can't remember... and the burial thing, who got buried? Oh yes. No, none of us were really very interested in history then. Mind you, it's all history now, isn't it?' She laughs lightly.
'What it was that prompted your husband to go into the field of the economics of farming, then?' probes Eric.
'Oh, goodness knows. Michael was always interested in that sort of... he is interested in it, I mean - his family were on the land themselves, out in Norfolk - lovely people - his mother, anyway. Both passed on now, I'm afraid. But, you know, economics, it's mostly the City people go into, and that wouldn't have suited Michael.'
At that point there is a knock on the door. While Margaret goes to answer it, Eric steals a quick look around the living-room. There are a number of pictures of her and Michael Saunders, including one old one including people who might well be younger versions of Jackley and the Master. There are none of any children. Then, glancing out of the window, he sees that a police car is parked on the drive.
There is a gasp from the hallway. 'What? Michael...?'
Eric moves purposefully towards the front door, to find Margaret being escorted back to the living-room by two policewomen. They look at him inquisitively.
'Er, I'm a friend of Mrs Saunders. Is there some sort of trouble, officer?'
'I'm going to have to ask you to leave, I'm afraid, sir. We need to speak with Mrs Saunders.'
'Can I just wait out here? She might need medical attention... I'm a doctor, you see.'
'No, sir, thank you, we have a police doctor with us in the car. If you can just move along now, sir, I'm sure Mrs Saunders will be in touch with you shortly.'
And Eric is ushered gently but firmly out of the house, glancing worriedly back over his shoulder to where the other policewoman is sitting Margaret down. Margaret's face is distraught, and she is silently mouthing 'Michael! Michael!'
As Eric walks slowly away from the house, a red Jaguar pulls up, and from it emerge two policemen in plain clothes, one a middle-aged man in a raincoat, the other younger, with a harried expression. They too enter the house, looking purposeful.
Steven has logged back on to the Beaufort College computers, and downloads another big wodge of material - old Mratin Thane articles. It seems Thane has preserved a roving brief in his work for the Fortean Times, which he has served for fifteen years now: a bewildering array of material is covered.
He also establishes that Not too much in the way of public records is available online. No electoral rolls or billing data. There are records of planning permissions and other local authority transactions, but only for the past five years or so. Compared with communities in California, Oxford is not very thoroughly wired.
Sighing, he sets himself to pursuing all the tenuous Tehuti links that he has. After an hour or so, he has managed to identify two names of persons almost certainly involved in its higher echelons: Henry Blyth and Edward Lloyd. Both are resident in Surrey and hold a number of non-executive directorships in the City.
The farming conference is very different in character from the ICIP: for one thing, almost all the delegates are male, and with a healthy vigour about them rather than the unearthly pallor T.R. has got used to; and for another, the Examination Schools is a considerably more atmospheric venue. It is a rococo affair, with sweeping marble staircases, ornate mouldings on every surface, and gigantic portraits of obscure Victorians scattered about the walls. The farmers look more than a little out of place.
At the moment, as T.R. takes his seat in the press gallery, there is something of a hubbub, as the announced speaker, Professor Michael Saunders of the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, has not appeared to start his lecture. After ten minutes or so of mildly expectant confusion a red-faced man jumps up to the podium and says 'Ladies and gentlemen, our sincere apologies, but Professor Saunders can't be with us today - for some reason - so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with me again.' From the good-natured groans, T.R. guesses that this fellow is well known. 'Now, yesterday we were talking about the new genetically-engineered forage maize that's in trial at the moment, so, going back to that area, I can tell you something about a new intensive barley that's being developed.'
T.R. looks at his watch, realizing he has to meet Marion Sochacki shortly, and guesses that there is little to be gained by staying here. As he rises to leave he hears one of the other journalists say to another 'Pity Saunders couldn't make it, I'd heard a whisper he was going to set the cat among the pigeons!'
'How d'you mean?'
'Well, I've only heard a whisper, but you know he's on the Rowney Commission - well, they do say he's in disagreement with their conclusions, and he's got his own opinions on the matter.'
'Not so keen on the new tech as old Rowney is, eh? Well, well: that could have been interesting, you're right. Guess he got cold feet about it. Don't blame him - this lot can get pretty rowdy if they don't like a speaker's message!'
T.R.'s ears are fully pricked up and he is eager to learn more, but he can hardly avoid being late to meet Marion Sochacki if he stays to inquire.