The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

When Christ And His Saints Slept

12.35 pm, Friday 28th August 1998

'My God - what happened? I came as soon as I felt the shock.'

'An excellent question, Mr Blyth,' says Steven calmly. 'I believe things started off and went OK for the first fifteen minutes then, with a nod from Mr Lloyd, Dr Rohinder took out a black velvet bag and took from it a set of cards spread them on the table, their presence seemed to send a jolt of power through the room. She displayed the star symbol as the next card for the senders to concentrate on - Mr Blyth, if everything had worked right what was supposed to happen? What should we have seen? What level of power were you expecting to tap into?'

Blyth wipes his forehead, looking around himself, trying to take in the scene. 'God, nothing like this, that's for sure. We were expecting a psychic flux - a considerable one, yes, but... well, what you should have seen was that the set of cards from the bag started to glow... the idea is that there would have been a big psychic flux from the one group to the other, and back again, along with the transmitted image, and the set of cards were to tap that off and accumulate it. So they'd be psychic capacitors, you might say. But they should never have even got too hot to touch, let alone this...'

'The star image apparently compelled the attention of many looking at the card and those receiving that image,' Steven continues. 'A tremendous amount of heat was transmitted to Lecture Theatre C where the receivers were. On the TV monitor we could see them in pain. Dr Rohinder looked to Mr Lloyd, both were shocked and Mr Lloyd told everyone to stop concentrating. T.R. pulled the plug on the TV equipment. Ned was burnt touching the red hot cards, and the table they were on was smouldering. Gulo smashed the TV equipment in Lecture Theatre C and was destroyed by the heat.'

'Gulo was destroyed? Bugger! We won't be able to make another one of those in a hurry. Sorry, go on, I need to know exactly what happened.'

'The fire sprinklers went off in both rooms. The cards were glowing as bright as the sun, but Ned managed to sweep them off the table. Dr Rohinder tried something magical I guess, and Mr Lloyd went up front to help, but the cards were now as hot as a furnace. Several people in Lecture Theatre C including Cosmo Landesman burst into flames; Eric and four others had heart attacks. The water from the sprinklers seems to have no effect on the fire or the heat. Back in Lecture Theatre B there was a high keening noise, which raced up the scale to the point of inaudibility. Then there was a series of sharp, flat detonations as the five Zener cards, in quick succession, exploded, in a fountain of energy. There was a terrifically strong smell of sulphur. Those under the compulsion of the star image were free.'

Blyth nods, sitting down. 'It sounds like the psychic flux was far greater than we were expecting. The pain the people in the other room were feeling, and the overload that caused their spontaneous combustion - we weren't expecting that much power to be flowing. And in the same way it overloaded poor Landesman - he was highly sensitive, of course - it overloaded the cards themselves, and they blew, breaking the psychic circuit, thank goodness.'

'You seem to have the power raising bit down pat,' says Steven. 'Your containment and control look as if they need a little work though.' Blyth looks painedly at him. 'Sorry, that was cruel and I really don't know enough to blame you and your friends yet. We need to work together to figure out what happened and what went wrong and why.'

Blyth grimaces. 'Well, we were breaking new ground here, an experiment on this scale, so much psychic capability gathered together. We'd tried it in miniature, of course, and got perfectly controllable power levels. But this... it's as though there was some huge positive feedback loop. Or as though the flux level scales exponentially, rather than linearly.'

Steven has only the vaguest idea of what he means, but at least this sounds like reasoned scientific talk, not occult babbling. 'The injured have been taken to John Radcliffe Hospital. Mr Lloyd and Dr Rohinder were badly burnt; he was weak and very pale, and Dr Rohinder seemed catatonic.'

'That would be when Gulo went down. She had a strong link to it, and part of her anima will have been shut down when it was destroyed. It's very dangerous having your homunculus killed - like a familiar, almost.' He looks up at Steven. 'She'll be all right in a couple of weeks, once she's re-integrated. Probably.' He stands up, looking rather hunched compared with his normal broad-shouldered demeanour. 'I'm going to head up there now, see how Edward is. Give me a call if anything comes up - I'll probably be back here in a couple of hours.'

Steven is looking thoughtful. 'What's your view on this, Mr Blyth? Was this just a botched experiment, or was it sabotaged or taken over by something or just overwhelmed by too much power?'

Blyth sighs. 'I don't think it was sabotage... although we shouldn't rule that out... but I can't see how it could be, really. We're pretty sure no-one knew what we were intending. We're not quite as poorly-secured as you SITU folk, you know!'

Steven nods. 'I'll stick with you, if you don't mind.' He accompanies Blyth out of the Department.

Vera has taken a few moments to wander back through the lecture theatres. While the police have put up 'Keep Out' signs, they are not being enforced. Participants in the 'experiment' are allowed to return to collect belongings such as pocket books and are allowed to leave after a brief check by uniformed officers. Vera walks by the overturned chairs, past the occasional pile of very damp, almost muddy ashes to the stage where Rohinder and the cards were located.

'I did nothing,' she mumbles to herself. 'Well not any more.'

She strides back to the lounge where Blyth and Steven are heading for the door. She grips Blyth's arm, turns him around and slaps him. He is knocked flat to the floor, and lies there, massaging the red handprint that has appeared on his cheek.

Vera steps across him and pulls his face up to her face. 'Answer all his questions fully,' she hisses. 'Tell him everything about your stupid club and your kamikaze card weapon and why you thought you could be trusted with it, or I will take days to beat the answers out of you.'

With that she stalks off once more, leaving Steven to help Blyth back to his feet, still rubbing his face, where the outline of Vera's palm is now white.

T.R.'s expression as he surveys the wreckage of the lecture rooms is grim, but controlled. He has no idea if he just witnessed a paranormal event or simply a hoax that got out of hand. However, for the present, it does not really make any difference to him - either way, he has to find out what the people at the conference know about it and who was responsible.

He approaches Vera, and says quietly 'Well, do you want to call SITU and chew them out or should I?'

'I'm busy,' she says, and she strides off once more, heading for Mary Gration, who turns half towards her, putting her hands on her knees, calmly awaiting her approach.

'Well, I guess it would make more sense for one of the injured people to call them,' T.R. says to himself.

At this point Bernard Jackley appears, running in through the doorway of the Department. He ignores T.R., Vera, Gration and indeed everyone else, instead making straight for where Taylor is sitting huddled in a blanket.

He seizes her hands in his, and she gazes up vacantly at him for a moment, before her vision clears. 'Oh... Bernard!'

'Taylor, my God, are you all right?' He stares deep into her blinking eyes. 'It must have been terrible for you!'

Taylor regains her composure enough to realize that she is in a dreadful state, bedraggled and covered with ash and foam. 'Oh... just look at me! Bernard, I'm going to have to go and fix myself up. I'll only be a minute.'

As she walks slightly unsteadily towards the nearest Ladies, Jackley hunches in the seat she has vacated, looking woebegone.

T.R., who has witnessed this touching scene with wry amusement, comes to sit down next to Jackley, who regards him blankly for a moment before smiling. 'Glad to see you're OK, Mr Warren.'

'I could say the same of you,' agrees T.R. 'Now, would you mind answering a few questions for me?'

Jackley spreads his hands weakly, with no apparent will to resist T.R.'s relentless probing. It seems he has now been told what happened, although he himself was back at Beaufort, meeting with Marje Criss about settling the accommodation account. He had a terrible feeling that something was wrong. 'I get them sometimes... you know. Like a premonition. And it's always something like this - something terrible. But this was the worst yet.' It had not occurred to him that the disaster might have been sabotage, and he looks quite pale when T.R. raises the possibility. 'Sabotage? By who? Why? How?' It really seems to T.R. that Jackley is more in the dark than even the investigators about the Trismegistus Club and its doings - he makes no reaction at the mention of their name. 'Who are they?' He does not know that Rohinder had any affiliations other than her academic one, and knew nothing of any secret purpose to the experiment. When T.R. asks if he plans to hold any more Congresses, he looks rather defeated. 'I don't think so, do you? I can see that bookings might be down a bit next year.' He smiles weakly.

Finally, as T.R. sees Taylor approaching, looking much more presentable and with a new pair of earrings on, he asks 'Do you think this incident had any thing to do with Michael Saunders's death?'

Jackley looks at him blankly. 'I don't see how it possibly could!

'How are the others?' Taylor asks T.R. worriedly.

He fills her in on their states as best he knows them. 'I think we should meet up at the hospital later. But I've got some people to see before then.'

'And you're not going anywhere, young lady!' says Jackley worriedly. 'Doctor Jackley prescribes a big cup of coffee and some rest!'

T.R., grinning inwardly, walks away as Taylor allows Jackley to lead her back to her seat.

In the car, Steven has told Henry Blyth about his conversation with Edward Lloyd that morning, and what Lloyd said about Vera.

Blyth nods. 'Yes, she's a remarkable specimen. But you don't get anything that good for free. They should have known that. I thought they were more sensible than that.'

Steven is surprised. 'Did you know them, then? Vera's parents?'

'Oh, yes,' says Blyth, surprised himself. 'They worked for us. Didn't she tell you? They managed one of our front organizations.'

'Then where does... "The dark lord Celebrax, Prince of Blades"... fit in?' asks Steven.

Blyth sighs. 'There are any number of dark entities like that. They must have attracted its attention when they carried out the ritual to conceive her. Probably what happened was it offered them the power to make it work - to make sure they had a baby like they wanted, like her - and they accepted. Not realizing what the price would be.'

'And that price was...?'

'Eternal damnation. Are you familiar with the story of Dr Faustus, Mr Smith? Such power never comes for free. And I'm sure you know which road it is that is paved with good intentions.'

'What about the baby?' asks Belle-Marie anxiously. 'Can you... I don't know, do any checks? To make sure it's all right?'

Nurses fuss around her with ultrasound equipment for a brief space, before a doctor peers carefully at the image on the screen. 'Heart function is normal. No unusual movements. I'd say it's fine, Miss Prior.'

'Thank the Lord for that!' says Belle-Marie. Then a thought strikes her. 'On that thing - can you tell if, you know, if it's all right? I mean, not from the fire, but all right in general - you know?'

The doctor regards her kindly. 'I'm afraid it's too early to say, Miss Prior. It's still very small, and they all look very similar at this stage.'

Once the bustle around her has abated, Belle-Marie asks for a phone and calls Daniel. After a few murmured endearments and a brief account of what has happened, she tells him to ask SITU for an account of the events - to see whether what they tell him is any different from the truth.

Vera believes those who suffered the most were those with more psychic abilities, so Mary Gration would appear to be a non-factor in that regard. She approaches the professor and asks some questions quietly, avoiding eye contact. 'When we talked before the experiment you said you wanted to talk with me about some 'things' at the Sephiroth Centre. I didn't know there was such a place or group. Isn't that part of Jewish mysticism, as in the ten circles of creation? Does that have any bearing on what happened?'

Gration answers in a whisper, 'You weren't paying much attention at my lecture, were you? I didn't think so. The Sephiroth Centre is where I work - we use the Cabbala, the great Jewish mystical work, to try and heal psychic ills. It might possibly be able to help with this.' She gestures around her, then catches Vera's gaze. 'I'm not after what you think. Not really. Not now.'

Vera changes her stance, voice and holds the eye contact. 'Did you have anything to do with the hell that broke out here, Mary? You seem rather out of place here. You're a bit like Jackley. You're a believer with apparently no supernatural ability. In fact that makes you and Jackley a bit like Blyth. I know I don't like or trust Blyth. I don't trust Jackley. Why do I see a pattern here, Mary?' Vera's mouth is holding a sort of menacing smile and her muscles are tensed, her breathing level.

Gration sighs. 'I can't help what or who you do or don't like, Vera. I assure you that I had nothing to do with this - it was just as much of a shock to me as it was to you. Possibly more so. I've never claimed to have any supernatural ability. Thank goodness - it's more often a curse than a blessing, I think.'

'Tell me what you find interesting about me. Tell me about the Sephiroth Centre. And tell me everything about the Trismegistus Club. Did you know about their plans for this experiment?'

'No - I suppose it was something that poor Anita cooked up with them. They're always after power, that group. It's one of their less appealing attributes. And here it seems to have backfired on them.' She smiles gently. 'I - we, my people - believe that the forces of nature are there to be used, not mastered. We are all part of the same dynamic, the same flow, and to try to rise above it instead of flowing with it is hard work. As for you - you're a remarkable person, Vera. I don't know how much you know about your early childhood -' she pauses, waiting for Vera to give her some indication, but when none comes continues '- but it must have been... unusual. Your parents must have loved you very much. It's a dreadful pity that they didn't live to tell you what they had planned for you when you grew up.'

Vera grinds her teeth silently. Another way her parents have let her down? 'Where does Jackley fit in to all this?'

'Bernard? Poor dear, he doesn't really. He just wanted to have a nice little talking-shop and make people like him. Poor Bernard, the thing is I don't think he really believes in the "supernatural", whatever that is. Because he's a showman himself - in the nicest possible way - he thinks everyone else must be too. I don't think he believes even in his own abilities, such as they are.'

In the Radcliffe Hospital gift shop, Ned hands the clerk money for a fresh box of Genuine Eccles Cakes and hurries out of the hospital. He pointedly ignores the hulking figure of Francis, the hospital orderly. As Ned departs, Francis stands at the exit waving goodbye... somewhat forlornly it seems.

With the smell of burning flesh in his nostrils, Ned rushes back to his hotel room at Hawkwell House for a desperately-needed shower. He stops at the front desk to check for messages.

'Mr Numenor? Here you are - this came through last night. From America!'

It is a note from Fritz Corrigan, the legal chief of Vera's company. 'Confirm Isaac and Dora Keyes employees UK operation, died in car crash - empty road. Police baffled. Husband and wife teams policy of Miss Goodchild's late parents. None of Kingston, Gration or Jackley ever on payroll or retained in any capacity.'

Ned scratches his jaw thoughtfully. What that all means, who can say. Presumably Vera will understand. Finally back in his room, he showers and changes clothes - thankfully his Miami Marlins cap was not lost, though its brim is singed a bit and the Marlins insignia is marked by soot. 'That damned Alnes,' Ned mumbles as he sits down with pen, paper and a few cookies to compose two notes, 'I knew we shouldn't have allowed Rohinder to conduct the experiment.' The first note is to his Uncle Jake. The second to Paula Derrow at SITU. His bandaged arms make writing difficult and he occasionally bumps his arms against the desk, causing Ned to mumble again and again, 'That damned Alnes!'

Shortly before 2, a VW Beetle pulls up outside the Zoology Department. It cannot get into the underground car park, because of the fire engines that are still busy about the place. Out of the very small car gets a very large man, must be at least twenty stone of him, extremely solid, wearing a long dark woollen coat, with a black attaché case. He looks about the scene in puzzlement.

'You'd be Detective Inspector Coltrane Roberts?' inquires T.R., striding out to greet him.

'That's right,' says the man in a Scots accent. He runs a large hand through his short, curly hair. 'What the bloody hell's been going on here?'

T.R., introducing himself, explains briefly why it is that Roberts's planned lecture is now unlikely to go ahead as scheduled. Roberts listens intently, nodding. There are already uniformed police on the scene, and two of them come over to join the two. 'Some sort of fire, Inspector,' one says.

'Thank you, Constable, I would never have guessed,' says Roberts with heavy irony.

'We were just going to get some pictures taken.'

'I can do that for you,' offers T.R. helpfully.

'No, thank you, sir, we'll -' starts the policeman, but Roberts cuts in.

'Thank you very much, Mr Warren. That's most kind of you. Shall we?' And he gestures T.R. back into the building, guiding his elbow, leaving the two uniformed policemen protesting in his wake.

Eric comes round to find himself in a private room, with all manner of monitors attached to him. He feebly asks after his colleagues, and after a little while feels well enough to make a phone call to SITU. He is probably less hostile than most of the other operatives would be, but he is less than pleased and is more than a little terse with Geoff Blaize. 'It seems to me that I and my fellow operatives were sent into a situation which was far too grave for us to cope with, armed with too little information and insufficient support!'

'Now be fair, Doctor Alnes - we at SITU HQ didn't know any more about what was going to happen than you did,' says Blaize placatingly. 'If we'd had any idea that this was planned, we'd never have dreamed of sending a team as inexperienced as yours in. And we would have provided backup if we could have... but we don't have a single experienced operative in this country who's not already on a mission. At least you all survived! And what you've just told me could be very useful information. We'll have to think about the implications, but...'

Vera leaves the building and looks for a public telephone. It is now late enough in the afternoon that she can telephone the US and have a more reasonable chance of catching Fritz Corrigan.

'Fritz..., yeah yeah yeah, I'm having a wonderful time. Yeah, my uncle Ned? Uh, his expense report to the paper may look a little funny but make sure it gets approved. How is he? It's a long story. Yes, I'll talk to him.

'Look Fritz, did my parents leave any books or records, I mean outside of the normal business records. Something a little out of the ordinary? Can you describe what you think they contain?' Thanks.' She hangs up the phone and begins to walk. A brown-paper parcel containing two leather-bound tomes? Smelling of sulphur? In a language Fritz didn't recognize (not that that was saying much)? What could it all mean? She would have to look for herself.

After finishing with his notes, Ned places a call to Richie Wardens, the Psychic Times writer, and attempts to fill him in on the details of what happened. Wardens is hugely excited. 'I knew I should have booked up! What a thing to miss!'

In exchange Ned attempts to extract as much information that he can from Wardens about the Trismegistus Club and Jackley, but finds that he has never heard of the former and can add nothing to what is already known about the latter. 'And have you ever heard of the "dark lord Celebrax, Prince of Blades" or of the so-called "Watcher"?'

Wardens giggles. 'Sounds like something out of Hellblazer! I bet John Constantine would give your Celebrax a right old seeing-to!'

Sighing, Ned hangs up and calls Martin Thane, asking the same questions. Thane is very cagey but he does say something about The Watcher. 'It's just an old story I've heard - of a man who watches the stars, trying to reach the people up there. Who he is, or where, I don't know. But next summer - when we have out total solar eclipse over the south-west of the country - he'll have something planned for then, you can bet on it.'

Vera decides to take a cab and visit Rohinder at the hospital. At the nurses' station she half expects to be turned away. 'Are you a relation?' a nurse asks.

'No, I'm a professional associate at the conference. My uncle and she are close, but he is in no condition to visit after, you know...,' Vera lets the sentence hang unfinished, hoping the nurse will fill in an answer that gives Vera access.

The nurse pauses, 'She's still catatonic. The police visited and left. Sometimes a familiar voice is the key. Go ahead, but only for a minute.'

Vera enters Rohinder's room and sits on the edge of the bed. Rohinder appears sleepy, her head is turned away and she is unmoving. 'How should I put this? My uncle thinks you could still be useful, but I have my doubts. Tell me, are you off in la-la land because you just found out you were on the wrong side, or because you've been discarded as no longer useful?'

Vera pauses only briefly, not expecting an answer. 'I have some recent experience in unpleasant surprises myself.' Rohinder is still not verbal, but suddenly she turns her head towards where Vera is sitting and stares at her. Vera pauses, but continues, 'No, I'm not a nice person.' Vera begins to get up, 'Oh, I don't suppose you can tell me anything about Celebrax, Prince of Blades?'

There is no response but a slow blink.

'How about Xena, Warrior Princess? Oh well! See you later, or not.' Vera rises and sweeps out of the room.

T.R. and Roberts look around the lecture halls, poking through the debris, T.R. snapping away. 'Was this TV equipment being used at the time?' asks the Scotsman. T.R. confirms that it was. Roberts, moving surprisingly lightly for such a large man, crouches and picks up the melted ruin of what must have once been a videotape from the remains of its recorder. 'Pity, eh? I bet this could have told us a story or two.'

T.R. takes a picture of a pool of what looks roughly like molten wax, at the front of the room - all that remains of Gulo. 'I wonder what that might be?' muses Roberts.

At that point Detective Chief Inspector Seymour and the harassed Sergeant Harris burst into the Room. 'Roberts! What are you doing here?' barks Seymour brusquely.

'I could ask the same of you,' replies Roberts calmly, straightening up. 'Haven't you got a murder to investigate?'

'I've got my man already - or, rather, men,' says Seymour smugly.

'You don't really think Dirkheim's the killer, do you?' asks Roberts wearily. 'He's not the violent type, man, surely you can see that. Completely the wrong profile.'

'Tell that to the judge,' says Seymour menacingly. Then he notices T.R. 'You! Turning up again like a bad penny! I'll have to ask you to leave, sir, if you please!'

T.R. turns to Roberts for support, but the big man shrugs. 'He outranks me,' he explains.

Steven and Henry Blyth are by Edward Lloyd's bed. Lloyd is sleeping: he has been given morphine. 'What were you planning to do with the cards - in the long term?' asks Steven.

'I'm not sure... we had a few ideas. I wanted to use them to strengthen our fortress - power up the walls, keep enemies out. Edward said we should concentrate on the breeding programme. Use them for what Miss Goodchild's parents tried to do, only without the demonic intervention. My own wife...' he stops.

'What about "The Watcher"?' asks Steven.

'He's one of our enemies. I'm surprised SITU haven't told you this?'

'SITU haven't told us much!' says Steven.

'He lives in Wales. He watches the stars: we think he's trying to contact aliens. He's got a lot of hooks into the Government, especially in Air Staff 2A - that's the arm of the Ministry of Defence that's responsible for alien sightings and so on.'

Belle-Marie sticks her head around the door. 'Steven? Can you talk?'

In the corridor, Steven fills her in on what he saw in the main lecture room. 'So much power... poor Cosmo!' mutters Belle-Marie. 'I still can't get my head round it...'

'Let's go see if Eric has come round yet,' suggests Steven.

They find that Ned, T.R. and Taylor are already in Eric's room, clustered around the bed. There is much mutual exchange of information.

'You were right,' T.R. is just saying to Ned, with a sigh 'We should have stopped that experiment. So much for my trust in SITU. Do you think they deliberately set us up or were they just mistaken?'

Ned's face twitches. 'We can only suspect the worst,' he replies darkly.

'We should try to learn who was responsible for the attack,' says Eric weakly. Fortunately, he has his eyes closed so does not see the glare that Ned directs at him. 'We have consistently failed to identify our foe... but I am now reasonably sure that this is not Rohinder, Lloyd, et al.'

'Well, based on your one hundred per cent record of good judgement so far, Dr Alnes -' begins Ned, but T.R. breaks in.

'We need to talk with Lloyd, to see if he can add anything to what Blyth has said. And Vera should speak to Isobelle Kingston - does anyone know what happened to her? Kingston, I mean?'

'She's in the bed next to me,' says Belle-Marie. 'And I don't think it should be Vera to talk to her, really. Maybe it should be me...' I know plenty of nice helpful dead people I can get her to call up, she thinks.

'Taylor, have you found out what Jackley was up to?' asks Ned. She repeats what she knows of his movements. 'I don't trust that baldheaded stage magician as far as I can teleport him,' Ned mutters.

Taylor is still not really looking her usual polished self. 'I still think it might be important to get ahold of Professor Saunders's minority report,' she says timidly.

This suggestion meets with little enthusiasm. 'You should certainly continue following up the murder case,' Ned tells T.R. 'It may be connected to the cards in some way. You've got good contacts and a head start on that mystery. Keep milking your sources until they run dry!'

'And you, Eric, might want to place a call to Margaret Saunders,' says T.R. 'Maybe she would even come to visit you here.'

'Maybe,' says Eric weakly. 'We need to check on her, surely. Her, Jackley, and Gration, roughly in that order. We should find out what's happened to these others, as well - Martin Thane, Martin Keyes, Dr Chevrotain, Richard Chambers.'

'Thane is back in London,' says T.R. 'Keyes is at the Zoology Department still - he looked fine to me. Chevrotain left for France yesterday. I've not seen Chambers yet, but I guess he'll be busy cancelling things, if he's not here in hospital.'

'If we can learn anything about how this was done, or how to protect against this sort of attack in the future, that would be good too,' says Eric. 'Can one of you try and obtain a copy of the registration lists for the congress? I want to be able to contact as many of these people as I can afterward. It could be that the greatest blow we can deal to the murderers who were responsible for the carnage would be to make sure that as much as possible of the group brought together by the ICIP remains in touch.' Opening his eyes, he glances about the group. 'But frankly, I think that it's really too late now, and that the damage has been done. On the other hand, it could be that this is our Pearl Harbour, and that a opposition can be galvanized. If so, SITU must do it. It is plain that we no longer operate in secret - perhaps it is time to go public?'

'Pah!' snorts Ned, rising briskly to his feet. 'I'm off.' And he abruptly leaves the room.

Vera is now back in the centre of Oxford. She begins to walk, while trying to fit everything together. What about some of the pieces that don't fit? Didn't somebody's presentation suggest people could be used as dowsing rods for things besides water? Perhaps something sort of reversed the process. Perhaps the cards were used as a dowsing rod to identify those with power. Once the more sensitive were identified they were attacked.

She begins to speak out loud to herself, 'If that is the case, then this whole thing was a set-up from beginning to end. Rohinder may only have been used, but ultimately there was no positive outcome possible.

'And what about the murder?'

An elderly couple passing by her, arm in arm along the pavement, look alarmed at this comment. Vera does her best to offer a friendly smile, bows her head and heads back to Zoology. The conference schedule can't be worth much now, she thinks, but everyone will probably try and show up anyway.

'Very nice hat, sir,' Ned hears as he approaches the entrance to Beaufort College. He turns and sees a young street urchin approaching him. 'Shine your shoes, sir? I can clean off the soot and give you a shine in no time,' the young boy says. He appears to be about 10 years old and has an intelligent, personable smile. 'If you need anything, Mahmoud can do it!'

'Uh, no thank you... Mahmoud,' Ned says. 'Though maybe you can tell me if you've seen a baldheaded man entering or leaving recently? Jackley is his name.'

'A bald man this tall, sir? I see him ten minutes ago. He say to taxi man he going to Iffley.'

Ned nods. 'Here's a shiny new pound coin, look. I'll give you two of these if you can find me a package of Keebler's Double-Chocolate Fudge cookies, Mahmoud. Here's a card with the hotel's name and address where I'm staying. Here, I'll write my name on it.'

Mahmoud eagerly scampers off into the traffic, dodging between two buses as the drivers shake their fists.

Ned walks up to Anita Rohinder's room and, glancing quickly about him, kicks the door sharply, next to the lock. It swings swiftly open, and he catches it before it can bang. The homunculus tank stands forlornly empty in the middle of the floor, in mute mourning for its former tenant. Ned is not sure what he's looking for, but he starts to leaf through Rohinder's possessions. There are notes for her lecture, and a number of textbooks. There are several more or less ornate sets of Zener cards. There are several bottles, some as large as demijohns, of various liquids. There is some correspondence with Jackley and with the Zoology Department, organizing the television equipment for the experiment, and some with Lloyd describing the form it is to take - all bears out what Rohinder and Lloyd have told the operatives. Glancing about him one last time, Ned leaves the room.

I was meant to go and see Claire Boothroyd, Belle-Marie reminds herself as she leaves the hospital. I'll have to have a shower or something before I do, see if I can get the smell of burnt flesh off me... Then I'll wear one of my little flowery dresses, and a pair of DMs. That should help me look like a student. I'll visit her and pretend that Saunders had taught me, and that I'd looked up to him. If I say that he had once mentioned her as a close friend, and that I needed someone to talk about it, as the shock of his death has affected me. It might be worth mentioning "that dreadful accident" at the university, see if she knows anything about that.

Ned finds Vera back at Zoology, looking for Isobelle Kingston 'There you are, Uncle Ned! I was going to come and look for you, but I thought nope, best to avoid ol' dock worker Belle.'

'If I've got any advice for our young Miss Prior,' Ned agrees, 'it's to cut back on her caffeine. A girl in her condition shouldn't be head-butting ancient, discorporated entities or having irrational screaming fits. Particularly any that are directed at me! I really don't understand why she thinks we consider her a "frail, little nutcase". She's obviously not frail,' he says with a hint of a smile.

Taylor and Steven have also returned to Zoology. Taylor is disappointed to find that Jackley has disappeared during her absence. 'He went to visit a friend, he said,' volunteers Richard Chambers, who is supervising the tying-up of the Congress.

'Did he say where?'

'No. It was just after he'd been talking to the detective, though.' He points to where Inspector Roberts is talking to Sergeant Harris. Harris is gesturing feebly. 'Oh - he's gone too. The other detective, the white-haired one. They both seemed a bit angry, actually, the detective and Bernard.'

Roberts's voice is suddenly raised. 'This is too bloody much! It's one time after another! Every time there's a woman in the case - can't he tie a bloody knot in it or something?' He whirls round and storms towards the exit, trailing a plaintive Harris in his wake.

'I was hoping to see the Master,' T.R. tells the Beaufort College secretary.

'I'm afraid he's not here just at the moment,' she replies.

'Is he anywhere I can get hold of him?'

'I'm afraid I can't tell you that, sir,' she snaps.

T.R. shrugs and starts to back away, but is in fact peering at the scrap pad on her desk, where an upside-down letter 'M' has caught his attention. It looks as though the message says 'Call cab for Master - Iffley - 4.00'.

Having knocked, Belle-Marie waits impatiently for the door to be opened. 'Hello, Claire B-?'

But the question dies in her lips. The woman who answers the door is the spitting image of a young Margaret Saunders.

Prelude | 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

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