The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Culver Talks to Nauru

‘It was too risky to travel to Nauru at this time,’ explains a strained-looking Andre Swahn as he sits Culver down before a PC in SITU’s London headquarters. ‘You’re still being watched, we’re pretty sure of that. And even if you weren’t, it would be too great a risk. But this technology is secure, so we should be OK I think.’ He scowls. ‘I don’t mind telling you that I think this whole exercise is most inadvisable, but if it’s what you want…’

‘What Little Matthew wants, Little Matthew gets,’ says Culver agreeably, squinting into a hand mirror to make sure his hair is standing up properly, before sitting down in front of the WebCam. No point not looking his best before SITU’s secret masters. ‘You can see it from my point of view, can’t you, Andre?’

Swahn merely grunts, leaning over to enter a handful of quick commands via keyboard and mouse. ‘There you are… just wait for the cable lag… ha! Contact!’

The small window to the upper left of the screen clears to reveal a human face – at least, it looks human, Culver reassures himself. The image is sharp, if rather small. A stern-looking man, with short brown-grey hair and a bristly full beard. His gaze is clear and direct, and he looks to be about forty. He wears a curious high-collared top in a shiny fabric, and Culver has to suppress a giggle when he sees it: it looks like nothing so much as a costume prop from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, or maybe Space 1999. Behind him can be seen glimpses of a metal-panelled room, devoid of furniture or decoration.

‘Matthew Culver.’ The voice is firm, level, and rather monotone.

‘So, you’re the boss, then?’

‘One of them.’ The man does not smile, although as his lips part to speak Culver notes that his teeth are even and white.

Culver swallows. ‘Listen, I’m too far in now. I was bluffing; I couldn’t leave SITU if I tried.’ He smiles sadly. ‘I’ve been communicating with other agents, reading their debriefings, trying to make sense of the whole thing. I’ve been studying it myself, looking things up on the Net. Some of it stinks of the Elioud from the Apocrypha - stuff I read as a child because it was forbidden, naughty. Some of it sounds as paranoid as Lovecraft or as weird as Crowley. I’ve got my own theories but I’d like to know the truth about the Ylids, SITU, us. The struggle. Please.’

‘All humans are searching for the truth, aren’t they?’ Unaccented – he could be a Radio 4 announcer. A rather dull one. ‘People expect systems of belief, like systems of mathematics, to be both complete and consistent. But Kurt Gödel proved that this was impossible. For the system to make complete sense, you must take certain things on trust. If you only build from what you know as a certainty, you can never hope to explain the important things.’

Culver frowns. ‘That sounds very clever, but it also sounds like you’re dodging the question. I’m not looking for the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, I just want to know what your goons here have been driving me at for the past three years.’ He folds his arms. ‘You people have a lot to learn about personnel relations.’

‘The story of the Elioud may be based on the Ylids – many human stories are. They were once a powerful race in their own land – a continent which no longer exists – and they controlled early humanity through their agents. This much you already know. Their empire fell, and most of them left Earth. Those few who remained here – trapped, as they saw it – retained their powers, and used them mischievously and cruelly, in most cases. SITU was founded to prevent them from doing so.’

‘No, hold on –’ Culver is thinking hard. ‘There must be more to it than that. When I first joined SITU, you weren’t even sure if there were any Ylids active. Our first missions were just to detect signs of their presence, weren’t they? So it’s not like you realized what was going on, and then founded SITU – you founded SITU before you had any idea whether the Ylids were currently active or not.’ He leans towards the camera. ‘Where do you fit into this picture? Who exactly are you?’

The man also leans forward, so that his clear grey eyes all but fill the screen. ‘We founded SITU because we knew there was a grave danger that some Ylids had survived and were active. We knew what they were capable of, and what they would seek to achieve. We already knew them.’ His gaze is still utterly level. ‘You know that humans are not the only inhabitants of this planet. And that non-humans may be much more long-lived. But not all non-humans are like Ylids.’

Culver slumps back, his mind whirling. He does not resist as Swahn reaches over to terminate the connection.

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